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!
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!)
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.
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!
When I arrived at the park, Oh, my goodness! Swans! There must have been fifty. A resting spot on their migration. What a sight.
Lots of chatting with geese and ducks. What stories were told?
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.
I sat on a tree over open water – a perfect place to reflect. Summer really is coming!
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.
Fuzzy friends nibbled on the first spring greens.
Elderly maples donated their sweet sap.
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.
We can close our eyes and hang our heads. Or . . .
We can preen some of those corners we’ve been meaning to get to, and . . .
find new ways and places to spread our wings.
What’s the special offer? While I do hope you’ll get outside, I also know this might be the perfect time for you to stay in and read my book. Many have told me they have savored it, finding peace and power as they close each day with a chapter. I also know it’s a scary time for many to spend money. So I’ve added a “Donate” button on the “Buy Holly’s Book” page. That will allow you to pay what you wish, or just the $1 minimum set by Paypal, for a limited time. One per person, please. Consider it a hug from me on your way to a joyfully green and frugally rich life.
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
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.
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.
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
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
*Watch The Plastic Problem TONIGHT (Wed, 11/27/19) on PBS 9pm central time or find it online.
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.
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
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.
Resting in the cradle of
gratitude. That’s what I’ve been doing since my Dec 15th book
launch, where I was overwhelmed by the support of friends. Since then, my heart
has been further warmed as I’ve been contemplating both the years of advice and
the kind words coming in as people read the final result. True, I’ve been busy.
I gathered with friends to celebrate the holidays with warmth and laughter. I
set up a page to sell my book on my website and have mailed them to people in
AZ, CO, NJ, GA, OR and Grand Marais. I’ve gotten them into Hennepin and Dakota
County Libraries and am preparing several new programs for upcoming bookings.
I’m catching up on tasks like housekeeping and paperwork. I’ve gone to a bunch
of events related to books or the environment and sung in the choir for a
Martin Luther King Day program.
But, more than I’ve been
able to in a long time, I’m resting in the cradle of gratitude. I didn’t feel
the need to post anything on Facebook, but looked occasionally to see what friends
were up to. I was struck when my friend Carol posted these words. (Sorry—we
don’t know who wrote them.)
And then it happens… One day
you wake up and you’re in this place. You’re in this place where everything
feels right. Your heart is calm. Your soul is lit. Your thoughts are positive.
Your vision is clear. You’re at peace, at peace with where you’ve been, at
peace with what you’ve been through and at peace with where you’re headed.
I thought “Yes! I’m in that
I’ve been through a lot the last few years, but it doesn’t matter now. I crossed the finish line. I’m in that special place. There is still, and will always be, a lot to do. Challenges will come again. That’s the nature of life, and all the more reason to breathe deeply and savor this place while I’m in it. I will continue to share, by speaking, writing, and maybe travelling with my book, but I will take time to embrace the things that make me happy. The things I wrote about in my book, but that the book sometimes kept me from doing! Walking in the woods or at my happy place—the zoo. Swimming. Contemplating dragonflies. Capturing and sharing the moon and Mother Nature’s other treasures through photos. Journaling. Beautifying my yard. Reading other people’s books. And resting.
Today, January 28th, is my 70th birthday. When I told a friend, he said “It’s just a number. It doesn’t mean a thing.” He must have assumed I was dreading it. Just the opposite. To me, that number is proof that I’m an elder. Native American culture tells me that’s an honor, and other sources agree. I’m entering an era of wisdom, freedom, and personal power, rich with spiritual meaning. I have permission to do what I want, what I feel is important in my last chapters, and also to rest.
I had this new picture of me taken right before
my book came out. I didn’t want people seeing a younger me in my author
picture, then meeting a “crone” when they came to hear me speak. But I must
admit, the picture—unedited except for removing the reflections in my
glasses—doesn’t look very cronish, despite my silver hair. Why? I was happy.
The sun was shining, my good friend Carol was there taking my picture, and I
was, frankly, laughing inside, thinking I was probably the only person ever to
have her author picture taken in an outhouse. But I had built it, and it was
cute, clean, and fresh, so I thought it was the perfect frame for me.
Crone can mean a disagreeable, malicious old
woman, or a wise old woman with an open heart. If we are lucky enough to get
old, let’s aim for the latter.
The countdown begins! Printing of Enchanted will be complete on Tuesday! Please join us for the launch on Saturday, December 15th at 2pm. Woodlake Nature Center is conveniently located at 6710 Lakeshore Drive in Richfield. I will have an order page on my site soon. In the meantime, a big thank you to Kayla Culver for this article in the December 6th issue of SunThisWeek Newspaper.
Local author debuts book on living a sustainable life
Reduce, reuse and recycle is more than a phrase to Lakeville resident and author Holly Jorgensen. It’s a way of life.
Jorgensen has been speaking and writing about how she lives below modest means by relishing used and found objects since 2005. Her new book “Enchanted – Reflections from a Joyfully Green and Frugally Rich Life” shares her secrets to reduce the urge to buy, rescuing items from thrift stores, rummage sales or items left on the curb.
The book not only discusses how Jorgensen lives but touches on consumers living paycheck to paycheck, the use of plastic, dependence on oil and other pollutants.
“I don’t claim to be an expert on anything except my lifestyle,” Jorgensen said in her abridged introduction. “I have no desire to tell anyone else how to live, but only to offer proof that there are alternatives to following the flock. I hope my humble examples offer strength to resist the barrage of consumer pressures surrounding us. There are many changes we can make and still be, well – normal. Sort of normal. But definitely happy. Very happy.”
Jorgensen adds she enjoys hearing at her presentations about those who find a great piece of clothing at a thrift store, about someone’s organic garden or how they compost.
Jorgensen spoke with the newspaper recently about her inspirations, way of living and her influence on her listeners and readers.
Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield is hosting Jorgensen’s book launch Saturday, Dec. 15, at 2 p.m. Guests will have the opportunity to enjoy snacks, door prizes, readings and an appearance from singer and actor T. Mychael Rambo.
What inspired you to write this book?
In 2005, a St. Thomas professor asked me to speak to his graduate engineering class. I was surprised, but he wanted me to share how I thought “outside the box.” Since then, I’ve been speaking to all kinds of groups and finding that people are hungry for new ways to look at the world and social norms. As my talks expanded, along with the power point tours of how I’d transformed my wooded homestead with found objects, my audiences encouraged me to write a book. I’ve been working on it for 10 years between work and life events. When I started getting terrific responses to my nature photography, that inspired me to use it in the book to touch people’s hearts and move them to get out there, to enjoy and protect our Mother Earth.
How has living a frugally rich life influenced you?
I’m so grateful that my parents taught me to be frugal. They, along with coming of age in the 60s and great friendships all along the way, encouraged me to be my own person rather than try to keep up with the Joneses. Some might think I make a lot of sacrifices, but I don’t feel that way at all. By always thinking about what’s really important to me, what brings me joy and security, I’ve learned to ignore the ads and pressures to conform. That has brought me tremendous freedom. And I must confess I find treasure hunting through used or discarded goods to be much more fun than shopping in over-priced stores. But even that doesn’t compare with the joy I find in nature, which is always around the corner waiting to give us great peace and strength.
How are you hoping “Enchanted” will influence your readers?
I’ve been warmed by the stories my audiences share about how I’ve inspired them to consume less. I especially like sharing the results of the classic marshmallow experiment. It has shown, for decades, how much more content and successful children are when they are not spoiled; when they learn to wait and to think, rather than expecting instant gratification. I believe that kids who are raised with more outdoor time, whether being active or simply with curiosity and reverence for all creatures, rather than being consumed by screen time, will be happier and healthier while being empowered to make our world the same. I also hope my unique experiences will encourage young and old to seek the blessings of friendships, whether unexpected ones with critters, or by stepping outside your core community to experience the rich rewards of embracing diversity.
Yes, I have a book coming out in November! People seem excited about the hundred-plus color photos, but it also has about 60,000 words. That’ll be about 300 pages. So I’m sharing parts of my introduction here, for a better picture of what’s coming. You’ll be able to buy it from my website, but I hope you’ll come to a launch or reading so I can sign it for you and see your beautiful faces. Stay tuned!
The group of seven teens who came to help me pull buckthorn said they felt like they were at Snow White’s cottage in the enchanted forest. But no, I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a princess in a castle with a handsome prince. I dreamed of being Jane in the jungle with Tarzan. As I got a little older, it was Jane Goodall who inspired me. I still haven’t made it to the jungles of Africa, but I’ve been blessed to spend considerable time in the woods, and now live in my own little forest. I’m no Jane, but people say I have extraordinary connections to animals. I certainly feel close to Mother Nature, and I hope the stories that follow will encourage others, young and old, to slow down and explore her magic.
The other part of my life that some find unusual is my passion for being green and frugal, especially by reusing, and often transforming, all kinds of “stuff.” You might call it junk. When people hear of my “Magic Dumpster” or how I often seem to “manifest” what I need and find it on the curb, they think I must lead an enchanted life. That kind of enchantment may be harder to understand or to express, but it’s hardly new. I like the way this guy put it a couple of centuries ago.
To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and
refinement rather than fashion; . . . to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly;
to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart; to bear all cheerfully,
do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never.
In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through
This is to be my symphony.
~ William Henry Channing (1810-1884)
American philosopher, writer, and Unitarian clergyman
I didn’t always know I was unusual. In July of 2005, my friend Al asked me to speak to his graduate engineering class. I asked, “About what? I’m not an engineer!”
“About your lifestyle. You’re one of only two people I know who live the way you do, and I want you to inspire my students to think outside the box.” He said they were talking about sustainable communities, and I’d fit right in.
Al was right about me and the box. I lived outside the box of American consumption. I’d jumped off the flashing Ferris wheel—the ups and downs and rounds and rounds of sacrificing time to make money to spend on the next big thing. I never made much money as a teacher or part-time librarian, but I lived (and still live) happily below my modest means by relishing used and found objects. I guess I had engineered a free and joyful life for myself by measuring my needs, assessing my strengths, and bridging the gaps with the buttress of my values. So I spoke to the engineers, and they heard.
Since then, I’ve been speaking to all kinds of groups. I delight in sharing that many, if not most, of my belongings have been free, or nearly so. Whether rescued from the curb, given to me, or bought at a rummage sale or thrift shop, almost everything is secondhand. Sure, I buy new undies, but even those I often find, still in the package but for much less, at the thrift store. I’m typing this on a store-bought laptop, but I’ve also found good electronics at the recycling center. And because I recycle, compost, and donate, I generate almost no waste.
It’s fun to see people in the audience smile as they respond. “I got this classy jacket at a thrift store for only three dollars!” “We grow our own organic vegetables!” “I built a compost bin from scrap wood!”
I’m so encouraged to see people open their eyes to the global aspects of consumption and begin to ask where things come from and where they go when we’re through with them. “Ah!” they realize, “Concern for the environment fits nicely with my desire to stop living beyond my means. They are two sides of the same coin—the one I’m keeping in my pocket.” While I teach, I also learn, and am challenged to examine my own “greenness” more closely.
Rocking in the old wooden chair on the high, tiny deck I call my “tree house,” I feel the gentle breeze of wings on my cheek. A hummingbird, its scalloped tail unfurled, hovers at the feeder, fueling up for the thousand-mile journey he must make to survive the winter. I marvel at his efficient use of a bit of nectar and wish him well on his autumn flight. In sharp contrast to his prudent sipping of the resource is the community of ants in the feeder. They drift in various stages of sugar intoxication, blind to the warning in the dead bodies floating around them. The sweet life, and its irresistible abundance, seduces them until they find themselves drowning in their own endless consumption.
This scene reminds me of the daily news. Nearly 80 percent of all Americans working full time (and nearly 10 percent of those making $100,000 or more) live paycheck to paycheck. Plastic, both minuscule and monstrous, trashes our oceans. Our dependence on oil continues to threaten our security and our environment. Industry poisons our air, water, and food as it strives to fulfill our every desire, even the ones we didn’t know we had. So I feel compelled to shine a light on the pseudo-delicious red plastic feeder. But the bulk of the scenes I share are bright escape routes from its sticky syrup.
I don’t claim to be an expert on anything except my lifestyle. I have no desire to tell anyone else how to live, but only to offer proof that there are alternatives to following the flock. I hope my humble examples offer strength to resist the barrage of consumer pressures surrounding us. There are many changes we can make and still be, well—normal. Sort of normal. But definitely happy. Very happy.
One September day I was in a funk, feeling pressured and frustrated by some of life’s challenges. Since I’d promised to check on the neighbor’s cats, I took a break and paddled my canoe the short distance to their house across the lake. On the way back, I was further saddened by the dragonfly I found, apparently drowned, in the canoe. But lifting it out with my finger, I realized it was still alive, barely. I almost always have my camera, just in case an eagle appears, but today it was my excuse to pause and take pictures as this tiny creature slowly recovered, wiping its colossal eyes while its wings went from drenched to gossamer. When it finally took off into the blue sky, I realized my mood had also revived.
I resumed paddling but was stopped by what appeared to be the last water lily of the summer. The low sun and high winds created a magical scene of dancing light. After taking (way too many) pictures, I had to get back to work, but my heart had gone from embattled to enchanted. When I told my friend Susan, she said, “That’s the name of your book.”
I am often moved, by sadness and joy. But there were more tears than I expected on my first vacation in California.
I first moistened up with a smile, feeling that thrill of take off, thankful that Dad taught us to love flying. I suppose one could have cried about the first three days of rain and mandatory evacuation alerts in the “sunny” coastal town of Carpinteria, but why? I trusted the judgment of my gracious hosts, Jean and Denny Fox, that our risk was minimal. I enjoyed walking on the beach and salt marsh when the rain was light. When it poured, I was happy to weed my photos, or visit or play a game with my friends.
The sun finally came out and blessed our outing to the Santa Ynez Valley, where we reveled in the green hillsides and flowers, tasted the local wine, and were charmed by a little brown lamb. When I snapped just one picture of a red-tailed hawk overhead and was lucky enough to capture its beauty, I was inspired to make this a “working vacation” by taking plenty of pictures—as if that was ever in doubt!
As a writer with Danish roots, I couldn’t refuse my hosts’s offer to take me to Solvang to muse about Hans Christian Andersen and the Little Mermaid, and admire the colorful old world architecture.
I was glad that we all wanted to go to Santa Barbara for the March for Our Lives. The emphasis on voting was exciting, and creative signs called out many facts and feelings. Speeches from people having suffered through school shootings or lost loved ones to gun violence made our cause painfully real. I appreciated the flowers and friendly dogs that occasionally took my focus from the words that tugged at my heart and dampened my eyes. But even more beautiful were the inspiring, courageous faces of the future.
Our visit to the Santa Barbara Courthouse was a fitting follow-up to the march. Though the historical accuracy of the many paintings throughout the Spanish Revival elegance was questionable, the fact that the complex is currently a working courthouse, as well as a community gathering place, gave us hope that what we and millions around the world had witnessed that day was the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice.
But most refreshing for our eyes and souls was the marina, with its playful winds, gulls, and people.
Sunday morning brought us to the cliffs above the seal rookery where Jean and Denny volunteer during the birthing months, when the area is federally protected. The first picture shows what we saw with the naked eye. Thank goodness for the zoom in my camera! I loved seeing the many colors and even whiskered expressions of the seals. The rocks shelter them from whales and sharks. Docents count seals and pups, educate visitors from around the world, and advise them of the consequences for walking the beach near the sensitive animals—a $10,000 fine and a year in jail. In the distance are oil rigs. I hoped there had been some protective measures taken since the deadly Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969.
After lunch we headed up to Montecito, site of the January mudslides following the Thomas wildfire, largest in California history. Pictures can’t compare with being there, even ten weeks after the disaster. Seeing mountainsides burned and treeless was sad enough. Seeing houses gutted by ten foot boulders and blackened by mud up to their roofs, it was impossible not to imagine the terror the occupants must have felt as, without warning, mud and debris flooded their homes as they lay in their beds. Twenty six died, while a toddler and teen were washed out to sea. Tears? Had regulations allowed us to stop or leave our cars, I’m sure we’d have had our own little floods. It was one of those times when the task of documenting with my camera helped buffer me from overwhelming sadness. Still, there was little conversation as we drove through the devastation. Even when seeing a splendid estate, somehow untouched by the forces that destroyed the home next door, we knew that the residents must be struggling with horrific questions. I wish all the climate change deniers in Washington would walk through these areas. In their pajamas.
Despite the vastness of the destruction, there were uplifting signs of the human spirit. Someone had written “Thank you everyone! We love you” in the mud covering their house. (Click on the pictures to enlarge that and other details.) I was grateful to have been a witness and that my hosts had wisely planned to follow that heartbreaking “tour” with a visit to Seaside Gardens. They knew we would find healing in the exquisite landscape and resilience of delicate flowers.
On my last full day, I wandered the quaint streets of Carpinteria, soaking in the warm air, and browsing a few shops and antique stores. Though there were lovely things, and I’d have felt justified in buying something to remind me of the trip, I knew I didn’t need that. I’d have my pictures, writing, and surely something from the beach.
The beach! Suddenly I felt I was wasting precious time and headed there quickly. I was not disappointed as I walked the beach and took it all in—the sky, the birds, the kids, the sand between my toes and the waves on my legs. But that wasn’t quite enough. I had to get in. When the first wave hit me, it was not just cold. It was reallyreallycold. But as I looked up at the sun, and wave after wave crashed into me, I forgot the cold and remembered why I’d come. I wanted a break between my old life and new. I wanted to let go of all the stress of the last year—Mom’s dementia and death, planning her celebration of life, the task of emptying and selling her house. Though tears came as I remembered all of that, I knew it was time to turn the page and concentrate on my life, my goals. I stood my ground and laughed as each wave hit me hard and knocked the weight off my shoulders. Then I realized I didn’t have to resist. I could just let each wave lift and carry me. As long as I kept my focus forward, I’d land on my feet.
When I got back to the house and showered, I found black grit inside my swim suit—soot from the wildfires. A sad reminder of how widespread and long-lasting its effects would be. But it didn’t stop me from going back on my last morning to love the beach one more time, despite the many burned and broken trees. I found a few shells and a special rock—all the souvenirs I needed. Then Jean and Denny took me to the bus and went off to watch their seals again. Once at the airport, I got a text from Jean. A body found on the rocks—another suicide. Then a seal with a huge shark bite, probably fatal. Sigh.
When people ask how my vacation was, I hesitate a moment, but then say good. Joy and sadness, beauty and horror, life and death. Not an escape from the world, but a portrait of it. Full of truth and challenge.
(c) 2018 Holly Jorgensen and Northern Holly Creations
Many of you read “The Gift of the Osprey” (my blog post of August 30, 2015) and know that Mom had long been ready to fly off as an angel, and excitedly told me she’d drop me a feather and a blessing. So when she finally made it out of here on April 25th, friends started asking me, “Has she dropped you a feather yet?”
You probably also know that Nature is my Other Mother. So I wasn’t too surprised when, after Mom’s celebration of life, I came home to find friends greeting me as I swam in my lake. Two grand birds soaring high—eagles or vultures? Either would be symbolic, as both eat carrion, turning the dead into new energy. A white dove, just like the one we released ten years ago at Dad’s celebration, circled over me. Dad? Is that you? Or Mom, going to join Dad? Or (smile) just one of the many white doves my neighbors John and Marsha released at another event that day, returning home to roost? Whatever it was, it made me cry happy tears. The contrail of a jet shone brilliantly as it shot upward toward the sun. That had to be Dad, the lifelong aviator, ecstatically welcoming Mom! Then swallows, catching the sun on their golden breasts as they swooped, and a perfect row of 16 geese flying over with that wonderful sound of swishing wings. But the best, as I reached the middle of our little lake, was a beautiful great blue heron that dipped gracefully over me. Was that B saying Mom’s there with him and Dad now? (See “The Gifts of the Great Blue Heron and the Great Blues Man.”) No matter the source, each was a generous blessing. Then who shows up but the goose family that had been visiting me daily. So I called to them, and they followed me to the dock for a little picnic of corn. It was the perfect closing to the long vigil with Mom and the busy preparation and day of her celebration. I finally relaxed.
It was a week later when Father Goose showed up with one of his wing feathers askew, time to molt and grow new ones for the migration. So I told him it would be nice if he dropped it here for me, but I felt silly, knowing that was pretty unlikely, since they traveled a wide range over this lake and the next. Even if he dropped it here, it would surely drift away or into the cattails. Oh, well. But I did take a good look at it, just in case.
The next day I went down to the dock for my swim late, not thinking about the geese or feather. But as I walked by the loon nesting platform (waiting to be anchored further out) I couldn’t help but notice a feather. The feather. Looking not at all dropped, but as if it had been carefully, artfully, deliberately placed so that I’d know Mom put it there. Astonished, I imagined her smiling as I kissed it, then dove in for my swim.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the sky. Another shining contrail heading up to heaven. Golden clouds in the west, deep blue ones in the east that morphed into – an angel. Really! A broad skirt, two outstretched wings, a round head crowned with a halo turning gold. Of course, by the time I got back to the dock to take pictures, the clouds had drifted. But they were still beautiful, and kept changing. I brought the feather in, and looked forward to telling people about it and the angel. But did I really believe they were sent by Mom?”
It’s been over two months since that extraordinary day. The feather still lies on my table, but the geese are gone. Their strong new feathers carried them into the sky, where they joined other families preparing to migrate. I miss them, as I miss Mom.
But then a pair of loons came, one with a rare golden breast. They flirted, danced, and hooted for hours while I took their pictures. A doe stood on the shore, nursing her fawn, and soothing my heart, as I watched from my canoe.My friendly sunfish Greenie finally left the nest he’d been cleaning and guarding for so long. I hope he avoids the hooks and returns for a third summer with me. But now I have a new green friend—a tree frog. He sits on my kitchen window every night, as calm as a little Buddha, even with the clatter of dishes and my chattering to him.
Could all, or any of these, really be signs from Mom? I don’t know. But they are daily reminders of the constant change that is life. One season after another. Life inevitably moving on to death to make room for the next joyful birth. While both ancient and modern cultures speak of the presence of ancestors in nature, scientists tell us that the same DNA exists in all living beings. That nothing—matter or energy—is ever lost. As Joni Mitchell put it, “We are stardust, billion year old carbon.”
I asked my friend Susan to talk about this, since she has a gift for seeing the mystical. She told me about Alice, an old woman she grew close to while working in a nursing home. Alice had a potty mouth but a sweet heart. On her deathbed, her eyes grew wide and she softly said “I am the wind, the sun, and the flower!” Susan, amazed, asked her, “Are you becoming one with the universe?” Alice gently nodded—yes.
(c) 2017 Holly Jorgensen and Northern Holly Creations
This spectacular sunset is the closest I have to a picture of the Bible’s burning bush. Years ago, I got involved in a small, but bitter, political fight. It was extremely hard for me, but environmental concerns compelled me to fight for what I loved and believed in. During sleepless nights, I reminded myself of how Paul and Sheila Wellstone spoke truth to power. Someone said they were like the Bible’s burning bush, on fire for their causes, but never consumed. They fought like hell for what they believed in, but could socialize and laugh with their adversaries at the end of the day.
I’ll never achieve their political skill, but I hold on to that image when I am pushed to speak up on important matters. Like the frigid day I went to sit in the hot tub at the Y. I had just gotten in when a man started chatting with me. I wasn’t in the mood, but was friendly and smiled… until he started talking – no, gloating – about Trump coming into office. I quietly said, “You’re happy now, we’ll see later.” When he started boasting about how great it will be in four, and eight years, I just had to say more. “You said you had a daughter who’s a teacher. Is it really okay with you that Trump abuses women?” Of course he went into the “Clinton was worse” line. I pointed out that one was a mistake, a seduction, and he apologized for it. The other was assault and he bragged about it. Big difference. Not to mention the many times Trump verbally disrespected women, clearly treating them as sexual objects.
After a couple similar exchanges, I told him I didn’t want to argue. I’d come there to relax. But when I closed my eyes and sank a bit deeper into the bubbling warmth, I thought about the African American man who had joined us there. Though the braggart hadn’t actually said anything racist, I was pretty sure the black man must be feeling as uncomfortable with him as I was. Then I flashed back to a time – the only time – when I was verbally attacked for being white. What could have been a devastating public embarrassment (I’m told my face showed the horror) turned into a blessing I’ll never forget. Before another word could come from the old woman’s mouth, I was surrounded by black friends. “Don’t listen to her… she’s crazy… we love you… you’re one of us… we’re so sorry you had to hear that…” and more. That memory gave me the courage to open my eyes and turn to the laughing man.
“So, do you think Trump is racist?”
“Not when the people coming across the border are rapists and drug dealers.”
“I was thinking of when he and his father wouldn’t let blacks rent their apartments. Is that okay?”
“It depends on what they were doing to the apartment.”
“They never had a chance. Their applications were marked with a “C” for colored and they couldn’t even look at one. Is that okay?”
He was quiet, then “But you have to admit he’s a great businessman!”
“Really? With four bankruptcies?”
“But he has a lot of money!”
“Really? You have no idea what he has because he won’t show his tax returns. Years ago the banks kept his name on buildings he’d lost, just for recognizability. He brags that he doesn’t pay taxes. That means he either lost a lot of money, gave a lot away, or cheated. And we know his foundation rarely gives anything away. In fact, he sometimes doesn’t even pay his workers, and clearly took money from innocent college students at his so-called university. Is that okay?”
It went on like this until he left, perhaps not humbled, but seemingly less inflated and obnoxious. The black man crossed the pool and sat by me, with a quiet word of solidarity. He’d grown up in Arkansas and was all too familiar with that kind of man. We shared our frustrations, but then spoke of the gospel music we both loved, sang, and wrote, and found we had friends in common. We laughed, he softly sang, and our spirits were lifted. I’ll probably never see either of them again, but I will remember that night – another bitter taste turned sweet.
I’m not a fighter, until backed into a corner or standing up for what I believe. That encounter with the brash man was not fun. But I slept well that night, knowing I’d done the right thing. Did I change him, or at least make him think a little? Will he be a little less likely to spout off to strangers? Who knows. But the others in the pool heard me challenge him, armed with facts and calm. Maybe, when they are in a similar situation, it will be easier to speak up. I know it will be for me.
I never intended my blog to be about politics, but these days, it infuses our lives. While people have asked me to put more of my cards on my website, I also have friends thanking me for sharing that story. I wrestled with which is more important. Then I heard Meryl Streep quote Carrie Fisher: “Take your broken heart, make it into art.” And I realized I don’t have to choose. My art is about life. And it is often the best expression of my beliefs. So, for the record, and in case you missed them, here are a few of my cards. I hope they comfort you as they do me, and encourage you to speak your truth, whether in words or art.
I am so grateful!
For skies of sun and rain
for critters wild and tame
for songs of orchestra or bird
written page and spoken word
my mother’s smile and “I love you”
but smiles of strangers bless me, too
so whether you are far or near
a new acquaintance, old friend, dear
I appreciate you all…
even the turkeys
We have so much to be thankful for, including all the talented comedians who point out how ridiculous some of the actors in this drama are. When I think of them as the turkeys they are (“a stupid or inept person” – Oxford Dictionary) I feel less afraid and more sure they will fade into the cautionary annals of history.
America has been humbled, by both our actions and inaction. I hope we can all accept some of that humility and really listen to those of other faiths, colors, orientations, and differing political points of view.
As always, I will look to nature for beauty, joy, strength, and solace.