What? Another fishy picture for the holidays? Yup, I couldn’t resist this one of Slim and Greenie dancing in the moonlight. You may have read the poem it inspired when I posted it on Facebook. But in truth, it wasn’t the moonlight giving them that magical glow. For seven summers I’d been lamenting evenings when it was just too dark to get a decent photo of my underwater friends. Then it struck me. I have a flash! Duh. Suddenly I had a new way into their twilight world. A little editing brought out their smiles and the magic of this unique couple. So what it says to me today is this: remember what resources you have and “Shine a light!” We’ve been through dark times and surely face more. How often do we have something at hand that can brighten a moment, an hour, a year, a life? Bless the stroke of luck that opens our eyes to it.
I’m still working on a book about Greenie and friends. If you read my blog or newsletters, you know that I can blame the delay on the little bit of cancer I had, sucking up my time and energy. I’m fine now, and immensely grateful. But that scare also motivated me to share what I have while I can. So I posted a few of my lullabies on Facebook, hoping someone might be touched and guided. My friend Marty Winkler is putting one of them on her next album! I framed and entered some photos in the county fair, hoping someone might look more closely at Mother Nature’s other children. Their uniqueness led to an invitation to do my first exhibit! It will be at the Minnesota Valley Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, opening on February 12th. Stay in touch for details if you’d like to join us.
My fish friends are under the ice now, but my cardinal friend Red is back on the vine outside my window and my deer friends visit often. My trail cams show shyer visitors – beaver, opossum, raccoon, fox, coyote, and more. My cats Lucky and Leo are great company with their snuggles and antics. I have deeply enjoyed connecting with human friends, too, as we share bumps and breezes, laughter and music, on this precious road of life. But the brightest light shines from the new baby in the family! My niece Kym had a little boy, known as Sprout, who is already an athletic, outdoorsy, adorable wonder, like his parents.
I wish you all the very best as we step into 2023. May the holidays help you to discover the “flash” you need to light the world around you in the twilight moments. May you rest well in the darkness, and wake to the miracle of another day.
Peace and Joy, Holly
PS – If you are not getting my occasional newsletters, I may have an old email address for you or they may go into your junk folder, since they come through Mailchimp. If you want to, please go to hollyonthelake.com and subscribe. Then watch for a letter with details of the upcoming exhibit and add me to your safe senders. Thank you!
Greenie, Slim, and their kids have gone deep in the lake and slowed their metabolism, enabling them to rest and survive with little food or sunlight as the ice covers the lake. I miss them, of course, but have begun to visit the Minnesota Zoo more often for my “fish fix” and to learn more about these amazing creatures. Gazing at the diverse communities in Discovery Bay, I’m mesmerized by the apparent tranquility of the swimmers.
Fishes of all sizes, intriguing sea turtles, and humongous sharks – silver, yellow, blue and green drift by. Then Luke, one of the zoo’s many friendly and knowledgeable staff, points out something I hadn’t noticed – a white puffer fish hiding motionless in a corner. He tells me that “Mr. Puff”, as he calls him, when feeling threatened, responds by retreating to his safe place. Puffing up to perhaps three times his normal size and showing off his spikes may protect him from predators. But it also puts enormous stress on his internal organs. This clever fellow has learned to go into his corner and relax before the stress tears him apart. Can we learn something from Mr. Puff? And from Greenie and friends, finding peace by reducing their consumption?
Speaking of stress, I hear that holiday shopping can feel like a shark at your back, especially with labor shortages, supply chain disruptions, and higher prices.
Another black Friday has passed while I stayed home. Cyber Monday will likely pass without my ordering anything online. I guess I am atypical, since this weekend is already breaking holiday shopping records. Yet, as the sun rose on Small Business Saturday, I was reminded that I have a small business. Very small. Selling is not one of my talents. But a friend recently read my book and was struck by the line “We can rest gratefully in the bosom of sufficiency.” His quoting it reminded me of why I wrote the book. And why I’ve been speaking on “Saving Money, the Planet, and your Sanity” since 2005. And why, exactly three years ago, I wrote about “Turning Black Friday Green” in my blog. Go back to that if you’re looking for ideas on alternative gift-giving – ideas that save money and the environment.
Or order my book. It does make a great gift. You can order from my website or email me. Let me know if you want me to sign it, and to whom. I’ll even gift wrap it and send it directly to your giftee if you like. I am designing my 2023 calendars now and will update my website soon. In the meantime, email me for details and with your calendar requests.
I hope your Thanksgiving was as satisfying as mine, feeling deeply grateful for friends and family, fish and fun.
Watch this short video to see how happy Greenie and Slim and I are to be together again. (If you don’t know who Greenie is, check out some earlier blog posts, read page 134 of my book, Enchanted, or google “Holly and Greenie”.) Every spring I’ve been amazed and thrilled when Greenie was the first fish to show up at my dock, and clearly remembered me. But this, the seventh year, it truly felt like a miracle. Why?
The Horror Movie
Last fall, as the water was getting colder, the fish came less frequently, as usual, but I still looked for them most days. One evening I went down to the lake and found the head of a sunfish on the dock. I didn’t panic. It could be anyone, half eaten by any of the predators who frequented our lake. But then I saw the head of a bass. Slim was the only bass I’d seen by the dock. My heart sank as I reasoned that the bass was Slim, and, since they were always together, the sunfish could very well be Greenie. I imagined a mink or otter catching one of them and the surrounding fish scattering in terror, except for the mate of the victim.
I knew someday I would lose my friend Greenie, but never pictured this. Could it really be that the universe or fate or some strange power left these two heads on my dock as . . . what? A good-bye? A sign that they would not be back? I truly marveled that Greenie could have such a life – living free and long, touching the hearts of thousands of people, then dying with the one he loved while giving life to another of God’s creatures? I should be so lucky! Yet I cried and grieved deeply, as we all do at the loss of one we love, be they human or another animal.
I told just a few friends. They were shocked and very sad, but agreed it seemed likely that it was Greenie and Slim that I found that night. I went down to the lake every day in hopes that I was wrong. Only one green sunfish showed up and did not come up to me the way Greenie always did, so I had little hope to cling to. I decided then that I would not share the sad possibility with anyone else. After all, I couldn’t know for sure it was them. If they were not here in the spring, I’d have to decide whether to reveal my suspicions about their demise – a violent yet necessary part of the circle of life – or to assume they didn’t make it through the winter. Greenie was, after all, at least nine years old. Everything I’d read put a green sunfish’s lifespan at ten years max.
I knew I owed it to Greenie to write a children’s book about our friendship, but it was even harder than I expected. Gleaning six years of my diaries, I pulled out 70 pages of notes related to him and our other wild friends. I had studied the best of children’s books and knew that hard truths – be they danger, fear, or sadness – were often vital elements of a treasured story. But could I really end the book with two heads on the dock?
That’s where I was stuck when the ice finally went out this spring. People were asking “Is Greenie back?” I checked the lake every day, putting my hand in for anyone there to smell, but not really speculating on the chances.
On May 5th, it was finally warm enough to keep my hand in there a minute or more. Wondering how long it would be until I could swim, I wasn’t really expecting any fish. But suddenly, there they were. Greenie and Slim and a little one (presumably one of their kids?) looking up at me. I was beyond happy, and I believe they were pretty darn glad to see me, too. I brought our joy to Greenie’s ichthyologist and the few grieving friends – “the report of their death was greatly exaggerated.” Now Greenie’s book will have a happy ending!
Cancer? Oh, yeah. I had a little bit of breast cancer, but it’s gone. I didn’t tell a lot of people because I knew I’d be okay and didn’t want you to worry. It was a 6mm spot on a mammogram and I had complete confidence in my docs at Mayo. From diagnosis through surgery to end of radiation was less than two months – all made less scary by the support of caring friends. My heart goes out to so many whose stories are not so easy. I’m sharing mine now just to remind us of the power of early detection.
The really fascinating part of my story is that Greenie may actually have smelled my cancer before I knew I had it, like dogs and cats and pigeons can! That will be in Greenie’s book. But even if you have a critter to sniff you out, please consider a doctor. My little cancer road trip could have become a cancer journey had it not been for regular mammograms. And men, please get whatever tests your docs recommend, too!
The pictures below are proof that there is beauty around us, even during challenging times, if we can dry our tears and open our eyes.
Last December I wrote that I was happy to be finishing up my shed rebuilding project. In April I wrote “Farewell to the Winter of Covid”. Well, the shed project took longer and turned out to be more challenging than expected. So has covid.
I suspect we are all feeling the same about the problems in our world. Like my shed, it’s more of a mess than we realized. The solution, of course, is to dig in and work together for the good of all. I LOVE my “new” shed and campfire spot. The deer and ‘possum have visited, and I’ve warmed my body and soul by the fire. The story is told below in pictures. Do you see any similarities with what we’ve been going through?
2021 meant letting go of things and wants and negativities that no longer felt important to me. I slowed down, thought about personal and global issues, wrote, and studied scenes I captured with my camera. With the blessing of vaccination, I loved getting back to enjoying outdoor concerts and other safe activities with friends.
But my daily swims were what kept me happy in the unprecedented heat. When the ice went out and Greenie showed up for a sixth wonderful summer with me, I had to buy an underwater camera to observe all I could about him. Especially exciting was recording the sounds he made, and his ichthyologist Peter’s conclusion that they were courting sounds! I plan to use this winter to learn more, isolate pictures from the videos, and use them to write a children’s book about Greenie and his friends. It warms my heart to be one of them! So this year my holiday picture is of Greenie and me. It was not easy to take, but so rewarding to have, especially with that magical ray of sun lighting the daisy. It follows the shed pictures, along with my wish for you.