Creepy goodness: Ghostly Walks

“This is the time of year when the barrier between the living and the dead gets thinner”, our Quebecois guide crooned to us as we sat in a dark stone room, waiting to venture into the cool evening. It had just rained, leaving everything with a layer of chill. We separated into two groups, and went off to learn about a select few of Victoria’s many, many hauntings.



Victoria is known as one of the most haunted places in the Pacific Northwest. It comes as no surprise- Victoria was a major port city, took on many people from the Klondike Gold Rush, and had people from every corner of the globe coming here for a wide variety of reasons. One of my favorite places in the city, the Ross Bay Cemetery, has gravestones from all over the world commemorating people who came to make their lives here.



The nights in Victoria get very, very cold and as we were told stories of prostitutes murdered, criminals hanged and left in unmarked graves that were later dug up unceremoniously, and the atrocities that white men committed by desecrating sacred First Nations burial grounds, it was easy to imagine people from the past quietly nearby, ducking down the dark streets and walking down hallways that they did in real life.

These stories could feel hokey or sappy but large parts of downtown Victoria are murky feeling and damp. These spaces are like things sprouting in secret, dark corners and it was very easy to imagine dark things happening and lingering.




As somebody who finds walking at night peaceful and balancing, almost necessary to my sanity, hearing these stories was a bit creepy to be sure. However, I grew up in a mining town where equally harsh things happened, where people lived and died quickly, and that partially makes Victoria feel a bit more familiar. I can understand the gold rush and the resource extraction and people living roughly, the conflicts between cultures, the unrest that underlies all of this. Our guide, Chris Adams, was very good at making this sense of unrest clear, and he was delightfully serious about it all. I almost asked him for a photograph of his skull-headed cane but didn’t get the chance.








On a 7 mile walk








There were words here that I meant to expand upon about being soft and kind and letting yourself feel all the feels but I couldn’t write what my mind was thinking well enough to let it linger here. Suffice to say, it’s gone now.

I went on a very long walk the other day after a long day working and encountered lots of small moments in humanity that made me feel good. I walked a long, long way and went home and slept like a rock and it felt right. Long walks always put things right with me.


Habit Coffee


My first experience with Habit Coffee happened last fall, as an eager newcomer to Victoria. From the charming exterior to the well-lit interior, it seemed a likely spot for me to enjoy. When I inquired about WiFi at the counter (trying to deduce some good study locations) I was given a look as though I had just whispered Voldermort’s name to a wizard. “We. Don’t. Have. WiFi.”, the barista practically hissed. WiFi, it seems, is anathema to everything Habit Coffee stands for.

And yet, despite this initial rather acidic welcoming, Habit Coffee has somehow remained a place I go when I’m out of sorts, can’t stand to look at a computer screen, and just want to read or write at a small table with a cup of coffee or a hot tea. The vibe at the smaller Chinatown location is, like many Victoria places, eclectic, but simple. They’ve got great magazines to thumb through (I recently discovered the joy of Frankie magazine, a wonderful Australian creation!) and overall it’s a space that feels welcoming and warm, has decent and decently priced coffee, and offers respite from the busy streets downtown.



Sunsets/Musings on realities of photography.





Photography is a marvelous tool to make your life look much better than it feels. You choose a moment, and you eliminate sound, movement, context. You strip the moment down to an element that is then frozen into light sensitive silver particles on roll of film carefully threaded into your camera.

I am a thief. I am a propagandist. I use photography as a tool for coping, for survival, for love, for preservation, for dear life. It is better that way.

Pictured above: A series of evening photographs on idyllic Vancouver Island.


Where I go to wander


Ross Bay Cemetery.

I do spend a lot of time, perhaps too much, in this cemetery. It’s enormous, full of paths, and the most magnificent trees! There is so much history here, and every time I walk through I find a new headstone I admire or a new detail to enjoy. Somebody, for example, put the most perfect pine cone on the top of a tombstone, and it looked very fitting with the darkening stone.

The trees in here are regal but not overbearing. They have different personalities and the leaves they all have are different. This time of year a lot of yellow and orange leaves- the trees that have red leaves have not yet let gravity inevitably take them yet.

If you’re in Victoria and want to escape downtown head to Ross Bay and spend some time here. I like reading on one of the benches or quietly learning about all the people who came here from every corner of the earth- Croatia, Poland, all parts of England, Japan, Russia, etc., because it makes Victoria, which feels very settled and sometimes overly cultivated, feel more real.

One Year Later in Victoria

One thing has remained constant here during my time in Victoria: the crows. Corvids cry from lampposts, make eerie noises from rooftops, and I quietly try to never disturb them. After reading books about the intelligence of these marvelous animals, I respect them and personally love it when many are seen on my walks, on my meandering, long, illogical wanderings around this southern part of the island.


One year later, parts of Victoria still very foreign to me. It is September, still tourist season, roses are abloom, and I am constantly irked by the large buses that unload slow moving old tourists who group together like schools of fish and block the sidewalks. Although I can deftly weave through them, I prefer now to meander at dusk or dawn, when there aren’t so many humans awake and out.

Parts of town are still unknown to me- they are too far to walk, and the bus system is good but not good enough for me to risk taking one to some corner of the city. I try to avoid night walks on the weekends, as it is busier and groups of men hang around bars and cat call in an exhausting ritual I have known since I was a teenager. The smell of the harbor, intermingled with smells wafting from restaurants and cafes, is ever changing, and seeing lights reflected on the water will never cease to make me pause.

The blatant poverty present is still mildly shocking. People who need healthcare, a roof over their heads, and access to food are tucked away in doorways, seated on corners, and perched in wheelchairs. They have dogs tightly curled next to them, and a few have cats bundled up in their laps. Some who ask for help are moving through- buskers who don’t have an exact destination but offer music as a service- while others got stuck here, lured by the relatively warm winters. The chill that Victoria has in the winter, though, feels more severe than any Montana cold.



One year later and many things I do here I do alone. It is very important to know how to be alone, to be comfortable with silences and gaps in social times. I know myself, and I am a fairly predictable, sturdy creature of habits, of black coffee and long walks and a slim book tucked in my bag in case I want to stop in somewhere and take a break from my own thoughts. I have friends here, delightful souls who work hard and make time for coffee, pho, muffins, and comradery, and I am lucky.

Victoria is still claustrophobic to me. The British habit of manicured, landscaped parks, lawns, and every green space makes my stomach turn a bit. Everything is trimmed, shaped, artificially groomed, never allowed to flourish naturally. This control of nature has gone too far, and the only truly natural feature in town is the ocean, which is terrifying and all knowing, and hems me in further onto this massive rock off the coast. I have never spent so much time near the edge of the water, and the primordial respect, fear, and appreciation I have for the sea grows each time I hear the waves and let myself be still for a moment.


Victoria is, for the time being, another sort-of-home.

Young Lady in 1866 by Edouard Manet


I love how Manet consistently used colors to embody luxury and how he used light to enhance everything. The dark backgrounds with bland colors set his subjects in contrast, making them more illuminated and glowing. I love how delicately he does hands- they don’t look stiff or too formal at all. The tiny peeled lemon he leaves in the bottom right corner of the painting make it both a portrait and a still life. I love how quick and easy his brushstrokes seem. Manet was a passionate creature, and his paintings and pastel works are infused with emotion. There is no passivity in his creations, no pauses, but they are not rushed works. Purposeful, clever, and exquisite, Manet’s portraits are some of my favorites to observe.


Working Title/Artist: Young Lady in 1866 Department: European Paintings Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1866 photographed by mma in 1993, transparency 2a (8×10) scanned by film & media 9/19/04 (phc)

Mornings in the rose garden.

29781507151_e00f852c3f_c29829072246_79242662fc_c29864103555_c1b960a403_c29236896804_1bd5ac270b_c29236890924_90ccb27c9d_cRight now in Victoria there is the weirdest combination of death and life in the contrast between trees that are dropping their leaves like crazy and all the flowers that are still viciously in bloom.

Beacon Hill Park has a beautiful gated rose garden that you can enter and wander through. The high metal gates prevent deer and give it a mildly romantic feeling. To be really honest sometimes the smell of roses is a bit much but it’s still really beautiful to see them covered in dew drops and be in a garden all by yourself while the rest of the world goes about their day.

Tidal pools/Little ocean flowers


I haven’t been sleeping.

I love sleeping. I love dreaming, REM cycles, I love knowing when I woke up that I slept well. Sleep and I are at odds right now, and it’s rather wretched.

I took a walk yesterday before going to campus to read because I was too tired and punchy to do good work. It was still low tide, and the beach smelled like it- lots of leftover, decaying seaweed, kept strands, and the wet smell of wood that has been in the ocean.

I carefully made my way across the black, slick rocks and found little pools of anemones and tiny tiny fish and crustaceans. Some of them were folded up because the water wasn’t quite reaching them. It was wonderful to take a break from being inside and working and being with the naturalia around me for a bit.

Various feelings about my thesis illustrated by Twin Peaks

Intermittent crying regarding frustration finding sources because archives are hell and horribly organized and nobody gets back to you. s1_e6_crying

Somebody suggests you might actually need help on the damn thesis but you’re feeling hostile and defensive so you ignore their advice and later collapse even though you are actually a nice person underneath it all. s1_e4_hulkingboob

Ravenous bouts of hunger that make you feel productive because at least you’re fueling your next bout of angst and guilt-filled procrastination that will end with you falling asleep reading a source at 3 am. s1_e3_omnomnom

When you think you’ve been really fucking productive but then realize how much more is left to do. s1_e2_distant_thunder

When you try to do things you enjoy like beach walks and making photographs but are consistently hounded by the reality that you’re not working on the thesis and you suck and it’s all futile and life is cold and the universe indifferent. s1_e1_sobbing

Trying to explain to your family who doesn’t really get it that this is really really hard and that all of these problems actually matter. s1_e1_ohdear

More sobbing because for some reason Andy sobbing matters a lot and feels relevant because he’s so pure and good and at one point you probably were too. s1_e1_cryingagain

At some point you’ll reach the stage where you feel cold and emotionless and more like a shell of a human. But since you have good skincare routines and a decent sartorial sense you’ll at least look decent. cooper_s1e1


L’autunno is here (again)

29633018062_71a67eda44_b29453236080_376bce686b_b29633026852_2803176f2c_b29633034572_6c6d3072e7_b29633021312_2abd8b6267_bThis morning it was properly raining for the first time since I’ve been back. I decided to go on a walk, as it didn’t seem to be raining too terribly hard.

As soon as I got a mile in, to my favorite cemetery, it began to pour. I hid beneath a tree for  a minute, then high-tailed it to a bus stop where I took the bus home, with a deep chill and only a few frames. You can see that everything is already changing or gearing up to change.

The Helena Farmer’s Market

29010225864_6e961818bf_b29636475565_d4c424980b_b29636469575_7992002982_b29636470475_fc9c36d5fc_bSaturdays are meant to be spent nibbling on baklava from your local Hungarian baker with the sun shining while meals are being mentally cooked up as you both consider all the options.

Shining jars of pure local honey glisten and you handle produce, feeling the bumpy skin of squash and smelling the roasted peanuts from the stand down the way. A producer snips off carrot stems to keep them fresher for you and people chat, eagerly telling their stories, talking about their vegetables and fruit, giving you more than just food, but giving you a loved, cultivated thing that they cared for enough and are now handing over to you.

Everybody remembers your extra tall partner in crime, and he knows much more about food than you do. He chats about lamb for a good while with some ranchers from Boulder and you people watch. At the end you leave with way too much food for two people but aren’t upset about it.

The Helena Farmer’s Market is a great way to start off a proper weekend. Grabbing a bagel from the Bagel Co. or getting baklava, sipping coffee from one of the food trucks, and letting all the smells and sounds envelop you. You can buy beautiful flowers, little fresh herbs, pheasant skins, jam, handmade hats, candles, fresh bread, multiple kinds of garlic, lip balms and lotions, handmade soaps, beautiful jewelry, and as much kettle corn as you want.

People have a special zest for the farmer’s market here- it’s always busy! Perhaps it’s because we Montanans spend 6 months of the year with fierce, bitter-cold winters, so our time for green things, for food that you can pluck from the soil, is so limited and we understand this relationship. We get to go somewhere with an abundance of beautiful, locally grown things that came from our harsh landscape, and while you hate the winter you love the summer, and ultimately you do love where you live. We love being able to be outside, and any excuse to gather together is taken. Once summer begins to fade, we keep our freezers full of quart bags of huckleberries and rhubarb so that pies can be made. Our mums can fruit and make jam for the long dark months, and some of our fathers gear up for hunting season so that elk, pheasant, deer, goose, and duck can once again be part of our diet and fill the extra freezer many of our families have in the garage or basement. We waste not, we want not, for soon this street and town will be covered in long-lingering chunks of snow and ice and the hours of the day will not be so kind. Better love the enormous sweet onions that call your name and buy the beautiful fresh carrots while you can.