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.

This Sunday Afternoon!

You are invited to my first photography and poetry exhibit!

I would love to see you there THIS SUNDAY! Come walk the trails in the lovely Izaak Walton League woods, snow shoe and bird watch, then come inside for wine, snacks, pictures and poems. If you can’t make it, you can reserve another time to come, but you’ll miss the snacks, wine, and fun crowd. All the information is on this poster. I’m sharing my first artist’s statement here to give you an idea where I’m coming from and going. Having an exhibit really makes one think about what and why!

Artist’s Statement  

I don’t have the technical skill I’d like, but I do have special relationships with Mother Nature and her children. Whether silly or serious, my goal in life, art, and writing is simplicity rather than sophistication, and connection rather than perfection. I love when I can catch an interesting expression or pose. I really love when there is a surprise in the photo that I didn’t see in the field!  At times I find that editing an imperfect photo can evoke something closer to the emotion I felt in the wild. My hope is that viewers who are drawn in by a bit of mystery (“Is this real? Is this a painting? Were you that close? What was that critter thinking?”) might also be drawn to explore nature’s wonders on their own. Looking through eyes of love at every wild thing can create magic.

I can’t resist sharing what comes to mind when an image speaks to me. Sometimes it’s a poem, sometimes a memory or a laugh. I’d love to know what my pictures say to you. What do you see? Think? Wonder? Feel? I hope you’ll leave a comment or two.

You may notice a wide variety of frames and techniques. Why? 1) Though it’s a challenge and a lot of work to dress a photo in what brings out its personality, it’s more fun than doing them all the same. 2) If you know me or my book, Enchanted, you know that reuse is a core part of my Joyfully Green and Frugally Rich Life. 3) Giving an old frame a new life rather than filling landfills and extracting more of the earth’s resources is one of many ways to respect and preserve our environment.

Hey, Mom! You’re putting 40 pictures in your exhibit and NONE OF ME??! Sorry. Lucky, but this show focuses on the environment and wildlife of the MN River Valley. You’re wild, but not quite wild enough.

With Gratitude   

I am deeply grateful to the Izaak Walton League for inviting me to present my very first photography exhibit at the Kouba Gallery. I’m even more grateful for the League’s century of conservation initiatives. Clearly our hearts and minds are in the same place – passionate about loving and preserving the natural world. Perhaps you’ll join and become an Ike with me. Special thanks to Joseph Barisonzi for encouraging me as I sometimes color outside the lines.

Lift Every Voice – and Child

The Black National Anthem begins with “Lift every voice.” So while listening to so many voices that need to be heard, I began to share my photos and the short poems they inspired. It means a lot to me when people say they are lifted by them. I’m including a few here for those who missed them on my Facebook page or want to forward them to friends. Following the three picture/poems are some thoughts I hope you will take just a few minutes to consider.

Hard times sometimes
Make day feel like night
Sorrow and confusion
Steal her dreams of flight
She summons the strength to grieve
And courage to wear her heart on her sleeve
‘Til on her wing a sun does rise
That dares to bring the truth to light
And chase the shadows from our eyes
So she can sing with all her might

The Movement
They called you a worm
As you climbed the mountain
Inch by inch
Day after day
But a caterpillar
Is what you were
With a dream in your heart
And wings on the way

To have a friend
Who’s not like me
Is to swim in the sky
And fly in the sea

Yesterday, thousands gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate and renew MLK’s call for racial equality, made there 57 years ago. It was also the 65th anniversary of the murder of Emmet Till.  

I had read about the fourteen-year old boy, but it really tore at my heart when I heard the story from B.B. King. (Those of you who’ve read my book know I had the good fortune of a friendship with Mr. King from 1978 until his death. I wrote about other stories he told, but not this one. I think he would want me to share it now.) Emmett Till was visiting from Chicago in 1955 when he was falsely accused of touching a white woman, brutally tortured, and murdered. That was in Money, Mississippi, just 19 miles from Itta Bena, where B.B. King was born. King was 29 and a traveling musician by then, but was traumatized by the murder, knowing it could have happened to him or any of his family or friends. How do I know? King was a star, King of the Blues, loved and respected around the world by the time I knew him, decades after the incident. Yet I could see fear in his eyes and hear pain in his voice when he spoke of it. No matter how successful one becomes, the wounds from that kind of trauma never completely heal. B.B. was somehow able to resist bitterness and to direct his pain into a productive life. Others are not so lucky, with fear and loss turning into anger and destructiveness, toward themselves and others.

Yes, it could easily have been young King who was lied about and lost his life – the life that went on to bless and change the world with his music, warmth, and grace. What we will never know is this – what might Emmett Till have become and given the world if he had been allowed to live?

   Emmett Till   
  B.B. King

I’ve had the privilege of knowing, teaching, and loving many children – of many colors. I’ve seen the potential in every child, and sometimes felt the joy of seeing that potential fulfilled or the profound sadness of seeing it lost. Joy or sadness not just for the child, but for myself, for you, for our society. Perhaps that’s why this video tugs my heartstrings in so many directions.

The men who committed the heinous crime of killing Emmett Till were never brought to justice, even though it was clear who they were and what they did. It was the tremendous courage of Emmett’s mother, insisting the world see her dead son, brutalized beyond recognition, and those who dared report it, and those who did not avert their eyes from the horror, who sparked the civil rights movement that eventually brought about real change.

Sixty-five years later, we in northern states can no longer claim innocence and look down on the stories of racism in the South. The cold stare of the cop who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes was a wake-up call. We, the public, have the power to make that image and so many others catalysts for change, as Mamie Till did with her son’s.

The president is trying hard to scare you into forgetting what the ongoing protests are about. He is the arsonist who wants to race in to put out the fire and claim to be a hero.

I admire the courage of those who march, especially in this time of pandemic, knowing there are those who would inject violence into protests. I choose to speak and write. Others may choose only to vote, but that will make all the difference. It is very clear that the party in power now has not the will nor the courage to do what we all know is right – to confront the complex systemic and personal racism that is so destructive to individuals and our society.

If you are inclined to unsubscribe from my blog, wanting to avoid anything political, I hope you will hang in here with me. My next letter/blog will be about my sunfish friend Greenie, and will announce his television debut!

(To get a closer look at Emmett Till’s story, watch Gayle King’s interview of the historian who interviewed the woman whose lies led to the boy’s gruesome torture and death.)

A New Kind of St. Patrick’s Day Party

Our neighborhood St. Patrick’s Day dinner was cancelled. We’d only been homebound a few days, but that was enough to remind me that I must get outside and get moving if I am to maintain anything close to a sunny disposition. So I headed out for a park with paved trails to avoid the mud. But I drove slowly on the way, keeping my eye open for anything that might enchant me. Just a day before, two swans had trumpeted as they flew right over me – surely an invitation to follow them!

swan across field

A dot of white at the edge of a pond far across a field of corn stubble caught my eye and insisted I pull over. I hoped whoever owned the field wouldn’t mind as I trekked through the mud I’d thought to avoid. (Footnote- we are now friends!)  

swan and goose

The pictures I got were well worth the muddy boots. The swan was so busy preening and shaking her feathers that she didn’t seem to notice me.

geese in love

She put on such a show that I almost missed a loving moment between geese a few yards from her. I’m always thrilled to capture one of those!

swans resting

When I arrived at the park, Oh, my goodness! Swans! There must have been fifty. A resting spot on their migration. What a sight.

swans, geese, ducks

Lots of chatting with geese and ducks. What stories were told?


Above them, an eagle circled over her nest high in a tree. As Mom used to say, early spring may be gray, but you can see so much more before the leaves come out.

tree over water

I sat on a tree over open water – a perfect place to reflect. Summer really is coming!

swan feather

When the clouds thickened over the setting sun and the wind picked up, I started back toward the parking lot, but was stopped by a feather. Was it from a swan, or Mom?

Back in my car, classical music poured out to lift my spirits even higher as I came upon pastoral scenes.

horse and cow

Fuzzy friends nibbled on the first spring greens.


Elderly maples donated their sweet sap.

sleepy fields

Sleepy fields lay ready to spring to life.

I felt . . . exhilaration. I really hadn’t felt deprived of anything at home, but there was so much more out here – open space, crisp air, critters, and freedom. Places to stretch my legs, eyes, and mind.

swan hanging head

We can close our eyes and hang our heads. Or . . .

swan preens

We can preen some of those corners we’ve been meaning to get to, and . . .

swan spreads wings

find new ways and places to spread our wings.