Crones, Hags & Witches

I used to think I was relevant. I had gritty things to say about pertinent current topics. I knew what I knew and I knew it was important, make-the-world-a-better-place kind of stuff. A friend once told me I was an interesting person and I believed her.

In many ways I feel that parts of me are waning. Not entirely. I hope I’m still interesting. But the gritty, pertinent, current part. Don’t take this to mean I’m looking for affirmations. I simply mean that who I am in the world and the role I play has changed. Dramatically.

I retired.

I wasn’t forced to. I choose to.

The reason I choose to retire was exactly what I’m talking about here. I had offered my field everything I could. I had squeezed myself dry. What Sylvia could do for on-reserve housing (my field of work, study, expertise, experience…in general my life’s passion) had been done. There are still side jobs and I’m happy to do them. But my life no longer circles around and around my work. And better still. Other people are doing the job. As well, or better than I did it. Not better because they have more commitment, or smarts, or passion or fire in their bellies but better because they are more current. Better because they can take the thing where it needs to go. We share one foot. The one situated in the present. My other foot is in the past. Their other foot is in the future. And that is how it should be.

I am becoming less interested in the content matter that I have stuffed in my head and more interested in the wisdom I can pull out of my experiences. I know it sounds heavy and more than a little self-congratulatory calling myself wise. It’s a characteristic that should only be ascribed to someone by someone else. But it is only wisdom that interests me these days.

The sum, aggregate, distillation of a life of inspiration and insight—wisdom. The words, touch, music, art and everyday acts of doing—sharing. There is no wisdom without sharing.

Ferron, of course Ferron, brilliantly put how many of us older women feel these days.

“My best guess for me is that I was on the train and then got off…to pee, get an ice cream, buy a book. And the train left. And I can’t catch up.”

We don’t need to run after the train. We can catch the next one. Or we can stroll down the road until our new place in life catches up with us.

All of us crones–the old girls who “have found our voices (or who are looking for our voices) and who know that silence is consent” (from Jean Shinoda Bolen) can do it together at the second, soon to be fantastic, Ferron writing workshop taking place October 26-29 at the Saturna Lodge. Check it out.

Celebrating Tex and Sylvia love

Happy anniversary, my love. Six years ago Tex McLeod and I got married. We had a wonderful party. Outside. At the art school just up the road from our home. Family and friends ate, drank, danced, hugged, laughed and enjoyed a loving day. That was it. Our wedding was love.

Neither Tex nor I remembered that today was our anniversary. Janet Dunnett, a dear friend who attended the wedding, sent me a message. Recelebrating. Thanks Janet I’m not sure if either one of us would have remembered.

Our lives are still full of love. Family love. Our eight dynamic grandchildren no longer range in age from 1 to 20. More than half of them are young adults full of more love for their old grandparents than I could ever have thought possible.

Friends love. Old friends, like Janet, have become more important. New friends have shown up. And how sweet it is to make new friends at our age.

And then there’s puppy love. We got Piper 6 months after our wedding. Odelia and Neekah said they couldn’t take care of a dog and would we like her? Hesitantly we said yes we’d like her. We had no idea how deeply we would love our curly haired little dog.

Days like anniversaries remind us that we aren’t in control of our lives. We didn’t know what was in store for us. Our plans were wild possibilities at the most. Hopes and dreams at the least.

You’d think by our age we would know how to make decisions. But sometimes I think we are no better at it than our teenage grandsons. We’ve made some good and some bad decisions in our short marriage. I never imagined I would be making breakfast and changing sheets at a Lodge on Saturna Island. But what started out perhaps as not such a good decision turned into a wonderful new adventure.

And then there was COVID. Long-term COVID. Two new hips. Feet that don’t work. One of our new friends said “Tex you are like an old car I used to have.” Sort of funny. But not really.

Today we are celebrating Tex and Sylvia love. Thanks to Janet we are able to remember. Thanks for her words “I hope the summer manifested its heart to you both, and didn’t wear you down.” 

The summer was good to us. Our feet hurt but our hearts are full. It has been a good ride, Tex McLeod. You is an amazing gift. I am so privileged to be able to share my life with my person. The one who has my back and stays by my side no matter what. That’s love.

Barbie thoughts

I am the first Olsen girl (from my little Olsen family) to get a Barbie. In preparation for going to the Barbie movie, Emily, my daughter-in-law, bought it for me from the Thrift Store. It cost $4.00. The doll’s dirty blond hair is a mess and I don’t know what the designers were thinking when they made her outfit—mud-brown, fake corduroy pants and a dark blue, blousy, superhero top. Not pink. Not glitzy. Not fun. Not attractive. And, they didn’t do a good job of applying her make-up—heavy on the eyes, too blue and smudgy lipstick.  

But it’s her legs. They are about 1-½ times the length of the rest of her body put together, on her tip toes of course. My Barbie, like every Barbie, is in a perpetual stance of trying to look over the fence.  

I didn’t know, until I watched the movie that flat feet or feet in flats or worse, in Birkenstocks, were Barbie defying.  

I don’t know what to do with my Barbie doll. She’s too small to knit her a sweater although she really does need to get out of those clothes.  

My mother never let me own a Barbie. She bought me Barbie’s little sister, Skipper, for my 10th birthday (not blow up boob Skipper–that might have been intriguing). I don’t remember asking for a doll nor do I recall ever playing with it.  

When I sent an email to the females in my family and asked if anyone ever had a Barbie my youngest daughter, Heather, responded, “Mom, in what world are you living? You are my mother. Remember? You never let us have Barbies.”  

In the family spirit, to the third generation, my daughters and daughter-in-law never let their daughters have Barbies either. However, even while missing a relationship with this cultural icon, most of us still have body issues and measure the length of our legs against Barbie’s unachievable benchmark.  

Twelve Olsens and friends attended the Barbie movie the other night…grandsons, granddaughters…I didn’t want them to miss the gender critique, the current cultural analysis of the patriarchy and its outcomes. I want to hear what they have to say.  

I am still mulling it over and as yet am not quite sure what to say for myself about the movie. I’m wondering how, in 2023, the movie got away with the starkly differentiated male/female portrayal of human sexuality/asexuality. I’m wondering why there hasn’t been a Karbie or Ben–at least a mention.

I’m still thinking about the wrap up scene—Barbie visiting a gynaecologist. I can’t find any movie reviewers who mention this part of the film but I think it’s pivotal…when the dolls get real and get genitals Barbie got the vagina. It’s so clear-cut. It’s strangely out of sync with the open-ended gender discussions and struggles my grandchildren are currently experiencing.  

I was struck by how terrifyingly similar the glitzy, pink, plastic, fake Barbie world imitated the concrete, glass, shiny, glitzy real world. I’m thinking about how the line between the fake and the real world is getting blurred and how we are finding it increasingly difficult to know the difference.  

I haven’t heard from my grandsons yet but two of my granddaughters cried.  

Madison, who is 20, said:  

“One part that made me cry was when they talked about body image. I’ve had so many issues with it all my life. Then I cried and cried when the mother was listing off the struggles of being a woman. I’ve never heard that topic being acknowledged like that. It caught me off guard.  

“At the end when they played clips of a girl’s life and the narrator told us to “close your eyes and feel” I could feel my life going by so fast…almost out of control. I want to slow it down and cherish it. I couldn’t stop sobbing.”  

Yetsa, who is 26, put it this way:  

“I cried for a couple of reasons, mostly about being a woman and how hard that can be. But we already knew that. I cried because I’m sensitive and cry at everything. But I think it was really just about being a woman. It is exhausting, especially for young girls.

“Men have it easier. They are stomping around the world, fighting with each other, while women are trying to hold it all together for everyone. I cried because of all these things and the world itself is seriously something that drains me daily.  

“I was crying because little girls since forever and for the foreseeable future are growing up in a world that doesn’t make them feel very good about themselves. That makes me sad.  

“But then it’s not just little girls. The thought of how many people are feeling that way…could be a little girl or a mom…even a 65 year-old man…makes me sad. Everyone is carrying a lot of weight from the world. The movie brought all that out in me.”    

Good work director, Greta Gerwig. Good work Hollywood for giving us something we obviously need think about…deeply.


Madison Olsen and Nate Harris at the 3rd Annual Indigenous Music Festival
photos by Colin Smith Takes Pics

I have been searching for words. I missed the concert. I wish I could have heard the sound of their voices but I smile when I look at the pictures. At first the only word that came to mind was joy. They feel it. Even their photos are making a joyful sound.  

These are my kids—Nate, my best friend and sister-in-law Diane’s grandson, and Madison, my granddaughter.  

Diane passed away last year, but she is smiling as well. Her word is medicine.  

I know because she used to say to me, “Tell Madison I love her. Tell her to never stop singing. Nate too. I tell him all the time. These kids and their music are our medicine.”  

“It makes my heart feel good,” she would say with her hands on her chest.  

If Diane were here, we would talk about how joy is good medicine.  

The 3rd Annual Indigenous Music Festival was the first time Madison and Nate performed together but it won’t be the last.  

A special thanks to Colin, the photographer. Your art is joy. And good, good medicine.

Volunteering is alive and well

Priscilla Ewbank expertly carving lamb (photo credit: Nettie Adams)

On July 1st Saturna Island hosted its 73rd Lamb BBQ. I am going to make the challenge that it is one of the most exceptional Canada Day parties in the country. And here’s why. The most remote Southern Gulf Island accessible by ferry has only 400-something permanent residents, yet at a time when most communities lament the absence of volunteers Saturna gathered over 220 people, young and old, many of who began planning and organizing months in advance to put on a feast for their friends, neighbours and visitors.  

This year 27 lamb carcasses were trucked from the Campbell Farm on Saturna to the Community Hall. Each one was split open and “racked” on a 7 foot thick, hand-made iron stake with a cross bar. With just-cut vine maple branches and stainless steel wire the lambs were secured to the stakes and ready for delivery to the BBQ site where the fire had been going since 4:30 in the morning. For Priscilla Ewbank, who has been roasting the lambs since the 1970s, the preparation is an act of respect. “To do it well, to get the lambs racked up just right for maximum enjoyment and use of these sentient beings, is a good honest skill.  Each of us was taught by someone else who cared to do the job right and to pass on the skills and reverence.”  

More than 1700 people attended the celebration. Saturna-ites served over 1100 meals of BBQ lamb, rice, salad and island-made rolls. If lamb wasn’t to your taste you could have a Saturna veggie burger, a hamburger, fish tacos or a hot dog. There was popcorn and ice cream cones, a wine tent and a beer garden, book sales and crafts. There were games for kids of all ages, a tug-a-war, nail driving competition and live music and dancing.  

People came on the ferry in their cars, by foot, on their bikes and motorcycles. They came on the Aqualink (a new passenger ferry service linking the Gulf Islands) and the seaplane and on more than 160 private boats, which moored in Winter Cove, across the street from the BBQ site.  

Robin Robinson attended her first Lamb BBQ in 1951. She was 8 years old. Her family spent their summers on Saturna and the BBQ was a highlight of her stay. “It was so much fun,” she remembered. “There were races and games and at some point there was even a pig diapering competition.” She missed the celebration when she moved away but now she’s back on the west coast she won’t miss again.  

It all started, as the story goes, when, after a bad winter, a farmer on the island sold off his sheep and donated the lambs to the community for a BBQ. They charged $.50 a dinner. The money they raised supported services like the women’s club and fire brigade.  

The tradition continues. Not just the tradition of the Lamb BBQ but the tradition of giving back to the community. It wasn’t only about having a good time. The BBQ was and still is the major fundraiser for the island. Saturna Island looks after itself. And that’s why I think this is the greatest Canada Day celebration.

Saturna’s party is an act of generosity, from Saturna inhabitants to their friends, their neighbours and to anyone fortunate enough to find their way to the island on July 1st. The visitors show their appreciation by showing up and supporting the islanders.  

As relative newcomers to the island my husband and I quickly came to understand that living on Saturna is about reciprocity. Those of us privileged enough to reside in this magnificent place know that its secret is in the give and take. Everyone brings something to the table.  

As one visitor said, “This BBQ is a stunning demonstration of what everyone is looking for these days…the security of knowing that when we really need each other the community knows how to mobilize and look after itself.”  

Thoughtfully, hopefully, cautiously Canadian

A conflicted Happy Canada Day from a conflicted Canadian. I was never much of a Canadian having been the daughter of a cultish religion that believed we were not “of this world”. Consequently we were not allowed to celebrate anything…Christmas, Easter, Halloween and especially Canada Day, which represented “the world”. We were not allowed to vote, join the military, become a member of a union and even being a Girl Guide was prohibited.

However, the day I moved across the ditch to the “Indian” reserve, when I was a teenager, I found a whole new boat load of reasons not to be a proud Canadian. As I raised my Coast Salish children I began to despise Canada, thinking it might be one of the worst countries in the world; not because the manifestations of our nasty racial attitudes were worse than other countries but because we thought we were so much better than the rest of the world so we ignored our own racism.

Then I married Tex, a full blooded Canadian, we call him the Canadian Shield. He’s a rock solid good guy who loves his country in spite of its blemishes. He doesn’t necessarily get the full nastiness of Canadian history (who does) but he’s open to examining old assumptions, willing to learn and prepared to change his attitudes. When we travel across the country he is an amazing guide to the wonders of Canada and I fall in love again and again with the diversity, not only of the people but the landscapes. I truly know why prairie people are so committed to what I once thought of as miles and miles of nothing. On our travels I’ve also met hundreds of Canadians like Tex who truly want to make this country a better place. They want to learn and they want to change their uninformed assumptions.

During the flag-waving, horn-honking “nationalist” parade across Canada I wondered what being Canadian really meant. But today, as I watch the world struggle with climate change, racial violence, deep rooted cynicism, fear and the tyranny of conservatism I am going to celebrate this place where I live along with every other Canadian who is honestly wanting to make this country a better, safer, more inclusive place for everyone. I’m still not a flag- waving patriot but add a little diversity to the maple leaf and I can get into it.

Breathe deeply, relax, focus

When Frank Sinatra faced the final curtain he applauded himself. He had lived his life his way. No regrets, no remorse, no second thoughts. The song has always grated. “Good for you, Frank,” I’ve scoffed. “Truth is, you’re white, you’re rich, you’re male, you’ve had it your way. It’s no wonder you got to do it your way. And anyways, your way sucked for everyone else but you.”

As I face the final curtain (not to be bleak but the simple truth is that I’m closer to the final curtain than the opening act or even intermission) I’m thinking again about Frank’s song. I still see loads of people with Frank’s swagger but more and more people are feeling like victims. This is not how we wanted things to turn out.

More and more people are worried about their futures. There is a collective anxiousness about life itself let alone whether or not our children will have more than us, which used to be the goal of our blithely entitled western society.

Our world is unsettled. We are rattled. We are chasing around looking for something or someone to blame. Some of the most privileged people I know immediately turn to acting like a victim whenever something doesn’t go their way.

We don’t like uncertainty. We don’t like feeling out of control. We want to be like Frank.

But looking back I believe it was the times that I was not in control, not doing it my way, the times when I was most vulnerable and unable to scrabble around to even find a place to put my feet on the ground…it was those times that I found glimpses of my better self. Bits of a more empathetic, intelligent, aware, loving and compassionate Sylvia started to emerge. Those times battered my ideas of absolute truth and eviscerated my sense of knowing anything for sure. Not being in control dislodged me from being the central focus of my well-ordered universe and tossed me into chaos with everyone else. I screamed around like a baby, first feeling the insecurity of not being swaddled. I cried like a toddler wanting something I couldn’t reach. I had lost my way. The world was big, unkind and uncertain but in it I began to find my truth.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. On one hand my motherly impulse wants to wrap it up with something reliable and comforting for our collective selves. On the other hand my motherly instinct says what did we expect? We’ve had it our way for a long time. Some people like Frank have it their way more than others, that’s the truth, but our issues are bigger than that now.

We are no longer simply facing down men in expensive suits in extravagantly appointed rooms devising schemes on their own behalf. We are facing down the planet itself striking back at us all. We are facing down the modern AI Frankenstein that has the power to control power itself. It truly does appear to be an appropriate time to toss our hands up and throw a tantrum. Or, as some would have it, to fall on our knees and solicit God to save us from ourselves.

On the other hand—here’s where we need more than two hands, and here’s where motherly instincts and skills are helpful. On the other hand we can choose to breathe deeply, relax and focus, breathe deeply, relax, focus, breathe deeply, relax, focus. We need someone to hold a cold cloth on our forehead. We need someone to coach, encourage and remind us that we can do it. We are facing a massive challenge of uncertainty. Even with all of our modern medical technology we don’t know what we will birth. We don’t know if the future being will bless our lives or curse it. We don’t know if it will live or die.

But you know the one thing very few mothers do when they face those excruciating times? Very few birthing women toss they hands up and throw a tantrum. We might curse and swear at our man, our god, our world, but we breathe deeply, relax (sometimes not so much) and focus, breathe deeply, relax (maybe just our shoulders), focus, breathe deeply, relax, focus, focus, focus, breathe, breathe…

This isn’t the time for Frank’s pompous swagger. We have many regrets and we should. Our way didn’t work, folks.

How about a little meekness, fellow humans? How about acknowledging our collective responsibility? And our vulnerability? How about embracing the current uncertainty and letting our more compassionate, empathetic selves emerge?

Inspired by my own ramblings this morning I want to bring some mothers and aunties together at the Lodge to breathe deeply, relax and focus, breathe deeply, relax, relax, relax, focus. Maybe we’ll find ways to use our collective energy to help push this crazy world forward and give birth to a better way…more later…any suggestions?

Hats, more hats, woollen bowls and a beautiful boy

“Cool stuff.”

Koa, a six year old guest at the Lodge from Duncan, got it. He thought if one hat was cool, 7 hats were cooler. And then as many bowls as he could balance…how cool was that?

Soon my hats and bowls will be available in Joni’s shop, Salish Fusion, which will open in a few months in Brentwood Bay. Joni will be highlighting and selling handwork and other forms of art from local people.

I’ve avoided selling my work, mostly because I don’t know how to put a price on what I make.

Some artists price their products based on how many hours it took for them to make the thing. This raises complicated issues. First the better an artist is and the more experience an artist has likely means it will take that person much less time to make something than someone less skilled and less experienced. Thus the hourly wage approach would often mean the better the product the less it would cost. There are so many other factors to think about…the quality of the materials, the precision of the final product, its uniqueness and its wow appeal.

Of course the most important factor in pricing something is people’s willingness to pay. You don’t want to sell too cheap. You want to push the buyer to pay more than they might otherwise have. You want the price of handwork to honour the skill, creativity and love of its creators. You also want the price of handwork to respect people’s ability to pay and these days, for many, that ability is diminishing. Which, of course, raises the question “Is handwork only for the rich?”

These are questions for Joni, when she opens Salish Fusion. For now I love Koa’s enthusiasm and appreciation. That is more than enough for me to keep creating.

I love your shoes

I was having a business dinner with a new associate at a popular restaurant in Ottawa. As we got up to leave I excused myself to go to the washroom. When I came out of the cubicle I joined two extremely beautiful young women who were chatting as they washed their hands. One of them said, “I love your shoes.” I told them they were handmade Jesus sandals. That I had gotten them years ago from a shoemaker in Victoria. I said he used to be an old hippy with blond hair down to his waist and that I had bought a leather purse from him when I was a teenager.

The three of us got talking. They said they loved the pendant I was wearing. I said it was made from trade beads a west coast friend had given me. They loved my earrings. I told them about Stevie Kittleson a jewellery artist from Hornby Island. After about 15 minutes of me telling stories about the things I was wearing and a lot more they said they loved my life. They wanted to be like me when they got old; I was much younger than I am now but much older than them.

When we emerged from the washroom one of them asked, “Can I hug you?” This was before COVID so we had a wonderful hug session. My businessman-date watched in awe as I kissed the women goodbye. “What did you three do in there?” he asked. Of course. What was a man to think?

I apologized for keeping him waiting and then told him about our short washroom love fest of appreciation. I explained to him just a little about the richness of being a woman. The connections we make that are often demeaned and belittled. How we can be immediately intimate with each other without the sexual overlay men attach to intimacy. We talked about the richness of getting older and the freedom it brings to women, if only they could embrace it.

He listened but he got stuck on “Wow, if only I could have that effect on women.” I was pretty sure he didn’t understand when he said, “Wow, just 15 minutes in a public bathroom and they were asking for your number.” “Wow, and there were two of them.”

That tiny 15-minute interlude was one of my life’s priceless lessons. Those two giggling, partying young women were my teachers.

I don’t hesitate to tell someone I love their earrings. I don’t feel frivolous when I acknowledge something that catches my eye. I am not embarrassed to share my feelings of enjoyment when I see something that pleases me. Current social etiquette would have it that we need to “be careful” when we talk to people. Society wants us constrained by the significant, god forbid that we should appear trivial.

But we need each other and I’m not going to stop valuing the incidental. I am going to connect with whoever and on whatever level life provides. “I like your shoes,” means I see you. “I like your earrings,” means I have picked you out of my crowded, busy, important day and I acknowledge you and the beauty you bring to my world.

Sure, you might say, that’s all there is on social media. Narcissism gone wild. Everyone loving every insignificant thing about each other from what they ate for breakfast to their glorified face, airbrushed to perfection…their very own personalized Barbie.

But you are talking about a sad and very different thing. The bonus lesson the young women taught is that I am not going to give it all away to social media. We don’t need to diminish the importance of reaching out, in real life, person-to-person because something much less is happening on another level. I would say that the “likes” and “loves” on social media make encounters like the one I had in the Ottawa restaurant bathroom even more important.

Donna Ashworth, in her book of poetry, I wish I knew says it all and says it better.


I said your hair looked amazing but what I really wanted to say was…

“Your energy sparks a little bit of something in mine, your smile warms my heart, and when you laugh, I just have to laugh too, it’s like a bubbling stream of fresh water running through my soul.

I feel like the sun is shining on me when you’re near

and when I leave you, sad as it is, I feel like I’ve been charged, plugged into the mains for an infusion of fizz and life.”

But I said, “I love your shoes”, instead.

I hope you heard, what I really meant.


And then there’s Piper

Before I start I confess I don’t know what I’m talking about. But I need to talk about it. But I don’t want to talk about it because my brain hurts and my stomach turns when I hear it being discussed.

As I listened to Geoffrey Hinton, the distinguished AI pioneer, talk about the dangers of AI and about how it’s gone past the point of no return and about how even the rich and famous and powerful will have no real control over the mechanisms of power I had the same blood trembling feeling I had when I watched Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth. The film introduced some new information but, in general, Gore was not saying anything I didn’t already know. Human behaviour is not going to improve significantly and the climate is changing. It’s a freight train situation.

Same with AI. It is already everywhere. We love it. We aren’t going to stop asking Siri how old Willie Nelson is. We aren’t going to stop “researching” the Internet for answers to our everyday dilemmas. “How widespread are peanut allergies? Should we continue to ban peanut butter from school classrooms?” AI has already seeped into our brains. Another freight train.

While the big boys fight over who controls AI, AI is controlling them. Here’s where my brain starts to heat up.

And the gods forbid regulating AI. That was never going to happen. As Elon Musk says, “It’s not fun to get regulated.”

I’ve never liked science fiction. I’m always unsettled by the non fiction sub text. But here we are. Living in one of the greatest science fiction stories of all time with our very own Frankenstein.

I relate better to the Biblical metaphor. No sooner had the great designer of the universe put his final and human touches on creation and set them in the garden did Adam and Eve, in Musk-like fashion, ignore the regulations. From that moment on the creator was in constant battle with his creation. And here we are. Climate change. AI.

“Siri, what’s next?”

I have a thought that I want to share because I’m unsure how long human thoughts will be useful. I’ve been thinking about how society, at least in the west, has been in a teeth bared, fists up, muscles pumped scramble about everything—left/right, male/female, white/brown, old/young, vax/antivax, rich/poor, open carry/ban guns, red/blue, sane/insane. We really do believe that our enemy is whoever is on the other side of the forward / slash.

I heard one of the screen-writer protesters say that on her work she is now required to identify herself as Susie Smith, human. That’s when I had what is probably an extremely naïve thought. I think I’m close to being right when I say we usually rally together when there is a common enemy.

Could it be that once we all are required to put “human” behind our names that we might realize that we are in this together? That we need to stick together? All of us. Could it be that all the other divisive arguments and identifiers will pale compared to the common challenge coming from what will be outside of ourselves? Oh we will still be able to blame THEM but THEY won’t be able to control the monster of their own creation, the monster they and all of us have come to adore and rely on.

I am not being facetious and I am especially not being disrespectful to people who have very real struggles to identify themselves but there is something I like about signing off as Sylvia Olsen, human. And as I willingly identify as human I do so acknowledging and embracing both the extremely nasty and the wonderful aspects of my species.