Notes from the Wilds

A glimpse of one artists' life in the Wild West Coast of BC

Sunshine after the Rain

I sit still for a few moments, trying to allow the sun on my face to cheer me up. But I still feel anxious, rushed to see as much of this city as I can before I’m off sightseeing around the rest of Ireland. I only have a few days and I still want to see Dublin Castle, the National Gallery, Trinity College with the Book of Kells, and the buskers and shopping on Grafton Street.

I pull out my map, now that I’m sitting down, but I still can’t any make sense of it. The elusive street signs seem to be hiding. Scanning the intersections, there is nary a sign until I look up…on the corner of a building, about 12 feet above the sidewalk, is a blue and white sign with rather small print, with a name in Irish first, and underneath in English…There they are! I had mistakenly been looking for signs like we have in Canada; attached to STOP signs or power poles, but these signs are inconspicuous. I locate Dublin Castle on the map to orient myself, and stuff it into my big purse, arranging the camera across my chest. Finally! A destination! My sense of purpose reignited, I head in the right direction. I resume my trudge past the never-ending shops, pubs and cafes and within a few minutes I find myself in front of Dublin Castle.Dublin Castle Sketchbook spread

Having spent my whole life in BC, the oldest surviving structures I have seen are ramshackle log cabins with sod roofs that dot the Chilcotin and Cariboo landscape, and the odd restored Victorian house that might date back to the mid 1800s. Dublin Castle is millennia older and has a long and fascinating history. Situated in the very heart of historic Dublin, the castle gets its name from the Dubh Linn, or Black Pool, situated on the site of the present Castle Gardens. Here were found the remains of a significant Viking settlement dating back to 841. It is said that the Vikings may have used Irish slaves to build the walls of the original fortification, possibly a Gaelic style ring fort. They ruled Dublin with an iron fist for almost three centuries, expelled in 902 only to return in 917. The High King of Ireland, Brian Boru, finally defeated them for good at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.DSC_0037

But neither the Irish nor the Vikings could withstand the invasion of the Normans in 1169. Evidence suggests that there was a wood and stone castle on the site in the 1170s, but the first “castle” in the proper sense of the world, built with strong stone walls and good defensive ditches, was completed by King John of England in 1230. Unfortunately, most of the medieval castle burned up in the great fire of April 1684. It started in the Great Hall and only by blowing up nearby buildings, were the citizens able to stop the flames from reaching the gunpowder stored in the Powder tower. Following this, King James directed that the old walls be taken down. Rebuilding began and more stately accommodation replaced the medieval fortification.

Dublin Castle was used for centuries as the seat of English administration in Ireland, but was handed over to Michael Collins and the new Irish Government in 1922, following Ireland’s independence. It now serves as a major government complex and a popular tourist attraction, its ancient round tower and sprawling outbuildings span 900 years, Viking to Medieval, to Georgian, rough stone and cobbles side by side with intricate plasterwork and modern art.

I wander the Castle grounds in awe, my eyes trying to take it all in. Sculptural heads jut from over ornate doors and cast iron spirals decorate garden walls, allowing glimpses of more modern colourful mosaics. Archways and chimneypots, lion-headed doorknobs and even the cobbled courtyard are all equally fascinating to my country-girl curiosity. I have missed the tour that would allow me to enter the buildings but I long to see what lies behind those lovely doors. Realizing that I’m out of time, I snap some photos and reluctantly leave.

Walking towards my next destination, Christ Church Cathedral, I get caught in my first Irish downpour. The formerly bright sky abruptly darkens and the clouds open up. Water pours from the sky in buckets and spurting rivulets flow down the streets, ankle deep. My so-called “waterproof” jacket is useless in this downpour, and the thin trousers and sandals I’m wearing are completely unsuitable. I run for the cover of a large overhanging tree in the Churchyard, completely soaked to the skin. My trousers are transparent with wet and my hair is dripping in my eyes. Within minutes it is over, and the sun once again appears. As I wander around the church, reading placards and snapping pictures, my steaming clothes dry in the sun.Christ Church Cathedral

Christchurch Cathedral is a beautiful building by any standards. Said to be the oldest building in Dublin, it was initially made of wood, sometime after 1028 when King Sitric Silkenbeard, the Hiberno-Norse King of Dublin made a pilgrimage to Rome. It was built on high ground, overlooking the Viking settlement at Wood Quay and became one of only two churches for the whole of Dublin at the time.

Funded by Henry Strongbow and other Norman magnates, the church was rebuilt in stone in the 1180’s, but fell into disrepair for much of the 19th century. From 1871 to 1878, it was extensively renovated and rebuilt. It is now difficult to tell which parts of the interior are truly medieval and which are Victorian imitation.DSC_0061


Stranger in a (not-so) Strange Land

Leaving the café, I am tossed headlong into a tide of smartly dressed people on the sidewalk. The air is heavy and wet. Sprinkles of moisture whisper against my face, catching in my eyelashes. The buildings rise like watercolour paintings out of the thick mist, their edges blurred by nature’s paintbrush. I am in the business centre, and although I have been awake for about forty-eight hours and ready for bed, it is early morning, and everyone is heading to work. Heads down, serious faces still puffy with sleep, hands red from the brisk morning air, clutch briefcases and coffee cups, the women’s heels clicking with importance on the uneven cobblestone streets. I wonder briefly, before I’m swept along with them, how they manage not to twist their ankles and fall.Liffey from Abigails

Buoyed somewhat by my caffeine infusion, I want to sightsee, make the most of the full day that I have in front of me, but I don’t know where I really am or where I want to go. Pulling out my map proves futile. I am pushed along with the waves of people, unable to find my bearings let alone a street sign or a place to sit. I pass colorful pubs with their sandwich boards advertising delicious meals and cheap pints, and although I long to sit, I’ve already eaten. Novelty shops for tourists with Riverdance blaring from speakers, flaunt shirts saying “Kiss Me, I’m Irish”, or “I Heart Dublin”. Rows of sheep adorned mugs and silly leprechauns line their walls. But like the stereotype of any North American traveler with Irish roots, I came to Ireland looking for an authentic experience, without knowing exactly what that would be. At any rate, I’m not interested in silly mementos, so I let the crowd push me past.

Temple Bar Dublin Sketchbook

I walk and walk, exploring the cobbled streets and snapping pictures. I pass the colorful Temple Bar with its cheerful red walls, petunias spilling from hanging baskets; the bright yellow façade of the Oliver St. John Gogarty, a pub and B&B, advertising traditional music and food, with its colorful flags. I pass bakeries and gift shops, and zig-zag across the city. Exhausted by competing with sandwich boards for the already narrow sidewalk space; I finally see a place to sit.


In the middle of an intersection surrounded by four trees, stands a statue with a stepped base, so I cross the road and plop myself down. The morning sun is starting to break through the mist and it is getting warm. The heavy air makes my clothes stick to my body uncomfortably. I strip off my jacket and let the light breeze cool my skin. I’m suddenly swept by a tidal wave of emotion and unbidden tears prickle behind my eyelids. This was supposed to be a grand adventure, a spiritual rediscovery, but all I feel in this moment is lost, lonely and foolish.


I stretch out my legs and back, and close my eyes, feeling the warm sun on my face, and I inhale, filling my lungs with the barley-scented air…I need to re-embrace the adventure! My logical mind is telling me that I’m only exhausted and overwhelmed, and that I merely need to breathe and remind myself how amazing it is that I am here, but my emotions are struggling for control. I open my eyes and look around. There is a girl with a pink backpack, sitting around the corner from me, reading a paperback, a couple across the street kiss a farewell as their destination takes them in different directions for the day. In their human-ness, I begin to feel less alone.

In Dublin’s Fair City

In Dublin's Fair City watercolor

It’s 8am and I haven’t slept much since I awoke at 6:30 am two mornings ago, but I am wired on caffeine and excitement as I finally make my way off of the plane and into the terminal at Dublin Airport.  The familiar feeling of “grounded-ness” that I experienced my first time here envelops me as I navigate towards the big blue and yellow CityLink bus that will take me to O’Connell St. Bridge. I am here, Ireland! It feels like home, but a home in which I’ve never lived. It’s a genetic pull; a familiarity that I couldn’t possibly feel which nevertheless exists. Gooseflesh ripples my skin but it’s not entirely from the chill air or the typically Irish moody morning mist.

My bus finally arrives and I board with the feeling of anticipation prickling the hairs on my arms. I’m so tired that waves of sleepiness threaten to overwhelm me. The bus is warm, and the gentle rocking is relaxing, but there is no way I’m going to sleep! I’m not able to check into the hostel until three, and I’m not wasting a minute sleeping when there is so much to see.

The architecture of a different century rises on all sides and I constantly crane my neck to see the little details of a time when attention to detail and artistic expression actually existed. Georgian doorways with brightly painted doors and vine covered red brick, archways and columns topped in the Corinthian or Doric style, lampposts with elaborate swirls, Victorian mingling with Georgian, side by side, and the odd Gothic Cathedral sitting majestic and magnificent amongst it all. Dublin Doors Spread

Gallagher's Boxty House  The bus navigates its huge mass through narrow streets designed for the horse and cart, not this lumbering beast. It finally comes parallel to the Liffey River and I know that I am close to my destination. It slows and takes its place the rows of blue and yellow double-deckers lined up near the O’Connell Bridge. I heft my pack and step onto the street, pointing my tired feet in the direction of my hostel, Abigail’s, which is only a few blocks away at Aston Quay. I know that I can stash my bag until check-in. I stop on the bridge, looking down at the slow flowing, dark water, the familiar smell rises in my nostrils and I breathe it in. Dublin smells like the tide flats (a.k.a. ~ farts) and baking bread, simultaneously, depending on whether the breeze is blowing in from the ocean or from the Guinness Factory, roasting hops on a good day. On my left rises the big green Neo-Classical Dome of the Customs House, and on my right, farther down the river, the striking white, cast-iron latticework of the Ha’Penny Bridge.

I finally make my way the few blocks to Abigail’s, ring the bell, and they buzz me in. The place is much different than I remember. It is more casual, less hotel-like. It is now more artsy and hip, with a big murals on the walls. There is a big room with dining tables to my right, instead of the reception, and to my left is the counter with two jovial young Irish men joking with each other behind it. I ask for directions to the bag room, which is in the same place as before, and I stash my bag in the corner.

I lean back into a comfy black leather couch in front of reception and begin to collect the things I will need for exploring.  Sinking back into the plush cushions, I feel myself in danger of drifting off to sleep right there. I need more caffeine or I’m not going to make it through the day. I still have hours before I can check into my room. I drag myself out of that deluxe couch, heave my purse across my shoulder and push open the big double doors on the street, in search of the elixir of life.

My memories of Ireland from seven years ago don’t include great coffee, only the weak and instant kind, but then I was on a backpacker budget and didn’t give the fancy cafes a second glance. This time, the smell of fresh brew entices me from only a few doors down. At the very modern and cozy looking Soho Café, piles of freshly baked goods gleam from elaborate cake stands, and freshly made sandwiches fill a floor to ceiling cooler, but all I want is coffee. I order myself a quadruple shot Americano and settle into a seat near the window.

soho cafeThe Soho Cafe, Dublin…

Instant Heaven!

And a bit more energy to make it through the day.

The Seven Year Itch

O'Hare spread 2.jpeg

They say that every seven years we’re recreated, that scientifically, our cells completely regenerate and we’re a whole new person.

It’s been seven years since my life blew apart. I had lost myself and nearly lost my husband.  That woman whom I had failed to acknowledge over the last seven years had been neglected and ignored in a flurry of dirty diapers and 3am feedings. That passionate, effervescent girl who longed to travel and create had been missing for so long that I hardly remembered her. She seemed to have been replaced with an angry and beleagured wretch with tired eyes, messy hair and stained clothes who drank too much wine and spent her nights alone feeling sorry for herself.

I desperately missed my family and was exhausted by the drama of a nine month separation but I felt that if I jumped right back into my marriage, I would be jumping back into the same constraints and problems without healing or changing. I was afraid that if I relinquished my freedom I would lose the opportunity to travel on my own forever. After an uneasy reconciliation with my husband, I took one last desperate attempt to reconnect with my grieving soul in a green country halfway around the world.

Ireland has been calling to me since I was a child. I remember the first time I heard Irish music. I danced and danced until I cried with ecstatic joy. I couldn’t have been more than nine or ten. And when I discovered their art, I was hooked and spent hours as a teenager trying to work out the complicated knots and patterns.

So I ran to the magical land of Eire, and I fell in love with a country that felt like home, although I had never been there before. I explored its monuments, walked quietly through crumbling ruins, and enjoyed more than one pint of Guinness in its charming pubs. That month was also hard and painful and lonely, but I found myself indeed. I discovered that I was no longer merely that girl. I was also a mother, with an amazing husband and precious children. I had not lost her; she had simply metamorphosed into a whole new person who was not less than before but more. I realized that I didn’t have to give her up; I just had to start to acknowledge her quiet voice again.


Here I am again, another seven years later. I feel whole, new, and reborn. My relationship with my husband is flourishing…much stronger than before, and my children are brilliant, confident, respectful human beings who never fail to amaze me. I have my own little business that is so much more successful than I ever imagined. I’m happy, and my life is full but too full. Burnout is threatening to overwhelm me. That girl is shouting at me once more, trying to get my attention. This time, I know that I have to listen before I fall apart again.

Ireland has imprinted herself indelibly on my heart, and I have to go. I miss her like a lover. So I book a trip. This time, I want to immerse myself in her secret places. I want to avoid the rush of tourists and absorb the landscape instead of rushing from one landmark to the next. I want to know Ireland more intimately, and I want to experience the silence and solitude that my current life is lacking so desperately. I decide that I will walk around the Dingle Peninsula, following the Dingle Way, a 179 km trail through dramatically changing scenery. It crosses through picturesque villages, down quiet boreens (the narrow, winding passageways which pass for roads in the backcountry of Ireland), and rolling farmland, through bogs and over the foothills of Mount Brandon, ending in long stretches of white sand beaches with turquoise water stretching farther than the eye can see. Some of the finest archaeological sites in Ireland can be seen along the trail. Standing stones, ogham stones and beehive huts stand side by side with crumbling stone huts and modern farmhouses, evidence of the many generations of people who have called this island home. Standing inside a bramble covered fairy ring, it’s easy to imagine that the “little people” once inhabited this magical place.


(From my journal, September 19, 2016)

I have mixed feelings and my heart is in my throat as the plane taxis down the runway. I can see my little family slowly walking away from the terminal, hand in hand. I feel a rush of regret, seeing them all together and I’m so instantly alone.  As the plane speeds up and lifts off, my stomach flips and I have an intense feeling of panic. What am I doing? I hate flying! Who do I think I am, going to another country by myself?! How selfish can I be? We are told that it’s good to get comfortable and settle down. Buy a big house, a new car, and save your money…All of the questions that others have raised, an accusing tone, or an arched eyebrow, suggesting that a “good wife” a “good mother” would never dream of doing such a thing. For a moment I believe them and I want off that plane. The smell of stale Naugahyde, breath mints and diesel fills my nostrils, the nauseating combination increasing the unease in my roiling stomach. As the little 19-seater bobs around in the sky, each gust of wind blows it this way and that and each pocket of turbulence feels like impending disaster. My white knuckles grip the seat arms and I fight to keep my breathing regular. Finally, as we clear the mountaintops and level off, the feeling of panic subsides, replaced with wonder at the beauty all around me. Mist veiled glaciers and snow-covered peaks spread out below me, revealing the majesty of the place I call home. I quickly seize my journal, and try to capture the feeling in words:

Airplane Haiku

‘I look below me

Rivers of ice ripple

in the cold blue’glacier-in-journal.jpeg

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