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Now That Anything Could Happen……

not a commercial operation. photo westcoastwoman

Now That Anything Could Happen
by Joyce Sutphen

You now know that anything could happen;
things that never happened before, things that
only happened in movies and nightmares
are happening now, as if nothing could
stop them. You know now that you are not safe,
you know you live in fragile skin and bones,
that even steel and concrete can melt away,
and the earth itself can come unhinged,
shaken from its orbit around the sun.
You know, now that anything can happen,
it’s hard to know what will, and what will you
do now that you know? What words will you say
now that you could say anything? What hands
will you hold? Whose heart will beat inside you?

Joyce Sutphen, “Now That Anything Could Happen”
From Naming the Stars. 2004
_____________________________________________________

Not a Commercial Operation
now that anything can happen, it’s hard to know what will

The wind was picking up, whitecaps appeared as a small boat floated into sight. Trailing behind was a questionably seaworthy barge hauling a large propane truck, both were being buffeted by the growing swells. The boat was moving closer to shore appearing to zig zag in an attempt to jockey the barge into a less precarious position. I watched as the barge rocked back and forth, at times no longer visible, giving the illusion that the propane truck was making its own way across the water.

I called the Coast Guard, explained what I was witnessing and was put on hold. They came back and advised me that there were no commercial operations in the area. They did not need to convince me that this was not a professionally orchestrated commercial operation. Feeling their job was done they ended with “people do all kinds of things”.

I watched the boat and truck bob and weave it’s way out of sight, the thought that lingered was how familiar it felt each time a wave hit and the barge disappeared below the water line. I recognized it was the emotion we have been living with the past two years.

The truck is too big for the barge, the boat is too small to be pulling it and the wind and waves are never reliably consistent. We are living in a world now “that anything can happen” and as we are being reminded every day “people do all kinds of things”

So, I extend my hand to yours as we all jump forward into this New Year and ask the question ….

What words will you say now that you could say anything?”

wcw 2021

Featured

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

“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


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


Featured

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

Featured

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





Featured

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.

Featured

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

A Day in a Life 2020

The masks we wear. photo credit Melissa

” In a world where everything is ridiculous nothing can be ridiculed. You cannot unmask a mask.”
G.K. Chesterton

A DAY IN A LIFE

And then there is this……travelling back from town my eye caught the blur of a motorcycle coming up on the left. I asked my passenger to attempt to catch the image as it passed, here is the result. Clown? Skeleton?

He was social distancing and wearing a mask, following all the guidelines. Nothing to see here. The reaction of the three occupants of the car ranged from laughter to horror and affected us individually as a piece of impromptu performance art.

Later, walking in the wind and rain on a deserted beach my thoughts strayed to the masks we all wear. Recently I attended what was billed as a Public Information Meeting for a controversial development project. It was hardly ‘public’, tickets obtained online, twelve people to a sitting, masks mandatory and cut off for tickets five days before the ‘event’. Covid used as a mask to prevent an actual public event. The ‘public’ attendees were masked the presenters were not, but we were all masked in one way or another.

Speaking during the question period, my words muffled through the mask, I felt a strange comfort with only my eyes revealed and facial expressions hidden. The anonymity and calmness that it provided was in stark contrast to the verbal attacks that came my way. I realized that even if we had not been physically masked our daily mask(s) would have been our armor.

You cannot unmask a mask

We live in strange, tragic and interesting times, clowns on motorcycles, clowns in power…….
where the majority of us put on our physical masks and wait for the opportunity to be able to remove them and breathe deeply again. Finding it harder to ‘breathe’ to find our personal authenticity to find that place where we can see ourselves and others naked, maskless and all vulnerably human clinging to the illusion of Control.

westcoastwoman 2020

The Sweeper. Banksy

If you want to say something and have people listen you have to wear a mask. If you want to be honest you have to live a lie.

Banksy

Featured

Brides of the Sea

Street statue Victoria B.C. photo westcoast woman 2020

A life that is truly lived is constantly burning away the veils of illusion, gradually revealing the essence of the individual.” Marion Woodman

Wandering almost always takes me to the edge of the ocean, especially if I wander alone. These days that seems to be my preference. The last wander brought me to a beach that was deserted except for two young girls who appeared to be about ten years old. Close to the shore they had fashioned a structure out of driftwood and returned to the water’s edge to find something to use as siding.

Seaweed, thick, wide and long proved to be the perfect material. I watch as one of the girls held two strands, one on each shoulder. It gave the impression of a veil from my vantage point. Her companion followed her lead and they both squealed in delight as they headed back to their ‘house’ trailing their gifts from the sea unaware of anyone watching in the distance…..I was the congregation, they were Brides of the Sea.

Brides of the Sea

Partially formed Mermaids
Oceanic without curves
trailing seaweed veils
skin of the sea, from
small bare shoulders
unable yet to carry
the weight of the world.

My heart calls out…
Be Brides of the Sea
ride the swells
surrender to the crest
the trough,
the holy trinity
Earth, Moon, Sea

No paper hearts
No man-made veils,
love, honor, obey
all that
isn’t spoken,
one deep dive
Body, Heart, Soul.

westcoastwoman 2020

gift from the sea westcoastwoman 2020




Two words that say it all

DSC_1928 2
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)

 

Featured

“I want to unfold”

DSC_1807
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

holland-house-library-1940
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

 

 

 

 

 

Featured

Settling

 

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DSC_1763
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

DSC_1804
photo westcoastwoman 2020

 

 

 

 

Featured

VARANASI

IMG_0284
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