Friday, 9 February 2018

“Searching for the Moon” by Casey June Wolf

on the first night of darkness
I searched the sky for her
my thoughts
noisy as the river in spring

on the second night
the finch betrayed her presence
busy in the moon’s thin glimmer
with unexpected song

on the third
with my own eyes I saw her
knelt to earth in welcome
and delight

as she grew   so I grew
at the moment of
her greatest girth
a herd of sharp-tined stars
traversed the sky

the waters in the river’s bed
spurred on by the moon
swelled to overflowing

I danced in glad elation
in her white woodlet

thanks to you
moon of strength and stillness
thanks to the reeling waters
whose blessings churn and rise

ImageMy first shot with my new Canon 350D, a solitary leaf hanging in the cold winder sky. Shot in Melbourne, Australia, by Lachlan Donald from Melbourne, Australia (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 10 December 2017

What is the Kindest Thing You Ever Did for an Animal?

What is the kindest thing you ever did for an animal?

A few months ago my nephew Isidore finally wore me down by sending links to interesting things on Quora, a site I have mentioned here before (methinks), where questions are asked, answered, and bandied about. I could no longer resist at a certain point, and signed up so I could answer a question. I have myself only asked a few, and I discovered today that one that I did ask several months ago has about a dozen answers, some of which are very moving, and all of which are touching in the way they reveal each author.

In reading through the answers which for some reason I just discovered I had not been notified of, I was inspired to write another, edgier question. (Which just got it's first answer, I notice.):

What is a time when you did not act to help an animal and have always regretted it, and what were the circumstances that made you hold back? Would you act differently now?

Used correctly, this site can be a great way to affirm my sense of the goodness of humans, and my part in it all. (Used incorrectly, know.)

Here are the answers so far; the link, in case you want to add a reply or see if there are any more comments, is above with the original question. I would love to hear what you have to say.

12 Answers

Eon McLeary

Friday, 8 December 2017

Glum Facts and the Power of Song

As you may know I have been contending with a few glum facts lately, in amongst the riches of life. The struggle to find new and welcome housing, a few private matters that are weighing me down, and now the love of my life, our community garden, is being torn up to make modular housing for homeless folk. The city says they will relocate us, to which I muse, why not put the modular housing in this new location and leave us be? You can't really "move" a garden. You can destroy one and start another, but the soil carefully tended takes a big step backward, and the soil they supplied last time was riddled with horsetail spores. But all that could be handled--who am I to begrudge the homeless?--except for one abiding concern. If they move it away from the Skytrain station, I may not have easy enough access to carry on there. So again we wait, this time for the eventual announcement of our garden's fate. In the meantime, I am mourning another loss.


I have also been trying to inject a little singing into my days, the last few months. When I am away or horribly forgetful or horribly busy, that ends up just being me tweedly-dumming through the day. When I am home and see my "SING!" notecard on the counter while busying myself with other things, I run through a bunch of vocal exercises and when I really get it together, like today and yesterday, I pull out my big black binder of Irish songs and run through a few.

Today was "M" and "O". I admit there are still a lot of songs in the binder that I haven't learned (but with the internet I have more hope of finding their tunes), and too many more whose melodies I have forgotten, in the long interregnum between the days of yore when I learned and sang songs galore, enjoying them at Irish music sessions with the likes of Ken Howard and Michael Dooley, and the days of now, when I almost lost my ability to sing. I have missed that music-making very much.

So what good does it do to limber your vocal chords up and sing a few tunes on your own in your room? Isn't that a little pathetic? Isn't music made to be shared? Look at all those eager folk on Britain's Got Talent. To them, singing at home is only the beginning. For me, it may be an end in itself.

When I take an hour, or half an hour even, out of my day and offer it up to song, I feel as though I have repatriated myself in the country of my heart. My body, inside and out, is completely involved, with the workout of breath, posture, and so much more. My emotions are engaged. I strive to do the best I can vocally but also to feel the song in its fullness. The result of all of this is a wakening from at least some of the weight and dullness that come with constant worry and self-criticism, coming back from fear and regret to a complete moment in which the song and myself are the only things in the world--and that is joy.

So delight with me in the full throated strains of another dedicant of the gods of music. And then, taking his inspiration for your own, open your heart and sing.

Image: 'Rufous-naped Lark, Mirafra africana at Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa' by Derek Keats from Johannesburg, South Africa [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Video: English: "Singing seriema (Cariama cristata) at Areia city, from Brazil's northeast state Paraiba (PB).

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Is There a (Happy and Rested) Doctor in the House?

Do you ever worry about your doctor's health? If indeed you have a doctor? I have to confess that I only occasionally remember to wonder if my doctor is doing okay. I am much more likely to be thinking in terms of whether she is available to me, competent, perceptive, on top of things concerning my health, friendly and considerate and compassionate when I need her to be. As someone who spends a lot of her time thinking about how my friends are doing, and offering support when I am able, it is disappointing to realize how one-sided my thoughts are concerning someone who I have known and liked for quite a few years. We do express affection for each other, and when she was brutally assaulted a number of years ago I was sensitive to her distress for months afterward. But then I fell back into being the baby in the relationship.

Now that it is stirred up in my mind, though, I can't help stringing together all the moments I have stopped and wondered how a doctor friend of mine manages his or her enormous and taxing workload, or been horrified to hear the hours that ER doctors work, heard about increasing restrictions on the amount of time allowed per consultation, and so on. It adds up to a lot of moments over a bunch of years. Doctors in this country are suffering, and I have been mostly oblivious to it.

What stirred these thoughts up was an episode that aired this week on White Coat, Black Art, on CBC: Doctor Burnout. It begins with a recording of a doctor freaking out at a patient who has made a demand on him that he is in no shape to respond to. It was a wakeup call for me.

At one time in Canada we felt pretty smug about our health care system, especially when (imagine us fluffing our feathers here) we compared ours to the system available in the United States. We meanwhile streamed in and out of our doctors' offices and hospitals concerned only with how well we were treated and how good the food was, and, of course, whether we got better. I speak only of those I knew. Doubtless there were holes in the system even in the good old days, but those holes got bigger and bigger over the decades, and in time there was a constant flow of talk about the myriad problems we now face, from increasing costs (both to society and to the individual), loooong waitlists, a rising two-tiered health care system, and suddenly (or perhaps not so suddenly), the near-impossibility of getting a GP (family doctor). Our cries of "Unfair!" resounded, and I was not alone in looking with fear at the disintegration of that once envied system, hoping it would not crash at last into a mimic of the US system, sure that this was the direction certain forces were trying to make it go.

In the midst of all of that, I for one felt disappointed and at times angry with my continually disappearing GPs, leaving me in sometimes a very difficult position, with a grouchiness that arose not only in some physicians but in the nurses, receptionists, and other practitioners that people the health care sytem, with overlooked health conditions (even when I pleaded with them to take care of them--I am thinking particularly but not only about the cancer that went undiagnosed for nearly a year despite my repeated requests to have the lump removed)... But only occasionally did the fog of my (reasonable) self-interest clear enough for me to see how the people in that system were suffering.

I particularly remember being helpless in a hospital bed when a certain nurse was cutting and abrupt with both myself and another patient. It was only later that she said to me--I suppose I must have called her on it in a gentle way--that she cared a lot and was in a fractious state because she couldn't do what needed to be done for patients and was exhausted. So her distress that arose from compassion resulted in her acting uncompassionately. A lightbulb went on, then fizzled out again when I got back to normal life.

There are a million reasons why we need to shore up our ailing health care system. The suffering of the people whose job it is to deliver it is one huge reason. Even if that suffering didn't result in mistakes and bad bedside manner, it would be reason enough to put things right. We wouldn't want to live stretched past the limit ourselves. Why would we expect it of them?

Below are links to the radio program I listened to and to an excellent article on the topic I was pointed to by a doctor friend of mine. The article, from a US newspaper, points out that 300-400 doctors (presumably in the States) kill themselves every year, and that doctors are at double the risk of other professionals to take that terrible step. Women physicians are especially vulnerable.

So, I am glad that I start every appointment with my doctor with the question, "How have you been?" and that I get to actually hear from her how she is. Now I hope I will be more forgiving when she is impatient with me (as she has been perhaps twice in the decade or so I've known her), and that I will remember that she is doing the best she can in an imperfect system. And, by and large, doing it very well.

Doctor Burnout, CBC Radio One, White Coat, Black Art, with Doctor Brian Goldman. 11 November 2017.
Taking Care of the Physician, by Perri Klass MD. The New York Times, 13 November 2017.

Image: "Daydreams of a Doctor" by Columbus Barlow (1898) (14778458162). By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Putting the Garden to Bed; Waking up to Community

What a blissful yield from today's community garden workday, the last of the year.

I weeded, wheelbarrowed, and wandered around (sorry--needed a third W). I signed up for several jobs, most of which I have already been doing (minding the lupines and blueberries, for two, but also helping paint some doohickey). Of course, there was also the occasional chat with friendly folk, some of whom after (four?) years are familiar, one of whom (Clélie!) is a dear friend.

A couple of hours later, I got to work on my own garden. Harvested all the beans and tomatoes and leeks, (inherited some carrots and tomatoes from other beds), pulled up old veg of various sorts, and then added back a lot of material to the beds so they can snooze all snug and happy.

After a few errands I got home and contented myself with shelling a LOT of scarlet runner beans and white pole beansI even found a few young enough to munch down while I was working. It looks like I can supply much of the garden with bean seeds next year. (Hint, though you wouldn't want to do it with some seeds, beans can be frozen and used in the spring.)

As always, even when I am in pain and tired and reluctant to go, it was very rewarding being in the garden. Particularly with the uncertainty around my housing, having this one piece of "home" that I don't expect to part with soon is very comforting, and as I lose my neighbours one by one (or two or three at a time, in some cases), these garden neighbours grow in importance. I have a keen need to have stability in my community. Sharing the work and pleasure of growing food is an amazing way to nurture that.

I left my writers group this year, one I have enjoyed being a part of for many years. The leader, Eileen, my dear friend and the reason I joined it in the first place, was retiring, but also it was getting to be too much to get out to Port Moody once a week, plus do all the prep for it with the diligence I demand.

Apparently, though, I have found a new activity to replace that. A call for new board members at the garden came out and I found myself thinking I might actually like to do that. (Normally I run like the wind.) It would be a concrete service to the garden, and an opportunity to become more invested in it and to know some of the other gardeners better. After a few preliminary questions, I decided to join up, if they will accept me with my various limitations. I am feeling quite happy about that, about stepping out into the world a little in a realm that gives me great joy. Also feeling happy about my beans.

One weird thing: my potatoes have disappeared. Only found one little one, and all the the leaves and stems were gone. Odd and disappointing. But hey. I have bundles of garlic, trays of beans, and all manner of lovely things. Maybe next year I will get to keep my potatoes, too.

Image snitched from Still Creek Community Garden Facebook Page.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Throwing Out Your Loved Ones’ Stuff: A Letter to CBC The Current

A letter in response to an article I caught the last few minutes of the other day:

Friday August 25, 2017

How unwanted family heirlooms create a divide with aging parents

Dear Current,

I am one of those apparently clinging oldsters—not so old, actually, but one who places value on belongings kept over many years. Not economic value. I have not owned anything worth a dime nor have my friends, by and large, who have died and whose homes I have helped to dismantle.

Stuff costs money to house. Along with dumping our inherited belongings before we have had the chance to really understand what we are ditching, we fill up every inch of our increasingly tiny homes with random things that, often, we would throw away first if only we had the mental space to sort it through.

I have lived for over thirty years in the same room. Compared to most people I don’t have much stuff. But I certainly have enough. My furniture is carefully acquired antiques, none worth much except in the warmth their soft woody lights brings to my eye. I have books, mostly old, beautiful to me for their age and content, again, few worth much in dollars. I have petalware plates and bowls lifted from the trunk of a friend who had just died, a neighbor I had cared for increasingly over many years until I was his main support. I have knickknacks, including an Olde Englande teaset that is cracked and glued together. These I inherited when my Northern Irish friend died, suddenly and distressingly. I have, too, her granny’s potato masher, worthless to her brothers, and some pieces of Tyrone crystal that she adored, as do I, but her executor couldn’t move them at the yard sale. I have souvenirs of my family—Dad’s old sweater and cap, Mum’s last oil painting, gifts from nieces and nephews, some from siblings, too. Meaningless to anyone but me.

When I have a friend facing death, I do everything I can, if I am able, to support them and connect with them in their present life. And when they have died, if I am able, I sit in their room or rooms, see what they saw, touch their obscure and well familiar belongings, reinforcing what I knew of them, learning something more. If I can take some memento home then I bring a piece of that friend with me. Every time I see it, year in and out, I see that friend.

When I die, no one is likely to want many of my things. We all already have too much stuff. But this saddens me. I have spent a lifetime making as gentle a home as possible; I would like to contribute that gentleness to the people I love. I would like them to pass the old wardrobe and not just think, that damn door is always drifting open, but, Auntie Casey is saying hi to me.

In many ways, I have felt incompletely understood by people. I have this odd sense that if they took the time to be with my things, as they might not have thought to be with me (that is, still and receptive, rather than chatty as we usually are—as much my doing as anyone's), they might know me better after death than before it. Or, perhaps, as I have done with my friends, invent new versions of me to carry with them. Even that is a communication. A continuation.

Some of us toss out everything but the “best” stuff from our parent’s homes when they have died or are going into care, and later keenly wish we had not let everything go. We are so into being practical that we forget that we are something more than that, too. I regret throwing my dear friend’s letters away because there were so many of them. He is long dead and I can never have those conversations again. Would it really have been so hard to keep them?

Sure, there is a time to let stuff go, even beloved stuff. But it should not be rushed, if there is any other option. Besides everything else, that stuff can open the doors of our hearts, and help us heallong after our loved ones have turned to dust.

So, divest away, oh modern practical people. But do not throw out the deep connections that are possible through the loving acceptance of a well meant gift. One that will be there long after your loved one is gone. Think long and hard before you pitch. You can always toss it at another time. But you can never bring it back.

Image: Parents see heirlooms. Their kids see junk to clean up. It's a keepsake dilemma for families. (

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

“what wolf cubs need” by Casey June Wolf (poem)

what wolf cubs need

brown and curled and wet with mother's dew
each cub slides into this world
cleaned   tongued   nuzzled
until the mewling starts
until the new wolf waves her helpless nailed paws
into the air
against her mother's cheek
until the sealed eyes and questing mouth
find their way to her white-filled source

every cub needs her mother
her brothers and sisters, too
to lean against in slumber
tumble over
tweak in play
to run with
growing smart   gleeful   strong
each cub needs her father
warm against the night
gambolling when mother's gone to hunt
stretched out calm and watchful
running quick and eager
barking against those who'd pull her down

those cubs who have them are the lucky ones
cubs with "aunts" and "uncles"
who wrestle long with them
who sleep with   eat with
bring treats to them
you are my uncle wolf
caring when you need not care
bringing me the long red leg of a fallen deer
to chew   and fight   and chew
you are my brother wolf
wrestling   playing
barely conscious of the cougar on the hill
you are my comrade wolf
and i walk with you contented
safe as i can be
on this long expanse
of snow

Copyright: Casey June Wolf. 3 June 1993.
Image: Timber Wolf Cub - Colchester Zoo, Colchester, Essex, England - Saturday July 21st 2008. By Keven LawThis file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Genericlicense.