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July 4: Story Challenge in 99-words

Summer in the Keweenaw has its own choir. Robins coax the dawn. Chickadees call from yard to yard. Up on the ridge where my daughter farms with her husband and seven kids (teen goats), red-winged blackbirds, warbles, and goldfinches whistle and tweet. The leopard frog in the old cherry tree joins the birds.

At home, on Roberts Street, no frogs sing, and the bird noise shifts. I’m wondering if it has to do with our proximity to the ridge. The Keweenaw Peninsula is a copper-rich rocky spine shaped like a thumb jutting into the belly of Lake Superior. I live in an old three-story mining house halfway down Qunicy Hill, the beginning of the spine. It ends at the thumb’s tip.

In April and May, migrating raptors from the east and west, cross the width of Lake Superior, the greatest of the Greats. They land on the rocky spine at the highest most northerly point called Brockway Mountain. During that time, citizen scientists count an average of 264 raptors a day. Some, I’m convinced, decide to stay on our ridge.

And one particular pair is suited for a street midway between the top of the ridge and the broad lake canal below. The merlins of Roberts Street.

Our neighborhood is bird weird. As an observational bird nerd, I watch avian communities and know a place by the birds. I’ve not experienced a community like Roberts Street. Crows take over in winter but never leave — they have a nest nearby and can get raucous from spring to fall. I try to talk to them but they ignore me. Once in a while, a raven will stride down a neighbor’s yard and I momentarily think it’s the biggest crow I’ve ever seen. Ah, yes, I realize. Not a crow.

Then there are the pigeons, the homebodies to a year-round roost not a block away. They don’t make much noise, but I catch their movements overhead often. I wonder if they roost near a murder of crows because the crows act as the neighborhood alarm system. I can tell when the crows have established a squawking perimeter, a sound that calls me outside to look to the skies to spot a falcon or bald eagle.

The eagles and seagulls pass overhead occasionally and in late summer we might see a falcon riding the thermals up high. With the drought we’ve had, I’ve had to start watering my perennials and herbs in the potager garden. The lawn died last summer drought and didn’t revive without spring rain. When I watered a few nights ago, the seagulls came to town. It was bizarre to hear the crows, seagulls, thirsty robins, and the entrance of the resident raptors, our merlins.

Enter the merlins. They have one song and they spree on repeat. I’ve been carrying a merlin earworm ever since they took up nesting across the street. They are not the first merlins to nest in the neighborhood, but the first to live so close that they are my wake-up call. Imagine the sweet twittering of robins. Yeah, that’s not what merlin music sounds like. This is the one song this raptor knows:

What merlins lack in melody they make up for in flight. The pigeons provide a great food source. Midway down, the ridge buffers birds from the raging wind and provides access to the deep waters below. It’s a great space to fly, nest, a practice vocalizing over and over. I think merlins like Roberts Street.

Despite all the birdiness, I rarely find feathers. I have Anishinaabe friends who are so tuned into their land, they know where to go to get raptor feathers. I was hoping the merlins might drop me a feathered message. But an occasional raven did. A writer can do so much with a feather. A quill, a sign, a story.

July 4, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story as a message from a feather. Think about how the message is shared and from whom to whom. What kind of feather? How can you expand where feathers come from like boas and down ski jackets? Whatever tickles your muse this week. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by July 10, 2023. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Thursday 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.


  1. Norah says:

    I love watching our birds too, though I hear them more than I see them. Our magpies are beautiful song birds and our cockatoos are the raucous ones. The crows and miner birds are just noisy. Our lorikeets and parrots are the pretty ones. I love to watch them in flight and wouldn’t be without any. I do find an occasional feather in the yard, but not often. Some people think they are a message from someone beyond. It’s a comforting thought.

  2. My campground ratings are in direct correlation to bird activity. Right now I am in a great spot! Overall its been corvids keeping me company in my travels, ravens and crows and also jays, which are different than my blue jays of the east. Steller’s jays and California scrub jay, Canada jays. Campground birds seem to be very bold, so we’re all having a good time. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for a feather, and a story.

    • Jules says:

      Harry’s still at the Saddle Up… he found a special feather 😉
      Glad you are enjoying your walk-about!
      (posted the link below)

  3. Charli, I find your perspective on bird feathers quite intriguing. Prior to this, I had only viewed them as discarded shedding. Thank you for igniting my creativity.

  4. Jules says:


    I’ve got a collection of feathers. Some I probalby shouldn’t have. Supposedly there is a law that says you need to leave feathers in place and you can be fined if caught. One of ’em’s a large owl feather. I think it was a gift – from a grown owlette that I check on that fell out of one of my trees years ago. Well that’s a personal story.

    This week there were a couple of black (possibly crow) feathers in the back, and a small Blue Jay feather was in my front garden.

    This week though I’ve got a trio as Harry is still visiting the Saddle Up…
    Una pluma para un escritor (…for Harry)

    • Jules says:

      A simple mesh with MLMM Sat Mix continues with;

      Could Harry Tow the Write Line?
      12) Could Harry Tow the Write Line?

      ‘Cue’ had been waiting to be found. Miss had taped ‘Cue’ to the back of her photo. How her image ended up in a box mixed with postcards and other paper that had captured other images was a mystery. The quill leaked just a little ink when the box had gotten jostled from under the bar at the Saddle Up. Maybe someone would find ‘Cue’ and would know what to do. Creative magic was what all Mislive needed to find their way home.

      Lucky that ‘Cue’ had some residual magic – that’s how the pad got in Harry’s shirt pocket…

      © JP/dh

      Note: Your nonsense word this week is: “mislife” Remember, define it; then use it!
      Mislife ; The life of an inanimate object that insists it is real.

  5. I talk to two neighborhood crows here but they don’t reply. I’ve read that crows will recognize people, but I don’t think they recognize me. I rarely see an unique or interesting birds when I’m out for a walk, but with the right perspective, even sparrows can be unique and interesting. I look forward to your merlin leaving you a message.

    • Charli Mills says:

      I don’t think the crows recognize me either, Michael. I wonder when we get to achieve such avian notice? I’m looking forward to their message, too!

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