Our April Flash Contest was based on our weekly creativity prompt #147 written by Stone Soup '20–21 Intern Sage Millen. Her prompt, which asked participants to visit the same spot every day for a week and record what they saw—whether through art, photography, or writing—generated a wide array of fabulous submissions, from daily photographic representation of a lounging house cat to ultra-scientific observation notes reminiscent of natural science journals. Thank you to all who submitted their stunning work, and thanks again to Sage for providing us with the prompt!
In particular, we congratulate our Honorable Mentions and our Winners, whose work you can appreciate below.
"Observing My Backyard" by Rishan Chakraborty, 11 (Portland, OR)
"The Island" by Madeline Cleveland, 11 (Belleville, WI)
"The Tales of Freeman Gardens" by Claire Liotta, 12 (Glen Ridge, NJ)
"Dolly’s Home" by Elizabeth Sabaev, 10 (Forest Hills, NY)
"Over the Ditch" by Daniel Shorten, 10 (Mallow, Ireland)
"My Backyard" by Reena Bao, 11 (Bedford, MA)
"My Description Paragraphs for Six Days" by Diya Chakrabarti, (Portland, OR)
"Times of the Day in My Room" by Chelsea Liang, 11 (San Jose, CA)
"Our Playground" by Tang Li, 8 (Palmetto Bay, FL)
"Magnolia Bliss" by Pranjoli Sadhukha, 11 (Newark, OH)
"Interesting" by Ava Shorten, 11 (Mallow, Ireland)
Selected for the Stone Soup COVID-19 Blog
"My School" by Feifei Wan, 9 (Portland, OR)
Selected for the Stone Soup Blog
"Spring in Central Park" by Lila Laton (New York, NY)
Observing My Backyard
Rishan Chakraborty, 11
4:00 p.m. 4/5/2021
On the second floor of the southeastern part of my house, my work room provides a spectacular view of our backyard. Right outside my window, which faces east, a noble fir with peculiar blue-green needles is located. When I was little, I thought that a Christmas tree with needles the same color would look amazing. However, I realize now that cutting the tree down would be a shame. All of the trees rock in the wind, but the noble fir is steadfast. When it does move, it moves gently, and sometimes it almost seems like it is breathing.
4:00 p.m. 4/6/2021
On the opposite side of the noble fir, a large, shaggy curly willow resides. When I was younger, my brother and I would grab one of the many dangling branches and run, pretending we were swinging from vines like Tarzan. Earlier, the branches were bare and speckled with tiny curly leaves. Now, there are hundreds of leaves on the tree, and the shape of its branches gives it the appearance of possessing bright green hair.
4:00 p.m. 4/7/2021
In our backyard, we have an old, tattered play structure. As a young child, it was one of my favorite places to hang out. Imagination would turn it into a spaceship, a boat, an airplane, and even a temple. In the summer, we would invite neighborhood kids to play with water guns, and the play structure could be used as a fort offering a vantage point, or somewhere to escape if you were under attack. Now, the slides are dirty, the swings rickety, the tarp missing one half, but I still cherish the fond memories associated with it.
4:00 p.m. 4/8/2021
A bird comes along, its purpose undefined. Very likely it came looking for food. The question remains unanswered. I did some research and discovered that it was probably an American Robin, which is known to search for insects on the ground, hopping around in the process. I have keenly observed birds in my backyard too, such as a hummingbird, which flits around looking for its food. Spring is here, and as the days grow longer, more and more birds will start showing up, almost as if they are making the backyard come alive.
4:00 p.m. 4/9/2021
In the very middle of my backyard, a solitary maple sits, deserted on an island of dirt. A few flowers nearby don’t provide much company. The maple tree once had a bird feeder, and would be visited by birds all day, but since the feeder was taken down, it has been left alone. It sits on an island of dirt, surrounded by a sea of grass, almost like a stranded castaway. A coconut also used to be on the same island, before it was taken and cracked open with a rock by two 6-year-olds. Now, the maple is left to itself.
4:00 pm 4/10/2021
In my backyard, a noble fir with interesting blue-green needles sways, as though breathing.
In my backyard, a willow tree swings in the wind, branches swishing through the air.
In my backyard, a damaged play structure creaks, enduring everything thrown at it through the years.
In my backyard, a bird appears, although not the first one to visit. In my backyard, a maple mourns and wishes for company.
In my backyard, memories stay alive.
Madeline Cleveland, 11
A buttery golden carp jumps a few feet from my boat as I sink my paddle into the water’s still surface. I hear a scraping sound as my kayak runs aground on a gravely beach. I have reached my destination. I carefully walk onto the muddy shore. A few moments later, I am in tall swaying dry grass.
I sit down on the bank to write this. Another graceful fish splashes, breaking the quiet. Carp are common in this lake, but each is beautiful and unique. Kind of like people that way, each and every one is special.
I walk back to my kayak and paddle to shore.
I sit on the shore in the same spot I did yesterday. I’m starting to realize why the fish love this place so much.
This island is untamed. On one side, there is a gravely cove, perfect for parking kayaks. On the other, there is a sandy beach. And, on the south tip, where I sit, is a serene area with moss carpeting the lake floor. The carp are especially fond of these shallows.
After a while of observing the island’s inhabitants, I have deduced how this beautiful ecosystem works. It all depends on the minnows, the under- appreciated, hard workers of the world that make it a better place for everyone.
Today, it’s too stormy to go out on the water, so I sit on a bench, observing what happens at the island from afar. I am kind of happy for this change in perspective. I am graced by the presence of many types of small birds, flitting about in the trees. The clouds roll elegantly through the sky, like the thoughts of a tranquil mind.
The wind picks up, and it starts raining big blue drops, like fragments of the heavens. The clouds are stirred into a roiling torrent.
As I think about it, events in our lives are like the wind. Blowing our thoughts and emotions into beautiful, poetic, patterns like the ones in the clouds I witness now.
Today, I decided to fish for a while, and a poem slowly formed in my mind as I was casting and reeling and casting again.
Rod and reel
Hook line and sinker
A well-worn grip with a steadfast feel Rod and reel.
Lake and sky the color of steel
Ice cold ‘n frozen fingers
Rod and reel.
Life takes patience.
All is still, all is quiet. The trees sway in the wind. The sky is violet, the willows are green, the grass is golden, the lake is a deep blue. I swing my feet, waiting for a fish to jump. Nothing.
I release my gaze from the water and I see the world. It is beautiful.
The Tales of Freeman Gardens
Claire Liotta, 12
I don’t really know why I’ve always felt so connected to Freeman Gardens. I used to bike there from time to time, or find myself at the garden for town events or fundraisers or even play rehearsals, but I’ve never given the garden much thought. It was a popular spot among my friends because it was “so pretty,” and while its flowers were lovely, it wasn’t its natural beauty that enticed me. It was something else.
When I did visit Freeman Gardens, I found enjoyment in “people watching.” There, I would see strangers and imagine what their lives were like, and what stories they had to tell. Over time, I would collect these stories. For the past 5 days, I wrote about the people I saw in the garden, repeating a familiar process, adding a new person each day to my cast of characters.
April 6th, Day 1
I’ve found a seat by a small clearing cloaked in a sheet of moss. Here, I discover my first subject: a young adult, with tied-back hair and a flannel, a notebook in her lap and a pen fixed in her hand. Her brow is creased in a firm determination. I’ve decided to call her “Anne.”
“My name is Anne. I am a student at Harvard University. I am hardworking and amiable.” My pen moves frantically across the page. No, that doesn’t work. Flip.
“Hardworking and amiable.” That is what my peers would say. However, if any of my classmates were asked of my hobbies or interests, I doubt they would know. Or maybe they might respond with a blunt, “work.” Is that all I amount to?
Stop. Remember why you are here. Being on break does not condone laziness.
I fix my gaze back to my empty paper, my pen fiddling in my hand. This is the first time my mind is drawing a blank. Write something, Anne. Anything at all. My pen starts again. “Hardworking and -”
Is “hardworking and nice” the extent of my description? I guess no one knows anything beyond that point. Is there even anything beyond? I slash the words with my pen, sighing.
Someone once knew me. An old friend, my best friend. But how could you devote any time for studying with her around? She was just a distraction, a voice murmurs. That’s right, a distraction.
No. I’m straying again. Focus like you did when you pushed your best friend away. Focus like you did when you ignored your family. I couldn’t have worked for Harvard only to fail. Focus, focus, focus.
April 7th, Day 2
Today, I am met with another teenage girl. She has long black hair, and headphones over her ears. Her name is Amelia.
Inspiration. That’s the only reason why I am here. To gather inspiration. My mom said it’s best to practice while I wait. But how can this little garden help me? It’s not like some flowers are going to command a masterpiece from my fingers.
Admitting into art school was already hard, but being waitlisted is so much worse.
“But maybe if you create something new and interesting, that’ll change their minds!” Yeah, right. This doesn’t make sense. I just don’t understand how Anne is already in Harvard, when I’ve just been waiting and waiting, pursuing nothing in my life! Crap. No matter how many times I tell myself to stop, I just can’t let it go, can I?
I guess there really is no covering up the fact that the only reason I’m here is because I know Anne is around. Even if I do see her, what do I say?
“Oh hey, Anne! It’s your old best friend, who you dropped for no reason, and still can’t get over our friendship!” Hm, maybe that’s not the best course of action. I was never fast enough to keep up with Anne’s quick-witted nature. Maybe that’s why it ended.
Everyone thinks about old friendships sometimes. Old friendships. Now that I think about it, that might be a good idea for a painting.
April 8th, Day 3
I spot an old man on a bench, indulging in a book, with a wistful essence to him. Let’s introduce him as “Frank.”
Over the course of 10 years, I have become familiar with every face in the Gardens. I tend to the roses and the tulips in the garden, seed and soil the plants that attract the occasional passerby. Today, I found someone new. A fresh face.
There, sitting on a bench, was a little girl with a small ukulele resting on her knee.
She reminds me of my granddaughter.
Small and smiling a smile so wide, it would stretch all the way to her ears. She used to love the arts. She would play the most beautiful piano for me. I can still recall how she would sit in my lap, and I would teach her all about the chords and the scales. Together, we would play. I’d strum my guitar and we’d sing Blackbird until the sun sunk below the horizon. While she loved playing the piano and singing, above all, she loved art. She would sketch and draw and color every opportunity that she could. Her drawings painted our walls in vibrant colors when we hung them in bright frames along the hallways and attached them with magnets to the kitchen fridge.
The memories are hard to keep in my mind now. They are fleeting on bird’s wings, so I must snatch them from the sky and tighten my grasp to keep them from flying away. How long has it been since I’ve seen her? I assume she’ll be going to college soon.
I wonder what life would have been like if her mother and I got along. I know I will see her someday. My sweet Amelia.
April 9th, Day 4
From the clearing, I see a woman and her husband taking a stroll through the flowerbeds. The woman is middle aged, with kind eyes and an invited presence. We will name her “Cathy.”
When I was 30, I found out that I couldn’t have kids. I spent years trying to fill this hole in my heart, a joy in life that had been selfishly stolen from me. I would wonder what I did to deserve such grief. I proceeded to actively participate in fundraisers, town activities, anything I could do to seal the hole. It was never enough. I had started to believe that nothing would be able to close the hole. I was convinced the hole would grow and swallow me up inside. Nothing was big enough to stop it.
I decided to pursue a career as a music teacher for 4th graders in a small school near my home. I figured the hole would slow its growth if I was distracted. And it worked.
Halfway through the school year, a new student arrived.
During 7th period, a small, curly headed girl skipped through my door, a ukulele strapped to her back. I could tell during our lesson that she had a knack for music. When the bell rang, she didn’t move. In fact, she trotted to me and immediately spoke to me about her ideas with her music; her ambitions and goals. I was taken aback at first, but offered to provide assistance with any songs she wanted to write. She beamed in response and held out a tiny, blue ukulele. As she strummed her first chords, I could feel the hole start to shrink. Even if it was just a little bit, I knew it was getting better.
Throughout the rest of the year, we worked together to create her song. We would brainstorm, talk, and create every day after school. And by Move-Up Day, her song was complete. I am the same music teacher for the 5th graders as well, so we can continue writing songs together to add to her portfolio.
Spring Break has just started for my 5th graders. My husband and I have decided to take a stroll in a garden that was located near our house for my day off.
Now, I consider her one of my own. Lola has filled that hole in my heart I thought would remain barren. She has become such an important person in my life now. It makes me wonder: how can one person impact someone’s life so greatly without even knowing it?
April 10th, Day 5
My ukulele unclips from the strap. 5, 6, 7, 8. My fingers slide across the frets. Perfect! I jot the chords down quickly and then restart. I just know Ms. Johnson is going to love this. I try different strumming patterns as I hum a tune behind them. I scribble the last few notes. Andddd... done! It’s finished! Our 2nd song is finished! I stuff my notebook quickly in my bag, mounting my bike hurriedly. I can’t wait to show this to Ms. Johnson! I snap the kick break and peddle home eagerly.
Over the past few days I’ve observed so many new visitors to the garden and utilized my imagination to put myself in their shoes, and piece together parts of their lives. I’ve considered their goals, and their fears and all the things they’d like to accomplish. And after all of this daydreaming, I’ve learned something I didn’t expect. I find it funny how these characters I created by studying strangers have helped me learn more about myself rather than them. Some aspects of their character reflect my own personality; such as Anne’s self-criticism, the creativity of Lola and Amelia, and Frank and Cathy’s bonds with friends and family.
And I find it interesting that in the end, I made all of their stories connect in some way. That’s probably because I find my connections with others to be so important to my life. The way I connect with my friends, and family, classmates and neighbors helps to make me who I am.
I have finally learned what I love so much about Freeman Gardens. It’s a place where people make these important connections and spend time with each other. It proves that, just like in my stories, that people can connect in a community, and it isn’t just in fiction either! At the end of the day, these relationships with other people shape who you are and your personality.
Elizabeth Sabaev, 10
Soft breeze on my face
Song in the trees
Wildfire in the east
Lantern beyond the ditch
Ragged monster claws
I am cold