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.

Thank you for being a part of my good life

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 place.”

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.

Living a frugally rich life

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.

Enchanted –Reflections from a Joyfully Green and Frugally Rich Life

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!

INTRODUCTION (Abridged)

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.

When I found this broken but still enchanting fairy in the trash, I had to bring her home. The table, vase, flowers, and candles were also cast-offs, but the lantern cost me a buck at a yard sale.

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

the common.

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.”

 

My Trip of Tears, with Pictures

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 really really cold. 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

Mom? Is that you?

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

Let us Pray. And other ways I plan to get through the next four years.

 

praying eagle
Let us Pray

 

The Burning Bush
The Burning Bush

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.

turkeys on Thanksgiving card
I am so grateful

 

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.

blue moon card

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.

loving swans
Love keeps us afloat

 

As always, I will look to nature for beauty, joy, strength, and solace.

The Ones We Love to Hate — part two of Connecting With Mother Nature’s Other Children

mountain lion
What do you feel when you see this mountain lion?

Part one of my talk (and last week’s post) focused on a few of the beautiful animals I’ve photographed and the connections that might make that possible. Butterflies, deer, beaver, mink, loons, egrets – all have evolved to read other animals, including us, and respond appropriately. Part two will focus on animals we are not always happy to see, but who are just as much a part of Mother Nature’s family. And while we’re at it, let’s give a bit of thought to our fellow humans. Do we still read and react to them as Nature intended? Or do we form opinions – and fears – based on hearsay and stereotypes?

I took this picture of a mountain lion at the zoo, but I’m pretty sure I heard one snarling outside my window once, along with a baby raccoon’s desperate cry. What do you feel when you look into this face? It’s beautiful, yet brings fear to many. The chances of ever seeing one as it moves through Minnesota, much less being attacked, are next to zero. So why are we afraid? Is it all the stories of big bad wolves? “Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!”

 

bighorn sheep
Sorry, I don’t know who took this picture, but I had to share it. Next time I see one I’ll bring my camera, and be more careful!

True, I was once charged by a bighorn ram. Was I afraid? YES! He was enormous, only ten or so feet from me, with those massive curled horns lowered and coming at me. Was I hurt? No. I had accidentally wandered into his territory, and when he was sure I was leaving (as in running down the mountain!) he stopped.

Then there was the young bull moose I ran into – almost literally – on another day in the Rockies. Hurrying and sweating and watching the trail beneath my feet, I didn’t see him until he was right in front of me, blocking the narrow trail. I froze, wondering what to do, when he politely stepped off the trail and let me pass.

It seems these animals knew I was not a threat, and therefore were not a threat to me. I was thankful for that, and for the big lesson: keep my eyes open, stay mindful of my surroundings and of what I’ve learned of animals and the world we share.

 

wolf spider
This wolf spider helped me by cleaning out the ant nest in my mailbox.

But most often, when I hear people expressing fear, it’s of more common critters, like spiders, bats, and snakes. I have always been thankful for the day my father called us kids to come and look at a beautiful spider. I was young, but old enough to know that most of my friends were afraid of spiders. In that moment, I not only got close enough to see the lovely yellow and black pattern, but realized there was nothing to be afraid of as long as we didn’t disturb it. Now I see stories of people reacting with such panic that it makes them roll their cars or even burn their houses in attempts to escape or kill these little critters! I wonder, was it their parents or some horror movie that instilled that fear? Sure, there are spiders that carry venom. But they are rare, seldom aggressive, and almost non-existent here in Minnesota. And spiders are great hunters of other insects, making them much more beneficial than dangerous. I once had a problem with pantry moths, until a daddy-long-legs took up residence in the corner. I told my mother, “Don’t bother this guy. He’s working for me!” Later I had a nest of big black ants in my mailbox. Did you ever have an ant farm? They are fascinating! But I doubted my mail carrier would appreciate their growing presence. I don’t like to use poisons, and was sure a smelly dryer sheet would repel them. But no, they continued to care for their hundreds of white pupae – until a wolf spider showed up. After a day or two, everyone was gone and my mailbox was clean. Thank you, spider.

 

baby bats in blankets
I didn’t take this picture, but these baby bats are too cute not to love, right?

The same irrational fear seems to dominate our image of bats. Sure, they can contract rabies, but only one-half of one percent do, and that causes only one or two human deaths per year in the United States. And getting tangled in people’s hair? More myth than fact. A bat’s echolocation skills make it the most skillful flyer on earth, even in the dark. Any contact is more likely caused by human panic than bats “attacking.” When I swim across the lake at dusk, I turn onto my back to see any bats who might join me. They swoop close to my head, hunting the mosquitoes that are after me, and give me a little thrill with their amazing aerial dances in the sunset. No wonder the mouse looked up at a bat and said “Look! An angel!” True, we don’t need them or their guano in our houses. But turn on the lights, open a window, and close the door to the room, and they will almost always leave.

snake
Years ago, my naturalist friend Dan Newbauer was kind enough to bring his pet boa to the opening of my show.

Snakes get a bad rap, from the Bible to Shakespeare to “Snakes on a Plane.” I have to admit that I have been startled by their quick slithers through long grasses. And I wonder if they are harder to relate to because they are so different from us. I often dream of flying like a bird, and feel like a fish when I swim. But I can never quite understand how snakes can move – and even climb trees – without arms or legs! I am grateful for the reptile expert who came to my elementary school espousing the talents of snakes. He even let us touch his pets, pointing out that they are beautiful, and not at all slimy. Now I enjoy picking up the occasional visitor to see if it has a pretty red belly.

 

 

great horned owl
Great horned owls sing to the night and help control rodent populations.

Fire-iron owl.
Fire-iron owl. I found it on the curb, of course!

 

Since it’s just a few days after Halloween, I have to acknowledge that many people love being scared. I remember being a young child and screaming and laughing at the same time at some monster game we were playing. But I am saddened when I see irrational fears passed on to children. Fears that do more to traumatize than to protect. Especially when they stop people, young or old, from going out on a moonlit night, looking up at the stars, and hearing the sound of an owl or coyote adding magic to the beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

honeybee
More honey than sting!

When we see wolves only as competitors for food, or judge them all on the actions of a few, we demonize them unnecessarily. We miss their gentle spirits, intelligence, strong family ties, and important contributions to the health of the ecology. For fear of getting stung or losing profits, we over-use poisons and are in danger of losing our pollinators, which means our food. Some people even deliberately run over turtles. I’ve been swimming with big snapping turtles for twenty years, and have never seen one snap. The worst traits of animals, like the spray of a skunk, come out when they feel threatened or are hungry. The same is true of us.

 

 

moon spinner
I loved being out and capturing this shot. I call it “moon spinner”

 

There are many who profit from providing us with scary stories – books, television, movies – that we seem to love. There’s hardly a show on TV that doesn’t have villains, violence, and suspenseful music in the background. Yes, there are real dangers in the world, but our media greatly exaggerates and dramatizes them to keep our attention and our money.

Just as we’ve been fed over-blown stories of animals and people attacking, we are being encouraged by some to fear and hate people who look, speak, or worship differently than we do. We are told they will take away our jobs, housing, food, and safety. Yes, there are threats in our human societies as well as in nature. But seeing others only as competitors or dangerous is never the whole story. Caution is good. But it is understanding, community, and compassion – not anger, fear, and aggression – that will protect us.

 

 

 

snapper and friend
Fear not — but don’t give them reason to attack!

 

While it’s natural to be motivated by hunger and fear, some humans are also driven by greed and a quest for power. That is what scares me – the thought that we could actually elect a bully, thinking that he will protect us. A man who plays into our fears instead of believing in our strengths. A man with little knowledge or understanding of our world, natural or otherwise. He believes he can get attention and control by poking everyone and everything with a sharp stick. Well, he is getting attention, but he’s making us less safe and less civilized. Please stop him before it’s too late.

…Oh, but I suppose if you are reading my blog you probably care about nature and the earth. So perhaps you have already committed to voting for the woman who knows – and isn’t afraid to say – that climate change is a much bigger threat than terrorism. She has plans for green energy and technology that will create jobs, stimulate the economy, and protect our precious Mother Earth. Please vote for Hillary.

© 2016 Holly Jorgensen  — but feel free to share!

 

 

 

 

 

Connecting with Mother Nature’s Other Children – part one

I was recently asked to speak about my nature photography at a Unitarian church. It was easy to decide to talk about the 7th UU principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. I’m not an expert photographer, but people say I have a special connection to nature, and I guess it’s true. So I’d like to share parts of that talk, and secrets to getting good pictures, in this blog.

malachite butterfly
Could it be that this malachite butterfly’s feelers are actually feeling?

Do you remember when scientists used to say only humans had real thoughts and emotions? That animals (or as I prefer to say – other animals) act only on instinct? It’s taken a long time, but scientific studies are now proving what animal lovers have always known – that each species has a range of abilities – and feelings – that we are just beginning to understand. As we point powerful antennae into space, we need to also consider the antennae of our little neighbors.

 

 

 

cecropia
This cecropia moth can smell his girlfriend from a mile away.

Some moths, like this cecropia with its feathery antennae, can smell one molecule of a female’s pheromones from a mile away! Dogs have gone beyond bomb-sniffing to detect and warn us of seizures and changes in blood sugar. Have you heard that pigeons and fruit flies have been trained to detect cancer cells? My last colonoscopy was really fun… not! So when I’m due for another test, I’m counting on some friendly dog to just sniff my butt!

 

 

 

 

"Who's that lady in the window, Mama?"
“Who’s that lady in the window, Mama?”

No wonder fawns are born with no odor at all- a great protection from predators with their super-noses. In a few days, the doe will start moving the nest around. This one must have trusted me. She watched me taking lots of picture as the little one frolicked and asked “Who’s that lady in the window, Mama?” But then she lay down, and was completely motionless, until her baby took the hint, found a sheltered spot a few feet away, and settled in. When Mama was certain her baby was still, she walked off into the woods, to forage before returning that night to nurse her little one.

Her message, to be still, is also they key to drawing in critters. Photography can be uncomfortable, standing on one foot, holding the camera up, and resisting swatting mosquitoes. Do I feed the deer? No – except for the flowers they help themselves to. That’s frustrating, but I’ve accepted it, saying that nearly anyone can grow flowers. Not everyone can grow fawns. I have one or more born here every year, and often wonder if the does come back because they were born here and feel safe. Or maybe they figure I am less of of a threat than the coyotes in the park behind us.

beaver
My winter beaver friend.

I’m used to swimming with beavers and having them slap their tails if I come too close to their lodge. But I was truly surprised when this one spent a whole winter right outside my bedroom. It had a burrow in the shore and would break through the ice whenever a warm spell allowed.

 

 

 

mink
Mink!

An even more surprising visitor was this mink, marking the same spot later by dropping his scat on the log. He was clearly watching me, and accommodated my silent wish that he stay while I got my camera. I came back with it and he posed for this shot.

 

 

 

 

 

loon & Holly
Two loons swimming.

I have Carol Gillen to thank for this shot of me swimming with a loon. I’ve noticed the deer are rarely afraid of me when I am “just a head” in the lake, and I can’t help but wonder if my daily swims are why the beaver and mink see me as less of a foreigner in their world.

 

 

 

 

 

loon
A loon is as beautiful as its mystical call.

I suspect that’s why the loons let me swim near them, and sometimes even follow me. Getting close to these stunning birds always thrills me to my core.

 

 

 

 

foot waggle
A loon’s “foot waggle.”

Have you seen them wave? I’ve read theories that the “foot waggle” is a way of cooling off while others say it’s a social move. Well, I’ve seen them do it when it’s really cold out, so I’m going with the “wave” theory and I always wave back – with my foot, of course.

 

 

 

great egret
A great egret preening its magnificent feathers.

Great egrets migrate through in the spring, but are shy, so I took this lucky shot from inside my bedroom. I always enjoy watching a bird preen its feathers. That tells me they are relaxed, and I think it makes a more interesting and intimate picture.

You may have read my blogs about the osprey I met in Florida, the great blue heron, and the birds who have wrapped their tiny feet around my finger or sat on my shoulder. All are examples of spiritual lessons happening in the natural world. Part of their magic is that we can’t explain them. But what’s important is the gift – the change that takes place in our souls, whether a momentary peace or an epiphany that changes the course of a life. It makes me sad that so many kids are growing up indoors these days, and others only get outside for organized sports, and never alone.

But some of our deepest relationships are with the animals who live in our homes or pastures. Several have been so special to me that they are in my book and will get their own posts one of these days. Sometimes it takes me years to be able to share a story of a special animal without tears. If you know me, you probably know that I feel things deeply, that I’m often caught with my emotions close to the surface or leaking out, whether in sadness or joy. But I suspect that this trait – the physical expression of emotion, might be one of the reasons I connect with nature. I believe that animals do have their own languages. But because they are not spoken like ours, they become super-sensitive to the body language, chemistry, feelings, and intentions of others – of all species. Their survival and evolution has depended on knowing what that other being is thinking and feeling – whether it is friend or foe, aggressive, afraid, amused, or irritated. Perhaps my transparency makes it even easier for them to read me and know that I’m not afraid, nor am I a threat. That I am in awe of them and, yes, that I love them.

Stay tuned for part two – the animals we love to hate.