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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.
The last several months have been filled with love and wonder, but it would seem that the cross-cultural, cross-countries relationship between Roberto and I is being put to the test. We have taken a break and today he headed back to his home on the Caribbean coast. I am here in Monteverde with my three dog friends to keep me company. Relationships are hard to make work and sometimes you just can’t. Despite the many things that we have in common, the chemistry and the cooperative effort, we may not be able to get past some basic differences. In the meantime, we carry on…
As I write this, the earth just shook, another tremor, and thunder is rolling around the sky. I awoke with a troubled heart, but the day arrived with an almost clear blue sky and the hot sun consoled me. At some point, layers of cloud drifted down through the trees and the whole world turned white with a green base. And now the gods are rocking the joint and showering us with yet another deluge. The world around me seems as unsettled as I do.
I have taken on a contract with Bosqueeterno S.A., the organization that owns the original Watershed Property that the Quakers set aside in 1951. It would be the original “Reserve” in Costa Rica and became one of the first pieces of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve puzzle in the early 1970s. In more recent years, BESA has amassed some money and is considering ways to spend it such as local eco-projects that it can support. They have hired me, largely due to the fact that I wrote Walking with Wolf, to write a history and description of this beautiful primary forest that sits at the top of the mountain, skirting the Continental Divide and protecting the spring waters that furnish the community to this day with its clean, clear water.
As with all historical accounts, there are varying versions on the flow of events, the participation of different people, and the roles that were played. My job is to search for the common details which all can agree make up this story of visionary-planning by the community. Many of the original players have died and in some cases it is the second generation – some who were very young children when the Quakers founded Monteverde in 1951 and others not yet born – who are interested in telling their family’s involvement.
In my travels with Walking with Wolf, I have seen the need to publicize Bosqueeterno and tell about this example of forward-thinking, as many people don’t know that the present day Reserve was started with this 554 hectare piece of land as a major part of it. Many confuse it with the Bosque Eterno de los Niños (BEN), a much larger (22,000 hectares) piece of protected land that is managed by the Monteverde Conservation League and was largely funded, back in the late 1980s, by schoolchildren and the government in Sweden. The Swedish kids named it Barnens Regnskog which translated to Children’s Eternal Rainforest and became another “Bosque Eterno” when translated into Spanish, thus causing confusion in the public mind. Due to the League’s websites and higher public profile, BEN is known internationally by tourists and rainforest conservation groups whereas Bosqueeterno S.A. is not nearly as well known, even here in the community.
I have been hired to collect the stories, write the history and then create a website, or more likely a blog, that will increase the public profile of the land and the people behind its conservation. Local nature guides and environmental education teachers will also have this information so that visitors and school children can understand how that early group of Quakers, hardly aware in 1951 that there would be deforestation and water shortage issues within a few decades, was inspired by God (as one of them told me) to protect this forest that in turn protects the headwaters of the Rio Guacimal.
This was the nineteenth year that the Monteverde Institute has run its Sustainable Futures course. It brings interested university-level students here for ten weeks to look at the issues of planning and functioning in a community in a sustainable way. This year’s participants gave their presentations a couple of days ago and I went, specifically because a friend from northeastern Ontario, Kevin Fraser (son of Susan and Doug, he being a great biology teacher as well as one of Al Gore’s disciples) was part of this. Kevin and a couple of his classmates created a design for an ecological garden on a piece of land directly behind the large Institute building right here in the center of the Monteverde community. This land had pine trees and cypress on it that the Institute harvested a couple of years ago to use for lumber, and so the lot has been sitting waiting for a brilliant idea to come. The students presented their plan for a small interpretive building and trails running throughout a multi-faceted garden.
This would be planted with a variety of organic, native and diverse plantings that would cover everything from food crops to a heliconia collection to bird and butterfly attractions. Having lived near and walked through this empty lot for the last couple years, it was great to see this intelligent and creative design. One can only hope that it will be implemented by future groups, volunteers and community members. That would be a wonderful cooperative project that would give us a beautiful place to wander, learn, sit and even eat from.
In my last blog post, I spoke about not worrying about the possible calamities awaiting us at Roberto’s in Cahuita until we got back there. As it would turn out, they happened here – first I lost my wallet with my VISA and bank card, which I was able to cancel before any damage was done, but it makes getting money from Canada impossible. Secondly, Wolf and I found out that the local bank, where we do our book business, was mixing up our book accounts with his and Lucky’s personal accounts. We were able to rectify the situation and get their money back to them but it drained our business accounts. Sigh. Noone ever said that I was writing a book to make money. Or that Wolf, Lucky nor I were good book-keepers!
Then Costa Rica lost (but almost won) against Mexico to go into the finals of the Copo d’Oro, a major soccer tournament that Mexico eventually one. Roberto and I went in to Santa Elena and Bar Amigos to be part of the festivities – always joyous when winning but quickly subdued, even funereal, when the score goes wrong. But I love being around the passion of the Ticos in their favorite sport.
And then of course Roberto left. Another sigh. I will miss him and his great humor, warmth and vitality, but fortunately I have learned something about love in my life and am relatively calm about the whole thing – or at least philosophical.
As in all relationships, there are tensions and hopefully through discussion, respect and compromise, consensus will be reached to the mutual benefit of everyone. Sometimes that doesn’t happen, but one must continue working in that direction. Personal relationships can be ended, but communal ones will continue even when the individual participants change. And cooperation is important to our collective well-being. When there are good examples of positive community-work, they need to be recognized and then can hopefully be repeated. Just as you hope that sometime in your life, you will stop repeating what doesn’t work. There is always hope that with time, effort and love, we will learn. One last, but not least, sigh.
I have arrived safely back in Canada – at the beautiful home of my wonderful friends, Al and Jean Bair – we are all in shock realizing that the last time I was here was for some of the final games of the last World Cup (futbol mundial – soccer to the rest of you) three summers ago. Time is an amazing thing, especially when it races away from you. We now have four days to spend together – catching up on our Monteverde friends (where I met Al and Jean in 1995 when they had a house there) and our own busy lives and travels – these conversations will be augmented by Al’s delicious food, lively political discussion and visiting family and friends. It is like coming home to one of the warmest and most enjoyable places I know of on the planet (and surrounded by bush – how happy am I?)
Last I wrote I was preparing for my Pendle Hill presentation in Philadelphia – in 90 degree weather, the sun blaring down, on that beautiful campus filled with lovely Quaker folks. I am still thanking Wolf’s nephew Lloyd, the groundskeeper, for his invitation and warm welcome.
Instead of my usual power point presentation (actually, none of them are usual because they change each time), I told the story of Wolf, Monteverde and writing Walking with Wolf and read a couple passages while people ate lunch in the reading room and then we all talked. Afterward I sold and signed books and continued to have interesting conversations with a number of people, some of who knew Monteverde, many who didn’t but were very interested as Quakers in that community. I also made some good contacts for future book presentations. All in all, it was a wonderful few hours of book business at Pendle Hill.
I then left Philadelphia and headed up the New Jersey Turnpike to Noo Yawk! There was a huge traffic back up for many miles heading south – I was very happy to be going north. I got to my friend Memo’s in New Jersey just in time to meet a bunch of his very friendly neighbours (mostly Brazilian ex-pats) over grilled food and wine before we headed out to the gigs he had that Saturday night in the big city. His wife, Wendy, and his boys Sebastian and Estefan, continued on eating while we took off. I had told Memo that I needed to be headed over to the Bronx as early on Sunday morning as possible so getting home at an earlyish hour would be a good idea - HA! Musicians! Early is a relative thing…
Memo Madriza is a hot sax player I’ve known for probably fifteen years – he was a young guy when he came up to Monteverde with the earliest version of Sonsax, a high energy quartet of saxophones which then added a percussionist. I can remember these boys, guapos all, and how they not only played smoking music but became like superstars in the community, all the girls following them around. In 1999, Memo met and quickly married Wendy and moved to New York and Sonsax continued on playing, their members changing every couple of years – the last time I saw Memo was at the Montreal Jazz Festival in about 2002 or so when Sonsax played there.
Now he is in New York and plays with a variety of Cuban timba bands – and we got to see three of them that night. The first version was a six piece playing at a top dance academy right next door to Madison Square Garden. I’ve danced all my life but never taken dance classes and still wouldn’t, though no doubt could learn lots about how to follow. I like to dance with strong leaders (you find them in Costa Rica) who know how to direct me and that I love. It was great watching the variety of dancers and listening to the cookin’ band – there were two other rooms, one with a band playing east coast swing and another with western swing as well as a variety of dance performances. I danced with a few dancers but mostly with Memo when the band took a break. I actually almost ripped the arm off an older guy who had asked me to dance but he was obviously a little too soft for me (I told him I’m used to dancing with strong young Latinos who could stand up to the abuse – I don’t think he appreciated the comment as he walked off holding his sore arm.)
When that gig was over, we were joined by the Cubana pianist, Ariacne Trujillo, whose addition to the night was her high energy and raucous laugh. We went on to the drom Lounge in the East Village of Manhatten where Memo played with the Carlos Boys Band – a very feisty Cubano band of two brothers with another female keyboardist playing all sorts of Cuban rhythms…and danced our little hearts out until about 3 a.m.
Jose, a friend of Memo’s, a Costa Rican who works on a private yacht and had just arrived that evening in New York to get his visa for Morocco, joined us. So now I was surrounded by guapo Ticos and high energy Cubanos! What more could a Canadian girl ask for in Noo Yawk City!
When that gig ended, I’m thinking that, well, okay, if we leave now I can still be in bed by 4 and get a few hours of sleep. Of course for musicians, when the gig ends, the night just begins, so we now headed off, joined by the second Cubana pianist, to Oliva’s, a little corner bar in Soho. Soho!!! Memo drove us around the city like a crazy taxi driver – I don’t know how he doesn’t have each corner of his car smashed in but I looked and there wasn’t a mark. At 3 a.m. on an April night as steamy as mid-July, the streets were filled with partiers, the cabs were flying by, the cacophony of lights were flashing, and music blared everywhere.
I was spouting effusive thanks to Memo for how he was providing the perfect night in the Big Apple for this out-of-towner who has never been here before (except for a few hours changing trains in Penn Station a few years ago.) The only thing that would make it more special (besides that beautiful rasta Roberto being there with me or my friend Cocky who had hoped to join me but had to cancel) was actually bumping into someone I knew…a pie-in-the-sky dream but hey, I know alot of folks and couldn’t help but think the thought. Whenever there are alot of people about, I always think I should know someone.
We walked into Oliva’s and there is another Cuban band playing, this time sitting in the corner of this very tiny bar – the Danny Rojo band made up of another six Cubanos. Memo told me later that the music was kind of Cuban porn music (the lyrics anyway). There was a friendly little crowd sharing the small sweaty dancefloor. I looked at the band and noticed the guy in the corner playing the timba, hat on his shaved head, and realized that I knew the guy! When I asked Memo about him, he told me that his name was Marvin and he was from Cuba but had indeed lived in Costa Rica for a couple of years, playing with Ramses Araya. Ramses is very talented Tico percussionist now living in Los Angeles, who had studied in Cuba and had a salsa band, Timbaleo – well, Marvin, this musician I was recognizing, had been with Ramses in Monteverde several years ago, and I had indeed met him. Now that’s a small world…
The music all night was super hot, the company extraordinarily friendly and the dancing satisfied my soul – and the Latin talk and rhythms kept my Cana-Tica soul satisfied as well. As I watched a clock up on a tower turn to 5 a.m., I was still standing but was starting to think that I really didn’t mean to do this, stay out till dawn the morning of my book presentation. Memo then drove us over to a hole-in-the-wall famous joint called Joe’s Pizza in the West Village – there was a testimonial by the actor Ben Affleck on the wall that this was his favorite pizza in the city – and Memo told me that he had sat in there when Leonard DiCapreo had been there late one night. The place was packed inside and out, and really had the best straight-up cheese pizza – and after about seven hours of dancing, we needed this energy in its simplest and most delicious form.
I finally crawled into my bed at ten minutes to six in the morning, thinking that I was going to be suffering later that day. I got about four hours sleep and as soon as the others heard me showering, knowing that I had to get going, they were up making gallo pinto (Costa Rica’s famous breakfast rice and beans) and strong coffee and sent me off with a “mi casa es su casa” – and believe me, I’d go back in a heartbeat to New York!
I headed over to Marian Howard’s, a resident of the Bronx and Monteverde, who taught at Bank Street College of Education in the Bronx. She had invited me to come and present the book at her house. So a small group of her friends, family and neighbours came – including Edna and Linda, two teachers who taught in the early 90s at the Monteverde Friends School who I had known but haven’t seen since.
It was a beautiful summery day and we sat outside and ate Monteverde cheese that Wolf had provided for me when I left a month ago, drank wine and Imperial beer, Costa Rica’s famous beer that Memo had provided me with cold out of his fridge that morning.
Marian and I managed to download Skype so that we could contact Wolf and Lucky who were at our friend Alan Master’s home in Monteverde and we all visited through that miracle of modern technology. I gave a slide presentation and we had a lively discussion – it was a wonderful afternoon, sold a few books, ate tasty food, and speaking with Wolf and Lucky was the icing on the cake. And I was surprisingly energetic and lucid and happy – not bad for a fifty-year old who had been out hard-core dancing all night.
I send a huge thanks to Memo and Wendy and to Marian for their invitations and hospitality and support on the grand finale of my northeast US tour. I maybe sold enough books to balance the cost, maybe not, but I had a lot of fun (my mama and the Dalai Lama say..), met great people, finally made it to Pendle Hill in Philadelphia and, even crazier, Noo Yawk Noo Yawk! I had the best 36 hours possible in that big city, and I drove through it and found out that it really is quite doable. Nothing to be shy of…so I won’t ever be again.
Yesterday I awoke refreshed after a good night’s sleep, got in my trusty rental car and drove back to my homeland to spend this week visiting friends and enjoying the Canadian countryside before heading for the jungle of Cahuita in two weeks…but I did the urban jungle just fine, leaving a little of my shoe tread on some dancefloors and copies of Walking with Wolf on bookshelves. Ciao chicos!
It is a warm evening here in Philadelphia. Today the sun was shining brightly enough to raise the temperature up close to 80 degrees (or 25 Celsius) – I returned to wearing the shorts I had been living in down in Costa Rica. I find myself in the heartland of the Quakers, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, and it isn’t just the air that is warm here. I’ve met a lot of friendly Friends over the last three days, kind-hearted souls with questioning minds.
When I left Maine on Tuesday, I stopped for the night at Carlos and Lidieth Guindon’s in New Hampshire. Carlos is getting near the end of translating Walking with Wolf. It is very exciting. When he is done, his hard work will be passed on to an editor and we will be another big step closer to seeing Caminando con Wolf become a reality. The poor man is not exactly translating English to Spanish – he is translating Canadian and Alabamian to Costa Rican. Carlos is not a professional translator, just a very smart man with a big heart who wants to see his father’s story made available to those Costa Ricans who don’t read English. It was a very enjoyable evening, discussing details of the book and catching up on our lives. It was particularly great to see Lidieth, who I knew back in the nineties when they were still living in Monteverde but who I haven’t seen in at least a decade. No matter where I go, when I run into Monteverde folk there is a strong connection, a common thread that binds us – our mutual love of that community and culture and remarkable natural landscape. And when they are Guindons, it is that much sweeter.
I left early in the morning from New Hampshire to get to Philadelphia for an evening talk. It was a very easy drive, right through New York City, on I-95, across the George Washington Bridge. The only bad traffic I ran into in eight hours of driving was the bottleneck that occurs on the east side of that bridge – there seems to be eight lanes of traffic on four different ramps all merging – it took me an hour to get onto and over the bridge, much of which I spent sitting beside this cemetary - not a particularly peaceful resting spot I’d say.
It gave me a chance to look around and snap pictures – I was sorry that I was moving too fast while on the bridge that I couldn’t take a good shot of the Empire State Building that I could see in the distance along with the rest of the famous skyline. Now that I have passed through the Big Apple, I am not at all intimidated for when I return there this weekend – maybe I’ll manage to get some good skyline pics this time.
I arrived mid-afternoon at my first Philadelphia stop, Westtown School. A Quaker school started in the late 1700s, this beautiful campus sits out on the west side of the Philadelphia area, incorporating some of the last farmland as part of its grounds – much in the area has been eaten up by development, apparently in just the last ten years – McMansionland, as someone called it appropriately.
Whitney, Quincy & Nora
My contact there was Whitney Suttel, a teacher who taught a few years ago at the Monteverde Friends School. She arranged a beautiful room for me to do my slide show and present the book – and a room in the Farmhouse, the overnight accommodation for Westtown. I was amazed at the size of the buildings of Westtown and the chimneys!
I’m not sure how many topped the high roof of the main building but they are so proud of their chimneys that they are spoken about in the school’s literature. Westtown is just one of many Quaker schools in this area – I’ve heard of so many Friends’ elementary, middle, high schools and colleges, I’ve lost count. There is no doubt that Philly must be the epicenter of earthQuakerism in the United States.
The talk was attended by a few students but being their free time, they were more tempted to be elsewhere. But each time I talk, there is always lots of enthusiasm by those who know Wolf and Monteverde and the others pick up on it. This was no exception – Whitney told her own stories of her experiences of walking with Wolf and there was also a student, Laura, who had lived with the Guindons when she did an exchange with Wolf’s granddaughter Noelia last year. And the biology teacher who has taken a number of groups to Monteverde and stayed down at Eladio’s in the Peñas Blancas valley – everyone has their own tales of their times spent with Wolf. There could easily be a second and third volume added to our original book, Walking with Wolf.
Early the next morning, I had to make my way into the Center City to Greene St. Friends School. The Spanish teacher, Sandra Rodriguez, had asked me to come and speak to the grade 7s and 8s – she goes to Costa Rica each year with the grade 7s – so all of these students had been in Monteverde. I started out from the bucolic countryside of Westtown, leaving in plenty of time and should have been able to arrive easily half an hour before I was to talk. However I ended up getting horribly lost, driving in the morning rush hour traffic, following cars up and down the wooded hill and valley roads, past the mansions and numerous academic institutions housed in big old stone buildings surrounded by big old hardwood trees. It would have all been lovely except for the fact that I was starting to think I would miss the whole class time and would be doing all this driving for nothing and leave Sandra very disappointed wondering where I was.
I finally drove past a corner store where I could ask directions and when I found out that I basically had to return to the point where I think I had gone wrong in the first place – by a different way, but still, miles backward it seemed – I was sure that I would never make the school in time. The traffic was thick everywhere and I was still not really sure how far I was and time was passing quickly. But just as I was truly feeling forlorn, I somehow miraculously came across one of the roads that I recognized as being where I was to turn to get to the school – and pulled into the parking lot with about 15 minutes to spare, enough time to set up the projector, get the power point in position, and wipe the sweat from my brow.
As it would happen, that was one of the nicest audiences I’ve talked to – maybe forty kids from diverse backgrounds, all who understood Quakerism, all who have been to Monteverde, many of whom have aspirations to write themselves. So when I finished my talk, there were lots of great questions and enthusiasm on the part of these young students. I always tell kids (well, anyone) that if I can write a book, anyone who can construct a good sentence and has a good story to tell surely can write their own book. It was a message that a lot of these kids seemed to want to hear.
When that was over I bravely faced downtown Philadelphia and headed to the University of Pennsylvania to drop off a book at the office of Dan Janzen, the famous biologist/conservationist who wrote the Natural History of Costa Rica. He has agreed to write a blurb for the back of the Spanish edition and I thought that dropping the book off at his office would be cheaper and easier than mailing one – ha! After driving up and down the busy streets then walking through the maze of university buildings for close to an hour trying to find his office, I once again questioned my reasoning.
I took the slow road out of the center of the city toward Pendle Hill, the Quaker spiritual and educational retreat. I have heard of this place from people in Monteverde but really didn’t know what to expect. It is a beautiful collection of old stone buildings on grounds full of native trees, with the magnolia flowers just fading, the redbuds shining brightly, the daffodils nodding happily and the leaves starting to appear throughout the canopy.
I spoke last night at Swarthmore College – originally a Quaker college made up of more large stone buildings on beautiful grounds very close to Pendle Hill. Mark Wallace, another former visitor to Monteverde, had invited me. Unfortunately the crowd was super small – Mark and a student and Sybil, a woman I know from Monteverde but haven’t seen in a few years. She was thrilled to come out and get a copy of the book and we all engaged in a great discussion about our experiences in Monteverde. It turned out that Mark and his children had been on the same hike that Whitney from Westtown had been on with Wolf, doing his crazy Tapir Trail in 2004, the year that he wasn’t able to complete the trail. I made the connection when Mark started talking about how his daughter had seen a fer-de-lance while on that hike – and remembered that Whitney had told the same tale, of a young girl seeing a fer-de-lance. It is a small world – they don’t know each other but had actually spent a few days in the wild and wooly cloud forest of Monteverde together and now work only miles apart from each other here in Philadelphia.
Here at Pendle Hill, Lloyd Guindon, Wolf’s nephew, is the groundskeeper and today, under that sparkling sun, he took me on a tour – telling me the history of some of the trees – such as the Dawn Redwood, a native tree that completely disappeared in this area until some were found in China and brought back – they are meta-sequoias, similar to the California Redwoods but not the same, and were just leafing out like the Larch or Tamarack trees (as we call them in Canada) would be doing.
There is also the State Champion American Beech tree on this campus – I always remember the beech trees at our cottage and how the smooth yet wrinkled grey trunks looked like elephant legs – this big ol’ tree was no exception. It is humungous – one has to wonder how much longer it can spread its big branches out but perhaps being recognized as the biggest in the state will keep it going for awhile longer. As do most of the staff here, Lloyd and his wife Robin and their children live in an old stone house on the campus. He is obviously and justifiably very proud of his work, taking care of this partially forested, partially meadowed land with a big organic vegetable garden and numerous flower beds, mostly filled with native plants and perennials.
At each meal I talk with some of the people studying and working here. There are several writers about and I find myself being the “published author” and sharing my own experiences – when did this happen? I often wonder to myself. When did I become someone who knows something about writing and publishing a book? I amaze myself – enough to think I can write another one.
Tonight I dined with Lauri Perlman, the director here at Pendle Hill. She explained some of the history of the place to me – how a small group of Quakers decided that they wanted to start this spiritual retreat as an alternative to Swarthmore College – and made the decision to go ahead back in 1929, four days after the big stock market crash that brought on the Depression. As she said, what a courageous move they made, and obviously a smart one as Pendle Hill is thriving eighty years later. She said that she uses that as an example when people are so concerned about going forward in these times of great economic worry – if that group of visionaries could stick with their plan to expand the small meeting at the time into something of this relevance and make it work during the Depression, then maybe we shouldn’t be so worried about taking risks in these troubling times either. If you have a smart plan and work at it diligently, you just might find success despite the fears that rain down from the doomsayers that abound, in our neighbourhoods and in our media.
Tomorrow I will be reading from the book and hopefully having an interesting discussion with folks over the lunch hour. I’ll then be set up to sell and sign books for a couple of hours in the bookstore. It is supposed to be getting close to 90 degrees – I’ll no doubt be wishing I was swimming in the ocean. As soon as the work is done, I’ll be getting back in my car and driving a couple hours north, back to New York City, to go hear my friend Memo play with a Cuban band in the city and do a book presentation on Sunday afternoon. I am very thankful to Lloyd, Mark, Sandra and Whitney, the folks who brought me here to beautiful Philadelphia. I leave with very warm memories of the Friends, their stone houses and the rich green life that flourishes around them.
Well, what a difference a couple of weeks and several hundred feet in elevation can make! I am now at the beach, specifically Manuel Antonio, on the central Pacific coast. My Canadian friends Jeff, Randy and Kevin arrived in the country last week and I am their official guide, though my duties so far have consisted only of applying sunscreen to their backs – they have been taking care of me much more than I them.
I managed to have three great dates for Valentine’s Day which just passed – if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the ones you’re with. We are heading up the mountain to Monteverde later today and have a date with Wolf to go walking tomorrow. I’m sure my credibility as a tour guide will be put to the test here sometime real soon.
The last two weeks were super full ones. The weather situation took several days to change from what I was describing at the end of the last post I wrote. I was cold, wet and windblown for several days before leaving Monteverde. When the weather there is bad, it can be horrendous. Although it wasn’t really raining (here rain has as many words to describe it as snow in the far north) when heavy mist is blowing at you from all directions at once, diagonally, vertically, horizontally, then you are going to get very wet and it doesn’t much matter what you call it. Anywhere else I have lived, wind like this means it’s blowing something in or out, whereas here, it just blows till the season wears itself out. The winds remained so powerful that I often had to take very serious samurai-warrior positions to hold myself upright while trying to walk along the road. Trees and their branches were down, as were the overhead wires in many places. I kept asking people how you know when a wire is alive and dangerous but all anyone could really suggest was just making a point of walking around them. Point taken.
On one of those very blustery and chilly nights, Wolf, Mercedes and I headed to the Hotel Montaña and had a wonderful dinner with the nice folks from Okayama, Japan. As I explained last post, this is the sister city of San José and the mayor, other officials and a group of interested citizens had come to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the relationship between their home towns. Our friend Takako was one of the organizers and guides (as was another friend, local guide Iko) and was responsible for getting us the invite to talk to the group about Monteverde’s history and eco-tourism in the area.
Nobody in the group besides the guides spoke much more than a few words of English nor was there any Spanish, so we spent an evening with much translating. Mostly we smiled, laughed, nodded our heads, and employed international sign language, and thus we managed to have a very warm encounter with the group. To a backdrop of photographic images that I put together, we welcomed them, explained a little history, and introduced Walking with Wolf to them. They presented us with some beautiful gifts from their city and shared their curiosity and friendliness as much as our language constraints would allow.
Just as the actual dinner part ended, all that wind outside managed to take the power out and the restaurant fell dark except for the candles already glowing on the tables. Although losing power can so often be a royal pain if you are engaged in something that definitely requires it, the truth is that some of the most magical moments I’ve experienced in Monteverde – and elsewhere – came when the plug was pulled and the night went natural and acoustic. My first year on the mountain, in 1990, I sat through a very moving and interestng presentation and discussion featuring Elizabeth Sartoris who wrote a book called Gaia and happened to be in Monteverde. She was extolling her ideas about the earth as a living being to a group of Quakers and scientists. The power was out and we sat in the shadows of the glowing candles, using people’s flashlights to spotlight the speakers. The differences in acceptance of her ideas between the academics and the local spiritual farmers was quite pronounced, but discussing ideas in soft voices and backlit by flickering flames seemed to bring everyone to a place of commonality in their thoughts. The earth’s loud voice as the powerful wind passed through the trees outside made its own point. It was one of the nights that made me appreciate the very special soul that exists in Monteverde.
So when the power went out the other night, about half of the Japanese were still interested in sitting with us and talking, so we moved to a lounge area, and by the light of the candles, carried on our discussion. Once again the subdued lighting and surrounding darkness begged us all to sit closer and there was a hushed sense to our voices.
The visitors wanted to know more about Wolf and asked a lot of questions about how the community grew and included the people who were already living here, the early Ticos, los campesinos – did they accept the changes that came or resent them? Between the three of us we told our versions of the story and Takako translated.
When it was getting late and Wolf and I finally said that we had to get going, an older Japanese gentleman, who had asked many questions, said that what he had learned was this: that although he had read about the conservation of the forest and was aware that Wolf and others had contributed a lot to the future of the trees in the area, he had now learned that much concern had also been given by the Quakers to the community itself and the future of the people in the area. When I explained how Wolf, as the original and long-term forest guard in the area, refused to carry a gun and thus had strongly influenced the next generation of guards to not carry arms but instead taught them by example to deal with adversaries with respect and humor, the kind folks gave him a round of applause. Something I think he deserves for many of his contributions, but I, like they, felt that this is a very significant legacy that he should be recognized for.
We sold a number of books and so now live with the thrill that Walking with Wolf has gone to Japan. Our very positive and energetic friend Takako, who we hadn’t seen since doing the hike with her which is the last chapter of the book, was thrilled to have put us all together and to see the completed book – when she saw her name in it and the couple lines I wrote about her, she was ecstatic. She said that she will look into the possibilities of getting it translated into Japanese – and I believe her. She is a doer and a great friend.
So thank you Takako along with all the other warm, smiling people of Okayama. I hope to visit your fair city one day.
The other highlight of my last couple of days in Monteverde before setting out for warmer climes, was tracking down the elusive George Powell. George is the founder of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, along with his ex-wife Harriett and Wolf, and is an internationally-renowned tropical biologist. I’ve known him since I arrived in Monteverde in 1990, first through Wolf and later when my friend the late Vicente Espinosa worked for him in the mid-nineties, chasing quetzals and bellbirds (which had been equipped with location transmitters) around Central America. I lived with Vicente and his wife Zulay, and George was around a lot in those days.
George still has a funky (and getting funkier by the year) cabin on a corner of Wolf’s land, sitting amongst a beautiful bit of primary forest. He is seldom here, as he has been involved for years not only with conservation projects here and elsewhere in Costa Rica but in many places including Peru and more recently in Madagascar. I haven’t seen him in years so it was well worth donning our rain ponchos and heading down the muddy path, under the constant drip from the soggy canopy, to visit him. He received us warmly and was thrilled to get a copy of the book. He is appreciative that Wolf and I managed to finish this project, to tell these tales in this book, to record the local history. I hope that when he gets around to reading it that he laughs at the stories we tell of him in his early days in Monteverde, eating black guans as Thanksgiving turkey and collared peccary as pork chops.
As I get serious about finding funding for the Spanish translation of the book, which is well underway in New Hampshire where Wolf’s son Carlos is doing the initial work, I take the opportunity to ask everyone I know who may have connections to funds to accomplish this. I will be making a second printing of the English version of the book this spring (the original 2000 will have been sold or distributed by May) but I can’t afford to fund the Spanish translation. The Tropical Science Center has contracted Carlos for the first stage of the work. We now look for donors to assure that the book gets completed and printed. So if anyone reading this has a suggestion for funding, please let me know.
With that in mind, I contacted the Canadian Embassy in San José and that lead to a very interesting lunch with two men from the Economic/Political Office there. I will write about this more in the future, but be assured, it is a wonderful thing to have the support of some people representing the Canadian government. They were keen, helpful, and our discussion lead to great possibilities for getting both some real financial support as well as the possibility of presenting the book – most likely waiting for the publication of the Spanish translation – at the embassy with the Ambassador, who apparently liked the letter I sent them and sees the value in the book. So my homework now (difficult though it is to pull myself away from the surf and sun and tour guide duties) is to write a proposal to the embassy.
Over a week ago, Veronica and Stuart came home, my doggy-duties ended and I was released to be able to leave Monteverde. So I left its cold, wet blowiness for much warmer if not dryer San Carlos, anxious to have a visit with my friend Zulay and family. Her niece Horiana has a new puppy Zeti, so I wasn’t totally without canine accompaniment but at a couple months he is already better trained than Betsy was back in Monteverde (see former posts.)
As it turned out, we had, as always, a wonderful time together (including hanging around the beautiful new springfed swimming pool) but it was also hampered by some of life’s realities. Zulay and her husband Keith were called away two of the five days I was there to attend funerals – people are buried quickly in this country where traditionally they don’t have the ability to keep bodies around for days, and so when the phone call comes announcing a death, preparations are made quickly for getting to the funeral as it will certainly take place within a day or two at the most.
The other thing that I have been dealing with over the last few weeks has been suffering the misery of boils and blood abcesses. I’m not sure why this has happened but it is common here in the tropics to have these nasty little pockets of pus on your body, especially in the kind of wet weather that we have been experiencing. First I had a boil in my nether-regions and it was extremely painful. Between epsom salt baths and applying sulpha (and a couple days of putting the leaves of hot chili peppers on it), I managed to get that under control and finished within about six days. But it wasn’t long before another nasty bubble started hurting on the back of my thigh. Traveling all day by bus over to Zulay’s wasn’t comfortable. Zulay and I tended to the beast but it wasn’t showing signs of curing and, in fact, a couple of days later another blister started on my lower back and I finally decided I better get antibiotics to get control of this. After googling information about all this, I decided the one on my leg was actually an abcess as opposed to a boil. It got infected and hurt a lot and oozed a lot of bad stuff out and well, you don’t need anymore details. And sorry about the photo – I know it isn’t good quality but do you really need to see it any better?
One thing I do know from experience and common knowledge is that you don’t mess with these things in the tropics as they can take forever to cure, can get seriously infected and become bigger problems to deal with. So since I left Zulay’s and came down here to the beach with the boys, my personal nurse Jeff has been tending to my wound, which is in a position that I can’t see except in mirrors – cleansing it and applying that wonder drug, sulpha, which they use a lot in this country for cows and these kinds of things like I have. Last year I used it to cure my papalamoya. So I’m big on sulpha drugs right now.
But my favorite treatment is to soak in the warm salty sea, for hours if necessary. I can feel it curing as the soft waves lap over me. And I think that is what I should do right now, while I still have a few hours left here on the beach. The boys are all awake and putting on their sunscreen and so I think it is time to get out there and do a little medicinal floating before we have to pack up and go back up that green mountain. It’s a harsh treatment, but nobody ever said I wasn’t tough.
It is the day after I got home from my little all-American roadtrip and the day before I set off on my quickie Euro-tour to London, England and Barcelona, Spain. How lucky am I? When I read my own words, I get a chill, a good one, down my spine. I have never been “across the pond” and now that I’m within a few hours of leaving, I’m very excited. I am going to visit my friend Chrissey Ansell, who I met eighteen years ago on a beach in Costa Rica, who has come to Canada no less than five times and visited me, and has consistently, patiently invited me to her homes in both of these fantastic European cities. I’ve always had an excuse why I couldn’t go – usually something to do with cancer or book-writing – but finally just bit the bullet and bought the ticket. I’ve always thought I’d find a two-month period to do Europe properly, but in the end decided that I better just go while I still have some money in the bank (international economic crises make me want to spend not save) and while I have my health and the world is in a lull between international catastrophes. As I’ve said in past blogs, I tend to plan for the future but live in the moment but here the moment has met the future and tomorrow I’ll finally be on a plane and headed over the Atlantic to take advantage of this long-standing invitation.
So I’m taking this opportunity – now that I’ve unpacked and repacked – to write about the last few days that took me from Ontario, across the border at Niagara Falls through Virginia to Ohio. The first important piece of news was that I bought a new camera so I can post photos again. I suppose the next important piece of news was that the weather was autumnally-beautiful – truly summerlike – we watched the treeline become more colorful as the days went on and actually sweated on occasion. Shirley and I traveled the interstates more than anything because of time. I wanted to do a secondary highway between Staunton, Virginia and Wheeling, W. Virginia but Shirley, my dear older & anxious friend, got thrown off by the CAA recommendation to stay on the interstates. Shirley has gone with me on backroads through northern Ontario and Costa Rica and always loves the back country but as she gets older, she gets more anxious (I believe that as we age, we are simply more condensed versions of our former selves) and got it in her head that this particular highway 250 that crossed the mountains would be somehow more dangerous than the truck-laden interstate. I tried my best to change her mind but in the end gave in and followed I-64 around to Charleston and up I-77 to Barnesville. I don’t mind racing the transports and getting into the interstate groove but it is truly much groovier on the backroads. Next time, I’m doing that Highway 250 (I wish somebody reading this would give me a good report that I could convince Shirley, next time we visit her relatives in Virginia, that this is a road worth traveling).
So that is where we went first – to Spotsville, Virginia, where Shirley’s kindly kinda-aunt Louise lives on a farm with her black angus cows munching the grass on the rolling fields and her hard-working, lovely family close-by. Louise is 84 years old (I think that is right) and still helping her son Warren unload the corn silage into the silo, cooking up delicious meals, and tending to the needs of her family, cows, neighbours and church. We visited her 94 year-old neighbour, Nellie, who also seems to have a firm hand on the running of the farm there.
For the couple of days we were with these warm friendly Virginian folk, I observed that though the men were hard-working, the women seemed to still run the place! Age un-important! Shirley, who I have known most of my life originally as a friend of my parents and always as my friend, has her roots in this country. She was born in England but was sent here in the second world war to be safe and far away from bomb-blasted London. She and her brother Tony lived in an “orphanage”, which was actually more like a home for wayward children, and benefited from being around her extended family. Shirley is now 76 and not willing to drive to Virginia on her own so when I invited her to accompany me to Ohio, I offered to drive her to visit her kinfolk on the way. Of course, I benefited for the experience.
So we stayed in this big ol’ farmhouse, ate way too much good food, fed the young angus cow who was being weened but was still happy to slobber all over the bottle, went to all of Shirley’s touchstones in the area and enjoyed the Virginian hospitality.
We went to the graveyards that house Shirley’s grandfather and Louise’s husband, Charles, who I met here in Canada many years ago.
We visited the McCormick farm, home of the reaper (not the grim one, but the pragmatic farm implement). There is also an old grist mill on the site.
Louise’s son, Warren, and her son-in-law, Lenny, both work at the nearby Hershey’s factory which is non-unionized. They often are working seven days a week for weeks on end, besides running the farm and tending to their families. If they complain, there are many others who will take their jobs, so they just go to work. It is a hard life, making those Reeses Peanut Butter Cups and Almond Joy bars that we take for granted as “candy” – although I tended to stay out of political discussions with these kind, country folk, we did talk about the value of unions and the need for socialized health care in the US. I shared my experiences of having cancer which brought so many worries to my life – as in “will I survive?” – but didn’t involve worrying about who would pay for the treatments since we have socialized health care here in Canada. Louise’s family – Warren Bradley and Linda Lou, Lenny, and Christy Phillips- were all interested in the concept of having medical insurance provided by the government and I was able to share my own experience. When Barack gets in, may he follow through and get the support from the Senate and Congress to implement his promise to provide medical insurance for all Americans. It seems to me to be the most basic of human rights in a civilized society. Perhaps – just a suggestion – cut the military spending and provide for a little nationalized humanity.
When people talk about how politics doesn’t affect their lives, I always shake my head. Next time you eat a chocolate bar, remember the guys who are working seven days a week, months on end, to keep the line going – limited medical insurance provided, no job security, tired, but unable to complain. I guess I’ve lived in Canada too long.
So after the lovely warmth of Virginia, we headed out in the morning through the fog that eventually lifted to reveal the coloring leaves, through Virginia, West Virginia, and across the Ohio River into Ohio. This is very idealic countryside until you see the big smokestacks – I have to admit, I’m not sure what kind of fabrication or energy plant this is, but I have seen the scene often when passing close to the gracious wide Ohio River, and shudder at the sight of the monolithic cauldrons.
We arrived on Friday afternoon at Olney Friends School just outside of Barnesville, Ohio. Anyone who has read Walking with Wolf will know that this is where Wolf grew up and then returned to for high school. He also met his beautiful wife, Lucky, there, who had come from Earlham, Iowa. It was Homecoming weekend at Olney and Wolf and Lucky managed to come up from Costa Rica, as Shirley and I came down from Canada.
Everytime I see this wonderful couple, even after all the years of working on the book, I get a warm rush of love that passes through my body straight to my heart. To have managed for us all to get to Olney for this occasion, for the weather to have cooperated as if it were a fine June day, for the extended family and friends of both of them to have shown up en masse for the occasion – well, it all added up to a beautiful weekend filled with laughter and tears and memories and friendship.
I find it quite amusing that when Wolf and I get together now, we are like a couple of business people, discussing marketing possibilities, exchanging publicity stories, sharing accounting information. Understand – we have been playing around at ”writing a book” for years and now we are actually selling it! Wolf has continued to visit the stores in Costa Rica who carry our book, replenishing the stock on the shelves but most likely selling the best while sitting in the parking lot at the Monteverde Reserve waiting for the tourists to finish their guided tours in the forest. I will return to Monteverde in January and we will try to find ways to pick up the pace again, but I know that Walking with Wolf will continue to sell to people who come to Monteverde and are interested in the soul of the place. I believe that is what we managed to convey. What with all our words and history and recollections, Wolf represents the soul of this beautiful, dynamic community and we, luckily, managed to capture it in our tomb.
So here we now were at Olney Friends Boarding School, the place where Wolf met and wooed Lucky, a Friends school that has been teaching young people about reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, life and Quaker values since 1837. On Friday night there was a concert by an energetic a capella group of men from Ohio’s liberal arts Kenyon College (Paul Newman’s alma mater) called the Kokosingers. I think there were thirteen of them – taking turns as the solo guy upstage, providing harmonized, finger-snapping, renditions of both popular and classic songs and a few obscure tunes. They are going to be opening for Miley Cyrus (I won’t get into who she is, but if you already know, you should be impressed at least as far as the size of the audience) in a couple of weeks. Maybe I was as impressed by their male beauty as their talent (I digress…) but it was truly entertaining.
Saturday was filled with alumni reunionizing, students taking part in the annual run/walk and field hockey and soccer games (alumni 4/students many more). Bit by bit the alumni, many of them relatives of Wolf or Lucky’s, arrived and I could now hear that Guindon/Standing laughter ringing out amid the stately buildings and hardwoods. I have to say that the food at Olney was excellent – having worked for several years at a canoe camp, where the food was great, I was truly impressed with the quality and variety of the food at Olney – I’m not sure of the cook’s name but she was well aware of her responsiblity of feeding an international student body with a variety of taste buds and obviously loves to try new recipes. That kale soup was excellent.
Wolf and I presented the book on Saturday night to a packed house – somewhere between 150 and 200. Wolf spoke very clearly and lovingly, and I followed, proud of myself for sticking to my new program which involved slowing the slide images down to fit the readings from the book. We sold all the books I brought and received a lot of great response from those who had already read it.
I met a bunch of people who I’ve heard about over the years from Wolf and Lucky. Shirley and I lingered with Herbie Smith and Marie Bunty for a long time after the program and exchanged stories – mine of knowing the Guindons in recent times, theirs of sixty years ago.
On Sunday Shirley and I went to the Friends Meeting in Stillwater which was both the same as Monteverde – silent – but more verbally Christian than is Monteverde. The benches weren’t in a circular style and the way things proceeded was a little different. My personal Quaker experience has been consistently in Monteverde. When people stood and spoke I was naturally awaiting the Spanish translation that occurs in Monteverde. When we got to the afterthoughts and announcements, I was listening for Wolf’s son, Benito, in the background, his low voice simultaneously translating the english to the spanish. In Monteverde there is often an orange trogon – a relative of the beautiful resplendant quetzal – perched on a branch outside the window, perhaps hooting, perhaps silent like the Quakers, its orange breast and striped tail shining. In Monteverde, when the wind is blowing and the tree branches are snapping against the building, I often feel that I am in a tree – if that is so, then here at Stillwater, I was among the roots. I could feel Wolf and Lucky’s past all around me and knew that this was where the miracle happened, the life force rising from the seed that germinated into the roots that became the family tree that is Monteverde.
I saw other folks who I have met before – Roy Joe and Ruthie Stuckey, Susie Roth, Sylvia who is Lucky’s cousin. Following meeting there was a picnic nearby at Wolf’s nephew’s, Don Guindon’s. Guindons and Standing relatives gathered to celebrate the presence of Wolf and Lucky and to visit with each other.
Sylvia, Rachel & their Aunt Lucky
I had the pleasure of meeting Lucky’s oldest sister, Helen, 94 years old and laughing up a storm. I met a multitude of extended family and unfortunately don’t remember the names of many of them unless I had managed to meet them on a previous occasion.
One of the most touching conversations I had was with one of Wolf’s nieces. On Saturday night, she had implied that she wanted to talk with me but we didn’t have the chance until just before I left on Sunday afternoon. What she wanted to share with me was that in the Guindon family there have been chemical imbalances – mental illness – and yet they haven’t talked about it.
In Walking with Wolf we do talk about this. Wolf’s manic depression was a puzzle to me when I met him, but in the three years after meeting him but before returning to Costa Rica and continuing our oral history project, I bumped into people with this malady a couple more times. Then I lived with a man with a mental disorder for a number of years while I was working on the book. Mental illness is as common as any other illness but has carried a stigma that makes people keep their mouths shut about it.
This lovely woman (and I apologize for not remembering her name) has lived with depression herself, as has one of her two daughters – the other lives with Aspergers syndrome. Wolf’s daughter Helena’s son, Silvio, also has this affliction yet last year he was awarded as the top scoring student graduating from a Costa Rican high school. The niece had only just bought the book but had heard from sisters and cousins that we discuss the depression that her grandmother experienced and Wolf’s own manic depression. The book also includes Lucky’s story about living with Wolf in the years before he was properly diagnosed and prescribed lithium.
When I met Wolf and saw some of his behaviour, it was both comical and mystical to me. However, over the years, as I met various other people with a variety of mental illnesses – including my ex-partner who I shared struggles with for eight years – I realized the difficulty of living with this. It was important to me that we talk about it in the book, as it was a very real part of Wolf and Lucky’s life. Even though perhaps it was me who insisted we talk about this, it was Wolf and Lucky who provided the honest, candid details of their experience. And neither one ever suggested that we hide it. It is now out in the open and makes it possible for the family – who can share many examples and experiences – to start and continue the dialogue. There is no place for shame in this, only room for love and understanding.
Rich Sidwell and the staff at Olney – Mary, Leonard, Cleda, Ela & my Canadian-cohort Jaya - provided the opportunity and the backdrop for this wonderful weekend. Their invitation helped us sell books, connect with family and link to the broader Quaker community. Olney itself is a very special place with a student population from all over the world. When we sat down for meals, the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural aspect of the place was apparent. For me, a non-Quaker but someone who has lingered among these peaceful, considerate, simple people who are encouraged to be seekers, Olney provided a place to rejoice with a community that was honoring Wolf and Lucky and that very special community in Costa Rica – Monteverde. Every path that this book takes me down allows me to breathe deeply, smile widely and hold my head proudly – to have participated in any small way in this community is a true privilege. The roots and the branches of this large tree of humanity have spread far and wide in my own life and I’m very thankful for that. Today being Canadian Thanksgiving, that will be my grace.
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.