May Wild Roses…(from “How To Find A Most Wondrous Place”)

 

Today’s story and illustration come from Chapter Two of “How To Find A Most Wondrous Place.”

If a little chick is ever to quiver with excitement, it will be the first time they stand on a fresh springtime lawn. Then they realize, “This is almost too good to be true. This is the life for me!”

There is warm sunshine to enjoy. There is cool dewy grass to eat. And there are bugs everywhere! In an instant, their entire world is alive with new colors, sounds, and sensations. So could those things make our garden A Most Wondrous Place?

Before then, they had relied on me to bring them treats. Once outside, they could hunt for their own. And they hunted! Whoever found an earthworm would take it and run. Everyone would follow and hope to grab it away from the lucky chick who had found it. 

There was only one direction…forward! And there was only one speed…as fast as their little feet would carry them! 

Each worm would get passed around several times. It took great skill to dodge and block and eventually maneuver into a spot where the winner could gobble it down.

It was their game, and they made up their own rules. They owned it, and I simply named it The Worm Olympics Game.      

There were times when they were unable to find any worms. They would all line up at the play fence and watch in awe as I dug up a fresh batch of worms from the compost pile. Their eyes grew big and they peeped and cheeped with delight when I said, “We have some, and they are whoppers!” To them, I was the greatest worm hunter of all time. 

Sometimes I acted as referee and supplied the “worm toss” to start a new contest, but the object of the game was always the same. They played simply to have fun with their friends and maybe enjoy an earthworm or two. 

Each outdoor adventure gave them new experiences and new knowledge. They would run and play until they were completely exhausted. Then they would flop down on their tummies with their wings spread straight out and take a nap. We called this “going splat.”

Once they had played their last game for the day, I would gently pick them up and return them to their brooder box for dinner and a warm night of rest. They had all they needed with their friends and a world full of wonders. 

“I remember how we used to go splat after playing outside,” Gracie told me when we were reminiscing one day. “Bessie and I would always go splat together.”    

  “The two of you were easy to spot. You would be resting your head on Bessie, or she would be resting her head on you. None of the others would go splat like that. Only the two of you.”

“Yes, that was truly A Most Wondrous Place.”

There were those mysterious words again. Gracie had given me another clue to help me discover for myself what A Most Wondrous Place means to chickens.

“Even now on cold nights, I still see Bessie gently resting her head on your back just like how the two of you used to do.”

“And it is still only the two of us who do that,” she said. Then she added, “The Promise Of A Most Wondrous Place is that every heart can find a way into it because it is always trying to find a way into every heart.”

Wild roses in May are for love and adoration. The wild roses in our garden say to us, “There is always an abundance of the truly good things in life like friends to adore.”

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! If you have read our first book, “Seasons Of Friendship,” some of this may seem familiar, but there is now a beginning, middle, and end. These make one longer and more focused story rather than a collection of stories. By the way, each of our books will have at least one thing hidden in the illustrations. (This is a special promise to Gracie.) Did you find it? 

March Daffodils…(from “How To Find A Most Wondrous Place”)

Today’s story and illustration come from Chapter One of “How To Find A Most Wondrous Place.”

Sometimes the most wonderful things happen by chance. Selecting baby chicks can be that way. Finding a forever friendship can be that way too. At least, that is how it was with Gracie and me.

My life with Gracie began when I was unemployed. Suddenly there was enough time to raise baby chicks. They would keep me busy and looking towards the future. It is difficult to feel sorry for yourself when you are holding a little ball of fluff that looks up into your eyes so innocently and then says, “Peep!”

That spring day, I made two trips to The Feed And Seed Store. On the first trip, I hand-selected the baby chicks to take home with me. Few things are any cuter, and so I went back for more. Those were just scooped up randomly by the sales clerk. Without the second trip back, there would be no Gracie and Bessie in my life. Without that second trip, you would not be reading this.

Including Gracie and Bessie, there were fourteen chicks to raise in my sunroom. Eight were for friends. Six were for me. Those were some of the busiest and noisiest but altogether happiest days of my life.

There were several different kinds of baby chicks in my brooder box. Somehow each kind knew, “You’re like me!” But even among the other Buff Orpington chicks, there was always a special bond between Gracie and Bessie. With best friends, you simply know.

Gracie looked a little different. With the others, the feathers above their beaks were even. Gracie’s weren’t, and so her face seemed slightly lopsided.

The first week, a small lump appeared on Gracie’s side near her thigh. As the weeks went by, it grew with her. It kept her from moving quite like the others. Even so, she did her best to act like them. She didn’t want to get picked on by the more active and assertive chicks.

She stayed close to Bessie whenever she could. Bessie would go off to play with the others, but she always came back to Gracie. They slept beside each other, perhaps more by Gracie’s choice, but Bessie didn’t mind. It’s just like that with friends.

Most mornings after the spring showers, I would collect earthworms for everyone from under the bricks and logs outside. While the others were enjoying these treats, Gracie stayed back from the excitement. When it was over, she would go to Bessie. Sometimes she was lucky and found a small earthworm the others had overlooked.

Once I picked her up out of the brooder box and tried hand-feeding an earthworm to her. She was missing out on so much, but she wouldn’t eat. Being with Bessie was more important than even a tasty snack.

Gracie was slow to develop, and I wasn’t sure she would ever lay any eggs. Bessie started laying almost two months before her. Gracie worried about this.

During the long waiting period, I would tell Gracie every day, “It’s okay. You don’t have to lay eggs for me to love you. Even though that is what hens usually do, if you can’t, I will still love you. I will never get rid of you. It’s a promise. You will always be my best girl ever, just like Bessie.”

Over time, Gracie began talking to me too. First only a few words, then more as her trust grew. Eventually, we would have long heart-to-heart conversations, but whether in English or Chicken, I really can’t say. Languages blend together in the heart. That is where real and true listening begins even when everyone is perfectly quiet.

One of the first things Gracie told me about was her time at The Feed And Seed Store. It had been a scary place for her.

“I stayed close to Bessie in the big box with the heating lamp. There would be a shadow blocking the light. Then a hand would scoop some of us up. I didn’t know what happened to those taken away. But when it happened to me I hoped it would be for the better. More than that, I hoped it would be with Bessie.”

“So do you think it was all by chance that the two of you ended up here?” I asked. “You weren’t in the first group that I brought home. It was only because those others were so cute that I went back and got you and Bessie. Even then, it was the sales clerk who picked you out and not me.”

“Maybe some of it was chance,” she said. “But you didn’t tell the sales clerk to put me back. Even when you noticed my face was not perfect like Bessie’s, you didn’t tell the sales clerk to put me back. I trust a good heart more than chance. Your eyes told me we mattered and you would be taking us to A Most Wondrous Place.”

“Well, this little garden here in the city is nice, but I’m not sure it’s all that wonderful. It does need some work.”

“It may not be wonderful to you, but it is most wondrous to us. That is what I called it because that is what it is. Not every wonderful place is wondrous. But every A Most Wondrous Place is wonderful.”

This seemed like a riddle and a very fun riddle too. She smiled at how her words gave my face a curiously delighted expression.

“What does A Most Wondrous Place mean, Gracie? To a chicken.”

“It is not something that can be described. It is not something you can point to and say, ‘Oh, look at that! It is A Most Wondrous Place!’ But you will know when you are there. You will feel it with your heart. Sometimes you will know even before you are there. That is how it was for me the day you brought us home with you. This is A Most Wondrous Place.”

My first awareness of chicken wisdom began at that moment. Over the seasons of that first year together, I would learn more about how wise chickens truly are. I would also learn what A Most Wondrous Place means to chickens, and that is why I am writing all of this for you.

But I am getting ahead of myself. First I must tell you about how timid and shy little Gracie became the unlikely leader of my backyard flock. I may ramble a bit, but chickens do that too.

Daffodils in March are for new beginnings. The daffodils in our garden say to us, “I will never forget when our friendship began.”

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! If you have read our first book, “Seasons Of Friendship,” some of this may seem familiar, but there is now a beginning, middle, and end. These make one longer and more focused story rather than a collection of stories. The book begins in March, and so we hope to publish March 1, 2021.

This Is So Bessie Will Stop Standing On My Foot And Telling Me What To Do

My first big goal for the new year is to make a two-year anniversary revision to my first-ever book, “Seasons Of Friendship.” Although I love that first book because it’s something I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to do, I have learned so much since 2019.

This revision started as only an update of the inside illustrations. Below you can see a comparison.

The drawing on the left is from “Seasons Of Friendship.” It was made using the Sketches app on an iPad Mini (with my finger).

On the right is a newer style drawing using the Affinity Designer app on an iPad Pro (with an Apple Pencil). This updated drawing uses the same line and fill techniques as “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens.” The lines are much lighter even though most of the colors are the same.

There are also more color pictures throughout the book. This was at Bessie’s strong recommendation.

“If people are going to pay for a book that is in color, then there needs to be color on almost every page,” she told me while standing on my right shoe. (She does this whenever she really wants to make a point.) “People want to feel like they are getting their money’s worth.”

I did not argue with this, but I did wonder how she ever found out about money.

I should also add that Bessie pecked my shoe as she told me, “And don’t try making it anything except sweet and wonderful just like Little Bunny because that’s what the readers want too.” (They do love Little Bunny, and this was Bessie’s even stronger recommendation.)

Another big change has been with the writing itself. “Seasons Of Friendship” was written as a story collection based on many of my blog posts. They were loose and rambling but all centered on some aspect of friendship.

Writing “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens” helped me to learn more plot-related skills. So the revision now has a plot. Just like Pearl and the others learned what Christmas is about through a series of events, I will learn what A Most Wondrous Place is about.

All of these things make it an almost completely different book, and so the title has been changed to “How To Find A Most Wondrous Place.” (You might remember how last week’s post ended with “You know, Gracie, this really is A Most Wondrous Place just like you have always said.”)

What started as a one-time collection of stories just may be developing into a little series of books! But that will require some continuity throughout the series so the books look like they belong together. Back in 2019, I had not seriously thought of doing a series. It seemed just too monumental for me. But now, I want to give it a try with these 64-page full-color “How To” books.

If you have any feedback concerning the draft version of the cover for “How To Find A Most Wondrous Place,” please let me know.

You’ll notice the font has been changed to a more “chicken-made” style. I’ve reworked the background to one that can be more consistent but different by changing just the colors. (This one is green because spring is a great time to start raising baby chicks. But blue would be good for the book about Christmas.) The image on the front also appears within the pages of the book.

I would truly appreciate your thoughts about the font, overall design, color, and whatever else you may want to share. You are our loyal readers, and I want to hear from you. (And it will keep Bessie from standing on my right foot and telling me what to do!)