That was my tenth sneeze in half as many minutes. My eyes were watery, my nose was alternately stuffy and runny, my throat was scratchy, and I was coughing so much, my ribs hurt.
Oh, no! Not a cold! I don’t need a cold right now, with spring migration in full swing! There are so many places I want to go hiking to take photos of birds I only see in the spring and fall!
I grabbed the digital thermometer and stuck it under my tongue. I paced while I listened to the low, regular beeps that denoted it was working. It seemed forever before it sounded the triplet of beeps that indicated it had registered my temperature.
99 point 9 on the Fahrenheit scale. Not good. My normal temperature was 97, and anything over 99 signaled a fever.
Goodbye, spring migration! I sighed heavily. I put the thermometer back into the medicine cabinet and walked out to the living room.
Cleric looked up from a book she was reading. Her eyes widened. “Mistress?”
“Wad is id?”
“Mistress, you do not look well!” She jumped from her chair and rushed over to me. She placed her hand on my forehead and cried out in alarm.
“What is it?” Dragon looked up from the back of the couch. She had shrunk from her normal bulky form to the size of a large housecat and climbed up there to watch the backyard creatures.
“Dragon! I fear Mistress Writer is ill!”
Dragon leaped from the back of the sofa. She shapeshifted mid-leap into her customary guise of an elf maiden and was by my side in a split second. She placed her hand on my forehead and drew back in alarm. “You are correct, Cleric. Mistress Writer is ill.”
Before I could say a word, Dragon and Cleric were trying to hustle me toward the hall to my bedroom. “You must rest, Mistress. I will attend you in your bed chamber, while Cleric prepares some healing herbs.”
I shook off my well-meaning characters. “Would you two stop? I just have a cold. It’s no big deal.”
That might have sounded more convincing if it wasn’t followed by a burst of sneezing that ended in a fit of coughing. I grabbed for a nearby box of tissues.
Dragon frowned. “Mistress, I fear it may be much worse than that! It might be that alien disease brought to this world by the snow devils I inadvertently transported here in the magical conduit! Remember, it almost took the lives of seven of our comrades!”
I scoffed. “Nonsense!” Achoo!
Cleric nodded. “Mistress Writer is correct. Too much time has passed since the snow devils were here. Those who were susceptible to the disease they brought have already been afflicted and have recovered.” She drew her mouth into a thin, straight line, and she shook her head emphatically. “No, this could be something introduced into this world by those animals which I inadvertently let loose when I tried to read the story Mistress Writer was creating on her magic box.”
Arguing over which disease I may have contracted from which source, the two companions continued to tug me toward the hallway.
“It’s a cold.” I pulled away from Cleric and Dragon, leaving them standing there open-mouthed while I stomped off to the kitchen to heat up some broth.
The broth made me feel marginally better, and I went back to the living room. Dragon had resumed her mini-reptile form and was on the back of the couch again, and Cleric was in the recliner, fidgeting with her book. Both watched me surreptitiously, but neither spoke.
I walked over to the open French doors and stared out through the screen into the yard. The air was fresh, the sunshine bright, the birdsong pervasive. I sighed heavily.
Cleric set her book down and approached me timidly. “Mistress?”
“Will we still be going on the nature hike today, as we had planned?”
I gave her a dirty look as I doubled over coughing.
Dragon snorted. “I daresay you would have quite the time trying to approach the animals with all that sneezing and coughing.”
I grabbed for the box of tissues.
Cleric tilted her head and furrowed her brow. She placed her hands on her hips and sighed. “I will make you a mixture of honey and lemon that will soothe your throat, and I will add a few herbs that will repress your coughing and quell your sneezing.”
“Thanks, Cleric, but I still don’t think I’d be up to a hike today.” Several more sneezes punctuated my statement.
“Very well. We will stay home.” Cleric headed for the kitchen. She called over her shoulder to me. “You get your camera, Mistress. We will sit in the warm sun on your gazebo and I will ask the birds and furry creatures to pose for you.”
I shrugged. No point arguing. I grabbed a few more tissues and my camera. Moments later, I accepted the mug of warm liquid Cleric had prepared for me. The pleasant honey-lemon flavor masked the taste of the other medicinal herbs she had added, and I quickly drained the mug. She took it back to the kitchen and refilled it. We took the soothing beverage with us into the backyard. Soon, we were soaking up the warm rays of sunshine, and Cleric was charming the backyard critters into posing for me.
Before I even had my camera ready, Cleric squealed in delight. “Look! There is Black-capped Chickadee in that tree!”
I looked where Cleric was pointing and focused my camera. “The breeze has ruffled its feathers. It looks like it’s having a bad hair day.” The little bird flew off before I could get more than one photo, scolding chk-a-dee-dee-dee.
“I think you insulted her, Mistress.”
I ducked my head and feigned a guilty expression. I took a sip of my beverage and looked around. “There is a pair of American Goldfinches on the remains of last year’s thistle over in the far corner of the yard. Do you think you can get them to pose for me?”
“Only if you promise not to insult them.” Cleric winked at me, then started conversing with the birds. With her help, I was able to get one photo of the shy female goldfinch, and four of the more social male.
“Perfect!” I smiled at Cleric.
“There is your friend, Robbie!” Cleric pointed at an American Robin foraging in the grass. I took a quick photo of the bird before a chipmunk came along and chased it.
I got a shot of the chipmunk, trying to look innocent sitting in the grass where it had just chased the robin. Cleric called to it, and it came up on the gazebo to visit.
A pair of Northern Cardinals also came onto the gazebo and started eating the grapes Cleric had placed there for the animals. The female was a dainty little eater; the male attacked his food with much more gusto.
While the Cardinals were eating, a Common Grackle flew onto the railing and hopped up on the post, checking things out. His iridescent feathers shone brilliantly in the sunlight.
As the grackle flew off, Cleric called my attention to another bird. “Look, Mistress! Isn’t that the thrush we saw the other day?”
I followed Cleric’s gaze to a nearby tree and saw a Swainson’s Thrush. After I took a picture, I asked Cleric if she could coax the bird closer. A moment later, the Swainson’s Thrush was visiting with us on the gazebo and checking out the grapes.
I took some photos of some Baltimore Orioles in a tree, and Cleric coaxed one down onto the nearby hummingbird feeder.
Cleric convinced a Mourning Dove in the tree to come down for a visit.
Then she did the same thing with a Song Sparrow.
I spotted two White-throated Sparrows, late spring migrants I was surprised to see still in the area. Cleric could not convince them to come close, and they remained in the trees while I photographed them.
A male Red-winged Blackbird called from a tree, and I got a photo of him displaying for a couple of females. One female was on the ground, foraging, and the other was in the reeds at the back of the yard. All three ignored Cleric’s attempts to coax them closer.
Spotting a Yellow-rumped Warbler in the tree, Cleric started talking to it. In seconds, the bird, and several of its flock-mates, came down to pose on the nearby feeders.
The last photos Cleric arranged for me were a squirrel and a rabbit. By then, we were both ready to call it a day.
As we walked back inside, Cleric took my empty mug to the kitchen to rinse out. I suddenly realized I had not coughed or sneezed the entire time we were outside!
What will next week bring? More backyard birding? Another nature trek? A new adventure? Be sure to come back and join us for whatever is in store. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.