Archive for August, 2013

How do I even begin to tell you how sad my soul is tonight?  My heart aches, literally and metaphorically, inside my chest.  The world has lost the greatest poet of our time, Seamus Heaney, a man who wove words into loamy imagery, rich with compost and earthy things that reached for scope of sky.  Heaney wrote of the conflict in Northern Ireland, in poetry, with great artistry.  In prose, he wrote of “the government of the tongue” and spoke up for freedom of speech, for poets and writers.  He wrote of blackberries on bushes, of bog people who held secrets from centuries past, and of love and loss.  Mostly, though, the music and song of his words were what drew me to his work, and to his spirit.  When my alarm went off this morning, to hear CBC radio announce his death, I shot to the side of the bed in a stupor.  How could this happen?  At 74?  He would be my mother’s age, had she lived past 2008.  So many words are lost now….so many evocative stories and tales of how Ireland (and poetry) came to be, through bloodshed, through language, through love, through peace.  I feel as if I have lost my poetic father…and there is a void that will certainly not be filled in my lifetime.

Later, this afternoon, I actually wept for the loss of him.  He has traveled with me throughout my life, from my early twenties until now, at the age of nearly 43, so that his words have walked with me every day.  This may sound melodramatic, and I can see how it would sound like that, but I have loved Seamus Heaney and his words since about 1992 or 1993, when I was 21 or 22.  I stumbled across his work in a modern poetry class taught by Dr. Laurence Steven, at Laurentian University, here in Sudbury, Ontario.  There were just a couple of poems in some anthology or another (Norton, likely, as Norton was the Bible in lit classes).  My last year at Laurentian, finishing my English degree, I did a thesis on the poetry of W. B. Yeats, an earlier Irish poet.  As I read about Yeats, I learned more about Heaney.  When I was accepted to do a Master’s degree in English literature at Carleton University, in Ottawa, in 1994-95, I knew that I wanted to do my research and writing on Heaney’s work, specifically the poems that were gathered in the wonderfully evocative collection titled North.  I worked with a great professor, Dr. Jack Healy, who met with me every Friday at 3pm (“crucifixion time” is what he called it!) to go over my most recent research and writing about Heaney’s poems.  Healy spoke my language and understood my fascination with Heaney’s poems.  He encouraged it; he fanned the flames, even.  For that, I will be forever grateful.  🙂

Being a poet, I tend to read poems on a daily basis, even if it’s just one or two in passing…to buoy me up to face the day.  Heaney’s books sit on an antique dresser in my new home.  I am especially fond of his bog poems, as well as the Northern Ireland poems, but I do love the work of a more recent collection, published in 1996, titled The Spirit Level.  I have two favourite poems in that collection, “The Rain Stick” and “Postscript.”  I also have a cassette tape of Heaney reading all of these poems, so when I want to hear his wonderful voice, I pop it in the stereo system and let him ‘speak to me.’

Imagine my excitement when I met Heaney in a pub in Sligo, Ireland, last summer.  I was upset that I couldn’t go to his reading that night, but I knew (somehow) that he was in that pub.  You can read the earlier blog entry from last summer if you want a fuller, more detailed recollection of that serendipitous and divinely-inspired meeting, but just know that when I looked him in the eyes, all I could utter was a reverent “Hello”….to which he replied, with a bright wide smile, “Hello.”  I could have died just then….I was so overcome by just having exchanged that too simple greeting with him….but now I wish that I had had the presence of mind to have taken a photo with him.  I was just so shocked to have met him in person that day that I literally lost my voice and logical mind.  Afterwards, I couldn’t stop shaking and crying.  I meant to write him this past year and tell him about the encounter, and maybe I will still write to his wife and family to tell them the story, but I didn’t write the letter….and I wish now I had.  (Why is it that we put off what we should do today much too often?  We never think someone will vanish, that they likely will not ever know how much they meant to us….)

Why, you wonder, would a poet mean so much to me?  I’ve only met him once, so very briefly, but his words are written on my heart.  I have never been so inspired by another poet, although Margaret Atwood comes close in her poetic work.  Yeats, of course, well, that goes without saying!  Yeats and Heaney were my poetic passions and still are.  When I was at Carleton, one of my fellow students gave me the nickname “Modern Irish” because of my fascination with modern Irish poetry and literature.  It stuck.

I miss him already….although I only know him through the heart he shared in his words, in his poems.  I can’t tell you how my heart aches….but I will leave you with this beautiful poem.


And some time make the time to drive out west

Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,

In September or October, when the wind

And the light are working off each other

So that the ocean on one side is wild

With foam and glitter, and inland among stones

The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit

By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,

Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,

Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads

Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.

Useless to think you’ll park and capture it

More thoroughly.  You are neither here nor there,

A hurry through which known and strange things pass

As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways

And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.


Rest in peace, great poet….I will miss you.



Read Full Post »

You smell Rotorua, New Zealand before you see it.  It’s a city where the crust of the earth is terribly thin.  There are even signs, in the living thermal Maori village of Whakarewarewa that clearly say:  “Danger–Thin Earth.”  You can bet people take photos of signs like these.  Where else on earth will you see such a sign, posted on someone’s front lawn?  It’s surreal, what with the hot steam being vented through flower beds near someone’s front porch.  You get a sense, immediately, that humans are insignificant in the face of a volcanic and seismic earth history.

Whakarewarewa is a living thermal village, a place where the Maori people still live and work, and where they invite you in, as a traveller, to see their ways.  The Tuhourangi/Ngati Wahaio people have been inviting visitors into their village since the 1800s, and have shown them how to use geothermal energy for cooking, heating, and even bathing.  The full name of the village is a mouthful, namely “Te Whakarewarewa O Te Ope Tua A Wahiao,” which means “The uprising of the warriors (war party) of Wahiao.”  No wonder they shortened it down!

You walk through an arch that was built in the 1950s to memorialize those Maori villages who gave their lives in WWI and WW2.  Alongside the roadway is a series of picture panels with the faces and biographies of mostly female guides who have led tours through the village since the late 1880s.  You cross over a bridge, where Maori kids are often found swimming and ‘penny diving.’  It’s tradition that, if the kids are out, you toss them pennies and they dive down into the water to retrieve them.  It’s the price you pay to cross the bridge, into an otherworldly, almost out-of-history landscape.  Eleanor Roosevelt even visited, taking part in the hongi, a truly intimate Maori greeting where two people press noses together twice, with a breath between.  The Maori believe that, as you press noses, you are sharing the breath of life.  This breath is believed to have come directly from the gods.  After you take part in this ceremonial greeting, you are no longer considered a visitor, but rather you become a ‘person of the land.’  It is a gathering in, of sorts, and you feel its ancient intimacy and intensity.  You feel honoured and grateful, thankful for having been welcomed to Maori land.  When Roosevelt visited, she took part in the hongi and it was big news in the States, where racism was still prevalent.

New Zealand, in the Maori language, is referred to as “Aotearoa” or “Land of the Long White Cloud.”  The word for “hello” or “goodbye” or “thankful” (similar to Hawaii’s “aloha”) is “kia ora.”  Any Maori word, though, sounds like poetry or music.  It reaches into your soul, really, and you feel the genuine warmth of the Maori when they speak the words.  The other languages that have struck me like this are Irish and Welsh, the Celtic languages that ripple into you so that they echo outwards.

In places, the village reminded me of some of the First Nations reserves I’ve been on.  There is poverty there.  Windows are musty, dirty and chipped or broken.  There are flower pots decorating the end of short driveways.  A family pet, a dog, sits guard on someone’s front step.  Everywhere, there are Maori guardians, carved out and lining the fences.  You’re never allowed to forget that there is a deeply spiritual essence to the Maori people. The “maere” (meeting grounds) includes an intricately carved “wharenui” (meeting house).  At the apex of the roof, a carved icon.  The roof represents its outstretched arms and the carved sides of the house are symbolic of its legs.  Once inside, you see that the roof is divided by beams, the long one that separates the space is meant to evoke the spine, while the others represent ribs.  You are inside the Maori culture when you are inside a meeting house.  It feels sacred.

In Whakarewarewa, there are pools, of both mud and water.  The mud one is so hot that it bubbles, big gaseous gulps rising to the surface.  Ancestors and current residents often use the mud to treat skin conditions like eczema.  The water pools have varying degrees of heat, but they are fenced off to protect you.  In one pool, the Maori cook a bag full of corn and other assorted vegetables.  In another, diapers were once sterilized.  In yet another pool, water is transported to the baths, where the floors leading to the bathtubs are heated from below the earth.  (Talk about early heated floors!)  On a cool New Zealand winter day, about 15 degrees Celcius, the warmth coming up from the earth warms your feet and body from the inside out.  The Maori know about sustainability; they live it every day and they are true guardians of the earth, at a place where the earth’s crust is unbelievably thin.

We only had a half day, and I wish I could have stayed longer.  Later that night, we visited Tamaki Maori village, where we learned about the practices of weaving, the “haka” (war dance), games, and the history of a very proud people.  The South Pacific is a place of rich, rich culture.  There are so many beautiful Maori stories….and not enough time or space to tell them.  The only thing I can say is that I want to go back and spend more time there some day.

Kia ora, friends.



Read Full Post »

Unpoetically speaking, if that’s even a word, I’ve discovered that I don’t do well with time changes of twelve or fourteen hours.  I’ve had about three migraines since I came here to the South Pacific.  I don’t know if it’s barometric pressure (which it usually is at home) or long hours in planes and coaches.  Whatever it is, it does put a damper on how you feel about travel….but I’m thankful I’ve managed to have a couple of good days in between the waves of migraines.  It’s got me to thinking about how we have waves of patterns, or cycles, in our lives.  You have to learn to ride the crest of a wave, even knowing that your path will likely lead you to experience the ‘trough’ or valley of that very same wave.   You have to breathe through it, to walk through whatever metaphorical fire you may encounter (whether it’s lost love, grief, or a bad day, just to name a few possibilities), to enter into the flow of life.

See, my problem is that I tend to ‘catastrophize’ things that occur in my life.  I’m working on being more aware of that pattern and am fighting against it.  I see a mole hill and make it into a mountain.  It’s likely because of my life’s passage thus far, a journey which could make for a fairly emotional novel with plot twists you couldn’t imagine or envision in your wildest dreams.  Most people don’t know other peoples’ stories….I often think of that famous quotation from Plato:  “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  You just never know what the person in front of you is dealing with….as a teacher, I see that every day.  The kid who most often acts out is often the one in the most pain.  It’s not as clear cut with adults, I think, because most of us are able to act superbly….Oscar worthy performances.

So, what does this have to do with this trip?  Well, I don’t know that there’s a direct correlation, but I always tend to get muse-y when I travel.  I think of how time alters our lives, how we evolve and go through a series of sea changes.  People we once knew and loved, as we grew up, now that we’re much older, have vanished….some to others, some to geographical movements around the globe, and some to death.  There is a wave movement in our own lives.  Here, the sea is a demanding mistress.  Yesterday, on the ferry from Fraser Island across to the mainland, there were whales breaching the sea in the distance.  You could see the water spouting upward and then the sun glistening on the huge black tails of the humpbacks.  They are migrating right now.  Moving.  Never stopping.  We could learn a lot from the rhythms of Nature.  I’m learning that on this trip.

Strangely, I’ve been thinking about my mum and dad a lot these days….wanting to talk to them about what a great trip this has been.  All of that stuff you do when you have parents.  I see a baseball hat and think “Oh, I should buy that for Dad….” and then remember he’s gone.  This is all part of the rhythm….I know that, logically, but being around such beauty makes you long for things that have gone.  I see families and get jealous because I’m so solitary now….not by choice, but by fate, I think.  Pondering the power of families and clans, I guess, makes sense when you’re in a tribal land. (No worries; just philosophical pondering….trying to figure it out in my head…this disconnection.)

Tomorrow, we go to visit a working Maori village.  I’m drawn to aboriginal cultures, whether North American First Nations, or Australian, or Maori.  I think it’s the druid in me, to be honest.  (You are talking about the girl who once took a leaf for a walk….but that’s another story, as Hammy Hamster would say!)  I am hopeful that I’ll find a piece of Maori art that isn’t mass produced.

Art connects me to the world, I think, and maybe that’s why I find such joy and comfort in it.  Lots to think about lately…busy mind, busy soul, busy me…




Read Full Post »

It doesn’t matter what “things” we do here in Australia….it’s all about the beauty of the land and the amazing variety of wildlife.  I love that I now know how to spot places where a koala might hang out in the wild, or that I can see the koala crossing “bridges” near highways so that they aren’t at risk of being hit by cars as often.  I love that I just came back from a night trek with a ranger guide who showed us how to find spider eyes in the dark.  I also just saw a stingray next to the jetty, with the help of our guide’s flashlight.  It was huge, flying like a bird underwater, and you could see why it would be so hard to spot it because it’s sand coloured and has great camouflage.  The best, for tonight, was seeing a dingo running down a beach.  There are dingo fences at this resort, so that visitors are safe.  Two weeks ago, someone said a young girl was attacked….but if you’re aware of what ticks off a dingo, it seems you’re fairly safe.  In the hotel rooms, there are brochures on dingo safety.  As the brochure says, “Enjoy their beauty, but keep your distance.”

We are on Fraser Island, a World Heritage site….it’s the only sand island in the world.  It has a rainforest, too.  Fraser is famous for its dingo population because DNA testing has proven that the dingoes on this island are the purest strain in Australia and need to be protected.  (Surprisingly, I always imagined them as scrawny and brownish, but they aren’t…they’re more orangey….and solid. )

Yesterday, we did a 4WD tour of the mountains around Surfers Paradise.  We climbed up steep gravel roads, ventured into the rainforest, and even tried to throw boomerangs.  Afterwards, in the late afternoon, we visited Carumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.  It was AMAZING!  I was able to have my photo taken with a koala.  So, let me say this….koalas are more dense than I imagined.  You put out your hands, one on top of the other, like a little cradle.  The handler positions the koala’s bum in your gathered hands and the koala automatically reaches up to steady itself on your shoulder.  You feel you are protecting it….and it’s slow pace and sweet little face makes you feel that you must protect it.  (I knew I was in trouble when I felt something at the arse end of the little koala….he was farting!  As soon as the handler picked up the koala to remove him from my arms, I glanced down to see a pellet left behind.  Fantastic!  There’s a story for the ages….I was pooped on by a koala!)   The thing about Caurmbin is that there is a great animal hospital there, so that wounded animals from the area can be mended and then sent back to the wild.  So, the koala photo taking sessions actually fund the good work done by the folks at Carumbin.  One intersting fact that I learned is that the koalas are in danger because people are cutting down eucalyptus forests for development.  Without those trees, and that particular food source, the koalas are at risk.  There’s work to be done in support of the poor wee fellas.

Interesting koala fact:  did you know that koalas really only ever stay up in trees?  They only come down a tree to go up another, as one Australian told us yesterday.  They are, he said, too slow to wander about on the forest floor, because they would be easy prey for other animals, so they hang out in the eucalyptus trees.  They are also very picky eaters….

Early yesterday morning, we drove through a national park.  We got off the bus and walked along what seemed to be a regular road.  Not so, though.  Within minutes, with the dew glistening on twigs and low brushes, we soon became very clever about ‘spotting the roos.’  As you walk, you notice little heads that pop up above grasses.  They sit, staring, arms balanced and strong.  Then, if you get too close, they dart off and you can see the power of their hind legs, and the speed with which they travel.  Amazing!

Carumbin is famous for the koalas, but those kangaroos and wallabies are ones that are closely tied for second place.  At Carumbin, you can actually walk into a kangaroo enclosure and feed them.  Holding a koala was grand, but getting down to a lower level to feed and rub the head of a kangaroo, is simply beyond explanation.  I could write and write and write, but never do any of this trip justice….

Tomorrow, I intend to do some laundry (very exciting, non?!), perhaps go for a swim in one of the pools, and do some writing….there are some poems marinating in this head….that’s for sure.






Read Full Post »

Driving north from Sydney to Coffs Harbour was largely uneventful today.  It took us eight hours, which is rather intense.  On the way, our guide talked with us about the history of the aboriginal peoples of Australia.  It sounded exactly like the story of Canada’s First Nations peoples.  So much pain, destruction, and erasure of aboriginal culture, all at the hands of the dominant and invading culture.  What was once a country of hundreds of different aboriginal tribes and languages, estimated somewhere in the region between 250 to 400 various languages, has now been whittled down to approximately 10-24 ‘aboriginal language families.’  It’s not difficult to figure out what happened.   Parallel to what happened with First Nations peoples in Canada, with the residential schools, the aboriginal peoples of Australia also faced a powerful and dominant white culture that tried to erase aboriginal culture.

The film “Rabbit Proof Fence” tells the story of three young aboriginal girls who were taken from their homes in Jigalong and taken to the Moore River Native Settlement mission.  Once there, they were not allowed to speak their own language,  were meant to pray to a Christian god that was not theirs, and, if they were brave enough to question authority, they very likely might have been abused both physically and mentally.  The film, based on Doris Pilkington Garamar’s novel, shows how the girls escaped the school and returned to their homelands by following what was referred to as a “rabbit proof fence.”   This was actually not one fence, but a series of three fences that were built between 1901 and 1907 to keep rabbits, emus and other pests from crossing into the Western Australia pastoral areas.  In the story, the girls follow the fence home.

The abduction of aboriginal children is nothing new for Canadians, if you are willing to read and research the real story behind the residential schools.  In Australia, a man named A.O. Neville was given the title “Chief Protector of the Aborigines,” but that, it seems to me, was far from the truth.  He had many reprehensible theories and ideas that he put into place through legislation, but one of the worst, in my mind, was the theory that he could “breed out” the aboriginals, as if they were pests to be eradicated.  Pilkington Garamar’s novel, and the subsequent film version, speak to the horrific way in which Neville treated the aboriginal peoples, but especially children.

So much of what I heard today echoes Canada’s own horrific treatment of First Nations peoples.  There is a sense, too, of exploitation of culture even now, in 2013.  For instance, in Sydney yesterday, I noticed the mass produced artwork.  There were coasters, tea trivets, oven mitts, apron, fridge magnets, canvas tote bags, and boomerangs, just to name a few types of souvenirs, almost all of which were covered with bright aboriginal designs.  When you turn over the supposed artwork, though, you see that it was mass produced, with a note that says “Made by an aboriginal artist.”  When you see thousands of the same pattern, though, it doesn’t take long to figure out that this is a big business and a conveyor belt production.  There’s no way I’ll buy mass produced art.  I want to support local artists wherever and whenever I shop for art, whether at home in Northern Ontario, or abroad when I’m on holiday.  Tomorrow, I’ll get a chance to purchase original aboriginal art (yeah, I know it sounds funny!).  It will cost me more than the rip offs will, but I’ll know exactly where my money goes.  It won’t go into the pockets of big business, but it will go directly to an artist with a face and a name.

Traveling beyond Sydney, seeing more of the beautiful countryside, you do get a sense of how vast and raw this land is….it is sacred.  With the sun setting early here, due to it being winter now and because of Australia’s position on the globe, the sky is entrancing.  At sunset, there is a tangerine glow that silhouettes hundreds of ferny, leafy trees, so that it looks like someone has etched out a Wedgwood carving.  It feels sacred, not unlike how Manitoulin Island feels when you stand on its spirited shores.  At night now, the stars are so bright….and you can see The Southern Cross, a constellation that is only visible in the Southern Hemisphere.  Without being all weird and overdramatic, this place seems magical to me.  Just now, before I head off to sleep, I hear some bird outside calling, a song I haven’t heard before, and I feel blessed to  be surrounded by such vivid sensory experiences in a new land….



Read Full Post »

This post is more about me working through a couple of big ideas than a straight forward travelogue.  I guess, if you follow my blog, you know how this works already, so it won’t be a shock.

We began this morning with a city tour (via coach) of Sydney.  It was excellent and very informative.  I even got to see where Russell Crowe’s first apartment was when he began to get famous.  Then, we moved on to the outskirts and a place where you could see “The Gap,” the space that marks the entrance to Sydney Harbour.  It’s a dramatic sight, with ocean stretching out between two sets of sandstone cliffs.  The side we stopped on happened to be in a populated, sort of wealthy area, with lots of glassy houses overlooking the sea.

Our tour guide told us we would be getting out of the coach to take in the view.  To begin, it looked just like a little parkette area, with winding trails leading to a cliffside view.  She had told us, though, that it was widely known, in Sydney, as a suicide area.  There are more than 1 or 2 suicides a week at this spot.  That disturbed me right away.  Then she told us the story of a man named Don Ritchie, who lived in a little white house that sat opposite this outlook area.  He was nicknamed “The Angel of the Gap” and was given one of Australia’s highest honours just a few weeks before he died in May of 2012.  They even named a grove after him, just off the winding trails.  The best thing about this visit, actually probably the only good thing about this site, was the quotation that was etched into the wall.  “Always remember the power of a simple smile, a helping hand, a listening ear and a kind word.”  The words belong to Don Ritchie and it is said that, at his funeral last year, there were hundreds of people who told his family that they wouldn’t be alive if Don hadn’t stopped them from jumping off the side of The Gap into the ocean.  He was, by all accounts, an amazing man.

From what I saw there this morning, it’s truly a shame he isn’t alive anymore.  Now, there are closed circuit cameras hovering above the winding trails overlooking the Tasmanian Sea, and signs that say things like “Hold onto Hope.  There is always Help.”  Right away, you know you’re not in for a traditional seaside walk.  It sets you off inside, knowing that many people choose this spot to take their lives.

I cannot, for the life of me, get rid of the images in my head (and heart).  They haunt me all these hours later.  Walking along by myself, I came upon a pair of grey shorts, laid out neatly, folded, on the top of a low cement wall.  To start, I thought, like a Northerner, “Kids must come here to party, overlooking the sea.”  It didn’t take long, though, to see that this was not the case.  Closer to the edge of the beautiful sandstone cliffs, a pile of clothing sat there, abandoned and sad.  Two socks, a pair of underwear, a shirt.  They obviously went with the shorts.  While other people posed happily for pictures, I felt like vomiting.  It struck me to the core.  To think that someone had just recently chosen to take their life here marked the beauty of the area, scarring it so that you could feel the sadness seep into your pores.  I turned and walked further down the pathway, hoping to shift the feeling, only to turn the corner to find a bouquet of roses attached to the fencing that is meant to prevent people from jumping.  The note said, profoundly and achingly, “We love you.  We miss you.” For the life of me, I cannot understand why a tour would stop at such a spot.  So many lives have ended in this place.  Yes, the view is stunning, but the vibrations of sadness and loss, of despair, sinks into the soil.  If you are empathic at all, you can sense it.  It makes you feel physically ill.  It made me feel sick, so that I thought I actually had a migraine coming on.  An hour later, having come back into the core of the city by bus, I decided to come back to the hotel, take a migraine pill and sleep.  Hours later, I still don’t know if it was a migraine, or a coming flu, but I do know that places have spirit….and that you cannot ignore the horror and pain of such a place.

Also, having dealt with major depressive order myself, having  experienced suicidal ideation during very dark periods of my life a few years ago, I cannot stand to see such a place used for tourists.  Anyone who contemplates suicide, who has been in that dark soul emptying place, knows that it’s not a place to go and visit, even for the views and camera shots.  I came back here and said a silent prayer for those lost souls, the ones who couldn’t make it through the darkness into the light, who felt there was no other option but to jump into the sea.  I prayed that they have since found their way into light…away from pain.  And, finally, I prayed for the land, which seemed to me to be marked, scarred, psychically bleeding with despair.  It needs cleansing, I think, not tour busses stopping for photo ops.


This evening, feeling a bit less heavy and ill, I met a dear poet friend, Sandra, who lives here in Sydney, for dinner.  She and I met on a tour of Ireland last summer and hit it off.  (I seem to collect poets wherever I go and I feel as if Sandra is a soul sister of sorts.)  We wandered through Sydney’s streets, took a bus to The Rocks, the oldest part of Sydney, right next to the harbour bridge, and made our way to the Hero of Waterloo pub.  There, we chatted up a storm and had a pint of cider.  The building was beautiful, made of sandstone bricks, all of which were dimpled and etched by convicts who populated the early wilds of Australia.  On one brick, a stone mason had jotted down his initials, JM, along with the leaves of a gum tree (Australian) and a shamrock (Irish).  Not surprising, as a number of Irish were exiled to Australia, some for stealing something as little as a loaf of bread to push against the hunger and poverty.  I thought, immediately, of Newfoundlander Ron Hynes singing  “The Fields of Athenry,” which I love to sing, and which tells the tale of an Irish man who is sent away from his wife and children for having stolen an Englishman’s corn to feed his family.  He ends up in Botany Bay, far far away from those he loves.

Then, after pints, we wandered further to find Aussie pies and more cider at The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel and continued our chat about poetry and writing.  It’s wonderful when you find like minded souls who “get” what you “get” in terms of creative process and art.  When a poet hangs out with a poet, there is no sense of being eccentric or strange, but rather there is a sense of great comfort, of homecoming, of being able to speak of things that you are passionate about without feeling like an outsider.  I love that….and I wish Sandra lived closer, but I’m glad we met and were able to get together tonight.  She made me realize, in our chat, that I need to give even more time to my work.  Sometimes, I forget that I’m a decent poet….and then someone like Sandra comes along, gives me a pep talk, and gets me to push forward again, even further, into  engaging my work on a more intense level.  So, because of her encouragement, I’m thinking of returning in a year or so, to attend a writing retreat here in Australia….to see what emerges.  Before that, I’m going to sign up for a fall course in writing short stories.  Sandra convinced me…and I’m thankful for that vote of confidence when I was a bit down on my abilities as a fiction writer.

Tomorrow, a tour of the Opera House, which I’m looking forward to as architecture is a form of poetry and art to me.  Then, northwards to Coffs Harbour and a visit with the koalas on Wednesday.



Read Full Post »

Arrived in Sydney, Australia tonight and lost a day in the process when we crossed the International Date Line.  Two things are on my mind tonight, and neither are here, where I am now.   First, my parents’ house officially sold and the closing date is August 29th.  It’s a relief to know things were tied up neatly this week after my sister and I accepted the offer last Friday, but it’s also bittersweet in so many ways.  Transplanting my mum’s peonies, poppies, day lilies and iris last week had me feeling teary.  It’s a final goodbye to the physicality of the place where my parents lived for so long….but there’s also a sense of new beginnings and rebirth.  This all links nicely with my visit to Diamond Head for a hike yesterday at dawn, in time to greet the new day’s sunrise.  Somehow, the two events tie together.  One, an ending for a huge portion of my life thus far, and the other, a volcano, now extinct, which used to be active.  It reminds me of one of my favourite quotations from Buddha:  “Everything changes; nothing remains the same.”  Another one, by Heraclitus, is “No man ever steps in the same river twice.”  Profound stuff.

Diamond Head surprised me, peeled back layers of uncertainty and insecurity and showed me my true colours—ones that are more about strength and tenacity.  We set off at 5:45am on Thursday, August 8, travelling by taxi from the hotel to the inside of the crater.  Referred to as Le’ahi by the Hawaiians, rather than Diamond Head, the trail from the base of the crater up to the summit was first built in 1908.  Further stairs were added, leading up to artillery battlements in 1911.  It was the perfect place to set up a coastal defence system.  From base to summit, the trail itself gains 560 feet, through a series of switchbacks (which prevent erosion).  From the base, it doesn’t look so steep, but once you start up, you’re pretty much committed to going all the way.

Now, let me preface this tale by saying that I have lost about 52 pounds over the last year.  My body knows it, but my mind doesn’t always seem to have caught up psychologically.  I doubt my own strength.  I’ve found doing yoga has helped me adapt to my new, stronger, more lithe body….because I always leave a class feeling more confident and amazed at how grateful you can be to your own body.  It does a lot of work and we often forget it carries us around each and every day.  In any case, I started the hike thinking “I can do this,” but I had negative self-talk whispers that emerged over and over.  “You have asthma…you might have an attack.”  “Look at that jogger…he’s obviously done this before and he’s able to run past all of us.”  “It’s getting more steep…grab hold of that railing or else you might fall.”

I got stuck, just short of the summit.  Steff, our leader, stopped with me and told me she would wait with me until I was ready to do it.  I was seriously ready to quit.  “You cannot quit, Kim.  You have come all this way up this mountain and now you need to summit.  Our minds, our brains, tell us we can’t do things, but we can.  I won’t let you leave Hawaii without summiting.”  So, after five minutes, I followed her up to the top of the ridge and saw the beauty of Oahu spread out before me, stretching up the east coast on one side and then the necklace of Waikiki and Honolulu ringing the bay.  It was worth it.  I had conquered a fear.

So much of what happened in my head yesterday morning, at Diamond Head, was about letting go of fear.  It links up to the sale of my family home, it connects to closing a door on memories of my parents and my youth, and it pulls me into the present with greater confidence, so that I can move forward.  So much of what I’ve done this summer has been about rebirth, like the volcano that births itself over and over, I’m going through a major soul renovation right now.  It’s pretty interesting to be inside myself right now….to be more present and aware and awake than I ever have been before.

Feeling blessed for what the universe has offered me….so that I choose love more often than fear.  Now, moving forward, I know that I’m stronger, mentally and physically, than I ever imagined.  I kind of think Mum and Dad would be proud….

peace, friends.



Read Full Post »

First days of tours are always surreal.  You think of how far you’ve journeyed and then you realize there are palm trees, along with pomegranate and papaya trees, in your neighbourhood.  Drive by a row of houses and see young sugar cane plants used as a decorative feature.  You’re not in Kansas, anymore, metaphorically speaking.  🙂

One of the things I’ve really been looking forward to is visiting Pearl Harbor.  I know some people might not be excited about historical sites but I always get a mad rush when I feel I can immerse myself in a piece of history that truly speaks to me on a heart level.  The story of Pearl Harbor has always fascinated me since I took American History from Diane Duncan at Marymount College back in the 1980s.  To be able to visit the place where it all took place shook me a bit on a soul level.

(Confession:  I’ve been to Oahu before, albeit ages ago.  I was newly turned seven, back in December 1977.  My parents had won a trip to Hawaii, so they took myself and my sister, Stacy, along with them.  I am thankful for that memory.  Parts of it ring in my head and heart as I walk these streets again.  I remember Mum and Dad taking us for something to eat after a late night landing, eating fresh pineapple before bed that first night.  I have never had pineapple like that since then, and likely never will, probably because it’s pineapple that represents an experience that speaks of my youth, a time when my parents were keen to expose us to the world as much as they could.  I also remember traveling up to the North Shore and one of my favourite photos of myself and my sister was taken just after she was immersed in a massive wave.  Leave it to Stacy to get soaked.  We stand there, in the photo, in weird 1970s striped shirts and matching royal blue shorts, with huge grins on our faces.  It’s got a place of pride, and happy family memories of youth, on my buffet at home. )

So, when I was seven, Pearl Harbor wouldn’t necessarily have been top on my list of things to see here in Hawaii.  My parents took us to the Polynesian Cultural Center instead, which was an educational experience.  Funny how you remember such details when you’re a grown up woman, at the age of 42.  How can things like the fact that my dad bought a crazy Hawaiian shirt still stick with me?  How can I remember him eating macadamia nuts from the can and raving about Kona coffee with Mum?  Memory is a fickle friend…

Pearl Harbor, then, was even more raw to me today.  I thought of Dad, and how he loved watching WWII documentaries.  I thought of him in the gift shop, when I saw the baseball caps referencing The Arizona.  I actually almost forgot that he wasn’t still alive, which surprised me.  Maybe it’s because he loved Hawaii, after that one trip, or because those shirts summoned him up in spirit, to travel with me.

A visit to Pearl Harbor is somber.  There’s no other way to explain it.  If you’re a relatively educated person, then you know the story.  I won’t rehash it, historically speaking.  I will say that the scope of that tragedy struck me.  I knew that men were lost that day, December 7, 1941, but I had no idea of how intensely that would strike me.  Sitting in a darkened theatre, watching a documentary with live action film clips of the bombing, I got teary.  How is it that humans are so brutal?  We’ve come a long way since 1941 in so many ways, in terms of technology, health care and communications, but we still set out to purposefullly hurt one another.  These days, we hear stories of Syria, or Egypt, or North Korea.  It really doesn’t matter where it takes place, war is a useless, empty venture.  The casualties are people, and you see that on the walls of the museum at Pearl Harbor.  There were sailors, doctors, nurses, civilians, cooks, and local residents of the area, who were either killed or maimed by that bombing.

Put a face to a name and everything changes.  The clips in the museum of veterans speaking of that day made me tear up.  To see an elderly man, proud in his uniform, lose his voice to tell his tale, always breaks my heart.  Then, to see photos of the lost, scattered about in the water or on the shoreline like broken mannequins, makes you realize that the history books you studied in school didn’t do the tragedy justice.  You can’t fathom it until you take that little ferry, piloted by American soldiers, across from the dock of the visitors’ centre to the Arizona memorial.  There is no talking on that boat because people are still thinking of the scope of the loss as it is stated in the film.  Besides, as you move steadily towards the memorial itself, you are fully aware that the entire harbor is really a gravesite for too many men.  They never had a chance that morning, as the Japanese planes attacked in waves, and that strikes me.  To think that, one day, you are going to work and then you die suddenly and horrifically, stymies me.  One moment, things are routine and light, and the next, the harbor is on fire and oil coats the water.  Screams rent the air and you know that there is no escaping this kind of hell.  I can’t imagine….

When you arrive at the memorial, you are asked not to take photos.  Your group enters and another is lined up to exit.  People speak softly, in hushed tones.  The memorial is white and clean, with windows that look out onto the gun turret of The Arizona. That day, over 1,000 men were lost, killed with very little warning, in a brutal way.   Other ships in the harbor were also bombed, but their losses pale in comparison to Arizona.   Two buoys mark the bow and stern of the battleship.  It sits on the bottom of Pearl Harbor, and those veterans who have passed since that time often request to have their ashes interred within the memorial, so that they can return to the place where their brothers’ lives were ended.  The only sound is the sound of the American flag flapping in the brisk wind, sharp against the bright blue of the Pacific, as if it is punctuating the immensity of the loss marked here.

The one thing that struck me most was seeing clots of oil emerging from underneath the memorial.  You gaze out over the ghostly shape of the ship only to see the oil clump up and rise to the surface.  It still leaks out all of these years later, and they say there is enough oil still within the ship to continue leaking out for another thirty years.   The pain marks the water and you can feel it wash through you and over you if you’re open to it.   It is an aching echo. .  .

Needing to shift soul again, I set off in the afternoon to visit the Honolulu Academy of Art, to see an exhibition of Hawaiian work by Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams.  I love the work of both artists, and I had never imagined being able to see their work in person, so I was glad to have found out about the exhibition online a few weeks back.  Spending an hour or two in the silent, sacred and inspirational space of an art gallery always sets me to rights.  This time was no exception.  The works, a mix of O’Keefe’s beautiful flower paintings and Adams’s gorgeous black and white photos, were heart lifting.  Here, after the tragedy of Pearl Harbor, was the redemption of art.  In the face of war and loss, we must redefine and assert our humanity.  Where better, I thought, to speak of survival and soul, than in a place of artistic creation?

It led me to thinking about the work we do, as artists.  Some might think we’re “odd ducks,” the poets, novelists, playwrights, songwriters, dancers, painters and actors.  Really, we walk between worlds, observing and taking everything in. . .On a day like today, my faith in creativity and art soars.  How  else can you feel lifted up after darkness?




Read Full Post »

It’s been awhile since I went to a yoga class, but I broke the dry spell and got suited up to go early this evening.  It was, as always, divine.  (Why I can’t remember how much it means to me when I don’t go for weeks or months still stymies me….because, while I’m there, and afterwards, I feel strong and centred, mentally, physically and spiritually.)

For a long time, I haven’t gone because I have a weird lipoma on my elbow.  At first, I shunned a lot of exercise this past spring (except walking) because my elbow and arm really hurt.  Then, I came to ‘own’ the lipoma and named it ‘Larry.’  Yes, that’s right; I gave the lipoma on my elbow a name and gender.  I even sometimes refer to it as ‘my boyfriend’, for fun.  (Well, it’s not fun at all, but I try to make light of it because we’re unavoidably attached until late September when I have surgery to finalize our divorce.)

In any case, as the summer has progressed, and I’ve lugged boxes and furniture from my parents’ house into my new little cottage, Larry has taken second place to actual living, thankfully.  Last week, my therapist (yes, I have one….big shock!) suggested I felt a little whirlwindish and frantic because I’d forgotten to take care of myself in the midst of all the stress of the end of school year and the BIG MOVE.  Plus, leaving my parents’ home, and trying to sell it, has also weighed heavily on my mind throughout late June and all of July.  So, taking her wise advice, I began to meditate again last week, took longer walks, listened to more music, and tried to settle my frantic mind.  The only thing I’m still having trouble with, sadly, is reading for long periods of time and writing poems or stories.  I think it’s because my mind is thinking too much.  I have that tendency.  A wise woman in Ireland last summer read my future in stones and called me a ‘private worrier.’  (At first, I thought she said ‘private warrior’ and I thought ‘yeah, that works, too.’)

Meditation:  I have a love/hate relationship with meditation, to be honest.  If I use a quiet CD, with timed out meditation bells, and silence in between, I find my mind goes ‘walkabout.’  If I use a guided meditation CD, which I LOVE, I tend to fall asleep part way through because the calming voice puts me to sleep.  (A friend who meditates often tells me that some of what the meditation does is still making its way through to me as I fall into a sleep state, but I am always doubtful….plus, I wonder if the CD starts saying “Go buy a green cardigan tomorrow” after I’m semi-conscious.  This would explain this morning’s strange purchase at Smart Set….)   In truth, I find walking is a meditative act and I do a lot of that these days, over hills and pathways, in my new neighbourhood and in The Minnow.  I have to go check on my parents’ house once a day for insurance purposes, so I often take the dogs and tread old paths that bring me comfort and stability.)

Yoga:  I love it, but I have left it for a few months, mostly due to the stupid elbow lipoma.  I am nervous of leaning on the thing or causing myself pain.  Tonight, though, I knew I needed the calming more than anything else.  And I was right.  I think I may have actually been in a trance state at one point, and perhaps even had an out-of-body experience.  When that happens, when I forget about my physical body, I feel so free.  Vulnerable, but free at the same time.

I have an amazing yoga teacher named Willa.  She often says things that seem incredibly wise to me, as I’m struggling with a pose or trying to breathe more deeply.   I believe we are meant to be places at certain times, to encounter certain people or experiences that will help our soul to evolve and grow.  So, while I was in a twist on the mat tonight, Willa began to talk about how we need to be vulnerable to be able to trust others, in order to be open to the universe and its gifts.  “Holy shit,” I thought to myself.  “Is she in my head right now?”  We spend too much time in our ‘turtle shells’ (her words, not mine) so that we don’t open ourselves up to the caring we crave.  This is the same kind of caring that we give to others more willingly than we will accept it for ourselves.  When she said this tonight, as I was breathing into that twist, as my ribs were expanding like a sail on a ship, I thought “My God….that’s what I’ve been doing forever!”

I’ve had to be really strong, on my own, for myself (and my late Mum and Dad),  for a very long time.  I know this.  Friends will say it and I will agree, but it struck me tonight, while I was on the mat, that I am tired of being strong.  I would like to be cared for, by the universe, by someone who might love me, rather than always having to be so bloody strong.  It can be exhausting, in so many ways, to always be on guard and looking out for yourself.  You feel a bit, sometimes, like Oliver Twist, on the hard streets of Dickensian London….constantly wondering who’s out to get you because you need to take care of yourself if you’re on your own.  Like me.  (It’s not a pity party here….just factual observations of human nature and being solitary, as well as being a writer.)

So, after class, I gave Willa a hug and thanked her because I realized that, slowly, but darned surely, I’m taking off the turtle shell that I’ve carried for too many years.  Sure, it’s protected me, but it’s also weighed me down.  Now, with a new ‘room of my own’ (a la Virginia Woolf!), and a voyage to Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand in the offing next week, well, it’s time to journey inwards and outwards, and to observe and write.  I want to be vulnerable enough to trust the universe, to trust the experience, and to trust myself….that’s the only goal.

Until next time, friends, Namaste.

I’ll be blogging throughout my travels over the next three weeks, so I hope you’ll read the entries with interest and keep in touch via the World Wide Web of Wonder.  I also wish you vulnerability….in hopes of greater trust and creative expansion.  Let’s get rid of those ‘turtle shells’ and see what emerges!   🙂




Read Full Post »