Wednesday, June 30, 2010

COUGAR ANNIE

[This poem is about Ada Annie-Rae Arthur, who came to Clayoquot Sound in the early 1900's, settling on rough land near Hesquiaht Harbour, which she worked her entire life to tame and cultivate. She is one of the notable characters of the area, having survived four husbands, personally killed 72 cougar, and raising eleven children.  The flower, above, is on her property. The photograph is likely included in the book Cougar Annie's Garden, by Margaret Horsfield. The garden is now maintained by the Temperate Rainforest Field Study Centre.

The poem was inspired by a quotation by David Whyte:


"I pull the bow out into the wide sea,
paddle dripping towards darkness,
and enter again
the quiet."]



June 2001


In the fading light,
I can just make out

the black shapes of the trees,
tall sentinels

that darkly watch me pass,
roots tangled thickly

down the ancient banks
right to the water's edge,

the shore held fast.


Dip and lift,
the only sound the water's lick,
paddle moving cleanly

through the spreading flow,
the low call of a sleepy owl,
winglift of swooping heron
in mid-flight.
Earth falls away,
above all a starshine glow,
inverted bowl of sky at night
protects me as I go.



Around the point, I drift into Cow Bay
where the big grays are feeding
in a pod.
A whoosh, a whoosh, a whoosh
a vast arched back
a fluke
and then the mystical descent,
their breath sounds like
the hidden voice
of God.



Dip of oar,
scattered droplets
silvered by the moon,
to the head

of Hesquiaht Harbour
home so soon
to farm and garden
mine now, only mine:
husbands and children
spilled like the sands of time,
homestead clawed

from tangled bush,
hardscrabble years
in which
I tamed this once wild patch
of ancient pine.



Now no one here but me,
no one to see:
the vibrant blooms

that spread out everywhere,
unexpected garden

from unyielding soil,
an unexpected life
of endless toil,
I now reflect upon.

I planted flowers
and blooming bushes
all those years,
nourished with laughter,
watered well with tears,
they flourished longer
than leggy children,
grown and so swiftly gone.

Seventy years upon this place,
from young bride
to homesteader/hermit
no man stayed long beside.















At ninety
still a hard glint
in my eyes
a-glistening,
my face bird-like, alert,
intent and listening,
hands cradling the rifle,
head cocked - hush!-

ears tuned for the sound
of cougar in the bush.

72 cougar I killed
over the years,
mice and chickens'

necks I snapped
without a thought.
Four husbands

lived beside me
then they died;
eleven children

brought
into the world,
eleven gone.
What mattered most
this place, the life
that living in it

wrought.



All gone now,
but this place meant
for no other.
The blooms turn

their sweet faces up
to meet me
like a lover.


The fog parts;

my canoe slips
in between
the veil that hides

from this world
the unseen.
These ghostly shores
I shall forever roam.
I'm Cougar Annie and I'm

heading Home.

32 comments:

  1. After "meeting " you, I've come to poke around and get to know you better. This piece tells me that you are a poet indeed. This is so beautiful, and even better, entertaining.

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  2. I absolutely LOVE this! You have so lyrically described one of our founding West Coast woman's life, with beauty. I have always had such curiosity about Cougar Annie, and Your poem has fed me well. xx

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  3. sad to see many killed,
    yet, you rise and live,
    carrying that wound inside,
    still, you have your unbeatable pride....

    lovely poem.
    powerful writing.

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  4. This was a compelling poem about quite the character. You never disappoint, Sherry.

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  5. Sherry, a very entertaining piece indeed. I just love visiting your blog.
    Pamela

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  6. Wow she's quite a character indeed...a person worthy to be immortalized in poem...as always your words grab total attention.

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  7. The ending is quite good..nice character..and you made me imagine with the poems flow :)

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  8. This is (a beautiful and incredible) piece....my favorites of yours....the strength of this woman is felt in every line and the magic of this place ....thank you for sharing this...it is a keeper for the heart....bkm

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  9. Sherry, this is a wonderful post. Such a tight read and a great write. Love and Light, Sender

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  10. Thank you, kind readers. I find Cougar Annie fascinating, too. Her life is an amazement. Wonderful to have you visiting, reading and commenting. Many thanks.

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  11. This poem evokes an iconic figure: her kind are not to be seen in our times but I hope her pioneering spirit lives on in those who care for the natural world and preserve her memory.

    Fabulous share, Sherry.

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  12. I loved really everything about this poem - you are a consummate storyteller in verse - but perhaps these lines especially, with their deep, primordial meaning:

    their breath sounds like
    the hidden voice
    of God.


    Lines to take home, sit by the fire with... Thank you.

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  13. Wow, what an amazing woman she was! She lived an exciting life, one more "exciting" than I would like to live. LOL.

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  14. Fantastic, Sherry. You are indeed a poet, and I suspect you might have liked to be Cougar Annie, too.

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

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  15. the picture painted here is one that carries with it nostalgia and the thrum of vibrant life. i echo turtle memoir above, that the lines
    their breath sounds like
    the hidden voice
    of God.
    beg to be savored.

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  16. I do so wish you'd written this out as a prose poem. For me, one word per line really destroys the beauty of the flow of words, and adds nothing to the overall effect of this piece of writing, full of beautiful images.

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  17. gosh i bet she could tell a story or two...love the settling...the dark sentinels, the lick of the water ...lots of atmosphere established well before you bring her alive through your words....loved it sherry....

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  18. Awesie story, and told so beautifully! I thoroughly enjoyed this!

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  19. I love this lady's spunk! You written such a good poem melding a character and place and I really like that you wrote it in the first person. Wouldn't it have been fun to sit down and have a chat and a cup of tea (or maybe a shot of moonshine) with this woman.

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  20. What a beautiful story of her life, so full of drama yet bravely she moves on ~ I specially like the nature touches of the water and garden blooms ~ Lovely share ~

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  21. A poem to be proud of.
    Wonderful word choices and giving a real sense of place and time.

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  22. It's awesome Sherry! That many cougars she killed! Gosh! Certainly some woman, she! You did well to feature a lengthy verse, a fitting tribute. Great take!

    Hank

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  23. Sherry, you have written a superb poem here: perfect in personality and place. I wish I had known that Cougar Annie!

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  24. Wonderful piece, wonderful lady. They don't make 'em like that now! Congrats on this.

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  25. "mine now, only mine:
    husbands and children
    spilled like the sands of time,"

    I love how you subtly continue the bowl image throughout in a poem as vivid as the pictures: people come and go, scattered or dead, but I am part of this no matter what side of the veil.

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  26. This is wonderfully alive and vivid, Sherry, packed with all the things that made this woman's life, all influenced,born of who she was, and the joint journey of her own spirit with the spirit of the land around her. I especially like the second to last stanza. Lovely.

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  27. I LOVE this! It brought tears to my eyes that the flowers stayed in such a harsh place longer than all the people combined. What an incredible poem. WOW!

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  28. A lovely poem for a giant of a woman, no doubt. Her voice, her life style, the grit and guff that filled her spirit with fight and fire, that come thru as clear as a morning bird's song. Lovely.

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  29. wow...sounds like she was an amazing woman and your poem is a wonderful tribute to her life..

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  30. what a wonderful story - and loved the dipping of the paddle and the canoe taking her to her final home- beautiful and graceful poem, Sherry -K

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I so appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.
Thank you so much. I will be over to see you soon!