Rising Up Out of the Mental Muck

Snow capping the forested, dark green mountains veined with Aspen gold delights the eye, but the rain and wind on the Valley floor remind me that winter is coming, and I am not ready!


The Sangre de Cristo Mountains got their first snow about a week ago, and the snowfall was a good month too early for me. The Valley floor is sodden and the wind brisk.

Cold weather plus bad news is just too much. Which bad news? The mass shooting in Las Vegas or… there is a lot to choose from… the list is too long. And yet, I am so far removed from the reality of the news. Shopping in the local grocery the other day, I found myself complaining about the shorter days and the longer nights. And as my whine wound down, I felt the heat of embarrassment.


How dare I complain about the weather when the world-at-large is such a mess!! Why am I/why are we so removed? Unless we are personally suffering from a natural or unnatural disaster… we (buffered by our computers and handheld devices) sit all comfy on our couches some distance from the pain. And the pain that we experience sitting on the couch is easily fixed by just adding a cushion or two.


We live cocooned lives swathed in eiderdown with a hot cup of tea or coffee at-hand. At most we sigh. Or rant. Or block out disturbing news by binging on three or four episodes of a favorite TV series. A ‘restorative’ glass of wine helps dull the pain. Chocolate does also. I’m also into ‘food porn.’ My favorite site is https://www.nytimes.com/newsletters/cooking. Sam Sifton, the NYTimes food editor, writes a chatty introduction and follows up with recipes. Reading the recipes is almost as satisfying as eating the food he writes about. Almost.



The only constant is change.


Sam (I know him pretty well at this point so I feel I can refer to him by his first name) sends out a newsletter two or three times a week, and his commentary never fails to lift my spirits. Quoting the first paragraph of today’s newsletter, Sam writes:



Good morning. Go look at the birds today, if you can. They might be over by the highway, getting into formation for the long run to warmer air. They might be out on the harbor, picking off the surface as bass and bluefish crash beneath them, fueling up for their own migration south. The geese are beginning to move on the ponds, as are the ducks, the mute swans with their grunts and hisses. For all the terrible news this morning, for all the heartbreak and terror this is still, as Robert McClosky put it, a time of wonder, a time of change. The temperature may be summery where you hang your hat, but the birds know the score.




I’m feeling better. Maybe I’m not as depressed as I first thought.  I go to Roget’s Thesaurus… a forty-year-old, well-thumbed, paperback. I haven’t written in weeks. Why is that? Maybe ‘depressed’ isn’t the best word choice. I look up ‘sad.’ A dozen synonyms are at-hand: sorrowful, downcast, dejected, unhappy, woeful, woebegone, depressed, disconsolate, melancholy, gloomy, cheerless, somber, dismal, heavy-hearted, and blue.

DSCN6087The choices run the gamut from dark to lighter. I’m not unhappy or heavy-hearted; I guess I’m melancholy or blue. Have you noticed that naming your condition, putting it under a microscope, looking at the issue in depth makes everything better? I’m feeling better already.

This month’s assignment from the Salida based Shavano Poets is to write a poem that riffs off a compound word. I’m quite excited: the word ‘downcast’ may be a possibility… or what about ‘woebegone’? I like woebegone a lot. After not writing for over a month, I just may run with woebegone and see where it takes me.

Immersion in the written word is my medicine. Reading (I’m re-reading E.M. Forster’s WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD) or Sam Sifton’s introduction, or… putting words to paper myself is the wind beneath my wings.

I don’t want to live in a bubble, but I need to step out of the muck and rise above it if I am going to be productive and pro-active.


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Island Artists – Real and Wanna-Be

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Art. You can find it everywhere, but nowhere more than on Vancouver Island. Nature makes its own art. You can find it in the rhythm of the incoming surf, the petal patterns of vegetation or in a slice of tree trunk.

2017 08 kilroy was hereIn addition to the art found in Nature, artists make their mark on walls as murals and graffiti – popularized in WW II by soldiers who left their calling cards to indicate that they were there… Over There.

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Walking the beach. I see the works of man. Here, a feather stuck in a stone approximates a pen and inkwell.

Over there, pebbles, sticks and shells have been arranged in a pleasing pattern. In the sand, two names connected by an arrow and a heart. And on a path, someone (apparently an Australian tourist) has drawn an aboriginal figure. And on that pole, not a carved First Nations totem which is a traditional work of art, but hundreds of locks – again left by tourists who left their calling cards.

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Sculptured pieces, totem carvings and handmade native canoes are to be found across the island. In addition, art can be found in museums and private collections. When Mark and I first moved full-time to London, I was surprised going into a bookstore. Scanning the bestselling books on display, I was taken back: I didn’t recognize any of the authors! I guess I had assumed that because we North Americans and the Brits spoke , the same language, we would be reading the same books. Foolish, I know, but…  I knew the classics, of course, , but my total ignorance of popular British writers had me shame-faced.

Murals abound on the island, but for a small town, Chemainus takes the cake. The artists’ styles vary, but the quality is always high.

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2017 08 Emily CarrStaying at James Bay Inn in Victoria, I saw numerous paintings by Emily Carr. Wonderful paintings! But who the heck was Emily Carr? Again, I was caught in a cultural wasteland. When I asked the hotel staff, they were shocked. Emily Carr? Another ignorant American! She doesn’t know Emily Carr!!

Back in Victoria (thankfully back to Internet connectivity) I did a bit of research. Silly me. Emily Carr (1871-1945) is a “Canadian icon” who dragged reluctant natives kicking and screaming into the world of Modernist and Post-Impressionist art. Her work was not well received.

Born in Victoria, Carr began her art studies at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1890. She went on to join an artist colony in St. Ives, Cornwall, England in 1905, and between 1910 and 1912 she studied in Paris before returning to Vancouver Island where her shocking color palette was initially dismissed.

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I love her work. Carr wrote: “I glory in our wonderful west and I hope to leave behind me some of the relics of its first primitive greatness.” Carr does that so well.

2017 08 em carr kinderartCarr’s use of greens perfectly captures rainforest grandeur and forest density. Scrolling through the Internet in search of Emily Carr, I came across a site called kinderart, and yes, you too can paint trees in Emily’s style! Take a look at https://kinderart.com/art-lessons/painting/emily-carrs-trees/

If you shut your eyes to clear-cut logging in the forest primeval and focus on the vast  remains, you can still feel the primitive.

Visit soon before the trees, through climate change or logging, are a thing of the past.

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Tofino, British Columbia

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Having left the east coast of Vancouver Island we wandered our way west to Tofino and the Pacific Rim Temperate Rain Forest… probably not a good choice if you are claustrophobic. Trees crowd in oppressively. You are very small, and national park signs warn of predatory wildlife to include black bears, cougars, and wolves. Signs encourage us to be Bear Aware.


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Tofino was our destination, and we were delighted with our huts directly on the beach. The tide comes in… the tide goes out. When the tide goes out, those on the beach pilgrimage out on a sand bar to the rocks beyond. The water is seriously cold – so cold that it becomes difficult to walk on the blocks of ice that were once your feet. The sand is fine – so fine that it feels a bit like talcum powder.

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2017 08 24 tofino 010One of the highlights of Tofino was discovering the work of Roy Henry Vickers. His gallery on Main Street welcomes you with not only his artwork but also, for each work of art,  his reflections on the source of his inspiration, enhance the viewer’s enjoyment. I was particularly taken with his picture of a pregnant sea lion, but reading his commentary about the birth of his art and the creative process really appealed to me because as a writer, I find that sometimes the writing is almost instantaneous and other times a seed germinates over years. My creative friends might also enjoy his comments on “Sealion Mother.”



Working our way south from Tofino we stop again and again to check out the trails wending through the forest to the dramatic coastline where sandy beaches give way to volcanic rock and surf. It seems like every other car has a surfboard on its luggage rack, and the owner of every surfboard has not been brought low by thoughts of career advancement or mortgage payments. After years of living in a town that is mostly retirees, I find it refreshing to see the young and restless in the pursuit of one big wave.

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Driftwood lies jumbled on the beach, and man-made, driftwood structures line the shore and serve as windbreaks. The structure pictured above is particularly interesting: most people limit themselves to a tepee sort of structure, but in this case, the builder built several rooms with care. Apparently all the logs on-offer take grown men and women back to their Lincoln Log days. On the beach, far from pending deadlines and ticking time-clocks, they recall/relive more innocent days when their only task was leave home and follow mothers’ admonition to “return in time for dinner.”

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British Columbia has done a great job at protecting the forest floor. Steps, absolutely beautiful steps, take tourists from the parking lots through the forest and down to the coast. We cross ravines and creeks and sometimes, actually walking in the tree canopy, we cannot see the forest floor. Trees in the Old Growth forest are truly impressive. Some are over 1,000 years old, and the Ancient Forest Alliance and the BC Big Tree Registry, keeps score. The Tolkien Giant, for example, is the 9th widest red cedar in B.C., and is 47 feet in circumference and 138-feet tall.

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Given that the average 87-inches of rain a year, the forest floor is fragile. There is no telling what you will step on. I love the following photo that I took of a pile of Leopard slugs. Mark’s comment was, “It’s a slug fest!”

I’ve been really impressed with British Columbia’s acknowledgement of their First Nations people. Native arts and crafts are widely celebrated and their mythologies are prominently displayed.

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That’s it for today. I can’t begin to fit it all in.

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Aboard the Aurora – Day Five



In terms of trying to share the scale of ancient growth trees, Mark’s video follows a tree from trunk to top, and his video works better than my words.

As I close out my blogs written aboard the Aurora Explorer, I feel guilty having experienced so much and shared so little. My days were spent on the deck – watching the water, watching the shore, watching for wildlife, and drinking coffee. Happy Hour began at 4:30. With no Internet connectivity, I was out of touch in every sense of the word. I took a few notes but noted nothing in detail. Maybe it was the fog or the mist sinking in through my skin.  Without looking at a map, I cannot tell you what day we boarded or where we went. I turned my life over to the very able crew and vegetated.


(The word ‘vegetated’ reminds me of my very best Halloween costume. I was seven months pregnant, and I went to a party dressed in a long-sleeved, purple tee-shirt and tights. Green felt leaves atop my head completed my resemblance of an eggplant. At the time, long before flaunting your ‘bump’ was fashionable, my costume was (much to my delight) shocking. Obviously years and years before the Annie Leibovitz photo of Serena Williams – seriously pregnant and nude on the August cover of Vanity Fair.)

Our visit to tiny Yorke Island was an interesting slice of history. Watching war clouds gather over Europe in 1937, the Canadian government decided to build a fort on Yorke Island to defend the west coast. The purpose was to protect the cities of Vancouver and Victoria. In 1942 the original 4.7-inch guns, which would have been ineffective against a hostile submarine, were replaced with more modern 6-inch guns.

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Remains of the Day

Being posted on a small, 136-acre island which had no fresh water, no flush toilets, no buildings, no willing women or pubs was indeed hardship duty. Instead of ‘build it and they will come,’ the posting was more like ‘come and build it.’ Once in place, the soldiers were were isolated – a penal colony of sorts. It was only after one conscript committed suicide that the government thought that occasional shore leave might be beneficial to the soldiers’ mental health.

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Windswept and cold

The second stanza of John Mansfield’s poem “Sea Fever” seems to catch the tone of life on the water: I must go down to the sea again, for the call of the running tide / Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied:/ And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying , / And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea gulls crying.




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Aboard the Aurora Explorer – Day Four

Gliding through the relatively calm waters, I see mountains in deepening shades of watercolor gray. Light gray in the foreground, darker gray in the middle distance and then on the horizon, Little Red Riding Hood dark. The colors are indistinct blobs in the mist as seen through dingy, nylon net curtains covering dirty windows. Closer up, I see thick stands of trees that look like Colorado trees. But leaving the boat… standing knee-deep in bracken and ferns and broken tree detritus (I think it’s called ‘duff’) I look up. And up again – my head at-risk of snapping off my neck.

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These towering trees are nothing like puny Colorado trees. These trees are primeval. Their size intimidates and Sasquatch comes to mind. I look over my shoulder… just in case.  The trees’ longevity make a person feel small and insignificant. We humans think we are so important. Ha! If we don’t indiscriminately cut down the trees or climate warming doesn’t do them in, they will have the last laugh.

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Building on these rocky islands is a challenge. For this reason, most construction rests on log rafts that rise and fall with the tides. I like the romance of being one with nature. I like the small logging camps. I’m not so keen on the small, picture postcard colonies, festooned with flowers… seemingly populated by summer, yacht folks. The British word ‘twee’ comes to mind. The hamlets are beautiful – but a bit too manicured and insular to my taste.

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Having just finished reading THE BEET QUEEN by Louise Erdrich last night and starting  THE CASUAL VACANCY by J.K. Rowling this morning, I’ve been swept away by their multi-faceted, Everyman characters – none of whom would fit in a homogenized, moneyed community.

I love these flawed characters. I know every character devised by Erdrich and Rowling. Always a reader of reviews, I read the reviews at the front of the Erdrich book. A reviewer for The Milwaukee Journal wrote, “The Beet Queen is a slowly gathering storm shaking every belief you hold about the limits of your ability to love.” That review is perfect.

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If you live in a city, it is easier to stick to ‘your own kind’ than it is in a small town where everyone knows (or thinks he knows) his neighbor. Politics are local and passions run high. Gritting your teeth and biting your tongue is called for when dealing with those you disagree with and whom you will meet in the produce aisle of the only grocery. Smile!

When issues are particularly divisive, I retreat and soothe my savaged soul by repeating, “We are all wounded.” Which, of course, we are. Visualizing myself walking among the walking wounded makes me remember that I have more in common with my neighbors than I would have thought.

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Aboard the Aurora Explorer – Day Three

After a chilly morning of heavy mist and rain, fog and raindrops had coalesced on the windows to approximate dotted Swiss – which made me remember how much, at five-years-old, I had yearned for shiny, patent leather shoes to complement my dotted Swiss dress. (It is probably time to forgive my mother who kept me in tie-up Buster Browns “so I’d have good feet,” but 70 years later I find myself still picking at the scab.)

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Prior to lunch, someone took a squeegee and wiped the windows clean, and the previously shrouded landscape came into view. Norway came to mind, and Norway made me think of herring and onions and black bread. It’s the kind of day that isn’t particularly cold, but nonetheless, the damp weather makes me wish for a fire, the smell of wood smoke, and a dog curled up at my feet.

The Inside Passage is a big landscape and calls for big machinery. Yesterday we held our collective breath as we delivered a Brontosaurus (in size and shape) to a logging camp. Watching the giant machine lumber down the ramp with maybe six inches leeway on a side  left me breathless. The dinosaur-like machine is multi-purpose. A neck protrudes from the body, and to the head, you can attach tools specific to the task. In this case, a giant pile-driver tool was attached. And when the machine left the ship’s ramp and met the log interface between the ramp and solid rock, I stopped breathing entirely as the pile driver tipped dramatically to the left. I fully expected the machine to tip into the water and crush the driver.

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The task at- hand was to build a dock. But first the pile driver had to bore a hole for the dynamite. Once the dynamite was set, our ship and the loggers’ boat made for open water. And then the blast. And the splash. Once the mission was accomplished, the pile driver trundled back aboard. Again, expertly threading the needle.

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Working in a lumber camp is not for the faint of heart. Giant tractors with crab-like pinchers pick up individual logs – first one log and then another and then another (does anyone remember playing pick-up sticks?) until they have a whole mouthful which they take to the edge of the cliff. Multiple trips of clutch after clutch and the logs begin to tower. When the turret is complete, the logs are tipped down a skid of sorts.  Splash and the whole lot are in the water to be sorted – sort of like cattle, according to size into corrals.

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I watch the small tug boats and admire the captain’s skill. Sometimes the tugs move individual logs; other times they move bundled logs – bundles so much larger and heavier than the tug boats that the back ends of the boats are below water.

In my parenting/working years, I often fantasized about joining a nunnery. Not as a novitiate – more as a visitor on retreat. I would have preferred a silent retreat… maybe with nuns quietly singing in the background. When not singing, I would only hear the meditative walking… the scuffing of their soft -soled shoes and the clicking of their rosaries. Incense would waft through the air.

But in my maturity, I have come to realize that I don’t have it in me to “be in the moment.” I’m a doing kind of person. Walking past the galley, I want to ask if I can peel the potatoes or the beets. Or maybe I could rise or dry some dishes? For several days now we have not left the ship. I am antsy. Although I do not have Internet connectivity, I do have my computer, my notebook and my books. I also have the amazing landscape, the ship, and my fellow passengers.

It is not enough.

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Aboard the Aurora Explorer – Day Two

2017 08 19 nwtrip 024Is it really Thursday? And the date… what is the date? I look at the day’s route on the whiteboard – 3:15 depart; 07:00 Fanny Bay; 13:00 Frazer Bay; and 23:00 Pott’s Lagoon. I find the whiteboard, updated every morning, very helpful in terms of orienteering. Living a mostly retired life, it is not unusual for me to not know the date and to struggle recollecting the day.

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A month ago, I went to our local clinic for a basic mental acuity assessment. Was my memory, I wondered, worse than that of other people my age? A physician’s assistant would administer the test. Before leaving home, I checked the calendar to learn the date. I knew that I would be asked the day and date – better to bone up on the answer. Walking to the clinic, I repeated the date several times, as a mantra of sorts… just so I would remember.

Thanks to cramming for the test, I remembered the day and the date! I did well, and the P.A. assured me that I was not only average for my age, but I was above average! How I puffed up! And then… like a dog shaking itself free of bathwater, I shook myself back to reality. Let’s be honest: I practiced. Not only the day and the date, but reading an article on Alzheimer’s, I knew that I would be asked to spell a five-letter word backwards.

I think the sample word in the article was WORLD. I tried spelling ‘world’ backwards and found the task nearly impossible. I tried and then I tried again.  Once I was past the first two letters, I was lost. I visualized the word, but after saying the D and L, I struggled. What was the middle letter? Knowing that this question would give me trouble in the doctor’s office, I spent days thinking of five-letter words and attempting to spell them backwards. TRAIN… THINK… CLOUD…COACH. For weeks I focused on my task. Periodically, I returned to spelling WORLD.

Imagine my surprise when the P.A. asked me to spell a five-letter word backwards, and the word was WORLD! My weeks of practice came in handy. I spelled the word correctly… automatically without thought or recollection. The P.A. assessed that cognitively I was holding my own. Ha! Little did she know that I had cheated. My mind is not as nimble at my score suggests. That said, if I knew enough to practice and cheat, does that not indicate that I’m still reasonably competent?

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A embroidered sampler that I photographed in Billy’s Museum.

Choppy seas last night, and the cook said that the Aurora Borealis was playing in the sky. He needs to wake me next time. This morning I sit in the stern behind the wheelhouse. A stiff breeze is to my back, but I’m bundled up in a shirt, vest and fleece. The sun is on my face. The thrum of the ship’s engines soothes me – the sound of the boat’s wake is lighter and plays on top of the engine’s bass notes.

A day aboard the Aurora is quiet. I can do without the Internet and a phone, but I miss my morning coffee that typically, like bacon and eggs, goes with NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

Sometimes I wonder if unseen forces have put me aboard the Aurora as a form of De-tox. Despite the gorgeous scenery, the breeze wisping my hair, and the sun warming my face, I feel a bit institutionalized… against my wishes. Each day unwinds – punctuated only by breakfast, lunch and dinner – all three meals fabulous, but I wonder if the crew (I’ve begun to think of them as the hospital staff) is quietly sedating me. Part of the healing process I suppose.

The crew is weaning me from my unhealthy addiction to streaming news and tension inducing tweets. Will I make a full recovery?

Time will tell.

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