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August 1: Story Challenge in 99-words

Bird books describe common mergansers as “streamlined ducks.” Ever since my first encounter with hooded mergansers on Elmira Pond in North Idaho, I thrill to encounter them in the wild. In a remote wilderness area on the remote peninsula of the remote northernmost mitten of Michigan, I spent eight days outside and on the water with fellow writer and Carrot Rancher, D. Avery. And we got to watch a mama merganser swim and fish with her eight acrobatic ducklings.

We camped and kayaked at Sylvania Wilderness Area, Twin Lakes, and Ghost House Farm. We paddled Crooked Lake, portaged to Mountain Lake, and ate lunch on the water. We paddled beneath soaring eagles and among loons and logs turned terrariums. We paddled four lakes in a single day and pondered a memorial carved into a mystery on a picnic table. We took breaks to play Scrabble. We sloughed. Laughed. We watched birds, followed a moose trail in a swamp, smiled at pigs in sprinklers, and agreed that any writer’s residency on the Keweenaw didn’t need to be rustic.

The rustic cabin was a bust, but it made me realize that rustic was the wrong feature. The Keweenaw is remote and rich in inspiration.

While the re-enactment of Doug Jacquier’s “Bad Day at Black Fly Rock” did not unfold as planned, there were moments when we were swarmed. Mosquitos, Paulding Lights, a tour of kayakers. Yet, the one wee thing that nearly sent me squealing out of my own kayak was an awkwardly over-friendly frog. We will not talk of the frog. I still talk to frogs, but none will be allowed to frantically hop between my thighs in a kayak. Again.

We did not see the Northern Lights, but we did catch the Paulding Lights. Our first night, I woke up to D.’s tent flashing like a casino. We were in the wilderness area campground so it seemed strange. The next morning, we realized there were no campsites behind D.’s tent! I thought it must be the Paulding Lights, but it was a Christmas in July effort by our camp hosts. They did direct us to the actual Paulding Lights and we watched the phenomenon:

As promised, D. and I investigated the Conglomerate Falls Cabin as a possible place for a Carrot Ranch Literary Artist in Residency. We decided there’s such a thing as too rustic. I’m now considering ways to focus retreats, workshops, and residencies on the vastness of nowhere and anywhere of the Keweenaw. Carrot Ranch Headquarters are remote beauty sure to inspire writers.

August 1, 2022, prompt: Write a story that features someplace remote in 99 words (no more, no less). It can be a wild sort of terrain or the distance between people. What is the impact of a remote place? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by August 6, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

July 25: Story Challenge in 99-words

A friend met me at the Ghost House Farm and I discovered I have a grandma-belly. She brought her charming 4-year-old granddaughter — let’s call her Cherries because she’s sweet.

Cherries climbed out of the car, ran to me, and pressed her face into my big soft belly. Until this moment, I had thought of my abdomen as a mama-belly, the place where I stored great treasures including womb-raised babies and decades of cake.

Now, I understand my belly’s capacity to comfort a shy grandchild. Cherries snuggled until she was ready to greet the farm.

Then Snake decided to slither in greeting. Cherries face-planted once again. I explained that garter snakes live in the meadowy spaces on the farm and have a job, eating insects. We had walked to the chickens when Snake greeted us and I assured Cherries that Snake didn’t like to tickle his belly on the gravel path. Snake proved me wrong.

Eventually, the sweet red tree “berries” caught her attention. The cool summer provided optimum growth for our fruit trees in the Keweenaw. Cherries abound (the edible sort). Cherries, the child, recognized a sweet treat. She wasn’t wrong and we followed Snake (I didn’t point out that we were following Snake).

After our snack, we visited the “goatses.” Don’t ask me why me and my 32-year-old daughter call the goat herd something that sounds suspiciously like baby-talk. We never baby-talked our kids, but we did delight in their mispronunciations (they inherited that quirk from me). Cherries approved the word and I smiled broadly as she called, “Here goatses.”

We fed them kale left over from the last farmers market, each goat nibbling the hand-held leaves. Cherries noticed they didn’t eat the dropped ones. Feeding is an act of engagement with the goats. It is a bonding experience. Big Chip pushed his way through the middle of the herd and I had to refrain from loving on him without my Chip-lovin’-gloves.

Then Cherries said, “I want him on my lap.”

Yes, Sweet One, I hear you. Big Chip puts out strong snuggle vibes. I want to sit in the shade and let Chip curl up in my lap, too. Oh, boy — we’d stink forever if we gave in to that notion!

We searched for the pigs but they must have bedded down beneath cedar trees out of sight. No amount of calling roused them for their kale treats and Cherries’ grandma did not want us clambering over hot electrical fencing. Good call, Grandma.

The hotwire fence is brilliant. Wheels of rope-like wire make easy perimeters to keep farm animals contained and coyotes, bears, and wolves out. Even the mobile chicken coop resides behind hotwire. The farmers can reroute farm workers (aka pigs and goats) to de-brush or root a section of land for farm reclamation.

In the process, the archaeology pigs dig up all kinds of human debris from scads of broken glass to buried Model-Ts. Cherries shared my interest in the glass. I showed her broken bottle necks, the slender side of a dainty bottle, the lip of a mason jar, crockery, dinner plates, and a chunk of what was once a stemmed candy dish.

We met the farmer and his human crew of one — my SIL and a 12-year-old neighbor boy — planting beets in the pumpkin and corn patch. We showed them our shattered glass gems. Cherries decided she needed more time with the goatses, which led to a hunger for more cherries.

We sat beneath the shade of the 100-year-old tree and I taught Cherries how to spit pits. In the effort, I splattered spit on her cheek, and yes, a child not fond of snakes was also not fond of wiping away my spittle. I’m working on my bedside grandma-belly manners. She caught on to the trick only swallowing a pit once.

Cherries left with her grandma and a hoard of glass. I can tell I might not be popular among parentses. But isn’t that the fun of being an elder? The call of becoming a Hagitude.

Now that last word, I did not invent. The fabulous mythologist, Sharon Blackie coined the word, melding “hag” and “attitude.” In her book (and year-long course) Hagitude, she informs women in the second half of life to live unexpectedly out loud.

‘There can be a perverse pleasure, as well as a sense of rightness and beauty, in insisting on flowering just when the world expects you to become quiet and diminish.’

~ Sharon Blackie

It’s not coincidental that these past difficult years have also ushered in a decade of peri and full-on menopause. My mama-belly has clearly morphed, signaling my shape-shifting years yet to come. These past five years have crushed me but not broken me. As I’ve crumbled, questioning everything about my identity, purpose, and relationships, I feel the Hagitude rising.

I am not afraid of snakes or the second half of life emerging. Bring on something sweet as cherries!

July 25, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story sweet as cherries. It can be about the fruit or something cherries represent. Why is it sweet? Can you use contrast to draw out the beauty? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by July 30, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

July 18: Story Challenge in 99-words

Thunderheads punch white pillars into blue sky. The towering clouds float at a distance in suspended animation, slowly morphing from rock features to dragons. It’s not a warm summer on the Keweenaw but no one is complaining and it’s a bumper crop of sweet cherries and field-grown strawberries. Nights are pleasantly cool.

Nokomis Gichigami, Grandmother Big Sea, is frigid.

Yesterday, Lake Superior recorded 42 degrees Fahrenheit. Yesterday, I swam with Mause.

Let me back up to explain “swimming.” I’m fine paddling about in a kayak or in water with my head scoping the path forward. At one time in my life — age 13 — I sufficiently overcame my terror of getting my head submerged to have joined the county swim team. My coach told me to wear nose plugs. Since then, I’ve regressed and won’t submerge my head.

But a friend of mine floats and I want to float, too. Last year, I decided to try the water on one of our boat rides (her partner has a beautiful pontoon boat for cruising our vast Portage Canal and edges of Lake Superior). I climbed down the back ladder and clung to the boat, hyperventilating. I’m a pro at meditation, though and I began to calm and deepen my breath.

Then my leg cramped and I got scared and thought maybe floating wasn’t for me. Yet.

This summer, I’ve returned to yoga and I’m working on those hamstrings (the ones that cramp). I also bought an apparatus that I remember using to learn different strokes when swimming — a kickboard. Mine is purple with the tiniest smattering of turquoise glitter. A vast improvement over the plain white boards of the ’70s.

That’s how I came to be in the water, watching thunderheads expand vertically. My friend’s boat is the happy place for many of us. He generously takes guests on weekend cruises, and I’m fortunate to be a frequent-boater-future-floater. This time, he invited a local massage therapist who lives off-grid with her husband. They’re both in their seventies, near eighties. She loves to float but shares my fear. She wears a life vest.

This time, I felt confident going into the water. Panic hit but I was ready for it and countered my breaths until I felt calm. Then I dared to push away from the boat and my kickboard glided. We had stopped in a cove not far from White City, the beach that once entertained miners’ families with amusements and picnics. Only the Portage lighthouses and breakwall remains.

At some point, I relaxed enough to rest my chin on the board, my arms forward like in child-pose, and suddenly, I felt it. Buoyancy. I breathed into the feeling and let my body float. Glorious water held me. I floated into a warm spot and among my friends, one on her back, the other floating like a bobber in her vest. We spoke to each other as we floated. Sometimes we fell silent.

In one of those silent moments, another boat coasted into the cove and met up with our captain. We heard a new voice remark, “Are those corpses?” followed by laughter from the other boats that had also pulled in without our notice. I suppose we made an odd sight. But none of us cared and we floated until called back to the boat.

That’s how I arrived at the moment of swimming with Mause yesterday. Mause’s swim history is much shorter and begins yesterday.

It’s hit or miss with a German Shorthaired Pointers. Either they love water or they loathe it. Last summer, Mause was a young puppy (now she’s an elder puppy). We introduced her to water, but she never swam. She chased waves and rocks. It’s been too cold to swim this year, as noted by the Lake’s chilly temperature. Still, the sun heats surface water and it’s warmer where the waves blow to shore.

The day was hot and we decided to cool off at McLeans. I poked around among the rock bars, getting my ankles adjusted to the cold. Mause chased rocks, and I waded deeper. Having plunged my arm deep to retrieve an interesting rock or two, I felt ready to repeat my floating experience. I grabbed my kickboard from the shore and glided across the waves.

It’s more difficult to float with rock shoes weighing down my feet and waves battering my board. I thrust across the waves testing my memory of swim kicks when I heard a rhythmic plunging approach. Mause had swam out to me on her own! Her expression of surprise in her eyes and ears changed to joy and I knew we had a swimmer GSP. I crooned and encouraged her. She swam circles around me. It was as good as floating!

What floats your boat? Or your dandelion fluff, or ever-changing cloud cover?

July 18, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about floating. Who is floating, where, and in what? Is the floating real or felt internally? Whatever floats your boat, go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by July 23, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

July 11: Story Challenge in 99-words

For a day, I had Daisy.

What feels like a lifetime ago, I grew up around cow dogs. Shorty went where I went on the old Hardwick Ranch outside of Paicines, California. I remember lifting Shorty’s front paws and dancing with him. One day, when I was about four, he killed a rattlesnake on the hillside where I swung on a rope in the massive oak tree above the ranch house.

Working for Nevada ranches as a teenager, I came to realize, that cow dogs do more than herd and guard. Ranchers installed them in the beds of their trucks as anti-theft devices. Some cow dogs, like McNabs and Kelpies, worked with such ferocity that only their handlers could approach them. Then there were the Queensland Heelers, part dingo, part dalmatian, and a hodgepodge of other cattle dog breeds. I gave a piece of my heart to those speckled blue dogs that could hang on the neck of a steer by their teeth.

Growing up, I understood these dogs were not pets. Our infamous Queensland bit many people, including me. We had to muzzle him for vet visits. Any time my mom tried to brush out his winter coat, he’d snap at his own floating tufts of shed hair. Yet, I was convinced heelers could be pets. I was 19 when I tested that theory and bought a blue heeler puppy.

The story doesn’t end well.

I loved Lobo and got into raising litters of Queenslands for ranchers in Nevada. I met Todd and he had a neurotic Springer Spaniel. When we married, our dogs formed a strange blended family. One dog was smart, the other, not so much. I had difficulty adjusting to the personality of bird dogs, a struggle that remains, although time among spaniels and GSPs has tempered my opinion of the breeds. At least GSPs are smart.

Lobo guarded my two baby daughters and went everywhere with us. It was impossible to keep her penned. If she couldn’t go over or under a fence, she climbed it. Then one day, she bit a local boy and he had to get stitches. The awful reality of owning a dog that could attack a child led us to a difficult decision. Before our small family moved to Montana we put down Lobo and buried her in the mountain canyon where I used to ride my horse. I put my ranching days behind me.

Over the next three decades, we welcomed and said goodbye to many dogs. Most were German Shorthaired Pointers. With each new puppy, I felt an ache for the ghost-faced heelers who are born mostly white. A few times, I expressed frustration. Why not a different breed?

Over the past ten years, I’ve noticed families who wouldn’t know the backend of a hay truck from a living, breathing hay burner owning heelers as pets. The name has changed, too. What we called Queenslands are now called Blue Heelers. There are Texas Heelers, Red Heelers, and Australian Cattle Dogs, too. They all look similar. I began to believe they were adapting well to domestication off the ranches and away from rural settings.

To say this past year has been one of the hardest to live is an understatement. Everything I thought I knew about myself or the world continues to meet with a grinder of sorts. It’s in times of uncertainty that we notice anchors of familiarity and long for something we shouldn’t desire anymore. Within the whirlwind that has been May, Todd’s Covid, my quarantine, a Franciscan retreat, another allergic reaction (a black fly black eye this time), and planning for environmental disaster, I spotted something that plucked my heartstrings.

At the new Hancock dog park, Mause met a Queensland baby, a blue heeler puppy. Todd found out where the litter was located and like a woman in a daze, I went with him to see. On a UP cattle ranch outside Mass City, Daisy jumped into my arms as her littermates gnawed on my ankles. I forgot how hard cow dogs bite. At eight weeks, they draw human blood. We brought Daisy back to our unraveling home. How was this ever going to work?

Daisy helped me right the wrong of my past. Cattle dogs deserve to live in the country and guard herds and homes. If I had a horse, she’d be the best trail dog ever. I have a kayak and dingoes, as far as I know, are not enamored with water. We thought Mause would love a baby and have the energy to manage a heeler. By evening, Daisy had claimed the couch the way heelers claim truck beds. When she took Mause down for the infraction of thinking the couch was big enough for both, I had the wisdom to recognize that one cannot change the instincts of another.

Blue heelers are working dogs and we returned Daisy to her litter to find a more suitable home. She had an adventure and I got to love a Daisy for a day.

Mostly, the bizarre situation opened an unhealed wound in my heart in the shape of Lobo so I could tend to it. It’s hard being a transitional generation. It’s hard to be a cutting from one’s roots. I grew up in a cattle culture from a long line of ancestors that likely go all the way back to domesticating the first aurochs. My grown children don’t know how to ride horses and they were the first generation in my family to grow up in a suburb. The one daughter who does farm refuses to add black Angus to her goat herd. I accept I’m not a working buckaroo.

But I am a buckaroo writer. I can create stories from the old world. I can craft characters, like my protagonist Danni Gordon, who would be better suited for adopting certain lifestyle traits I’ve retired.

If you had a day to spend with an icon of your past what would that be?

July 11, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story inspired by the idea, “for a day.” It doesn’t need to be never-ending, like me forgetting to update a prompt. What is so special about the action, person, or object experienced for a day? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by July 16, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

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

EXTENDED June 27: Story Challenge in 99-words

July 4, 2022 UPDATE: A swarm of oops hit me full in the brain cells when I returned from a Franciscan retreat at the Christine Center in Wisconsin. I thought I was so clever to have figured out my post and collection in advance only to return and realize I had closed down the entry form!

My apologies to all the writers. A big growl…GRRR…to all the spammers who hound the entry forms at Carrot Ranch, which is why I remove the forms. Only, this time I shut down the current Challenge. Because I made a muck of it all, I’m extending the deadline. For those who had to share in the comments, I’ll collect them from the links this week. If you want to write a second 99-word story, feel free to do so.

ORIGINAL JUNE 27, 2022 POST: Growing up on the arid side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, a swarm of flies, gnats, or mosquitos meant a dozen. To me, twelve flying insects spelled s-t-a-m-p-e-d-e. My horse would have bolted at the bites of such a stinging throng. I was a good buckaroo, thoughtful and patient, and before I set out on summer rides I’d slather bacon grease on Captain’s belly, hindquarters, and around his big brown eyes. It kept the bugs away and the bears curious.

How naive I was back then in the days of my Old West.

Nevada and Montana introduced me to bigger mosquitoes. By the time I swapped out baby buckaroos for horses, flies didn’t cross my mind much. Then we moved to the midwest. Gone were the quaint days of tiny swarms of summer insects. Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin expanded my buggy experiences.

Then, I settled in Michigan on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Although we arrived late in June, Black Fly Season had ended. With my newbie’s ears, I heard, “black fly season.” Truly, it is BLACK FLY SEASON. I found out the following summer when blood slipped down my face from the tiniest dot on my forehead.

“What was that all about?” I asked my daughter.

She grimaced (having lived on the Keweenaw for several years) and said, “Black fly.”

This time I heard, “Black Fly.” The blood had alarmed me but after I read about buffalo gnats (what we call BLACK FLIES in Michigan) I understood that something in the blood of a female causes blood to flow freely. The initial bite does not hurt.

I felt ill. My heart raced, I felt feverish, and my joints hurt. The bite on my forehead swelled to an acorn and hurt-itched. I wanted to rub and scratch at the same time. I knew from mosquito bites not to. I wanted to howl. It took three weeks to fully heal and vowed never to get bit again.

The next summer I got three bites and felt the same sickness come over me. Some locals suggested I was allergic. Some recounted how they reacted initially but after five years, the bites got easier to take. This is year four and two Black Flies in Hancock took me off guard. I reacted the same as in the past, but this year I had CBD oil. It reduced my anxiety.

Thinking my ordeal over, after all, BLACK FLY SEASON came and went, I visited my Very Grand Goats. Big Chip still stinks enough to make me gag, but he’s funny and charming. Pegasus demands her back massages, and the kids nibble at me until I feed them grass or bush trimmings. Molly is healing from a leg fracture and I noticed a swarm of flies harassing her.

To me, BLACK FLIES are stealth bombers. I never see them coming, biting, or going. For Molly’s fly trouble, I figured they were of the barnyard sort. I harvested a small branch of cedar to fan her while the human kids (my daughter and SIL) milked her. Then she ate the cedar.

As we walked away to visit the piglets and watch corn grow, I brushed my neck and swiped away what looked like a gnat. A few moments later I felt a crust of blood on the top of my head. I panicked but remembered that BLACK FLY SEASON had passed. Apparently, Ghost House Farm has a bumper crop of BLACK FLIES and they found my head almost a month after their predecessors nailed me.

By far, this incident is the worst encounter I’ve had. Immediately, I poured enough plantain oil on my head to self-anoint. My hair was greasy and I had to wash my pillow, but I felt it was worth it. I remembered the CBD oil and avoided most of the sickness. That felt like a win.

But the knot in my neck was growing and causing muscle spasms. Day two, and I was asking FaceBook for remedies. Several friends called and advised getting a steroid shot. I decided that would be a last resort. I had so many responses to try!

Let’s review what works when BLACK FLIES swarm:

  • Benadryl (liquid works faster; take according to directions but keep it consistently in your system for 2-3 days).
  • Wash your scalp and neck with straight tea tree oil; it feels amazing until the burn wears off but it also keeps the bites clean.
  • When the painful knot forms, use lidocaine or steroid cream (like cortisone) or get a steroid shot.
  • Take Advil for the pain, fever, and joint swelling.
  • Take CBD for the anxiety from the adrenaline the venom dumps into your system.
  • Treat the bites with plantain (chewed or cooked into an oil), a paste of baking soda, lavender oil, meat tenderizer, or any over-the-counter product for bug bites.
  • Do not use both oral and topical Benadryl as it dumps too much antihistamine into your body.
  • It’s okay to cry and curse flies.

It’s been a miserable week but at last, the massive bite on my neck reduced in swelling enough to identify a cluster of four bites and an angry lymph node. In all, I have nine BLACK FLY BITES on my head and neck. The cluster swelled into my scalp and down toward my throat. There’s apparently not enough scalp space for skull swelling. When my head started to spasm, I thought I would lose my marbles.

Benadryl was the ticket. Now I know to take it IMMEDIATELY. I will carry it around with me in a flask all summer, and start taking shots at the sign of the first swarm.

June 27, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about swarms. What could swarm? How does the swarm impact the people or place in your story? Is there something unusual about the swarm? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. EXTENDED! Submit by July 9, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

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

June 20: Story Challenge in 99-words

Driving back from the Keweenaw Storytelling Center where the Red Jacket Jamboree recorded episodes 51 and 52 before a live audience, a white-tailed deer dashed across the road. It’s June, and the sky after 10 pm still holds the glow of twilight. I saw her golden form glide athletically as if racing for a medal. Without slamming the brakes, I hit them hard enough to slow, my tires squealing, my hood inches from disaster for us both. She ran unscathed into the woods on the other side.

It’s been an adrenaline-inducing Sunday.

First, the hail pounded Roberts Street. It wasn’t bigger than popcorn kernels but after the Father’s Day Floods of 2018, a deluge four years causes concern. The clouds lifted almost as quickly as they had dropped. Then we drove up the peninsula for barbeque at a popular place overlooking Lake Superior and ran into another deluge. We couldn’t see and veterans with PTSD don’t pull over. Although I’m in the process of separating from my veteran, he remains someone I love. It’s a complex mess but in the end, it will be better. I tell myself this every day.

We had received news earlier in the day that his beloved Cousin Dick had died. Dick was the black sheep of the Mills family and a mentor to my husband. Another complex relationship. The last time we saw him was when we were homeless, cutting across Utah, and we stepped in Ogden. He took us out to lunch. Last year, Ogden Police called because Dick was having some sort of episode and my husband’s number was the only one they could find. March 2 of this year, my husband spoke to Cousin Dick who had moved back out to Nevada. The two men shared much in common. He was going to have surgery the next day. He died due to surgical complications and no one thought to tell my husband.

Separation is like trying to untangle yourself after playing a game of Twister in the mud. You really want to free yourself but have to solve the puzzle of disengagement. A friend recently said. “It’s like splitting skin with another person.” I keep my distance from his family (with a few exceptions — his sister is my sister, her children mine). I knew he was already hurting because he doesn’t understand why I’m leaving (oh, look, there go the police past our house) or why his children don’t call on Father’s Day. Behaviors have consequences but what do you do when someone denies their behavior? It’s everyone else’s fault. In the end, I just want peace and space to heal.

I allowed the sadness of Cousin Dick’s passing wash over us both. Will we always find moments to bond even when splitting skin? Will we ever be free of one another? It’s not possible. Human solutions can never be simple. But I believe healing is a form of freedom.

We arrived at the bbq place late for our reservations. Earlier, when we finally pulled over in the pouring rain (I can be insistent, years of training as a veteran spouse), I texted to confirm our arrival, using their reservation app. I already knew that they do not answer their phone. We were ten minutes late, but Mause decided we needed more excitement. She jumped out of the car behind him. Such action can cause a meltdown, so right away, I took over the recovery process. That dog is smart. Too smart. She neared, then veered, over and over. He wasn’t about to leave the scene with her unsecured, so we were both outside for ten more minutes until I finally coaxed her back into the car.

We walked in at 4:23. They had given away our table at 4:20. I asked for my reservation money back and the hostess refused unless we wanted to eat at the tiny bar. We did. I fumed. I barely made eye contact with the bartender. But he soon engaged in an interesting discussion with my spouse. Turns out that the man swilling drinks has a father who also went through combat dive school in the Army. You can tell when both parties are honest about service (I’ve met lots of self-proclaimed Rangers who never pass the bull-puckey test). The conversation was a gift. Few can reach my husband at this level.

I boxed my dinner because I was too nervous to eat and it was so good I wanted to tuck into it later when I could enjoy the food. I was asked back to the Red Jacket Jamboree to host the audience for two live radio performances. It’s hard for the veteran to sit through anything, but he took up my offer as a way to celebrate Father’s Day.

Even that word has lost clarity. How do we celebrate difficult parental relationships?

But there we were, at the KeweenawStorytelling Center in Calumet, preparing for a show. It was not exciting for him, so he leashed and walked Mause. I cleaned the toilet, reminded the Copper Cats jazz ensemble every five minutes to get on stage, and tracked down costumes. This is not close to what eases my mind before I have to go before an audience. Except for cleaning the toilet. Cleaning is an automatic response to calm my nerves. But wrangling jazz musicians? Never. Yet, I can be insistent. They were on stage and I lined up the co-hosts exactly at 7 pm.

Didn’t trip over my tongue. Check. Remembered to make the audience laugh. Check. Forgot how to lower the dagnabbit microphone (thank you, Jerry, as always). Check. Eased players back on stage after intermission. Check. Wrangled audience members back into their seats, including one veteran who wandered off. Check. Relaxed, ’cause my work was done and I got laughs. Check. Went back on stage for a contest…Wait. What?

No one told me they volunteered me to play a game to guess which passages Ernest Hemingway or Aldo Leopold wrote. Two influential authors. Heminway inspires brevity and Leopold inspires nature writing. Yet, they were selected as the focus of episode 52 because they both have Michigan connections. It’s possible they met in the UP in 1919. After the contest, I’m convinced they met and wrote to each other. I struggled to differentiate the passages and I have read everything both authors published. My opponent was the evening’s singing sensation, John Davey. I wondered if he read. I wondered if he noticed I had called him “Dave” to the audience.

My heart pounded. But at least John’s a nice guy (and yes, he’s literate). And he’s a storyteller in song.

In the end, we tied. And I got to scoot off stage.

The veteran wandered again. I got called to get a photo with the cast and musicians. I distributed several copies of Vol. 1, dreaming about reading stories from Vol. 2 at the Storytelling Center. I noted our empty 99-word story vending machine. Soon, I’ll have more freedom to that peace where I can think and create and produce again. The 19th was good in the end. And I didn’t hit a deer (thank you, Deer Nation for safe passage).

June 19th has long been a celebration of emancipation, especially in parts of Texas. Like many Americans, I only recently became aware of the significance of the date. This year, Juneteenth fell on Father’s Day in the US. Both holidays embrace families and barbeque. Because Juneteenth is now a Federal holiday, all Americans get a three-day weekend. The holiday celebrates 157 years since the last emancipation of African slavery in America. It honors resiliency and freedom from slavery.

I admit I don’t have much to add to Juneteenth, but I’m committed to learning more.

When seeking to understand our human family, we can find the shared common ground. What struck me when reading about juneteenth, is how emancipation allowed for broken families to regroup. Slavery sold children, divided parents, and scattered families for generations. Image the impact of family reunions on a group who dreamed of such precious reunions. Now you start to understand the tradition of African American families gathering for summer barbeques to celebrate freedom.

How do any of us know freedom? What is freedom? We each get to define freedom individually but collectively personal freedom ends where the freedom of another begins. To understand the significance of Juneteenth, the complexity of human relationships and history, we can explore themes familiar to everyone.

June 20, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about what freedom feels like. Whose point of view do you use? Does the idea of freedom cause tension or bring hope? Let the reader feel the freedom. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by June 25, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

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

June 13: Story Challenge in 99-words

A rabbit hobbles around a neighbor’s hedge, nibbling dandelions. A much smaller rabbit follows and when I coo out loud, thinking it’s a baby, an actual baby bunny zips from the hedge. The size differences have tricked my mind, and for a moment, I don’t know what I’m seeing. When the largest rabbit hops into the danger zone of the street, I see white paws and rusty coloring — this is a massive snowshoe hare in a summer coat. The other two bunnies are darker, smaller cottontails, one a mama, the other recently emerged from the den.

Another snapshot forms in my mind.

The Ocean Navigator docks across the road from the Copper Depot where I have lunch with my Warrior Sisters, a group of veteran spouses. There are only two of us and we are marveling over the crowd of locals gathered. We are curious and unembarrassed to be so. We talk with families gathered outside in the parking lot and a six-year-old boy hones in on the same feature that has caught my eyes — the fully enclosed lifeboats that look like mini orange submarines. Our minds meld, imagining the dangers. One is never too old or too young to make up wild stories.

As the image fades, I jump from snapshots to film.

My Warrior Sister and I head to the Houghton movie theater. This is the second time in one week, the second time in two years, I’ve been to a movie and it’s the same one: Top Gun Maverick. The original came out in 1986, the year I met my husband. Maverick is an appropriate bookend to our 35-year marriage. The story portrays the adrenaline, emotion, and complex relationships within the small percentage of people who serve their nation in the military. My friend, the widow of a Vietnam veteran, clutched her seat the whole time. We cried together, recognizing familiar pain.

This film gets all the beats of good screenwriting spot on. It makes me want to drive my car fast along the lakeshore listening to Kenny Logins (even though they clipped his song in Maverick).

If you know from experience or secondary exposure as a partner to someone who knows from experience, the movie is full of real-life tensions. The enlisted often mistrust superior officers. Cockiness can kill you or keep you alive. Friends are loyal to the death and even your nemesis becomes someone you’d risk your life for. Training for combat is grueling and combat depends on every single person, not just the elite. Cooks go to war, too. None of this is an exaggeration. Every point I’ve made (which the movie deftly portrays) fits countless stories of men like my spouse.

I know who he hates to this day. I know the deaths that keep him up at night. I know what wraps him around the axel. I know he can’t stand boredom and staying in one place. Shooting a half-inch group at 400 yards and punching the car to 100 miles per hour is necessary for him to feel alive. He’s told me enough times about seeing the bloodied arm of his close friend flop out of a medical helicopter as it flew over him while he was engaged in a firefight on Grenada that I have formed my own false memory of that scene.

So why watch such a film at such a time?

Because it is art that recreates a familiar experience. It is cathartic. It validates the snapshots, the real ones, and the ones our minds make to fill a void. The music takes me back to the high mountain desert of Nevada where I drove my Camino on straight flat highways, blasting my Top Gun cassette tape. The desert images and the sound of jets remind me of Fallon, where I met my husband. Fallon Naval Air Station is where the real “top gun” school resides. The tension, the action, the relationships. Movies, novels, videos, songs, and art — they form snapshots of validation of what we have experienced.

Writers, follow your gut. Write into those spaces that make your hands tremble. Sharpen your dialog until you feel you need to apologize for it but in no fucking way ever apologize. Tell the stories that you are afraid to tell. And while you are at it, write as beautifully as a film, layered, connected, and composed to a soundtrack inside your head. Make a promise to your reader in the beginning and deliver it by the end.

Write into the danger zone.

June 13, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a danger zone. It can be an exciting plot-driven story (think “story spine”) or a situation a character must confront. Play with different genres, and use craft elements like tension, tone, and pacing. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by June 18, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

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

June 6: Story Challenge in 99-words

Along the shoreline of the Keweenaw Peninsula, people stack stones. With the prevalence of gray basalt and reddish rhyolite, Lake Superior makes an endless supply of rounded material for zen-like cairns. Recently, a friend took my picture while I was communing with rocks along a beach strewn with stacked stones. In the photo, I’m at a distance and look like a cairn on two legs. I love that shot. I walk among my rock people.

Across the US West, cowboys think any work associated with fences is the worst task on a ranch. Often, it’s a punishment. Nevada is a rocky place, but ranches string barbed wire instead of stone fences. In the open draws of a canyon, they use tall juniper poles to erect horse traps. So, if you were to find a stone fence (say, you were out riding a modern fenceline or scouting for mustangs) you can bet it’s ancient. The Indigenous to the Great Basin stacked stones.

When I was a kid, between the ages of twelve and seventeen, I rode fence and pushed strays back to their high mountain summer meadows. This public grazing land was in California, but all the ranchers who used it were down in the valleys below in Nevada. I found so many stone structures, some fences, others hunting blinds, and possibly round houses. I had a sharp eye for human-altered stones because I was into rocks and could easily see the unnatural among the geology.

At my daughter’s farm, part of their land was once the Franklin Junior Mine. Where they farm, was part of the original small food plots for the village of Boston Location. In between, brambles, woods, and old orchards have overgrown the land. When I walk the trails they maintain, I can easily spot the old hand-made structures. Stacked stone beneath moss and branches.

This weekend, I received an unexpected respite and I’m currently in a cabin further north among stones both natural and altered. Unlike McLain’s this cabin has lights, a tiny bathroom (and inside), wifi, and cell service. It’s almost unheard of that a single spot up the rocky spine of the Keweenaw has either cell service or wifi, and this magical place has both. It’s been a long time since I’ve found such a peace. It’s an easy peace, not a practiced peace, or hiding peace. Peace. Calm. Water. Rocks.

Within walking distance of my cabin, I can marvel at some buildings made of local stone. They seem solid and part of the landscape. It makes me wonder when humankind began their relationship with stones. First, they took to caves, the earthly equivalent of wombs. What came next? Dugouts? Dwellings on rock faces? Was it a bold act to remove rocks in chunks and construct designs not dictated by mama earth?

I’d like to think that when we build with stones, we feel more connected to our natural environment. Despite cowboys not liking fences, they loved their horses. Riders of the range were connected when they ranched on horseback. Many collected rocks. When I see the cairns that people build, I feel they are connecting, too. Humans can find healing among the stones.

June 6, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features stone-stacking. How does the activity fit into a story? Who is involved? What is the tone? Do the stones have special meaning? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by June 11, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

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

May 30: Story Challenge in 99-words

White pine, birch, and birdsong encircle me like a secret garden. I stand on what was once a sandy dune when Lake Superior surpassed its modern shoreline about a mile away. Modest white gravestones line a small meadow patched with magenta phlox. The garden perennial grows wild among the dead Finns of Waasa Cemetery between abandoned copper mines and farms.

It is the memorials that catch my eye.

In the US, every person who served in the American Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, or National Guard can receive a headstone, grave marker, or medallion to honor their service. The bronze markers and medallions stand out and it’s clear the Finnish migrant families served heavily.

Carefully, I step over blooming phlox and approach the markers with my camera. WWII stands out as the majority of service, followed by Vietnam. I only count a single WWI headstone. I wonder if the Finns who left their homeland after generations of conflict with Sweden and Russia preferred to work the mines during the Great War. The next generation, however, signed up for duty.

Most of the dates indicate that those who served also survived. It’s comforting to know that soldiers returned from war to be buried next to their families. But the sacrifice of fighting in a war for one’s nation extends beyond death. War aftereffects also destroy families and lives. Even training for combat alters people. It feels surreal to be standing in a quiet cemetery so far from Ukraine, knowing that many of the 397 souls interred with military honors also experienced the acrid smells of battle and deafening blast of battles.

Does every generation feel we should have evolved beyond war aggression by now? Does every generation feel there is yet something worth fighting for? The human family feels locked in this paradox.

In the natural setting that is Waasa Cemetery, I feel at peace at this moment. I have not had much peace in the past five years and while I can say it’s service-related, I never served in the military. I’m one of the veterans of the war after the war. Lately, I’ve felt so invisible I have lost sight of myself. I’ve come here to reconnect to my passion for catching stories. I didn’t expect to find so many veterans. But I follow my instinct and allow curiosity to sing like a yellow-bellied warbler.

Who was Arthur E Kela?

Born to Edward Kela and Kate Jankala in 1920, Arthur was a multi-generational Finn. His father immigrated to America in 1907 and his mother was born to immigrants in Calumet. His parents would have known Big Annie and the property where my eldest daughter lives. Arthur was born in Boston (Michigan, that is). His father worked deep in the Quincy Mine until one day he was struck by a streetcar and killed before he was the age of 30.

According to the 1930 census, Arthur’s mother Kate owned her home. This is curious because one of the contentions of the 1914 Miners Strike was that the companies owned the homes and families were displaced when a miner died. Kate’s only sons were two and newborn when her husband died. She also had twins (girls) and two daughters, all older than the boys. I wonder how she made a living? In 1930, a border (a copper miner) is listed in the household.

By 1940 Arthur was 20 and his brother Randolph 18. They were single and living at home with their mother, both working as laborers, while each of their sisters had married and left the Boston Location home. They both enlisted in the Army for WWII in the summer of 1942. They both survived. One of their sisters, Hilda, died young from complications of bronchiectasis while her brothers served.

Arthur married Arlene Linja in 1948. He was 28 and she was 16. By 1950, they were living with Kate, Arthur’s mother. She had married in 1946 but was listed as separated, and her estranged spouse was boarding elsewhere. He died in 1956, and although nothing indicates that they ever reconciled, Kate is buried in Waasa Cemetery under the surname Oikarinen (he’s buried in Houghton). By the way, such name changes make women difficult to track in historical and public records.

Also, in 1950, Arthur’s nephew by his deceased sister, Ronald Ojala, was living with him. Ronald grew up and moved to the copper mines in Butte, Montana.

Meanwhile, Arthur’s brother Randolph who also served in WWII, married and had one son and one daughter. Gary Randolph Kela served in Vietnam. When he came back home to Calumet, Michigan, he lost control of his truck and struck a building at one of my favorite local parks where I pick prehnite. He died of his injuries in 1968 and his military marker is next to his father’s in Lake View Cemetery where Arthur’s father is buried. I find it curious that Kate’s final resting place is not there.

Cemeteries might yield stories anchored by headstones, but it’s the living in between the deaths within a family that gets me wondering. Wondering leads to wandering in my imagination. Kate interests me the most — a young widow who raised six children in the shadow of the mines, the mother of two young men who left to fight overseas. A grandmother who raised her motherless grandson.

Curiously, I could not locate the grave of Arthur’s wife. There is a bit of living news, however — she is alive and a neighbor to my daughter, living where her husband was born in Boston Location. I want to meet this woman and share a cup of tea and listen to family stories from living memories.

This Memorial Day, I’d like to once again mention two friends of my husband who were killed in action in Grenada. Philip Grenier and Mark Yumane. May we remember your names.

May 30, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story behind a memorial. Is it a structure, plaque, or something else? What does it seek to remind those who view it? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by June 4, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

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

May 23: Story Challenge in 99-words

It’s my birthday weekend and I’m far away, four miles down the road, camped at the edge of Lady Superior. The well’s gone dry as a bone. It’s time to replenish.

When I was a kid, my parents had an 8-track collection that included Mike Cross. It was among my favorites, a rollicking blue-grass style with deep pains and outrageous humor. My gift to you is a sample of that 8-track, including the song, Old Paint Peeling, with the line, “…well’s gone dry as a bone…” It’s time to get out of town, reconnect, and

The next song is western and has always lit my imagination. Who was the criminal in this story and who was the bounty hunter? We never learn what brought the two together but this story haunts my imagination even today.

This is one of my favorite “jokes” to tell. Have you ever made a joke out of a song?

This last one was a song I used to wish I could listen to in a full gallop (alas, pre-walkman days).

I hope you enjoy the little trot down memory lane and get inspired by the variety of styles found within a single musical artist. May we all fill our creative wells.

May 23, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the phrase “well’s gone dry.” Is it a real well or a metaphorical well? Why is it dry? What is the consequence and to whom? Go where the prompt leads!

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

  1. Submit by May 28, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.