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.


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