Greenie’s back, my cancer’s gone!

(and some pretty pictures)

If I sound emotional, I was! Read the story to see why.

Watch this short video to see how happy Greenie and Slim and I are to be together again. (If you don’t know who Greenie is, check out some earlier blog posts, read page 134 of my book, Enchanted, or google “Holly and Greenie”.) Every spring I’ve been amazed and thrilled when Greenie was the first fish to show up at my dock, and clearly remembered me. But this, the seventh year, it truly felt like a miracle. Why?

The Horror Movie

Last fall, as the water was getting colder, the fish came less frequently, as usual, but I still looked for them most days. One evening I went down to the lake and found the head of a sunfish on the dock. I didn’t panic. It could be anyone, half eaten by any of the predators who frequented our lake. But then I saw the head of a bass. Slim was the only bass I’d seen by the dock. My heart sank as I reasoned that the bass was Slim, and, since they were always together, the sunfish could very well be Greenie. I imagined a mink or otter catching one of them and the surrounding fish scattering in terror, except for the mate of the victim.

I knew someday I would lose my friend Greenie, but never pictured this. Could it really be that the universe or fate or some strange power left these two heads on my dock as . . . what? A good-bye? A sign that they would not be back? I truly marveled that Greenie could have such a life – living free and long, touching the hearts of thousands of people, then dying with the one he loved while giving life to another of God’s creatures? I should be so lucky! Yet I cried and grieved deeply, as we all do at the loss of one we love, be they human or another animal.

I told just a few friends. They were shocked and very sad, but agreed it seemed likely that it was Greenie and Slim that I found that night. I went down to the lake every day in hopes that I was wrong. Only one green sunfish showed up and did not come up to me the way Greenie always did, so I had little hope to cling to. I decided then that I would not share the sad possibility with anyone else. After all, I couldn’t know for sure it was them. If they were not here in the spring, I’d have to decide whether to reveal my suspicions about their demise – a violent yet necessary part of the circle of life – or to assume they didn’t make it through the winter. Greenie was, after all, at least nine years old. Everything I’d read put a green sunfish’s lifespan at ten years max.

I knew I owed it to Greenie to write a children’s book about our friendship, but it was even harder than I expected. Gleaning six years of my diaries, I pulled out 70 pages of notes related to him and our other wild friends. I had studied the best of children’s books and knew that hard truths – be they danger, fear, or sadness – were often vital elements of a treasured story. But could I really end the book with two heads on the dock?

The Miracle

That’s where I was stuck when the ice finally went out this spring. People were asking “Is Greenie back?” I checked the lake every day, putting my hand in for anyone there to smell, but not really speculating on the chances.

On May 5th, it was finally warm enough to keep my hand in there a minute or more. Wondering how long it would be until I could swim, I wasn’t really expecting any fish. But suddenly, there they were. Greenie and Slim and a little one (presumably one of their kids?) looking up at me. I was beyond happy, and I believe they were pretty darn glad to see me, too. I brought our joy to Greenie’s ichthyologist and the few grieving friends – “the report of their death was greatly exaggerated.” Now Greenie’s book will have a happy ending!

The Cancer

Cancer? Oh, yeah. I had a little bit of breast cancer, but it’s gone. I didn’t tell a lot of people because I knew I’d be okay and didn’t want you to worry. It was a 6mm spot on a mammogram and I had complete confidence in my docs at Mayo. From diagnosis through surgery to end of radiation was less than two months – all made less scary by the support of caring friends. My heart goes out to so many whose stories are not so easy. I’m sharing mine now just to remind us of the power of early detection.

The really fascinating part of my story is that Greenie may actually have smelled my cancer before I knew I had it, like dogs and cats and pigeons can! That will be in Greenie’s book. But even if you have a critter to sniff you out, please consider a doctor. My little cancer road trip could have become a cancer journey had it not been for regular mammograms. And men, please get whatever tests your docs recommend, too!

The pictures below are proof that there is beauty around us, even during challenging times, if we can dry our tears and open our eyes.

On my many trips to Mayo in Cannon Falls, Redwing, and Northfield, I got to stop and say hello to cows.
cow and calves
They were checking me out, too, as they played in the April mud.
wildflowers
Spring wildflowers make dying leaves fade into the background.
trees reflected in water
A good time for reflection.
goslings
How could I not be delighted at the sight of fluffy new goslings!
flowers and cat
I deeply appreciated flowers, food, rides, prayers, and caring words from friends, along with snuggles from Leo and Lucky.
sunset, barn, power lines
The day after Greenie and Slim showed up, I was coming home from my last radiation treatment when this scene grabbed me. Seeing all those poles supporting and connecting power lines made me think about all the sources of power in my life.
Holly moved a big rock
Just to assure you I really am okay and am getting my energy back, I mowed the lawn, swam the lake, and moved this BIG rock. And yes, I still have my breasts and my hair. Pretty darn lucky, ha?! My sincerest thanks to all the kind folks at all the Mayos. They were amazing.

Shedding toward Happy Holidays

Last December I wrote that I was happy to be finishing up my shed rebuilding project. In April I wrote “Farewell to the Winter of Covid”.  Well, the shed project took longer and turned out to be more challenging than expected. So has covid.

 I suspect we are all feeling the same about the problems in our world. Like my shed, it’s more of a mess than we realized. The solution, of course, is to dig in and work together for the good of all. I LOVE my “new” shed and campfire spot. The deer and ‘possum have visited, and I’ve warmed my body and soul by the fire. The story is told below in pictures. Do you see any similarities with what we’ve been going through?

2021 meant letting go of things and wants and negativities that no longer felt important to me. I slowed down, thought about personal and global issues, wrote, and studied scenes I captured with my camera. With the blessing of vaccination, I loved getting back to enjoying outdoor concerts and other safe activities with friends.

But my daily swims were what kept me happy in the unprecedented heat. When the ice went out and Greenie showed up for a sixth wonderful summer with me, I had to buy an underwater camera to observe all I could about him. Especially exciting was recording the sounds he made, and his ichthyologist Peter’s conclusion that they were courting sounds! I plan to use this winter to learn more, isolate pictures from the videos, and use them to write a children’s book about Greenie and his friends. It warms my heart to be one of them! So this year my holiday picture is of Greenie and me. It was not easy to take, but so rewarding to have, especially with that magical ray of sun lighting the daisy. It follows the shed pictures, along with my wish for you.

The shed was an old pigeon coop I turned into a garden shed 25 years ago, now in desperate need of a new floor and roof.
First task – emptying. Thanks to Nancy for helping! Where did all that come from and where should it go? It felt good to give, donate, and recycle a lot.
Thanks to Ann for picking up a million crumbled shingles as I dropped them. Which was ickier, prying off three layers of sticky shingles or . . .
prying off old dusty drywall? Both!
When a monster machine wouldn’t work in my yard full of trees, hills, and rocks, my awesome neighbors came to the rescue, cutting the shed apart and carrying the walls up to the new shed site by the garage. It felt a little like an old-fashioned barn-raising, but backwards.
Thanks Ronda, Jeff, Rio, Jeff, and Dan for being safety conscious in many ways.
Temporary supports – don’t walk here, deer! It was exciting to see the view opening up!
It took me two tries (plenty of exercise!) to get the foundation level so Dane and Noah could rebuild the floor. I was so lucky to find them – guys after my own heart who preferred the challenge of reusing the beautifully weathered wood to buying a plastic shed that would never return to nature.
They worked long hours to get the new roof on . . .
and the brand-new doors I had found on the curb a few years earlier. Ready for winter!
I knew it would be even more beautiful in May with the honeysuckle blooming.
Cleaning up and leveling the old shed site revealed things long hidden.
It took a lot of digging, heavy lifting, seeding and watering, but here it is – my campfire spot with the beautiful new view I’d been dreaming of. I think the shed must be happy to be spiffed up, strong, and tucked up by the garage.
The holidays are a time to focus on peace, love, and joy. May you stay safe and have an abundance of all three. The world is a beautiful place, when we pause to look and listen, even to those unlike ourselves, with a caring heart. Holly

Farewell to the Winter of Covid

Greenie and Slim are back! The crocuses are blooming! I’ll be fully vaccinated soon. But before joyfully moving on, I think it’s worth reflecting on the extraordinary winter we’ve been through. Have you been perfecting a skill? Mine is procrastination. But I did find myself capturing images that spoke to me in poems. These are in the order I wrote them. I hope you’ll make it to the final pictures, as they will surely bring a smile to your face.

b&w photo of woman and dog in park
December 30, 2020

Sometimes
The picture you took
Lacks the clarity and color
Of your favorite photos
But holds a memory
Or mood
Perfectly
Gently
As if painted
With a soft brush
And ashes
                         HJ
Leo in candlelight
December 31, 2020

Romance does not require a lover.
It appears whenever we marvel at the mysteries of love and beauty.
                                                                                            HJ
blazing sun setting on gray day
January 1, 2021
Sometimes
at the end of a cold, gray day
or year
if you walk a little higher
and search the horizon
you can catch the sun
Blazing
as it peeks out
below the ominous cover of clouds
and declares
“Don’t worry
I’m still here!”
before slipping off
to light someone else’s day
and let you rest
                                HJ
golden frosty grasses
frosty grasses
sunrise of compassion
January 31, 2021
Must all the straw be spun to gold
while children shiver in the cold? 
A Midas touch is not so much 
a blessing as a curse
if all the gold is in the purse
of just the lucky few
and receipt is built upon deceit.
What good are rising stalks and stocks 
when grown from earth that cries and dies 
in flame and flood and choking spew?

Let the sunrise of compassion
warm the frosty hearts and clear the eyes
too long believing lies 
of diamonds in the skies 
when all we really need is love and will
to share the health and wealth,
to sow and grow in moral measures, 
respect all colors, babes to elders, 
our precious once and future treasures.
                                                  HJ
rose breasted grosbeak
February 14, 2021
Love Story

"Will you be my Valentine?"
Yes, said the bird who unabashedly wears his heart on his breast.
snowman waving
"Will you be my Valentine?"
Yes, said the waving snowman, belonging to no-one and everyone.
injured hawk
"Will you be my Valentine?" asked the young red-tailed hawk, lying face-down in the snow. He perked up in the warmth of my home, giving me hope overnight. The Raptor Center did what they could, but sometimes the love that is needed is the hardest love to give. 
deer in arbor lights
 
"Will you be my Valentine?"
Yes, said the deer, posing in the dusk to warm my heart on this frigid night.          
                                                                                           HJ
March 13, 2021 
How I survived the Winter of Covid

I must confess ‘twas a walk in the park
almost daily ‘tween dawn and dark
no mask did I need in the wide open spaces
with six feet between the smiles on the faces
of people who passed me, happy to be
escaping the lockdown, totally free
but the moments that made my weary heart dance
were the dozens of dogs I met by chance
romping in snow, wagging a tail 
eager to sniff out any new trail 
but happy to stop and give me some Love 
and Joy and Hope and evidence of 
the truth in the saying, as souls are changed,
that DOG is surely GOD rearranged
                                                             HJ

The Gift of New Views




My wish for you and us all

Mornings frosty, sky so blue

A rising sun, a truer view

Open hearts and open minds 

Peace on Earth for all mankind

 

In a year of many emotions, the one that overwhelms me is gratitude. I treasure my health, the little home that I love, and friends and family, if only from a distance. I miss the hugs but am content with my two snuggly cats for now.

The cancellation of my speaking gigs meant not selling many books or cards, but also more time for projects. Rebuilding my rickety old dock was a big task, but the new, larger one enhanced my daily swims and came in handy when Greenie suddenly became a star. What a privilege it has been to share my special friend in hopes that others will find their own ways to lock eyes with Mother Nature.

The next, bigger challenge was disassembling, moving, and rebuilding my ancient garden shed, complete with skylight for viewing the stars! (An old sliding glass door, of course.) Big thanks to the many friends who helped make that happen. The best part is the newly opened view where the sagging shed used to stand. I can now feast my eyes on the stretch of quiet woods and shore where the deer and eagles often come to rest.

Looking at the photo above, you see what I saw one special morning — the brilliant sun rising under an arch of dark foliage adorned with delicate frost. Now turn it upside down.

Do you see distant snow-covered trees rising from a wind-swept earth and reaching for the sun? Or perhaps whitecaps on a dark, angry sea? A new perspective can change everything.

 2020 turned a lot of things upside-down. My heart has ached for the earth, for the hungry and lonely, and for those who long for shelter, health, and justice. Yet we have gained a new perspective, a clearer view of inequities that have always been there. That’s a good thing. We have thought a bit more about what and who is essential. I am optimistic that truth and compassion have been sparked. That the newly opened view will lead to more open hearts and a better world.

I wish you bright rising suns and shining stars

at this holiday season and always.

What the World Needs Now

Do you remember that song? Watch the new video at the end of this post. How many of the people do you recognize?

Leo and Greenie show curiosity and respect toward each other.

Before I move on to other topics, I must follow up my last post with Kare 11’s video of Greenie and me for posterity and those who missed it on TV. I also want to thank, again, Boyd Huppert and Chad Nelson for the incredible job they did recording and writing the story. I’m still flabbergasted at the response – thousands of reactions, shares, and re-publications around the country and even overseas – and hundreds of comments. All of this attests to the exceptional sensitivity and skill of Chad and Boyd. Here are just a few samples of the comments flooding in. There were even a few who had known of similar friendships. Maybe you can have one, too!

I am so unbelievably moved by this, that it has brought me to tears. . . . So lovely that your special friendship with Greenie is seen as newsworthy. . . . In the midst of so much bad news, it’s great to see this bright spot. . . .This story made me smile today! . . . It certainly changed my perspective about fish. . . They handled the subject very respectfully. Hooray. . . .What a happy, uplifting story. . . .Your poem was especially poignant! . . . this made my day . . . Awesome story . . . A joyful, calming, and heartwarming story . . . Loved it. . .  It was so touching . . . This is soooo sweet! . . . So fun! . . . Adorable! . . . Very precious and inspiring . . . I am a believer! . . . So cool! . . . Incredible! . . . a marvel! . . . Beautiful fish. . . . This gives new meaning to the words “fish story” . . . Wonderful story. LOVED it!!! . . .This has been the most touching story of 2020.

Clearly, we are hungry for positivity. For gentleness, friendship, respect, trust, sweetness. I will definitely continue to tune in to KARE 11 for more inspiring stories from Boyd and Chad.

And I will definitely vote early and blue – not only for the environmental protections that you and I and all our animal friends desperately need – but also for civility. For the calm, honest, respectful connections that even a fish is capable of, but that some in our country have abandoned.

Click to join Greenie and me for some fun.

Bonus treat! Love Sweet Love!

Greenie’s Television Debut!

Coming this Wednesday, Sept 16th

Greenie, my Green Sunfish friend has always been special, but he’s about to become, well, famous! On Wednesday he will be the subject of Boyd Huppert’s “Land of 10,000 Stories” on the KARE 11 news, 10pm CDT. I’m excited to see the underwater video and what they chose for the short segment. Here is a bit more of his story.

Greenie getting a beetle treat
Greenie loves Japanese beetles!

It was 2016 when I noticed him in his nest by my dock. The males are notorious for guarding their nests, but there was something very different about the way he looked at me. Soon he was rubbing against my leg like a cat and letting me pet him. When he showed up the next year and acted the same, I offered him the Japanese beetles I pulled off my flowers. He was so excited his orange highlights almost glowed. That seemed to cement the friendship. I named him Greenie so I’d remember his species, since I never knew much about fish. In 2018, there was a smaller fish with him who was just as friendly. His offspring? I noticed he used only his left pectoral fin. Eventually the right one healed and had a scar. That made positive identification easy, but it’s usually behavior that helps me tell one animal from another.

Spot and Greenie greet me
Spot and Greenie greeted me as I joined them for a swim.

I understand why people might be skeptical, and think this is just a fish story. I remember hearing, as a child, that fish couldn’t feel pain, much less anything else. At first I wondered if I was just the “human at the dock” and this was their territory. That changed the day I took my daily swim and decided to sit on a log at the other end of the lake to watch the sunset. It was lovely. Then I looked down and saw someone looking up at me. Spot? Really? I put my hand in and he came and nuzzled it, and I saw the white scar that proved it was him. Oh, my goodness. Greenie has done the same, sometimes following me to the other end of the lake or to someone else’s dock, surprising them as well as me.This year, I anxiously awaited ice out. I couldn’t help but wonder if they wondered, as I did about them, “Did my friend make it through the winter?” There they were – the first two fish to show up. I was delighted, and even more motivated to swim every day, anxious to see who was out there.

Greenie rubbing my leg, like a cat.
Greenie rubbing my leg, like a cat.

Greenie came and went often, which made me happy that he was exploring the lake, as he should. Spot (named for the spot on his dorsal fin) had a bit of oatmeal with me just about every morning. Not too long into the summer, there was a day when Spot came, but kept his distance. Had he been caught and released? I saw no wound, but was he not feeling well? People shy? Then he disappeared. Of course that made me sad, and I suspected Greenie felt the same. With the eagles, osprey, and herons that frequent our shores, I hoped he had contributed to the circle of life. But it wasn’t long before a new friend showed up. A bass! I’d never seen one hang around the dock with the sunnies, but this one stuck with Greenie, who seemed to accept this new friend. So I had to name him. His long, slender shape, so different from all the sunfish, made “Slim” appropriate. As usual, this sparked my curiosity and led to research. Bass are predators, but are in the sunfish family, which means they can also mate. I don’t know if Slim is Greenie’s buddy or girlfriend, but I’m glad my friend is much too big for Slim to consider as a meal! How do I know Greenie is a male? One summer I got to watch what I’d read about. After building a nest, he brought a girlfriend back to it and they did their courtship “dance” – around and around in circles on their sides before dropping eggs and sperm. Fascinating!

Greenie and Slim
Greenie and his new bass friend, Slim.

The advantages of a wild pet are obvious: no walking, litter box, or vet bills. But be warned. It hurts your heart when your friend shows up with a torn lip. That’s happened twice over the years with Greenie. The second time, he stared at me a long time before he dared come close. It took a beetle treat to regain his trust. But that trust was crucial this year, when he came to the dock with a hook in his mouth. Oh, no! Amazingly, he didn’t wiggle a fin as I held him and carefully removed the hook. Putting him back in the lake and watching him disappear, I wondered if I’d see him again, or if he would fear me. An hour later, I went for my swim and returned to find him waiting for me, welcoming my petting. Thank goodness he knew I was helping him. The next day he proved he was fine by jumping clear out of the water for a treat.I don’t like to preach, but felt the picture I’d taken of Greenie with the hook in his mouth was worth sharing, especially with the delightful video I’d gotten of him jumping. The response from Greenie’s fans was heartwarming. Surprising was the message from KARE 11 asking if they could do a story on him. Sure, as long as you don’t reveal our location.

To see seven seconds sure to make you smile, click here.

The next day Boyd and Chad were here with an underwater camera and a lot of patience. They recognized Greenie right away as the friendly one and he cooperated by showing great curiosity for the camera and staying all day. Slim and the others were around, but Greenie made sure he was the star, chasing them away when need be. I was happy to share our story, along with a few facts, like the study at Oxford and Queensland Universities that showed fish can recognize a face among forty-four others and remember it for at least six months! But after they left, I wanted to learn more. I called the university and found a wonderful resource – Dr. Peter Sorensen, ichthyologist – a doctor of fishology! He was clearly a fan of fish, as well as a scientist, saying they were much more intelligent than we give them credit for, and do have individual personalities. I was thrilled when he and his wife came out the next day to meet Greenie. Here was an expert, assuring me that Greenie, a senior citizen now, looked healthy and very special. He’d known fish in the lab who recognized him, but hadn’t seen a wild one with such clear interest in humans and trust of an individual.We traded books – my Enchanted for one called What a Fish Knows by Jonathan Balcombe. I was enthralled by the wealth of research, all confirming that a fish is an individual with relationships. He or she can use tools, plan and learn, perceive and innovate, soothe and scheme, experience moments of pleasure, fear, playfulness, pain, and, probably, joy.The days are getting shorter and the lake colder. Greenie’s not here every day, as he was in mid-summer, but greets me warmly when he is. I know the day will come when he’s hunkered down for the winter, and the day will also come when he’s no longer in my life. But he will forever be in my mind and heart, with immeasurable gratitude and an indelible message – all life is precious.

I can’t wait to see the story KARE 11 put together, and will provide a link when I can. In the meantime, click here to see a few tender moments between Greenie and me. Big thanks to Teresa Foushee for capturing us under water! 

Footnote: (or fin-note!) The current administration has rolled back 100 environmental protections, endangering our air, water, and all species, including our own. Greenie would vote blue if he could. Will you do it for him?  

Lift Every Voice – and Child

The Black National Anthem begins with “Lift every voice.” So while listening to so many voices that need to be heard, I began to share my photos and the short poems they inspired. It means a lot to me when people say they are lifted by them. I’m including a few here for those who missed them on my Facebook page or want to forward them to friends. Following the three picture/poems are some thoughts I hope you will take just a few minutes to consider.

Sunrise
 
Hard times sometimes
Make day feel like night
Sorrow and confusion
Steal her dreams of flight
 
She summons the strength to grieve
And courage to wear her heart on her sleeve
 
‘Til on her wing a sun does rise
That dares to bring the truth to light
And chase the shadows from our eyes
So she can sing with all her might


The Movement
 
They called you a worm
As you climbed the mountain
Inch by inch
Day after day
But a caterpillar
Is what you were
With a dream in your heart
And wings on the way

Diversity
 
To have a friend
Who’s not like me
Is to swim in the sky
And fly in the sea

Yesterday, thousands gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate and renew MLK’s call for racial equality, made there 57 years ago. It was also the 65th anniversary of the murder of Emmet Till.  

I had read about the fourteen-year old boy, but it really tore at my heart when I heard the story from B.B. King. (Those of you who’ve read my book know I had the good fortune of a friendship with Mr. King from 1978 until his death. I wrote about other stories he told, but not this one. I think he would want me to share it now.) Emmett Till was visiting from Chicago in 1955 when he was falsely accused of touching a white woman, brutally tortured, and murdered. That was in Money, Mississippi, just 19 miles from Itta Bena, where B.B. King was born. King was 29 and a traveling musician by then, but was traumatized by the murder, knowing it could have happened to him or any of his family or friends. How do I know? King was a star, King of the Blues, loved and respected around the world by the time I knew him, decades after the incident. Yet I could see fear in his eyes and hear pain in his voice when he spoke of it. No matter how successful one becomes, the wounds from that kind of trauma never completely heal. B.B. was somehow able to resist bitterness and to direct his pain into a productive life. Others are not so lucky, with fear and loss turning into anger and destructiveness, toward themselves and others.

Yes, it could easily have been young King who was lied about and lost his life – the life that went on to bless and change the world with his music, warmth, and grace. What we will never know is this – what might Emmett Till have become and given the world if he had been allowed to live?

   Emmett Till   
  B.B. King

I’ve had the privilege of knowing, teaching, and loving many children – of many colors. I’ve seen the potential in every child, and sometimes felt the joy of seeing that potential fulfilled or the profound sadness of seeing it lost. Joy or sadness not just for the child, but for myself, for you, for our society. Perhaps that’s why this video tugs my heartstrings in so many directions.

The men who committed the heinous crime of killing Emmett Till were never brought to justice, even though it was clear who they were and what they did. It was the tremendous courage of Emmett’s mother, insisting the world see her dead son, brutalized beyond recognition, and those who dared report it, and those who did not avert their eyes from the horror, who sparked the civil rights movement that eventually brought about real change.

Sixty-five years later, we in northern states can no longer claim innocence and look down on the stories of racism in the South. The cold stare of the cop who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes was a wake-up call. We, the public, have the power to make that image and so many others catalysts for change, as Mamie Till did with her son’s.

The president is trying hard to scare you into forgetting what the ongoing protests are about. He is the arsonist who wants to race in to put out the fire and claim to be a hero.

I admire the courage of those who march, especially in this time of pandemic, knowing there are those who would inject violence into protests. I choose to speak and write. Others may choose only to vote, but that will make all the difference. It is very clear that the party in power now has not the will nor the courage to do what we all know is right – to confront the complex systemic and personal racism that is so destructive to individuals and our society.

If you are inclined to unsubscribe from my blog, wanting to avoid anything political, I hope you will hang in here with me. My next letter/blog will be about my sunfish friend Greenie, and will announce his television debut!

(To get a closer look at Emmett Till’s story, watch Gayle King’s interview of the historian who interviewed the woman whose lies led to the boy’s gruesome torture and death.)   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWHDXchWW54

A New Kind of St. Patrick’s Day Party

Our neighborhood St. Patrick’s Day dinner was cancelled. We’d only been homebound a few days, but that was enough to remind me that I must get outside and get moving if I am to maintain anything close to a sunny disposition. So I headed out for a park with paved trails to avoid the mud. But I drove slowly on the way, keeping my eye open for anything that might enchant me. Just a day before, two swans had trumpeted as they flew right over me – surely an invitation to follow them!

swan across field

A dot of white at the edge of a pond far across a field of corn stubble caught my eye and insisted I pull over. I hoped whoever owned the field wouldn’t mind as I trekked through the mud I’d thought to avoid. (Footnote- we are now friends!)  

swan and goose

The pictures I got were well worth the muddy boots. The swan was so busy preening and shaking her feathers that she didn’t seem to notice me.

geese in love

She put on such a show that I almost missed a loving moment between geese a few yards from her. I’m always thrilled to capture one of those!

swans resting

When I arrived at the park, Oh, my goodness! Swans! There must have been fifty. A resting spot on their migration. What a sight.

swans, geese, ducks

Lots of chatting with geese and ducks. What stories were told?

eagle

Above them, an eagle circled over her nest high in a tree. As Mom used to say, early spring may be gray, but you can see so much more before the leaves come out.

tree over water

I sat on a tree over open water – a perfect place to reflect. Summer really is coming!

swan feather

When the clouds thickened over the setting sun and the wind picked up, I started back toward the parking lot, but was stopped by a feather. Was it from a swan, or Mom?

Back in my car, classical music poured out to lift my spirits even higher as I came upon pastoral scenes.

horse and cow

Fuzzy friends nibbled on the first spring greens.

syruping

Elderly maples donated their sweet sap.

sleepy fields

Sleepy fields lay ready to spring to life.

I felt . . . exhilaration. I really hadn’t felt deprived of anything at home, but there was so much more out here – open space, crisp air, critters, and freedom. Places to stretch my legs, eyes, and mind.

swan hanging head

We can close our eyes and hang our heads. Or . . .

swan preens

We can preen some of those corners we’ve been meaning to get to, and . . .

swan spreads wings

find new ways and places to spread our wings.

A Little Red Cure for the Christmas Blues – or any time you’re lonely

As Christmas approaches, I’m always aware that holidays bring joy to many, but loneliness to many others. I recall, some years back, returning to work and to the well-meaning question, “How was your Christmas?” and answering, “Great . . . due to lowered expectations.” It was the most honest answer I could give, and I always hoped it would be taken for what it was— not a complaint, but a key to happiness. With the media and stores and Hallmark movies pumping up our hopes, it’s good to remember that few holidays can measure up to the hype.

I am fortunate to regularly get together with friends from college, a thoughtful group of people who met through the U YMCA 50 years ago and still feel connected. One evening our topic of conversation was loneliness. It surprised me that I, the one in the group without a partner or kids, was the one who never minds being alone, even on holidays. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I felt lonely, and wasn’t sure why. Our friend and mentor, Doug Wallace, suggested a reason that seemed to ring true. My connection to nature provides me with friends, even when my human ones are not around.

If you’ve read my blogs or book, you know of some of my extraordinary relationships. Sunny the half-wild mustang, Teddy the yellow lab, the beloved cats whom I’ve rescued who rescue me back, the geese who bring their goslings, and Greenie and Spot, my sunfish friends. Of course, none of these provide the life-long love of the human partner that so many long for during the romance of star-dusted holidays. But they come unexpectedly and without expectations, bringing moments or years of comfort and joy, if only we will open our eyes and hearts to their wonder.

As I write this, I can peek out my kitchen window and see my friend Red. Dressed in the color of Christmas, this cardinal has returned for the second winter to bless me by sleeping in the grapevine under the eaves night after cold night. I used to feel bad when I’d return home in the evening and scare him off. But he seems to know me now, and stays hunkered down, even when I talk to him softly.

Everyone loves cardinals, but could a bat be a friend? Of course. I had one who slept behind the cast iron pan hanging on my house for nine summers. If I was lucky, I’d catch him waking up and stretching before taking off for his evening of mosquito control.

Spring brings nests, and birds large and small. Some are lost to predators—food in the circle of life. Others survive to fill our trees with song. These migrants remind us that friends come and go as they travel their own paths, resting with us on their long flights. Will I ever be able to recognize one bird from another? Perhaps not, but then, I didn’t expect to be able to know Greenie and Spot from the other fish in the lake. Will they survive under the ice and greet me in the spring? I pray so, but only time will tell.

Perhaps having wild friends has taught me to live in the present. To stop and make eye contact with another living being every chance I get. To appreciate every time a creature trusts me. To know that every relationship is temporary, and precious.

And to give every soul a chance to surprise me with its magnificence. When a golden orb weaver began to work her magic above my kitchen sink, I had to watch. She reminded me of my mother, with patience and skill, taking stitch after perfect stitch on one of her beautiful quilts. If my cat Leo or I accidentally destroyed her masterpiece, she’d eat the remains and recycle the silk into another. Soon I realized why she put up with our interference—the compost box provided her with fruit flies—and she kept my kitchen free of them. With trial and error, she learned to reposition her splendid web so that I could move faucet and dishes without disturbing her. Yes, we had a partnership.

It wasn’t long before I started calling her Ruth, as her tenacity and calm, quiet skill reminded me of the Notorious RBG. Yet I once saw her ferocity. A daddy-long-legs walked across her web and tackled her! I gasped as a flurry of 16 legs tumbled together. But in seconds the daddy returned to his corner, leaving me watching, wondering if Ruth was injured. She was still for a long time, but recovered the next day and went back to work. Whew. Who’d a thunk I could care about a spider, but how could I not? She kept me fascinated for a month, while I pondered–did I really want her there all winter? Dare I put her outside now that it was cold? I looked up the life cycle of golden orb weavers and found they died in the fall, after laying a nest of eggs. Hmm. Charlotte’s Web was in a barn, but did I really want Ruth’s children in my kitchen? She made a small sack in a corner, but nothing ever emerged. I watched carefully as Ruth eventually became still, then disappeared. But I’ll never forget the magnificence of her persistence and silken creations. As I watched her making her final web, I couldn’t help but feel something of her magic. She spun her silvery silk, finer than any tinsel and stronger than any steel. The rhythm of her dance was as true as the little drummer boy’s beat. A simple yet profound miracle of creation. Ruth showed me a magic not unlike the magic of Christmas, because she made me feel . . . love.

Then there are the ones I see only briefly, but am lucky enough to capture with my camera, allowing me to share the magic with you. I hope you feel some of the joy I felt when this buck gifted me with this image, and later with the words that seemed to flow from that night and become reality on solstice. Love from the buck and the night sky and my heart to yours, this Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year, and always. Holly

Lift your eyes

to the holiday heavens

Attune your ears

to the silent night

Open your heart

to the wayfaring stranger

And darkness gives way

to a rising light

Turning Black Friday Green

I am truly thankful for all of you, and sincerely wish you a Happy Thanksgiving . . . and a happy Black Friday . . . though I’ve never shopped one, so what do I know? Not much. True, I’ve been selling my books, cards, and calendars, and I loved the Green Gifts Fair, where all of us home-grown, small-scale vendors sold our eco-friendly gifts. But I’ve heard that Black Friday can be stressful, so I’d like to share a few thoughts on gifts, adapted from chapter 19 of my book, Enchanted.

Do you remember your favorite childhood gifts? My first ones were dolls and the cute clothes Mom made for them. While other kids had teddy bears and Barbie Dolls, my bed was adorned with a plush octopus. At Christmas, I loved my new pajamas. I couldn’t wait to curl up under the tree in them, the flannel as soft as the glow of the multicolored lights, its fresh scent wafting with that of balsam fir.

Most of my gifts were chosen or made by Mom. But later, when I was living in my log cabin and loving my stone fireplace, Dad bought me a great little bow saw. He sharpened an old ax blade, painted it red, and put a new wooden handle on it. Then he made a simple little sawhorse. I still use these to cut and split my firewood, and I get a warm feeling every time I do. It’s not just the body heat of hard work, but the heartwarming knowledge that Dad knew me better than I thought he did and admired my strength and independence. The trick of great gifting is to listen to the person you’re buying for more than the people you’re buying from.

Americans tend to have generous spirits, and I don’t want to criticize generosity. But I will expose a sad truth—I’ve found sooo many unused treasures at rummage sales, secondhand stores, and in the trash that I just know must have been gifts. It seems to me that gift-giving has become the vine, planted with good intentions, that overgrows the house and keeps out the light. It helps to remember that generosity and frugality are not mutually exclusive. Nor are affluence and prudence. Sometimes the best gift is no gift.

Do I ever give secondhand gifts or, heaven forbid, gifts from the Curbside Boutique? Yup, occasionally, and especially when I find things in the original box or with the tag still on. If they are appropriate, and if I believe the recipient will like it and would not be shocked to know its source. (Most of my friends wouldn’t.)

This darling coat was in the trash, but still had the tag attached. I gave it to a friend for her new granddaughter.

I’ve been surprised more than once when someone has said, “You give the best gifts!” Well, sometimes they are unique. Just recently I had no idea what to get a friend for her birthday, until a mutual friend told me she loved pigs. I had a beautiful wooden curio box full of tiny pigs, made of various stone, metals, and glass, sitting in my garage. I’d found it on the curb and planned to sell it at an antique shop. But Nicki’s squeals of delight as she unwrapped each adorable piglet made it clear that somehow it had been meant for me to find and give to her. I don’t always reveal my sources, but I know doing so might be an additional gift—permission for them to do the same. Most of my friends know that I usually prefer something used to something that uses more of the earth’s resources.

This wallpaper may be out of style for walls, but still makes sturdy, unique wrapping for gifts. Tape calendar pages to bags to make your own unique gift bags. Maps make perfect wrapping for those graduates and retirees off to see the world.

Most wrapping and ribbons are not recycled, so I’m glad that I see less of any kind of wrapping these days, more often receiving and giving gifts that don’t require any. The first such gift I got was from Katie and Brad—an acre of cloud forest in South America. Wow! Nothing to take up space in my little home, just the mental image of that misty land saved from deforestation. I was thrilled. Next came my brother’s card saying a dozen fluffy yellow chicks had been given to a needy village in my name. Nice! He started a tradition I was glad to continue—llamas, bunnies, bees. Then there was a tree planted in Israel from my friends the Lunds. There are dozens of ways to honor a friend or loved one while giving to those neighbors, local or global, who are truly in need. Ways that bring lasting benefits and awareness instead of momentary laughter and a lifetime in the landfill. For those who want to make a donation in someone’s name but still give something tangible, there are many such options. The stuffed toy that a child cuddles can remind her that an endangered animal is being helped. I love buying the handmade pottery of the Empty Bowl projects and filling them with treats. My family gets the bowls, while the profit goes to fight hunger.

Giving chicks to a village in Africa can change people’s lives.

Then there are the gifts that don’t require money. My family has long given coupons for things like housecleaning and back rubs. One year, I promised to make Dad’s bag lunches whenever I was at their house on a weeknight. That pleased him and Mom. My niece Kym gave us a handmade cookbook full of her scrumptious recipes. Yum. As we age, it becomes ever more clear that time and an open heart are our most precious gifts. I know it can be really hard to resist giving gifts, especially to kids. Consider giving experiences instead of things—gifts that will make them more inquisitive, rather than acquisitive. Outings to museums or farms or camping trips don’t have to cost a lot, but may give them memories that last a lifetime.

A trip to a farm can be a fabulous gift for young or old.

Whether buying for ourselves or others, we have plenty of reasons to consciously say “Whoa!” to the cult of accumulation and “Aah, yes!” to simplicity and sustainability. We have an opportunity to become more truly ourselves, rather than cogs in the wheels of consumption and waste. We can rest gratefully in the bosom of sufficiency. We can give and receive love without enriching corporate billionaires or adding to the plastic monster* that threatens our homes and planet. We can turn Black Friday a little, or a lot, more Green, while keeping a little. or a lot, more green in our pockets.

Even in her wheelchair, Mom loved our trips to the zoo. Will coral reefs still be around for our grandchildren?

*Watch The Plastic Problem TONIGHT (Wed, 11/27/19) on PBS 9pm central time or find it online.

A Silver Seal, Marvelous Mermaids, and a Few Florida Friends

Before we get to the story of my encounter with these Marvelous Mermaids, I’m happy to announce my good news. Although some of last spring’s seals were rather silvery . . .

. . . this is my new silver seal, awarded to Enchanted by the Midwest Independent Publishing Association. I’m honored, and grateful for all the support my baby is getting. Please check the menu to order it, complete with silver seal! But don’t forget to enjoy the new story and pictures below.

To learn more about my life and book, tune in to TPT 2-2 to watch me expertly interviewed by Mary Hanson! 6:30 PM Mothers’ Day, (May 12th) and 12:30 AM, 6:30 AM, and 12:30 PM on Sunday, May 19th.

Marvelous Mermaids

When my friend Julie invited me to share her Florida vacation, I jumped at the chance. Just relaxing and spending time with my dear log-cabin-days friend and her daughter, Laura, would be enough, but I always hope to experience a new animal or two when I travel. So when my cousin Tammy invited us up to Crystal River to snorkel with manatees, we couldn’t pass up the chance to see these gentle giants. Though their numbers have increased in recent years, they are still a threatened species.

Since they are protected, we got strict orders from our captains about entering the water quietly and not approaching the manatees, but to just follow our guide in hopes of seeing one. I did, and was delighted to see my first huge manatee up close. Then another. But wanting others to also get the chance, I kept a little distance, watching through my goggles and sending good thoughts his or her way. “Thank you,” “I love you,” and “I’m sorry about the propeller scars on your back.” I hoped people would learn to slow down and be more careful as they navigated the rivers and bays. Then I went off on my own and just floated, content to breathe through the snorkel and watch the bottom of the shallow river.

Then I felt something . . . rubbing my belly. What? Was another snorkeler under me? No. It was a manatee. It had come from behind my feet, slowly making its way up my belly, until I saw, only inches from my face, the leathery gray back with tiny hairs, then the tail. Since it had stroked my belly, I had to reach out and gently touch it before this ten-foot “sea cow” was gone, to say Thank you! Of course I couldn’t take pictures, so thanks to the US Fish and Wildlife Service for the one above.

The next day, we went to Fiesta Beach, where I joyously dove into the ocean and met a very friendly nine-year-old girl with long black hair. She was as delighted playing in the cold waves as I was. Within minutes, out of the blue, she asked me “Are there really mermaids?” I had to hesitate before answering. I told her about the manatee, and that they were originally mistaken for mermaids. I added that I had often been called a mermaid, because I feel so at home and enchanted in the water, so maybe she was one, too? Seeing a manatee, it’s easy to assume those early sailors had to be love-starved and sun-stroked to mistake them for pretty women. But surely their gentle disposition warrants a bit of fondness and fantasy.

Before we plunge into my pictures of Florida’s wildlife, I feel compelled to add a detail that I left out of my newsletter. The sweet, vibrant, warm, young mermaid with whom I shared more than a few minutes of joyful play and talk also told me that she had come from Venezuela, “because people were killing each other and there wasn’t enough food.” Sigh. I had felt I deserved a vacation after my long marathon of the book–the book I chose to write and self-publish. How much more did she deserve the cleansing balm of the waves and sun after the unchosen darkness she had lived through. I knew no more of her circumstances, but when she introduced me to her parents on the beach, I was relieved to know that she would not also have to endure the scarring trauma of separation from them.

This sunset greeted me as I arrived in Florida.

I love winter, but it was nice to see white beauty that wasn’t snow!
What’s this spider monkey on Monkey Island thinking?
Pelicans everywhere!
Fiesta Beach. Sunsets and waves have a way of turning strangers into friends.
Some day I’d love to ride on the beach, but I was happy just to capture this scene.
I was thrilled to catch a dolphin’s smile on Venice Beach.
I can still walk the rocks with the shorebirds, but carefully!
True, I have empathy for fish since getting to know some, but egrets gotta eat.
Kayaking in Robinson Preserve with Cindy and Julie — Fun!

This double crested cormorant welcomed us to the . . .
. . . mystical mangrove tunnel.
A yellow crowned night heron intent on catching . . .
. . . a mangrove tree crab.
Florida’s little blue heron in a lovely mangrove setting.
Anole lizards are everywhere, and well camouflaged,
until they want to be seen by a girl!
Another well-disguised critter — the nanday parakeet. 
My yard will never be as well-groomed as the famous Marie Selby Gardens . . .
. . . with trees covered in brilliant blossoms . . .
. . . and delicate orchids . . .
. . . but one can find peace in the heart of any flower . . .
. . . or the veins of a single leaf.