IN THE WORDS OF JEFF MILLER…
Maybe it’s because I grew up near a lake, but I always like to imagine good stories as life rafts. I picture them slowly coasting towards anybody feeling alone or adrift in open water. Maybe that someone is tired from swimming through a difficult time. Or maybe they just need to pause and enjoy a sunny break. Sometimes a tiny little life raft is exactly what we all need for a bit, right? I hope RARE BIRDS can be that life raft for readers. This story is inspired by some of my life experiences—especially helping my own mom through a heart transplant—and it’s very near and dear to my heart. Perhaps even a life raft for me? I’m so excited to share this beautiful cover and story, and hope Graham’s adventure might make readers laugh, or cry, or even start long, illustrious birding careers.
RARE BIRDS EXCERPT
The terrain is starting to get wetter and wetter, with plants and trampled weeds giving way to bigger pools of muck. The kind that sucks your shoes off when you take too deep a step. I nearly trip as I catch a root on the ground below.
“You sure we should be out this far? Isn’t this place full of stuff that’s actively trying to kill us?”
“Everything’s trying to kill you down here,” Mom says dismissively, pushing her way deeper into the wilderness. “But it doesn’t usually work.”
She’s walking with a purpose, dodging any branches in her way. I look at the back of the real estate billboard we saw before. It’s getting smaller as we put more distance between us and it. I look at my phone and watch one bar of reception drop to zero.
We come to the edge of a small bog, and I see a rustling high up in the branches of an oak tree. Leaves fall down like confetti, signaling something might be there. I start to get excited, thinking this might be the Whatever-Whatever bird my mom’s so excited about. We might be witnesses to something cool and rare.
“Whoa, I think I see it!” I say as I spring forward.
My eyes are fixed on the tree above as I leave my mom behind, squishing over fallen branches.
“Mom, I think it’s there!”
As I get closer, I swear I hear a bird, but I’m not sure exactly what I’m looking for.
“Mom, what does this thing look like? Should we do a call or something?”
I glance backward, but my mom’s not close. She’s back where I left her, leaning on a tree as she clutches her left shoulder.
I turn back, catching a glimpse of the bird as it flies behind a tree and out of sight. I look toward my mom again. She suddenly drops to her knees.
“Hey, are you okay?” I shout.
There’s no reply.
“Mom!” I scream, my feet catching on the roots and mud as I run to her. “Mom!”
There’s silence. An eerie and still silence.
Things seem like they’re happening in slow motion. Like, I can feel the weight of each step. My feet feel heavy and slow.
“It’s . . . I’m okay . . . I just . . .” she stammers, putting a hand on the ground. She tries to stand up but stumbles. She’s trying to catch her breath but can’t.
“I’m fine . . . just need a minute.”
But if there’s one thing I know, it’s that she’s definitely not fine.