What a coincidence! I have two framed Egyptian papyrus prints on the walls of my home. And now I have Egyptian papyrus plants in my Rain Garden at Northern Bliss.


The papyrus plant is a reed that grows wild in marshy areas around the Nile River. One of my favorite excursions when I visited Egypt during our circumnavigation was our boat trip down the Nile River. How I loved to see those papyrus plants swaying in the breeze! During a cultural show, we learned the process of making paper from papyrus. First, the inside of the stalk was peeled into long strips. Then these strips were spread out in two layers, one horizontal and one vertical, and pressed and dried to form a sheet. The sheet could be used by itself, or individual sheets could be joined end-to-end to form a roll. Natural gum held the sheets together, so no glue was required. A roll was usually about one foot in height and could be up to 100 feet in length.

I never knew that papyrus was offered by nurseries in the USA until I built my Rain Garden at Northern Bliss. I had researched the process in sustainable landscaping books and websites and diligently followed the instructions using native Wisconsin plants with deep roots. All of the natural flowers worked well in heavy rains except for the blazing stars planted in the center, the deepest part. They just drowned.

DSC00488 Dry Creek Flowing into Rain Garden.jpg

So the following spring I decided to try something else. But what?  Dale, my gardener with Lake Services, just happened to notice a group of tall papyrus plants in the back of a pick-up truck leaving a nursery. He stopped the driver to ask questions. And then we considered our options: Papyrus is a non-native plant, but because I’d seen it growing wild in the Nile, I knew it had to have deep roots to soak up excess moisture in my Rain Garden. But, because it’s a tropical plant, we’d have to replace the three plants every spring.

DSC00497 Papyrus in Rain Garden Facing Lake.jpg

We went ahead and I certainly don’t regret it. This year, we’ve had lots of rain and the system works: My Wet Lot drains like it’s designed to do and the three King Tut papyrus plants stand tall and majestic, swaying in the breeze─just like their ancestors did in the Nile.

IMG_0040 Statue amid Papyrus on the Nile River, Egypt.jpg


“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

P1110733 Shases of green in the morning mist

We arrived at Northern Bliss, our Wisconsin lake home on June 4 this year—too late to see the fiddlehead ferns unfurl, too late to see the tulips and daffodils bloom, but just in time to see the trumpeter swans swimming along White Ash Lake, goslings in tow. My heart sang for joy!

Because of a mild winter leading to an early spring “up north” this year, the landscape is already dramatically lush. I marvel at the many shades of green: blue-green and lime-green hostas, dark-green spruce, and pale-green shoots of new growth. Talk about “50 Shades of Gray.” Here we have 50 shades of green! And green is all about de-stressing, slowing down, and letting go. It’s the color of life, nature, harmony, renewal, and energy.

50 Shades of Green

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I agree with John Burroughs, who said, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.” While the green palette soothes my soul, the song of newly-arrived finches tickles my ears, the feel of warm soil running through my fingers connects me to the earth, and the heavenly scent of budding flowers brings me peace. I wet my lips and taste the freshness of the country breeze rustling through the treetops.

What happens to your body in the presence of green? Your pituitary gland is stimulated. Your muscles become more relaxed, and your blood histamine levels increase. That leads to a decrease in allergy symptoms and dilated blood vessels. In other words, green is calming and stress-relieving, yet invigorating at the same time. The color green has been shown to improve reading ability and creativity. Aha! That’s gives me just the excuse I need to spend some time in that inviting hammock reading a book!

For a related blog, visit Soft Focus.



A commotion on the lake woke me up in a flash. The splashing was accompanied by a sound I hadn’t heard here—a deep note, like that of a French horn, with a lingering ring. I ran to the window just in time to see a family of five swimming past our dock. My bird book identified them as Trumpeter swans—the largest waterfowl in North America. The next day they came back and I managed to take photos. What a sight—and a privilege.

These swans have had a touch-and-go history in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The last wild nests were located in Heron and Everson Lakes in the late 1880s. The birds were killed for food; their feathers were used for ladies’ hats, and their down, for powder puffs. By 1935, fewer than 70 of these majestic birds could be found in remote areas of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. That year, Red Rock, Montana became a refuge for Trumpeter swans. Hennepin Parks, Minnesota hosted restoration efforts in the 1960s. Then in 1982, Minnesota’s DNR (Department of Natural Resources) joined the effort by transporting swan eggs from Alaska to Minnesota. The offspring, called cygnets, were raised for two years and released. Now, over 2000 swans trumpet in Heron Lake, Swan Lake, and St. Croix State Park. In Wisconsin, thanks to the state endangered species act and a public-private partnership, trumpeter swan populations are recovering. Trumpeter swans doubled the goal of 20 breeding pairs by 2000, and were removed from the state endangered species list in 2009. Today, the number stands at a modern all-time high of nearly 200 nesting pairs in 23 counties. You can view them at Crex Meadows in Burnett County and Sandhill Wildlife Refuge in Wood County—or come to White Ash Lake, where we have one family of five.

Family of FIve Trumpeter Swans

Family of FIve Trumpeter Swans

Life Cycle: The male and female build a nest on a muskrat or beaver dam, on a floating mat of plants, or build up enough plants to make a platform. The female incubates the clutch of 4-6 eggs for 34 days. One day before hatching, the chicks begin to peep. Cygnets can swim as soon as their down is dry, but they stay on their nests for a few days. For the next three weeks, until their new feathers grow in, they are brooded by their parents and fed snails and insects from the bottom of the marsh. The juveniles stay with their parents through their first winter until they return in the spring to the same breeding area. Then they hang out with their siblings for 4-6 years until they are mature enough to mate and raise their own young. If a pair uses the same nesting location two summers in a row, they form an almost unbreakable attachment to the site.

Pair of adult and juvenile swans

Pair of adult and juvenile swans

The swans create quite a commotion when they take off. They run on top of the water with their wings flapping. Just after take-off they pull their necks into an S and then straighten it out. They sleep with their head tucked down under their wing.

Fluffiing feathers to dry off

Fluffiing feathers to dry off

The first time I spotted a Pileated Woodpecker, a big dashing bird with a flaming crest, he was rooting in the lawn near the lake at Northern Bliss. “Look at that!” I yelled to Gunter. “It’s almost as large as a bantam rooster.” Soon another joined the first. We remained hidden behind the sun room window, mesmerized, afraid to move. And of course, we had no camera nearby. Later we consulted our bird books. We had seen a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers! We bought suet and continued to replenish the feeder whenever we would stay at Northern Bliss. Sometimes the birds would come and other times they would stay away for weeks or months at a time. We could never “guarantee” that our guests would see these shy, elusive birds.

This year, our luck improved. My son made us a suet feeder designed for woodpeckers. We placed it away from the other feeders, underneath the branch of an ornamental berry tree. That site just happens to be below our second floor bedroom window, and now we keep cameras at the ready. We have been rewarded with a “sighting” about every 2-3 days. Two weeks ago, our guests, avid birders, spotted the threesome (yes, now they have offspring) at that feeder many times. And one day last week, I waited patiently at the window for opportunity to photograph all three. I snapped about a dozen photos to get these, my favorite shots.

Our family of three pileated woodpeckers.

Our family of three pileated woodpeckers.

One woodpecker searches for ants while the other enjoys the suet on the special feeder made by my son, Jeff.

One woodpecker searches for ants while the other enjoys the suet on the special feeder made by my son, Jeff.

Feeding the younger pileated woodpecker.

Feeding the younger pileated woodpecker.

After reading more about the habitat of these woodpeckers, I realize how special we are to have them here. One family’s home territory can occupy 150-200 acres!  A Pileated Woodpecker pair stays together on its territory all year round and will only tolerate new arrivals during the winter.

This woodpecker is one of the biggest, most striking forest birds on the continent. In the north, it’s the size of a crow; in the south, slightly smaller. You can’t miss its black back with bold white stripes down the neck, a vivid contrast to its flaming-red crest.

The light purple shows the uncommon areas where Pileated Woodpeckers can be found. They are more common the darker area.

The light purple shows the uncommon areas where Pileated Woodpeckers can be found. They are more common the darker area.

Woodpeckers nest in dead or soft coniferous or deciduous trees. They prefer old forest growth, but there’s not much left, so they have migrated closer to human activities. Even so, I’ve noticed that ours do not make an appearance on busy weekends with lots of lake traffic.

One day, I followed the wuk, wuk, wuk warnings they made as they marked their territory. A Pileated Woodpecker call sounds like this:


When I reached their home in a humongous dead tree right over our lot line near my “natural garden,” I could hear the drumming. Listen to it here on Pileated Woodpecker Central.

Now that I know where they live, I’m planning a “stake out.” I’ll set up my camera on a tripod for some awesome photos of them entering their home. When they are not dining at our suet table, Pileated Woodpeckers whack at dead trees and fallen logs—or even wooden telephone poles—in search of their main prey, carpenter ants. This drumming leaves unique rectangular holes in the wood that offer crucial shelter to many species including swifts, owls, ducks, bats, and pine martens. I love having them here!

“Of all the shade plantings, the woodland garden is the most forgiving and the one dearest to my heart.” ~Sydney Eddison

It’s been a hectic four weeks since my husband and I locked up our San Diego beach condo and relocated to Northern Bliss, our Wisconsin lake home. During that time, I’ve been busy with the usual spring house and garden chores. In addition, I installed a new Memorial Garden honoring my younger sister Ruth and hosted a garden memorial service attended by many siblings and cousins.

Now, on a rainy Saturday, I’m back to writing again. Organizing the Memorial forced me to arrive here earlier than usual (mid-May) and but it rewarded me with the miracle of spring in a northern climate. Some say that with abundant rain and sun, one can literally watch the plants grow! I thought this was an exaggeration but now I’m a believer. When I arrived, tulips were fading fast but ferns were just beginning to sprout. This is no ordinary feat you would observe after planting a packet of seeds. In the woodlands of Polk County Wisconsin, the unfolding of ferns resembles a mass uprising of an ancient plant dynasty. In unison, legions of tightly coiled fronds unfurl and rise through the dampness seeking the sun. They have been doing this for millions of years, before dinosaurs stalked the earth, so they have the routine down pat.

P1110744 Ferns

I sit and watch them march toward the sun, sensing the release of coiled energy. The fiddleheads take their name from the scroll at the end of a violin, and if you watch only one, you can sense the music. But if you’re in a forest of fiddleheads, the entire woodland floor shoots up around you with an explosion of cannons and fireworks. Check out this time lapse video, courtesy Learjet15, to see for yourself. 

Fiddler Ferns, also called Ostrich Ferns because they resemble the tail of a bird, not only bring a base of green to the forest floor; they are edible as well. The tightly-fisted fiddlehead contains anti-oxidants, fatty omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and are high in iron and fiber. Several varieties contain toxins that are believed to cause cancer, however, so it’s best to steam for 10-12 minutes or boil for 15 minutes before eating.

I cherish and celebrate the budding flowers of spring, but how I love the ferns as a spiraling harbinger of the unfolding season.

I’ve been doing a lot of gardening at Northern Bliss, our Wisconsin lake home, this summer. In between gardening and visitors, I’ve been writing my third book in the series, In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss. I’ve been noticing how gardening and writing flow together: engaging in one activity prepares me for the other. Today, I realized why. When I’m gardening, I’m enjoying all five senses; when I’m writing I’m doing the same.

What do you notice first as you come upon a gorgeous garden? I notice the overall garden design, how it flows together. Then I focus on the characteristics of individual plants—colors, textures and how foliage and flowers combine to complement each other—these are all related to the sense of sight.

You’re probably familiar with the oft-repeated command, “Stop and smell the roses.”  I only have one rose bush, but I do have a couple of lilacs, a few honeysuckle vines, and many groupings of oriental lilies. And I have a half-barrel overflowing with wonderfully scented herbs including lavender, basil, coriander, chives and even Mojito.

Touch is another sensual delight of the garden. I love to run my fingers over the smooth waxy leaves of a magnolia; touch the feathery fronds of astilbe; and feel the soft wooly texture of silver sage.

Gardening is best when you leave those earphones or iPods inside. I love to listen to the songs of birds, so I have birdhouses, bird feeders, and birdbaths in my gardens. The swish-swish of hummingbirds in flight and the soft rustle of leaves blowing in the breeze is music enough to my ears. I recently read that a scientific study has proven that the sound of birdsong opens up blossoms. Amazing synergy!

Last but not least is the enticing scent of taste. I love to grab a raspberry or blackberry on the way to the garden, and though I do not grow vegetables because of the deer, I am growing nasturtiums this year for salads.

My dream is to plant as many fruit trees as I can at Northern Bliss, so that can see and smell the delicate, fragrant blossoms, feel the breeze blowing through them, attract even more birds, and pick fruit right off the trees. Meanwhile I’ll continue to enjoy both writing and gardening!

Bluebirds at Northern Bliss (photo by Holly Ricke)
Bluebirds at Northern Bliss (by Holly Ricke)
P1080704 Delphium and hostas
Delphinium and hostas
P1080860 Astilbe and Hydrangea
Astilbes and hydrangeas
P1080881 Nasturtiums and other herbs
Nasturtiums and other herbs

We “inherited” a trio of cement garden figurines when we purchased the Wisconsin lake home we call Northern Bliss. Noting their blue-and-white outfits, we assumed them to be of Swedish descent.  We named the couple wired to the wooden bench Ole and Lena.  I proceeded to paint the bench baby blue to match their clothes. We rescued a little boy figurine from the weeds near the lake, placed him on a tree stump, and called him Sven.


Growing up in Wisconsin, I’d heard plenty of Ole & Lena jokes. My German father Lester liked to use them to tease my Swedish mother Sigrid, so I assumed that they were Swedish put-downs, like the Polish jokes that also circulated in the Midwest.  Last week, soon after repainting that bench and securing the figures, I read a notice in the Amery Free Press about the a play being put on by the Amery Community Theater  called  “Ole & Lena Go to da Lake.”  This would be an excellent opportunity to acquaint Günter, who emigrated from Germany, with my Swedish heritage. Or so I thought.

We went to the play, wonderfully performed by the local theatre group. We thoroughly enjoyed it and laughed at all the Ole and Lena jokes. But I realized then that while Ole and Lena are indeed Scandinavian, they are Norwegians, not Swedes.  And Sven is the Swedish friend of Ole, who is not quite as bright as he is (which is not saying much).  Here’s the description of these characters given in the program:

  • Ole (Jim Thompson): Thick-headed Scandinavian, fond of fishing, campfires, and beer. Loves his wife so much he almost told her once.
  • Lena (Laura Sjogren): Ole’s long-suffering bride. Scandinavian down to her socks, but strangely passionate when it comes to stoic Ole.
  • Sven (Scott Kaml): Odiferous fishing partner and best buddy to Ole. Guileless. Every now and then he stops to think, but forgets to start again.

After we returned, I asked Gunter whether he’d ever heard Ole & Lena jokes in Europe. “No, they only told Polish jokes,” he answered.

So I researched on-line. According to Wikipedia, one would not even find Ole & Lena jokes in Sweden and Norway. That’s because they are an outgrowth of the American immigrant experience. Turning the misunderstandings and mistakes of a learning a new language into jokes enabled Scandinavians to jest about embarrassing incidents.  The primary reason the jokes have endured is that they are quaint and well meaning.  In fact, the core of this folk humor, says Wikipedia, is probably “the strongly egalitarian sense that permeates the cultural code in the Nordic countries.”

Here are a few of the jokes used in the play (paraphrased):

  • Sven goes out one day to use the outhouse, and he finds Ole there. He has his wallet out, and he’s throwing money down into the hole of the outhouse. “Uff da!” Sven says.  “Ole, you’re throwing the ten dollar bill down into the hole of the outhouse! Whatcha doin’ that for?” Ole answers, “Well, when I pulled up my trousers I dropped a nickel down there—and I’m never going to convince Lena to go down into that mess for just a nickel!”
  • Ole and Lena got married. On their honeymoon trip they were nearing Minneapolis when Ole put his hand on Lena’s knee. Giggling, Lena said, “Ole, you can go a little further now if you want to …” So Ole drove to Duluth.
  • Sven and Ole went to the lake, rented a boat and went fishing. They eventually found a great spot and quickly caught their limit. On the way back to the dock Ole said, “That surely was good fishing. How will we ever find that place again?” Sven said, “Don’t worry. While we were there, I put an X on the side of the boat.”  “But that won’t work!” Ole said.  “Why not?”  “How do we know we’ll get the same boat next time?”

New jokes are invented to fit the modern age. Here’s one from the play about using a cell phone:

  • Ole and Lena were so excited to get a new cell phone. Ole was to call when he was on his way home from town. Ole called Lena when he entered the freeway.  “Lena, put supper on, I’m on my way home.”  Lena said, “Be careful! I hear some nut is driving the wrong way on the freeway.”  “It’s worse than that Lena. Where I am, there are a hundred cars going the wrong way!”

And here’s a parody of that infamous 3 a.m. phone call:

  • A Norwegian answers the phone at 3 a.m. Wrong number, so the caller apologizes.  “That’s OK,” says the Norwegian. “I had to get up to answer the phone anyway.”

To read more Ole and Lena jokes, click here.

One of the expressions my mother used to say when something went wrong was Uff da. Commonly used in these jokes, it’s a handy all-purpose expression I’d forgotten. It has many uses, such as:

  • Uff da – replaces Charlie Brown’s “Good Grief.”
  • Uff da – walking to the next room and then wondering what you wanted.
  • Uff da – waking yourself up in church with your own snoring.
  • Uff da – when something doesn’t work out, such as trying to pour two buckets of manure into one bucket.
  • Uff da – (for the guys) when your two “steady” girl friends find out about each other.

After checking into their past, there’s no doubt that Ole and Lena will remain seated on that bench I painted for them, watching over little Sven.  All they will need is a couple of fishing poles. We wanted to create a heritage home, and these figurines, I’ve decided, are an integral part. Now for that German garden gnome…

P1060233 Ole & Lena view the lake and keep and eye on Little Sven