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The Two Best Ways to Die

photo westcoastwoman

I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.

Henry David Thoreau

My wanders to the Island loft have resulted in a few stories none of which are extraordinary but I feel inclined to record the more insistent ones….. the visits have been ‘between storms’ or alternately ‘riding out storms’ which have cut off ferry service and electronic communication. The times I spent incommunicado felt strangely more like a comfort than an inconvenience.

Contains some “salty language “

THE TWO BEST WAYS TO DIE

He was a Street Photographer’s dream, but this was not the street and it would be next to impossible to get a candid shot from my position in the driver’s seat parked in the ferry lineup. My hand had involuntarily reached for the camera when I caught my first glimpse, but instinct told me to retreat, sit back, watch and listen.

Minutes earlier I had pulled up behind an older model car with a broken tail light and bumper sticker that instructed the reader to BE RE’MARC’ABLE. I was hoping to see some evidence of this re’marc’ability from the car’s occupant, I did not have long to wait.

The car door opened, out stepped a West Coast, post modern, biker-pirate-sailor hybrid. Every bit of clothing on his body was some shade of black. A mariners hat with a small brim was pulled down tightly over his dark hair. A long pea jacket ended just above the knee under which hung a shapeless wool cable knit sweater stretched almost the length of the jacket. Tight jeans and leather biker boots whose tops flopped side to side as he stepped. So many layers of darkness it took me time to detect the braid that fell over his right shoulder ending just above the waist. He was living up to his PR and hadn’t yet spoken a word.

In these days of distancing I was well aware of my “come from away” status on this small and intimate island, maintaining a safe physical distance from the locals. ‘Marc’ as I will call him, made his way past my partially open window coming to a stop nearby, within earshot. Two women stood outside their vehicles just behind me, they formed a Covid friendly triangle. It became clear they knew each other casually, also clear was that Marc had much to say and jumped right in and started saying it.

He lived on his boat and had spent time moored in various bays and marinas up and down the West Coast for years, twenty to be exact. Speaking to no one in particular he declared that if he ever had to live on land, someone would have to “just take me out and shoot me.”
What followed was a ten minute monologue of his life at sea. It was never clear if he had ventured far ‘out’ to sea but he was very familiar with the bays and harbours of the islands that border Vancouver Island and the Mainland.

Time had been spent ‘below deck’ with ‘mariners’ where much alcohol was imbibed and ‘salty’ stories of the sea exchanged. He spoke of sailors and boats that were part of West Coast lore, stories were told in a way that left no doubt he had indeed spent much time below deck.

I recognized the name of one couple, Alan and Sheri Farrell. They were legendary, as was the China Cloud, one of the many hand crafted boats Alan had built. I caught a glimpse of it one day…..

His tales of the sea were interrupted for a moment as Marc admired the necklace one of the women wore, she told him it had belonged to her mother who recently died. Marc’s mother was also dead and he spoke with scorn about being offered a Kitchen Aid mixer when her belongings were being distributed. Living on a sailboat there is no space for such luxuries, he had taken instead a piece of her jewelry.

The talk of dead mothers brought the conversation around to a place that many of us find ourselves when death overtakes a conversation. What was the ‘best way to die?” it was quickly decided that the best way to die was, without doubt, “in your sleep”. There was a silence as this peaceful end was pondered by all…. Marc broke the silence…..”or fucking”.

A rather jarring addition to the usual death options. I adjusted my rear view mirror to see the reaction of the two women but everyone was heading back to their respective vehicles. The ferry had arrived, it was time to board, and so we did, each in our own vehicle with our own thoughts on the matter of Life and Death and how we hoped to experience both.

into the sunset. photo wcw

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“It began when…”

Morning Walk. photo westcoastwoman

It has been a while …. I recently joined a writing group that uses ‘jump off lines’ from poems to get us writing ‘wild writing’. I plan to post one of these ‘wild writings’ every week and see where it leads.

IT BEGAN WHEN……

It began when I spoke something, something that sounded like a promise,
that tasted both foreign and sincere on my tongue.

It began when there was no doubt your body was dying,
when that promise had to be unearthed, examined, acted upon.

It began when I held your hand and it came time to say goodbye,
the gifts and pain that flowed from that touch.

It began when I went to the shore sobbing,
as a scene played out between a man and his dog.

It was all ‘clothing optional’.

It began when there was no other option but to release, everything,
clothing being the least of it, that first layer easily removed.

It began when attempts to control anything moved forward like a tsunami,
spilling onto ground, exploding into air, inhaled by merciless waves.

It began when you asked me where I was going and I replied
“Wherever my feet take me.”

Yes, that was the moment it really began,
when feet carried me to the edge of a waterfall

Standing, waving to myself as I went over

It was all ‘clothing optional’ beyond that point

wcw october 2021

Clothing Optional. photo westcoastwoman


” I am Losing my Mother Words”

Portal. photo westcoastwoman

Hieroglyphic Stairway

It’s 3:23 in the morning

and I’m awake

because my great great grandchildren

won’t let me sleep

my great great grandchildren

ask me in dreams

what did you do while the planet was plundered?

what did you do when the earth was unraveling?


surely you did something

when the seasons started failing?


as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?


did you fill the streets with protest

when democracy was stolen?


what did you do

once

you

knew?…

poem by Drew Dellinger

___________________________

“I Am Losing my Mother Words

This statement reached my ears and I was unable to process the meaning, my deep heart had no such trouble.

“I am Losing my Mother Words”

These words were in response to a call from an adult son. A call to his mother, an attempt to make sense of the myriad of events tearing humanity apart. He was looking perhaps for ‘mother words’ of long ago, the ones that somehow put pieces back in order, that securely strapped you in even if it turned into a bumpy ride.

His question was one of bewilderment, how so many failed to see beauty, failed to choose peace over war, acceptance over hate.

I too am losing my ‘mother words’, my initial reaction was deep sadness but I soon realized that the ‘mother words’ of the present were of no use to either myself or any intended recipients. They were slowly being unmade, new words were forming, sent from the Ancestors for Future Generations. Words of transition and transmutation.

The speaker then described the beauty of apple blossoms in her garden and then the horror of bombs falling in another part of the world. What ‘mother words’ were being spoken by mothers and fathers huddled together holding children close as bombs exploded around them? What words will comfort in that reality?

Her next thought haunted me…

“Perhaps it is not,

never has been,

Either/Or

it is

Both/And

Apple Blossoms and Bombs.”

Eagle Sunrise. photo westcoastwoman

The Descent

rapture or rupture statue Denman Island photo westcoastwoman

A discussion on how ‘breaking down‘ is often a portal to ‘breaking through‘ prompted a friend to forward the attached poem to me.

We had been using the metaphor of snorkeling to describe the approach many of us take towards the bigger questions of life. If not forced by circumstance to confront something, we snorkel, safe on the surface just looking into the depths.

We toyed with the image of putting on tanks, diving down to interact with and perhaps touch what we find, or a diving suit, a submersible that allows a walk on the bottom of our unconscious. A few days later I had the image of “free diving” unencumbered by any sort of attachment to the surface except the air you captured in your lungs…. doing a deep dive…

Surrender……. not the ‘giving in to‘ but the ‘living in to‘ the “promiscuous” present moment.

wcw

surrender. photographer unknown

The descent by Gina Puorro

There are things you can only learn
on your knees
or in a storm
or when the cracks in the foundation
of this modern world
open a chasm of uncertainty
beneath your feet.
Your discontent
with what has been named normal
is both grief and longing
for what your mind has forgotten
but your body remembers.

You can feel it
in the way a child’s laughter
disrupts your commitment
to what is appropriate
and makes space
for foolishness and magic.
You can feel it
broken open
at the altar of all you’ve lost
and how much you’ve loved.
Can we fall apart together?
Make a commitment to search for the truth
but promise
to never find it.
Let myths and stories
be the cartograph
for what is both
primordial and brand new
because the present moment
is promiscuous like that.
Compost ourselves down
into the dirt beneath the dirt
and tend the chthonic embers
that light the ancient fires in our bellies.

When the fault lines open
and your mind is grasping
and you don’t know
in the way that water
has taught you
how to be a vessel
and how to spill.
Can you trace your lineage
all the way back to salt?
the same that now stains your face
with both sadness and laughter
excites your tongue
and protects your prayers.
You are diasporic. Ecological. Holon.
A vast territory
of many wild bodies
melting into each other
dressed up as human.
Simultaneously living and dying
shaping and dismantling
filling up and boiling over.

Ashes to ashes
stardust to bone.
What language do you grieve in?
What is the mother tongue for that
which twists and contorts your body
wringing oceans from your skin?
The gravity that pulls you
down to your knees
forehead to ground
where to go from here;
prostrate
trade rapture for rupture
let yourself spill
and descend.

-Gina Puorro


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Forced Landing

Forced Landing. photographer unknown (to me)

“Life has a way of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen at once.” Paulo Coelho

FORCED LANDING

Departure uneventful
Arrival anything but,
long past the
Point of no Return
we spiral.

Flight diverted
holding pattern unsustainable
hoping only for
safe descent,
arrival intact,
grounding.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have been cleared for landing”

Fuel low, patience short,
They are not coming to save us
We are They
we always were,
Courage found in
Fear with prayer.

We are not out of the woods yet.

We hope you enjoyed your flight with us today, this leg of the journey ends here. All possessions should be left onboard. Those of you travelling onwards will find signs as you exit…..safe travels

wcw 2021



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THE ONLY TWO DIRECTIONS

Wandering on the ‘misty isle‘ I happened upon reflections in a dark pond, the message of the photograph became the two directions, up and down, towards and away, only revealed when the image was turned sideways.

Yesterday a friend introduced me to this poem by Quinn Bailey.

When our internal or external worlds are turned sideways, that can sometimes be
when the boulder in front of the cave begins to shift”

THE ONLY TWO DIRECTIONS BY QUINN BAILEY

This world has only two true directions:
Towards and away.

The big fear, in the end, is to awake and find that
You chose away.

That the hand
Which held you down
Was none other
Than your own.

Remember

The pursuit
Of that which is not truly us
Renders even the most
Powerful vision useless

Recognize

When the boulder in front of the cave begins to shift

When that first illuminating shaft
Pierces the dark

Do not hesitate long

Do not waste time
Anticipating the griefs
Yet to come

They cannot be helped and perhaps are necessary

On that long
And awkward walk
Towards yourself.

Quinn Bailey
The Currents of the World
2020 Homebound Publications

photos westcoastwoman

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The Essential Conversation


” Elevator talk.
Let’s get this thing stuck,
see what we really have to say.

Give those occupants a new reply
when asked,
Up or down?
Just say,
Down
in a free fall
pressing DOOR OPEN.”

(excerpt from Elevator Talk by Melissa Sawatsky)

THE ESSENTIAL CONVERSATION

Stonewall(ed)
hand hewn verbal protection
carefully laid, piece by piece,
a lifetime in the making,
no escape clause.

Words withheld, unspoken,
undeliverable,
the contents of a goodbye
discarded at the roadside,
no recipient, no return address.

The Essential Conversation,
clear instruction, open
the dam of heartache,
attempts to top the wall, first
diving then begging for release.

Blow up the wall, the dam,
limitations choking our lives,
open the run of the river,
drown in your longing
for freedom denied.

Surrender illusion, control
you never had, shaken, stirred and
spewed onto the riverbank
searching for the eyes of an other

…to start the Essential Conversation.

westcoastwoman 2021
photos westcoastwoman. (2013) Marine Building Vancouver Canada





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The Substance of Shadow (Hiraeth)

Substance of Shadow. photo wcw

“Longing is the deepest and most ancient voice in the human soul”
John O’Donohue

THE SUBSTANCE OF SHADOW

HIRAETH: longing for a home that no longer exists or maybe never was

There are words that speak from another place. A word can have no english equivalent when it is speaking the language of soul, a language seldom spoken in the west.

The lure of Hiraeth comes from a place where “home” is ephemeral, not a house or a return address. It is an internal longing that can appear external when recognized in another. Its call is strongest in times of transition, when the veil is thin…dawn, twilight, full moon and those times when life calls us to ride out unpredicted storms.

This longing aches for a shared fantasy, one that will provide temporary relief from these times. The shelter provided reveals itself to be a portal into deep, often painful insights … a threshold that when crossed leads to an untapped vein of love and life waiting to be mined for its wisdom and nourishment before being brought once again to the surface.

We chase this shadow as if it is the substance of the shadow, irrationally bound to the belief that this ‘home that never was’ is just as real as the house our bodies currently occupy.

westcoastwoman 2021

‘bushtit nest’ exquisite temporary shelter photo wcw

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The Way It Is

Tangled threads. photo wcw

This poem by William Stafford speaks of a thread, I feel it also speaks to the times.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.

THE WAY IT IS by William Stafford

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you can do to stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

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Reflections on the Sound of Silence

Hello darkness my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
because a vision softly creeping
left its seeds while I was sleeping
and the vision that was planted
in my brain, still remains
within the sound
of silence.

Sound of Silence Simon and Garfunkel

THE SOUND OF SILENCE

In this year of a thousand months a silence has settled, palpable, like silk against bare skin.

One by one freedoms slip away in an unintentional game of musical chairs until we find ourselves alone, gazing into the Great Mystery.

Fooled into thinking this was unexpected we see plans for this journey seeded long ago with every “yes” carelessly spoken.

Each moment becomes a new invitation, moving deeper like a lover searching for that place on your lip meant only for others.

Eyes closed, surrender drifts like wafting smoke to linger over new terrain, unsure of where to settle.

Shadows that once held fear dissipate with every wind gust, free now to ride this undulating movement…

We are danced into the unknown.


photo westcoastwoman

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“Wintering” at the Crossroads

Be ahead of all parting, as though it already were behind you, like the winter that has just gone by. For among these winters there is one so endlessly winter that only by wintering through it will your heart survive.

Rainer Maria Rilke

We arrived at the crossroads while wandering in the woods, it was so perfectly aligned, so quietly asking for a decision…..right or left, no easy answer, no promise that one direction would lead towards a place less difficult to traverse.

The direction chosen did not matter and the timing of the arrival of no consequence. There was no invitation to linger, just a gentle request to lift one foot and hope the ground held as you lifted the other to propel yourself forward.

The ‘winter’ we are inhabiting promises to be ‘endlessly winter’ and those whose hearts survive will have shed something that cannot be named, leaving it behind like a snake’s skin. Whatever path we choose, most will lead to the base of the mountain.

The mountain is the true ‘wintering’, from it’s base all paths call you to that place “ahead of all parting” and ask that you arrive alone, trailing the substance of life in your wake “as though it already were behind you.”

wcw

photos westcoastwoman 2020

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“swimming in clues”

breath of the ocean. westcoastwoman

All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop. Kabir

“swimming in clues”

Our lives in pieces
reflect through
mirrors, shattered,
barely held
in fragile frames.

Lungs gasp, groan,
sighs release,
inhale once more
sweet ocean air
breath of the ancestors.

Hearts reassemble,
vital organs
beat in unison
feel the labour,
Life rebirthing.

Wooden carcass
our wreckage decomposed
greed, power, blindness,
floats the surface
walks the pavement.

only having learned the backstroke…
“we are swimming in clues.”

westcoastwoman 2020

conquering the sea westcoastwoman







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Shedding

“arriving at your own door” photo westcoastwoman

Love after Love by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give Bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

– Derek Walcott

Shedding

…..As I put the key into the lock and opened the door to ‘the loft’ on this distant island that feels so very far from home, this poem came to mind. It is a piece that has haunted me for a few years perhaps because I don’t want the message to be true.

There is no ‘magical other’ waiting to save us from ourselves or from the circling storm of uncertainty that surrounds us.

There is a welcome shedding of expectation that comes from the words, a sigh of relief that the only goal is to “give back your heart to itself” and “peel your own image from the mirror.”
Those things in themselves appear to be insurmountable right now but when compared with continuing this exhausting upstream swim, the image of simply floating with the current back to my “own door” is indeed a feeling of “elation.”

The latch is well worn, many have opened it and returned …..

Sit. Eat. Feast on your life.

westcoastwoman 2020

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The Empty Handed Offering

“The Empty Handed Offering” photo credit Rose Kilmer

“You are being called, we are all being called. We stumbled upon the Hero’s Journey and now there is no turning back. We know too much, overcame too many trials and received initiation into the Great Mystery, the river will not release us without a struggle.
We asked to be conscious, we cannot become unconscious…it is too late for that.
We are reluctant heroes.

Linda Jonke

The Empty Handed Offering

What does an Empty Handed Offering consist of?

I am not sure, but my gut tells me it looks something like the walking forward of this photograph. No idea what it actually is, or if it even exists.
I hope to attempt an answer over the next eight months. A series of synchronicities has allowed me access to a small loft over the winter that is located on a remote island a few ferry rides away.

I have taken to calling it “A Room of One’s Own”. Full disclosure, I have not read in its entirety “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf but now have a copy in hand and will finish it before the first departure of my solo journey. Books, art supplies, camera and hopes for inspiration will travel with me as I move back and forth every few weeks from ‘home’ to ‘room’ with the question of the “Empty Handed Offering”.

I was born on the Winter Solstice, each year there is comfort in knowing that the days become longer, the light returns slowly from that day forward. This year I enter another decade of life, more decades are now behind than in front.

This opportunity is the perfect gift, a room of one’s own and a question that can only be answered walking forward with hands and heart open… into the ‘Great Mystery’

Strength grows with Grace (morning dew). photo westcoastwoman2020

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The Summer Day

“who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-“ unknown photographer

The summer is slipping away, you feel it in the cool of the dawn before the dew evaporates.

It is in the darkness arriving minutes sooner as each day comes to a close.

These times have been at once, strange, tragic and transformative. We are lurching towards a Fall that is unpredictable and unknown at best.

The poem below has been appearing for me in partial and complete form many times in the last few days and I want to share it before “The Summer Day” has passed.

The last two lines are ones I will be repeating to myself daily as we edge slowly forward.

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver


Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver

westcoastwoman 2020


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One Last Look

It is a negligence of the mind not to notice how at dusk Heron comes to the pond and stands there in his death robes, perfect servant of the system, hungry, his eyes full of attention, his wings pure light.

Mary Oliver

A photographic series….

This beautiful creature allowed me to sit very close and still while it ‘fished’ I witnessed the catch, the positioning as it prepared to eat and most disturbing to me the final look of the fish as it peeked over it’s bill and prepared to enter the gullet of the Heron.

The cruelty and beauty of nature on a late summer evening.

Patience.
Success.
Dinner.
Positioning
One Last Look

photos westcoastwoman