A Map To Become Lost

This is a “to be continued next time” story and new illustration…I don’t know where either will be going. I chose to make it more realistic because the desire expressed by Amelia’s heart is very real.

I sat on the ground beside her and said simply, “Tell me about your map of the world, Amelia.”

And so she did.

”I taste the air. I study the wind. I find out how fast it is blowing, the direction from which it is blowing. I use how strong the taste is to know the distance it has traveled. I remember each one. Sometimes they come to me mixed together, and then I know the path they have taken to get here to this backyard garden. I chart them all in my mind. You can not draw tastes. You can not make a book of tastes. And I can not carry your big geography book with all of its pretty maps.”

She stopped for a moment and looked away. She was checking to see if the new gust of wind blowing our way had any new information to add to her map of the world.

“I am making a map the only way I know how.”

She sounded neither proud of her accomplishment nor embarrassed that this was not how people do things.

”Amelia, I think that is what we are all doing in our own way, making a map the only way we know how. We are all trying to figure out how life works.”

She pointed with her beak to the northwest.

”That way is the river, the big river that we only see a tiny piece of on the other side of our street.”

”That is the Elizabeth River,” I said. Not to give her a name to add to her map. She didn’t need a name for it. I only wanted her to know I believed she could do exactly what she said she could do.

”Further beyond that is another river. It is close to our first home where we flew free for hours every day. That was before the flock started to be taken away one and two at a time. And we did not understand why.”

”That is the Nansemond River,” I said. “And I remember walking across that big yard surrounded by a flock of chickens flying past me. You always flew the highest, leading the way. It was a most amazing moment in time for me. It was like being surrounded by a sea of feathers. I felt as if I was moving forward with you.”

She pointed with her beak to the south.

“This warm wind today, it came from far away. I have tasted it before but not so strongly. Now I have more details to add to my map. It tastes of fish and things like fish, but smaller and without scales and bones.”

“That is the Gulf of Mexico, and those were shrimp and crawdads.”

”I think I might like to try catching some crawdads,” she said. “That is a funny name. Crawdads.”

“You would make a fine crawdad catcher, Amelia.”

It seemed as if our conversation might be over. We smiled at each other as we thought of what it would be like for a chicken to catch crawdads. If any chicken could do it, it would be Amelia. I did not tell her how their claws can pinch. 

But there was more on her mind.

”There is one thing that still puzzles me though,” she said. “I can taste the air from places far away that I can not see, but I can not taste the air from the moon that I can see. It is close. I can see it. But I can not add it to my map. I have never been able to find even the littlest of breezes that brings any tastes from the moon.”

”What do you think that means, Amelia?”

”I think it means I will need to go there since I can not add it to my map. It may be the only place where I can go and be lost. I can not be lost in a place on my map of the world. When I fly to the moon, then I will know if I can be lost and not afraid.”

“This is very important to you, isn’t it, Amelia? Knowing if you can be lost and not afraid?”

She nodded.

“Most people use maps to keep themselves from becoming lost, but it sounds like you are making a map of the world to make yourself become lost.” 

She nodded again, and I waited to see if she would tell me more.

“My map of the world was not for that purpose at first. It did not start out that way. It started as a map for finding.

“I was afraid when they began to break up our first flock. I was afraid they would separate me from Emily. I promised her, ‘If we are ever separated, I will find some way to get to you, no matter what. I will get to you.’ 

“That was when I discovered how to make a map of the world this way. It was so I could find Emily if we were separated. 

“She was always the littlest and did not fit in with the others of her kind, just like I did not fit in with the others like me. But we weren’t separated after all.”

“When they asked me to take you, Amelia, and give you a new home, I asked them for another to come with you, someone for companionship. Gracie and Bessie already had each other. Blanche and Pearl already had each other. You would be the only one without a best friend. They chose Emily because she seemed to spend the most time with you even though she never was able to fly as high as you.”

“I never knew all of that,” she said.

“Sometimes there are even bigger maps than the ones we make for ourselves, Amelia. When it comes to your own map, it sounds as if you need to lose yourself before you can find yourself. Maybe everyone does at some time.”

She had nothing else to say just then, and so she gazed off into the sunset as its colors began to tint everything in our garden. She looked so beautiful in the golden autumn light, my Amelia.

It seemed so perfect for her, this garden home of ours, and I wanted so much to tell her, “This is where you belong. This is the place where you’re safe and warm and can feel like you’re home.” But I knew if that was true beyond the hopes of my own heart, she would need to discover it for herself. 

She would also need to discover for herself if her promise to Emily still held true. “If we are ever separated, I will find some way to get to you, no matter what. I will get to you.”

Our latest paperback book, “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens,” is finally now available through Amazon around the world! I truly appreciate all of the warm wishes and positive comments from you, our readers. Your encouragement throughout the process made this a much better book than I would have been able to make on my own!

Perhaps The Perfect Gift (Revised for 2020)

Today’s post is based on one shared around Thanksgiving Day two years ago. I’ve edited it quite a bit for this Thanksgiving Day to fit with the changes which a worldwide pandemic have brought to all of our lives. 

Thanksgiving Day makes it official each year. The holiday season has begun. For most people it is time to share a meal together with friends and family. It often means sharing gift lists or at least gift hints for whichever wintertime holiday is next to be celebrated.

Some people, I believe, just seem to have a talent for always giving “the perfect gift.” For me, it is an elusive skill. Gifts never seem to work out as wonderfully as I imagine they will.

Yet this Thanksgiving, my chickens and I will give each other the perfect gift. We will simply sit with each other and enjoyed a pleasantly sunny afternoon.

But our hearts hurt for those who will be unable to do the same with their own loved ones, particularly when due to quarantine or death.

“Of all gifts possible, I do believe that the most perfect gift is our time to be together.” That is what I wrote two years ago.

But this Thanksgiving, perhaps it is better to write, “Of all gifts possible and for this year only, my best gift to you is time to be apart. One of us may not be strong enough to fight this virus which has taken so many beautiful lives from us.”

And for those of you who are unable to enjoy that gift of time together today, take heart. This challenge will pass, and it will help us to appreciate all the more what is ultimately important.

I believe love is truly transcendent. Love transcends time, distance, and yes, love transcends even global pandemics.

Be safe, stay healthy, and enjoy the anticipation of receiving that perfect gift of time together when all of this is behind us.

We are thankful for all of you, our readers, family, and friends.


John, Gracie, Bessie, Pearl, Emily, and Amelia

This November, I was surprised by the sudden blooming of a chrysanthemum I had planted in the garden several years ago and forgotten. It had not bloomed since having been added to the garden. It definitely speaks to me of the things which it symbolizes: fidelity, optimism, joy and long life. Today’s illustration is from “Seasons Of Friendship” which is being revised for a second edition.


Map Of The World

This is a “to be continued next time” story and illustration…I don’t know where either will be going.

…I returned to my sketchbook and to studying the autumn tomato vines. They have become bent and beaten down by the heavy winds and rains that have come at the end of hurricane season. Their growth has become straggly in search of more sunlight in the shorter days. They remind me of the lines on a face, the lines on a heart, the lines on a map. 

When I looked up from my sketchbook, I saw Amelia doing something I have never seen her do before, and I knew I must add her to the drawing. 

She was facing into the warm, much too warm for autumn, wind blowing strongly from the south. It was the last of a hurricane turned tropical storm that had crossed the Gulf of Mexico and followed the Appalachian mountains to get to the mid-Atlantic states.

Her mouth was open, but her eyes were closed. She was smiling sublimely. I imagined she was dreaming of tropical places with brilliant colors we can only imagine here where fall is slowly turning to winter. 

When she had finished, I asked her, “You were dreaming of faraway places, weren’t you, Amelia? Wishing you could see beautiful sights? Tasting colors I can only imagine?”

“No, not at all. I’m sorry, but you are wrong.”

“I thought you were being poetical. You do get that way sometimes.”

“I was being practical,” she said. “I am making a map. A map of the world.”

That was when I knew she was preparing to make a journey beyond the safety of our garden.

I asked her no more questions then. Instead I let her go back to her mapmaking. How could she make a map without any paper or tools? I would find out more details later, perhaps from Emily who knows her best.

But Emily did not know, and so if I was to ever understand, I would have to find out from Amelia herself. 

When the right moment came, I asked her as directly as she would ask me, “Tell me about your mapmaking, Amelia.”

But then rather than listening to what she had to say, I showed her a map from my favorite geography book. I thought it would spark her curiosity as it had done mine so many years ago. And I secretly hoped it might convince her to stay and no longer think of anything except life in our little garden home.

”Maybe you can study this one instead of making your own,” I suggested.

“I can not use that map.”

”Well, I know it has words on it, but I could tell you what those words are or even help you learn to read them. Some of them have pictures of real things and where they are found. Maybe we can find an alligator in Florida and flamingos too. They are like tall pink chickens.”

She shook her head. She was not amused at my description of flamingos or impressed by my book.

“You can even have this book if you’d like.” I took out a pencil. “Look, we can even write your name in it.”

She shook her head again, only this time there was empathy in her eyes for me. She knew my heart wanted so much for her to stay, to avoid dangers beyond our garden walls, to only know what there was to know in our own separate world. She knew I was hoping this book of maps with pictures of faraway places might convince her to stay. We both knew that it wouldn’t.

I closed the book and put away the pencil.

“I am sorry, Amelia. I should not have treated you as a little child, as not knowing anything on your own. I should have been listening before I started telling.”

I sat on the ground beside her and said simply, “Tell me about your map of the world, Amelia.”

And so she did…

Our latest paperback book, “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens,” is finally now available through Amazon around the world! I truly appreciate all of the warm wishes and positive comments from you, our readers. Your encouragement throughout the process made this a much better book than I would have been able to make on my own!