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The GraciePress Newsletter - How Gracie Started Building a Dance Troupe (Chapters 17-20)

The GraciePress Newsletter - How Gracie Started Building a Dance Troupe (Chapters 17-20)
Happy weekend, everyone! In this edition of our newsletter, we are sharing the next 4 chapters of our current writing project, a novel for middle grade and older readers.
When we last left off, Gracie had shown all of the other chickens what she loved to do most—dancing. Everyone was amazed because her art touched their hearts so deeply that they felt they were dancing with her. Afterwards everyone wanted to learn how to dance just as she did!
Nate had warned Gracie that chickens who dance ballet are extraordinary, and some people will try to take advantage of the extraordinary. Perhaps this reminded her of what The Robin had warned about The Air Shadows and The Absence of Love because she quickly alerted the others.

When we heard what Gracie told the other chickens, the mockingbirds of the neighborhood decided to keep watch in the magnolia tree. It gave a perfect view along the street for approaching vehicles. If anyone came down our street, whichever mockingbirds were on duty would swoop down from the tree and call out loudly above the chickens who would freeze and then begin to do perfectly normal chicken things like scratching and pecking. It took only a blink. 
When the The Uncle and The Millworks Men arrived in the garden, they suspected nothing. The Uncle inspected Nate’s construction work from all sides and shook it for sturdiness. 
“Your grandfather taught you well, but if you ever make another one of these, you’d better use your common sense and build it where you plan for it to stay forever—not inside the garage. What a man can’t do for himself, he has to pay someone else to do for him.
“To help you remember, I’ve held back from your pay packet this week enough to give to each of these men an hour’s worth of extra pay. I didn’t hold back anything for myself because we are family.”
The men used logs as rollers to move the chickens’ new home out to the place where Nate had dug its foundation. This had been Nate’s idea to make the job quicker and easier.
“It’s like how the Egyptians moved the stones to build the Great Pyramids,” he explained.
After The Uncle and Men left, Nate looked inside his pay packet and found a single quarter. He held it in his hand as if he was considering the measure of his worth in the world of men.
When the fourteen chickens moved into their new outdoor home built from scrap lumber from Uncle Buddy, they explored every corner. “Bür-Ä-Bök!” was everyone’s opinion, and they shared it with me again and again.
Lefty had watched intently throughout the building process. Since he was My Best Little Buddy, he gave everyone a guided tour. He tapped and pecked each part and chattered about it, almost as if he had built it himself.
Even so, it took everyone, including Lefty, longer than expected to discover how to use the chicken ladder leading up to the coop. Their chicken instincts and curiosity would eventually help them learn, but until then, it would be best for me to stay outside with them. In the city, there are still wild animals like foxes, opossums, and raccoons that might try to dig underneath the fencing at night, even with the concrete block foundation I had used.
For the first few evenings, they huddled together in a corner under the coop, staying low to the ground. The larger chicks would be at the edges to protect the smaller ones. Lefty, of course, was always on the edge and the closest to any danger that might come their way. He was their leader and main protector.
As evening came, they would talk to each other softly and sweetly. Perhaps they were recounting their many adventures of the day or wishing each other a pleasant night’s sleep. These were different sounds than what they had made indoors in their brooder box or even when they were playing outdoors. This talk was soothing to them and to me.
As it grew dark, one of them would begin to sing to the others. Then another would join in with a different song. These were not like the repeated songs or calls the songbirds made. These were beautiful lullabies.
They had never sung each other to sleep indoors, only outdoors in their new home. If I had not stayed and kept watch over them at night, I would have never known. Through all of those nights, I began to realize there is more to the lives of chickens than any encyclopedia could teach me.
Lefty was the first to discover how the chicken ladder led up to the coop, and he quickly showed everyone else what to do. He even demonstrated how excellently he could jump out of the door and fly down to the ground without having to use the ladder at all. Rudy was particularly impressed by this daring stunt.
Once they were accustomed to sleeping up in the coop, the door could be locked securely, and they no longer needed me to watch over them at night. Nevertheless, there were many nights when I stayed outside with them long enough to enjoy their singing and to add new words to one of my notebooks. Soon all but the six allowed by the city would need to move to new homes, and I still needed to understand Gracie as well as she understood me.
“The Gardener has told me some of us will be leaving here soon and going to new homes,” Gracie whispered to Mayflower. “I will miss you, my friend.” 
“I miss you already,” said Mayflower. “We do not know what is ahead for either of us. But we can trust The Gardener. I am quite sure of it.”
“You have always been kind to me, Mayflower.”
“I think you will be able to stay here in this garden. I’m not sure how I know. But I know. You taught us to dance here. This garden is in your heart, and if the garden has a heart, then you are in its heart as well. 
“No matter where we are taken no one can ever take from us what you have taught us about dancing. You really did teach us more than dancing. You taught us we did not have to do things the way chickens have always done them.”
Mayflower dropped her head. Gracie nestled against her and nudged Mayflower’s head up with her own. 
“I never intended to teach anyone anything other than how to dance ballet so we could have a dance troupe and all travel to a place called Paris. It is an extraordinary city, a city made of lights. I wish you could come with me. You were my friend when only Bessie wanted to be my friend. I will never forget you.”
“I know everyone says I am friends with everyone, but I do have one special friend, and that is you.”
“Why is that, Mayflower?”
Because we have always been different, the two of us. For me, it is because of being the only one of my kind here. For you, it is because of the feathers on your face not being quite even and because of the lump on your side. But no one sees those things about us now. We are all the same. We are all dancers. What we love, our art, transcends our differences.”
They shared a smile, and Mayflower continued. “Recently I discovered something about the songbirds. Just like The Robin helped you, there are other songbirds that will help us chickens too. There is a chimney swift who has promised to follow me when it is time for me to leave the garden. He will send messages between us. If you ever need to send me a message, just let the wrens know. They are the eyes and the ears of this garden. They will find my friend, The Swift, and he will come to you.
“And I will tell you something else.” Mayflower lowered her voice and moved closer to Gracie so that only she could hear. “There are some chickens who are more than chickens. My friend, The Swift, thinks I may be a Sentinel.”
“What does that mean?” 
“A Sentinel can see what others can not see..”
“How does that work?”
“Do you see that dip in the ground there? A tree once grew in that spot. Next spring, you will see crocuses blooming there in circle around a tree that is no longer there. I see it in the color and texture of the grasses. 
“Do you see what looks like a path in the grass at the front of the yard and coming around the side? There was a path made by pavers there once. They may still be there, just overgrown with grass.”
“Do you see that young pecan tree there growing at the front edge of the backyard garden and only a quick flight from the house? That is what the songbirds call The Healing Tree for this garden. It came from a seed from a much larger pecan tree that is only a stump now in the back of the garden.”
“Why do they call it that, and how do you know these things?”
“These are scars left on the earth itself. Whatever those with hands do to the earth, leaves a mark. So do the animals like the stray cats that cross this yard. The Swift says reading the marks is what Sentinels do. Those marks are signs of the past which predict the future. It is what we do to keep the flock safe even if we are not leaders of the flock.”
Mayflower remained silent while Gracie considered this revelation. 
“I should probably tell you that just like on the earth’s soil, there can also be scars left on someone’s heart, and I can see them on the Gardener’s heart. That may be why you are meant to stay here—to help heal those scars. 
“And I will tell you something else not nearly as sad. Our garden once went beyond the fence at the back. It went to the other street where the railroad tracks cut across. There were chickens here once before us and a cow. They were happy. No harm ever came to them. You will always be safe here, my friend.”
The mockingbird sentries swooped over them accompanied by a chimney swift.
“And what about you, Mayflower? Will you always be safe where you go?” 
Mayflower did not have time to say any more. The people had begun gathering, and she was gently picked up and placed into a carrying box. 
Gracie heart suddenly grew heavy, and she heard a mumbling laugh coming from deep within the shadows of the brambles. High overhead and off into the distance, Mayflower’s Swift soared. 
As they grew, their new home became more crowded. Before long, it was time for the young chickens I had been raising for my friends to move out to their new homes. 
We had decided to separate them out as quickly but as gently as possible. No one wanted to chase frightened chickens around the yard.
My best friend spoke kindly to Mayflower and lifted her up. She looked down at Gracie, and opened her beak as if to say, “Don’t worry about me. We will dance again.” 
The Emperor and The Empress stayed because they were a definite pair. With The Emperor being a rooster, they would eventually have to leave, but it would be easier for them with only one more move rather than two.
Rudy was supposed to leave, but in the confusion of sorting everyone, she was mixed up with a different Rhode Island Red. She stayed with me since they both seemed happy exactly where they were.
Lefty stayed because by then it was clear he was a rooster even though he was not crowing yet. As with The Emperor and The Empress, it would be my responsibility to find a home for him somewhere out in the country when the time came. I didn’t want that time to ever come.
And fortunately, Gracie and Bessie stayed together and stayed with me, and that was just as I had wanted.
“Bür-Ä-Bök!” they both told me at the same time, and so I guessed it was what they had hoped as well.
With just my six chickens, there was more space for playing, and it felt almost like a new home for them. Lefty had a better chance to show what a good leader and protector he could be, and I had a better chance to appreciate what made each of them special.
If I could go back to any time with my chickens, it would be then. Every day was “Bür-Ä-Bök!” for all of us. Lefty and The Emperor had not begun crowing, and none of the others were laying eggs. We spent our days simply learning about each other there in our garden.
As events would turn out, the extra time was good for all of us. Because of it, my life with Gracie and the others took a happily unexpected turn. Without it, our story would have ended on this page.
Until Next Time…
These four chapters reveal several additional clues about the world of the songbirds. They have helped the chickens to solve problems about remaining safe and about keeping in touch with each other.
There is also an additional revelation that Mayflower made about being a Sentinel. In her short conversation with Gracie, she provides clues ab0ut action still to come in the story.
Thanks so much for reading!
John, Gracie, Bessie, Blanche, Pearl, Emily, and Amelia
Don’t forget that if you missed any of these chapters, they are all available on our main newsletter page.
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J.R. Spiers (with help from Gracie)

The GraciePress Newsletter brings you the latest news, stories, illustrations, special offers, and free gifts from Gracie, Bessie, Blanche, Pearl, Emily, and Amelia. They are the inspiration behind all of the books published under The GraciePress imprint.

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From A Small Backyard Garden and A Most Wondrous Place in Portsmouth, Virginia