Monday, July 31, 2017

Cougar Annie

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."

In the fading light,
I can just make out black shapes of 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,
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 greys 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:
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,
died / moved on;
eleven children brought
into the world,
eleven grown and 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.

for Karin's prompt at Real Toads: a narrative poem

I adapted this poem from  one I wrote in 2001. It 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,  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.


  1. Well told tale. You brought the scene alive, even to the echo of Cougar Annie meeting her destiny.

  2. Sherry, this is just brilliant. I would love to have written this!

  3. Cougar Annie is my kind of lady, a real pioneer woman. We call Mrs. Jim a pioneer woman for her courage when dealing with unknown situations.

  4. I love your telling of this story, Sherry. No one here but me, now. And the greys and cougars and...

  5. This is absolutely phenomenal Sherry! I wish I had written this!

  6. She sounds like a force to be reckoned with - I always admire resourceful women ;)

  7. What a wonderful woman and what a wonderful poem written with passion and admiration for this icon.She deserves to be honoured and remembered. Great tribute. Loved it. One of your best !

  8. What an incredible story, Sherry. And these words are simply exquisite:
    their breath sounds like
    the hidden voice
    of God.

  9. I too like: their breath sounds like
    the hidden voice of God...Such a wonderful tribute to an amazing woman. One could say the same thing about you - Wild Woman, Cougar Annie...we are all one.

  10. Well you breathed a new life into Annie with your words of beauty. Amazing story. What a personality.

  11. This is sooooo good, nailed it...portrait of a personality the likes of which the world will never see again. (Though I do wish we had more cougars around these days)

  12. Wow! What a woman – and oh, what a poem! Your latest masterpiece.

  13. What a fantastic first person narrative poem Sherry. It is really outstanding. So pleased that her garden is maintained as a memorial to her.

  14. What a wonderful poem, such eloquent but simple descriptions_-the narrative is beautiful. One of my favorites of yours---just terrific. K.

  15. What a perfectly executed narrative...enjoyed the tale.

  16. Heritage is writ in poems like this, Sherry, finding the hidden voice of god in the love of place over all other mortal threads. Fine stuff.

  17. Thank you for sharing this story. They took the land, and you can't say it was easy. A wonderful poem.

  18. You've showed us her story so well, so clear... all the way home.

  19. Oh Sherry, this is just wonderful. What a quiet, vivid description. You got inside her to tell her tale. I was swept along with you living her life.


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