False Creek Church

April 30th, 2017

I stepped out this morning just after sunrise. I walked slowly and carefully through the walkway. There was a very strong lingering smell of skunk. I would have liked to have seen one, but at least there was the reminder that there are creatures of the earth, going about, living their lives in the nighttime before we emerge in the daylight.

In this city of more than 600,000, I was alone as I ambled along the seawall. What a rarity. What a joy. How can we not look up? We don’t look up enough. The clouds were beyond description in their glory. The skyscrapers across the Creek, towering, shimmering pinnacles of glass, slipped into perspective beneath these incomparable acts of creation.

Geese rose in pairs behind me in the fields. Calling, calling. A cormorant with a brilliant red slash of colour along his beak, dove successfully for little fish that he gulped after each surface. I stood and watched the sun break cover from a humongous cumulus pile up and its beams hit me smack in the face. I needed that. I closed my eyes to it. Bless me, I am here. I heard a soft splash below me; a river otter slid up and down through the water, hugging the shoreline.

Two years ago, on March 24th, I waited to hear word of another granddaughter being born of my daughter in Texas. Waiting is anticipation, held back excitement, an undercurrent of nervous worry. Life skirting death to birth. While I waited, to calm myself, I looked up the website for The Cloud Appreciation Society. I scrolled through photos from all over the world of the most magnificent clouds: asperitas, mammatus, lenticularis, altocumulus, cirrus, crepuscular rays and shadows.

I decided to sign up right then and there. I’ve been a cloud watcher, a sky dreamer all my life. A few clicks later I had joined my tribe.

Diem Lexi Rojas was safely born and joined her family here on earth. A few weeks later my certificate arrived in the mail from England, and now hangs framed on my wall. It commemorates that morning’s vigil.

The Cloud Appreciation Society

We do hereby certify that

Diane Toulmin

joined this society on

24th March 2015

and will henceforth seek

to persuade all who’ll listen

of the wonder and

beauty of clouds

Member 38075 Number


I made my way back along the stone curve of the seawall, stopping periodically to stand in praise of the sky’s ever changing hymnal. When I can lift my eyes and feel myself a part of the great heavens, I am grateful for any time of solitude under God’s sky. I felt the slumbering giant of urbanity stirring behind me, and as if on cue, dog walkers with leash and coffee cup, neon joggers with sunglasses and headsets, began emerging from their human lairs.

Time to go home.

Good Life


……..for Diem, xo.

America Is Doing the Limbo

April 11th, 2017

The United States of America has a new national dance. They have adopted the Trinidadian limbo! There’s a new party in town and everyone’s afraid of the bully. Dance, dance, dance. Do you know the limbo? It’s been going on for a while now and it’s set to be a marathon, lasting four whole years. This is what the limbo looks like. When the bully says dance, everyone falls in line and follows orders from his big forked tongue. The bar is continually lowered and it’s called progress to bend and bend and bend. Try not to break! But git’ under that pole that is lowering all the time. Nope. Can’t say the States have raised the bar in any which way.

I was reminded of something when I saw Trump wearing his red baseball cap at the rallies, his way of trying to pass himself off as an everyman. Appealing to the regular guys. “I’m one of you.” (“Shmucks!”) I worked at the big box store Chapters many years ago and we booksellers were hired for our book knowledge. The ability to sell your enthusiasm and promote the books you knew was of course paramount. But we were paid only minimum wage. Our employment was deemed retail sales, despite its specialized nature. We were given gold stars, pats on the back, and pitiful pay. But not a living wage. The big honcho came to a staff meeting one night. We were warned to be respectful. And not to bring up money with the man! Right away I noticed he’d dressed down for us. Ah, blue jeans just like us. But he couldn’t resist pairing them with his thousand dollar loafers. Woe is us, we have another world leader who thinks he’s smarter than everyone.

No one can say anything new about the new low, and about the anxiety that is gripping Americans, their neighbours on this continent, and the rest of the world. It’s all moving quickly now, as quickly as a slow motion car crash. Trump has surrounded himself with his choir: “Mad Dog” who likes to shoot people, men for whom black or brown is nigger, and woman is pussy. There’s the comedy team of Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer who take turns spreading and shoveling it. And we can’t forget the family. Gold-plated cut out dolls fashioned in his image, propped up and handed power. Whoopee!

Where did we go wrong…….

I have difficulty being in large crowds, but it was important for me to add my body to the number at the Women’s March on January 21st here in Vancouver. And there we were; the young, the old, all the colours of our rainbow, families with kids in strollers, wheelchairs pushed, those in costume banging drums, nasty women wearing pink pussy caps. We eyed each other. We nodded in solidarity. I read the signs….Sorry Canada. We fucked up. We’ll make it right in four years. My favourite….The Emperor has no clothes. That’s exactly what I felt on election night, horror when the numbers came in that Trump had been elected.

That first month a black misery gripped the collective mind. How did this happen? Which quickly became, We can’t let this happen. Fear and disbelief galvanized the sane into action. Has the world been slapped awake by the Trump family? No more complacency on this particular continent. Stand beside your brothers and sisters before they’re carted away.

A sadness overtook me, and a deep gloom in my soul. It seems like Leonard’s passing signified an ending and a beginning. I wrote what emails I could, signed petitions, and boycotted brands. I knew I suffered from T.I.A.D. like everyone else I knew. (If you haven’t been to your doctor yet, it’s called Trump Induced Anxiety Disorder.) I slept with a book beside my pillow and when I woke in the night I had only to reach up to the lamp and read a few pages for calm to diffuse my being. Ah, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben; What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World. So much more than a book about trees! More like a blueprint for a world that lives in a complex, mutually supportive symbiosis. Disparate organisms that thrive in a co-operative universe. Sophisticated, intelligent, highly evolved, adaptive….why can’t this be us?

Why can’t this be us?

Good life


May 12th, 2016

There is a tall, thin man who sits on the concrete near the medical clinic I go to. The traffic is fierce on that corner, relentless with the noise of the intersection and the buses arriving at their stops. Pedestrian movement is plentiful, never ending. This is the beginning of the hospital district on West Broadway so there are some elderly and disabled with walkers and wheelchairs. But most are young and mobile, well-dressed and one-handed with their cell phones activated and their devotion directed down towards them.


He rocks back and forth on his heels. Back and forth, back and forth. Perhaps he hears music, or tries instinctively to create his own life raft, to not be swept away by the surrounding current of sound. He is crouched before a little piece of cardboard and a circle of cloth for any donations. Pennies from heaven. The past few years I have attended the clinic regularly, weekly for health treatments, and occasionally reached down to place money in his hand. When I do I am always surprised by his upturned face. He doesn’t appear to be a smoker. So many street people are desperate for smokes and surrounded by butts. But the pallor of his skin is gray from ill health and lack of oxygen, or possibly a disease that is draining his life force.


It’s his eyes. They are blue, and clear, and there is a depth of sadness that swells up, up, up, from the very bottom of him. There is nothing calculating in his face. His gratitude is pure each and every time, and I sense an honesty in him. He is that stripped down, not much left. All on view.


Today I left the clinic low in spirit, even though I’d received an infusion of nutrients straight into my veins, the equivalent of liquid gold. I walked slowly towards the crosswalk and saw the back of a man standing at one of the saplings planted into the pavement. He was holding on, and his head was bent. My impression was one of age, and I wondered if the man had felt temporarily faint and was stopped to catch his breath.


I went and put my hand on his shoulder to ask if he was okay. He turned and looked into my eyes, and his were the blue ones. Surrounded by a wall of metal cacophony we stood wordlessly. In that moment I felt that we both knew we were fellow sufferers, to some extent. His of course is the greater. My distress is tempered by gratitude, soothed in the small home I was heading towards, the quiet and respite it offers from the city’s clamour. I murmured, “What a busy corner,” and, “Are you going to be okay?” Sad. Sad. Said without pity, without drama, did I hear what he was saying? I’m sure he said, “It won’t be long now.” Did he say what I thought he meant? Whatever the words, I felt the full import of his meaning.


We shared a helplessness on that corner (helpless in the face of…helpless in the face of…), and I am guilty of mine being only a temporary crisis of spirit. He was asunder by all and everything. Obviously the years of whatever life he might have had were gone from the bone, not a ghost left, forever gone from the present moment. All had fallen away or never materialized. What was left was the barest skeletal supports. From his fairly clean, tidy clothes I always believed he had somewhere to sleep in at night. I thought he panhandled to augment the pittance that our government gives to those who have no family to speak of, no employment to contribute skills to, no physical place intentionally created to call home.


We parted with me giving him no money. I had no food in my purse to pass on to him. I came home to what keeps me intact, what I maintain so that I won’t fall through the cracks and turn gray. My emotion is useless to him. What he needs is years after the fact, and greater than what I could do to change the trajectory of his life.


But I want to go back to that corner more prepared. He has a name, and so do I. He recognizes my face and the brief hold we exchanged was as real a gift as any. I cry because whatever I do for my fellow human being on that corner is not big enough to tip the scale of what happens to him next. But I do know that after the hug should follow a sharing. I can do more than I’m doing. Because I can split a sandwich. I can share my fruit. I can find some coins. Not his life, maybe not even the day, but at least it may alter the moment. If only because it did happen today, rather than something that might happen tomorrow.


I’ll go back with something to give to the man with the sad, blue eyes. I will know his name.


Good Life


Addendum: Mark is his name.



October 13th, 2015

Two nights ago I dreamt that I was getting married. I am standing before a mirror in full wedding dress regalia. The veil, the intricate and lovely lace bodice. The fitted waist, the long, white, flowing gown. I have never been this woman, never had this dress. Never had this church wedding, nor a marriage preempted by such finery. Second sequence: I am in a small room off the chapel. I want to take a look at the guests assembled in the pews before the ceremony. Fast forward: I open the door to peek out and then realize that I am standing in my wedding undergarments, again all white, no dress. A dream where I was the bride to be, but I saw no guests and knew nothing of the groom. I felt no abandonment, nervousness or surprise. But the underwear part woke me with a headache and, I had to laugh, cold feet.

It is early morning and I’ve left my bed to write this down. That dreams come from the sub-conscious to entertain me, enthrall and amuse, is one of the mysterious things I am grateful for. My friend Terry was in this dream and in answer to some question of mine she took me outside to the backyard where I had once lived in the Shed. It was nighttime and very dark,  no streetlights reached that far behind the house. She aimed her flashflight onto the circle of bare dirt on the yard floor where dozens of little orange kittens blinked in the sudden beam of light. They were scattered about, crouched in a sleeping pose and I could hear them purring in the night. I asked why they slept like this, it was so unusual, and why they stayed put. Terry lifted one kitten to show me the small fish that it was laying on. But it was not the body of a fish that had sleek scales and wiggled through the water. Its body was see through, skeletal, a few inches long, and the eyes were alert and alive. They were catfish. One cat, one fish. One fish, one cat. Terry showed me the tiny little feet which enabled the catfish to walk into the yard. The kittens would come out and position themselves to sleep, one on each fish.

And what is the third dream? The third dream is my life itself. Tomorrow I will have another surgery to keep me safe. After the first one three years ago I awoke delighted. Relieved to be alive and rising into consciousness from a morphine induced sleep, struggling to be coherent and describe the amazing room I’d just been in. It was full of cats! Cats of all sizes and colours. None of them running around, everyone calm and still. They surrounded me. I knew they were there to comfort me. Their purring filled me with a sense of safety. I pushed the button again for morphine. I remember drifting away, saying that I wanted to go back to that room,  submerge myself once more (now that I knew I was alive), back to those cats who had accompanied me while I journeyed from some nether world.  This morning’s dream of kittens brought me full circle in remembrance. Here I am in the same circumstance. I marvel at what significance it is that cats appear again. I do not have a pet, I do not have a groom. I feel no absence from this in my waking hours. The dreams themselves are so rich with belonging; the feeling of warmth astounds me. My invisible love, my sentry, is by my side. Animal spirits surround me.

I’ve entered this dream, where I live now, through a portal. Despite having a life threatening illness I am well. Because I face a life threatening illness I have reached this state I’m in. Which is? That I love my spirit, my body, my one room life. It could be described from the outside in terms of lack – no groom, no pet, no money to speak of, no prospects, no guarantees. No, no, no. But it is really know. What I know now is everything. Who I am now, what it’s like now, I will never perceive as lacking. I overflow this room. Whole other worlds come to me in my sleep, in my dreaming. And in my awake state I have travelled through an invisible portal to another state of mind which serves my spirit well. I would say that this grace, my body, and the physical room I inhabit, are one.

I am overflowing with enough.

In Afrikaans there is a greeting said in goodbyes. I get it, and embrace it, and I’m saying it to you. Ek wens jou genoegI wish you enough.


Good Life






Agnes And Buddy

June 16th, 2013

I have a friend named Agnes whom I love so dearly. Everyone knows what Bette Davis looks like. Now you can picture Agnes. Those eyes, enormous Bette Davis eyes, and the thick straight shoulder length bob. Agnes will be 90 years old this summer, and she is the one that I can only hope to emulate as I age. She is a true elder – wise, patient, kind, with a clear, long view – and I am filled, stuffed, gob smacked with love and admiration at her grace.

Agnes is the mother of Don, and Barb and Don were our first Vancouver friends when I moved myself and my four little kids into a five room bungalow on East 27th, two doors down, in 1982. There has always been an awareness of Agnes over the years. We’d overlap at parties or pass each other coming or going on our visits to the Muir’s. I’d hear updates of where she was moving and how she was doing, especially after she retired from her many long years of teaching at an elementary school.

Agnes and I took a giant step closer when she sent me a letter, with a poem enclosed; real words of solace at the sudden death of my granddaughter Abby. It was like walking into the arms of a mother, a grandmother, a kindred soul. Shared joy is doubled, shared sorrow halved. Or at least the burden is not as lonely. And so began our correspondence for these past almost nine years. We share beautiful note cards, the kind that make your day when they’re for you in the mail box, and the occasional phone call. I have found that when we do find ourselves in each other’s presence, that I am overwhelmed with emotion, and just want to sit close to her and grip her hand. We are a mutual fan club, and it’s wonderful to have such a friend.

The Buddy in this story is a little orange canary that Agnes inherited at the senior’s residence where she lives. A wicked flu had swept through the building last December, debilitating so many, and killing, too. Agnes’s neighbour Verne was one. For three weeks Buddy was all alone in the dark, and it was a long time before the curtains were pulled and a light turned on. It was a hard time for a young canary.

I was first made aware of Buddy’s existence by a long message left by Agnes on my phone in early January. I knew something was up because her voice (her beautiful voice which is distinct, the tone of it is pleasing, her words are careful but not hesitant, she commands attention but is not forceful), was getting distinctly more exuberant as the message went on. She told me that she had news. She said my card had arrived that morning, and as I continued to listen I was puzzled as to why she felt the need to elaborate on that. But then I got it! The card I’d sent had a beautiful bird on its front, and inside, along with the news of the day and my best wishes, I had written – Keep a green tree in your heart, and perhaps a singing bird will come. By this time Agnes’s voice was positively triumphant. She sounded like she’d just swallowed a canary! And then I could hear it, the trills and chirps in the background. She revealed that she’d just taken possession of Verne’s canary Buddy, that very morning! What synchronicity! We were both charmed. That message brought me so much joy and I kept playing it back and laughing out loud. Agnes was amazed by my, ahem, psychic abilities, and she showed the card around and told this story to all her friends. No one could believe the timing.

When I asked the canary’s name, I was less than enchanted by an ordinary name such as Buddy, until this explanation. Agnes said Verne was a very well respected and loved man with many, many friends in the building. Buddy was the name he’d given the bird and out of respect for Verne, Agnes was not going to change it. Suddenly the name Buddy took on a greater significance. I remembered my buddy, the heart shaped amethyst I’ve held close in times when I needed a friend. I remembered Hayden’s buddy, retired now that he is six, but his green and yellow blanket with the blue stripe running through it (a river) was his comfort blanket since he’d been born. I became very happy indeed that Agnes had a Buddy.

These past few months Buddy has been front and center in Agnes’s life. He is a busy boy. He is loud and he is demanding. Agnes can identify the different sounds he makes. He has certain calls for certain things. He wants lettuce, apple, fresh water, a bath. There’s a mirror over his food dish and he sits and looks at himself all day. If he gets startled he’ll hide in the food tray. Once Agnes took his apple away and he wouldn’t talk to her for a day and a half. It is very, very fortunate that he respects her rest time, because when that towel goes over his cage in the afternoon for an hour, and then at bedtime, as Agnes says, “Buddy doesn’t say Boo.”

For six weeks there was great concern for Buddy’s welfare. He was moulting and very subdued. Sad. He did not sing, he did not talk. He was suffering. Agnes wondered if he would survive. He seemed so scared and this was his first experience of losing all his feathers. Agnes thought his cage was too big, too. She called it Downton Abbey. Three stories high and so hard for her to clean. This was a very tough time for Agnes and Buddy. Six weeks of only silence from the cage. A very loud, unhappy silence. I could tell Agnes was very, very worried. Because Buddy and I, although we haven’t met, have some kind of connection, I sent him a card this time, with instructions for Agnes to read it aloud. It was a pep talk to a young bird. On the next card back from Agnes, she told me that she’d sat in front of him and read it to him. He appeared to be listening. Cards were now signed, Love, Agnes and Buddy.

I got a call from Agnes this week, or should I say, Agnes and Buddy. The background noise was deafening. Buddy was back. Hooray! We had to raise our voices above his tweets and hollers. Agnes had switched cages too, and he was comfortable now in a smaller home. She told me so many funny stories. Oh my, Buddy had got out of his cage. He flew around, banged into the door jamb in the bathroom, and acted really scared. It wasn’t until she gave up trying to catch him and fell back on the couch laughing, that he relaxed and allowed himself to be caught under the colander. Agnes thinks he needs to fly though, and she is contemplating setting up a controlled environment for him, so he can spread his wings. She will close all the doors into the other rooms and wait until Kristi Gordon is on TV. She’ll pull Buddy’s cage alongside the couch where she sits facing the TV and open Buddy’s cage door.  Agnes says, “Buddy likes Kristi Gordon. She does the noon weather on the Global News. She’s pretty. She’s nicely dressed. Buddy pays attention.”

Agnes would have got her mail from me last week. I bet I have a card from her tomorrow. I can hear the birds in the maples outside my window calling across to each other, making plans before darkness falls. I think of Agnes and Buddy, maybe they’re watching the weather re-cap, and Buddy is learning to hang about with Agnes on the couch. Making short hops, little flights of freedom, listening to Kristi Gordon describe the weather conditions in the sky. Something a little canary can dream about when Agnes tucks him in at night.


Good Life

……for Agnes and her Buddy.


Reja Vu

May 27th, 2012

Fort Langley Cemetery
– No Dogs Allowed
– No Pots, Tubs, Boxes, Etc.
– No Planting Trees, Shrubs, Flowers, Etc.
– No Artificial Flowers March-1 to November-1
—–Mowing Season March-1 to November-1
—–Cemetery Open From Dawn to Dusk
—–All Inquiries Phone 534-5965

Here I am in the Loft in Fort Langley. Suzanne is away, and I am fortunate to be welcome here again to restore myself. Oh yes and there’s Pete. Pete the cat is back. Although his tom cat independence has him climbing the roof, making his way home through the open window, it is beyond his ability to lift the heavy bag of cat food down and serve himself. I am delighted to do so.

I sit beneath a high window that faces north. Blue sky, sunshine. A majestic fir tree reigns directly across the street. Every branch dips in the breezes, dancing arms extended in soft green luxuriant shawls. A thick telephone wire stretches side to side ten feet from the window. The squirrels bustle by in a steady parade on their tightrope – stop, wait, start – back and forth, organizing their pantries. From this window too I can see the magnificent tree that rises above the Shed. Funny feeling that, remembering from here the year I spent in my little one room home.

The west windows face out on the town’s main drag, Glover Road. And the neighbour across this road, encompassing more than a block from north to south, is the Fort Langley Cemetery. The Glover Road side is lined with massive chestnut trees. In the Fall the ground is a treasure trove of their shiny brown nuggets. On the corner where Glover meets St. Andrews the march of pink blossomed trees flank the southern parameter. A wrought iron fence encircles the cemetery. It has three gates for walkers and two gated gravel and dirt driveways. The lunatics of the night have knocked quite a few of the heavy two inch spear shaped points off these fence posts. You can find them alongside, imbedded in the grass, and I have kept one to remember my time here.

It is an old cemetery, and an active one. There are moss covered stones that have sunk over the century and sit listing, half submerged in the green lawn. In the nine years I have spent in this village I have seen the holes being dug in the early mornings, and the next day brings the black hearse, the procession of cars, the gatherings of brightly coloured mourners standing together in clusters. From a distance the tilt of their heads is the same. Then they straggle back to their cars, some linger, and then reluctantly go away.

In between the business of burying the dead, the cemetery has another kind of life that involves the living. The townspeople embrace the cemetery as their own. High school kids trail along the path at lunch hour towards the bakery and the convenience store. Parents shortcut through with their kids and their strollers to get to the pool and the swings in the park. We all walk through the cemetery to avoid the traffic, to be engulfed in its quiet, to absorb its peace. To marvel at how quickly the graves are encroaching on the empty lawn. Day by day, year by year, inexorably claiming the earth, the space; soon the cemetery will be full.

I looked across one evening and saw the late golden light through the thick arms of the chestnut trees dancing and glancing on the bright green lawns. Sunlight on shimmering leaves really is dappled. Special, sacred places really do beckon. I descended the stairs, crossed the road to the gate, and went looking for the two friends who had moved there this winter while I was away.

I found Beth first. I called her the lady in red. She was a tiny thing and always wore a red coat and a bright slash of pink lipstick. She and I were both walkers. I could recognize Beth from a distance. Every day she’d walk around the outskirts of Fort Langley at her own pace; enjoying the flowers, the breeze, the quiet of it. When we’d meet she’d lift her face (wrinkled and brown as a perfect little walnut), and I’d see it in her eyes that she’d walked herself into a state of grace. She’d exult in the weather, she’d ask for a hug, and these last couple of years she’d tell me she loved me. I loved her. A huge Canucks fan, she’d scream with delight when I’d ask her if she’d been in the pub, again. She loved being teased, and insisted she was there only for the hockey games on the big screen TV.

Andy was with his beloved Mary. He joined her after four years apart. I remember Andy telling me one day that it was his wedding anniversary and that he wanted to do something special. He didn’t think it was right to go out for lunch with anybody except Mary on their day, so he went to McDonalds by himself and then took her a bouquet of flowers. Andy too was a familiar sight in Fort Langley; with his beige pants, his windbreaker, his baseball cap. Every morning he’d push his walker over to the credit union to have a free cup of coffee. Then on to the post office to pick up his mail. Up until this past year when it got too much for him, he’d have his dachshund with him. The good women in the credit union and the P.O. had dog cookies for Sparky, too.

I loved Andy. We’d discovered that we’d both lived on Quadra Island. I loved his spirit, his positivity. He enjoyed things, he had gratitude. Although he was in his nineties he’d take the bus, the skytrain, and the sea bus on an outing to the Quay in North Vancouver. All that way to sit in the fresh, blowing sea air and have an ice cream cone. It was a shock that winter day in Vancouver, to open the newspaper to the obits and recognize a younger Andy’s smiling face. But I felt happy that he’d died. Not happy that he’d died, but happy knowing that he’d lived so graciously right up until his death. So appreciatively. I haven’t met so many gallant gentlemen, but he was one. And I never met his Mary but I’m glad, thinking of them reunited. Their shared gravestone has a carving of a wiener dog on it, like theirs, and the inscription Together Again.

Not every day is sunny in the graveyard. People stand there crying in the rain. We have all been witness to the heartrending pain. I watch from the window from time to time during the day, a little elevated, a little removed. I see the families cavorting across the grass and along the gravel drives. Everyone is on their way somewhere. Big dogs, little dogs on the heels of their people, out on their walks. Everyone just passing through; to the river, the library, the post office, the shops. Out and about for a gelato. There are markers decorated with pinwheels that spin brightly in the breeze in happy colours. Helium balloons rise on their strings, tug and sway above the graves of the children. I’ve walked amongst the stones, reading the names, realizing the dates, the lengths of people’s earthly lives. Ached over the love, the shrines; stuffed animals, sculpted angels, Lego and hockey sticks, mementos in ribbons and bows, poems, photographs. And flowers, always flowers.

In Archer City, Texas in the kitchen of The Lonesome Dove Inn, a woman from Louisiana told me she had a relative buried in the cemetery in Fort Langley, B.C. I once saw a man crack open two beers, sit down in the lawnchair he’d brought along, place the beer for his son on the stone at his feet, and continue having a conversation that obviously didn’t end with his death. A dark and deserted morning on my way to work, one lone mourner stood at a freshly covered grave. A yellow cab idled, waiting. Smallest, loneliest funeral I’ve ever seen. (But wait! Wait! What if, what if she was the love of his life, and they had been a precious world onto themselves. Now it is only death that is separating them.)

It is late, and time to roll down the blind in the front window. At the other end of Glover a train blows its dissonance as it dissects the road and carries on into the night. I feel the familiar vibration of the heavy railcars as they rumble across the land, following the river. An occasional car emerges beneath the windows, disappears. There is quiet. Across the way, candles flicker whitely, faintly in the deep undisturbed darkness of the cemetery. I hesitate, one hand up, whisper goodnight. Let the bamboo screen fall, leaving me on this side of the light.

Good Life

I Fell Down

April 21st, 2012

“How can the poem and the stink and the grating noise – the quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream – be set down alive? When you collect marine animals there are certain flat worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter under the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will onto a knife blade and then lift them gently into your bottle of sea water. And perhaps that might be the way to write this book – to open the page and to let the stories crawl in by themselves.”

The introduction to John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row is wondrous. Reading that first page as a fifteen year old girl, the effect on me then, and still, is the same…

When last we left me, it was one full year ago, and I was living in my little home beneath the tall firs that rose above it. I could not speak my stories that Spring and the Summer that followed. Things had quieted me down to mute. I was preparing for my leavetaking of the Shed, and Fort Langley. And with the Fall’s approach, the spiders began again to make their presence known. They were looking for a mate. When a male detects signs of a female nearby he checks whether she is of the same species. Laying in bed at night reading my book I sensed movement out of the corner of my eye. Bounding towards me was the biggest, hairiest fellow yet. Did anyone hear that scream? I had to laugh. I flicked my arm so wildly, (I sounded so demented), and off he ran towards the side of the bed. As he jumped, his purple cape billowed out behind him and I heard the sound of numerous little boots hit the floor. Oh my, there’d be no sleep tonight. Where was he hiding? Exactly where was he reconfiguring his position so that he could run at me again?

There were three of us, best friends; Garry and Roland and me. I would be walked home to my parents’ house by eleven, and Roland and Garry would turn around and head back across Niagara Falls to their apartment on the other side of the tracks. It was a shanty, just off River Road. They told me about the rats they saw rustling through the cans in the dark alleys, then disappearing over the old stone walls that lined the embankment. Diving down through the bushes and trees of the escarpment towards the river. They both swore that one night they were terrorized and held hostage in their own kitchen. Huddled up off the floor on chairs against the wall, they tried to stay out of the way of two large rats that had taken over their apartment for a meeting. The rats wore plaid lumberjack shirts, one green, one red, and they stayed for hours. Later, when my friends described the incident, I looked beyond the pot smoking. I saw how shaken they were, and I believed them. Seeing with my own eyes the hairy little hustler that made a move on me, reminded me of Garry and Roland’s misadventure. Another aggressive species attempting to camouflage themselves, also with poor taste in clothes. Even in the dim light on my bed I could see that the purple sheen of the spider’s cape was very eighties disco.

I eluded that spider all night and by dawn I was victor. No details. I was definitely not going to miss spider season in the Shed.

Let’s skip ahead (if only figuratively). I landed in the west end of Vancouver, only blocks from English Bay and the mighty green of Stanley Park. The sun seemed to imbue the whole month of September with the colour of gold. My friend Roslyn bought a home just up the street from where I was house sitting, and we giddily created our modest little bucket list. (Neighbours at last!) Spontaneous invitations to walk, crepes off the cart, sitting on a bench with fish & chips, two beers on the beach at sunset time; seemed so idyllic. I was asked to help a friend’s friend with his memoir and the next six weeks whirled by with another round of projects.

But for all the lightheartedness things had weighed me down. There had been so much work to do. I had lifted and hauled, purged and divvied all of my possessions down to one last pile. My significant treasures, but mostly books, were delivered to my friend’s basement; stored at Cathy’s for my future home. I felt compelled to stay on my path of lightening up my worldly load. I liked that Jonah had my bookcases and the family table, that Sarah and Adi got my bed. The manuscript was finished, my rolly suitcase packed. I arrived at Roslyn’s door on Halloween night to stay for a few days of fun before at last, at last, heading south to Texas.

It was not to be. I fell down. Completely stopped. I was going nowhere.

In the months that followed my friends and I have talked a lot about illness. It’s been a humbling experience realizing (living it), that I, that no one, is exempt. The irony of the conditions that have un-abled me, does not escape me. While I have determined to become lighter, while I have thrown everything overboard in acts of generosity and intentions to be free, I lost my anchor and my ballast with a double whammy that literally slammed me down to earth.

Last week I sat in the window of a coffee shop with my friend Brent. We watched the world rush by. I said, “What is it about my neck? The little butterfly in front is crushed and struggling (thyroid), and inside at the back the crystals are out of whack (vertigo). I seriously think that I was strangled in another life.” He looked at me and said, “You were guillotined. You were a young, male aristocrat in the French Revolution accused of collaborating.” My neck hurts. I believe him. I once phoned Brent from an old phone booth in the parking lot of the IGA. I’d arrived early for work at the bookstore. (Oh bright and shiny morning in a sleepy little village; I’d felt a surge of happiness.) We were catching up when suddenly he said that he’d just had a vision of me crouched beside a fire under the biggest, blackest night sky. I was a good looking man with really white teeth. He said I lived a solitary life working outside. By choice, at peace. I often recall that picture that Brent re-created. It ignites in me still an upswell of inordinate joy. Brent, my looking-backwards-through-time-and-space auger (who also makes me laugh (nice touch with the teeth)), I believe you. Some things just feel familiar, and true.

“If you cling to the edge of the wheel you can get dizzy. Move toward the center of the cyclone and relax, knowing that this too will pass.”

November crawling, December staggering. January back down. February sitting, March walking. The Buddhists say that if you are pointing in the right direction, keep going. Good advice. In the bloom and bud of April, I am looking inward waiting. I know my compass will stop spinning soon. I have donned my Superwoman costume (tattered, knock off) and the S will stand for story. Talking tough, I am back.

Good Life

Hold Out Your Hand

April 10th, 2011

Spring runs in and out like a child opening and slamming a door just to irritate us.
– Joyce Sequichie Hifler

It is flower stealing season once again and I’m so excited about the Spring. Forsythia on my table, right here before my eyes. The sunny yellow stars of its bloom could have been drawn by children. Yes, this is what heaven looks like, how did they know? I’m happy to have that feeling this year. When I was a teenager I called it nervous fits of anticipation, what had me tingling with a barely suppressed sense of…something. Somethin’s gonna’ happen. It still feels the same.

But the very big plan, oh that master plan of driving to Texas in the Spring, has now been moved forward to the Fall. I had begun noticing a stirring of wistfulness about leaving the Shed without experiencing what I know will be a magical time in the other seasons; the Shed nestled under burgeoning greenery already teeming with birdsong, my windows open to the long summer nights. The carefree living of hot and sunny days. Sitting outside on the stoop through the day’s heat and the dark’s calm, nodding my head yes, yes, to this life of mine.

My vehicle has not yet materialized and my Texas money is more funny than fund. I wondered about all this, the timing, but I trust the process and know that I will go when I’m supposed to go. So it is with curiosity and acceptance, not frustration, that I will wait a little longer. And the inferno of a Texas summer is no place for me.

…amaranthine pink blossomed branches from the trees along the river bank…

Years ago I sat on my piano bench and watched the dancers learn to pirouette across the room. And some would dizzily careen in circles until they crashed into the barre or spun wildly out of control. The trick being to keep your head steady and your eyes focussed always on that point on the far wall you wished to go. We practice the grande pirouette through our days when not only us but the world seems to be spinning, and it’s all about balance and whatever we need to do to keep ourselves upright. Things happen.

A Friday night last September I got a call, my friend Cathy said, “If you come down to the post office corner right now, you could probably get hired. I’ll introduce you to the locations manager.” Down I went, hired I was and spent the next two months happily working here in the village as a production assistant. Money was made, my plan leapt forward in an unexpected way.

Then December brought the journey back east to my mother’s side, to say hello, and goodbye. I found, on my return, that I needed to sit and be quiet. The Shed weathered the storms of winter and so did I. I sat at my table with scissors, a glue stick, and a pile of National Geographics fashioning fantastical collage cards – Tibetan asses trekking single file across a Catskills sunset, a swirl of giraffe legs round shimmering burgundy coral is a flower. For calming a twirling mind, the hands kept the focus.

I didn’t work, I sat. People had been behaving badly, I sat. It rained, it snowed, it howled. I sat. The Christmas season brought its joys and extremes and I kept cutting and gluing. I moved out of the Shed only once, at -18 C. with the wind chill factor. Looking around this peaceful solace filled with music and candlelight (bundled in layers for warmth, even wearing a hat), generated gladness. I would not have traded my paradise for anyone’s.

But I have another home away from home just up the street. When my friend Suzanne goes off adventuring, or to teach her art, her Loft is my sanctuary. It was mine the whole month of January. So I hauled my PC up the stairs and finally circumvented the internet woes I’ve been experiencing for so long. Sat in the alcove staring up through a high window looking skyward. There is that hawk again, reminding me to watch for messages, to look at the overview rather than the mouse view.

The Spring is here and friends are leaving. One turned in his sleep and left as quietly and heroically as he’d faced his disease, without complaint. The other was taken cruelly and without a chance by another’s murderous intent. There are times when out loud is barely a whisper to one’s self, the sound of my pencil moving across the page. When we have trouble executing our turn across the dance floor, we must sit that one out.

…the translucency of a glistening bluebell…

The Loft has the bathtub I miss here, the height, the skylights, and Pete the cat returning home through the window from his night prowls. From kitchen to bath, from table to bed; how I love the drift of open space living. The Loft’s kitchen allows me to say thank you with muffins: Thank you for fish, for dinners, for surprise treats, for tea. For coming to see me, for leaving me be. For all the kindnesses that fill my day. For reading my words, for hearing my silence. For reminding me that you remember me, and that I love you. For the joy of sudden and unexpected goodness.

Surrounded by ingredients and all the people on my mind, I stand at the counter. The muffin recipes say don’t overmix or they won’t rise. Just fold it over…enough. Reminds me of loneliness, don’t put it in the mix. Don’t fold it over and over into your day. It makes you tough, keeps you low. I stand here in a crowd of lovers. I can hear Holden say, “It’s a goddamn crowd, it’s so goddamn beautiful.” What a crowd, I’m tripping over you! Thank you. Thank you! You’re everywhere. You’re everyone. Lovers everywhere. It’s a largesse, it’s a lord…it’s a lord of lovers.


…the beautiful coin of now slaps down in your hand – Rumi

Good Life

The Loafer And The Fishes: A Short Parable

February 7th, 2011

I’m not brave.

I am afraid of sardines.

Sardines have been on my mind, yes, on my mind. I think I should smarten up; increase my nutritional intake in an eco-smart, cost-efficient way. But all my life I’ve been terrified of eating the headless, tailless ones.

I confessed this to my friend and she told me she makes a sardine frittata and would invite me for dinner. Now, for this story only, the name Trixie has to be a pseudonym, because “Trixie” is mortified that it be known she would make pelagic pie for a Sunday dinner guest.

With great excitement Trixie issued a formal invitation, “I look forward to serving you the little fish with no heads.” With sincere trepidation I said I’d be there (and wondered again why I have to make such a big deal about everything). I seriously hoped the little buggers would be disguised in something very distracting.

We often improvise at Trixie and Jan’s, this night would be no exception. Trixie had doubled the ingredients for tonight’s dinner and kept checking the consistency of the pie. There was too much liquid in the bottom, damn, they could be swimming down there still. Back in the oven it went.

So toast was made and spread with Marmite. I grew up with Marmite and my South African friends did, too. When Trixie asked if I’d like a drink of coke and milk (coke? and milk? together?) things were getting eerily reminiscent of scenes from famous books; Jesus feeding the multitudes on the hillside (the Bible), and Doc ordering a beer milkshake (Cannery Row). We raised our glasses and drank (what tasted to me like the poor man’s Kahlua) a toast to…the sardine! The smallest butts of any joke.

Phew, sliced large mushrooms, huge chunks of zucchini shielded the little ones from view. But there, ooh, and there, ah, was that inescapable, unmistakable texture; very much like the furtive paper notes we’d chew and swallow in school to escape detection.

The Bible recorded two separate miraculous feedings of the multitudes (although no definitive word on the Marmite). Jan said we shouldn’t bother with the second one (wuss), but I would eat them again. It’s uncanny though, I’ve yet to remember to buy them.

Trixie left a message after I got home. “God bless you (little fish and all).”

The moral? One can practice bravery.


Good Life

For Brian and Janice, Trixie and Jan…zany and courageous, the best combination!

No Walls

January 20th, 2011

I have been spending a lot of time by myself. I’ve said this before, working on my mojo. Studying books about the mind and heart, reading about people who live lives with the expansiveness I long for. I’m moving into new territory and the leaps I’m taking are not into darkness but along a well-lit path. There are visionaries that have come before us, and mystics and wise ones amongst us. We only have to watch what it is that happy people do, to learn great lessons on how to live a good life. If we are only willing. It’s the peace in every step. Yes, I want excitement and surprises and every high emotion. It’s the little dramas that no longer appeal, mine and everybody else’s. A part of me is stepping back and yawning really loudly when I hear myself going into my own dance; spinning the tales, blowing smoke and tilting the mirrors a certain way to prop up my position on the way it is. Because I’m not interested in the way it is anymore. I’m interested in the way it’s going to be.

I want to feel the ground give way as I jump. Being grounded in reality has just ground me down for far too much of my life. When the spirit in me, this wondrous joyous bubbling irrepressible life force has waited so patiently for me to pay attention…to me.

I have been under-employed for a long time. And much of my writing has been about faith. Watching my dwindling resources, but reveling in the life I have now of simplicity and far less compromise than at any other time in my life. It has not been hard to make these choices. But I have become aware of the huge difference between knowing what you don’t want, and knowing what you want. It is the same difference as concentrating only on what you have, rather than looking towards what you want. The different perspective makes all the difference in what happens next.

A huge hand has reached down and tapped me on the shoulder. I feel it still. In my little notebook where I am configuring my plans I have a page of lists that I am constantly adding to, and gleefully check marking when I have achieved my goals. It started out very basic…food, money, a computer, a vehicle, body care. But it’s important to fine tune exactly what it is we want and my non-grocery list looks like this:
running shoes
a new toothbrush
heater for the Shed
bath bubbles
visit to the dentist
essential oils
lap top
a road worthy vehicle
printer ink
a Maggie Woycenko
hand cream
road atlas
passport renewed
Bach Flower Remedies
new glasses
a pot with a lid

I have celebrated every check mark with elation and pride. Undeterred that it is the smaller things on my list that have been the first and easiest to attain. Until now.

The Fort Gallery on Glover Road here in Fort Langley is a place I have been visiting for a few years. At first I’d only stop and look in the windows at night when I walked this town in the dark. Every few weeks two more artists in the collective would mount their work on the walls. Eventually I started dropping by for an hour at the Friday night opening party, going in for the colour and warmth. One such night last year, I stepped into the smaller back room where there was more art and the food, and spied a painting that hung behind the desk. A blue night sky, dark water, a small boat seen across the way, were those stars?…Venus in Transit. I loved it! I asked the secretary, “Who did that!” and she said, a little non-plussed by my enthusiasm, “I did. I don’t belong to the collective but they said I could hang one.”

Maggie’s Venus In Transit has floated in and out of my mind since last year. Something, something about it. And one late night in September I looked through the window again and saw great heaps of clouds and movement, and sensed right away, aha, these were Maggie’s too. I am a sky watcher and when the gallery opened I went in to take a closer look. Yes! The title of the show was MESSAGES. Maggie and I greeted each other and then I stood before her paintings, marveling at the beauty and mystery in them. But then something happened. I turned and saw a painting that I had not been able to see from the window. Standing before it I experienced something that I have heard tell of, but it has never happened to me. I felt a sensation in my chest and started to cry. That painting moved me. I felt it move inside me.

I had walked into the gallery so cheerily and now I felt undone. It was words. Snatches, arrows pointing this way and that, blues, reds, browns. Feeling myself tumbled in a sea of passion, swept by words, the power, the call, the call of the words…longing. The sentences themselves indistinct and yet individual words…hear, roar, draw back, pebbles, the sigh, yield, all that is lost, the sea, faith…listen. These were my words, and the call was unmistakable. It was a call to my self.

I turned to Maggie. What? What was behind this painting? What was her inspiration? How did this happen? She told me that a poem had always stayed with her since high school, by an eighteenth century English poet. He’d written Dover Beach. My mind flew to a poem I’d printed off the internet. I just knew it was the same poet, Mathew Arnold. I had looked him up because of the impact he’d had on four young men in Victoria who’d studied his poem The Buried Life in their English class. They’d made a pact to make their dreams come true, make a list, and make a difference too. For every dream they realized, they would help someone they met with a dream they had too.

I took myself to the river in wonderment at Maggie’s painting and what it had touched in me. The name of the painting…Listen to the Poets. It brought up a sadness, but not the kind you choke on. It made me feel alive, and re-minded. I remembered all I wanted to say.

When I saw Maggie at the next gallery party, I told her that I was still affected by her painting, still felt energized, and that I vowed some day, some day I would own a Maggie Woycenko.

I live in a stand alone room, the Shed, there by the grace of friends on whose property I live. I am working to pay off my bills and all debt. This will be finished soon. I am going on a road trip. I will be in the dream of bigger sky all the way to Texas. And I could not stop thinking about that painting. There had to be a reason for this, something more I needed to pay attention to. In a moment of fervour and optimism I had written 1 Maggie Woycenko on my wish list, just as I joyously crossed off pens and stamps and a heater. Just as I continue to believe that I will have an atlas in the glove compartment of the vehicle for the road trip in the Spring.

But if we listen to our hearts, and my heart yearned so loudly for that painting, well, what of that? There is spartan (always leaning towards frugality) as opposed to simplicity, and bare subsistence compared to the feeling of abundance. I had never, ever put an art work on my list of sustenance.

There was an art show coming up on the Friday, a party that I was not going to attend. I wondered if Maggie’s painting was going there and would leave with someone else. Every ticket buyer was guaranteed a piece of art. I had to know, I emailed Maggie. Yes, she replied. Her painting was still available and did I want her to include it in the Blue Plate Special? In a rush of words I said no, no, no. I said that I was working on a Plan, and had been under-employed quite a bit, and had to really pick and choose where I went, what I did, what I bought. That I was the kind of person that would go see Leonard and then gladly eat eggs for weeks. Or keep the same things for years in exchange for time to wander without a schedule. I said I did not consider myself hard done by at all, but extremely fortunate. My choices are my own, but I had never wanted oh wanted a painting like I wanted her painting. I don’t even own a wall to put it on! But then I did it, I asked if she would consider me a secret buyer (because Lordy I did not want my friends and family to know of this “extravagance”). I asked how much it was, and if she would let me pay in installments. I would take it when it was paid in full.

It’s taken me a long time to tell this story. To tell you that the painting, Listen to the Poets, lies on my bed by day and is propped against two chairs at night. I can see it from my bed. Maggie wrote back. She said that she was giving it to me. That she had seen the effect it had on me and wanted me to have it. No cost. She said that she often painted over paintings, but this one could go to a home where it was really wanted.

My initial reaction? Joy! And then came the feeling of shirking unworthiness. And a cringing horror that Maggie may think I was being manipulative, and writing in a “poor me” way, coercing her into making this incredibly grand gesture. I felt desolate that I could never have that first feeling and believe that it was the true feeling. That I immediately go into an argument with myself over what is the right thing to do. I knew, I knew deep down that I was not honouring myself or Maggie now by second-guessing. Staying small. I knew she was a smart woman, intuitive, deeply gifted, and I was sorry that my fears now cast shadows on her decision and what was taking place. That unloving yammering voice in my head was trying to shame me into silence once again.

My daughter Sarah was with me that night and bless her she was lovely, she was clear. She said, say Yes. And so I did. I shook the dirt off my feet and said yes. Yes to me, to Maggie, to her art that spoke so loudly, to the radiant response of my heart to that call. I embraced believing that there is more that is food than food on the table, and there is nothing frivolous about feeding a hungry heart the beauty that it needs.

My table has always held the overflow of books. They run the length of it where it meets the wall. In the Shed there is one wall only that will hold the size of the painting, above that table. Today I walked to the hardware store and spent 25 cents on nails. I will dismantle the collages, the sticky notes, the piles of books stacked up the wall, and I will put my Maggie Woycenko in its place of honour. I have never, ever expected to own a painting so wondrous to love, and now I do. There are layers and layers of meaning in the lesson I’ve learned in this give and take.

Rumi always helps me with the last word, and the child in me is smiling yes, listen to the poets indeed.

Children Running Through

I used to be shy.
You made me sing.

I used to refuse things at table.
Now I shout for more wine.

In sombre dignity, I used to sit
on my mat and pray.

Now children run through
and make faces at me.


I am learning about abundance and the beauty that I have yearned for so secretly, so quietly all my life. I am learning that there is more than just enough. There is more than enough. You’ve seen those teddy bears and garden gnomes in people’s travel photos. They are posed before the Eiffel Tower, and on the Great Wall of China. I am taking my painting with me when I go. No walls. If I need company on a side road in Wyoming, or leaned against a picnic table under the skies of the Dakotas, what a reminder. To listen, and to live, out loud.

Good Life

For Maggie, in gratitude, for your many leveled gift.