Although it was early that summer morning, the rising temperatures suggested that the day would be another hot one on the dusty mesa. Across the meadow, sheep quietly grazed in the pasture. Lambs jumped and hopped and impishly butted each other; their playful cries broke the stillness of the morning. Since the cows had been milked, they contently grazed in the pasture with the sheep. The glow of the morning sun cast a soft light along the peak of Mount Lamborn. The morning landscape created a serene view of the North Fork Valley.
A wisp of smoke trailed from the chimney of the small cabin nestled on Roger’s Mesa. Since the family had finished breakfast, the occupants of the small cabin went on with their morning routine, so they could finish their morning chores. The man of the house had left to run errands in town. The mother set water to boil on the wood stove, so she and her girls could begin washing dishes and tidying the kitchen.
As the mother and her daughters began talking, Elva’s youngest daughter, Dotty settled on a chair and started talking about getting a new magpie for a pet. The family had recently lost their previous bird when it took to flight and never returned. The little one was eager to replace it, and this time, she wanted to be the one that captured a baby magpie.
“Momma, today can I go get a magpie? I want to take care of it and train it. Can I please, Momma?”
The mother looked at her younger daughter and smiled at her child’s sense of adventure.
“Yes, after you finish your morning chores, you can go find a bird.”
Excited the child raced off to feed the chickens and gather the eggs. Once she saw the chicken coop she realized in her excitement, she forgot to grab the egg basket. Running back to her home, she opened the door and overheard her older sister.
“But, Momma, I want to get the bird. I am the oldest I want to find the bird,” Barb insisted when she thought her little sister was out of earshot.
“Now, your little sister will not be able to find a magpie. She is just too little,” she told her oldest daughter.
“Good because I want to find the bird and train it” Barb replied.
The little girl stood still and didn’t move a muscle. She didn’t want her family to know she had overheard their conversation. Inwardly she fumed. “I’m not too little!” She mumbled to herself, “I will show them!”
Quietly, she exited the cabin and headed to the chicken coop. After feeding the birds, she gathered the eggs. Lifting a corner of her everyday dress, she carefully tucked the eggs inside the soft folds, moving slowly so she wouldn’t break them.
Slowly, she walked to the cabin while thinking about her magpie. She wondered what supplies she would need? “Hmmm…I will need something to hold the bird, and I will need some food,” she said to herself while making a mental list of what she needed before she began her trek.
Once she reached the door, she carefully opened the door and walked to the kitchen. Grabbing the basket, she placed the eggs inside the woven vessel. Grabbing a bowl, she went to the water pump, so she could fill the basin with water. After finding a clean rag, she started cleaning the eggs and carefully placed them in a bowl.
“Done!” She told her mom, “Can I use a gunny sack, and take some hamburger for my magpie, and a sandwich for me?” The little girl prattled.
“Yes,” her mama laughed as gathered the items she needed to make a sandwich. Dotty grabbed a clean rag and carefully placed hamburger in the center and tied the ends together. She ran to the barn to grab an empty gunny sack and raced back to the house to gather her lunch. Her mom had prepared two peach preserve sandwiches with butter, and she placed an apple and a mason jar filled with water in the small brown bag.
Once inside, her mother handed Dotty the sack lunch that also held the hamburger for the magpie. Grabbing her provisions, the little girl raced out the door after giving her mom a peck on the cheek.
“Now, what?” she asked herself while skidding to a stop. In her haste, she didn’t think about where she was going or where a magpie might live. She couldn’t go back into the cabin and ask questions, for she didn’t want to take the risk that her mother might have second thoughts about her adventure. Without a plan, the child headed down the mesa towards the railroad tracks. As soon as she hit flat land, she headed towards “the lamb” on Mount Lamborn in the West Elk mountain range. From the side of the mountain, a lamb could be viewed in the craggy depths, and locals who raised sheep enjoyed the good omen from the mountainside. The child needed luck today, so she decided to follow the lamb.
In the distance, she viewed a few tall pines and decided to head in that direction. After all, birds, she thought, would probably want to make their homes in the highest trees they could find, and those pines trees looked terribly high. Dotty just hoped they didn’t build on the very top of the trees. She decided she would worry about that once she got to her destination.
As she trailed across the fields, the hot, dusty air made her thirsty; she pulled out the mason jar filled with water that her mother packed for her. Even the water was warm and didn’t really quench her thirst. She sat on some rocks and began to think about her dilemma. She didn’t dare turn around now; she had to prove that she was old enough to find her magpie. Stubborn pride took hold, and the little one trudged on towards the pines.
Once she reached the trees, she rested in the shade and began looking for any signs of the American Magpie. The day was hot and dusty, and she felt miserable and dirty. As she looked up in the trees, she didn’t see any signs of a nest. Discouraged, she wondered what she should do next. Her stomach started to rumble, so she pulled out one of her peach preserve sandwiches and enjoyed its sticky sweetness. Her mama made the best peach jam in the valley. After she finished her sandwich, she pulled out her apple and nibbled on her treat while watching the sky for any signs of a magpie.
The combination of warm air and a full tummy made the little girl drowsy, and soon, she fell into a slumber. She slept for the rest of the morning, and when she awoke, she was hot and thirsty. The sun had climbed high in the sky, and the temperatures had risen too. Sitting up slowly, she pulled out the mason jar and sipped on the warm water. Since she was close to her Aunt Mabel’s house, she decided she would ask for some cold water before she started her adventure once again.
Walking in the direction of her aunt’s house, she heard a familiar sound; it was the squawking of a magpie! In her excitement, she forgot about the heat and the need for a cooling refreshment. Quietly, she stood still listened for the sound. The squawking began once again, so she followed the noise to a grove of cottonwood trees. Under the canopy of the trees, her eyes adjusted to the filtered light. Rustling in the upper branches, she heard the familiar sounds again. A mounded muddy nest caught her attention, and she squealed delight when she witnessed the baby birds peak over the nest. The nest perched in the crook of a large branch nestled at the top of the tree.
Sitting on the ground, she knew she had to come up with a plan. Since she would need to use her arms and legs to climb, she decided to leave her remaining lunch on the ground. Tucking the burlap sack with the hamburger inside her dress, the material scratched her skin. Slowly she began climbing the tree. Reaching and straining, the child pulled herself up through the limbs. At one junction, her dress became snagged on a limb. As she pulled to loosen its hold, a sharp branch ripped a hole along the hem.
“Momma, won’t be happy about that,” she said out loud. As she spoke a magpie came swooping towards her and started dive bombing her head. Shrieking she held onto the tree trunk for dear life with one hand while protecting her head with the other. The bird made several more attacks before flying away. Breathing deeply, the frightened girl sat quietly while holding onto the tree. Part of her wanted to shimmy down the tree and just head home, but she didn’t want to give in either. With the words, “she’s too little,” echoing in her mind, the stubborn child started climbing once again.
Once she reached the nest, she looked inside and saw seven little magpies. They all began to chirp as she peeked inside. Pulling the sack from her dress, she reached inside and pulled out the dried hamburger. Greedily, they gulped down the meat. Carefully she peered at each bird, and she finally settled on a chubby baby. Its dark wings cast a blue hue and glimmered in the light. “Come here, Maggie,” the child whispered, and she carefully placed the bird inside the sack and tucked it back inside her dress. The little bird did not like being closed inside the bag and began scratching Dotty as she made her way down the tree.
Once she stood on the flat ground, the girl carefully pulled the bundle from her dress and peeked inside, the baby squawked but quickly gulped the remaining hamburger. “I did it!” Dotty laughed. “I did it! I did it!” She quickly gathered her remaining sandwich and the mason jar and headed back to the ranch. Although she was dirty and covered with scratches from her adventure, she couldn’t wait to show her family their newest pet.
As she neared the ranch, she heard her mother, calling for her. As she neared the mesa, she saw her mother waving to her. Dotty raced up the side, eager to show her mother the little bird inside the sack.
Elva looked at her daughter; her child was dirty, her dress was torn, and she had scratches on her face, arms, and legs. “Are you alright?” The mother asked her daughter. Grinning from ear to ear, the girl began to ramble about her adventure. She recounted how she was attacked but continued up the tree. Finally, she slowly opened her sack to show her mother the baby she had caught.
“What will you name it?”
“What if it’s a boy?” The mother laughed.
“Well. it will be short for Magpie.” The child countered.
Walking side by side the two talked about caring for the newest family member. The child felt pleased with her task, and now they would know she wasn’t so little after all. And the mother felt relieved that her youngest child had returned home safe and sound. Together, they walked to the barn, to make a new home for Maggie. Watching her daughter’s excitement over her find, Elva pulled her daughter close and hugged her little girl. “I love you,” the mother said.
“I love you too, “ the child replied before she started regaling her mother once again about her afternoon adventures.