(and some pretty pictures)
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?
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!
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.