About me and this blog

I was born on a native reserve in Ontario, grew up on the west coast of Vancouver Island (as far west as you can go without running out of Canada), came of age in Mexico City. Between times, I lived in the Fraser Valley, Texas, Seattle, Oklahoma, Bella Coola, on the BC north coast, and the Fraser River Delta, just south of Vancouver. For now, I'm "settled" in Campbell River, on Vancouver Island.

I have a boatload of stories to tell. These are some of them.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


The bleeding hearts grew thick beside the hill road. Somehow they clung to the dripping gravel, resisted being swept down, down to the oily ditch, down, down to the stench and rumble of the logging trucks.

It was quiet up on the hill; the Douglas firs whispered into their cloudy pillows, dams of cushiony moss held back the downhill surge of the streams, muffled their chatter.

In the house, Susie held the silence with gentle hands. Raindrops slithered down her windowpane; condensation inside, rain outside. She caught a wandering droplet with a fingertip, tasted it.

A crunch of footsteps on the gravel, a bustle in the mud room, meant Daddy was home. The rain came in with him, hissing on the stove. In the kitchen, the baby crowed, Mom announced, "Supper's ready. Oooh, you're wet!" Miscellaneous thuds and creaks, pots scraping on the stove top, bubbling, clanking, splashing. Daddy stood at the living room door in a cloud of potato-scented steam.

"And where's my little girl tonight?" he shouted. He pretended to search, behind the sofa, under the desk, down the hallway, finally coming back to Susie's chair, feigning surprise. "Well, here she is! Hiding on me, were you?" He tweaked a brown braid playfully, then lifted her, blanket and all, and carried her into the kitchen to install her in her seat at the end of the table. Mom was putting out bowls of vegetables, carrots and creamed corn. The baby banged on his highchair with a spoon. Daddy sang "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again," getting all the words wrong.

Later, with supper over, and Susie safely ensconced in her chair again, Daddy helped Mom with the dishes. She could hear them rattling plates, the water running. The baby snored on the rug, sprawled over his toy trucks.

"Cliff asked if we could come down for coffee tonight," Daddy said.

"Nice of him. You go." answered Mom.

"Mary would like to see you. And you haven't been out since Susie...."

"But the doctor said....her heart...." Mom had lowered her voice, but Susie could still make out the words. Her parents didn't imagine how well voices traveled, how thin the walls were. She had heard the doctor, too, even though he had pulled the kitchen door shut behind him.

"...keep her quiet.... hope for the best....possibly...." Afterwards, Mom had gone into the bedroom and Daddy made supper.

"No excitement," said Daddy. "I know. We'll just have coffee, talk, boring grown-up talk. She'll be fine. We'll come home early."

"But the rain......"

"We'll wrap her up. I'll carry her; she's light as a bird."


In the end, they went. Mom bundled Susie up until only her eyes were showing, and Daddy made a chair of his hands for her. She sat with one arm around his neck, and Mom put Daddy's overcoat over them both, buttoned it around them with the empty sleeves dangling down.

"You look like a two-headed sasquatch," Mom said.

From the back porch, the world was grey. The downpour hid the trees, the hill behind, even the corner of the house. Daddy pulled his collar up around Susie's head. His footsteps and Mom's gritted on the stones; all else was silent save for the whispered rustle of raindrops on leaves and branches. Under the overcoat, Susie held tight to Daddy's lapel, heard the thud of his heart, the wheezing intake of his breath.

At the bottom of the hill, the rain drummed on pavement, then on a roof. Daddy's shoes called up hollow echoes from wooden steps. Cliff's voice boomed out, "Here they are, Mary! Come in, come in out of the wet!"

Mom and Daddy sat drinking coffee in Mary's kitchen. The baby woke, and Cliff dandled him on his knee. Susie sat in the living room, watching the flames leap in the fireplace. She held a book Mary had given her, but kept it closed, for later. The burning wood smelled like a summer beach, with the waves crashing and the seagulls crying. Her blanket steamed gently on her knees.

When the coffeepot was empty, Cliff stood by the window with his back to the rain, and played his trombone. With the slide out, it was longer than Susie. He played "Shall We Gather at the River", "When the Saints Go Marching In", "Amazing Grace." He put dozens of extra notes into "Amazing Grace", the trombone slide going in and out, in and out, but he always got back to the tune in time for the next word. The shiny brass made little dancing lights on the window behind him.

"More, please," said Susie.

"I'm all out of breath," said Cliff. "Ok, one more." He played "Onward, Christian Soldiers" twice, once the way they sang it in church, once so fast and fancy that the slide vibrated like the guy wires on the bridge in a storm. His face was red and damp when he finished. "Whew!" he said.

"We better get on home," said Daddy.

At the door, open to the black wet night, Mary touched the baby's cheek, pulled his blanket firmly over his head, back over Mom's shoulder. "G'night all, thanks for coming down," she said. She bent suddenly and kissed Susie's forehead. "G'night." She turned quickly and ran back into the house.

Susie pulled down the collar of Daddy's overcoat so she could peer out at the dark. Rain ran down her neck. The flashlight made a bouncing pool of light, now glancing off rivulets eating away the path, now off dripping rocks, now to the side to find the stream, the cut above it, the ferns and bleeding hearts nodding in the drizzle. Daddy smelled of wet wool.

Stories of Childhood
© Susannah Anderson, 1998

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sleeping with Tarantulas

In response to a question by Bev Wigney: "How many of you are nervous of spiders? ... If you’re bothered by the sight of spiders, do you think it is tied to a particular incident ...?"

I grew up on the west coast of Vancouver Island. There were plenty of spiders, but none were poisonous. Running through the bush, sometimes we would crash through a web and brush the remains off our faces without slowing. No fuss. I even kept a big wolf spider as a pet for a while, feeding him house flies and mosquitoes.

When I was 17, we moved to Mexico. Things were different there; we had to be careful. Once, out camping, Mom picked up a piece of firewood, her hand an inch away from a big black widow. And old-timers told us about tarantulas the size of a plate. Worrisome.

We travelled, those first years, quite a bit. Mom and Dad had "stuff" to do in every town we visited; we kids hung around, keeping out of trouble. It was never boring, although some places were more interesting than others. Several times we visited people living on Lake Tequesquitengo. I loved that; my two brothers and I swam while our parents talked.

The water level of the lake had risen some time not so far past and many lake-shore houses were flooded and abandoned. We went exploring, swimming from one house to another. At one house, the overhang of an old covered patio just barely touched the lake surface. The boys ducked under, and swam in. I could hear them in there, exclaiming excitedly. Dave yelled, "Sue, come here! Come see!" So, of course, I ducked, swam a yard or two, and surfaced.

It was green and dim; all the light was coming up through the water. And in that dimness, I saw that the entire ceiling was covered in enormous black tarantulas. Some, too many, the size of a saucer; the stories were true. Supporting beams came inches from the water, with tarantulas on the bottom. Luckily I had come up under the (slightly) higher ceiling between. I screamed; I couldn't stop myself. Spiders shifted position, reacting to the movement on the water. I froze, treading water, trying to be invisible.

My brothers were a couple of beams over, laughing. Until they saw my face, at least.

The worst of it was that I couldn't swim out. If I ducked and swam, as I had done to enter, what would happen if I misjudged the distance and came up under one of those beams? What would happen if I hit one of those hairy monsters with my head?

But I couldn't just stay there! How long would it be before a spider decided to see if I was edible? The boys swam out, and called to me encouragingly from outside, but I couldn't move. Impossible! I tried to answer them, but my voice cracked, became another scream.

To this day, I have no recollection of the rest. I must have risked it; here I am, not eaten by tarantulas. But the rest of that swim is a complete blank.

And for the next decade, if a spider touched me (even a toy spider), I screeched and jumped away. A black spider on my floor would keep me out of the house until someone had killed it.

Another story, some 10 years later:

We were travelling with my younger brother and his family, down south, near Veracruz, the two families crammed together in his van. We arrived late one evening on a beach; it was too late to find a hotel in the village, so we would sleep in the van. Fine. But it was steamy and crowded in there, with 4 sweaty adults and 7 squirming kids. I couldn't breathe.

I dragged my sleeping bag outside and laid it out on the sand. The breeze from the water was cool; moonlight twinkled on the wavelets. I lay awake, listening to the rustle of palm fronds.

And then, another sound. Scritch-scritch-scritch-scritch... The sound of something scaly and dry, something like a crab. Or an insect, the large variety. I sat up and saw them; spiders, walking on the sand. Big ones.

The same old dilemma; what to do? Run back to the van, barefoot? Stepping on spiders all the way? No!

I pulled the sleeping bag over my head, zipping it up, tucking it tightly under me, holding it close, with only the merest crack for breathing. I lay as still as I could, so as not to merit investigation. Somehow, eventually, I slept.

I woke; I could hear voices and see light through the fabric of the sleeping bag. I unzipped it and looked around. The sun was up, the beach was clean. No spiders. I got up and joined the family.

Later on, preparing to leave, I picked up the sleeping bag to shake it out and roll it. Underneath, a big tarantula had taken refuge from the sun. He scuttled off.

I had been sleeping on him ... how long?

And that was the beginning of the end of that 10-year arachnophobia. I like spiders again, even make pets of them. At the moment, there are two in a bouquet of wild flowers on my kitchen table.

No tarantulas, though.

Stories of Mexico
Susannah Anderson, 2007

Monday, July 2, 2012

vagrant thoughts while you sleep

even asleep, you sit upright,
old soldier; hardy, durable,
leaning on no-one

we should have a fire
twin rocking chairs, drowsy dog
afghans for our knees

but those were olden days

we had rockers once
in the slow summer evening
watched sparrows nesting

when the summer comes
we will sit outside
listening to the chickadees

i might read now while you sleep
page through my bird book
making no sound to wake you

earlier, you were shovelling snow
or riding your bike
moving like a youngster

now you sleep

tomorrow in the sunshine …
… we'll go … was i asleep?
you are smiling … peace

© Susannah Anderson, 2008