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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.
If one must travel, one should at least try to make it worthwhile. Now sometimes, for some people, for their sanity – which is something that affects all those around them and therefore the world – a trip to the Caribbean for a week of sun, endorphins, rest and relax is worth the footprints. If you must spend them then you should try and trade them off by good ecologically-sound behavior at other times. I think that the fact that I gave up my car four years ago, don’t have an air conditioner, very seldom use my dryer, turn off my lights, control my general consumption - well, that will have to balance out the fact that in the next while I’m going to be doing a lot of traveling.
Tomorrow I head to northeastern Ontario (in a small rental car). This is where Temagami is, which is a small community and large lake I mention a few times in Walking with Wolf. It is also the area where I lived from 1982 until I left my husband in 1990, on my way to Costa Rica and a changed life. Might I add that I lived without electricity or running water for seven years – kaching! in the carbon bank for me.
I worked at Camps Wanapitei and Keewaydin through the 1990s, two canoe camps on beautiful Lake Temagami. At Wanapitei, where I worked for six years, I would stay at the camp the better part of four months of the year, two of those while camp was in session and two when there was only a handful of us enjoying our isolation in the bush at the northeast end of this huge body of water. I then worked at Keewaydin, an all boys camp at the time, for one summer at the end of my canoe camp career, cooking for a dining room full of grateful boys who would come to my window and sing for extra pieces of dessert – how cute was that. Life at both of these camps allowed me to spend the summer in the north, on water, with groovy people. It all involved a lot of work and chaos, but I loved it.
I am going to be an hour north of there in New Liskeard on Friday night, presenting Walking with Wolf at the Chat Noir Bookstore. Because I lived in the area, I should know alot of people there – it is the third presentation (after Monteverde and Hamilton) where I feel I’m bringing the book home. My friend Dave Patterson, of the Wabi Delta Band, is playing a set before and after my little book talk. It’ll be great.
Then on Sunday, I go a bit south to Mattawa. Friends own a colorful new cafe there and I’m presenting the book in the afternoon – at the Moon Cafe at 2 p.m. Once again, I know enough folk in the area so will be happy to see friendly faces.
On Tuesday September 16 in the evening, I do one more presentation at HIbou Boutique in North Bay. I have never been there but friends tell me it is a good space and community with sound eco-practices so I look forward to that.
After the Pearl adventure, the rest gets easier, and really, that was an easy night. Traveling and talking is what I do best. I’m not shy and I’m proud of the book and privileged to tell Wolf and Monteverde’s story, so this is fun for me.
I have October booked up but I’m running out of time and will write when I’m through this northern tour. But coming up: Barnesville, Ohio; London, England; Barcelona, Spain; Kingston and Guelph, Ontario. Did I say carbon footprint? – maybe a coalmine worth of bootprint is more like it. Sorry about that.
There is nothing like having cancer at 31 years of age, and seriously facing your mortality, to put a different spin on birthdays. I don’t mind the idea of getting older, I’m just happy to be alive. I feel that it has all been a gift, the last twenty years, and each year that passes is another deposit in my giftbag. So turning fifty hasn’t bothered me at all. The giftbag grows. As it happened, my 50th birthday party was the best way possible for entering the next part of my life. It was a party held out on Yasgar’s, I mean Cole’s, farm, I mean property, half an hour out of Hamilton. And will be now and forever known as Kstock.
Friends are the best. I come from a very small family – one sister, neither of us with children – our parents having died over ten years ago. In the background is a large Ukrainian clan but they mostly live far away. Vi and Andy taught us to nourish and honor our friendships and both my sister Maggie and I have benefited from their counsel. And now that I am fifty, with no children, and Maggie and her husband Tom living far away in Washington State, it is even more important that I have great friends. And they really came out of the woods for my birthday, and many of them really cranked it out to make it a great one.
Chuck, Mike, Freda, MaggieMike and Freda Cole, who have held some rocking parties over the years, know how to do it. Freda, east coast gal, can’t make enough food (and others contribute) and it is always beyond delicious. We will never starve at one of her gatherings. Mike takes care of the outdoor details – together they make everything flow. They are both real gracious hosts when the strangers start arriving and welcome all into their home. They moved to this big old farmhouse over a year ago and it is definitely made for holding an event like Kstock. There must have been close to one hundred folks there, but we were spread out around the property, there was lots of room for camping, lots of room for dancing – people could wander off for private tete-a-tetes, or whatever you might wanna do in the bushes.
Maggie & MIke on the bacon
My seeester Maggie came from Washington State and spent a couple days with Freda and Mike getting ready, helping Freda with food, and making the huge signs that could be seen a kilometer away on the road – “Kstock 2008″ - for those who didn’t know where they were going. The Kstock thing started with my friends Treeza and Rick north of Toronto (and Terry, Steve and Gloria), who not only started saying “we’re going to Kstock” but on my birthday card Rick provided a copy of his original ticket from the real Woodstock – kinda brought it all together.
Treeza & get-down Gloria
Chuck, Stu, Dawson & Coral
Then the gang from Westport came to truly turn it into a musical happening. Chuck, Carolyn, Marty, Sandy, Stu, Dave, Helen, John, Susan, Dawson and Coral filled their vehicles (a bad day for footprints in carbon) with instruments, speakers and camping gear and brought their various musical talents up the highway.
Nineth Line – a jump ‘n jive band kept us hopping;
Then the “other band” played by the campfire with mandolin, accordian, stand up bass and guitar, beautiful renditions of bluegrass, country and folk tunes (most notably, for this little Steve Earle worshipper, Copperhead Road). The music never stopped from early in the evening till I don’t know when in the early morning hours. Nineth Line had learned a couple new songs for the occasion – I’ve been bugging them to learn a Latin rhythm or two and they got it done. They were hot that night, and just kept getting hotter as the night went on.
Since I love to dance more than just about anything (well, dancing on a big rock in the middle of a lush forest beside a lake with a beautiful man who dances is ideal) this party played out just as I would hope to celebrate…we danced from start to finish, and I saw most of the folks up on their feet at some point. Of course, in Canada I’ve always found the dance floors filled more with females than males and this night was no exception - I’ll always remember a wild night in Montezuma, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, when there were about thirty men dancing and only four women. Now that! was a dream…but I digress.
Then there were the people who had come from far and wide for the occasion: my sister probably came the furthest, from the mountains of Washington State. But the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee were represented by our friend Kathy Lowery, who left Hamilton and married an old sweetheart (and he is), Stan, a few years ago. Freda, our friend Dean, and I have ventured down a few times to Tennessee to visit them on their beautiful porch that looks out on those perty mountains. In that time we’ve become friends with some of theirs, particularly William and Missy Murphy and William’s parents Gerry and Shorty. We’ve spent a lot of hours on Kathy’s porch with the gang playing bluegrass and singing. William’s dad, Gerry, has been struggling with cancer for a couple of years and without him able to join in, William and Missy stopped playing music. At Kstock, they got up on the stage and sang a few sweet songs again, despite the lengthy absence from strumming and singing, and it was wonderful to hear them. They’ve got a couple of the biggest warmest smiles in the state, and that they would jump on their motorcycle and drive north from Tennessee for Kstock was another gift in my giftbag.
A couple days before the party, I got a phone call from my friend Jean Trickey, from Little Rock, Arkansas, who said she had booked her ticket and was on her way! We’ve managed to spend some great weekends together in the last couple of years, her daughter’s wedding in Little Rock, and the 50th Anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, of which Jean is one of those brave teenagers who back in 1957 walked through the hateful crowd to be one of the first black kids to attend Central High School. I had gone last year to Little Rock for the 50th, (a phenomenal occasion it was), seen John Lewis the freedom fighter, met Ruby Bridges the little girl in the Norman Rockwell painting, shook Bill Clinton’s hand, got snagged on his secret service guy…again, I digress…but Jean had been so busy on these occasions that we really only got to talk a bit late at night when she finally could sit down. So to have her come for the weekend for my birthday, stay for a few days and have some down time to just talk (alot about Barack and Hillary of course), to dance as we love to do, and to see her get up on the stage and belt out “Women be wise, keep your mouth shut, don’t advertise your man” (a wise old song) was another big deposit in the gift bag.
Jean being here brought out her sons Isaiah (we had real Toronto paparazzi there) and Sol from Toronto and their kids, Amelia and Jaaziah, who added extra joy and energy to the occasion. (Many of these photos were from either Isaiah, Peter or Marty – thanks guys)
K, Sol, Isaiah, & Miss Kathy from Tennessee
The Trickey clan is always interesting, fun, dynamic, and loud (in this gang, I don’t feel like the loudest in the room) - great to have three generations represented at Kstock. (Notice the photographic image of me on the cake – what will we eat next?)
Kay, Sol, Amelia & Jaaziah talk cake business
And then there was my soul sister Cocky who lives in a nature sanctuary outside of Freeport, Maine and her partner Peter MacMillen. They had been up in Temagami, on Peter’s beautiful island, and came down from the north for the event. Cocky has been here in the Hammer often, but Peter went well out of his way for this one.
And along with my close friends Linda and Bill Murray from Charlton (along with Jean and Cocky, we all lived up in the Temiskaming area of northeastern Ontario for years – the Murrays still do), Patti and Leo Lessard and Terry and Ted from Mattawa, they brought the fresh clean northern air down to the Hammer. Cocky, Jean and I are a feisty trio when we get together, which doesn’t happen very often, but I love these women and to have a few days together was beautiful.
Beyond these folks there was Bill and Cheryl from Virginia, Lynda and Carole representing Guelph, friends from Toronto, Freda’s family, fine Hammerfolk and good neighbours, a number of old high school friends I hadn’t seen in years, the now-getting-old kids of friends, and a couple of my favorite dogs, Alpha and Ziggy. It all added up to the best party ever.
After this wild summer of rain and thunderstorms, the sky was completely clear, the temperature perfect all night long for being outside dancing (I guess some people were sitting) or around the campfire, people camped in comfort and peace, and we all woke up to more sunshine. Freda and Mike and gang made us a big breakfast, only after making a deal with the Swingers to play just a few more tunes in the morning. That Stu can drum on anything! We swam in the pool and I opened my gifts (the ones not already in the giftbag).
Stu, John & Marty, most of the Swingers
I ceremoniously burned the box full of paper copies of Walking with Wolf (Steve Earle was doing his Sirius radio show in the background as this happened – it was all so poignant). I have been printing out copies of the manuscript for how many years? and no longer need them, so I put the box on the coals and slowly watched it catch fire and disintegrate. It was a cleansing and a celebration. If I do nothing else of value in my life, I managed to get this book written and published while Wolf and I are still alive, and miraculously before I turned 50!
It was at the moment that the last of the overnight guests had got in their cars and honked their way down the road, leaving only Freda, Mike, Maggie, Cocky, Jean and I with Isaiah and Jaaziah, that the storm hit. Everything had been cleaned up, put inside, as we could see the storm approaching over the fields. There was some heavy rain that we watched from the porch, amazed that this whole outdoor event went on without a hitch, not a drop of rain to spoil anything, no chance for a mud-dance like at the real Woodstock. Just as the storm seemed to have subsided there was one HUGE thunderclap with one HUGE bolt of lightning – Jean was just putting her hand on the outhouse door and was shook to her bones. Jaaziah was in the car, but Isaiah was still outside and could hear the sizzle of electricity in the air. I think Jean’s hair went a little curlier and we all jumped and were rocked all over. Just one CLAP that carried the power of the whole dark sky. How lucky were we that none of us were hurt by this extremely close electrical jolt – it would have been a horrible way to end perfection – and life has been so good for me lately that a bolt of lightning almost feels inevitable – and that the storm waited until our friends were safely on their way home. One last grand hurrah, the big finish, to Kstock 2008! The gratitude I feel to all my friends who came out and worked, then played, so hard is impossible to express. Peace, love and grooviness will have to do!
It is as inevitable as the wind and rain in Monteverde, that one day my time will be up and I have to leave. I don’t worry about going and I quickly transfer my thinking to arriving instead – back to Canada, friends there, familiar haunts, a different kind of music and the beautiful northern landscape. As long as I have the privilege and ability to return when I want to Costa Rica, then I can leave with a simple “nos vemos” – “we’ll see each other”, rather than “adios”, which feels much more final.
Of course this year also takes me back to Canada with a whole new purpose in life – bringing Walking with Wolf to the masses, doing publicity, marketing and distributing of my precious little tome. So there is an excitement at the back of my brain that I try not to get too caught up in, but will soon – within twenty-four hours now, I’ll be full on ready to conquer the north. I have until September 6 to prepare for the first big official book launch in Hamilton, and then the following weekend I’m returning to my old community in the northeast to do hopefully three presentations over a few days. This is the part of the world close to Temagami, Ontario, which I talk about in the book. I have many old friends there who have been very supportive and I am really looking forward to the book parties there. And in the second week of October, I think I will be doing a presentation at Olney Friends School in Barnesville, Ohio, which we also talk about, Wolf’s alma mater, for their Homecoming weekend. This hasn’t been decided yet, but the idea seems to have interested the director and so I will soon be in touch with him about the possibility.
Having received such wide spread acceptance and praise in Monteverde from the people who are closest to the story will truly help me go out in the big northern world and hold my head up, proud of our book. I know that I was most nervous of the reaction of the biologists – sticklers for detail that they are, strong-willed, educated and quite sure of their own versions of the world – but several of them have spoken up for the quality of the book and have enjoyed reading it and shared a minimum of criticism (maybe I shouldn’t have called the tropical cloud and rain forest “jungle” but to the outsider, that is truly what it is, by dictionary definition as well.)
One of the surprises of the reaction to the book is how many people have said to me that it has revived in them the spirit of the community. Wolf’s stories about the founding of Monteverde, and my modern day descriptions have given them a renewed sense of what a special community they are part of. I had always hoped to properly present Wolf’s life and accomplishments but it had never occurred to me that our book might be a positive factor in the community. How proud can one be for playing a role such as that?
I have also heard from friends in Canada who don’t know Wolf, Monteverde or Costa Rica, and have said they love the story and the writing. So that bodes well for the future of the book simply as a piece of literature. I think it’s deepest purpose is the telling of Wolf’s interesting and dedicated life with all its flaws and colorful tales, and that is what I feel the most able to go out and talk about. His is an inspirational story of humor, hard work and humility and I take great pride in being able to tell this story.
In the week that I was offline, I returned to Monteverde, saw friends, packed and repacked, sat down with Wolf and signed a whole box of books to take back to deserving friends in Canada, did some dancing, had some great conversations and enjoyed my final days of tropical life. I spent a day down in San Luis waiting for the arrival of fifteen teams of oxen who were coming from the low lands for a festival, but unfortunately had to leave by the time only one team had arrived (those beasts move very slowly). I managed to get bit on my finger by something – I thought an ant, but now think maybe a spider – that now, four days later, is still swollen up in a bunch of itchy bumps. What a year for bites! I think it may be caused by the rainy season, as I found the bug population rampant. I ran off to Cahuita on the Caribbean for twenty-four hours and was blessed with sunshine and a starry night, whereas there had been pouring rain for the days before I got there. Here too I was bitten while swimming in the sea, something that rarely happens at all, especially in the Caribbean. But I was floating and some seaweed wrapped itself around me and four sharp stings (jelly-fish? Some say sea fleas?) sent me out of the water, waiting to see if I’d have some weird reaction like that poor Australian nature guy. You just never know these days. My papalomoyo seems to be under control, though I’ll continue with my sulpha treatments in Canada – and I still have a series of bitemarks on my thighs that we think are from mites of some sort. Hmmmm, August in Hamilton, the bug situation should be pretty tame in comparison.
I spent the last couple nights with Edin Solis (the photo is me with one of his Grammies) and his wife Lorena Rodríguez, he of Editus, she an interior, exterior and just about all round everything designer. Edin was finishing the work on the soundtrack to a BBC documentary production called “The Winds of Papagayo” – about the changes of the environment in Guanacaste, the northwest province of Costa Rica. How interesting was that – not just listening to the musical themes that Edin had composed (great surf beat dude) and admiring how the music followed the images and the story of the documentary, but the information within the work itself. It promises to be a very interesting piece of journalism (with a beautiful soundtrack) about what is happening with development on the fragile Pacific coastline. I had never realized that the winds collect and transport great fertility that has risen from the huge Lake Nicaragua to the north, as well as from the potent gases of the various volcanoes that run in a chain straight through Central America. The strong winds we know in parts of Costa Rica do have an important purpose besides blowing us around and keeping us cool. The doc also focuses on the over-expansion of development on the coastline, the extreme change of community life in less than thirty years, the changes in the winds themselves, and the struggle of the turtle population to survive the many forces that are working against them.
I think of Costa Rica in general as about as fragile as a population of olive ridley sea turtles. Even though I know so many dynamic, charismatic, kind, intelligent and hardworking people in this little country, over all I feel they are all under threat. Out of control development, foreign influence, fear, and an economy that isn’t servicing the people at the lower end of the scale are all signs of a difficult future. The country has great “green” policies but doesn’t seem to have the backbone to enforce the laws. Most people I talk to have little faith in the government, having had three of their last presidents found guilty of some form of kickbacks. The president of the day, Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work in the 80s on bringing peace to the Central American region, had the constitution changed, by the vote of 4 judges, so that he could be re-elected (up until the last election, Costa Rica had a rule, similar to the USA, that presidents could only serve one term). He also supported CAFTA, the free-trade agreement with the USA, which many people are extremely leery of. This all adds up to a disgruntled society in an over-stressed country with a frustrated view of the future.
I love these people and this country.
The very talented Sofia Zumbado, award-winning saxophonist and her beautiful mom Myrna Castro
My friend 100-year old Otilia Gonzales and her daughters Gladys and Margarita
Luis Angel Obando, Head of Protection, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
HEY! How’d this guy make it in here?
Everyone I know in Costa Rica is involved in some interesting project, not only to make a living, but to bring some new awareness to their life. I wish them all well. Tenga fe mis amigos, nos vemos pronto.
I am once again writing from the lowlands. I’ve come to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Before I talk about sand and surf however, I want to acknowledge the fact that I missed Canada Day on July 1st. I’m not a flag-waving patriotic type, but I am happy and thankful to be Canadian and remember that no matter where I am, just not necessarily on THE DAY. There have been things that have reminded me however – the odd Canadian flag here in Puerto Viejo, the picture of Tom Wilson on the hamilton365.com website that I follow (Larry Strung’s daily photographic diary of Hamilton (my hometown) people in 2008 – I am featured on February 26) If I were to choose a Canadian singer-songwriter who speaks for me of where I live, it would be Tom. He’s all attitude, talent, irreverent, and a great entertainer/singer/guitar player/composer. So Larry’s choice of him as the Canada Day portrait on his website struck a huge chord with me, one that sounded a lot like the beginning of “Oh Canada”…but I digress (and also stopped writing this…)
More than a week has gone by, and a warm wonderful week it was. I arrived back in Monteverde last night on the bus – amused by the reaction of a couple from New York sitting beside me to the never-ending road. We went up in darkness but you could still see the steep precipices that dropped off to the sides in the shadows. The woman looked horrified – when we got to Santa Elena, I told her to be sure to leave on the 6:30 a.m. bus when they were ready to go, as that is the most beautiful ride back down the mountain. The sun will be coming over the mountain and glimmering on the waters of the Gulf of Nicoya and lighting up the flatlands of Guanacaste – the clouds will be at play all around you, drifting up from the valleys, hovering in the mountains, and tumbling across the lower landscape. And she will truly see what she couldn’t in the darkness – the narrow winding road that we just crawled up, alive with milk trucks, tourist buses and other early morning machinery – the whole effect tends to wake you up very quickly. I have noticed this year that there is even more traffic on the roadway and on each bus trip there have been numerous occasions that the bus had to back up to make room so that it could clear the sides of a passing transport truck, or pull off as far to the edge (whatever you do, don’t look!) so that some other large vehicle could pass. I’ve been on the bus much more this year than any other but this is a new phenomena, a sign of the great increase in business and vehicular traffic in Monteverde.
Fortunately the weather up here has been beautiful they tell me. The rains have come as they should, a little downpour each afternoon, but otherwise it is sunny and hot. Bodes well for the beach babe recently returned – it is hard to leave the beach when you like sun and water and lazy days, and returning to cold, wet, windy and busy Monteverde can be a harsh shock. So I appreciate that I can walk out this morning in summer clothes and perhaps not have to think about my rubber boots, umbrella and raincoat till later in the day.
My week on the Caribbean was made up of reunions with three friends, two of whom I hadn’t seen in years, hours spent floating in the warm sea and wandering through the shady jungle, a great book (End of the Spear by Steve Saint), and a lot of fish and fresh fruit. The bus ride from San José to Limón and then down the coastal highway to Puerto Viejo was very smooth. You get used to the fact that in Costa Rica the state of the road changes quickly. They get fixed and freshly paved but it doesn’t take long before the pavement is washed out and huge potholes appear, forcing vehicles to wind their way slowly around the obstacles. This route had obviously been recently done as we practically flew on a very smooth flight.
You leave the city and go up over the mountain range of Braulio Carrillo National Park where it is always cool and often wet and windy but with spectacular views over the protected forests. The road winds down near Guapiles and from there heads straight and flat across the lowlands, passing over wide rivers and past the endless banana plantations along with the acres of trucking containers that transport the bananas for Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita to places throughout the world. The foliage and landscape change to something mossier and drippier in a different shade of green than the western side of the country. The light is different as well. Coming over the mountains to the Atlantic side of the Costa Rica is like coming into another country without a border crossing. Even the color of people’s skin turns a darker brown – this is the Afro-Caribbean province and there is also a noticeable population of indigenous – Talamancas and Mestizos especially.
When I got to Puerto Viejo, I went to the home of my old friend Susana Schik, who appears on one of the last pages of Walking with Wolf, but who hasn’t appeared in my life in probably eight or ten years. She used to live in Monteverde, teaching natural history courses, but now does that down in Puerto. She is married to a lovely man, René, and has a very sprightly four-year-old daughter named Hannah. Once Hannah got over her initial shyness with me, our time was spent trading wild cat screams and responses – and this girl can roar! Susana and René care-take some vacation houses along the Black Sands beach on the north side of Puerto and they offered that I could use an apartment that was empty in one of these houses.
Beautiful! I spent three nights with a great balcony, cable TV, phone and very hot shower – more than I’ve had in most places I’ve stayed. The only head-shaking part was the amount of locks and barriers involved – every window not only had heavy wooden shutters but iron grates and locks. The doors had deadbolts, the iron grates were double locked. And even then, there were signs that someone had been trying to hack their way past the deadbolt in the few days since Susana had last visited there. She told me not to leave the house less than thoroughly locked up even if I only leave for a few minutes to go to her place or to the store – someone will surely break in. The signs of people trying to get at whatever they can, to share illegally in the obvious wealth that exists for some in Costa Rica, are omnipresent.
I took the local bus through the now-almost-city of Puerto Viejo, full of surfers, rastas, university students on vacation, and locals working in the bustling service industry, to quieter Punta Uva, a few kilometers down the coast. My friend Sarah Dowell, prolific and extraordinary artist, lives there. We have been friends since I came to Monteverde in 1990. She lived in a great funky house with its artistically displayed shell collection (Sarah commented that they collected these shells a few years ago but now have a hard time finding many of these shells - they want to donate this as an exhibit somewhere in the town) up on the mountain. I would go and visit while she painted. This is how she makes her living and so she is quite disciplined about the time she spends painting each day. She works from photographs – of nature, animals, flowers, and various human models she’s collected images of. I was a model for her many years ago and get a thrill each time I recognize some part of my anatomy, if not all of me, in a painting. Her paintings are for sale at the Hummingbird Gallery here in Monteverde, where I once worked, and I often stop and visit with the owners and look at the fresh crop of Sarah’s water colors. They range from very green jungle scenes with nudes running through the foliage, to underwater sea life, to vibrant exotic flowers. Simply beautiful. Sarah gave me a painting that my likeness is in, standing in a pool at the base of a waterfall along with a nude man (the model was Bill Kucha, another artist). I have shown the painting to a couple of people and they knew that it was me and also know that I would happily be standing nude in a pool of water at the base of any waterfall. So thank you Sarah, for that gift.
Spending several hours in Sarah and her partner Mel’s open-air home (a beach version of her Monteverde home) and studio, with her paintings, great coffee, and birds singing and howlers chuckling around the large open windows, talking about anything and everything we could in our attempt to catch up, was time spent in pure enjoyment. At some point, Sarah’s grand-daughter, Ashanti, joined us. She is another enchanting four-year-old. We walked down the path to the beach and played in the water. It is always fun to be with a child just learning to swim and who is confident enough to take chances – the only way to learn. Sarah lost her own son, Singer, in a car accident a couple of years ago. She is finally recovering and there is no doubt that having Shanti close by, and the child’s mom Connie (who gave me a fantastically relaxing massage on the beach), helps. To have a bit of her son alive in this funny, smart, energetic little girl is another gift.
Sarah and Shanti on the beautiful beach at Punta Uva
We saw a sloth. This is my favorite animal here and this was the first of many I saw this week. I’ve had many great sloth experiences. The first one I saw my first year here was on this coast, a dead one, washed up after a few days of terrible rains that had no doubt knocked down the tree that the sloth was in and washed the poor animal out to sea. My Tico friend, Macho, and I came upon it, this peaceful looking creature seemingly asleep on the beach, curled up like a baby, all covered in a fine coating of green – these animals live their lives in the trees, and are basically mammalized containers of chlorophyll. This poor little guy was very dead – I wanted to take pictures, they would have been beautiful, but Macho was appalled that I would take pictures of the dead, even an animal, and so we moved on (as I recall, it also involved returning to the cabin to get my camera – which was more of a problem than his reluctance).
Another time I protected a sloth as it slowly ran through downtown Cahuita very late at night. While the fiesta rages on in the bars, the sloths often make their way through town, holing up in the trees of the park, then making a “run” for it to get to the next bunch of trees. Well, if you have ever seen a sloth move, you want to pick them up and help them along. It is a silent movie slowed down to almost pause. But I can always imagine the inside of their little leaf-filled brains screaming, “run, man, run – I’m outa here”, even as their long arms and legs slowly move them along the ground. That particular night, I fended off the drunken boys who wanted to harass the poor creature, and walked with him till he got safely back into the shadows. Gary Larsen, the cartoonist, has a great drawing called “what sloths do when no-one is around” – which shows a very happy sloth boogie-ing on the ground to the music from a boombox – and I identify with that. We tend to have ideas of how others live by how they appear – and we never really know what happens when the doors are shut, the lights are off, and there is no one else around.
These are turtle tracks, the mama come out of the sea to lay her eggs…could be tractor tracks come to dig up the beach…we spent awhile raking the tracks away so noone would find the nest and steal the eggs.
The amount of growth in Puerto Viejo is staggering – as in so many parts of the country. The issue of concern now is the proposal to build a large marina. The original concept was for 400 slots! That would bring an immense amount of traffic off the seas into this already bursting town. They have downsized it to one hundred berths and even that will make a disaster of the reef, the sea, and the community. I didn’t spend a lot of time investigating this – I just look at development as it has occurred in so many parts of this little country and see that the planning has been haphazard, the execution swift, and the result often devastating to many, while obviously profitable to others. Of course, there is that idea of not stopping progress, but there is also that big question “is this really what you call progress?” Hmmmmm…
I left Puerto and went half an hour up the road to my old stomping grounds of Cahuita. There has always been a huge difference between these two neighbouring communities. People tend to be either a Cahuita person or a Puerto person (like red and black beans I guess). Back in 1990 I spent a week in Cahuita and fell in love with it – and then traveled down to Puerto for one night before quickly returning to Cahuita. Whatever the differences were then, they are more obvious now – Puerto Viejo has grown immensely and stretches over a large area and it is busy with a surfer-dude subculture due to the legend of the Salsa Brava wavebreak (even though I think it was negatively affected by an earthquake years ago that shifted the coral reef) – Cahuita is smaller and more laid back with an older crowd moving slower. In Cahuita everything takes place in a very small area – the two main bars for beer or dancing are beside each other and the beautiful white sandy beach and National Park is two blocks away. You can stay in a pension, walk two minutes to any restaurant for Caribbean food, dance, shop, and walk along the shady path that follows the beach until you get to the quiet waters where you can float or swim lazily. I always spend a lot of hours on that beach in the shade of the trees when I’m not afloat in the warm water of the Caribbe.
I have known many characters in this town – some pretty unsavory, others classic Caribbean. I won’t get into what I have seen and witnessed over the years, for without explanation I know it all sounds rough. But being on the Atlantic is a very different culture than in other parts of Costa Rica – one that is very laid back up until there is a problem between people, then it can be very aggressive. As long as you don’t put yourself in the middle of anything, you have no worries. The drug trade has affected this coast perhaps more than other parts of the country (though all of Costa Rica has become a clearing house for Columbian cocaine and marijuana). It is not far across the sea from South America to this coastline and people work at making money in their nefarious ways. Unfortunately, you also see the affects on the people themselves of a poor economy mixed with cheap drugs and the opportunity to make a fast buck. I’ve seen the result on many friends on both coasts who have fallen to the constant fiesta. But these temptations are part of life all over Costa Rica, as well as in many other parts of the world. And you can either focus on that and reject the place, or appreciate the other aspects of the Caribbean culture, the warmth of the people, the spice of the food, the relax of life stewed in coconut juices.
In short order, I bumped into my old friend Roberto. We go way back, a history of love, friendship, and conversation. There is a famous song written by a Cahuitan calypsonian, Walter Ferguson, called “Cabin in the Water.” My friend Manuel Monestel and his group Cantoamerica play and have recorded this song (Walter himself recorded it, finally, at the age of 83) - it tells the story of Bato, a man who built himself a simple cabin in the water off of the beach and was living there when Cahuita National Park was created. The administrator of the park came and told him, “Bato, you can’t live here, this is now a National Park.” He held his own for a long time but eventually moved up to another beach. Bato was a very interesting man. If you came across him in his hammock on the beach, you’d think he was just the marine equivalent of a street person – but he was actually a very intelligent, poetic philosopher. He knew what was going on in the world. I knew Bato through the 90s when I spent a lot of time here (he died about six years ago) and would go and sit and visit with him. Even as an old man, he never lost his ability to attract females, even young ones, and was quite the charmer. But my business with him was talking – listening to his tales and his ideas, told in his lilting Caribbean patois. I was always amazed how his home changed – one year I would arrive and his house would be a construction as big as a castle, built by driftwood, flotsam and jetsam that had washed up from huge storms. He would have walls, roof, tables, bed (although still sleep in his hammock) and decoration. The next time I came, the sea would have taketh away, and he was back to the simplicity of his hammock, maybe starting with another table assembly from fresh driftwood. He was a man who chose to live life with little money and less possession, but still lived. He wasn’t always a nice man, but he was an interesting one. And my friend Roberto is his son.
Roberto Levey grew up in Cahuita, was on his own by the time he was fourteen years old, and moved to San José where he became a shoemaker. He came back after twenty years to Cahuita and lived in a little casita a few minutes walk from town. When I met him in 1994, he was a fisherman and sold organic fruits from the trees on his land. A rasta with a life time growth of dreads on his head, he lived a very earthy life by the sea. I was charmed by his kindness and his positive energy and his humor, but truly impressed with his intelligence. He sang in local reggae and calypso bands and wrote poetry. His house had his own graffiti all over it. He was a friend to me and my old boyfriend, Macho, and we often camped in his yard and he fed us breadfruit and akee. Nothing was sweeter in Cahuita than lounging in his hammock and listening to him reciting poetry or talking politics or explaining the Caribbean culture which was very different from anything I knew. As I got to know his father, I could see the genetics, even though Roberto had never lived with him. He inherited his father’s way of viewing the world and living his life, with a minimum of money and a whole lot of interest in what made the world go around and a great sense of humor about even the ugliest of human behavoir.
Women easily fall in love with him, as I did, and he has children on three continents. The phenomena of foreign women coming to exotic places and getting pregnant by, sometimes marrying, perhaps taking the local boys home is easy to criticize but more complicated in its effect on both the beach men and the foreign women. Roberto is not happy that he has five children who live far away from him – as they get older, they will no doubt reappear in his life, or at least some probably will. In the meantime, their father continues to live his life just as his father before him did, under the shade of tropical trees, to the rhythm of the calypsonians, holding on to the idea that love and peace are worthy goals. I saw Roberto a couple of years ago and he was in a very hurting state, his heart once again broken and so he was surviving by medicating himself – at the time I could only admonish him, tell him that he was worth so much more, plead with him to get it back together, and leave him with the hope that he would come through this horrible period. When I arrived this year, I knew that he was back to himself, smiling, thinking, warm and relaxed. He had bought a little piece of jungle a short walk out of Cahuita and was living, just like his father, off the land, making just enough money by selling produce when he needed to, and living in his own peace.
I told him that I’d like to give him a copy of Walking with Wolf as long as he’d read it and he said he was very interested. So as I floated in the sea, I’d look up and see him reading and when I came out of the water, he’d talk about what he had been reading, asking questions and expressing his own take on some line I’d written or statement of Wolf’s. It was as pleasant of an intercourse about the book as I’ve had with anyone. If you saw Roberto, his heavy head of dreads tied up over his 55-year-old face with white beard, his clothes smelling of the wood stove he cooks on, and his poverty obvious, you’d probably assume he was just another pothead with too much party going on and little to live for. And once again, you’d have judged the man quite differently from his reality. I spent a morning sitting by the stream outside his jungle shack and the conversation never bored or stalled. I felt privileged to have been invited to Roberto’s home in the jungle.
Sarah Dowell is anxious to return to Monteverde, in a large way because of the level of thinking and depth of conversation that exists throughout this community. She repeated a line from a Bill Bryson book that says “the cheery vacuity of beach life”, and she is dying from that particular virus. But in my week on the beautiful sands of the Caribbean, spent with Sarah, Susana and Roberto, I never lacked for intelligent conversation and intriguing analysis of life and society. Maybe I’m just lucky in the people I know, yet often they are not at all what they appear to be. Fortunately I’ve learned to look past the color or state of the paint on peoples’ houses and that ability has led to some of the richest experiences of my life.