Archive for October, 2018

Being away from my eldest dog, Sable, for two weeks, was hard. She hasn’t been in the best of health. I was in Ireland, and I was so grateful for the time I had to walk and write, and to stand by the sea and remember how small and insignificant we are.

Sable’s fourteen. Almost fifteen. Shih tzus live long lives, but the last few years of any dog’s life can be challenging. They have beautiful big eyes which, later in their lives, sometimes become problematic. You learn about how you can look into these gorgeous brown eyes, watch them blink at you, and then feel a tiny nose nuzzle your neck, and you can feel that you have been blessed to walk alongside such a little creature for so many years.

There comes a time when all you want to do is spend time with that little ‘furry person,’ knowing that time isn’t promised to anyone, or any dog. This is what I’m learning this fall from this tiny furball:

~You can worry a great deal about a tiny heart, giving it daily doses of medicine and wondering what time will be granted to you because you’ve invested in a very expensive bottle full of capsules that are striped yellow and white. You think you will never be as thankful for a bottle of yellow and white striped capsules. You will think they are pure magic. You know, though, that they aren’t, and that you need to spend the (extra) time being thankful for the gift of the creature with the big, beautiful brown eyes.

~You can find a vet, in a different city, who says that glaucoma in shih tzus means you should remove an eye, but you know that fourteen is a good age, and fourteen is a long life, and fourteen means she saved you when you needed her most…when the darkness of depression nearly erased you nearly a decade ago. (Sometimes, removal of an eye isn’t the answer to the question. Sometimes, you need to realize that an eye may be the end of a creature you love…and this…this is painful.)

~You can find your vet, back in your home town, in early September, who lets herself slowly slide down a wall, sits down on the floor so she can gather your eldest dog in her arms, and smiles sadly up at you from the dull scuff of the linoleum squares. You can ask that vet about ‘end of life’ care, and plans, and endless questions about ‘how’ and ‘when’ and ‘what is best.’ You can be grateful for the time that vet has given you, almost a whole year, and know that you’ve had extra time.

~You know that you shouldn’t spend extensive periods of time with dogs on your own, avoiding other humans, as a single person, but you also feel it’s sacred time, time that isn’t promised, but always honoured.  It’s time that you will be grateful for later, when you can’t remember how she ‘speaks’ to you in grumbles or snuffles.

~ You learn to cherish the time when the eldest dog, who is mostly blind and mostly deaf, wants to snuggle. This isn’t normal, historically. She is affectionately referred to, by your friend, by her breeder/groomer, and by yourself, as “The Queen Mum,” so any sort of snuggling is cherished and appreciated.  Affection isn’t always promised, so you soak it up like a sponge when it’s offered.

~The lessons are many and vast…but some of the key ones, from what I’ve seen in just this week at home, in Ontario, in Kingsville, are:

a) Patience is a virtue. Sometimes your dog needs you to be calmer, because they are slower, more methodical and almost narrower in terms of what they take comfort in. They slow you down, even when you don’t think you really need slowing down.

b) Food, for dogs, is a comfort. The right kibble, even if it costs a bit more than it naturally should, can make an elderly dog feel right at home. Breakfast and supper can serve as a time of bonding, in ways that you never imagined they would before. Kibble, and treats, I would say, is key. It gives the elderly dog great comfort and serves as an anchor.

c) Water bottles are better than dog bowls. You wouldn’t have imagined this, but older dogs who are slightly geriatric really quite enjoy drinking from hanging guinea pig bottles rather than bowls. It amuses, but confounds, you.

d) You learn that life is short. Love is to be cherished, even if it comes dressed in the likeness of a tiny dog in a furry suit. That bond is to be honoured.

e) Your greatest gift, in this life, might come from an animal rather than a human. I know. Hard to understand, but it could be mostly true for quite a lot of people. Animals love unconditionally. Animals offer their hearts, without expectations, and without (intentionally) painful results.

f) Life. It’s precious. It’s short. You should love whomever you want, whenever you want. The bullshit we surround ourselves with, when it comes to love, is unnecessary. It’s the essence of everything on the planet, whether you know it or not. It’s the building block, the foundation, the premise behind everything. If you have it, be thankful. If you have it, honour it, cherish it, cultivate it, and, mostly, yeah, you should fight for it. And you should also know when to let it go…because letting go is always key.  Acceptance.

This dog, this little furball named Sable, teaches me patience, and compassion, and gratitude, and resilience in the face of great adversity. This is what caring for an elderly dog has taught me this year…and, for that lesson, well, I am most thankful.





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I have had a long term relationship with Bunratty Castle. Over twenty odd years. I first visited it when I was in my early twenties. I visited with my uncle, Michael Ennis, my aunt, Joanne, and my cousins, Sheryl and Lisa. Mike died this past March, so being there again today, I could remember how excited he was to take the tour of the castle and how we drank Bunratty mead together. He was the reason I first traveled here, inviting me to come along on a trip of Ireland and England with his family, probably knowing my parents would never be able to visit such far away places. It’s because of him, I often think, that I have a deep love for travel and new places. I know it’s one of the reasons why I love Ireland so much.

Bunratty (or Bun Raite, in Irish Gaelic) was built in the 1270s, but the castle you can visit today was built somewhere around 1425. Still very old. Very. Old. The little brochure will tell you that during the 16th and 17th centuries, “Bunratty was a stronghold of the O’Briens, the kings (and later earls) of Thomond or North Munster. The furnishings are all original, not reproductions, and mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries. The main block of the castle has three floors, with each one having a single great hall. The four towers have six storeys each.” It’s big. It’s grey. And it’s damp and cold. But it’s also really, really quite beautiful.

I have fond memories of visiting it. The loveliest thing, and the thing I go to ‘visit’ each and every time, is something that is referred to as the “Sheela na gig” or the “Sile na gig.” It’s the figure of a pagan goddess and often symbolizes fertility. Some people say that, if you touch the figure, you’ll have better luck conceiving a child. Well, I touched that thing in my 20s and haven’t had children, although I’ve taught quite a few, so maybe that counts somehow. I have, though, had great luck with my writing and I figure that’s just as creative an enterprise.  In any case, I do love going back to see it. I’ve touched it three times in my life now and, while some people say it’s a crass thing, I like to think of her as a sort of creative guide. As someone with Celtic blood, I’m drawn to these old images and symbols. It was good to see her today, to feel the stone that surrounds her image, and to remember the first time I saw her years ago. She’s all about the earth, and of conceiving and birthing things, and of sensuality and creativity. She’s feisty. I like that.


The “Sile na Gig” at Bunratty Castle, County Clare, Ireland.

Once I’d seen her, I moved through the rest of the castle quickly. It sort of made me feel a bit sad. If you aren’t there for the big medieval banquet, with the costumes and the music, and the storytelling, which costs an amazingly expensive 70 Euros, then you’re shuffling through it with people off big tourist buses. I arrived at the same time as a class of German high school students who were huddled, in one little alcove, hunched over their cell phones. That’s a hard thing to see when you love history. I like to be in places like this when there’s no one around but, these days, it’s hard to find that quiet. I did, though, have about four minutes of absolute solitude in the South Solar section, where the guest apartments are located. It was, for a few minutes, as if I’d slipped back in time. I could imagine the sounds and smells, hear the voices and laughter. When more tourists arrived, I left. The veil had fallen again, and I had lost the image that lives just under the surface of what’s there now.

The folk park itself is lovely. It’s well done, with a variety of different cottages, all representing various regions across Ireland. You’ve got the Loop Head House, the Cashen Fisherman’s House, a Shannon Farmhouse, a Bothan Scoir, and even a church. Here are some photos of lovely things I found while walking around that park. The things that pull at me are the colours, the images of Mary (my grandmother and great-aunts loved her, and I always say that she’s my “home girl”), the Sacred Heart, the crosses above doors and windows, and Brigid’s Cross. Each and every image, each symbol, has great meaning to me.

IMG_1042.jpgIMG_1047.jpgThis lovely place, Ardcroney Church, was moved stone by stone from Ardcroney in County Tipperary to the folk park. When you walk in, it’s like moving back in time.

IMG_1057.jpgI have an affinity for doors and windows, mostly (I think) because of the metaphors you can create if you’re a poet!

IMG_1054.jpgThis recreation of a village street, with shops and traditional crafts, was lovely and quite well done. I just loved the colours here, and the way the textures work together.

IMG_1033.jpgI’ve always loved Mary, mostly because it’s nice to have grown up with a woman to pray to. My favourite prayer has always been the ‘Hail Mary’ and I always find myself saying it in my head if I need to calm myself down in an emergency, or if I need to send some light to a friend. (Also, to be totally honest, I love that her statues always show her in lovely blue dresses. The big draw for me, though, growing up, was that she always seemed to hover, magically, in a cloud that was laced with stars. She was, to be sure, as the old Catholic hymns say, “Queen of Heaven.”)


This was a Mary that was just too big for a bedroom, to be honest. She had a place of honour in the corner. It was, I thought, a wee bit creepy. Small statues of Mary around the house, yes, okay, but big, eavesdropping-watching-too-closely-over-your-romantic-moments-Mary statues take it too far, if you ask me.

IMG_1053.jpgThe faery garden at Bunratty made me smile. Some parts seemed a bit stereotypical, but I loved the ribbons that were tied in the trees. When you visit the Hill of Tara, you can go to a faery tree there and see the offerings that are tied to the branches by local people asking for the faeries’ favours. I love it that, here, faeries are just part of the fabric of the universe. For me, anyway, it makes absolute and perfect sense. IMG_1029.jpgNext to my beloved triskele, this image, that of the St. Brigid’s cross, is one that always speaks to me. I love the way it’s woven from rushes, and the way it speaks to the Celtic sensibility of the cross, and the notion of the importance of the four directions and four elements. I have one in the vestibule of my house, over my door. It’s meant to keep evil, fire, and hunger away from your home.

I wandered over to the print shop, which I recalled having been there from my last visit in 2012. Now, I’ve fallen in love with the who process of letter press work and printing, courtesy of Jodi Green at Levigator Press in Windsor. Getting to speak with a printer today for a half hour was just one of the loveliest ways to end my trip, and I peppered him with questions about ink, wood blocks, and lino cuts.

The thing that I love most about Bunratty is the story that my great-aunt, Norah Kelly, told me when I was in my twenties. She was so smart, Norah was, and she was an excellent storyteller until she fell ill in her later years. But, when I spent time with her, she told me stories about the history of our family, and how they came to Canada after the Famine. There were snippets, and the one that still sticks with me is the story she told me of how one of our ancestors,  a gardener at Bunratty, eloped with a governess of some sort. I haven’t verified the story, and I’ll have to do a lot more research before I get there, but I know Norah. She would’ve heard that story from her parents and grandparents, and so I trust her completely.

Standing in that castle today, I put my hand up against the thick stone walls, took a deep breath, imagined a world where people worked very hard, in times that weren’t romantic or poetic. (A castle can look beautiful, but when you’re inside, you realize fairly quickly that it’s really all about defences, ownership of property, and living in difficult and uncertain times.) I imagined how many thousands of people might have lived in or around that place, and how many stories there would have been to tell. And then I thought of how much my uncle, Mike, loved that place, and I thought of him then, too. I miss him…

So…I’ll leave you with this image of my Bunratty, all shadowed in twilight and edged with trees. There was rain tonight, a brisk wind, and a flutter–again, as always–of blackbirds.


k. IMG_1063.jpg


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Someone I know (slightly) back home in Ontario said to me, in a grocery store, in August, near the yogurt section, “You really love writing, don’t you?” He tilted his head a bit, as if trying to figure it out. “Yes,” I said, “I really do. Most often, I like it more than people. Writing can’t hurt you.” This year, I’ve given myself fully to it. When I put myself into a writing retreat sort of situation, nothing else matters. I usually go away from home, in Sudbury, where I can get too complacent, or too apathetic, or I can procrastinate by cleaning and organizing cupboards to no end. I can meet interesting people, especially at writing retreats, but my best times are those on my own. The only exception to this rule was my time at the Banff Centre for Creativity and the Arts in April 2016. That stay changed my life and I made life-long friends who stay in touch fairly regularly. (Some people say that social media is negative but, for me, without a big family network anymore, it’s a necessary lifeline to connection and friendship. People who are blessed with partners and families might not get that, and that’s fine, but it’s all very true if you’re on your own most of the time.)

Banff changed my life. That sounds overdramatic, but if you’ve ever been there, and you’ve had to apply to get into a program with your own work, and then wait for an acceptance, and then meet other writers who love writing and reading as much as you do, well, it’s a magic place. It’s the only place, really, where I’ve been able to leave my life behind, to not pay attention to people I know, to escape my own life, and to devote myself solely to my craft. And doing that, giving time to myself alone, changed the way I viewed myself as a writer. It was an immersion that served me well, in terms of my development as a person and as a writer.

Since then, I’m very aware of how I am in groups of writers. I don’t do as well. I can’t be as productive. I’m distracted. I’m terribly curious and usually very shy at first. Then, I like to talk to people and I find them interesting. Plus, when you’re on your own, you usually talk to dogs a lot, so being around other writers is always interesting. I get a read of people quite quickly, which is helpful, but if I’m at a retreat, I usually have a purpose. I also really despise drama of any sort, and people always have drama. What I need most, then, as a writer, when I’m focused on a project or two, is to be on my own, and to be able to walk and hike on long roads in the middle of beautiful landscapes. That’s why I love Point Pelee and Essex County’s various conservations areas, and why I love the trails back home in Sudbury and on Manitoulin, and why I have so loved my time here in County Clare in the last two weeks.

So. This is a love letter to County Clare. Turn your head and avert your eyes if it’s all too much for you. I’ll understand.

I need to thank my friend, Frances, whom I’ve known forever and a day, for letting me stay in her family cottage in Spanish Point. It’s a magical little cottage, with a turf and coal fire that I’m quite adept at setting now. (My experiences in setting fires in Bobcaygeon were less adept, as some of my friends will remember!) There’s something absolutely lovely about being able to provide heat for yourself, and to sit in front of a fire and write into the night. It’s a bit primal, I know, but oh-so-poetic and romantic in a literary sense. I think a lot about Yeats and Heaney, and of Synge’s plays, so many of which were set in places in the West of Ireland. Now, well, they’ve come alive in my head and heart. I’ll re-read them when I’m home in Ontario…and know them all again in a new way. My favourite memories of my trip here will be of hiking the White Strand with Fran, standing on the edge of the Atlantic, and thinking of my favourite poem by Seamus Heaney, “Postscript.” I started to cry. She didn’t care. I’m glad of that. Sometimes, when I’m faced with something beautiful, something poetic, something immensely moving, I can’t help but get weepy. It makes me a poet, I suppose. Then, the next day, we spent time driving up to Loop Head, which is the most beautiful coastline I’ve seen in my entire life. Since then, I’ve mostly stayed here, in O’Neill Cottage, in Spanish Point, walking for hours every day, and writing for just as many, letting ideas slide through me, and trusting that something good will come of them at some point.

I visited Kilfenora, the City of Crosses as they call it here, because of its seven Celtic crosses, and the Cathedral of St. Fachnan (which dates from 1058). If you know me, and a few of you do, you’ll know that I touched a lot of stone that day. For me, stones are so powerful. They radiate energy and ancient wisdom. Step into a cathedral, a ruin, and touch a bit of an ancient Celtic cross (I know…I shouldn’t have, but I did!) and you’ll feel you’ve been transported back in time and place. There, too, I got to walk down to see St. Fachnan’s holy well and, in a moment alone, dipped my hand into the water, thinking of how many thousands of people would have done the same thing over hundreds of years. Faith, for me, anyway, is rooted in landscape, so being able to see one of County Clare’s famous ancient wells was a highlight I won’t soon forget.

The visit to Caherconnell, though, was one I won’t soon forget. It’s a Neolithic stone fort. Always circles and stones for me. This love of circles, the one that the Celts have, is something that I am drawn to, as well, in studying First Nations, Metis and Inuit cultures and traditions. So much of these ancient cultures makes more sense to me than any of the materialistic things we see in the world about us today. There, walking into a five thousand year old stone circle fort, seeing the remains of a fire pit, and a couple of little graves, split my heart open. The stone walls, in particular, are so beautiful. You can see waves of movement in the way the stones were placed, all those thousands of years ago, by people who lived, loved, and died inside those walls.  Most would have died by the time they hit the age of 40, which is unfathomable when you think of how healthy we all are now in our late 30s and 40s and 50s. (We’re likely much healthier at these ages now than our parents were at the same point in their own lives.) Life back then, even at Caherconnell in the 1500s, would have been hellish at times, especially in terms of health issues, but there is still such a sophistication of culture and spirituality in these ancient places and lives. The land at Caherconnell vibrates with energy. It’s the Burren, all limestone, and skies, and windy roads, and ghosts that walk across the landscape in my mind. The next time I come, I’m going to go out on a full day hike with a guide. I want to really walk it out and let it sink in. Hiking does that for me. That’s on my ‘next steps’ for County Clare, I know.

What else do I love about this place? Here we go: walking down to the beach as the tide begins to come in, searching for stones and shells, and watching the sun set over the black rocks; the yogurt at the Super Valu that is made with real Irish cream; the scones that you can buy fresh from the oven; the barman at Johnny Burke’s who says “Hello, love,” and who remembers that I’d like a pint of Hop House beer, even if I haven’t been in for a few days; the taxi cab driver who says something wise and, when I ask him who said it, looks over at me, laughs heartily, says, “Oh, my dear! I just made it up! Write it down! Sure! Write it down, darling!” Then, well, there’s the Clare crab claws and the fresh cod and asparagus; Sean’s bookshop in Miltown Malbay and the way he says, when you ask him if he has a specific book or author, will say, gesturing to a shelf absentmindedly, “Have a right good browse…take your time…and, if it’s there, it’s there.” I also love the cows that live along this Old Bog Road, and how they come over to speak to me when I start talking to them from the edge of the road, turning their heads and giving me lovely photos. Then there’s the weather, and how it changes on a dime. You can start a long walk along the roads, edging green fields divided by old stone walls, on a fairly fine morning, and within twenty minutes, the sun has gone behind the clouds, the rain is pushed up in a fine steady mist from the sea, and the hood on your jacket won’t stay up. I love it. By the end of yesterday’s walk, I was a bedraggled, smiling mess. The afternoon was a fire and lots of reading and writing. Heaven. And I’m glad I brought my hiking boots, not letting muck or wet fields deter me from getting closer to that gorgeous ocean.

What else? Listening to “The West Wind” on Clare FM every night from 7 until 9 in a darkened room, lit with candles and heat from the fire, loving the beauty of the traditional Irish music as it spins, dancing, through the room. I’m already set to get out to weekly Irish ceili dances back in Ontario this month, so this’ll just cement that love of music for me. And, today, cleaning up to leave, singing “The Parting Glass” out loud, letting the song rise up to the rafters and echo in the little house. It was, for me, a perfect song. And I love how they announce local deaths on Clare FM around 10 pm on a Wednesday night, giving names and funeral information for the people who’ve gone on, ending it all with “May they rest in peace.” (My grandmother would’ve fit right in here…)

Finally, and in the most lovely of ways, I’ll miss the birds here. They sing with a mad joy that I’ve never heard before, hiding in thick bushes that line the roadways, and then darting up into the sky with abandon. The magpies, too, have pulled at my heartstrings these last two weeks. (The cover of my new book of poems features a lovely magpie, and I sort of wasn’t sure of whether it would speak to me, as a poet and person, but seeing them everywhere here lets me know that that magpie of mine was meant to be. Magic. Serendipity. And gratitude. Such gratitude.)

I’ll miss County Clare a great deal, but I know I’ll be back. It’s a fine place to be, if you’re up for being on your own and writing. If you’re a real writer, you’ll know the pull of it all. It’s stronger than anything I know, this deep need to put words on paper, or screen, or to just say them out loud. Not a lot of people will get this, but some will, and might even nod a bit in reading this.

I feel blessed I’ve been able to give myself the space and time this year to cultivate my writing, to let it take a front row seat in my life, to let it lead me forward in ways I can’t even envision yet. There’s magic in it all, even when I’m frustrated by slowed progress, or by rejections, or by the way in which a head cold, or a sad heart, can slow me down. But this, even this, too, is all part of what I’ll put into my writing as I move forward, not knowing where I’m going all the time, but trusting I’ll get where I need to be going. All in good time. All in good time.

Ah, and there’s a side note or two here: 1) My hair, here, has found its place. It’s always bothered me, but I can’t count the number of women I’ve seen who have my hair and super pale skin, and it’s sort of divine. My hair’s been getting longer and wilder every day this year, and now I can celebrate it, knowing I can always pop back here when I feel uncertain about its mad curl. And, well, here you go. 2) The men of Dublin (or at least the ones I encountered last weekend) are fine men. They are well dressed, smell lovely, and are clean shaven with handsome faces. Above all, though, they know how to flirt in clear and sophisticated ways, so it’s lovely to feel yourself blushing when a compliment is so handsomely and artistically offered. It’s lovely to feel so flattered when you aren’t used to that sort of clarity and sophistication with Canadian men. These ones, though, they’re quick on their feet, and with their words and manners. These Dublin men. I’ll raise a glass to them any day. (I may just put my name over to Willie Daly’s matchmaking book at Lisdoonvarna…if he can find me a Dublin man. We’ll see. That’s next year. 🙂



Here are some of the photos I’ve taken while I’ve been here…


Blackbirds on an afternoon walk in Spanish Point, County Clare.


Water main cover, Ennistimon, County Clare, featuring my favourite symbol, the triskele, at the centre of all things in life.


The painted buildings of Ennistimon, County Clare.



The loveliest tree I’ve seen in a very long time, at Ennistimon, The Cascades, County Clare. thumbnail-2.jpg

The Cascades and that lovely bridge, Ennistimon, County Clare.


O’Neill Cottage back window view. Birds.

thumbnail-4.jpgMe, watching the sunset on the beach at Spanish Point, County Clare. thumbnail-5.jpgCaherconnell, The Burren, County Clare.


thumbnail-6.jpgKilfenora, The Burren.

thumbnail-7.jpgMy corvids…on the sign leading to the holy well down the lane at Kilfenora, County Clare.



Kilfenora on a rainy day. (And always my doorways and windows…)

thumbnail-8.jpgAnd one from Dublin…a new favourite bookstore found: The Winding Stair. In the window reflection, the image of the famous Ha’Penny Bridge over the Liffey.


Lost tin whistle, September 30, in Miltown Malbay.

IMG_0887.jpgThe Witch’s Cauldron, Spanish Point, County Clare.

IMG_0593.jpgA night walk, at Spanish Point, County Clare.

IMG_0422.jpgObligatory sunset photo by the sea, courtesy of Fran, Spanish Point, County Clare.

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