Eric Flint: Grantville Gazette.Volume XII

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Pam frowned at herself. If she had been smarter last year she would have planted the entire yard in sunflowers! She, like everyone else in Grantville had been too busy just trying to survive. Her cranky landlord's precious grass had been turned up to put in vegetables in the rush to grow enough food for a seventeenth century German winter. Pam had grimly enjoyed that; the mean old coot hadn't even allowed her to plant a few trees along the road; such was his obsession with that damn grass. At least she'd had sense enough to plant one row of sunflowers in the midst of the chaos; twelve dried sunflower stalks from last year tied in a bundle leaned against the wall beside her garden window, their round heads full of seeds. There had been times where she had looked at those seed pods hungrily but had not allowed herself. If she could get enough of them growing this coming year she would have enough for the birds and not feel guilty. No one starved, I'm right to horde the seeds.

A few black capped chickadees that had come with them through the Ring of Fire mixed with the native German birds at the feeder. They were tough little buggers; they had made it through the first winter and just may have a chance here. I'm glad to see them, I just wish.. . She knew she should just forget about it but she had never given up hope… I just wish the cardinals were still here. She knew the chances of a breeding population were entirely too slim. Pam swirled her faux coffee around in the cup. She had been through it in her mind a thousand times. First of all I can only guess at the number that came through with us. Anywhere between the six I actually saw at one time at the feeder and maybe ten… twenty… or more? Wishful thinking!

By autumn of that first year there were none to be seen. She had spent every morning watching for them but now only the chickadees and the native birds came to her feeder. She sometimes tried to make herself feel better by considering that there were still lot's of cardinals… across the Atlantic. It never really helped much and usually just made her feel more lost. Even so, she couldn't help thinking about her lost cardinals. Were they eaten by some new unaccustomed predator? Various stoats and weasels from the Thuringian forests had found their way to Grantville and the formerly spoiled up-time house cats turned hungry feral predators were probably the biggest danger. Maybe they flew away too far to find each other again. That was also pretty likely. The chances of a successful breeding population remaining here in Thuringia were extremely low. And even if they did, she wondered if it would really be a good thing.

Whenever nature's balance was changed something inevitably paid. Transplanted species had often become pests back up-time. The English sparrows and starlings brought to America to make it feel more like home had bred in such numbers that they often threatened native species. The starlings had begun with only one hundred introduced to York's Central Park in the 1890's eventually spread throughout the entire North American continent. It wasn't natural. But then again, neither are we. There was some small hope for cardinals in Europe, if they stuck together and could breed fast enough for their population to grow. They are out there somewhere, out there in this time's Germany. I need to believe it.

Pam found herself becoming more and more devoted to her birdwatching. It was a hobby that didn't require technology or resources that could be better spent on Grantville's survival. She began taking long walks around Grantville, sometimes even stepping over what she personally called 'The Rim' to venture into Thuringia proper. This edge was becoming less and less apparent as West Virginian and German plant species mixed and mingled along the ring's edges. Grasses and runners had already covered most of the raw exposed earth created by the mismatched elevations. Nature at least was going to absorb the presence of this misplaced chunk of the world quietly. "Not so its people!" She laughed aloud thinking of the political turmoil their American presence had created across this century's Europe. We are a weed that isn't going to die off too easily.


***

On a fair June afternoon Pam was watching a flock of native birds playing in the pine trees at the forest's edge from a vantage point atop a crumbling Grantville embankment in the process of sliding into a Thuringian meadow at the rim. The birds were about thirty yards away across the meadow. She sat comfortably in the tall grass with her legs dangling over the rim half in, half out, enjoying the bird's antics with her field glasses. They were true beauties, bright lemon yellow with black wings and tail. She was quite sure they were orioles and had dubbed them such in her notebook. She put down the glasses to look at the pencil sketch she had made. It was in black and white, she was hoarding the lone box of colored pencils she possessed back at the house until she became a better artist. Around the simple but fairly accurate drawing she had described the colors in detail in her notes. At the bottom of the page she had whimsically written 'Lemon Oriole.'

"And why shouldn't I give you a name?" she asked the distant flock. It's not like anyone else cares. She had made nonchalant inquiries after European bird books at the school library and every private book collection in Grantville. Oh, just thought it might be interesting to know what's in my garden these days. Even a guide from Great Britain would have been useful as she knew it shared many species with the mainland. There wasn't a single one. What the hell do coal miners care about European birds anyway? This made her frown; she felt self conscious at her hobby. She had publicly kept her interest quiet, she really didn't want the other townsfolk to know how much it had come to mean to her.

Pam dreaded the day when someone would inevitably refer to her as 'The Birdwatcher'-yeah, that would stick. "Then they'll be sure you're a nut." She thought of her ex-husband Trent down at the mine chuckling along with them. " Yeah, I always thought she was a birdbrain!" Pam blew a blast of air at a loose strand of hair that had fallen across her face. She knew she wasn't being fair, Trent wasn't mean-spirited like that. He would keep quiet and just shake his head knowingly. Come on, let's not do this today. Just watch the damn birds, Pam. She put the field glasses back up to her eyes. There were men there.

A trio of rugged-looking men had come out of the woods and now walked along the tree line. One had what must be a crossbow strapped to his back and they all wore sizable knives hung from their belts. Down-timers. Most of the dangerous sorts had been scared off over the last year, but you really couldn't be too sure. She was far from any road and at least a mile from anyone's house. They may be just regular folks about their business… or not. Forcing herself to move slowly despite her racing heartbeat Pam pulled her legs up to her chest then slid on her butt backwards into the tall grass, keeping low. Any eye, animal or human, was attracted to quick motion. She watched the men continue on their path, snippets of their deep voices conversing in German came to her ears. She carefully turned over to crawl away from the bank's edge on her belly, not looking back. They didn't see me. She crawled through the grass until she reached the path through the maples she had taken to get there. She ran as far as she could until the stitch in her side grew too painful, then continued walking quickly home.

Later that night Pam set at her table looking glumly through her notebooks. She had calmed down with the aid of some kirshwasser. Here was something she definitely liked about Germany. Yay for booze. She looked glumly at her notes. Her drawing of the oriole looked crude and amateurish to her now.

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