I am safely back in my home in Hamilton, unpacked and reconnected. It was a festive few days in northeastern Ontario that I just had the pleasure of passing while presenting Walking with Wolf and visiting friends. There was also a bit of bush time, some sailing, and, of course, music involved and now all that is left are the memories. I sold enough books to justify the trip, which wasn’t difficult as I will always jump on the chance to head north to the rocks and pines and lakes, so selling some books and getting the story of Wolf out only makes it that much richer.
The night before I left, my old friend Bob Martinez came to the Hammer. I was driving him home the next day to New Liskeard. We can now tally one more convert, an innocent seduced by the brick city’s charms. Sitting in my jungly backyard with the sun streaming through the leaves was beautious. We then followed the call to go to the bayfront where some folks were drumming. Bob is a fine drummer himself, just not doing it much these years, so it was good to see him doing the skin thing and enjoying himself.
We then had the delicious favas and shrimp at the Wild Orchid (this restaurant in itself tends to bring my friends back) and then walked up to Pepperjacks. Watermelon Slim – a truck-driving, union-carded, slide-guitar playing, harp-blowing, incredible teller of tales and interpreter of songs – was playing and singing and talking. Though I was falling asleep in my chair and knew I had to get up and drive, I couldn’t leave. The man was mesmerizing in a slippery kind of way. I think it might have been his shiny satin shirt but it was also his buttery voice.
Friday night at the Chat Noir in New Liskeard was warm and comfortable as a cat on your lap. A number of friends, and others, came out – maybe thirty-five? – and we had a pleasant soiree. Dave Patterson, one of the sweetest guitarists you could know, played along with Dean Murphy on bass and Dan Dalcourt on drums. Although Dave has played for decades all over the area, this managed to be his first time at the Chat Noir Bookstore, a cool space run by Jennifer and Paul Fournier. Besides a large variety of books and other items, as well as a stocked coffee bar, the place has a real friendly character. They have a perfect event space in Liskeard and are real nice folks to boot. (No, don’t boot them. Where does that expression come from anyway?)
A bunch of friends were there – from Temagami came Glen and Diane Toogood who, after more than two decades, have left isolated lake-living for closer access on the highway. We have lived in some bushy places together, and survived camp life at two wilderness canoe camps, along with other trials and tribulations, proving we can survive anything. They brought Heidi Buck, another comrade from past Temagami adventures. I learned many years while in Costa Rica that Canadians have a very different sense of distance and time – to drive an hour to see a movie or have dinner with a friend has never been much of an issue when you live in the Canadian countryside, just the cost of living in a very big land – that is changing with rising gas prices, but is still part of our very large psyche.
Bobby, Terry, Linda & Bill From further north near Englehart came Joe & Kathy, Linda & Ambrose, Bill & Linda – all my old neighbours and wonderful friends. Even my ex-mother-in-law had been through and bought a book for me to sign. A pleasant surprise that was. It was all real nice, and although I didn’t feel I talked as clearly as I did in Hamilton, it helps to not be a perfectionist…really, it was fine.
Kathy Martin & Heidi Buck with the Wolf.
The next morning Terry and Eva Graves, who helped me put the evening together, threw the afterparty and gave me a real comfy bed, took me out on steamy Lake Temiskaming in their sailboat. That’s twice I’ve had the luck of going sailing in the last month after several years of nary a sheet in the wind. The lake, at the inevitable end-of-the-summer, was warmer than the air that morning, and the sun was beaming down, so there was a lot of mist and cloudy fog in the distance. What a way to start the day.
As it turned out, this was New Liskeard’s Fall Fair weekend. There were all the prerequisites – horses, chickens, cows, the midway and candy floss. And a huge crowd with a definite French accent – makes me think that the Quebecois (the border between provinces is less than half an hour away) really enjoy homegrown community-driven entertainment. With their band, Headframe, Terry and Eva played a set in the afternoon on the Harvest Queen stage.
Our friend Dave Patterson, recently of Chat Noir fame, played a little violin with them. Or was it fiddle? … still a question that. Dave is very sentimental about the whole community fair thing. It was real nice walking around with someone who wasn’t cynical but instead enthusiastic and downright tender with the spirit of the fair.
Tom Preston & Eva of Headframe & Dave Patterson
Near the end of the night at the Chat Noir, I realized just how well the Hammer was represented – I live here and Terry, my longtime friend, former boss and committed activist extraordinaire, who very kindly introduced me, is from here, as is Dave Patterson. Who said it’s only slag that comes from the Hammer? I spent the night with my pals Linda and Bill Murray up in Charlton, relaxing, eating mmm-mmm food and drinking a precious little bottle of Don Julio tequila they had given me for my birthday – I brought it back north to share with them, in Bill’s very tasty margueritas. That must be why there are no photos to document the occasion.
Sunday afternoon’s book show was about a three-hour drive away in Mattawa at the Moon Cafe. Lorne Mick and Bev Bell have a perfect recipe – great food, great people, great building. They’ve only been open a year and a bit, and it is a struggle in a small northern town like Mattawa, but hopefully they’ll do well and the Moon will become a stop on everyone’s journey west from Ottawa on Highway 17. There wasn’t a big turnout that afternoon but it was a quality group. I stayed with my friends Patti and Leo Lessard – Patti and I being old friends from the same neighbourhood and high school in Burlington. It was while visiting her back in 1982 that I got the job that landed me in that northeastern area of the province.
The youngest participant so far at any of the book events was the lovely Lily, their grandaughter, who seemed to enjoy the show. There was an impromptu concert following the readings by Haley and Chanel, the granddaughters of our friends Terri and Ted Kennedy. Chanel promises to be a talented songwriter and Haley, well, she’ll just be a star.
The next day Terri and I took Little B and Trula, her bear-like dogs, out on the trails at Eau Claire Gorge. A new place for me, it was beautiful.
Autumn is in the air, there is no doubt. You feel it faster up there, compared to here in Hamilton – and I’m feeling it here too. Crisp walks in the woods at this time of the year is some of the best walking you’ll do – you can almost hear the sighs of the flowers as they fade and twittering of the leaves changing colour. The river was pretty high, what with all the rain that has fallen. No drought this year in that area.
The last book talk happened at the Hibou Boutique in North Bay on Tuesday night. Liz Lott and Christine Charette have a very friendly shop, eco-wise and people-wise, specializing in their own creations (restyled/recycled clothing, photography and porcelain jewelry) and very deliberately chosen smart products. Once again it was a small crowd out, but a warm one in a lovely space. Bob and Anna Gibson-Olajos came down from Temagami, carrying their 7-month baby melon with them (well, Anna is the vessel.) I stayed with the Northwatch folks, my friends Brennain Lloyd and Phillip Penna and their daughter Beatrice who was headed to her first day of junior kindergarten. A big day in the Penna-Lloyd house.
I drove home as the green forest shifted colours in front of my eyes. This is the time of year I feel the most Canadian – it must be the red maple leaves everywhere. The temperature is just fine for a northerner. And you know you need to enjoy every minute before the winter comes on. Thanksgiving is coming up and ideas of fall food start to invade your mind’s taste buds…potatoes, brussel sprouts, turkey dressing, apples, pumpkin pie. I’m feeling tired and I don’t think it is from the trip – my natural rhythm tends to follow that of the world around me – and the days are getting shorter, the nights are coming on strong, my body is preparing for hibernation. Slowing down, slowin dow, slow...