Autumn, Houseplants and Science Experiments Gone Bad

September in Hyde Park

September in Hyde Park, by F.T. McKinstry

 
If you wish to live and thrive, Let a spider run alive. ~ Old English nursery rhyme

Fall is upon us here in the North. Although everything is still green and blooming outside, the afternoon shadows are long, the wind has a darker feel, the leaves on the maple trees are changing color, and the nights are cold. I recently brought in my houseplants from their warm, bright—albeit short—summer sojourn. And with them came critters: weird, long-legged creeping things, caterpillars, ants, and the occasional cricket that’ll set up camp in a corner and sing until the cats find it.

Schefflera

 
Spider WebAnd then there are the spiders. Spiders lurk, and they’re undaunted by the change in habitat. The sneaky ones build webs when I’m asleep or not looking. I’ll find a plant or a windowsill blanketed with silk and well-guarded, where the day before, there was nothing.

The shameless spiders carve out their empires with impunity, scrabbling up the shower curtain or dropping down in front of my face somewhere.

But I don’t bother them. It’s bad luck to kill a spider in the house, you know. They bring good fortune. Just remember that, next time you find one in the sink big enough to exsanguinate a small rodent. You can use a napkin to lift it into a cup or a plant, if you think you’re fast enough. Good luck.

I keep finding these slimy, glistening slug trails all over the place, and I never see the perpetrators. Unless they can fly, there is more than one of them. It’s like a B-grade sci-fi flick where an experiment goes terribly wrong. One of these mornings I’m going to come down to a five-foot-tall slug in the kitchen holding a ray gun.

As long as a spider doesn’t sneak into the Petri dish, I’m good.

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Of Mice and Swordsmen

Dormouse
I live in the woods. Mice are a way of life, and while I’ve always had ferocious hunting cats, mice are very resourceful, especially in the fall when they’re looking for winter shelter. Who can blame them? Winter is nasty, here.

You could make an interesting psychological study some 3AM, wide awake staring at the ceiling, listening to a mouse chewing on something, who knows what, insulation, wiring, rafters; it’s stockpiling caches, building nests, making baby mice–the sucker is at least a foot long, has to be–yes, you could be the Great Shaman of all Wildlife Lovers but after imagining the horrible results of nocturnal mouse business you’ll be capable of anything.

Pattern Sense Cover ArtA while back, I wrote a little story called Pattern Sense, about a knitter who discovers the strengths and pitfalls of an ancient power through the love of a swordsman. I wasn’t being tormented by mice at the time (past trauma maybe), but in a vivid description of the aforementioned scenario, I came up with the perfect impetus for my protagonist to discover the extent of her skill.

If a mouse in the middle of the night can’t bring out a woman’s hidden powers, nothing can.

You can download Pattern Sense for free on Smashwords.

Pattern Sense made it to the second round finals with Daily Science Fiction, and then I published it in Tales of the Talisman. And then, something magical happened. This story, it seemed, was a glimpse of a full blown novel. This began to unfold and eventually became Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. In that story, there is more to our knitter’s power than mere hedge witchery; and the love between her and the swordsman goes to dark places indeed, a subplot driven by sorcery, treachery, war, and even the gods themselves.

Who knew? Mice have a good place in my life after all. Besides, they are cute.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking.

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

© F.T. McKinstry 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Cats Will Stalk Anything

Bear

It’s spring here in northern New England. The grass is green, the buds on the trees are finally coming out, daffodils are blooming and all the critters are out of hibernation.

This morning I was sitting on the porch writing in a notebook (with a pen–yeah, people still do that) and I had a visitor. I knew it was something wild when my cats freaked out, stood to attention and/or ran growling inside. And here comes a young bear, clambering through the trees to check out the bird feeders.

Oona and BearSo my cat Oona (a.k.a. Yoga Crasher), what does she do? She takes it upon herself to creep up to the poor little guy and scare it up a tree.

I had a brief discussion with Oona about mother bears and the prudence of leaving baby bears alone and she, well, ignored me, not that this surprised anybody.

WTF

 
 
 
 

Cats. You have to give them points for nerve.

Hemlock

© F.T. McKinstry 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Wildcards

Wildcards

An elite company of rangers defends the wilds of Dyrregin, the central realm in Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. Seasoned, skilled in fighting, traversing and surviving in rough terrain and dangerous circumstances, these warriors serve both the King and the Old Gods. Their motto is, “We keep the balance when the gods turn away.” As they do, often enough.

Wilds

Rangers have an appreciation for beasts and wild creatures, as they often share spaces with and gain wisdom from them. They also appreciate their leave time, and while you can probably guess the sorts of things they do with that, I’ll spare you those details and tell you about a game called “wildcards,” a rangers’ favorite.

Most taverns in Dyrregin keep decks of wildcards for their patrons. Any barkeep worth his or her salt will hand a deck to rangers when they arrive. Each card in the deck shows a wild creature in its natural habitat, and represents its abilities and place in the order of things.

Mouse WildcardThere are many games that can be played, but in the most basic, each player gets one card, and the dealer picks a landscape. The idea is to employ an animal’s powers to outsmart or destroy your opponents. Some creatures are more suited to certain places than others, and knowledge of animals’ strengths and weaknesses is a plus. So while drawing a predator is desirable, it isn’t a guaranteed win. With some imagination and the right landscape, a humbler creature could take the game.

For example, drawing a frog could put you in the sights of a raptor or a fox; but if you contrived to be plucked up by a Blackthorn witch and put into a potion, your death could take out something else too. A mouse, which knows the safe places in the world, might be at a disadvantage in the wilds, but could rule in a city. And so on.

Crow WildcardCrow is a trickster, like the joker in traditional cards. Here, anything can happen, the more unexpected the better. Draw the crow and piss off your buddies. You win.

Players who do well at wildcards tend to be as resourceful and clever as the natural world itself.

Of course, most rangers will tell you the game is best played after a few too many drinks.

 
Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

If you like the animal paintings, you can see more on Fine Art America in Wild Things.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking.

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.

The Venerable Printed Book

Old Book Smell

Radagast

Radagast the Brown

My hair is mostly white. It’s long and unruly, and I don’t do much with it. In high humidity, things get really interesting. I could provide homes for small wildlife. There are ways around all this, of course, but who has time for that nonsense?

Yes, this dates me a bit. Whatever. But my reverence for printed books is more telling.

I do love my e-reader. One cool invention, ebooks — the operative term here being invention, because I remember when that happened, and it doesn’t seem that long ago. Before that, I thrived amid an ever-growing library of printed books. That hasn’t changed.

Given this, releasing one of my novels into print isn’t just something I do for marketing appeal or giveaways. It’s a sacred thing. My newest offering is Outpost, Book One in The Fylking, and you can get a copy on Amazon.

Outpost Print Cover

The ebook is available here.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Banner crow live

© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Wintry Critters

Ermine, by F.T. McKinstry

Ermine (Mustela erminea)


Season’s Greetings, Everyone!

One of the things I love most about this time of year is the wildlife in the woods. Like any proper New Englander, I respect winter and don’t fool around when it comes to preparing for it. But animals know what they’re doing. On dastardly cold nights or during a snowstorm I look out into the dark and wonder how all the clever creatures stay warm — assuming they aren’t hibernating (wouldn’t that be nice). But the next morning they’re all out there flying and padding around the forest, cheery as you please. It puts things in perspective.

Chickadee, by F.T. McKinstry

Chickadee

A while back one winter I was out for a walk and saw a short-tailed weasel (or stoat) moving around in the snow near the base of a tree. It wore its winter fur, pure white with a black tip on its tail. In this phase it’s called an ermine; in summer the stoat is brown with a white belly. I was amazed how small it was, about the size of a red squirrel or smaller. And it moved fast. Now you see it, now you don’t.

Naturally I was inspired to capture the wee beastie in a painting, to immortalize its serendipitous appearance. If you’d like to see more paintings of critters, check out my gallery Wild Things on Fine Art America.

Art Prints

© F.T. McKinstry 2014. All Rights Reserved.