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My friend Laurie Hollis-Walker recruited me as cook for an August weekend gathering she organizes called ECO Camp. My friendship with Laurie goes back to the Red Squirrel Road
blockade in Temagami, Ontario in 1989, an experience that brought her to her present academic world of eco-psychology. After doing her research for her Bachelor and Master’s degrees studying the activists involved in the Temagami action, Laurie went on to design and teach the first university course in Canada in eco-psychology at Brock University in St. Catherines.

An important feature of the course for her students was a weekend spent together in the forest not far from the campus, a time for renewal of spirit in a natural setting. These class retreats evolved into a larger gathering bringing together students, academics and concerned citizens of various ages and experience. An activist and therapist from Guelph, Sally Ludwig, who is one of Laurie’s mentors, joined with her vision and together they brought ECO Camp to life.

Laurie is also a colleague of Joanna Macy, a scholar and writer in Berkeley, California, who is the brain and soul behind “The Work that Reconnects.” Her work serves to support the community of activists – academic, grassroots, political – who become overwhelmed by despair in this troubled world. Ms Macy has worked worldwide helping people overcome despondency to carry on their work against the raging Machine. Many of the rituals that make up ECO Camp are based on her work. Much of the discussion is about the burn-out inherent in environmental and social activism – considering that for so many taking on issues in this complex, troubled world it is a life-long commitment.  As someone who has been paying attention to the issues since I was young, I can understand the frustration, anger and fear that arises in one’s soul as the news seems to get grimmer, the answers more complex, and the solutions further from our collective grasp.

Laurie arranged for me to stay at a small cottage on Lake Erie – the “great lake” that connects Detroit and Niagara Falls – for the week prior to the camp where I could prepare some of the food. This would then allow me to participate in parts of the program on the weekend itself. I was present at one of the first camps a few years ago. This year was the fifth year and up until now, Laurie had not only organized and facilitated the gathering, but also been the head cook. As someone who believes in only biting off as much as one can chew, I couldn’t imagine that this was an ideal situation for anyone to take on that much responsibility, so I was happy to take the job – partly for the money but as much to support Laurie, allowing her to put her energy in the workshops which I could also take part in when not stirring soup.

I enjoyed the humble home belonging to Laurie’s student Emma and her family, but I’ve never been a fan of Lake Erie. I was introduced to crystal clear lakes in the north as a child, so I have had the privilege of growing up with a high ideal of what a healthy body of water is. In my lifetime, I’ve probably been to Lake Erie at least a dozen times and only ever felt comfortable swimming in her questionable waters when we sailed far out from her shores that too often made me think of bathtub ring.

Still, I spent a relaxed week watching the seagulls frolic on the rocks under the sun, the lights of ships passing under the moon as it grew plumper each night with bright meteors exploding around her in the heavens. Each morning, I spent some time cooking, listening to CBC radio, and thought about the possibility of swimming, an idea I rejected each afternoon when I saw no change to the scum that sullied the lake edge.

The moon was full by the time we moved the boxes of food to the camp. I spent four days feeding people healthy, mostly vegetarian food. I have cooked for groups for most of my adult life in some form or other and recognize that it is important, now more than ever, to pay attention to people’s dietary requirements. Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, lactose-intolerant, allergies…along with trying to eat local, organic and generally healthy, it is a challenge to get it right for everyone. But I was a vegetarian for years and never found it hard to make great food without meat and fish. Nowadays there are so many products available to replace milk, eggs and cheese that doing vegan isn’t difficult as long as you have the right attitude and pay attention.

Part of the program called for participants to, well, participate…as in help out with the necessities including in the kitchen. So I had some great helpers – Marissa, Ingrid, Drew, Helen, Russ, Jenn, Jess – who peeled, sliced, washed, tossed and took my direction with good humor. Jess arrived with donated organic produce from gardens and cooperatives in the Guelph area, bags bursting with collard greens, kale and kohlrabi. Marissa was the cheery and functional morning person who got up with me extra early to make breakfast.

In the kitchen, when pots are bubbling and hunger is looming, it can be easy to shout out quick directions minus those essential terms “please (do this) and thank
you (for doing that).”  The gentle, soft-spoken, very helpful Ingrid, as well as the others, took my brusqueness in stride and accepted my thank-you’s when I managed to stop for a second and make sure the workers understood that I appreciated all they were doing.

The one vegan in the crowd, sweet Dan, was appreciative for the dishes we made that met his requirement. He told me how he is often maligned for his diet and political beliefs and was happy that I embraced him. Although I am no longer a vegetarian, and never was a vegan, I have great respect for those who follow their principles, guided by any number of good reasons, and eat what is the least offensive and most ecologically-intelligent diet. Making vegan dishes is always interesting, they can be just as tasty and are usually healthier than carnivorous fare, so it wasn’t just Dan that enjoyed the mac & cheese made with a nutritional yeast cheesy-type sauce and rice noodles or the raw nibbles made with dates and nuts. Dan became a vegetarian at 10 years of age while living in beef-fed Calgary, against the best wishes of his parents, and then moved on to being a vegan a few years later. I say, Bravo Dan! May the rest of the planet learn to live as gently and thoughtfully as you rather than shifting to super-sizing Mc-slaughterhouse fare. Be proud and live with a free conscience dear Dan, and don’t let them get you down.

Art installation by Steve Mazza and Steve Hudak

The first day of ECO-Camp was devoted to the participants sharing their despair over the state of the earth, the loss of our brethren creatures, and our precarious future. Through a series of workshops and rituals, each person could express in a supportive environment their sadness, anger and overwhelming sense of loss as it pertains to our beautiful home, Mother Earth. There was a powerful presentation by Peter Timmerman, Professor of Environmental Studies at York University, titled “Mourning and Melancholia: 7 Wounds We Live With,” following the progression of environmental decline, the movements that have arisen to deal with each issue, and our collective emotional response. Starting in the 1940s and the advent of nukes, through the chemical poisoning of the land and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, acid rain killing our waters, to the extinction of species, the depleted ozone and global warming. Each one of these atrocities has caused a reaction, ecological, political, social and spiritual, that collectively we keep trying to deal with while the greedy – what I call “the Machine”, or musician/activist Manu Chao calls “the Mafia”– continue to drag us along a destructive and ultimately fatal path. The most recent, the last of the seven wounds, is the changing of life itself  through cloning and genetic-modification, and Peter pointed out that the environmental movement has barely started this latest fight to keep life on our planet somewhat true to its natural form.

Peter’s discussion was joined by a beautiful, if shocking and disturbing, slide show put together by Laurie. She mounted both positive and negative images that illustrated the seven wounds and the precious body called earth that is being continuously scarred. The music that accompanied the pictures sent shivers through my body, a soundtrack of tribal rhythms, earth sounds and voices that both pummeled my heart and caressed my soul. The pieces were “My heart is moved by all I cannot save”, based on a poem by Adrienne Rich with music composed and sung by Carol McDade; “Initiation” written and composed by guitarist Tommy Emmanuel; and “Tombeau” by David R Walker – who is also Laurie’s very talented husband known in the guitar world as Dr. Dave. Magical music.

The second day featured solo walks in the surrounding forest for each of the participants – I stayed in the kitchen – and concluded with a wonderful gathering called the Council of All Beings. Time was allowed for each of us to get creative and make masks so that we could come to the council representing one of earth’s beings: we joined as trees, water, a cardinal, spider, skunk, deer, moth, and even a human being who took it upon himself to listen to the creatures as we expressed our concerns for our mutual home. It was a gathering to discuss our struggles under the assault of greed, exploitation and stupidity.

I was a two-toed sloth. My main message was that everyone – including activists, artists, teachers, and musicians – everyone needs to slow down. As I move between my jungle home on the Caribbean in Costa Rica, to busy Monteverde in the mountains and return to the northern industrial world of Canada, I find that almost everyone I know is spinning, faster and faster, trying to produce, to create, to learn, to earn, to develop – struggling over the sharing of our precious resources, making ourselves sick with stress. Perhaps if we took a lesson from the gentle peaceful sloth and slowed down, we might all live better.

Fortunately, I am generally not a person overwhelmed by despair, depression or anxiety though that isn’t to say I never feel these things. Perhaps that comes from the positive example and teachings of my mother, perhaps it is my personality, perhaps it is the fact that I have lived most of my adult life surrounded by nature which replenishes my spirit daily – most likely it is all these things together that allow me to pay attention to what is going on around me but not be overwhelmed (usually).

The best thing to do when I’m bothered by something is to take action and to surround myself with others who are taking action which has led me to many protests and peaceful gatherings. By my own design, I live as close to the earth as possible. I live well with very little and my happiness comes from things that don’t cost much – my friends, music, dancing, walks in the woods, swimming in the sea, listening to the birds. Although I am as outraged as anyone at the many injustices, rich mens’ wars, poor womens’ suffering and the corporate takeover of the world, I generally don’t hold on to rage and I work against feeling despondent. As much as I feel sick when thinking of those who are barely surviving, I also feel concern for how much stress and fear people live with, something I witness both here in North  America but also in Costa Rica.

Having said that, I do find myself in a lingering moment of sadness that’s been triggered by the death of two great men. All Canadians will know that we have just lost Jack Layton, a man known for his activism, his eternal optimism, his humor, and his recent rise in the government to a position where we believe that he could affect positive social change that he has been committed to all his life. A year ago he announced he had prostate cancer, was beating it, and then a month ago, looking frail and sounding worse, he told us he was fighting a new cancer. Just weeks later, he was dead. It has been a huge loss for those of us who felt that we finally had a strong visionary in a political position of power who would speak on behalf of the poor, the disenfranchised and the environment as well as inspire youth to be involved in the process. In a final letter to Canadians he wrote words that will be a lasting part of his legacy:

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

On Sunday I was watching the video of his memorial in Toronto, an amazing collection of eulogies and music that made my spirit soar but also brought tears. I was just beginning to recover and was ready to carry on when I read the shocking news (on Facebook) that one of the most prolific, talented and revered musicians in Costa Rica, Fidel Gamboa, had died suddenly of a heart attack just a few weeks after his fiftieth birthday.

Along with that whole tiny nation, I was devastated for the loss of a man who has composed some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. I fell under the spell of his music when it was performed by a group called Probus back in about 1994. It took my breath away with its seductive slow melody for a voice rising above discordant strings. It reminded me of music from a group from Quebec called Conventum, who had seduced me similarly back in the late 70s. I was amazed to find such similar music being played in two very distinct, distant, small societies.

Fidel grew up playing music in a musical family, graduated with a history of arts degree from the University of Habana in Cuba, and was a prolific composer as well as part of Adrián Goizueta’s experimental jazz group in Costa Rica for decades. Fidel was notoriously shy and it took his brother, Jaime, also a musician and poet, and his friends Manuel Obregón and Iván Rodríguez (presently the Minister and Vice-Minister of Culture in Costa Rica and phenomenal musicians in their own right) to convince him to join together with them to form the band Malpaís. This Costa Rican “supergroup” began gracing stages about ten years ago. To their surprise, Malpaís was not only received warmly by all ages and regions of Costa Rica but became troubadours, historians, and basically musical deities. They played the music written by the Gamboa brothers – often Jaime’s lyrics to Fidel’s music – and it spoke for the country’s past, present and future. Their music gives a melody to the landscape and resonates with the humility and heart of its people. Their music is pure poetry.

Fidel will be as missed in Costa Rica as Jack will be in Canada, but his huge catalogue of music, recorded by almost every significant musical group in the country as well as by performers elsewhere in the Latin world and gracing the soundtracks of many films and documentaries, will live on and continue to touch all who hear and feel it. I share these few words that finish Fidel’s beautiful song Como un pájaro (Like a bird) and hope you will find your way (http://www.grupomalpais.com/) to much more of his and Malpaís’ beautiful music.

Y cantando, Y cantando así sin voz y sin aliento, Y cantando así sin voz y
sin aliento, como aquel primer amor entre tu pecho…

“Como un árbol, como un árbol sacudido por el viento,  Y cantando…como un pájaro en lalluvia, vuelo lejos…”

“And singing, singing so voiceless and breathless, singing so voiceless and breathless, as when that first love enters your chest…

“Like a tree, like a tree shaken by the wind… and singing…like a bird in the rain, flying away….”

I thank both Jack and Fidel (and another man of vision, our dear Wolf Guindon – who, by the way is doing very well I am told) and the many others in the world like them who inspire us with their words and actions. They are who keep me from feeling despair and remind me to continue with hope and optimism.

One of the best things about traveling is putting places into perspective. I love maps and can decipher them easily, but even with that visual understanding, it isn’t until you go to a place that you finally understand the lay of the land. This trip to California has finally given me a real sense of where places are in the Sunshine State and how they are related to each other.

I came up from LA to the Bay Area for a number of reasons. One was to visit Wolf’s son, Tomás, and meet his wife Gretchen and his children Julian and Olivia. I last saw Tomás in St. Louis Missouri back in 2003 when Wolf received the Conservation Action Prize for his life time of work protecting the Monteverde forest.

Tomás remarried and moved to California in the late 90s and with Gretchen they’ve had two beautiful children to add to the Guindon clan. It was wonderful to spend a couple of days with them. They gave me a great tour of the area and treated me to some delicious pizza from The Cheeseboard in Berkeley – where they only make one kind of pizza a day but it is always delicious – and some great Mexican from the Cactus Taqueria near them in Oakland. Was delicious Mexican food – apparently they use local fresh ingredients – and their spicing was a stretch beyond the norm.  How happy am I to be in the land of fine eateries.

They live in the Oakland Hills where Gretchen grew up. She had great stories of the place including her memories of the Oakland Firestorm of 1991 that destroyed 4000 homes and killed 25 people. Some of her extended family’s homes survived – they now live in one of these. Rebuilding the city brought in new architecture and just around the corner there is a simple yet unique house built by Bernard Maybeck. I was impressed with its design and also the fact it is only 1400 square feet though it has the presence of a mansion.

We went over to the Bay Area Discovery Museum near the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. In my short time in the Bay Area, I managed to see the bridge from half a dozen different angles – it is a real sentinel in the bay. I will be returning to San Francisco in a few days and will drive back and forth over that bridge. If I have seen no other iconic landmark on this trip, I’ll have seen the Golden Gate Bridge plenty.

      

At the Discovery Museum, we went to a kiddies’ concert by a very enjoyable songwriter and performer named Francis England. With her band, she was lively for the children, the songs were rockin’ and the lyrics were soft and sweet and smart.

I really enjoyed this concert – the audience of mostly under 6’s (and their parents) was as enthusiastic as the Brazilians at the Caetano Veloso concert in LA last week. I’m good with all kinds of music and tend to pick up on the excitement of others and thus enjoy new music even more – which was easy to do with these kids (and their folks) all singing and shouting and dancing along.

Gretchen told me that Olivia is known for taking serious looking photos, but I managed to get a few great shots of her laughing. I always bond quickly with dogs and cats, but kids can be tricky. Some are reticent to be friends too fast – if they are in their ‘making strange’ phase – but by the time I left, little Olivia was letting me spend time alone with her, for a few minutes anyway, lower lip quivering but no actual tears.

Her big brother Julian had so much fun in the children’s playground at the museum that he had a real hard time leaving – but don’t we all know that sooner or later, no matter how much fun we are having, we usually have to leave and go home. This was a great playground of wooden pirate ships and musical instruments and sea creatures floating in shallow waterways so it was a lot of magic for one little guy to have to resist.

The other reason I came to the Bay area was to begin the official Walking with Wolf takes the West Coast tour. The whole family went with me on Sunday to the Strawberry Creek Friends meeting. Held in a rented room at an academy close to downtown Berkeley, it is a fairly large meeting and apparently one popular with activists. It was suggested by my friend Roberta Llewellyn that I arrange to talk at this meeting as the Friends here would be very interested in the work done in Monteverde. Thanks to Roberta’s contacts and promotion, I had a wonderful time presenting the story, sold a number of books and met a nice bunch of people, many with their own stories about Monteverde and Wolf. If I haven’t said this enough times in this blog so far, the side benefit of the book is the opportunity to go out and meet people, particularly Friends. They give me hope for the future. I can only imagine how many tales of wisdom and activism were represented there that day. Thank you Roberta and Strawberry Creek Meeting for that warm reception (and Dick Strong who provided the projector).

Sunday afternoon I hooked up with Laurie Hollis-Walker who came down from Grimsby, Ontario to join me in a roadtrip through the redwoods to northern California. This is a dream come true. I’ve wanted to know these beautiful large sisters of the forest forever, linger in their shadow, spread my arms wide to embrace them. Laurie is working on her PhD in Psychology, interviewing the activists from the late 80s and 90s, delving deeply into what makes activists commit their lives to the well-being of the earth and how they survive the traumas that come with active participation in the process. It is an honour to meet these passionate souls who barricaded and blockaded, supported and spread the word, lived in trees and held out against the corporation that wanted to come in and liquidate the forest.

Laurie managed to find the time to come to California at the same time as I was going to be here to conduct her own work and we are headed north to the Lost Coast and Arcata and Smith River as well as a number of other hot spots in the story of the Redwoods. She will take me to visit some of the colourful individuals she has been working with, as well as to meet as many of her “friends”, the tall trees, as possible. For my part, I’m keeping track of how far north the palm trees go.

We had a day to pass in the city first though, as Laurie had to meet with an associate while in Berkeley. I went by BART (rapid transit) into the downtown core of San Francisco to visit a couple of thrift stores, needing more warm clothes then I had with me for the occasion. And I wanted a funky thing or two as a souvenir of San Francisco. The Goodwill store  on Geary near Hyde satisfied my cravings.

I headed out by city bus to the western shore of the city to see Punta Lobos. The windblown trees, the eroding cliffs, the blustery sea and the Golden Gate Bridge, once again in the background, were a sharp contrast to the rolling hills, street people, and big ol’ buildings in the downtown of the city. It was my first taste of being around big trees, though here they were windswept like the trees in the elfin cloud forest above Monteverde.

I did get a sense of how big San Francisco is, for it has mostly finite borders, at least on three sides, and I took a bus across its width, east to west. I also got to stand back in Oakland, Berkeley and on the north shore of the bay and look at it some more. It is truly a geographically diverse area of ocean, mountain, forest and beach. Just as LA seemed smaller to me than I had imagined it would, San Francisco seemed bigger. Hmmm, perceptions shift when faced with the reality.

Laurie and I stayed in Berkeley in a comfy little studio house that she rented through the VRBO site – Vacation Rentals by Owner. It is a good way to have a home away from home, though not the cheapest for this dirt-floor-sleeper from the jungle. However I’m getting ideas of what I can do with my house in the Hammer. Laurie’s also an incredible packer, having included all sorts of extras in her bags to make sure we have whatever our hearts desire.

I can understand why this area has attracted the movers and shakers in so many social movements. There is an energy in the Bay Area that makes me think of the Monteverde clouds. Several layers of intense movement, each strata having their purpose, heading in deliberate directions, collecting their forces to create storms that stir up the earth.

 What a week! It seems that everything possible has been said about the election of Barack Obama.  I follow the celebrations of my friends in phone conversations, by the internet and on Facebook – particularly the Minniejean Brown Trickey family from Little Rock, Arkansas. After a lifetime devoted to civil rights, her work now being carried on by the next generation, Jean must still be whooping and hollering in Little Rock (when not crying for the sheer joy of it all – she’s actually crying below over finally receiving her high school diploma fifty years late in 2007.)jean-weeping

 Jean was one of the nine teenagers who stood up to the taunts, jeers and physical abuse of the indignant and racist white crowd in 1957 and desegregated Central High School, a massive tomb of an institution in that otherwise smallish southern city of Little Rock Arkansas.  Perhaps my heart explodes in festive fireworks for her more than anyone, she being the personal face I can picture amidst all the happy masses.  I saw Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey, tears in their eyes, in the crowd at Obama’s Chicago celebration – but I was thinking about Jean and her daughter Spirit and the rest of their clan in Little Rock and beyond and how they must  be feeling. 

z-ceremony-jean-clintons I was at the 50th celebration of the Little Rock Nine in Arkansas last year and it was an incredible occasion – Obama’s former opponents, the Clintons, front and center – and how much more potent it would have been if they had known then that the next president was going to be an African-American.  Jean was one of those who started paving this long road to change that Obama is now promising to continue to remove the barriers from.

Everyone I know personally is revelling in the results of the election, yet I know that there are many who are devastated by the election of Obama.  If that is due to their extreme right-wing views, as life-long Republicans, well, fine…that is no different than any other win/lose situation in politics (and I’ve felt that kind of disappointment more times than not.)  However, if their devastation is due to racism, that they have a problem with a black man, an African-American, being their leader, then I have no time for that mentality.  Get over it.  Open your minds. Open your hearts. Erase the hatred and widen your belief system. 

Our world is small, beautifully diverse, and needs to be integrated in a peaceful and intelligent way.  And equalized.  Across races, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, abilities and class. We have no choice.  How we can have such wide diversity in thought and desire as such a very real part of our human condition but not respect our differences is perhaps one of the biggest questions I grapple with. Yet sometimes we can’t even come to peaceful decisions with our family or neighbours, those who we know and love.  Although I am not a Quaker, there is much of their wisdom that I adhere to naturally – pacifism, consensus, respect, community. Being alive and living communally is a constant challenge. If we proceed with open hearts and minds, and make positive steps forward, with love, in harmony, in health, in peace, we will get a little closer to justice and sanity bit by bit. 

                                                           

It is so refreshing to me to have a leader, anywhere in the world, that I can listen to for more than a minute without wanting to scream.  Barack Obama is a magnetic man, a great orator, and wise person – who somehow managed to never lose his cool through the months of stressful politicking. As I continue to follow the analysis of the pundits, I listen to how his sturdiness and strength of mind is already part of his power.  And the beauty of the man and his family is only icing on the visual cake that we will now be feasting on for the next four (hopefully eight) years.

On Wednesday, the morning after, I was the visiting activist at my friend Laurie Hollis-Walker’s Eco-Psychology class at Brock University in St. Catherines.  Laurie and I became friends on the Temagami blockade in 1989, lost touch until she contacted me several years later to be part of her undergrad thesis she was preparing.  She interviewed me, along with ten other participants from the blockade, investigating what had compelled us to be part of this civil disobedience – where we had come from, what had molded us, why we had taken part in the blockade, and what this experience had meant in our lives. It had uniformly been a very profound experience for each of us – as Laurie said, after overseeing all the interviews, we have much in common, mainly the deep belief that we had to take action when we saw injustice.  It was a life-intensifying experience for most of us and also introduced me to some of the most committed, colorful, and interesting people I have ever met, many of whom I am still connected with. I believe we are going to have a twenty-year anniversary camp up in the bush of Temagami next September and look forward to reconnecting with those who I have lost contact with.

                                                               

It was following that profound experience deep in the Temagami wilderness that I went to Costa Rica and, very quickly, met Wolf and started recording his stories.  Although I had been involved in environmental and peace causes for years, it was the blockade that really empowered me and, I have to believe, led me to Wolf and the eventual completion of our book.

laurie1

A year ago, Laurie and I reconnected in cyberspace and she took on the huge task of doing the layout of Walking with Wolf.  We have now stayed in much closer contact which has included me being part of her Eco-Psych class.  This is her third semester teaching this class that she developed – and my second time sitting in as specimen activist.  This time I also did a presentation on the book.  I am so proud of Laurie, her hard work and perseverance in following a path that helps others understand what is behind social activism.  We are not deviants.  We are believers.  We are not criminals.  We take risks according to what we believe is important and absolutely necessary for the future and well-being of our society and planet. Our power comes from our collective spirit and our firm desire for positive change with a vision, not from material wealth or social status. Laurie is now working on her PhD and studying the activists who have been protecting the redwoods in California for years, a much more aggressive and dangerous activism than what we experienced in Temagami so many years ago.

I also spoke with Wolf and Lucky today.  They are at the end of their American sojourn – from Connecticut through Ohio (see Not Only Olney post), Iowa and now they are in California with their son Tomas, his wife Gretchen and their grandson Julian. They head back to Costa Rica on Monday, happy to have been present in the US at the time of this historical election. They were out yesterday in the Muir Forest, those redwoods that Laurie has been visiting. Wolf presented Walking with Wolf  to Lucky’s family and their friends in Earlham, Iowa and didn’t have enough books for the demand! Hopefully those who want the book will contact me or Kathryn as is explained in the Buy this Book page of this blog and we will send them.  I will be heading to Costa RIca at the end of December (after a couple weeks with friends in Guatemala) and we will work away at getting the book out in Costa Rica. We had a new plan, a renewed sense of hope and lotsa vigor! I know, it’s a tough job but someone has to do it – and that someone would be me – and the Wolf. He’s been selling so well that I have to ship more boxes down. Watch out Ticolandia! Wolf is coming home.

muir-woods

There is no comparison between anything I have ever done to what people like Barack Obama, Jean Trickey, Laurie Hollis-Walker or Wolf Guindon have accomplished against all odds, but I inherently understand and respect how sincere and correct their commitment has been for a better world and a more just society. I am honored and blessed to have known these people (well, not Barack of course, but maybe one day…) who have made big differences in the world and influenced so many others by the constance of their actions and the strength of their beliefs and the rightness of their vision. Perhaps, in the wake of this incredible election, the rugged path followed by some will widen into a wide boulevard filled with strong loving souls, leading us toward a more just and inclusive world.

                                                                    Red-necked Wallaby

And just an update on Wendell the Wallaby, the marsupial who walked up a fallen tree trunk and out of his enclosure in a small animal park near Ottawa, Ontario.  Before the snow falls, this poor creature better get home to his woolies cause it’s a dangerous world for a wallaby out there.  It has actually been a very mild week here in central Canada and I’m sure that is helping his survival.  He has hopped his way across the fields far from Ottawa – almost to where my pals live in Westport – uh? remember the coyote gang? – but the most recent sightings have been back near Ottawa.  He has wandered across hundreds of miles, kilometers, whatever you want to measure in. A long long way.  For some reason, in this week of global elation and history-making politics, I remain highly concerned with the well-being of Wendell. Perhaps I see some symbolism in this innocent creature out there in the world, lost, no doubt scared, but obviously determined to get somewhere. Maybe he is representative of all those folks who have found themselves wandering in a strange world, trying to survive on their natural instincts and with their own strengths, only to be more lost and less powerful with each mile they travel but always with the possibility that they will make it home. Or maybe I’m just a wannabe-wallaby who has spent the last week worried over the fate of our world and who would be the next American president, and Wendell has provided a distraction from the bigger issues as well as titulated my gypsy blood. Now that the president is taken care of, and the Lucky Wolf is almost back in Monteverde, come on, Wendell, get on home.

A book is created in many stages: first, the idea has to come to you about what you simply must write, working its way from some small niggling in the depth of your being to an AHA! moment when you truly see the possibility, the life of the project, laid out in front of you; then the writing starts, bogs down, starts again, stops, creeps ahead – dependent on you to keep it alive with one eye constantly searching the endless horizon of this new world you have inhabited, somehow able to see through the clouds and fog that there is a future in what you are doing; the horribly anal process of editing the writing, dissecting each word, sentence and paragraph -just like cleaning a messy house, it will get worse before it gets better; and finally placing your precious manuscript in a package that will appeal to buyers, engage readers, and most importantly do justice to your original concept. 

In my case, I chose to self-publish Walking with Wolf rather than spend the time, energy and money on convincing an agent or publisher that it would be worth their while to invest in me and my manuscript.  It was a decision that came to me slowly.  This book was written in Canada by a Canadian, about a man and community in Costa Rica, with a backdrop critical of American history. Although I know that the market for the book can be huge, I wasn’t sure if a publisher in any one country would see the possibilities as I do.  However, when I returned from Costa Rica in the spring of 2006, having “finished” writing the manuscript, I was bent on finding someone to take over the completion of the book.  I imagined myself at home, following the instructions sent by the pros, returning perfectly edited copy, giving my final approval on artistic decisions, relaxing with cups of coffee and glasses of merlot in between.  I didn’t stay in this unreal world for very long.  Once I had taken a breather and truly looked at what was involved with selling my manuscript to a publisher (and after hearing numerous horror stories by authors who had totally lost control of their work) I decided that I was going to keep this project in-house, maintain control and finish the course myself. That simple, naive decision placed me on a whole new learning curve – out of my experience, way out of my comfort zone – and into the hands of the professionals I hired to help me, artists who in short order became mentors and friends.

In February of 2007, on the recommendation of friends in Guelph, Ontario, I hired Jane Pavanel, a professional editor in Montreal.  I went to meet her and spent a night in her home, to see if we might be able to work together, and immediately liked her and her family.  I am not a detail oriented person, much more into wide concepts (while others stop to identify a tree, I’ll keep on skipping merrily through the forest), but have come to appreciate the personality of an editor – totally anal, completely obsessed with minute detail, capable of visualizing the overall picture being painted even when it is out of their personal realm of experience.  I then spent three months in Costa Rica working with Wolf, crawling through Jane’s editorial vision which arrived by internet on a regular basis. We sat on the shady porch of my little wooden casita in Monteverde and worked our way through the manuscript, rewriting, clarifying, reworking.  Jane quickly became known as “the dastardly” – and her ears must have burned to a crisp back in Montreal as we growled and grumbled our way through the work.  I have absolutely no doubt that the book is much better for the editing, and for Jane’s careful criticism, but the process nearly drove me crazy. How could she not understand what we were saying? How stupid can she be? For the first time in all the years of working on this project, it was I who was more impatient than Wolf, and he spent a lot of time calming me down. One evening at a party in Monteverde, I stood around a bonfire with two other local authors, Jim Wolfe and Mark Wainwright, who were also in the editing process of their current book projects, and we fried editors everywhere, like hot dogs skewered on long sticks then dropped into the flames before us. It was some kind of rite-of-passage as an author I would think.  It felt good at the time anyway. And despite the many things said, I am full of respect and affection for Jane, and totally appreciative of what her work contributed to Walking with Wolf.

The editing continued in fits and starts following my return to Canada, through a couple more complete readings, and finally I felt the manuscript was ready for packaging.  Through cyber-serendipity, in September I connected with an old friend, Laurie Hollis-Walker, who worked in publishing in a former life but is now the creator of the first eco-psychology undergraduate class in Canada, teaching about the history, concepts, and value of social activism at Brock University.  She was exactly who I needed to have come into my life at just the right moment – someone I knew, respected, and trusted – someone who was completely overworked herself but didn’t hesitate to take on helping me with my project.  She walked me through the stages of putting the manuscript into page format, kept me calm, and we kept each other laughing.  The added benefit to this relationship was being part of her class on activism and getting to know a great group of fourth-year university students who have been permanently altered by Laurie’s approach to the concept of affecting positive social change.

In October I was introduced through my friend David Willis to Ken Kroesser who runs a computer design company in Toronto called Creative Lift Corp. Ken and I worked together to create the cover. This was really out of my field and having someone of Ken’s expertise and extremely considerate temperment was a gift.  Working together almost didn’t happen, due to emails not getting through and computer-communication breakdowns, but when we finally met over wine and good food, I knew I would enjoy working with him.  And now I consider him not only my mentor and a geek-guru of sorts (although he’s much too cool to think of as geeky), but also a lead cheerleader, mental-health counsellor, business manager, and friend.  I also love what he put together, working very much as a team with me, for the cover of Walking with Wolf.  It involved last minute requests to Jim Richards, a photographer friend of Wolf’s in Monteverde, who went out in the forest to catch one more image of the man for the back cover. It also meant pouring through old photographs of mine till we found what we were looking for for the front cover. It was imposing on my patient sister, Maggie, who lives in Washington State, to create and send drawings of foliage and sketches for a logo (and can you do that yesterday?).  It is her little vine snippet that is the design flourish in the book and her drawing, finished off by Ken, which is the logo for Wandering Words Press, the name of my company. Then, of course, there are all the little details of the actual art and design which Ken patiently explained to me, but I still don’t understand.  But I have trust and respect for him and his talent, and I love the final product, and that’s enough for me.

The last person in the pre-printing circus was Bruce MacLean at 11th Hour Imaging/Scan11 in Toronto.  A friend of Ken’s, he initially was called upon to scan photographs, but eventually took on the big task of the index.  I have decided that if, and when, I write another book, I’m going to write the index first and then write the book to fit the index!  I think it would be easier that way.  Walking with Wolf  is a 300-page book filled with historical and biological data, names, dates, places and events.  The final index is ten pages long.  The decisions about what to include and how and where in the index to include them is another extremely detail-oriented task – something left to obsessive-compulsive folks, not me.  But Bruce did it with professional calmness and an objective eye and somehow we got through it. 

I proofread and proofread again.  Many times.  Always found something.  The index was completed, all the computer files were assembled, the picture layout ready, the cover tweeked within a nano-meter of its life.  I had chosen a printing company in Quebec, Transcontinental, on the advice of a couple of friends who had used them in the past.  I liked the contact I had with Pierre Gilbert, the sales rep at Transcon.  Everything was ready to go, a couple of deadlines missed, and finally, in early April 2008 the files were sent.  Bruce sent me laser copies of the book at the same time that he sent everything to the printer.

The package arrived one afternoon.  I was having friends over for supper and decided to wait until late in the evening for the big unveiling, not really anticipating any problems since I’d been working with Bruce and Ken and seeing the files all the way through the process.  About midnight, after a great night of wine and chatter, we had the big drum roll and opened the package.  The first page that came out was the color copy print of the cover, perhaps the most important page of the book package.  And I cried.  The color was super green, hyper-green I called it.  It wasn’t what I had been expecting, having seen a much more natural coloring in the images that I had seen on my computer screen. I was heartbroken.  I immediately emailed the printer – hold the presses – and emailed Bruce & Ken – what happened? Turns out I was very unaware that the hard copy would be so different from the image on my monitor – but also Ken had upped the green a bit at the last minute (as an illustrator with artistic license).  Unfortunately, it wasn’t what I wanted.  I couldn’t believe that we had come this far on this book that deals with conservation of the emerald forest, and I was having a profound problem with the cover being too green.  It was both anti-climatic and completely ironic. 

But working with professionals, everything gets fixed.  It is just about having patience, and learning that all deadlines are just that – more dead than active – and that after eighteen years, what’s another day or week, or even month for that matter?  The printer has it now – transmission of computer file dilemmas were solved – artistic crises averted – last minute mistakes caught in the eleventh hour were fixed. 

And now, we wait.

 

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