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June 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

My hand races across the page and I sketch the scene unfolding — Suomi dancers in blue aprons and kerchiefs over white-blond hair circle around, stepping in time to violins. To my left I’m vaguely aware of the large brick structure that once served as a high school and now classrooms to Finlandia University. Its bricks offer a backdrop of ghostly students, sons, and daughters of copper miners.

A shadow crosses my sketch, and a person asks, “Are you an artist?”

“Yes,” I answer glancing from dancers to page. I scribble a bit more, shade less, and turn the page to capture another scene.

“Can I see?”

I pause. The spell has broken, I’m now firmly aware of the rush of sights and sounds beyond the dancers. I’m at the Hancock Tori. The local farmers and craft market. A jewelry maker hawks carved stone beside me and a Calumet couple cut fresh microgreens for $3 a bag. My neighbor Cranky displays her collection of antique hand-crank sewing machines. Across the green from us, painters set up tents with scenes of Lady Lake Superior.

“Sure,” I say, handing over my sketchbook.

The man holds my raw art committed hastily to blank pages recycled from a dump on the East Coast. His eyebrows scrunch, and he shakes his head. “It’s just words,” he says.

I’m a literary artist. A writer. A novel-drafter. A publisher of weekly collections and annual anthologies. I flash, and I write for the long-haul of longer trains of words. I’m a story-teller, a story-catcher, a story-forger. I am an artist, and I sketch with words.

Years ago, in high school, I had a mentor who told me to carry sketchbooks. I had no trouble catching the wingspan of a hawk or the gurgle of a spring. Deer didn’t give me odd looks if I stared too long at their rumps or horns, figuring out how either end could feature in a tale.

But when I was among people, I felt self-conscious of observation. I didn’t enjoy thinking about the length of someone’s hair in relation to the tone of their voice. I became more adept at capturing emotions and motives than looks. I was too shy to sketch in front of other.

Now, I roll my eyes at the man’s comment and offer to read my scribblings. I really do look at people and write without looking at the page so it can be a mess of ink, jumping outside of lines, slanting and scratching out words, interjecting new ones. I clear my throat and read:

Suomi Dancing

A blonde quartet draw bows across time and strings of old-world violins. They remake the songs of midsummer in Finland. No longer homeland, home is here, Finlandia, USA.  Voices rise, the blue cross on white flag rises, the Juhannus pole rise. It’s summer solstice and young girls in blue dresses with matching kerchiefs circle around the adults from out of town and suomi-dance with joy. Around and around they skip and step. Holding hands, they dance inward and back out again. Just like celebrations back home, a thread of culture unbroken dances lively beneath a copper country sun. Hey!

He smiles. Nods. “Cool,” he says.

We’ve discussed names and what we call ourselves as writers many times before at the Ranch. Artist is the latest evolution for me because it captures the spirit of all I write and arrange, as well as my vision for Carrot Ranch as a literary art community. Artist might feel weird for some writers, but we are — words are the medium we use, it’s what we paint and sketch.

A few days ago, collecting updates from Cynthia at ground zero at Ripley village, she realized with delight that her three friends were all writers. She said earlier that day her artist-artists were with her. The poet among us frowned and said, “Wait, artist-artists? Like, we aren’t real artists?” We all laughed, knowing we weren’t being excluded.

I’m happiest sketching freely. I carry a waterproof sketchbook for trips to hunt agates. I carry several in my purse, one in my car and have a stash in my desk next to the chocolate. Sometimes I meditate, give three cleansing breaths, then sit in my own stillness and catch what is around me. I listen for stories. I stare awkwardly at people’s clothes and gestures, but if I remain quiet and calm people don’t notice the way a nuthatch ignores a birdwatcher.

Sometimes, I know someone has a good story, and after coaxing them into telling me, I boldly whip out my sketchbook and say, “I’m writing this down, and make a few notes.” I captured the story of one of the Ripley firemen that way:

From Kitten to Fish

Bill wades into the muck to grab the flopping silver steelhead. Disaster all around and he can’t bear to see this fish die, gasping in the muck. The flash flood has wiped out the spawn. Had Bill been fishing in his boat, he’d have a great catch. Today he’s in waders and his volunteer fire department t-shirt. He thinks about keeping the fish for dinner later but sees the state patrol and thinks he better wade out to the flooded creek instead. A flash of a camera and the newspaper headline cheers the firemen for rescuing kittens and fish.

He really did save a steelhead trout, and the story is sad, although I chose to give it a lighthearted tone. In reality, Bill (whose name is not Bill, but I told him he’d recognize his tale by that name) saved a large steelhead stuck in the Ripley mud. All these floods in our local creeks washed out the spawning salmon, and the smelt are done for, which may take years to recover.

Not to mention most of our beaches are closed due to sewage and e-coli. I’ve vowed to stop licking rocks when I hunt! Already I’ve developed a different way of wetting Lake Superior rocks to see their best colors and definition. I take a small bowl to the Tori with me and keep a pool of water for dipping.

Visitors to the Tori enjoy the #CarrotRanchRocks stories, and I have a set of educational rocks to teach people a bit of geology. Then I read some 99-word literary art. Two of my tent-mates are rockhounds. One is going to take me out in his Jeep, the other gifted me with his art so I could assign stories about his etchings. This community doesn’t grip me — it holds me up.

In addition to sketching, teaching rocks, reading stories and selling books at the Tori, I’ve set up several activities in literary art. Once we get dates settled, I’ll be renewing Wrangling Words at the Portage Lake District Library. I offered this literary program at other libraries, and I thoroughly enjoy working with libraries. Susan Sleggs, one of our Rough Writers, is also giving a Wrangling Words presentation to her writer’s group.

My writers retreat at the Ripley Home of Healing is on hold. My nature writing workshops might be, too because McLain is cut off. But my presentation at Fort Wilkins in Copper Harbor is still a go July 16:

Copper Country History in 99 Words, No More, No Less
Join local author Charli Mills in a presentation of her flash fiction with a focus on local history. Participants will also learn the literary art of flash fiction and get to craft one of their own, using prompts from Fort Wilkins.
If the signs align, and they seem to be heading east from west, I have a special presentation to give around a Vermont campfire. I think cider and yarns might be involved.
We write, we sketch, we evolve.
When I started Carrot Ranch, I intended to have a landing page for marketing clients. I was still freelancing for major outlets on topics of business and marketing, traveling to give workshops to community food systems to set up marketing communications and branding. Looking back, I see that as fast as the Hub was unraveling, my desire to go all literary was rising.
I freelanced until May of 2016, writing my last magazine feature: Sandpoint Magazine Summer Issue: “Dog Town.” By the close of this month, my employer of 17 years will no longer contract with me as their publications editor and writer. It seems momentous, but I’m ready for that break. My GM left last year, and only one of my former staff remain of the department I built. My closest friend from the remaining management team is also moving on, and it seems a chapter has closed.
So how do I sketch my life from this point?
My latest evolution is to return to leading workshops, which I love to do. I’ve pondered the whole “marketing and editing” issue as I don’t want clients like I’ve had in the past. I’m done with that phase of my life. When authors contact me to market their books, I politely decline. Marketing is a huge task, and it’s part of the professional development of an author. Even if you get picked up by the so-called “Big 5” you will still have to develop your own marketing strategies.
To that end, I started developing an e-zine last year, called Marketing Mavericks. If you’ve ever heard of guerilla marketing (for small budgets and time allotments), then my take is similar. It’s specifically for authors with the ambition to market and sell. I’ve narrowed my niche to strategies and branding for authorpreneurs and entrepreneurs. The e-zine will be by subscription. I’ve also started writing for my book marketing hero, Rachel Thompson. You can catch my #NaNoProMo article or read thru the #BookMarketingChat she invited me two a few weeks ago: Author Marketing Strategies.
After my pitch to 1 Million Cups last month, a local incubator for entrepreneurs from Michigan Tech University contracted with me to teach entrepreneurs how to pitch for an upcoming event. I had my first coaching session with the small group on Monday and taught them the power and shape of stories, including the hero’s journey. It’s evolving, turning over yet another new leaf.
But it doesn’t change what Carrot Ranch is all about — a safe space to play with words, to craft stories, to interact with other writers. The weekly flash fiction challenge is the base of what I do to make literary art accessible. From there, any willing writer can join the Rough Writers in an anthology project. Vol. 2 is massive and magnificent! I’m in the throes of editing all I’ve arranged. You writers continue to amaze me.
We’ll Rodeo again in October. I’ve been uncertain what to do with all our entries. When I thought it would be “no big deal” to put them into an e-book, I had no idea how many words it would turn out to be. I know writers from last year’s contest want to read the volume, and I want to use it to raise the prize purse for this year. I’m contemplating a sale on a PDF through the Ranch. I’ll keep participants and leaders posted.
I’m doing some limited developmental editing and brand work. I’ve edited some scientific papers and content for a local web developer. I’m best at the developmental stage, I’m not a copy editor, but I can recommend some. You’ll be seeing some pages and ads going up. These are directed toward clients I’m interested in securing, so don’t think there’s any expectation on you — you are who I fondly call “my writers.” You are the story-tellers, the story-catchers, the novelists, the flash fictioneers, the memoirists, the sketchers. You are who the Ranch benefits. I want to make that clear.
I want to share my vision work with you, too. Part of my work with the entrepreneurs is to craft their visions and concepts into stories and pitches. So you might recognize part of TUFF! They are crafting their visions according to a process I shared. My writing partner in the UK has also completed this process. She did it brilliantly! In two weeks, the entrepreneurs will return with their vision in 99 words, which becomes a 59-word mission statement and a 9-word tagline. You are welcome to try this, too:

A Vision of Success (99)

Writers high-fived across the string of comments, appreciating craft and creativity in their sandbox, 99 words at a time. Carrot Ranch, an imaginary place made of real people from around the globe. A tribe. Buckaroo Nation. Authors and entrepreneurs arrived too, looking to forge brands and learn how to tell stories around investor campfires. Readers found literary art in small bites palpable to a modern diet of busyness. A buckaroo wrangled the words and published collections, hosted rodeos for writers, and flashed her way to write novels about veterans, history and earth science. The vision for the future rocked.

Carrot Ranch and A Lead Buckaroo’s North Star (59)

Carrot Ranch understands that writers and entrepreneurs need safe space to explore the craft of literary art and harness the power of storytelling. Lead buckaroo, Charli Mills, gave up riding horses to write brand stories. Now she wrangles 99-word flash about history, veterans, and rocks. Flash by flash, she crafts award-winning novels, leads authors on retreat and coaches entrepreneurs.

Tagline: Making literary art accessible 99 words at a time. (9)

June 28, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that is a sketch or about a sketch. It can be “A Sketch of a Romance” or “The Sketch of Aunt Tillie.” Go where the prompt leads you to scribble.

Respond by July 3, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.

If you want your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.

 

A Sketch of Rock Creek by Charli MIlls

From the barn, you can see across the draw that is Rock Creek. Wagon ruts remain visible on both sides. David Colbert “Cobb” McCanless built a toll bridge across the deep cut. He arrived at this road station along the Oregon Trail in March of 1859. Family denies that a woman, not his wife came with him, but records show her signature as his bookkeeper. His wife and children arrived from North Carolina in September 1859. The women know what happened when two years later a young Wild Bill Hickok shot Cobb. But no one thought to ask them.

June 21: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s winter, and we’re hiking across snow to the falls. Boots tramp over a trail hardpacked by daily visits. Bare limbs reveal the hillside, bereft of the cover leaves afford the trail in summer. There’s something about the barrenness of winter that strips our souls. In a way, it’s a time to use this vulnerability to heal. We are open.

I shuffle my snowboots in single file with a group of chatting and giggling women. I smile because we were supposed to walk mindfully. But that does not mean silently, right? We’re here to heal at the Ripley Falls. In this glorious mindful moment, my world is white, the snow muffling my steps and sharpening my sense of connection.

Clear waters gurgle over billion-year old bedrock. At the falls I let go. Down, down, down, I drop, falling over backward, this moment captured in a snowglobe somebody has bought and shelved on a mantle in a universe far away — look, you shake up the globe, and the women at the falls fall over. 

We fuss over falling. We don’t even want to trip. It smudges our knees, tarnishes our shoes. Falling means we failed. Falling means we didn’t do it right. Falling carries such societal shame that many people spend a lifetime making certain they don’t ever fall. Lose weight, take a pill, regrow lost hair, make more money, and whatever you do don’t fall from grace.

Falling is not as hard as we think it will be.

I let go, fall backward and the snow catches me. I’ve fallen, so what do I do? I laugh, feel the cold against the back of my wool coat, ignoring the sting of snow that creeps into my mittens, and I fling both arms wide. I make a snow angel. And all around me, I hear the water churn gently over rocks and the sound of other women falling.

No, falling isn’t as hard as they tell us it will be. It’s the getting back up that’s a bear. The struggling, slipping, falling again. A hand followed by another reach down and with help, I regain my feet. Alone, I might have floundered. Falling, if it has a core lesson, teaches us that it’s easy to do, and hard to recover from unless we have help.

That winter hike to Ripley Falls will etch itself in my memory box. It was the conclusion of a retreat at the Ripley House of Healing owned by my friend Cynthia May Drake. She helps veterans, their families, women in transition, and anyone coping with grief and loss. The women who gathered that day I now also count as friends. We’ve seen each other many time since and I always recognize their hands.

I’ve attended several workshops and many Magnificent Mondays with Cynthia. She honors my literary art and welcomes me to share it during these gatherings. That day, after the winter retreat, I asked if I could use her beautiful home to host a writing workshop. She agreed, and we’ve been dancing around a date. Last Tuesday, I met with her on her porch, surrounded by all her rocks and books and peace, we shared coffee and dreams.

As I always do when I leave the Ripley House of Healing, I make a vow to go tent camping. Cynthia sleeps in her tent outside in her backyard near her sauna. Most people up here in Copper Country follow the Finnish tradition and have a sauna. Ours is downstairs in the basement. But Cynthia is the only person I know who sleeps with heated corn sacks to stay warm in her tent. Because she and her dog Monty even sleep outside in the snow.

But, hey, it’s summer (or that moment-savoring time of winter’s coming).

On Saturday, June 16, I comforted Jasper, our thunder-stressed dog because the city of Houghton celebrated Bridge Fest with full artillery. As the final fireworks blasted, I promised Jasper it was over. He might not understand why a community celebrates a bridge, but to us it’s connection.

The Houghton Bridge is the only one that connects the Keweenaw Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula. It crosses Portage Canal which is a waterway that bisects land, connecting one side of Lake Superior to the other. People have mined copper on the Keweenaw for over 10,000 years. Industrial mining came to the area in the late 1830s. Later, the mines created chutes from the top of the mountain to the Portage Canal below to stamp and deliver copper by way of boats.

Ghost towns and abandoned mines scattered across the Copper Country. Cynthia’s Ripley Falls was once an engineered chute, part of the mining. Her house was built 112 years ago, and since that time, Ripley Falls has followed the course laid out for it. A ski resort now spans across Mont Ripley, to the west of her place. Humans have tinkered with the environment heavily in this region, but nature quickly reclaims what was let go.

Nature also follows her own course.

After Jasper calmed down on Saturday night, I heard thunder off in the distance. I groaned as I walked up the stairs, knowing it would be a long night for the dog. I had no idea it would be a night of terror for my community. Several times thunder woke me up, and several times I fell back asleep. Morning dawned, and nothing seemed amiss. Until I saw the social media posts from Cynthia.

All that rubble you see was part of the ski slope above the falls. In a few hours, the thunderstorm stalled over the lower Keweenaw and dumped 7 inches of rain. Cynthia, who usually sleeps where a mountain slammed into her house, slept inside that night. She and her daughter woke up when her refrigerator tumbled over. Water filled her stairwell to the bedrooms on the second floor and pushed against their doors in a torrent, preventing escape.

Cynthia writes:

“Drive to be alive: I am alive because I was saved by my 15 year old from certain death in my beloved tent on a night that produced 7” of rain in two hours and a mudslide from an unstable ski hill which slammed against my home burying my yard in 5-6 feet of rubble and muck.

I am alive because a first responder and my dear neighbors called for help to rescue my Samantha, my wee pup and I from a home where the flood waters were coming up the stairs from the first floor and keeping the doors shut from the inside.

I am alive because a community of neighbors, friends and strangers have poured by the 100’s to my homeplace, to dig through rubble and muck, to lift out treasured photos and sweet memories, to hose down, to kneel and pull out wet insulation from walls, to rip up 112 year old mint condition but wet hard wood floors, to hand pick and haul out sharp rocks from a ski hill burying cars and saunas and garages.

I am alive because blessed members if our Ojibwe people came to honor the waters who flow and give us life when we respect the earth and her ways and death and destruction when we forget and are greedy.

I am alive with the love of all whom I have witnessed the past days of endless work and give themselves selflesssly to it. And I mean all of you, with thoughts, prayers, financial help, phone calls, ideas, hard labor, food, well wishes. All if this is what we live for. Our purpose in life is to serve one another and create a community of bonds so tight that nothing can divide us because we are bonded in love.

One scene I will remember forever was last night on the cusp of Solstice as our days here have daylight until well past 10, I was standing by my beloved and broken sauna, waiting for my girlfriend SD to find the correct drill bit for a bit of sweet salvage, I looked over the scene around me. This is what I saw: beloved neighbors talking with selfless helpers and eating something finally as they gazed over tge work of some long days, people still digging and puzzling in the waterway, laughter ringing, dogs barking, a moon rising… and I was so pleased, so happy, so fulfilled. This is life, this is who we are capable of being. This is who we are. It was such a beautiful scene. It is our new reality. Blessed be.”

Not all is lost when we fall.

Those hands reach down to shovel muck with us, to pull us into a hug, push us to rip out our own walls because it’s necessary for survival. Hands join our hands, and together we move all the rubble bucket by bucket from our fallen environment. Hands do their part — some pack, some organize, some bless, and some write. Not all is lost when a community joins hands to lift the fallen.

I’ve witnessed amazing acts of perseverance in this community. The Red Cross and government officials lagged behind our local efforts to help friends and neighbors. Our efforts are slowing down because we’ve ripped out all the water-logged walls, salvaged 112-year-old trim, firehosed a basement after cleaning it out by hand, and treated interior framework with sprays to prevent mold.

If you are moved to help Cynthia, we do not yet know if her house can be saved, but we’ve set up a fund for her: GoFundMe.

We. Because falling takes others to rise. Just as we are a community of writers, we are the ones to extend the hands up.

June 21, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about “not all is lost.” It can include recovery from disaster, an unexpected insight after a fall, or however the phrase moves you. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by June 26, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.

If you want your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.

 

Not All is Lost by Charli Mills

Annabel retreated from the mourners. Thirty miners, four boys, and her beloved mine captain dead. Fire erupted at level 27 and none evacuated. Men continued to drill, eager to chase the new copper load, believing the updraft would smoother the flames. Greed overcomes common sense, Annabel thought. Ripley was ambitious, a hard-worker and a smart man. He cared about the land and community, but even good men succumb to copper fever. They dug their own deaths. She left the mass funeral and wandered to the falls. Ripley was gone, but his babe grew in the swell of her belly.

June 14: Flash Fiction Challenge

White hedgerow roses bloom on the corner of Ethel and Roberts Streets. With each pass, I wonder at their fragrance and details — are they white or tinged with a subtle color the way prehnite covers a gray rock of basalt with a sea-green glow when wet?

I’m breathing deep of the crisp air and watering my daughter’s garden which rises and blooms with purpose. She’s planted alternating heights, textures, and colors, timing the blooms, so there are buds to watch when spent petals fade and drop. It rarely gets hot in the Keweenaw, but if it doesn’t often rain the sandy soil quickly dries.

My 85-year-old neighbor, Mrs. H, watches me water the flagging yellow lilies and explosion of purple allium. I’m curious about a thicker and bigger bulb that’s not yet ready to reveal it’s color. It continues to grow, and its bud reminds me of a green coxcomb. I smile and wave to Mrs. H. She returns the smile and walks over to me.

“Winter’s coming, hey,” she says.

At first, I think she’s alluding to the nip in the near-summer air or the smear of gray rainless clouds overhead. But she means something more — when you live in a remote region with Lake Superior’s micro-climate that dumps an average of 300 inches of snow a year, you have winter and preparing for winter.

Winter’s coming, hey. It’s more profound than planning for next round of snow. It has to do with seizing the moment, savoring the bounce of bumble-bees, and seeking agates under every rock on McLain Beach. The time is now. Stop and smell the roses for winter is coming and you need to populate your senses with a full bouquet.

Watering, I know each bloom will pass so I’m mindful of each moment — gauging its height, noting changes in shapes, and admiring deepening shades of hues. I’m more attentive to the differences. I let Mrs. H know I’ve noticed her hedgerow flowers blooming. Her light blue eyes widen.

“They must have just bloomed,” she says.

Daily, Mrs. H circles her property. She pauses at the forget-me-knots and points to the Columbine. No matter where she walks, tiny white English daisies carpet all our lawns on the block. At night, the flowers tighten and reveal a hot-pink undercoat. I remark that I’ve never lived in a place like this where flowers bloom from snowmelt to snowfall.

Mrs. H nods and says people never had lawns. Everyone had flowers! What I see all around me when I walk the neighborhood or woods where farms and houses once stood during the mining heydays reflects abandoned yards of flowers. Historically, this amazes me the same way old stone foundations do — someone once lived here.

I turn the spray to the phlox to water this brilliant scrub of bubblegum-pink flowers. Mrs. H tells me phlox are her favorite. Her grandmother’s yard was full of phlox. I try to imagine the lawns gone and replaced with clumps of phlox and daisies. I can even see Mrs. H as a little girl trailing behind her grandmother.

These flashes of images come to me like a bouquet of emotion. I pick out each flower, each feeling to capture the scene. Often a story begins in sensory distortion until I can define what it is about. I’ll file away such scenes in my mind’s cabinet box and when I’m writing fiction, access it to use its color, scent, and feel. This is part of filling the well, catching stories for later use, like collecting herbals for dyes and healing teas.

Mrs. H leaves me to water, and I mull over the paperwork for the Hub and think of how healing this garden will be for my daughter when she returns home from surgery at the Mayo. A part of my whirring mind urges me to quit dallying around — so much to do, so behind, so much worry, so many unknowns. That’s like anticipating snow shoveling instead of experiencing how big the begonia buds are today.

Winter’s coming, hey. I’ll fill my mind with petunias and possibilities before returning to the tasks and trade. I’ll focus on what I love about literary art and branding and community and serendipity. I’ll chase down flowers in the woods and rocks on the beach. I’ll catch all the stories I can and finish the ones I can tame.

Before I go inside, Mrs. H returns with white hedgerow roses and blue forget-me-nots clasped in her thin and papery hand. She shares with me the day’s bounty. We meet in this moment, and time spins around us — she is at once a girl and a wise woman to me. She’s ageless as she passes the gift. One her grandmother once bestowed upon her.

June 14, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a bouquet. You can explore the meaning of the word or gather a bunch of flowers. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by June 19, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.

If you want your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.

NOTE: If you have trouble with the form, email me at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

A Mother’s Bouquet (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Mama, flowers!” Lizzie stumbled through the cabin door, dropping her bouquet of Black-eyed Susans.

Sarah cringed as Lizzie wailed, wanting to escape the chores Mary gave her.  Lizzie’s brothers rushed in to help gather their sister’s spilled flowers.

Monroe calmed Lizzie while Jules and Cling gathered her bouquet, handing it back. Lizzie sniffled. Mary knelt with Baby Charles on her hip, and Lizzie thrust the flowers to her mother. “They are beautiful, Lizzie.”

Sarah’s heart ached for a little girl to gather a bouquet for her.  But she left her daughter in the grave in back in North Carolina.

Man Glisten

A softer, gentler beard — a man who dares to glitter and reveal his man glisten. This sort of man breaks ties with traditions and expectations. It’s vulnerability. And perhaps more.

Writers explored the unusual side of what society expects of men and what men choose to do independently.

The following is based on the June 7, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about man glisten.

PART I (10-minute read)

It’s What’s Inside that Counts – Believe That If You Want by Geoff Le Pard

‘You know, Logan, I thought I’d get a tatt.’

‘Berk. That’s for teens and Maoris.’

‘Just want to be different.’

‘Don’t bother with such fripperies. Just be your weirdy self.’

‘Yeah but that doesn’t make me stand out. What if I dyed my beard?’

‘Call that a beard?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘You know, the other day when that guy collapsed at work?’

‘Yeah?’

‘They shouted ‘Man down!’?’

‘Yeah?’

‘I thought someone was trying to describe your beard to someone who’d not met you.’

‘That’s not fair.’

‘It’s bum-fluff, mate. Rub hard with a flannel, and you’d lose it.’

🥕🥕🥕

Glitz Man by kate @ aroused

Mick streaked his hair, wore classy clothes, saw himself as a leader of the Men’s Liberation Movement. Had applied for paternity leave before his wife gave birth, a public service entitlement. Bragged about the number of nappies he’d changed In a radio interview, he had counted every one.

Being a migrant, he took his wife’s name for she was from the landed gentry. Once his kids were at school, he ran for local council with never a qualm that his wife earned more.

Kid sprinkled him with glitter as he left for a meeting, laughing, comfortable with his choices!

🥕🥕🥕

Glistening by Jack Schuyler

Glistening, he took the stage.

I sipped my drink and pushed the pink cherry back into the glass with my tongue.

He was strong and graceful. With all the force of a tribal chieftain, he exercised his charm with the delicacy of butterfly wings.

It was mesmerizing.

Using every corner of the stage, he came face to face with the pulsing audience one second and flew high into the air the next.

When the dance finished, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. In a daze, I rose from my barstool and burst into embarrassing applause.

🥕🥕🥕

Man Glisten by Kay Kingsley

“What makes you feel good?” she asked him. “I don’t know. Sports? Or maybe working on my car.” He paused, thinking harder about this question than he anticipated.

She smiled a soft, playful smile. He was the kindest person she ever met.

“You know I love you, right?”

Now he was the one smiling, a smile colored with a bit of blush.

Embarrassed, he stroked his chin exposing hidden beard glitter that sparkled in the sun.

Only the strongest men play dress up with their 6 year old daughter and his man glisten is an endearing badge of honor.

🥕🥕🥕

Metallic Man by Juliet Nubel

The tiny drops of water clung to his broad shoulders like sequins, sparkling in the hot summer sun. Some fell to the ground, others were blown dry as he sprinted from the beach to the bike park.

His eyes scanned the dozens of lanes, searching for his space-age contraption, the one he would crouch over for the next five hours, pedalling for his life.

Then would come the marathon, where more pearls of sweat would bejewel his pounding body – this body he had transformed from a large white lump of lard to a lean, tanned, glistening piece of Iron.

🥕🥕🥕

Choosing by D. Avery

Both were tall, strong, good looking. Both had good prospects. Both were getting frustrated over her reluctance to choose.

Wade finally confronted Emerson, demanding they fight each other like men. He demanded this despite her protests for him to stop.

“It’s the only way!” he insisted. “Best man wins!” A crowd gathered around what was sure to be a close and brutal match.

But Emerson refused to fight, said he wouldn’t treat her like a prize purse. He turned and walked away. She caught up. When his eyes glistened with happiness, she knew she had chosen the right man.

🥕🥕🥕

Man Glisten by Frank Hubeney

Peter’s daughter laughed. She could see the glitter in his hair. Not much, but enough to sparkle.

“You still got it!” She said.

“You gave it to me,” Peter responded.

“You’re glis…glistening?”

“Yeah. I’m glad you let me glisten for a while.”

Peter really was glad. It was not easy for her to throw that glitter on him last week. She showed unexpected initiative. In case showering removed too much of it, he retouched his hair to make sure she would see some before he guided her wheelchair to the kitchen table for breakfast.

What a sparkling day!

Secret Love by Heather Gonzalez

At ripe old age of 99, all Sarah could remember of her true love was the way his skin glistened in the sun every time he got out of the water that summer.

No one ever knew about their secret love affair. They had been so careful. Most of their encounters were at an abandoned part of the river. That summer, they let their bodies intertwine beneath the surface.

To this day, no one knew that her daughter’s father wasn’t her husband.

She could only remember the way his skin glistened in the sun, but that was enough.

🥕🥕🥕

Silver Sparkles by Kerry E.B. Black

They celebrated their silver anniversary on a cruise.

Haley donned a new gown, but nothing disguised the ravages of a hard life on delicate skin. She thought she’d packed her cares, but they manifested in dark bags beneath her eyes. Worries snaked from her temples, dye-defying silver streaks. Translucent powder sunk into laugh lines and danced along crow’s feet.

Larry took his wife’s hand, enamored of her beauty. When she nestled in for a hug, she left some of her makeup glistening in his beard. It caught the light so that when they toasted, not only their smiles sparkled.

🥕🥕🥕

All-Inclusive by Bill Engleson

“Move over,” she directs. I have no objection, so we shift our baking bodies inches deeper into the shade of the giant parasol. Temporarily reprieved from the ferocity of the Varadero sun, she points to the apparition.

“Italian, maybe?”

“Not American, that’s for sure,” I opine, adding, “stupid embargo…”

“He’s not alone.”

A sleek cinder-burnt woman in a leopard bikini joins him.

His leopard briefs are band-aid thin. His body, muscular, with just a hint of paunch, is a Vaseline vision.

“Envious?” she prods.

“If I was an oil spill, maybe. Do you want another Havana Loco?”

“Hmm, yes.”

🥕🥕🥕

Summer Shower by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Her bus was late.

Benny stood under the awning, doing his best to shield his dog with the umbrella. Nevertheless, the pooch was soaked.

“Sorry, Roger,” he murmured, kneeling to stroke the dog’s ears, “We’ve gotta give up.”

Roger whined, licking a runnel of rain off his master’s forearm.

Benny stood, closing and shaking the umbrella. He leaned it against a wall. “Don’t need this, eh boy?”

Together, they strolled into the twilight as the streetlights lit up.

Minutes later, she marveled at her good fortune in finding the umbrella. It would be a long, wet walk home, otherwise.

🥕🥕🥕

After the Adventure by Wallie & Friend

She found him sleeping. The sun through the leaves warmed his skin in green and gold light, his long lashes casting shadows across his cheek.

Ami sat beside him. When she had gone looking for him, she hadn’t expected to find him here like this, but it seemed somehow right that in the aftermath of their adventure he and she should find a moment like this, a moment of apart from the others—a moment of rest.

Ami didn’t wake him. Instead, she settled beside him, her cheek on her arm, and watched the sunlight glisten on his face.

🥕🥕🥕

Magic In The Air by Sherri Matthews

Rumours of the old man living in the woods ran rife through the village, but nobody had ever seen him. Tim, determined to prove his existence, donned binoculars and strode out towards the abandoned house in the woods. Hours later, Tim’s flagging excitement surged when he saw a man walking towards him. The man wore a black cloak with a hood over his black hair, but his white beard glistened in the sunlight. Tim gasped, and the man smiled. “I’m not who you think I am son, but if it’s magic you’re after, you’ve come to the right place.”

🥕🥕🥕

Man Glisten in the Madhouse by Anne Goodwin

In some ways, Henry found it reassuring. This was a madhouse after all. But the poor man, boogying to a solitary rhythm, would attract derision outside. Someone should restrain him. Was it light reflected from the Christmas tree, or was that glitter in his hair? Was there alcohol in the punch?

At least Henry’s role would be minimal: passing the patients’ gifts to the Mayor. Then home to sanity. Yet his face froze as glitter-man sashayed over, grinning as he offered his hand. “Thanks for coming, Santa, Santa’s Elf. I’m Clive Musgrove, charge nurse. We spoke on the phone.”

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

The Last Story? by Di @ pensitivity101

She sat on his knee as she’d always done, waiting for him to begin telling a story.

He faltered, looking into those big hazel flecked saucers, feeling lost, overwhelmed, inadequate, and extremely blessed.

How many more evenings would they share? He was old and tired, time was precious.

She looked at him quizzically, touched a finger to the jewel glistening on his leathery cheek.

‘Granpa?’ she said, ‘Why are you crying?’

He smiled, taking her tiny hand in his liver-spotted and gnarled one, slowly raising it to his lips.

‘They’re not tears, sweetheart. They are the Diamonds of Love.’

🥕🥕🥕

Glitter Smiles Glisten by Norah Colvin

Relentless rain meant no beach for the country cousins. They spent eternity on the verandah, making artworks, playing games, and bickering.

On the last day, when Mum said to clear space for their mattresses, they fought over who’d do what. Toys and games ended up in a haphazard tower with the glitter bucket balanced on top.

When Dad bent for goodnight kisses, he stumbled and demolished the tower. Glitter went everywhere—including all over Dad. The children gasped.

“Your hair glistens, Dad,” smiled the littlest.

Dad smiled too, then everybody laughed.

Dad wore a hat to work that week.

🥕🥕🥕

Prideful Glisten by H.R.R. Gorman

The little girl surveyed her dress and scratched at the crinoline lining. “Why am I dressed up?” she asked.

Dr. Roberts crouched and poked his daughter on the shoulder. “Today is graduation day. It means you’re growing up. You want to dress up nice for graduation, yes?”

“I sure do – thank you, Daddy, for this fancy dress!” She twirled in her sequined skirt, the gems catching the light.

Dr. Roberts reached out a hand and led the kindergarten graduate to the station for the ride to school. He smiled, the glisten of his teeth outshining the sequins’ prideful sparkle.

🥕🥕🥕

Educational Enigma? by JulesPaige

“Mommy why doesn’t Papa man glisten?” Adrianna asked her mother.

At the cliff’s edge, Stan had wanted to clear the debris by their home by the lake. He’d at least asked Junior with him. Though Joan wasn’t sure
that father and son had enough engineering genes between them both to change a light bulb. Joan was curious as to what Adrianna was getting at. “What do you mean, honey?”

“Well,” the five year old daughter proclaimed as if she knew all the secrets of the world,“Teacher said most animals, the boys are show-offs,
like the peacock bird.”

🥕🥕🥕

Pride by D. Avery

William, reaching for his tuxedo, wondered why, of all the birds in the world, men emulate penguins when they dress up. His eyes hungrily took in the myriad colors, and his hands explored the many textures of his wife’s clothes. The teal feathered boa from the masquerade ball complemented her sequin shawl that he had draped over his shoulders. He marveled at how both sparkled, the colors shimmering. Emerging proud as a peacock from the walk-in closet, William joined his wife, still pruning and preening at her vanity mirror. Her eyes glistened as he reached for her eyeliner.

🥕🥕🥕

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

The ogre woke to fairies jumping on his bed. Pink tutus and wings flapping, giggles, pixie dust dancing in the morning sunlight.

“Get up. We made tea.”

With a grunt, the ogre shuffled to the kitchen.

“One or two sugars, Daddy?”

“Make it a double.”

Two pinches of glitter. The ogre slogged down his tea, wiped his mouth, a rare smile cracking the cast of worry on his face.

Knock. Knock.

The fairies flitted. “Mom’s here.”

The ogre started for the fairies’ bags. The smaller fairy took his hand. “Do you want my wings?”

The ogre nodded. “Of course.”

🥕🥕🥕

Forget-Me-Not by Sarah Whiley

I lit the candle, marking five years since our loss.

A single tear rolled down my cheek, which I indulged with just a little self-pity. Thinking again, of what might have been.

It never got any easier. And to make it worse, this year, my husband had totally forgotten.

I was hurt. He knew how hard this day was.

I heard the key turn in the lock and quickly wiped my eyes. I turned and was greeted by a beautiful bouquet of forget-me-nots.

More beautiful, was the glisten in my husband’s eyes, as he pulled me into his arms.

🥕🥕🥕

Daddy Can Dance (BOTS) by Susan Sleggs

Two years after a bad motorcycle accident, Carl was the only father at the Kindergarten Father/Daughter dance in a wheelchair. He had trouble keeping track of Katie in the crowd, but he came home with a feeling of exhilaration.

His wife smiled at the glitter on his suit. “How did you get covered?”

“Lots of Katie’s friends wanted a ride on my lap, and they had on sparkly dresses.”

“Pretty, but I’ll never get it all out.”

“That’s fine, every time it glistens, I’ll celebrate being alive, and remember twirling with Katie and her friends.”

“Well said, my love.”

🥕🥕🥕

Hair, Skin, Sun by Paula Moyer

Jean and Steve did summer weekends at Mille Lacs – that gigantic, shallow inland lake, smack in the middle of Minnesota. Swimming off the pier was a near-sunset event for Steve. Jean often looked at him and marveled. We’re both “white,” she thought, but Steve? Seriously white.

That evening he lathered up in sunscreen, slid off the pier and floated, belly up.
His chest hair was so thick that sunlight glistened jewel-like on the strands and then refracted when bouncing against his wet, shiny skin. Sunrays danced against Steve’s chest, a giant iridescent opal, resting displayed on satin Mille Lacs.

🥕🥕🥕

Man Glisten – Progress! by M J Mallon

‘What’s that?’ asked the little girl in the department store.

‘It’s the new Father Christmas. He’s called man glisten because he listens to all the little girls and boys while he glistens.’

‘But I liked the old Father Christmas with the long white beard, fat tummy and the red suit,’ said his daughter with a tear in her eyes.

‘It’s progress, honey. Old Father Christmas wasn’t bringing money into the department store anymore.’

‘Do you want to meet him?’

‘No!’

‘Look! His long beard, psychedelic suit and his reindeer glisten.’

‘I don’t care! I want old, fat, red suit!’

🥕🥕🥕

Man Glisten by MRMacrum

Joyce looked up at her husband John and said, “Oh great. Look what you’ve done now?”

Oblivious to verbal cues, John just looked at Joyce and grunted.

“Hey, snap out of it. I think we’re done here. ………….. Would you please move. Your sweat is dripping on me.”

“Huh?” John’s eyes said, “Nobody home.” He composed himself. “My Sweat? What about those sweaty handprints you left on me?

Joyce smiled at John. “Women don’t sweat, they glow.”

“I see. ………… men don’t sweat either. We glisten. …. Now let’s move on. These fence posts aren’t going to plant themselves.

🥕🥕🥕

The Roughneck by Teresa Grabs

For twelve weeks at a time, Buck was a roughneck on an off-shore drilling rig. The men were men, and that’s the way they liked it. Leathered skin, often covered in dirt and sweat, only amplified his ruggedness and no one could take a punch like Buck. His beard made him look like he just walked out of a Jack London story of the North.

Daisy squealed as Missy opened the playroom door. “Daddy funny!”

Missy couldn’t help but laugh at Buck sitting on his knees, at a tea party, wearing pink fairy wings, with glitter in his beard.

🥕🥕🥕

Glitterbeard by Allison Maruska

Darkness settles on me, around me, through me. It’s impenetrable. Undeniable.

I shake the bottle. Ten seconds is all I need. Ten seconds to escape.

One last glance outside. I used to feel joy on a spring day. I remember it as a cold fact.

Zach sits on his porch with his preschooler. His chin is lifted, and she’s sprinkling something into his thick, black beard.

Glitter?

I set the bottle down and head across the street.

Glitterbeard looks up as I approach. “Hey, man! You like it?”

I smile.

It’s enough to poke a hole in the darkness.

🥕🥕🥕

The Humble Man by Michael Grogan

The humble man knew he was up against it. The shelter for the homeless was a pie in the sky venture argued so many who coveted everything they thought they had a right to.

Greed and lust prevailed, and it was every man for himself. The homeless suffered the cold, the heat but more so the derision of a society who didn’t care.

He built a rough shelter, it was warm and clean and appreciated by those in need. When he stood back to reflect on his efforts, those who watched were amazed by the glow from within him.

🥕🥕🥕

Lightning Bugs by Papershots

For a long time there had been no reason to do it up. Now it was essential. Who would come to such a secluded spot but with modern conveniences? Inherited deadweight would now sparkle again. The actors checked in a few hours before the opening, to reenact historical deeds. Their makeup glistened in the stage- and moon- light. Somebody’s eyes met and bodies twinkled after the memorized lines and the welcoming of guests. Much later one was still welcoming; the other crying made-up tears in the glare of 19th century lamps. But scintillating coincidences had definitely worked their charm.

🥕🥕🥕

Flash Fiction by Saifun Hassam

The Explorer rafts came swiftly around the bend of the roaring and thunderous Kemper River. Jeff was in the leading solo raft. The old broken bridge had finally collapsed into the torrential waters. Before he could react, an unexpected surge threw Jeff into the churning foaming river. Valerie and Jody rafted furiously towards the right bank, staying close to the man glisten and perilous in the relentless rush of waters. The other Explorer rafts plunged up and down, fighting the downstream surge to form a barrier across the river. Strong hands pulled the man glisten from the raging waters.

🥕🥕🥕

For Our Bearded Buckaroo Bards by D. Avery

“Men listen? They ain’t great listeners Pal.”

“Not like you.”

“Huh?”

“Shorty said ‘man glisten’ Kid.”

“What’s that?”

“Could be glitter in a beard or jist bein’ okay with glitter in a beard.”

“Huh. Well, is it okay? Ain’t ranchin’ cowboy types s’posed ta be rough an’ tough? Buckaroo Nation women are all warriors. Are all the men here good looking?”

“That’s Lake Woebegone. Here men look good if they know when ta hold ‘em an’ know when ta fold ‘em, know that it ain’t weak ta turn the other cheek.”

“An’ if their cheeks are glittered, they’re golden.”

June 7: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s black as a mineshaft outside and somthing thuds and scratches at the window. I suspect a bat is feeding on insects drawn to the light I’m still burning. Try as I might to see the nocturnal creatures, I can only discern the sound.

In a way, there’s comfort in knowing I’m not up alone while the rest of the house slumbers. One dog kicks in his sleep, another snores and the cat nose-whistles. The third dog is silent like a youthful sleeper.

None wait up to catch a glimpse of bats with me.

I wonder if the mythology of security, the tale we believe that we can conquer change — look younger! erase wrinkles! defy gravity and time! — is why changes unnerve people. Are we all unnerved or do we each have our own tender spots?

When I was still in my 20s, but mum to three active toddlers, I grew excited to show them the monkey bars on the playground. We had recently moved from a logging town in central Montana to a small town halfway between Helena and Butte. Out west, it seems, we always lived in the shadow of mining country.

This new town had a small school with a playground, and our new place was a walk away. The monkey bars were just like the ones I used to do cherry drops from as a fifth-grader. From a seated position, I’d drop between the bars and swing upside down.

I had no intention of teaching my five, four and two-year-old such a thing, but I wanted to show off my prowess in skipping bars. I swung out from the first bar, skipped the second and while reaching for the third, I crashed to the ground.

My one arm protested that I was no longer a school girl and I sat dazed wondering how I could be so changed at such a young age yet. My children swarmed me like puppies do when you sit among a litter and soon I was giggling and telling them not to skip bars like mumsie.

Life is a series of accidents, happy or not. We do our best to steer the course, stay on track, but changes happen, and we have to set new courses or change our ways to accommodate a loss of strength, memory, or status. Change can be frightening.

And yet — some embrace changes as if that is the answer. Why wait for wrinkles when you can bask in the sun and paddle a board to get them early? Why wear what your father did when you can adopt something more like what your mother wore? Change also offers new experiences.

Last Friday, as I stood in the shadows, watching a pack of warrior women dance their myths out, stomp them into the ground and claim their power through movement and music, I noticed some of the men, too. It all began with glitter that evening.

As part of the show, reading my set of flash fiction to introduce each dance, I went to the studio with the dancers and read over my stories while they donned stage make-up. For the uninitiated, stage makeup looks daunting. It’s dark, heavy and not attractive close-up. But on stage, it catches the right contours and colors.

The ritual includes glitter. Lots of it — purple glitter, green glitter, silver glitter and gold glitter. My daughter smeared white glitter across my eyes, and I felt dancified. It was electrifying to wear the glitter. A man walked in — my SIL and the show’s MC and all heads turned. Glitter?

Solar Man is not one to fear change. He’s not threatened by a pack of dancers slinking toward him with wands of glitter poised. They all eyed his beard. He rubbed it, stroked his red tie, touched each cufflink and declared he’d only wear gold glitter in his beard. The moment passed — of all the colors, no one had gold with them.

We traveled to the performance venue and secured the dressing room. And lo and behold, a warrior found gold glitter. Soon the cameraman expressed interest and he be-glittered his blond beard. What happened next made me chuckle all evening. Other men took offense! The crowd accepted warrior women, but man glisten? No way!

Like twittering stereotypical old wives, the men chastized the glitter beards, stating it would cause regret, that the glitter would never disappear. At that comment, the scientists in the group acknowledged that glitter does not ever break down fully and pollutes the Great Lakes with other micro-plastics.

However, it did not discourage the newborn pride of glitter beards.

Bats hunt bugs, and likely always will. But men will evolve and accept the softer side of themselves.

June 7, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about man glisten. It was a fun term coined by two men with glitter in their beards. What more could it embrace? Look to the unexpected and embrace a playful approach. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by June 12, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.

If you want your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.

Photo credit Robin Mueller 2018

Masks of Man Glisten by Charli Mills

Deep in the shafts of Mohawk Mine, men pounded steel to separate native copper from white quartz. Candlelight from helmets of miners caught flickers of dust. Mohawkite glittered in dim beams. At the end of shift, the men piled onto trams, hoisted back to daylight of long summer evenings and clean women waiting with baskets of fried chicken and Chassell Farm strawberries. Daughters and sons skipped to their dads, uncertain which belonged to them. Tired, blinking in the bright sun, masks of man glisten mined below the level of hell made them look alike.

Sparkle, sparkle hard rock miners.

May 17: Flash Fiction Challenge

As tight young leaves unfurl, real estate has gone to the birds. Some couples arrive at the neighborhood to find protected perches to weave grass nests. Others seek cavities. A turf war broke out between two couples who each wanted the same property. Those of us who live here, wonder what will become of the property values.

Much depends on the new neighbors.

When the woodpeckers first arrived, I admit I felt some alarm. After all, they make holes in trees. However, they eat insects that kill trees; thus they can be good neighbors. I watch them move into a tall maple at the edge of the backyard. They are northern flickers, and chatty. Across Ethel half a block away we can hear a resident blue jay. He’s even chattier.

That’s when the Whirlygig bird makes his move. He stands atop the peaked roof of the red house between ours and Ethel, next door to Cranky, my walking neighbor. With her lovely sewing skills, she’s embroidered me a fox potholder, embellishing it with a carrot. I’m blessed to have good neighbors. We both watch the newcomer cautiously. How will he fit in?

Like lead in a pencil, he squeezes his dark body into a wooden crevice we didn’t know existed in the attic of the red house. When not shoving snippets of pine twigs or grass into the opening, he stands on the roof’s peak and twirls his wings like a mechanical wind-up bird. He clicks and cries and steps a few dance moves. The sun catches iridescent colors, and we realize a starling has arrived in the ‘hood.

There go the property values.

Starlings are not native to the US. Like most Americans who are also not indigenous, the birds arrived on boats from Europe. Also, like those who colonize from elsewhere, they bully others out of their native homes. Starlings also prefer the crevices woodpeckers seek. In short order, Whirlygig comes knocking on the new residence of the northern flickers.

For two days, I’ve held my breath. Who will win the hole in the maple? Starlings have forced woodpeckers to delay breeding. A compromise of sorts. But northern flickers are also migrators, unlike their downy, red-headed and piliated cousins. Therefore they must compete and not delay.

Whirlygig is dogged in his dance. The moment he catches the flicker couple away, he flies from the roof of the red house into the hole in the maple. He throws out their nesting material and my writer’s mind shifts to what if…What if squatters took over your home? What if a couple went out to buy groceries and returned to an aggressor throwing out their bed and shoes?

In the end, aggression wins. It seems unjust, and I recognize how easy it is to villainize starlings. They are the loud, boisterous neighbors no one wants. Whirlygig is the equivalent of the guy mowing the lawn without a shirt (oh, wait, that’s the Hub). Starlings are the noisy college frat boys sitting on their roof drinking beer. Uncouth, but does it really mean the values sink?

My new bird-feeders overflow with promise of more than starlings. An American goldfinch and a rose-headed house finch have made introductions. The jay down the street continues to squawk. A black and white woodpecker crawled all over the backside of Cranky’s house carefully pecking between the slates for insects. It a diverse neighborhood despite the obnoxious bird and his new bride.

Warmer days, longer sunlight and the absence of snow brings out the two and four-legged neighbors, too. Cranky and I continue our walks, exploring the flowers of our neighborhood, gossiping about Whirlygig. It’s the first time I’ve had a fellow nature-lover for a neighbor. Walks end up with us standing in other people’s yards inspecting flowers or gawking up into tree limbs to identify a bird.

Yesterday, we spotted a trail that led off the road into the woods. A hand-painted sign warned that bridges were unstable. Oh, how could we resist exploring? We walked through trees waving miniature flags not yet full leaves. Cranky taught me to smell the leaves to aid identification. We scanned birch for conks of chaga, a medicinal fungus. We admired trout lilies and spotted early sprouts of trillium.

Then I saw the pile of rocks.

It was old, perhaps from mining days or maybe this hilltop meadow was once pastured. Whatever its purpose someone moved a lot of stones. I suggested that it was a farm with ten children and the kids grew up picking rocks from the fields. We both hoped it had nothing to do with mines for we had left the beaten path. I began to scope for shafts.

At one point we crossed a bog (no unstable bridge in sight). I was certain the snowmobile trail was just ahead, and we could catch that and walk back into town. On the edge of the bog, Cranky spotted dark green bushes with salmon-colored berries. She plucked one and said, “Eat this.” Whether or not this was a starling-like tactic to rid the neighborhood of me, I thought nothing of it and popped the berry in my mouth.

Cranky smiled and said, “Taste the wintergreen?”

I said, “No.”

She frowned and said, “Spit it out!”

We both laughed. She thought she was giving me wintergreen. We’re not sure what it was, but wintergreen it was not. Neighbors can be trusting in that way. We found our way back, and I never suffered for the nibble of an unknown spring berry. Closer to home we met more dogs and neighbors. Everyone is raking grit out of the front lawns, and a few real estate signs have appeared.

To me, the value is high, starlings and all.

This weekend marks my last as age 50. On Friday I go out with my fellow veteran spouses. I order my birthday cake and will buy brats and champagne for my Sunday party. On Saturday morning I’ll head to a local cemetery with a Wounded Warrior Sister and plant American flags on the graves of soldiers for Memorial Day. That evening, I’m attending a dance performance at Michigan Tech. My daughter’s dance classes are in the show.

Sunday is the big shin-dig at Calumet Waterworks (McLain cost too much, and Calumet reserves it’s picnic shelter for free). I like CWW better for hunting rocks. I’m bringing all the binoculars, too. C Jai Ferry is planning to drive all the way from Nebraska to celebrate. And on Monday we’ll go out to Gemminani’s, the Italian restaurant in the neighborhood. They give out free dinners on your birthday, and I turn 51 on Monday.

All in all, life is good. You can’t avoid the starlings or mistaken berries along the way, but you can make the best of what you have where you are and who you meet.

May 17, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about property values. Perhaps its a home, business or pencil museum. What makes them go up or down? Go where the prompt leads.

Deadline Extended. Continue to Use Form.

Respond by May 29, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.

If you want your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.

 

Value in the Balance (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Property values go up the more improvements we make.” Cobb replaced his years of responsibility as a sheriff with a drive to improve every inch of Rock Creek Station.

Sarah unpacked the latest freight of sundries from St. Louis While Cobb sawed planks for the new schoolhouse. The wood gleamed gold like the barn, toll booth, toll bridge, post office, eastside station and horse stables. The store Sarah operated had gray wood, showing its age. Sarah calculated Cobbs improvements and noted that it added up to more debt that income.

“Those values had better go up soon,” she muttered.

May 10: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s hard to take silent steps across broken glass. Shards ground into nuggets the size of small peas glitter green, brown, blue and diamond-clear litter the path. In the back of my mind, I acknowledge the oddity of walking on glass, but it’s some Wisconsin recycling measure to pave the trails with glass gravel. Right now. This moment. I’m on the hunt. Shhh…cranes.

Across time many have proposed theories to explain the brain — cranium size and shape, left brain, right brain, synapses firing. These attributes mean something and nothing. Perhaps the final frontier is not the vastness of space, but what is contained in the folds of the mind.

For me, I acknowledge pockets of focus. I put on my thinking cap, or I disappear into my head to read (or write) a good story. Some of my focus might actually be distractions, but I can’t wrap my mind around that quandary at the moment. I know I have Rock Brain and History Brain — oh, look, a squirrel! But most focused/distracting of all is Bird Brain.

I’m in stealth Bird Brain mode.

The gravel crunches beneath my sneakers, and I don’t think I’m sneaking up on any birds. Maybe that’s the actual point of the glass gravel. A sign explained it all, but when one has become a full-fledged member of the International Crane Institute of Baraboo, Wisconsin, one does not stop to read non-bird related signs. I’m hunting the elusive Whooping Crane.

Whoopers remain one of the rarest (and tallest) birds to grace the North American continent. They once nestled on the northern prairies from central Canada as far south as Iowa. In the winter they hung out in Texas and Louisianna. Then settlers, like Cobb McCanles and his family, moved west, and the whoopers disappeared.

By 1941, the Texas wintering flock huddled near extinction with only 15 birds remaining. In 1971, two Cornell University students dreamed of an organization that could protect the world’s 15 species of cranes, including the Whoopers. Serendipity is when you follow your passion, and you find an unexpected gift. It’s a happy chance.

Ornithology students, Ron Sauey and George Archibald, envisioned a place where they could combine research, captive breeding, and reintroduction of cranes to their depopulated habitats. They imagined a place where restoration and education would engage citizens to support a crane-focused organization. The first happy chance came from Wisconsin where a horse rancher offered land to the ornithology students.

The next bit of serendipity came when George accepted an invitation to go on the Johnny Carson Show, a well-viewed late-night program in the 1970s. Part of the appeal to a late-night American audience was the humorous story about how George wooed a Whooper named Tex. She was hatched in captivity and therefore imprinted to humans. To her Bird Brain, George was a potential mate.

Every morning, George walked with Tex, and they danced the crane dance until she readied herself for breeding. While George held her attention, two other biologists artificially inseminated the lovelorn crane. We can all chuckle, but the true heart of the story is that the match yielded a single Whooper from 54 eggs that didn’t make it.

Gee Whiz, George’s crane-son, went on to become the crane that built the Wisconsin flock which now has over 200 of the existing 700 Whooping Cranes today. In a sad twist, the night before George went on the Johnny Carson Show, a marauding raccoon invaded Tex’s pen and killed her.

Everyone laughed about the crane dance between ornithologist and bird, but they put their dollars where their hearts were and that single sad tale on a late-night tv show serendipitously funded the International Crane Foundation. Today, it lives up to its original vision to provide sanctuary for all 15 species of cranes.

I’m hunting the Whoopers in the back pasture by the small pond full of singing spring peepers. But my heart overrides my Bird Brain when a female Gray Crowned Crane begins flirting with my son and husband. With head feathers looking more like thoughts on fire than a crown, I loved the display she puts on like a comedic dancer in a burlesque show.

She shows me what George understood all along — the charisma of cranes.

Whoopers, Black Crowned, Back Necked, Blue, Brolga, Siberian, Wattled, Hooded, Red Crowned, Sarus, White Naped, Gray Crowned, Demoiselle, Eurasian, and Sandhill cranes ignite the imaginations of the world with their compelling attractiveness. We paint them, write poetry of them, and even craft origami after them. Peaceful, graceful, fierce — we fall in love with the charisma of cranes.

A note to the regular Ranch Hands — my trip to the cranes was part of a three-day tour to see our son and visit an orthopedic surgeon at Veteran Affairs to finally get the acknowledgment that the Hub’s knee is as empty as the prairies were of Whoopers in the 1940s. Nothing left to salvage, nothing left to cushion. As the orthopedic explained, “It’s like a bomb went off in your knee.” Finally, a gel shot, and hopefully a replacement.

My technology acted up on the road, and I couldn’t keep up with comments, but the Ranch collection bucket (the form) performed well, and I published the stories when I got back home. I promise to catch up on my comments because that’s an important commitment of mine to give each of you positive feedback on your contributions to the challenge. And I thank the community for commenting, too!

Carrot Ranch Literary Community made the local news. I was not prepared to be recorded and televised, but I was thrilled to share the power of what we do through literary art 99 words at a time. The next morning after our trip, I was invited to present what we do at Carrot Ranch to 1 Million Cups, a national organization with a local chapter in the Keweenaw. I read Pete Fanning’s flash from Vol. 1, “Normandy,” and I read my most recent #CarrotRanchRocks story, “The Girlie Rock.”

The Girlie Rock by Charli Mills

Rex teased Amy about the big pink rock she found on the beach. A gift from Lake Superior days before deployment. He loved her enough that he took that girlie rock with him to Iraq. He placed its cool flat surface against his chest during coughing fits. Smoldering chemical fires seared his lungs. He married Amy and returned her girlie rock. When they drove to the VA for treatment, she rubbed its pink smoothness like some magic genie would emerge and save his life. A pink rock on marble white – in the end, she left it on his grave.

CWW-07-17-24 (Pink feldspar and green epidote)

My head feels a bit like how the crown of a crane looks, all my synapses firing in a bazillion directions, but there is a vision to madness. I hope I can pull off the charisma of cranes and anchor Carrot Ranch and our literary art in the Keweenaw Community which has been so warm and welcoming (despite 304 inches of snow).

Lastly, I’m re-doing my 50th Birthday Party. No offense to the stunning state of New Mexico, but I felt robbed of my milestone birthday celebration stranded and homeless in the Land of Enchantment. You are all invited to Rock the 5.0 with me, snow or sun, at McLain State Park on May 20 with grilled brats, birthday cake, rock picking, WIP-reading, and a Copper Country sunset over Lake Superior. If you are unable to attend, you can send birthday cards to:

Carrot Ranch, PO Box 306, Hancock, MI 49930

Thank you all for your writing and reading patronage! Your individual stories matter, and yet you are also part of a greater, global, artistic calling. A calling to peace like a crane.

May 10, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story defining “the charisma of cranes.” For centuries, cranes have inspired art and philosophy. You can write a crane story or create something new out of the phrase. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by May 15, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.

(I just noticed my bird-brained typo last week; you can still turn in May 3 stories if you thought you had until May 15, but use the May 3 Flash Fiction Challenge Form.)

If you want your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.

 

The Charisma of Whooping Cranes in 1858 (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Slowly lifting on outstretched angel wings, hundreds of white cranes trumpeted and took flight. Nancy Jane dug her bare heels into the sides of her prairie pony, tail flying as she rode beneath the flock. Sarah clung to the pony’s sides with her legs, catching the rhythm of his galloping paces. Her arms wrapped around Nancy Jane’s waist to grasp handfuls of mane. The cranes landed across the Platte, gracefully perching on long legs. Sarah gawked, mesmerized. Nancy Jane slowed her steady mount, and both women whooped loud as the angels who came to charm them in Nebraska Territory.

April 26: Flash Fiction Challenge

Nearly the end of April and at last the US Coast Guard Cutter Morro Bay has plowed a path through the ice-locked Portage Canal that separates the Keweenaw Peninsula from the mainland of Upper Michigan. One of several Great Lakes ice-breakers, engineers, designed these ships to heave down upon the ice to crack open a path. Ice like panes of flat glass float, bob, and eventually melt, exposing the deep clear water below.

Seagulls claim floating ice slabs, and their raucous cries signal the return of water birds to a place dominated by Lake Superior, greatest of the Great Lakes. On black-tipped white wings, they wheel over my home, announcing spring ice-out in Hancock.

In appreciation of our Coast Guard who brought us spring, at last, take a moment to watch the Cutter Mackinaw plow the shipping channel on Lake Superior last month:

Already, the earliest of those who fish the Keweenaw has returned. I’m eager to discover who they are, having once lived on a bog pond beneath a bird migration super-highway. Will I see old favorites or meet new species? It’s like waiting for the circus to come to town — I know the show will thrill me, but how will it be different from shows I’ve seen before? Even in one place, spring migration plays out fresh and new.

Just as much as I love the migratory waterfowl, the Hub loves raptors. He began to hear and see kestrels during his quiet time on the back deck. He thought he saw a sharp-shinned hawk last week. The big excitement for him resides on the Houghton Bridge which crosses the Portage Canal and connects the mainland (Houghton side) to the Keweenaw Peninsula (Hancock side). The pair of peregrine falcons has returned to their nest box (you can watch a live camera of the nest box action).

After Feldenkrais class at Superior School of Dance, I walked up to Milly’s for a slice of Detroit-style pizza and a fresh mixed-greens salad. The Hub met up with me, and after dinner he suggested we go look for the Falcons on the bridge. The sun didn’t set until almost 9 pm tonight, so we headed across the bridge and parked along the canal.

And that’s when I saw them among the frolicking seagulls — mergansers!

While the Hub scoped the nest box, I scanned the newly opened waterway with it’s floating panes of ice for a close-up of what turned out to be common mergansers. With black heads, white bodies and orange bills, I could readily spot them. I saw one female, too with her auburn head. She had the pick of a gaggle of males. Mating season is soon, but still, the land is covered in banks of snow. For now, they fish.

When we head to the VA hospital in Iron Mountain, we pass through Keweenaw Bay where the snowshoe priest, Father Baraga, is honored in a sculpture depicting his reach to the region’s five tribes. The Ojibwa fish year-round from ice-huts and boats on the bay. When we return, we like to stop for dinner at Carla’s where she serves fresh fish.

Last fall, my daughter Radio Geek (though I now see her author bio has evolved to a “through and through” geek) worked on a scientific look at fishing in our region from the perspective of the Ojibwa community who asks, “When can we eat the fish?” Fishers — recreational, professional, and feathered — can be susceptible to unseen pollutants. Research at Michigan Tech reveals the complexities of answering such a question. You can read Radio Geek’s article from the 2018 Michigan Tech Research Magazine).

I was never one to take to fishing. In fact, I have horrible memories of watching gasping trout cling to life in a creel or on a line. Then I met the Hub. Reluctantly, I went fishing but warned him that I’d sit on a sunny rock and read a book. But he taught me a humane method — catch and release. Eventually, as a writing intern to Montana’s Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, I covered Becoming an Outdoor Woman and learned to fly-fish, which is a zen-like activity that involves not actually catching fish. Well, the way I do it.

If you read my article from the olden days of my writing career, you’ll learn my first name is not really Charli. But Charli is short for it, and the name I’ve had since I was a baby buckaroo.

And yes, we’ll be going fishing this week.

I want to remind you to use the form if you’d like to publish in our weekly collection. It helps me tremendously to have the stories in one bucket instead of having to hunt high and low for them! But also share in the comments to take part in the community interaction. A “byline” names the writer — use a pen name, full name, or blog if that’s your preference. Include a title with your 99-word story (the title is not counted). If no title is given, I’ll dub it, “Flash Fiction.”

Also, we have one more month to go before you can request Rancher Badges. These support you as a writer in any goals or achievements you want to track. #CarrotRanchRocks is now live and if you want to participate, ask me for a rock prompt — I’ll connect you with a rock (or more). It’s the literary version of art rocks and also seeks to educate those interested in Lake Superior rocks. Not everyone comes up here to fish!

April 26, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a fish tale. It can be about fishing from any angle, about those who fish, or what might be caught. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by May 1, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.

If you want your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.

Fishing Opener by Charli Mills

Harriette wrapped her arms around Ralph’s girth. He slowed down when the trail dipped and skirted puddles of brown snowmelt. A month ago, they had enjoyed the last snowmobile trek of the season. Now it was time to ride the four-wheeler. The couple had strapped their fishing rods, gear and a picnic lunch to the back. At last, mud splattered, the trail broke out of the trees and opened to an inlet along the shoreline of Lake Superior.

Ralph quickly geared up and headed up the small stream to catch trout. Harriette left her pole and fished for agates.

###

Forest Bathing

INTRO

We go into the forest to find quiet, solitude, and healing. It’s something we long to do, and can be healing. Researchers in Japan and Korea have established evidence of restorative benefits from Shinrin Yoku — forest bathing.

That doesn’t mean this collection of stories basks under the canopy of therapy. Writers found many different paths into the forest.

The following is based on the April 19, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about forest bathing.

PART I (10-minute read)

Grandmother’s Gift by Jo/The Creative PTSD Gal

‘I’m going to share something with you, little one. Come,’ my grandmother said reaching for my hand leading me into the woods behind our house.

‘Take your shoes off love,’ that’s when I realized she was already barefoot.

She sat me under an old silver oak and positioned my feet on the earth in front of me. I felt calm and sleepy when she said, ‘Do you feel that? That’s mother Earth replenishing you. If you listen deep enough, she is also taking and healing your heart and soul. Whenever you feel like giving up, come back to her.

🥕🥕🥕

Cleansing Chaos by njoyslife

Life is placid outside Joy’s woodland cabin as she takes her morning walk. Nuthatches seem unthreatened by nuclear missiles. Chickadees show no interest in crime or collusion. Blue jays apparently don’t know the job market is shrinking. Woodpeckers aren’t worried that stocks plummet and robins aren’t fretting about local or national scandals.  This verdant world teems with new life. Leaf buds swell on the tips of tree branches. A spotted fawn appears in a bed of wildflowers. Joy bathes in the misty forest, cleansing her heart of clutter, strengthening herself to resist for one more day humanly created chaos.

🥕🥕🥕

Landis Woods by JulesPaige

If the earth were to have a birthday party, what season would it be held in? Without question, my belief would be spring. Every day a new gift is unwrapped. A new birdsong composed. Just bathe in the forest, perhaps healing through Shinrin Yoku.

This season, this spring so late in arriving in the north,this year – I plan on walking through a preserved wood. One that leads from one highway to another – preserving a unique hidden space for local wildlife.

Just to pass through observing. And to count blessings.

celebrating life
seemingly ageless, Mother
blessed by Father Time

🥕🥕🥕

Forest Nymphs by Pensitivity

The path leads inwards,
Secrets calling,
Tread softly, gently,
Do not disturb
The fallen leaves of the dying.
Autumn descends,
Come closer, whispers,
Listen carefully,
You may hear a distant crying.
Russets, golds and reds,
Greens now yielding,
Look above you,
Dew drops glisten,
Nature’s tears on sunrays drying.
Creatures rustle,
Peep through heathers,
Witness magic,
Marvel at the Wood Nymphs lying
Soaking energy,
Secluded, private,
They are Forest Bathing,
Free from unwanted eyes prying.
Regenerating, providing,
Nothing wasted,
Laughter tinkles,
Bounce off tree trunks,
Smiling faces,
Bodies dancing,
Having fun, others frolic,
Chasing dreams, or at least trying.

🥕🥕🥕

Unspecified, Unseen, Undocumented by Paper Shots

A wrinkle on the surface of the water, while the breeze also stirs the top of what looks like wheat but it’s not – there was a book in a village shop, Companion to the Flora of the Lakes: one would know now, had the book been bought. Photos; Underexposed, overexposed. There’s a majestic tree, its trunk half in water, its branches shading a corner of this little bay, green berries, red berries, white tiny flowers, and two wild ducks (approximation necessary) swimming by, their little heads back and forth, the water parted in triangles whose sides will always vary.

🥕🥕🥕

 

Flutter by Akindu Perera

“It’s not real”, Lucy whispered as she completed the last fold of the paper butterfly. Her fingers rode over the edge of the butterfly, admiring how a piece of paper can be woven into a work of art. Ignoring its inanimateness, she threw the masterpiece across the room, hoping it would come to life.

The two perfectly creased wings sliced through the air, fighting for existence. The glorious vision of the butterfly fluttering across the room drew a fragile smile on Lucy’s face. Her smile was so delicate, that it shattered when the paper butterfly kissed the cold floor.

🥕🥕🥕

The Final Forest Bathing by Miriam Hurdle

Mr. Taniguchi hooked one end of the rope to his waist belt, attached the other to the entrance post of Aokigahara Forest located along the edge of Mount Fuji. He released the rolling rope as he proceeded, passing the sign of “No Entry.”

He saw many strings but found them ended in bushes. Hours into the patrol, he discovered a pair of weathered shoes. Brushing the leaves aside, a skeleton was revealed.

He took photos, got out several signs and nailed them on the trees. They read, “Don’t Commit Suicide. Your Life Is Precious.” He traced his way back.

🥕🥕🥕

Oh, My Love, My Darling by Juliet Nubel

He stood behind her and wrapped his weightless arms around her shoulders.

She didn’t react so he placed his cheek against hers and felt the dampness of her tears on his greying stubble.

When would she ever stop crying?

She was reading an article about forest bathing, something she had often advised him to do with her. She said it could help his coronary problems but stupidly he had never wanted to go.

He would stay entwined with her all night for he feared it would be impossible come tomorrow, the day they put his body in the coffin.

🥕🥕🥕

Is the Forest Enchanted, or the Company? by Anne Goodwin

We ambled through ash and spindly silver birch, its bark like alligator skin. A squirrel scampered across the path and up a tree. We heard the tap tap tap of a woodpecker but, despite straining our eyes and necks to scan the treetops, it remained elusive. Somehow, it didn’t matter; the shared not-seeing was enough.

I pressed further into the woods to inspect some bracken fungus clinging to the trunk of a dead tree like shelves made of scallops. I kicked at the sludge of fallen leaves with my wellies. At last I understood what magic brought my father here.

🥕🥕🥕

Missing the Point by Molly Stevens

“What’s sitting under that tree?” Chester said, peering through the front window at his neighbor’s yard. “Is it one of them weird ceramic gnomes? What’s that dad-blamed woman up to now?”

His wife, Ruth, said, “Myra is practicing a new kind of meditation called, ‘forest bathing.’ She says it relieves stress.”

“That sounds like one of them cockamamie things a tree hugger like her would do.”

“She said taking in the forest atmosphere is preventive medicine in Japan.”

“Don’t she know she lives in Maine? And I can’t see no forest. All I see is a bunch of trees.”

🥕🥕🥕

Recharge by Lisa Rey

Tom wasn’t sure if he believed in all this thing they called Shinrin Yoku. But he had been very stressed lately with work in the office and his girlfriend running off with a priest who left the priesthood to be with her. So he walked into the nearby forest, gave it a go. As he sat by the stream listening to its gentle rush, to the soft sounds of the birds conducting their daily conversations and felt the smooth fresh grass beside him, he suddenly understood. Sometimes you needed to just get away from it all to return anew.

🥕🥕🥕

First Answer by Debora Kiyono

Sitting at the porch, he takes off his muddy hiking boots wondering why it didn’t work. Often, he comes back from his Shinrin Yoku full of ideas and many solutions.

“It was just a dream! Let it go!” – said his girlfriend when he told her about it.

It was impossible. It had a non-stop replay in his mind, bringing enormous curiosity about a mysterious notebook.

When he comes in, a package on the table calls his attention. Immediately, he opens it.

A smile lights up on his face, while reading the cover of the book: “The Interpretation of Dreams.”

🥕🥕🥕

Finally Convinced by Reena Saxena

“Why forest-bathing?” My botanist beau loved the idea of this impromptu trip, but was not convinced of the nomenclature- Shinrin Yoku.

“Because we do not have clean air to breathe in, in our citadels of development….”

“The trees have purified the world for years, wherever they were allowed to take roots. We left them to grow in isolated patches called forests, and are now forced to take refuge there.”

“Every tree has its day.”

“And so do we. I’ll show you the cottage I plan to set up our home in, after we are married.”

Life was sheer bliss.

🥕🥕🥕

Visuonquest by Raymond Roy

So distant, is a stand of trees, a secret place, my mind at ease.

Forest’s edge, winter apples grow, increase my pace, zephyrs show impending snow.

Curled up ferns, visual pleasure, pine needle carpet, walk of leisure.

I’m not alone, chipmunk squawks, takeoff my shoes and itchy socks.

Frosty air, hot springs steam, ease in my feet and begin to dream.

Native boy on vision-quest, by the pool to have a rest.

Sacred forest clean and pure, my quest is it’s protection , I must secure.

Leaving my refuge keenly aware, it’s not only I but, trees need care.

🥕🥕🥕

Visitors by Hugh Roberts

“We’re safe here in the forest until Marlon gets back. All of you, continue to rest and gain energy from bathing in the dappled light of the forest. Hopefully, we have found our new home.”

For 27 days and nights, they waited for Marlon to return. There was an anticipation of excitement in the air when he came back.

“Marlon, what have you found out? Can we live here?”

“I’m afraid not, your majesty.”

“What? Why not?”

“It’s some of the lifeforms of this world, Sir. They cut down the trees. Soon, nothing of this world will be left.”

🥕🥕🥕

Forest Feast by Norah Colvin

Unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells assailed his senses. He dived into a pile of leaves.

“Would you mind!” squealed Skink.

“Sorry,” said Mouse, backing into Frog.

“Hey! This is my cockroach,” said Frog.

“Ewww!” said mouse. “Who eats cockroaches?”

Mouse’s belly rumbled.

Skink was eating a slug. Frog had a cockroach. Nothing for Mouse anywhere.

“Try mushroom,” suggested Frog.

Mouse hesitated, then began nibbling.

Flapping overhead sent Skink and Frog for cover. Mouse, oblivious, had been spotted.

Crow alighted and placed a gift of bread at Mouse’s feet.

“Thank you,” said Mouse. “I like bread, but I love mushroom!”

🥕🥕🥕

Spring’s Assurance by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Spring is late, delayed by a blizzard that left two feet of soggy snow, making my front stair’s existence a Schrödinger’s cat. When late April sun emerged, so did we.

The regional park’s informal trails are muddy, steep hollows deceptive in snowpack. The opening lake teems below:
An eagle’s nest, with eagles nesting;
A beaver swimming, teeth sharpened on trees newly felled;
Ducks ducking, splashing and diving;
One blue heron stretching his neck, hopeful of tasty minnows.

Gimlet-eyed geese glare at our noisy progress, while two muskrats make little muskrats at water’s edge, another few solitaires nibbling new growth.

🥕🥕🥕

Forest Bathing by Susan Sleggs

Where do you go to find peace
I go to the woods
The city sounds are far away
There are no other voices
The rays of sun filter through the branches
Birds flit from tree to tree
Squirrels chase each other
And pussy willows are soft grey
The stream babbles slowly by
And if I sit still long enough
A deer stops by to drink
The rabbit outruns the fox
And the trillium bloom pure white
Leeks and fiddleheads can be had for lunch
If you know where to look
Spring in the forest
My favorite time of year

🥕🥕🥕

Stark by D. Avery

Serena stopped often to breathe deeply, filling her lungs, her heart, her soul with the spruce incensed air. She loved walking this familiar path among the trees, but quickened her pace as she approached the high mountain meadow, delighting as always in the waving grass, the colorful wildflowers nodding the way to the small glacial lake cupped by the snowcapped mountain peaks. Serena drank it in. The guide suggested other experiences, but Serena always chose to return here.

“Serena, time’s up. Remove the apparatus and step out of the capsule.”

Sighing, Serena left the virtual wilderness, returned to reality.

🥕🥕🥕

Turn Back by Peregrine Arc

I bathe in the forest, hidden under a canopy. Jaguars, grizzlies and reindeer approach, bringing the jungle, the forest and the tundra with each step. I eat a banana for breakfast; some nuts and berries for lunch. For dinner, a polar bear offers me fish.

A crane approaches and pecks the air above my head deliberately.

“This is not yours, human. You have not taken care of any of it. Take your punishment and go.”

I stir and exit the forest, my clothes pinching tightly around me. It appears we’re still banned and setting fires.

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

A book in the dirt. The words in the Earth. Composting cultures. Love and life. Sentiments and sentences. Fragments and fiction. Maps. Guides. Directions. Been there, done that. Tales of wars waged. Quill-stained pages written feverishly under a dancing flicker. A self-portrait. An autobiography. Selfie in longhand.

A book in the dirt. The wounds of battle spilling back into the soil. A broken heart crying out from a broken bind. A random thought: How her eyes were the green of a forest after a good rain.

Digital media. Littered literature. The many careless sins of man. Well-written. Rarely heeded.

🥕🥕🥕

Be Aware by Patrick M. O’Connor

They were told walking through the woods would bring them closer to nature. They said to be aware of their surroundings. It would be good for the soul, they said.

Stan and Jessica felt much more in touch with their own feelings about nature and each other.
They took their shoes off and strolled through the shallow stream holding hands.

As the afternoon began to succumb to dusk, they headed back to the lodge to rejoin their group.
By midnight they were itching terribly. Not only did their arms itch, but their legs too.

Poison Ivy and chiggers. Ugh!

🥕🥕🥕

The Wet Woods by Bill Engleson

“Yes!” I announce. “This will do the trick.”

“Be careful, sweetie. You’re parking too close. I won’t be able to open the door.”

“They make these stupid Park parking stalls way too small,” I mutter.

My stress is ratcheting up a notch.

“Think twigs,” she suggests. “Little bits of scattered stems. Resting on the forest floor. The quiet forest floor.”

“You’ll have to get out my side. Sorry.”

“No problem. Oh, look. Is that our group?”

“Two bus loads. Nope. Three! They look…quite international.”

“It’s the peak season, I guess. Well, lets get this over with. Visualize, sweetie. Visualize.”

🥕🥕🥕

Forest Bathing by Teresa Grabs

Jason awoke still smiling. The trees, the fresh air, the cool breeze faded. Contentment and peace lingered until defeated by reality. His morning routine is nothing more than a routine. His day is state planned for maximum efficiency. Nothing more, nothing less. Slipping into his black pants and gray shirt issued by the state, he longed to see the trees. Leaving his state provided compartment, putting on his face mask and stepping into the never-ending heat, he longed for fresh air and the cool breeze. Looking around at the bleak city, he longed to bathe in the forest again.

🥕🥕🥕

Flash Fiction by Sarah Whiley

Gravel crunched under my feet, as I began the hike through one of the youngest eco-systems in the world – the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Geothermal areas were marked on my map, as well as native plants and bird-life, to look for.

Feeling grounded, I breathed in the fresh mountain air, imagining the breeze was really the forest exhaling along with me.

I rounded the corner and saw steam rising from the aptly named baths in front of me. Glaring sun broke through the canopy.

Out of the fire and into the “Frying Pan Lake”? Shinrin-Yoku at its best, I thought.

🥕🥕🥕

Peace of Mind by Ritu Bhathal

The twigs crackled underfoot.

Leaves rustled in the gentle breeze that blew through the forest.

This was true peace.

Heaven.

Karen had heard about forest bathing, and she was determined to experience a piece of this natural healing.

Strolling along, she could hear the feint trickle of water.

Getting closer to the sound, it appeared to be accompanied by splashes and voices.
As she rounded the corner, Karen came face to face with a group of drunk men, submerged in a pool of water, having a jolly of their own.

Not quite the forest bathing she had been expecting!

🥕🥕🥕

Chasing Fads by Heather Gonzalez

Johnny heard of this new fad and, of course, he just had to be apart of it. Last week he had us doing Goat Yoga. Now we would be Forest Bathing, whatever that means.

We drove out to the woods and began to walk around. He seemed to be feeling something that I just wasn’t.

“When do we begin forest bathing?” I asked, smacking the bug on my arm.

“We already are.”

The day was already cloudy and threatening rain. When the water touched my skin, all I could think was, “At least now it feels like forest bathing.”

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Trekking Travails by Anurag Bakhshi

“I’ll go first,” Tracy said, “but don’t peep, OK?”

I kept looking the other way as she stripped, and jumped into the lake in the forest.

But I had been dreaming of this moment for so long, that I just couldn’t resist taking a peek.

My Gawd! The glistening curvaceous body….the lustrous hair….the giant crocodile…

WHAT!

I almost panicked, but years of training and instinct immediately took over.

I hunted around desperately in my bag, time was of the essence here. This photo needed to be perfect if I had to have any shot at a Pulitzer.

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Forest Bathing by Michael Grogan

The Carrot Street Naturist Society on their monthly outing was looking forward to engaging in some forest bathing.

Being naked in the woods was so much better than their weekly meetings in Marv and Marj’s back yard.

Preparations had been made, warnings issued to be wary of, rough bark, nettles, stinging insects, sticks, twigs, and anything pointy.

It was an enjoyable day the only disappointment was Dulcie Smith’s encounter with some poison ivy. She bent over at one point, and her left breast suffered the consequences. On the trip home, her husband promised to rub in some soothing balm.

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Flash Fiction by Paula Moyer

At Girl Scout camp, Jean’s Girl Scout leader showed the girls how to shower in the woods. It looked – well, unreliable.

“This tin can has nail holes,” she explained and pointed. It hung by a string on a tree branch. “When you take your shower, fill this pitcher with water at the pump, and pour it in.”

The girls watched the demonstration, how water spit out in arcs from the can. “Stand under the can. Use the soap.” Beside the can, also on a string. “The trees are your shower curtain.”

Jean shivered under the can. Cold. Naked. Glorious.

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Maid Marian’s #Metoo Moment by Anne Goodwin

After a grey and soggy winter, the sun makes everyone smile. But there’s a downside: the stink of sweat.

So when the merry men go off to fleece the rich, Marian fills a barrel with spring water and peels off her clothes. Looking up as a jay calls to its mate, she spots Friar Tuck in the hollow of an oak, leering, his hand in his robe.

Do others suffer such intrusions? Robin says she should be flattered. Bids her laugh it off.

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Guide to Peace by Kerry E.B. Black

He fled, blinded by tears. Taunts and cruelty etching into his psyche. Heedless of direction, he dodged tree trunks, leapt tangles, and ducked beneath low-hanging vines until he panted into the silence of ankle-deep humus and the observation of hidden animals. He bent to relieve stitches and cramps.

Gentle breezes cooled tears on burning cheeks. Like teasing fingers, they brushed hair aside as if to reassure of his worth.

His nostrils flared to capture earthy perfumes so lush he could taste their rich decay and rebirth.

A delicate white flower bloomed in the shade, an incongruous guide to peace.

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A Sunday Bath by Caitlin Gramley

Vanessa cringed when she heard the splash and giggles from behind. The short walk had turned into a two-hour trek. She turned, only to be greeted by the sight of two boys, now drenched from neck to toes. She mentally searched her van. Do I have anything to cover the seats?

“I told you boys to stay out of the creek. It’s too cold!”

“No it’s not!” The younger replied between chattering teeth.

“Look mom!” The oldest, now rolling on a bed of dry sand.

Breathe. Just Breathe.

“Boys will be boys, Dear.” Husband grinning ear to ear.

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Picnic in the Forest by Calm Kate

We were warned not to stray from the path because this was the forest where the bears often picnicked and they preferred a human to stale sandwiches. Blood and organs it was claimed would feed their brain and enhance their health.

They had read that in the Daily Mirror and we all know that newspapers tell the truth. And the picnic hampers were doubtful diets anyway.

You could hear them bellow from their caves waking from their winter siestas. And a bear with a sore head would be difficult to handle even for a party of fit bush walkers.

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Forest Bathing by Irene Waters

With difficulty Aaron place rollers under the cast iron tub then heaved  it from behind.  Imperceptibly it moved. For three days he pushed until eventually it sat in a small dell surrounded by the green forest which towered above him. He sank to his knees. Collecting wood for the fire he’d burn underneath the bath was the next chore. Then water. A big sigh showed his exhaustion. He stripped and stood arms stretched to the sky, legs akimbo, his body bathed in sunlight. His head tipped back, tall trees looming above him he said  “Bath for barbeque. Shinrin Yoku.”

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Free Among the Trees by Charli Mills

Gabriella tapped the last spigot. She caught the trickle of clear sap in a wooden bucket. Daughter of a French trader and an Ottawan mother, she belonged to no one. She kept to the forests outside the ports and mining towns, trading maple syrup with the Black Robes at L’Anse. The forest kept her company, bathed her in its healing embrace. The Black Robes enticed she could become a neophyte and claimed gospels in her native tongue. They didn’t know she could read her father’s books and already chose her classic path – she was happy as a forest nymph.

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Shinrin Yoku by Frank Hubeny

While forest bathing Michael saw her. He would say she wasn’t there except she was and then his breath grew deeper. He didn’t understand why he walked for almost a mile angry on this beautiful trail, in this mysterious quiet. The traffic had long ago turned to a hum and then it turned completely off. Why was he angry?

She said her name was Diana. She knew he didn’t understand what she meant. He was one of the smart ones caught in his head where robots were more real than people. And so she spoke more slowly, “Goddess Diana.”

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Inspirational Walks by Luccia Gray

The Verger at Rochester Cathedral heard the author’s cane tapping the cobbled streets below his window. He must be on his way back from his daily, inspirational walk from Gad’s Hill.

Mr. Miles stepped out to greet his old friend. Turk trotted by his master’s side biting a dry branch collected in the woods.

‘A cup of tea, Mr. Dickens?’

‘Not today, Mr. Miles. The seventh instalment of Edwin Drood awaits.’

Miles sighed, watching him trudge up the hill, stopping to peer at the little graveyard under the castle wall where he had expressed his desire to be buried.

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Into the Woods by Chelsea Owens

Silent sunlight dances down,
Caressing leaves and pine bough dreams;
Shaking, shading, singing, sighing –
Can you hear the moss-bent trees?

Fae or fauna tickle trailing, talking tendrils;
Tree-trunk tales.
Minstrels swear to sensing magic
As they tiptoe mossy trails.

Blundering, we mention silence;
Eagerly, we rush the woods.
Picking flora, chasing fauna,
Errantly, like child-hoods.

Hush! The tree Ent spirits moan,
Their dormant tree-guard watch awaked.
See and feel and breathe the spirit
Of the stretching woods remaked.

Will you walk with careful footfalls
Down along the forest floor?
Will you whisper wistful wond’rings,
Questioning their strange folklore?

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Turned Around by D. Avery

“Ever go off inta the woods, Pal?”

“Course.”

“Ever git lost?”

“Jist turned around.”

“Were ya scared?”

“Naw. It don’t matter not knowin’ ‘zactly where ya are, long as ya know where ya ain’t. Ain’t no place I’d ruther be ‘an in the woods.”

“‘Parently the Japanese developed goin’ inta the woods in the eighties.”

“De-veloped woods walkin’?”

“It’s called forest bathing. We oughta lead a group inta the woods, Pal.”

“I bathe alone.”

“S’posed ta make ya happier.”

“Hmmph.”

“More connected. Hey, where ya goin’?”

“Cain’t hear ya Kid, bad connection.”

“Where ya headed?!”

“Inta the woods. Alone.”

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Hero’s Journey on Earth Day by D. Avery

“Pal, yer back.”

“Yep. Why’s it so quiet roun’ here?”

“Guess ever one’s still off huggin’ trees.”

“Even Shorty?”

“Heard like, if she kin git her forest shoveled out.”

“Jeez. If any one kin shovel out a forest it’s Shorty. She’s a Titan.”

“I’ll say. Did ya happen ta catch her interview at Literary Titan? She done the Ranch real proud.”

“Yep, sure did.”

“Whatdya think Shorty’s inner hero is?”

“I reckon Shorty’s a buckaroo through and through. True ta herself and ta the Carrot Ranch Community. Boldly going where her inner prompts lead.”

“Heroic leader of Buckaroo Nation!”

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Interview with Charli Mills at Literary Titans.Learn about our latest Vol. 2 project.

Congratulations Rough Writers for winning a Silver Literary Titan Book AwardThe Congress of the Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1 was recently reviewed through Literary Titan’s Book Review Service, earning a 4-star review.

Literary Titans Editor-in-Chief, Thomas Anderson, says, “Your book deserves extraordinary praise and we are proud to acknowledge your hard work, dedication, and writing talent.”

(Thanks, Kid!)

 

April 19: Flash Fiction Challenge

I’m riding high in the dentist’s chair. This is not where I expected to be after fighting a cold-turned-sinus-infection since January. Two weeks ago, facial nerve pain drove me to find something stronger than my arsenal of herbs. That’s how I met Dr. Bob, local dentist.

Now, I’m sucking down nitrous oxide, preparing for the crack and pull of a tooth the dentist can’t save. If the sequence of age for a woman is maiden, mother, crone, I must be working on my crone’s smile now. Yet, I don’t want to be thinking about what Dr. Bob is setting up to do. As beautiful as the falling snow can be, neither do I want to be thinking about what’s falling outside the office window.

Instead, I turn my thoughts to the characters of Rock Creek. I wonder which one of them I’m going to torture with a toothache. Cobb came to mind first, maybe because I wanted to sit in this chair with my toughest character. I imagine that his wife, Mary, would try folk remedies first to ease the agony of tooth pain. But once such remedies fail, people seek the torture of extraction in desperation.

George Washington felt such desperation. History records that he had one tooth a year pulled from the time he was 22 until he had none left to pull. As children in the US, we learn early on in school that our first president wore wooden teeth. And yet this is false. Washington wore dentures of human teeth. I suppose those who extracted teeth had a side gig for creating dental wear.

Cobb would likely liquor up before letting someone yank his troublesome tooth. I’m lucky to be sitting in a near trance, daydreaming about my characters as my own procedure progresses. I wonder how much corn whiskey it would take to equal novocaine shots and laughing gas. I’m not going to test any theories. I also wonder who would pull the tooth? Likely a blacksmith who had pliers.

My thoughts drift to gentler musings, and I realize how ready I am to return to my forest trail at McLain State Park. I’m not even craving the rock-hunting, just the healing vibes of the forest. I can picture the trail as it winds through the pine trees on a ridge overlooking Lake Superior. Its scent hangs sharply in the air I imagine as warmed by afternoon sun.

Arms outstretched, feet rooted above roots, ground solid, air clean and the roar of waves crash in the distance. Now, stepping forward not in a sprint but a relaxed walk. This is Shinrin Yoku — forest bathing. First developed in Japan during the 1980s, JulesPaige introduced it to Carrot Ranch in a flash fiction. It’s healing, restorative and rejuvenating. No wonder I recline and bathe in my imagined forest.

An interesting purpose of Shinrin Yoku is

“To transform our cultural relationship to forests through fostering deeper relationships and positive experiences with forested areas.”

Two years ago, I wrote an article about the push to create a wilderness area out of a mountain range in North Idaho. The idea is that we need wild spaces, even those that might be difficult to access. The leader of the project told me that it’s enough to know wild spaces still exist.

This also makes me think of Aldo Leopold, and his essay from A Sand County Almanac called, “Land Ethic.” He argues for humans to see the land as something more than a commodity; to see it as a community to which we all belong.  He sees that we are not separate from the environment. Along with the idea of transforming our relationships to forests, or preserving wild spaces, so they exist, he acknowledges that we won’t succeed. But it remains important that we try. Leopold writes:

“We shall never achieve harmony with the land, anymore than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve but to strive.”

From this single dentist’s chair, I’m connected to the past and future, to the Lake Superior pines not yet free of snow, to the wilderness I’ve seen and not seen, to forests on distant shores. For a time of healing, I’m going to imagine forest bathing.

April 19, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about forest bathing. You can use the Japanese term, Shinrin Yoku, or you can make up your own ideas about the phrase. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by April 24, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.

If you want your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.

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Free Among the Trees by Charli Mills

Gabriella tapped the last spigot. She caught the trickle of clear sap in a wooden bucket. Daughter of a French trader and an Ottawan mother, she belonged to no one. She kept to the forests outside the ports and mining towns, trading maple syrup with the Black Robes at L’Anse. The forest kept her company, bathed her in its healing embrace. The Black Robes enticed she could become a neophyte, and claimed gospels in her native tongue. They didn’t know she could read her father’s books and already chose her classic path – she was happy as a forest nymph.