Friday, May 6, 2011


Friends, if you enjoy this blog, you may be interested in my latest venture where I am exploring the parallels and convergences in the lives and writings of Thomas Merton and Henry Miller in my new blog: The Ex-Con and the Secular Monk.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


You may like to know that, a year on (or more), I've started a new blog reflecting on my experience "on the road" back in 2009. Specifically this is part of my preparation for a talk I'm giving at the Vancouver Public Library on March 10, 2010 (7pm). But I'm guessing the scope of this will be wider and deeper, as I won't be able to include it all in the library talk.

You can find this new blog here:

Monday, July 6, 2009

Picture This...

Hello and Welcome Back! Or welcome for the first time if you've not visited this Blog before.

The main reason for this post is to let you see some of the pictures from my On The Road trip that are available for purchase - proceeds to our "Martha Fund" at St. Francis-in-the-Wood, West Vancouver. This supports Martha Nwaneri from Nigeria who had a liver transplant in South Africa a couple of years ago at the age of 17. You can find the full story in our Spring 2008 Newsletter here: and there is an update in the latest Newsletter here:

Martha faces about $20,000 of medical bills each year just to keep her alive, so we're trying to help. After all, how much is one life worth? So you're invited to spend and save: spend a little cash and help save a life!

The following pictures have been printed on high quality canvas and stretched to a frame 24"x18" and 1&3/8" thick for exhibition at St. Francis and are available for purchase at $250 (Canadian) each:

The Leuty Lifeguard Station on Lake Ontario in the Beaches area of Toronto on THAT day in the snow back in January when we were supposed to be in New Orleans...

A reflection of the Sun Studio in Memphis in a Cadillac fender - hmm, blue skies in Memphis after all that snow and ice!

Back into the snow and ice at Thomas Merton's monastery, Gethsemani, in Kentucky.
This was taken on that day when I set off in the ice storm to return to Toronto to pick up my car.
I especially love the depth of field in this shot.

On down to New Orleans and Bourbon Street for a (relatively) balmy evening in February.
Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

This is a real "on the road" shot as we were heading west into the night from Louisiana into East Texas.

Streams in the Desert
Taken during those five nights and days I spent alone in the Sonora Desert thanks to the Cascabel Hermitage Association.

Sunrise at Cascabel
Taken the first morning I was in the desert in Arizona.

The following pictures have not been printed and are not part of the exhibition at St. Francis but along with the above pictures are available for order on canvas stretched and mounted on gallery quality frames (1 and 3/8 inch thick) in the following sizes:

24" x 18" - $250 each

16" x 12 - $150 each

A winter's afternoon in Lowell, Massachusetts, Jack Kerouac's birthplace where I spent three days in January wandering the streets in the freezing cold, catching glimpses of Jack's ghost.
This picture is about the lines directing your eyes...

Another shot on that icy day in Kentucky when I discovered the micro-photography feature on my camera. Unless a grain of wheat fall into the earth...

Personally, I just love this shot of the stop-light at the crossroads at the entrance of Gethsemani Abey in Kentucky (where Thomas Merton lived for nearly 27 years. The ice storm had made the power go out - hence no light.

Heading for San Francisco in California.

Sunset in Montara on the Coast

Redwoods in Northern California
(Redwoods Monastery)

So, any of the above pictures, or indeed any other original pictures you may find here on this blog are available to purchase as high quality prints on canvas stretched over 1 and 3/8ths inch frames and ready for hanging in the following sizes:

24" x 18" - $250

16" x 12" - $150

Other sizes and specifications available by negotiation!
Shipping (if necessary) is extra.

Proceeds to the Martha Fund at St. Francis-in-the-Wood.

Orders, requests, questions to:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

And finally... Thank You!

It remains now before Christine and I hit the road again heading north for home to say some "Thank You"s to all the people who have helped along the way and made this journey possible...

Thank you to ...
Susan Snow & Wade Howie and Olivia who rescued me in the initial crisis and twice provided shelter for me (and Sean) at their home in The Beaches area of Toronto...
Frank Baker and his daughter Cindy for their warm hospitality in Lowell, Massachusetts, and to Mac Murray of Hopedale, Massachusetts for introducing me to them;
Ed Farley for his guidance and help in Lowell;
John & Jill Gilbert in Brooklyn, New York for their warm welcome and hospitality, and to John's niece, Diane Hill for putting us in touch;
Frank & Debby Fortkamp in Brunswick, Maryland for their hospitality and arranging transport for Sean and myself to get to Washington D.C. on the day of Barak Obama's Inauguration;
Brother Paul Quenon and the monks at Gethsemani Monastery in Kentucky for enabling our visit there;
Diana Boylston and Wesley Clark for their forbearance (we arrived after 2 a.m.) and warm hospitality in New Orleans and for helping us find William Burroughs' house in Algiers, also for introducing us to "Jane" who ensured we didn't get lost again ... or when we did she "recalculated!"; thank you to Diana's uncle, Jonathan Montaldo, for introducing us to them;
Misty & Brian Hopper in Austin, Texas for their warm hospitality late in the night and to Christie Manners for putting us in contact with them;
Ed & Penny Moul in Palm Desert, California for providing a port in a storm at no notice and for their safe haven and warm hospitality as I/we passed back and forth through the valley of the windmills;
David & Anne-Ly Crump for their warm hospitality at the end of the road in Montara, California (just south of San Francisco);
the monks at the New Camaldoli Hermitage at Big Sur;
Robert & Linda Inchausti for their warm hospitality and stimulating conversation (as ever) in San Luis Obispo, California;
Sisters Rita, Genny & Jacqueline at Desert House of Prayer near Tucson, Arizona;
David Omick & Pearl Mast and Daniel Baker of the Cascabel Hermitage Association in Arizona for making an exceptional retreat possible at very short notice.

I am also grateful to Sean Robertshaw for being my travelling companion and co-driver along the road;
The Wardens and Parish of St. Francis-in-the-Wood Anglican Church, West Vancouver for bearing with all this sabbatical business;
Emilie Smith for providing cover in my absence;
and most of all to my wife, Christine, for this gift of this time on the road.

Thank you to everyone who has read this Blog and to those of you who have expressed your encouragement and support through your comments.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Epilogue - The Road Continues...

In a way that last post was a fitting conclusion to this journey. What more is there to say? The journey, this journey anyway, is almost at an end and in a way found its culmination and conclusion in my time at Cascabel in the Arizona desert... but I thought I'd make one more post to tell you what happened from there in outline, take a bit of a retrospective of the time of this journey and then to say "Thank you" to the many people who helped along the way and made this journey possible.

From Cascabel I headed back down the dirt road to Benson having breakfasted with Pearl, David and Daniel who run the Cascabel Hermitage Association (mesquite flour pancakes and prickly pear syrup!) and made my way west once more heading for the New Camaldoli Hermitage on the Big Sur coast. Before getting there I procured a new tent in Tucson and spent a couple of nights at the Plaskett Creek campground about 8 miles south of the monastery - arriving at sunset and putting up the tent for the first time in the gathering darkness - I think I made an OK job of it!

The week at New Camaldoli I was once more in one of the hermitage trailers, this time called "Doxa," a much larger trailer than last time and with a bigger deck. So I spent the week reading, soaking up the stunning scenery and participating in the liturgy with the monks. Yesterday, I left there heading north to meet up with my wife, Christine, who was flying into San Francisco - hence the picture at the start of this post at the Golden Gate Bridge taken just a couple of hours ago. We have a couple of days here to enjoy San Francisco and the Bay Area (currently sitting at a "hot spot" outside Starbucks in Sausilito), then we begin the drive north back home to Vancouver.

Along the way north I stopped off at Bixby Canyon, the site of Kerouac's crisis that he wrote about in Big Sur...

So now for a little retrospective in pictures of these past couple of months "on the road." I have taken literally hundreds of pictures, many of them I've put on my facebook page, and it's difficult, maybe impossible, to adequately review this time in just a handful of images, but it is something I want to do because of the contrasts I've been through - from the snow and ice in the north to the heat of the desert... so here goes:

From The Beaches at Toronto...

To Lowell, Massachusetts...

To New York City...

To Washington D.C....

To Memphis, Tennessee...

To the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky...

To New Orleans...

West to Texas...

And Arizona...

All the way to the end of the road, end of the land in San Francisco, California...

The Coast of the "Big Land to the South" (aka Big Sur)...

To the Sunset Desert of the Rattlesnake (aka Cascabel)...

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Place Where Time Stops.

Well, for me, this is the place where I stopped. This is where I spent five nights and days alone in the desert. After all that road-going, I think my time at Big Sur and the Desert House of Prayer were "slowing down" places, but here in this tent-ramada high on a mesa out in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona I really came to a complete standstill and in a quite exceptional way entered into the present moment as a way of daily living.

I have this theory that when you travel long distances in a short space of time there's a kind of "spiritual lag" whereby it takes a while for your spirit to catch up with your body - you know that feeling when you arrive somewhere and it takes a little time before you're "quite all there." When you do this over a protracted period of time the effect is even more pronounced - the sense of spirit-body disconnect is the only way I can think of expressing it. So at Cascabel (="rattlesnake") Hermitage I was able to stop and reconnect with myself, so to speak, with the flow of things from the outside world turned off for a while.

So what did I do for five days and nights? Well, as I say, the emphasis was not so much on doing as on being - sounds a bit of a cliche I know but that is how it was. How did I spend my time? Sounds a bit like a question Thomas Merton was asked once in terms of what was a typical day for him in response to which he wrote "Day of a Stranger." Really, life was stripped down to the bare necessities, as they say. I got up with the the sun (about 7am) and went to bed a little after sunset (by 7pm), so I slept a lot, though I also read a bit by flashlight or was happy to lie content with my thoughts. I had a simple breakfast (freeze dried scrambled egg and/or a banana plus good coffee, of course! "Don't tell me how good my coffee is..."), I prepared a simple meal before sunset using a single-burner propane camp-stove, and a snack at lunch-time usually down in the canyon. Apart from that I didn't do anything that had to be done.

Three days I hiked down off the mesa (like a plateau) into the canyon below. After about an hour up the canyon you come to a stream, water flowing in the desert, and as you hike further and further up it becomes more of a challenge to make your way, crossing the stream back and forth. This came to be a kind of physical meditation for me forcing me into the present moment, being present to the stream and the banks and the rocks - watching also for the unlikely at this time of year presence of a rattlesnake (didn't see one) or a gila monster.

I spent five nights and days not particularly thinking of the past or the future but being right there - of course memories came to mind, and thoughts of the future too, but I didn't dwell there. I didn't meditate formally very much though I tried to be consciously present which, as I say, wasn't hard to do in this place. I didn't do a lot of praying in a formal sense, though my heart was full of gratitude for each day and each moment, and I said many kyries (Lord have mercy!), and when people came to mind I found it to be a kind of prayerful reminiscence.

While I was at Cascabel I finished reading Ann Charters' biography of Jack Kerouac that I began reading, appropriately enough, in Lowell, Massachusetts, and that I've been reading on and off throughout this whole time. In many ways it is a sad tale as his life unravelled in his later years, and how the promise and exhuberance that is found in his writings met with dissolution and despair in his own life. I agree with Ann Charters though, that part of his genius at least was his ability to take the tragic material of his own life and creatively depict it in his writings - thinking particularly, for example, of the sorry tale of his "crack-up" that is related in Big Sur - somehow he was able to stand back from it and portray its reality with awful honesty. He was under no illusions. Perhaps there is redemption in this.

I've been conscious during this sabbatical journey that by coincidence I have reached the age Jack was when he died. I turned this age on February 17 (I originally thought it was January 19 when we left New York on the 60th anniversary of his journey, that would have been just too poetic but was actually a poetic miscalculation!). I'm now older than Jack. In one way this has no significance - we all get to the age of people who died younger than we shall - but doing so may give us cause to look at our own lives, both looking back and looking forward in terms of "How shall I spend the time that is left to me, be that long or short?" There are many ways we could answer this, but when the question came to mind that other evening as I sat looking at the sunset at Cascabel, two things immediately came into my head: practice kindness and do not fear.

So now I'm once more on the road en route back to the Californian coast and the New Camaldoli Hermitage at Big Sur where I'll get back into the rhythm of the daily liturgy of the monks based around the Psalms and begin the re-entry process for the next stage of life's journey...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lost & Found on Wasson Peak

A special report from my return to Wasson Peak today:

This took far longer to load than it took me to shoot or you to watch!