July 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

July 24, 2020

When I was a kid, maybe eight or nine, I remember plucking reed-like horsetail plants and dismembering each section. I was left with an imaginary pack of green cigarettes. I never lit them on fire, but I did “smoke” them. Gratefully, pretend smoking never led to an actual habit (unless you count the marshmallows I like to light on fire to eat their crunchy, gooey, charred remains). I suppose I was fascinated by the way the plant came apart like a natural erector set and by the positions smokers took when lit up. I never liked the actual smoke my aunts blew my way, not wanting to foul their air with the exhalations, but I did notice how they seemed to take a different body stance during the act. That smoker’s poise was my intent with imitation.

I also didn’t know that when I grew up, I’d be hunting for wild horsetail to make a bone-strengthening brew as a mid-menopausal woman. I’m yet a teeny-bopper in crone years, but I understand that the transitions my body is experiencing require a different medicine cabinet than the mothering years. No longer do I need raspberry leaf or yarrow. I’m incrementally adding more Motherwort to my daily intake, and I can’t seem to get enough nourishing nettles these days. No longer do I believe cigarettes make women look cool. I’m okay with looking like an oddball at any age, wearing expandable waistbands, and returning to the flannel shirts of my youth.

For my son’s wedding, though, I’m being aiming for classy. I bought three new pairs of sandals — a fancy copper-toned heel, strappy white flats, and open-toed black leather wedges. We have rehearsal dinner, the wedding and reception, and time to visit. My excuse for watering in these heels is that I want to make sure they fit properly, that I can walk in them safely, and, well, I feel extra pretty in my PJs and flannel overshirt with heels on. I don’t need a cigarette, real or fake, between my fingers to strike a cool pose with my garden hose. Despite the heels’ few inches of extra height, my MOG gown is about 8-inches too long. My necklace is two inches too short. And I’m running out of time to order any online fixes.

Don’t get me started on my hair. It’s starting to escape clips and binders, emerging a wild thing. It’s curling in weird ways, and I’m starting to think I should shave it all off. However, my future DIL arranged for a hairdresser for the mothers and wedding party. Technically, I’m still in lockdown per Michigan orders until August 11. They get married on August 15. I’m also in quarantine, waiting to hear back on the COVID test the Hub had to take after being exposed. I’m lost in limbo with a shaggy, uncooperative mop with no access to beauty parlor visits.

Nature is wide open, however, and I go to places where I can avoid people, pick rocks, and tie a scarf around my roaming hair.

Last week I returned to my favorite McLeans beach and encountered seven loons, one a month-old chick. They sat at the edge of gentle waves and shoved off the rocks into the water as soon as I started fumbling in my daypack for my phone. Later, one loon returned to the beach and I swam-crawled (my way of crabbing among the rocks to stay cool in the water and not get rolled over by the waves) for a closer examination. He either found me not-threatening (I doubt I look threatening to anyone when swim-crawling) or thought I looked loony enough to be close kin. He preened his feathers and sunbathed until other beachgoers emerged from the wooded trail, and he was out of there, zipping into the water in such a way that he shoved off from the rocks with back legs not built for waddling but for swiftly swimming.

Among the rocks, I also picked up litter. Some old, like sea glass, some new, like plastic. Evelyn Ravindran, Natural Resources Director for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), says, “This is what it means to be human. You have to take care of the world you live in. You have a responsibility to do that.” It’s not enough to trample across beauty. We need to slow down, appreciate it, and truly experience its wonder. It’s important that we have wild spaces where all the nations can be. I mean, the plant and animal nations. We need to protect nature around us.

While we’ve been in a pandemic, the indigenous tribes of America have not slowed down in their protection of the natural world. The Water Walkers of KBIC have been fortifying their medicine cabinets with the plant nation and upholding their first treaty as stewards. They are preparing for their annual 17-mile walk around the bay to honor Nibi — water. I’ve been singing to Nibi as I was taught and hope to join the Water Walkers once again on their three-day walk across all the ceded territories of the Keweenaw.

My wise Water Walker mentor, Kathleen Smith, says, “What matters is that we advocate and give a voice to the things that cannot speak.” That fits in with what we do as writers. We explore ideas, culture, relationships, and the recesses of our own hearts and minds. We seek our voices, as well as give voice to the voiceless. Creative writing does much to instill empathy in both readers and writers.

This video is one example of how people all around the world are working to protect nature. What is happening in your part of the world, in your neighborhood? The opening song is the one I learned to sing to Nibi.

Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.

July 23, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story to show what it is to protect nature around us. It can be set in any era or told in any genre. You can fictionalize a true story or completely make it up. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by July 28, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.


To Protect and to Serve by Charli Mills

Reba pointed her kayak east and sprinkled a pinch of asemaa into the breeze when the sun’s first light touched the water. Her grandson had grown the tobacco last summer that she dried over winter to fill her pouch. It became an offering to the spirits, a promise. She paddled to shore, singing to Nibi her gratitude and respect. Driving to work at the tribe’s fish hatchery, Reba passed the community gardens and the inlet where rice grew on the water – manoomin. Everywhere she looked, she saw the First Treaty upheld – to protect and to serve the precious gifts.

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    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for your story, Reena!

  1. beth

    may the wedding all come together as a beautiful day, love your memories of gathering, and how you now seek out the very same things for different reasons, and i understand, it’s all about comfort in clothes at this point, i am the same

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Beth! I’m getting excited about the upcoming wedding and I’ll keep it on the comfortable side.

  2. Jennie

    When is the wedding? It will all come together, I’m sure.

    • Charli Mills

      The wedding is August 15, Jennie! It’s coming up! We have Covid-guideline for guests and my future DIL says she wants one set of photos without masks. It will be their special day no matter what. Thanks!

      • Jennie

        Very exciting! My sister is the most organized ‘have it together’ person I know. She is the only person – besides you – who bought shoes ahead of time to break them in for the wedding. So that’s how I know it will all come off without a hitch. ????

      • Charli Mills

        Ha! As I grow wiser, I learn.

    • Charli Mills

      Good use of recycling and humor, Joelle!

      • floridaborne

        Thanks. 🙂

  3. denmaniacs4

    Human Nature Being What It Is

    Gilpen was an odd duck.

    No two ways about it.

    As a child he was gone for hours.

    The woods back of his family farm were delightfully wild.


    His playground.

    The Terrific Rewards and Unparalleled Motivation for Profit Corporation eventually bought the land.

    It was never a question of would they build a swack of monstrous multi-million-dollar mansions: just a matter of when.

    Until Gilpen took them to court.

    “Not on my watch,” he argued.

    “A Nature Preserve?” critics scoffed. “Fool! The wealthy need their palaces.”

    “And Mother Earth needs her lungs,” he countered.

    It was some battle.


    • Charli Mills

      I like this character, Gilpen. Odd duck with a noble sword.

  4. Liz H

    Revisiting a story from year’s past, wondering if it needs tending, or should be left as is, sleeping in a folder somewhere in the cloud?

    An Addition to the Family

    A morning breeze tripped through the back garden. Tall cornstalks shivered and shushed one another, delighting in the sleeping baby that had fallen from the sky overnight.
    [Continue ]

    • Charli Mills

      Liz, stories sleep on clouds until they are ready to rain and refresh an idea or germinate a submission. It’s good to revisit what we have in the cloud! This one has a purpose. Somewhere. Some time.

      • Liz H

        “There’s a place for this….somewhere a place for this…dam’, woman, you made me channel West Side Story. 😉

      • Charli Mills

        Ha, ha! Searching through saved stories now has a theme song!

  5. Colleen M. Chesebro

    I’ve missed you all! Here’s what I came up with this week:

    Prayer to the Nature Spirits

    Tara heaved the last rock into place. Twelve stones twisted in a spiral around the ancient Rowan tree.

    “What does the tree mean, Nanna?”

    “The tree symbolizes the nature spirits, Maeve. It’s roots sink into the earth, past the Ancestors to the water below while its branches touch the sky, to reach the Shining Ones. We live in the middle realm between the Ancestors below and the realm of the Shining One’s above. It’s up to us to give offerings and thanks, and to protect the land.”

    The two knelt down in the earth and said a silent prayer.

    • Charli Mills

      Hey, welcome back Colleen! Good to see you! I love the duality of the tree, roots below, limbs to sky and people in between the Ancestors and Shining Ones. It is of the fae and yet shares essence with the Navajo’s Beauty Way. Beautifull!

      • Colleen M. Chesebro

        Yes! The ways of the ancestors must not be lost again! ????

      • Charli Mills

        We are at a crossroads — material consumerism or a return to the ways of the ancestors.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      I love this, the power of this tree. And the respect and reverence shown it.

  6. Jessica E. Larsen

    To Protect and to Serve… what a fitting title for a cozy sweet story. There’s something so charming about it, with a hint of peaceful summer heat in the air.

    • Charli Mills

      The work of the Tribe on whose land I live has been working year after year to rehabilitate traditional ways and restore the Nations. It felt like a warm summer moment to slip into that experience and refresh the phrase to protect and to serve in the light of community. Thanks, Jessica!

  7. Hugh W. Roberts

    I’ve been amazed at how mother nature has been busy fixing all the harm we humans do to mother Earth, Charli. You only have to look at some of those videos of animals going places they could because humans were shut away indoors. Now, as lockdown eases in many parts of the world, the human race seems content on giving mother nature more to do. I heard the other day that if we all picked up one piece of rubbish a day and placed it in the bin, it would make such a huge difference. I haven’t allowed the thought of many humans ignoring that advice and am doing my bit in helping mother nature.

    • Charli Mills

      Hugh, it has been amazing to see how quickly nature returns to heal and reclaim. I’ve been fortunate to live in or near wild places, but that also has given me an eye for seeing the wild even among the domesticated areas. I think people have become disconnected from nature. Even in wild places, they will litter not connecting their mindless act to the beauty they are in. This is why I want to lead nature writing workshops. I think writing from that sense of connectedness is powerful. Thank you for doing your part! <3

  8. Norah

    Not long now until the wedding, Charli. I hope you and Hub are well and managed to avoid the virus. Coming out of quarantine just a few days before the wedding must make you a little jittery. It would me, anyway. Hopefully, it will all go well and all your worries and concerns will fade quickly into the past.
    I can’t believe it’s time for the Water Walk again. I remember being amazed by it when you wrote about it last year. I do hope you get to participate in it again this year.
    I watched the video of Buffalo Reef. Perhaps I didn’t listen well enough in the beginning, but are these deposits of stamp sands from mining that was done in the past? What a lot of sand. I’m amazed at their plan to remove it and even more intrigued by what they may do with it when they move it. What a task. Seems a little like the task of Sissyphus with nowhere really to put it safely.
    I enjoyed your flash. A sense of peace rings through it.

    • Charli Mills

      It’s so crazy over here, Norah. Michigan is one of the states that has responded to COVID-19 with executive orders from our governor but Wisconsin tossed out theirs. Our family in Arizona won’t travel because of COVID, but family in Nevada doesn’t believe it exists. Deliberate misinformation calls out the legitimate science community. All that makes me jittery! But onward.

      Yes! I wondered at the same thing. There’s a great memoir called Opportunity, Montana about a town that was on the receiving end of the toxic mine tailings removed from their copper mines. We create these problems extracting precious metals forgetting how precious our water and air and soil are, too. The stamp sands are the result of the most intensive phase of copper mining in the Keweenaw up until 1932. The video didn’t say but other articles mention removing the stamp sands to the mine pits or landfills. I know it ends up in my garden every year! They sand with it which washes back out into our waterway. Not much of a solution there.

      Thanks! I meant to find the peace the local Tribe has as they rejuvenate the land and water, calling for its sovereignty.

      • Norah

        It’s not the best time for a wedding, Charli. I hope you and your family can make the best of it, and stay safe at the same time.
        I’m sure when the mining was happening, nobody thought of the effects it might have elsewhere or in the future. Even now when we know, many don’t seem to care. All that matters is me and now, it seems.
        You did! I hope you do. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        No, mining companies didn’t think beyond profitability. When I worked for the co-ops, I appreciated how they drove the organic and local food systems to consider sustainable profits. Profits aren’t bad. Making a living is a basic need of all people. But industries and corporations that make profits (not people) their bottom line live by the mantra that “to keep their marble mansions they will starve a child to death.” (From the song, Union Man.) Such profiteers care nothing for the land or people outside their circles of power. On that cheery note — yeah, not the best of times for a wedding but I understand the couple wanting to proceed. It will be a special day, regardless and I will be there!

      • Norah

        I like your determination, and theirs. Enjoy! Best wishes to all for a memorable, in the best possible way, occasion.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      This flash reminds me of the situation Charli and I struggled with last summer about this time. When do you let nature run its course and when do you intervene?

      • nightlake

        Many people may say that dogs and cats have evolved and are used to a domesticated life. It would be cruel to let them out in the jungle. But, we can’t be sure as to what they want when they haven’t experienced the wildlife. Thank you so much, Avery, for commenting on this story.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Padmini! This is a hard call — to liberate or keep captive a pet.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi E.A.! Thanks for joining us! It’s been a good and busy week.

  9. suespitulnik

    Hi Charli,
    I’m sorry two weeks quarantine has been added to getting ready for the wedding. I’m sure it will all work out in a positive way when you get the hub’s negative test back.
    The story of the Water Walkers has stayed with me. The Native Americans respected the land and lived off of it, many still do. Too bad that doesn’t apply to most people today. I hate seeing someone throw garbage anywhere, especially when they see you watching and give you a defiant look.
    On to the prompt, a fun one for Michael and his “kids”…

    Teamwork Rewards

    The youth choir’s annual adopt-a-highway clean-up day dawned sunny and warm. Michael whistled while he inventoried coolers of iced water and boxes of sweet-smelling homemade cookies. He loved escorting the teens. There was a freedom of expression while they were outside working together that didn’t happen at choir practice. Last year they discussed the ills of littering and not showing respect for the natural beauty of their area. Gaylan had written a serious but comical essay about it that ended up in the school newspaper. Today Tessa planned to point out wildflowers and weeds that could be used medicinally.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Tessa’s on to something. To give a name and purpose to the “weeds” will give then specificity and attune these teens to even more, increase their awareness and interest to the environment.

      • suespitulnik

        When a kid, I went for walks along the old rail way bed and was taught the plant names. Y my mother. Great memories.

    • Charli Mills

      Sue, it boggles my mind but we still don’t have his test results and now it’s been nearly three weeks. People who litter have no connection to their environment. It’s interesting to see the Native perspective on that. They see us at a crossroads — the consumption of materialism or a return to co-existing with all nations. I like the sense of peace I feel among the Water Walkers.

      Ne-be Gee Zah- gay- e- goo (Water we love you)
      Gee Me-gwetch -wayn ne- me – goo (We thank you)
      Gee Zah Wayn ne- me- goo (We respect you)

      Michael shows respect, Tessa teaches further value in the land, and together they shift the thinking of the new generation. Lovely story!

      • suespitulnik

        Thanks Charli. I would enjoy getting to know the Water Walkers and their respect of the land.

      • Charli Mills

        Sue, one day when you come to the Keweenaw Peninsula, we will go and be with the Water Walkers, maybe kayak or walk or visit the gardens and fisheries. Their respect is strong and reminds me of the service mindset of those in our military branches.

      • suespitulnik

        I would enjoy that. The Navajo’s I have met were caring, interested people

    • Charli Mills

      I enjoyed another look at Aalen’s story, Joanne!

  10. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    I feel for you having to dress up when you may not be in the mood – or am I projecting my own motivations, or lack thereof, on to you? I reckon it’s a great divide between people – more relevant than gender and sexuality etc – is whether we relish the opportunity to dress up or dress down.
    Interesting about the horse’s tail. We have two types in the garden – a good type that was in the pond and a bad type that grows among flowers and vegetables. Didn’t know about its medicinal purposes however.
    Unusually, more pictures than words in my latest blog post, which includes my response to this prompt crossed with one from a while ago about distanced dating:

    • Charli Mills

      I relish the opportunity to dress down, Anne, though sometimes I like to have fun, dressing up. It depends on my mood and not the event. But I know my son is excited to dress up and he wants his parents to join him in that so there I go.

      Horsetail is high in calcium. A good tonic for teenaged crones. 😉

      I love the photos!

      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        Yeah, hard to have fun to order, but you’ll sail through it for your son.

  11. Lisa L.

    You sure do have your hands (and mind!) full of things. Hope the Hub’s test comes back negative and that you both are well. The rest will fall into place. Things have a way of doing that. It often doesn’t feel like that in the process, though. I absolutely know that. One day, one hour, one breath at a time.

    • Charli Mills

      Can you believe we are still waiting on that test, Lisa? I guess it’s fin — we have no symptoms. You are so right. Things have a way of working out. Thanks!

  12. Jules

    Charli, Enjoy the wedding and your family!
    May we all hold up nature with due respect… I have an image prompt I paired with yours…that’s at my post. (Title is the link)


    We had weekly meetings to contemplate more than just our navels. Each of us on screen at our own table with our own china cups. It wasn’t safe to meet together. The diversity of our ages, professions and passions we hoped would bring forth some solutions.

    We all so wanted to hug a tree; besides each other. Hoping that the youth of the world would know what a tree was… in 2030 or 2040.

    the future tea leaves
    is anyone’s guess; action, though
    speaks louder than words

    We would be leaving no footprints. Just possibly a remedy or two.


    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Jules! Oh, you reminded me of one of our long-ago prompts of navel-gazing. I like your tree-hugging, tea-drinking, social-distancing characters.

  13. Ann Edall Robson

    I wonder how many people travel the back roads in search of “something” that connects them to another “something” within them? It is not a hobby for me, it is a passion. Capturing moments others may never get to experience, and sharing what is fast disappearing. The farmers and ranchers get a lot of flack about their way of life, which is too bad because they are the biggest stewards of the land. They are protecting what others see as a cash cow (no pun intended).
    If you take the time to visit the original of this writing, you will see pictures from an afternoon of gravel road travel. No, I did not go tramping all over the land to take them. Through my respect for the landowners and Mother Earth, I manage to capture what I want without trespassing on what is not mine.

    Take Me Back
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    Windrows thick
    Sweet smell of fresh-cut hay
    Brown Eyed Susan nods approval
    From beyond the fields
    Calves hide in back-high grass
    Mothers lay nearby
    Content, chewing cuds
    Silence shattered, momentarily
    The crunch of gravel under tires fades
    Reflections ripple across the water
    Slough grass supporting life
    Cattails sway in the breeze
    Rustling grasses serenades
    Golden dragonfly rests nearby
    A blowfly buzzes past, circles back
    No hurry to go anywhere
    Mauve Harebells dance
    Bobbing their heads
    Fingers caress sage
    Savouring earthy aromas
    Interlude soothes
    Cherished moments, gifts
    Focus, click, captured
    Take me back
    When I am far away


    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      I’m glad I clicked on your link to see your photos that go with your poem. You’ve got an eye and an ear; not half bad.

    • Charli Mills

      Gravel road traveling is good for the soul and you describe it so swell, Ann: “in search of “something” that connects them to another “something” within them.” I think of the places where I’ve been and though my roots are tenacious, I can still feel connected to those discovered somethings I carry with me. Yes, your passion comes through in your stories and photos; your mission to preserve in literary form, the ranching life few ever experience. Beautiful poem.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      For me, the Silver Maple was the star of your flash, providing a home to one fauna then another.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Jack, thanks for joining in with the challenge!

    • Charli Mills

      I cut off the BOTS after you got in. It’s all good.

  14. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Dave!

  15. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Donna!

  16. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Frank!

  17. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Sascha!

  18. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Padre!

  19. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Jeff!

  20. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Jo!


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