The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

A Lanie moment of astonishing surprise

After my summer travels, the see-saw has tipped, once again, and I’m back to remembering what Lanie discovers: the joys of one’s own back yard.  A Lanie friend sent me this picture of her back yard and wrote,  “We have alot of milkweed. I got my first milkweed plant in butterfly camp, when
I was five! Now its a forest!(not in the pic.) Did you know that a bluejays can
stuff a small peanuts in their throats and still hold one in their beaks!!!”  (I asked her to send me a picture of the milkweed forest.)

I have loved, loved, loved hearing about back yards and bugs and butterflies and gardens ever since Lanie’s stories came out.  Now that I’m back home for a few weeks, I’ve also loved walking (almost every day) up the hill to the KU campus, which is more-or-less in my back yard.  Kansas is having a sizzling summer.  But Kansas is not one bit drab.  It’s astonishing and full of beauty.

So many things I don’t know and I think about as I walk.  The pale rock of so many of the campus buildings…for example…is it the chalk rock of the Jayhawk chant?  In the evening or morning light, it’s luminous.  Buttery colored flowers and red ones and baby pink ones gleam right up next to these rocks and against the dark grass and trees.  They make me feel as if I’ve just had a drink of something clear and bubbly.

Back home, Milo guards the front porch–and the porch animals use Lanie’s new binoculars to watch the birds bopping on the lawn.  Ever since I learned about birds for Lanie’s stories, I watch those birds, too.  I might not have seen a blue jay with peanuts in its throat and its beak, but the birds are always doing something new.

In Maji, when I was growing up, the cats were wilder than Milo is.  They were workers.  Rodent hunters.  My sisters and I made up plans for catching them and other animals–saving our naptime candy for a month one time because I had read a story and was pretty sure I knew how we could use the candy to trap a monkey.  The animals we saw, in the mountains and on the savannah, were often nothing like the animals in the stories I was reading.  Those story animals seemed utterly real, though.

So this picture (below) shows my very cool and exciting sighting of yesterday’s warm walk in the gloaming.  (I was reminded of that great word gloaming when I read The Night Fairy recently.)  I got to see an animal I had read about in stories since I was a girl and had never seen before–nor did I ever dream I’d see it in the middle of the KU campus.

What astonishing surprises do you see when you get out into your back yard and fields and blocks wherever you are?

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