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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.
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.