The Old Questions Of Mountain, River, and Stones

•October 11, 2019 • 1 Comment

Mountain, River and Stones poem small933

In this Country, Voices

•October 1, 2019 • Leave a Comment


Grand Bay Beach, Newfoundland


In this country, voices.

Here, where the ocean winds stream across the sand and soft peat bogs,

Where rocks, like leviathans, rise out of the darkness and breathe;

Here, where the tuckamores,

Their dark candle-stub cones glistening white with pitch,

Snug themselves down out of the gales:



Here, where the long list of green, growing things

(Exotic to me)

Rise—some just barely—up out of the barrens:

Bottle brush, wheatgrass, caribou moss,

Crowberries, and blue, wind-battered asters:



“Look!” she says, stooping to the moss, “Bakeapples! Here, try these!”


Here, where a salt-bleached fenceline lurches down toward the sea,

We startle at a merlin’s sudden, skimming flight between the dunes,

Pick our way along the shore between the mats of sea wrack,

Marvel at the smoothness of pure white stones.


We sit on a stony headland,

Breathe in time to the ocean’s long, slow roar;

Listen as the unseen world crowds around us:

Sons who froze or starved or drowned,

Daughters who coughed up blood and did the same,

Children whose skin was red, murdered on some unnamed beach,

Abandoned to the stern kindnesses of ravens and of flies.

The murmur of their presence drowns the shouting wind and waves.

Shingle rattles in the surf.

(Even the stones have voices here.)


Dark against a pregnant sky, from a place unseen beyond the dunes,

“We, too, are here.”

A pair of herons rise.

•April 17, 2019 • Leave a Comment


Morning on the Saltmarsh with the Dogs

•April 17, 2019 • Leave a Comment

We walk, the dogs and I, in the early morning stillness,

To the end of the road, (it’s not far),

Gravel crunching underfoot like seeds in wild blackberry jam,

Past the apple tree and the neighbour’s purple scented lilac,

Down the trail to the beach.

In June, here, the air will fill with the fragrance of wild roses,

And in August, a flutter of siskins and goldfinches will pluck the thistles of their seeds.


We step carefully across the mud to where the ground is firm.

(Well, I do. The dogs pause, as always, partway down,

To supervise the rabbits who burrow beneath the trees;

Where sometimes in the darkness, great horned owls call each to each.)


Pale mist rises from the dampness underfoot,

Drifting as memories do, or dreams,

Recalling the scent of pitch on children’s fingers,

The taste of wild strawberries: sweet, bright sparks upon the tongue,

Tumbling ravens, and daffodils and cold, green moss,

Wild mint growing beside a pond.


We drift, too, the dogs and I, through the sodden grass and last summer’s thistles

Across the marsh to its farthest edge.

They nose through the tangled willows and crabapples

Then wade the stream to the other side,

Where last night, the otters dined (not daintily) on crab

And shat. (Oh, heaven, if you’re a dog!)


I call, but they do not come.

Between us, the sibilant waters glide,

Complacent in their surrender

To the strange and shimmering hunger of the sea.


•December 6, 2018 • Leave a Comment

At the edge of the saltmarsh,

Heron stands. Stillness. Herself.

Paddle resting athwart, I drift; a soundless leaf or feather fallen upon the rising tide,

Along muddy channels, over gravel bars, and spent oyster shells,

Past crumbling cut-banks and cinnamon scented grasses

Incandescent with this September evening’s light,

Past nodding heads of Queen Anne’s lace: demure ladies-in-waiting (of a certain age)

Who curtsy amid broken thistles and fairy-down seeds

Tangled in spiders’ webs and sun-dew,

Or caught in their parents’ clutching thorns;

Drifting past where the trail at the end of the road wanders down to the shore

Down through the blackberries that wind themselves around the forgotten plum

(Which I cannot see from here)

Down through dogwood, willow, sword fern, and Oregon grape,

(Which I can)

Where last year, a single foxglove bloomed, lavender-pink.

(I took its picture; I gathered its seeds.)

Just there.

Do you see the edge of the shade cast by the firs and the cedars?

Just there.


How strange. I seem to remember when they were seeds, those trees,

Reaching, like children, out of the grass.

Perhaps I do.


(I am adrift in memory, now)

How they rise and thicken, (both memories and trees)

Despite the summer’s drought.

I remember where the heron roosts;

In that fir there, I think,

Or perhaps the cedar.

She has her one branch.


If you are quiet and happen to be drifting, (as I am now,)

Perhaps you will hear, (as I have heard,)

That defiant cry; ancient and lonely and lovely as stone,

As she rises from the shore into the thickening night.

Perhaps you will see, (as I have seen,)

Those scaled feet reach for that one black branch,

See those dark, saurian wings stretch against the sky;

See her wrap herself round with those wings, like a robe,

Shuffle her feathers, and settle with a shrug

Which, if it had a sound, would surely be a sigh,

To wait for the drifting stars to turn bright.

(As do I.)


•May 27, 2018 • 1 Comment

The myth:

La Loba, or Bone Woman (she has many names in ancient myth,) appears sometimes to wanderers, lost souls, and seekers in the desert. She is known to collect and preserve that which is most in danger of being lost to the world. Her sole work is said to be the gathering of bones, most particularly of wolves. When she has assembled an entire skeleton, so the story goes, she arranges them before her fire and sings the living flesh back onto the bones.  The wolf, reborn, leaps up and runs into the darkness. Somewhere in its running, by what means we know not, (perhaps a trick of the light of the rising sun), the wolf transforms itself into a laughing woman who runs toward the horizon. (Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves)

Estés, a Jungian psychoanalyst, tells us that the myth is primarily one of rebirth and resurrection. The scattered bones are the fundamental elements of who we are. Gathered together and sung back into life, we are transformed into our “wild” natural selves. There is a longing for such a transformation deep inside me. Of course there is. I am a transgender woman, after all. If I may be permitted to borrow the metaphor: it is a longing I feel “in my bones.” This longing is something many women feel, especially in societies such as our own, where fierce “wild” women are denounced as ‘whores,’ where witches are burned, where wolves (and wolvishness) are poisoned or shot. What bones remain, are scattered across the desert. In our dreams, however, (our collective dreams, Jung would point out) memory stirs–memory of a time when women and wolves were fiercely alive and whole. Our life work, Estés says, is the gathering of bones.


by Karen McLaughlin


This desert body I am become,

Possessed of neither tides, nor birth, nor blood, 

Dreams a memory of those;

Dreams a resurrection of sifting dust and rotting stone,

Of withered root and the smell of rising corn, 

Of keening beneath the fading stars 

To call the sun to rise.


Dreams an ancient woman who sees with blank blue eyes,   

Whose spreading soles are quilled with thorn, 

Who spits and stirs the dust with blackened nails, 

Whose voice is cracked with singing over bones.


This desert body I am become,

Inhabits a country in between:   

Has become both wise and foolish: child and crone.


I squint and pluck the whiskers from my chin.

I gather bones, both dog and crow,   

Arrange these relics before the flame.   

I breathe the smoke of burning tires.

My body dreams of wolves and howling women: 

The memory of bones that rise to bleed and sing.

Karen at the Core

•November 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Black, Seed, Dandelion, Close-Up, White, Macro, Wind

So the big news (for me, at least) is that I have begun training as a peer counsellor with Cowichan Family Life Association in Duncan. What follows is an excerpt from my journal for this past weekend. (Names and details have been altered.)

The exercise starts simply enough. We are handed two sets of instructions: one entitled “How to Care for Extroverts.”*and the other “How to Care for Introverts.”** We are asked to consider which of the items describes our own personal needs. I tick off 11 of the 12 items under Introverts: no surprise there and only one item under Extroverts: “Let them hug you.” Yes, I like hugs. We are divided into pairs; I will work with Marnie. Each pair is asked to discuss our choices with our partner, taking turns as either speaker or listener, with the listener paraphrasing and reflecting back the speaker’s comments: basic counselling skills, lesson two.

As I am listening, I consciously try to slow down the conversation, breaking it down into smaller, manageable bits, so I can paraphrase accurately and completely. Sometimes I paraphrase content, sometimes I reflect feelings or the meanings that appear to be attached to her comments. “It sounds like being a mom is a really important part of who you are,”  or, “I’m curious. What happened when he made eye contact with you? What went through your mind?” As the conversation continues, though, we start spontaneously reflecting back and forth. I know this is not what is supposed to happen. The focus is supposed to stay on the speaker, but I let the conversation take on a life of its own, and we drill further and further down into just who it is, we really are. At one point, she says, “Being a caregiver. That is who I am at the core. It’s just that important.”

I nod and consider. Perhaps this is true, but being a caregiver is something we do. Is what we do the same as who we are? I pose the question: “I wonder if it’s possible to strip away all the layers of our personalities, all the roles. I wonder if we can. What would we find at the core?”

“I am a caregiver. That’s who I am,” she says again.

Suddenly, I am struck by an image in my own imagination. I see a final layer being stripped away. It is black, rigid, and (this may be important) constructed. What is even more important though, is the discovery of what remains behind: a glowing ball of light. It would fit comfortably in the palm of my hand. In that instant, I recognize what’s at the center of who I am. Love. That is who I am at my very core: love. “Dang,” I think, “I like this woman.”

Later on, as our day draws to its closing, we are asked, “Are you a willow or an oak tree?”

Each of us, in turn, replies. “I think I am an oak. I stand pretty strong against the wind.”

“I am a willow. I will bend, but I will not break.”

I am the last to reply. “I am neither,” I tell the group. “I am a dandelion seed, floating on the wind,” adding mischievously, “looking for somebody’s lawn to settle on.”

“What would it take to plant you?” our instructor asks.

“Ah,” I tell her, “you misunderstand the metaphor. I have no need to be planted.” I recall that moment of discovery in my earlier conversation with Marnie, and I tell the story of my first encounter with the hawk…my hawk. (Ride the rising wind.) “Who is Karen at her core?” I ask, rhetorically. “Love. That’s who I am. That’s why I’m so drawn to this work.” My hand lifts upward, like the seed. “I am who I am, right where I need to be. Right now, in this moment, I ride the rising wind.”


*How to Care for Extroverts

(1) Don’t ignore them.

(2) Feed their egos.

(3) Let them be the center of attention.

(4) Don’t tease them for having a lot of friends.

(5) Take them to parties.

(6) Introduce them to new people often.

(7) Let them hug you.

(8) Learn that sometimes they will talk loudly.

(9) Keep eye contact.

(10) Don’t force them to be quiet.

(11) Don’t be startled when they suddenly start a conversation.

(12) Let them be friends with you.


** How to Care for Introverts

(1) Respect their need for privacy.

(2) Never embarrass them in public.

(3) Let them first observe in new situations.

(4) Give them time to think. Don’t demand instant answers.

(5) Don’t interrupt them.

(6) Give them advance notice of expected changes in their lives.

(7) Give them 15 minute warnings to finish whatever they are doing

(8) Reprimand them privately.

(9) Teach them new skills privately.

(10) Enable them to find one best friend who has similar interests and abilities.

(11) Don’t push them to make lots of friends.

(12) Respect their introversion. Don’t try to remake them into extroverts.