The air was unpleasantly cold, but spring was surely coming. A couple of warm days earlier in the weak had decimated the old, icy snow that had persistently lingered, and now there were only patches in the shadiest parts of the yard. Here and there, in the sunniest spots, spring greens were poking their heads out.
Little Annie came sauntering out of the back door of her little blue cottage. Her boots, protecting her small, wrinkly feet from the several inches of mud that had taken the place of snow in many parts of the yard, went up to her knees. Her arms, which looked frail but were tough with lean muscle, were laden with two buckets, one full of kitchen scraps, the other empty, a large basket, and several hand tools. She stood barely more than four feet high. Her silver, flyaway hair refused to be contained by the bun into which she had earlier pinned it back, and now, as she strode across the still-dead grass, splashing through puddles and mud with little regard to the mess it made of her hem, it flew freely in the breeze.
She stopped first at the chicken pen, opening the makeshift gate and climbing through. The flock came hurrying out of the coop to meet her, clucking and scratching at the ground impatiently. She smiled an ancient smile and dumped the bucket of scraps onto the ground. The birds dove forward to feast, and she slipped around them to the coop to gather the eggs. With at least a dozen brown, white, and green treasures in her basket, she left them to their meal, carefully closing the gate behind her.
Her next stop was the garden. Another makeshift gate, that was really just an unattached section of fence with a large branch fastened to the end of it vertically, then latched with a loop of thick twine over the post, stood in her way. She picked up a small stick leaning against the post and reached up to push the twine over the top so she could pull it back and climb through. Once inside, she set down her empty buckets, the basket with the eggs in it, and got to work with her tools. She uprooted what looked like weeds, handling them gingerly. When she had a decent pile gathered in her apron, she took them to the basket and set them in with the eggs. After a several more minutes, she had filled her basket to overflowing with greens and roots. She wiped her dirty hands on her apron, peered up gratefully towards the warm, bright sun, then picked up the basket and worked it through the fence, careful not to lose any of it’s contents. She returned for the buckets and, dumping her tools into the one that had held the kitchen scraps, she worked her way out of the garden, using the stick to return the loop of twine to its place, holding the gate shut.
She set the bucket of tools down next to the basket, and set off towards the back of her property with the other empty bucket. She climbed over an old stone wall, broken and worn by the years. She remembered building that wall with her father, a lifetime before. Over the wall to the most sunny part of the whole property, she continued until she reached a small grove of maple trees. Hanging from a spile on the largest of them was a bucket, full of sap. She carefully removed it from its hook and gently set it on the ground while she replaced it with her empty one. She smiled benevolently at the other trees, all of which were still too small to be tapped for sap. The year before, she had lost three of her four trees that produced the sweet liquid to a wind storm. The lone survivor was surrounded by younglings that would need several more years to mature before they were ready to give anything.
Little Annie made her way back to the house slowly, unwilling to lose a single drop from her bucket. She set it down next to three more like it near the back door, ready to be boiled into syrup, then returned for her bucket of tools and basket of treasures. When she had made her way back to the cottage again, she left the bucket by the door and took the basket inside with her.
She opened the back door of the little blue house and entered into a large room, each wall mostly made up of windows. There was a small path leading through the piles and piles of junk into the living room, which was also full of stuff, stuff, and more stuff. She went through the living room and placed the basket on the kitchen table, which was covered in books and dried herbs and trinkets from another century. In the kitchen, the one clean room in the whole house, she put a pot of water on to boil before returning to the back room.
Though it was full of boxes of old clothes, piles of empty egg cartons and milk jugs, stacks of old newspapers and magazines, and many other inanimate occupants, there were two corners that contained life. One, nearest to the rest of the house, was home to a tall easel holding a large canvas, halfway painted with the brilliant colors of autumn. Winter had come on hard, and Little Annie’s hands had become too stiff to finish it. Now that spring was warming things up again, she would likely set that one aside to finish when the fall colors came back, and would start up something new.
In the other corner, near the back door, nestled among photo albums and encyclopedias, was an incubator made mostly out of styrofoam. This is where the small, old woman was headed. That morning she had noticed a few of the eggs inside had started to twitch and move as the chicks within prepared to escape their shells. She lifted the lid and was greeted by three cheeping yellow balls. They were rather scraggly; their feathers hadn’t quite fluffed up yet. Two of the chicks bounced about, stretching out their legs and enjoying their freedom. The third, however, lay on its side, unable to stand.
Little Annie scooped up the little bird and inspected it. She found that one of its legs hadn’t formed right, it was lame and would not be able to walk. She tried dipping its little beak into the water dish she had placed in the incubator before heading out to do her morning chores, but the little bird blinked its eyes weakly and refused. With a sorrowful sigh, she set it down on the warm wood shavings that covered the bottom of the incubator, sure that it wouldn’t live out the day.
Back in the kitchen, she used her spring greens and roots to make a wonderful soup. With it, she had a slice of homemade bread. Once she had eaten her fill, she put her coat and boots back on and went outside to boil the sap she had gathered over the last few days to make syrup. She was anxious for the sweet, amber treat. Once she had the pot going, she returned inside where she took up the tiny, lame chick and wrapped it in an old hand towel. She carefully carried it into the living room, where she sat in a rocking chair, surrounded by piles of hand-knitted blankets, and gently rocked with it, back and forth.