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Try as I might to hunker down and get to the piles of writing work I have waiting for me, I seem to be caught in a vortex of distraction. Although I’ve been “home” for a few weeks, I’ve actually been gone at least half that time, so I’m blaming my inability to focus on not quite having my feet firmly planted yet. I can sit down at my laptop but that new addiction in cyperspace, Facebook, proves a reliable source of neglect for all things of actual importance. I find it a wonderful tool for keeping up on what’s going on in the world around me and staying in touch with friends but when I realize that I’m using it as an avoidance tool, it’s time to start putting serious limitations on my time spent wandering around the Facehood.
I was supposed to be up on beautiful Lake Obabika in the Temagami region of northeastern Ontario last weekend. It was the 20th anniversary of the blockade of the Red Squirrel Road, a political action I was very involved in that is discussed in Walking with Wolf. Unfortunately, automotive difficulties changed our plans at the last minute and I wasn’t able to go. Having just returned from a road trip a day before, I was relieved as well as disappointed – now that the weekend has passed, I’m just disappointed. I’m truly sorry that I wasn’t there in the north with old friends – activists, natives, and bush folk – breathing in the pine-scented air. I hope they had a wonderful reunion.
Once the plan changed, my time filled with alternatives which turned out to be great consolation prizes. The first of these was a photography show at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. In 2008, a newly- transplanted-in-the Hammer photographer, Larry Strung, dedicated himself to photographing a person each day of the year (which turned out to be a leap year hence there were 366 photographs) to illustrate the character and diversity of this cool little city of ours. He had spent four years in Liverpool England just prior to moving here and compares our red-brick working class town with its very solid and growing artsy base to that famous home of the Beatles.
I met Larry while he was taking another woman’s photograph and ended up being one of his models (February 26 at http://www.hamilton365.com). No matter where I was throughout 2008, I would go online and see beautifully-shot faces in a very familiar landscape. I knew so many of these people – either personally or simply from seeing them on the street – that this website became a lifeline to home for me. And Larry became a good friend.
Larry has taken all those digital photographs and developed and framed the prints. There is now a colorful display of his artistic photography and all those endemic faces of the Hammer hanging in the city’s art gallery. There was a gala for his “models” on Friday which I attended with my friend Susan Peebles, bumping not only into Larry and his patient wife Monica (who watched him head off on his bicycle or by foot every day of 2008 in search of a model, without ever bringing in a penny for his effort), but also a number of other friends and acquaintances. Two of these were Barbara Maccaroni and Peter Ormond.
Peter renovated an elderly little house in our fiercely proud northend neighbourhood, paying close attention to recycling materials, sustainable construction and eco-sound systems. It is now known as the Green Cottage. He’s run for the Green Party here in the last couple of elections, is a tireless campaigner for our earth, and can be found at pretty much every activity in the city that has to do with smart-living, besides playing a mean piano. Barbara has just started her own raw food catering business out of the Green Cottage (see http://www.blove.ca), is a yoga-instructor and also happened to house-sit my own abode last winter when I was in Costa Rica (as I recall, I came home to happy plants and the place being cleaner than when I left!) When these two hooked up, they created quite the dynamic-duo-of-wise-living, besides being just a little too cute for words (but pics don’t lie).
I got out of the big city for most of the rest of the weekend, returning to see my friends who live in a little camp north of Toronto. I hadn’t seen Treeza and Rick since visiting them in Guatemala for Christmas last year so there was lots to catch up on. I love being with friends who live their lives in alternative ways – besides their little cottage in Nvelte (once a camp in the wilderness now an oasis of simplicity surrounded by out-of-control suburban development), they are in the process of building a home in San Pedro in Guatemala. I fell in love with this place (see: In the land of the Mayans and the Hippies or The Magic of San Pedro blog posts) and know that I will return on one of my trips back and forth between Canada and Costa Rica.
Treeza and I went to The Dominion on Queen Street East in Toronto on Saturday night for a great night of rockabilly. My pal with the honey voice, Lori Yates (www.loriyates.com), was singing a set with a very hot rockabilly band, the Royal Crowns (www.myspace.com/theroyalcrowns). Rockabilly is the music that merged rock and roll, blues and hillbilly but I think of it as the punk of the country world.
The Crowns have a sophisticated and smooth-as-hairgel jazz sound mixed in as well. Lori added her sexy voice and another layer of kickass attitude to the trio of Danny Bartley, Jason Adams, and Teddy Fury. The place was packed, the costumes were vintage, old cars were polished and lined up on the street and the music – well, it rocked this filly.
I spoke with Wolf this morning. He is getting over a cold but seems to be getting his medication situation under control. I’ve been gone long enough that he’s starting to miss me – Wolf has learned to equate my arrival in Monteverde with “work”. We are both excited about getting steps closer to the publication of the Spanish translation of our book but are practicing patience. What we were very sad to discuss was the passing of our friend Rachel Crandell.
Rachel and her late husband Dwight worked enthusiastically for years to raise funds for the Monteverde Conservation League through their organization MCLUS, providing protection for the area known as the Childrens’ Eternal Rainforest. She was also a talented writer and photographer who produced beautiful books such as The Hands of the Maya and The Forever Forest: Kids Save a Tropical Treasure. Back in 2003, Rachel was responsible for Wolf being nominated and then receiving the international Conservation Action Prize in St. Louis, Missouri for his own dedication and lifetime of hard work for the future of tropical forests. She was a teacher and a mother and a great inspiration for how to get things done.
Both her and Dwight will be greatly missed not only in Monteverde but I’m sure in communities throughout the world. I’ll end with the words of Edmund Burke, words which provided Rachel herself with inspiration:
“Nobody makes a greater mistake than he who does nothing because he could only do a little”.
The green mountain is truly verdant right now. The rains started in May and now everything is vibrant, alive with water coursing through its veins. Since being back in Monteverde for a little more than a week, Roberto and I have managed to stay mostly dry in the house, though sometimes you just have to go out in the world while the rain is pouring down. Even with ponchos, umbrellas and boots, when the rain is serious you are going to get seriously wet. Many of the downpours are accompanied by rolling waves of thunder which make their way down the mountainside like a freight train rumbling through town. I remember my first year here, in 1990, when I was living in a house higher up the mountain. You could feel the thunder coming down the mountain like an avalanche. In those days we heard the roar from Volcano Arenal’s many daily eruptions, something that we don’t hear much over here any more. The rolling thunder, the grumbling volcano and the heavy rain pelting down on the zinc roof were all new sounds to me – together they filled every sound space in my head until all I could do was join in and shout along.
I had a close call with my laptop in an electrical storm the other day. I was at the local grocery store with Wolf and Lucky when, in a flash, the light bulbs in the metal ceiling popped loudly, then came a crash of thunder that made us all jump, followed shortly after by another crack of lightning that took out the electronic cash register and the rest of the lights and left us all shaking. Just like that, no warning, a few loud jolts and bolts during what had just been a heavy downpour that didn’t hint at any electrical activity. All I could think about was my laptop at home, still plugged in though not connected to the phone line. Lucky and I went on to the Friday afternoon Scrabble game where everyone was sharing their list of the damages that those two minutes of thunder and lightning had caused. Although I knew that Roberto was at home, I didn’t imagine that he would think to unplug my laptop (not having electricity nor computers himself, it wouldn’t be on his mind) and besides, it happened so quickly that I doubt I could have done anything if at home myself. So I played Scrabble with this low grade worry in my mind, concerned that my cyber-life may have just been cancelled for awhile.
Fortunately, when I finally made it home, the only damage done was to the handheld telephone – notorious for their sensitivity to electrical hits – but my laptop was fine. Huge sigh of relief. The house has another non-electrical phone which keeps us connected but there will be no more sitting outside in the hammock and chatting until Veronica brings back another portable phone.
Wolf came up the mountain the same day that we did, over a week ago. He was a little worn from the two weeks in a hospital bed, the several tests they did on him, and the lack of an appetite for institutional food. So he lost a little weight and was a bit on the weak side. The tests hadn’t really proven anything except for the probability that his medications were conflicting with each other and he wasn’t taking in enough water (except in the form of coffee.) Lucky has noticed that his short term memory was a little slow, although has improved, and I know from talking to him that his long term memory is just fine. I joke that if Wolf ever does have a stroke, the side effect for him will be sudden clear speech, unlike most folks whose speech becomes garbled under the circumstances.
After bugging him for a couple of years to let me drive his jeep when we head out to do book business in town, and always receiving the same response – “I don’t believe in women drivers” – Wolf finally relented and passed me the keys. This is the one thing that his family is trying to get a grip on as his driving is getting precarious, especially in the busy hub of Santa Elena. Unfortunately few of the other Guindons have their licenses and so Wolf continues to feel responsible for picking up groceries and animal feed in town (and the need to go also satisfies his restless soul.) I’m a very experienced and comfortable driver yet I still felt the pressure of his critical eye, but I think I passed the test. The next time I ran into him, leaving the dairy plant parking lot, he just passed me the keys willingly and had me do the driving. Lucky thinks he likes the idea of having a “chauffeur.” Whatever his thinking, it is good that he is getting used to the idea of letting others drive.
So except for some tiredness, and as yet not being back up to walking much, and perhaps his spirit being a little deflated by the trials and tribulations of old age, Wolf is doing fine. Everywhere he goes people are so glad to see him (“Wolf’s more well-known than poverty,” Roberto will say) and he can’t help but ham it up which makes him appear even stronger than he is. Certainly the warmth and concern of people toward him is surely helping to restore his spirit.
This last week in Monteverde saw a lot of people leaving the mountain. The Friends School closed for the season. It’s on the same schedule as North American schools in contrast to Costa Rican public schools whose big break is December to February, based on the tradition of releasing the kids to help with the coffee harvest. There was a special Wednesday Friends meeting held in the beautiful Bullpen, my own spiritual center in Monteverde (which I’ve written about several times.)
I got to the gathering a little early, but not earlier than the Guindon clan who live adjacent to the Bullpen. It was a misty kind of day with some warmth from the sun shining through the clouds from time to time. We each found a place, sitting on our ponchos on some spot on the damp ground, backs leaning against the tree trunks, more people arriving from various points out of the surrounding woods. It was like watching a gathering of the gnomes in a magical medieval forest.
The director of the Friends School for the last two years, Annika, and her partner Heather and their two boys were leaving the next day, a new director arriving soon. I met these women last year at the time that we presented Walking with Wolf to the community. The next time I saw Heather, at a potluck at her house, she told me that as she read the book, she was amused to see that I knew of Temagami, Ontario, the beautiful lake and community that I worked and played at for years. She told me that they were avid paddlers and had taken canoe trips along several northern rivers – with names like Missinaibi and Bloodvein that only people who live in the north or have taken a trip on would know. She also mentioned that on two different trips she had run into a man from Temagami, a writer and artist – who turned out to be my old co-activist and bush friend Hap Wilson. Such a small world it always proves to be. And to have bumped into this same man on two separate trips in two totally different areas of the north is mind-boggling.
I haven’t been in touch with Hap in several years but had to contact him after that to let him know that his northern ears should be burning. I will be seeing him this September when we all gather on beautiful Lake Wakimika near Temagami for the twentieth anniversary of the Red Squirrel Road blockade that was a mighty political event in our lives (and which I write about in the book.)
So Heather and I bonded over these tales of the glorious north country and now she and her family are headed back to Minnesota and the rocks and lakes and non-tropical forests which have their own special beauty. The meeting and potluck lunch in the Bullpen was their send-off party. The mists swirling in through the trees cloaked them once more with the magic that is Monteverde. As always with potlucks, the combination of contributed foods was divine. Friends and neighbors visited and eventually we all packed up and people headed out to their next activity. The first drops of rain fell just as people started on their way.
In the next pasture over, just a hundred meters through the forest, was a new colt born just three days before. As I went to say goodbye to Helena Guindon, who was also leaving for the US the next day, she said that they were going to see the new colt so why didn’t I join them. I said I’d catch up in a minute. There was a little soft rain falling at this point and I put up my umbrella and started down the path through the forest to the Campbell’s pasture. I bumped into Sue and John Trostle, on their way out to their car. In the few minutes it took us to walk through the forest that light swirling mist turned to a heavy fog. By the time we emerged out in the pasture, we were shrouded in thick cloud, so that we almost lost sight of each other. The Trostles went one way and I the other, still hoping to bump into Helena and also to see the colt. I could hear voices in the distance but could barely see ten feet in front of me.
I knew which direction to head in, although the fog caused some confusion, and that if I just kept going downhill I would eventually run into the fence running along the road. It was mystical, wandering through the pasture grasses, trees appearing out of the darkness, the voices not that far away but impossible to reach. I guess I could have shouted to them, but being left alone in the mist was too enticing.
I was just getting to feeling disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see the young colt, when out of the thick white wall of fog came the pinto mother and colt, galloping as if to lose someone behind. They almost ran right into me but turned and stopped not far from me, the colt taking the opportunity to feed. We shared a lovely silent moment of peace in the pasture together, I took a couple of pictures and then left them.
Shortly after I bumped into the Trostles again, still making their slow way along the fence line, trying to find the opening that would let them out to where their car was parked. At about that same moment, the rain started down in sheets and after we found the way to their car, I was happy to take a ride with them.
Roberto and I passed a relaxing week here in this great house that Veronica is renting, here on the edge of the forest, very private, quiet except for the bonking of the bellbirds and the occasional barking of the dogs. We are with our little doggy friends, Wilkens, Betsy and Cutie Pie (now called Salchichona for her plump little sausage body.)
The dogs are a part of all food preparations here, they are relentless, but I have to say that they have all improved since I spent a month with them back in January – particularly Betsy the little spotted cow who no longer jumps up and scratches my legs and probably listens better than the other two.
We brought some coconuts and a coconut grater up from Cahuita for a friend here and Roberto has been grating coconuts and making rice and beans and fish in coconut milk. He is an enthusiastic cook and happy to feed me, which makes me happy, but I fear that if I eat too much of this rich, delicious Caribbean food, they’ll be calling me Salchichona soon enough.
Tomorrow we leave for San Carlos and my friend Zulay’s, before returning in a few days to Cahuita. But I’ll be back up here in Monteverde in not too long, having work to do here, and houses to take care of. A nice balance – the hot colorful Caribbean coast and the green misty Pacific side of the Continental Divide here in Monteverde. A lovely life.
Here I am on the eve of leaving for Guatemala. I have yet to pack, but I’m pretty good at that so the idea that I have to get three months worth of things together in the next few hours is not really a problem. Instead of doing that however, I’m in the middle of baking butter tarts because my lovely friends in Guatemala, Rick and Treeza, requested that I bring some with me (apparently they only just learned of the pleasure of the BT a few years ago and they seem to like my version.) They don’t have an oven so we can’t be making them there.
Sheesh! What one is willing to do in the spirit of Christmas…it isn’t the making of them, but the transporting them whole (as in not in crumbs) up into the mountains of Guatemala over the next three days that has me thinking this is nuts…but whatever, I just chopped those nuts up and threw ‘em in the mix and can smell the tarts baking now. I’m thinking that they better be the best damn batch I’ve ever made.
After my two weeks hanging out in Guatemala – where I can envision myself sitting with my laptop, warm sun beating down, one day looking out over beautiful Lake Atitlan and writing something on this blog – I’ll be getting to it again in Monteverde. Wolf is anxiously awaiting my arrival and we will be doing our best to get Walking with Wolf further afield throughout Costa Rica. If you are down there, you’ll no doubt find one or both of us sitting at the entrance to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, in our own version of a meet and greet. The guides often bring their groups over to introduce them to Wolf, the man hugely responsible for this stunning protected forest, who will be sitting there with a cup of coffee in his hand and a big smile on his face. I’m looking forward to seeing the staff of the Reserve, many who I have known since I first went the Costa Rica, all of whom have been very supportive of the book. They treat me like visiting royalty – not to suggest that I’m a princess, much less a queen, but I know when people are being that nice to me I better lap it up!
I managed to get eight more boxes of books (big KACHING) off to Toronto to be shipped in early January to Costa Rica. I’ve also forwarded another seven boxes with my friend Laurie who will be driving to the west coast and able to deliver them to my sister in Washington and Wolf’s son in California. I plan on following them next summer to do a book tour and it’ll be great to have the boxes there already. That leaves only five boxes here in Hamilton – available for my friend Kathryn who will be back in charge of mailing orders that come from this blog, and for me to take to Philadelphia and NYC at the end of April.
That means we’ve almost gone through 2000 copies of Walking with Wolf - or at least distributed them – and it will be time to do another printing! I’m pretty thrilled about that, though the idea that my living room, which has just finally cleared of boxes, will be a depository again isn’t as thrilling.
My good friend Tory Byers came and got me and my boxes and took us to the Toronto shipper. We then spent a couple days together at her home in Toronto, just visiting and relaxing, as her partner Jamie Grant fed us real good food and Macie the beagle kept us entertained.
Tory is this beautiful talented woman with a heart that takes everyone and thing in. She has been working for one of the Toronto cruise ships that people hire to float about in the lake while they get married or drunk or both with the Toronto skyline sparkling behind them. While working down on the waterfront, Tory has met up with a colony of feral cats who live around one of the boatyards.
Along with her friends Sandy and Aaffeine, she has been providing food for these abandoned cats, many who were once quasi-domestic street cats living with the squatters at Tent City, a makeshift home for street folks that was eventually dismantled a couple years ago. The people left for other fields, the cats moved into this boatyard.
The women look for homes for the cats – since they are feral, they won’t really become house cats but some are tamer than others and will be outdoor cats who can handle a little human interaction. They have found homes for many kittens. They purchase big bags of catfood and cans of sardines and take turns going daily to feed the felines. They also have constructed cat shelters out of recycling boxes and tarps.
This is Hemingway – papa to many
The three women and their friends have taken all this on and fortunately are starting to get support from others who can contribute time or money or catfood once they hear about the Cherry Street Cats. They don’t want people to know exactly where they are as they have already seen that people will drop off unwanted cats there, figuring that they will be absorbed into this colony and the ladies will take care of them. Meanwhile, not only is that terribly irresponsible and cruel, but those domestic cats don’t necessarily fit in with the tougher ferals…so it is a bit like throwing your pup to the wolves.
If you want to see what the ladies and cats are up to, or look at other pictures of the cats, or donate, go to Tory’s blog on wordpress – cherrystreetcats.wordpress.com. It gives you a look at a different community in Toronto.
On Thursday night, I made it to a Christmas party at the Earthroots office. Saw my old friend Amber Ellis – the only person I know who is still there after all these years. This non-profit environmental group grew out of the Temagami Wilderness Society, of which I was a board member in the late 1980s during the time of the blockade on the Red Squirrel Road in northeastern Ontario. In September 2009, we will be having a 20-year anniversary reunion of the blockade up on Lake Wakimika, on whose beautiful shores I lived with several others for seven weeks in the fall of 1989. I stay in touch with alot of people from those days and I hope that many of us will turn out and spend a couple days together, reliving what was a very powerful time for many of us. If September is kind, it will bless us with warm sunny weather – the way it was that first day that we gathered there on September 15, 1989 for a camp-in that, because of the massive support and passion of the hundreds who came deep into the bush that weekend, grew into the non-violent blockading of a logging road extension.
Other than that little trip to Toronto, I’ve been real busy taking care of business, getting ready to go, catching some great music in town, doing a little dancing, and spending evenings with friends who I won’t see for a few months. Of course there is the usual enthusiasm from folks who swear they are going to come to Costa Rica and visit – but I’ve learned not to get excited until they have their plane ticket in hand.
Last night I went up to spend the evening with the Poag, Marskell, and Johnston clan – the family that subs as my real family though we are only “pretend” cousins. Although I do have some blood relatives in the Toronto area, I seldom see them. I spend most of those big holiday occasions – Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving – if I’m in town – at Bob and Kathryn’s with their big extended family. Kathryn’s parents, Doreen and Bill Poag, and my parents were close friends from before they all had children and we continue the friendship on.
Throughout my childhood, my parents hosted a Christmas carol and euchre night the weekend before Christmas. We all grew up looking forward to that one night of the year when we all sang these great songs together. Doreen Poag and Bea Marskell, the singing Miller sisters, would accompany us on our piano. Their husbands, Art and Bill, sang in the International Harvester Choir and Bea and Art also were in this rocking seniors club called the Geritol Follies that put on musical cabarets for years. So there is a lot of singing going on in that clan.
After my parents died in the late nineties, my sister and I gave our piano to Kathryn and Bob. Maggie didn’t want to transport it out west and I didn’t have a home for it. So when the piano moved to their house, so did the carol singing. For the last ten years, an ever-growing crowd gathered at the Johnston’s. Once we were done with the trough of fantastic food, we carried on the tradition of singing with Bea playing the songs on the piano and Doreen beside her turning the pages of the music books.
Bea died last year and not only was it a very sad day for us all to lose her, but it wasn’t good for our carol singing – we needed her loud enthusiastic key-tinkling to cover up the general uproar of our voices.
When I was young, my dad would tape our carol-singing on his reel-to-reel – and when we would listen to it, ouch! There are some great voices amongst us, but collectively, we can be pretty pitiful - fortunately we laugh as much as we sing. I was sick last year and didn’t make the party, but they told me that it was very sad – Bea had just recently died and no one was quite ready to take over providing musical accompaniment. The spirit wasn’t strong enough that night to overcome the loss of our friend Bea. If I had been there, I’d have tried to help as I’m often one of the ringleaders, keeping track of the musical requests, making sure we sing the best verses of each song and dictating who has to sing the part of the three kings or Good King Wenceslas and his page.
Last night, we gathered again and the spirit was great. We now have a variety of musicians to accompany us on different songs. Everyone is trying to keep it alive. The lovely Madelaine played her clarinet – very well, I might add. Rich and then Don and then Keira played the piano and Lindsay’s guitar was a real great addition. So we managed to get through the majority of the carols we wanted to sing and once in awhile, we even sounded pretty good. Two years ago I took all the various songbooks we were working from – it would get very confusing as everyone was looking in a different book (that were so old they were falling apart) so I consolidated them and made new songsheets. That seems to have helped us move forward as well. Trying to keep this great family tradition not only alive, but fun enough to keep the next generations bringing their friends along to partake is worth the effort. All that great food, along with the riotous fun of this family, helps to ensure that people will continue to come out. And I am forever grateful to have had these wonderful folks in my life, all my life, and proud to be a family-member, if only of the pretend kind. I’m also extremely grateful that Kathryn agreed to take over my book sales while I’m gone – although I hate the idea that it could really keep her busy, that also has a nice ring to it somehow.
Well, my butter tarts are done and not bad, if I do say so myself. Now I have to figure out how to pack them, along with everything else. In case I’m not online or able to blog for awhile, and in the spirit of last night’s swelling of joy amid Christmas tradition, I will wish you now all a big HO HO HO, a very Merry Christmas or whatever you are celebrating, and leave you with the hopes for a miracle called worldwide peace in 2009. And also with a quote from my favorite carol, that being Good King Wenceslas:
“Therefore Christian men be sure – wealth or rank possessing – thee who now shall bless the poor, shall themselves find blessing.”