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Here I am lounging on a beautiful screened-in porch, listening to a chorus of insects, overlooking the queen-anne’s laced fields on the outskirts of Westport. That would be in Leeds County, north of Kingston, Ontario. This is one of my favorite homes away from home – in no small part due to the great community of people I know here, starting with my friends Chuck and Carolyn, with who I usually stay while in the area. They have built a large off-the-grid home and performance space a few kilometers from town but sleep year round out on their (now) screened in porch.
Chuck has been a long time proponent of, expert on, and purveyor of alternative technologies - this building puts it all into practice – wind-generation and solar collection maintain a perfectly modern building as well as providing the power for the nights that plugged-in musicians are performing in “the room”. Carolyn is one of those performers as well as a great artist - she also took the photo of me on the back of Walking with Wolf in the snow in a field at their place.
I came down for Music Westport – a daylong free outdoor event that Chuck and others in the community started last year. Highlighting music from the general Kingston/Perth/Ottawa Valley area, last year was a great success – beautiful day, great attendance, increased business for the little boutique town, and amazing performances in a variety of musical genres. This year’s crazy storms and downpours will hopefully make themselves scarce for the day – the weather report is good but I guess if it does rain, it will send the people into the restaurants and stores and that will be good for business, if bad for music lovers. As always, I’m sure it’ll all work out.
One of the main attractions in this town are the musical twins, the Cowan brothers. Their family owns The Cove, a bed & breakfast inn, which sits prettily by the lake and has that old Ontario charm. They have a nice restaurant with many special dinner occasions and a great staff who provide real good service. Jeff and Seamus, the twins, returned a few years ago from Montreal where they both studied music, and have brought their energy and musical talents home with them and amped up the entertainment in the Cove- now there are monthly blues concerts throughout the winter, featuring the best in Canadian blues performers (via the Blues on the Rideau music series) which fill the house. The rest of the year features regular nights of music.
One of these is the trio of the twins with the eccentric Spencer Evans from Kingston. He is a multi-instrumentalist, and manipulator of tunes – he creates song mixes that leave you speechless (I think last year he put Led Zeppelin and Feelings together), performed with a great amount of spunk and attitude. But the backbone to all the schtick (a very talented schtick it tis) are the twins – Jeff drumming, Seamus on stand-up bass – they keep the jazz licks rolling while Spencer rolls across the keyboard, off the lyrical map, or through the audience with his clarinet. I came in last night to catch the show and do some dancing – the place was packed and rocking. I couldn’t help but notice that the little Cove is growing – getting a name for itself with the quality of music being played and the friendly ambience.
Jeff and Seamus play in other bands as well – I saw them recently in Toronto as Spoon River - along with sitting in with the musicians who grace the stage at the Cove – and I’m always impressed by their talent. Even more so because they not only play music but mix drinks, serve tables and then play more music – they do it all, with big smiles and obvious intelligence and an easy manner with their clientelle. I would say that just these two alone will create a buzz in Westport that’ll bring folks from far away – and there is no shortage of other talented folks and interesting businesses in this community, as well as the classic beauty of lake-filled scenery.
I dropped some books off at Stillwater Books in town. When I walked by a little later, there was Walking with Wolf on display in the window – how cool was that! I tell you, I’m very new at this book peddling business, and I get a thrill each time I sell one, I see someone reading one, or I see it on a shelf somewhere. Now in a window! May I never take this rush for granted. So thanks, my new best friend Steve, for being a fine purveyor of my book….
…..I’m now back in Hamilton, the weekend a huge success and the return trip highlighted by picking my sister Maggie up at the airport in Toronto. She has come for my big 50th birthday bash on Saturday. I did some business in Toronto as well, trying to get a poster together for my book events coming up, working with the lovely Bruce MacLean on computer stuff.
Music Westport flowed beautifully. The day was clear, sunny, not too hot or cool, just perfect. The bands were varied and all entertaining. The highlight for the audience seemed to be The Abrams Brothers – the hottest bluegrass band in the area, I think they are from Peterborough – three young brothers, their father and a couple of others (not sure if they were family or not, maybe grandpa and cousin - I missed the introductions).
They travel in a bus, have been all over North America, including Nashville at the Grand Ol Opry, and Israel in the last year. A huge crowd came out on the lawn behind the Foley House to hear them. The brothers play stand up bass, fiddle, and guitar – as well as a second fiddle at times. And sweet harmonies they sing.
The day started with the very silly Bald like Dad, amusing the kids, getting the folks on their feet, demanding a little class participation. A lot of talent disguised as a free-for-all of fun. My pal Cocky showed those young kids how to shake it.
Carolyn’s eclectic trio, Romeria, were this year’s roving band. Carolyn, Isidora, and Rob put their accordian, drum, recorders and a variety of stringed instruments together to play gypsy music and old minstrel pieces – they are purveyors of the ancient and exotic. They played a set on a small stage at the Victorian B&B on Church Street and then spent a couple of hours roaming the streets, playing their unique brand of european pop tunes from the 16th century…give or take a hundred years.
The Cowan brothers joined in with their old bandmate and friend Eric Lawrance – together they were a band called Bullmoose, a rocking band with great licks based in Montreal. Eric did a solo performance and the twins played a couple with him.
Then there was Lance Anderson,a well-known player of the B3-Hammond organ. It took a team to wrestle that baby around. The show was worth the effort – that rippling down your back organ thing, makes ya shiver. Made me think of Garth Hudson and Richard Bell. The trio also played inside at night, with Teresa Holierhoek singing – apparently just off a tour with Dream Girls - a hot smokey bar room sound.
A big treat for me was seeing my pals MC Rapper and Stu the Pike reunite with David Bull in their Buddy Holly Live act. I have known these boys for years but they stopped playing this show about five years ago and I had never caught it. They have a whole historical commentary going on, each taking turns playing their parts, covering the history of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, their short year and a half life as a band before he was lost in an airplane crash. Buddy Holly Live does it all justice and insists that you dance. It ended out the perfect afternoon beside the lake, under the blue sky, soaking up the sun, groovin’.
The last of our energy went out that night to the sounds of the band Pica de Gallo from Kingston. Hot hot latin rhythms, a great singer, samba, rumba, salsa, all heavy-handed and piquante. It was down to the diehards at the end of the night – even my pal Chuck, who was still working sound at the end of the night, after a long day on the boards, was out there dancing. Gotta love that man, the attitude keeps him going.
Great work Chuck, Brin, Norman and all – alot of folks get a free afternoon in the sun with great music because of all that effort of yours.
Besides my book-in-the-window experience there were three other Walking with Wolf moments on the weekend. One was a short visit with Turid Forsyth, who lives near Westport but also has a home in Monteverde. I took her a book but couldn’t stay long. Turid’s stunning art and photographs have graced many books, most recently a book, Tropical Plants of Costa Rica: A guide to the native and exotic flora, with Willow Zuchowski.
The second was a small world moment. At the end of the day of music, we were on the lawn at the Cove, talking with friends, including a woman named Barb. Cocky and I left to change our clothes and later meet up with everyone for dinner at Marty and Sandy’s. After I left, Sandy was explaining to Barb who we were, saying that I had just come back from Monteverde, having written a book there. Barb’s jaw dropped – she said, “I was just in Monteverde and I know about this book. My friend has a copy of it and was telling me about it.”
Turns out that Barb and I had met about a month ago in Santa Elena, on the street, under umbrellas in the pouring rain, so we didn’t remember each other well. She was down with a student group from Toronto, with Jim Reed and his partner Tanya, part-time residents of Monteverde. JR was on the big hike to Arenal with me last year, the story that makes up the last chapter of Walking with Wolf. And Barb had met him just last winter in Whistler, B.C. and had ended up substituting for a teacher on the excursion. She came to Sandy’s for dinner and as soon as we started talking, we knew that we had actually met recently. She has lived in the Westport area yet we have never met here, even though I’ve been there often over many years and know many of the folks that she does. We had to wait to be in a rainstorm in Costa RIca for that event.
Walking with Wolf continues to make community connections even up here in the north country. It is a side effect of this project that I didn’t anticipate but am enjoying daily.
The third book-related event was the fact that it was Wolf’s 78th birthday on Sunday. So I called him and we a good chat, catching up on family stuff, hearing of the birthday celebrations, and a little book business. Happy Birthday my friend, and many many more…it is now time for me to get busy with my part of the preparations for my big 50th birthday party – Mike and Freda Cole are pulling out all the stops for a big celebration at their place – really, all I have to do is invite people, give directions and show up – the Westport gang are coming to provide music – there will be many purveyors of all fine things purveying that day - it is starting to be known as Kaystock! So if you are in the area on August 23, come on over, and bring your dancing shoes!
It is Sunday afternoon. I’m back at my wireless aerie here at Bob and Susana’s Cabure Cafe. The soft clouds are floating about, obscuring the treetops and reducing the view of the ocean today, but the sun is on the other side of the clouds and so it is warm and bright. Monteverde’s mists change the scene as constantly as our lives do – we go from great moments of clarity to dark clouds on our horizons to foggy obscurity and back to sun-sparkling visual bounty. Life constantly sends us down different paths and the peek around the next corner is sometimes taken with great anticipation, other times with great trepidation.
Wolf and I made a presentation yesterday to a group of visiting administrators from protected areas throughout the world from Conservation International. Representatives of Ghana, Guyana, Brazil and Figi along with a dozen other countries were there. We didn’t have more than a little time as their program was already very full, but it was nice to talk about the book and Wolf’s contribution to conservation to a group of people who participate in this work in protected areas every day. I never write down anything when I talk in front of groups and then often wish I had remembered to say such and such. However, I forgive myself and carry on. With each presentation, I’m sure I’ll get better, but it is also a matter of gearing what we say to our audience, adapting to English or Spanish, and the amount of time we have. It was an honor to have the time that we did to speak with these people – we left before we had a chance to sell books and our friend Mercedes was going to take care of that in the coffee break. Hope we sold some as just to know that Walking with Wolf would maybe end up in southeast Asia, Africa or South America soon is very exciting.
One place the book is going is to the Ukraine. This is very poignant for me, as my father’s parents were both from the Ukraine, having arrived as teenagers on the Canadian prairies in the early 1900s. My last name, Chornook, is the result of a Canadian customs agent’s choice of spelling – my grandfather was the only one of his family who was given this spelling from his original name Cherniuk. A woman here in Monteverde, Betsy, bought a book to send to her son who is a peace corp worker stationed in the Ukraine. So it was exciting to sign the book with the hopes that her son may run into one of my Cherniuk relatives while sitting with a traiga of vodka in a cafe.
The Quaker meeting this morning was, as always, silent – up until the last ten minutes or so. The first person to stand and speak was local biologist Mills Tandy who stood and thanked Wolf and I for writing the book and speaking so honestly about the community and recording this important history. He said, “I’ve waited with great anticipation for this book since I heard about it and have to say that it has far exceeded my expectations.” Well, his words brought tears to my eyes and they stayed there for the remainder of the meeting.
When it got to what is called after-thoughts, that is the moment after we have broken the silence and greeted each other but a chance is given for further thoughts to be expressed, Wolf’s wife Lucky stood up and, fighting her tears, talked about how people come and go in this community but so often come back and are always welcomed – and that is what makes it the dynamic place it is. Her son Antonio, wife Adair and their children Skye and Sam are headed back to Connecticut after one full year here. They left in a taxi for the airport right after meeting. Well this comment by Lucky started an outpouring of similar messages by a number of people both retiterating her thoughts or expressing something similar. Katy Van Dusen spoke about Ann Kreigel, a woman who lived here back in the 70s and then died suddenly and prematurely in the early 90s after being bitten by a squirrel. She had had a profound effect on Katy’s life and on many other programs and events in the community and was a great example of someone who came and left their valuable contribution here. Her sudden and early death was a reminder about the importance of expressing your love for those you care about each day. Katy also spoke through tears. It was hard to break up the meeting today – people seemed to want to stay and share their appreciation for this community and this meeting that gives us all a chance to be reflective, communal, spiritual and social all at once.
It is also Father’s Day and that of course makes me think of my father, Andy Chornook, who I write about briefly in Walking with Wolf, who died of cancer very quickly after diagnosis in 1996, twelve years ago. How the time has gone by. And thinking about that makes me think of the people I now know who are struggling with this nasty disease: my friend Lori Yates’ mother in Hamilton, who has just started chemo for lung cancer; Monteverde’s friend, Andy Sninsky, who is in Austria being treated for what is maybe bone cancer, maybe leukemia, maybe something else - Andy and his wife Inge have run the Good Times quarterly magazine that highlights Costa Rican and Nicaraguan tourism destinations for several years and have done a number of pieces of early publicity for our book. Wolf and I, as the rest of the community, have them in our hearts. And a female Andy, Andy Walker, who has lived for a few years with her talented family here in Monteverde and just left a day or two ago for further treatments in Texas on a difficult melanoma. Our thoughts follow her as well.
These tales of cancer diagnosis, treatments, survival and sadness go on relentlessly. As a survivor myself, I both identify with the fear and the difficulty, but also send messages of encouragement and strength. None of it is easy and I’m forever greatful to have lived to tell my own story as well as Wolf’s. For the most part I look down the trail with excitement and courage, but I know all too well just how scary that unknown bend in the trail can be.
After spending eighteen years or so gathering stories, organizing information, writing drafts and finally designing & self-publishing a book, the big lesson I learned is that if I don’t just sit down and do it, it ain’t going to get done. I now need to approach this blog writing with the same dedication, or it won’t happen either. The book, Walking with Wolf, will speak for itself once its out in the world (mid-May 2008, all appendages crossed), but to help its entry into the world and to spread news of its existence, blogging seems to be the way to go. So here I am: Kay Chornook, Canadian living in Hamilton, Ontario, almost 50-year-old woman, bush babe, rockera, shit disturber at times, cancer surviver, lover of life, music & fun. This will be my blog.
The wolf is Wolf Guindon: Quaker, pioneer on a cloud-forest covered mountaintop in Monteverde, Costa Rica, leading conservationist of that wet, misty wilderness, father, spiritual often irreverant man of the forest, walking man, talking man, funny man. It’s his stories that inspired the writing of Walking with Wolf – a process that began in 1990 – but at some point the project became a history of the Quaker community of Monteverde, of rainforest conservation in Costa Rica, of living through the changes of philosophy and perspective that come when your heart and mind are open to new influences. The years of gathering the stories (mostly recorded on a handheld tape recorder, carried in Wolf’s pocket as he hiked through the vast muddy drippy forest), were followed by years of moving his voice from tape to page and then adding my voice as narrator and commentator. This last year moved us into a whole new arena – book layout and design, putting together a package to properly display all these years of Wolf’s life and our work. Whole new learning curve – there have been so many in this long process that I’m almost a pretzle of new knowledge.
One of the side-effects of working on a man’s life story over eighteen years is that life is constantly being lived, babies are born, people die, laws change, even trees we discuss have fallen while I was writing. We kept updating information and adding new stories through the whole process right up until May 2007 when I returned from Costa Rica and began the last serious edit. Some very tragic events happened shortly after but they were much too raw to discuss easily and so we chose my return to Canada as our cutoff point. WwW therefore ends its history in April 2007 but the tales don’t end. I will update some of the lives and issues in this blog as I get acclimatized to bloglife. Once the book is out, people will be able to ask questions and in this way, walking with Wolf (and Kay) will continue.
In the short term, it’s all going to be about the final stages of self-publishing, because that’s where we are. The manuscript has been proofed (incessantly it seems to me) and is now in the hands of Bruce the indexer. A multi-layered, extremely anal process left in the hands of a professional. In the next few days the book will come to me for final proofing and then be sent on to Transcontinental Printing in Quebec and (roll the labour pains and contractions drum) birthing should happen mid-May. I’ll then take delivery of the babies, and immediately fly to Costa Rica to put several hundred copies in the hands of Wolf. And then we will weep with relief, laugh with disbelief, and party (a relative term – Quakerwise & bush babe-style). But I get ahead of myself again – focusing on those post-publishing parties is often what keeps me sane these days.
For the first time in fifteen years, I haven’t wintered in Costa Rica. I managed to book the wildest winter in recent history to stay home in the north country and I’m happy for it. My Canadian blood has thickened again – I was definitely getting soft – and I’ve really appreciated the beauty of the snow. I will be heading south on a totally different schedule than the migratory birds I’ve been hanging with for years – but May and June in Monteverde is beautiful too. Leaving my garden as it is just bringing on its hidden delights will be tough – but, once again, I get ahead of myself. Keep with the program K, step by step, breathe.