“Wow! I can’t believe it’s already the middle of November!” I could feel the beginnings of a real panic attack.
My husband, Miles, nodded. “Five weeks from this Sunday is Christmas.”
I could feel myself start to sweat. “Did you have to remind me?”
I frowned and raked my hand through my hair. “I have to get working on my presents for my sister and my son! I have to get them done in time to mail them.”
“Are you making calendars for them again this year?” Cleric had been listening and now joined the conversation. “The ones featuring your wonderful photographs of the birds we have seen this past year?”
“Well, I don’t know how wonderful my photos are, but, yeah, that’s the plan. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much time to work on them. And I didn’t take nearly as many photos this year as I have in past years, so it will be harder to find photos I can use.”
“Mayhap I can help?” Cleric shuffled her foot back and forth. She ducked her head and peeked at me, eagerness showing in her soft cornflower eyes.
“Well, I guess two pairs of eyes are better than one.” Before Cleric could get too excited, I added, “It’s tedious work. We have to look through an entire year’s accumulation of photos and pick out the best ones for each of the 18 months, plus one for the cover.”
Cleric furrowed her brow and rubbed her neck. “Eighteen months, Mistress? I thought your years had only 12 months.”
I chuckled. “They do, but I usually do an 18-month calendar. It will have the 12 months of one year, and the first half of the following year. That way, I can use more photos . . . presuming I have enough.” I frowned. “This year, I might have a hard time finding enough for a 12-month calendar.”
“I am certain you have more than 12, or even 18, photos you can use, Mistress!”
“Perhaps, but I usually try to use more than one photo per month, sometimes as many as four.”
“Why do you use so many?” My Gypsy, who had been listening quietly from his chair by the window, came over and joined the conversation. “Why not just one per month?”
“Mostly for aesthetics. One big photo per month might be beautiful, but if I prefer to vary the number. Some months I place two photos side-by-side, some months I position two photos with one under the other. Some months I arrange three, and some, four. I just think it makes the calendar more interesting.” I paused, then mumbled, “Besides, in past years I have had too much trouble picking just 13 to 19 photos from an entire year’s worth of images, not that I will have that problem this year.”
“Then, it is a good thing that Cleric and I are going to assist you this year.” My Gypsy waggled his eyebrows and gave me a lopsided grin.
I turned to Miles. “If anyone is looking for me, Cleric, or my Gypsy, we will be in my office, working on the calendars.”
Miles dropped a quick kiss on my forehead, winked and commented, ‘I didn’t think there was enough room in that office for more than one person.”
* * *
After spending more than a few minutes clearing off some chairs and moving an assortment of files and papers from my desk, the three of us sat down facing the computer monitor.
My Gypsy started to reach for my computer mouse. “How do we begin?”
I gave his hand a gentle slap. “We begin by not touching anything.”
He frowned. “Then how do we see the photographs?”
“I think Mistress means you and I do not touch anything.” Cleric raised an eyebrow at the lad.
“Exactly.” I reached for the mouse. “I have all the photographs stored on the external hard drive, arranged in files according to date. We’ll start with the ones from last November and December, any photos taken after I created the calendars last year.”
I clicked on a few icons and brought up the files of photos from 2017. “Hmmm…”
“What is it, Mistress?” Cleric tried to see what I was looking at.
“It seems I was late doing the calendar last year, too. So, we can’t use any photos taken before November 28. The next date I took any photos of birds was December 29.” I opened the file, and the monitor was immediately filled with thumbnails of the photos.
“These are hard to see.” My Gypsy craned his neck and squinted.
“No problem. I’ll bring them up one at a time and we can see them.” I clicked on the first photo, making the single image fill the screen.
My Gypsy nodded as he looked at the image. “That looks like a Song Sparrow on the deck eating the millet spray you offer.”
Cleric examined the photo. “That would be a good image to include. It is a bird we see a lot here in the yard and on the deck.”
I frowned and shook my head. “Yes, it’s a good bird to include, but the image is not good enough. It’s not sharp enough. I want images that are crisp.”
We passed over several others, including an image of a White-breasted Nuthatch taking a peanut from a bowl. “That’s a good one.” My Gypsy argued. “It’s very crisp.”
“No, it’s just not good enough. I didn’t get the entire bird in the photo – I cut off part of the tail.”
Cleric sighed. “You are very fussy, Mistress! The picture looks good enough to me.”
I nodded. “Yes, I am fussy. I know I took better photos. We just have to look for them. I told you this was a tedious job. Are you sure you want to help?”
Cleric blushed. “Oh, yes, Mistress! I did not mean to complain!”
We went back to examining the first set of photos. The only one all three of us could agree on from this set was a Red-bellied Woodpecker in a snowy tree.
“Well, let’s see what I took in 2018.” I opened another file.
It took us a while to find enough photos for the cold-weather months. I scowled. “You know how much I hate the cold! So, the only photos I take in the cold are those I can take through the glass windows on the French doors to the deck.”
My Gypsy was glad when I accepted one of his favorites, an American Tree Sparrow sitting on the deck railing. “It is a good, clear image. You can see all the identifying marks – the rusty cap and line through the eye, the dark spot on his chest, and the two-colored beak. Also, the expression on his face makes it look like he was posing for the camera. I really like this image!”
Cleric smiled when I also accepted her suggestion, the Blue Jay who was sitting in a tree. “I like the varying shades of blue, violet, gray, and black on the Jay. And, even though I enjoy the photos of the birds on the deck and in the feeders, I love to see them in the trees. I also like the way this bird is looking straight at the camera. He almost looks amused at having his picture taken.”
I included one of my favorites, too. “I love this image of the Dark-eyed Junco. They’re known as snow birds and arrive here shortly before the cold weather sets in for the season, so this one is perfect for one of the winter months of the calendar. And this image is interesting with the bird holding one leg up underneath him to keep it warm. You can also see the safflower seed he’s eating.”
Once we had all the photos we needed for the winter months, I was hoping it would be easy to find the ones we needed for the warmer months. We had many more photos from which to choose. When Cleric and my Gypsy took a trip down memory lane with each set of photos, though, it slowed things down to a crawl.
“Oh, I remember this nature walk! It was at Carver Park Reserve, and we found these two Sandhill Cranes in a field right near the entrance to the park.” Cleric smiled and clapped her hands at the memory.
“I do not remember that.” My Gypsy frowned.
Cleric wrinkled her brow and tilted her head. “I do not believe you went with us that day. You remained here, to work with your horse. Mistress took me with her to help convince the birds to pose for her.”
The lad nodded. “Oh, of course! I remember you telling me about it when you returned home.”
As I opened another folder and started going through the photos, my Gypsy pointed to one he remembered. “I was with you that day. It was early spring at the Arboretum. Most of the Canada Geese were still sitting on their nests, but two pairs already had goslings following them around. They were extremely protective of their young, but Cleric finally convinced one pair to let you take this picture of their smallest baby.”
I nodded, remembering. “This will be a good photo for the calendar, along with that late-hatched Mallard duckling we saw at Shakopee Memorial Park in July.” It took me a few moments to find that image. “Were you with us that day?”
“No, I missed that one, too. But I am sure Cleric was there.”
Cleric nodded. “I remember how surprised you were when we saw the fuzzy duckling. You said it must have been from a second nesting, as all the others were older and already fully feathered.”
I nodded and brought up two photos of the older ducklings. “I don’t think we’ll use the images of the older ducklings, though. We have better photos to use.”
As we looked through some photos from Purgatory Creek Park, Cleric pointed to an image of a Bald Eagle on the roof of an office building adjacent the park. “Are you going to use that one?”
“No, I used a similar one last year. I think this year I should use a picture of that young eagle that was making a practice nest on the streetlight.” I quickly found those photos.
“I remember that!” My Gypsy chuckled. “The branches and vegetation he was using kept sliding off the light!”
As we continued to go through the photos, Cleric furrowed her brow. “We have a good number of photos of birds we saw on our nature walks. We should balance that with images of birds at the feeders. You should use this one of the young Baltimore Oriole on the hummingbird feeder, and the one of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird on the same feeder later that day.”
“And I like the Gray Catbird and the Yellow-rumped Warbler on the feeder poles.” My Gypsy pointed to the images.
“Okay, we’ll include them, and this close-up I got of the American Robin. But there are still some from our walks I want to use. I want to include a few of the Eastern Bluebirds and two of the Common Yellowthroat.”
Cleric looked at the photos I had chosen and nodded. “And do not forget some of the photos you have taken of waterfowl.” She pointed at several images. “You took wonderful images of the American Coot, the Lesser Scaup, and the Pied-billed Grebe at Memorial Park in Shakopee.”
“And the Horned Grebe and the Ruddy Ducks at Purgatory Creek,” my Gypsy added, also pointing at the images on the monitor.
“I will include them,” I agreed.
I checked the images we had chosen and the spreadsheet where I listed the photos according to the month for which they would be used. “We still have a few months to fill. I think I’ll include that image of the Wild Turkey I took at Westwood Hills Nature Center. It would be perfect for November.”
It took us all day, but we finally found enough images for the calendar, including three of Red-winged Blackbirds (an adult male, a juvenile, and an adult female), one of a White-throated Sparrow, and one of a Swainson’s Thrush I would have overlooked if it hadn’t been for my characters helping me.
“This was so much fun! Now we have to start thinking about the calendars you will create next year.” Cleric smiled. “We need to plan lots of nature walks!”
We look forward to all our readers joining us for next year’s nature walks. Who knows what we might find! Of course, that’s a long time from now, so meanwhile, be sure to return each week to see what my characters are up to. We’ll leave the porch light on for you!