Bonus story, originally posted to DW.
The Sky-Sister's Garden
For Nancy Sauer.
People who dwell on sea or land often do not realize the effort to which the sky-sisters go to cultivate the clouds, the winds, the swirl of stars in the great wheel of night. Every caprice of the weather is governed by laws written in the language of butterfly wing and unstable equations. The dwellers on sea and land sacrifice goats or geese or, occasionally, imperfectly formed geodes to influence the rains ands snows and sun in their favor, little realizing that the sky-sisters, for all their attentiveness, cannot do more than nudge the weather to help them.
One such sky-sister was known for her skill at coaxing constellations to march properly across the sky as the seasons passed, instead of lingering too long and scattering meteor-signs of ill omen. With her digging tools and specialized shears, she traveled the skyways, her pet bird--the sky-sisters have a weakness for birds--perched upon her shoulder. Patiently she stopped by recalcitrant polestars or planets out of alignments, singing and tugging until they grew in their proper places.
Even the sky-sisters have time for leisure, however. During those hours, this particular sky-sister lavished time on a small plot of land upon a sky-island that the lord of clouds had kindly anchored in the atmosphere for her benefit. There, taking advantage of the peculiar ways that seasons manifested in the sky-realm, she grew sugar snap peas and parsnips and carrots, tomatoes and cabbages and kale. (Never beets, however. She was not fond of beets.) Her bird benefited the most from the garden's harvest, but she too ate the resulting salads and soups.
Try as she might, however, the sky-sister could not grow zucchini. She tried planting it close to the sun. The zucchini wouldn't sprout. She tried planting it close to the moon. The zucchini wouldn't sprout. She tried planting it on the underside of the sky-island, in case the zucchini had unorthodox notions about the proper place of gravity. The zucchini wouldn't sprout.
This only made the sky-sister more determined. She fertilized the zucchini with fewmets imported from the Mountain of Nine Dragons. The zucchini wouldn't sprout. She watered it with the tears of poet tigresses. (She shed a few tears herself, contemplating their odes. Tigresses are surprisingly excellent poets.) The zucchini wouldn't sprout. She chanted imprecations from the Book of Aspiring Chlorophyll. The zucchini still wouldn't sprout.
At last the sky-sister sat down on her sky-island and looked around at all the vegetables that did grow. "Why isn't this working?" she asked, and absentmindedly plucked a sugar snap pea to gnaw on.
At this point, her pet bird had the grace to look embarrassed. "You really like zucchini, don't you?"
The sky-sister hadn't realized that the bird could talk, but when one spends one's free time on a floating island, this sort of detail doesn't faze one. "I don't see how you could have guessed that," she said wryly.
"I do too," the bird said. "I just like it at a more embryonic stage of development."
The sky-sister considered this. "Well," she said philosophically, "it's good to know that the problem was not my skill at gardening, but my skill at applied ornithology."