Free as a Bird

SH-Dazzling paintingAs usual when I am finishing one book, my mind starts wandering to the next. The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life was inspired by Faye Bennett, the youngest child of Stephen and Diana Bennett, the folks who own the Crow Town Bakery in Carding, Vermont.

All authors draw on their own lives in their work, and my family was among the many in Vermont hit by Hurricane Irene. Our home escaped the flood by mere inches. The land that it sits on and the land we own along the White River did not.

As too many of us know, natural disasters really rock your world.

I wanted to examine those feelings, and I even started a book about Hurricane Irene. But it didn’t feel right.

So I decided to see what would happen if I pulled the rug out from under the determined, confident, feisty Faye Bennett.

Let’s just say that life became uncertain.

This excerpt takes place near the beginning of The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life when Faye, her father Stephen and her best friend Suzanna Owens take a red-tailed hawk named Freya up to a lonely spot in the Carding hills to release the bird back into the wild. It’s a rainy, cold day in early April.

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All three of them breathed a sigh of relief when they finally rounded the last curve, and saw the standing timbers of what had been the Small family’s sheep barn. Just then, the sun managed to find a chink between two raggedy clouds to lift the gloom a bit.

Freya screamed from the back of the truck. “Sorry girl,” Stephen murmured as he lifted the back window of the cab and let the truck’s tailgate down. The bird glared at him as if he was just so much dead rabbit. Stephen twisted his head around to look the site over. “Those pines were a lot shorter the last time I was up here,” he told the girls. “It’s always been a pretty lonely place, even when the Smalls lived here. So where do you two think we should set Freya free?”

Faye was already tromping over the old snow, her back to her father and best friend. She stopped when she reached the far corner of a cellar hole, the remains of the Smalls’ house. She stared out across the landscape for a moment then spread her arms wide with a big shout. “Wow, Suzanna, you gotta come see this.”

Faye stood on an outcropping of lichen-stained granite, perched as close to its edge as she dared. As Suzanna approached, a view of the whole Corvus Valley opened up at her feet. Like everyone else in Carding, the girls were used to seeing Half Moon Lake from its eastern end, the place where the Corvus River plunged headfirst over the Crow’s Head falls. But now they stood on a rise at the opposite end of the lake, and the faraway falls glinted in the pale light. Here and there, fingers of sunlight slanted just right through the raggedy clouds, turning the smoke rising from Carding’s woodstoves into a pink cloud.

The girls didn’t move, their breath steaming around their heads. Then Suzanna finally sighed. “It looks like something out of a fairy tale, doesn’t it?” Tears stung her eyes.

Faye sniffed. “Yeah, it does. Mom’s always telling me how we live in the most beautiful place on earth. I guess sometimes she’s right.”

Suzanna turned to look at her friend, and realized Faye was blinking as fast as she was. “Why are we crying?” she asked.

Faye wiped her face with her sleeve and sniffed again. “Mom says it’s hormones,” she said with a shrug. “All part of being a girl, I guess.”

Suzanna sighed again. “I guess that’s not gonna change any time soon, is it?” She blinked some more, wiped her face, and then unexpectedly started to laugh. Faye’s head whipped around but then the giggles caught her too. Soon the two girls were leaning into one another, gasping for air as tears oozed from their eyes and laughter from their mouths.

Stephen and the hawk looked on from the truck, the man slowly shaking his head from side to side. “Aliens,” he said to the bird. “I think all of you women are aliens.”

Freya shook her head. “Chip-chip-chip,” she scolded.

Stephen carried the caged bird to the spot where the girls watched Carding turn pink. “Oh, I’d forgotten how beautiful it is up here,” he said as he set the cage down. “I need to bring Diana for a picnic…after the roads dry out.”

The hawk rocked nervously from one foot to the other then plucked at the cage door with her beak. “Do you think she knows we’re freeing her?” Suzanna asked, pushing her always-disobedient hair away from her face.

“Yeah, I do actually,” Stephen said. “This is her kind of place, open in spots where she can hunt. And the marshy end of the lake is just beyond those pines. There’s places there that never freeze over so there’s fresh water for her to drink and bathe in. What’s left of the Smalls’ barn could be shelter from bad storms, and we’re not too far from the spot where Freya was shot so she’s already in a familiar place.”

Suzanna shook her head. “I don’t understand why anyone would shoot Freya. She’s amazing.”

“People used to put prices on the heads of all predators because these birds hunt some of the same things humans do, like rabbits and quail,” Stephen said. “It’s only been in the last fifty years or so that the feelings about them have changed. But some people still do it.”

“But shooting hawks is illegal,” Suzanna said.

“Just because something is illegal doesn’t mean it’s not done,” Stephen said. Deep creases set in on both sides of his mouth as his mind strayed back to his encounter with Margie Rosen. He hadn’t liked being the target of her crude sexual suggestions at the bird sanctuary, not one bit.

Faye tugged Suzanna around to the front of the cage. “You see those latches on top of the door?” she said. Her friend nodded. “Dad’s going to open them. Then you pull on this string, and the door will open.” She handed the knotted end to her friend. “I got to do a couple of these before I knew you. Freya’s yours.”

“Are you sure?” Suzanna asked.

“Oh yes,” Faye said. “Freya’s yours.”

“Okay Suzanna, you and Faye back up a little bit,” Stephen said, “and I’ll flip the latches.”

Suzanna stepped backwards, her eyes glued to the now-quiet bird. She didn’t want to miss a thing.

“Ready?” Stephen called.

Suzanna wound the string around her hand. “Ready.”

Stephen flipped the latches then joined the girls. “Just pull nice and steady,” he said.

Suzanna took a deep breath then started gathering the string in her hands. Freya stayed still until the door was fully open. Then she strutted forward.

“You’re free,” Suzanna breathed.

“Fly,” Faye whispered.

“Soar,” Stephen urged. “Try the wings. I think you’ll find they work as good as new.”

Freya moved closer to the edge of the granite bulge, snapping her head left and right. She raised her wings high above her head, letting the breeze ruffle her feathers. Then she settled, advanced, tried the wings in a new position, and settled again.

“Is she going to fly?” Suzanna whispered.

“She’s just testing her equipment,” Stephen said. “It’s been four months since she’s done anything more than glide from one end of her enclosure to the other in the sanctuary.”

Freya reared up to flap her wings a third time. The sun provided backlighting that gave her small audience a moment to appreciate the reddish glint of her feathers. Her sharp eyes soaked in every detail of her terrain then she turned to her left, glanced at the trio watching breathlessly, and rose to catch a current of air that gently lifted her above the earth.

Stephen and the girls whooped and jumped, clapping and squealing with delight.

“Did you see that? Did you see how she looked at us?” Suzanna asked as they collected the cage, string, and Stephen’s gloves. “Oh, I wish she would come back to visit some time, and tell us about all her adventures.”

Stephen laughed as they piled into the truck. “Now that was worth getting up early, wouldn’t you say?” He shifted into the truck’s lowest gear. “Are you buckled in? We’ve got to creep back down the way we came up, and then how about some breakfast?”

“Oh yes, please,” Suzanna said. “I’m starving.”


You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted,Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Light in Water, Dancing, will go on sale on June 15, 2018.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.

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