The Ones We Love to Hate — part two of Connecting With Mother Nature’s Other Children

mountain lion

What do you feel when you see this mountain lion?

Part one of my talk (and last week’s post) focused on a few of the beautiful animals I’ve photographed and the connections that might make that possible. Butterflies, deer, beaver, mink, loons, egrets – all have evolved to read other animals, including us, and respond appropriately. Part two will focus on animals we are not always happy to see, but who are just as much a part of Mother Nature’s family. And while we’re at it, let’s give a bit of thought to our fellow humans. Do we still read and react to them as Nature intended? Or do we form opinions – and fears – based on hearsay and stereotypes?

I took this picture of a mountain lion at the zoo, but I’m pretty sure I heard one snarling outside my window once, along with a baby raccoon’s desperate cry. What do you feel when you look into this face? It’s beautiful, yet brings fear to many. The chances of ever seeing one as it moves through Minnesota, much less being attacked, are next to zero. So why are we afraid? Is it all the stories of big bad wolves? “Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!”

 

bighorn sheep

Sorry, I don’t know who took this picture, but I had to share it. Next time I see one I’ll bring my camera, and be more careful!

True, I was once charged by a bighorn ram. Was I afraid? YES! He was enormous, only ten or so feet from me, with those massive curled horns lowered and coming at me. Was I hurt? No. I had accidentally wandered into his territory, and when he was sure I was leaving (as in running down the mountain!) he stopped.

Then there was the young bull moose I ran into – almost literally – on another day in the Rockies. Hurrying and sweating and watching the trail beneath my feet, I didn’t see him until he was right in front of me, blocking the narrow trail. I froze, wondering what to do, when he politely stepped off the trail and let me pass.

It seems these animals knew I was not a threat, and therefore were not a threat to me. I was thankful for that, and for the big lesson: keep my eyes open, stay mindful of my surroundings and of what I’ve learned of animals and the world we share.

 

wolf spider

This wolf spider helped me by cleaning out the ant nest in my mailbox.

But most often, when I hear people expressing fear, it’s of more common critters, like spiders, bats, and snakes. I have always been thankful for the day my father called us kids to come and look at a beautiful spider. I was young, but old enough to know that most of my friends were afraid of spiders. In that moment, I not only got close enough to see the lovely yellow and black pattern, but realized there was nothing to be afraid of as long as we didn’t disturb it. Now I see stories of people reacting with such panic that it makes them roll their cars or even burn their houses in attempts to escape or kill these little critters! I wonder, was it their parents or some horror movie that instilled that fear? Sure, there are spiders that carry venom. But they are rare, seldom aggressive, and almost non-existent here in Minnesota. And spiders are great hunters of other insects, making them much more beneficial than dangerous. I once had a problem with pantry moths, until a daddy-long-legs took up residence in the corner. I told my mother, “Don’t bother this guy. He’s working for me!” Later I had a nest of big black ants in my mailbox. Did you ever have an ant farm? They are fascinating! But I doubted my mail carrier would appreciate their growing presence. I don’t like to use poisons, and was sure a smelly dryer sheet would repel them. But no, they continued to care for their hundreds of white pupae – until a wolf spider showed up. After a day or two, everyone was gone and my mailbox was clean. Thank you, spider.

 

baby bats in blankets

I didn’t take this picture, but these baby bats are too cute not to love, right?

The same irrational fear seems to dominate our image of bats. Sure, they can contract rabies, but only one-half of one percent do, and that causes only one or two human deaths per year in the United States. And getting tangled in people’s hair? More myth than fact. A bat’s echolocation skills make it the most skillful flyer on earth, even in the dark. Any contact is more likely caused by human panic than bats “attacking.” When I swim across the lake at dusk, I turn onto my back to see any bats who might join me. They swoop close to my head, hunting the mosquitoes that are after me, and give me a little thrill with their amazing aerial dances in the sunset. No wonder the mouse looked up at a bat and said “Look! An angel!” True, we don’t need them or their guano in our houses. But turn on the lights, open a window, and close the door to the room, and they will almost always leave.

snake

Years ago, my naturalist friend Dan Newbauer was kind enough to bring his pet boa to the opening of my show.

Snakes get a bad rap, from the Bible to Shakespeare to “Snakes on a Plane.” I have to admit that I have been startled by their quick slithers through long grasses. And I wonder if they are harder to relate to because they are so different from us. I often dream of flying like a bird, and feel like a fish when I swim. But I can never quite understand how snakes can move – and even climb trees – without arms or legs! I am grateful for the reptile expert who came to my elementary school espousing the talents of snakes. He even let us touch his pets, pointing out that they are beautiful, and not at all slimy. Now I enjoy picking up the occasional visitor to see if it has a pretty red belly.

 

 

great horned owl

Great horned owls sing to the night and help control rodent populations.

Fire-iron owl.

Fire-iron owl. I found it on the curb, of course!

 

Since it’s just a few days after Halloween, I have to acknowledge that many people love being scared. I remember being a young child and screaming and laughing at the same time at some monster game we were playing. But I am saddened when I see irrational fears passed on to children. Fears that do more to traumatize than to protect. Especially when they stop people, young or old, from going out on a moonlit night, looking up at the stars, and hearing the sound of an owl or coyote adding magic to the beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

honeybee

More honey than sting!

When we see wolves only as competitors for food, or judge them all on the actions of a few, we demonize them unnecessarily. We miss their gentle spirits, intelligence, strong family ties, and important contributions to the health of the ecology. For fear of getting stung or losing profits, we over-use poisons and are in danger of losing our pollinators, which means our food. Some people even deliberately run over turtles. I’ve been swimming with big snapping turtles for twenty years, and have never seen one snap. The worst traits of animals, like the spray of a skunk, come out when they feel threatened or are hungry. The same is true of us.

 

 

moon spinner

I loved being out and capturing this shot. I call it “moon spinner”

 

There are many who profit from providing us with scary stories – books, television, movies – that we seem to love. There’s hardly a show on TV that doesn’t have villains, violence, and suspenseful music in the background. Yes, there are real dangers in the world, but our media greatly exaggerates and dramatizes them to keep our attention and our money.

Just as we’ve been fed over-blown stories of animals and people attacking, we are being encouraged by some to fear and hate people who look, speak, or worship differently than we do. We are told they will take away our jobs, housing, food, and safety. Yes, there are threats in our human societies as well as in nature. But seeing others only as competitors or dangerous is never the whole story. Caution is good. But it is understanding, community, and compassion – not anger, fear, and aggression – that will protect us.

 

 

 

snapper and friend

Fear not — but don’t give them reason to attack!

 

While it’s natural to be motivated by hunger and fear, some humans are also driven by greed and a quest for power. That is what scares me – the thought that we could actually elect a bully, thinking that he will protect us. A man who plays into our fears instead of believing in our strengths. A man with little knowledge or understanding of our world, natural or otherwise. He believes he can get attention and control by poking everyone and everything with a sharp stick. Well, he is getting attention, but he’s making us less safe and less civilized. Please stop him before it’s too late.

…Oh, but I suppose if you are reading my blog you probably care about nature and the earth. So perhaps you have already committed to voting for the woman who knows – and isn’t afraid to say – that climate change is a much bigger threat than terrorism. She has plans for green energy and technology that will create jobs, stimulate the economy, and protect our precious Mother Earth. Please vote for Hillary.

© 2016 Holly Jorgensen  — but feel free to share!

 

 

 

 

 

Connecting with Mother Nature’s Other Children – part one

I was recently asked to speak about my nature photography at a Unitarian church. It was easy to decide to talk about the 7th UU principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. I’m not an expert photographer, but people say I have a special connection to nature, and I guess it’s true. So I’d like to share parts of that talk, and secrets to getting good pictures, in this blog.

malachite butterfly

Could it be that this malachite butterfly’s feelers are actually feeling?

Do you remember when scientists used to say only humans had real thoughts and emotions? That animals (or as I prefer to say – other animals) act only on instinct? It’s taken a long time, but scientific studies are now proving what animal lovers have always known – that each species has a range of abilities – and feelings – that we are just beginning to understand. As we point powerful antennae into space, we need to also consider the antennae of our little neighbors.

 

 

 

cecropia

This cecropia moth can smell his girlfriend from a mile away.

Some moths, like this cecropia with its feathery antennae, can smell one molecule of a female’s pheromones from a mile away! Dogs have gone beyond bomb-sniffing to detect and warn us of seizures and changes in blood sugar. Have you heard that pigeons and fruit flies have been trained to detect cancer cells? My last colonoscopy was really fun… not! So when I’m due for another test, I’m counting on some friendly dog to just sniff my butt!

 

 

 

 

"Who's that lady in the window, Mama?"

“Who’s that lady in the window, Mama?”

No wonder fawns are born with no odor at all- a great protection from predators with their super-noses. In a few days, the doe will start moving the nest around. This one must have trusted me. She watched me taking lots of picture as the little one frolicked and asked “Who’s that lady in the window, Mama?” But then she lay down, and was completely motionless, until her baby took the hint, found a sheltered spot a few feet away, and settled in. When Mama was certain her baby was still, she walked off into the woods, to forage before returning that night to nurse her little one.

Her message, to be still, is also they key to drawing in critters. Photography can be uncomfortable, standing on one foot, holding the camera up, and resisting swatting mosquitoes. Do I feed the deer? No – except for the flowers they help themselves to. That’s frustrating, but I’ve accepted it, saying that nearly anyone can grow flowers. Not everyone can grow fawns. I have one or more born here every year, and often wonder if the does come back because they were born here and feel safe. Or maybe they figure I am less of of a threat than the coyotes in the park behind us.

beaver

My winter beaver friend.

I’m used to swimming with beavers and having them slap their tails if I come too close to their lodge. But I was truly surprised when this one spent a whole winter right outside my bedroom. It had a burrow in the shore and would break through the ice whenever a warm spell allowed.

 

 

 

mink

Mink!

An even more surprising visitor was this mink, marking the same spot later by dropping his scat on the log. He was clearly watching me, and accommodated my silent wish that he stay while I got my camera. I came back with it and he posed for this shot.

 

 

 

 

 

loon & Holly

Two loons swimming.

I have Carol Gillen to thank for this shot of me swimming with a loon. I’ve noticed the deer are rarely afraid of me when I am “just a head” in the lake, and I can’t help but wonder if my daily swims are why the beaver and mink see me as less of a foreigner in their world.

 

 

 

 

 

loon

A loon is as beautiful as its mystical call.

I suspect that’s why the loons let me swim near them, and sometimes even follow me. Getting close to these stunning birds always thrills me to my core.

 

 

 

 

foot waggle

A loon’s “foot waggle.”

Have you seen them wave? I’ve read theories that the “foot waggle” is a way of cooling off while others say it’s a social move. Well, I’ve seen them do it when it’s really cold out, so I’m going with the “wave” theory and I always wave back – with my foot, of course.

 

 

 

great egret

A great egret preening its magnificent feathers.

Great egrets migrate through in the spring, but are shy, so I took this lucky shot from inside my bedroom. I always enjoy watching a bird preen its feathers. That tells me they are relaxed, and I think it makes a more interesting and intimate picture.

You may have read my blogs about the osprey I met in Florida, the great blue heron, and the birds who have wrapped their tiny feet around my finger or sat on my shoulder. All are examples of spiritual lessons happening in the natural world. Part of their magic is that we can’t explain them. But what’s important is the gift – the change that takes place in our souls, whether a momentary peace or an epiphany that changes the course of a life. It makes me sad that so many kids are growing up indoors these days, and others only get outside for organized sports, and never alone.

But some of our deepest relationships are with the animals who live in our homes or pastures. Several have been so special to me that they are in my book and will get their own posts one of these days. Sometimes it takes me years to be able to share a story of a special animal without tears. If you know me, you probably know that I feel things deeply, that I’m often caught with my emotions close to the surface or leaking out, whether in sadness or joy. But I suspect that this trait – the physical expression of emotion, might be one of the reasons I connect with nature. I believe that animals do have their own languages. But because they are not spoken like ours, they become super-sensitive to the body language, chemistry, feelings, and intentions of others – of all species. Their survival and evolution has depended on knowing what that other being is thinking and feeling – whether it is friend or foe, aggressive, afraid, amused, or irritated. Perhaps my transparency makes it even easier for them to read me and know that I’m not afraid, nor am I a threat. That I am in awe of them and, yes, that I love them.

Stay tuned for part two – the animals we love to hate.

 

 

Time to Share the Beauty

I keep hearing that our golden years are the time to share our creativity with the world and make a difference. Though I think we hippies felt that all along, it does feel more possible without a “regular job” and more urgent as we see the sand slipping through the hourglass. But it’s also exciting! It has been a wonderful surprise to see people respond to my photography and want to share it by sending my cards. I have been so blessed to be surrounded by the magic of the natural world, and now have a camera that helps me do it justice. My experiment of designing and making five reusable photo cards has grown to over 40, and I see no end in sight. The animals, flowers, and sunsets keep showing up, and I’ve found more variety and color by recycling folders and other papers!

Though I don’t yet know if I’ll sell these hand-made cards here on the website (they take time to make!) I will post many of my favorites and a line or two about them. I have been selling them at my speaking engagements, a couple of craft fairs, and some through the mail. Feel free to contact me through a comment or email if you are interested in buying cards, enlargements, or framed photos. If not, please enjoy them here and may they inspire you to make your own, or go outside and meet the critters yourself! Some of these have already shown up in my blogs, others have stories waiting to be told. This blog will serve as an introduction, and I’ll add more as I have time.

Just a few of my hand-made photo cards.

You may have seen these seven cards when I posted them on facebook. Here, from top left to right, are the words that come to me when I see them. They are printed on the back, but the paper tied inside by the ribbon (making the card reusable) is blank so you can write what you want. When the recipient is ready to pass on the beauty, any paper can be slipped in to replace the old message. If they don’t have an extra envelope, one can easily be made, adding to the special hand-made feel.

“Another sun has set”   This image felt, from the beginning, like the perfect sympathy card. I’ve sent a few, writing inside: “After making the world beautiful, another sun has set.” They also work as birthday cards, saying “May your birthday be a lovely sunset to the year and tomorrow rise even brighter.”

“Straight ahead!”   I love this male green heron for graduations, weddings, or new jobs, babies, and homes – a bright encouragement to any new beginnings.

“Relax” You may have met this mama raccoon on the “About Holly on the Lake” page of my website. She didn’t come back the third year – I think she knew the tree was ready to fall, and it did! But she still makes me smile and inspires me to relax, as she did every day out on her “deck.” This makes it a perfect get-well or retirement card, as well as a congratulations for any job well-done or challenge met.

“Reflect” is one of my simplest and most popular cards. The beauty of this common water lily can’t be beat for sharing wishes for tranquility in any situation.

“Shed light” is what this great egret seemed to be doing as it preened its amazing feathers. I’ve used it to thank friends for the light they have shed in my life, but its beauty has its own message.

“Embrace change” are the more generic words I put on this lovely fall scene. But people who know it’s Reno, my cat who enjoyed days in the woods with me and nights snuggling for 21 years, know the real title is “A good ninth life.”

“Fledge” is a great message from this baby blue jay testing its feathers in the first moments out of the nest. Looking up the word to be sure, I learned that it also means to bring up a young bird until it can fly. Hmm- or take off for college? But I love it as a happy birthday card to my “young chick” friends.

That’s enough for this blog. Stay tuned for more, or come to hear me speak, see all my cards, some framed shots, and more photos on the big screen. Better yet, as this great blue heron is advising,

 “Get outside and shake off those blues!”

A great blue heron dances to the wild blue flag iris

A great blue heron dances with wild blue flag iris

The Quilter — a video blog for Mom

I can never really express what Mom has meant to me. Even as a young mother, she somehow knew how to love unconditionally, while providing guidance and consequences – tough love – when we needed it. As Mom turns 90 on May 24th, I want to share the video I made for her 85th with more of you, and highlight just a few of her many talents hidden in the lyrics. Your comments, calls, cards and letters will be a birthday gift to her. Thank you!

bit by bit, the quilter makes a comforter     Mom knew that a quilt was more than warmth. With its many colors, and love sewn into every piece, it truly was a comforter.

piece by piece, the peacefulness is grown      It takes a lot of patience to make a quilt, as it does to raise kids. What a blessing it was to be raised in a peaceful house. Were there problems, disagreements? Of course. But fighting was never the answer.

stitch by stitch, a lonely thread will soon be wed
so no-one has to sleep alone     
Sleeping with one of Mom’s quilts is sleeping with love.

day by day, the quilter is a comforter      Mom was and is a comforter. No matter what the problem – a skinned knee or broken heart or failed ambition. Her understanding love always found the right words to comfort me and so many others, and still does.

word by word, she listens to your heart      Mom might be surprised to hear me say she always found the right words, as she has always said English was her weakness. But listening is the source of words, and she has always had that gift. She knows how to listen without judgment, yet share her opinion and wisdom, both in words and action.

year by year, her handiwork may fray and wear     The pictures of Marissa, with the shredded blankie “Gramma Audrey” made for her are two of my favorites. Though void of warmth and even color, clearly there was still some love coming through those threads.

but good friends never tear apart     Mom is grateful for the friendships that have lasted since days of youth. They are a testament to her and those friends. But it also speaks volumes that young people who rented from her and Dad or were taught quilting or mentored in other ways have grown into adults maintaining and treasuring their relationships with Audrey. It wasn’t unusual for my friends to say they envied me for my mom and our relationship, and I was happy to share her with them.

never wasting, always tasting new creations from the old     Truly, my lifestyle of frugality and creative up-cycling was inspired by my parents’ thriftiness and ingenuity. We didn’t have a lot, but never wanted for anything.

cutting, sewing, laughing, knowing quilting stories often told     Mom sewed and quilted at home (I often fell asleep to the sound of her sewing machine and sometimes still hear it in my dreams!) but also loved being in quilting groups. What could be better than sharing scraps of cloth, ideas, and stories?

each one differs, soft as slippers, little nippers shy or bold
love her blankies, used as hankies, and as diapers, truth be told     
Okay, so I doubt any of her baby quilts were really used as diapers (creative license, you know) but they went to so many little nippers that I’m sure a few were peed-upon. She wouldn’t mind. They were to be used, not just for show. It wasn’t unusual for Mom to see a mother and baby on the street and ask “Does he have a quilt?” If the answer was no (or even yes) she would often go home and return with one. It would be hard to say who got the most pleasure from these surprise gifts!

face by face, she smiles at every shape and hue     Mom loved every kind, color, and shape of the pieces she quilted, and could fit them in to one quilt or another, just as she loved every kind, color, and shape of the people she met, and could fit them all into her heart.

row by row, connecting as she goes     She loved bringing people together, whether to quilt or just visit, and made real, not just superficial, connections.

quilt by quilt, for baby, newlywed or old,
she warms our hearts and hands and toes     
Yes, it’s true. She met Dad on a sleigh ride and he fell in love with her when she warmed his toes–sticking out of the cast on his broken leg!

bits and pieces, sewn together, grown together, in her hands
fingers bending but still lending love to every block and band     
As in most quilters, arthritis bent her fingers as she aged, but that didn’t stop her.

friends and needles needing guidance, knowing that she understands
nothing’s perfect, no-one’s finished, ’til returned to dust and sand     
The graceful acceptance of imperfection, one of life’s most important lessons, was one she taught and also learned as quilting became more difficult.

night by night, we lie beneath her works of art
dawn by dawn, awakening our souls
one by one, her beauty touches eye and heart
how many, heaven only knows

I am so grateful to be one of the many. I love you, Mom, and always will.

128-1

A Bird on the Hand

A Bird on the Hand

kinglet catching breath

The golden-crowned kinglet catching his breath

 

Okay, I confess. I didn’t just charm that adorable bird onto my hand. And I had no idea what it was until I looked it up later—a male golden-crowned kinglet. As sometimes happens during migration, the confused bird and his friend flew into my window. I grabbed my camera, ordered Lucky to stay in, and opened the patio door. Not surprisingly, Lucky’s cat instincts overruled my command. But her urge to play seems always to be stronger than to kill, so she gently tapped the closest bird. I was glad to see it fly off. A reprimand from me was enough to chase Lucky inside before she noticed the other bird. Lying motionless on his back, wings outspread and beak wide open, I was afraid he was a goner. But I’ve learned that’s not usually the case, so I gently picked up the tiny thing, enclosing him in my warm hand and turning my back to the bitingly cold wind, making sure to hold him in a perching position so that he might catch his breath.

Breathing, but still not feeling great

Breathing, but still not feeling great

It always feels like a long time, as I’m almost holding my breath while I watch to see if the bird starts breathing, but in just a minute he had closed his beak. I opened my hand but it took another minute before he was ready to hop up and started checking me out, while, yes, dropping a couple gooey gifts in my palm. Nice to know that both ends are working. A flutter of wings and turning his neck this way and that as he looked around assured me those were just fine, too, though who knows if he had a headache? Maybe just enough to make him more cautious around windows?

 

Feeling perkier

I’m freezing out there in my bathrobe, but my little friend is feeling perkier.

I was relieved to know he was okay, and happy to have him stay on my hand for ten minutes, even as I spoke to him and captured dozens of photos and a few videos. But I was even happier to see him fly high into my fir tree. I read that dense conifers are their favorite nesting places. Might he stay?

 

 

 

ready for take-off

Ten minutes after impact, he’s ready for take-off. Love those tiny toes!

In the twenty years since moving into my wonderful windowful little house, I’ve had a few occasions to rescue these wayfaring strangers, and always feel they are giving more to me than I to them. As a rule, I don’t believe in interfering with Mother Nature. More often than not, critters either recover on their own, or make a good meal for a hungry predator. But a naturalist friend taught me how to help a bird breathe after an unfortunate encounter with a window, saying that their chance of survival is forty percent higher when held in a perching position to open the chest. My experience has always been that they recover, and always stay calmly on my hand for a bit.

Only once did someone object to my help. The loud bonk told me the blue jay hit hard, and there it was on the ground. It didn’t move as I approached. But when I gently picked it up, its loud squawk startled me. “Oh, I’m sorry!” I said, opening my hands as it flew just a few feet and then continued its rest. I recalled the advice never to use the Heimlich maneuver on anyone making a sound, and knew, clearly, that this bird was breathing. Good!

blue jay

This gorgeous blue-jay didn’t need my help – and told me so!

I’ll never forget the black-and-white warbler who came a few years ago. After catching his breath, he sat on my finger, facing away from me and resting. The surprise came when he rose in the air, turned toward me, and chirped a sentence into my face, suspended there until coming back down onto my finger. Those moments were even more beautiful than his stunning plumage. Nor will I forget the robin. While it was resting on my finger, I sat on a bench, studying the close-up beauty of this most common of birds. It finally flew off about 15 or 20 feet, then shocked me by returning to perch on my shoulder. That took my breath away!

 

cedar waxwing and olive-sided flycatcher

This cedar waxwing and olive-sided flycatcher hit the window together and both stayed with me a long time.

People say that I draw the animals in, that they trust me. Well, animals certainly have sensitivities beyond ours, learned from eons of discerning friend from foe. Can they tell, or smell, that I’m not afraid, that I love and respect them and am not a threat? Perhaps. But I believe it also has something to do with the fact that it’s usually quiet here, and I avoid the use of chemicals. Though my lawn is small and I use an old-fashioned reel mower when I can, I do use a gas mower when needed, as well as the occasional chain saw when a tree falls. I try to time these when a neighbor is doing the same, to maximize our quiet time. But I much prefer a rake or broom to a leaf blower (click here for the facts on them) and try to keep the music I love at a reasonable level. Singing in the woods? I admit to doing that, though mostly when I hear no birds. I can’t be sure, but they don’t seem to mind, and sometimes even seem to answer.

 

waxwing

The waxwing recovered first. What a beautiful bird.

When I speak on Saving Money, the Planet, and Your Sanity, I always share a slide of a bird on my finger. Quoting the old adage, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” I ask my audience to consider a bird on the hand. I believe it’s time to focus our efforts on having a sustainable, caring relationship with nature, rather than simply dominating and exploiting her gifts. I also share a picture of a hummingbird, though it’s not on my finger. Why? While I know some love the four-ton hummer that gets ten miles to the gallon while spewing pollutants, I’m more inspired by the four-gram hummer who lives on ten calories a day and migrates from Canada to Central America while spreading joy. We have a lot to learn.

flycatcher

The flycatcher back where it belongs.

hummer

The fuel-efficient hummer spreading joy.

© 2016 Holly Jorgensen and Northern Holly Creations

Clearing Clutter (and, yup, another bird)

“Okay,” I told myself. “Enough of the bird blogs.” Though I just had to write about the osprey and the great blue heron visits, this blog was going to be some practical tips on spring housecleaning. I’d just purged my pantry and it felt so good. Then the hawk showed up.

But spring is coming, and I’m itching to get outside more, so now IS the time to dig into those drawers and closets and shelves and set some things free. “Too much stuff” seems to be everyone’s mantra these days, and there are plenty of experts ready to help. I’m not one. But I’ll gladly share a few tips I’ve learned, as well as my unique perspective as a Master Recycler/Composter.

Recycler – not hoarder. I recently introduced myself to a group as someone who spoke on “Saving Money, the Planet, and Your Sanity,” adding that I rarely bought anything new and didn’t throw things away. After the meeting, a friend said it sounded like I was a hoarder. Hoarder? Horrors! (Was I horrified at the thought of being misunderstood, or at the thought that I could slip over the edge into hoarder-land??)

At the next meeting, I made sure to let them know I was not a hoarder – that people came to my house and commented on how peaceful they felt there, which would never be the case in a hoarder’s house. I felt much better after explaining how I reused, recycled, donated, and composted, rather than throwing things away. But then came the surprise. In this group of sharp, successful women, quite a few admitted to having too much stuff, to having one or more storage lockers, or even to being a hoarder. I appreciated their candidness, and felt accepted, but more determined not to let my own habits of saving things creep out of control.

Like many creative people, I have a lot “stuff” with which to create. Being an expert scavenger means I pick up things that may be useful in the future. That means I can often just go to my stashes for this or that, and don’t need to run out to the store and spend money. I love that. But it only works (and distinguishes me from a hoarder) if I can find what I need and actually use it. The things I have must enhance my life, rather than inhibiting it. That means keeping things organized and accessible. The right containers and labels really help. I find that part fun.

P1000196

But in my small house, even an organized area needs a periodic purge, just as a garden needs weeding. Here are some questions that help me make those tough decisions.

Do I love this?

Do I need this? All of it?

How does it make me feel?

Would someone else need or love it more?

Does it reflect and support who I am, now?

Would this space feel better without this thing in it?

Does it work? Will I fix it, mend it, clean it, paint it, or…?

Do I want this thing more than the time and space it is costing me?

Can I keep the memories (with a picture or story) without keeping the thing?

Am I really obligated to keep this because it was a gift, or can I let go of that feeling?

Will this last, or will it rot, fade, crumble, become unsafe or unlovely over time?

How easily or cheaply could I get another if I need one in the future?

Does this fit in my plan of where I want to be in five years?

What are the odds that I’ll need or use it?

Though being a great second-hand shopper can easily lead to too much stuff (it’s only two bucks!) it also helps me let things go. When I like something, but don’t need it, I sometimes picture myself donating it to the Goodwill and someone else finding it there, being excited (it’s just what I need!) and grateful (it’s only two bucks!) Then it’s fun to let it go. Studies show that it’s giving, not having, that makes us happy.

DSC03073What else makes me happy? Birds! So for those who want the hawk story – a surprising one of synchronicity – here it is. I sat down to write my blog, but opened an old magazine and found a picture and story of a hawk. Before I could read it, my eye was caught, not by the familiar flitting of birds to and from my feeder, but by an eerily still nuthatch; clinging, blinking, but not moving a feather. There must be a predator around. Sure enough, there was an unfamiliar hawk in a tree about 25 feet away. I grabbed my camera and got a few shots before it took off. The nuthatch finally relaxed and stretched. That was cool, I thought, wondering what kind of hawk it was. I sat back down and there was the article I’d been about to read when distracted by the drama outside my window. I read only a few lines before discovering that it was about a broad-winged hawk, and perfectly described my visitor. I was even more surprised when I read that they wintered in tropical South America. What was it doing here in Minnesota on February 5th?

Was it bringing me a message? Well…. of course! I probably would not have seen it, much less gotten a decent picture, had the branches of the tree been cloaked with leaves! How often had I searched for something in my house, right before my eyes, but been unable to see it for the clutter! More inspiration to let go of my leaves, enjoy the sparsity and clarity of bare branches, and prepare for new growth (but not too much!) in the coming spring.

© 2016 Holly Jorgensen

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The Gifts of the Great Blue Heron and the Great Blues Man

(Note – this story may mean more to you if you’ve read my previous blog, The Gift of the Osprey.)

The morning of May 15th, 2015, I was awakened by a call from an old friend, with the sad news that B.B. King had died the night before. I knew he’d been sick, and that he was at home in hospice at 89. Still, having known him and his amazing resilience since 1978, it didn’t seem possible. It was always a long time between our visits, yet, like his song said, it somehow happened that “There is always one more time.” But no more.

001-001I was glad I had plans for coffee with friends and then riding with my dear friend Mary on her great horses. No time for grief. Coming home, I feared it would hit me, and decided to walk around the yard looking for fawns or morels, since it was the season for both. I didn’t see either, but there was a doe, just west of my little wooden bridge. She was not alarmed at all, until she saw little black Lucky and heard her meowing. Then she came toward us – 10 feet, then another 10 feet. Hmm. I let Lucky in the house. The doe was calmer now, and I wondered if she was looking for a spot to drop a fawn. When she lifted her leg and licked back there, I was hopeful. There’s nothing like birth to take the sting out of death.

I walked down to the shore, and there came a great blue heron from across the lake. As it flew over my head, I clearly saw a gap in its wing. It was missing a feather or two. I smiled and thought, if any bird could represent the spirit of the King of the Blues, it would be GREAT and BLUE, flying around the world. Was this one blessing me? Had it dropped me a feather, as the osprey did? I never found the heron’s feather, but when I saw the many tributes online and on television, and heard that Mr. King’s downloads had increased 10,000% in one day, I knew. Just as the osprey told me Mom would keep blessing me when she’s gone, B.B. King would keep blessing us all with his music and his words. And now he was as free as this beautiful bird.

The next morning, I could see the answer to my prayer from the living room window. A new fawn, just 15 feet from the deck. The doe was back in her spot by the bridge, happily chewing her cud.

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Four months later, September 16th, would have been B.B.’s 90th birthday. I was looking for the best way to celebrate and honor him. The Heritage Blues Band at the Dakota? To Kill a Mockingbird at the Guthrie? I was feeling sad, hot, and undecided. Time to jump in the lake. I did.

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But nearing the middle, I saw a great blue heron on the other shore. Could it be the one that flew over when B died? Could I possibly get a picture to share? My mind whispered, “Please stay” as I swam back to my shore. Herons are so shy, I knew it was unlikely, but I had to try. I ran up the hill, grabbed my camera and binoculars, and ran back down to my canoe. He was still there. “Thank you!”

I paddled quietly, keeping my eye on the long-legged bird, fighting the wind and taking pictures as I went. Long distance was better than nothing, and he was not likely to let me get very close. They never do.

089But this one did. I approached so very slowly, stopping often to take pictures, and to study him through the binoculars. But also to just gaze, to connect, unseparated by lenses or screens. To be still, and to say a silent “Thank you! You’re beautiful! I love you!” He was serene, though the wind ruffled his feathers as he preened himself. He showed me the soft secrets under his wings while he soaked up the sun (and under his tail as he jabbed at frogs!) Wonderful. Yes, he filled me with wonder. I paddled closer until I was only about 50′ from him. Still, he seemed not to care.

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The clouds rolled in and made the sky even more lovely. Only when it began to rain did my new friend take off for the other side of the lake. There, he danced on the shore and waved his magnificent wings high in the air, the soft light bringing out his many blues. Was he rejoicing in the cooling rain as much as I was? Then he disappeared. I didn’t see him fly off, so I paddled to the spot where he had stood just a moment ago. Perhaps he was hunkered down in the long reeds, but I sure couldn’t see him. Did he evaporate, as the deer so often do, into the woods?

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Wherever he was, it was okay. He’d given me much more than I expected, and it was time to go in. Happily. I looked at my camera. It had been an hour and ten minutes, and he’d granted me 104 pictures and ten videos. (I smile as I recall how incredibly patient B.B. was with millions of fans begging for pictures with him over seventy years – me included!) I was glad I hadn’t planned to go to the play and missed this special time. I still could have gone to the Dakota, but I had no need to. I knew I was where I was supposed to be, celebrating B as he would have liked, and I just wanted to savor it some more.

The rain and wind were marvelously cool and soft, and I felt the same.

067I couldn’t wait to call my mother. She was delighted to hear about the heron, and felt that B must have sent it for me. I swear, I’ll never have anyone who listens to my adventures and is as happy for me as Mom is. And no one like B and his extraordinary music, wisdom, and stories, either. But I will have the children of Mother Nature to comfort and teach me. Who knows where these graceful spirits in fur and feathers come from, or why? No matter. There is some kind of magic there. They are – full of grace – great, great blessings for which I am grateful beyond words.

In this time of holiday hustle and bustle, of shopping and bopping through screens and stores, I wish you the best of all gifts – family, friends, music, and quiet times close to the earth.

The Gift of the Osprey

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Mom was okay when I accepted the gracious invitation to join friends in St. Augustine for my birthday and Connie’s 90th. How could I have known that she’d take a turn for the worse two weeks before I left? I agonized over leaving, but she and my siblings insisted I go. The truth was, she had been closer to death several times before. I recalled my desperation 13 years earlier when a quadruple bypass left her on the brink for days. “Please! I’m not ready to lose her!” My prayer was answered. The glue they used on her bursting artery worked, and she lived. But 9 years later, with pneumonia and her heart condition, she refused treatment and convinced us all that she was truly ready to join Dad in heaven. We respected her wishes, but it was still not her time. She was disappointed when she graduated from hospice. Now, 4 years later, having dementia added to the burden of pain, she was desperate to leave. We understood, and made sure her doctors and nurses were prepared to keep her comfortable, but forgo any efforts to extend her life.

She improved, and was stable, but I wondered if this would be our last good-bye. As hard as it was, our tears were sprinkled with smiles and laughter as we agreed we had left nothing unsaid. That our thank yous and I love yous had been plenty. That we’d been blessed with the best friendship a mother and daughter could have. Still…

But when I got off the plane into Florida’s green January, it felt like stepping into another dimension, and I knew I’d made the right decision. Maybe it would even make it easier for Mom to leave this earth, without me and my tears there holding her back. When I spoke to her on the phone, her voice was weak, but she was happy that I was there in the warm sun.

Then something happened that I thought was just another moment with nature, but turned out to be more, at least in my heart and mind. As I walked to to the beach, a huge osprey flew right over me with a big bloody fish in his talons, landing on a nearby utility pole. Wow. I was so glad I had my camera in my pocket! I took a few shots, then tip-toed in closer and captured video as he spread his awesome wings, balancing against the wind as he waited for the fish to give up the fight and become lunch – fresh sushi! (I say “he” with confidence only now, having learned that female ospreys have a necklace of brown feathers, which he lacked.)

I walked happily back to the beach house, anxious to tell my friends about my luck. Maxine said she wasn’t surprised. “You draw wildlife to you.” We watched the video on my camera, and saw a feather fall from the bird’s tail. “I need to go find it!”

I looked for the feather under the pole, but with the wind madly shifting directions, who knew where it might have landed? As I searched, picturing the feather being blown from the bird, I suddenly remembered what had happened 11 days earlier.

I was walking down by the Minnesota River when a young bald eagle flew over me. I always loved sharing my sightings with Mom, so I stopped at her nursing home and told her, adding that Native Americans say the eagle is blessing you when it flies over. She shared my excitement, as always. Then I asked her, “When you’re an angel, will you fly over me and bring me a blessing?” She beamed and said “Yes, I will!” I told her to drop a feather so I’d know it was her.

My heart skipped a beat. Was that osprey sent by Mom to bless me? Had she finally gotten her wish? Was she an angel? Now I had to find the feather. I searched earnestly, almost desperately. Finally, there it was, lying on the sand, making me softly gasp when it came into view, more beautiful than I expected with its distinctive, gently curving dark and light stripes. My eyes welled with gratitude as I reached down, picked it up, and kissed it.

As I walked slowly back toward the beach, the osprey came back and circled over me. “Thank you!” I whispered up to him. I walked back down the beach, wondering if Mom had died. But the sand was radiant and the breeze cool, and somehow, I didn’t feel sad or afraid.

We had our lunch and took pictures, and Connie opened her cards. While others said their good-byes, I slipped outside and called my brother James. “Did Mom die this morning?” Silence. “You’re supposed to be on vacation. I’m not supposed to tell you… but she’s having lunch with Teresa, so no, I’m sure I’d have heard if she died.” We laughed. I told him what had happened, and asked him to tell Mom about the osprey dropping a feather, and that I was waiting for hers. He said it would be an eagle when it was Mom.

So Mom didn’t get her wish. But I did get a blessing. Now, when I think of Mom dying, I’m not as afraid. I see her free as a bird – that majestic bird – and just as beautiful and powerful. Pain-free and happy. And I know, whether or not she drops me a feather, that she will continue to bless me. For she gave me care and lessons and memories and love that will stay with me every day of my life, until I get to be a bird and fly away to join her.

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© 2015 Holly Jorgensen and Northern Holly Creations

Spring Cleaning for Mother Nature’s Mood Swings

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Brrrr! It’s Friday morning and 19 degrees windchill!

Was the 84 degree temp on Wednesday just an April Fool’s joke?

Spring

Ah, the smell of mud and moss

The crocuses are coming!

Night is filled with a chorus of frogs

and the squawking of geese,

calling their kin from the south.

The resident beavers,

freed from beneath their glass ceiling,

reclaim the lake

and answer my playful warnings with their own.

Painted turtles do a dance—he tickles her chin.

They come to my canoe and look right up at me.

Are they too sleepy to be afraid,

or too much in love?

Bluebirds have already claimed house #40.

Miss Lilac prepares to unfurl her green flags,

while the pussy willows fluff up their furry tails.

It’s all so exciting!

If only there were not that ominous

something wrong.

The frightening math

of 81 degrees

on the 26th of March

at the 45th parallel.

( ©March 26, 2007     Holly Jorgensen)

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That was eight years ago. We Minnesotans still love our warm spring days. But now we know they are not just anecdotes, or the stuff of poems. They are breaking records, yet are only mild examples of the extremes happening world-wide. The science is indisputable – climate change is here, wreaking all kinds of havoc with our planet and our economies. The good news is that fewer people are wasting energy denying the facts and more are investing in energy-saving and carbon-reducing technologies. For 3 minutes of entertaining good news on global innovations, click here. http://climaterealityproject.org/video/good-news

We can’t all replace our old windmills with turbines, but we can all do something. Recycling is a start. If you’re busy with spring cleaning and wondering what to do with the excess stuff so many of us have, or if you actually need some things but would rather not buy new and feed the engines of over-consumption and pollution, you might enjoy reading my blog of last April, Free Stuff at the Curbside Boutique! It’s April again and pick-ups start soon in many communities. If you’re not quite ready for cruising the curbs, the church rummage sales are right around the corner, and the second-hand stores are brimming with gifts from other people purging. Whether you donate your cast-offs or shop second-hand, you are spring-cleaning more than your own little habitat. You’re helping to reduce waste on the planet and taking a small step toward stability in the weather, and perhaps in your own wallet. Have fun!

The Gift of the Buck

The Gift of the Buck

Step Into the Light

 

My dear friend Mary asked if I would help serve dinner at a homeless shelter. Sure, why not? And I was excited when she invited me to sit in with her band. But I didn’t realize the dinner was the day after the gig, or that we had to make dinner and bring it, for 50 people. Oh, well. At least I could volunteer for salad, and avoid making the casseroles.

It had been years since I’d sung with a band, so I was a bit nervous, but the music flowed, and we all had fun. After the long drive home, it was going on midnight and I went from wired to tired. But the next day was going to be full, so before I could hit the sack, I had to wash, dry, rip and re-package twenty heads of romaine lettuce, toast a couple pounds of almonds, wash apples, and cut red onions. A small thing, considering how blessed I was compared to those who would eat this simple meal. And yet, though I hate to admit it, I was feeling a bit grumpy as I bumbled around the kitchen.

Then the familiar motion-detector light on the garage caught my eye, and there it was – this stunning buck, watching me as I gazed at him. Thank you, I thought, almost holding my breath. I’m so glad I’m up and in the kitchen!

I told myself not to even think of getting my camera. Just soak in these magic moments. I did. Then I realized my camera was right behind me. Luck on top of luck! Even as I took a step back, then closer to the window, and took picture after picture, the buck was unconcerned, keeping an eye on me between nibbles of dried-up garden.

The light went out. I suspected he came through the arbor and down the steps into the grassier yard, as the fawns and their mothers often did. I couldn’t resist going to the door and slowly opening it. I should have known he would bound off through the darkness, unseen. But just hearing his hooves hit the ground and feeling his presence without walls, windows, and camera between us made my heart beat faster. Would he come back? Maybe he was one of the fawns born in my yard over the years, returning to a place that felt safe, on this, the first day of hunting season.

I went back to work on the lettuce, but my tiredness and resentment had vanished. All I felt was wonder and gratitude, and all I saw was that picture of grace.

© 2014 Holly Jorgensen