Hometown Hero

Hometown Hero Natalie Hahn, at right, is always surrounded by love and affection in her Freeland home that she shares with an adopted cat, dog and an aviary menagerie of birds and 13-year-old daughter Dakota Bradley-Hahn. The hero can often be found in her home studio working hard and dancing to music along with her birds.<p> - Cynthia Woolbright
Hometown Hero Natalie Hahn, at right, is always surrounded by love and affection in her Freeland home that she shares with an adopted cat, dog and an aviary menagerie of birds and 13-year-old daughter Dakota Bradley-Hahn. The hero can often be found in her home studio working hard and dancing to music along with her birds.

— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

We will never fulfill our destiny or experience true joy by imitating others.

“If we are nothing else, we must be real and sincere,” says February Hometown Hero Natalie Hahn.

Hahn, who has lived in Freeland for more than a decade, believes the best way to be our genuine self is to be in the moment, to live by our own values, and be in service to others.

“I find when I am thinking of another person, I am not self-conscience, I am not thinking if I appear labeled or judged. It’s only when my ego enters in, that I am not as authentic. It’s risky being real, whether we are putting our personal art out in the world or letting someone know our true feelings. We do risk rejection and can feel naked. But honestly it’s the only way to live.”

She says rarely are we inspired by someone who is trying to put on airs, or is fake. Whenever we are touched by a teacher, artist, musician, or friend, it’s only when that person is genuine and following their own path.

Scott Blatney, local sawdust maker, writes “Natalie can’t help but be real, her joy comes from deep within. She always finds time to help anyone, and volunteers for summer art programs, 4-H, and mentors young artists through the South Whidbey apprenticeship program.”

“Once upon a time I thought that success was measured in financial terms. But when I hear anyone talk about Natalie, their faces light up with a big smile and warm stories. She hasn’t any of the worldly material success, yet I can only hope one day I will have her genuine success.”

Hahn’s heart for animals is legendary, says sculpture artist Louie Rochon.

“Time and time again she adds yet another wounded bird, an abused or orphaned dog or cat. Her home, more aptly described as a zoo, is a frenzied flurry of feathers and fur. It’s loud, colorful, and always an absolute riot of activity.”

One night in the front room of her cottage, Hahn talks about gratitude. She has a rescued cat in her lap, a huge adopted dog at her feet, and menagerie of rescued birds that could only be matched at an aviary.

During their constant squawking, Hahn picks up one of the big parrots, Ki Ki, who was badly abused and has to wear a plastic cone around his neck. She snuggles and strokes Ki Ki while continuing to talk.

“Look how fortunate I am, to have all this love,” she said. “Animals can teach us so much about love. They see through our outside straight into our hearts, with acceptance.”

Hahn literally goes out of her way to help animals. Several months ago, she travelled to Michigan for her sister’s wedding. That sister, Christina Campbell, writes, “On our way to our honeymoon, we found an abandoned cat. We called 25 local people; everyone was too busy. But Natalie, on the way to her plane, offers to come and pick up the cat, and take him to a shelter. Only I find out they never made it to the shelter in time, and the cat now lives happily on Whidbey. This is just one example of why my sister has always been my hero.”

Hahn said she starts and ends each day with a gratitude prayer.

“I list out loud all that I am thankful for; healthy children, love, family, friends, animals, shelter, food, my car starting, the trees outside of our window. But when life is just too much to carry, I hand it over to God. I say here God, it all seems like poo to me ... so I just muck it over to his stall, I know he can handle it.”

Hahn has lived in her rented home in Freeland for 13 years. She said that while owning a home is a nice goal, she is fine with renting.

“Everything is just temporal, I can be just as good of a steward of the land by renting than I can by owning,” she said.

The phone rings. It is her landlord, calling to make an appointment to shop at her “Glass Shack,” an old greenhouse Hahn converted into an art studio out of materials from the landfill. Her landlord said Hahn’s ability to fix or build anything makers her “any landlord’s dream.”

Hahn said one of her role models in using recyclables is local artist Richard Lalonde.

“He’s incredible, not only as an artist, but he makes his own tools. I mean he even makes his own saws, grinders, and kilns, all from scratch materials.”

“I have watched other people struggle at careers they despise, just because they think they need more things, or better or bigger stuff. It doesn’t seem to me that a person can live authentically, if they are trying to fill their lives with material things. All the while they’re genuine self is begging to express itself.”

Each of us is special, no other person can give your unique gift, that comes from within. Sometimes we need to remind each other of this, Hahn said, “as we are all beaten down at times.”

Hahn herself knows what it is like to be beat down. She survived numerous physical and emotional abuses in childhood. She and all of her siblings were pulled from their home and placed in foster homes. Soon after, her little brother committed suicide.

Confused and feeling unworthy, Hahn got into an abusive relationship with a boyfriend. He broke a number of her bones, causing permanent back and neck injuries.

Brian Potter, close friend of Hahn’s, writes: “I could sit here for hours and talk about things that woman has had to conquer in her life. Some of it my own doing. We all suffer the slings and arrows of life, but the sheer courage that Natalie has overcome these obstacles should inspire any of us.”

Responding to this, she said “I was beat down on a host of levels. Some really compassionate people lifted me up, and helped me to realize I didn’t deserve that treatment. However, it took many, many years before I believed it.”

She later married, but this ended in a bitter and difficult divorce, after which reconciliation has still not yet occurred.

“It certainly isn’t what I would have wanted, but I am thankful for what I do have, and hopeful for the future.”

But today she happily reports she is in healthy, caring, growing relationships.

Celeste Mergens founder of the Whidbey Island Writers Conference, is always inspired by Hahn’s strength.

“Years back she had severe back and neck pain. Even during that time in her life Natalie remained loving and active in the community. She didn’t even mention the pain she was in until I specifically asked about the pain I saw in her eyes,” Mergens said.

Hahn’s back injuries got so bad she couldn’t walk or even get up without help. Surgery was recommended, and through physical therapy she is now able to live a more normal, though limited life again.

Hardships can be life changing, she says. Every one we endure is an opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes.

A high school apprenticeship student, Heather Mathiasen, visit’s Hahn’s home every afternoon. Mathiasen’s mother, Candace, said Hahn is a great sounding board for her daughter.

“Heather does nothing but talk about how Natalie understands her. She’s not just learning a craft but how to work with another person. Natalie is able to impart valuable life skills, that a teenager will take from another adult that they wouldn’t from their parent. And she’s learning about time management and how to set goals, as Natalie has deadlines to keep. This is absolutely one of the most special things my daughter has ever done.”

Hahn believes that material things won’t make us happy, and doesn’t make the person. What does is how we live our values, and what we do with our time.

“What’s worth doing,” she says, “is what we do for others. This is our real authentic self.”

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