Running Through the Sprinkler, a Poem by Abbie Johnson Taylor


The following poem was recently published in The Weekly Avocet. This is a haibun, a poetry form that combines a paragraph of prose with a stanza of haiku. You can click the link below to hear me read it.


Running through the sprinkler.mp3



I stand on the sidewalk, a jet of cold water in front of me, my impaired eyes unable to find a way around it, as cars whoosh by on the busy street. The ninety-degree sun beats down. A tepid breeze caresses my face. I remember how fun it was to run through the sprinkler as a kid. Why not, I think. With a hearty “Yahoo!” I dash into the water’s inviting coolness.

a hot summer day
cold water sweeps over me
I’m a child again


What did you do to cool off in the summer when you were a kid?


I’m the author of a romance novel, two poetry collections, and a memoir. I’m currently working on another novel. My work has appeared in The Avocet and Magnets and Ladders. I have a visual impairment and live in Sheridan, Wyoming, where for six years, I cared for my late husband, who was totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. Before that, I worked as a registered music therapist in a nursing home and other facilities that served senior citizens. For more information, please visit my website and blog.


Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.




Baby Steps

IMGP6481By S. J. Brown

Recently I gave some advice to friend about recovery after surgery, my advice, baby steps, lots and lots of baby steps. No one can recover from surgery overnight. It’s the little improvements, those baby steps that count.

The same can be said about writing. As a writer I didn’t start out writing a book. I began writing essays in school then stepped up to magazine articles before approaching a full length manuscript. Taking baby steps allowed me to improve my writing and my confidence.

As a photographer I didn’t start out photographing large animals in faraway places. I began with birds and squirrels in my backyard

After gaining a bit of confidence I stepped out of my comfort zone, and traveled further in my pursuit of critter photos. I ventured into Maryland and photographed ducks, geese, and swans at a nearby park.

SJ Brown MallardThen it was time for another road trip. This time I headed to Pennsylvania. There I had my first experience getting up close and personal with some captive critters.

SJ Brown LemursSome little critters in New Jersey reminded me that taking baby steps when working around water could have helped you me avoid sinking in mud up to my calves.

SJ Brown DragonflyIn Virginia I learned wild ponies don’t take baby steps.

SJ Brown PoniesIn Florida I learned taking baby steps backwards can get you safely away from an alligator.

SJ Brown AlligatorIn the 17 years I have been photographing wildlife I have traveled to 2 dozen states. Every time I encounter a new critter I have to remind myself baby steps. Take the shot and use baby steps to get a better angle or a closer vantage point of my subject.

SJ Brown BearWe all take baby steps to advance ourselves in various pursuits. Every once in a while a giant leap of faith may be necessary. The important thing to remember is to keep moving forward.

Thanks for stopping by.


S. J. Brown

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S. J. Browns coloring books feature sketches based on her photographs.


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Picking Favorites

IMGP6489By S. J. Brown

We all have favorite things, that special gift from long ago, or a place with fond memories. Sometimes our favorite is a sentence that just glides off the tongue and completes a thought. After every photo trip Jay asks me what my favorite part of the trip was. Generally it is a brief moment when I am close to a critter and clicking the shutter button. After we arrive home when I am going through stacks of photographs he asks which image is my favorite.

My favorite moment doesn’t always yield a favorite photograph. On a recent trip to Michigan my favorite moment did yield my favorite image from the trip. I hung out with a raccoon while he enjoyed his lunch. Jay spotted him going into a trash can to retrieve the meal. He didn’t care how close I approached, he had a snack and I wasn’t a threat.

20 SJ Brown Raccoon

My favorite critter moment from a trip to Colorado was when we sat and watched a Coyote. We spotted him in the road pouncing on the hard surface. It took us a few minutes to figure out what he was doing. The road was covered with crickets; he would pounce on one, eat it and then move on to the next one.

32 Coyote

My favorite moment on a trip to Minnesota was when Jay and I helped out with a duck banning project. It was cold and very early in the morning, but it was an experience I will never forget. I was a bit busy so I didn’t get very many photos, so my favorite moment and my favorite image didn’t match on that trip.

Me Duck

Some photo trips have more than one favorite moment or image which makes it hard to choose. Hanging around in South Dakota we had several great experiences and came home with loads of great photos.

SJ Brown Deer

When we visited Maine my favorite moment was when we spotted a mother moose and her calf. It took days to find the pair and when we did it was cold and rainy, but I didn’t care. Mama was letting me get pictures of them both.

SJ Brown Moose

Sometimes it is hard to choose a favorite. I have two sisters, but I don’t have a favorite. They are very different people and each comes with their own special qualities. I have only one granddaughter, so of course she is my favorite. We share a love of critters and photography so we have many favorite moments together.
Do you have a favorite food? I have several. How about a favorite place, mine is generally wherever I happen to be. So what are some of your favorites?

Connect with S. J. Brown on Facebook and be one of the first to see what she has been up and view her Sunday Shares.


S. J. Browns coloring books feature sketches based on her photographs.

CBCoverAvailable at http://www.sjbrown.50megs.comAcover

Close up and Close Encounters is available on Amazon at

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Or get your autographed copy at S. J. Brown website

S. J. Brown’s children’s pictures books are only available through S. J. Brown.

1078You can order your copies from her website http://www.sjbrown.50megs.com874


Thanks for stopping by.





On the Road Again


The car was fully loaded, leaving just enough room for Jay and me.  The back seat held a small cooler for drinks, 2 camera bags, 2 duffle bags, and a bag of snacks.  In the trunk was a large cooler with food for the next few days, linens, hiking boots, a tote loaded with plate’s cups and silverware, and our coats.


Jay and I were heading north on a 5 day excursion.  The trip began with torrential downpours and lots of traffic.  Our first stop made it all worth it when we got a chance to hang out with family and have pizza for dinner. 

The next morning we were up with the sun and back on the road.  Our destination, Michigan was still over 7 hours away.  We encountered more rain, more traffic and road construction.  Still we managed to arrive in Holland Michigan in time to cruise the downtown area, find an array of tulips and find our cabin before sunset.


Jay and I were heading north on a 5 day excursion.  The trip began with torrential downpours and lots of traffic.  Our first stop made it all worth it when we got a chance to hang out with family and have pizza for dinner. 

The next morning we were up with the sun and back on the road.  Our destination, Michigan was still over 7 hours away.  We encountered more rain, more traffic and road construction.  Still we managed to arrive in Holland Michigan in time to cruise the downtown area, find an array of tulips and find our cabin before we were encompassed by darkness.


We were up were up with the sun and on the hunt for critters to photograph.  Thanks to some informative birdwatchers we had a new destination. Just 2 hours away there were Heron, Cranes and several other critters building nests and settling in for a while.   As usual local people had the best information and we found some very co operative cranes and their friends.


We returned to our cabin in time to watch the sunset over lake Michigan accompanied by hundreds of people who had the same plan.  The following day was filled with black squirrels, geese, ducks, a muskrat, and a stop to tour a working windmill.  It was imported from Holland decades ago and they still grind flower there every week. 


Our last day was mostly driving toward home.  We did stop for a while to see the cranes, and Herons one more time to help break up the trip. 


By the time we returned home we had traveled 1822 miles.  I had clicked off 17 rolls of film and captured 28 different types of critters.  Now I am ready to do it again.    

Thanks for stopping by. I hope your days are filled with one happy adventure after another.

Connect with S. J. Brown on Facebook and be one of the first to see what she has been up and view her Sunday Shares.


S. J. Browns coloring books feature sketches based on her photographs.

CBCover Acover

Cover 3-26-23Back Cover 4-24-2013Close up and Close Encounters is available on Amazon  at

Or get your autographed copy at S. J. Brown website

S. J. Brown’s children’s pictures books are only available through S. J. Brown.

You can order your copies from her website S.J. Brown

Cover All the Birds I See Cover



Celebrate Earth Day

gayle-at-estesThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

It’s Earth Day!

Well, Earth Day is actually tomorrow. What is Earth Day? Celebrated in many countries throughout the world since 1970, this special day was started in the United States and founded Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin as an awareness event to the effects of pollution on the environment. It was a time that Democrats and Republicans came together for the greater good, of the people and the planet – passage of Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act came on the heels of Earth Day.

squirrel on gate_blog photoAs most of you know, I love nature. As a child, I spent many hours in the fields and forests of Iowa, roaming the acreage my parents owned. Dad taught me about conservation through the establishment of brush piles, creating shelters for birds and small mammals living on our property, and creation of nesting boxes for wood ducks. The two-acre pond on our land provided water for all wildlife species and swimming areas for ducks and geese, as well as habitat for fish species like bass and catfish. We were an outdoors family, enjoying the activities of camping, fishing, hiking (and, for my dad, hunting). Red squirrels, cottontail rabbits, bobwhite quail, great horned owls, various songbirds, red foxes, and white-tailed deer, among so many other species frequented our property. From Iowa to Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and back to Wyoming again, I’ve experienced the beauty of nature. And, I enjoy each facet of that majesty.

I’ve worked with children throughout the years, educating them on the value of outdoor splendor. As education director for Montana’s Grizzly Discovery Center during the mid-1990s, I created on-site and off-site programs for kids and for teachers. I shared the importance of preserving habitat, which is not just for bears but is also shared by other creatures. While working at the International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin, I again shared about the majesty of nature, in the form of stately wild cranes and the importance of habitat. I worked with Forest Service officials both in Montana and Wyoming to create educational programs, and I once envisioned developing an educational center to teach the ethics of environmental stewardship.

I’ve planted trees, grown flowers for hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees, and set out bird feeders. And I’ve taught children the joy and beauty of nature writing.

front yard feeder and water_blog photo

cody-cabin-cover2In my book Cody’s Cabin: Life in a Pine Forest, one of my goals is to educate children about the value of the outdoors; I also desire to help kids garner a greater appreciation for nature. So many children these days have little to no outdoor opportunity or experience. Video games, Legos, and other occupiers of time harness kids to screens and non-outdoor activities. Even those who live near natural beauty spend less time in the outdoors than kids of 20 or 30 years ago.

So this Earth Day, take some time to do some good, for both people and the environment. Take your kids or grandkids outdoors for a walk. Make a game of finding flowers, birds, and butterflies while taking your stroll. Go for a bicycle ride with your family and help your community be cleaner through a family litter pickup. Recycle. Participate in a community-wide clean-up. Plant trees in your yard or through a community project. Create a flower garden that helps bees and butterflies and certify your garden or yard through the National Wildlife Federation as a habitat space – that signage (like the one seen below that’s posted near my front yard) helps educate others in your neighborhood. Even go to a movie — a specific movie, that is: DisneyNature is releasing “Born in China” specifically for this Earth Day weekend, with donations from theater tickets going to help endangered animals in China.

There are so many things we can do, big or small, to help nature, whether in our communities or beyond.

NWF Sign_blog photo_rotated

What will you do to help preserve the great outdoors? My plan? Plant some bushes helpful to songbirds, butterflies, and bees. My husband and I have lived in our home for 10 years now, and my blind dog Sage died five years ago – I’ve been wanting to create an outdoor space in her honor for years, so this is the year to do so: celebrate Sage and her love for the outdoors and celebrate our 10th anniversary at this house with a project to help nature.

I hope you enjoy doing something special this weekend, too. Happy Earth Day, everyone!


Gayle & Mary outsideGayle M. Irwin is the author of several inspirational pet books for children and adults, including Cody’s Cabin: Life in a Pine Forest, which is available in print and Kindle versions. Her newest children’s book A Kind Dog Named Mary about her springer/cocker mix is now available; the book teaches children about kindness and pet adoption — the release coincides with this year’s Children’s Book Week and Be Kind to Animals Week. She’s also a contributing writer to seven Chicken Soup for the Soul books, including last year’s release The Spirit of America, in which she wrote about the nation’s national parks. She enjoys sharing about the human-pet bond and about the value of nature. Learn more at

Mary book cover

For the Birds

gayle-at-estesThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

In about one month, spring will officially arrive. Most people I know are looking forward to the new season, the increasing daylight, the green sprigs of grass that arise from winter’s sleep, the color of flowers like daffodils and tulips in bloom. Some regions enjoy an early spring, with warming weather and less (or no) snow, while other places, like where I live, don’t see “real spring” until May or even June (when others are already experiencing summer!).

No matter where one lives, though, spring, whenever it does arrive, is welcomed by most people I know.

One of the reasons I enjoy spring so much is the quantity of birdlife that arrives during this new season. Robins hop around yards, looking for worms in the warming earth. Bluebirds trill from fenceposts along the highways, and Canada geese honk overhead as they return from snowbirding sections of the country. Two birds I especially enjoy witnessing return are the American kestrel and the sandhill crane.

Photo credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Kestrels are North America’s smallest falcons. One of the most colorful of all raptors, the male sports a slate-blue head and wings with a rusty-colored back and tail. Females are a dull brown but patches of white mix with grey create a crown upon their head. One is likely to see these striking birds perched atop wires or hovering in the wind. They eat insects as well as small rodents, and have been known to add snakes and frogs to their diet. Kestrels are found throughout the United States and take up summer residence in the northern part of the country. They live in a variety of habitats, from prairies and woodlands to towns.

Sandhill cranes are among my most favorite large bird species. I learned so much about these amazing animals while working for a summer in Wisconsin at the International Crane Foundation (ICF). I served as an educational tour guide and contributed content to the Education Department’s classroom and on-site curricula. That was a fun job! I would have returned for another season, but I’d decided it was time to settle down to something more permanent … and I’d met Greg by then. During our one-year anniversary, he and I visited the site, and he became even more intrigued by cranes as well.

Photo credit: International Crane Foundation

The largest migration of sandhill cranes takes place in Nebraska from early March to early April. More than 600,000 of these tall, lanky birds (or about 80% of the world’s sandhill crane population) use the Platte River as a resting ground; many of these birds travel 2,000 miles from their winter grounds in the southwestern U.S. (or even farther south) and return to summer residences throughout northern America as well as Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. The cranes are welcomed in Nebraska as are the numerous white snow geese and other birds that use the Platte River during migration. Thousands of tourists, nature photographers, and writers converge on the communities of Kearney and Gibbon. Mid-month, Kearney hosts a Crane Festival, with speakers, exhibits, and tours to bird blinds along the river. Greg and I have often talked of going, as Kearney is a day’s drive from our home in Casper. This adventure remains on our bucket list.


Sandhill Crane at JKL Ranch, Kaycee, Wyoming – G. Irwin photo

We do occasionally see the 3- to 4-foot tall sandhills in the Casper area; however, most often they are observed in other parts of our state, particularly farther west. We’ve seen them in Yellowstone and the Jackson, Wyoming areas, as well as in various parts of Montana. Near my parents’ residence outside Lewistown, Montana, we often see and hear cranes, especially at dusk in ranchers’ fields. Sandhills snack on grain, insects, and small rodents. Their calls and ritualistic dances are sounds and sights that take your breath away!

Another large gathering of sandhill cranes takes place during winter months at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Near the town of Socorro, this special place provides haven not only for sandhills, but also for thousands of ducks, geese, shorebirds, and other wildlife. Greg and I have both visited this majestic sanctuary along the Rio Grande River, but not at the same time. We hope to change that as we’re looking to make a southwest U.S. tour, through Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, this fall.

Photo credit: International Crane Foundation

There are 15 species of cranes found around the world; only two live in the United States – the sandhill and the whooping crane. Whoopers are distinguished by their unique call and their tall, white bodies. An endangered species, these animals were at a low of only 15 birds in 1941; today nearly 600 live in the wild and in captivity. Theirs is a conservation success story, but still a fledgling one. Occasionally a whooping crane or two will be seen among the flocks of sandhills in Nebraska, and once or twice they have been spotted in Yellowstone. They are becoming more abundant during summertime in Wisconsin, thanks to a major partnership effort to re-establish populations by ICF, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and others. The birds in these small migrating flocks winter in Florida and wing north for summers in Wisconsin, often residing at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. I have seen a few there when I’ve returned to the state to visit the friends I made back in 1998 when I worked for ICF. I hope to do that again in the short-run.

Temperatures rise, buds sprout, and winged creatures migrate north. As spring returns, so do the birds – I look forward to both!


Gayle M. Irwin enjoys nature, pets, writing, travel, and photography. She is the author of several inspirational pet stories for children and adults and is a contributing writer to six Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She also writes articles for magazines and newspapers. Learn more at

SageBigAdventureFront-small  Sage Finds Friends_front cover  cody-cabin-cover2   Walking_FrontCover_small   Dog Devotion Book_Cover_Final   Dog Devotions 2 Book Cover Sage Advice Cover   Blind Dog Ebook Cover_updatedMay2014   Chicken Soup_DogDidWhat_Cover   Spirit of America book

Finding Inspiration in Nature: Animals

Only to the white man was nature a wilderness and only to him was the land ‘infested’ with ‘wild’ animals and ‘savage’ people. To us it was tame, Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery.  ~ Black Elk


Yellowstone Sign_Gayle Mary_smallerThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

Last week I wrote about being inspired by nature with regard to landscapes. Whether mountains, valleys, fields, forests, oceans, lakes, streams, city parks, botanical gardens, or your own backyard, you can find refreshment, replenishment, inspiration, and creativity in nature. You can also find inspiration in the creatures which inhabit these spaces, lessons that can be applied to life, and even to writing, and so today is Part 2 — Finding Inspiration in Nature: Animals.

I recently spent more than four days in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, sharing time with my parents for their 56th wedding anniversary and for Father’s Day. Not only was the experience pleasant from the standpoint of being with family members I dearly love, but we were in special spaces that I truly love. Each park is unique: although both have mountains, the stark granite of the Tetons contrasts with the forested hillsides that ring the Yellowstone caldera. Water can be found in both parks, including deep lakes and fast rivers. However, Teton appears more lush and verdant, possibly due to the deep valley known as Jackson Hole, whereas Yellowstone is more rocky and dry – except for the sections that received vast amounts of snow this past winter – and sprung this spring with wildflowers galore!!

daisies_yellow with aspen

The wildlife species which reside in the parks, however, are nearly identical, including elk, bison, pronghorn, mule deer, chipmunks, ground squirrels, swans, and sandhill cranes. As I spent time observing these creatures and considered the harshness of the environment, especially during winter, I felt compelled to consider what lessons these animals can teach us, and therefore, how they can inspire us, whether we are writers or not.

ground squirrel

Learning and sharing lessons from nature is part of who I am as a writer and speaker. For years I’ve shared what I learned from my blind dog, Sage, even writing a book called Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog. When I visit schools, I talk with students about lessons dogs can teach us, things I’ve learned from my own dogs; I even created a library program on that topic, and I shared that last Friday at the Sheridan County Fulmer Library in Sheridan, Wyoming – and since Friday was Take Your Dog to Work Day, it was an appropriate topic.


So what lessons can we learn and how can we be inspired by animals? I believe there are many ways, but here are just a few:

bull buffalo and carBison – these massive creatures have exited for centuries and Native Americans believed the bison were sacred and valued. The species nearly became extinct thanks to European-Americans slaughter of them during the mid to late 1800s. To live in Yellowstone during winter, to survive a massive massacre upon their kind, these creatures must be hardy, so I believe endurance is great lesson the bison can teach us.

Sandhill Cranes – Tall and elegant, these beautiful birds fly thousands of miles to and from summer and winter habitats. They must pass by powerlines, hunters, and storms to reach their destination.  Like the bison, these creatures, too, can teach us perseverance.

Elk – these majestic animals are also resilient and they are adaptable. A creature that used to live on the plains, they moved to the mountains to escape the relentless hunting pressure of the 1800s. Yet they never lost their luster. I believe the elk teach us to adapt, to deal with the hand we are dealt and modify whatever needs to be changed, in ourselves, our life, our writing.

swansSwans – these magnificent birds almost became extinct due, again, to humankind’s (primarily European-Americans) slaughter of them. Downy, pluming feathers caught the eye of the fashion industry and swans, along with hundreds of other bird species, were killed for ladies’ hats and other fashion statements. Thankfully, places like our national parks provided protection and respite. Watching swans fly or swim gives glimpse into gracefulness — I believe the swans remind us to be graceful (as best we can!).

Wolves – another animal nearly exterminated from the landscape (is there a pattern here of human behavior??!), wolves were returned to Yellowstone in the mid-1990s (something that remains controversial and contentious to this day). However, to witness the dynamics within a pack of wolves is truly an amazing sight! These animals were also revered by Native Americans (again, another pattern and one that vastly contrasts with “white culture) and they saw the majesty of the pack, a unit that works together to survive. Wolves can teach us the importance of family relationships and the value of friendships.

Grizzly_YNPBears – whether grizzly or black, these animals conjure up images of fear and distrust. Bears have been the thorn in many a side of ranchers and farmers as they sometimes prey upon livestock and gardens. Hikers carry pepper spray in case of a bear encounter (or at least they are encouraged to do so). Grizzly bears in particular have been known to attack humans, especially when startled. Once again, however, the bear was revered by Native Americans for its confidence, courage, and power – lessons we can all learn, especially when it comes to facing difficulties in life and rejections (or fear thereof) in our writing.

Each of these amazing species of wildlife showcase a number of lessons we can apply to life and for we who are writers, to our craft. But, our companion animals also can provide insights:

Mary in Greg's officeDogs – I don’t know of many animals, or humans for that matter, who will wait by the door or in the window for their special person to come home, even if gone for only an hour or two. A dog’s devotion is an amazing, beloved quality, and I for one am thankful that my four-footed friend loves me no matter what kind of day I’ve had or what type of mood I’m in. A dog’s loyalty is almost unfathomable, and it’s something for which I’m grateful – and from which I can learn.

Bailey_sleepCats – my cats are much more independent, although they enjoy a bit of social time with my husband and me as well. Their ability, however, to take long times of rest and to remain somewhat independent are both great lessons for which to apply to life in general and to a writer’s life – having the confidence to pursue publishing, whether indie or traditional, and to remain strong in the face of adversity, asserting an independence-type of attitude or being part of a team whatever the need calls for at the time, are good qualities to have. And remembering to rest the body and the mind instead of constantly being on the “go, go, go!” is also a great lesson to learn from cats.

We can learn so much from the animal kingdom and be inspired by the different traits found in creatures, if we only take the time to observe, to learn, to apply, and to appreciate the lessons … and the animals themselves.

bison calf

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.  ~ Chief Seattle

Gayle and Mary_river walkGayle M. Irwin writes inspirational pet stories for children and adults. She is the author of seven different books and has three works in progress, including a humorous children’s story called BobCat Goes to School. She is also a contributing writer for six editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul, including the June release The Spirit of America, in which she has a short story titled “National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” Gayle also has a short story in the upcoming anthology Memories from Maple Street U.S.A.: Pawprints on My Heart, a collection of pet stories to be published in July by Prairie Rose Publications. Learn more about Gayle and her writing and speaking endeavors at

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Finding Inspiration in Nature – Part 1


This post by Gayle M. Irwin

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” – John Muir


My husband and I own more than three acres of forest land 20 minutes from our home in Casper, Wyoming. At this location, I’ve composed short stories and books inside our cabin and under the towering lodgepole pines surrounding it. I’ve walked the wooded trails and listened to numerous songbirds. I’ve seen the landscape filled with snow, heard the crashes of thunder above, and touched pine needles kissed by rainfall. Wild turkeys, mule deer, red fox, butterflies, and hummingbirds call the area home, and many have visited our cabin site. Each experience makes my heart leap for joy, including my recent 30-minute encounter with a red fox just beyond the cabin porch door.

Red fox visiting my mountain property in early June.

Nature inspires many and has for eons, including the writings of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau and the paintings and photographs of Thomas Moran and William Henry Jackson. Moran and Jackson were part of the famous 1871 expedition to the Yellowstone region, painting and photographing scenes that became instrumental in educating those back East, including the U.S. Congress, which led to the creation of Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park. Muir, too, helped tout the majesty of landscapes; his was a significant voice for creating many U.S. national parks, including Yosemite, Sequoia and the Grand Canyon, among others. These, and many others, were visionaries, and their dreams and desires benefit us today. If you’ve not seen the Ken Burns/PBS documentary on America’s national parks, I highly recommend watching! (my husband and I own a copy of the series — the shows are WONDERFUL!).

Yellowstone Sign_Gayle Mary_smaller

The National Park Service, which turns 100 years old this year, administers more than 400 different sites across the country, from national parks and monuments to historical battlefields, trails, and other historic sites. Whether mountains, deserts, forests, valleys, or seashores, these special places provide respite, amazement, and reflection.

I love nature! Since I was a child growing up in Iowa, I’ve found tranquility, inspiration, and fascination in natural areas. My parents are particularly responsible for my affinity for wild places – we took family vacations out west to Yellowstone, made camping expeditions to state parks, and took fishing trips to Minnesota and Canada. Dad created habitat areas for song birds and small game, and I helped him create and install wood duck boxes for nesting sites along the shore of the Mississippi River as well as at the pond on our 14 midwestern acres. I found solace under cedar trees alongside my dog, Bridgette where I wrote stories and poems in those peace-filled woods. I dreamed of becoming a lady park ranger in Yellowstone; instead, I became a journalist living at the park’s west entrance, yet I was still able to interact with the area’s wild spaces and wild creatures.

bison bull_Yellowstone

I still interact with and am inspired by nature. Whether at my forest cabin, or traveling through my current home state, which is the site not only of the world’s first national park, but also the first national forest (Shoshone) and first national monument (Devil’s Tower/Bear’s Lodge), or visiting special sites in other states, like Rocky Mountain Park in Colorado, Glacier Park in Montana, or Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, each place whispers its own alluring grandeur.

Running Eagle Falls with 2 Med River
Running Eagle Falls and Two Medicine River – Glacier National Park

Whether you’re a writer, painter, photographer, or other artistic type, nature can speak to you and get those creative juices flowing. My husband is a videographer, and he uses the outdoors to create beautiful DVDs set to instrumental music that many find relaxing, for themselves or loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease. This has become a growing business, helping him help others relax and appreciate places they may not get to enjoy in person as he/we have.

Spirit of America bookAs this post goes live, I’m wrapping up a visit to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. I’ll be conducting a program about national parks this evening at the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center as well as having a booksigning, all based on my story “National Parks – America’s Best Idea,” published in the recently-released Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America. My reflective composition concludes, “Many generations have benefited from the visions and visionaries of 1872 and 1916…. The spirit of America reigns in our national parks, for they remain America at its natural best.”

Grand Teton National Park, Teton Mountains, and Jackson Lake – Wyoming

National parks are glorious, national seashores stupendous, national monuments magnificent, and national historic sites enriching. However,  a person doesn’t have to visit a national park, forest, or monument to find inspiration in nature. You don’t even have to live in a rural area. Cities have parks, botanical gardens, and green spaces. I encourage you to find your own special natural place and be inspired!

June is Great Outdoors Month, and 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. I hope that you’ll take the time to get outdoors, to be refreshed, be inspired, and be peaceful in an outdoor setting this month, or at least sometime this summer. Stop and smell the flowers, watch a sunset, or listen to birds sing. When you do, you’ll not only find refreshment and replenishment, but you may also find inspiration for that next novel, poem, painting, or video, by which you can inspire others.

Wildflowers_Idaho Meadow_with log
Wildflower meadow – Idaho side of Yellowstone Park

Gayle at EstesGayle M. Irwin is an award-winning Wyoming writer and author. She writes inspirational pet stories for children and adults with seven books, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Sage Finds Friends, Cody’s Cabin: Life in a Pine Forest, and Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, as well as a Kindle e-book called Help! My Dog is Going Blind – Now What Do I Do? to help owners of blind dogs. She is also a contributing writer to six Chicken Soup for the Soul books, including the June release The Spirit of America, featuring her story about America’s national parks. Gayle speaks in schools, at libraries, and for various organizations. She enjoys sharing about the pet-human bond and the majesty of nature, hoping to inspire and educate children and adults about the beauty of creation and the creatures that share our planet. Learn more about her writing and speaking endeavors at

SageBigAdventureFront-small   Sage Finds Friends_front cover  Cody Cabin_New Book CoverImage   Walking_FrontCover_small   Dog Devotion Book_Cover_Final   Dog Devotions 2 Book Cover Sage Advice Cover   Blind Dog Ebook Cover_updatedMay2014   Chicken Soup_DogDidWhat_Cover   Spirit of America book

The Fresh Breath of Spring


This post by L.Leander, Author of Fearless Fiction

It’s time for planting and all around us are farms with tractors making rows and planting seeds. The smell of the fresh dirt never ceases to make me feel good – a deep earthy scent that you know will soon yield crops.


We have many Amish farms in our community and we see them with teams of horses and discs as they prepare their own fields for planting. It’s like being in a time standing still but I’d venture to say a lot more work than the farmers using machinery.


We’ve been planting, too. Last year my husband planted a wildflower garden for me just like one my mother had at our farm when we were young. It was such a good feeling to see and smell the flowers and watch them sway in the breeze and open up to the sun. This year we cleaned up our rock garden at the lake and totally planted all wildflowers. I can’t wait to see it bloom. Our tulips are up and beautiful as are our daffodils. Some of last year’s flowers are popping up through the ground and each day they get a little taller.


Ralph has planted his favorite (hollyhocks and sunflowers). Last year he had twelve, eight, six and four foot sunflowers that were grand. They are majestic and this year he planted all the seeds he took off the heads, plus more packages. We may end up with a back yard full of sunflowers!

When I was a young wife and mother I loved putting up food for the winter, but I wasn’t so good in the garden. The want-to was there, but I didn’t seem to have the know-how and a lot of my plants died. Thank goodness for a mother-in-law who grew a huge garden and gave me lots of fresh vegetables and fruits to can.

I’m lucky to have a husband with a very green thumb. We’ve given up planting vegetables and fruits and switched to flowers. I do a lot of the prep work and I love raking and clearing the spots for seeds to be sown. I even got to plant a few seeds of my own, with Father Nature standing over me, of course.

Now all there is to do is wait. Flowers, vegetables, fruits – all reaching to the sun and begging for gentle rain. I can’t wait for the corn to be ripe because in our area there are big corn roasts almost every weekend when it’s ready. Nothing better than getting an ear of corn from the roaster, dipping it in a can of melted butter and standing around with friends laughing as the butter drips down your arms 0nto the ground.


I’m ready to enjoy summer (already have a hoarde of books to read, writing, knitting, coloring, journaling and sewing). We are moving to the lake lot next week and won’t move back home until October 15. What I most look forward to in the summer is the sound of loons on the lake, geese returning home, red-winged blackbirds, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, cardinals and blue jays all chattering at the bird feeder, plus the squirrels and chipmunks yipping and gathering peanuts in their cheeks. Throughout all this gentle patter I sit on the deck, watch the lake, and listen to children laughing as they  play in the water while I read. Ah, the glory of it all!

Hummingbird Feedermale cardinal




L.Leander is the author of the Inzared series (available on Amazon):


Inzared the Fortune Teller

and books for authors (also available on Amazon):

10 Extreme Tips to Publishing an e-Book

10 Extreme Tips to Marketing an e-Book

She may be found on these locations:

L.Leander Books on

L.Leander on

L.Leander on  Amazan Author


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Check out L.Leander’s book videos on

Pause a Moment

This post by Jennifer Flaten


A rain storm blew through our area on Monday. According to the weather man there was a chance it would turn severe. I’ve had an up down relationship with storms. I used to love them. Then one summer a storm with straight line winds blew into our area knocking a branch off the 50 year oak tree and right onto our front walk missing the house by thismuch. The crash shook the whole house and that morning we had to exit our house through the back door.


After that any storm made me worry about falling limbs. Even after we moved to this house, which was surrounded by some very old, nearly decrepit trees. Even a brisk wind was cause to worry. Then the city decided to put in sidewalks, so they removed all the trees in the neighborhood. Okay, that made me sad….but the upside was nothing was going to fall on my house now.


So when the storm rolled through I didn’t worry, I enjoyed the storm.


The wind pushed the rain up, down, and sideways plus, the sky was an interesting shade of yellow. With the windows closed and the air conditioner on it is sometimes hard to tell if the weather has turned severe (or is going to in a minute or two) so I popped outside to have a look.


Standing under the sheltering overhang I watched the rain swirl around and listened to the fading thunder. Since the threat of storms seemed to have passed I was going to go back inside, but instead I decided to stand there for just a bit longer.


The rain didn’t taper off, as much as it just stopped and as I looked at the sky a rainbow appeared. IMG_3393It was amazing it just faded into view. One minute the sky was overcast and the next a rainbow glowed softly in the sky. It arched perfectly over our house.


It doesn’t matter that I know the science behind a rainbow, and it also doesn’t matter that they aren’t that rare. It still was magical to see one appear right before my eyes.

I saw it because I paused and took that extra moment. Why don’t you pause for that extra moment today and see if you spot something magical.


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