11
Sep

How Often is there a Full Moon on Halloween?

Based on true facts about a full moon on Halloween, here is a fantasy story called:
MOONLIGHT MADNESS

Six weeks after the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001, the nation continued to mourn.

Several days ago, the Sacramento Daily Sun editor burst into my office, “Clive. Pack your bags. You’re going to Salem, Massachusetts, to cover their Halloween celebration. Let’s give the subscribers something new to read about.”

He had me at the words, ‘pack your bags!’ With yet another gut-wrenching editorial in my computer about the 341 firemen lost in the Towers, I was up for anything to get away from the twenty-four-seven news cycle.

October 31st is big news in Salem every year. 250,000 visitors swarm the city to experience haunted houses, costume balls, live music, dances and holiday parades. This year, due to a full moon scheduled on October 31, 2001, the first full moon on that date since 1974, Salem planned even more spectacular events. The occurrence of a full moon on Halloween happens only four or five times each century! The next one isn’t expected for another twenty years─October 31, 2020!
Entering Salem, I was impressed by the witches and goblins, pumpkins and ghouls decorating houses and businesses, much like we decorate for Christmas back home. Witches are big in Salem all year long, due to the history of the Salem witch trials, but this year, especially so, what with the full moon phenomenon. Apparently, Salem’s city fathers thought the citizenry had grieved 911 long enough and should get their minds back onto business as usual. Let the nation grieve if it must. Salem would strike while the moon was full!

Cornstalks lined the streets. Jack-o-lanterns hung from each lamp post. Shopkeepers, decked out in witch and warlock, ghost and vampire costumes, hawked merchandise. Every shop window displayed witches and cauldrons, spirits and ghouls. Tourists clamored through the town atop horse drawn hay wagons and carts.

I ate lunch at a little diner and delighted in the attentions of a charming waitress with long black hair, shocking gold eyes and fluttering lashes. With a glance, Jenny churned up feelings I hardly remembered, being a widower well past middle-aged, and an almost regular church goer.

Imagine my surprise when she handed me a napkin with a message inside. Meet me outside tonight. 11:25 P.M. Come alone. I must see you.

I left my lunch half-eaten and stumbled outside to ponder the situation. With her obvious charms, she had the pick of any young man; what could she possibly want with me? I interviewed shopkeepers and snapped photos of the holiday events that day and well into the evening. Even knowing it was a fool’s errand, at 11:15 P.M, I was drawn back to the diner like a moth to a flame.
****
At 11:20 P.M. Jenny wiped down the last table, flipped over the CLOSED sign and locked the café door. She had nearly given up hope of finding a middle-aged man with silver-white hair and mustache. What were the odds that Clive should walk through the door at the last possible moment to change her destiny?

Jenny wrapped her cape around her shoulders and stepped out the front door. There Clive stood, as she had hoped! She was blessed with a sixth sense about the future, knowing when the phone would ring or a visitor would knock at her door. An oppressive spirit had even settled on her the morning of September 11, feeling something evil on the horizon. She had powers over men, but on this night of nights, with the full moon overhead on this auspicious date, her fate lay in the hands of this stranger. Without his cooperation, she could not escape the family curse.

“Hello. Thanks so much for coming.” Jenny placed her small white hand on Clive’s arm, hoping to bend his will to her needs. “You’re the only one who can help me.” She lifted her hand to dab at a tear.
“I’m happy to oblige. But, why do you ask a stranger? Don’t you have family or friends who could help you?”

Jenny lowered her head, brushing her lashes against her pale face. She allowed her lip to tremble as the tear trickled down her cheek. A white curl tumbled onto her forehead, seemingly out of place among her mass of black curls.

“Here, here, now. None of that.” Clive brushed Jenny’s hair back into place. “I’ll help you if I can, my dear. Don’t cry.” He tipped up her chin and dried her tears with his handkerchief. “Now, give me a smile and tell me all about it.”

“I fear you’ll think me crazy, sir, but I swear I speak the truth.” Jenny sat on a bench and began an inexplicable tale.

“I am a descendent of the judge who unjustly hanged Sarah Good as a witch in 1692, right here in Salem. Since Sarah Good’s death, the judge’s descendants have suffered a terrible curse. Upon the rare occasion, only about four or five times each century, when the full moon is overhead on All-Hollow’s Eve, any female descendent between the age of 18 and 29 is in grave danger.

“As the full moon is upon us this night for the first time since 1974, and to avoid the curse, I must find a middle-aged man with long silver-white hair, who resembles the judge who sentenced my poor ancestor, Sarah, to death. Before midnight, a drop of this man’s blood must voluntarily be placed on a particular stone that stands at the edge of town.” Jenny’s pale lips trembled most effectively. “Would you shed a drop of your blood on Sarah’s commemorative stone to save me from the curse?”

“What kind of curse, my dear?” Clive raised a perplexed eyebrow.
“It is so terrible, I dare not speak it aloud.” Whispering these words, Jenny clung to Clive’s shoulder and wept piteously. Would it be enough to convince him to go with her to the stone? And, once there, could she muster the courage to do what she must do to stave off the curse?
****
Clive was speechless. Never had he encountered such a stunning creature that so captivated his heart within minutes of meeting. Never has such a ridiculous tale so captured his imagination. He was inclined to leap from the bench, take her by the hand and race to the stone in question. Only with great difficulty did he pummel his rash impulses into submission and sit back on the bench, staring up into the starry sky.

The full moon hung blood-red over the city, casting an orange glow across the sidewalks, still churning with costumed tourists, jostling and laughing, their joyous songs of nonsense carried into the black sky on the night breeze.

The young woman stirred in his arms, her sobs finally ceased. She dashed tears from her cheeks and looked up at him. “You will help me, won’t you? I’m so desperate. I only need a teeny-weeny drop of blood, really. I’d be ever so grateful.”

If she truly believed her outrageous tale, considering the unusual request, even a gentleman couldn’t help wondering, how grateful? On the other hand, just exactly how much was a teeny-weeny drop of blood and just how crazy was this charming girl?

Clive shivered. The breeze rustled the corn husks tied to the lamp posts. A thin cloud crept across the center of the moon, seeming to cut it in half.

Clive glanced at his watch. 11:40 P.M. “Well, let’s get on with it. Can we walk to the stone?” He would humor her and see where all this would lead. His hand rested around a small penknife in his pocket. If a tiny drop of blood is all it takes to satisfy her fantasy and win her gratitude, I can do that.

The wind picked up and whistled overhead as the cemetery loomed into view. Groups of tourists ambled among the grave stones. Raucous laughter burst from the direction of Bridget Bishop and Martha Corey’s graves, also victims of the 1692 Salem witch trials. One would think it was an amusement park rather than a cemetery from the sounds of merriment coming from the shadows.

Jenny squealed when a man dressed as a vampire loomed from the bushes.

Clive put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. She was really a dear little thing, and his heart stirred. He wanted so to calm her fears. Perhaps he’d bring her coffee in bed tomorrow morning…

Sarah Good’s commemorative stone gleamed in the moonlight.
Jenny ran her fingers over the grooves in the stone forming the letters– Sarah Good 1653 – 1692. “Poor thing. I’m so sorry, Sarah. Please forgive my ancestor.” Jenny glanced at her watch. “Are you ready?” She drew a huge serrated bread knife from her purse. “We don’t have much time. I only have two more minutes. Clive?” Jenny’s beautiful smile, only moments ago holding so much promise, faded, replaced by a fiendish leer. Only his blood splashed across the accursed stone would make her smile now.

At the sight of Jenny’s wild eyes gleaming in the moonlight, Clive stepped back. The thrill of the lovely lady and moonlight adventure faded and common sense finally prevailed. Jenny had no intention of settling for a pricked finger and a drop of blood.

With the knife in her hand, she crept closer and closer with murder in her eye.

“Hold on, there, young lady.” He backed away, glancing left and right. Where had all the costumed tourists gone? The witches and ghosts and even the vampire had disappeared at the first sight of Jenny’s knife.

In the distance, the town clock began to strike. Twelve o’clock…the witching hour. Bong…bong…bong. The hour that a real witch, if there was such a thing, might easily murder a stranger to satisfy her twisted notion of an imaginary family curse.

Bong…bong…bong. Clive’s dull life suddenly held a great deal more appeal. How he wished he was back in New York and had never heard of Salem.
Bong…bong…bong.

Bong…bong… Jenny shrieked and rushed at him, the knife raised...
Paralyzed with fear, Clive threw up his hands, closed his eyes and held his breath, waiting for the death blow. Bong! Midnight!
Seconds ticked by. Clive ran his hands up and down his chest. “I’m still alive?” He opened his eyes.

Jenny’s cape and the bread knife lay on the ground, but… Where was Jenny? Had she waited seconds too long to strike and the curse taken her? But where? How?

Sarah Good’s gravestone gleamed in the moonlight. A small black cat hunched beside the stone, her tail whipping around her black toes. A white blaze crept over her nose, across one golden eye, ending beside her ear. She stared up at Clive, terror in those golden eyes, such as to soften the hardest heart. Meow?

“Jenny?” Clive walked closer to the stone. Wasn’t there a fable about witches turning into black cats? He’d never believed such tales before, but... He stroked the little cat and peered into her eyes. “Jenny?” He gasped. Jenny’s golden eyes stared back. The curse! It was true. “She needed me to protect her from the curse. She still needs me.”

He would write his 2000 words newspaper story about Salem, about the haunted houses and the costume ball and the decorations and the Halloween parades. The story would be colorful and for a few minutes the Sacramento Daily Sun readers could forget the tragedy that took almost 3000 lives on September 11, 2001
.
He would write about tonight being the first full moon on Halloween for the last twenty-seven years, but, he would not write about a 300-year-old curse that turned a Salem witch into a little black cat. Who would believe it?

Clive cradled Jenny in his arms as he walked back to town. “Don’t worry, Jenny. I’ll always take care of you. You don’t have to worry about anything ever again.

1
Aug

Dead Bush Poker - A short cat story

I live in Dead Bush, a small town in the center of Texas. Our town sports three saloons, a general store, the bank, one church without a steeple, a blacksmith shop and another establishment such as nice folks don’t talk about in mixed company. Modern wooden slat sidewalks was added this spring in deference to the request of those specific ladies who live in the aforementioned establishment.

On Founder’s Day, the local farmer’s wives bake pies and hams and sweet potatoes for a giant banquet and sponsor a square dance out behind the Blacksmith’s shop. Bright and early this morning, neighboring families with all the kids trickled into town looking for a good time.

Not long after, several soldiers still wearing raggedy Civil War uniforms rode into Dead Bush on worn out horses. The soldiers commenced to drink and gamble and ordered steak dinners at the Dry Spell Saloon where, among other things, such entertainment and libation is encouraged.

I sleep in the back of the saloon, ever since the town sheriff found me, the lone survivor of a wagon train massacred by wild Indians.
I don’t belong to nobody, but Shorty, the barkeep saves me left-overs from the day’s leavings. That, added to my hunting prowess, fares me well. Since I’m the only cat for miles around, the regulars at the saloon adopted me as a mascot. I’m a fine figure of a cat, though some would say, somewhat on the portly side. It must be so, as to the validation of the roaming tomcat what comes through town every spring. Up until now, I haven’t given him a tumble.

Cats are almighty scarce and considerable valuable in this county. A number of local farmers have offered Shorty big bucks for me, beings as cats can keep a barnyard free of varmints without half trying. There are some folks from the big cities who haul cats in their saddlebags to small farming towns, assured of a quick sale and a $20 gold piece. The farmers soon learn they don't know nothin' about varmint huntin.'

Well, seems these soldiers what came to town sat and drank well past noon. I caused quite a stir when I wandered through the saloon. One soldier took a notion to buy me, having heard about cats being worth big money up the river. Shorty declined, saying I couldn’t be sold since I was a free spirit and didn’t belong to nobody.

As the gambling and drinking progressed, the soldier plied Shorty with enough palaver and drink that he was finally cajoled into a card game with me as the stakes.

I sat near the potbelly, preening my whiskers, somewhat amused by the stupidity of these humans what thought they could buy and sell another living creature. Wasn’t that decided by the Civil War after all?

The poker game progressed and it seemed my future as mascot at the Dry Spell Saloon was dependent on the turn of their cards.

Four players hunched over the poker table, cards fanned in their hands, empty glasses lined up in front of them. Shorty’s chips were going fast. Holding on to the Dry Spell Saloon mascot didn’t look promising.

The size of Shorty’s chips rose and fell as the afternoon wore on. I sat on a nearby table, commiserating with Mr. Casper, an old codger who operated a small gold claim in a nearby river. The old man was a fool, but he didn’t smell quite as bad as the other miners, as being tipsy a good deal, he fell in the river more often than most, washing away some of his natural man-stink.

In the late afternoon, the neighbor ladies announced their Founder’s Day supper was served. The saloon emptied except for the four poker players who found it harder and harder to sit up straight. Heads lolled and cards tumbled from their hands. More whiskey landed on the floor than in their glasses. Never in the history of Dead Bush had such a game gone on for so long or the stakes so roundly coveted. I was, indeed, a prize.

Eventually, Smitty Rosenblatt passed out. George Waddlebaker went broke. Shorty hung in there, though blurry eyed, he continued to fight for his meezer. Poor Shorty’s stack of chips got even smaller.

Seeing the inevitable handwriting on the wall, I slipped out the front door and headed out of town onto the prairie, intending on being absent for a few days. An occasional vacation is always revitalizing to one’s health and seemed particularly attractive today.

Besides, there weren’t no sense being around when Shorty went broke and the soldier attempted to claim his prize. I didn’t plan to spend the next week strung to the back of a saddle in a burlap sack until the old soldier found a farmer with a rat-filled barn and a $20 gold piece.

I’m the only cat worth her salt in Dead Bush, and I intend to keep it that way. At least until next spring, when that tomcat comes back to town.

25
Dec

Kitty's Blessing - A Christmas Story

Once, in a faraway land, on a crisp winter afternoon, Kitty strode across a hillside, a contented pussy cat, her tummy full and her breath pungent with the after-flavor of this morning’s breakfast mouse. She settled on a warm rock for a snooze in the sunshine near a group of shepherds tending their sheep. As the flock moved down the hillside, the bleating of lambs faded into silence. With her tail curled around her nose, Kitty fell asleep.

The twittering of a bird interrupted her catnap. Kitty’s eye peeked open. The tip of her tail drifted from side to side. What’s this?

She slipped off the rock and inched toward the unsuspecting after-breakfast snack. Kitty’s whiskers snapped to attention. Every hair on her head stood upright. She was a silent warrior armed with experience, girded with strength, clad with skill. The bird was within striking range; distance calculated (ten feet, six and a half inches); wind velocity (twenty-one and a half mph from the south-southeast); thrust computed; muscles poised. She leaped.

The striped instrument of death hurtled toward the beautiful white bird. At the last moment, she fluttered off the bush. Kitty seized her wing and pulled her to the ground.

The white bird shrieked. “Wait! Don’t eat me I’ll make it worth your while if you spare my life.”

Much impressed by the bird’s bravery, as misguided as it was under the circumstances, Kitty paused, curiosity being a trait of her breed, often quoted as being the method of her kind’s demise. “What can possibly change my mind, my pretty?” She tilted her left ear as she licked her lips and tightened her grip on the bird’s wing.

The white bird lifted her elegant head, and folded her one free wing against her quivering body. “If you set me free, I promise, ere the night is over, you will receive a great blessing that will bring honor to you and all your descendants.”

Kitty loosened her grip and pondered the bird’s message. If true, a blessing would be a fine legacy to leave her descendents. Much more likely, the blessing was a ploy to escape. But, what did she have to lose? Intrigued, and frankly, still burping this morning’s mouse, she agreed. “I’ll let you go this time, but if you’re fooling me, next time we meet, I’ll show no mercy.” She lifted her paw.

The grateful captive fluttered from her grasp. She circled, dipping low over Kitty’s head. “Remember! Ere the night is over! I promise,” she cried and disappeared behind a puffy white cloud.

“A blessing! Indeed!” Kitty shook her body from nose to tail, dispelling the idea that she had been foolish to believe such a story.

As the stars blinked across the night sky, Kitty returned to town. She came upon a cave where cows and a donkey nodded, warming the area with their breath. In the corner, a lamb curled next to its mother.

Kitty jumped into the box of straw near the cow, turned around three times and then curled herself into a ball. Gentle snuffles from the lamb combined with the cows’ warm breath created the perfect ambiance for a long winter nap. Kitty was soon fast asleep and dreaming. Dots of white sheep ambled down the dark hillside. Overhead, the white bird darted across a yellow moon as shepherds moved their flock toward town.

Gentle hands lifted Kitty from the straw. She opened her eyes and saw a young bearded man who set her gently on the ground. “Here, Kitty, will you give up your warm bed? It’s just the right size for the baby.” He laid the swaddled infant in the straw where Kitty’s body had molded and warmed a circle of straw.

Kitty lay down beneath the manger, curled her toes into a semi-circle, fascinated by the sudden activity in the stable.

The father heaped up a soft bed of straw for the mother. He hovered nearby, brought her water and covered her with his cloak.

Shepherds from the hillside entered the stable and knelt at the feet of the Babe.

Two white birds fluttered through the open door, circled and came to rest on the edge of the manger. Wasn’t that the same bird she had freed that afternoon? Wonder of wonders, a brilliant light shone above the manger. Where the birds had rested, angels now hovered on each side of the Baby.

In the later hours, three men dressed in fine colored garments came to worship the Baby and presented him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

When the worshipers had gone, in the stillness of the stable, the family slept, while the angels kept watch.

Kitty approached the angels and addressed the angel from earlier in the day. “Angel, I know this is the Promised One the world has waited for. I feel unworthy. The others brought gifts. I have no gift to give.”

“Kitty, Christ Child wants only the gift of our reverence and obedience. Tonight, you willingly gave up your warm bed for the Christ Child. In return you receive a great blessing you and your descendants can treasure for generations to come.”

Kitty curled her tail around her nose and began to dream of cat-things, naps in the sunshine, chasing mice, catching birdsperhaps she would forgo that pleasure in the future. One never knew when the bird might be an angelor when a good deed might turn into a blessing, but none as great as the blessing she had received this night. The chance to warm the bed of the Christ Child.

9
Jul

A Short Story of Magic and Dreams- A CHANCE ENCOUNTER

hofpgartenchurch

In 1987, while visiting Austria, we were caught in a storm. Like our day in Austria we experienced the storm and the ringing church bells. The village and setting are real. There were cobbled streets and rain water flowing down the street and the fear and wonder were real. We were given this explanation for why they rang the bells...but the delightful interaction with the stranger is fantasy...or was it?
Have you ever had an experience that felt unearthly and ethereal?

********
Hofpgarten, Austria, 1987
The clanging church bells, crashing thunder and flash of lightning assailed my senses. Adrenaline surged through my chest like an electric current. Lightning lit the sky behind the church steeples across the street. Crashing thunder momentarily drowned out the clanging church bells.

Terror gripped my heart. Was I caught in a time warp of nature’s fury, transporting me to another place; magical, ethereal, and terrifying? How odd that I should feel such fear. Stay calm. It’s just a sudden summer storm. I stood transfixed in wonder as the elements crashed around me.
A torrent of water rushed down the cobbled stones, filling the gutters, threatening to flow onto my feet. Were the bells warning of some disaster? Have they declared war? Did someone assassinate the President? Does Austria even have a President?

I huddled beneath the narrow striped canopy of the clock shop. Cold spines of stinging rain drove against my face. Lightning flashed and I jumped at the next clap of thunder. The awning was pitifully inadequate and rain dripped from my hair onto my raincoat. Rain bounced off the pavement, forcing me closer to the wall.

And then, a man stopped beneath the awning where I shivered. “May I offer the shelter of my umbrella?” He tilted his umbrella, protecting me from the storm.

“Thank you, how kind.” His presence soothed my fears and my pattering heart slowed.

We stood side by side beneath the canopy, watching the ribbons of lightning zigzag across the afternoon sky.

“The storm came up so quickly, it caught me quite unawares.” I dabbed my face with a handkerchief and tilted my head toward the sound of the church bells.

“Sudden storms are not unexpected this time of year.”

“Why are they ringing the bells?” I tucked the hankie in my pocket. “Has something happened? Is there an emergency?” I gestured toward the deluge of water flowing down the cobbled stones, looking as though a river had overflowed its banks.

“They ring the bells to frighten the storm clouds toward another village.”
I struggled to suppress a smile, doubting the ability of the bells to drive away the clouds but pleasantly moved by his quaint belief in their magical power. “If that’s what you believe, I’m sorry to say, it’s not working. It’s been raining for half an hour.”

“Oh, it’s working fine.” His smile lit up his face. “But, the next village also rings their bells and the clouds are confused. They hear the other village bells, so they drift back here again. From village to village they drift. Soon they will find a quiet place where they can rest.”
We stood beneath the awning watching the rain and laughed, exchanging small bits of idle conversation. On the hillside above us, my pension looked down on the train winding through the valley and into the town. Cows dotted the nearby fields. The cow’s bells tinkled as they ambled across the meadows; the sound echoing from valley to hillside.
We stood so close to the stranger, I was warmed by the scent of him.
A whistle shrieked and he turned toward the train station. “I’m sorry, I must go. My train is coming. Perhaps you should seek better shelter?”
I nodded. “I’ll go into a shop as soon as the rain lets up a bit. Thank you again for sharing your umbrella.”

He caught up my hand and raised it to his lips. “It’s been a pleasure. I wish we had more time to…” His lips brushed my fingertips. “Good-bye.”

I looked deep into his eyes and in that moment, it felt as though I whirled through spasms of space and time. And in that instant, surrounded by light and the music of the bells, it was as though he and I had shared a lifetime together; infinite days and endless nights of love and hope. I heard the blare of 100 marching bands, saw the night sky explode in a cacophony of fireworks, felt the coolness of a 1000 springtime rains, the pink glow of 10,000 morning dawns and the wonder of a myriad of red and golden sunsets…

In those few seconds, it seemed we shared a lifetime. I shook my head, knowing it was a fantasy brought on by the magic of the bells and the storm.

He released my hand, waved a final farewell and strolled toward the train.
As he disappeared into the station, the blare of marching bands tinkled and became a warning bell, then silence. The music in my head became…a sparrow in a nearby tree.

The rain stopped. The sun cast sparkling rainbows through the dewdrops dripping from the shrubs. I touched the place where he had stood and his aura seemed to melt through my fingertips. “Wait! I don’t even know your name.” I ran toward the station, “Wait!” The whistle blew and the train clacked down the track. The magic spell was broken.

Years have passed. I’ve had a good life, all that one could hope for. Marriage, a satisfactory career and children. But, even now, when I hear church bells, I stop to listen.

Even now, the bells have the power to drive the storm clouds from my soul. I smile as I remember a summer storm in a faraway land. I close my eyes and relive the moments I shared an umbrella with a stranger. Were we caught up by a crack in time and space? In that instant, did we actually share a lifetime of love and laughter? Or was it only a dream that lasted for a second?

The bells ring on and I am reminded of that day when church bells echoed from one mountaintop to another, as the storm clouds scrambled from village to village in search of a silent peaceful place.

Finally in their frantic search, they drifted onto a quiet hillside where the only sound was the tinkling of cow’s bells, as they ambled through the meadows and disappeared into the mist.

25
Jun

Through the Eyes of an Eagle

eagle
THROUGH THE EYES OF AN EAGLE
ELAINE FABER
Long before gold was discovered in the Sierra Mountains, the pristine forest, hills and valleys lay in green and golden repose, as yet untouched by the hand of man.

In this land of yesterday, meadows were carpeted with flowers, gently waving grass, dense forests and snow- capped hills. Crystal lakes shimmered in the sunlight, reflecting a brilliant blue unpolluted sky. In this virgin wilderness, animals and birds lived together in peace and harmony. Mother Nature taught each of them how to build a home in the trees, in the river or in a cave. Each knew when to find a mate, and how to raise their young.

On a particular day long ago, there was a certain valley surrounded by the forest at the base of a cliff, where a river splashed and tumbled over moss covered rocks. This valley was the home of Kamar the eagle, Pogo the beaver and Xerces the bear and her baby, Jali.

To the north of the river was a jagged, sheer faced cliff. On the top of the cliff stood an old dead tree, jutting another 50 feet into the sky. The old tree was blackened and broken, reminiscent of a long ago forest fire, years before the recollection of any of the forest creatures living in the valley. As the years passed, the hills turned green with new forest and now stood proud and tall with only a few remembrances of that terrible day when lightening struck and flames ravaged the hillside. Atop the old, blackened tree, in its highest branches, Kamar, the eagle and his mate built their nest.

Year after year, Kamar and his mate returned to the treetop and pulled out branches, kicked and scratched out leavings from last year’s nest, added new branches, enlarged and broadened its base until it spanned seven feet across, covering the top branches like a giant mushroom. Several months had passed since their eggs had hatched and three little fledglings filled the nest. Dark golden plumage had begun to sprout on their bodies and upper legs. In the months to come, as they grew to maturity, their golden heads, neck and tails would turn white, identifying them as Bald Eagles.

In the river below, Pogo, the beaver, built a dam, creating a rocking, flowing pool fifty-foot across causing the water to slow to a trickle. In this gentle pool, fish lazily slept, swam, and fed, providing a private supply to the beaver family. In the center of the dam, Pogo and his mate built a warm dry den for their four pups.

Mrs. Pogo sat on top of the dam, listening to the splash of water tumble over the nearby rocks flowing down the river toward the sea. The wind whispered through the leaves and forest birds chirped as they gathered sticks, flitting back and forth making their own nests. She heard the cac-cac-cac above and saw Kamar soaring overhead, his magnificent white head, neck and tail contrasting against the blue sky. He drifted down and seized a dead fish on the shore. With it gripped tightly in his talons, he soared upward. Turning and lifting with the air currents, he landed on top of his nest. His young fledglings opened their mouths hungrily to receive the pieces he tore from the fish. The smaller little female struggled valiantly with her larger brothers for her share.

Baby Jali, the grizzly bear, woke from a nap, stretched and yawned. A flying bug caught his attention and he stumbled after it. Stopping here and there to nibble a flower, he followed the bug across the meadow, until he was far from the river where his mother lay sleeping.
A ground squirrel ran toward a hole and forgetting the bug, he ran after it, imitating his mother’s actions.

The squirrel zigged and zagged toward the forest with Jali following close behind, until she zipped out of sight under a log. Jali found himself far from the river in a part of the forest he did not recognize. He bawled loudly for his mother. The only sound was the chirp of forest birds and small animals scratching nearby.

Jali heard the low moan of a wolf howling in the distance. Lost and hungry, he ran, frightened by the menacing sound. He stumbled over branches and undergrowth until he was deep in the damp forest and far from the safety of the meadow.

Kamar sat atop his mighty nest, his head cocked to the side, peering through bright yellow eyes at the river below. A fine pool had swelled behind the beaver’s dam where fish were trapped. He was pleased, for where there are fish, surely dead fish will be found such as was needed to feed his family!

Kamar’s attention was drawn toward Xerces, running through the meadow, but the baby was not scampering behind, begging to be fed. Xerces roared and smashed branches as she searched for the missing baby.

Kamar lifted off his nest, spread his wings and followed a down draft toward the river for a better look. He banked to the east, gave his six- foot wings a gentle flap and caught another air current that carried him in a soft arc. His excellent eyesight surveyed the entire meadow as he looked for Jali.

Kamar turned south and sailed across the lush forest, allowing the air currents to take him slightly up and down, back and forth. He scanned the trees below. Dropping down to get a better look, he saw the baby cub far beyond his mother’s call. Kamar banked again, his wing tips swishing against the highest branches.

Jali heard the swishing branches and looked up. He saw Kamar, soaring in a spiral above the trees. He had often seen Kamar circling above the meadow where he lived. Jali stumbled along the path, following the bird. Kamar circled slowly in a wide arc above the baby bear. Jali tumbled through the brush, keeping Kamar in sight, and at last was heading in the right direction toward the meadow. Within a short time, his mother’s bawling led him to her. She gave him a reprimanding smack with her great paw, licked his face, and lay down on the forest moss and fed him. When both were rested, she led him back to the meadow.

There came a day when a sudden summer storm rose up. The run-off from the mountains flowed into the river and the waters rushed toward Pogo’s dam, tearing and breaking loose the branches from the south wall.

Pogo and his family waddled into the forest to find trees to repair the damage. He showed them how to choose the right size trees, chew them at just the right height and angle to fall toward the river. Together, they pulled and tugged the trees back toward the broken dam. Pogo’s family gathered mud and placed it in the branches to secure the trees to the walls. The beavers worked throughout the day until the breach was nearly filled and the rushing river slowed to a trickle.

High on the top of the cliff, Kamar’s family huddled in their nest, their feathers dampened by the storm. When the storm had passed, the young fledglings stretched their wings in the air to dry. Each day they were becoming braver, stretching their wings, and letting the wind currents lift them up a few feet, only to fold their wings and drop back into the safety of the nest. The storm had also weakened Kamar’s nest, tearing away some of the branches that supported the increasing weight of the young birds.

As the littlest fledgling stood on the side of the nest, the weakened edge crumbled. Instinctively, she spread her wings. An air current lifted her slightly, breaking her fall, as she plummeted downward toward the river. She drifted, rather than fell, into the water, 20 feet from the beaver’s dam. The fledgling splashed frantically, but her wet feathers kept her from lifting herself out of the water. The river’s current dragged her toward the rocks.

Pogo entered the water with the final log gripped in his teeth, needed to repair the dam. His children followed along side guiding the log into place. As they positioned the end of the log into the breach, the far end swung around and smacked into the drowning fledgling. She flopped her drenched body onto the log. Pogo swung the log around to fit it into the dam, rapping the end where the little bird slumped, sharply against the shore. The nearly drowned fledgling fell from the log into the sand, where she lay huddled, wet and shaking in the sun. She extended her wings to dry, closed her eyes and slept.

The little bird huddled on the shore, drying and regaining her strength while her parents circled helplessly above, calling and swooping over her crumpled body. When the sun dried her feathers, the little bird extended her wings and pushed off the shore. She rode the air currents, circling above the river while her parents called encouragement, until she reached the safety of her nest, high at the top of the sheer cliff in the old blackened treetop.

Following their sister’s example, for the first time, Kamar’s sons let the current take them from the edge of their nest. They circled, each time a little farther, until the sky was filled with eagles. They lifted and soared and let the wind take them, returning again and again back to their home base. Eventually they would leave the safety of the ancient tree and learn to find food and care for themselves. But on this day, with the air filled with cac-cac-cacs, they soared and called, high above the river, proud of their new skill. They flew through the sky, where as far as the eagle’s eye could see, the land was covered with trees and majestic mountains and meadows filled with flowers.

Pogo and his family, not knowing the part they had played in the little eagle’s rescue, slept soundly in their newly repaired den beneath the river that flowed endlessly toward a distant sea.

The summer days grew longer and the leaves on the trees turned to shades of red, yellow and orange. The shrubs lost their leaves and the autumn rain turned the meadow grasses once again from brown to green.

One crisp fall day, the youngest beaver pup ventured into the cool and shadowy forest near the spot where they had taken trees to mend the dam last spring. With the wind in his face, he did not see or hear the male grizzly bear that came out of the forest. The male had caught Xerces’ scent, and on the chance that she might be in season, was coming to investigate.

Coming from behind a clump of bushes, the grizzly and the beaver unexpectedly stood within feet of each other. The bear roared and reared on his hind feet. The little beaver was paralyzed with fear, unable to move. The male grizzly bear raised his paw to strike a blow that would send the beaver to his death.

Xerces awoke at the sound of the male’s roar. She raced toward the giant male who dared invade her territory where her baby lay sleeping. Xerces burst through the bushes, roaring hideously, as only a mother grizzly bear can.

The grizzly turned to face the enraged mother. Though the male easily outweighed Xerces, he knew that she would fight to the death to protect her cub. The lady was obviously not interested in romance. He ran back into the brush with Xerces close behind him. The little beaver raced back to the river as fast as his little body could waddle.

Kamar rose from his treetop, catching an updraft, lifted and circled the valley. His fledglings were grown and all but the little female had flown away, as fledglings do. Some days, Kamar would see them high above the valley, their cac-cac’s ringing through the morning sky. The little female ranged far and wide during the day, hunting, catching the currents, drifting and swooping over the forest, returning only to her mother’s nest at night. Soon, she would find a mate and build her own nest in a high crevice or treetop.

From high over the treetops, he looked down upon his world. His abandoned nest, atop the sheer rock face, above the river winding through the valley. Xerces, sleeping in the meadow with her cub. Beavers paddling happily across the river, diving into the sparkling water. Kamar’s mate, preening her feathers, in a nearby tree.

Kamar circled and then flew straight up into the sun until from the ground, he looked like a speck in the sky. Beneath him, the mountains, the forest, the rivers and the valleys far, far below were touched with shades of sparkling red, yellow and gold, crisscrossed by brilliant blue rivers, white snowcapped mountains and vivid shades of green forests, as though it were a mighty landscape, painted by the hand of God.

4
Jul

Fourth of July Celebration

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Agnes pulled into the driveway and stepped out of her Prius.

Her neighbor, Millie, hailed her from across the street. “Yoo-hoo! Agnes! Wait up. Happy fourth of July!” She scurried across the street.

Millie was the last person Agnes wanted to talk to. They had nothing in common. Millie and her husband, George, were antique buffs. Her house looked like a museum full of relics from the Revolutionary War. Why did Millie put up with such nonsense?

Millie, out of breath from rushing, said, “Are you coming to the Independence Day celebration at the Vet’s Memorial Building tonight? They’re having a military band, Viet Nam veteran speakers, and then fireworks after the meeting. You’re welcome to ride over with us.”

Agnes lifted her grocery bags from the back seat. “Sorry, can’t make it. Gotta’ get these things inside. Frozen stuff. Talk to you later.” She hurried into the house. A twinge of guilt gripped her chest. It wasn’t very nice, snubbing Millie like that. But, Millie was so gol-darned boring. Every conversation somehow turned to her latest E-Bay purchase. A Minute Man rifle. A battered sword. A faded shirt. Agnes sighed. Who cared about all that stuff anymore? What difference does it make, anyway, two hundred years later? Who cares?

The fourth of July was such a nuisance. The fireworks just got all the dogs in the neighborhood barking and the streets were a mess the next morning.

Agnes preferred closing the blinds and going to bed early.

****
The boom-boom of fireworks turned into the sound of a beating drum. The sun blazed down on men dressed in brilliant red jackets. Sweat poured from their faces. They marched in a straight row toward an outline of shadowy figures in buckskin, hiding behind rocks and trees.

Agnes ran back and forth on the battlefield, as the soldiers moved forward with guns drawn. Redcoats? From England? A battlefield?

Agnes jerked and twisted, thrashing her pillow. How did she get in the middle of a Revolutionary War battlefield? I don’t belong here! Wait. I can’t be here. The field will soon be littered with dead and dying men. She turned and tried to run. Wake up! Wake up!

Someone grabbed her arm, dragged her from the line of fire and pulled her down behind a rock. Her heart pounded. Perspiration trickled down her forehead. She crouched beside the men, so close she could smell their sweat. Older soldiers grimaced, their lined faces knowing what was soon to come. “Hold the line, men. Steady now.” Younger soldiers, terrified of the unknown, sniffled as the enemy advanced, step by step to the beat of their drum. Though the ragtag soldiers were outnumbered by the advancing troops, the advantage lay in their favor, as they took advantage of the cover of trees and rocks. The men primed their guns with powder and ball and squatted in the dirt, waiting, waiting as the formidable enemy advanced closer and closer.

I’ve got to get away. This can’t be real! I must be dreaming! Why can’t I wake up?
The drumbeat stopped. Silence! She peeked around the rock. There stood the enemy, immobile on the field, guns at the ready, feet in mid-step. The flag drooped unmoving, despite a brisk breeze. The young drummer’s drumstick hung suspended in mid-air, above his drum.

Agnes lifted her head toward the brilliant sky scattered with patches of clouds as though suspended from wires on a stage. Overhead, a bird hung motionless as though frozen in time. What happened?
She opened her eyes, blinked against the darkness as she lay in her bed. The boom-boom of the fireworks had ceased. A nightlight glowed across the room. I was dreaming! Dreams were, after all, just snatches of thoughts and memories, sounds and sights stored willy-nilly in one’s mind and pulled into a fractured scenario to haunt our restless nights. She shuddered. There was a day when her dream had been another’s reality.

She turned toward the window. It had begun to rain and rivulets streaked the glass, curving and twisting as it traversed the pane. Outside, the tree in the backyard wavered in the wind of an unseasonable summer storm. The celebrations had ended and fireworks ceased.

Agnes put her hand to her pounding heart. It was just a dream. Everything was fine. Just a dream. It doesn’t matter now.
Agnes rose from her bed and found a book on the Revolutionary War in her library. She sat in a rocker and began to read: For the sake of independence, farmers, storekeepers, bankers, men from all walks of life, rebelled at the tyranny England imposed on their fledgling nation. Ill equipped, with antiquated guns and untrained, the Continental soldiers chose to fight a highly-trained army made up of Englishmen, German mercenaries and Hessians.

The Revolutionary war lasted over eight years.
The estimated population in America in 1776 was three million.
80,000 militia and Continental Army soldiers served at the height of the war
25,000 Revolutionary soldiers died during the war
8,000 Revolutionary soldiers died from wounds inflicted during battle
17,000 Revolutionary soldiers died from disease
25,000 Revolutionary soldiers were estimated to have been wounded or maimed
1 in 20 able-bodied white free males living in America died during the war

All for the sake of following generations, so we could have the freedom to make laws and live by our own rules as established by the Declaration of Independence.

Agnes left a message on Millie’s answering machine. “This is Agnes. Sorry I couldn’t make it tonight. I hope you had fun. I promise I’ll come with you next year. Our freedom is important, isn’t it? We need to remember what the holiday cost our forefathers. It really matters.”

Agnes returned to her room with her cat. The rain had stopped.

Boom! Another fire-cracker cracked in the night. “Does he have any idea why he’s celebrating, or just having fun?”

Agnes’s cat blinked and though he had no answer to the provocative question.

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