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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

sunset reflected in loon eye

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

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

shed with lake open in December

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

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

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

Greenie the sunfish

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

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

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

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

Happy Holidays 2022

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

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

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

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

Peace and Joy, Holly

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

Shopping Lessons from the Fishes

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

blue fish

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

puffer fish

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


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

Holly & book

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

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

Greenie’s back, my cancer’s gone!

(and some pretty pictures)

If I sound emotional, I was! Read the story to see why.

Watch this short video to see how happy Greenie and Slim and I are to be together again. (If you don’t know who Greenie is, check out some earlier blog posts, read page 134 of my book, Enchanted, or google “Holly and Greenie”.) Every spring I’ve been amazed and thrilled when Greenie was the first fish to show up at my dock, and clearly remembered me. But this, the seventh year, it truly felt like a miracle. Why?

The Horror Movie

Last fall, as the water was getting colder, the fish came less frequently, as usual, but I still looked for them most days. One evening I went down to the lake and found the head of a sunfish on the dock. I didn’t panic. It could be anyone, half eaten by any of the predators who frequented our lake. But then I saw the head of a bass. Slim was the only bass I’d seen by the dock. My heart sank as I reasoned that the bass was Slim, and, since they were always together, the sunfish could very well be Greenie. I imagined a mink or otter catching one of them and the surrounding fish scattering in terror, except for the mate of the victim.

I knew someday I would lose my friend Greenie, but never pictured this. Could it really be that the universe or fate or some strange power left these two heads on my dock as . . . what? A good-bye? A sign that they would not be back? I truly marveled that Greenie could have such a life – living free and long, touching the hearts of thousands of people, then dying with the one he loved while giving life to another of God’s creatures? I should be so lucky! Yet I cried and grieved deeply, as we all do at the loss of one we love, be they human or another animal.

I told just a few friends. They were shocked and very sad, but agreed it seemed likely that it was Greenie and Slim that I found that night. I went down to the lake every day in hopes that I was wrong. Only one green sunfish showed up and did not come up to me the way Greenie always did, so I had little hope to cling to. I decided then that I would not share the sad possibility with anyone else. After all, I couldn’t know for sure it was them. If they were not here in the spring, I’d have to decide whether to reveal my suspicions about their demise – a violent yet necessary part of the circle of life – or to assume they didn’t make it through the winter. Greenie was, after all, at least nine years old. Everything I’d read put a green sunfish’s lifespan at ten years max.

I knew I owed it to Greenie to write a children’s book about our friendship, but it was even harder than I expected. Gleaning six years of my diaries, I pulled out 70 pages of notes related to him and our other wild friends. I had studied the best of children’s books and knew that hard truths – be they danger, fear, or sadness – were often vital elements of a treasured story. But could I really end the book with two heads on the dock?

The Miracle

That’s where I was stuck when the ice finally went out this spring. People were asking “Is Greenie back?” I checked the lake every day, putting my hand in for anyone there to smell, but not really speculating on the chances.

On May 5th, it was finally warm enough to keep my hand in there a minute or more. Wondering how long it would be until I could swim, I wasn’t really expecting any fish. But suddenly, there they were. Greenie and Slim and a little one (presumably one of their kids?) looking up at me. I was beyond happy, and I believe they were pretty darn glad to see me, too. I brought our joy to Greenie’s ichthyologist and the few grieving friends – “the report of their death was greatly exaggerated.” Now Greenie’s book will have a happy ending!

The Cancer

Cancer? Oh, yeah. I had a little bit of breast cancer, but it’s gone. I didn’t tell a lot of people because I knew I’d be okay and didn’t want you to worry. It was a 6mm spot on a mammogram and I had complete confidence in my docs at Mayo. From diagnosis through surgery to end of radiation was less than two months – all made less scary by the support of caring friends. My heart goes out to so many whose stories are not so easy. I’m sharing mine now just to remind us of the power of early detection.

The really fascinating part of my story is that Greenie may actually have smelled my cancer before I knew I had it, like dogs and cats and pigeons can! That will be in Greenie’s book. But even if you have a critter to sniff you out, please consider a doctor. My little cancer road trip could have become a cancer journey had it not been for regular mammograms. And men, please get whatever tests your docs recommend, too!

The pictures below are proof that there is beauty around us, even during challenging times, if we can dry our tears and open our eyes.

On my many trips to Mayo in Cannon Falls, Redwing, and Northfield, I got to stop and say hello to cows.
cow and calves
They were checking me out, too, as they played in the April mud.
Spring wildflowers make dying leaves fade into the background.
trees reflected in water
A good time for reflection.
How could I not be delighted at the sight of fluffy new goslings!
flowers and cat
I deeply appreciated flowers, food, rides, prayers, and caring words from friends, along with snuggles from Leo and Lucky.
sunset, barn, power lines
The day after Greenie and Slim showed up, I was coming home from my last radiation treatment when this scene grabbed me. Seeing all those poles supporting and connecting power lines made me think about all the sources of power in my life.
Holly moved a big rock
Just to assure you I really am okay and am getting my energy back, I mowed the lawn, swam the lake, and moved this BIG rock. And yes, I still have my breasts and my hair. Pretty darn lucky, ha?! My sincerest thanks to all the kind folks at all the Mayos. They were amazing.

Shedding toward Happy Holidays

Last December I wrote that I was happy to be finishing up my shed rebuilding project. In April I wrote “Farewell to the Winter of Covid”.  Well, the shed project took longer and turned out to be more challenging than expected. So has covid.

 I suspect we are all feeling the same about the problems in our world. Like my shed, it’s more of a mess than we realized. The solution, of course, is to dig in and work together for the good of all. I LOVE my “new” shed and campfire spot. The deer and ‘possum have visited, and I’ve warmed my body and soul by the fire. The story is told below in pictures. Do you see any similarities with what we’ve been going through?

2021 meant letting go of things and wants and negativities that no longer felt important to me. I slowed down, thought about personal and global issues, wrote, and studied scenes I captured with my camera. With the blessing of vaccination, I loved getting back to enjoying outdoor concerts and other safe activities with friends.

But my daily swims were what kept me happy in the unprecedented heat. When the ice went out and Greenie showed up for a sixth wonderful summer with me, I had to buy an underwater camera to observe all I could about him. Especially exciting was recording the sounds he made, and his ichthyologist Peter’s conclusion that they were courting sounds! I plan to use this winter to learn more, isolate pictures from the videos, and use them to write a children’s book about Greenie and his friends. It warms my heart to be one of them! So this year my holiday picture is of Greenie and me. It was not easy to take, but so rewarding to have, especially with that magical ray of sun lighting the daisy. It follows the shed pictures, along with my wish for you.

The shed was an old pigeon coop I turned into a garden shed 25 years ago, now in desperate need of a new floor and roof.
First task – emptying. Thanks to Nancy for helping! Where did all that come from and where should it go? It felt good to give, donate, and recycle a lot.
Thanks to Ann for picking up a million crumbled shingles as I dropped them. Which was ickier, prying off three layers of sticky shingles or . . .
prying off old dusty drywall? Both!
When a monster machine wouldn’t work in my yard full of trees, hills, and rocks, my awesome neighbors came to the rescue, cutting the shed apart and carrying the walls up to the new shed site by the garage. It felt a little like an old-fashioned barn-raising, but backwards.
Thanks Ronda, Jeff, Rio, Jeff, and Dan for being safety conscious in many ways.
Temporary supports – don’t walk here, deer! It was exciting to see the view opening up!
It took me two tries (plenty of exercise!) to get the foundation level so Dane and Noah could rebuild the floor. I was so lucky to find them – guys after my own heart who preferred the challenge of reusing the beautifully weathered wood to buying a plastic shed that would never return to nature.
They worked long hours to get the new roof on . . .
and the brand-new doors I had found on the curb a few years earlier. Ready for winter!
I knew it would be even more beautiful in May with the honeysuckle blooming.
Cleaning up and leveling the old shed site revealed things long hidden.
It took a lot of digging, heavy lifting, seeding and watering, but here it is – my campfire spot with the beautiful new view I’d been dreaming of. I think the shed must be happy to be spiffed up, strong, and tucked up by the garage.
The holidays are a time to focus on peace, love, and joy. May you stay safe and have an abundance of all three. The world is a beautiful place, when we pause to look and listen, even to those unlike ourselves, with a caring heart. Holly