Monday, April 22, 2013

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 Hesquiat Harbour, which she worked her entire life to tame and cultivate. She is one of the notable characters of the area, surviving four husbands, personally killing 72 cougar, and raising and home schooling eleven children, in the small shack seen above. Cougar Annie also operated a thriving seed mail order business, and ran a post office for those on neighboring islands. The garden is now maintained and held in trust as a heritage property. The hope is that it will become a retreat in the near future.]

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

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.

I was moved to post this from my archives after attending an event that honored Cougar Annie last evening. Katrina Kadoski sang and told Annie's colorful story in her wonderful one-woman show called Cougar Annie Tales. Katrina lived in Cougar Annie's cabin and garden as caretaker, for a time. She composed all of the songs and her presentation on the Cougar Annie homestead and truly she brought the fiery character to life through her performance. Many in the audience were descendants of Cougar Annie, who had traveled from Tofino for the occasion.


  1. nourished with laughter,
    watered well with tears,
    they flourished longer
    than leggy children,
    grown and so swiftly gone.

    There were SO many I wanted to highlight. I was captivated by your introduction and just fell in love with each line I read of your poem! I'd LOVE to see this one woman act. Went to her facebook page... I don't think she travels to America :(

  2. You poem was gorgeous....dripping with jewels! I loved it~

    Courage Annie I mean Cougar would give Buffalo Girl a run for her money! lol

  3. What a role model for bravery Cougar Annie is. I am glad her story is preserved and passed on!!

    (Looking at her photo, I wouldn't want to be on her bad side. LOL.)

  4. I love the same lines that Margaret highlighted. A wonderful tribute to a heroic woman. Lovely!

  5. I paddled with her every dip, past her dark silent guards, the trees. You wrote of her canoe trip back to home so very nicely, Sherry.

    Now, on the practical side (the engineer in me coming out again?), why was she going home during the night instead of waiting until morning?

    My grandfather had a homestead like that deep in the Arkansas hills. I have a picture of the little home he built and a modern view of it also. It appears to be only one room with people living there still. Grandpa could not make a living operating his farm in those rocky hills. He hocked his watch and returned to Nebraska. This was in the late 1800's or early 1900's.

  6. That woman is so brave and full of life ~
    She reminds me of my grandmother, who died at age 93.

    Thanks for sharing your lovely words Sherry ~

  7. A wonderful poem about a remarkable woman.

  8. Sherry, I am honored to be introduced to a woman of substance. This mold, we washer/dryer TV folks will never see again. So glad your friend put together the play, and I hope work of Cougar Annie spreads. Wonder if she'd come do a show in Madison?

    This is a long poem but it never flags. My favorite lines are:

    Dip and lift,
    the only sound the water's lick

    ...because I've heard that sound on the moonlit lake water many times. So much internal rhyme here, too.

    One of your best, Sherry. Hope you submit to dverse Open Mic Night. Love, Amy

  9. wow...what a woman eh? strong...i like your voice in it...matter of fact at the death of the husbands that reflects her strength...really cool early focus on the surroundings before shifting focus directly to her...really it plays well...

  10. this is an amazing story of a strong woman..this piece is filled with spiritual messages..the paddle, the owl and the heron. This is a story within a story. It speaks of the messages of nature that perhaps, gives the spirit strength. I felt myself drift on the river's edge. Thanks for the journey.

  11. Here I thought my comment had made it to the comment section. I really like this poem on rereading it. She reminds me of my grandmother, a woman whose character life shaped and molded into a beautiful human being. I I used to be a pretty good shot, but 72 cougars must be a world record in some book or other. The poem has a wide arc, and its narrative calls this woman into being past present and future. I love its sweeping, epic, swath across the page.

  12. What a fascinating character she is. Thanks for bringing her to us. Wow, all the stories she could tell!

  13. oh wow...really moved by the strength of this woman, how she didn't give up despite the difficulties and the loss she had to your poem really makes me curious to read more about her

  14. I think this is one of your best, Sherry! (But seeing her there with that shotgun, and that look on her face, has caused me to wonder how those four husbands might have died!)

  15. Sherry, I don't think we've met, but I have to say I love this poem. I know it is born of your heritage - and for it's beauty you deserve applause. I knew someone like her once, but you give us not just her biography and story, but so much more in the spiritual sense...the paddle and the 'waters lick' and so much more. ;)

  16. Sherry, the poem is moving and there are so many wonderful lines, too many to quote. I love the moxie of Cougar Annie, that is not an easy life. Beautifully put together poem and post.

    On a side note, I nearly jumped with glee on seeing you over at my blog. Thank you so much for your very kind words.


  17. You brought her to life for us - beautifully written with amazing imagery. And what a woman - those women of yore were very strong souls.

  18. What a amazing woman and you have brought her to life here giving me eyes to see her with through your words.

  19. Could almost hear Kenny Rogers singing "Cougar Annie!"


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Thank you so much. I will be over to see you soon!