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It has been a glorious autumn here in Ontario. I wasn’t here in the summer, having been down in Costa Rica, but by all accounts it was literally a wash-out. Autumn’s warm sunny days, served up with a minimum of moisture, have helped to bring a bit of balance to 2009. In just over a month, we’ll be in 2010 and though I guess I shouldn’t be counting my chickens before they hatch, I can already hear a busy year crowing.
This is my last weekend here – Monday I’m on a plane bright and early and by mid-afternoon I should be sweet and deep in the arms of Roberto in San José. A few days to chill in the hammock in Cahuita, to check up on the state of the papayas I planted in July, to get my calypso mojo working. Then I’ll be up in Monteverde, working on the history of Bosqueeterno and waiting to hear the first CO-CO-RI-CO of the new year (no doubt supplied by Mr. Wolf.) 2010 is a World Cup year but unfortunately Costa Rica lost her chance to play soccer with the big boys in South Africa. She’s a bit of a deflated hen, her tail feathers dragging. There’ll be some serious consoling to do.
As I’ve been preparing to leave my Canadian home for about six months, I’ve gone out to hear as much local music as I could fit in, most of it within walking distance of my house. At The Saint’s Tuesday night singer/songwriter gathering last week, my good pal Lori Yates gave an impromptu thirty minutes of new and old songs with an inspired, hilarious monologue. It was perhaps the best half hour of performance that I’ve seen this year.
The other singer/songwriters who were out that night – our affable host Paul Reimens, Rae Billings, Shelley Adams and Carolyna Loveless – also rose to the bar Lori set. It was my first time hearing Carolyna and she kicks it. After having a conversation with her over lunch a few days later, I realized that not only has she got big talent but she’s also got this outrageous energy and over-active mind -she could probably take over the world with if she was so diabolically-inclined. I’m ready to see more of her – maybe even in the 11th hour Sunday night when she is performing again at The Saint. Trying to convince myself that I can go out and still get up at 4:30 Monday morning to get to the airport. I can always sleep on the plane.
Another night I headed out with friends to see local blues guitarist Steve Strongman in a new venue outside of town known as The Barn. Music producer and drummer, Dave King, built this as a place for him and his friends to play and record music and now he has started a concert series. Steve was the first show and it was an beautifully intimate place to see a great performer. The backdrop for the stage is one of the phenomenal metal creations by local artist, Dave Hind.
We finished off that night with a trip back to our local pub, Fisher’s, who was celebrating their 16th anniversary with the regular band, the Sugardaddies. It’s lucky to have such a friendly crowd and hot band guaranteed for dancing only two blocks from home.
In 1999, the Sadies recorded an album, Red Dirt, with a cat from Alabama, André Williams. Mr. Williams has been making music since the fifties, R & B, punk blues and something called sleaze rock. He’s in his 70s and still has a cool stage presence. His stylin’ shiny blue suit and shoes fit the Sadies’ metallic blues that accompanied him. They performed songs together from several decades, including some great raw numbers from the 40s. I doubt that a song called Jailbait, one of Williams, is politically correct these days, but the men in the crowd seemed to identify as Andrew growled out the lyric about the temptations of the forbidden underage fruit. It was a night to shake yer money-maker and I did.
I spent a couple of days down in the Kingston area. I took Walking with Wolf to the Kingston Field Naturalists and had a wonderful evening with them. Told Wolf’s story to an interested crowd, sold a few books, was treated to a beautiful dinner at Aroma’s Café (highly recommended) and visited some friends in the area.
It’s necessary for me to get out in the Canadian countryside, balancing out the gritty urban life of my home in the industrial wasteland.
Here in the Hammer, I ran into my friend, Isaac Hendricksen, a musician from the Caribbean island of Nevis who lives locally. We had coffee one afternoon with Larry Strung, the brilliant photographer behind the Hamilton 365 project that I have written about before – he shared with me this photo that he took of us. Isaac writes songs of peace and love, lullabies for the soul. It was wonderful to see him, and absorb some of his wisdom regarding the intricacies involved in balancing the cultural weights in my relationship with Roberto. It’s a challenge to put together two genders, two histories, two cultures, and make it stick, even with the soldering glue of love. But I gotta tell ya, I’m anxious to be taking up that challenge again soon.
The three months since I returned here have gone by quickly. What a beauty season too – the glorious fall, the finale of the year. The Hammer continues to amuse – the music scene expands, the James Street North art crawl explodes, a new creative energy has taken over from the dying steel pulse that has driven this city for a century. I have a lot planned for the coming months in Costa Rica, but hope to spend next summer here in my home, in the fiercely proud north end of Hamilton. I’ve got to get control of the jungle that has consumed my yard during the last two summers . While I’ve been hanging out with the monkeys and the Rasta and the Wolf in Costa Rica, the vines have taken over. Even though I hate leaving my Tico friends behind when I get in that northbound plane, thank goodness I don’t ever mind returning here. If the key to a good life is finding a happy balance, then smokestacks and strangler figs, black leather and brown skin, punk guitars and tribal drums – these are but a few of my favorite things, all taken in equal measure.
It’s been five months since I was on the monthly art crawl on James Street North here in Hamilton. Things are changing on the street at the same accelerated rate that I have witnessed over the last twenty years in Costa Rica. Down there, if I let a couple years pass before returning to a beach or town that has caught the eye of foreigners and developers, there will be no end to the new restaurants, hotels and attractions that have sprouted up in my absence.
I’m now watching this same change coming to James Street North. A few months means there will be a lot of new entrepreneurs – artists, shop owners, restauranteurs – taking a shot at being part of the big wave of excitement, taking advantage of what will probably be a great investment in their own future as well as in the health of the city around them. I suspect that the price of the old buildings right on James is increasing as the availability is decreasing, and some of the new businesses are around the corner or one block further down from the main part of the bustle. That just means that the neighbourhood grows a little longer and wider.
The James Street North Art Crawl has been building its head of steam over about three years (I’ve written about it before – see post: The James Street North Art Crawl.) Now the good folk at Sonic Unyon and other neighbourhood businesses got the idea to blow a little harder and created the SUPER Art Crawl. Part of the idea was to keep bringing new people into this part of the downtown of Hamilton, the urban core having been under attack from within and without for years.
It is common to hear people complain about Hamilton in general and its downtown specifically. The city council has been either hopelessly inept or simply without a modern intelligent vision that will work in rejuvenating the urban core. Instead of bringing life back into the old buildings they are left to partially fall down so that they can then be condemned and torn down. Eventually the brick-strewn empty lot might be replaced by a shiny, new building. This might satisfy the needs of developers but doesn’t do much for the soul of the city.
What has happened on James, which is an artery connecting what should be the heart of the city at King and James to the great new waterfront, has happened because of the grassroots -creative believers who have worked hard to bring art, music, buzz and business to the street – while using the grand ol’ buildings. Because of them, new blood has joined with the traditional Portuguese cafes and Italian businesses and now the street feels diverse and lively and joyful.
I arrived back in the city nine years ago, just in time to witness this change. The waterfront development and the James Street scene is what makes me happy to be here (besides friends, local music and proximity to airport.) I talk to people in Burlington and surrounding areas, and they still talk about the downtown of the Hamilton like it is ground-zero for the plague. But I’ve had many folks come from afar – the northern bush, the US, Costa Rica, England, Guelph, even, gasp, Toronto – who have been duly impressed by what is going on in downtown Hamilton. They want to come back. Now folks are telling me that they are reading about this rejuvenation in national newspapers and on blogs (hi there) and so it would appear that the word is truly spreading.
With this in mind, the Super Art Crawl was developed. The organizers soon got Bob Bratina, our local town councillor, on board and he helped get a portion of the street shut down for the day so that tents and stages could be erected for the live music and vendors who would come out to play at night. Then one of the local music festivals – the C&C Music Festival that originated with Mohawk College and McMaster University’s radio stations – joined in. All of a sudden (and according to what I’ve read, the planning happened very quickly), there was a full roster of local musicians along with well-known national bands, playing on three outdoor stages as well as in some of the galleries and local bars, as well as the usual art show openings – all for free.
My friend Lynda, who has done a crawl or two with me before, came down from Guelph, bringing her friend Anne, who decided to celebrate her birthday with us here in the Hammer even though she is more apt to head to Toronto for her cultural fixes. She went away with a huge appreciation for the steel city, her faith in grassroot collaboration renewed. She loved the gritty energy, the versatility, the diversity that she witnessed. She particularly commented on how many “normal” people there were, middle-age suburbanites, mingling with young black leather piercites or graying hippiesh artists. I know she’ll be back as, try though we might, we only saw a portion of what is available on the street and, as I explained, it will all be different next month.
The gods put the Hammerheads to the test for this mid-October outdoor event, and the cold rain started falling early in the day. Such a shame as the days before and since have been spectacularly sunny. I’m sure that the gang working out on the street that day assembling stages and tents must have been pissed, but the good news is that the crowds still came. Surely not as many as would have on a starry starry night, but enough to fill the galleries to shoulder-rubbing room, while a sea of umbrellas bobbed up and down the street and a look in some of the restaurants and bars confirmed that many tables were full.
Where can you simultaneously watch cadets doing their formations in the armoury, electronic magicians playing with their instruments on the pulpit of an Anglican cathedral, and buy fresh local organic vegetables while one of the hot new bands in the land performs behind you and original art adorns every other storefront? Why, in the Hammer - may not be the most obvious answer, but it is the correct one!
A big applause for John Ellison, the composer of Some Kind of Wonderful (made famous and paying him royalties by Grand Funk Railroad.) I met him and his drummer Dean last year at the Hamilton Music Awards and they were out playing on one of the stages on Friday night. He announced that he would be receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Hammies. I’ve worked backstage for the last four years at the awards but the date has been moved to December 3-6 weekend, and I have to return to Costa Rica before that. I wanted to say congratulations to this talented, gracious and eloquent man who lives locally but has written and performed lots of music all over the world. Even if that wonderful song was his only composition, with it he did his part to put some musical joy on the earth.
And more applause to all the organizers, musicians, volunteers, shop owners, artists and everyone who grabbed their umbrella and came out to play in the rain…the Hammer continues to make one proud.
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.
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.
Another week has passed – finally, time is going quickly. I’m less than a week away from heading back to Costa Rica. Although I’ve been super busy, these two months seemed to have passed very slowly. I think the pace picked up in New York City – since that great night in the Big Apple, time has been on my side. Now it is working against me as I try to take care of book business, prepare my house for Ben, who is going to come and live in my house this summer, and cut the vegetation in my urban jungle back as much as possible, including a rotten tree that has been dropping big limbs over the last year. What seemed like it was taking ages to get here is now around the corner and I’m rushed.
The pear tree is blanketed in blossoms, the tulips are kissing, the young leaves are stretching, and so the great summer growth has begun. Although I’m appreciating springtime in all its beauty, my heart is elsewhere and so I’m thinking more about what is happening with the sticks of ylang ylang and croton that I put in the ground back on Roberto’s land in Cahuita – he’s told me they are coming along slowly. For a gardener, planting in the tropics and planting in the temperate zones of Canada are total opposites, although here in the Hammer, it isn’t anything like the north where I lived for years. But the north is the north – while the temperature is just heating up here, I’m packing clothes for the constant warmth and humidity of the Caribbean coast.
Last week I left Philadelphia and New York City in temperatures hovering around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (that night out in NYC was like steamy mid-July), by the time I got to Petawawa and my friends the Bairs, it was much cooler, and there was still a big pile of snow trying to melt at the end of their driveway. It was warm enough to walk without a jacket in the daytime – but I feel like I’ve spent the last two weeks changing clothes, adjusting layers and looking out at blue skies that mask the chill in the air. Soon I’ll be where hot is just…hot.
While at the Bair’s beautiful home, I managed to sell a few books to visitors – among them my good friend Fretz, who I worked with for years at Camp Wanapitei on Lake Temagami in the 90s. It seems to get harder and harder to see each other, but she came for one of Al’s great dinners and we caught up – that will have to do for awhile. I’ve lived and worked in a lot of places throughout my life and hang on to my friends. I return to visit them when possible, love to see them when they come and visit me wherever that may be. Once in awhile you either lose touch or give up on friendships that are no longer working, but for the most part, if you have loved people, it is always wonderful to reconnect. Although time may change your situations, it doesn’t need to change the spark that made you friends.
That last week of my road trip was made up of visiting friends like that – people I have loved for years who live in eastern parts of Ontario – as I wound my way home to the Hammer. Al and Jean Bair are on the top of the list. I met them in 1995 when they had a home near Monteverde in Costa Rica.
They have a fascinating, dynamic, purely positive large family who I also adore – I was meant to be from a big family but missed my chance in this life. So I grasp onto large families like a street mutt – if they will take me in, I’ll love ‘em forever. And the Bairs are one of my favorite. Al and Jean came into my life right at the time my own parents died and although I don’t think of them as surrogate parents, they have been part of my Costa Rican life and my Canadian life and have dispensed great advice and supported me emotionally. And we constantly laugh and discuss serious politics and philosophy – Al’s favorite line about me is that I have a serious speech impediment – I have to stop talking to breathe once in awhile. I’d say he suffers equally but I’m not sure he’d agree.
We had four wonderful days together catching up on my travels and their recent trip to southeast Asia. They listened to me moan on about my kabanga blues, and sent me off down the road with renewed vigor, as if I had just spent a week at the spa. Love those folks.
Next stop was in Westport where there is a whole whack of friends who I can’t get enough of. I’ve seriously looked at property there a couple of times in the past ten years but never made the move. If things truly happen for a reason, perhaps I wasn’t meant to be there so that I could make this move to Cahuita – it would be much more difficult if I was in the middle of developing a beautiful piece of property in eastern Ontario.
I went and visited my friend Paul McKay – musician and investigative journalist extraordinaire. He has written several books, most recently on the scandalous marketing of nuclear reactors by the Ontario government at a time when the rest of the world is taking to the alternative technologies – wind and solar – that are available and functioning well. Speaking with people of great knowledge and intelligence like Paul always gives me great hope for the future – his optimism points to the good things going on in the world, advances that you don’t hear about in the media. Paul lives in the bush, where he picked wild leeks (one of my favorite Ontario bush foods – makes the best French Onion Soup) for our dinner, and then we passed the evening doing what we both love – listening to a wide array of fantastic music, dancing, talking.
This particular evening was augmented by his strange pilates machine I spent a long time exercising on (kinda gym-dancing) while I listened to the music – by the time I got off of it, my poor legs, atrophied from close to three weeks driving a car, were cramped from top to bottom, but a little more dancing was the cure. Although I expected to be crying out with cramps in the night, it didn’t happen.
I went into Kingston the next day to see Turid Forsyth’s beautiful artwork in a show put on by the Kingston Field Naturalists. I’ll be speaking at their October meeting (third Thursday in October) about Wolf and Monteverde. Turid lives near Kingston but also in Monteverde – and so I see her in both countries and it is always an interesting time. She is a very talented writer, gardener, artist and photographer. How lucky am I to know these people?
The night was a big fiesta for Carolyn – her 50th – played out at her and Chuck’s home on Faeries Hill. This is a house totally off the grid – a wind turbine was reeling in the stiff breeze, the solar panels were cooking in the sunshine, and the power came in to fuel the rockin’ band of Spencer Evans, the Cowen brothers and Bunny Stewart, a hot sax player from Kingston.
I’ve talked about these guys before, playing at the Cowen family’s bed and breakfast, The Cove in Westport. Spencer puts on a great show with his incredible array of tunes and sometimes it gets kinda “shticky” for the crowd at the restaurant – but those talented twins, Seamus and Jeff Cowen, just keep the whole thing going as a tight jazz duo behind whatever Spencer decides to do with his piano, clarinet and voice.
However, for this occasion, they lowered the “shtick” and raised the bar, and along with the smokin’ saxophone, performed a very funky show that kept us dancin’, dancin’, dancin’. This is always a dance floor that is full of spirit and joy and beautiful people.
So big happy birthday to Ms Carolyn – take it from your slightly older fifty-ish friend – it only gets better as long as you got the right attitude (and good health and a little bit of luck on the side) – and honey, you got it!
And just throwing in a plug for all the hard work Carolyn’s been doing with everybody’s favorite Basenji dog, Zig – he can now jump through her hooped arms – we made him do it a quadrillion times as I tried to capture the movement in the right moment on film…he was exhausted by the end of it (already worn out from a night of partying) but just kept jumping. Love that Zigmeister.
I carried on to Toronto, still heading home – to catch my friends Donna Akrey and Janine Miedzik’s show on the Danforth – “Oh”. Donna lives in Montreal where she teaches art at Concordia so I rarely get to see her anymore. Over the years I’ve gone to many of her art shows which usually involve documenting or collecting junk off the streets and creating installations and bizarre scenarios. Recycling and reusing with a fine arts degree. I’d say a great use of higher education. Oh yah.
The last night of my road trip was spent with my pals Jamie and Tory (along with Jamie’s mom, Joan, and their houseboy, Chris) in Toronto – dining outdoors, throwing toys for Mazie the beagle and enjoying the last night of these three weeks on the road with wonderful friends. It really has been a fantastic time. I put off returning to my house as long as possible – a full day in TO with Sol buying a Blackberry for a friend in Costa Rica was really pushing the limit on avoidance – as I knew that the moment I got in the door the work would begin, and now it has. So enough already, there is a tree to come down, a garden to seriously weed, and a blue sky to enjoy. And only six days left before my heart starts to sing again. Oh yah!
It is snowing outside. The rooftops are cold enough that the snow is turning them white. Lucinda Williams is on the stereo and singing about snow covering her streetlamps too but she’s talking about Minneapolis in December. This is Canada in April, the spring bulbs are out of the ground and shivering, and you just gotta love it. I should have known that the weather I came home to last week was too good to be permanently true.
One of my favourite Canadian pastimes – helping someone else stack their firewood…
I’m a few days away from heading to Maine. I hope the weather smartens up so that the highways and turnpikes and interstates are dry and quasi-sane. At the same time I’m preparing for this trip, I am also contacting people on the west coast for the book tour out there in July. If you are reading this and living between British Columbia and California and have a good idea of a Quaker meeting, naturalist group or bookstore who would be interested in hosting a Walking with Wolf evening, please send me a comment to this blog. I’m also making a few corrections to Walking with Wolf, preparing it for a second printing of the English edition to be done in the next weeks. And I’m helping with the details of the production of the Spanish translation in Costa Rica. I’m also making my plans to return there in May. I think I’ll be home about one week a month all summer. It’s a busy time.
With Lauren Schmuck and her mother Patricia Reynolds and Grandma Reynolds
I did a presentation of the book to the McMaster University Biodiversity Guild – a nice group of people, mostly with biology backgrounds. There was a good little crowd and it was a nice evening. One of their members, Lauren Schmuck, put it together – she has a burning desire to go work or volunteer in Costa Rica and I expect I’ll see her down there one day. I told her that any volunteer work I have ever done has paid off in spades - and it is true, many of my lasting friendships and most valuable contacts have come from being a voluntary grunt worker with a smile on my face (that last part is important.)
I’ve managed to hear some great music in the week I’ve been home – por supuesto. I went out and danced away a night when some of the top musicians in town (Jesse O’Brien, Brian Griffith, Joel Guenther et al) got together for a great gig of blues, funk and reggae tinged music to make ya dance. Love those guys.
My four dates for the night - Randy, Pete, Kevin & Jeff (taking photo)
The other night I went and saw Lori Yates, backed beautifully by Brian Griffith and Lisa Wynn, break our hearts with her tunes and that honey voice – she writes some hurtin’ songs, but she is very funny and irreverent and outrageous and she makes us cry as much with laughter as pain. Then Tom Wilson did a great show, fitting this hometown concert in amidst a very busy tour from coast to coast in Canada and the US – it was a Hamilton proud night. Followed by Jesse, Brian and Mark LaForme keeping it moving at the Westtown. I need those nights of music – my soft little soul is feeling all aflutter and music always soothes me.
I also saw the great Charly Chiarelli – a Hammer-boy with Sicilian roots who also happens to live down near my friends, Kingston way. I’ve heard him play his harmonica and tell great stories over many years. He has written a trilogy of plays about growing up Italian here in Hamilton and Sunday afternoon was the last performance (at the good ol’ Pearl Company) of the third play, Sunamabeach. He is a very talented, funny, charismatic actor/musician/story teller – and the local crowd of Italian offspring were loving it. So were we who have not a drop of olive oil in our blood. Charly got in trouble with the Sons of Italy (no doubt the daughters too but that would be a different story) in the United States over his last play, Cu Fu. They felt he was negatively stereotyping Italians when really he was just telling stories from his life with great passion and amusement.
I also saw, at the same ol’ Pearl, a rehearsal for their next play, Tobacco Troubadour, written by the art director of Artword Theatre, Ron Weihs. It is about local musician, songwriter and music producer, J. Paul Reimens. When Ron heard Paul’s songs, he decided he needed to write a play around the stories that Paul tells in them. I had gone out on Thursday to see Paul playing at a local pub (with Brian Griffith – how lucky was that, hearing the best guitarist in town play four times in a week) and we got to talking about this play, written about his life growing up in the tobacco country of southern Ontario and just wanting to play the guitar. Since I won’t be around for the performances, I went and sat in at the rehearsal and am truly sorry I won’t be here for the real thing. It is going to be a very poignant and entertaining play with Paul’s sweet songs throughout.
This all takes place at the poor ol’ Pearl Company, where my book launch was back in September. Gary Santucci and Barbara Milne have poured their energy, soul, money, and heart into creating this very alive art center in an old three story brick factory building that once was home to a costume jewelry business. They also run the popular Art Bus that takes people around to arts events throughout the city twice a month. They both received Arts Hamilton Awards last autumn and Barbara just received a Woman of Distinction award recently.
Against this very successful backdrop, sits the big purple elephant of stubborn and stupid bureaucracy that is attempting to close them down due to zoning. For many years this old neighbourhood was zoned commercial, sitting about four blocks outside of the downtown core. It then went residential, but the commercial use of the building (along with paying commercial taxes) continued for decades. Now the city is issuing a new zoning plan and one of the biggest problems is parking spaces as well as a very expensive re-zoning application process. Considering that the Smart Plans and Green Plans or whatever plans that cities issue these days do a lot of talking about minimizing the use of automobiles and promoting public transit, the requirement of parking spaces to allow an arts center to exist is mind-blogging – and the spots do exist, just not in a neat parking lot adjacent to the building. The Pearl folks may have to take their struggle to keep this center going to the national press if the city doesn’t step up here soon and support what is such a happening community place. The Pearl Company drives a big part of the cultural scene of Hamilton. Anybody who wants to read more and support their cause can go to their website at www.thepearlcompany.ca
In late great breaking news, the local newspaper, the Hamilton Spectator, has finally put a small article in about the book. Jeff Mahoney, a real nice journalist who writes an always interesting column about local people and cultural things, interviewed me last November. He also read the book and told me he loved it. I had asked that they don’t print anything while I was away in Costa Rica – so today there was a small piece and picture about my presentation to the Biodiversity Guild and singing the praises of the Canadian embassy’s financial support. Jeff told me that he’ll try to get his review of the book in the paper in May. I’m very appreciative that the local, under-staffed and over-worked newspaper finally found a couple of inches of space for Walking with Wolf.
I feel like I’ve mostly been sitting in front of my computer, contacting people, working on book stuff, feeling lovesick, but when I read what I’ve just written here, I realize that I’ve been enjoying myself too, taking advantage of being in this very dynamic, culturally-rich city lovingly called the Hammer, formerly known as Hamilton the Steel City. I continue to sing its praises wherever I go, invite my friends here who inevitably fall in love with it, and try to get out and support as many arts events while I’m here as possible.
In a moment of extreme stupidity, I managed to erase all my photographs off of my laptop – all the more stupid because, yes, I do have an external hard drive in which to download everything but, no, I didn’t do it since I got home. I then decided to make room on my laptop by taking out the photographs from one program – and they disappeared off all programs and I emptied my recycle bin and well, it wasn’t pretty. I paid a man to recover them and have them all on DVD in messed up files but at least I have them for when I need to access the photographs for my power point presentations or my blog!
That was definitely a low point.
The rest have been high, except for the cabanga, which will go away as soon as I go back to Cahuita in May.
Guaria Morada, the official flower (orchid) of Costa Rica
I’m back up in my perch at the Caburé Café, one of Monteverde’s finest dining spots. It also happens to have wireless that Bob and Susana allow us to use for free, no purchase required, though over the last couple of visits to Monteverde I’ve enjoyed a fair amount of their wonderful food, hot drinks and delicate homemade chocolate truffles. It’s a win/win situation, the great view over the trees to Guanacaste a big bonus.
I only have five days left in Costa Rica before heading home to the famous Hammer of Canada. Ai yi yi! How does it happen so fast? I just returned from a beautiful week on the Caribbean coast, staying at Roberto’s jungle home in paradise. Fortunately the weather of Monteverde finally changed to summer while I was gone. Now the sun is hot, the sky is blue with only the occasional fluffy cloud, the winds have just about gone completely.
I’m taking care of Veronica’s three dogs (refer to former posts from January) and I have to say that they have all matured a little in these last couple months. I take no credit except for being the nanny who told the parent that they were outa control. Veronica took charge and now we are all happy! Even Betsy the crazy has stopped jumping on me. The Dog Whisperer would be proud. Veronica and her son Stuart headed down to the hot Guanacaste coastline for some beach fun while I was still around to dog/house sit. My sincere appreciation goes to her and her generosity in allowing me to stay at the house these last months – and for the pleasure of getting to know her, Stuart and the puppies.
Wolf and I presented Walking with Wolf at the Friends Peace Center in San José about a week ago to a small but very appreciative crowd. I hadn’t done a talk for a few months so it felt good to get warmed up, which I need to be as I head home and start doing presentations within the first week – to the McMaster University Biodiversity Guild in Hamilton. Then I’m off to the northeastern US and have a number and variety of events lined up in Maine, Philadelphia and New York City. I also will be making the few corrections needed in the book and printing another batch as, miracle of miracles, we are just about sold out!
Wolf, Lucky and I also had the great pleasure of being toured around the INBio – the National Institute of Biodiversity – insect collection by Jim Lewis. Jim has a long history in Monteverde as a nature guide as well as an owner of the Monteverde Lodge and Costa Rica Expeditions. In his retirement, he went to volunteer working at INBio’s scientific headquarters in Heredia. We went there and saw the largest collection in Latin America of various families of insects. Besides the beautiful butterflies and the shiny metallic true bugs, we were aghast at the variety and size of some of the more dangerous ones – particularly the torsalos (botflies) that I wrote about squeezing out of my friend’s butt recently – the biologists were most helpful with information to pass on to Roberto about what to do next time one of these nasties bites him – and the wall full of species of mosquitoes.
I mean, we all know there are many, and they are pests, but this wall of containers, each one representing a different species found in Costa Rica, sent chills down us.
The Spanish translation is well on its way. Wolf’s son, Carlos Guindon, up in New Hampshire, is at least half way through the translating. The Tropical Science Center, administrators of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, is financing that part and will see that it is published. We are searching for funds elsewhere to help the process and some of those will come from the Canadian Embassy here in San José. I’ve been in steady contact with José Pablo Rodriguez, the Economic/Political Officer there, who has been more than helpful. My lunch a month ago with him and Stuart Hughes, the Political Adviser, was extremely enjoyable. I’ve had nothing but great support from them in trying to find a way to use money from an initiative fund to help with the Spanish translation. José confirmed yesterday that the money is coming to pay for the art, index and computer work – and today the contract arrived – and I am very appreciative and loving my country a little more than usual.
I also have had some great musical moments in the last couple of weeks. While still in Monteverde a couple of weeks ago, I saw violinist Ricardo Ramirez and guitarist Edin Solis of Editus playing with Costa Rican singer Arnoldo Castillo. I have known Editus for years and seen them play with a variety of other musicians but had never heard or seen Arnoldo. It was a lovely night of romantic songs from Costa Rica and Latin America which touched me deeply, being enamored myself these days. Ricardo and Edin played several instrumental pieces as well to a very appreciative local crowd who has supported them since they began playing classical music nineteen years ago. My young house friend Stuart has just taken up playing the violin and was gob-smacked watching Ricardo, as I knew he would be.
Following the concert I ended up at La Taverna in Santa Elena dancing till closing to the Chanchos del Monte, our local rock ‘n rollers, punk etc. band. Robert Dean (who I’ve written about, former guitarist for Sinead O’Connor) who is known for publishing a bird guide here in Costa Rica, and plays along with a Alan Masters, a university professor, Federico, a professional nature guide, Walter, a taxi driver and Arturo, son of the wonderful Eladio Cruz who we talk a lot about in the book – these guys moonlight as the crazy Pigs of the Mountain and put on a great show of music to jump too. Allthough I could feel a cold coming on – my belief being that dancing will either cure me or kill me – I was able to go and sweat a lot of it out, though it did continue on to the bad cough that I still have.
I then went to San José for the book presentation and stayed with Edin (of Editus) and his wife Lorena, who always offer me their home and great company when in the city. Lorena is always full of great business ideas and tossed some good ideas at me for fundraising – her motto, think big, act bigger. My friend Leila showed up at the presentation and it ended in time for us to jump in a taxi and head off to see the Tico Jazz Band with my old friend Luis Bonilla, the hottest trombonist in New York City.
Luis played at the Monteverde Music Festival in 1999 when I was taking care of the house where the musicians stayed. We spent three days and nights having fun – him and his wife Luz and the other Costa Rican musicians he had put together for the three nights of concerts – Luis Monge, pianist, Kin Rivera, drummer, and Danilo Castro, bassist. They were the hottest jazz quartet possible and each night they just got tighter and wilder though they had only been playing together for a couple of days. Luis’ energy is through the roof and his playing is impeccable. We also did some wicked dancing following the concerts – these were three of the best nights of positive energy that I had in two years of working the seven week long music festival of Monteverde.
So to see Luis again after ten years and see that the energy hasn’t diminished, his enthusiasm for the music and improvising with other musicians is still hot and his joy still radiates made me laugh endlessly through the concert. The Tico Jazz Band is made up from young to old musicians and they shone as well. I’m going to go and see Luis when I take Walking with Wolf to New York City at the end of April where he plays regularly at the Vanguard Jazz Club. Danilo,from that hot jazz quartet who I have bumped into in the past few years, was also there, as well as Marco Navarro, another great bassist in the country who I haven’t seen in several years as he’s been in South America playing. He’s back in Costa Rica and playing bass with the Tico Jazz Band. It was a hot night of great jazz and a warm night of meeting up with old friends.
All that city fun was followed by several days in the jungle. The creek (sometimes river) that flows like a moat around Roberto’s rancho was just the perfect temperature for a Canadian.
The howler and white faced monkeys came regularly and kept us company. I had brought some cuttings, roots and seeds from my friend Zulay’s in San Carlos and we planted what will hopefully be a nice garden. Roberto had doubled the size of the rancho in the couple weeks I was away by adding a roof over the woodfire and kitchen table. The jungle was welcoming and it was hard to leave.
We returned to the sloth center and delivered some books to Judy Aroyos, the owner, who was very enthusiastic about the book, having her own long history of conservation in Costa Rica. She thought they would sell well as they have a lot of cruise ships come to them from the Port of Limon. I will take any excuse I can to return to this beautiful sloth rehabilitation center (see Kukulas of Cahuita post) and visit with this very friendly woman as well as see the peaceful little furry creatures who are recuperating there. She showed me the babies in the incubators hidden away in their private quarters, each one with its personal story. And we saw Casper, the baby sloth that Roberto’s daughter Gabriella had found and taken to the center back in October. The friendly ghost is doing just fine.
So now I’m working against the clock to get everything done before I leave next Wednesday. It will be harder than usual to leave. I always enjoy being with Wolf, taking care of book business as we have been doing for so many years now, and now Roberto has given me more reason to stay in this country. But my life takes me home to Canada, on the road to spread the news of the book in the United States in April, and book responsibilities will keep me there until sometime next fall. I may have to return before to deal with the translation – I won’t mind at all.
But my little mind is already thinking of the next book I want to write and the idea of writing it from the Caribbean coast, while listening to the frogs and chatting with the monkeys from a hammock swaying beside that meandering brook- these images will keep my dreams sweet and my focus on the future.
I am back in the wind, but it is a warm sleepy breeze here in Cahuita rather than the wild winds of Monteverde. The air and the water are both balmy. There’s no wireless connection in this town so I’ve become a little less connected with the bigger world this past week. That’s fine with me. My existence here is basic but rich, slow but always winding my way toward the horizon where the sky and sea meet.
Costa Rica’s beaches cover almost every imaginable variation. A week ago I was in Manuel Antonio on the central Pacific coast – one of the first beaches to be developed for tourism and definitely one of the busiest. Now I’m in Cahuita on the Caribbean and its charm for me lays in the fact that it hasn’t changed all that much since I first came in 1990. I tend to gravitate to less populated places with a high relax factor and so I fit in well here.
On the other hand, and coast, Manuel Antonio sits at the end of an action-packed seven kilometer road that starts in Quepos, once a fishing village now a busy town handling the commercial side of the tourism trade. The road crawls up and over the rocky cliffs to the beach of Manuel Antonio and its National Park and is filled with hotels and restaurants that can be seen gracing the pages of Architectural Digest or Conde Naste magazines. I’ve managed to stay at a couple of these places over the years just because someone I know knew someone who could get us a great deal, but otherwise I could never afford any of them. The best I can do, as I did with my friends on Valentine’s Day, is walk the road and stop in for a drink in different establishments just to get the feel of their atmosphere and design.
Manuel Antonio’s beaches are beautiful – the large white sand beach that fronts the little town, where people can swim but there is also enough wave action for surfers – and the smaller beaches that you must enter the National Park to access. Even though there are a lot of tourists around, you can walk the paths and arrive at the more secluded beaches – passing silent sloths, raucous white-faced monkeys and the rare little squirrel monkeys playing in the trees – the forest that you walk through is alive and diverse.
The majority of the tourists seem to like to gather with all the others on the main beach where umbrellas and lounge chairs can be rented. The last time I was in MA it wasn’t like this. But then I never was one to be here often and several years have passed and if there is one thing I know in Costa Rica, it is that change comes fast and furious. Everyone in the area steps up to try to make a living off the tourists – working in restaurants, hotels or tour and souvenir shops or selling their wares illegally on the sidewalks and beach stalls (the vendors all scatter when word spreads that the police are on the way to check their permits.)
Pretty young girls learn how to carry pots and plates on their heads at very early ages and walk the beach selling fruit and snacks until they are beautiful young women doing a good business. And the guys with the great personalities become the great bartenders.
Although tourists coming to Costa Rica are warned about being robbed – definitely a caution not to take lightly – this has actually only happened to me twice in the nineteen years of coming here. And both situations were identical – I left shoes outside at night and someone picked them up. The first time was at a different beach many years ago, outside of a tent I was sleeping in when the thief left my brand new $100 Birkenstocks but took my friend’s used but nice running shoes. This year I left my sarong and sandals outside of the condo I was staying in and next morning they were gone. Lesson learned (again) – fortunately I was quickly distracted from my loss by a pair of pygmy owls nesting in the tree next to our room – and was able to cheaply replace both the shoes and the sarong.
Soak-in-the-sea-days, great food, and nights spent dancing – thus went the days at Manuel Antonio. I spent this little beach vacation with my pals Jeff the crooner (if you throw him a line he’ll have to sing you a verse…)
and Randy One-Flop from Hamilton,
and Special KKKK-Kevin from New Brunswick. Wonderful men are they all and we had fun. Kevin stayed on in steamy Quepos while Jeff and Randy and I went up to the cool climate of Monteverde.
We spent a beautiful sunny day in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve walking with Wolf. When the sun shines in the cloud forest, you can’t help but feel blessed. Wolf was in good form, taking a new painkiller which makes his walking easier. He’s been suffering from worn out knees (including a new one) for years.
The day started a little drizzly but turned into a blue sky glimpsed behind the sparkle of the sun on the wet leaves of the forest canopy. We met up with a couple of guys from the United States and ended up selling a couple of books – I tell ya, I’m always working. After Wolf went home for lunch, Randy, Jeff and I continued wandering the trails through the Reserve, glimpsed a quetzal, went out to the red swinging bridge named in honor of Wolf, and onward to the ventana or window with spectacular views east over the Peñas Blancas valley and west over the Nicoya Peninsula.
We finally walked home along the Nuboso trail built with wooden “cookies” and block steps through the elfin forest and back to the entrance on the newly-made accessible part. A perfect day spent in the Cloud Forest Reserve.
That night I finally met up with Leila Trickey – the daughter of my friend Jean who I have written about in earlier blogs (K-Stock and Not So Scary After All). We’ve been playing email tag but finally ended up in the same physical place – Santa Elena. I’ve known Leila since she was about a year old and it has been great spending time with her down here. She is at the start of a long solo trip through Central America but being a new traveler was glad to touch base with “a local”.
Leila is afraid of heights (and I have to say I enjoyed traveling down the mountain in the bus with her more than anyone I’ve journeyed with before – she could barely look out the window at the steep hillsides we were descending without squealing and jumping back in her seat but fought her fear and kept on taking pictures.) Nor did her fear stop her from going out and doing the canopy tour – specifically at Selvatur, your one-stop eco-experience-shopping-mall on the far side of Santa Elena (with one of the best bug collections in the world.) Randy and Jeff headed out in the morning to do the ziplines as well, Randy also prepared to face his fear of height. They all loved it though (that facing-your-fear-and-surviving thing is empowering) and would have gone again if they had the time.
We took a taxi a few kilometers further (you can always work a good deal with the taxi drivers around here) just to see the view over Arenal volcano and lake from El Mirador de San Gerardo. This is one of the most stunning scenes in Costa Rica I think. Yet few people make it out this way to see it or even know about it (or are too busy with all the other Monteverde activities or the weather isn’t conducive to seeing anything but clouds and fog). To have a perfectly clear sunny day to witness this beauty was another gift. Stephen Spielberg, eat your heart out.
We then took a wine and cheese picnic out to the bullpen (a magical pasture that I’ve written about before.) We stayed on until the shadows lengthened and then headed to one of the best sunset spots in Monteverde, the Fonda Vela Hotel. They have a great outdoor balcony that looks out to the horizon. There have been many concerts at the Fonda Vela over the years and when planned well, the musical intermission would be right when the sun was setting. The second half of the concert would be by candlelight in the high ceilinged dining room.
Now there is a pool table out on the balcony to play on while watching the sun go down. Just adds to an already great place. (Ms Costa Rica, Leila, in one of her brother Ethan’s designed shirts – check out www.miolacooperative.com)
We finished our tour of Monteverde tasting a bit of nightlife at Chancho’s Bar in Santa Elena – Randy and I happy to do the dancing, Leila and Jeff soaking up the local culture – the perfect day turned to perfect night by the outdoor fire outside Chancho’s funky little bar. Monteverde shone like a star for us over these days.
Leila wanted to see the Caribbean so I left my Pacific pals behind and brought her to Cahuita. And here I stay. Always working. Uh-huh. Until next time…
Here I am on the eve of leaving for Guatemala. I have yet to pack, but I’m pretty good at that so the idea that I have to get three months worth of things together in the next few hours is not really a problem. Instead of doing that however, I’m in the middle of baking butter tarts because my lovely friends in Guatemala, Rick and Treeza, requested that I bring some with me (apparently they only just learned of the pleasure of the BT a few years ago and they seem to like my version.) They don’t have an oven so we can’t be making them there.
Sheesh! What one is willing to do in the spirit of Christmas…it isn’t the making of them, but the transporting them whole (as in not in crumbs) up into the mountains of Guatemala over the next three days that has me thinking this is nuts…but whatever, I just chopped those nuts up and threw ‘em in the mix and can smell the tarts baking now. I’m thinking that they better be the best damn batch I’ve ever made.
After my two weeks hanging out in Guatemala – where I can envision myself sitting with my laptop, warm sun beating down, one day looking out over beautiful Lake Atitlan and writing something on this blog – I’ll be getting to it again in Monteverde. Wolf is anxiously awaiting my arrival and we will be doing our best to get Walking with Wolf further afield throughout Costa Rica. If you are down there, you’ll no doubt find one or both of us sitting at the entrance to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, in our own version of a meet and greet. The guides often bring their groups over to introduce them to Wolf, the man hugely responsible for this stunning protected forest, who will be sitting there with a cup of coffee in his hand and a big smile on his face. I’m looking forward to seeing the staff of the Reserve, many who I have known since I first went the Costa Rica, all of whom have been very supportive of the book. They treat me like visiting royalty – not to suggest that I’m a princess, much less a queen, but I know when people are being that nice to me I better lap it up!
I managed to get eight more boxes of books (big KACHING) off to Toronto to be shipped in early January to Costa Rica. I’ve also forwarded another seven boxes with my friend Laurie who will be driving to the west coast and able to deliver them to my sister in Washington and Wolf’s son in California. I plan on following them next summer to do a book tour and it’ll be great to have the boxes there already. That leaves only five boxes here in Hamilton – available for my friend Kathryn who will be back in charge of mailing orders that come from this blog, and for me to take to Philadelphia and NYC at the end of April.
That means we’ve almost gone through 2000 copies of Walking with Wolf - or at least distributed them – and it will be time to do another printing! I’m pretty thrilled about that, though the idea that my living room, which has just finally cleared of boxes, will be a depository again isn’t as thrilling.
My good friend Tory Byers came and got me and my boxes and took us to the Toronto shipper. We then spent a couple days together at her home in Toronto, just visiting and relaxing, as her partner Jamie Grant fed us real good food and Macie the beagle kept us entertained.
Tory is this beautiful talented woman with a heart that takes everyone and thing in. She has been working for one of the Toronto cruise ships that people hire to float about in the lake while they get married or drunk or both with the Toronto skyline sparkling behind them. While working down on the waterfront, Tory has met up with a colony of feral cats who live around one of the boatyards.
Along with her friends Sandy and Aaffeine, she has been providing food for these abandoned cats, many who were once quasi-domestic street cats living with the squatters at Tent City, a makeshift home for street folks that was eventually dismantled a couple years ago. The people left for other fields, the cats moved into this boatyard.
The women look for homes for the cats – since they are feral, they won’t really become house cats but some are tamer than others and will be outdoor cats who can handle a little human interaction. They have found homes for many kittens. They purchase big bags of catfood and cans of sardines and take turns going daily to feed the felines. They also have constructed cat shelters out of recycling boxes and tarps.
This is Hemingway – papa to many
The three women and their friends have taken all this on and fortunately are starting to get support from others who can contribute time or money or catfood once they hear about the Cherry Street Cats. They don’t want people to know exactly where they are as they have already seen that people will drop off unwanted cats there, figuring that they will be absorbed into this colony and the ladies will take care of them. Meanwhile, not only is that terribly irresponsible and cruel, but those domestic cats don’t necessarily fit in with the tougher ferals…so it is a bit like throwing your pup to the wolves.
If you want to see what the ladies and cats are up to, or look at other pictures of the cats, or donate, go to Tory’s blog on wordpress – cherrystreetcats.wordpress.com. It gives you a look at a different community in Toronto.
On Thursday night, I made it to a Christmas party at the Earthroots office. Saw my old friend Amber Ellis – the only person I know who is still there after all these years. This non-profit environmental group grew out of the Temagami Wilderness Society, of which I was a board member in the late 1980s during the time of the blockade on the Red Squirrel Road in northeastern Ontario. In September 2009, we will be having a 20-year anniversary reunion of the blockade up on Lake Wakimika, on whose beautiful shores I lived with several others for seven weeks in the fall of 1989. I stay in touch with alot of people from those days and I hope that many of us will turn out and spend a couple days together, reliving what was a very powerful time for many of us. If September is kind, it will bless us with warm sunny weather – the way it was that first day that we gathered there on September 15, 1989 for a camp-in that, because of the massive support and passion of the hundreds who came deep into the bush that weekend, grew into the non-violent blockading of a logging road extension.
Other than that little trip to Toronto, I’ve been real busy taking care of business, getting ready to go, catching some great music in town, doing a little dancing, and spending evenings with friends who I won’t see for a few months. Of course there is the usual enthusiasm from folks who swear they are going to come to Costa Rica and visit – but I’ve learned not to get excited until they have their plane ticket in hand.
Last night I went up to spend the evening with the Poag, Marskell, and Johnston clan – the family that subs as my real family though we are only “pretend” cousins. Although I do have some blood relatives in the Toronto area, I seldom see them. I spend most of those big holiday occasions – Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving – if I’m in town – at Bob and Kathryn’s with their big extended family. Kathryn’s parents, Doreen and Bill Poag, and my parents were close friends from before they all had children and we continue the friendship on.
Throughout my childhood, my parents hosted a Christmas carol and euchre night the weekend before Christmas. We all grew up looking forward to that one night of the year when we all sang these great songs together. Doreen Poag and Bea Marskell, the singing Miller sisters, would accompany us on our piano. Their husbands, Art and Bill, sang in the International Harvester Choir and Bea and Art also were in this rocking seniors club called the Geritol Follies that put on musical cabarets for years. So there is a lot of singing going on in that clan.
After my parents died in the late nineties, my sister and I gave our piano to Kathryn and Bob. Maggie didn’t want to transport it out west and I didn’t have a home for it. So when the piano moved to their house, so did the carol singing. For the last ten years, an ever-growing crowd gathered at the Johnston’s. Once we were done with the trough of fantastic food, we carried on the tradition of singing with Bea playing the songs on the piano and Doreen beside her turning the pages of the music books.
Bea died last year and not only was it a very sad day for us all to lose her, but it wasn’t good for our carol singing – we needed her loud enthusiastic key-tinkling to cover up the general uproar of our voices.
When I was young, my dad would tape our carol-singing on his reel-to-reel – and when we would listen to it, ouch! There are some great voices amongst us, but collectively, we can be pretty pitiful - fortunately we laugh as much as we sing. I was sick last year and didn’t make the party, but they told me that it was very sad – Bea had just recently died and no one was quite ready to take over providing musical accompaniment. The spirit wasn’t strong enough that night to overcome the loss of our friend Bea. If I had been there, I’d have tried to help as I’m often one of the ringleaders, keeping track of the musical requests, making sure we sing the best verses of each song and dictating who has to sing the part of the three kings or Good King Wenceslas and his page.
Last night, we gathered again and the spirit was great. We now have a variety of musicians to accompany us on different songs. Everyone is trying to keep it alive. The lovely Madelaine played her clarinet – very well, I might add. Rich and then Don and then Keira played the piano and Lindsay’s guitar was a real great addition. So we managed to get through the majority of the carols we wanted to sing and once in awhile, we even sounded pretty good. Two years ago I took all the various songbooks we were working from – it would get very confusing as everyone was looking in a different book (that were so old they were falling apart) so I consolidated them and made new songsheets. That seems to have helped us move forward as well. Trying to keep this great family tradition not only alive, but fun enough to keep the next generations bringing their friends along to partake is worth the effort. All that great food, along with the riotous fun of this family, helps to ensure that people will continue to come out. And I am forever grateful to have had these wonderful folks in my life, all my life, and proud to be a family-member, if only of the pretend kind. I’m also extremely grateful that Kathryn agreed to take over my book sales while I’m gone – although I hate the idea that it could really keep her busy, that also has a nice ring to it somehow.
Well, my butter tarts are done and not bad, if I do say so myself. Now I have to figure out how to pack them, along with everything else. In case I’m not online or able to blog for awhile, and in the spirit of last night’s swelling of joy amid Christmas tradition, I will wish you now all a big HO HO HO, a very Merry Christmas or whatever you are celebrating, and leave you with the hopes for a miracle called worldwide peace in 2009. And also with a quote from my favorite carol, that being Good King Wenceslas:
“Therefore Christian men be sure – wealth or rank possessing – thee who now shall bless the poor, shall themselves find blessing.”