Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Spiritual Healing Jungle Style by Stuart R. West

Visit lovely Peculiar County, just a click away.
Here we go again, back into the Amazon rain forest...

As things go, I'm kinda skeptical by nature. Which is a funny way to phrase it: "by nature." Because during our eight day sojourn into the jungle, "nature" challenged some of my earlier, stubborn notions.
Me in all my glory getting dowsed by a shaman!
Jungle Momma, the amazing organizer of our Peruvian trip, is--like my wife and many others in our party--a pharmacist. These days, however, she resides in Iquitos and the jungle, soaking up all the information she can regarding the vast, untapped, and downright amazing array of herbal and plant medicines available in the jungle. She's also been apprenticing with a shaman for the past twenty years.
Antonio, the Maestro!
Which brings me to Antonio, el Maestro Magia! Antonio, one of the last of the red-hot shamans, is a fascinating guy. He carries within him immense knowledge passed down from previous shamans, sadly the end of the line. Since his village civilized and moved into Iquitos with direct TV dishes, no one's interested in carrying on the shamanic traditions any longer, preferring the sparkly, new-fangled allure of Western medicine. A shame.

Antonio's part miracle worker, part doctor, part magician, and a pinch of dirty ol' man. Maybe even a sliver of Catskills vaudeville stand-up comic. Savvier than he appears, he pretends to not speak English at all, although we had our suspicions.  During his stay at our lodge, he was sequestered in the back conference room, down a very long walkway and closer to the jungle, because he couldn't handle all of the city energy in the lodge for too long. 

Yet, the reach of civilization had touched Antonio, too. Wearing an Americanized ballcap, emblazoned with the letter "M," and duded out in designer jeans and stylin' kicks, he resembled a tourist emulating American style (or lack thereof). I so wanted the "M" on his cap to stand for "magic." Alas, it was a corporate symbol for Iquitos' mega supplier of cable TV and cell phone plans.

The stories surrounding Antonio are amazing. With one look he diagnosed someone's cancer with his "MRI vision." He healed someone's growing fungal attack with jungle plants when all  Western medicine failed. Father of many, lover of even more, no one truly knows Antonio's age, but it's guestimated at around 82 or so. Given that, he's in better shape than I am, leaping off boats with ease and (terrifyingly) running through the jungle bare-foot.
El Maestro Magia!
Our first night in the jungle lodge, Antonio arranged a group blessing. This consisted of us donning our swimsuits; one by one, he doused us with a bucket of cold water with flowers stirred into the mix. His blessing went untranslated. For all I know, he could've been singing the Brady Bunch theme song.
We were then given the option of having a personal, spiritual healing session with el Maestro Magia. I waffled back and forth, wanting to experience it, yet fearful of what he might find out about my health. Did I believe in his unexplained abilities? I don't know. But I was afraid enough to waffle. And after the stories I'd been told by intelligent, sane people, I'd be a fool to dismiss Antonio's talents out-of-hand. So, I continued to waffle. Man, can I waffle, more waffling than the local pancake shop, a waffling talent I've perfected over many years of waffling. I mean, if I've got some kind of necrotic skin disease, isn't it better to not know about it until the last second?

At the final moment, I took a giant leap of faith over my waffles and landed in Antonio's domain, off the griddle and into the frying pan. 
I entered the circular room, empty except for Antonio sitting in a folding chair, head bowed. I approached him, shook his hand. Quietly he muttered something, gestured toward the folding chair across from him. I sat. He slapped some kinda nice-smelling oil on my face and doubled down on my head (I kinda think he liked the feel of my slick pate as he gave it a few extra smacks). A cigar was lit as he smoked herbal tobacco, constantly blowing it on me as he whistled a nameless, tuneless song. I closed my eyes, went with it, tried to "get out of my head" as I was instructed (usually an impossible task; I mean where else am I gonna go?), as he brushed palm leaves all over me.

I'm not sure what happened, but something did. The constant rustling of the dried leaves fell into a drum-like pattern. Pungent, rich smoke transported me elsewhere. With my eyes shut, I envisioned the past, ancient tribes beating drums, dancing around a fire, a community of respect for Mother Earth.

A duck-like call at my temples brought me back; Antonio sucking out the bad energy from my head. When it ended, I was disappointed. Eyes still closed, I waited. Finally, Antonio said, "okay," a universal word. I opened my eyes, felt comfortably numb, rested yet exhilarated.

I stumbled out to the communal hammock/nap room and just lay there contemplating my navel for half an hour.

Was I really transported back in time? No. Probably just my writerly senses propelling me into a flight of fantasy. But I felt more rested, comfortable, and at peace than I had for a while. It also made me consider bigger issues than my rather small Kansas City backyard.

Other members of our group experienced different things. My wife felt connected to water. She said, "We're moving close to water." I said, "Okay, as long as there's air conditioning."

Another person felt a shoulder wound heal and the word "metaphysical" kept bouncing around his mind. One woman said it felt like the aftermath of a really great massage. I couldn't argue with that. Another guy shrugged, said, "it was alright."

On the other hand, Antonio also strongly believes in love potions, so there's that.

Speaking of unexplainable and magical happenings, book a trip to scenic Peculiar County, where things are never as they appear.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Kola by Layton Park one of BWL Publishing's New Authors

Click on the cover to find out more about Layton and his work.

I met Layton at the Surrey International Writers Conference a few years ago. Since then I've had the pleasure of working with him to complete his first full length novel, Kola. The book just released on Feb 16, 2019. As you can see the cover is amazing. The story takes place during the US Civil War and then moves British COlumbia in Canada's beautiful Okanagan Valley. The story includes historical figures and events from which Layton drew inspiration. The character of Kola is loosely based on one of Layton's ancestors. The story touches on the early gold miners in the Okanagan Valley and touches on the tensions between the Chinese community and the population at large. Kola, with his half Chinese-half Irish heritage, is caught between them. Not to mention he's also pretending to be First Nations, a left over from his days riding with Frank and Jesse James.

A bit about Layton:

Layton grew up in the shadows of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, near Rocky Mountain House, the most westerly fur trading post in a bye-gone era.

He spent his early years on ranches and farms in the area and developed an interest in his family history. In the mid-1800s a neighbour murdered Harrison Caton, Layton's great-grandfather, near Bates County Missouri. Following the murder, his grandfather, with his two brothers and two sisters, headed for western Canada where they homesteaded in 1903, and where one cousin still farms. Park was inspired to capture and preserve his ancestor’s experiences and began researching the family history. After moving to Vernon, BC, in the course of that research, Layton discovered the story of a Chinese miner who murdered Aeneas Dewar, a tax collector. When he dug deeper, Layton was amazed at the treatment of Chinese miners at the time and had the brilliant notion to combine the two stories. Kola, his first historical novel, is the result.

Layton enjoys writing in Kelowna, BC, and has written many other books and short stories which you can explore on his website.

Back Cover BLurb for Kola:

Northern Soldiers killed Liam’s parents and left the half white, half Chinese boy for dead. The feared Quantrill’s raiders, rescued him to fight for the racially intolerant south. To hide his Chinese roots, he changed his name and posed as an Indian scout. After the war, all Quantrill’s men were to be rounded up and hung so he joined a horse drive to Canada. Someone among the Chinese miners murdered the tax collector pitting the Chinese against the white community. Kola is forced to decide which side he will support.

All events are historically accurate including the tax man’s murder, only the main characters are fictional as they weave their way through this historical western.

Below is an excerpt from Kola:

One evening the talk turned to gold mines and miners. Tingley said, “A lot of the miners are jealous of the Chinese who are only allowed into an area after the white miners are through with a claim. Then they seem to take more gold out of the tailings than the white men did out of the original dig.”
“There are Chinese miners?” It was the first Kola had heard of this and he was intrigued. “Do they live among the whites or separately?” Kola’s heart quickened remembering what Carson said about all races living together peacefully in Canada.
“No, they keep pretty much keep to themselves. Most live on their claims, but in Priest Valley there is a large Chinatown where three to four thousand live. The only time white folks go there is to smoke opium, get their laundry done, or gamble.”
“Opium is legal there?”
“It is to smoke, but you can’t sell it unless you pay twenty-five dollars for a permit. If you don’t, it’s illegal.”
“Sounds like a government thing?” Kola said.
“It is, but I don’t recommend you try it. I tried it once and it scrambled my brain. Folks that do go there regularly seem to crave it all the time. I think it messes up their thinking, but maybe that’s just me. Some folks think I’m a little old fashioned.”
“So, other than living in separate area’s the white and Chinese people get along good?” Kola asked.
“Hell no! Well, they don’t fight exactly, but they don’t trust or like each other. It makes no never mind to me because I have little to do with them,” Tingly said.
“So, what sort of thing goes on between them if they don’t fight?” Kola was surprised and disappointed with the information.
“The newspaper claims the Chinks are suspected of smuggling gold out of the country, which causes many of the whites to be upset with them.”
“Wait. The newspapers call them Chinks?” Kola frowned.
“Oh, hell yeah, and worse! They get called Celestials, yellow men, Mongolians, heathen, semi-barbarous, and filthy people.”
“Not in the newspaper?” Kola’s dream of living in a friendly Canada was evaporating.
“Of course, the folks on the street have worse names for them. Can’t say as they’ve done me any harm, but some folks just can’t stand them.”
“Do they try to hurt them?” Kola persisted.
“Just before I set out on this trip, I read a story in the Colonist newspaper, on how a few drunken white guys caught a couple of Celestials down at the docks in Victoria. Seems they tied their pig tails together, threw them into the bay, then they gambled on how long they could swim back to back.”
“What! Were they hurt?”
“Hell no! The poor bastards drowned.”
“And were the men charged?”
“Naw… there’s lots more Chinks where they came from. The boys had to pay the owner of the boat what was owed him for bringing the poor yellow bastards to Canada. Once the boat owner was paid out, then all was forgiven.”
Kola rocked back and forth in his saddle for a long time thinking about this new country he was headed to and remembering the stories his mother told him. They may not have slaves, but it didn’t sound like the Chinese were treated any better than the blacks in the South. His mind churned; would he ever find a place where he could fit in? Perhaps coming to Canada wasn’t such a good idea after all.
Kola couldn’t get the conversation out of his mind and the next day he spent most of the day thinking about it, riding alone and silent. That night after supper he lay on this bed roll off to one side of the fire when Carson came and sat next to him.
“What’s bothering you?”
“Nothing, I’m just tired Carson.”
“I’ve been watching you all day and I can tell when something’s bothering you. This is the worst I’ve seen you, it’s worse than when you shot that man in New Mexico.” He paused but Kola didn’t say anything. “Something bad has a hold on you. What is it?”
“Carson, I may have made a mistake.” Kola told him of the conversation he had with Tingley the night before.
“So, what’s the problem? You’ve faced that before… just stay Kola, half Indian, half gun fighter and no one will bother you.” Carson’s attempt at humor fell flat.
“Carson, did you ever hear the story of my mother?”
“Only that your pa got her in California, but I’d like to hear it?”
Kola could sense that Carson’s interest was genuine.
“Pa wouldn’t say much about how they met, and he got mad at me once when I suggested he paid for her. Later when Pa was in town Ma told me why he got so mad and what had really happened.”
He paused to gather his thought.
Carson said, “Go on.”
“Normally Ma’s brothers went to the village well for water in China, but one day when she was about fourteen her father told her to take a pail and go fetch it.
She never saw the men who grabbed her at the well. They came up from behind as she was pulling the bucket up, and the next thing she knew, she was bound, gagged, had a hood over her head, and was locked in a cage with three other girls. They were scared and had no idea what was happening. The three huddled together as they bounced along in a wagon for a very long time. At night, they were fed and told to sleep in the bed of the wagon, then they continued for two more days. The girls cried the whole time.
Along the way, they stopped at other villages and by the time they finally got to the end of the trip there was about a dozen young women crowded into the cage. Ma said it was then she decided that she would rely on the inner strength of her ancestors to help her. She would make what choices she could that would see her through it all.” Kola sat up and leaned against a stump searching his memory for all the details of her story.
“Wow, I knew your mother had a hard life, but I can’t imagine being taken from her family at such a young age then hauled away to a foreign land. She must have been terrorized.”
“She was. A few days later Ma was loaded into the cramped hold of a ship where she heard them say they were headed to Gold Mountain. She didn’t even know where that was. She found a spot in the belly of the ship where she could lie on the wooden floorboards, her back against the outside wall. The ship rocked back and forth for weeks. The people in the hold were given small rations of rice and water. Sometimes they had to fight the rats off. Many of them became sick and threw up on the floor and that’s where it stayed until it dried into a stinking yellow stain.”
“Didn’t someone wash it down. There would have been lots of water?” Carson interjected.
“The hold of the ship was sealed tight, so water wouldn’t wash in and no one was allowed on deck. Just a little fresh sea air came in from the trap doors above mixing with the putrid stench of body odor, vomit, sweat and urine. She said it was unimaginable.” He paused again.
“Several girls died, and when they did, the others stripped their bodies of any possessions or clothes and fought over them. Extra clothes were coveted because there were no blankets and it was cold. The bodies were taken onto the deck and thrown overboard. Ma said she just kept saying, I will survive because the strength of my ancestors are with me.”
“So, were there men prisoners on board as well?” Carson asked.
“Not prisoners. Most the men volunteered in order get to Gold Mountain.”
“Gold Mountain?”
“Ma said that was the name for America. They thought they would make lots of money and return to their families rich. Later, they would discover most could never earn enough money to repay the boat owners or their new bosses for the cost they agreed to pay for the voyage. A lot of the men ended up working like slaves for nothing.”

And here's a bit from later in the book:

Over the next few months Kola continued to explore the Cherry Creek area searching for a claim on his days off. Carson was granted permission to court Amy and he spent most of his free time with her.
Kola heard of a miner that was thinking of moving up to the Caribou, so on his next trip over to Cherryville he tracked the fellow down to discuss buying his claim.
“It still produces a little yellow,” the man said, “but I want to go looking for a bigger claim and I am getting tired of my neighbors. Most of the small white miners have moved on and this field is overrun with them filthy yellow people.”
Kola cringed inwardly but chose to ignore the statement. “How much do you want?”
“Two hundred, but you’ll make that back in no time,” the miner assured him.
“Why don’t you continue to mine it for half of no-time then, and then you can sell it to me for a hundred?” Kola could tell his twisted logic was lost on the stranger as he screwed up his face trying to figure out exactly what Kola meant.
The miner shook his head. “I don’t think so. There’s still gold here and if I can’t get a good price, I’ll just keep working it.”
“Suit yourself.” Kola shrugged.
He and the miner engaged in small talk about the mine and the area before Kola headed back to the BX. A week later he was in the area again when he ran into the same miner.
“Well young fellah, I took another hundred dollars out of that mine, so I’ll let you have it for your offer of one hundred dollars.” The miner spit tobacco to one side.
“That means the mine is now worth a hundred less than it was when I made my last offer?”
“I suppose so. That’s why I lowered my asking price,” the miner replied.
“But now I have to lower my offer.” Kola thought for a moment. “I’ll tell you what, I won’t deduct the whole hundred, say I only lower it by fifty dollars. That means an offer of fifty dollars is really fifty dollars more than my last offer.” He waited while the miner screwed up his face again following the twisted logic.
“I don’t think I can accept that,” the miner finally said.
“Suit yourself.” Kola turned to leave.
“Wait! Fifty dollars cash, right?”
“Fifty dollars cash!” Kola confirmed.
“I’ll come to town day after tomorrow. You get the fifty dollars and we’ll go to the claims office to change the deed.”
“I’ll be at the hardware store at noon,” Kola said.
Kola figured the claim was probably overworked and it wasn’t a great deal on his part, but he was anxious to start mining, and at last have a place of his own. The claim hadn’t been hydraulically mined, so it was pristine. The tall pine trees ran right down to the water’s edge. It was on a bend in the creek with many larger rocks disturbing the flow and providing a constant background sound that would sooth any soul. Kola hoped to recover his investment by panning some gold, but for the most part he just wanted a bit of heaven where he could find some peace, this seemed to be the place.
The following day Kola was at breakfast early and told Tingley of his plans to prospect part time. He asked if he could have the next day off to meet the miner. They talked a little longer about his plans, coming to an agreement he would work round-ups and when they were short-handed which would allow him time at the claim. Early the next morning Kola left for Priest Valley.
As soon as he rode into town, he stopped by the hardware store, told Carson he was meeting a man there about noon and asked if Carson would join him for lunch after. Carson agreed.
The man showed up as promised and the whole deal was done quickly. He shook the fellow’s hand and told him he would be out later in the week to move in. The man assured him the place would be empty. At lunch Kola was so happy he was almost bouncing with excitement.
Carson leaned back in his chair and grinned. “What’s got you so excited? You look like you just hit the motherlode.”
“Well, in a way I just did.” Kola didn’t stop talking the whole lunch hour. “By the weekend, I’ll have it set up, maybe you could ride up on your day off and have a look?”
Carson agreed, “I’m looking forward to it.”
After lunch, they went their separate ways. Kola picked up some supplies in preparation to head up to Cherryville the next day and begin putting his new property in order.
On the weekend, he was inside cleaning up the cabin when he was interrupted. “Hello! Kola!”
Kola recognized Carson’s voice and immediately turned to greet him. Carson smiled as Kola showed him around the property pointing out things he was going to build. He was like a kid with a new toy.
They spent the day laughing and talking, then Kola served up a pot of chili. After dinner, they relaxed and talked about their future in this new land. Carson helped clean up and as it grew late, he headed back for town.
A couple of weeks later Kola had cleaned and organized his new home. The first few days Kola didn’t even try to find gold, he just sat on the small veranda outside the cabin in the warm sun and gazed at the heavily treed hills across the creek. Most the trees were giant spruce and pine with some aspen and birch. Blue Jays often flew right into his camp to take what the squirrels left behind. Before long he had trained a couple to take food from his hand as he talked to them. He couldn’t remember a time in his life where he was happier.
Occasionally an eagle would soar silently overhead looking for food along the creek. Other times a deer would step quietly from the forest to sample the lush grass by the water. Kola enjoyed their silent company. He was beginning to believe that this was as close to heaven as a body could get. In fact, it reminded him of the hills of home in so many ways, or at least how the hills must have been before all the fighting began. He knew it was the right decision to make this peaceful valley his home. Perhaps he would finally find the peace he had been searching for, for so long.

I hope you've found this brief visit into Kola's world enjoyable. The book is available at all the regualar outlets: Kobo, Apple, Amazon, Barnes and Noble etc. Print copies are available from Chapters and Amazon.com

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Thinking about Books Written #BWLPublishing, #MFRWauthor #Murder

Murder and Mint Tea (Mrs. Miller Mysteries Book 1)

Today, I spent some time thinking of the books I’ve written and how some seem to be like the energizer bunny. They keep going and going. One of these books is Murder and Mint Tea. The book has been around since 1998 and is still selling. There have been some changes in the book but not in the story. I updated it to include minivans rather than station wagons and I gave the heroine a cell phone which she often forgets to use. Rather like the writer here. I once remember an editor wanting to make changes in the book to bring the murder up to the front and have the heroine busily solving the story. I didn’t make that change since then it wouldn’t be my books. The story is sort of Who is going ot kill her? I once had a reviewer write, if she doesn’t die soon, I’m going ot kill her. So in a way, it’s not quite a mystery. But the book continues and so do I.

Amazing to think of all the books I have out there waiting for readers. I’m funny since I don’t count how many there are. I know there are stories still to be told. Hopefully the new ones will have long lives, too. There are a number of other books that have lasted and been updated and continue to go on. That’s one of the great things about being a writer. Age ahs nothing ot do with putting the words on paper as long as the imagination is there.

Imagination is what I do when I begin a story. Right now I’ve been involved with dragons and evil wizards and battles physical and mental. My next story will be a romance. Soon my imagination will travel from a fantasy world to the one I’ve seen around me.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Snowmageddon by J.C. Kavanagh

We Canadians believe ourselves to be a hearty bunch - and with this week's record-breaking snowfall in multiple cities, we are living proof of its truth.

Take for instance, Kanata, Ontario. It's located about 23 kilometres (14 miles) north of Canada's capital city of Ottawa. Since January 1, Kanata has been inundated with approximately 147 centimetres of the white stuff - that's almost 58 inches - and add to that record-breaking temperatures of -40 Celsius with the wind chill factor (which is about the temperature when hell freezes over). Yes, Canadians are a hearty bunch!

And still, the city of Ottawa holds its very successful Winter Carnival, where participants can skate on the ice-covered and very beautiful but cold, Rideau Canal. There, you can buy your favourite Beavertail and partake of the sloppy sugary confection that Native Indians used to call 'Pigs' Ears.'
The famous Canadian 'Beavertail' confection, a deep-fried, doughy delight sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. That's me (below) enjoying the pastry on the Rideau Canal.

How much snow is too much snow? 
My daughter on her driveway in Kanata, Ontario.

Then there's my home, about 90 minutes northwest of Toronto. We didn't get the snow accumulation like Kanata, but we got a good dumping.

The path to the bird feeder

The laundry stoop

Me clearing the driveway for the umpteenth time in my best Jawa-look.
(Jawa is a fictional creature from the Star Wars movie series)
A Jawa creature from Star Wars.

Umm, a snowman creature

I still love the outdoors, the cold, and yes, even the snow. Just a Canadian, eh?
Enjoy your environment, wherever you are!

J.C. Kavanagh
The Twisted Climb - Darkness Descends (Book 2)
voted BEST Young Adult Book 2018, Critters Readers Poll
The Twisted Climb,
voted BEST Young Adult Book 2016, P&E Readers Poll
Novels for teens, young adults and adults young at heart
Email: author.j.c.kavanagh@gmail.com
Twitter @JCKavanagh1 (Author J.C. Kavanagh)

Friday, February 15, 2019

Charleston, S.C. – A Beautiful City with a Divisive Past

As part of the research for my latest novel, "Karma Nation," my son Rishi and I traveled across the American South. My previous blogs recorded our explorations of Houston, New Orleans and Atlanta. In this blog, I share my impressions of Charleston, South Carolina.

Charleston is the epitome of Southern charm—a genteel, laid-back city with friendly people who treat visitors with exceptional grace and manners. In 2016, Conde Nast, the magazine for travelers, named it the “friendliest” city in the entire world. In 2018, Travel+Leisure, another reputed magazine, awarded it the Best City in America title for the sixth straight year.

Indeed, the recognitions are well-deserved. Blessed with natural beauty, well-preserved history and a vibrant cultural life, Charleston is a great place to visit or live in. We arrived in the city after visiting Atlanta and the contrast could not be greater: Atlanta was a huge modern city rushing into the future while Charleston took pride in preserving its past. Dotted with centuries old churches and antebellum-period plantations, it certainly introduced visitors to the charms of a bye-gone age.

One of our destinations in Charleston was the Old Slave Mart Museum. Situated on a picturesque cobble-stoned street a few blocks from the harbor, the museum, an erstwhile slave auction house, presented the stories of the trade that originally established the city.

According to historians, at least 40% of all slaves imported into America first landed in Charleston. By the middle of the 1700’s, Charleston became the only major city in America with a majority-enslaved population.

The Museum at one time contained a cook-house for slaves, a barracoon (a jail for slaves) and even a slave morgue. Now, only the auction area is preserved. The history of the slave trade, mementos of the period and personal recollection of the individual slaves themselves line its walls.

In 1807, Congress passed an act prohibiting the importation of slaves. Yet, another trade took its place. Interstate slave trade grew and Charleston became the center of that industry, until slavery’s final abolition by President Lincoln. The institution of slavery implicated many—slave traders, bankers, plantation owners, financiers, politicians, lawyers, shippers and even slave insurance providers. These deep roots, and the difficulty of uprooting them, bequeathed the state and the city with one of the most divisive pasts in American history.

But the city is moving on. In 2015, the Confederate flag was finally removed from the South Carolina State House.  Last year, the city council of Charleston officially apologized for the city’s role in the slave trade. More importantly, the city is planning to build the $75 million International African American Museum on land not far from the Old Slave Mart Museum. It promises to become an important part of the fabric of the city and will go far to present an aspect of American life that is not much exposed.

My son and I truly enjoyed our visit to this beautiful city. The city and its people are beginning to fill in the missing parts of its history and are making it available to everyone. It provides one more reason to plan our next visit to this friendly and captivating city!

Mohan Ashtakala is the author of "Karma Nation", a literary romance. For more information, please visit: 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

A Life Remembered...by Sheila Claydon

When someone is ninety years old they have lived too much life for their story to be told in a few paragraphs, but often just a few years of that life are a story all on their own. That is the case with Imelda, a longtime neighbour and dear friend, who passed away peacefully in the early hours of this morning.

I saw her often and was frequently amazed by a new story about her life because, after many years of friendship, I thought I'd heard them all. But no, only last week she surprised me anew with a previously untold memory of how she and her husband drove across Africa with their son, then an 8 month old baby, more than 57 years ago. But this tribute to a truly redoubtable lady is not about that journey, it is about her childhood, about the time when she and two of her siblings were evacuated from Liverpool to Southern Ireland at the outbreak of WW2.

The youngest of 10, she was motherless but much loved and indulged by her widowed father and older siblings, and, until the war, roamed free in the streets of Liverpool, playing with friends or trailing her older brothers and sisters. In Ireland, however, she was left in the care of an elderly Victorian Aunt and Uncle who only allowed her and her brother to go for a sedate walk once a day. Fortunately, Barney, her uncle's Irish Water Spaniel, was allowed to go with them, and he made each walk a great deal more exciting.  First her brother had to wrap the leash around his hand and then Imelda had to hang onto his waist for grim death before they dared to open the door, and the story of their helter-skelter journey to the river where Barney dived in while they tried to avoid getting wet and thus into trouble, conjures a wonderful picture of two giggling, windblown children and a large and boisterous dog having the time of their lives.

There were other much darker things waiting for her though. She was sent to an Irish convent where every lesson was taught in Gaelic. As she only spoke English it was sometime before she mastered the language. Until then, she and the paddle (a paddle shaped board used for chastisement) saw a great deal of one another. In her words, school was horrendous, a terrible nightmare. Terrible it might have been, but before she left Ireland at the end of the war she won both a gold and a silver medal for Gaelic speaking, something that amazed the natives.

Better was each summer holiday when she and her brother were sent to another aunt and uncle who owned a farm. Although they went to help with the harvest and had to work hard, she loved it. Loved the outdoor life and the camaraderie, and loved especially the Irish dances that took place every night at the crossroads closest to whichever farm had brought in its harvest that day. All the farms worked together as a cooperative and Imelda had to help prepare food for 40 men every day, cooking in a big black caldron over an open fire. And twice a day she had to carry huge pails of tea for them, blowing a whistle as she went and then listening for an answering blast so she could locate them.

Only Fridays were different because then she and her brother had to harness up the donkey and cart and set off for the nearest town to deliver the butter her aunt had made that week. They were also tasked with bringing back sacks of flour and animal feed for many of the neighbours who lived along the route. Unfortunately, the donkey, who only had this one duty, hated it. He hated it so much that the outward journey was always a long slow plod. As soon as they turned for home, however, it was a different matter. Then, in her words, he went like the clappers and wouldn't stop, so they had to heave the various sacks out of the cart as they flew past farm gates and small holdings, hoping against hope that they had delivered the correct items to each customer.

The mother she couldn't remember was buried in her native Limerick and Imelda would visit her grave most weeks with a gift of wild flowers. The graveyard was next to what, in those days, was called The Asylum for the Insane. I don't know if it was a mental hospital or a prison, or maybe a bit of both, but whatever it was, soon some of the inmates noticed the little girl who visited the graveyard every week and began to call her. Feisty should have been her middle name because she quickly learned to scale the six foot wall using cracks in broken bricks for footholds, and sit atop it while the people below sang and danced for her. Then they would throw pennies over the wall and she would scramble down, collect them, and run across to the pub where she would buy jugs of ale. Using the local vernacular in what was now a thick Irish accent, she would ask for 'beer for the Eejits' and be served straight away. Then she would carefully deliver it back to her incarcerated friends.

What a difference from today's regulated, safety conscious and politically correct world. The only black cooking cauldron 21st Century children know is the one in the Harry Potter stories, and they play games on iPads and cell phones instead of cooking and delivering meals and tea to 40 sweating, hungry labourers.  Nor would they be set loose with a recalcitrant donkey unless they were wearing riding hats and boots and were accompanied by a responsible adult. Not that I'm saying we should go back to those days. Far from it. The language is kinder today, corporal punishment is forbidden in schools, and the exploitation of children is frowned upon...in the West at least. There are still many places across the world where children live a hard and a short life, but Imelda had an advantage. Whereas today children in poor countries are often short of food, if not starving, in neutral Southern Ireland during the war it was a time of plenty. Instead if wartime rationing there was an abundance of food, especially meat, cheese, milk, cream and butter, so despite her six years away from her Father and older siblings, Imelda grew up strong and healthy, fluent in two languages, independent and practical.

Those years stood her in good stead. At 90 she still loved her food, especially milk puddings, ate well and lived well, forever grateful for the benefits of modern life in a way that only those who have experienced something different can be.

In my book Remembering Rose there is a grandmother who is as old as Imelda. She is just as much a character and just as interesting. We must never forget that old people have a back story that is usually worth listening to. Today, as I collected some of Imelda's belongings for her son, and made sure her house was secure, I wasn't thinking about the old lady who had just died, bent and twisted with osteoporosis and arthritis. Instead I thought about the young girl she had been, carefree, sun-kissed, and full of life and laughter. Imelda I salute you for a long life well lived.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Cape Breton Island by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey

Cape Breton Island

 I started my writing career as a travel writer, researching and writing seven travel books about the attractions, sites, and history along the backroads of Alberta, British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska. While working on them I realized what a beautiful country I live in. Since then I have switched to writing fiction but I still love to travel. 2017 was Canada’s 150th birthday and to celebrate it my husband and I travelled in a motorhome from our home on Vancouver Island on the Pacific Ocean to Newfoundland on the Atlantic Ocean. The round trip took us nine weeks and we were only able to see about half of the sites and attractions along the roads.
       I have decided to write about the scenery, attractions, and history of my country. This post is about Cape Breton Island.
       The Canso Causeway connects Cape Breton Island to the mainland of Nova Scotia. The rock-filled causeway is 1385 metres (4345 ft) long and has a depth of 65 metres (213 ft) which makes it the deepest causeway in the world.
       The Fortress of Louisbourg is situated on the east shore of the Cape Breton Island and well worth the visit.
       In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht was signed and France ceded its claims to present day Newfoundland, the Hudson’s Bay territories in Rupert Land, and Acadia (Nova Scotia) to the English. France kept what is now Prince Edward Island, the small islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon as well as Cape Breton Island. The settlement of Louisbourg was founded on the east side of Cape Breton Island in 1713, and between 1719 and 1745 the French built a fortified town. With its several thousand inhabitants it grew into a thriving and busy seaport in North America and was a key trading and military centre for the French in the New World. It was the base for the profitable cod fishery of the Grand Banks since salted and dried fish was an important food in Europe. The value of the settlement’s dried cod exports in 1737 was eight times higher than the value of the fur trade during the same period.


       In 1745, war was declared between France and Britain and the English launched an attack on Louisbourg. While the harbour was well defended, the low hills around the fortress provided cover for the attackers. The residents of the fortress held on for forty-six days before being captured. However, three years later the town was given back to the French by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.
       A second attack occurred in 1758. There was no strong French navy to defend the town against the 16,000 troops and 150 ships and after seven weeks it was again taken by the English. They occupied it until 1768. Eventually, they decided that it should never return to being a fortified French base and they destroyed the fortress.

       Although the site was officially commemorated more than a dozen times with monuments, plaques, and cairns, it remained mainly forgotten and neglected until the 1930s when a museum was built and some of the streets and ruins excavated. In 1961, reconstruction began on one quarter of the fortress aided by the Government of Canada. First the area was excavated with the ruins of more buildings and walls being found as well as millions of artifacts. Since then streets, buildings, and gardens have been recreated so it looks as it did in the 1740s.
       The Fortress of Louisbourg is the largest reconstruction project in North America.
       I took a tour bus from the parking lot to the fortress. I visited with the guard at the entrance and began my tour. I walked up and down the streets of the fortress and toured through the buildings seeing the household furniture and goods of the period. There was an ice house where ice was placed during the winter and used during the summer to keep food cold so it wouldn’t spoil. I watched the fife and drum escort the cannon firers up the hill to the cannon and watched it being fired. I listened to the soldiers talk about their daily lives. I checked out the gardens and watched women doing embroidery. Throughout the site were interpreters in period clothing able to answer all questions about the fortress and its history. There is a long list of activities to do such as firing a musket or cannon, sampling some rum, learning a dance, or being a prisoner of the day.

       For those who want something to eat there are restaurants serving 1700s fare and a bakery from which you can buy a loaf of bread.
       From Louisbourg we drove the Cabot Trail, a 300 km (186 mile) scenic highway that took us through lovely villages, beside the ocean, up into the hills, and through Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The trail was named after John Cabot, an Italian explorer who landed in what is now Canada in 1497, and was completed in 1932.

       Alexander Graham Bell had a summer residence Baddeck. Now there is the 10 hectare (25 acre) Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site which includes the Alexander Graham Bell museum.

       In Dingwall we visited the Tartans and Treasures Shop to find the Donaldson tartan. They had the MacDonald tartans in skirts, ties, vests, and on mugs and glasses but not the Donaldson tartan. I read a write-up there about Henry Donaldson who was one of the garrison at Edinburgh Castle 1339 to 1340 so the name has been around for centuries.

       Though not on the trail we stopped at Glenora Distillery in Glenville which is North America’s first single malt whiskey distillery. The whiskey made there smells and tastes like scotch but cannot be called scotch. That name is reserved for whiskey made in Scotland.
       There is a restaurant and bar that offers half ounce samples of the whiskey and I had my first, and last, taste. Even though my heritage is Scot, scotch is not my drink.

Spiritual Healing Jungle Style by Stuart R. West

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