Greenie, a Lion, and a Tufted Titmouse – heart to heart

Today I’ll start by asking – what do a fish, an elephant, a lion, a swan, and a titmouse have in common? It’s not a joke!

FISH! The great news is that Greenie surprised and thrilled me yesterday, returning for the 9th summer! That means he’s at least 11 or 12 years old – quite an accomplishment for a green sunfish in a small private lake full of predators! He gave me lots of fish kisses, seemed to relish my petting him, took a bit of oatmeal from my hand, and jumped for a little tilapia. Then we had a refreshing swim together. Those of you who know him will recognize his gold belly fins in this new video. Click on the picture to play it.

ELEPHANT! If you’ve read my book you know I’ve been blessed by special encounters with birds, dogs, and horses as well as fish. But I doubted African animals would have any interest in me – just another tourist. Yet when offered the opportunity to pet the incredibly adorable baby elephants at Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, I chose first to kneel down and hold out my open hand. I always prefer it if a child or animal comes to me. One of the smaller babies reached out her trunk and touched my hand. There was nothing in it but my love and wish for her to feel it. I became a giggling child and petted that being who has more in common with us than we have ever recognized.

LION! This magnificent lion was drinking from the lake a long way off when I silently asked him to come closer. He stopped to comb his royal mane on the long thorns of an acacia tree before walking straight toward our van. I always acknowledge that it could be coincidence, but the look in his eyes and the awe in my heart felt like an answer to my request. As he walked inches from the side of the van where I stood, my new friend Sue’s phone picked up the words I had to whisper, “I love you. Thank you for coming.”

SWANS! At home after my dream safari, I found myself contemplating – was there more to these special moments than I knew? Seeing the first two swans to visit our ice-framed lake, I wondered if these usually shy birds might possibly come to me from the other side of the cove. As I stood on the shore silently calling to them, I was again surprised and delighted as they started toward me. I started talking to them, and singing that old  song, “Swanees, how I love ya, how I love ya, my dear old Swanees”, fully expecting them to turn away. But no, they came slowly but steadily until they were less than 20 feet from me, preening and floating there elegantly, as swans do. I stood, full of wonder and gratitude, for quite a while until my chores called me away. I thanked the swans, and watched them swim off as I walked up the hill.

TITMOUSE! Of course I’m not the only one who experiences these gifts from critters. Yesterday, while I was relishing attention from Greenie, my dear friend Carol Gillen had an even more surprising visit from a wild bird – a tufted titmouse. In her words:

“OMG…the most amazing thing just happened to me. I was sitting still on my patio watching the squirrel on the table and a bunny in the grass, when 2 little birds (tufted titmice) landed on the chair next to me and twisted their heads back and forth looking at me. One flew off and the other flew up to the back of my chair and started pulling my hair out. Then he flew up and landed on top of my head and for the next half hour he pulled my hair out!! It was Awesome!! He’d flutter his wings, tail hanging down in front of my eyes, scratching to rearrange my hair and plucking and plucking and plucking…sometimes on top, sometimes on the sides and on the back. I couldn’t believe he could take that much hair. For a moment it felt like he was going to make a nest right up there on my head. I have never in my life experienced something like this. Tears were streaming down my face. When Mike brought the dog out, it scared the bird away and I started sobbing and laughing at the same time. Mike was trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I couldn’t speak because my throat was totally constricted from the sobbing/laughing. Such an incredible experience. And now somewhere in my woods there is a nest made of my silver hair…and I am crying again. (Mike may have me committed.) And my scalp hurts….surprised I don’t have a bald spot. I feel like a Disney character. Wow!”

Wow is right! But clearly, that little bird sensed that Carol had the special kind of heart that would cherish an experience that might horrify others. Lucky bird, lucky Carol.

THE ANSWER! Telling these stories, I often fear that I may be perceived as arrogant. Yet I know that the special powers are not in me, but in the animals – all the animals. Every animal that has survived and evolved has done so by reading the body language – including scents – of other animals – including us. It should not be surprising that they know when someone means them no harm, is unafraid of them, and respects, or even loves them.

Happy New Year!

sunset reflected in loon eye

While searching my photos for a holiday picture, this one suggested a red tree ornament reflecting candlelight. But it’s natural, which is always my preference. I was delighted to photograph a loon close to my canoe. Discovering the sunset while editing the picture was one of those happy surprises.

Another was being asked to do three photo/poem exhibits in 2023. It kept me busy, but I was honored to be able to share my work. Many thanks to all who encouraged me in so many ways. I will be taking my exhibit at Burnhaven Library down this Sunday, and this is one that will go back up on my wall while I’m missing the snow.

shed with lake open in December

The totally open water on my lake this December is a surprise, but not a happy one. I would be selfish to complain when others around the world suffer devastating effects of climate change and war. Yet I can’t help but wonder how it is affecting my fish friends – Greenie, Slim, and others. I swam nearly every day last summer, often with them, and took lots of underwater video. I’m making progress on Greenie’s chapter book about our eight summers together. Will there be a ninth? I sure hope so.

This Sunday! Too little time, too many photos

Goodbye pumpkins, hello snow! Greenie and Slim have gone deep ahead of the ice. Red and Pinkalicious have been visiting the vine by my kitchen window. The deer are gobbling up the last of my simple gardens. There’s always a friend around if we keep our eyes and ears open.

My theme continues as I prepare for Sunday’s opening of my photo/poetry exhibit, (details below) so I will keep this short. It’s both a joy and a challenge to share my images and thoughts. It’s so encouraging when people say I should be charging more for my art. But as I look at the 60 pics in all kinds and sizes of frames filling my living room as I sort them for areas of the library, one thought prevails. I would love to know they will grace other people’s walls, perhaps after being wrapped as a gift. So I’m keeping my prices down with that in mind.

But lest I sound like an advertisement, know that I would LOVE to have you just come to the library during November and December to relax as you peruse the pictures and poetry. I’m not making a lot of cards since I have no venue for them beyond Sunday, but I already have one special order and and am open to making more. And of course my book, Enchanted – Reflections from a Joyfully Green and Frugally Rich Life is always available from me.

The future? I have a good start on Greenie’s book and am anxious to get back to work on it. I have more VERY exciting news, but I’ll save that for later. Here’s a picture to make you smile and a couple of the more philosophical new pieces for my exhibit.

Eye to eye with Greenie under the water as it got colder. “I’ll miss you this winter!”
Milkweed Message

I’m holding on to so much stuff
While some don’t have enough
To live a simple life
Within a humble home

Why?

It’s time to let my treasures go
So they can travel on the wind
Until they find a place to grow
While I embrace
The calm of empty space

                                        Holly Jorgensen
Angeleaf

All summer long, despite the drought,
gazillions of leaves spent their mornings and eves 
capturing carbon and gifting us life.
Now they go out in blazes of glorious oranges and deep reds 
even as we lie asleep in our beds.

I, too, am in the autumn of my years 
but tears are not my thing. 
I'd rather sing a song of hope 
that my transition from this earthly home 
might have a fraction of the grit and grace 
of a leaf as she leaves this lovely place 
and lets herself be blown 
to yet another mysterious, miraculous unknown. 

                                                      Holly Jorgensen


Exhibit details: 
On display November through December, 2023  
Opening reception: 1:30 to 4:30 pm, Sunday, November 5th, 2023  Central STANDARD time! 
I will give brief presentations at 1:40, 2:40, and 3:40
Burnhaven Library, 1101 County Rd 42 W, Burnsville, MN 55306
I'd love to see you there!

Two fun events, three fun photos

Do you remember the Pozo-Seco Singers lamenting “Time, oh, time, where did you go?” It’s easy to feel that way as summer ends, especially when it drops from the 90s to the 50s so quickly! It makes me reflect on time itself – spending, saving, wasting, sharing, and savoring it.

I could write more on that, but I don’t have time! So for now, I’ll just share a couple of invitations and pictures.

This Saturday, September 16th, I’ll be at Rosemount’s Country Faire from 10 to 4 with my books, birthday calendars, cards, and some framed photos. I’m sharing a booth with my friend Sarah Rosenthal, who will have her beautiful hand-made jewelry and photos of her travels. Check out her website for her amazing needlework and more! www.RysalkaxStudiya.com For more on the many books and talents on display at the Faire, see COUNTRY FAIRE | rosemountwritersfest (rosemountwritersfestival.com)

I’m excited to have been invited to do a photo/poetry exhibit at the Burnhaven Library all of November and December! Please join me for the all-ages reception, where I’ll share stories about my unique friendships with wild animals like Greenie the sunfish and answer questions about my art, poetry, and my award-winning book, Enchanted – Reflections from a Joyfully Green and Frugally Rich Life. I’m hoping some of my work will get to be gifts and grace the hands and homes of strangers and friends for the holidays.

Sunday, November 5, 2023   1:30 to 4:30pm  cst

Burnhaven Library      1101 W County Road 42      Burnsville, MN 55306

Holly and Slim with double chins. No room for vanity here! This is where I’ve spent much of the summer as I try to write from my fish friends’ point of view.
I love swimming as the sun sets and moon rises. My GoPro lets me capture that point of view for you.
Here, to welcome autumn and preview my new exhibit, are delicately frosted oak leaves. Surely I can come up with a poem for this, right?

Sweet Beings: George Winston, Greenie, a striped fawn, hummingbirds

First and foremost, I want to thank all those who came to my photo/poetry exhibits. I learned a lot and am looking forward to exhibiting at the Burnhaven Library in Burnsville all of November and December. Maybe my art and books will have the thrill of being wrapped up and opened as gifts for the holidays!

Greenie the sunfish

Until October, I’m committing to focusing on Greenie’s book. Yes, he’s back! Along with Slim and the kids. Not every day, so I suspect he’s busy guarding a nest, but he checks in and warms my heart every few days. My sweet fish and my daily swims keep me happy and healthy. I took this picture with my phone between the boards in my dock and was delighted with how it turned out (with a little editing). Doesn’t it look like a painting in a children’s book?

Thanks to Sue Lund for taking this picture in 2004. Today I want to acknowledge the sad passing of George Winston, who honored me with his friendship and music for 40 years. My book tells how we met in 1983 while I was a volunteer usher at Orchestra Hall and how he chose to save precious time by wearing jeans and a casual shirt, even while playing (stocking-footed) at ornate halls around the world. I so appreciated his giving me tickets and CDs so I could share him and his music with friends, but his generosity went far and wide. His constant support of food shelves locally and nationally while he played about 100 concerts a year is just one example. He spoke of the wonders of his beloved cats, but never spoke of his battle with cancer except to encourage support for the City of Hope, where he had a bone marrow transplant. We only talked once a year, backstage, but the cards he sent me with brief messages show me how one can maintain a friendship while maintaining focus on a larger mission. I learned much more from this gentle man so dedicated to bringing beautiful music to the masses. Perhaps some day I will go through my journals and glean wise or funny things he said. But for now I am embracing his example of focus while I write Greenie’s story and listen to George’s sweet music. 

Click on the picture to watch the video and see the unusual stripes on the back of this darling’s neck. Imagine him/her saying “Look Ma! I can clean myself, wipe my nose, and even poop by myself!”

I need to hone my photographic skills to catch the wings on a hovering hummingbird. For now, I’m happy when they pose in the sun. I know they can be very territorial, but their beauty is as sweet as the nectar they drink from flowers. May your days be the same. 

Good news, an invitation, and nature updates

I’ve been so busy creating, communing, and celebrating that I didn’t even think of that other c word, cancer, or notice the first anniversary of my lumpectomy slipping by on April 8th. But I must share with you that my annual mammogram showed no sign of it – Hallelujah! The tiny bit of cancer remains gone, but not what it awakened. As with most dark clouds, there was a silver lining. I’ve always believed I’d live a long life, and I still do. But I’m now more committed than ever not to waste the most precious of gifts – time. I’m more passionate about sharing what gifts I have with the world. But I also feel the glory in embracing the joys of life, whether a quiet moment of awe or the laughter of friends. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my many blessings, especially good friends, good docs, and good health.

As you may know, 2023 started out gifting me with two great opportunities to share my art and thoughts, thanks to the MN Izaak Walton League and Rosemount Steeple Center. I’m so happy to know that my pictures will be scattered to many through my cards and that some of my larger framed photos will be gracing the walls of old and new friends. I was nervous about using all used frames, but delighted to find that people loved their variety and personalities. The first piece I sold was to an expert in art. I can’t tell you how much that boosted my confidence. The second I sold was to an expert in conservation, who plans to hang it in her workplace to inspire others to consider the land, air, water, and wildlife in every business decision they make. I can’t tell you how gratifying that is. What more meaningful role could my art and words have? To see and read “Ashes” and “The Sunrise of Compassion” scroll back to my post of April 7, 2021. These exhibits have also brought attention to my book, Enchanted, which illuminates many of the stories told by my photos, and encouraged me to turn my photos and poems into a book. But that will have to come after Greenie’s book!

My exhibit will be at the Steeple Center this week and next. You are welcome to visit there Monday through Thursday 8 to 3:30 and Friday until noon. Please contact me if you’d like me to meet you there for a walk-through or to buy art, books, or cards. The center will also be open the afternoon and evening of Saturday, April 29th for two performances of “Shenanigans at the Blue Pelican Inn” performed by the Second Act Players. I will be there to take my exhibit down that evening. 14375 Robert Trail (CR 3) Rosemount. Parking in front and back.

I will also be at Lakeville’s Earth Day Celebration on Saturday, April 22nd  with my books, cards, and calendars. Click here for the fun details. https://www.lakevillemn.gov/DocumentCenter/View/10679/Earth-Day-Celebration-Invite?bidId=  Central Maintenance Facility (7570 179th Street West) from 11 a.m. to 1. From there I’ll be back at the Izaak Walton House to help plant new disease-resistant elm trees!

On the home front, the ice just went out on the lake, so I’ll be watching for Greenie & Slim as soon as the water warms up. (True, I was in it the day after ice-out, but not for long!) Hearing the happy songs of birds and frogs delights me! Red is now sleeping outside my window only on very cold nights – he and Pinkalicious are nesting somewhere again! I saw him feeding her yesterday, preparing for babies. Poopsie is back from the south and sleeping on the vine over my treehouse deck. The crocuses are blooming, lilacs are budding, and daylilies are bursting through the matted leaves. Life was there under the snow all the while.

How sweet is this? Red feeding Pinkalicious
How sweet is this? Red feeding Pinkalicious
Pinkalicious on the vine at night.
Papa Red after his chicks hatched a couple years ago. Doesn’t he look proud?
A rare daytime shot of Poopsie from last year.

This Sunday Afternoon!

You are invited to my first photography and poetry exhibit!

I would love to see you there THIS SUNDAY! Come walk the trails in the lovely Izaak Walton League woods, snow shoe and bird watch, then come inside for wine, snacks, pictures and poems. If you can’t make it, you can reserve another time to come, but you’ll miss the snacks, wine, and fun crowd. All the information is on this poster. I’m sharing my first artist’s statement here to give you an idea where I’m coming from and going. Having an exhibit really makes one think about what and why!

Artist’s Statement  

I don’t have the technical skill I’d like, but I do have special relationships with Mother Nature and her children. Whether silly or serious, my goal in life, art, and writing is simplicity rather than sophistication, and connection rather than perfection. I love when I can catch an interesting expression or pose. I really love when there is a surprise in the photo that I didn’t see in the field!  At times I find that editing an imperfect photo can evoke something closer to the emotion I felt in the wild. My hope is that viewers who are drawn in by a bit of mystery (“Is this real? Is this a painting? Were you that close? What was that critter thinking?”) might also be drawn to explore nature’s wonders on their own. Looking through eyes of love at every wild thing can create magic.

I can’t resist sharing what comes to mind when an image speaks to me. Sometimes it’s a poem, sometimes a memory or a laugh. I’d love to know what my pictures say to you. What do you see? Think? Wonder? Feel? I hope you’ll leave a comment or two.

You may notice a wide variety of frames and techniques. Why? 1) Though it’s a challenge and a lot of work to dress a photo in what brings out its personality, it’s more fun than doing them all the same. 2) If you know me or my book, Enchanted, you know that reuse is a core part of my Joyfully Green and Frugally Rich Life. 3) Giving an old frame a new life rather than filling landfills and extracting more of the earth’s resources is one of many ways to respect and preserve our environment.

Hey, Mom! You’re putting 40 pictures in your exhibit and NONE OF ME??! Sorry. Lucky, but this show focuses on the environment and wildlife of the MN River Valley. You’re wild, but not quite wild enough.

With Gratitude   

I am deeply grateful to the Izaak Walton League for inviting me to present my very first photography exhibit at the Kouba Gallery. I’m even more grateful for the League’s century of conservation initiatives. Clearly our hearts and minds are in the same place – passionate about loving and preserving the natural world. Perhaps you’ll join and become an Ike with me. Special thanks to Joseph Barisonzi for encouraging me as I sometimes color outside the lines.

Happy Holidays 2022

What? Another fishy picture for the holidays? Yup, I couldn’t resist this one of Slim and Greenie dancing in the moonlight. You may have read the poem it inspired when I posted it on Facebook. But in truth, it wasn’t the moonlight giving them that magical glow. For seven summers I’d been lamenting evenings when it was just too dark to get a decent photo of my underwater friends. Then it struck me. I have a flash! Duh. Suddenly I had a new way into their twilight world. A little editing brought out their smiles and the magic of this unique couple. So what it says to me today is this: remember what resources you have and “Shine a light!” We’ve been through dark times and surely face more. How often do we have something at hand that can brighten a moment, an hour, a year, a life? Bless the stroke of luck that opens our eyes to it.

I’m still working on a book about Greenie and friends. If you read my blog or newsletters, you know that I can blame the delay on the little bit of cancer I had, sucking up my time and energy. I’m fine now, and immensely grateful. But that scare also motivated me to share what I have while I can. So I posted a few of my lullabies on Facebook, hoping someone might be touched and guided. My friend Marty Winkler is putting one of them on her next album! I framed and entered some photos in the county fair, hoping someone might look more closely at Mother Nature’s other children. Their uniqueness led to an invitation to do my first exhibit! It will be at the Minnesota Valley Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, opening on February 12th. Stay in touch for details if you’d like to join us.

My fish friends are under the ice now, but my cardinal friend Red is back on the vine outside my window and my deer friends visit often. My trail cams show shyer visitors – beaver, opossum, raccoon, fox, coyote, and more. My cats Lucky and Leo are great company with their snuggles and antics. I have deeply enjoyed connecting with human friends, too, as we share bumps and breezes, laughter and music, on this precious road of life. But the brightest light shines from the new baby in the family! My niece Kym had a little boy, known as Sprout, who is already an athletic, outdoorsy, adorable wonder, like his parents.

I wish you all the very best as we step into 2023. May the holidays help you to discover the “flash” you need to light the world around you in the twilight moments. May you rest well in the darkness, and wake to the miracle of another day.

Peace and Joy, Holly

PS – If you are not getting my occasional newsletters, I may have an old email address for you or they may go into your junk folder, since they come through Mailchimp. If you want to, please go to hollyonthelake.com and subscribe. Then watch for a letter with details of the upcoming exhibit and add me to your safe senders. Thank you!

Shopping Lessons from the Fishes

Greenie, Slim, and their kids have gone deep in the lake and slowed their metabolism, enabling them to rest and survive with little food or sunlight as the ice covers the lake. I miss them, of course, but have begun to visit the Minnesota Zoo more often for my “fish fix” and to learn more about these amazing creatures. Gazing at the diverse communities in Discovery Bay, I’m mesmerized by the apparent tranquility of the swimmers.

blue fish

Fishes of all sizes, intriguing sea turtles, and humongous sharks – silver, yellow, blue and green drift by. Then Luke, one of the zoo’s many friendly and knowledgeable staff, points out something I hadn’t noticed – a white puffer fish hiding motionless in a corner. He tells me that “Mr. Puff”, as he calls him, when feeling threatened, responds by retreating to his safe place. Puffing up to perhaps three times his normal size and showing off his spikes may protect him from predators. But it also puts enormous stress on his internal organs. This clever fellow has learned to go into his corner and relax before the stress tears him apart. Can we learn something from Mr. Puff? And from Greenie and friends, finding peace by reducing their consumption?

puffer fish

Speaking of stress, I hear that holiday shopping can feel like a shark at your back, especially with labor shortages, supply chain disruptions, and higher prices. 

shark

Another black Friday has passed while I stayed home. Cyber Monday will likely pass without my ordering anything online. I guess I am atypical, since this weekend is already breaking holiday shopping records. Yet, as the sun rose on Small Business Saturday, I was reminded that I have a small business. Very small. Selling is not one of my talents. But a friend recently read my book and was struck by the line “We can rest gratefully in the bosom of sufficiency.” His quoting it reminded me of why I wrote the book. And why I’ve been speaking on “Saving Money, the Planet, and your Sanity” since 2005. And why, exactly three years ago, I wrote about “Turning Black Friday Green” in my blog. Go back to that if you’re looking for ideas on alternative gift-giving – ideas that save money and the environment.

Holly & book

Or order my book. It does make a great gift. You can order from my website or email me. Let me know if you want me to sign it, and to whom. I’ll even gift wrap it and send it directly to your giftee if you like. I am designing my 2023 calendars now and will update my website soon. In the meantime, email me for details and with your calendar requests.

I hope your Thanksgiving was as satisfying as mine, feeling deeply grateful for friends and family, fish and fun.

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.