SONDER

A book with the title The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows recently made its way into my hands. It is a compendium of new words. “It’s mission is to shine a light on the fundamental strangeness of being a human being.” The author John Koenig spent several years forming new words that “capture the delicate subtleties of the human experience” then published this Dictionary that is described as a “poem about everything”.

I thought I would attempt to match a word and definition from the book with a photograph, a shot that I had taken in the past or use it as an inspiration to search out a visual that matched my interpretation of the new word.

SONDER the awareness that everyone has a story

“You are the main character. The protagonist. The star at the center of your own unfolding story. You’re surrounded by your supporting cast: friends and family hanging in your immediate orbit. Scattered a little further out, a network of acquaintances who drift in and out of contact over the years.
But there in the background, faint and out of focus, are the extras. The random passerby. Each living a life as vivid and complex as your own. They carry on invisibly around you bearing the accumulated weight of their own ambitions, friends, routines, mistakes, triumphs, and inherited craziness.
When your life moves on to the next scene, theirs flickers in place, wrapped in a cloud of backstory and inside jokes and characters strung together with countless other stories you’ll never be able to see. That you’ll never know exist. In which you might appear only once. As an extra sipping coffee in the background. As a blur of traffic passing on the highway. As a lighted window at dusk.”

French sonder, to plumb the depths. Pronounced “sahn-der.” Can be used as a noun or a verb, as you would use the word wonder.

from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig

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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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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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The Lion in the Moonlight

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unknown photographer

The Lion in the Moonlight

We wait,
like the lion in the moonlight,
not in expectation but
Surrender, Grace,
longing for the gifts that hover
just beyond our grasp
hoping for an invitation,
the magic hour begins
the veil briefly lifted.

Darkness defines Light,
dew, the momentary threshold
releases our trembling fragility
the shimmering of the web
this alchemy of dawn,
dimensions where words wait
just beyond
the moment being witnessed.

remove the shoes of the past
the door was always open

Enter.

unknown photographer

westcoastwoman 2020

Two words that say it all

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photo credit play it again. westcoastwoman 2019

 

these days when words fail us and so many need to be heard, I offer these “two words” in a quote from Richard Wagamese……..

 

“Sometimes people just need to talk.  They need to be heard.  They need the validation of my time, my silence, my unspoken compassion. They don’t need advice, sympathy or counselling.  They need to hear the sound of their own voices speaking their own truths, articulating their own feelings, as those may be at a particular moment.
Then, when finished, they simply need a nod of the head, a pat on the shoulder or a hug.
I am learning that sometimes silence really is golden, and that sometimes “Fuck, eh?” is as spiritual a thing as needs to be said.

 

Richard Wagamese.   Embers  One Ojibway’s Meditations (2013)

 

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“I want to unfold”

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photo westcoastwoman 2020

“I want to unfold.
I don’t want to stay folded anywhere
because where I am folded,
there I am a lie.”

  Rainer Maria Rilke

“I want to unfold”

I have retreated to my garden.  ‘Social distancing’ in a garden introduces a whole new social order, a separate society carrying on totally oblivious to the chaos and trauma being lived out by the human  species.

This shy fellow and I have been playing hide and seek for the last few days. I would disturb his sunbathing and he would retreat into the log he calls home. Today I caught him sleeping and ‘folded.’

I feel my folded parts unfolding day by day. This moment in time has given us all much to consider. How we treat and care for our fellow human beings and the more-than-human-beings will determine how our shared future unfolds. 

because where I am folded, there I am a lie.”

©westcoastwoman 2020

Split Screen

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Holland House Library  London September 1940 morning after an Air Raid

Split Screen

Order in the midst of Disorder, Outside but also Inside”

This photograph, taken the day after an Air Raid on London in the Fall of 1940 has lived as an icon on my desktop for a few years.

I click on it intermittently to remind myself how resilient we are as human beings.  Story-telling animals who in the midst of chaos and uncertainty keep moving forward. Reading, writing and telling our story as part of our survival.

Split screen, calm and chaos,  our story being written day by day.

westcoastwoman 2020

 

 

 

 

 

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Settling

 

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photos westcoastwoman 2020

Know then that the body is merely a garment. Go seek the wearer not the cloak“.  Rumi
   

Settling

Eyes that can navigate
the tears of others
back to their headwaters,
spoke to mine.

Settle”

Her hands cupped, filter
words, pain, bewilderment,
spilling from mouths
unable to contain the flow.

You need to settle

Those hands deliver
to the waiting current,
grief, loss, prayers,
power, control.

Settle. You need to settle

Palms open, eyes open,
reach upwards, release,
lower with grace, reverence,
touch and comfort the earth.

Settle

westcoastwoman 2020

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photo westcoastwoman 2020

 

 

 

 

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VARANASI

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photo westcoastwoman 2020.    the ghats at sunrise Varanasi

“Last night, on the banks of the Ganges, I finally learned how to pray.”   Michael Allen

VARANASI          by Mary Oliver

Early in the morning we crossed the ghat,

where fires were still smoldering,

and gazed, with our Western minds, into the Ganges.

A woman was standing in the river up to her waist;

she was lifting handfuls of water and spilling it

over her body, slowly and many times,

as if until there came some moment

of inner satisfaction between her own life and the river’s.

Then she dipped a vessel she had brought with her

and carried it filled with water back across the ghat,

no doubt to refresh some shrine near where she lives,

for this is the holy city of Shiva, maker

of the world, and this is his river.

I can’t say much more, except that it all happened

in silence and peaceful simplicity, and something that felt

like that bliss of a certainty and a life lived

in accordance with that certainty.

I must remember this, I thought, as we fly back

to America.

Pray God I remember this.

Mary Oliver
A Thousand Mornings
(Penguin, 2012)

Acknowledgment to Ken Chawkin of The Uncarved Blog for bringing this poem to my attention after reading my last piece “Hotel on the Edge of the World” I am a huge admirer of Mary Oliver but had never before come across this poem.

https://womenofacertainagedotca.com

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Hotel on the Edge of the World further travels in the Year of Corona

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photo westcoastwoman 2020.     street scene Varanasi

Hotel on the Edge of the World

A mother has set up a tightrope for her young daughter to walk and balance upon.  There is no net…..not for the daughter or the mother.  We are all walking a tightrope here, no net.  I find it difficult to look or to look away at this point, some things I have seen I find it hard to find context for.

Illusion of safety no longer exists on any level, unsure of when I surrendered to that fact. One by one we all surrendered in our own time and in our own individual ways.  The travelling road show we have been a part of for the last two weeks has arrived at our last place of shelter ‘The Ganges View’ in Varanasi. The Hotel on the Edge of the World is how it feels to me.  In reality it is a converted palace full of treasures and art and secrets from the past.

We have heard stories along the way of Varanasi (our final destination) they ranged anywhere from descriptions that portrayed either ‘Pearly gates, Mordor or Oz’ others described it as an LSD trip.  It is all of those things and none of them.  Varanasi will change you forever but only from the place you are when you arrive.  We were warned it could shatter you, I was suitably shattered by the time we arrived ……in some indescribable way this would bring it together.

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photo westcoastwoman 2020  one side of the river ‘everything’ the other ‘nothing’

Those who know Varanasi need no explanation, those like myself who knew little of the city before this voyage will need some introduction. Kashi/Benares/Varanasi is India’s holiest city.  The Mecca of the Hindu world , the city where every Hindu wants to come to die.  Hindu scriptures state that dying here and being cremated along the banks of the Holy Ganges (Ganga) river allows you to break the cycle of rebirth and attain salvation.  Up to 150 bodies are publicly cremated every day, 24 hours a day on the banks of the Ganges. The remains are offered into the river.

Every morning and throughout the day there is the life, people bathing, washing clothing and living their life on the banks of Mother Ganga.  Everything playing out all at once.

On our last evening we headed out as a group for dinner.  Our walking route took us past one of the cremation ghats on the river………four bodies were burning, in attendance were family members, passing public and various other onlookers. Bodies are burned in a wooden pyre and all four were at various stages of disintegration.   I saw a foot hanging out of the fire, I looked at my walking companion and she had also seen it. We walked on in silence for a while, finally she said “only in India would you see such a sight on your way to dinner and it would just be part of a day in a life”.  She was right.

My experience of death in North America has been hidden or  more usually “celebrated” without the celebrant.  Life and death in India is just business as usual no safety net or  illusion of safety.  Raw in your face life and death playing out second by second.

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photo westcoastwoman 2020    train station Jaipur our luggage being portaged

I have been changed in ways I have not begun to process and as difficult as some of it has been there has been great strength and love I have felt and assimilated from the people I met. I have been taught about religion by Swamis and scholars and shown a way of life I did not know existed. Visited Tantric Temples,  Buddhist Temples, Hindu Temples and the Temple of the ‘Street’.

Someone told me before I left that “When it is your time to go to India, you go to India”
It was my time and I went. It is with much gratitude that I put my hands together in prayer position bend forward and with more understanding and from a deeper place in my heart say to both the country and the people “Namaste”.

Afterword

A note about the Corona Virus, in order for the group of us to get through this journey we had all personally assessed the risk we were taking from the news reports at the time and decided to go forward. We had access to WiFi off and on during the journey and sometimes we would get the ‘Corona report’ as I came to call it.  Carnivale in Venice cancelled, outbreak in Italy, bits and pieces of the outside world getting through. We criss crossed paths with others …Germans….Brits in planes, hotels and temples along the way. It seems we were all wanting minimal information, nothing we could do about it anyway.  Turns out we were a week ahead of the Italian travel group that tested positive 16 out of 22 members that are now quarantined somewhere north of Delhi. ( a truly terrifying thought) Timing, decisions, being in the right or wrong place at any moment in time…….illusion of safety, no net.

I am not sure given the current situation I would be choosing to head out on a tour of India today but I am grateful I did when the time seemed right.  The wild and sometimes eccentric group of merry travellers I shared the experience with will always be close to my heart.

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photo westcoastwoman 2020      early morning at the Temple
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Same planet, Different world

This is written like a journal entry, it is the only way I can think to come close to expressing my impressions of India.

I had often heard the expression “assault on your senses” I realize now that I had never really experienced anything close to what India is capable of doing to the senses of a first time North American visitor.

Landing in Delhi is probably a rough way to start but the group of twenty coming from all over the world assembled there just over a week ago. We are a rather strange and eclectic group and after sharing a week together in Delhi, Udaipur, Jaipur and now Agra it is starting to feel a bit like a travelling Agatha Christie novel as interesting a cast of characters one could dream up.

In some ways just allowing yourself to look and take in what is presented you by the mass of humanity that passes by each day is almost too much to comprehend. There is a post apocalyptic feel to what you are seeing and experiencing. The air is unbreathable, the water undrinkable but there is a fullness of life that is unmistakeable as cows, dogs and people coexist in ancient streets and deplorable conditions.

As we slowly make our way from airport to train station to luxury hotels i see and feel my white privilege and need to understand what that really means. I feel more gratitude for what I have and the people in my life than I ever have.

India is not just a place on the map, it feels like an entity that is ripping open my heart and allowing me to see things that would have been impossible to see any other way.

This morning as the sun was rising I stood in front of the Taj Mahal with tears streaming down my face. I have never been so moved by seeing a structure in my life.

……

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Mating in Captivity

Haida Gwaii
photo westcoastwoman 2014

“Humans are liminal creatures. We exist on the margins of the wild. The idea that we might exist in perfect bliss entirely within the wild is rich, romantic fiction. The idea that we might ever exist entirely outside the wild is equally fatuous. It is a witch tale rather than a fairy tale: a dystopia disguised as an ideal.”

                                                                                                                          Robert Bringhurst 

 

Mating in Captivity

Our containment born of
song, film, illusion
we mate in captivity.

Caged on the edge of  a civilization
lost, on its way to where?.
a question or answer.

This destination with no map,
hovers above liminal space
feet dangling, legs pumping.

 Swinging

a pendulum of humanity
drawing in, releasing
breath, body, spirit,

Eyes searching, meeting,
knowing, it’s All or Nothing
one final sweep and we are

“All In”

Hoping for the perfect River card.

©westcoastwoman 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreamtime

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©westcoastwoman 2020

“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our       purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love…and then we return home”

Australian Aboriginal Proverb

Dreamtime


Moon

Light  crosses  pillows

Wake from your dreams

Rise to capture

Ice crystals and moonset,

Creep into darkness

Still the moment.

Life moves in phases

‘sets’ morph to ‘rises’,

Dreamtime

inbetweentime  

wake and sleep

time marked not

by day and night

but new, full,

waning,

secrets revealed

so many moons ago…..

 

©westcoastwoman 2020

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Old Maps

Clothing optional Hollyhock, Cortes Island, B.C.
 

“It is a strange and wonderful fact to be here, walking around in a body, to have a whole world within you and at your fingertips outside you. It is an immense privilege, and it is incredible that humans manage to forget the miracle of being here.
Rilke said, ‘Being here is so much,’ and it is uncanny how social reality can deaden and numb us so that the mystical wonder of our lives goes totally unnoticed.
We are here. We are wildly and dangerously free.”

John O’Donohue   quote from Anam Cara

 

 Old Maps

Just over a year ago I posted one of my favorite Joyce Rupp poems   “Old Maps No Longer Work” on this site.

For reasons that are still a mystery to me, the link ended up at the top of the search list on Google for that poem. Every day since,  at least one person somewhere in the world read it on the site. The constant attention given to the piece prompted me to reread it many times over the last year.  Each reading took me deeper into understanding what it meant to be ‘off map’ or ‘mapless’.

As the decade comes to a close I feel compelled to let go of some of my “well travelled paths” with gratitude to where the twists and turns of life have led me but
now “It is time for the pilgrim in me to travel in the dark” and “wait for the stars.”

For the next year when I find myself at the inevitable crossroads we all have to face in life, I will repeat the following lines:

The Map is not the Territory. When Map and Terrain differ, follow the Terrain.”

Wishes for a New Year of Peace and Understanding.

 

 “We are here. We are wildly and dangerously free

©westcoastwoman 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE GUEST HOUSE by Rumi

“sometimes you reread a teaching and hear it differently, this….today”

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©westcoastwoman 2017

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows
Who violently sweep your house empty of it’s furniture.

Still, treat each guest honourably,
He may be cleaning you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.

Rumi

Human Error, Tides and the MAGA hat

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‘Alice’ and ‘Dorothy’ compare notes

Human Error, Tides and the MAGA hat

I arrived a little late to the party and it took some time to realize that this gathering could go on for longer than any of us expected.  These ‘guests’ were going to be delayed even after they had donned their coats, entered their vehicles and were ready to depart. Patience, something most of us have in short supply would rule the day.

Living on an Island necessitates ferry travel back and forth to the Mainland.  This particular morning while checking in for the sailing, I had been advised there would be a delay.  Once parked in my assigned lane, snippets of conversations could be heard through the open window.  One woman saying that she had been waiting since 5:30 a.m.  That meant that the first ferry had not yet sailed.   I was booked on the second sailing, so realizing this would not be a short delay I grabbed my camera and headed down to the dock to discover what the holdup was.

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©westcoastwoman 2016

Making my way to the dock I heard in passing that a truck was stuck on the ramp.  “How bad could that be?” I mused.  A monster tow truck was already in place and it looked like a quick and easy tow.  The tow truck driver on his phone and the ferry personnel with hands on hips did give me pause, but…..

“What could possibly go wrong?”  Quite a bit, as it turned out.

The wild card that shows up when you least expect it was in play.  Humans and in this case human error had collided with Mother Nature.  We would have to wait and watch as this perfect storm of man versus nature played out.

Walking to a different vantage point the situation with the stuck truck became so bizarre it was difficult to understand exactly what was unfolding.  It was obvious that whatever was happening was beyond the ability or the control of the people in
charge to fix it.

Houston, we have a problem.

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©westcoastwoman 2016

“How could this happen?”, was the only question that came to mind.

Later it was revealed that extreme tides had changed the angle of the loading ramp.  The crew believed the truck had enough room to clear the upper deck and load onto the lower one. 

Turns out they were wrong.  In the end the only solution was to wait (on Mother Nature) 12 hours, when high tide changed the angle of the ramp sufficiently to have the truck towed back off the ramp.

Meanwhile hundreds of passengers where backing up hour after hour waiting for sailings that didn’t materialize.  Those of us closest to the dock were treated to intermittent screeching sounds as parts of the truck were slowly crushed by the effect of the receding tide.

truck
unknown photographer

The excitement of the ‘truck incident’ mixed in with the impatience of the human cargo waiting to board produced a kind of party atmosphere.  Once we realized that no amount of complaining was going to change the situation, most people made the best of where we found ourselves and the social barriers that are usually up, broke down in the face of  a lengthy delay.

This incident happened in June 2016, hopefully you remember early 2016? ‘the good old days’ when we lived in a world where ‘weird shit’ and human error could be encapsulated in stories such as the one above.

This brings me to my one and only interaction with a MAGA (Make America Great Again) hat.  Tides turned, emergency ferries were brought in and many hours later I found myself in the coffee shop of the ferry finally heading home.  The air on the boat was electric with relief and the afterglow of having been part of something out of the ordinary.  Most people were cheerful and lively conversations between strangers  were continuing.

I sat down with my coffee and looked around, seated next to me were two young men and on the table in full view was a MAGA hat.  Even mid 2016 in Canada, the hat with all it’s connotations was very familiar.  They looked like a friendly pair, I said “You’ve got to be kidding… can I take a photo?”  They happily agreed.

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A short conversation ensued and I learned they were cousins, students and both recent immigrants to the United States.  One was a citizen and the other about to become one in  Fall of 2016.  Travelling around Canada and the U.S. for a month, they confessed to using the hat as bait to start conversations to get honest opinions from people.  Mostly, they were hoping to understand the rationale of people who supported the man and the belief system that the red ball cap had come to symbolize.

As we spoke, laughed and got deeper into conversation, others were drawn in to our circle by the subject matter and the blazing red symbol propped on the table between us. By the time we neared our destination our small group had grown substantially and the discussion had become thoughtful, critical and as always politely Canadian.  We parted with hugs all around wishing our new American friends good luck.  One of them put on the hat and they headed off the boat towards the West Coast of Vancouver Island.  I’ve thought about those two young men often since that day and how things have changed in the three years since that meeting.  The man who distributed the MAGA hats won the election against all odds.  I do not have to describe to anyone the rough seas that have been endured since that day.

Human error, tides and the MAGA hat. Looking back on that day, the three things  that seemed random at the time have fused together in my mind.  Human error and the hats are events and objects that come and go depending on the situation.  The tides however are constant although sometimes fluctuating between very high and very low.

It feels like our collective ‘truck’ has been stuck for a while waiting for the rising tide, but there is no doubt that the tide is rising.  I hear it in the voices of the people who are standing up and speaking ‘truth to power’.  I see it in the young people who are standing up and speaking for a planet that has no voice.  There is a feeling of
inequality that is hard to shake, but there is truth both economically and spiritually in the statement …

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

ships on the horizon
© westcoastwoman 2009

©westcoastwoman 2019