Of Cardinals and the Heroine’s Journey
As well as being a writer, I am an avid gardener. As soon as the snow melts and the mud dries, I am pulled between being in my yard and being at my computer. This year in Maine, April was warmer than usual. By the middle of the month, I was in the yard, picking up sticks, clipping trees, removing leaves, and generally reveling in spring chores.
I was having such a good time that when April sped by, and May arrived in a fuzz of spring green, I was completely taken by surprise when Clif asked, “Did you write and send an April newsletter?” No, I had not.
Ah, well! Onward to May, one of the most beautiful times of the year. Our yard is filled with the flutter of birds, the ones who remain here all year and the ones who come north for the summer. Cardinals, relative newcomers to Maine, stay the winter, and when a pair built a nest in the tall shrub outside my office, I was delighted. The nesting female was attentive, always shooting me a sharp look when I peered out the window. Outside, I once peeked into the nest when she was at the feeder in the backyard. I saw two eggs. But when she came flashing back to the nest, I hurriedly backed away.
Only one of the eggs hatched, but the male was attentive, feeding the hungry baby who greeted him with an open mouth. Lots of activity, and I waited eagerly for the baby to become a fledgling. Perhaps I could even get a picture.
Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending. A few days ago when I got up, there was no female cardinal at the nest. No male coming with food. No open mouth waiting.
When I went out for a cautious look, my fears were justified—the nest was empty, and what a lonely sight. Something, perhaps even another bird, got the baby. This is the way of nature, I know. Many animals make their living by eating other animals.
Still, I moped. I missed the little family. My heart ached for the parents. But later, in the backyard, I saw the male cardinal, beautiful and red, searching for food. Despite the recent horrible event, he was carrying on. He and his mate will make another nest and raise another brood. Fingers crossed that this batch makes it.
The cardinals’ experience made me think about the theme of carrying on, which is commonly explored in fiction, especially in fantasy, where the hero’s—or heroine’s—journey is often featured. Adversity must be overcome. Usually there is destruction, bringing deep sorrow, which threatens to swamp the heroine or hero.
In my Great Library series, Maya has dealt with death and loss as she battles the fallen librarian, Cinnial. At times Maya has been devastated as friends and allies are killed, but she doesn’t give up. Maya never loses sight of what her goal is—helping to defeat Cinnial, a brutal tyrant who thinks that facts don’t matter.
In At Sea, the book I’m currently working on, Maya will be confronting more loss. In many ways this loss will be far worse than anything she’s had to face.
But like the cardinals, Maya will carry on.
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