When winter came to the meadow, Mama asked me if I could hear the rabbits hibernating underground. We pressed our ears to the frozen earth and listened for the vibrations of tiny breaths. I admit now that I never heard a thing, but I told Mama I did because her smile made the ground feel less cold.
I stomped through the icy weeds with a twig-cicle between my mittens while Mama brushed snow off the early buds to give them a fighting chance.
“They’re eager,” she told me. “This is why it’s so important to be patient.” She released a long exhale of warm breath onto every tiny plant followed by a kiss transferred from her finger.
We came with sacks of birdseed flung over our shoulders. I piled the snow on my chin and asked her if I looked like Santa holding his bag of gifts. With laughter in her eyes, she told me I looked more like Rudolph and pinched my newly frostbitten nose.
She cut tiny holes in the corners of both our sacks and told me to race her to the other side of the meadow. So I took off, gathering snow into my lungs and allowing my socks to slide forward into the snug toe bed of my new boots. The weight of the sack was hardly noticeable until it had emptied completely, and I went charging forward into the wiry thorns shouldering a broken sapling. Mama shook the contents from her bag and knelt beside me with knowing eyes.
“Hold still. I’ll get you out.” She slipped her slender fingers outside their gloves and plucked each thorn from my coat. Though I knew the thorns had not broken my skin, I averted my eyes from the procedure. Instead, I watched the new flakes fall on my jacket, turn to water, and roll off the moisture-wicking material like beads of cold sweat.
“Okay, now slowly crawl under this arch,” she told me, lifting a bowing crest of thorns high above my head.
I crawled, army-style, into her embrace. She stroked a few dry strands of my hair and kissed my temples.
“Look,” she urged, turning me to face the length of the meadow. A dozen or so birds landed along the winding trail of birdseed and gleefully began pecking away at the found bounty.
“See what we did for them. That’s what it’s all about. Providing for all living things. Giving life however you can.”
When spring came to the meadow, Mama asked me if I could hear the bees humming a lyrical prayer.
“If you listen closely, you’ll hear it,” she assured me. I closed my eyes and listened with my entire body. I admit now that I only heard their dull buzzing, but I told her I could hear the prayer because her embrace made me feel safe from the insects.
Dandelions and clovers spotted the meadow in punctuated patches. The hibernating rabbits of winter munched on the clover heads and paid no mind to us as we traipsed through the grasses.
I searched for the buds Mama had saved from the snow, but with the meadow in full bloom, it was impossible.
“Mama, do you know which of these flowers you saved?” I asked her.
“Oh, I suppose we’ll never know where they are or if I even saved them,” she explained. “But just look at the meadow now.”
I looked. I saw color. I saw texture. I saw the meadow inhaling the thick beams of sunlight shooting through the trees.
“So much new life,” she said, laying a hand on her rounded stomach.
Mama took out her fiddle and struck up a warm, soothing melody I’d heard her play a thousand times without ever tiring of it. She sat with her knees tucked and dipped her torso along with the bow. Her hair caught the sunlight behind the trees, and she winked at me when it illuminated my own face. She played until her fingers felt warm, and I sat patiently beside her, wishing I could someday be so talented.
“Now, watch the bees. They’ll dance to this one,” she winked again.
She plucked a few notes with her calloused finger and rose to face the sunlight, motioning for me to join her. I waited for the bow to take to the strings. A loud, fast melody surged from her hands, and I danced. I twirled around, wishing I had worn a dress instead of my overalls. Her head pulsed with her arms while a powerful smile pushed her eyes shut.
Just as she predicted, the bees whizzed in tight, rhythmic circles around the clovers. I felt less afraid. I felt light, lifted. I would have never believed my feet to be touching the ground had I not suddenly broken ranks with the bees to investigate the discomfort of my toe. With tears in my eyes, I gave in to the pain and collapsed on the ground.
Mama discarded her fiddle and lowered herself beside me. She gripped my ankles to stop my flailing, and I shut my mouth, despite my better judgment to continue wailing.
“Oh, my darling. It’ll be alright. Let me see your foot.” She carefully rotated my ankle to investigate the sting.
The bee clung to the underside of my curling toes and the sight of him sent another torrent of tears rolling down my face. He writhed in pain only a second more before wilting into Mama’s open hand. She tenderly extracted the stinger from my skin and cast it away. But she held onto the bee, murmuring a short prayer for him.
I blinked to get rid of the excess tears while she offered me a weak smile.
“It’s important for you to understand that he was just trying to protect himself. He didn’t really mean to hurt you.”
I licked my lips and watched her center the bee carcass on top of the tallest dandelion nearby.
“It’s not your fault, but try to be extra careful when you move so wildly. You never know what damage you might be doing.”
When summer came to the meadow, Mama asked me if I could hear the crickets chirping my name. We stood wide-legged in the moonlight and assessed the chanting of the great chorus of insects. I admit now that I heard my name, but I told Mama I heard hers because I knew she would like to think nature called out to her.
She smiled and said she could hear her name in the short pauses. I knew she was lying. She spread the floral sheet over the dewy grass and slowly languished into it, lifting her round belly as she did so.
I took the wide canning jar from the basket and spun the lid clean off.
“No more than five,” Mama told me. I nodded and kissed her jutting bellybutton before taking in the sight of the blinking meadow.
A slow battalion of marching fireflies had conquered the late flowers of the summer. The umbrellas of glimmering ragweed gave refuge to the tired soldiers below. Blackberries, bug-ridden and overripe, drooped with the weight of each glowing visitor and fell to the ground.
I picked up the tails of my dress and bent the weeds to the side with my damp sandals, trying not to scare the fireflies away. A brave bug investigated the leaves on my dress and found himself quickly captured inside of my jar. I returned the lid with a few loose turns and watched him light up a few times before landing.
“Remember to leave the lid open a little,” Mama called to me.
“I did!” I happily replied.
The crickets followed me as I circled the perimeter of the meadow and whistled in the tune of their chirps. Flashing their syncopated bulbs, the fireflies seemed to follow me as well. I scooped them up into my jar. Mama said no more than five; I returned to her with five.
I positioned the jar at the edge of our feet to illuminate our outstretched legs.
“Amazing how much light such tiny creatures can bring,” she told me. She rubbed her stomach and sighed.
“Did I bring light when I was tiny?”
Her contentment turned to pride as she motioned to me with her wide arms. “Oh, my darling—more than you could know.” She cradled my head against her warm torso and I rubbed the soft white linen with my hands. The fireflies stopped floating around the jar and began settling on the sides, closing their waxy wings. And I felt a jolt.
“Mama?” I said, shocked.
“I think I felt your next little light try to grab my hand!”
Mama laughed at my surprise, lifted her shirt, and pressed my hand back over the fleshy hillside.
“Even the tiniest light can have the greatest effect,” she whispered, watching my hand await further contact.
I nodded at her. With a full heart, I removed the lid from the jar and held it at arm’s length to release the tiny lights inside. One, two, three, four came winding out of the glass mouth and disappeared into the backdrop of stars. My eyes fell to the fifth, which was clinging to the bottom of the jar and blinking slowly.
I moved my arms between us and saw Mama’s frown through the glass. The firefly wobbled to the slight indent in the base of the jar and flashed dimly. Before I could reach my hand in to help, the firefly flickered a pale-yellow light and rolled onto its side.
“It’s not your fault. Sometimes, little lights don’t shine for very long.”
When autumn came to the meadow, Mama didn’t ask me to go. I asked her if she wanted to hear the crunch of colorful fallen leaves under our feet. She admits now that she wanted to, but she told me she didn’t because she was too afraid to fall in love with the earth again.
I held her hand as we trudged up the hill to see the meadow. She kept her eyes low, letting me pull her for much of the way.
Ruddy brown and yellow leaves covered the bending grasses, and an array of broken branches clutched the dry dirt like fingernails. I gasped at the beautiful new landscape. Mama did not.
“Mama, will you help me make a leaf pile?”
“I’d rather just sit right here if that’s alright,” she told me. She slowly exhaled her narrow body into the soft bark of a decomposing tree trunk. “But you should still make one.”
I bit my upper lip and began collecting all the yellow leaves into one area. Short gusts of wind blew the leaves back around the grasses, but I gathered them again. And again. And once more until a fierce wind took the bundle in my arms and sent it flying over Mama’s head. My attempts were useless. Between strands of her tousled hair, I saw her wet eyes. I wished they were welling from the wind.
She wrapped her arms around her empty stomach and wilted into her lap. I froze for a moment, listening for her familiar sobbing. But all I could hear were the leaves rustling across the barren meadow.
I returned to the log, knelt beside her, and wedged my head between her neck and legs. She released her stomach and wove her arms around my shoulders instead, tracing her fingers along my back. I heard no crying, only her heartbeat.
“Mama, I can hear your heart,” I said.
She gripped me tighter, and I felt the warmth returning to her limbs. Her stoic face cracked with the brimming of a wide grin. Her eyes opened to seeing mine and the wetness dissolved back into the whites of her eyes.
“My little light,” she said, kissing my temples.
“I’ll never stop shining.”
She laughed for a moment and pulled me up to my feet.
“You wanted to crunch some leaves, right?” she asked.
I nodded and wiped my own eyes with the backs of my hands.
“C’mon—I’ll race you to the other side!” she beckoned. I nodded fiercely and fell in line with her. We crouched into position and glanced at each other. With fire in her eyes, she transferred a kiss to her flat belly using her finger and winked at me. Together, we glowed.
“On your mark…” she began.
“Get set…” I continued.
Jamie is an Ohio-bred, Chicago-based short fiction writer with a BA in anthropology. She is currently working as a naturalist and plans to pursue a PhD in sociocultural anthropology. Her work is inspired by natural imagery and how people create meaning in their daily lives. In her spare time, she enjoys a bi-weekly writing workshop, dance classes, and whispering sweet nothings to her potted plants.