Fictional Problem Solving

Dandelion girl whirled and twirled through the field. Sunlight glittered on her dress.  She danced from flower to flower until she reached the pond. The cattail and the frog were waiting. Cattail was nice, just like dandelion, but frog could be mean. Dandelion didn’t know they were waiting…

Georgia considered her story for a few moments before deciding she liked it. The final version had to include all of the Latin names for dandelions and cattails, and at least three uses for each plant. The rest of the class would be writing boring scientific journal entries, but Georgia had pestered and begged until Ms. Becca relented, allowing her to submit the same report, with the same requirements, in the form of a fictional story.

“No more than four pages, ” Ms. Becca had warned.

Georgia grumbled with annoyance. It was more than the two page requirement given to the rest of the class, but it was less than the 10 she’d asked Ms. Becca to approve.

Tapping her pencil on the notebook, Georgia considered the list of requirements. The latin names would come later. Right now, she needed to explore the environment of the dandelion and the cattail.

“A dandelion can live almost anywhere,” the frog croaked. “But a cattail can only live along the water’s edge. Very restrictive.”

Cattail smoothed her long soft coat and stood as straight and tall as she could. “Frogs must live near the water.” She stated, matter-of-factually, and walked away without explaining herself. Sometimes that was the best way to deal with frog.

“Or other kids,” Georgia muttered to herself. Cattail would find a way to deal with frog and, maybe, that would help Georgia deal with Riley. Walking away hadn’t worked this time.

“CATTAIL!” Frog croaked in his loudest voice.

“Don’t shout at me!” Cattail growled back.

After a moment of silence, frog replied “now that I have your attention…”

Georgia stared at the page. The story was going well, but now she was stuck. Was it possible to say or do something that would make frog change? She very much doubted it.

She chewed on her last conversation with Riley and, briefly, considered using it exactly as she remembered it. The only problem was her memory was full of holes. She was so angry with Riley, she couldn’t remember what was said…exactly.

“…you made me a promise and it’s time for your to pay up.” Frog said, hopping back toward the water. “A promise is a promise.

It was very frustrating when she couldn’t help her characters. It was even more frustrating when she couldn’t help herself.

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Summer School

Wild Raccoon school wasn’t like other schools. Georgia had been to more schools than anyone she knew, and this one was nothing like any of the others.

For starters, school was open all year. No summer vacation – at all! Some of the kids were looking forward to taking vacations, going to summer camps and visiting family. But no one was supposed to be gone more than two weeks. Except Riley. She was going to be gone for a whole month! Her little brother Ryan would be gone too, but he was in the blue room, so Georgia didn’t notice as much.

There weren’t enough kids on the farm to split everyone into regular classes, so they mushed a whole bunch of grades together. The young kids were in the blue room. The middle kids, like Riley and Georgia were in the green room. Teenagers were in the red room.

Most of the time, Georgia was trying to understand things that were either at or above her grade level. Sometimes, when the class was covering stuff she already knew, she got bored.

Like right now.

The sun was to bright. The windows were open and a light breeze came into the room, filled with the smells of early summer. If wishing could make magic happen, then Georgia wished to be outside.

“It’s time to turn in your assignments.” Miss Becca announced.

Georgia reached inside her desk and pulled out the report on dandelions. Frowning, she stared at the report for a few moments before looking back out the window.

“Georgia,” said Miss Becca, “your report?”

“This one is on Dandelions,” Georgia said, dropping the report on the pile. “But I’ve decided I don’t like it.”

Miss Becca paused. “Oh?” She responded.

Georgia had a feeling her teacher didn’t really want to ask that question. Reaching into the backpack on the back of her chair, Georgia pulled out a second report. “I like cattails better,” she said, dropping the report on the pile.

Miss Becca’s eyes narrowed and a small smile grew on her face. “I will look them both over,” she conceded. “If both are appropriate, then the choice is up to you.”

Frowning while pressing her lips together, Georgia nodded. It was hard to stay silent when her teacher guessed a trick. It was just a small trick, but it could have gotten her some time outside.

“Get ready to go outside!” Miss Becca announced, while dripping the reports on her desk. “We’ve got plants to collect!”

Alone. Outside without the rest of her class.

“You were trying to run away again, weren’t you?” Riley whispered.

“I don’t run away,” Georgia hissed in response. “I go exploring.”

“Same thing,” Riley teased.

Georgia liked Riley – most of the time.

Summer Solstice Mourning

Summer solstice crept over the horizon like a cat stalking a cricket. Move too fast and the moment will jump and flutter away on noisy wings.The sun peeked over the trees and hills on the far side of the neighboring farm. The driveway momentarily moved from night-shadow grey to a deeper black as the entire world adjusted to the flow of light.

Georgia sat on the porch, glancing over her shoulder from time-to-time. Searching for adults had become a habit so ingrained it seemed more like a reflex. Watchful vigilance was something akin to blinking or breathing.

She was supposed to be in bed, like all the other children, but today was the first day of summer and Georgia intended to see it from beginning to end. She’d told her mother this over dinner the previous night, but the only response was a long sigh and a wordy lecture about things ‘they’d talked about.’

This was important. Her mother didn’t agree, but Georgia was convinced she knew better. Besides, what was so wrong about watching a sunrise and a sunset? There was no school and chores were always the same.

The first day of anything was special because it was different. Summer was special because it was…summer! The first day of summer? That was something extra special and Georgia was going to see every last minute of it. Even if she couldn’t convince a single adult to bake a cake with the words “Happy Summer!” in green and blue frosting.

The sun rose higher in the sky. The birds began their songs long before the sun showed her face, but now there was a loud chorus. It was the bird version of a traffic jam, with all of them fluttering about, chattering away, and occasionally diving down after a bug or a worm.

The last star was still visible in the sky. The smell of coffee floated out on the air from the nearest Wild Raccoon neighbors. Lights were slowly flickering on in different windows across the community.

A buzzer went off in her mother’s room a few moments after Georgia watched the last star disappear from the sky. As quietly as she could, Georgia slipped back into the small house she shared with her mother and younger brother.

It was a small building, much smaller than the one they’d had when daddy was alive, but the Wild Raccoon farm was an entire world just bursting with things she’d never seen before. Safe in her room, sitting on the bed and watching the sky through the open window, Georgia closed her eyes and remembered her daddy. Remembered everything. His voice, his smell, the way his face turned red when he was angry and even more red when he laughed.

“Good morning daddy.” She whispered. “I miss you.”

As long as she could remember him, he was here with her. That was what they said at the funeral – and every opportunity for many weeks after. Georgia practiced remembering every time she found something amazing or beautiful. She wanted her daddy to share it and she wanted to make sure she never forgot.

The Wild Raccoon had many things to discover and, as long as she kept finding little things like he sunrise, she would never lose her daddy. Not for real. Not for forever.

Science Fiction Bugs

A full home-work day and Bobbi was making frustrating slow progress on her projects. Deadlines were loose, distant or non-existent, so the crisis existed only within her own mind – yet, there it was.

The conversation with Georgia kept running through her mind. Magical tent-worms living in a world of sentient bugs. Or, maybe, it was a universe populated with sentient insect and insect-like creatures. The more she thought about it, the more she liked the possibilities this science fiction, alternate universe presented.

Georgia’s ideas were firmly rooted in fairy tales and fantasy-genre ideas, so Bobbi was reasonably confident she wasn’t in danger of stealing her student’s work. Opening her idea journal, she sketched, wrote and played with the idea while sitting on her porch, watching the flies, wasps and bees buzz through the thick almost-summer heat.

After a while she settled on one strong character, returned to her computer, opened a new document and let the character and her world unfold in whatever manner they wished.

Worm Magic

“Do you have plans for the summer?” Bobbi asked as she walked through the orchard with Georgia following.

“Not really.” Georgia replied. “Chores. Homework. The usual.”

“Homework?” Bobbie asked. “Isn’t school out?”

“Wild Raccoon school is never out.” Georgia shrugged.

It’s not? Bobbi was certain this was something she should already know. She did her best to cover both surprise and confusion. “Anything new or fun at school?”

“We go outside more.” Georgia replied. “I have to write a report on weeds you eat.”

“Any favorites?”

“Favorites?”

“Weeds.”

“Oh,” Georgia gave this some serious consideration. “I like cattails but I think I’m going to write about dandelions.”

“Interesting choice,” Bobbi replied while walking a slow circle around one of the oldest trees at the far end of the orchard. Tent worms. Everywhere. Crap.

“What are those?” Georgia asked.

“The forces of evil incarnate,” Bobbi muttered without thinking. Glancing over her shoulder, she noticed Georgia’s full attention was now on the worms. “They’re caterpillars.” Bobbi revised. “Native to North America and fond of eating ALL of the leaves on fruit trees.”

“All of them?” Georgia replied, eyes wide.

“Well, most, anyway,” Bobbi sighed.

“Are they going to eat the entire orchard?”

“Not this year.” Bobbi replied. “I thought I got all of the nests but, obviously, I missed one. There will be a lot more next year.”

“How do you get rid of them?”

“Locate the nest, cut the branch off the tree and burn it.”

“What does the nest look like? Do they turn into butterflies?”

“Like a giant, out of control, spider’s web and they turn into moths.”

“Are they magical?”

“Uh…”

“I think they must be, if they live in a spider web house when they’re babies and then become caterpillars that turn into moths.”

“Ok, I’ll give you that, but…” Bobbi paused a moment, considering.

“But what?”

“They can be magic in stories. They are not allowed in the orchard. Our trees need their leaves. Bringing them back here, to create a secret home, is not OK.”

Georgia looked like she’d just be caught with her hands in the cookie jar.

Bobbi laughed. “They also live in other kinds of trees. Probably crawled over from the forest.” Bobbi waved in the general direction of the wildlife preserve bordering this end of the farm. Reaching into her backpack, she pulled out a package of sticky bands and started attaching them to the infested tree.

“What are those?” Georgia asked.

Bobbi explained how sticky bands worked and let Georgia attach a few to neighboring trees.

“Well, that’s that.” Bobbi said, picking up her backpack.

“That’s it?” Georgia asked. “That’s all we’re going to do?”

“For now.”

As they walked along the outer edge of the orchard, examining the trees, Georgia watched for worms and excitedly pointed out at least a dozen other kinds of bugs, only three of which Bobbi knew.

By the time they were finished, Georgia had a list of bugs she intended to look up,  determined to bring a bug jar on their next visit to the orchard and was already knee deep into developing a story about magical-worm-something-or-other.

It was a good afternoon.

Mint Tea and Wildflowers

The corn field was covered in short stalks. Each one seemed to be stretching it’s way to the sun, until the wind blue and send them into an awkward waving, flapping dance. Sweet corn might be an extremely popular crop, and a necessary food item both on and off the farm, but it’s a plant designed for utility, not beauty.

Bobbi carefully sipped her tea, discovered the temperature had dropped below lip-burning and enjoyed a small gulp. Freshly picked mint sweetened with sugar made from last year’s sugar-beets. It was strong and it was better than every single cup of winter-weather tea combined. Fresh picked, aromatic, simple pleasure in a ceramic cup.

The wind tossed the corn about, stronger than before, and Bobbi looked to the sky for signs of a storm. Clouds were moving in and the sun was going down, making the clouds a fast moving grey, reflecting the fiery orange of the sunset. If a storm was on the way, chances were good it would hold off for another hour or so.

The corn calmed down and Bobbi returned to contemplating it’s utilitarian attractiveness. Nothing fancy, flattering or unnecessary about corn. Just a study stalk, topped with loads of seeds, protected by a handful of leaves. It was the plant world’s example of extreme simplicity.

Corn flowers, on the other hand, were examples of sheer beauty, Bright blue flowers growing amidst the straight-stalked corn. They were stunningly beautiful and Bobbi truly wished a patch of them were growing right here, in front of the corn field, where she would sit and stare at a patch of stunningly beautiful flowers while drinking ultra-fresh mint tea.

She mentioned this desire at a community meeting, just as the winter showed signs of truly leaving them along for a few months. Some people laughed and others tried to sound supportive, but everyone was in agreement on one thing – if you want flowers, you have to plant and care for them yourself.

Bobbi did want flowers, but she had to many trees to care for, chores to complete, writing projects to finish…the list was depressingly long. Flowers simply were not a priority.

Luckily, Mother Nature did not entirely agree. The apple trees were in full bloom and Bobbi spent the day simply immersed in the beauty of falling petals mixed with the lovely, soft, delicious scent of apple flowers. On the way home, she found several early-blooming wildflowers, all of them joyously healthy and, therefore, stunning.

Closing her eyes, Bobbi tried to imagine what mother nature would look like, were she a human woman, and then imagined asking for corn flowers – if it weren’t to much trouble. It was neither a proper prayer nor a magic spell, but it made Bobbi smile. After all, since nature was currently inclined towards the loveliness of petal-bearing plants, making a request couldn’t hurt.

Drinking deeply from her now-perfect temperature tea, Bobbi returned to gazing at the corn. It was a perfect ending to an above-average day.

Farmers Market

The first day of the farmers market was filled with expectation, excitement and disappointment. The Wild Raccoon had a wild plants, wild mushrooms, farmed mushrooms, dandelion wine, goat milk, goat cheese, meat and a few jars of honey.

Comparatively speaking, the Wild Raccoon was simply bursting with produce. Most of the other farmers had jars of honey, jars of jelly, and lists of produce expected to arrive later in the year.

An Amish family, whose booth represented an entire Amish community, was equally full with homemade pasta, quilts, breads, jars of jelly and honey.

Practically everyone had honey.

There were a very small number of customers, most of whom were looking for tomato plants, hostas, flowers and other things for their yards and backyard gardens. Three greenhouses, the local master gardeners society and one CSA made a point of preparing for the summer gardens. After July 1st, the CSA would return with produce for members-only. One of the greenhouses would also return, with pots of flowers for sale- and racks of cards describing services offered to people planning weddings, funerals, birthdays, and anything else that might involve a lot of people, catering, and some form of extravagant party.

Bobbi sat in a folding chair and watched people milling around. A few regulars stopped to say hi, some neighboring farmers chatted about the usual things, and the kids providing the music clumsily clawed their way through a ‘performance experience’ under the watchful eye of parents and music instructors.

In July, the market would be crowded, the music would be lively and near-professional, and the produce would be in large supply. Somehow, the launch of the market always felt more like a dress-rehearsal, with the actual performance occurring several weeks later. Bobbi had religiously visited opening day at the farmers market for many years before joining the Wild Raccoon. Even while living in large metropolitan areas, she would seek out the market and browse the booths in the cool spring air.

It was the moment when she felt…really felt….the change from winter to spring. It was wonderful and anticlimactic. Every time, she would leave, empty-handed, thinking the market should be something bigger, more vibrant, filled with people. Something truly marking the passage of the season and the anticipation of markets to come.

Sitting in her chair, watching people interact, she wondered if markets used to be places where farms hired summer help and made deals with other farms and local businesses.

Probably.

Yet, it wasn’t the job fair atmosphere that was missing, it was the oh-thank-gawd-winter-is-over celebration. It was the release of energy that comes from finally being free of cold weather confinement. Live music and old fashioned dances. Brightly colored clothes. Showing off…

A violin hit a particularly ear-splitting note as the kids finished their concert and Bobbi flinched, despite sincere efforts to mask her reaction. The crowd of relatives and fellow students clapped, took photos, and started milling-around, making small talk and generally breaking up to leave.

Ah well.

Perhaps, someday, she would find someone who agreed with her. Maybe the market would become more lively on opening day. Or, maybe, the market would always begin the year like a seed in the earth: small, quiet, unassuming and fully prepared to create something entirely different in a few weeks or months.