I have no birds to cushion life’s blows. I seek signs of them and wonder when the shift will happen in my mind; the shift from no birds to birds.
Growing up in the Sierras, red-tailed hawks came to me. It’s not as if they circled overhead, asking, “Hey, Charli, can I ride your horse?” It’s more like made their presence known. A loud, “Sceeee!” and I’d look up, watch wing feathers tickle air currents, and feel connected to the expanse we shared.
In Minnesota, it was backyard birds from red cardinals to common house finches to swooping goshawks. Then the ducks came. Whenever I needed a lift of spirits, a duck would fly overhead. Up north the loons would trill to me, and across the border, in Wisconsin the pileated woodpeckers played hide-and-seek.
North Idaho exploded with birds — Elmira Pond was a traveler-stop along the feathered migration highway. Hefty eagles hunted turtles and baby mergansers in early spring and Blue Heron bathed on a log at the edge of the pond. Wonders never ceased until the place ceased to be my home.
Lost in the wilderness with no plumbing and living in a leaking tin can of a camp trailer, nonetheless every morning I awoke to the miracle of hummingbirds. Caliope with golden-red heads descended from the river trees and battled for the sugar-water I set out for them.
In the strange and red land of southern Utah (Mars), Road Runner appeared. With a red head and black and white body, he was easy to spot. Yet he’d stride quickly in and out of brush and cacti. One day along the Virgin River between the massive sandstone pillars of Zion, Blue Heron flew past me like a visiting angel.
Broke down in New Mexico, quail, roadrunners, and hawks made visits. Our final days there on the border of Colorado where the McCanles family settled, the hummingbirds returned and we saw flashes of indistinguishable mountain birds. In Kansas, a hoot owl serenaded me several late nights.
Arriving in the Keweenaw, I heard a loon one morning and the trill felt like a welcome call. But since then, birds have gone silent. Maybe the rocks are too loud. More likely I haven’t adjusted my perception. It’s a stillness I embrace to be with nature, in nature. It’s where the birds usually meet me. It’s like the border to another place.
Writers visit that place — the borderlands between what we know and what we imagine.
Lately, I’ve been meditating and it feels like visits to that borderland expanse. I use an app on my phone from Calm.com. Believe me, after a year of wandering homeless, I need calm. An added feature is the “focus” music. Ambient sounds to de-stress and work by. A must-have for writers, especially on deadline or amid distractions.
A quote from a recent #dailycalm reads:
“You can close your eyes to the things you do not want to see but you cannot close your heart to the things you do not want to feel.”
I sat with that quote, letting it seep into my bones. Writers can’t help but see, and we write from open hearts. Whether we search the shadows for the darkness of humanity or let the light in, this is the borderlands. It’s setting out to write about birds and ending up with white flowers. Because we don’t know what awaits us on the page until we cross the border between what we see and what we feel deep inside.
Sometimes we don’t know what we feel deep inside until we craft a story and a reader reflects back to us the depth. Thus, is the deep in the writers? The readers? Or again, a borderland between individuals? We may not want to feel it but that is what we must write. That is what writing into our truth looks like — a trip to the borderlands and a journey to the deep.
In meditation, I was guided to “feel.” I recall thinking that I wasn’t really feeling anything deep. After all, I’ve been meditating, letting go, hefting healthy boundaries and (mostly) eating healthy food. I had invited calm into my life. Things were finally happening, moving, not stuck or unstable.
I was guided to pluck a flower and look at the feeling as if it were a bloom. I did. It was white. Suddenly a field of white flowers expanded before me and I recognized it as the scene I once snapped when Bobo perched in a field of white daisies. I love that photo — the beauty, the wonder, the freedom. It was before…
…before Kate died. Before we lost Elmira Pond. Before we wandered. Before Grenny died on Mars. Before we knew the battles ahead. Stab after stab I felt the grief so sharp. How could I be sitting here so calm, so focused and so utterly devastated inside? Suddenly, every white flower morphed into every war widow or struggling veteran wife.
If the soldiers have a field of red poppies, the spouses have one of white daisies.
The meditation continued. I grappled with grief, thought of Danni in that field and realized it will play out in my writing. After recognizing and naming my flower (field) I was able to let it wash past me. I felt better afterward, and curious, too. It felt like the borderlands materialized clearly. I will sit with this image for a spell.
In the meantime, I went digging in my photo archives and found the actual shot that led me to the field of white daisies. It reminded me that an early prompt at Carrot Ranch was “white flowers.” It was April 2014 and six writers responded. I remember my elation that anyone was responding! The writers responded with depth and I knew we would venture to the borderlands together.
Over three years later and we consistently have over 30 writers responding a week. And The Congress of Rough Writers has grown to 40. And now we have our first global title in Amazon, published by Carrot Ranch Literary Community: The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1. It’s also my first book to qualify me for an author page and I’m over the moon. This marks a huge milestone for many of us in this community. I’m thrilled!
Yet deep down, I grieve.
That is the essence of the field of white daisies, though. It is why we remember WWI soldiers with stunning red poppies — we rise, perhaps stronger for our pain and suffering, and we soak up the beauty and the life, too. We cannot know joy without knowing grief. We cannot know the hero within without also recognizing our own capacity for villainy. We are human — we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Just as I’m expecting birds to show up, I will always expect stories, too. We need only open our eyes to see, brave the depths of our hearts to feel. Write into those borderlands.
December 21, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include white flowers in your story. This is a repeat prompt, but one that has an ability to be emotive. Humor, drama, irony — go wherever the white flowers lead.
Respond by December 26, 2017 (Happy Boxing Day!) to be included in the compilation (published December 27). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
A Field of White Flowers (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mils
Danni dodged potholes on the way to the logging site halfway up Nine Mile Road. On corners she slowed, scouting for logging trucks. Fully loaded they needed wide clearance. Near the crest of the ridge a mountain meadow opened up from the cover of tamarack and jack pines. Danni pulled over to let G-Dog and Det run through white daisies. G-Dog marked the perimeter and Det held point. What did she see? Danni scanned the far edge of shadows, imagining Ike and Bubbie walking the forest. White flowers bobbed like funerary tokens. A lone duck beat wings overhead. Silence.