I See a Big Problem Here!

I See a Big Problem Here!

Cell phoneBackyard 050

I put down my cell phone and turned to face my characters.

Cleric twisting cord belt“Well? Did you reach them? Did you invite them over? Are they coming?” Cleric’s cornflower blue eyes were clouded with concern, and she twisted the cord belt of her robe. She had been the one who suggested inviting our least favorite neighbors, Mace and Gloria, to join us for some backyard birdwatching.

Mace and Gloria birdingI nodded. “Yes, they will be here in about an hour, binoculars and field guides in hand. They are very anxious to show off how much they’ve learned since the last time they attempted any backyard birdwatching here.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/fun-and-mayhem-with-the-neighbors/

Dragon’s brow furrowed. “Should I strengthen the wards and the spell of concealment?”

I shook my head. “No, that would defeat the purpose of the experiment. We invited them here to determine if your spell of concealment has been breached. We want everything to be the same when they get here as it was earlier today, when Marisol and Bastina were here and saw what they should not have seen.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/07/07/hello-neighbor/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/07/14/just-who-are-these-neighbors-and-what-do-they-see/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/07/21/what-is-the-problem/

I furrowed my brow, trying to foresee any problems. “I know that Mace and Gloria – in fact, the entire neighborhood – has seen all of you. You all attended the neighborhood get-together with Miles and me last August.”

All my characters nodded, and my Arrogant One snickered. “Ah, yes, the get-together. I seem to remember a stage production of some note.” He snickered again, shooting an amused look at Dragon, who glared at him through narrowed eyes.

“Yes, we remember the entire incident . . . er, day.” A puff of black smoke escaped from her snout.
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/07/29/a-ducky-day-for-collecting-flora-and-overhearing-a-murder-plot/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/08/05/to-die-for-stroganoff/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/08/12/solutions-or-more-problems/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/08/19/the-case-of-the-poison-mushrooms/

I gave Dragon and the elf a quizzical look but decided not to pursue the subject. “As I was saying, even though our neighbors have seen all of you, I think it best if only Dragon and Cleric are here with me when Mace and Gloria arrive.”

“Why is that, Mistress?” Cleric tilted her head and fidgeted with her robes.

“Because I believe you were the only two Mace and Gloria saw with me the day they came to visit, and we ended up birdwatching. I think it would be a good test of Dragon’s concealment spell if everyone else went about the same activities as the last time. Oh, and don’t forget – don’t call me Mistress in front of them!”

Cleric nodded.

My Gypsy turned toward my Foreman and my Young Hero. “I believe the three of us were working our mounts.” They headed off toward the barn.

My Arrogant One gestured toward my Bounty Hunter. “My associate and I shall repair to our refuge in the shed, where we were last time.” He turned with a flourish and swept his cloak around him as he and his companion headed toward the garden shed.

sorceress-facing-right

Sorceress stroked her chin and narrowed her eyes in thought. “Ah, yes! I remember! I was in the house.” She turned and took her leave.

“An’ I been chasin’ thet durn bunny rabbit.” My Old Dwarf glowered at the rabbit, who had returned to raiding the carrot patch.Dwarf chasing rabbit

Elf facing rightElf cleric“I will go get some iced tea and cake for our guests.” Cleric hurried toward the house as Dragon shape-shifted back to her customary guise of an elf maiden.

Cleric returned with the refreshments just as Mace and Gloria rounded the corner of our house and waved in greeting.

neighbor-2neighbor“We’re so glad you called!” Gloria was practically bouncing with excitement. “I’ve been saying to Mace now that we’re more experienced, we should get together with you again for some more birding. See, I even have the right word now. Real bird watchers call themselves birders.” She smiled smugly as she flaunted her newfound vocabulary.

Gloria plopped into a chair between Dragon and Cleric, directing Mace into the chair next to me. She continued to dominate the conversation as Cleric served refreshments, chattering on and on about the various birds she and Mace had seen recently in their yard and at various local parks. I slowly relaxed as our guests did not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary when they picked up their binoculars and began scanning our yard for birds. The horses walking past the feeders were apparently invisible to them.Horses and birdfeeders

“We have everything set up to attract the birds. In addition to the regular feeders, we’ve put some peanuts, dehydrated mealworms, and grapes on an old table at the end of the gazebo boardwalk, and we’ve scattered some millet spray on the boardwalk, to entice the birds to come closer.” I pointed to the areas as I spoke.birdwatching with Mace and Gloria

“That’s a good idea.” Mace nodded sagely. “I know some birders frown on that. They prefer to see and photograph birds in their natural habitat, rather than at feeders. Some say attracting birds to feeders is a lazy way to bird, almost akin to cheating. But Gloria and I disagree. We do it a lot when we’re photographing the birds in our yard. We found, in addition to attracting them closer – an important consideration if you don’t have a powerful zoom lens – it helps keep them in one place longer. Normally, they’re flitting around so much, we can’t get a clear, focused image.”

camera for blogI nodded as I picked up my camera. “I agree. I take lots of photos of birds in their natural habitat, in trees and bushes and foraging in the grass, but I also enjoy seeing them at the feeders. I find I can get a much better look at them that way.”

“Oh, first bird of the day! First bird of the day!” Gloria bounced up and down and crowed as if she had just won some fantastic competition. “There are Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at the nectar feeders!”

“Wow!” Mace pointed at another of the nectar feeders. “The bees are sure making it difficult for the birds!”Bees on nectar feeder

I nodded. Before I could reply, Gloria squealed. “Look at those two Black-capped Chickadees. The one on the left looks a lot like the one we saw here before, the one with the feather disorder. Remember that one?”

Black-capped Chickadee

I turned my camera toward the birds in question and clicked a few photos. Checking the images, I nodded. “Yes, the one in the tree above the feeders looks like the one we saw previously. Its feathers aren’t as bad as the one we saw before, but you can see the difference between the ruffled feathers of the one chickadee and the smooth plumage of the chickadee posing on the dead branch to the right.”

Mace and Gloria examined the images I had taken and nodded.

Cleric pointed toward the table. “It seems some Blue Jays have decided to visit the feeding station. There are some on the table, and two waiting on the railing.”

“And the chipmunks are sneaking up onto the boardwalk and grabbing their share of the spray millet before the birds get it.” Dragon smiled and pointed.

“They’re so cute, but they’re such brazen little thieves!” Gloria laughed, as we all watched the action at the far end of the walkway.

“There’re some waterfowl at the back of the yard, by the pond.” Mace studied them with his binoculars. “The two larger ducks look like female Mallards. The four smaller ones are Wood Ducks, a male and three females.”

“And there’s a Canada Goose, too.” Gloria smiled broadly, showing off her knowledge. “Mace and I had been calling them Canadian Geese, but a naturalist at the park corrected us.”

“Marge, what are those brown birds with the streaked fronts and sort of scalloped markings on their backs?” Mace pointed to some birds foraging in the grass. “We’ve seen a few in our yard but can’t find them in our field guide.”

I smiled. “They’re juvenile Brown-headed Cowbirds. They’re barely more than fledglings. Their various adoptive parents stopped feeding him about two weeks ago.”

“Adoptive parents?” Gloria tilted her head and gave me a quizzical look.

I nodded. “Brown-headed Cowbirds are brood parasites. A female cowbird doesn’t make a nest or raise her own babies. She lays her eggs in the nests of other bird species, who then raise the young cowbirds. Each of these juveniles was raised by a different set of parents.”

“Why do they do that?” Dragon looked intrigued.

“Originally, they followed the herds of bison that roamed the country, feeding on the insects the herds stirred up from the grasslands. If they took the time to make a nest and raise their own babies, they’d starve, as the herds of bison wouldn’t be waiting around for them.”

Gloria’s eyes widened. “Wow! No wonder we couldn’t figure out what those birds were – there were no adult Brown-headed Cowbirds around them!”

Mace scanned the yard again. “There’s an adult American Robin splashing around in your birdbath, and another one on the fence, waiting its turn. And I see a fledgling robin on the fence, too. I remember you said the youngsters had speckled fronts.”

“And there’s an adult robin eating on the table, now that the Blue Jays have moved.” Gloria pointed.American Robin adult on table

“Our hanging feeders are very busy now, too.” Cleric pointed at the various feeders as she identified the birds. “A pair of Northern Cardinals is in the safflower feeder. There is a female American Goldfinch enjoying the sunflower chips in one of the cage feeders, and a male is in the feeder next to it.”

“Another male goldfinch is in the tree above the feeders, waiting his turn.” Dragon pointed.American Goldfinch male in tree

“He may have to wait a while.” I pointed back to the feeders. “A White-breasted nuthatch just chased the male goldfinch from the cage feeder. There’s another nuthatch on one of the suet feeders, while a third one’s on the tree trunk waiting his turn.”

“Now, a Chipping Sparrow is eating the sunflower chips.” Gloria pointed. “And one male House Finch is in the other cage feeder, and a second male House Finch is in the safflower feeder. The female House Finch is on the feeder pole, waiting.”

“The Gray Catbirds are watching us from the feeder poles.” Mace gestured toward the north side of the gazebo. “And there’re Downy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Red-winged Blackbirds on the suet feeders in the back of the yard, and in the trees surrounding those feeders. You really have a busy yard today!” He looked impressed.

“Looks like you still have a rabbit problem.” Gloria smirked.Dwarf chasing rabbit

I followed her gaze and froze mid-smile. My Old Dwarf was running right toward us, cussing a blue-streak and brandishing his axe at a swiftly fleeing rabbit. He stopped next to the gazebo. “Do na be worryin’, lass. I be gittin’ tha little varmint!”

“Oh, look!” Gloria pointed right at my Old Dwarf and laughed again. “It looks just like that big rabbit is talking to us!”

Eastern Cottontail talking

I heaved a huge sigh of relief and relaxed once more. It was obvious Dragon’s spell of concealment was working well. I started to point at another bird when we were all startled by a new voice behind us.

“Excuse me, please. I hope you don’t mind, but I came back to see if I could pet the horses today.”

Marisol stood next to the gazebo, pointing at the three illusory horses my Foreman and the lads had just released into their simulated pasture. “Is that why you’re here, too? For the horses?” The small child addressed Gloria and Mace.Marisol points out the horses

I swallowed hard, then almost went into a dead faint as I saw my neighbors gaping at the spot where Marisol had pointed.

“I knew you had horses here!” Mace jumped up and whirled around to face me. “I knew it wasn’t my imagination that first time I came here. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/meeting-the-neighbors/

Very blue dragonDragon blanched, shapeshifting into a very blue version of her true self, smoke bubbles dripping from her snout at an alarming rate. “But . . . but how can you see them? You did not see them before!”

Cleric turned toward Marisol, studying the little girl. “No, they did not see them before. They did not see them until this child pointed them out.”Gaping at the child

Dragon, Cleric, and I gaped at Marisol, who was staring, transfixed by the horses and ignoring us.

Gloria turned from gawking at the horses. She saw Dragon in her true form, screamed, and fainted into her husband’s arms. Mace eased his wife’s limp form off the gazebo, away from Dragon. Then he pulled his cell phone from his pocket and called the county sheriff.

 

Is Marisol a witch? How else could she have defeated Dragon’s spell of concealment? How do we talk our way out of this with Gloria and Mace, and with the local authorities? Are my characters about to be revealed for what they really are? Come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Some Insights into my Arrogant One

Some Insights into my Arrogant One

Arrogant One in office“I want you to see the photographs I took.”

My Arrogant One marched into my office, unceremoniously swept a pile of books and folders off a chair and onto the floor, and plopped himself down, a superior look on his face. He held out his camera and wrinkled his brow with irritation when I did not immediately jump to take it.

“Well?” He tapped his foot impatiently. “I have been waiting all afternoon to show these to you.”

On phone with AnnaColton giving Blue an apple“I’m sorry. Some of my other characters wanted to hear more details about Colton and his pony, so I’ve been busy.” I had received a call from Colton’s mom, Anna, that morning and had shared with my characters some news about Colton’s progress with Blue. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/06/09/news/

The elf yawned. “Boring.”

I frowned. “The others don’t think so, and neither do I. We happen to care about Colton.”

shaggy pony in barn“Why? If it had not been for that other malodorous pony that invaded our yard and my shed . . .”

My eyebrows shot up. “Whose shed?”

My Arrogant One blushed. “The shed,” he amended, quickly relinquishing his claim of ownership. “Anyway, as I was saying, if it had not been for that foul-smelling creature, we would not even be aware of the boy who had owned it.”
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/12/31/mystery/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/03/25/mystery-solved/

Her, not it. Mystery, aka Peaches, was a mare, a female pony.”

“Whatever.” My Arrogant One waved dismissively.

I sighed and shook my head. “So sorry, I forgot. If you do not directly benefit from someone or something, that person or thing is beneath your notice.”

The elf sneered. “The boy is not our responsibility, yet Cleric and the Gypsy lad would have us think of nothing else. That is all anyone spoke of at lunch today.”

ConversationI scoffed. “I think there’s something wrong with your memory. Everyone was involved in their own discussions until after lunch, when I shared the news about Colton. You yourself spent the entire time at lunch telling my Bounty Hunter all about the pictures you took.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/06/09/news/

“I was going to tell everyone about them until you monopolized the conversation.” The elf pouted.

I ignored his complaint. “What’s so important about these photos?”

He thrust the camera at me again. “Well, just look at them.”

Arrogant One's photosI took the camera and quickly downloaded the photos onto the computer. I brought up the images on the monitor and looked through them. There were three dozen images of various birds, mammals, insects, and flowers.

“Nice.”

“Nice?” The elf looked thunderstruck. “Nice? That is all you can say about them?”

I shrugged. “They’re nice. What else would you have me say?”

My Arrogant One jumped up, grabbed his camera, and stomped out of the room. I shrugged and went back to work, first gathering the items the elf had tossed aside and replacing them on the chair. I could reorganize them later. Right now, I had a blog to write.

Bounty Hunter in officeI hadn’t gotten the first paragraph typed when I felt the hairs on the back of my neck prickle, and I had the distinct sensation I was being watched. I looked up and saw my Bounty Hunter lounging against the door jamb. His posture was casual, but his eyes bore right into mine.

I frowned. “What’s your problem?”

“I had cause to speak with you, milady, but I saw you were busy, and I did not wish to disturb you.”

His eyes had lost some of their intensity, and he shuffled one foot back and forth across the carpet, but I was still wary. I glared at him long and hard before I replied.

“Well, you did. What did you want to talk about?”

“The elf.”

Arrogant One full body 2Bounty Hunter full body“My Arrogant One?” Somehow, I wasn’t all that surprised. Those two were pretty tight. If I had offended the elf, I should have expected his sidekick to take me to task. On the other hand, despite the two of them being all but joined at the hip, my Bounty Hunter never seemed to hold any illusions regarding the annoying elf. He came to me just as often to complain about his cohort as to defend him.

“Yes, your Arrogant One.” My Bounty Hunter walked across the room and gestured at the items piled haphazardly on the chair. “Do you mind if I move these?”

At least he had the courtesy to ask. “No, I guess not. Just put them on the floor. I’ll reorganize them and put them away later.”

manuscriptsBounty Hunter full body 2I studied my Bounty Hunter as he moved the items and took a seat. I was always a little guarded around him. I never quite understood him as well as I did my other characters. I didn’t even really remember him from my two unpublished manuscripts, the books from which my other characters had fallen. I was pretty sure my Bounty Hunter didn’t make his appearance until Book Three, which was barely started at this point.

I shook my head and tried to drag my thoughts back to the conversation. “So, what has my Arrogant One done now?”

“I wish to speak to you regarding the elf’s photographic efforts.”

“Oh?” I lifted an eyebrow. “Is his nibs still pouting because I failed to go into raptures over his images?”

My Bounty Hunter winced. “Mistress, I fear you fail to understand the importance the elf attaches to his efforts. Perhaps you could be a tad kinder, show a modicum of interest and enthusiasm.”

“Like you were showing when the elf was talking your ear off at lunch, telling you over and over, ad nauseam, of each and every tiny detail of each and every image?” I smirked.

My Bounty Hunter had the grace to look properly chastised. “I admit in spite of my best efforts to the contrary I allowed my boredom to show.” He shrugged. “But having you brush off his accomplishments is a far worse blow to his self-image than my boredom, which I doubt the elf even noticed.”

I scoffed. “Since when does my Arrogant One allow anyone’s actions, words, or opinions, to damage his self-image?”

“You would be surprised, Mistress.” He rose and headed toward the door. “You would be surprised.”

Arrogant One's photosAfter my Bounty Hunter left, I decided to give the photos another look. I was surprised to realize some of them were quite good, especially the flowers. Deciding I had been too dismissive of my Arrogant One, I went in search of him. I found him in the conference room, deep in discussion with Cleric.

Arrogant One and Cleric“But I am not asking you to show me how to do anything that would harm them. I only wish to be able to attract the animals closer and to get them to sit still long enough to capture their image.”

Cleric chewed on her lower lip as she listened to the elf. She fidgeted with her belt as she replied. “I wish I could help you, truly! But, forsooth, I fear my talent for communicating with animals is a clerical ability granted me, not a skill that can be taught.”

My Arrogant One scowled, and Cleric blanched. I hurried over to intervene. “You seemed to do quite well getting the animals to pose for you. I was impressed with your results.”

My Arrogant One gave me a penetrating look. “You did not seem all that impressed when I shared my images.”

Backyard 050I tried to look remorseful, wishing I had learned the art of blushing at will. “I apologize. I was in the middle of something when you came in, and I guess I was just upset at being interrupted. After I finished my work, I looked at the images again. They are quite good.”

“Really?” The elf looked at me suspiciously.

“Really. Why don’t we go back to my office and look at them again?”Elf

Cleric brightened. “Are these the photographs you were taking in the front yard this morning? I saw you when Sorceress, Dragon, and I returned from collecting our botanicals.”

The elf nodded.

“May I see them, too?” Cleric blushed. “I am very interested in photography. Perhaps I can learn something from you. The images you took on our nature walk were outstanding. I love the way you work with the lighting.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/06/02/a-change-of-pace/

arrogant one

My Arrogant One held his head high, grasped his cloak in both hands, and rocked back on his heels. “Of course. I would be most gratified to have you view my images.”

My Arrogant One and Cleric followed me to my office. I quickly removed the contents of two chairs and placed the materials neatly on a table, before the elf had a chance to knock everything on the floor again.

When we were seated, I jiggled the computer mouse to wake the machine from sleep mode, and a page of thumbnails of my Arrogant One’s photos filled the monitor.

Arrogant One's photos

“I love the flowers. As Cleric said, your use of light in your photography is impressive, especially for a novice.”

We viewed the photos, and I pointed at two of them. “On these two, you captured insects on the flowers.”

“Was that intentional?” Cleric leaned closer to inspect the images. “Or was it just a fortuitous accident?”

Insects on Butterfly Weed

“I will admit, I did not notice the flies on the milkweed until I studied the images later. However, the other insect on the purple coneflower – some sort of small grasshopper or katydid, I believe – was my intended subject.”Insect on Purple Conflower

“That is a splendid capture, exceptionally sharp and extremely vivid!” I congratulated the elf, who visibly puffed up with pride.

Butterfly (1)Butterfly (2)I brought up several other images. “You also got some nice images of the Monarch butterflies. They can be difficult to capture, as they don’t tend to stay still very long.”

After we admired the butterfly images, I brought up three other photos. “I am particularly impressed with these close-ups of the two dragonflies and the damselfly. They are tack sharp and the damselfly is especially vibrant. And, like the butterfly, they are difficult insects to capture this well as they tend to flit rather than alight.”

After Cleric and I made a few more positive comments, my Arrogant One asked, “What about the photos of the animals? To me, they seem lacking. I am certain I could have achieved better results if I could but coax them nearer and get them to pose.”

“Well, let’s see. Let’s examine the birds first.” I paused and studied the photos. “The fledgling American Robins might not be as sharp as some of your other photos, but they are cute images of a baby bird.”

My Arrogant One hung on every word as I critiqued his photos, nodding his understanding.

“The soft focus on the Blue Jay adds interest. It almost looks like a watercolor.”

Blue Jay

The elf nodded and looked pleased.

“I think you tried to get a little too close with the Downy Woodpecker. The focus is not as sharp as it might have been if you had just pulled away a bit. But the mouthful of suet and the reflection in the bird’s eye lend interest to the image.”

Downy Woodpecker

The elf studied the photo. “I see what you mean.”

“The images of the Hairy Woodpecker and the Red-bellied Woodpecker on the tree trunks are outstanding, not only as portraits of the birds but as behavioral studies, the way they show the birds in their natural surroundings.”

That comment garnered another proud smile.

“With the Red-winged Blackbird, you again used lighting to your advantage. The bird can be clearly seen, with a lot of definition to the feathers. Even the eye is visible, which can be difficult with a black eye on a black bird.”

Red-winged Blackbird

Another nod and a proud smile.

“And, finally, you couldn’t ask for a cuter shot of the Song Sparrow taking a dust bath. Again, it is a sharp portrait as well as a good behavioral image.”

Song Sparrow taking a dust bath

The elf was absolutely beaming.

I brought up the last five pictures. “Now the shots you got of the Eastern Chipmunks and the Eastern Cottontail bunnies are adorable.”

“Adorable?” My Arrogant One scoffed. “Just because they are, in your opinion, adorable animals, it does not follow that my images of them are any good.”

Eastern Chipmunk (2)Eastern Chipmunk“Oh, but they are!” Cleric gushed. “Look at the raised paw on the first chipmunk, and the stuffed cheeks on the second one. As Mistress said of several of your other photos, they are excellent portraits and wonderful studies in the behavior of the animals.”

The elf looked mollified. “And the rabbits?”

“The two shots of the bunnies that were eating are solid behavior studies, but the last one is, in my opinion, the best of the three.” I pointed. “The look of curiosity and boldness on that bunny’s face is priceless!”

Eastern Cottontail baby (3)

My Arrogant One wrinkled his brow. He nodded slowly, then asked, “Do you consider me the best of your characters at photography?”

I studied the elf’s face before I answered. “Is it important that you be the best?”

Arrogant OneHe glanced at Cleric and seemed reticent to say anything. Finally, he hung his head and shrugged. “It would be nice to be the best at something.”

Then, without another word, he jumped up from his chair and dashed out of the room.

Elf facing rightCleric and I sat, gaping after the departing elf. This was a side of my Arrogant One I had not seen before. From the look on her face, I don’t believe Cleric had ever seen it, either.

Finally, Cleric spoke. “Mistress?”

“Yes?”Cleric and camera

“I had hoped that I would learn to be the best photographer. Somehow, though, I do not believe it is as important to me as it is to your Arrogant One.”

I nodded again. “I wonder what makes it so important to him.”

“You do not know?” Somehow, my Bounty Hunter had entered the room unnoticed.

“No, I don’t.” I frowned.

Bounty Hunter full body 2Arrogant One full bodyMy Bounty Hunter smiled wistfully. “In our world, your Arrogant One was one of the most renowned illusionists in the elven kingdom until something happened, and he was forced into exile. Later, he became something even more important. He became accustomed to being treated with respect and deference, but never forgot what it was like to be scorned and humiliated. Here in your world, he is just an arrogant elf, not respected for anything. He is not the best illusionist, not the best at communicating with animals, not the best horseman, not the best with weapons, not the best at anything, really, except maybe causing trouble and dissension. He often feels that same humiliation he once knew in exile.”

He paused and let Cleric and I consider this before continuing. “So, when we went on that nature walk and you praised his photos, he thought he had found something at which he could excel.”

 

I nodded. “And that is why it is important to him. He needs at least one thing that will garner him praise and not derision.”

My Bounty Hunter smiled and saluted as he left my office. Cleric sat silently for many long moments before rising. “I think I will go ask your Arrogant One to teach me how to use light to make my photos better. And maybe I can help coax some animals into posing for him.”

I smiled and nodded. As she left, I turned back to my computer. I still had a blog to write. I wondered if my Arrogant One would object to me using some of his photos in my blog.

My Arrogant One and I hope you have enjoyed his photos. I can assure you he is very proud of them, and would love to hear from you if you like them, too.

Be sure to return next week for more of the adventures and misadventures of my little band of displaced characters. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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A Change of Pace

A Change of Pace

Elf facing rightGypsy close-upI was on my way to the kitchen when Cleric and my Gypsy trudged through the door from the deck.

“Welcome home. Dragon told me you two went over to see Anna and Colton today. How’d everything go?”

https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/26/an-anxious-day/

Colton meeting BlueMy Gypsy shrugged. “I was able to convince Colton to meet Blue, so I guess that is an improvement. But the pony did not seem interested in meeting his new owner. He allowed the boy to pet him but did not respond the way I had hoped. He did not nuzzle the boy or even nicker at him. After a few minutes, he just walked away. Colton was very disappointed. I had just convinced him Blue needed him as much as he needed Blue. Then the pony showed no interest in being friends with Colton.”

CaseyCleric lowered her eyes and tugged at her robes. “I did my best to communicate with Blue. I told him about Colton’s disability, and I stressed how much Colton needs him. The pony seemed indifferent. The only picture he kept placing in my mind’s eye was a little girl in a wheelchair, whom I assume was Casey, his former owner.” Cleric’s cornflower-blue eyes were wet with unshed tears. “Oh, Mistress, he misses her so much! I wonder if there is room in his heart for a new owner.”

“Well, I certainly hope there is. Colton misses Peaches as much as Blue misses Casey. If they give each other half a chance, Colton and Blue might be able to help each other cope with their respective losses.”

My two characters nodded glumly.

I looked at my watch. “But right now, you’d best get ready for dinner. Miles should have it on the table any minute now.”

They nodded again and headed off to clean up for dinner.

Nature HikeAt dinner, I announced that I would be going on a nature hike the next day, weather permitting. “Anyone wanting to join me better be in the car and ready to go by 7am. And because it’s been a while since our last outing, I’ll remind all of you now – if you are coming with me, there will be no robes, cloaks, suits of armor, etc. You will wear the modern garb of the realm and leave all weapons, staffs, wands, and magic paraphernalia at home.”

gypsy-facing-right“Pfft! It is not our first rodeo, Mistress.” My Gypsy laughed and waggled his eyebrows the way he always does when attempting to be a comedian.

Arrogant One“It is a hike, not a rodeo.” My Arrogant One sneered.

“I know that. It is not my first rodeo is just an expression, meaning that the person saying so has experience in whatever situation they are discussing.” My Gypsy quoted what I had told them the other night on the way to the auction. He raised one eyebrow at my Arrogant One and gave him a superior look. “You really should attempt to learn some of the idioms of this world.”

Bounty HunterMy Arrogant One blushed scarlet and was about to reply, but his sidekick, my Bounty Hunter, cut him off. “Mistress, are we to be allowed some time tomorrow to use your magic box, the thing you call a camera? You have permitted it in the past.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/03/24/magic-or-technology/

“Well, I don’t know.” I stroked my chin as if considering the possibility. “I haven’t had much chance to take my nature photos this spring. The weather and other circumstances have precluded any hikes. I’m not sure I want to share my camera this time out.”

Most of my characters looked disappointed, but Dragon grinned at me as I continued. “Of course, if you all had your own cameras, it wouldn’t be a problem.”

“Our own cameras?” Everyone’s eyes widened.

dragon talking“Yes. Mistress and I discussed the possibility of me creating illusory cameras for each of us. I believe I can have them ready by tomorrow morning.” Dragon smiled.

“Oh, Mistress! Dragon! That would be wonderful!” Cleric’s eyes were shining as she looked from me to Dragon and back again.

“Okay, then, whoever’s coming, I’ll see you first thing in the morning.”

* * *

Bright and early the next day, every one of my characters stood by the car, shifting around and fidgeting impatiently. Each was properly garbed, and each had a camera hanging around their neck.

“Where are we going today?” My Foreman opened the car door and waited for the others to get in before he took his seat.

Spring Peeper MeadowI got behind the wheel and started the car. “We’ll go to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum today. We’ll start at Spring Peeper Meadow and then go to the main section of the Arboretum. The weather is forecast to be warm and sunny all day, so I’m sure we’ll get a lot of great pictures.”

During the short ride to Spring Peeper Meadow, my characters inspected their cameras and discussed the basics of photography they had learned when I had let them use my camera on another hike. When we got there, everyone was chomping at the bit to get out and hone their skills.

* * *

6-19-13 - Miles 001Back home that night, I downloaded the photos from everyone’s camera onto my computer so we could all view the results of the day’s photo hike. I moved the computer into the conference room where there was more space, and Miles joined us.

“Did everyone get some good shots?”Elf

“That is what we are about to discover, Master Miles.” Cleric fidgeted nervously with the cord on her robes.

“Can everyone see the monitor?” I looked around the room and saw everyone nodding. “Okay, then, let’s get started.”

The first image that came up on the screen was a Gray Catbird. I nodded in approval. “Nice! Who took this one?”

Gray Catbird (6)

DwarfMy Old Dwarf raised his hand. “Thet be one I be takin’. I been fass-kee-nat-ed! Thet durn fool birdie been thinkin’ it be a kitty-cat.”

I laughed. “It’s called a Gray Catbird – gray, obviously for its color, and catbird because it can mimic perfectly the mewing of a cat.”

There were two more pictures of the catbird, and then two of an Eastern Chipmunk.

 

“Them be sum udders o mine.”

My Young Hero nudged my Old Dwarf and smiled. “You always find the furry critters.”

The rotund figure grinned.

“Then these next two must be yours as well. Nice shots.” I displayed images of two different Red Squirrels.

“Aye!” My Old Dwarf looked pleased.

“Is this yours as well?” I brought up the next image, a White-tailed Deer.

White-tailed Deer (3)

mens-991728_1280“No, that is one I took.” My Foreman furrowed his brow as he looked at the photo. “It is not as clear as I had hoped. I have to work on my focus.”

I nodded. “It’s hard with a point-and-shoot camera. It tends to focus on whatever is in the foreground, and the deer is behind some branches . . . which you will notice are in perfect focus.”

As I brought up the next two images, my Foreman frowned again. “These Wild Turkeys are in better focus than the deer, but neither bird would look up at me.”

I laughed. “You needed Cleric to sweet-talk them into posing.”

Cleric blushed. “I would have helped, but I guess I was too preoccupied with my own photography to notice that anyone else needed help.”

The next image on the screen was a male American Goldfinch.

American Goldfinch - male (2)

“Wow! Who took this one?”

Arrogant OneMy Arrogant One stood up, held his head high, grasped his cloak in both hands, and rocked back on his heels. “That would be one of mine.”

“Great lighting!”

He smiled and bowed.

“Is this one yours, too?” An image of a Yellow Warbler filled the screen.Yellow Warbler (2)

The elf nodded smugly. “He, too, was in favorable light when I took the photo.”

I nodded. “And the Yellow-rumped Warbler? Yours again?”

Yellow-rumped Warbler

“He is.” My Arrogant One frowned a bit. “The lighting was not as good for this one, but I still like the image.”

“Indeed.”

Bounty HunterThe next two images were of a male Northern Cardinal. My Bounty Hunter tilted his head and studied his photos. “He was a bit far, and difficult to find, even with so little foliage on the trees. I heard him singing for the longest time before I found him. I suppose the images are acceptable.”

“I think they’re quite good. Remember, you are all just learning to use the camera.”

I brought up an image of a Song Sparrow. “Nice!”

Song Sparrow (3)

My Bounty Hunter didn’t agree. “I took that one only because the bird was singing, as a Song Sparrow should. I think the second image of him is better. He’s closer and the lighting was better.”

I brought up the second image and we all agreed with the photographer’s assessment.

Song Sparrow (4)

The next image was a Chipping Sparrow. “Yours again?”

Chipping Sparrow (3)

Young hero 2“No, Mistress, that one is mine.” My Young Hero cleared his throat. “The lighting was poor, and I should have waited, but I liked the bird. I took a second photo of him as well, when he flew into a tree. I think that one is better.”

I brought that one up on the screen and nodded. “Oh, this is a nice image. You can see the mouthful of nesting material the bird has gathered.”

Chipping Sparrow (4)

The next image was a male Eastern Bluebird. My Young Hero smiled. “I took that one as well. It was a bit far, but I think the image is sharp enough. I remembered how you said to try to blur the background for a nice effect, too.”

Eastern Bluebird - male

I smiled. “Very nice! You’re learning a lot!” I brought up the next image, a Palm Warbler.

Palm Warbler (1)

“I did the same thing for this image, too.” My Young Hero looked pleased. “But I could not do it for the second image I took of this bird, as he flew down onto the grass.”

Palm Warbler (2)

I looked at the second Palm Warbler image. “That’s okay, you got a good, clear shot of him.”

I brought up the next image.

Garter Snake (7)

“Eeek! No doubt who took that picture!” Cleric shuddered at the image of a Garter Snake.

gypsy-facing-rightElfMy Gypsy grinned and waggled his eyebrows. “I found him just for you.”

“Oh! He is so big!” Cleric shuddered again as I displayed the second image of the snake.

Garter Snake (4)

My Gypsy laughed at Cleric. “He is just a wee little thing, and he does not bite.”

“Why can you not stick to images of creatures like these?” Cleric pointed to the photo of two turtles on the screen.

Turtles (3)

My Gypsy grinned. “That is one of my images as well. And the next one, when they were on the log in the pond.”

Turtles (4)

Cleric tilted her head as she studied the second turtle photo. “Oh, I think I saw you take that photo. I was trying to coax a pair of Canada Geese into showing off their goslings.”

“You mean these goslings?” I clicked onto the next image, two adult Canada Geese swimming with a line of five goslings between them.

Canada Geese (1)

Cleric smiled broadly. “Yes, that is the image. I also got a closer shot of the same five goslings on land, and a single adult goose in the water.”

I brought up Cleric’s other images and nodded my approval.

 

“Are the images of the male Wood Ducks yours as well?”

Cleric nodded. “I did not like the first one. That duck would not pose nicely. But the second one seemed to understand what I was looking for, and he swam right in front of a rock that was reflecting in the pond. I think it created a very nice effect.”

“I agree!”

I brought up the next photo, a beautiful flowering tree.

Flowers (1)

“That is one of my images.” Sorceress pointed. “Dragon and I decided that a trip to an arboretum demanded some images of flowers.”

Dragon nodded, then giggled. “Besides, flowers do not fly away and hide when you try to photograph them.”

sorceress-facing-right

As we viewed the images of the flowers, Sorceress identified hers. “Besides the flowering tree, my images include the purple and yellow pansy, the bleeding hearts, the yellow daffodil, and the two-toned columbine.”

dragon talkingDragon introduced the next images. “I took the photos of the two-tone daffodil, the orange-accented yellow tulips, the purple tulips, and the frilly orange flower, which I believe is also a variety of tulip. And, of course, my namesakes, the snapdragons.”

“Wow!” I looked impressed. “Your photographic skills are as good as your knowledge of flowers.”

Sorceress and Dragon blushed with pride.

Backyard 050“Well, I guess that just leaves my images. I managed to get two shots of my nemesis bird, a male Common Yellowthroat. Usually they just call from the undergrowth and reeds, and never show themselves when they see me with a camera.”

After the yellowthroats, my next image was an Eastern Phoebe. “The Phoebe only stayed around for one image. It was the same with my last bird, a Black-and-white Warbler.”

When we had finished discussing everyone’s images, my Arrogant One surprised me by asking, “May we do this again soon? It was a most enjoyable day!”

“I don’t see why not, as long as this fickle Minnesota weather cooperates.”

My smile turned to a frown as Miles announced, “The ten-day forecast calls for seven days of rain.”

I picked up a pillow from the sofa and chucked it at him.

Chucking pillow at Miles

Be sure to come back and enjoy the adventures and misadventures of my little band of displaced characters. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Practicing With Mistress Writer’s Magic Box

Practicing With Mistress Writer’s Magic Box

Elf facing rightHello, cherished readers! Cleric here. I fear the news this week is not encouraging. Both Mistress Writer and Master Miles are still sick.

Mistress Writer returned to her doctor for what is termed a follow-up. She came home with two new medications in addition to what she was already taking. Master Miles’ doctor also put him on several new medications. They both have strict orders to rest during their respective recuperations, so Mistress Writer was unable to prepare this week’s blog.

Cleric caring for sick Mistress and Mastercamera for blogI devoted much of my time this week to caring for Mistress Writer and Master Miles, administering their medications and preparing their meals. In my spare time, however, I practiced using Mistress Writer’s magic box, the one she calls a camera. About a month ago, Mistress Writer starting teaching me and my fellow characters how to use this device, but this is the first time since then I had the opportunity to practice. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/03/24/magic-or-technology/

Cleric and camerabirdwatchingMistress Writer loves to observe the birds who visit our yard, something she has been unable to do during her illness. Therefore, I decided to surprise her by using her magic box . . . er, her camera . . . to capture images of the birds on our deck and in our yard. That way, she can enjoy them once she has recovered from her malady. I hope you will enjoy them, too.

Directly after Mistress Writer took ill, we had one last, big snowstorm. I was surprised to see a Red-breasted Nuthatch visit our deck in the snow. They are not a common visitor to our yard.

Another surprise was the female Wood Duck who came right up onto the deck to eat alongside some American Robins. Normally very shy, she ignored my presence as she gobbled up as much food as she could.

The flock of more than 100 American Robins that over-wintered in our neighborhood thinned out once the snow was gone, but many robins still visit our yard and deck.

The Dark-eyed Juncos, whom I have come to expect here in the winter, have extended their stay, still coming to the yard and the deck even though all the snow has melted.

The Common Grackles have returned from their winter homes. I love the way their feathers iridesce in the sunlight.

 

Another bird who has returned is the European Starling. Mistress Writer does not care for this bird, as it is an invasive species that harms many of the native songbirds, but I still find it beautiful.

European Starling

The Red-winged Blackbirds are back as well – the very recognizable male with his red epaulettes, and the delicately beautiful female, a much plainer brown bird.

 

We have numerous woodpeckers in the yard, ranging in size from the diminutive Downy to the immense Pileated.

The male Northern Cardinal has been serenading us each morning from his perch in a neighbor’s tree.Northern Cardinal

I had to ask the Gypsy lad to identify a hawk that has been worrying our backyard songbirds. He said it is a Cooper’s Hawk who has been eyeing the small birds from the trees and even venturing onto the deck railing to hunt them.

Since all the ice on the pond has melted, we once again are enjoying a number of waterfowl, including a small raft of Bufflehead.

Buffleheads

Numerous Mallards have been swimming in the pond and visiting the back yard in search of food.

PhotographerCleric and camera 2I know I am not as skilled as Mistress Writer in capturing images of the birds who visit us, or in describing them for you, but I hope you have enjoyed my efforts. And I hope Mistress Writer will be well enough to prepare next week’s blog. Thank you, cherished readers, for allowing me to entertain you in her absence.

Please come back next week and see if Mistress Writer has recovered. We will leave the porch light on for you.

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Magic or Technology?

Magic or Technology?

Looking foward to relaxingIt had been a long day. I was finally home, and all I wanted to do was grab a huge bowl of ice cream, sit down, put my feet up, and maybe watch some television with my husband. Instead, I found my characters waiting for me in the living room.

Out of the jumble of excited comments that greeted me, I could only make out a few. “Did you get it?” “Where is it?” “Can we see it?”

I scowled. So much for ice cream and television. “Can you see what?”

Elf facing rightCleric tilted her head and furrowed her brow. “We thought you said you were going to purchase a new . . . what do you call that type of magic box?”

laptopI sighed. Even after all these years in this world, Cleric and my other characters still struggled to understand some things. I tried not to sound annoyed when I answered her. “It’s called a laptop computer. Yes, I did purchase a new one. The old one was a piece of junk, and I was unable to use it any longer.”

My Gypsy pushed to the front of the assembled group. “So, can we see your new laptop computer?”

I shook my head. “Afraid not. I didn’t bring it home.”

“You purchased it, but you did not bring it home?” My Bounty Hunter gave me a perplexed look.

“I left it at the store. Their tech department is going to set it up for me.”Set up

My Old Dwarf gave me a look that clearly said he thought I was a bit strange. “They be settin’ it up? Where? Be they placin’ it way up on a shelf or on top o a big, tall piece o furniture?”

tech setupI shook my head again. “They’re going to prepare the laptop so I can start using it as soon as I bring it home. Between the time the computer was manufactured and now, there have probably been several updates issued. The technicians will install those updates for me. They will also install my preferred browser – the program I use to access the internet – and a word-processing program – the program I use for writing. They will eliminate any unnecessary software, and they will install a top-of-the-line anti-virus program.”

computer virus“Wait!” Dragon gaped at me. “Anti-virus? Did you not once tell me a virus, a type of germ, makes people sick? Do germs attack inanimate objects in your world?”

I tried not to chuckle. “Yes, I did explain to you that viruses and germs make people sick. But a computer virus is not a germ. A computer virus is a piece of code that can harm a computer.”

“Code?” My Arrogant One frowned.

I sighed. “Let me try to explain in terms you might understand. Computer code is a set of instructions that tell the computer what to do. Think of code working in the same way the words to one of your spells work.”

Sorceress nodded. “So, the anti-virus code is like the wards Dragon places on something to protect it.”

I nodded. “That’s a good enough analogy, I suppose.”

My Gypsy frowned. “So how long will the store have to keep your new laptop?” How long will it take for them to get all this done?”

“It should only take a few days, depending on how many orders they have to complete before working on mine. They’ll call me when the laptop is ready for me to bring home.” I looked at my characters and narrowed my eyes. “Why are you all so interested in my new laptop, anyway?”

gypsy-facing-right“We want to see what it can do.” My Gypsy’s tone of voice placed an unspoken duh at the end of his explanation, as if it should be obvious to me.

Backyard 050I folded my arms across my chest and glared at them. “You know what a computer can do. You’ve snuck into my office on more than a few occasions to read my stories on my desktop computer. You also took my laptop computer into the conference room to read the anthology that contained two of my short stories. You even managed to download the book onto the laptop. How you can manage that when you don’t understand technology is a mystery to me.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/12/02/its-here/

My Gypsy grinned. “Cleric remembered all you had done to get the book onto your big computer, and we just did the same thing on the laptop. That is the nice thing about your magic boxes. Someone with no knowledge of your system of magic can still get them to work, just by pushing the right buttons. It is not like our magic, where you need to have magical ability in order to cast a spell.”

I laughed. “That is because it isn’t magic. It’s technology.”

“So, what is the difference between magic and technology?” My Foreman asked the $64,000 question.

“I think my Gypsy pretty much summed it up. Technology can be learned, but one must have magic within them.” The expressions on the faces of my characters told me they did not understand. I raked my hand through my hair and tried again.

turning on the lights“If I asked if someone would turn on the lights in here, one of you would walk over to the switch on the wall and flip it to the on position. The lights would go on. It wouldn’t matter which of you did it – it would work just as well for my Old Dwarf or my Foreman as it would for Dragon or Sorceress.” I looked around and saw all my characters were nodding.

creating light by magic“Now, if I asked if someone would cast a spell creating light, only those with magical ability would be able to do it. Even if the rest of us were given the right words to say and the right components to use – and we recited those words precisely and combined the components correctly – we could not produce light.”

examples of technology“But not everyone can use what you call technology, either.” My Young Hero frowned. “For example, I cannot drive a car. I cannot use your communication device that you call a cell phone. I cannot use the things we see in stores that you call cash registers. I cannot use the thing you termed a sewing machine that your friend uses to create clothing. And I cannot take a picture with that other magic box, the one you call a camera.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, I can’t use a sewing machine, either. My mom didn’t have the patience to teach me. But most people can learn to do such things. People who do not have magical power can never learn to cast spells.” I had a sudden idea. “Say, since the weather is improving, the temperature has gone up, and most of the snow is gone, maybe some of you would like to go on a nature walk with me tomorrow and take some pictures. I will teach anyone who is interested the basics of using the camera. That way, it might be easier for you to understand the difference between magic and technology.”

The next morning, I was surprised to find all my characters waiting to go on the nature hike with me. I looked at my Foreman and the two lads. “I thought the three of you would be working with your horses today.”

“We are easing into that.” My Foreman ducked his head, cheeks flaming. “We rode yesterday for the first time since the beginning of winter. We are all a bit sore right now.”

“A bit?” My Gypsy snorted, rubbing his rump. “More than a bit, I think.”

My Young Hero nodded. “We thought we would go with you this morning and do some walking to ease our muscles. We can do some more riding this afternoon or tomorrow.”

I smiled. “Okay, let’s go to Memorial Park in Shakopee. They have open water already, and for the past week, my friends from this area have been posting photos on social media. They’ve been seeing a lot of different waterfowl at that park.”

Squirrel near snowPhotographerThe first thing we saw at the park was a squirrel. “Well, this will be a good opportunity for me to show you how to use the camera.” I removed the lens cap and showed my characters how to use the viewfinder and shutter button. Then I explained how to use the zoom feature, and what settings to use. “Since this is your first time using a camera, I think you should leave the settings on automatic. Then you won’t have to try to remember so much.”

I snapped a shot of the squirrel and showed my characters how to view the photo I had just taken. “Okay? So, who wants to try?”

“Are you being honest with us?” My Arrogant One viewed me suspiciously. “We really do not have to intone an incantation or use any spell components?”

I raised an eyebrow. “I am being completely honest. This is technology, not magic. Have you ever heard me recite an incantation, or have you ever seen me use spell components, when I have been taking photographs?”

The elf furrowed his brow, then shrugged. “No. No, I have not.”

“You’ll see. The photos taken by those of you who are adept at magic will be no different than the photos taken by the non-magic users among you.”

All my characters still looked doubtful.

“Let’s go over to the river bank to start. I see a number of waterfowl on the ice by the opposite shore. There are also numerous birds swimming in the open water.”

writing spellcamera strapWe walked the few yards to the river, and my characters gathered close as I gave them their final instructions. “Take turns with the camera. Just be careful not to drop it. When you are taking pictures, you need to have the strap around your neck.” I took out a notebook and pen. “And I’ll keep track of who takes what photos so when we get home and I download them onto the computer, you will be able to see there is no difference between the photos taken by the magic users among you compared to the ones taken by those with no magical ability.”

The rest of the morning was spent photographing the various waterfowl on the river, birds in the trees, and a few mammals. When we got home, I downloaded the photos onto my computer so my characters could see the results of their efforts.

bounty-hunter“Okay, I think most of the photos turned out exceptionally well.” I turned to my Bounty Hunter. “You were the first to attempt taking photos. You captured three images – a pair of swans and a flock of Mallards on the ice on the opposite side of the river, and some really good shots of the Wood Ducks in the protected cove to the right of the first photo you took.”

My Bounty Hunter turned a critical eye on his photos. “Yes, I believe you are right – they are not too bad!” He smiled proudly.

foreman“Our second photographer was my Foreman. He took two pictures of a pair of Blue-winged Teal.”

My Foreman and the others crowded around the monitor to see. “They are not as good as I had hoped.” He looked downcast.

“That was due to the limitations of the zoom feature on my camera. The teal were pretty far away. I think these are good images, considering.”

gypsy-facing-rightMy Gypsy clapped my Foreman on the back. “I bet my images are no better than yours. I also took photos of birds quite distant from us.”

“Yes.” I nodded. “You got six shots of some Hooded Mergansers which were only slightly closer to us than the teal. Again, not bad images considering the distance.”

young-hero-facing-leftMy Young Hero stepped forward. “I believe the first image I captured was from a distance, but the other three were closer. How did they turn out?”

“The Redheads with the Ring-necked Duck were about as far as the swans and Mallards my Bounty Hunter took, not quite as far as the birds my Foreman and my Gypsy took. It turned out very well, as did the images of the closer Redheads.”

My Young Hero looked at his images on the monitor and grinned. “You’re right! They are as good as the others!”

Elf cleric“And how do my photos look?” Dragon, in her customary guise of an elf maiden, pushed to the front of the group.

I brought up her images on the monitor. “You got some excellent photos of the Canada Geese!”

Dragon smiled and acquiesced.

Stu-04-NatGal“And my ducks?” Sorceress moved closer to the monitor.

I smiled. “Your Mallards are excellent as well.”

arrogant-one-facing-right“And my images?” My Arrogant One looked nervous.

“Your Trumpeter Swan images are superb!” I pointed at the monitor. “I particularly love this first close-up.”

The elf drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak with both hands. “That is my favorite as well.”

ElfI looked at the remaining photos. “Cleric took some shots of birds in trees – a Black-capped Chickadee, three shots of a Northern Cardinal, and a Pileated Woodpecker. They are all exceptionally good.”

Cleric blushed, but a smile spread from ear to ear.

I brought up the final three images. “My Old Dwarf captured the only images of mammals today, other than the squirrel I photographed at the beginning of the hike. He got an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit, a Red Squirrel, and an Eastern Chipmunk. Nice photos!”

DwarfThe dwarf grinned. “I be liken’ furry thin’s moren feathery thin’s. They do na be hidin’ so easy, and they do na be takin’ off the minute I be tryin’ ta look at ’em.”

I smiled at the old reprobate. “So, looking at the images you all took today, can we agree that the photographs taken by the magic users were no better than those images taken by the non-magic users?”

Everyone nodded.

“But ye do na be provin’ anythin’ by thet, lass.” My Old Dwarf shook his head.

I tilted my head and furrowed my brow. “I think I have proven that technology, unlike magic, can be used by everyone.”

“Eh, I been thinkin’ aboot thet, and I be sayin’ thet be twaddle. There be some magic items what kin be used by anyone. Back in me ownest world, I been havin’ a ring o takin’ me places.”Ring of transportation

I raised an eyebrow. “A ring of what?”

Sorceress cleared her throat. “I believe he means a ring of transportation.”

“Aye, thet be what it be called. Tha wearer o such a ring kin be goin’ anywhere jus’ by tha power o tha ring. Anywho, I been havin’ such a ring, and it been no problem fer me ta be usin’ it. Ye be seein’, lass, tha power be in tha ring, not in tha user. Thet means e’en a dwarf liken meself, what be havin’ no magical power whatsose’er, kin be usin’ tha ring. An’ I be arguin’ thet it be tha same wit yer magic box what ye be callin’ a camera. Tha magic be in the item, so’s even non-magical folk kin be usin’ it. It still be magic, though, not thet teck-noll-o-gee stuff ye be blatherin’ aboot.”

I gaped at my Old Dwarf, who stood before me with a smug smile on his face. How do I argue that point? I sighed.

So, what is your opinion? What is the difference between magic and technology? Are objects like cameras magical? Let me know what you think. Be sure to come back next week and see what my characters are doing. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Armchair Birding Ten Days Before Spring

Armchair Birding Ten Days Before Spring

Elf facing rightPurgatory Creek and Staring Lake 099“It is only 10 days to the vernal equinox, the first day of spring.”

Dragon opened one sleepy eye and regarded Cleric with disdain.

“What? Am I incorrect?” Cleric blushed under Dragon’s glare.

Dragon in front of fireplaceSnowy deck“I do not know. I do not care.” Dragon rolled over to toast her other side by the heat of her illusory fireplace. “I do not understand the climate of this world. Spring, indeed! The temperatures are still frigid, and the snow is so deep you could lose a good size horse in the drifts!” She glanced out the French doors to the snow-covered deck and snorted. “In our world, spring meant green grass, flowers, birdsong, sunshine, and blessed, blessed warmth!”


“You and the Arrogant One should be glad you were absent from this world for a while. The temperatures while you were gone were brutal! What Mistress Writer terms the feels like temperature due to the wind chill factor was as much as 30 degrees below zero! Even the real temperature was below zero, though not by as many degrees.” Sorceress gathered her cloak closer around her and sipped from her cup of hot tea.

Dragon scowled. “Those numbers mean nothing to me. I do not comprehend the various systems of measurement they use in this world. Mistress Writer calls the temperature here degrees Fahrenheit, while other parts of this world measure temperature in degrees Celsius. I do not know what comprises a degree, nor do I understand Fahrenheit or Celsius.

Cleric nodded. “I agree it is confusing. I only know it was positively numbing. Only Mistress Writer and Master Miles have ventured out of the house since you and the elf left for the other world, and they only go out when absolutely necessary. But even in the house, I can feel the chill.”

sorceress-facing-rightcup-of-teaSorceress placed her teacup on the end table. “The Foreman and the lads are getting quite cranky. They have been unable to work with their horses since the beginning of winter.”

Smoke drifting from Dragon's snoutunicorn“And I am so cold, my scales ache.” A cloud of black smoke drifted from Dragon’s snout. “I think we should all go back to visit the Lord of the Forest and the others in his world! It was tolerably warm there!”

I walked in in mid-conversation, but I had heard enough to comment. “From everything you told us about your recent adventure there, I’m not sure that would be a good idea. I must admit, though, the part about it being warm there makes it tempting. I can’t stand much more of this weather myself. And I don’t think the birds are very happy about it, either.”

I juggled several plastic containers as I struggled to open the door to the deck. “How about a hand here?”

Cleric jumped up and opened the door for me and grabbed half the containers from my arms. We went out and filled the various dishes and food stations around the deck with mealworms, assorted seeds, peanuts and grapes. We were hardly in the house again before a huge flock of birds descended to gobble up the food.

American Robins - overwintering flock (1)

Dragon birdwatchingDragon glanced out the door and her eyes widened. “So many birds!” She shrunk to the size of a housecat and clambered onto the back of the sofa to watch through the window.

Cleric nodded. “And they are all so hungry!”

“Well, it is extremely cold, so they need a lot of food to stay warm.” I watched them make short work of the mealworms and start on the peanuts and grapes. “They are ravenous today!”

“Yes, they seem to eat even more than your Old Dwarf.” Sorceress quirked an eyebrow and smirked.

Dwarf and hamAs if on cue, my Old Dwarf walked into the room, munching on some ham. He gave Dragon an affectionate look, then followed everyone’s gaze. “Wow! Thet be one big bunch o birdies!” He walked over to the doors and watched as the birds ate. “They be makin’ me hungry! When be lunch?”

I gaped at the rotund figure. “Lunch? You’re eating right now!”

“Eh, thet be jus’ a little snack ta be holdin’ me over.” He turned and walked toward the kitchen. “I be seein’ iffin yer mister be needin’ any help ta be fixin’ lunch.”

I shook my head and chuckled at the old reprobate.

“Mistress?”

I turned my attention to Cleric. “Hmmm?”

She tilted her head and scrunched her brow as she looked at the birds. “Are these birds all robins?”

I checked the flock and nodded.

American Robins - overwintering flock (2)

“Is that not unusual for Minnesota in the winter?”

“Well, I don’t know how unusual it is for the rest of Minnesota, but I have never seen such a large flock of overwintering robins in our neighborhood. Most winters, if we have any robins at all in our yard, there are only a few, never more than three or four. This winter, we have a flock that has grown from around 30 birds in December to almost 100 now.”

After a frantic few minutes, most of the food was gone. Cleric and I stepped out and refilled the plates and feeders, then returned to our seats to do some more birdwatching.

gypsy-facing-rightMy Gypsy entered the room and came over to join us as the birds returned to the buffet. “Oh, robins! I love them. They display more variation in color and markings than most people notice.” He pointed to specific birds on the deck railing  as he commented. “Some are pale and have a great deal of white while others are deep brick-red on their fronts. And some have much more white around their eyes than others.”

Once the robins ate their fill and flew off, other birds ventured onto the deck, or waited their turn in the nearby trees. Cleric and my Gypsy settled into their favorite game of seeing who was quickest to identify the birds.

My Gypsy was first. “See the little brown bird on the dish, eating safflower seed? The rufous cap and line through his eye, the smudged dot on his chest, and the bi-color bill all tell me he is an American Tree Sparrow.”

American Tree Sparrow

The two companions looked to me, and my Gypsy grinned as I nodded in agreement with his assessment.

Not to be outdone, Cleric quickly identified some birds. “See the two birds on the posts and the one on the dish? The black cap and bib, the white cheeks, the gray wing feathers edged in white, and the stubby bill tell me these three are Black-capped Chickadees.”


I smiled and nodded. “One apiece. Who’s next?”

My Gypsy immediately pointed to another small bird on a post. “That bird also has a black cap and white cheeks, but no black bib. His longer bill, his white throat and belly, and his bluish-gray back tell me this compact little bird is a White-breasted Nuthatch.”
White-breasted Nuthatch
“Two for my Gypsy and one for Cleric.” I smiled approvingly at my two characters.

“Oh, look!” Cleric pointed to another bird that had just landed on the snowy railing. “Blue crest, black necklace, gray front, blue back, and various shades of blue with some black plumage on the wings and tail tell me he’s a Blue Jay, and there are two more in the trees.” She pointed again.


“Two-all. You’re both getting really good at identifying these birds!”

My Gypsy grinned, missing the opportunity to score another identification, as Cleric quickly continued. “Those three are Dark-eyed Juncos, also called snowbirds, as they are winter visitors here. They are mostly dark gray to black, with white bellies. They have white outer tail feathers, which, of course, you can only see on the bird sitting on the post. Oh, and they have pink bills.” She pointed to the birds, one on the post, one eating from a dish, and one pecking at some spray millet.

“You forgot to identify the sub-species.” My Gypsy gave her a smug look. “There are at least seven sub-species of Dark-eyed Juncos. These three belong to the Slate-colored subspecies.”

“I’d say you each get a point for that one. That puts you at three apiece.” I grinned.

My Gypsy immediately tried to pull ahead in the competition. “There are three female Northern Cardinals eating from the clay dishes.” He pointed, and continued, “See the short, thick bills, and the pale brown coloring, with tinges of red in their crests, their wings, and their tails?”

Cleric nodded, and quickly pointed to the trees. “And there are three male Northern Cardinals in the trees, waiting for their mates to finish eating. They have brilliant red coloring, long tails, and black masks. And one is singing!”


“Another point each! You’re doing so well!” I gave them both an encouraging smile.

Cleric beamed at the praise. “It is fun to practice our skills identifying the birds of your world, Mistress. While we knew most of the birds in our own world, everything was foreign to us when we found ourselves in your world.”

My Gypsy nodded. “Even after several years here, we still sometimes have trouble identifying some birds. For instance, I can tell the little woodpecker eating from the dish on the deck is a Downy Woodpecker. He is close enough that I can see he is very small and has a short beak relative to the size of his head. But there are three woodpeckers in the trees that look like Downies, but I cannot be sure. They might be the larger look-alike, the Hairy Woodpecker. From this distance, I cannot judge their size accurately, nor the relative size of bill-to-head.”

Cleric and I looked where my Gypsy was pointing. I turned to her. “Do you want to weigh in on this?”

Cleric nodded. “I believe all three are the smaller one, the Downy Woodpecker. Although there are no other birds near any of them by which to judge their size, they appear very compact to me. Also, while I am not positive, I believe I am seeing dark spots on their white outer tail feathers, which would confirm their identity as Downies.”

“Excellent! You both scored another point!”

My Gypsy furrowed his brow, obviously upset that he was unable to confirm the identities, but he quickly brightened when he saw another bird. “Well, I can see that bird in the tree well enough to identify it. A soft-gray bird with black spots on its wings, a long, thin tail, pink legs and a thin, slightly curved black bill – that’s a Mourning Dove!”
Mourning Dove
I nodded. “Very good! You just took the lead.”

“Oh, no! I do not suppose that one would count – an Eastern Gray Squirrel, who has chased all the birds from the deck!” Cleric frowned at the furry animal, then laughed. “I think he wants to know if we have any more peanuts. The birds did not leave any!”
Eastern Gray Squirrel (1)
“I don’t think we should put any more out right now, and you might want to suggest to the squirrel that he gets out of sight.”

No sooner had I said that when a hawk flew down from the tree, landing on the railing. The squirrel made a hasty escape into the bush next to the deck.

Cooper's Hawk (2)

“Oh, my! I am glad our furry little friend did not end up as this bird’s dinner!” Cleric gaped at the bird, who struck a regal pose. “Mistress, is this a Cooper’s Hawk or a Sharp-shinned Hawk?”

Cooper's Hawk (1)My Gypsy, eager to show off, did not even give me a chance to answer. “Oh, I know! This bird is larger than the average Sharp-shinned Hawk, which is only about the size of the Blue Jay we saw earlier. The eyes are close to the front of the head, and the feathers on his nape are lighter than his head feathers, giving him a capped look, rather than a hooded appearance. This is a Cooper’s Hawk.”

I nodded. “Yup, and the red eyes and the vertical barring tell us it is a full adult.”

There was a commotion on the deck, and we watched as a smaller hawk came and chased off the Cooper’s Hawk. The newcomer settled itself on a post and looked around.

Sharp-shinned Hawk (1)

Cleric tilted her head and studied the bird. “Oh, this hawk has yellow eyes and streaks rather than barring. This is a juvenile, is it not?”

“Yup. But a juvenile what?” I grinned.

Cleric chewed on her lower lip. “A Sharp-shinned Hawk?”

My Gypsy raised an eyebrow. “Are you certain?”

Cleric grinned. “Yes. This bird is smaller than the other hawk, and the barring is very large and bold. The barring on a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk would be thinner, finer. It is a Sharpie.”

We watched as the bird moved around, showing off its beautiful plumage.


Dragon frowned. “The Gypsy said a Sharp-shinned Hawk was about the size of a Blue Jay. While this hawk is smaller than the other hawk, it is noticeably larger than the Blue Jay we saw earlier.”

Cleric nodded. “It is probably a female. The female birds of prey are larger than the males. A female Sharp-shinned Hawk could be almost the same size as a male Cooper’s Hawk.”

I nodded. “Excellent! I am very impressed by both of you!”

My Gypsy frowned. “But which one of us won? Who identified the most birds?”

I reviewed the birds we had seen, and who had identified each one. “I think it was pretty much a tie.”

“Well, I will win next time.” My Gypsy squared his shoulders and set his jaw.

“We will see about that!” Cleric smiled.

Sorceress rose from her chair and beckoned us. “Right now, I think we should see if perchance lunch is ready.”

Dragon hopped down from the back of the sofa, resuming her former size before her feet hit the floor. “Only if I can move my fireplace into the dining room.”

fireplace2

We hope you enjoyed our winter armchair-birding adventure. Be sure to return every week to see what new adventures and misadventures await my band of displaced characters. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Working on the Calendar

Working on the Calendar

Month of Novembermarge.jpg“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?”
Miles
Miles grinned.
Days turn into weeks
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.”

Elf facing right“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?”

Calendar“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.”

gypsy-facing-right“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.”

office-and-bookshelf-for-blog-002

* * *

office - getting down to workAfter 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.

computer mouseMy 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.

Thumbnails“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.

Song Sparrow“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.”

White-breasted NuthatchWe 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.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

“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.”

American Tree SparrowMy 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!”

Blue JayCleric 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.”

Dark-eyed Junco (1)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.
Sandhill Cranes
“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.”

GoslingAs 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.”

DucklingI 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.”

Bald Eagle on office buildingAs 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.

American Robin (3)“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.

Wild Turkey (2)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!

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