A Little Red Cure for the Christmas Blues – or any time you’re lonely

As Christmas approaches, I’m always aware that holidays bring joy to many, but loneliness to many others. I recall, some years back, returning to work and to the well-meaning question, “How was your Christmas?” and answering, “Great . . . due to lowered expectations.” It was the most honest answer I could give, and I always hoped it would be taken for what it was— not a complaint, but a key to happiness. With the media and stores and Hallmark movies pumping up our hopes, it’s good to remember that few holidays can measure up to the hype.

I am fortunate to regularly get together with friends from college, a thoughtful group of people who met through the U YMCA 50 years ago and still feel connected. One evening our topic of conversation was loneliness. It surprised me that I, the one in the group without a partner or kids, was the one who never minds being alone, even on holidays. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I felt lonely, and wasn’t sure why. Our friend and mentor, Doug Wallace, suggested a reason that seemed to ring true. My connection to nature provides me with friends, even when my human ones are not around.

If you’ve read my blogs or book, you know of some of my extraordinary relationships. Sunny the half-wild mustang, Teddy the yellow lab, the beloved cats whom I’ve rescued who rescue me back, the geese who bring their goslings, and Greenie and Spot, my sunfish friends. Of course, none of these provide the life-long love of the human partner that so many long for during the romance of star-dusted holidays. But they come unexpectedly and without expectations, bringing moments or years of comfort and joy, if only we will open our eyes and hearts to their wonder.

As I write this, I can peek out my kitchen window and see my friend Red. Dressed in the color of Christmas, this cardinal has returned for the second winter to bless me by sleeping in the grapevine under the eaves night after cold night. I used to feel bad when I’d return home in the evening and scare him off. But he seems to know me now, and stays hunkered down, even when I talk to him softly.

Everyone loves cardinals, but could a bat be a friend? Of course. I had one who slept behind the cast iron pan hanging on my house for nine summers. If I was lucky, I’d catch him waking up and stretching before taking off for his evening of mosquito control.

Spring brings nests, and birds large and small. Some are lost to predators—food in the circle of life. Others survive to fill our trees with song. These migrants remind us that friends come and go as they travel their own paths, resting with us on their long flights. Will I ever be able to recognize one bird from another? Perhaps not, but then, I didn’t expect to be able to know Greenie and Spot from the other fish in the lake. Will they survive under the ice and greet me in the spring? I pray so, but only time will tell.

Perhaps having wild friends has taught me to live in the present. To stop and make eye contact with another living being every chance I get. To appreciate every time a creature trusts me. To know that every relationship is temporary, and precious.

And to give every soul a chance to surprise me with its magnificence. When a golden orb weaver began to work her magic above my kitchen sink, I had to watch. She reminded me of my mother, with patience and skill, taking stitch after perfect stitch on one of her beautiful quilts. If my cat Leo or I accidentally destroyed her masterpiece, she’d eat the remains and recycle the silk into another. Soon I realized why she put up with our interference—the compost box provided her with fruit flies—and she kept my kitchen free of them. With trial and error, she learned to reposition her splendid web so that I could move faucet and dishes without disturbing her. Yes, we had a partnership.

It wasn’t long before I started calling her Ruth, as her tenacity and calm, quiet skill reminded me of the Notorious RBG. Yet I once saw her ferocity. A daddy-long-legs walked across her web and tackled her! I gasped as a flurry of 16 legs tumbled together. But in seconds the daddy returned to his corner, leaving me watching, wondering if Ruth was injured. She was still for a long time, but recovered the next day and went back to work. Whew. Who’d a thunk I could care about a spider, but how could I not? She kept me fascinated for a month, while I pondered–did I really want her there all winter? Dare I put her outside now that it was cold? I looked up the life cycle of golden orb weavers and found they died in the fall, after laying a nest of eggs. Hmm. Charlotte’s Web was in a barn, but did I really want Ruth’s children in my kitchen? She made a small sack in a corner, but nothing ever emerged. I watched carefully as Ruth eventually became still, then disappeared. But I’ll never forget the magnificence of her persistence and silken creations. As I watched her making her final web, I couldn’t help but feel something of her magic. She spun her silvery silk, finer than any tinsel and stronger than any steel. The rhythm of her dance was as true as the little drummer boy’s beat. A simple yet profound miracle of creation. Ruth showed me a magic not unlike the magic of Christmas, because she made me feel . . . love.

Then there are the ones I see only briefly, but am lucky enough to capture with my camera, allowing me to share the magic with you. I hope you feel some of the joy I felt when this buck gifted me with this image, and later with the words that seemed to flow from that night and become reality on solstice. Love from the buck and the night sky and my heart to yours, this Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year, and always. Holly

Lift your eyes

to the holiday heavens

Attune your ears

to the silent night

Open your heart

to the wayfaring stranger

And darkness gives way

to a rising light

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.