Resting in the cradle of
gratitude. That’s what I’ve been doing since my Dec 15th book
launch, where I was overwhelmed by the support of friends. Since then, my heart
has been further warmed as I’ve been contemplating both the years of advice and
the kind words coming in as people read the final result. True, I’ve been busy.
I gathered with friends to celebrate the holidays with warmth and laughter. I
set up a page to sell my book on my website and have mailed them to people in
AZ, CO, NJ, GA, OR and Grand Marais. I’ve gotten them into Hennepin and Dakota
County Libraries and am preparing several new programs for upcoming bookings.
I’m catching up on tasks like housekeeping and paperwork. I’ve gone to a bunch
of events related to books or the environment and sung in the choir for a
Martin Luther King Day program.
But, more than I’ve been
able to in a long time, I’m resting in the cradle of gratitude. I didn’t feel
the need to post anything on Facebook, but looked occasionally to see what friends
were up to. I was struck when my friend Carol posted these words. (Sorry—we
don’t know who wrote them.)
And then it happens… One day
you wake up and you’re in this place. You’re in this place where everything
feels right. Your heart is calm. Your soul is lit. Your thoughts are positive.
Your vision is clear. You’re at peace, at peace with where you’ve been, at
peace with what you’ve been through and at peace with where you’re headed.
I thought “Yes! I’m in that
I’ve been through a lot the last few years, but it doesn’t matter now. I crossed the finish line. I’m in that special place. There is still, and will always be, a lot to do. Challenges will come again. That’s the nature of life, and all the more reason to breathe deeply and savor this place while I’m in it. I will continue to share, by speaking, writing, and maybe travelling with my book, but I will take time to embrace the things that make me happy. The things I wrote about in my book, but that the book sometimes kept me from doing! Walking in the woods or at my happy place—the zoo. Swimming. Contemplating dragonflies. Capturing and sharing the moon and Mother Nature’s other treasures through photos. Journaling. Beautifying my yard. Reading other people’s books. And resting.
Today, January 28th, is my 70th birthday. When I told a friend, he said “It’s just a number. It doesn’t mean a thing.” He must have assumed I was dreading it. Just the opposite. To me, that number is proof that I’m an elder. Native American culture tells me that’s an honor, and other sources agree. I’m entering an era of wisdom, freedom, and personal power, rich with spiritual meaning. I have permission to do what I want, what I feel is important in my last chapters, and also to rest.
I had this new picture of me taken right before
my book came out. I didn’t want people seeing a younger me in my author
picture, then meeting a “crone” when they came to hear me speak. But I must
admit, the picture—unedited except for removing the reflections in my
glasses—doesn’t look very cronish, despite my silver hair. Why? I was happy.
The sun was shining, my good friend Carol was there taking my picture, and I
was, frankly, laughing inside, thinking I was probably the only person ever to
have her author picture taken in an outhouse. But I had built it, and it was
cute, clean, and fresh, so I thought it was the perfect frame for me.
Crone can mean a disagreeable, malicious old
woman, or a wise old woman with an open heart. If we are lucky enough to get
old, let’s aim for the latter.
The countdown begins! Printing of Enchanted will be complete on Tuesday! Please join us for the launch on Saturday, December 15th at 2pm. Woodlake Nature Center is conveniently located at 6710 Lakeshore Drive in Richfield. I will have an order page on my site soon. In the meantime, a big thank you to Kayla Culver for this article in the December 6th issue of SunThisWeek Newspaper.
Local author debuts book on living a sustainable life
Reduce, reuse and recycle is more than a phrase to Lakeville resident and author Holly Jorgensen. It’s a way of life.
Jorgensen has been speaking and writing about how she lives below modest means by relishing used and found objects since 2005. Her new book “Enchanted – Reflections from a Joyfully Green and Frugally Rich Life” shares her secrets to reduce the urge to buy, rescuing items from thrift stores, rummage sales or items left on the curb.
The book not only discusses how Jorgensen lives but touches on consumers living paycheck to paycheck, the use of plastic, dependence on oil and other pollutants.
“I don’t claim to be an expert on anything except my lifestyle,” Jorgensen said in her abridged introduction. “I have no desire to tell anyone else how to live, but only to offer proof that there are alternatives to following the flock. I hope my humble examples offer strength to resist the barrage of consumer pressures surrounding us. There are many changes we can make and still be, well – normal. Sort of normal. But definitely happy. Very happy.”
Jorgensen adds she enjoys hearing at her presentations about those who find a great piece of clothing at a thrift store, about someone’s organic garden or how they compost.
Jorgensen spoke with the newspaper recently about her inspirations, way of living and her influence on her listeners and readers.
Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield is hosting Jorgensen’s book launch Saturday, Dec. 15, at 2 p.m. Guests will have the opportunity to enjoy snacks, door prizes, readings and an appearance from singer and actor T. Mychael Rambo.
What inspired you to write this book?
In 2005, a St. Thomas professor asked me to speak to his graduate engineering class. I was surprised, but he wanted me to share how I thought “outside the box.” Since then, I’ve been speaking to all kinds of groups and finding that people are hungry for new ways to look at the world and social norms. As my talks expanded, along with the power point tours of how I’d transformed my wooded homestead with found objects, my audiences encouraged me to write a book. I’ve been working on it for 10 years between work and life events. When I started getting terrific responses to my nature photography, that inspired me to use it in the book to touch people’s hearts and move them to get out there, to enjoy and protect our Mother Earth.
How has living a frugally rich life influenced you?
I’m so grateful that my parents taught me to be frugal. They, along with coming of age in the 60s and great friendships all along the way, encouraged me to be my own person rather than try to keep up with the Joneses. Some might think I make a lot of sacrifices, but I don’t feel that way at all. By always thinking about what’s really important to me, what brings me joy and security, I’ve learned to ignore the ads and pressures to conform. That has brought me tremendous freedom. And I must confess I find treasure hunting through used or discarded goods to be much more fun than shopping in over-priced stores. But even that doesn’t compare with the joy I find in nature, which is always around the corner waiting to give us great peace and strength.
How are you hoping “Enchanted” will influence your readers?
I’ve been warmed by the stories my audiences share about how I’ve inspired them to consume less. I especially like sharing the results of the classic marshmallow experiment. It has shown, for decades, how much more content and successful children are when they are not spoiled; when they learn to wait and to think, rather than expecting instant gratification. I believe that kids who are raised with more outdoor time, whether being active or simply with curiosity and reverence for all creatures, rather than being consumed by screen time, will be happier and healthier while being empowered to make our world the same. I also hope my unique experiences will encourage young and old to seek the blessings of friendships, whether unexpected ones with critters, or by stepping outside your core community to experience the rich rewards of embracing diversity.
Yes, I have a book coming out in November! People seem excited about the hundred-plus color photos, but it also has about 60,000 words. That’ll be about 300 pages. So I’m sharing parts of my introduction here, for a better picture of what’s coming. You’ll be able to buy it from my website, but I hope you’ll come to a launch or reading so I can sign it for you and see your beautiful faces. Stay tuned!
The group of seven teens who came to help me pull buckthorn said they felt like they were at Snow White’s cottage in the enchanted forest. But no, I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a princess in a castle with a handsome prince. I dreamed of being Jane in the jungle with Tarzan. As I got a little older, it was Jane Goodall who inspired me. I still haven’t made it to the jungles of Africa, but I’ve been blessed to spend considerable time in the woods, and now live in my own little forest. I’m no Jane, but people say I have extraordinary connections to animals. I certainly feel close to Mother Nature, and I hope the stories that follow will encourage others, young and old, to slow down and explore her magic.
The other part of my life that some find unusual is my passion for being green and frugal, especially by reusing, and often transforming, all kinds of “stuff.” You might call it junk. When people hear of my “Magic Dumpster” or how I often seem to “manifest” what I need and find it on the curb, they think I must lead an enchanted life. That kind of enchantment may be harder to understand or to express, but it’s hardly new. I like the way this guy put it a couple of centuries ago.
To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and
refinement rather than fashion; . . . to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly;
to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart; to bear all cheerfully,
do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never.
In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through
This is to be my symphony.
~ William Henry Channing (1810-1884)
American philosopher, writer, and Unitarian clergyman
I didn’t always know I was unusual. In July of 2005, my friend Al asked me to speak to his graduate engineering class. I asked, “About what? I’m not an engineer!”
“About your lifestyle. You’re one of only two people I know who live the way you do, and I want you to inspire my students to think outside the box.” He said they were talking about sustainable communities, and I’d fit right in.
Al was right about me and the box. I lived outside the box of American consumption. I’d jumped off the flashing Ferris wheel—the ups and downs and rounds and rounds of sacrificing time to make money to spend on the next big thing. I never made much money as a teacher or part-time librarian, but I lived (and still live) happily below my modest means by relishing used and found objects. I guess I had engineered a free and joyful life for myself by measuring my needs, assessing my strengths, and bridging the gaps with the buttress of my values. So I spoke to the engineers, and they heard.
Since then, I’ve been speaking to all kinds of groups. I delight in sharing that many, if not most, of my belongings have been free, or nearly so. Whether rescued from the curb, given to me, or bought at a rummage sale or thrift shop, almost everything is secondhand. Sure, I buy new undies, but even those I often find, still in the package but for much less, at the thrift store. I’m typing this on a store-bought laptop, but I’ve also found good electronics at the recycling center. And because I recycle, compost, and donate, I generate almost no waste.
It’s fun to see people in the audience smile as they respond. “I got this classy jacket at a thrift store for only three dollars!” “We grow our own organic vegetables!” “I built a compost bin from scrap wood!”
I’m so encouraged to see people open their eyes to the global aspects of consumption and begin to ask where things come from and where they go when we’re through with them. “Ah!” they realize, “Concern for the environment fits nicely with my desire to stop living beyond my means. They are two sides of the same coin—the one I’m keeping in my pocket.” While I teach, I also learn, and am challenged to examine my own “greenness” more closely.
Rocking in the old wooden chair on the high, tiny deck I call my “tree house,” I feel the gentle breeze of wings on my cheek. A hummingbird, its scalloped tail unfurled, hovers at the feeder, fueling up for the thousand-mile journey he must make to survive the winter. I marvel at his efficient use of a bit of nectar and wish him well on his autumn flight. In sharp contrast to his prudent sipping of the resource is the community of ants in the feeder. They drift in various stages of sugar intoxication, blind to the warning in the dead bodies floating around them. The sweet life, and its irresistible abundance, seduces them until they find themselves drowning in their own endless consumption.
This scene reminds me of the daily news. Nearly 80 percent of all Americans working full time (and nearly 10 percent of those making $100,000 or more) live paycheck to paycheck. Plastic, both minuscule and monstrous, trashes our oceans. Our dependence on oil continues to threaten our security and our environment. Industry poisons our air, water, and food as it strives to fulfill our every desire, even the ones we didn’t know we had. So I feel compelled to shine a light on the pseudo-delicious red plastic feeder. But the bulk of the scenes I share are bright escape routes from its sticky syrup.
I don’t claim to be an expert on anything except my lifestyle. I have no desire to tell anyone else how to live, but only to offer proof that there are alternatives to following the flock. I hope my humble examples offer strength to resist the barrage of consumer pressures surrounding us. There are many changes we can make and still be, well—normal. Sort of normal. But definitely happy. Very happy.
One September day I was in a funk, feeling pressured and frustrated by some of life’s challenges. Since I’d promised to check on the neighbor’s cats, I took a break and paddled my canoe the short distance to their house across the lake. On the way back, I was further saddened by the dragonfly I found, apparently drowned, in the canoe. But lifting it out with my finger, I realized it was still alive, barely. I almost always have my camera, just in case an eagle appears, but today it was my excuse to pause and take pictures as this tiny creature slowly recovered, wiping its colossal eyes while its wings went from drenched to gossamer. When it finally took off into the blue sky, I realized my mood had also revived.
I resumed paddling but was stopped by what appeared to be the last water lily of the summer. The low sun and high winds created a magical scene of dancing light. After taking (way too many) pictures, I had to get back to work, but my heart had gone from embattled to enchanted. When I told my friend Susan, she said, “That’s the name of your book.”
I am often moved, by sadness and joy. But there were more tears than I expected on my first vacation in California.
I first moistened up with a smile, feeling that thrill of take off, thankful that Dad taught us to love flying. I suppose one could have cried about the first three days of rain and mandatory evacuation alerts in the “sunny” coastal town of Carpinteria, but why? I trusted the judgment of my gracious hosts, Jean and Denny Fox, that our risk was minimal. I enjoyed walking on the beach and salt marsh when the rain was light. When it poured, I was happy to weed my photos, or visit or play a game with my friends.
The sun finally came out and blessed our outing to the Santa Ynez Valley, where we reveled in the green hillsides and flowers, tasted the local wine, and were charmed by a little brown lamb. When I snapped just one picture of a red-tailed hawk overhead and was lucky enough to capture its beauty, I was inspired to make this a “working vacation” by taking plenty of pictures—as if that was ever in doubt!
As a writer with Danish roots, I couldn’t refuse my hosts’s offer to take me to Solvang to muse about Hans Christian Andersen and the Little Mermaid, and admire the colorful old world architecture.
I was glad that we all wanted to go to Santa Barbara for the March for Our Lives. The emphasis on voting was exciting, and creative signs called out many facts and feelings. Speeches from people having suffered through school shootings or lost loved ones to gun violence made our cause painfully real. I appreciated the flowers and friendly dogs that occasionally took my focus from the words that tugged at my heart and dampened my eyes. But even more beautiful were the inspiring, courageous faces of the future.
Our visit to the Santa Barbara Courthouse was a fitting follow-up to the march. Though the historical accuracy of the many paintings throughout the Spanish Revival elegance was questionable, the fact that the complex is currently a working courthouse, as well as a community gathering place, gave us hope that what we and millions around the world had witnessed that day was the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice.
But most refreshing for our eyes and souls was the marina, with its playful winds, gulls, and people.
Sunday morning brought us to the cliffs above the seal rookery where Jean and Denny volunteer during the birthing months, when the area is federally protected. The first picture shows what we saw with the naked eye. Thank goodness for the zoom in my camera! I loved seeing the many colors and even whiskered expressions of the seals. The rocks shelter them from whales and sharks. Docents count seals and pups, educate visitors from around the world, and advise them of the consequences for walking the beach near the sensitive animals—a $10,000 fine and a year in jail. In the distance are oil rigs. I hoped there had been some protective measures taken since the deadly Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969.
After lunch we headed up to Montecito, site of the January mudslides following the Thomas wildfire, largest in California history. Pictures can’t compare with being there, even ten weeks after the disaster. Seeing mountainsides burned and treeless was sad enough. Seeing houses gutted by ten foot boulders and blackened by mud up to their roofs, it was impossible not to imagine the terror the occupants must have felt as, without warning, mud and debris flooded their homes as they lay in their beds. Twenty six died, while a toddler and teen were washed out to sea. Tears? Had regulations allowed us to stop or leave our cars, I’m sure we’d have had our own little floods. It was one of those times when the task of documenting with my camera helped buffer me from overwhelming sadness. Still, there was little conversation as we drove through the devastation. Even when seeing a splendid estate, somehow untouched by the forces that destroyed the home next door, we knew that the residents must be struggling with horrific questions. I wish all the climate change deniers in Washington would walk through these areas. In their pajamas.
Despite the vastness of the destruction, there were uplifting signs of the human spirit. Someone had written “Thank you everyone! We love you” in the mud covering their house. (Click on the pictures to enlarge that and other details.) I was grateful to have been a witness and that my hosts had wisely planned to follow that heartbreaking “tour” with a visit to Seaside Gardens. They knew we would find healing in the exquisite landscape and resilience of delicate flowers.
On my last full day, I wandered the quaint streets of Carpinteria, soaking in the warm air, and browsing a few shops and antique stores. Though there were lovely things, and I’d have felt justified in buying something to remind me of the trip, I knew I didn’t need that. I’d have my pictures, writing, and surely something from the beach.
The beach! Suddenly I felt I was wasting precious time and headed there quickly. I was not disappointed as I walked the beach and took it all in—the sky, the birds, the kids, the sand between my toes and the waves on my legs. But that wasn’t quite enough. I had to get in. When the first wave hit me, it was not just cold. It was reallyreallycold. But as I looked up at the sun, and wave after wave crashed into me, I forgot the cold and remembered why I’d come. I wanted a break between my old life and new. I wanted to let go of all the stress of the last year—Mom’s dementia and death, planning her celebration of life, the task of emptying and selling her house. Though tears came as I remembered all of that, I knew it was time to turn the page and concentrate on my life, my goals. I stood my ground and laughed as each wave hit me hard and knocked the weight off my shoulders. Then I realized I didn’t have to resist. I could just let each wave lift and carry me. As long as I kept my focus forward, I’d land on my feet.
When I got back to the house and showered, I found black grit inside my swim suit—soot from the wildfires. A sad reminder of how widespread and long-lasting its effects would be. But it didn’t stop me from going back on my last morning to love the beach one more time, despite the many burned and broken trees. I found a few shells and a special rock—all the souvenirs I needed. Then Jean and Denny took me to the bus and went off to watch their seals again. Once at the airport, I got a text from Jean. A body found on the rocks—another suicide. Then a seal with a huge shark bite, probably fatal. Sigh.
When people ask how my vacation was, I hesitate a moment, but then say good. Joy and sadness, beauty and horror, life and death. Not an escape from the world, but a portrait of it. Full of truth and challenge.
(c) 2018 Holly Jorgensen and Northern Holly Creations
Many of you read “The Gift of the Osprey” (my blog post of August 30, 2015) and know that Mom had long been ready to fly off as an angel, and excitedly told me she’d drop me a feather and a blessing. So when she finally made it out of here on April 25th, friends started asking me, “Has she dropped you a feather yet?”
You probably also know that Nature is my Other Mother. So I wasn’t too surprised when, after Mom’s celebration of life, I came home to find friends greeting me as I swam in my lake. Two grand birds soaring high—eagles or vultures? Either would be symbolic, as both eat carrion, turning the dead into new energy. A white dove, just like the one we released ten years ago at Dad’s celebration, circled over me. Dad? Is that you? Or Mom, going to join Dad? Or (smile) just one of the many white doves my neighbors John and Marsha released at another event that day, returning home to roost? Whatever it was, it made me cry happy tears. The contrail of a jet shone brilliantly as it shot upward toward the sun. That had to be Dad, the lifelong aviator, ecstatically welcoming Mom! Then swallows, catching the sun on their golden breasts as they swooped, and a perfect row of 16 geese flying over with that wonderful sound of swishing wings. But the best, as I reached the middle of our little lake, was a beautiful great blue heron that dipped gracefully over me. Was that B saying Mom’s there with him and Dad now? (See “The Gifts of the Great Blue Heron and the Great Blues Man.”) No matter the source, each was a generous blessing. Then who shows up but the goose family that had been visiting me daily. So I called to them, and they followed me to the dock for a little picnic of corn. It was the perfect closing to the long vigil with Mom and the busy preparation and day of her celebration. I finally relaxed.
It was a week later when Father Goose showed up with one of his wing feathers askew, time to molt and grow new ones for the migration. So I told him it would be nice if he dropped it here for me, but I felt silly, knowing that was pretty unlikely, since they traveled a wide range over this lake and the next. Even if he dropped it here, it would surely drift away or into the cattails. Oh, well. But I did take a good look at it, just in case.
The next day I went down to the dock for my swim late, not thinking about the geese or feather. But as I walked by the loon nesting platform (waiting to be anchored further out) I couldn’t help but notice a feather. The feather. Looking not at all dropped, but as if it had been carefully, artfully, deliberately placed so that I’d know Mom put it there. Astonished, I imagined her smiling as I kissed it, then dove in for my swim.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the sky. Another shining contrail heading up to heaven. Golden clouds in the west, deep blue ones in the east that morphed into – an angel. Really! A broad skirt, two outstretched wings, a round head crowned with a halo turning gold. Of course, by the time I got back to the dock to take pictures, the clouds had drifted. But they were still beautiful, and kept changing. I brought the feather in, and looked forward to telling people about it and the angel. But did I really believe they were sent by Mom?”
It’s been over two months since that extraordinary day. The feather still lies on my table, but the geese are gone. Their strong new feathers carried them into the sky, where they joined other families preparing to migrate. I miss them, as I miss Mom.
But then a pair of loons came, one with a rare golden breast. They flirted, danced, and hooted for hours while I took their pictures. A doe stood on the shore, nursing her fawn, and soothing my heart, as I watched from my canoe.My friendly sunfish Greenie finally left the nest he’d been cleaning and guarding for so long. I hope he avoids the hooks and returns for a third summer with me. But now I have a new green friend—a tree frog. He sits on my kitchen window every night, as calm as a little Buddha, even with the clatter of dishes and my chattering to him.
Could all, or any of these, really be signs from Mom? I don’t know. But they are daily reminders of the constant change that is life. One season after another. Life inevitably moving on to death to make room for the next joyful birth. While both ancient and modern cultures speak of the presence of ancestors in nature, scientists tell us that the same DNA exists in all living beings. That nothing—matter or energy—is ever lost. As Joni Mitchell put it, “We are stardust, billion year old carbon.”
I asked my friend Susan to talk about this, since she has a gift for seeing the mystical. She told me about Alice, an old woman she grew close to while working in a nursing home. Alice had a potty mouth but a sweet heart. On her deathbed, her eyes grew wide and she softly said “I am the wind, the sun, and the flower!” Susan, amazed, asked her, “Are you becoming one with the universe?” Alice gently nodded—yes.
(c) 2017 Holly Jorgensen and Northern Holly Creations
This spectacular sunset is the closest I have to a picture of the Bible’s burning bush. Years ago, I got involved in a small, but bitter, political fight. It was extremely hard for me, but environmental concerns compelled me to fight for what I loved and believed in. During sleepless nights, I reminded myself of how Paul and Sheila Wellstone spoke truth to power. Someone said they were like the Bible’s burning bush, on fire for their causes, but never consumed. They fought like hell for what they believed in, but could socialize and laugh with their adversaries at the end of the day.
I’ll never achieve their political skill, but I hold on to that image when I am pushed to speak up on important matters. Like the frigid day I went to sit in the hot tub at the Y. I had just gotten in when a man started chatting with me. I wasn’t in the mood, but was friendly and smiled… until he started talking – no, gloating – about Trump coming into office. I quietly said, “You’re happy now, we’ll see later.” When he started boasting about how great it will be in four, and eight years, I just had to say more. “You said you had a daughter who’s a teacher. Is it really okay with you that Trump abuses women?” Of course he went into the “Clinton was worse” line. I pointed out that one was a mistake, a seduction, and he apologized for it. The other was assault and he bragged about it. Big difference. Not to mention the many times Trump verbally disrespected women, clearly treating them as sexual objects.
After a couple similar exchanges, I told him I didn’t want to argue. I’d come there to relax. But when I closed my eyes and sank a bit deeper into the bubbling warmth, I thought about the African American man who had joined us there. Though the braggart hadn’t actually said anything racist, I was pretty sure the black man must be feeling as uncomfortable with him as I was. Then I flashed back to a time – the only time – when I was verbally attacked for being white. What could have been a devastating public embarrassment (I’m told my face showed the horror) turned into a blessing I’ll never forget. Before another word could come from the old woman’s mouth, I was surrounded by black friends. “Don’t listen to her… she’s crazy… we love you… you’re one of us… we’re so sorry you had to hear that…” and more. That memory gave me the courage to open my eyes and turn to the laughing man.
“So, do you think Trump is racist?”
“Not when the people coming across the border are rapists and drug dealers.”
“I was thinking of when he and his father wouldn’t let blacks rent their apartments. Is that okay?”
“It depends on what they were doing to the apartment.”
“They never had a chance. Their applications were marked with a “C” for colored and they couldn’t even look at one. Is that okay?”
He was quiet, then “But you have to admit he’s a great businessman!”
“Really? With four bankruptcies?”
“But he has a lot of money!”
“Really? You have no idea what he has because he won’t show his tax returns. Years ago the banks kept his name on buildings he’d lost, just for recognizability. He brags that he doesn’t pay taxes. That means he either lost a lot of money, gave a lot away, or cheated. And we know his foundation rarely gives anything away. In fact, he sometimes doesn’t even pay his workers, and clearly took money from innocent college students at his so-called university. Is that okay?”
It went on like this until he left, perhaps not humbled, but seemingly less inflated and obnoxious. The black man crossed the pool and sat by me, with a quiet word of solidarity. He’d grown up in Arkansas and was all too familiar with that kind of man. We shared our frustrations, but then spoke of the gospel music we both loved, sang, and wrote, and found we had friends in common. We laughed, he softly sang, and our spirits were lifted. I’ll probably never see either of them again, but I will remember that night – another bitter taste turned sweet.
I’m not a fighter, until backed into a corner or standing up for what I believe. That encounter with the brash man was not fun. But I slept well that night, knowing I’d done the right thing. Did I change him, or at least make him think a little? Will he be a little less likely to spout off to strangers? Who knows. But the others in the pool heard me challenge him, armed with facts and calm. Maybe, when they are in a similar situation, it will be easier to speak up. I know it will be for me.
I never intended my blog to be about politics, but these days, it infuses our lives. While people have asked me to put more of my cards on my website, I also have friends thanking me for sharing that story. I wrestled with which is more important. Then I heard Meryl Streep quote Carrie Fisher: “Take your broken heart, make it into art.” And I realized I don’t have to choose. My art is about life. And it is often the best expression of my beliefs. So, for the record, and in case you missed them, here are a few of my cards. I hope they comfort you as they do me, and encourage you to speak your truth, whether in words or art.
I am so grateful!
For skies of sun and rain
for critters wild and tame
for songs of orchestra or bird
written page and spoken word
my mother’s smile and “I love you”
but smiles of strangers bless me, too
so whether you are far or near
a new acquaintance, old friend, dear
I appreciate you all…
even the turkeys
We have so much to be thankful for, including all the talented comedians who point out how ridiculous some of the actors in this drama are. When I think of them as the turkeys they are (“a stupid or inept person” – Oxford Dictionary) I feel less afraid and more sure they will fade into the cautionary annals of history.
America has been humbled, by both our actions and inaction. I hope we can all accept some of that humility and really listen to those of other faiths, colors, orientations, and differing political points of view.
As always, I will look to nature for beauty, joy, strength, and solace.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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,
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.