The day I was hugged by a fern

Alaska’s 2015-2016 winter was the second warmest on record, dating back to 1925. And here on Kodiak Island it’s been one of the rainiest. So when the clouds parted a few days ago, I took my camera for a walk along an ocean bluff, edged with spruce trees, in search of spring wildflowers and fresh greenery.

It was early for wild orchids (I promise to post later), but I came upon clumps of graceful fiddlehead ferns. I crouched down onto my belly, grateful for the mattress of moss, to study the tall stems that hadn’t completely unfurled. Oh my. Suddenly a warm awareness filled my being. Not thunder and lightning stuff. Just a subtle shift from looking at stems and fronds to seeing heads and outstretched “arms.” As if recognizing a long lost friend, I smiled and mentally sent a greeting, “Hi.”

When I finally picked up my camera and started composing the image, I felt like I was taking a portrait…

Hug, fern, green, plant, Kodiak, Alaska

“Can I give you a hug?” said the fern… (Marion Owen photo)

A few days after meeting Fernie, I came across an interesting blog post,  The amazing similarity between blood and chlorophyll where the author looks at common links between plants and humans. “Chlorophyll contains oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and magnesium, whilst haemoglobin from the blood contains iron at the place of magnesium. Both iron and magnesium are metallic atoms.”

How similar are we, humans and plants?

How similar are we, humans and plants?

It is definitely food for thought, to behold the Oneness in all.

Meanwhile, I’m celebrating spring in new ways and looking forward to more discoveries along my inner Journey.

“Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!” ~~ Sitting Bull

forest, tree, spruce, Kodiak, Alaska, rainforest, hike,

A Sitka spruce tree seems to reach out to hikers passing by in a Kodiak, Alaska forest. (Marion Owen photo)

Posted in Kodiak Island, Alaska, Organic gardening, Our world, Photography, Where curiosity leads me | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Sowing Wisdom: Luther Burbank, intuition and dealing with surprises

I’ve written a weekly garden column for the Kodiak Daily Mirror for over 15 years. This article first appeared on April 11, 2016…

Last Friday it rained, hard. Inside the gym though, it was bright and sunny, thanks to neon shirt day when everyone was encouraged to wear a dayglow t-shirt to the circuit workout. Believe me, working up a sweat with 30 active humans clad in hot pink, orange and chartreuse t-shirts was a sight for winter-weary eyes. A pleasant surprise.

Surprises, good or bad, are a part of life. As the saying goes, it isn’t so much what happens in life, but how you react to it. In the garden, surprises can appear in many ways: The first primrose of spring, fresh spinach, fewer slugs, an empty bird nest on the ground.

Flowers, primrose, drumstick, garden, Alaska, organic, spring

Surprises can also bring on confusion and frustration. For example, deciphering soil test results with all its numbers and acronyms, can be a daunting task. How much N, P, K should be in my soil? Can you have too much boron? What is a good pH for tomatoes?

It’s important to know the status of your soil so you can make adjustments (compost, bone meal and so on) to build and maintain healthy soil. (Healthy soil = healthy plants = health you). But you don’t have to get a soil test every year. “If your soil test results come back looking good, then don’t sweat it,” said Casey Matney, horticultural agent for the University of Alaska’s Cooperative Extension Service to a crowd of gardeners at his presentation last week at the Kodiak Public Library. “Just keep doing what you’ve been doing.”

Casey also cautioned growers to not get too wrapped up in the numbers. After all, you can’t reduce gardening into a scientific equation. There’s so much more going on. Stuff we cannot see.

Luther BurbankIt’s easy to get thrown off, even angry, by surprises and situations that don’t make sense. The first thing to do is pause and relax. That’s when answers come to you. To take it one step further, surrender and trust your intuition. That’s what Luther Burbank did.

Luther Burbank is one of history’s most inventive and productive plant breeders. For nearly 50 years he developed over 800 strains and varieties of plants, including plums, prunes, peaches, and berries; the Shasta daisy and the Burbank potato.

In some ways though, Luther Burbank remains a mystery to many biographers. He had little formal education, yet he managed to conduct 3,000 experiments at once, crossbreeding and grafting plants to come up with new and improved kinds. Over many years of working with plants, he practiced and developed a strong intuition, or inner knowing.

His lab was a simple cottage. He kept notes on envelopes and brown paper bags. Just watching him work left researchers scratching their heads. His methods were non-traditional. For example, to select superior plants, Burbank simply walked down a row of thousands of seedlings, and without breaking his stride, yanked up and tossed aside the ones he didn’t want.

Luther Burbank's home and garden in Santa Rosa, California.

Luther Burbank’s home and garden in Santa Rosa, California.

Today, Burbank’s home, greenhouse and gardens ( near Santa Rosa, California is a Registered National, State and City Historic Landmark attracting thousand of visitors every year. Some of the more famous visitors include Jack London, Albert Einstein and Helen Keller. When Helen Keller stopped by during one of her tours, she and Burbank became instant friends. They seemed to understand one another. Later, Keller later wrote: “He has the rarest of gifts, the receptive spirit of a child. When plants talk to him, he listens. That is why they tell him so many things about themselves.”

Helen Keller

Okay, so maybe you don’t carry on two-way conversations with trees and flowers, but I encourage you to be a little more receptive while working with plants. If, while transplanting lettuce seedlings for example, you get an inkling to set them behind a row of beets, don’t ask questions; just do it.

Learning a new skill takes practice, so does developing your intuition. It’s like exercise. At first the muscles rebel. Then, after a while, it begins to feel more natural, without the initial struggle and awkwardness. I have a friend who uses her intuition all the time while working in the garden. “I’m not very exacting on things,” she told me. “I just ‘intuit’ what needs to be done.”

I believe her. Each one of her cabbages yielded over 30 quarts of sauerkraut.

Last week, on my way home from the gym, I stopped by Strawberry Fields Nursery to pick up some potting soil. There, in front of the building, was a beautiful clump of purple primroses. I came for dirt, but discovered so much more. What a pleasant surprise.


Addendum (April 12, 2016): After posting this article I found a great quote by Luther Burbank:

Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water-bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud-turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to club, brooks to wade in, water-lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hay-fields, pinecones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets; and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of his education.
~ Luther Burbank, from “Training of the Human Plant” (Published in 1907)

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Libby’s Story: Fighting Cancer with Food (and a sweet recipe for moose nuggets)

When Libby McClaren was diagnosed with cancer, the doctor recommended immediate surgery to remove the tumor from her bladder, followed by chemo and radiation treatments. Libby doesn’t recall how she reacted but she needed quiet time. “I don’t like to be rushed into things,” she said. After talking to her husband Clancy, and her two sons, she unplugged the phone and rested over the weekend. That was seven years ago, and Libby is still alive, thanks to a diet loaded with fresh vegetables and fruit. And love.

family, love, cancer, daughter, food

Libby and daughter Mamie (Photo courtesy Libby McClaren)

While this is Libby’s story, I’m sharing other personal crusades with hopes that they will inspire you, your family or friends in times of need…

It’s not headline news that to maintain a healthy lifestyle we need to exercise regularly and eat right. But sometimes we shun healthy choices or we ignore the signs of a downward spiral, as in Libby’s case. “You take some childhood trauma, genetic weaknesses, 13 mercury fillings, a questionable water source, a poor diet, a few parasites and amoebas from that trip down south, add 45 years of stress and voila! Your weakest organ takes a bullet.”

“The funny thing,” she said, “Is you don’t even know it. You’re just tired. All the time. By the time I wised up I was 53 years old.”

Uh, Oh… The Western Diet is Broken

The information is out there to help us make healthy choices. Trouble is, in the so-called Western diet, says Michael Pollan (author of many bestsellers including Omnivore’s Dilemma), “Food has been replaced by nutrients, and common sense by confusion–most of what we’re consuming today is no longer the product of nature but of food science.”

The result is what Michael Pollan calls the American Paradox: “The more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we seem to become.” Thus, his manifesto: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

It was in the 1980s that food began disappearing from the American supermarket, gradually to be replaced by “nutrients,” which are not the same thing. [Michael Pollan, in The New York Times article, Unhappy Meals]

garden, vegetables, greenhouse, Homer, Alaska

Lunch from the greenhouse in Homer, Alaska (Photo courtesy Libby McClaren)

Living With Lyme Disease (Diana’s story)

If you’re new to looking at food this way (and want to change how or what you eat), begin by keeping it simple. My friend Diana applies ‘food as medicine’ choices to cope with Lyme disease, thyroid issues and complications from head injury complications.

“I avoid almost all processed, multi-ingredient foods,” she says. “I also find my health is better if I limit the amount of foods in my diet that are high in sugar. The other thing I feel has made a difference for my body is keeping my meals simple in terms of just 2-3 ingredients at a time and eating small amounts frequently.

Diana also listens to her body. “Since I place a high priority on being as healthy as possible, and know that for my body, food is a big part of staying well, I’ve learned to pay attention to how I feel in the hours and day after I eat various foods to figure out what actually works for my body at this time.”

In the long run, Diana tries to be careful but not to be rigid about her choices. “On special occasions I will eat foods that are not ‘perfect’ for me and enjoy every bite!”

Fats are Good? Bad? What to Believe? (Betsy’s story)

Remember when we were told that fats were bad for us? Here’s another story for you…

When Betsy’s (not her real name) daughter developed an eating disorder, she plunged into research. “I learned that our brains need fats,” Betsy said. “But everyone, including the elementary schools were preaching the non-fat foods message and my daughter took it to heart.”

Soon her daughter’s brain became malnourished which triggered the eating disorder. “In order to recover her health we had to feed her lots of calories, including fat calories, to gain back the weight and re-nourish her brain. Today she is a thriving young adult.” Betsy still cringes when she sees advertisements declaring non-fat foods as ‘healthy.’ “All foods are OK, even junk foods, if eaten as a treat in moderation.”

We don’t have to wait for a wake-up crisis. We can take the journey to ideal health by making thoughtful food choices that will enrich our lives and enlarge our sense of what it means to be healthy.

David Spiegelhalter, a professor of risk assessment at the University of Cambridge, says that each day you eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, you add 2 hours to your life. [From the article, Measuring MicroLives: How to calculate the exact impact of daily choices on every precious minute of your life. On]

Knowledge + Wisdom = Power


Libby, the fish whisperer (Photo courtesy Libby McClaren)

boat, fish, sons, family, Alaska

Libby poses with sons on a fishing boat in Kodiak, Alaska (Photo courtesy Libby McClaren)

Like Betsy, Libby dove into research, eventually opting out of surgery. Her family didn’t know what to think. “What do you want to do?” her fisherman-husband asked.

“I want to go to the Gerson Clinic in Tijuana, Mexico,” she said. “They’ll train me in a therapy involving fresh fruits and vegetables and maybe my body can correct itself.” But there was a catch: The price tag for two weeks at the clinic was 11,000 dollars.

Enter Libby and Clancy’s friend, Wayne Tipler of the F/V Mar Pacifico, a commercial fishing boat in Kodiak, Alaska. Wayne had a few fishing quotas leftover from the season. And when Wayne learned about Libby’s illness he said, “Let’s go fishing for Libby!” So with the fuel, bait, gear, and crew time donated, the Mar Pacifico headed out to the fishing grounds.

“They caught the quota,” said Libby, “and presented me with a check for 11,000 dollars.”

Two weeks of de-toxing at Gerson did a lot to educate Libby about food, diet and time. “A simple organic diet (meatless, no dairy, no sugar) has an amazing effect on a body in crisis.”

Time, however, was her biggest challenge. “I stopped hurrying and learned to slow down” because preparing and eating well takes time. “If you think you are saving time by getting that sack of cheap burgers on your way home, it’s a delusion. If you make it a habit, you will pay in health problems later.”

Pointing the Finger…

Libby blames no one for her odyssey. “There are options and choices which carry consequences, good, bad, or nothing,” she says. “We can’t control everything so we have to be ready to make adjustments, like tacking in the wind with a sailboat. I bear the results of the decisions I make.”

She does, however, point a finger at the medical profession. “Doctors are not educated to view food as medicine,” said Libby, adding that no matter what your situation is, you need to take responsibility for your own health. “What goes into our mouths plays a big part in health issues.”

squash, greenhouse, organic, vegetable, Alaska

Clancy, the green thumb, poses with a spaghetti squash in the greenhouse (Photo courtesy Libby McClaren)

Today, Libby and her husband live in Homer, Alaska where they raise organic food in two high tunnels, also called hoophouses. “I’m no longer a food Nazi,” she says, “but there is no doubt that food played a major role in my maintaining stability despite the still present tumor.”

Life for Libby

Libby feels blessed to have attended all three of her kids’ weddings. “I am so happy I got to see those things happen. Life is so full of delightful things!”

Today her diet now consists of oatmeal or local chicken eggs and Ezekiel bread for breakfast, plenty of veggies (or soups), moose, and fish. And to stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in her gut (now known to boost digestive health) she eats lots of home-preserved sauerkraut and fermented greens with every meal. Whole grains, hummus, and smoothies blended with homemade kefir made from local raw goat’s milk rounds out the menu.

As for desserts, Libby adopted a healthy spin to sweet cravings. “We grow lots of strawberries and I freeze them to make a fruity ice cream.” For a special treat, Libby goes for Moose Nuggets…

Libby’s Moose Nuggets

6 Tbl nut butter, such as almond
3 Tbl coconut oil
3 Tbl maple syrup or honey
2 T raw cacao
1/2 tsp vanilla
Pinch salt
1/2 cup crushed nuts such as cashews or pecans

Mix well (a food processor works great) and stir in nuts. Butter your hands and roll your “nuggets” or use a cookie scoop. Place on parchment paper in a closed container. Store in the fridge. Libby’s note: I like to use organic ingredients and I usually double the batch. You can play with the amounts. For example, add more cacao or different nuts per your taste.)

While Libby’s journey has been far from easy, it’s not been without love and support from friends and family, allowing her to see all three of her children get married. And what’s life without a little humor tossed in.

“Once I wanted to give up and just go to sleep,” she said. But her husband Clancy had other ideas. “You can’t give up.”

“Why not?”

“I’m too old to start dating again.”

cancer, family, love

Libby and husband Clancy (Photo courtesy Libby McClaren)

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In praise of: Oranges (but not that frozen stuff)

Growing up in the rainy Pacific Northwest, winters were gray and summers couldn’t come fast enough. But tagging along with Mom to the grocery store provided some relief. Wheeling the cart along the bins of colorful fruits and veggies, she’d stop and motion for me to pick out an orange. Cupping the orange in one hand, I’d peel away the skin in one piece, like a puzzle, and place it on a loaf of bread for safe keeping. Then as we navigated the remaining aisles, I’d savor the fruit, section by section.

[Note: Watch for future posts in my new “In praise of” category]

oranges, fruit, vitamin c, recipe

Today I’m so fond of oranges that I can’t just eat the fruit, I have to zest it first to use later in smoothies, breads and a ton of recipes, like the one I’ll share at the end for Zesty Orange-Ginger Halibut. Meanwhile, it’s winter, and I must write my weekly garden column. So I decided to celebrate oranges. But watch out: By reading this, you’ll learn some not-so-savory facts about frozen orange juice.

In Alaska, we love oranges as a winter fruit, with most of the crop arriving from California and Florida. While most of us are familiar with the many health advantages to eating oranges (I’ll cover some interesting bits in a moment), here are some quirky facts that will help you appreciate oranges even more.

Oranges are actually a modified berry that grow on evergreen trees that can reach up to 30 feet tall and live for over a hundred years. A single citrus tree is like a giant bouquet, bearing as many as 60,000 flowers, but only 1 percent of those flowers will turn into fruit.

And those Navel oranges we love so much (did the name really come from the belly-button formation opposite the stem end?) — they are seedless, which means they can’t reproduce through pollination and thus require “budding” or grafting to create new trees.

Orange trees were first grown in China and it is believed that Christopher Columbus brought the first orange seeds and seedlings to the New World on his second voyage in 1493. Today, oranges are the largest citrus crop in the world: 20 percent of the total crop is sold as whole fruit; the remainder is used in preparing orange juice, extracts, and preserves.

Speaking of juice, do you know how orange juice is really made? According to the Huffington Post, all that “100% orange juice, not from concentrate” stuff you’ve been drinking is technically not from concentrate but it’s not really 100% orange juice either.

Once the juice is squeezed and stored in large vats, a process begins to remove oxygen. Why? Because it allows the liquid to keep for up to a year without spoiling. Removing that oxygen however, also removes the natural flavors of oranges. So in order for your morning OJ to actually taste like oranges, drink companies hire flavor and fragrance companies (the same ones that make perfumes), to create “flavor packs” to make juice taste like, well, juice again.

Thus any brand allegiance you might have between say, Minute Maid or Tropicana, is due to the specific flavor pack the company uses. Since these flavor packs are made from orange byproducts and are chemically altered (yikes), they don’t have to be considered an ingredient, and therefore are not required to appear on food labels.

oranges, orange juice, frozen, Bakersfield, winter, fruit, peel, zest, recipe

Oranges, ripe for the picking, in Orange Grove RV Park (, Bakersfield, California. Marion Owen photo.

Back to the sunnier side of oranges. Sweet, juicy oranges make a delicious and healthy snack or addition to a meal. And, of course, oranges are well known for their vitamin C content among other powerhouse nutrients. But did you know that after chocolate and vanilla, orange is the world’s favorite flavor? ‘Tis a great introduction to the recipe I promised:

Zesty Orange-Ginger Halibut

1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon orange peel zest
2 teaspoons minced fresh cilantro (optional)
1-2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger root
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons cooking oil
1 tablespoon butter
Halibut, cut into 1 to 2-inch cubes

In a small bowl, stir together the orange juice, cilantro, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, zest, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes; set aside. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the halibut cubes until golden brown on each side, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Pour the orange juice mixture into the skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until the for a few minutes and the sauce has thickened slightly. Remove halibut to a plate and drizzle with orange sauce to serve.

The rest of the story: When Mom and I were going through the checkout line, the clerk didn’t bat an eye when I set my orange peeling on the scale. Fond memories of a neighborhood grocery store.

Thanks for stopping by. 

Posted in Food and recipes, In praise of | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

How to re-discover the heart of Valentine’s Day

As I entered a Target store in Phoenix, Arizona I was surrounded by pink balloons, stuffed teddy bears, and shelves jammed with greeting cards and shiny red boxes of chocolates. I hurried through the jungle, passing end-cap displays for St. Patrick’s Day and Easter. Suddenly I felt sad, the same sadness that taunts me at Christmas. Sigh. Corporate tentacles have done their greedy best to snuff the heart out of Valentine’s Day.

Valentine's Day, stuffed bear, commercial, holiday

This teddy bear, lying on the conveyor belt at the checkout line, pretty much summed up how I felt about Valentine’s Day. (Marion Owen photo)

It’s estimated that Americans will spend about $19 billion on Valentine’s Day. But I’m not one of them. If I’m going to say, “I love you,” I’m not going to do it with a box of candy. Yet Valentine’s Day (the history of Valentine’s Day–and the story of its patron saint–is shrouded in mystery) is about telling someone that you love them, right?

My Dad always said, “Don’t complain, Marion, unless you offer a solution.” Well, Dad, you’re right. Here are seven, softer ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day–they won’t cost a dime but your effort will yield a million spiritual dollars.

  1. Forgive someone you’ve hurt.
  2. Pray for someone who is ill.
  3. Go for a walk with a friend.
  4. Send love to your neighbors.
  5. Send love to your community.
  6. Send love to your country.
  7. Send love to everyone in the world.
I spotted this street sign in Arizona. Now I'm looking for LOVE STREET. Anyone seen it?

I spotted this street sign in Arizona. Now I’m looking for LOVE STREET. Anyone seen it? (Marion Owen photo)

Love to you, too.




Posted in Essays and inspirations, Our world | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

I learn about hospice, for now, through photographs

For the past couple weeks I’ve been holed up in my office. Lights dimmed, I stand at my desk, quietly working on my iMac to produce a Powerpoint presentation for our local “Heart for Hospice” fundraiser. As I pair inspirational quotes to my images, concepts swirl around me like gentle zephyrs: Life, death with dignity, neighbors, friends, volunteers. Rather than continue with bulky words though, I’ll let this selection of mini-posters speak for me, for hospice. Please, if you have a hospice organization in your area, support their efforts any way you can, because we’re all connected. Feel free to download the photos, print them, mail them as note cards, share this blog post, whatever. Because love–yes, love–makes the world go round.

hearts, bleeding, flowers, volunteers, Elizabeth Andrew, Marion Owen, photo, hospice

Louisa May Alcott, storms, hospice, poster, Marion Owen, photo

Mark Twain, kindness, quote, hospice, photo, Marion Owen

Ram Dass, quote, snowflake, Marion Owen, photo

Depth of life, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Marion Owen, photo, iris, flower

Rick Warren, quote, puffin, Marion Owen, photo, hospice

Success, Danny Thomas, quote, poster, Marion Owen, photo, hospice

Chocolate, Charles Schulz, Marion Owen, photo, hospice

Bette Midler, wings, Marion Owen, photo, hospice

Thema Davis, storm, Marion Owen, photo, sunlight, clouds

God gave us burdens, Marion Owen, photo, hospice

berries, fingers, Marion Owen, photo, hospice

You’re the best.

Thanks for reading this post… bless you.



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Happy New Year from an Island in the North Pacific

In the winter of 1984, I delivered my personal belongings to a Seattle shipping company and then drove to SeaTac airport to catch a flight to Kodiak, Alaska, a large, kidney-shaped island in the Gulf of Alaska. A week later, I celebrated New Year’s Day with new friends.

Thirty-one years later, I’m still in Kodiak. It’s winter again and it’s dark outside. But it’s bright here in my office with my iMac where I just finished working on one of photos. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it. I couldn’t stop there though. Following the image below you’ll find four, short ‘n sweet quotations that I hope inspire you or someone you know, to start the new year with a positive attitude.

Kodiak, Alaska, harbor, boats, fishing, commercial, New Year, Marion, Owen, photography

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Your daily life is your temple and your religion.” ~Kahlil Gibran

“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” ~Psalm 90:12

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~Maya Angelou

Thanks everyone, for your love and support,




Posted in Essays and inspirations, Kodiak Island, Alaska | 10 Comments

Not a gardener? These 12 New Year’s resolutions are meant for you, too.

If you’re like me, you need a goal—even a tiny one—or you might end up like a lost duck, waddling along the lake shore, but never getting into the water. Today I’m sharing a dozen resolutions, mostly slanted for gardeners. But if you’ve never used a trowel, that’s alright. Within these gentle offerings I’m sure a photo, a quotation or a technique will pique your interest. Who knows. Maybe you’ll be inspired to dip a toe into the water.

1. Live the good life: Go outside

We humans, on average, spend about 95 percent of our time indoors, meaning we all suffer a little bit from Nature Deficit Disorder. So please do yourself a favor: Get thee outdoors! Speaking of nature, REI took an unusual stand against Black Friday: They closed all 143 stores. Why? To encourage friends and family to spend time outdoors. Their #optoutside campaign remains wildly popular.

trees, woods, park, nature

A walk in the park does wonders for the soul. Photo by Marion Owen

So every day, make a date with the great outdoors. Stroll around your yard or neighborhood. Go for a walk in the park, visit an arboretum. I don’t care if you hug a tree or not, just get outside. I remember as a kid, mom would herd us out the back door, rain or shine. At first we didn’t like being told what to do, but we actually preferred being outside. Fresh air has a way of making you feel more alive.

2. Lettuce help

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1 in 8 households in the United States experiences hunger or the risk of hunger. How can you help? Grow extra veggies, then donate them to your local food bank, soup kitchen, or homeless shelter. The Garden Writers Association explains how you can Plant a Row for the Hungry.

Treat a person as he is, and will remain as he is. Treat him as he could be, and he will become what he should be.
~Jimmy Johnson

Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul cartoon by Kathy Shaken.3. Where did I put that plant, anyway?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever misplaced your car keys. Like losing keys, it’s easy to forget where you transplanted that bunch of bleeding hearts. That’s where smartphones come in handy. Snap photos of your garden and yard. Save them on your device as a digital journal or scrapbook.

Speaking of forgetfulness, as a co-author working on the New York Times bestseller, Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul, I volunteered to locate quotes and cartoons to complement each of the 101 stories. I laughed when I found this cartoon by Kathy Shaskan…

4. Keep the faith, baby

Don’t be afraid of failure. Be a cheerleader and have more faith in plants. “Plants want to survive and live,” says Amy Pennington, author of Apartment Gardening. “They will go to great lengths to make sure their genetic strain lives on. They don’t need constant monitoring, they just need a helper.”

Like people, plants respond to extra attention. ~H. Peter Loewer

A salad garden (and helping hands) in Kodiak, Alaska. Photo by Marion Owen

A salad garden (and helping hands) in Kodiak, Alaska. Photo by Marion Owen

5. Real people eat real salads

There’s nothing like a fresh carrot or sun-warmed tomato. But if you don’t have room for a full-sized garden, sign up for a community garden plot or at least try to grow salad greens in a container. The authors of Bountiful Container will show you how. Growing safe, healthy food and being less dependent on Big Business Food are the top reasons why people grow their own. If you don’t believe me, read The Dumbing Down of Food: Why We Need to Own Our Food Future by Erik Wolf.

The purpose of agriculture is not the production of food, but the perfection of human beings. ~Masanobu Fukuoka

6. Tomato to human: “No junk food, please.”

Your plants want a healthy diet, so give them one. There’s no such thing as perfect soil or dirt that never needs replenishing. At least once a year, mulch with compost, shredded leaves, aged manure (aged like a good wine!) and–if you live by the ocean–plenty of kelp. (Seaweed is among the best gifts that nature makes available for the garden). Mulching improves soil nutrition and texture without the need to add chemicals.

Irish lore says that you can predict the weather by observing changes in seaweeds. Just hang a frond or two outside by the house. The strand (or frond) will remain rigid and dry when the weather is to remain good. Conversely, before it rains, the frond will become wet and moist long before it rains.

tomatoes, tomato, homegrown, organic, vegetable, garden, alaska

Just like you, your plants want to be healthy. Healthy plants, healthy you. Photo by Marion Owen

7. What’s that bug?

Aphids, pestsSpeaking of chemicals, before you reach for fungicides, herbicides, or ANY-cides, promise to learn what disease or insect is affecting your plants, like those aphids at right. Then research what earth-friendly solutions are available. It just so happens that the University of California has compiled helpful guidelines for managing home, garden, turf, and landscape pests with environmentally sound methods.

8. If you love your kids, love your lawn

Kids love to run barefoot on the grass. But danger lurks underfoot if you use any kind of chemical fertilizers. Break the chemical habit. Resolve to help–not hinder–your lawn’s desire to be green and healthy. It’s a 2-step process:

  1. Mow at a healthy height: Set your mower at its HIGHEST setting. Your lawn is made up of individual plants and 3-inch plants support a thicker and deeper network of roots much better than crewcut stubs ever thought of doing. Which means your lawn will require less water and can tolerate anything nature throws at it: Drought, heavy rain, freeze-thaw periods, diseases, pests, weeds, and the pitter-pat of little feet.
  2. Feed your lawn health food. In early spring, sprinkle a 1 to 2-inch layer of compost all over your lawn and spread it around with a rake. Now just watch. In a couple weeks the Ugly Duckling lawn will become a beautiful  swan lawn.
lawn, organic, feed, fertilizer, compost, green

Here’s the easiest, cheapest and most effective way to feed and renew your lawn: Spread a 1-inch layer of sifted compost on top and spread it with a rake.

9. It’s all about the journey

Yes I know, setting a goal is important, but experiencing the journey is where you learn.  While mapping out next year’s garden, try growing a new veg or a new flower. Change is good. “Challenges,” says Cicely Tyson, “make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew. Pour a cup of your favorite beverage, sit down at the computer or with seed catalog and fill out an order form. It’s the beginning of a great adventure.

10. Save the world, make compost

The New York Times‘ book, 1000 Gardening Questions and Answers says, “Compost is the answer to everything.” So what are you waiting for? Assuming you don’t live in an apartment, collect ingredients and start a compost pile. Go on a treasure hunt. Talk with your neighbors. (When my Seattle brother felt sorry for his uprooted sister in Alaska, he mailed a trash compactor load of leaves). By making your own compost you save money: No more going to the nursery to buy bagged compost. Besides, leaves and grass clippings don’t belong in the landfill.

11. There’s a dragon in the garden!

Meet Daisy, my first 3-dimensional mosaic project. Her inner core is Styrofoam leftover from retired dock floats. After carving a head shape, I covered it with mesh and cement, and added broken plates. Okay, garden art doesn’t have to be as elaborate as Daisy. Stepping stones, a bamboo fence, a whale-shaped piece of driftwood–Pinterest is full of ideas–go a long way to enhance your yard with a creative focal point.

You don’t have a garden just for yourself. You have it to share.  ~Augusta Carter

mosaic garden art

Daisy the mosaic dragon. Garden art created and photographed by Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska

12. Take the first step

Remember Benjamin Franklin? Although not a serious gardener, he dabbled with plants, introducing many European plants to the colonies, including rhubarb for its medicinal (not pie) qualities.

Benjamin also had a few wise things to say about goals. This one’s my favorite: “Little strokes fell great oaks.”

Thanks for stopping by. Cheers,


(You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram at marion_wen_photography)

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Merry Christmas from Kodiak Island, Alaska

Wishing you and your loved ones a Christmas filled with joy and light,Signature-black

energy, alternative, wind turbines, kodiak, Alaska, sustainable

With a little Photoshop magic, I added holiday lights to the wind turbines on Pillar Mountain, near Kodiak, Alaska. To us, these six turbines ARE magic. When combined with the hydroelectric generators, they allow Kodiak to enjoy 98% renewable energy. Plus, we’ve saved almost 9 million gallons of diesel fuel since 2009. Not bad for a community that’s off the grid and yet located on the second largest island in the U.S. Wahoo!

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Anatomy of a Snowflake: Science, art and a little magic

During Alaska’s long winters, I love to photograph snowflakes but thanks to global warming, the last two years have been a bust. So when we arrived at our friends house in Anchorage on December 10, 2015, I was cautiously hopeful.

I got to work setting up my gear on their back deck. As before, I placed the “snowflake camera” on top of two milk crates. Everything else–glass microscope slides, air blower, and paintbrushes for lifting individual flakes–was arranged on a wooden stool off to the side. Then I enclosed the laboratory inside a portable outhouse tent. For the next five days I lived in polar fleece jackets, insulated pants, bunny boots and my favorite purple knit hat.

snowflake, photograph, real snowflake

Anatomy of a snowflake: Science, art and a little magic. Photo and illustration by Marion Owen

All the while, the National Weather Service promised blizzards and snow showers. I prayed for temperatures between 5 to 12 degrees F, ideal for the formation of stellar dendrites, those classic-shaped snowflakes. Cloudy and warm. Most of the snow crystals falling on my black sampling boards were coated with frozen droplets of rime. I call them warts.

My efforts weren’t a total bust though: In five days of standing outside, eyeing the sky, checking the forecast, drinking honey-laced coffee, and snacking on trail mix, I managed to photograph one… good… snowflake.

Back at home, in front of the computer, I found myself staring at this solitary snowflake, as if admiring a precious stone. A dashed line here, a dot there; valleys and highways. I looked some more and started to see worlds within worlds.

Was it worth it? Spending five days in an outhouse tent? I thought about photographers who’d waited weeks or months for the perfect light, or the right animal to show up, only to have their goals fizzle. I can’t complain.

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