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February 6: Story Challenge in 99-words

Three dark-eyed juncos flutter in a small maple tree stripped to bare branches. A veil of softly falling snow obscures the sharp details of their feathers from my view. The birds seek food as I wash dishes after breakfast. I feel a hopeful sensation beat time with bird wings.

Maybe I’m hopeful of spring and the return of birds; a cycle so ingrained in me that I know with every cell it’s coming. Later than sooner. In the Keweenaw, February and March are full of false springs.

What is this connection I feel to nature all around me? Birds never cease to stir wonder no matter how common they might be. Chickadees speak to me no matter the season. Crows strike up conversations from the oak across Roberts Street. Pigeons ignore me.

What they say (or don’t, as with the pigeons) feels fleeting. Like almost understanding another language or remembering a dream in the morning. If I could understand what a bird has to say to me, how would I respond?

It’s not far-fetched to think that birds speak to me. After all, birds speak in mythology as messengers of the divine. The poet, Poe, quothed a raven. Scientists even agree, pointing out collaborative efforts to communicate between birds and humans; birds and wolves.

The calls of birds are symbolic. The screech of an eagle becomes a cry for freedom while the song of the robin signals spring. I think about the juncos outside and resiliency comes to mind. Their presence symbolizes the ability to face hard times — bare trees, banks of snow, and fierce winds. The juncos are thriving and so can we. We are interconnected. I recognize the truth that humans exist because nature exists. It’s never been the other way around.

As a founding member of People of the Heart Water Walkers, I’ve learned to offer petitions to the water and acknowledge all our kin. Anishinaabe teachings hold that all life is soveirgn. Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, writes, “The land knows you, even when you are lost.” Dr. Suzanne Simmard’s work to understand how trees grow, discovered that trees are sentient beings. Pat McCabe, Weyakpa Najin Win, is a Dine activists, speaker, and cultural laison. She calls us to connect with nature to thrive:

Since “learning to kiss the hag” with the reknown psychologist and mythologist, Sharon Blackie, I’ve begun to reflect more deeply on the psyche through mythology and dreams. Nature plays an ever present role. When I joined the Water Walkers, I longed for a way to retrieve my own lost lineage. The Anishinaabe talk about blood memory (collective memories of one’s ancestors) and I’ve wondered if I could tap into my own through deep inward explorations.

As if to answer my thoughts, Sharon Blackie recently posted this:

Both mentors are going to present at This Animate Earth to “Remember a world that is alive and ensouled, an animate earth where everything has place, purpose and meaning and all life is sacred.”

With Valentine’s Day coming up next week, my thoughts turn from birds to love. What would it be to write a love letter to nature? And if you are in the romantic frame of mind, be sure to catch up with the Cowsino story slots and spine now playing at the Saddle Up Saloon. Lots of characters are already over there playing with ranch mythology and more.

February 6, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story as a love letter to nature. You could reach back to more pastoral times of writing or enter into the future. Who is writing the letter — an ant or an aunt? Is it a lifetime of love or eons? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by February 11, 2022. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.


  1. restlessjo says:

    Two passionate speakers, Charli. It gives you pause for thought. We’ve lost more than we’ve gained in the modern world. A love letter to nature- I like that! Have a good week, hon,

  2. Norah says:

    Many of your birds are different from our birds, Charli, but I love being surrounded by our birds too. Flight is such an amazing thing. I’d often thought I’d love to be a bird and see the world from above. I know we’ve discussed one of my/our favourite birds – Jonathan Livingston Seagull – before, but they are all magnificent. JLS has such a growth mindset. I think I need to read that book again. I must!
    I love your suggestion of writing a letter to nature. In response to a previous prompt I wrote letters between a caterpillar and a butterfly. It didn’t quite work. I think you’ve given me permission to try again. Thank you.

  3. I am very used to experiencing false springs as well. Every year around the end of March, or early
    April, we usually have a period of warmth followed by yet another big snowfall. I like to quote to my friends, “We’ve had one winter, yes, but what about second winter?”

    I love the theme for this week’s prompt! So much of my writing, especially my poetry, is inspired by nature, particularly all the details I notice with the changing of the seasons. It just feels like the most natural topic to write about (pun intended). Looking forward to trying to dig deeper than usual for this piece when reflecting on my connection to nature.

    Last year, the theme of the annual April poetry contest at my local library was “a return to nature,” and I adored the aesthetic of cottagecore that had gained popularity throughout lock down, so I wrote this poem for the contest:
    (Hope it’s okay to be sharing this.)

  4. Liz H says:

    Here in MN, we also have as lot of false springs, and get so excited when we creep into the double digits — with sun! — after a sub-zero cold snap.
    I watch for the little fists of pre-bud at branch’s ends. Still a long wait, but heartening as day by day, they loosen up a little, before finally splaying open in hungry welcome.

  5. I wrote a poem in response this week, a 99 word poem looks a lot longer than a 99 word story…

  6. Jules says:


    I’ll have to return later to watch your video clips. Everyday we learn. Nature is a wonderful teacher.
    Thank you as always for providing a ‘naturally’ safe place to be expressive through creative writing 🙂

    I played here: Garden Devotional

  7. Jennie says:

    Nature is calling (pun intended), and we often get those false starts, too. I don’t recall being close to nature as I feel (embrace) it like I do today. Playing outside was a given, and summer camp was delightful. Perhaps they had a stronger influence on me than I realize.

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