Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Choosing The Right Path


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Have you ever realized that you were on the wrong path, or that the one which used to inspire and fulfill you, no longer seemed relevant in your life? Were you tempted to make a big change, or did you play it safe and stay put?

A few years back I came to such a devastating realization. It wasn’t long after that, when an unexpected request came knocking on my door. A voice from deep inside me was saying if I did not honor my authentic self and risk failure, I might never have another opportunity to follow my bliss where ever it took me. “Go ahead,” it seemed to say. “Put your heart in it and just do it.”

In 2009 I took a leap of faith and changed my career path to that of a freelance writer. I began doing the work I love, using my writing skills to help people pen their memoir or turn their non-fiction material into a completed book manuscript and successfully have it published. Since I began this journey, one of my co-authored books earned the runner-up position, and two were recognized as Outstanding in their categories, enough to win Nationally Recognized Gold and Silver Book Awards. Wow! Not only have I received joyful recognition for my work, but I also helped others to achieve their literary goals and dreams. I am looking forward with gratitude and excitement as I continue on the path of the writer’s life and helping other writers for as long as I possibly can.

In the opening days of 2016 my client and co-author, Digene Farrar, surprised me with a wonderful message of her acknowledgement:

NABE – Fall 2015 – Award Announcement

Pinnacle Book Achievement
AWARD WINNERS

For the past 33 years NABE
The National Association of Book Entrepreneurs,
presents some of the finest books published by their members.
Scroll below to check out the latest Pinnacle Book Achievement Award Winners.

http://www.bookmarketingprofits.com/PinnacleAwardsFall2015.html

Not My Secret to Keep: A Memoir of Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse

by Digene Farrar with Cynthia Hurn

Not My Secret_

Winner of the Fall 2015
NABE Gold Award for
Pinnacle Book Achievement
Genre: Memoir

NewPinnacleAward3D2

What a great way to welcome in the New Year – watching Digene do the Happy Dance!

Congratulations, Digene. You certainly earned it!

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Filed under Announcements, biographical, Editorial, Non-Fiction, Uncategorized

Love Lessons: A talk with Dr. Bernie S. Siegel and Cynthia J. Hurn


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Filed under Announcements, Editorial, Non-Fiction, Spiritual wisdom, Uncategorized

Resurrection


As she waited to hear back from the hospital she found herself thinking about her brother’s bedroom – magical, mysterious, and strictly off limits unless she knocked and received permission to enter. A rare treat that he gave only when she promised not to ask too many questions….

“Brucie, what’s this?” she asked, fingering a fishhook from the tin box on her brother’s workbench.

“Put it down. If that gets stuck in your thumb, I’ll have to push it all the way through and you’ll cry like a girl.”

She examined the sharp point and barb, then dropped the hook and picked up another one. “What’s it for?”

“Fly fishing.” Her brother set a small hook in the workbench clamp. Taking two scarlet feather fronds from a cardboard container he placed them against the hook and spiraled golden silk thread round and round the ends, flush to the base of the curved steel, transforming the hook into an alluring winged insect.

“Wow, that’s pretty. What do you do with it?”

“You tie it on your rod like this…” Retrieving a spool from his tackle box, Bruce threaded nylon through the fishhook loop, then tied a knot and cut the line in one deft movement. He tossed the hook into the air and flicked the line back and forth. Light from his workbench lamp glinted against the shimmering gold and scarlet.

She forgot it was merely feather and steel and sat mesmerized by the dancing insect that responded to her brother’s hand.

“When this lure strikes the water,” he said, “the trout thinks Supper! He leaps to the surface, gulps the insect, and snap!” Bruce jerked his wrist. “That’s when the fish becomes my supper,” he said with a laugh.

~ * ~

It was the jangling telephone that dragged her back to the here and now. After the call she sat in stunned silence. “He’s gone,” was all her sister could say.

She imagined the neurosurgeon tying silk stitches, closing the hole where the tumor had been. The surgeon’s thread was shimmering gold.

At the corner of her vision, something flickered past the window drawing her attention outside. There an incredibly beautiful, scarlet dragonfly danced in the morning sun.

“Hi Bruce,” she whispered. “How did you do that?”

dragonfly2

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Filed under biographical, Fiction, Flash & Micro Fiction, Non-Fiction

Another Grandie Story


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My daughter, Terry, teaches yoga on Wednesdays, so every other week I get my youngest grandson, Jesse, for the day. The other grandmother takes the opposite weeks. Terry refers to the plural version of us as “the Grandies.”

It was mostly drizzling yesterday, so after we walked Tess, my golden retriever, Jesse and I decided to go to the Williton library. When he first arrived at my house, he’d been fascinated with my wheeled computer case which was still in the living room from my previous day’s visit to the Somerset Cancer Care group where I gave a 1 ½ – hour talk about Bernie Siegel’s books and a 20-minute meditation that used his creative visualization methods for healing.

Jesse zipped and unzipped the various compartments, and I showed him how to extend the collapsible handle so he could wheel the case around the room. He put a big book in the case and transported it all over the house. Could we bring it to the library? Okay, I said, what a great idea! Jesse insisted on wheeling the case (nearly as big as he is) out to the car and lifting it into the back all by himself. He’s incredibly strong, adept, and patient for a nearly-three-year-old.

When we got to Williton all the car parks were full, so I parked way down a back lane, leaving Jesse and I a fair hike into the town. The minute Jesse got out of the car he unloaded the wheeled case, determined to do it himself. He then proceeded to pull it behind him all the way into town and over to the library at such a fast pace, I had to trot to keep up with him. Occasionally the case would catch on a building corner or pavement edge, halting him with a jerk. Not a problem for the imperturbable Jesse! He’d look back, adjust the case onto the narrow path, and take off once again at full speed. In the meantime, I was his wingman, making sure no vehicles or other pedestrians could be run over by my grandson. God help them, if they got in his way – He was on a mission!

When we reached our destination, the library had two automatic doors to navigate, these being part of a wheelchair friendly, s-bend entrance. It may have been friendly for wheelchairs, but it constituted quite a challenge for a toddler towing a 2-wheeled monster, nearly as big as him. I was directed by my grandson to stand aside, for he was capable of getting it through those doors, all by himself. Having been the youngest child in my family tree, I understood the importance of his request and said, “Okay, Jesse… go for it!” And go he did. The quiet library became a lot less quiet upon our entrance, but nobody seemed to mind when they saw the cause of the minor commotion. Smiles and charmed expressions of “awhhh” followed Jesse’s stage-left to stage-right entrance.

We parked the wheeled monster in a safe place then navigated over to the child’s reading corner. The library has a wonderful assortment of colorful, creative seating for kids – everything from a wooden steam engine filled with books and bench to pooh bear cushioned cubes. Jesse led me straight to the “oooh oooh train,” sat down on the bench, and pointed to the 8” space beside him. “Sit here, Grannie C.”

Now the last time I looked at the width of my derriere, I’m sure it was greater than the space Jesse’s chosen seat afforded. Being a very special grannie, however, I prepared to wiggle my butt down into that wedge of space, which seemed to shrink in size the closer I got to it, while my bottom appeared to grow proportionately bigger. As I squatted my knees creaked like a door in a haunted house.

“Let me know if I’m squashing you,” I said to Jesse, realizing that I’d reached the point of no return. If he squealed now, my only recourse was to fall forward onto the floor, flat on my face in a most inelegant, but perhaps entertaining way for grandsons.  The things I do for love…

After we read about ten very entertaining books, Jesse popped out of the train seat and I did the grannie version of popping out – a much slower unfurling in an upward direction, using book shelves as props. Thank goodness they were bolted to the floor.

Jesse retrieved the parked black bag on wheels, which I now realized could be mistaken for a UED (unexploded device). Luckily no alerts had been declared, no armies called upon, no panics risen – this was just a quiet little village library where nasty things don’t happen, and all is well with our little world – thank goodness.

Jesse’s exit was smoother than his entrance, proving that practice does reap positive results. He high-tailed it back towards the town center, ‘Grannie C’ doing her best to keep up the pace and protect passersby, while alerting Jesse to the dangers in his environment. “Puddle ahead, Jesse!  Go AROUND it, please, not through it. Mind that lady – don’t knock her over – there’s a good boy. Let the lorry go first, Jesse. Not a good idea to challenge lorries. They always win.”

Jesse came to a sudden halt at the café we’d passed earlier. The cakes in the window had missed his glance before, but not this time. “How about stopping for a piece of cake?” I asked. Apparently that was the right question.

I quickly learned that the fewer choices a child is given, the better. Decisions between one good thing and another are nigh impossible to make, so I said to the lady behind the counter, “Jesse and I will split that big chocolate brownie.” He looked pleased and relieved at my taking the bull by the horns to make such a crucial executive decision. In return, I let him choose the table. We stored the UED-on-wheels under the table and sat down to a chocolate indulgence. I was glad we split the bar in half; it was so rich a whole slice would have been too much for me, let alone for Jesse.

After our café treat, we clambered back to the car and drove to the beach so Tess could have a good run. While Tess had her explore, Jesse did what kids do, no matter the weather. He got down in the sand and started digging. His little hands grew red from the cold, but they worked diligently nevertheless.  Woe to any rock that thought it had a safe haven from weather; as soon as Jesse uncovered one he’d toss or heave it out of the hole and onto the beach. The rocks would have to wait for the next storm to provide a sandy cover again. For now exposure to the elements seemed to be their destined lot; it’s a good thing they’ve got hard skin.

Lungs filled with fresh air and clothes with wet sand, we drove back to the house and had a late lunch together.

Finger food is Jesse’s favorite. Those crunchy, dried green beans from Africa always bring a smile to his face, plus the sharp cheddar cheese that I tell him “will knock your socks off.” He looks at his feet and back at me, then laughs at the joke. Chopped apple, a sprinkle of cinnamon, some cranberry/pumpkin seed bread toasted and buttered with Terry’s plum jam, a few grapes, and we’ve got a feast fit for a king, let alone a nearly three-year-old boy. He slowly devours them all while we talk about things boys like.

Today’s subject covers favorite songs, Jesse’s currently being a condensed version of Baa Baa Black Sheep, and I tell him about the Take Me Out To The Ball Game song that everybody sings at baseball games in America. I realize he doesn’t have a clue about baseball, so I take the opportunity to introduce my grandson to the American tradition. This is, after all, essential education!

We go into the living room to my big screen computer, and he sits on my lap while I find a YouTube video with people singing the song at a game. We watch the baseball play and sing the song along with the crowd, and every time we come to the end, Jesse wants to do it again. I fill him in on the roles of the batter, catcher, and pitcher, and we laugh at the men sliding into each other at the bases and the guy who leaps to catch the fly ball but takes a dive over the wall and lands on his nose, feet flapping in the air, as the crowd behind him clamor to catch the ball. “Batter’s got a HOME RUN!” I shout, and Jesse gets excited, though he doesn’t really understand why.

Jesse asks for a digger video next, so I find a 20-minute video of three diggers, cranes, and dump trucks working on clearing a building site. He is transfixed by these machines and talks about what they are doing – the size of the load – where they are dumping – the difference between one truck and another – the distance the digger arm reaches. I can’t help but get enthused with him, for he’s showing me how to see them through his eyes, and it is impressive – almost miraculous – what they are capable of. While I give Jesse some Yankee culture, he gives me an education on big plant machines.

After a while, I go over and sit on the sofa next to Tess, leaving Jesse in my chair to watch the last few minutes of a scene with power jack hammer digging up the pavement. When I look back at him, he’s seated in my chair but he’s not looking at the screen. He’s looking at me. His eyes land on mine, and he holds my gaze for such a long time with what can only be called an eye-hug. The love in his eyes is so obvious it brings tears to mine. I gaze back at him and stay inside the moment, sending him an eye-hug back, soaking up everything this moment contains, knowing it won’t last long. One day Jesse will be grown and he’ll be interested in doing all kinds of things – few of them involving his grannie. But now he’s honestly enjoying his time with me, and I’m treasuring my time with him.

A few floor games later, we realize it’s nearly 4pm, time to get his sisters. Though we usually walk, I decide to drive to the school because it’s started to rain again and we’ve already been wet and dried once today, which is plenty enough for me. Izzy and Raffy look happy to see us, pile into the car with their stories and school gear, and off we go to their house. A hot mug of ginger tea and a couple card games of rummy at the kitchen table are a fun way to enjoy the girls. Terry soon arrives home with Farley, the oldest grandson, and as she and Jim go about making supper, Farley joins the card game, only to slaughter his grannie and sisters with his rummy hand.

Finally I head home for my own supper and an evening’s appointment on Skype to record one hour of  Ted’s story interview for his memoir. The nearly ninety year old glows as he recalls his working days on Panama Canal, his time in the Navy during WWII, and 14 years of mining gold up in the Yukon during the 60s – 70s. As I listen to Ted, all I can see in my mind are Jesse’s eyes, not blinking, not averting, but really looking into mine, sending a love message, a hug like no other.

And I know I have the best memories of all.

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Filed under Editorial, Non-Fiction

My Ghostwriting Project Is On the Bookshelves!


Alt Med Cover

Last year Dr Mel Borins hired me to ghostwrite a non-technical, light-hearted narrative for medical articles he’d written – articles meant for doctors’ eyes only. He hoped I would bring them to life in a way that would appeal to and be useful to the general public. While I researched the history of many alternative herbs and treatments, folklore, botanical information and human interest stories – as well as interviewing Dr. Mel about his own experiences – I was able to help him create his new book “A Doctor’s Guide to Alternative Medicine: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why.”

This was a fascinating project for me, one that changed how I look at my own healthcare and how I choose alternative methods, which I regularly use. I thought modern science and traditional medicine had to be worlds apart, but I learned through my research and writing, just how complimentary they are. This was a 6-month journey for me into the work of a general practitioner who truly cares for people, loves life, and encourages people to live it to the fullest.

In his new book, Mel Borins will take you across the world to exotic places where he studied traditional methods that have served people well for thousands of years, methods that scientists are now studying with much interest. Using real-life examples, he shows what makes doctors reluctant to encourage self-treatment with certain alternative products or therapies. He doesn’t take sides this way or that; he gives the reader enough information to make better, more informed choices, and learn what to look for when trying any new alternative.

The book is an excellent read and valuable reference for individuals and families. I hope you buy the book; I hope you read it; I’m certain you’ll enjoy it and discover new ways of achieving and maintaining a healthy, more comfortable body.

The forward was written by Dr. Bernie Siegel who inspired Mel’s generation of doctors and who opened the minds of the medical profession to treating people, rather than disease. Both of these men are way ahead of their time. Their work is extraordinary. They are healers in the truest sense of the word.  Buy it. Read it. Enjoy, and live well.

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Finding My Ontological Core


 

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This week I faced a chore that I kept putting off. I still had nineteen loose leaf notebooks full of lecture notes and all the university papers I had written. I loved my time in school, which didn’t happen until I was in my 50’s. Thoroughly committed to the opportunity of further education, I enjoyed every moment, and felt blessed to be in my professors’ classes. But now that I’m moving back to England, humping nineteen notebooks around the world doesn’t make practical sense. A mighty big pruning job was in order. I dreaded it.

I sat down with my dog, Cherokee, one night and tuned into the Celtic CalmRadio channel. Then I went through every notebook, just as friends who stop to have a last cup of coffee before parting ways. Page after page of information stared up at me while the inspiration of people sharing knowledge and opening minds together filled my mind and heart. I said goodbye to Physics and Stages of Human Development; I nearly wept as I parted with Perception and Physiology of the Brain. Even Statistics, the domineering schoolmaster of science which had terrified me with the stilted tempo of its title, had captured a part of my heart.

One by one, the toppling tome-pile shrunk. At the end of this paper exorcism, I found myself with two notebooks that I could not bear to leave behind. The first contained all my lecture notes and writings from Professor Doug Rice’s Creative Writing classes. Two hours with him was like entering another whole lifetime. His passion for story and words instilled me with a Jesuit’s love of perfection and beauty in every shade of existence. His commentaries on my assignments still teach me today and every time I struggle to read his nearly indecipherable pen, I learn something new about life – which means, of course – about writing.

The last notebook was a journal I kept throughout my days in a volunteer project – an assignment that was inspired by the Children’s Literature class. For one semester, I went to Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services and spent one hour every week with thirteen children; all but one of them were children of Hispanic workers. For the first half hour, I would read a 14-page illustrated storybook to the kids, stopping every few pages to ask questions and involve them in the story. Then when the book was done, I’d have a craft ready for them to make and the craft would relate somehow to the story. As we worked, we talked, or rather, they talked and I listened. They were such beautiful kids with spirits that shone.

One day we read a story about a Native American grandfather who was preparing his grandson for the day he would leave this physical world. I asked the kids how many had grandparents who were alive and they all raised their hands. Then I asked how many of them got to see them regularly, at least once a year, and only one child raised his hand. The kids’ parents had no legal papers to be in the country; one of the consequences is the physical rift between loved family members. It broke my heart and I suddenly realized how important my reading to them must be. It was a humbling moment. At the end of the semester, the kids surprised me with a party with cards and cake and gifts they made, and they crowded around me and climbed all over me like a pile of puppies. I realized I had become the Native American storyteller – a figure I’ve always loved, with multiple children seated upon and around her.

This notebook is a journal filled with notes about each story and craft and about how the children responded. It contains all the emails the Director and I exchanged and her handwritten letter of thanks, saying that the program was so successful, she was contacting the college to see if they could continue doing it with an internship program. The photographs show kids’ faces entranced as I read, or their hands busy making memory necklaces and forming clay pots.

After spending hours of notebook pruning, the two branches I could not bear to lop brought me to an epiphany. Professor Rice had commented on one of my stories that he felt I “hadn’t identified the ontological core.” He suspected the story’s core was about the loss of my family and my search to bring it back. So finally, it hit me. It all boils down to this: I spent six years in college only to discover that my greatest desire and goal in life was something I’ve wanted since I was a little girl. I wanted to tell stories, and when I grew up, I wanted to be with my grandchildren climbing all over me.

In a few days I begin my journey back to my family, back to England. There my childhood dreams will become reality.

Life is such a blessing.

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No Buddy Left Behind


When I started writing this blog over two years ago, I never dreamed that the book I co-authored with Terri Crisp of SPCA International would hit NUMBER THREE on Wall Street Journal’s BEST SELLERS Top-Ten List for Non-Fiction E-Books.  It’s hard to describe how incredible it feels.  Gratitude – lots and lots of gratitude.  Thank you Terri for the opportunity to work on your story and those of the soldiers and animals they befriended.

So, to all my readers, according to the Wall Street Journal, our book is one you don’t want to miss reading:

No Buddy Left Behind: Bringing U.S. Troops’ Dogs and Cats Safely Home from the Combat Zone by Terri Crisp and C J Hurn (Me).

You can order it from your local bookstore, or buy it online as hardback, audio or e-book. In July the paperback version will be coming out as well.

See link to May 18, 2012 Wall Street Journal below. No Buddy is in 3rd place in the 2nd section down (Non-fiction E-books)

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304363104577389970643064172.html?mod=WSJ_Books_LS_Books_13

Other top-selling books I have been blessed to contribute non-fiction stories to:

and

Right now I am working with Bernie Siegel on his next book, The Art of Healing, (New World Library).

Terri and Cindy in Erbil, Northern Iraq  – February, 2011

Thank You Terri for a life-changing opportunity

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Whale of a Day


Fridays and sailors don’t get along, so I’ve been told. And no sailor in his right mind would begin even the shortest journey on Friday the 13th if he could avoid it. Perhaps that’s why Ed Young and I were the only two people at the harbor that morning.

Last Christmas I decided to purchase myself a gift certificate for a two-hour tour with Whidbey Island Kayaking Company. I had previously enjoyed kayaking in California, but always on a lake-reservoir. Now I was hoping to have as much fun in the ocean as I’d had on the lake. All winter I waited, looking forward to the day when I’d slip gently between swelling waves, leave life’s worries behind and paddle my happy craft along the coast. It had seemed to take forever for Spring to come, but finally, at long last, Spring and I arrived at the harbor along with my inner child, who, bouncing like Tigger, threatened to make me act sillier than adult behavior decrees.

Ed and his wife began Whidbey Island Kayak Company as a retirement project ten years ago.  With a generous assortment of kayaks and well-trained guides, Ed and his crew take tours out of Langley Harbor. For many of Ed’s guests, this is the first time they’ve ever sat in a self-powered boat, let alone a kayak, so before launching, Ed takes time to help each person become accustomed to the feel of the vessel and to learn basic safety techniques.

Kayaking season around here usually begins in March, along with the migration of Orcas and Grey whales, but smart ocean kayakers wait for relatively calm weather. This year the March Lion refused to make way for the lamb. All month I waited as Mother Nature released her vengeance; she down-poured and flowed; she gusted and snowed, and I desperately tried to be patient. Come April and our first day of partial sun, I called Ed. While he checked his tides list, I checked my weather forecaster. The week beginning April 8th looked encouraging for late morning high tides, when whales were most likely to be feeding, but Monday through Wednesday had predictions of wind gusts up to 25mph. “Thursday the 12th looks good,” said Ed.

“Sorry, I’ve got several appointments that day.”

“Are you superstitious?” he asked. “We could go on Friday the 13th.”

I respect the ocean and her moods, but I have no time for superstitions that curtail my opportunity for exercise, wonder and just plain fun. “Friday the 13th sounds perfect,” I said.

Langley Harbor lies at the bottom of a 300-ft. cliff on the eastern edge of town. If you stood at the end of 2nd Street, it would be easy to miss seeing the harbor altogether, tucked tightly below the coastal road. As I drove down the small lane that, carved diagonally into the cliff, hugs verdant growth, I wondered just how much the rising seas and rain erosion threaten the road. At the bottom, the shore broadens out, leaving enough room for a few guest houses, a pub and some harbor parking.

Ed arrived just as I parked my car. There were only two of us that day, so he unloaded a two-person kayak, which was fine with me. The water was calm at the moment, but oceans have a habit of changing almost without notice, and I was grateful he’d be in charge of our vessel on my first time out. After we geared up and went through the safety review, Ed decided to visit the public toilet across the way. Just as he turned to go, I gazed out to sea. Suddenly a heart-shaped mist appeared above the water and then dissolved about 100 yards from where I was standing.

“I think I saw a whale,” I called to Ed.

“What?” Ed stopped and waited to see if anything more broke the surface. He hadn’t seen the spray, but gave me the benefit of the doubt. When no other sign presented itself, he said, “I’ll just make a quick visit and then we’ll head out.”  At that moment, two whale-sprays appeared about 50 yards away from me. “Forget the bathroom,” Ed said. “Let’s go!” He pulled the kayak into the water, told me to get in and adjusted my footrests.  A minute later we launched, eyes peeled on the spot where the whales had been spouting.

Moments after we launched, one of the whales breached the water’s surface, his spine looking more like the Loch Ness monster than what I had expected. I was used to seeing Orcas with their characteristic dorsal fin, but not this smooth-backed creature.  “It’s a Grey whale,” Ed said. “Judging by the length of our 20 ft. kayak, I’m guessing he’s about 30 to 35 feet long.”

Unlike Orcas (Killer Whales) which are members of the Porpoise family, Grey whales have no dorsal fin. We kept a respectful distance to avoid disturbing their feeding, but they were well aware of us.  Every few minutes, a giant barnacled head would emerge, and one eye, just above the water-line, would stare directly at us. A bulge on top of the head revealed two nostril-like holes or spouts before the whale retreated below the surface.

A minute later, the pectoral fin would rise like a wind-filled sail, giving us the whale’s version of a High Five.

His giant fin was patterned in shades of black, grey and white. Just as one sees pictures in clouds, I made out the profile of a smiling sea lion on one whale’s fin. “The patterns are formed by barnacles,” Ed explained. I hadn’t brought my camera, but Ed used his phone to take dozens of pictures. Many electronic cameras these days have an annoying time-lapse after you snap the shot and Ed’s phone camera was no exception. We wished the whales would stay still long enough for him to capture these remarkable moments, but of course, they paid no heed to our desires.  All we could do was hope for a least one good photo.

Just as cows or sheep meander through meadows while they graze, so did our giant friends. Their movements were surprisingly slow and relaxed. I half expected to hear a whale version of the bath time song Rubber Ducky bubbling up from below as they lay on their sides and scooped sand, filtering it with their tongue against baleen screens.

For over an hour, we paddled and rested repeatedly, working our way gradually east-south-east while the whales seemed to accompany us between feeding stops.  In one deserted spot, the whales swam so close to the shore, a person standing on the tiny beach could easily have waded out and touched them, but no one was there.  Ed and I were their only witnesses and we kept our distance.

Ed was the perfect guide. He shared his knowledge about whales and tides and matters of the coast, and he spaced his talking between generous layers of silence, leaving me room to enjoy the paddle and merge with the sea adventure. “Over the years I’ve come to know their habits, so I can often successfully predict where the whales will be,” Ed said. “Some of our guests have asked me if I was a whale whisperer,” he laughed. He went on to explain more about the two giants we were watching.

Grey whales migrate every spring from the warm waters off Baja California where they spend the winter months mating and giving birth. They don’t feed during that period. Southern waters contain no food fit for a baleen whale. These hungry creatures were now en route to the waters off Alaska where they would fill their bellies with krill, plankton and other delicacies. Over the years, a dozen or more members of the Grey whale population had learned that the surface layer of Whidbey Island’s shallow coves was rich with tiny crustaceans. This particular small group of opportunistic travelers made an annual fast-food stop here before continuing on to their northern destination. I guess you could say they keep Whidbey’s secret from the other whales, much as a fisherman jealously guards the location of his catch. Islanders wait for the Grey family every year and some of the members are easily recognized, especially the elder male, named Patches.

Last year, people stood on the shore of Penn Cove, just north of Coupeville, and watched in horror as Patches battled with a pod of transient Orcas that were trying to kill one of the two youngsters Patches had in his charge. He put up quite a fight; the Orcas eventually gave up and left to hunt elsewhere for easier prey. But everyone saw the blood. Patches had suffered injuries that could be fatal. He disappeared that day along with his charges, and wasn’t seen again for the rest of the year. “He’s an old trooper, over 40 feet long, and we’ve all come to love him,” Ed explained. “You can imagine how thrilled we were last week, when Patches was spotted off Harrington Lagoon. That tough old whale made it through another year.”

When our kayaks neared Sandy Point, Ed suggested that we paddle well ahead and get downwind of the two giants. The bays on either side of Sandy Point are favorite feeding spots, and we didn’t want the whales to feel pressured to move on because of us. As soon as we paddled ahead, they followed our kayaks and stayed much closer than we expected. It’s easy enough to stay out of a whale’s way when you are following him, but when he starts shadowing you, there’s not much you can do to keep your distance. Did they know where we were going? Were these whales playing tag with us or just curious? Perhaps they thought we were racing them to the feeding ground, trying to claim the feast for ourselves.

After we got downwind, the larger of the two whales spouted, and the wind carried his spray to our nostrils. “Can you smell that?” Ed asked. Just as a gardener breathes in the deep aroma of damp earth and rich loam when his spade lifts the soil, so we inhaled the fresh, warm scent of sand, crustacean and whale breath. I held the expired air of a whale in my lungs and sat there in awed wonder. Goose bumps traced my awareness of whale-spirit up and down my arms. Before that moment, I had been fascinated by whales and concerned for their safety. Now, I became acutely aware of our interconnection; our very existence linked as the atoms of spiraling DNA. We were separate parts of one whole, clearly conscious of each other. Was this was the lesson I’d been sent to learn?

A ribbon of foam on the surface of the water gave evidence that the tide had just changed. A brisk wind carried chilly gusts that whipped up the previously calm surface, and churned the sea with intention. “We’d better head back,” Ed advised. “It’s going to get a little rough.” We turned the kayak around, and I glanced over my shoulder, hoping for one last glimpse of the whales. At that moment, the two silent giants made a dive into deeper water.  Their graceful tail flukes rose towards the heavens, and they seemed to be waving us goodbye.

There was no time to sit and gaze. The sea, which had been sparkling blue had now turned black and ominous. Waves grew choppy, some hitting us head on and the occasional white-crested one would smash our bow, spraying my face and dump fistfuls of freezing water into my lap.  I felt as if the ocean was teasing me, trying to see if I’d succumb to fear. But the vigorous paddling energized my body, and the cold wash of wind and wet was exhilarating and just plain fun. I smiled so hard and for so long on that paddle home, I feared the smile would weld onto my face in a permanent Cheshire Cat grin. The thought made me laugh. It’s impossible to be miserable when you’re smiling.

“How are you doing?” Ed asked as we reached the halfway point.

“Fine!” I replied. “Were you worried about me coping with these waves?”

He was quiet for moment before saying, “I’ve learned over the years that there is one thing a guide should never say in the kayak.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Uh-oh.”

I burst out laughing and imagined the expression on guests’ faces when their guide let loose the ominous sound. Ed’s sense of humor is one more attribute that makes him an excellent kayaking companion.

For the next forty minutes, a bald eagle flew between us and the shore, hunting and resting on Douglas fir branches, then swooping over the water again. He accompanied us all the way back to the harbor in the same way as the whales had led us out, and I felt almost as if he’d been sent to ensure our safe return. Every once in a while the sun would flash on his pure white tail feathers like a wink of encouragment and a hearty ‘Well done.’

I thoroughly enjoyed our invigorating paddle back to the harbor.  We made it back in pretty good time.  “In the ten years that I have been taking tours out,” Ed confessed as we unloaded the kayak, “I can think of only four times that were as remarkable as today. We will often sight the whales in deeper water, about half way between here and Camano Island, but they come nowhere near as close to our kayaks as they did today. We usually expect to have a few minutes of sightings at this time of the year, but you had at least one hour with two whales. That’s incredible. It seems your Friday the 13th turned out to be an unusually lucky day.”

If you haven’t taken the opportunity lately to enjoy the simple pleasures of putting paddle to water and exploring our beautiful island coast, why not treat yourself?  Let Ed or his guides take you safely through an unforgettable morning or an afternoon journey.

For more information and contact details, visit their website: http://www.whidbeyislandkayaking.com/

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Sacrifice and Silence


He was in London earning their keep,

making what he could, stashing it away

for the things they needed

while she waited, frustrated

wishing she were there, or better yet,

that he’d come home

Together was so much better

even if it did mean less

Together was more to her

It was everything

She pondered so long in the silence

that the sun slipped unnoticed

behind the hill

that space where she could sit

with enough view to be still

think and sink deep

away from the loneliness

the solitude of dreaming

and wishing his return

Heart spilled so willing into those hills

she never saw the creature’s approach

she, quiet as a stone, except for breathing

until something moved in the dusk

and walked across her feet

heavy against her toes, light and quick on his;

Two black bands, flag of his species

marked the intense white face

and thick fur, the char-grey body

brushed past in an instant

unaware of the human he trod on

knowing only himself

bull badger

Responsibility on his mind

tread out and forage for food;

bring it back to the sett

be rejoined with mate and cubs

but the diggings are better

on the other side of the hill

a night’s walk away

Leaving them behind, he went hunting

All they need is food, she thought

unlike us

In the dim evening light, her only company 

an infant nursing at her breast

She stood and stretched

pushed blood and breath into her limbs

and walked down the hill

back to their empty house

wishing it took less to be human

glad at least of her one sweet cub

and of toes, trampled by a badger

Badger Image courtesy of: http://www.borderpics.co.uk/badgerpics/images/badger_emerging_4232.jpg

Posted for One Shot Wednesday

Posted to http://onesingleimpression.blogspot.com/ Prompt 172: Long For

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Walking the Sun Awake


6:00 a.m.

Sound shreds the gentle dark

the anonymity of sleep that held me 

lulled me through unconsciousness

for eight blessed hours

shattered, ruined and tossed

in piercing shards, daggered awake

high pitched, throbbing and insistent

mosquito on a Red Bull binge

the sound refuses to stop

6:01 a.m.

My blind hand reaches for something

before my brain slips into gear

the ridged plastic bar fills my fingers

I, a well-trained rat in Pavlovian experiment

press the bar 

censor the sound

opiate waves of relief flood my body

struggling clothes at the foot of the bed

donned in the dark

6:05 a.m.

Like a burglar leaving the scene of the crime

my hand slides the screen door silently back

don’t disturb the neighbors, my sweetheart, or my dog

escape into the dark before anyone asks

Is the coffee ready

Did you remember to pack my lunch

My dog dish is empty and Take me with you

Where’s the toilet paper

Can I have a biscuit

Do I smell bacon burning

I slip out before all that starts

6:10 a.m.

Bright, white and glowing

a Cheshire cat grin

claims the indigo sky as its own

yesterday’s gritty moon

 washed by dew

and night

The soft padding sound

my feet playing a pavement drum

careful to avoid the cracks

though my mother died long since

and the only back I can break

is mine

6:15 a.m.

Street poles spread orange light

A-line skirts against the night air

urge my walking-running toes

first to this pole, then the next

breaking it down so that

all I have ahead of me

are accomplishable goals

the quiet peace still surrounds me

dawn grows less dim

6:20 a.m.

Two figures, one tall, one short

pumping hands and feet in rythym

approach and pass, not even smiles

somehow aware of the unspoken

rule of the pre-dawn walker and runner

we don’t break the spell

we just nod

and keep going

6:25 a.m.

Slipping past houses of black and grey

lamplit windows giving away

those whose occupants have risen

or maybe never went to sleep

walls turn from grey to beige

and charcoal lawns spread green

revealing the sun has risen

my heart beats faster

pumping feet carry me

round the last corner

6:30 a.m.

Light fills the sky as sound steals the road

throbbing wheels and engines

full of people heading into the day

oblivious of my quiet world on foot

and of the robin who woke

as I passed his branch

he sat still, trusting

that I would not disturb him

streets lights sign off duty

one block from home

6:35 a.m.

I slip inside the quiet house

and close the sliding door

an alarm clock rings upstairs

feet hit the floor above me

and the shower door slams open

then closes to the sound of screaming water

my dog’s tail thumps in greeting

I missed you

Where have you been?

“Walking the sun awake,” I tell her

as if she might believe

that is one of my responsibilities

 

Photo courtesy of Google images: http://claire.nu/day/001.jpg

 

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The First Time We Met


When I entered your space

you stood in the corner

Your dark dove eye

sought my gaze and waited

not knowing if I had come

to comfort or hurt

though I had the power for either

You, expecting nothing

except perhaps that I might

reach out to touch you

but I didn’t

 

I squatted inside the stable door

drew your eyes to my body by gazing

at your shoulders and back

waiting until you

came to me

curious and open

You smelled my hair, snorted

massaged my scalp

velvet lips and the whiskered

soft pad of your chin

all the while me wondering

if you’d challenge

this strange invader

with your teeth

but you didn’t

 

I rose to my height

nestled my shoulder

into your neck

deep as an overstuffed chair

and my cheek against your mane

crisp heavy sharp-strands

You nuzzled my back

Then, and only then

I touched you

 

My palm smoothed

by the grain of your neck

human skin met silken hide

sliding down the iron-grey

slipping across warm wrinkles

that gathered at the meeting

of breast and shoulder

soft like a puppy’s muzzle

My skin craved more

 

You stood, listening

my hands traveled

the continents of your withers,

back, sides and belly

wide like a baby whale

twitching when invaded by fly

stilled for my exploring hands

yet not ignoring

your senses never sleep

 Fingers rounded the curve of your leg

sliding down, smooth glide

I found the velvet vessel

feeding forearm to frog 

pulsing and soft 

under tendon and flesh

hidden in the groove

between bones

splint and cannon

You shifted, passed your weight

to the other locked leg

lifted one tidy hoof

into my hand

 

Planting your head

on the bend of my back

you exhaled across my bottom

hay-sweetened breath

our introduction

complete

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Libby Needs a Toothbrush


The smell of a rat’s death

from my panting dog’s breath

keeps intruding upon my thinking

 

How can this author write

clever tomes in the night

when the air she breathes is stinking?

 

My companion has a brush

It makes her fur shiny and lush

but her mouth has nothing for grooming

 

If I could, I’d use paste

fresh with mint, it would taste

for dog-halitosis consuming

 

If I turn on the fan

and allow it a good span

of time, just to cool down the air

 

perhaps she’ll stop panting

then I can stop ranting

and pen a few words with some flair

 

Note to authors with similar faithful-dog challenges: I tried the fan remedy. We blew the stink away!

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Discussion of author Annie Dillard, Nature and The Writing Life


Annie Dillard walked by my side when I lived on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island in 1975. My isolation was no less than hers, although I was surrounded by people: loggers, fishermen, trappers, hunters, chefs, waiters and a bar full of whiskey that I was in charge of. During my hours off-work, I hid in a cove down by the harbor, or I went to the dump to be entertained by the bears. Always, Annie came with me. “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” gave me everything a solitary girl needed. Her words were my refuge, my delight, my confusion, my comfort. When I think of the six months in Port Hardy, I think of Annie.

“The Writing Life” is full of her parables: a man who rowed against the current until the current changed and brought him home; chopping at alder logs like a crazed woman until she learned to chop through the wood and the logs relented; watching Rahm roll his stunt plane through the air, making beautiful patterns like the precise blue-green swallow, and learning that it was all about sticking with the rhythm and paying attention to the lighting. All her stories trap the reader’s attention and pull them in until they realize she’s teaching about writing.  It makes me wonder if Annie has ever written about anything else. Aren’t all her books, when you get down to her basic message, about the writer’s life?

Annie secludes herself. She goes where she cannot be distracted by the usual daily din, finds a small, often cold and somewhat dark, shack of a room to write in. She tells me to “spend it all; play it, lose it, all, right away, every time.” She warns me not to hoard a good phrase for a later time, for in the hoarding act, it will be lost. It must be freely given, she says, reminding me of what my Dad used to tell me, “Nothing is yours until you give it away.”  She bids me to “examine all things intensely and relentlessly. Probe and search each object in a piece of art.”  She describes watching parallel rows of ocean waves breaking up, as if they were “reproducing the sensation of reading, but without reading’s sense.” (Brilliant, Annie – just brilliant observation!)

Annie wrote a whole chapter in one and a half pages. She warns that the writer’s life is wrought with danger – especially when the writer leaves the work. She uses an erupting typewriter and her struggle to prevent the room from catching fire as the only scene/event in the chapter. Her final statement, instead of giving explanation, assured the reader that though she’s had no trouble with it since, she knows it can happen. She never says if it ever really did happen, (she might have dreamt it), or whether she invented the whole scene as a metaphor for the labor a writer goes through, only to face complete destruction.  It doesn’t even matter that we don’t know. She pulls off another parable, so powerful, that it took less than 2 pages to leave me contemplating the scene for half an hour, playing with her words and wondering what gave her the courage or even the idea, to write a whole chapter in five short paragraphs and teach a lesson about sticking with it no matter what.

I love you, Annie.  Show me that trick again.

I want to tell Annie my parables; about the bears I watched, and how I learned that you have to respect the mother. I want to show her how the rescued bird looked out for his brother and saved him from starving. I want to show her how the English robin’s hunger, keen sense of hearing, and his successful hunt convinced me that I could return to America and make a new life out of nothing. I wonder, when Annie ponders the world she secludes herself in, does she have a question in mind that nature answers? Or does she gaze and observe until nature teaches her the question? Perhaps the result of every writer’s work is in reality nature’s own act of learning.

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Arlo’s Garden


 

My first old golden planted himself everyday

in the garden by my patio chair. That’s where he took his nap.

At thirteen, all Arlo needed was water, food and tennis balls

and, of course, he needed me.

It wasn’t until he died that I realised

how much I needed him.

If he’d been a man, I probably would have married him.

That dog set roots in me,

roots so deep, that even after he was gone,

within a week, they sprouted another

homeless old golden named Shadow.

Shadow lived to be fifteen and a half.

Then one night his eyes looked into mine, and they said

Thank you.

The next day he died, and I missed his golden

shadow beside my chair, and under my feet,

but I felt his soul staying right with me for six weeks.

I buried some of his fur in Arlo’s garden.

Then it took root, blossomed and brought me Libby.

She’s thirteen and real chipper. Kind of bossy too.

She’s not like the boys, but I love her anyway.

I understand her. We both think like girls.

Libby lays on the lounge chair cushion

that I took off the chair and put on the patio floor

so she could lay beside me as I write.

She likes her comforts and I like her company.

Today I looked up, meaning to say a word to Libby

let her know how much I appreciate her help,

but her cushion was bare.

She didn’t raise her head to smile.

I saw some dirt strewn on the ground; I gazed across

to the strip of garden where Arlo planted roots

and where Shadow’s fur blossomed.

There Libby had planted herself, fast asleep and dreaming.

I couldn’t help but wonder as her paws twitched

and her muzzle nursed a bark

if two big goldens weren’t running beside her,

chasing balls, catching skunks,

and swimming the deep spring river.

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Broken Shield


My friend, Sebastian, told me in one of our discussions, that he uses his imminent death as a barricade – a shield.

How so? I asked. Please explain.

Sebastian said that it wasn’t until he knew he that he could die – and, in fact, was dying – that he began to live. The pettiness, annoyances and inconveniences that plague us all; these, he thinks of as arrows, and he bounces them off his barricade shield. Death protects him therefore, encouraging him to grasp instead the positive gifts of kindness, compassion, generosity and time – precious time – given to him by the people he calls his angels – nurses, hospice staff, visitors, student volunteers and friends who didn’t say, “I’m sorry to hear,” and then stayed away in fear or helplessness, but who came to sit, watch, listen, laugh and cry, and who placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, or gently stroked his cheek when it all seemed too overwhelming. For these precious things, the barricade shield comes down and the love of angels goes pouring in.

Researchers in gerontology and social sciences have reported that, unlike younger generations, people in their senior years, have a greater tendency to avoid things that disturb, and they tend to focus much more on positive, happy and comforting people, things, situations and environments. Perhaps seniors, approaching the end of their life, feel more vulnerable, or powerless to change the big negatives. Maybe years of life-experience have proven at some unconscious level, that what they focus on, is what expands. Why waste precious energy on people, places and situations that drain them, frighten them and make them feel uncomfortable?  It’s understandable.

In my youth, I was always ready to join the fight against establishment and injustice, actively working to make things better, to change people’s attitudes and behaviors, including my own. Yet now, in my sixth decade of life, I sit here horrified by what I see, but do nothing. Oil gushes through the ocean like an arterial disaster; armies of trucks carry deadly chemicals across our country – liquids that are pumped down holes bored deep into the earth, poisoning rivers, land, animals and people – killing America; all this for the sake of fuel for our cars and factories, and for ‘clean’ natural gas for electricity; for corporate profits that allow people to retire in their senior years, live off dividends, and drive their houses-on-wheels until they’re too old or too sick to discover America anymore.

I acknowledge my deplorable lack of action to fight our current attitudes of profit-priority, mindless greed and acceptance of earth-rape. I admit that now in my older years, I lack the passion, energy and naivety of youth to believe that I can do anything to change this world. As the earth bursts and bleeds, casting arrows of blame, I raise my own barrier shield of senior age against it, and I look away. I focus instead on using what time I have left for enjoying the beauty around me; for kindness, empathy, humor, patience and compassion. 

Today, as I sought to focus on those positive things, my comfort was torn, shattered in shame. No shield – no barrier – not even death – could spare the cold realization, that the place where I find the most beauty – the most comfort and peace – is right here, in my grandchildren’s faces – in all of our grandchildren’s faces.

My barrier is breached.  My shield lies broken, crushed on the truth-flooded floor, staining it with a desire to stand up and do something…

 

Does your tap water ignite?  Gasland is an urgent, cautionary and sometimes darkly comic look at the largest domestic natural gas drilling campaign in history. Part of the HBO Documentary Films Series.  WATCH: Gasland: Trailer  http://www.hbo.com

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Accomplishment


Just a birdhouse, that’s all…

not a dream, or a well-researched plan, or even

a creative act that, labored under glaze in an American kiln,

was carried in proud maternal hands

all the way to England.

For three years it hung, ignored and empty,

on my daughter’s cottage wall, where the old

climber rose was pruned and trained to grow around it.

Just a birdhouse, that’s all… until this spring

when visiting my growing family, I sat in the sun beneath the old rose.

Above me, the sound of a baby bird from inside a hollow place, cried for attention.

Excited, expectant, we waited for days, watching the terracotta walls and listening.

Nothing happened until early one morning, a scraping flutter, and cries

that couldn’t be mistaken for anything but a bird in distress.

I rushed to get the camera and sat facing the house on the wall.

A mature Great Tit flew onto the little roof, calling to her chick inside…

Scratching and fluttering emerged in response – audible eagerness to escape the nest.

All morning I waited, watching as worried winged parents entreated and coaxed,

offering fat-grub morsels to their love-raised child – if only he’d fly.

 My daughter took the kids to school, but I sat, camera ready, steady

and still, quiet and hopeful; I wondered, did I make the hole big enough?

For hours I kept the camera aimed, while wings fought to scale the inner walls

then fell in defeated exhaustion only to try again and again.  I worried.

Hope waning, I wanted to remove the birdhouse roof and look inside – but wait –

a face appeared in the little round hole – then a body – and wooosh!

The wild winged child, freed from its clay-hidden nest, took his first flight,

landed on a nearby tree, and praised by his parents, was rewarded with grubs.

I sighed, laughed and cried with relief.

 

A birdhouse sits empty now on my daughter’s wall in England…

Just a plan that I scribbled in a notebook, and kneaded out of clay

then fired and glazed it, and carried it so many miles to hang beside a rose.

Just a birdhouse, that’s all

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Raffy’s Nap


Laid under trees beside the field above Timberscombe village

where the shadow is cool, and my mother’s jacket, spread on dry leaves,

protects my skin, I sleep in the heat of a late spring morning in England.

The breeze ripples with sounds of lute and flute while grunts of rams

and grulls of ewes, call to lambs that breach the keep in the field above me

and droning bees hum under roasting sun beside budding archeologists.

My sleep – so deep – the edges of now and then cross in silent patterns,

while pottery shards, chips of flint and smelted ore weave history into present

and now into past; a dream that never ends even as I stir and wake

and rise to the ancient hill fort and the school of children upon it.

Curious, they scratch and dig, some painted with blue, the color of woad, in swirls

upon their cheeks, and I rise in surprise when an iron age remnant hidden from sun

for two thousand, seven hundred years, is placed in my infant hand.

“Look,” I tell them, “a pebble.”

 

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Dying: The Conversation Stopper


Dying: The Conversation Stopper

“Come in and meet my mother,” I said to the father of my new 6th grade girlfriend when she came over for an after-school visit. He got out of the car and followed his daughter and me up to our front door. “She loves it when people drop in,” I continued. “Nobody comes over anymore, now that she’s dying.”  He stopped dead in his tracks (excuse the metaphorical pun). “It’s okay,” I reassured him, “she’d love to meet you, honest.” He blushed, stuttered about remembering something he had to do, then told his daughter he would return for her in an hour. That was the last time the girl was allowed to come to my house.

A year later when the ladies at school handed out pink carnation boutonnières for students to wear on Mother’s Day, I was told to choose a white one because, “your mother is no longer with us,” the lady said in a hushed tone. There was only one white carnation in the generous basket of pink blossoms. “You mean because she’s dead,” I corrected. “Yes dear, so you get to wear a white one.” “I don’t want a white carnation,” I said and turned away, when what I really meant was, I don’t want a dead mother.

Death – we all do it. Few want to learn about it or seek conversations with any sense of curiosity or preparation for it. When someone dares to broach the subject in a social setting, people squirm, change topics or turn away. God forbid if anyone admits to actually being in the process of dying. That’s a real party pooper. The depth of emotion which accompanies death, loss and grief is probably the main reason the subject is avoided, while fear of mortality is another. It is unfashionable these days to feel sad, bad, powerless or, dead. After all, we are of the living crowd.

My friend is dying. He lives in an AIDS hospice house where I have volunteered over the last couple of years. I met Sebastian (not his real name) last fall when he moved into this six-resident home of respite.  I felt an instant attraction to him. His conversation was intelligent, curious, and engaged with life, while he appeared to accept his predicament with the graciousness of a refined gentleman, keeping personal fears and complaints to himself. The wheelchair and his occasional wince of pain between labored movements were the only visible reminders that this man is living the last weeks and months of his life.

Sebastian’s array of experiences and interests, particularly in other people, and the fact that he listens with as much enthusiasm as he speaks, makes him a natural magnet for hospice residents, staff and visitors. He spoke passionately about the plight of homeless people with AIDS. You should write down these things you want to say, I encouraged, but his hands can no longer cope with a pen, or navigate a keyboard, and pain medication interferes with his ability to focus on a discipline as demanding as writing. Will you help me, he asked. So began my friendship with a dying man.

Seb begins talking in response to my few gentle probes while I record his conversation on an old cassette player. When I get home, I listen, type it out, and return it to him the following week. It soon became apparent that Sebastian was no more of an expert about dying than I am. We walk this journey of discovery together, though I say that with a bit of shame, because he does it so gracefully, and my time, unlike his, has not been designated a sell-by date, nor do I suffer a devastating and terminal disease.

Sebastion’s pages are filling up with reflections that pull me back to another time, another place, where it is comfortable to go; where one feels the first scent and taste of a sun-warmed tomato picked from the vine by a grandmother’s hand. Sometimes the pages are difficult and painful to read – impossible not to shed tears as I feel the enormity of what a dying person must realize, release and grieve. One recognizes the poignant beauty of simple things that we take for granted, like friends who feel comfortable with our company, walking to the coffee shop, helping a neighbor mow their lawn, or living in our own home with our own things around us and choosing who we share a bathroom with.

At other times the pages cause me to laugh with their delightful honesty and the ridiculous circumstances brought about by the act of dying. A description of Sebastian falling out of his wheelchair on a visit home to his city while his carer went into panicked hysterics, and Seb lay on the sidewalk laughing and begging bystanders not to pick him up for fear that they might break his fragile and already broken bones.  What could I do but laugh, he asked me, and we laughed together at the story. It’s so tragic, it’s funny.

I’m glad I have my dying friend, though I’m certainly not glad he’s dying. Our friendship is like an oxymoron. As we build our relationship, we watch it slowly break apart.  I try not to think of losing him, though I know it is inevitable. I can only hope that my belief in the afterlife is correct, and that at some future point we will meet again in far better circumstances. I don’t look forward to witnessing his physical demise or to saying goodbye after his last breath has passed his lips and his ashes fill the intricately carved soapstone urn that stands waiting on his dresser.

But every time I visit Sebastian, I come home happier – less afraid perhaps, of what life can surprise us with. Seeing how he copes with the inevitable and makes something so impossible to do – doable, I feel enriched by our friendship and ever so lucky to know him. When I enter the door of his room, he smiles with encompassing warmth and we both feel better for being there, in spite of the way it is.  Despite the tears and fears and his unending pain, he smiles as if holding on to a secret joke. Sebastian doesn’t ask me to take it all too seriously for too long, because, he says, the old saying is so true: This too, shall pass.

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Disturbed lover


Sometimes my relationship with writing disturbs me. It drags my mind into such focused attention that the rest of me gets lost.  If I sit this morning to write a couple of sentences, for example, will I remember to change out of my wet dog-walking grubs, have a much-needed bath and wash my sleep-ironed hair?  Will I notice my lunchless tummy grumbling at 2 pm, or my feet turning blue with cold from lack of movement at 4:00?  In spite of myself I go ahead, start the first two sentences, and before I know it, another tome has risen on the blank sheet like a rock tor on the moors – Alone in the silence. 

But not alone. 

Always – the lark, whose thumb-sized body disappears in the heights of sky,  whose voice fills acres of wind, surrounds me.  Always – the mesmerizing drone of winged heather and gorse pollen-gatherers; Always – the clop or thunder of hooves chasing trail; or the soft sound of muzzels nudging and munching the nourishing vegetation on the next rise, assure me that I am not alone. Amongst my moor-misted companions, I forget tedious responsibilities until the chill damp sends me home to a hot bath and a cold sink full of yet-to-be-washed dishes.

The writer in me struggles with this daily conundrum: Which life is real – the sink that calls my name more than three times a day demanding attention?  Or the screen and keyboard that replaced the broken pen and beckon, promising thoughts that drift from golden gorse to purple mounds and summer dew on silver webs?

Libby snores in answer behind me, her golden sides rising and falling with contented dog-walked sleep, bringing me back to the moment. My two intended sentences are complete and grown into several, and I realise with a satisfaction like a heroine-lover’s relief, that I’ve had my injection of words… yet, I want more.

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Naming


Choosing a title for my blog was like naming my child. Having some familiarity with her development inside my body, I thought it would be easy to name her. It was, at first.

Thinking she was a boy, my husband and I quickly settled on a boy’s name that rolled off the tongue, had no negative connotations for either of us, contained an attractive nickname possibility, and the initials promised an auspicious future, according to my numerology friend. When our ‘son’ was born, however, he turned out to be a girl, so another name had to be sought. A new list formed and grew; names were researched, discussed, considered and tossed. Finally, agreement was reached and our last creative act in the forming of our daughter’s fate (if you believe in such things being attached to names) was complete. The name felt right, as if she had always existed, and after the first few hours of knowing her, neither of us could imagine life without her and her name in it. It seemed as if she had always been there between us, waiting for us to make her happen.

This morning when I got over the initial stage fright of joining a public forum for my first blog, I faced once again, the same feelings about naming my child. The thoughts I write have been formed inside me; words made of bone, flesh, muscle and nerve. While I want to release them and give them an opportunity to express creatively that which they need to say in order to live, I’m also aware of my desire that they be accepted, respected and perhaps even loved by those who look upon them.

I see other bloggers with the eyes of a new parent who suddenly understands how other parents feel, and how precious their child is. Like taking my infant to pre-school and watching other parents’ worried faces as they drop off their toddlers. I catch their eyes and smile, hoping their child won’t eat mine, but become her first playschool friend. I let go of her hand, feel her excitement as she runs towards the playground, and the pen in my pocket – the one that I used to hold and control – breaks under the pressure of my worrying thumb. I finger the pieces unconscious of the freed ink spreading into cloth, while my daughter, freed into the world of her cohorts, runs to explore, challenge and enjoy.

As I labour these thoughts, nurturing the words, encouraging their growth, I reach the point where it’s time to let them go.  I release them in the hope that they will be accepted, respected and perhaps even, loved, by some. This broken pen writer has just given birth.

Photo courtesy of James Bruce, Timberscombe, Somerset, UK

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