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It is the morning of the book launch day here in the Hammer. I don’t have a lot of time – in fact, I shouldn’t be spending the few hours remaining blog-writing, but I guess it is a good distraction and having just downloaded pictures to clear my camera for tonight, I thought I’d add a note.
One would think by reading my blog that all I do is travel around, visit friends, dance and party. Well, it has been a summer of great celebration, that is for sure, but also of book busyness. I’ve always had a way of balancing work and play, some would say I make it look easy. I think that is why the arrival of Walking with Wolf in a form that pleases people in Monteverde also surprised many. They thought I was just hanging around, going to the beach, dancing alot. When actually I was working on the book over all these years…yes, it was many years, but better slow and sure than fast and furious I say. The book became what it is from the years I spent getting to know Wolf, getting his stories out of him, and gaining trust from his family and the community. I think if I had managed to do that in a five or ten year period, it wouldn’t have been the same at all. So that is my excuse, and I’m sticking with it.
Since Kstock last week, once my sister and friends all left, I hunkered down and started preparing for tonight’s book launch. Over Labour Day weekend, even though I had the use of my friend Cocky’s car (who had gone west but has now returned), I didn’t even get into it between Thursday and Tuesday. Even as the sun shone brightly outside, and the days passed in end-of-summer glory, I was bent over my laptop, preparing the music and images for the book show. I did manage to sit outside with my laptop one day, and without even knowing what bit me, ended up with a great big fat lip from some amorous bug who obviously wanted to kiss me. I think that was Saturday and if I had any plans of going out that evening, my swollen face changed that, instead I got more sleep and got up and kept working.
Sunday night I did go out with my friend Jeff and some friends of his on their catamaran (nicely named My Mistress). The Burlington Bay (which we called it when I grew up on the other side over in Burlington) or the Hamilton Harbour (which is closer to home now), was a scary piece of water when I was a kid. The steel companies loomed over it and back in the day, they belched out pollution like a kettle making steam. From the Burlington side of the bay, you looked over at the shoreline of factories and for me it was some kind of purgatory. It was what sent me running to the wild north country as a teenager. I knew that I didn’t want to live in the shadow of the smokestacks all my life.
Now that I’m back and living in Hamilton, those factories are actually sitting in a way that I don’t see them from my home nor from the Bayfront Park that is moments away. When you go out in a boat on the water, they form an industrial backdrop, the truth being that the steel companies are only producing a fraction of what they used to and so they are starting to have a look of antiquity about them. The bay has always been a place for boaters, including the ice boats that take advantage in the years when the ice is thick and safe, and seeing flotillas of sailboats is a pleasant sight, even with the monolithic smokestacks rising behind them. When the smoke rises just right, it is almost reminiscent of a volcano and with great imagination, you can look at the smokestacks like old palm trees who have lost their leaves (big big imagination).
You can head out to the dark, deep, cold waters of Lake Ontario by passing under the Skyway Bridge when the lift bridge is raised. Once on the other side, you can continue as far as you like, I guess all the way to Africa if you really wanted to.
Something that I loved to do when I was a kid was fishing for smelts at the base of the lift bridge. I think it was in the spring (tho I’m not really sure) that my dad would get his net together and take Maggie and I out at night – we would join all the other people at the end of the pier in the dark with our lanterns. We’d put our net in and pull it out, the little silvery smelts wiggling in their woven trap - Maggie and I would free them, only to put them in the pail and take them home for a great fish fry. Maybe that’s why I had cancer many years later, having eaten all those little fish from the industrial lake. I wouldn’t touch anything from there now, but people still stand on the pier and fish, and I know some keep their catch, while others are flexing their fishing muscles or just loving the peaceful solitary activity of fishing.
Jeff has been a member of a local sailing club for most of his life and took me along on his friends’ boat for this beautiful evening sail which is really like a social club on pontoons. It reminded me of walking around the neighbourhood, stopping to visit the folks down the road, having a beer on the veranda, and then carrying on to visit the next neighbour. The boats raft up, talk boats, tell stories, discuss the details of the next upcoming race, and then move on until they come close to another friendly boat and then raft up again. Here is Mr. Jeff Glen, known amongst the sailors as El Commodore
Jeff and I originally thought that we may go on the boat but later jump ship on the Burlington side, where the annual ribfest was happening and there was great music playing. But it was too beautiful on the water, and in all honesty, the Burlington shoreline looked like an army had invaded, set up camp, and was burning down the city, the result of all those rib barbeques sending their exhaust in the air. It seemed much safer to stay on the boat and continue the floating social soiree.
We stayed out from 5 p.m. till midnight – it was a glorious night, thanks to Dirk and Kendra and their 3-month old baby, the owners of My Mistress, and all the other nice people we would raft up to. Sometime near the end of the night, as I was slowly being lulled into a floating dreamland, the boat we were tied to put on a Jimmy Buffet CD - it was all so cliche I had to laugh. The parrotheads are everywhere, and even with the steel companies leafless-palm tree stacks belching volcanic plumes behind us, it was somehow paradise.
Besides that evening, I have stayed close to home to get my work done, to be focused and in constant email contact with people concerning upcoming book-gigs. I did two radio shows – one, a rock n roll show on the Mohawk College radio station with Lou Molinaro, who is the husband of Lynn Beebe, one of the members of the Evelyn Dicks who are playing at the launch tonight. Along with Lynn and Lori Yates, also in the band, we plugged the book and the launch and the Dicks’ performance. Lori and Lynn played a song at the end, called Soiled Girl, but with a line about black widow spiders – nature in the city. It was a great half hour. I’ve found local media very difficult to get involved – some of it is that they are short staffed, but if you watch our local television and read the paper, so much is from the wires, American-based news and entertainment. Local musicians empathize with me, saying that getting local media to support homegrown art is difficult unless you are already well established. So I really appreciate when Lou, or any other local media folks, take a moment to plug the book and the launch.
I woke up yesterday morning to a phone call from Bob Bratina, my local municipal councilman who also does a very popular morning radio show on CHML. He asked if I could be near the phone in ten minutes and they’d call me and do a live plug for the book. Well, I hadn’t even had coffee, but I shook myself, poured a cup, and was ready. I don’t know what I said in response to the questions, but I did appreciate the enthusiasm for the book, Wolf’s work, and the promo for the launch that came from Bob and his cohost, Shiona Thompson. And I did receive an email last night from Connie Smith, a news anchor at CH, the local TV station, who said they couldn’t do anything before the launch but maybe we could put together something about the book soon. So I am happy with all that.
I am preparing for northern Ontario next weekend, three book-gigs, at the Chat Noir Bookstore in New Liskeard, at the Moon Cafe in Mattawa, and at Hibou Boutique in North Bay. I drove half an hour up the road to Guelph on Tuesday and set up a book event at the Bookshelf, a very dynamic bookstore, actually a whole book community, that I frequented when I went to the University of Guelph back in the early eighties. I will be doing a book event at the Bookshelf on November 18 and am very excited about that, my friend Lynda Lehman helping me put that together.
I have my power point presentation ready, the projector that my sister and brother-in-law bought me is working just fine, and I am ready to go. Cocky just returned, we’ve been taking care of business and managing to get out to do a little dancing in the Hammer at night, but there will be dancing and celebrating going on tonight, once I’ve finished my work at the Pearl Company and can relax and enjoy the Evelyn Dicks as well as the Costa Rican music I have compiled for the event.
Just talking about it makes me antsy – I better get going and doing something about tonight. The next blog will be a report of the book launch. This last picture is an alleyway here in Hamilton, close to my home. I believe it is a Portuguese woman who puts the flowers there and has provided the colour to the walls. I appreciate that I have managed to find enough beauty in this funky little city to keep me happy, even though my heart tells me I should be living in the bush. Ah, the Hammer, urban jungle, my hometown.
I am back in Hamilton, Ontario, my home. Even though I just spent ten weeks in the tropical rain forest during the rainy season, there has definitely been more rain here this summer than I experienced there. And I thought I was getting wet! The jungle that is my backyard is evidence of a great growing season. Luckily, in the week I’ve been home, the sun has been shining in a bright blue sky more often than not. It poured earlier today but the planets aligned, the solid bowl of clouds broke up into popcorn, and the few stars you can occasionally see above the city glow were out. On this beautiful night, I went and spent two hours at the base of my musical hero, Steve Earle.
I’ve been listening to Steve - songsmith, multi-instrumentalist, political commentator, troubadour, activist - for more than twenty years. He has written the soundtrack to my life. I feast on each new CD that I hear and somehow this southern boy from Texas, ex-heroin addict, ex-con but also anti-war, anti-death penalty, anti-insanity activist has spoken in his music of my own experiences, moods, frustrations and loves. When he was singing songs of restlessness, I was restless. When he’s been angry at his government, I’ve also been livid. Now he’s in love both with his new wife and with his new city, New York, where he moved to after years of living in Tennessee. And although I’m not in the big love, I am in love with the Hammer, this rusty little city I live in.
He has constantly expressed my politics in beautiful simple poetic lyrics and gone down a number of musical avenues from country to rock to tropical to folk to bluegrass and taken me with him on each ride. Tonight, after playing his guitars, mandolin, and banjo and dueting with his wife, he played with a DJ behind him providing electronic beats. He has so many songs, all great. And although there was a big representation in the Hammer-crowd of drunken wild folks demanding “Copperhead Road” (which you can see him cringe to with impatient disdain, for it would seem that, fifteen years later, it is the only song people know of despite a repertory of hundreds), the majority of the audience were singing along to his lyrics from several of his albums, demonstrating that they, like me, were in awe. To have the chance to sit twenty feet from him, down below the high stage of the Festival of Friends, on the concrete ground (which, of course also doubled as a seat right on the dancefloor), be encouraged by him to sing out, and to be able to watch his face as he sang, and watch his subtle and not so subtle reactions to the antics of the crowd, well, in an odd way, at moments it was like it was just him and me and we forgot the other ten thousand folk. In fact, I’m quite sure he smiled at me at one point. Sigh.
His wife, Allison Moorer, played the first set and although the best thing about her for me is that she is Steve’s wife, I do enjoy them singing together and she is a good singer of songs. I do know from reading her blog that they are both readers, and she writes about the books she reads. So after my soul was totally swelled by the sounds of Steve, I lingered outside his black bus for a good half hour or more with the other diehard Steve fans – all guys wanting to get their albums and CD covers signed.
Fortunately he finally came out and although I wasn’t the first in line, he turned to me (probably because I was the only woman) and I quickly handed him Walking with Wolf. I could tell he was tired and wasn’t going to have patience for long. I told him how thrilled I was to give him these words of mine after all the years that his words have excited me, pushed me, caressed me, comforted me, filled me (actually, I mumbled something much shorter). I truly believe that he and Allison will enjoy Wolf’s story. I was so moved to be able to give him the book. He looked me in the face and said “cool, thanks” in his southern drawl and with a tone of surprise, maybe cuz I wasn’t asking for anything, just giving him something. He reached out his arm and I touched it. I’ve still got chills.
These chills were much better than the chills I had all last weekend when I had a reoccurrence of the swollen gland in my neck with a touch of fever that I had about a month ago in Costa Rica. I finally went to the doctor and got the right drugs and started feeling better, after five days of laying around moaning. My beautiful neighbour, Genevieve, who left a lovely welcome home spread of wine, cheese and crackers in my fridge, also fed me fresh corn and grilled vegetables through my illness – what a wonderful person to have nearby.
Once I felt better, I went into Toronto and distributed the book to media outlets and Pages bookstore. I also put signed copies in the hands of my grand gurus, Bruce and Ken, who were so much a part of the final production of the book and continue to support, encourage and amuse me. I know I will re-employ their services in the Spanish translation (which Wolf’s son Carlos is now in the process of working on). Meeting these two talented blokes (along with Jane our editor and my old friend Laurie who did the layout) was one of the biggest gifts of the last year.
Now that I am slowly coming back to earth after my near-Steve encounter, I have to get out in that jungle and get it under control. The next month is so busy with preparing for the book launches in September and for all the visitors who are coming to help me celebrate my 50th birthday at the end of August, that I gotta get those weeds outa my path so I can see the forest through the trees. But I will be working to the sounds of Steve in my soul, renewed, rejuvenated, re-happy. Consider the following photo a “before” picture…”after” to follow.
I’ve moved into my friend Mark’s house while he is out searching for the missing golden toads. Now that the rains have come, he has great hopes he’ll find them, or maybe some other missing toad. As I said in the last post, he has already found two species that were thought to be extinct. I wish him well, am very appreciative that he was around to do the introduction at the book launch, and am thankful to have his little cabin in the wet forest, even if I’ve already killed three scorpions!
I have this thing about scorpions…I’ve been coming to the tropics for eighteen years and, touch teak, I have yet to be stung by a scorpion. They seem to disappear once the rains begin – they come into the houses in dry season, but here in the House in the Hole, the scorpions don’t seem to have cottoned on to the change in season yet. Mark said that this year was a ridiculous year for them – he was killing two or three a day – but he hadn’t seen any since the rains began last week. Well, I guess he missed the three I got yesterday! Makes you a little nervous each time you put your hand in a bag or grab a towel or piece of clothing – I truly feel it is just a matter of time till one of them gets me, and I’m tempting fate by living in a house such as this one.
The slow boat to Costa Rica that was bringing our books turned out to be a fast boat and the books are already here in the country. Wolf and I are heading down the mountain to San José tomorrow to start the process of getting them released from customs purgatory. The paperwork and run-around will probably take several days. So we will go visit the Tico Times, the English newspaper, who has already put something on line at http://www.ticotimes.net about the book. They want to do a review and an interview. We will also talk to 7th Street Books, the English bookstore/publisher in the city, about distributing the books around Costa Rica. And then there is beginning discussions with the Tropical Science Center about the Spanish translation. Carlos Hernandez, the director of the Monteverde Reserve, sounds very serious about it. We are hoping that Wolf’s son Carlos will do the actual translation. But we are just starting with that issue. No doubt I’ll visit friends and go out to hear some music and do some dancing while down in the big city.
And then I’m going to the beach. Enough of this rainforest stuff, I need some sun. Today is actually dawning with a very blue sky here on the mountain, and the sun will no doubt be warm and wonderful, but I want some real heat! So once the city business is done, I’ll make my way to one of the beaches, which I’ll decide on by the weather – wherever there is the most sun and heat, I shall go. There are so many great beaches in Costa Rica that one doesn’t need to be limited. Best swimming – Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste. Best relax – anywhere on the Caribbean. Beauty walking across sandy beaches and rocky outcrops and swimming in cool streams – Playa Moctezuma. Ai yi yi – decisions! I may disappear from bloglife for a few days but will write again when I’m on a good computer. Ciao chicos!
PS: A fine gentleman, Nicholas Goodwin from Minnesota, just helped me get the system down for posting photos. I like to think that it’ll be easy now….as long as someone nice guy like Nicholas is sitting close by. Or maybe I’ll manage it solo one of these days….
Any minute now the phone will ring and it’ll be Pierre, at Transcontinental Printers, giving me the final amount of the bill that I need to pay before they release Walking with Wolf. Thanks to the power of VISA, that little transaction can take place instantaneously and very shortly after, a skidload of books – 1280 to be exact – will be sent by truck down the highway to my home in Hamilton. I am trying to visualize how many books that is - one skidload doesn’t sound like so much, but in the confines of my small house, it might just seem like a mountain. I think I’ll make furniture with the boxes, throw a few blankets over the cartons, and rearrange my home to be a functional and comfortable book warehouse. Some of those books will go with me on the plane to Costa Rica so that we can get right to the celebratory launch shortly after I arrive. I have considered and reconsidered the numbers – how many to ship where - another in a long line of decisions that, at the time, seem extremely important. In the end, I’ll live with whatever I’ve done. So the other 720 books are heading down on a leisurely boat cruise to Limon, hopefully arriving a few weeks after I do, to be sold around Costa Rica. I’ve had to make arrangements to store them in “dry closets” – in the humid land of the rain forest, you need to keep a lightbulb burning to keep the moisture down or I’d be the proud owner of a buncha musty books in short order. The Hammer is a pretty humid place too, but nothing like Monteverde, up on the wet, green mountain, and here, dehumidifiers tend to do the trick.
One of the details I’ve been consumed with before I leave Canada is to decide on when and where to have the official book launch when I get back. At this point it is looking like Saturday, September 6 at the wonderful Pearl Company. A grand old three-storey brick factory building close to downtown Hamilton, it has been renovated with love & spirit by Barbara Milne and Gary Santucci and now houses not only their loft living space but a stunning art gallery, art shop and performance venue. The couple also runs a fantastic service – the Art Bus. It heads out on the first two Fridays of the month when, for a very reasonable $15, you are driven from gallery opening to gallery opening in the greater Hamilton area, exposing curious art-lovers to a wide range of studios and spaces, local creations and culture. The bus leaves from the Pearl Company, and it was when I went on the bus back in January and saw the beautiful old building that I first thought what a great place to have a launch party for Walking with Wolf. So I went the other day to talk to Barbara and we came up with the September 6 date. I’ll actually be having a trial run at my 50th birthday party on August 23, but that’s a whole other story.
Last night I went to the Lionshead Pub to see my friend Lori Yates play along with her friend Lynn Buckshot Bebee. Heart-grabbing voices, irreverent spunky women, great great songwriters. They played a set together, along with Chris Houston, as the Evelyn Dicks – named after a notorious murderess from Hamilton’s past – and blew me away. And this was only part of their band that I saw. I immediately got the idea that this would be a great band to play on the night of the launch - some real hometown Hammer hustle, with lyrics full of literary story lines and surprises, and rocking women (Mistah Houston was the exception). By the end of the night we had a plan, to collaborate on a great night in September, celebrating Walking with Wolf, and cranking up the steel city attitude with the Dicks. Lynn started her last set with a song that ended with the line “Going to read a good book” and I gasped. She later told me that she just finished writing that song the night before – and I found it totally prophetic. I hope that this all works out – Walking with Wolf - Book Celebration with the Evelyn Dicks - Musical Event at the Pearl Company - Community Center - in Hamilton, September 6, 2008. Many more events will follow, but I’m feeling like this is the just the best way to introduce the book in the Hammer.
Suggestions are coming in from friends further afield: the Chat Noir Bookstore in New Liskeard, the Moon Cafe in Mattawa, Gullivers Bookstore in North Bay – if I can line up some local music to augment the book presentation in each case, my work will be done! In my little world, you can never have too much music, and no night is complete without at least a little shimmy on the dancefloor. Dave Patterson of the legendary Wabi Delta Band in the Temiskaming area has offered up his services for the New Liskeard show. I’m loving the generosity and enthusiasm of people towards the coming out of Walking with Wolf. For my part, I plan on creating a multi-media kinda presentation while I’m in Monteverde. It will feature images from the tropical forest, video of Wolf and a variety of Costa Rican music. I hope to add a little colour and character to your typical book-reading. I believe so strongly in the value of telling Wolf’s story that going out in the world and talking to people about the book is easy. If I can make a connection between the book, the past and the future of conservation, be it in Costa Rica or anywhere else, while plugging the book, then it will be even more satisfying.
Now why hasn’t that phone rang?