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I have returned to life on the green mountain…and life here has somewhat returned to normal. Of course, what exactly is normal in this constantly shifting thing called life!? Normal so quickly becomes abnormal – and vice versa – that we all – humans along with all the rest of the earth’s creatures – must continually adapt if we are to survive.
The best story of survival in Monteverde that I can share is that of our friend Wolf Guindon. He is immensely better than he was when I left last June. Stefany, his lovely nurse, has left; he then had another young woman helping with his physical therapy, but she too has gone. Lucky has taken over guiding Wolf through his daily exercises. The results of all this attention is obvious – Wolf is walking steadier, even without his stick much of the time. He takes care of his own bathing needs. He gets in and out of the car on his own. He goes for short hikes on trails in the Reserve and elsewhere. He even has been working on a trail in the forest beside the house, where his son-in-law Rodrigo installed a bench so that Wolf and Lucky can go and sit to watch the sunset together.
Wolf is back to having some purpose in life – he gets out daily and works a little more on that trail. One of the best improvements is the use of his right hand that had serious damage from being tied to the bed posts during his time in the hospital. In June, about three months after his release, he was still barely using it. Now he can clearly sign his own name, handle his eating utensils, and hold and swing his machete with a fair amount of force.
He is also getting woollier. There was a time, exactly a year ago, when he was weak, his body frail and his head almost bald. I remember walking into his hospital room and thinking that he looked like Gandhi. One year later, his sideburns are bushy, his eyebrows are furry and he has the look of a robust, if elderly, bushman. The twinkle has returned to his eye and his humor remains contagious and genuine.
Something that brought huge smiles to his and Lucky’s faces were recent visits by their son Tonio and his family from Connecticut – who left eldest daughter, Oriana, here for a prolonged stay with her Monteverde family; a week with son Tomás and his family from California; and a very quick visit by Wolf’s nephew Dale and his family from Ohio, their first time in Costa Rica. They were here for their eldest son’s wedding down on the beach, and despite the fact that their son, Jeff, broke his foot playing beach soccer a couple of days before, it sounds like they had a wonderful wedding. Unfortunately, Jeff and his new bride couldn’t come up the mountain with the rest of the family as he needed to rest his foot and I’m sorry not to have met him. As I’ve often said, I’ve never met a Guindon I didn’t like – wonderful folks all.
So, this year I returned to Costa Rica without a plan. I usually have a good idea of what I’m going to do in my months here and some sense of how I’m going to do it. Last year became an amazing roller coaster ride undulating between Wolf’s health crises, working to finalize the paperwork for my bit of jungle near Cahuita, and the push to complete the publication of the Spanish edition of Walking with Wolf. Wolf survived, the property paperwork appeared on my last day in the country, and the translation got edited, but nothing went quite like I expected. This year, I decided that instead of arriving with expectations, I would come with a buncha seeds in mind, cast them out, and see what germinates. Now, a month later, I’m starting to water the plants that took root, and I hope that I’ll have a fruitful garden to show for it over the next six months.
The most important project, and the one that will take the most of my time, will be overseeing the layout/design and computer work of Caminado con Wolf. If I get nothing else done in the following months, I am committed to publishing, one way or another, the translation of our book. The English version continues to be very popular, selling well by word-of-mouth here in Monteverde and online, as well as on the shelves of the Café Britt souvenir shops in the San José airport.
Last March and April I spent working with Lester Gomez, the young editor hired by the Tropical Science Center to edit Carlos Guindon’s translation. The TSC has been very generous in its financial support in this project. Carlos Hernandez, the director of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve, and Javier Espeleta, the director of the TSC, as well as other staff and board members, have been very enthusiastic and helpful in getting this done. Don Javier then went to the Editoriales de la Universidad de Costa Rica, whose director, Julian Monge, agreed our book should be published in Spanish as a valuable addition to Costa Rica’s historical and nature-centered literature.
More than three years have passed since I self-published the English version in Canada. We have watched a warm and critically-positive reception to our book – it has been used as the inspiration for a high school course in New Hampshire, it’s been bought by local biology professors for their visiting university classes and I’ve received many letters of thanks from visitors to the Monteverde community who say that it has provided a valuable background that enriched their time here. We know there are many Spanish-reading Costa Ricans waiting to read the book. The coming year 2012 is the 40th anniversary of the Monteverde Reserve and the 50th anniversary of the Tropical Science Center. They have numerous activities and special events planned and it would be wonderful to have Caminando con Wolf available for the participants of these celebrations throughout the year.
Since I have already gone through the process of “self-publishing”, I don’t fear stepping back into it. We are so close to finished I can taste the hors-d’oeuvres at the book launch! So I have decided to start walking down another path with Wolf, and get this thing done. It will mean some fundraising on my part for the costs of printing, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. If the EUCR’s new director remains interested, we will be thrilled. If not, we will be ready to go to print ourselves.
Throughout Wolf’s months of medical crises last year, he told people that he had no plans to die until the Spanish book came out. I think it was one of the mantras that kept him alive, along with his love for Lucky, his joy in the time he got to spend with his family and friends, and his phenomenal strength of spirit that is nurtured by his relationship with the natural world around him. The rest of us had somewhat of a dilemma on our hands when we didn’t know if getting the book finished quickly would send Wolf sooner to heaven, but happy, or if we should be slowing the process to keep him with us here on earth as long as possible, perpetually waiting for the book to appear.
In the end, of course all of our fates were out of our hands and things happened as they would. Wolf doesn’t look to me like he is going anywhere soon, but he regularly expresses his faith in my ability to get this translation done. Our talented friend here in Monteverde, Pax Amighetti, is ready, willing and able to do the computer/design/layout work for the book. I have arranged my dance card between time in Monteverde working with Pax, time in San José helping out a friend in need of some organization in her home, and time in Cahuita helping Roberto build a small casita. I have my eye on the prize, my heart in the right place, and my body and mind will go wherever it needs to be to get this job done.
As we move into the very busy holiday season, I am leaving Monteverde to spend Christmas in Cahuita. Pax and I have already made some important decisions about the design of the book’s cover. We will break for the yuletide and return with strength and determination in January. I have great faith that Caminando con Wolf will see the light of day in this exciting upcoming year of 2012!
I proceed inspired by the words of one of my heroes, civil rights leader and freedom fighter John Lewis, who says, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” I find it interesting that his own autobiography is titled “Walking with the Wind”…coincidence, I think not. Happy festivities everybody! I’ll keep y’all posted.
I’m coming to you from Hamilton Ontario, my northern nest that’s woven together with maple leaves and pine needles. I’m running around like a squirrel trying to remember where she stored all her nuts months ago. Everything seems familiar and
though I haven’t quite acclimatized yet, I can see that it’s all coming back to me (or the nuts are starting to reveal themselves).
Each day I meet up with my Canadian friends, great people I missed during my ten months in Costa Rica. Now it’s tropical breezes that blow through my mind and my Costa Rican loved ones take their turn licking my heart. I’m still starting my sentences with “bueno”, and I’m missing fresh sweet mangoes and the seductive smell of coffee being roasted, not just brewed. Waiting until after 9 p.m. for the sun to set and the sky to darken seems unnatural after a 6 to 6 light/dark ratio that has barely changed in ten months. I always find that day/night transition difficult when I return to the north.
I’m thinking of my southern friends, those left to fend in the rainy season – Roberto in
Cahuita where the rains are warm and the river is known to rise; Wolf in Monteverde, no longer able to set out on muddy trails through the soggy forest, but still holding his own against sudden storms; Lorena and Edín in San José, shiny happy people making music and cupcakes that will keep people smiling despite the cloudy skies and grey days of a Costa Rican winter.
Along with these and so many more two-legged friends, I also miss my four-legged friends, of which there are
a few. I’ve become very attached to the five felines in the city apartment, to
the semi-wild Miel in the jungle rancho, and the mellower Miel and his sidekick Olly at the Monteverde Study Center. There is also the lovely white husky Tyra and the old farm dogs on the Guindon farm.
My favorite canine of course is Wolf. After all these months of poor health and our vigils at his hospital bedside, I feel very secure in leaving Wolf for a few months. He seems to be stronger every time I return to Monteverde, and I know that he had very good reports when he visited his doctors last week. I trust that he will be okay until I get back there.
A few days before I left the green mountain, in a room packed full of scientists and students, there was a very touching tribute to Wolf. On the occasion of
celebrating the International Day of the Environment, the Costa Rican chapter
of the Mesoamerican Society of Biology and Conservation thanked three men for their contribution to conservation and the advancement of scientific knowledge in Costa Rica. Besides Wolf, they acknowledged Dr. Richard LaVal, who lives in Monteverde and is the Batman of Costa Rica, a living encyclopedia about those flying mammals; and Dr. Jorge Cortés for his work with mangroves.
The present Director of the Monteverde Reserve, Carlos Hernandez, brought tears to many eyes as he thanked Wolf for his leadership, inspiration and dedication. Don Carlos expressed how he learns something new about the forest and the history of the community in every conversation he has with Don Wolf. He also expressed for the many employees of the Reserve how Wolf will always be their spiritual leader. There were many university students who were deeply touched by meeting the grandfather of Costa Rican conservation as we all have been upon our first meeting with Wolf. It is wonderful to see Wolf’s commitment and contributions being celebrated especially at a time when he is feeling like his usefulness is diminishing. In his lifetime, Wolf has contributed more than most to the country he adopted, the community he helped develop and the forest that he dedicated himself to protecting. Although he is entitled to a rest, Wolf’s restless nature is frustrated within his worn down body – hopefully he will find some activity that will engage him and satisfy his altruistic soul.
The Spanish edition of our book – Caminando con Wolf - should be in the hands of the editor at the Editorial de Universidad de Costa Rica. I wish I could push the process forward, but now I must wait with patience and Wolf must get stronger while he waits. As I said, I think Wolf will be okay, even though life isn’t necessarily easy for him and the family, but he is determined to see the book in Spanish and that helps him stay focused on doing the things that he needs to do to get better.
As for the English version, Walking with Wolf, I took a third order of books to the Café Britt headquarters the day before leaving Costa Rica. Juan Diego, the buyer for the company, came down to the receiving desk to see me and told me that the book was doing very well at the airport stores.
When I went through the San José airport on my way to Canada it was the first time I was in
the airport and saw our book there. I went in one of their stores and saw the book sitting proudly in a center book display. I took a picture with the young clerk and was satisfied that the book was given a prominent position on the shelf. I then visited the bigger of the Café Britt stores that was closer to my departure gate and was thrilled to see that familiar picture of Wolf wrapped in the big leaf staring down from the Best Sellers wall! Walking with Wolf was number five on their most sold list, after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series but above a book titled “I Hope They Sell Beer in Hell”.
I spoke with the staff who seemed as excited to meet a real life author as I did to see my book on that wall! Of course we took more pictures and made quite a commotion. It was a super way to leave Costa Rica.
Those ten months in paradise unfolded in ways that I couldn’t predict. I didn’t expect to spend months helping to care for an ailing Wolf; I thought I’d get the papers for my property in Cahuita together quickly, but only just managed to get everything in order before leaving; I had planned on building a small house on that property but between being distracted by Wolf’s situation and not having the legal papers in my hand, I put that off.
Roberto was very supportive and patient with the fact that I was busy elsewhere most of the
time. I’m sure he thought that when I bought the property I would be staying closer to his home but things didn’t work out that way. Well, when you love a gypsy, what do you expect? When I was there we enjoyed the sea, the monkeys, coconut-flavored food and as much dancing as
we could squeeze in.
I also hoped that the Spanish edition of the book would be released, but that didn’t happen -
yet it is bound to be soon! I made a new friend with Lester, the editor of the Spanish translation. I certainly didn’t expect to spend months living in San José and if I had been planning on it, I would still have been surprised as to how much I enjoyed life in the big city especially that time I spent with Lorena
and Edín and the cats.
They were generous and kind and constantly creative. We talked life and politics and music, and the power of kindness, the craziness of life – laughed until we cried and cried until we had to laugh. I tried to repay their good hearts by cooking and helping wherever possible. I can’t thank them enough for giving me an urban home and family.
It was a very emotional ten months, with super highlights like my trip to Guatemala with EDITUS and the Dance Fusion show in Monteverde. I will never forget Wolf in his mania talking non-stop for a month, nor the love of his family rising like soft bread dough around him in his time of need. I will miss so many friends, and special ones like Barb and Deb in Monteverde who are two of the most loving spirited gals on the planet. And always look forward to returning to see Zulay and her big family in every corner of that little green country.
So I dedicate this blog to all those, big and small, furry or not, who have become my family
in Costa Rica. I expect to be back by November, but if Caminando con Wolf is released sooner, there I will be for the fiesta! In the meantime, I’m loving my
Canadian home and friends and forest. Maple trees, palm trees, no matter what
the leaf – as long as there is love in the soul, food in the belly, and friends
under the sun, life is a gift.
I’ve been up and down the mountain to Monteverde several times over the last ten months – this is my last stay here for awhile, as I fly back to Canada next week. Last minute tasks are at hand, getting book business in order, saying goodbye to friends, and making
the first plans for what should be several months in the north.
I wish I could say that we will be celebrating the release of Caminando con Wolf, our Spanish translation, before I go, but sadly I can’t say that. I hope, for Wolf’s sake, that it will be soon…for my sake, later is better as I don’t want to turn around and make a costly return visit here within a couple of months. Alas, the timing is out of my hands and I will just adapt to whatever happens. I know Wolf is very anxious for that book to be in his hands so he can share it with his Costa Rican neighbors and friends who couldn’t read the English version, Walking with Wolf.
Wolf is doing okay, his spirits mostly high and stable, his physical state showing slow steady signs of improvement. He does his physical therapy twice a day with Stefany, his nurse, or with Lucky when Stef isn’t there, and he does the exercises quite willingly. However, as you can see by the picture, he does get bored with the process and often drifts off when he should be putting all his
strength into each movement. The hand with the damaged nerves (from being tied to the bedrail in the hospital) is reacting well to the exercises and bit by
bit Wolf can use it and it doesn’t seem so swollen. It is a long hard road to
This coming Saturday, the International Day of the Environment, Wolf will be receiving recognition for his lifetime of work in protecting the cloud forest. There is a
symposium happening here in Monteverde, and the various groups involved,
invited by the Costa Rican chapter of the Mesoamerican Society for Biology and
Conservation, will be gathering for a daylong event focused on the science of biological
corridors running from the mangroves at sea level to the cloud forest close to
the sky. It is wonderful to see Wolf’s work still being acknowledged by
colleagues and those on the frontline of conservation in Latin America. I know
it means a lot to him.
The MonteverdeFriends School’s campaign to raise funds – Monteverde 60th: Friends
in the Canopy – was very successful. My last blog post was mostly written during my 17 plus hours on a platform in the canopy. Many people in the community took part by climbing up a variety of tall trees, sleeping on platforms in various locations, painting, photographing and writing while in the trees, even performing music. The school raised about 2/3 of what they had hoped to gain money-wise, but as importantly, they excited the whole community to go out into nature and breathe in its magic. Most then shared their experiences with the world through the internet. There was also an art auction, with stunning work contributed by many of the very talented artists of this community. Bravo to the fundraising committee who oversaw this great month-long event – I hope they repeat it.
The tree and pics I’ve posted here are of Wolf’s son, Benito, climbing up to his hammock that he tied at the top of this big tree on the farm. He spent a few nights
there, happily swaying in the breeze, enjoying his solitude and the nighttime
sky. Like Wolf, Beni never fails to amaze us with his physical endurance and
the unique ways he employs it.
Many came out one Saturday afternoon for a goodbye dance party for our friend AA Leath who is leaving Monteverde to live in the United States after twenty years here. AA was part of the San Francisco post-modern dance scene in the 1950s, a collaborator of Anna Halprin, well known as a creator of this dance genre. During AA’s years here in Monteverde, he has treated us to many impromptu dance performances and enthusiastically supported both the arts and the artists.
Now, in his mid-eighties, AA has had knee replacements and other health difficulties, but
the worst tragedy has been the number of times his cabin was broken into. A year or so ago he moved and then he was attacked and robbed on the street – a total of seven times the punks have stolen from AA. Yes, this is true – in Monteverde – that an old man was assaulted for what little money he had while walking on the main road. And he isn’t the only one. (with Mary Stuckey Newswanger and Lucky Guindon)
Fortunately people came out to give him lots of love before he left, as it is horrible that he would leave this community with the bad taste of abuse on his mind and a lingering fear in his heart. Not only did we all dance together, but AA and neighbor Mills Tandy treated us to an improvised dance routine, dedicated to a dance instructor they had both happened to work with years ago.
I hope that AA will keep the lovely images of this day and the people who love him here foremost in his mind, replacing the negative ones that have been bothering him for the last couple of years. He is already truly missed in Monteverde.
Unfortunately, AA left just days before Monteverde had its first major dance event. Over the years, many professional dancers, besides AA, have visited and performed, but never has someone taken community members, young and old, and worked with them on original choreography in preparation for a grand night of performance. And the community must have been starving for it, because well over 200 people came out, so many that we couldn’t all fit into the room.
Marie Chantal Nadeau, a beautiful woman originally from Quebec, Canada but living here many years now, who is well known for the stunning jewelry she makes, has been working with a group of dancers for months. Her principle male lead dancer is Daniel Vargas, a multi-talented, much loved local, soon heading to the US and college. Marie and Daniel performed a stunning piece of modern ballet to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah which was sung by the amazing Riley Walker. Daniel and Riley both lost their mothers to cancer about a year ago and Marie’s father also succumbed to the scourge a few years back. They dedicated this lovely piece of art to the parents they are all missing and it was truly moving and beautifully manifested.
There were colorful performances of folkloric dance by Costa Ricans, there was an enthusiastic South African gumboot-slapping number, acro-yoga dancing, a mother and son from Montreal doing a structured improvisational dance… something for everyone. Most numbers were accompanied by live music played or sung by locals. The night ended with fire dancing outside, and Marie, who had danced in two of the numbers and choreographed many of the others, left us with the image of her joy twirling in flames, no doubt with post-performance relief and contentment. The community is still thanking Marie, Daniel and all those who participated, for this spectacular evening.
The huge turnout, including a bus of tourists that we had to turn away, demonstrated that this community has been waiting for a show like this and if you give it, they will come. It also showed the necessity of a new community arts center for Monteverde and area. As Monteverde continues to grow in population, it continues to attract more artists and performers, and we need a place not just for performances, but studio space dedicated to each of the artistic disciplines. Originally these kinds of activities took place in people’s homes, then got moved to restaurants and hotels, and then there were private venues such as Bromelias Amphitheatre or the Centro Cultural Galeron where this dance evening took place. But these places aren’t fully equipped for this big of an event to be held in any kind of weather. Monteverde has grown beyond its small rural roots, and is bursting at the seams with people who appreciate the arts.
I came up the mountain specifically to help Marie with the show as the on-site keeper of the
keys and guardian of the gardens and animals who live here on the property of the Galeron. I am real happy to spend time with Marlene, who works here, and Tyra, the gentle white husky who takes over my bed when I stay. It was an easy decision to come right now as I wanted to have time with Wolf before I leave for Canada, to be present at his award ceremony, and I also had an upholstery project waiting for me.
As you can see, the chair got pulled apart, much to the pleasure of the cats Miel and
Olly, but due to technical difficulties – as in having very poor toolage – I’ve put off its completion until I return in a few months. Monteverde will still be here, and so will the chair – hopefully so will the trees, the birds, the wonderful people, and the howling Wolf of the mountain.
My mantra of late is “patience, KKKKK, patience.” The fine art of patience served me well twenty years ago when I was struggling against cancer, and so I call on the virtue again to ease me through these days. I am not suffering any great hardship, just being tested by the bureaucracy of business in a new land and the sometimes harsh realities of life. As I look at the explosive movements erupting around the world – from Egypt to Libya to Wisconsin – I think of communities of people who have run out of patience, finally, after years of oppression and social injustice….and I wish them strength.
Closer to home, Wolf is back on the farm and now there is much patience needed by all as he works at recovering his strength. He won’t fade away to nothing, as he is eating like a couple of work horses, even if all his food still needs to be in liquid form (because he is not patiently chewing it all up – gallo pinto shake anyone?). From the moment he rises till the hour he lays back down to sleep, he is asking for food – and so his family requires patience as they care for him and try to meet his many demands, nutritional and otherwise, serving it all up in a digestible form.
It would appear that the doctors have found a good cocktail of drugs to stabilize Wolf’s mind and emotions. He is very positive, with lots of plans for the future. He is talking quite calmly and rationally, but he needs to have patience as he can’t walk yet nor do much on his own, that alone oversee a major renovation of the house or go on an epic journey to visit his French Canadian roots in Vermont and eastern Canada, just some of the many inspirations rolling out of him.
Instead, he is religiously following his daily physical therapy routine, cheered on by nurse Stefany and all the clan, working to recover the use of his right hand that was damaged during his stay in the hospital (either from weeks of being tied to the bed or perhaps some neurological damage) and to begin walking again. Two months laid up has left him much weaker than before. In his mind, Wolf is ready to resume his active life, but his body has quite a ways to go to catch up. So have patience, Wolfcito, patience (and to his ever-loving family as well – patience, Guindonsillos, patience).
While Wolf is up on his beautiful green mountain, I’m back in bustling San José, working at the Tropical Science Center with Lester Gomez, the man who is editing the Spanish version of Walking with Wolf. Lester called on me to assist him in understanding words, sentences and concepts in Carlos Guindon’s translation that he just couldn’t quite comprehend. I’ve now worked three long days with him and it takes a lot of discussion and much patience between us to get to the point where Lester can find the proper words or sentence structure to convey the message as it was meant to be shared. I am really enjoying working with him – he is a very calm and intelligent young man with a respect and appreciation for the project. He is also very busy with his other responsibilities, so it is taking a lot of patience on my part to work only on the days that he can devote to this and make my plans around his schedule without pushing him too hard even though I’m biting at the bit to get this done.
I went to Cahuita last week (and am heading back there tomorrow). Besides going to see a very patient Roberto, I’m trying to finish up the paperwork for the property that I have bought there. When the topographer in Limon said the land survey was in order and ready to be picked up, we were thrilled – until we took the plan to the municipality office and found out that the topographer had made a mistake and that the people selling the land owe back taxes. So we had to return to Limon once again to get the survey fixed and also ask the venders to pay the taxes so I can register the property. Hopefully things will be taken care of when I get back there tomorrow. A process started back in August, this is definitely trying my patience.
While in Cahuita, I finally witnessed our little stream rising into a raging river. It had rained throughout the night, and in the morning, when I went out to relieve myself at 5 a.m., I looked around and saw that there was water at ground level crawling like a wet snake all around me! It was an incredible sight. Roberto lost his casita to this river over two years ago and his rancho is now built on higher ground. As he says, the water only rises like this once, maybe twice, a year so don’t worry. This time the water took away the tree trunk that has served as his bridge and we had to wait, patiently, for several hours till the river went down enough to safely cross it.
And patience served me well as I persevered, attempting to dot all the “i’s” and cross all the “t’s”, and got the book into the Café Britt stores at the airport. It took three attempts (by myself, my wonderful friend Lorena Rodriguez here in the city and Deb Hamilton up in Monteverde) to deliver one box of books with a correctly-completed legal invoice – how difficult can that be???? – but after a couple of very expensive taxi rides out to the warehouse, and a lot of frustration, Lorena and I finally got it right and passed over the books to our receiving buddy Sergio, for their thirty day trial at the San José airport.
So once again, I ask – no patiently beg – of any of you with friends or family heading through the Juan Santamaria airport this month to consider buying a copy of Walking with Wolf there. If we manage to sell enough copies of the book (we don’t know what the magical number is, but the more the merrier) then Café Britt will place a bigger order and carry Walking with Wolf in their country-wide stores. Although we receive much less money per book from them, it is a great opportunity to spread Wolf’s inspiring philosophy and history to thousands of people who haven’t been to Monteverde or necessarily know about Quakers, pacifism, conservation of the cloud forest, or that amusing wonderful friend of ours named Wolf Guindon. We now wait patiently to see how we do in this month-long trial. Paciencia, geduld, strpljenje, tålmodighed,pazienza,cierpliwość – in whatever language, all we need is a little…..
Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work I go
Back home again after a swell week on the road with my friend Shirley. Although we are well into the autumn season we mostly felt warm summer temperatures throughout New England and returned to the same sweet sun in Hamilton. Yes, the trees are starting to have that reddish-around-the-edges look, and we noticed a proliferation of goldenrod on the roadsides, but I’m still wearing short skirts and sandals. My natural clock has not yet moved to the 11th hour that chimes in the final weeks before winter sets in.
My mini-book tour of Vermont and Massachusetts (with a visit to Maine and New Hampshire thrown in) was very pleasant. We started out with a night in Lachine, just outside of Montreal Quebec, with my editor (once known as “the dastardly”) Jane Pavanel and her husband Sami and their kids. The night was beautiful enough to dine on the deck (pesto made fresh from a big buncha basil bushes in her garden) and for a walk along the St. Lawrence River watching a golden moon rise. Our roles as writer and editor of Walking with Wolf could be very mildly adversarial (“she just doesn’t get it!?!”) but the final result has been very successful. Our roles as friends will hopefully last forever – and maybe, if I ever get to writing another book, we will resume our professional partnership again.
We got across that big bad border just fine, headed into Vermont, and had lunch in Burlington on the waterfront, watching the boats cruise across Lake Champlain. Over the several hundred kilometers we drove through Vermont, we saw a lot of green forest, green pastures and green-consciousness. It would have been great to have the time to investigate some of the state parks, art galleries, interesting-looking restaurants and ecologically-concerned businesses but we had an agenda that didn’t allow for too much side-tracking.
We joined the Putney Friends Meeting fall retreat at Farm and Wilderness camp near Plymouth. A small black bear ran in front of our car just as we were arriving and we saw a loon floating on the lake. Being in this setting of wooden camp buildings surrounded by forest took me back to my years on Lake Temagami working at Wanapitei and Keewaydin canoe camps. These long-serving camps with their rustic cabins and large dining-halls hold the ghosts of a lot of summers – anyone who has spent time at one most likely has a keen sense of the history of the place as the long tales from the past get told and retold. Old photographs, names etched in the aged wood and strange artifacts reverently displayed on walls provide memories for those who return over the years and clues to the camaraderie that existed for those of us who weren’t so lucky to be part of it.
Our little humble cabin Sassafras
Although we left our lunch spot in Burlington still soaking up the sun, we arrived at the camp under the only rain clouds we’d seen since the beginning of September. The lake looked tempting and that loon was calling me to join her, but it was just too chilly for this chicky who just returned from warm southern Caribbean waters (sad-to-say since I’m basically a northern bush babe used to refreshing waters.) Most of the cabins were long and three-sided with bunk beds on the three walls. The other non-existent wall opened out to the lake or the forest. I kept asking people if mosquitoes were never a problem. I couldn’t imagine staying in those cabins in northern Ontario in bug season which is basically most of summer. Everyone I asked told me that mosquitoes had never been a problem in this part of Vermont. I’m wondering if these folks are either tougher than me or have a very selective memory. I just can’t imagine being anywhere in North America in that much forest without a bug season. We chose a small cabin called Sassafras which had four walls, open windows and electricity since I had to work on my laptop a little at night preparing for the book talk. Sleeping in that clear, clean cold air was heavenly.
The other highlight to being at camp was the large kitchen. I can remember my first time in one of those large industrial yet rustic kitchens on Lake Temagami (after finding a very large puffball and slicing it on the meat-slicer, frying it in butter and garlic in the over-sized frying pan, my friends and I made ourselves ill eating too much of it.) I love cooking in these super-stocked kitchens with their grandiose Hobart mixing machines and eight burner gas stoves. This one was extremely well-equipped including a dish room with lotsa stainless steel sinkage and a sterilizing washing machine. Enthusiastically volunteering for washing duty, I got to run the hose, rinsing off the dishes and filling and emptying the washing machine. I ended up quite wet but thoroughly enjoyed it, feeling like Igor behind the controls of a crazy steam-snorting machine.
I had a good time presenting Walking with Wolf to the assembled group, some of whom had been to Monteverde and had their own stories from there. Susan Slowinski had invited me to come to this retreat and was a warm host, as were all the Friends. I sold a few books and received some very positive feedback. I was invited by Francie Marbury to visit her public school in southern Vermont and we arranged that I would stop there on our way through that area on Tuesday.
Since we were (by Canadian standards) in the neighborhood, we drove a few hours from Vermont to the coast of Maine to see Cocky (my soul sister I’ve written about many times in this blog). We got in a night of dancing (breaking in a pair of cowgirl boots recently given to me), some great food, lots of talk, sunshine and relax time. We watched “Shut Up and Sing,” the documentary about the Dixie Chicks and the horrible, hate-filled reaction to their simple comment that they were ashamed that George Bush was from Texas (during the period in 2002 when the US went into Iraq on the un-proven grounds that there were weapons of mass destruction.) I have loved their music but am now deeply moved by their commitment to speaking their truth in a country that proclaims this is one of the main principles of its society. If I had known at the time what was going on, I would have gone to a Dixie Chicks concert just to support them (and dance a little too.) This doc is still well worth watching.
We spent a glorious evening on the local public dock as the sun set. It was still chilly enough to keep me out of the water, but Ms Cocky is more acclimatized and had what might be one of her last swims of the year. We were also visited by a man towing a dead deer (which someone had shot but not killed and it had finally died on the shore nearby) out to a more remote spot to let the buzzards at it. When I started taking pictures he thought we might be radical vegans ready to denounce him, but being northern bush babes ourselves, we are accustomed to carcasses and recognize he was just doing his job.
Shirley, Cocky and I, along with the beautiful Alpha-dog, sipped wine and ate sushi and watched the breeze play across the calm Atlantic water. It was hard to leave.
On our way to Amherst College in Massachusetts, Shirley and I stopped to visit Wolf’s son, Carlos Guindon, who has been translating the book into Caminando con Wolf. He’s almost finished, down to the index and some blurbs. He’ll then send it to Costa Rica and the Tropical Science Center will figure out the next step. It’s very exciting that our book is going to be available in Spanish so that Costa Ricans, who have shown a very keen interest in reading Wolf’s story, will soon have the opportunity.
Shirley with Wolf’s grand-daughter Noelia
We arrived at the house of Benigno and Karen Sanchez-Eppler, who had invited us to stay while in Amherst. They are a very welcoming Quaker couple who own a big old house on the edge of the Amherst College campus that serves as an inn for the many guests that pass through. They have hospitality down to a fine art served up with great heart. They fed us a delicious dinner of Cuban tortilla, rice and fresh tomatoes before we headed over to the college for my talk. We were joined by their daughter Alma and her friend Benny, as well as Clara Rowe, who I knew as a young girl when she lived in Monteverde (she had arranged the talk with the Environmental Studies department) and Noelia Solano, one of Wolf’s grand-daughters who I had just celebrated his birthday with in Monteverde. She is now at Mount Holyoke, a college nearby, and came for the evening – it is always wonderful to see Monteverde people in other places, especially Guindons.
There was a small group at the college for the talk and I have to admit I felt a little disjointed – sometimes it is like that. I switch my talk around for each audience, situation and length of time allotted, and usually am happy with how it goes, but sometimes feel a little off and this was one of those times. But there were lots of questions and interest in the group about conservation in Monteverde and it was a nice evening despite my own criticism of my performance.
The next morning we drove north to Brattleboro, Vermont and I did another talk for the kids at Marlboro Public School. It was a short period and I had to talk fast but was much happier with how this went. This school was very impressive – solar panels, vegetable garden, an open classroom with couches for the kids to relax on while reading – and almost made me want to go back to school. The school focuses on self-expression through creativity and learning through field research. The Grade 7 and 8s will be heading to Costa Rica in the spring and this was their introduction to where they would be going and some of the history there. It was a privilege to be part of their trip planning.
With the work done, Shirley and I enjoyed the last bit of back road driving in Vermont – once again sorry that we couldn’t stop for awhile at the interesting villages we passed through – but did stop for lunch in Wilmington at the Vermont House Tavern which I must mention because I had an excellent bowl of French onion soup there and highly recommend it!
Our last night, now safely back in our Canadian homeland, was at my friends’ Chuck and Carolyn’s near Westport. We arrived just as their band, String Tease, was beginning an evening rehearsal, and so we relaxed to a few hours of music, singing along with the songs they sing, mostly irreverent Canadian tunes that tell stories and feature their mix of accordion, mandolin, guitar and stand-up bass.
Now safely home, feeling the air a little cooler than when we left, having had a successful few book-speaks, mixing up business and pleasure, I’m ready to get on to my next project which is writing Bosqueeterno history. A huge thanks to all those who helped put the tour together and took us in – Jane & Sami, Susan and the Putney Friends, Cocky, Clara, Benigno & Karen, Francie and finally Chuck & Carolyn. The world is small, full of friends and opportunities and, as such, is truly beautiful, whatever the season.
It seems I’ve only had minutes here in the Hammer before it’s time to head out again. I truly lucked out in having a week of glorious summer weather since arriving from Costa Rica. The blue skies and sunshine just won’t quit. I’ve unpacked and am now repacking to go to the northeastern US for a couple days – heading to a Quaker retreat in Vermont on a lake, so I sure hope this weather will follow me there and make the lake swimmable. Will then visit again with Cocky and Peter on the coast of Maine and stop in to see Carlos Guindon, who is moving forward with the final details of the Spanish translation of Walking with Wolf.
Between preparing to head out, juggling my book event schedule (have just added a talk on November 19 for the Kingston Field Naturalists), and meeting up with friends who I haven’t seen for a few months, this week has flown by as quickly as the planes that keep appearing above my house as part of the Hamilton Air Show. As is usual when I’m here in the Hammer, I’ve managed to catch a lot of live music this past week.
There is a new music venue that opened up while I was in Costa Rica, just a two minute bike ride from my house. I can see myself becoming a regular here when in the city. What used to be the old Copperhead Bar on James Street North (or the Copper John or Copper Corner or something like that – a place I’ve passed for years but never really taken notice of) has been given a new life as “This Ain’t Hollywood” – more affectionately known as The Saint. Hammerheads Lou Molinaro, Glen the Hamilton Kid and Gary Daly have taken over this ancient beer hall (slinging beer since 1893), done a few smart renovations and added a big sound system. The new stage is filling with rock, punk and alternative acts passing through the area as well as regular open mic nights where local musicians and their friends and fans gather.
Local singer-songwriter-music producer, JP Reimens, has organized a songwriters’ soiree at The Westtown over on Locke Street for a few years, but last week moved his Tuesday night gathering to The Saint. I’ve managed to catch the shows. It is a real nice room to see musicians play with good sightlines and there is a full clear sound. There is so much great talent around and you never know who will show up to perform or just drop by to see what’s going on: from the sultry sirens Ginger St. James, Lori Yates and Buckshot Bebee to guitar wizards Brian Griffith and Dan Walsh to the city’s songwriters with attitude Tim Gibbons, Linda Duemo and Dave Rave.
Last weekend was “the biggest Ribfest in the country” on the Burlington waterfront. With my friends Jeff (no last names please – the CIA is watching) and Heather, we went over to hang out on the beach in the late afternoon and have a barbeque, waiting for the sun to go down before heading up to the biggest pig-out in the land.
It’s a very different beach than the Caribbean shore in Cahuita I just spent the last two weeks on – chilly Lake Ontario sipping at its sand, just as often lashing it with serious waves. But the lake was calm and the full moon was rising and the city startled to sparkle as a gorgeous night came on.
We rode our bikes up the waterfront path to the big rib-affair to see Tom Wilson, another of my favorite musical beasts of Hamilton, along with some great musicians, including Jesse O’Brien, keyboardist extraordinaire.
Tom’s son Thompson and friends have a band – Harlan Pepper – as well as a big self-promoting father who gets gigs and press, so these four young guys are getting some exposure (opening for Tom’s show as they did on this night.) Some talent, some good songs, but still young and could do with some attitude. But the papa-musician, Tom, rocks as always and is guaranteed to be playing with hot talent no matter who he is at the moment – Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Junkhouse, Lee Harvey Osmond, or he himself with an assembled band.
That big full moon continued hanging over us the next night when I went to Sonny Del Rio’s birthday party. Sonny’s the father of the sax here in the Hammer – been playing forever and at 66 is playing more than ever and loving it.
There was a backyard full of musicians and they stepped up to the mic, including Gord Lewis of Teenage Head who played a few with Sonny and friends. It was a real nice evening spent with my good friends Mike and Freda as well as Dean and Gary Duncan and his brother Randy, folks I love but I don’t get enough chances to see.
It is so great to come back to this happening little city where good friends reside and I never need be bored – not a word in my vocabulary anyway. Yet it is all on a scale that makes you look at the central core of Hamilton as truly down-town, as in the backbeat of a town, not the staccato of a big city.
Now I’m hanging my sign on the door of this blog:
GONE ON ROADTRIP…THE DOOR’S OPEN…MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME…BACK SOON
Aah, my last week in the Hammer. She’s been an attentive hostess this last week, our fair city. Blue skies, warm sunshine, no pollution (well, maybe that’s a relative thing), the bursting of bulbs and buds - all a perfect backdrop for getting my house and yard ready to be abandoned (well by me, not my house guy Ben),
assisting my pal Gerry to take down the rest of the crumbling poplar tree in my back forty, spending some last precious moments with friends, doing my taxes to the tune of a good return, gathering things for jungle living, and spending the second Friday of the month on the ever-fascinating James Street North.
This once maligned street – the original road up into town from the harbour of the Port of Hamilton - has traditionally housed all kinds of storefronts, bars, and restaurants as well as the Canadian Forces Armoury and the original train station which is now a large dining room and conference center. There’s also a whack of Portuguese and Italian mens’ clubs and cafes which is where I went to watch games with the old European men during the last World Cup in 2006.
I’m sure at one time the street would’ve drawn sailors off the big boats pulled into the harbor – I’ve met a sailor or two at Fisher’s , my local eatery & pub at the most northernly end of James Street North. When I grew up, across the bay in Burlington, and for most of its existence, the neighbourhood had a reputation for a mafia presence. It certainly has always had a tough spirit and a working class energy.
The original Portuguese restaurants, the Wild Orchid and Ventura’s amongst others, have continued to thrive and the little Gates of India restaurant that consistently gets great reviews is still here. There are still a few long standing family-run businesses, Millers Shoes and Morgensten’s Department Store, that have survived the years. Now a larger variety of cultures are represented, East Indians and Koreans and West Indians included. But the biggest new crowd in the area has to be the arts community.
Sometime around the turn of the century (this last one), people starting buying up the old, now fading buildings, and turning them into art galleries and studios. Torontonians with dreams of owning their own gallery or studio could actually do it here in the Hammer as the prices were hillbillyish compared to the over-inflated costs of the Big Smoke which is only about 45 minutes down the highway.
So bit by bit the face of James Street is changing – to the point that one is beginning to wonder where it will all end (besides at the bay to the north and the steep climb up the mountain to the south. ) As in, how long till Starbucks realizes a good thing? James Street South, which cuts across the upper ”mountain” of Hamilton, has already filled with car dealers and is working on collecting big box type stores. Lower James Street, here in the heart of the city, holds the life of the Hammer.
There are many characters responsible for the most recent turn of events – Bryce Kanberra, Dave Kuruc, Cynthia Hill, Jim Chambers – who first saw the possibilities for the street and were smart enough to take advantage of the cheap prices involved in renting and buying. Once people started coming to their galleries and shops – the You Me, Mixed Media, the Blue Angel and James North Gallery – they were intrigued by the possibilities and, well, the rest is modern history.
On the second Friday of each month, the street opens its doors for the Art Crawl. I think this has been going on for four or five years. In the beginning there were maybe ten small galleries, mostly simple renovated spaces created within old funky buildings with an abundance of red brick and ubiquitous white drywall backdrops to hang paintings. In the last two years, there have been many other artist-held spaces opened and you could no longer do the street at a crawl – you now have to scurry to get through all the openings and exhibitions. This last Friday night saw the opening of about five new or renovated spaces – and the bar keeps getting raised each time with the effort people are putting into their new ventures.
The street was teeming – I mean, I was recently in New York City on a Saturday night in July-like weather and, well, okay maybe there were a few more people wandering the streets of the Big Apple, but in a relative kinda way (NYC – 10 million people – Hamilton 500,000) James Street North was packed and the atmosphere was exciting.
With my friends Freda and Susie, we wandered through the galleries and couldn’t believe the buzz on the street. I’ve always found it hard to catch everything: the art openings, the occasional busker or performance artist, the friends you bump into, and now add the local fashion designers’ studios as well which could demand trying on clothes! Sheesh, you need a weekend to do the whole street anymore, not just the evening.
I have talked before about Blackbird Studios, just off of James North on Wilson Street - Kiki and Buckshot have a dramatic line of clothing that has a sense of humor as well – it was one of their hot dresses that I wore to the Hamilton Music Awards last November. I stopped by their shop and was amazed at the racks of clothes and the new styles – and Kiki told me that it was empty compared to a few weeks ago before they had a big sale. Prolific gals these two, charged with dressing the hard rock Hammer girls, and obviously starting to attract good attention.
Just down James North, there is a new clothes designer who also does alterations and custom tailoring – Olinda, a young woman from El Salvador. With her extended family present, she had the grand opening of her shop, Olinda’s, with free pizza and cake and a beautifully redone shop.
This building used to house a tattoo parlour and now it has a rose-coloured paint treatment and curtained dressing rooms. The care that Olinda and her family have put into this is a good sign for the quality of work she must do. I doubt that she will be a direct competition to Blackbird – these are two very different styles with Olinda bringing in that Latin flair – but hopefully they will augment each other’s business and bring in women looking for original designed clothes (and in Olinda’s case, tailoring and alterations) that aren’t outrageously priced.
Another changed space, just across the street, is The Clay Studio. Grazyna, who does fine and interesting ceramic work, has moved down from a large space on the third floor of the building into a more reasonably-sized room that incorporates her studio and gallery. I have spoken with this friendly artist before, and am happy to see that she has moved into this space and it looks to fit her just right. She’s bound to get much more attention at street level whereas the galleries that lurk in the upper floors of these buildings take awhile for people to discover yet are always worth the walk up.
In a short two blocks there was a bit of art theatre going on at Artists Inc, one of those bizarre scenarios that you have to watch for awhile. There was also Gord Lewis, of Teenage Head, and Chris Houston, another Hamilton rockero, accompanying a photography retrospective of punkers and rockers at the Sonic Unyon building - I think Gord was going to play but we had to leave. There was also a duo singing at the James North Gallery and an intense anti-smoking display at another new space put on by a group of university students . With a pig’s lung hanging in the window, they were intent on making a harsh point, but I got the impression it was mostly non-smokers hanging around anyway. The street is nothing if not eclectic.
There is a new boutique selling African and Indonesian art and imported items, the Tribal Gallery, just two doors down from the Woodpecker, which seems to me to sell basically the same stuff. It is wonderful to see a mix of cultures here though I don’t know how two such stores will survive in the same neighbourhood but I wish them both well.
Barbara Milne, at the Pearl Company, runs the Art Bus, taking people to openings around the Hamilton area on the first two Friday nights of each month. The second Friday the tour visits other local galleries in the central city with openings but also takes in the James Street North Art Crawl. I truly appreciate the Art Bus service – if you are in Hamilton on one of the first two Friday nights of the month, pay the $15 and leave your car at the Pearl and join the bus with Barbara’s enthusiastic commentary – it’s always a real enjoyable evening.
The warm summer evenings have always been busy on James Street North. Now that there is more and more to experience during the Art Crawl, and each new business brings in a new mix of followers, these Friday night events will be just that – big events. I hope that it spills over into bringing in good business throughout the month to the shops and galleries that line the street. Many of them offer locally produced items – like Mixed Media which is an art supply store but also carries local artists’ and writers’ work (including Walking with Wolf.) I have barely touched the list of artistic endeavours going on. I can’t imagine what James Street North will be looking like when I return in September. I hope it doesn’t outgrow its grassroots and start getting a corporate, chainstore effect going on. It’s magic is in the individual personalities of the businesses, their enthusiastic, energetic and talented owners, and the historic, funky character of the buildings that have come back to life on James Street North.
On a book related note, I received the new shipment of 2nd edition Walking with Wolf books. The truck was supposed to arrive on Friday – a day calling for pouring rain that had me worried - but there was a knock on my door Thursday morning (luckily I was home) and a trucker telling me that his great big tractor trailer wasn’t meant for my narrow residential street. Well, I coulda told him that if someone had asked me. When he opened the doors, there was my lonely little skid of boxes in an otherwise big ol’ empty trailer – carbon neutral be damned. My neighbour Bev came out and helped and we got those boxes of books into my house lickety split under a blue sky with no threat of rain. There’s a shipment of books headed to Costa Rica as well and Wolf and I will soon be visiting our old pal Eliecer, our customs man in Alajuela, to get them out of customs purgatory.
I’ve been working on my yard – the before and after pictures show my progress – and because of the tree that went down, it has now turned from a shady to sunny space. My yard consists of a terrace, beach, gardens, campground and work compound – it’s an oasis in the city and keeps me sane whenever I’m forced to be here and live like an urban animal.
I’ve had some real nice visits with friends who’ve come to say goodbye and know that I will be missing them soon enough.
So now I’m on my way, floating down a sweet stream and letting the current have its way with me. I am truly excited to be heading back to Costa Rica and Cahuita and Roberto and his jungle home. And to see Wolf again and take care of details involved in Caminando con Wolf, the Spanish translation of our book. The next time I write I’ll have monkey songs in my heart and wolf howls on my brain.
But I know I will be thinking fondly of the humble but hot-headed Hammer, wondering how she is doing – like a ragged mutt who has finally found love in a new home and is starting to shine with the attention. The prolific growth of creativity that is happening here is taking the Hammertown down her own stream (not the way of the Red Hill Creek I trust) – hopefully to an interesting and bright future. Shine on my Hammerhead friends! See you in the fall.
It is a warm evening here in Philadelphia. Today the sun was shining brightly enough to raise the temperature up close to 80 degrees (or 25 Celsius) – I returned to wearing the shorts I had been living in down in Costa Rica. I find myself in the heartland of the Quakers, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, and it isn’t just the air that is warm here. I’ve met a lot of friendly Friends over the last three days, kind-hearted souls with questioning minds.
When I left Maine on Tuesday, I stopped for the night at Carlos and Lidieth Guindon’s in New Hampshire. Carlos is getting near the end of translating Walking with Wolf. It is very exciting. When he is done, his hard work will be passed on to an editor and we will be another big step closer to seeing Caminando con Wolf become a reality. The poor man is not exactly translating English to Spanish – he is translating Canadian and Alabamian to Costa Rican. Carlos is not a professional translator, just a very smart man with a big heart who wants to see his father’s story made available to those Costa Ricans who don’t read English. It was a very enjoyable evening, discussing details of the book and catching up on our lives. It was particularly great to see Lidieth, who I knew back in the nineties when they were still living in Monteverde but who I haven’t seen in at least a decade. No matter where I go, when I run into Monteverde folk there is a strong connection, a common thread that binds us – our mutual love of that community and culture and remarkable natural landscape. And when they are Guindons, it is that much sweeter.
I left early in the morning from New Hampshire to get to Philadelphia for an evening talk. It was a very easy drive, right through New York City, on I-95, across the George Washington Bridge. The only bad traffic I ran into in eight hours of driving was the bottleneck that occurs on the east side of that bridge – there seems to be eight lanes of traffic on four different ramps all merging – it took me an hour to get onto and over the bridge, much of which I spent sitting beside this cemetary - not a particularly peaceful resting spot I’d say.
It gave me a chance to look around and snap pictures – I was sorry that I was moving too fast while on the bridge that I couldn’t take a good shot of the Empire State Building that I could see in the distance along with the rest of the famous skyline. Now that I have passed through the Big Apple, I am not at all intimidated for when I return there this weekend – maybe I’ll manage to get some good skyline pics this time.
I arrived mid-afternoon at my first Philadelphia stop, Westtown School. A Quaker school started in the late 1700s, this beautiful campus sits out on the west side of the Philadelphia area, incorporating some of the last farmland as part of its grounds – much in the area has been eaten up by development, apparently in just the last ten years – McMansionland, as someone called it appropriately.
Whitney, Quincy & Nora
My contact there was Whitney Suttel, a teacher who taught a few years ago at the Monteverde Friends School. She arranged a beautiful room for me to do my slide show and present the book – and a room in the Farmhouse, the overnight accommodation for Westtown. I was amazed at the size of the buildings of Westtown and the chimneys!
I’m not sure how many topped the high roof of the main building but they are so proud of their chimneys that they are spoken about in the school’s literature. Westtown is just one of many Quaker schools in this area – I’ve heard of so many Friends’ elementary, middle, high schools and colleges, I’ve lost count. There is no doubt that Philly must be the epicenter of earthQuakerism in the United States.
The talk was attended by a few students but being their free time, they were more tempted to be elsewhere. But each time I talk, there is always lots of enthusiasm by those who know Wolf and Monteverde and the others pick up on it. This was no exception – Whitney told her own stories of her experiences of walking with Wolf and there was also a student, Laura, who had lived with the Guindons when she did an exchange with Wolf’s granddaughter Noelia last year. And the biology teacher who has taken a number of groups to Monteverde and stayed down at Eladio’s in the Peñas Blancas valley – everyone has their own tales of their times spent with Wolf. There could easily be a second and third volume added to our original book, Walking with Wolf.
Early the next morning, I had to make my way into the Center City to Greene St. Friends School. The Spanish teacher, Sandra Rodriguez, had asked me to come and speak to the grade 7s and 8s – she goes to Costa Rica each year with the grade 7s – so all of these students had been in Monteverde. I started out from the bucolic countryside of Westtown, leaving in plenty of time and should have been able to arrive easily half an hour before I was to talk. However I ended up getting horribly lost, driving in the morning rush hour traffic, following cars up and down the wooded hill and valley roads, past the mansions and numerous academic institutions housed in big old stone buildings surrounded by big old hardwood trees. It would have all been lovely except for the fact that I was starting to think I would miss the whole class time and would be doing all this driving for nothing and leave Sandra very disappointed wondering where I was.
I finally drove past a corner store where I could ask directions and when I found out that I basically had to return to the point where I think I had gone wrong in the first place – by a different way, but still, miles backward it seemed – I was sure that I would never make the school in time. The traffic was thick everywhere and I was still not really sure how far I was and time was passing quickly. But just as I was truly feeling forlorn, I somehow miraculously came across one of the roads that I recognized as being where I was to turn to get to the school – and pulled into the parking lot with about 15 minutes to spare, enough time to set up the projector, get the power point in position, and wipe the sweat from my brow.
As it would happen, that was one of the nicest audiences I’ve talked to – maybe forty kids from diverse backgrounds, all who understood Quakerism, all who have been to Monteverde, many of whom have aspirations to write themselves. So when I finished my talk, there were lots of great questions and enthusiasm on the part of these young students. I always tell kids (well, anyone) that if I can write a book, anyone who can construct a good sentence and has a good story to tell surely can write their own book. It was a message that a lot of these kids seemed to want to hear.
When that was over I bravely faced downtown Philadelphia and headed to the University of Pennsylvania to drop off a book at the office of Dan Janzen, the famous biologist/conservationist who wrote the Natural History of Costa Rica. He has agreed to write a blurb for the back of the Spanish edition and I thought that dropping the book off at his office would be cheaper and easier than mailing one – ha! After driving up and down the busy streets then walking through the maze of university buildings for close to an hour trying to find his office, I once again questioned my reasoning.
I took the slow road out of the center of the city toward Pendle Hill, the Quaker spiritual and educational retreat. I have heard of this place from people in Monteverde but really didn’t know what to expect. It is a beautiful collection of old stone buildings on grounds full of native trees, with the magnolia flowers just fading, the redbuds shining brightly, the daffodils nodding happily and the leaves starting to appear throughout the canopy.
I spoke last night at Swarthmore College – originally a Quaker college made up of more large stone buildings on beautiful grounds very close to Pendle Hill. Mark Wallace, another former visitor to Monteverde, had invited me. Unfortunately the crowd was super small – Mark and a student and Sybil, a woman I know from Monteverde but haven’t seen in a few years. She was thrilled to come out and get a copy of the book and we all engaged in a great discussion about our experiences in Monteverde. It turned out that Mark and his children had been on the same hike that Whitney from Westtown had been on with Wolf, doing his crazy Tapir Trail in 2004, the year that he wasn’t able to complete the trail. I made the connection when Mark started talking about how his daughter had seen a fer-de-lance while on that hike – and remembered that Whitney had told the same tale, of a young girl seeing a fer-de-lance. It is a small world – they don’t know each other but had actually spent a few days in the wild and wooly cloud forest of Monteverde together and now work only miles apart from each other here in Philadelphia.
Here at Pendle Hill, Lloyd Guindon, Wolf’s nephew, is the groundskeeper and today, under that sparkling sun, he took me on a tour – telling me the history of some of the trees – such as the Dawn Redwood, a native tree that completely disappeared in this area until some were found in China and brought back – they are meta-sequoias, similar to the California Redwoods but not the same, and were just leafing out like the Larch or Tamarack trees (as we call them in Canada) would be doing.
There is also the State Champion American Beech tree on this campus – I always remember the beech trees at our cottage and how the smooth yet wrinkled grey trunks looked like elephant legs – this big ol’ tree was no exception. It is humungous – one has to wonder how much longer it can spread its big branches out but perhaps being recognized as the biggest in the state will keep it going for awhile longer. As do most of the staff here, Lloyd and his wife Robin and their children live in an old stone house on the campus. He is obviously and justifiably very proud of his work, taking care of this partially forested, partially meadowed land with a big organic vegetable garden and numerous flower beds, mostly filled with native plants and perennials.
At each meal I talk with some of the people studying and working here. There are several writers about and I find myself being the “published author” and sharing my own experiences – when did this happen? I often wonder to myself. When did I become someone who knows something about writing and publishing a book? I amaze myself – enough to think I can write another one.
Tonight I dined with Lauri Perlman, the director here at Pendle Hill. She explained some of the history of the place to me – how a small group of Quakers decided that they wanted to start this spiritual retreat as an alternative to Swarthmore College – and made the decision to go ahead back in 1929, four days after the big stock market crash that brought on the Depression. As she said, what a courageous move they made, and obviously a smart one as Pendle Hill is thriving eighty years later. She said that she uses that as an example when people are so concerned about going forward in these times of great economic worry – if that group of visionaries could stick with their plan to expand the small meeting at the time into something of this relevance and make it work during the Depression, then maybe we shouldn’t be so worried about taking risks in these troubling times either. If you have a smart plan and work at it diligently, you just might find success despite the fears that rain down from the doomsayers that abound, in our neighbourhoods and in our media.
Tomorrow I will be reading from the book and hopefully having an interesting discussion with folks over the lunch hour. I’ll then be set up to sell and sign books for a couple of hours in the bookstore. It is supposed to be getting close to 90 degrees – I’ll no doubt be wishing I was swimming in the ocean. As soon as the work is done, I’ll be getting back in my car and driving a couple hours north, back to New York City, to go hear my friend Memo play with a Cuban band in the city and do a book presentation on Sunday afternoon. I am very thankful to Lloyd, Mark, Sandra and Whitney, the folks who brought me here to beautiful Philadelphia. I leave with very warm memories of the Friends, their stone houses and the rich green life that flourishes around them.
I am still in Freeport Maine. The weather has turned to spring bit by bit, but the clouds are moving in again and it would appear that we are going to be cold this weekend. Oh well, if one dances harder, you warm up just fine.
Did a talk at the Maine Audubon Society’s Gilsland Farm in Falmouth the other night. A nice crowd – half were Audubon folks, the other half friends from this area. Was great to see everyone and they all seemed to enjoy the presentation. Only sold a couple of books but as long as I keep my expectation low (selling one makes me happy) then I’m not disappointed.
I’ve stayed on here at Mast Landing Sanctuary with Peter and Cocky, who, as always, feed me healthy food, share whatever dancefloor we can find and keep the conversation stimulating. We have decades of history together, much of it while being social activists in the Temagami area of northeastern Ontario, and never fault for political talk. They went to Cuba this year (I was there maybe five years ago) and what with the American government’s change in policy towards Cuba happening quickly at Obama’s hand, we are all wondering how Cuba will fare as the wealthy Cuban-Americans return to their homeland and the American tourists follow. I sure hope that the Cuban government has some sort of transition plan ready. Cuba will never be the same – and some think that is good, but ”progress” could just as easily turn against the people of Cuba as work for alleviating poverty or hardship.
Best of…with Jacob Augustine on right
Cocky and I went to an event in Portland the other night – the Best of Portland – with free food and music, it was a celebration of the best of everything in the city. It was quite the crowd – we met music promoters, the guy who did the interior design of the building we were in, musicians, insurance men…well, a wide swath of Portland’s finest. The food was phenomenal – a bistro version of tamales, divine - and the music – well, we really only caught one act, Jacob Augustine, a great big bear of a man with a small horn and string section behind him – an act we’d both go and and see again. Great political, social commentary with a rocking backbeat.
I am now preparing to talk to a class at Bowdoin College in nearby Brunswick on Monday. I’m also staying on top of all the details of Philadelphia (which has grown to 4 presentations in 3 days) and the Sunday afternoon at Marian Howard’s home in the Bronx in NYC. So each day I’m doing a little work, trying to keep the focus, but mostly enjoying being here with my friends, getting out for walks in the sunshine and dancing most nights. Our pal Dennis came over last night and you couldn’t stop us – put four dancers in a room with a huge selection of music and you almost have to shoot us to get us to stop (or remind half of the folks that they have work early the next day – that’ll get them home.)
And I made an executive decision to not go to the west coast this summer. I haven’t got enough lead time to plan it properly and get booked in places I’d like to be (and my sister is starting a new job this year and therefore may not have the flexibility to spend time with me.) It felt like a huge relief when I finally decided that I can’t do it all. I can now stay longer in Costa Rica when I return there in May and that sounds just fine to me.
I was invited up to the Chewonki Foundation, an environmental education center near Wiscasset Maine, just a half an hour north of here. As serendipity would have it, Katy Van Dusen, a friend and great supporter of the book in Monteverde – along with her two sons, Richard and Francis – were visiting the area, checking out the colleges that the boys have been accepted to as they continue their education here in the States in September. The director of Chewonki, Willard, along with his wife Jenn and their young daughter Sirena invited us all for dinner and I had the joy and privilege of seeing this world class outdoor classroom and dining with a table full of interesting people. It was also wonderful to be with Monteverde people in Maine, to talk about Wolf, get an update on Benito’s sloth, and tell stories from the Tapir Trail (Wolf has just sent me an email proclaiming this week Tapir Trail week – you had to have walked this difficult path over the ridges between Monteverde and Arenal, or minimally have read the last chapter of Walking with Wolf, to appreciate the significance.) I felt like a breath of home had whispered in my ear.
Since then I’ve danced away the kabanga blues with the Blues Dogs at the Freeport Cabaret (believing this sardine-packed house was a normal night out in the little LL Bean town), and swirled and swished and sipped a variety of great wines at the Freeport Cheese and Wine’s little wine tasting event.
I also visited with Cocky’s brother Henry and his wife Christine - even more stimulating talk aided by the addition of her mom Pat who is supposed to be suffering from alzheimer but seemed awfully witty to me - and today did the ten minute talk at Nat’s class at Bowdoin.
A very interesting class for me, listening to Nat’s stories from Monteverde and about Dan Janzen, the well-known biologist and conservationist now at the University of Pennsylvania, who wrote the naturalist’s bible on Costa Rica - The Natural History of Costa Rica - and is also going to provide an endorsement blurb for the back of Caminando con Wolf, the Spanish version of our book. I’m going to be taking a copy of the English version to him in Philly this week, so hearing of his powerful work, his irreverent personality and his intriguing style as a speaker which has all contributed to a new kind of conservation in Costa Rica has really got me excited about possibly meeting the man.
No two characters on earth could be more fun or better friends than Cocky and Peter -they’ve been so generous and supportive all week, giving me love and soul nourishment constantly along with their wisdom and advice. They know I love them – but here and now I declare it publicly!
With my gang of Mainiac friends at the Audubon talk
I’m going to get in that car tomorrow and start driving right straight on through New York City to Philadelphia – they tell me that’s the only way to go, I95 all the way. Last night, I spoke with Roberto, holding down la finca in Cahuita – giving me an update of the plants we had planted, the monkeys who were stealing his ripe bananas and the death of a character in the area who has haunted me for years – with all due respect, I can’t say I’m sad to see him go. Roberto told me that he prays for me every night, that I’ll be okay out on the highways. I thank him for that, and promise to be very careful – and with that said, Noo Yawk & Philly here I come, highways and bi-ways make room!