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My Dirty Little Secret – Nature Knows

I have a confession. I lied. It was unintentional, but still, I lied.

I am a storyteller. I observe, gather information, and translate. Sometimes when I do not have all the facts, I make up “stuff” to fill in the blanks. Is that lying? Or, is it just an attempt to make sense out of an unknown thing. Perhaps it is just an exercise to entertain my busy brain. No matter, as time passes, the stories I tell myself become more intricate, and fact and fiction begin to blur. Soon, I am confident that my story is infallible and entirely correct. That is until one of the square building blocks turns into a circle, and the whole tale crumbles.

The Sandhill Cranes of the Lakehouse have taught me more than I could possibly share. Humility is a common theme, and so it is in this case. It has become apparent that I misreported a few of the facts. I contemplated never sharing the truth out of pride or embarrassment. But, honesty and integrity won.

It all began with Lydia. Lydia was one of my best friends. I am solid in what I know about her. She loved me. She was a fierce protector of her colts, and the lake, and a faithful mate to Roger, and then, Bud. When Lydia was injured in the spring of 2019, she lost her status as the matriarch of the lake, could no longer produce offspring, rear her brood of colts, or be a mate to Bud.  She had lost everything that had defined her as a crane, except for me. Her gift to me was to allow me to see her frailty. Her vulnerability deepened our relationship. I lost her at the end of the season, but she lives on in my heart.

Lydia’s last surviving colt was not a typical crane. Crystal was born without fear. Baby cranes should be afraid of humans, but she would wonder about my feet so much at times that I feared I might step on her. She possessed a level of athleticism and grace that I had never seen in another crane, and I often thought of Crystal as a ballerina. She loved to ham it up for the camera and me. Crystal warmed my heart. Lydia and I were both so very proud of her.

When the cranes returned in 2019, I was shocked that Crystal was allowed to linger in the nesting area. In the past, I observed Bud and Lydia turn their backs toward the colts born the previous year. The message was clear; You are no longer welcome here. Bud and Lydia mated, as usual, eggs were laid, and everything seemed normal, except that Crystal was always around. When Lydia was injured and then disappeared, Crystal stepped in as mate to Bud and shared the responsibility of lying on eggs and even attempted to raise colts that were not hers. I was very proud.

This year I was delighted to welcome back Bud and Crystal. But, Bud seemed smaller, and I was concerned about his health. As time went on, I began to wonder if the bird was, indeed, Bud. Mostly, the bird seemed like Bud. But, one day, as I peered out the window, I noticed the cranes doing their special spring mating dance. Oh my. Oh, dear. Nope. No, indeed! My mind refused to process what it was seeing. My square building block became a circle, and the story I had told myself of Crystal fell apart. Crystal and Bud were not mates last summer, but companions. The new bird is not Bud, and the old bird is the same, but not Crystal.

Thus, I humbly introduce you to the Sandhill Cranes of the Lakehouse; Patriarch Billy Crystal and his mate Rosebud.

Song of The Post: I Heard it Through the Grapevine By Marvin Gay

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2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Grace & Gratitude

Yesterday I was mad. Not just a little heated up, but over the top angry. And, the fact that I could not put my anger in its right place made me furious. Didn’t my anger know I had important things to do! 2020 is the year of Gratitude, and I have articles to write, plans to make, people to meet, photos to capture, and stories to gather. And didn’t my anger know that I am a woman of peace and love? My mission, no matter how lofty it seems, is to make this world a better place by uniting people with different ideas and belief systems.

The irony is that I was upset with an organization that has different ideas and belief system than my own.  Yes, please, let me have that anger with a large helping of humility. That stopped me dead in my tracks. I glanced in the mirror and did not like what I saw. I want to say that I took the high road, let go of my anger, and continued my journey to spread peace and love to all the nations. But I felt I justified in my rage. I was right, and they were wrong. I recounted all the years of feeling discounted, rejected, and judged by this group. No, despite the image in the mirror, I held onto my anger. After all, I earned the right to feel this way.

I spent my entire day wondering how I, an angry woman, could move forward with The Gratitude Project. How could I launch a project to encourage the building of bridges between communities when, in this circumstance, I was refusing to place the first plank or hammer the first nail?  Late in the evening, I found the answer. In an attempt to do something positive, I began to look at photographs that I had taken in the fall. Perhaps I could edit  a few images. The first picture I saw brought tears to my eyes and I felt a knowing in my heart. I was humbled for the second time of the day.

The photo was of a Maple Tree. I have always thought if love were a tree, it would be a Maple. They are big, tall, strong, and have branches that extend slightly upturned like arms to hold children just right when they climb upon them. The light honey-brown wood is stunning and often used in home construction. If that is not enough, they even feed us with their sugary sap. 

The Maple tree reminded me that we are all one. As I studied the image, I noticed first, the trunk, then branches, smaller branches, and finally the leaves. Each had a unique shape, color, and texture. The tree was magnificently complex and beautiful. My mind shifted and I began to think of the trunk of the tree as God, the branches as nations of people, breaking off into smaller and smaller groups, and finally, the leaves as individuals. Again, I thought, we are all one.

How is it then that my anger could possibly be justified? By withholding my love, forgiveness, and compassion from any group, I, in turn, withhold it from myself. I have been building and maintaining this wall of anger for over thirty years. Sadly, I only recently realized that it is not impacting the group that caused me pain. Instead, it has hurt the people I love the most and me. For that, I am truly sorry. 

So, to answer the question, how will I, an angry woman, go forward with The Gratitude Project? I will deconstruct the wall. It will take time. It will take practice. And, it will take an abundance of Grace and Gratitude.


Authors Note: Would you or your organization (e.g., community group, retreat) like to participate in The Gratitude Project?  Please feel free to contact me at

Song of the Post: Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) By BYU Noteworthy –

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2019© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Whispering Pines Amish Grocery

 On September 16th 2013, the Amish owned and operated general store in my community caught fire and burned beyond repair. Though I was working in a town two hours away, I was made aware of the tragedy almost immediately. Friends texted first to report smoke, then fire and finally that the store would be a total loss. The news left me feeling off balance, and I found it difficult to concentrate for the remainder of the training. I was deeply saddened and overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness.

The drive home was excruciating. I was anxious and overcome with the desire to help my neighbors. But what could I do for the Amish? I would not be allowed to help the men and it would not be my place to stand with the women. When I finally arrived at the store the light of day was beginning to fade. I watched as the Amish men, faces drawn and clearly fatigued from the long difficult day, sort and remove debris. The Amish women gathered around makeshift tables, chatted with one another, and served the hungry workers from the multitude of covered dishes.

I lingered along the side of the road for some time. As tendrils of smoke continued to rise from the wreckage, and horses and buggies splashed through the muddied parking lot, I was, as I often am, awestruck by the Amish community. The Amish have held onto values that are often forgotten or inconvenient in our busy modern world. My most cherished is that they understand that a neighbor is more than just someone that lives next door. They, as a community, are committed to one another. They help each other, and occasionally, their non Amish neighbors, in both good times and bad. But, my, how they shine in the darkest moments!

Sometimes memory fades, but I believe I will always remember a day in late February of 2011. It was cold, dreary, and snow was lightly falling. It was the end of one chapter of my life, and the beginning of the next. I sat at the old formica table in the kitchen at my folks’ house, still numb, baffled, and bewildered by the events of the previous week. My friend, Cindy, had come from New York as soon as she heard the news that both of my parents had passed away on the same day. She was sitting next to me addressing envelopes, as I wrote personal messages of thanks to all the people whom had so generously sent plants, flowers and gifts of money in memory of my mother and father.

As we worked quietly, I became aware of the sound of many footsteps crunching on the new fallen snow on the deck. My brother, Cindy, and I went to the front door and were astonished to find thirty-five Amish children of various ages and three of their teachers. Their heavy black woolen coats, hats, and mittens were flecked with pure white snowflakes, and their faces were flushed red from winter cold air made even colder by the 2 mile ride from the school house on the open horse drawn wagon. We listened as one of the teachers explained that the children had been discussing what had happened to my parents, and how they wanted to do something to help. Their wish was that we might find comfort and hope in two songs they had chosen to sing for us.

Clouds of moisture danced about the faces of the children as warm breath met frigid air. Their voices rose and broke the silence of this wintry day, and, in doing so, shattered the wall that I had begun to build about my heart. I was completely rapt by the cold, snow dampened faces of living angels, singing off key. There are no words to describe how deeply and profoundly touched I was by this selfless act. These children did not know me, yet they understood my loss. They came as neighbors to lend a hand in a time of great pain and sorrow expecting nothing in return. They did, indeed, bring comfort that day and perhaps, for all the days of my life.

I owe my Amish neighbors a debt of gratitude that I may never be able to repay. I could do nothing to help when the store burned down. But, I will keep looking, and listening, and watching. And maybe, just maybe, one day I will have the opportunity to be a good neighbor, to bring hope on a hopeless day, or give comfort when none can be found.


Thanks to Carmel Steffen for Editorial Assistance

© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to

Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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