Monday, April 24, 2017

Winter's Jealousy

Winter’s Jealousy
                                                     By Valerie L. Egar
Spring! Robins arrived and started hunting for good places to build nests. A few green shoots poked up in the woods and a light breeze carried the scent of thawing earth.
            In the Kingdom of Wee People, King Orin issued a proclamation: to celebrate spring’s arrival, everyone was invited to a kite festival. Afterwards, King Orin and Queen Lilliana would open their castle for a moonlight ball and everyone could dance until dawn.
            Every fairy in the Kingdom scurried to find things that could be fashioned into tiny kites— dried leaves, petals from a snow drop, stray feathers, bits of milkweed down.
Brock busied himself weaving thin reeds together to make his kite. He painted a purple butterfly on it with the blackberry paint he’d made in the summer.
Nixie made a box kite by lashing red tulip petals she’d cut into rectangles onto feather shafts. Her kite was well-made, and when she tested it, it flew well.
Donella took a shriveled leaf that cupped just enough to catch the wind and painted a fierce face on it. She braided a long tail from milkweed silk and attached it to the leaf. Now she had a dragon kite, with a very long tail.
 All across the Kingdom, tiny hands worked to make kites to welcome spring and as the wee people made their kites, their excitement grew. Spiders spun thread to tether the kites and a helpful beaver gnawed sticks into small pieces for the wee folk to use as reels. Birds were put on notice to leave the air space free and a gang of blue jays promised to patrol.
Everything was ready for a perfect spring celebration. With the warmer weather, even the apple tree opened a few early blossoms.

Winter glanced into his crystal ball and grew jealous. Though the wee folk liked sledding and ice skating, no one ever welcomed him or celebrated his arrival as enthusiastically as they did spring’s. They might sing songs around a bonfire or build a snowman or two, but even people who liked him were always happy to see him go.

“I’ll fix this!” Winter said. He took a big breath and began to blow. The sky darkened. The air grew nippy.
“Oh no!” King Orin thought.  “It feels like snow!” He consulted his weather oracle, Breena.
Breena held a feather in the air and cast a handful of salt into the wind.  She shook her head. “Winter’s trying his hardest to conjure up snow for tomorrow’s kite festival.”
“Terrible!” roared King Orin.
 Queen Lilliana started to cry. “There’s nothing sadder than apple blossoms killed by snow.”
Everyone in the Kingdom was worried, but Breena had an idea. She whispered in King Orin’s ear and he agreed her idea was a good one. He sent messengers throughout the Kingdom asking everyone to gather at the castle later that evening.
As the wind blew and a few snow flurries fell, King Orin addressed the crowd. “Before we celebrate the arrival of spring, I asked all of you here for a Thank You Celebration for Winter. I am so grateful for the quiet of winter, when I can think and plan for the new season.”
A wee farmer added, “Yes, I’m grateful for snow that waters the earth.”
Other voices chimed in. “Winter is the coziest time of year.” “ We’d never have hot chocolate if it wasn’t for winter.” “ Nothing is prettier than frost on window panes.” “I love snuggling under the blankets on long winter nights.” “The stars shine brighter in winter and without leaves on the trees, I can see them better.”
On and on the wee folk talked. Winter was so interested in what they had to say, he stopped blowing to listen.  They liked him!

King Orin said, “Each season in its own time, and we thank Winter for the time he has given us.”  Winter’s cold heart thawed and he smiled. He thought he’d enjoy seeing some colorful kites in sky, and though he would never admit it to anyone, he loved the scent of apple blossoms.

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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission form the author. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Dirty Duck

Dirty Duck
                                                                           by Valerie L. Egar

            A flock of ducks roamed the barnyard on Krista’s parent’s farm. Though all of them were white, Krista knew how to tell them apart: some had a feather or two missing, or a different curve to their tail feathers. Others had freckled bills and one walked with a slight limp.
Krista fed the flock every morning and evening. They came to her call, “Here, duck, duck, duck, duck, ducks!”  A few bold ones stood close when she threw them cracked corn. Krista tried to teach them to eat from her hand by sitting still as a garden statute, but they shied away.
            In the spring, yellow ducklings quacked and followed their mothers around the barnyard. Krista liked watching the ducklings and noticed one stood out from all the others, because his downy feathers were unkempt and messy. Though Krista knew dirty feathers could mean the ducking was sick, she saw how eagerly he ate and knew he was healthy. She named him “Dirty Duck.”
            Dirty Duck was friendlier than the other ducklings and soon learned to take food from Krista’s hand. When she gently picked him up, he didn’t resist and allowed her to carry him around the barnyard. He was always the first to come running when Krista called.
            By the end of the summer, white feathers replaced fuzzy yellow down on all the ducklings. Krista easily recognized Dirty Duck: his white feathers were as soiled and sloppy as his downy feathers had been. From his head to his tail, he was freckled with dirt and true to his name, “Dirty Duck.”
            Krista had an idea. If Dirty Duck had a bath, maybe he would look like the other ducks.
            “Mom,” Krista said, “May I give Dirty Duck a bath in the tub?
            Mom thought for a moment.  She didn’t think ‘bath’ was the right word, because soap might harm the duck. Swimming in water might clean him up though. Since the farm didn’t have a pond, the bathtub was the only option.
“Will you help me scrub the tub after Dirty Duck swims in it?”  Mom asked.
            Krista promised that she would.
            Mom helped Krista run water for Dirty Duck. They made sure the water was room temperature, not too hot, not icy cold. They didn’t put anything in the water, so it would be like an outdoor pond.
            Krista went outside and called the ducks. She picked Dirty Duck up, carried him into the house and put him in the tub.
           Dirty Duck had never been swimming before. Back and forth he paddled, content to be in the water. Slowly, his feathers whitened.  Krista gently rubbed the top of his head and his neck with a moist paper towel until they were clean, too.
            When he finished swimming, Krista wrapped him in an old towel and carried him outside. “Now you’re not a dirty duck anymore,” she said. He flapped his wings and shook the water off. His white feathers glistened in the sun. “I might have to think of a new name for you.”
            When Krista called the ducks the next morning, Dirty Duck came running. She recognized him immediately because he was speckled with dirt as though he’d splashed in a mud puddle.
            She patted his head gently and sighed. “I guess you’re Dirty Duck and even a bath won’t change that.” He quacked at Krista and happily ate from her hand. 

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Copyright 2015 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published November 5, 2015 in Making It At Home (Kennebunk, ME).

Monday, April 10, 2017

Emily Finds A Way

             Emily Finds a Way 
                                                By Valerie L. Egar
“Can dog fur be used for anything?” Emily wondered as she brushed Phoenix, a beautiful black and white Siberian husky. He was shedding his winter coat and after she brushed him, long strands of white wooly fur lay in heaps on the floor.
In the Randall family, almost everything was recycled or repurposed. When Emily’s Mom peeled vegetables, she saved the skins for the compost heap. Her Dad made a sturdy garden bench from an old bed he found in the attic. Grandma took the t-shirts Emily outgrew and made a snuggly quilt from them. If everything had a use, what could she do with Phoenix’s fur? 
            Emily swept the fur into a large shopping bag and went to the kitchen to ask  Mom.  “Can we add Phoenix’s fur to the compost?”
            Mom shook her head no.  “That wouldn’t work,” she said. “I can’t think of a thing to do with dog fur except throw it away.”
            “Dad, can you think of anything useful I can do with Phoenix’s fur?”
           Dad thought for a moment and smiled. “We can build a science lab in the cellar and clone a Franken-husky for Halloween.”  Then he laughed. Dad was always joking.
            Emily asked Grandma. Grandma fingered the fur and considered Emily’s question.  She said, “Some people knit scarves from their dog’s fur, but even though you have a bag full, you would need a whole lot more than that.”  Then Grandma added, “You’d also need to spin the fur into yarn first.”
            Emily thought that sounded like an awful lot of work. She felt discouraged, but she wasn’t going to give up, at least not yet.  She stuffed the bag in her closet.
            When she walked to school the next morning, she saw Mrs. Jenkins decorating her lilac bush with thread and small strips of fabric. 
            Emily couldn’t think of any holidays that were coming up. “Mrs. Jenkins, what are you doing?”
            Mrs. Jenkins stopped and smiled. “I like to sew, Emily. All winter, I save scraps of fabric and thread to put out for the birds, so they have something warm to line their nests.”
            Emily thought for a second and had an idea. “Do you think birds might like Phoenix’s fur for their nests?”
            “I don’t know for certain,” said Mrs. Jenkins, “but if I were a bird, I’d like it.”
            After school, Emily took the bag of fur into the back yard and stood by the spruce tree she’d helped her Dad plant last spring.  It had grown and now, it was almost her height. She took tiny clumps of fur and placed them on branches all over the tree until it was entirely covered. The little tree looked like it was snow-covered.
Emily went inside and watched the tree for a long time from her bedroom window. No birds. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea after all. When she told Mrs. Jenkins, she said, “Give it time, Emily. Birds have to discover the fur is there.”
When Emily came home from school, she threw her books on the kitchen table and ran outside to see if any of the fur was missing. Emily thought some of it was gone, but she wasn’t sure. Maybe it just blew away.
On Saturday, Emily woke up early.  She looked out her window and saw a robin in the spruce tree. It took a small clump of fur in its beak and flew away. Then, a small brown sparrow appeared and it pulled some fur off the branch and flew away.  Her idea worked! Emily smiled and rubbed Phoenix’s head. “I knew your fur could be used for something,” she said. “It’s helping keep baby birds warm.”

Copyright 2016 by Valerie L. Egar. Published April 10, 2016, Journal Sunday Tribune (Biddeford, ME).  Like the story? Please share with your FACEBOOK friends.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Theka's Choice

                                             Theka’s Choice
                                                            By Valerie L. Egar
  Once upon a time, a very long time ago, a little girl, Theka, lived in a village at the edge of a dark forest.  She was an orphan, but managed to make her way.  She swept the sidewalk in front of the bakery every morning and the baker gave her a sweet roll. She earned a few coins weeding the widow’s garden. When the monsoons came, a rich merchant allowed her to sleep in his warehouse. Everyone in the village knew Theka and gave her what they could spare.
            Theka spent her day wandering.  She drank water from a clean spring at the edge of the forest and ate berries. Because she was lonely, she talked to the trees and flowers.
            “Hello, great tree. How are you today? Did you like the rain last night?”
            “Little flower, does the butterfly tickle when it touches you?”

            One day she climbed high into a tree and amused herself by singing.  For hours, she closed her eyes and sang a beautiful song. Opening her eyes, she was surprised. Birds of every size and color perched on the branches of the nearby trees. A tiger, a wolf, and a bear rested underneath the trees with deer, rabbits and a boar. 

So enchanted were the animals, they did not fear each other. They bowed their heads to Theka and walked back into the forest.
            Theka couldn’t wait to sing her song again. The next day, she climbed the tree, closed her eyes and once again sang the melody that called the animals. Once again, the birds and forest animals came to listen in peace. After that, Theka sang to them everyday.

            A hunter spied Theka talking to the trees one day and stayed hidden to watch her. He saw her climb a tree, heard her sing and saw the forest animals gather. He was disturbed by what he saw, but said nothing.
            Not long after, a tiger killed a farmer’s calf.  The village was upset.  A tiger!  Tigers were dangerous. Who knew what else a tiger might do? Everyone gathered for a meeting.
“It’s no wonder!” the hunter yelled. He pointed at Theka. “She sings and calls wild animals out of the forest.  This is her fault!”
            When questioned, Theka was truthful. Yes, she sang a song. Yes, the animals came, but they were peaceful.  No, no one taught her the song. No, she didn’t understand why her song called the animals, it just happened that way.
            She heard a chorus of voices: “Her singing is dangerous!”  “Who knows where this kind of power leads?” “Unnatural, especially for a girl!” “She’s bewitched!”
            They ordered Theka to stop singing.
           “And if I don’t?” She looked at the stern faces, even of those who had been kind to her and knew the answer. They gave her a day to think about it.
            Theka spent the night high in her tree, looking at the stars and thinking. “What should I do, tree?” she asked and thought she heard an answer.
            Early in the morning, as the sun’s first rays peeked over the horizon, Theka walked into the forest. She knew she would miss her village, but she also knew she had a special gift people in her village didn’t understand.  She was a little bit frightened about how she would provide for herself, but also excited by her new adventure.
            People in the village never saw Theka again. Some whispered a tiger ate her and others guessed she starved, but the few who ventured into the forest swore they heard singing high in the trees. One or two reported glimpsing her and after many years, more and more claimed to see her, sometimes high in a tree, other times, running on a forest path.  Hunters blamed her for misdirecting their arrows and calling the forest animals they hunted to safety.
If you walk in the forest and sit quietly with eyes that see and ears that hear, she will sing to you, too.   

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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published April 2, 2017 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).