August 8: Story Challenge in 99-words

Written by Charli Mills

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

August 8, 2023

Three crows boss-walk across my neighbor’s yard, their black bodies swaying from side to side like inspectors in charge. I’ve heard them caw-cawing all afternoon, and I’m curious about their return and their scrutiny of the nearby lawn.

Typically, a murder of crows hangs around Roberts Street year-round. I know when fall migration ends because it’s me, the neighbors, some pigeons, chickadees, and crows. The crows act as though they own the ‘hood once the songbirds, raptors, and waterfowl leave for winter grounds in warmer places.

To me, August is early for the crows to be, well, crowing about.

Then I remember the nesting merlins and search for the sounds of their songbird-killing cries. It’s quiet. When did I last hear the merlins or spot them diving from the sky? Last week, I watched an incredible sight where a corvid battled a merlin above the Hancock treeline. I stood at the raspberry patch, eating red fruit like popcorn and watching the big black bird flip on its back to grab at the swooping merlin. The merlin cried its monotone call and the corvid screamed. Was it threatened or the one threatening? Clearly, the corvid’s claws were bigger than the small falcon’s.

Maybe the corvid was a passing raven; maybe a crow daring to come back (merlins often take over established corvid nests). Mostly we all share space when the migrators and tourists arrive, but the experience of summertime population increase can feel like a displacement. It’s harder to get campsites and all the best places to eat require advanced reservations. I can understand how the crows have felt while the merlins ruled the roost on Roberts Street.

And, I think the crows are right — the merlins have moved on.

Roots are a funny thing. The first time I heard my grown daughter answer the question, “Where are you from,” shortly after she and her husband moved to the Keweenaw (and I was visiting, thus before my relocation to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula). She said, “It’s complicated.” My daughter was born in the same Nevada hospital as my husband Todd and his father. We soon moved to Montana and when she was eleven we moved to Minnesota. As a family, we all yearned for Montana, felt rooted there. But Montana University grad school cut the roots for my daughter; going back only made her feel like she didn’t belong.

I was surprised to hear her answer. My initial reaction was that I was clearly rooted in the West but my children were less certain. Allison accepts her complicated sense of roots; Brianna identifies as “from Montana” and yet is receiving her Norwegian dual citizenship this year; Kyle has firmly planted Wisconsin roots with a ‘Sconie wife and baby on the way. My grandchild, I suspect, will know where they are from, even if her parents move to Europe or Seattle.

After leaving Idaho, I’ve felt rootless. Not only did Todd and I tumble like the iconic western diaspore — the tumbleweed — we ended up in a hard-to-define place. The U.P. of Michigan is not truly midwestern nor is it eastern. Northern Michigan is below us. Wisconsin makes a good argument for the UP belonging to their state. Some think we can be a Superior state of our own. Tourists think we are Canadian, eh. Maps forget to include the region. Even though I’m surrounded by Yoopers who know their roots, I feel like this is a place where it’s okay for me to have divergent roots.

In fact, living on the Keweenaw has allowed me to feel roots in many places while being present in this one. Does it make me a merlin or a crow?

Actually, I’d like to think I have the roots of mountains.

Born in California’s Gabilans and raised in the Sierras, most of my familial roots took hold there from places like the mountainous islands of the Azores, or the Pyrenees. My ancestors from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and England knew good granite if not old mountains. I’ve lived in various ranges of the Rockies and traveled up and down Nevada’s basin and range country. The only ancestors I had “out east” made their homes in Appalachia. My roots are rocks.

Here’s something you might not have known — the Canadian Shield is a vast expanse of ancient mountains and the core that remains today are the roots of those long eroded ranges. Geologic forces pushed those roots to the surface and glaciers sheered them. Lake Superior slowly chews on the bones of these mountains and I walk among them, picking up fragments that came from somewhere else. Like me.

I’m a rock root. Not a tumbleweed but a tumbled stone. I’ll let the crows ponder that while I ponder their feathered takeover of Roberts Street. We are but a blip in the scale of time. But oh, what a beautiful time a blip can be.

August 8, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about roots like a mountain. Feel free to play with both concepts of roots and mountains. How can you create a story from the combination? What character (or traits) come to mind? Where and when does the story take place? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by August 14, 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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  1. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Hey Kid.”
    “Hey Pal. Pal, are you at all concerned bout Shorty?”
    “Seems chirpy ‘nough ta me.”
    “Zactly! Sure, she managed ta move it ta mountains, but this challenge starts with crowin bout merlins.”
    “This followin fledglings.”
    “Least she ain’t wingin it, like thet can one.”
    “An duckies. Rubber or not, she’s positively bird brained. Wasn’t long afore that an it was feathers. See what I’m sayin?”
    “Hmm. Go further back Kid, ta the complaint prompt.”
    “Yeah. Leave yer complainin there. Don’t need yer molehill-sized problems takin root aroun here.”
    “What’re ya sayin, Pal?”
    “Quit yer ravin.”

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, no. It’s a bad case of bird-brain.

  2. Norah

    I love this, Charli: ‘ We are but a blip in the scale of time. But oh, what a beautiful time a blip can be.’ And tumbled stones are all the more gorgeous for their tumbling – polished to bring out their inner beauty.
    But roots like a mountain? We’ll see.

    • Charli Mills

      Roots like a mountain — maybe that’s the goal, Norah, or maybe the reality is that even the roots of mountains give way to the next geological layer. And that’s okay.

      • Norah

        Yep. We’re just a brief layer in the history of time.

  3. Michael B. Fishman

    This part of the WPR article made me think of you: “The Upper Peninsula doesn’t have anything but ice and rock and trees.” Little do they know what we know!

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! Rocks for sure, but as you know — so much more!

  4. Jules


    I think I put this in the link thing, but I guess I forgot to put it here;

    Can there be a mountain in a swamp? Ancient coral beds are the base of much of the Florida southern Keys, my birth state. It feels like hard cement on your feet. Not the crumbled almost fine wave crushed stone from any given mountain that makes up the sand at the shorelines of oceans.

    How long does it take to establish roots; two, thirty years? Our neighborhood is in a valley surrounded by hills, not mountains…our ‘northern state home’. This is where we have raised our children and plan to stay for as long as we possibly can.

    © JP/dh/ Jules

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