Friday: Words from Faerie

More and more, I feel the need to go to a free and magical isle, whether in spirit or on foot.


Yeats Country: The Hills Above Glencar, Ireland


The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

W. B. Yeats, 1865 – 1939



The Revenant: from Novel to Film

unknownRevenant: a person who has returned especially, supposedly, from the dead (Oxford Dictionary)

Hugh Glass, does not die, but comes close, when he is brutally mauled by a mother grizzly on a bank of the Grand River in 1823. A fur trapper with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, his wit and skills and some strong Sioux medicine enable him to survive the fall and winter. Glass is abandoned by  two company men, Fitzgerald and Bridger, charged with making sure he’s given a proper burial. The thing is: they don’t just leave him to die, they take the only things that might enable him to live: his rifle, his knife, his flint and steel. But live he does; if only to pursue them and get his stuff back.

Written with plenty of detail and historical authority, Michael Punke leads us through the plains and river valleys east of the Rocky Mountains: the land of the Sioux, Arikara,  and Mandan people. The Sioux and the trappers have been allies in a war with the Arikara, and it is an old Sioux medicine man who really saves Glass’s life by killing the maggots that have burrowed inside his festering back wounds.

This is a historical novel that reads like non-fiction. The author, Michael Punke, explains in his Historical Notes that the main events are true to history. I haven’t read an omniscient viewpoint for a long time–agents and editors stress that scenes by narrated by one character in limited omniscient–so I notice when we pass through several minds within a chapter. It’s not distracting; just different. The writing is almost objective–written like a journal article. We never go deep inside this man, who suffers agonizing wounds to body, mind, and spirit. And I ask myself: what is Glass thinking besides how to find his next meal?

Michael Punke is a D.C. lawyer and deputy U.S. trade representative and ambassador to the World Trade Organization in Switzerland. He wrote this novel in his spare time, ten years before it was adapted for film. I read the novel first.

The award-winning film is “based in part on the novel” and a small part it is. The main characters, Hugh Glass (Leonardo Dicaprio), Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Jim Bridger, and Captain Henry are here, as is the main theme of revenge. But everything else is  bolder, much more complex, and visceral. By adding other key characters and subplots, the screenwriters dramatize what falls fairly flat on the page. This is where we begin to understand what Glass is thinking as he rises from the dead to pursue Fitzgerald through spectacularly perilous country.

Besides incredible directing by Alejandro González Iñárritu and brilliant acting, what’s memorable is the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki. Filmed near the Rocky Mountains in Alberta and Argentina, the film presents what we can only imagine frontier life might have been like in the 1820s. (To view stills and read more on the locations click here.) This is no romance, thought heart-wrenching spiritual moments lead us to the abyss more than once.




Friday: Words from Faerie

“If we do not raise our arms and will the mists to rise we will stumble forever in the fog.”

3f88f2e15f97ddadc31409fce58990d2I first read The Mists of Avalon, written by Sci-fi Fantasy author Marion Zimmer Bradley, close to thirty years ago. It was a Christmas gift from my sister. No doubt she saw a connection; for this is a book about sisters.

An epic narrated by women, it unravels the story of how the new Christian religion eclipsed magic in Britain. Viviane, Ingraine, and Morgause are the three sisters who birth the kingdom of Arthur. Great granddaughters of Taliesien, the Merlin of Britain, magic is in their genes. Viviane, the eldest, becomes priestess of Avalon and Lady of the Lake; while Ingraine conceives Arthur and then marries her lover, Uther Pendragon, with the magical aid of Merlin.


Ingraine, feeling her heart pounding in her breast, knew it was true, and felt confusion and despair. In spite of the fact that she had seen Uther only four times, and dreamed twice of him, she knew that they had loved each other and spoken to each other as if they had been lovers for many years, knowing all and more than all about each other, body and mind and heart. She recalled her dream, where it seemed that they had been bound for many years by a tie which, if it was not marriage, might as well have been so. Lovers, partners, priest to priestess–whatever it was called. How could she tell Gorlois that she had known Uther only in a dream, but that she had begun to think of him as the man she had loved so long ago that Ingraine herself was not yet born, was a shadow; that the essence within her was one and the same with that woman who had loved that strange man who bore the serpents on his arms in gold…How could she say this to Gorlois, who knew, and wished to know, nothing of the Mysteries? (64).




Friday: Words from Faerie


The Quays is one of my favourite bars in the whole world. Naturally, it’s in Ireland. If you ever find yourself wandering Shop Street in Galway, you must go in and explore.

Excerpts from To Charm a Killer. WL Hawkin


Stepping through the portal of THE QUAYS was like plunging back through time. The pub was enormous and packed with people, all laughing and talking and drinking. It was nothing like she imagined: three floors joined by carved wooden staircases, gothic arches, and stained glass windows, even thick church pews, and over the enormous bar hung the steering wheel of a wooden sailing ship. Maggie, who had never been farther than Vancouver, stood momentarily stunned.

“They went to France, packed up a Seventeenth century church, and rebuilt it here,” explained Primrose. “Well, go on then. Have a wander.

Later, Maggie has her first real look at her fey friend’s tattoo when they sit down for a bite to eat.

Primrose whisked off her cap as they settled into one of the wooden snugs and Maggie was startled to see that her shaved head was tattooed in colourful swirling symbols. Seeing her fascination, Primrose bowed forward to reveal the heart of the design—an intricately patterned mandala etched on the top of her skull. Three violet trees with intertwining roots formed the centre, while their branches connected in a circular knot. Between the trees were coiled spirals in emerald green. Another circle of knots wrapped around the first and split near the base of her skull into two trails that merged at the top of her spine.

“That’s amazing. Does it go all the way down your back?”

“Aye, and ends in a serpent’s tail. St. Patrick did not rid Éireann of all the snakes. A few of us survived.”

The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee

unknown-2This is the story of two families conjoined by the social welfare system. It’s a quiet, heartfelt story that poses big, loud questions. Ginny Cheng is a hardworking woman who lives in Vancouver’s Chinatown and adores her daughters. Casey and Jamie Cheng are also conjoined…by family, by struggle, by experiences that shape their destiny. Enter Donna Campbell. Another hardworking woman; Donna longs to help all children. A foster mother, she bears the secret of her own conjoining.

The novel follows these two families for several decades, beginning in 2016, when the protagonist, Jessica Campbell, and her father are cleaning out the basement after Donna’s death. In the bottom of two freezers, they discover the bodies of Casey and Jamie Cheng. Jessica remembers when they lived in this house for a brief time as foster kids in the late 1980s before they ran away. Questions arise. Did Donna kill them? Why would Donna kill them? What brought the girls to this house in the first place? What is their story? 

The next morning, they came with almost nothing: just one small backpack between the two of them and even that was only half-full. It was just them, really, and their baggie no-name jeans. Donna’s house was full–bulk bin oats; piles of books; unsorted laundry, both dirty and clean–and they slid in, cutting through the air, their girl bodies like slivers.

Jessica was ten, and Jamie and Casey were thirteen and fourteen, the kind of girls who stood at angles, their elbows and knees and shoulders just points on thin, thin, bodies. They were beautiful, the two of them, but it was Casey, the older one, who had the eyes that were long and still, whose face was shaped as if it had been drawn with a fine-nibbed pen. Jamie was cute, but Casey made Jessica want to run away and hide under a quilt, ashamed by her huge curly hair, her ungainly height. If I could, she thought, I would peel that face right off her and press it down over mine.

unknown-1There are things I really like about this novel. Jen Sookfong Lee is a creative writing teacher at Simon Fraser University and UBC, and her expertise appears in sensually-crafted passages.

I met Jen at one of her memoir-writing workshops, and later sat down with her for a critique of my own work. She is bright, spunky, honest, and real. Her experiences growing up in East Vancouver glow like a watermark in this book. We see Vancouver through the decades–the sea-scarred cliffs of Lions Bay in the 1950s, Chinatown and suburban Vancouver in the 1980s, the granite-countered condos of 2016–and we see the innards of the families who live and work there.

Jen’s characters are real folks with real lives who suffer, swear, and sweat. Her men seem peripheral; agents of doom. Her women strong. I am drawn to Donna, the earth mother who tries so hard to nurture and sustain life; who pickles, preserves, grows her own food, and stocks her shelves like a health food store. Perhaps, I relate to 1980s Donna. And, I empathize with Ginny Cheng who loses her children despite her best efforts at being at good mom. Jessica Campbell, I applaud and admire. Her love affair with truth and liberation rings true. For in the end, it is the freedom to experience all that life offers, that we desire above all else.

No one had thought about the first breaths of transformation or the possibilities within windowless dens for chrysalis and birth and progress. Jessica clasped her hands over her stomach and held them tightly. If she let go, she might break into a mad, happy dance.


Goat Rocks Wilderness: 8 days and 80 Miles on the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington

This is a well-written inspiring story about a courageous woman and her faithful companion.

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Goat Rocks Wilderness: 8 days and 80 Miles on the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington

Story and Photos Contributed by Tenley Lozano + Elu the Mutt

Sitting on a stack of rocks next to the trail just south of Packwood Glacier, I stare at an alpine lake in the distance and think about how we got here. My 53-pound husky-mix, Elu, lays in the shade of the rocks resting, wearing the Ruffwear Palisades Pack stuffed full of kibble and freeze-dried patties. An ice axe is at my feet next to my overstuffed pack. I carried it 60 miles from where we started on the Pacific Crest Trail near the Oregon border six days before, sometimes in 90-degree weather, all the while cursing its extra weight. Elu and I walked through old growth forests with spotted frogs jumping across the trail, past bright blue streams colored by volcanic rock dust, forded…

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