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New Orleans has sat at the top of my top ten list of places to visit for a very long time. When my soul sister, dance partner and restless girlfriend, Miss Cocky, phoned me one day last year and said “guess what I did?” I couldn’t have imagined that she had signed us up for three nights in a hotel in the Big Easy – one of those ghastly timeshare deals.  Although neither of us will ever be the timeshare type – we don’t like corporate tourism, big hotels or condominiums that resemble each other no matter where you are, windows that don’t open, big dollars for rooms that you only want to sleep in – it seemed like a good deal at the time and, most importantly, it was going to get us to New Orleans! Well done, Cocky!

I can’t say I really knew much about the place except for stories of spicy food, festive people, soulful music and dancing in the street – all enough of an attraction for me! A few years back, while at the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock 9 in Arkansas with our good friend Jean Trickey, we had the great pleasure of meeting her friend Ruby Bridges. Ruby was the little black girl who was the first to integrate an all-white public school in New Orleans in 1960 and has gone on to be an inspirational speaker against racism and promoting tolerance. We have stayed in touch and she has always extended a welcome to look her up if we were to make it to her Louisiana homeland.

Of course I knew of the stories of Hurricane Katrina (my stormy namesake donchyaknow) and the devastation of broken levees, rising waters, and flooded lives that in many cases have not yet been rebuilt. It seems like yesterday that our TV screens filled with images of cars full of desperate people crawling bumper-to-bumper over the bridges leading out of town trying to escape the watery mayhem. Days later the scenes got more horrific – people stranded on the top of their houses, waiting for boats to rescue them or refusing to leave their homes out of fear, anger, stubbornness or sheer determination. Yet that was seven years ago so it was about time that we got down there to see what was happening on the ground, to hear some of the real stories, to experience the magic that remains, and to support the local economy.

Cocky and I decided that we would make it a roadtrip, a cross-country sojourn that would include visiting friends and experiencing out-of-the-way places throughout the south. We met up in Connecticut, me arriving with a friend driving from Ontario to Boston, Cocky coming from her home in Maine, staying our first night with her partner Peter and his cousin Mary Faith and Patrick – all friends from beautiful Lake Temagami. So we started heading south with a definite northern send off, a friendly gathering of nishnabai and neighbours in a pretty little enclave of New England.

We set out on a Sunday heading down I 95 – through all those huge cities – New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC. Except for one close call and about twenty-five minutes of slowdown in Maryland (and, as it would turn out, a speeding ticket as determined by an eye in the sky and mailed to the house later), we flew past all those millions of people in their cars without problem – rather fortuitous I would say. If there is something that I have returned from this particular roadtrip with, after a couple of thousand miles on the US interstates, is the feeling that you are constantly just one small jerk of the wheel (or jerk of a driver) away from a crunch, rattle and roll – or worse – and it is divine providence, however you want to define that, or sheer luck, that allows you to survive barreling down a highway in a tin can surrounded by other tin cans moving way too fast!

Our next night was spent with friends, also from Temagami, who live in Richmond, Virginia – our gateway to the south where the accents got thicker, the weather got warmer and the pace got a little slower (not the cars however). Erin, Jay and their kids were well into the start of the new school year so we didn’t have much time with them, just long enough to eat a delicious dinner and take a brisk evening walk through the tree shadowed streets, but with their southern hospitality Erin and Jay set us up to stay at the family home on Gaston Lake in Northern Carolina the next night.

What a place! We spent close to twenty-four hours enjoying the comfort of the beautiful house, the hot sunshine on the docks and the incredibly warm water. Looking up and down the long shoreline full of homes and boathouses, we recognized that this lake must be a-buzzing with water toys and people through the summer months and weekends, but arriving on a week day at the end of September, we had the place to ourselves! Nary a soul! Well there was the whirring of the kingfishers in flight and the banging of hammers as local carpenters built more docks (a sound which, I must admit, I find rather…arousing) but mostly it was Cocky and I, reveling in the continuation of summer, swimming, drinking wine and resting up for our nights to come in New Orleans.

From there we headed across the Smokey Mountains into Townsend Tennessee to see my old friends Kathy and Stan and the Tennessee sweethearts William and Missy. How I love all these warm, sweet folk! Once again it was a quick evening of wine, food and chatter before heading out in the morning, but well worth the detour just to soak up some of that smoky friendliness with a bluegrass kinda twang to it!

Although I am not a follower of the GPS (I have my own internal KPS system and love to read maps and find my way in and outa places – getting lost is adventure, not failure), Cocky wanted to bring one along and get used to using it, so there were really three women inside our car. I generally tried to get along with the woman who was always telling us where to go. I often say that I have never known a man who likes a woman telling him what to do but then will put that GPS box in his car and take instructions from the bitch all day long – I just don’t get it! I learned how to program her, to get a variety of information out of her and to read between her instructions, but I also knew how to turn her off.

So I was driving on a back highway of Tennessee, headed toward Alabama, with the GPS turned off and Cocky busy on her cellphone, when I pulled into the parking lot of a gas station to check the map and see where we should turn. I didn’t notice the curb beside us, and in a Tennessee two-step I was up over the curb, the axle resting on the concrete, the rear tire spinning in the air. I got out, feeling like the fool I was, and we investigated the situation.

The back of Cocky’s car has three bumper stickers – I Love Obama; Turn off Fox News, it’s bad news for America; and a Canadian flag.  As we looked in dismay at the car, we were approached by a blonde bullet of a woman named Tess. She had noticed the bumper stickers and told us she was Canadian, from Alberta, a truck driver who had been living in Tennessee for twenty years. She then told us that we should watch ourselves “in these parts” with that Obama sticker, there were a lot of rednecks around, though, don’t worry, she was going to vote for him. She recommended that we don’t let anyone try to push or pull the car, but call AAA and get a truck with a winch to lift us up and off the curb or we’d rip the bottom off the car. She was so helpful, giving our location to the AAA operator, and keeping an eye on the people who arrived. They would generally come with a smile on their face, assess the situation, see the bumper stickers, roll their eyes and leave us alone. We waited an awful long time for the truck to come and had a few offers of help – an old guy across the street with his motorized wheelchair offered to pull us, another came with a yard mower with I don’t know what intentions in mind. But then a great big tattooed hulk of a guy got out of his truck and the old guy said “this is exactly who you need” – and that nice ol’ hulk picked the car up and moved it off the curb and we were back on our merry way, no harm done. There are friendly people everywhere whatever their politics.

We got to Meridien Mississippi and pulled into a Jameson Inn, which became our favorite $50 a night roadside chain in the south. It had a swimming pool and it was still in the 80s (high 20s celcius) that evening and so we swam like a couple of fish returned to the water. We were soon visited by the only other variety of people at the inn – workmen, staying there while working on a huge new coal plant being built nearby. They were from all over the south, polite men, who knew better than to talk about politics, religion, guns, abortion…you know, all those taboo subjects. But that’s exactly how we spent the evening, those good ol’ boys never having met a couple of northern bush babes with big mouths and strong opinions like Miss Cocky and I. Cocky never failed to ask everyone we met how they felt about Obama (“I don’t want to be rude but…”) and we mostly got positive responses – I hope our own informal cross country survey will prove accurate on election day in November.

We had our first southern barbecue at the Rib Shack in Meridien, where the ribs were tender, the sides – beans, peas, collard greens – were excellent, and the men were super friendly. I think you get back what you give out and Cocky and I always try to keep it friendly and appreciative and, truly, that is all we ran into everywhere we went.

Finally we pulled into New Orleans. After what they said had been eight straight days of sunshine – unheard of in hurricane season – we arrived with the rain and spent the next three days ducking in and out of the downpours but I don’t think we ever got very wet and we were always very warm. We came into a big city totally surrounded by water, crossed by bridges, with neighbourhoods that often seemed lower than sea level. We went to our hotel, the Wyndham Riverfront – upscale for us, a result of the timeshare sales package – down the road from the huge Harrah’s Casino, across from the touristy Riverwalk Mall, but also walking distance to the French Quarter, Mardi Gras World and a thousand great meals, street scenes and musical moments.

Cocky and I are all about dancing, so each night we made a plan that was based on music. The first night was at the famous Rock n Bowl, a bowling alley, zydeco-flavored dance floor, huge, friendly and real serious about its dancin’. It’s been around forever, had to change locations, was affected by the flood, but is back to doing a good business.  Horace Trahan and Ossun Express was the band, and they played three straight hours of zydeco and its variations. The dance floor was always full of hard core dancers. We met a lovely man, Richard Moten, a musician who had just finished a gig and decided to stop in on his way home. I got to dance with this nice man all night (and am now keeping an eye for him on the HBO show Treme which he has been in a few episodes of as a standup bass player) while Cocky tried out a series of partners who came and asked her to dance and tried to get her to follow their distinct moves. Sometimes, fellows, you just got to let the woman dance, especially when she has great rhythm and a strong sense of style. One of them tried so hard to control her movements that he hurt her ring finger and I don’t know if she has been able to put the ring back on yet!

We spent the next morning escaping the rain in the overwhelming Mardi Gras World. Since we probably won’t ever be there for the Mardi Gras krewes, we felt that we should check out the scene and according to our very helpful friendly local bartender, Kurt, it would be worth it. We were among the floats and costumes and larger than life sculptures, made of styrofoam and paper mache and painted like rainbows. Obviously a huge amount of work, effort, money and materials. that alone spirit and spirits, goes into the fifty-plus parades that happen in the season of Mardi Gras. It was a fantastical place to be, part museum, part factory, part art gallery. We couldn’t help but wonder at the waste and the toxicity of all this stuff, including the plastic baubles and beads distributed in the “throws” but, trying not to be party poopers, we just put on our festive faces and enjoyed the layers and layers of historical parade-making.

That night we headed out to see our new friend Richard who was playing his contrabass in a jazz club at the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourban Street. We didn’t really have plans to go to this infamous street now taken over by partiers more interested in drinking than dancing, but we had hoped to see Richard play. Unfortunately his gig had turned into a private wedding party and we couldn’t get in, but we could buy a drink and hang outside and listen to their smooth brand of classic jazz. The drinks, two glasses of chardonnay, served in plastic glasses no less (since everyone wanders about the streets with their drinks) were to be $35! Yikes! Cocky managed to get them half price in her outrage. Yeah girlfriend!

We hailed one of the bike-taxis that move people about the crowded streets and got one with a female driver. Turned out that Bella, our driver, wasn’t only Canadian, but she was a Hammer girl – from my very hometown! That was a great little meeting of the sisterhood right there! What a strong peddler of a sweetheart Bella was! She toured us under the full moon, thru the puddled streets, out of the French Quarter and over to the Biwater, past what can only be described as “revelers”, everyone in a constant state of yearlong pre or post Mardi Gras!

We spent the rest of the night on the much more musically inclined Frenchmen Street….as people said, what Bourban Street was before it went so touristy. Over the next three hours we danced to live bands playing reggae, blues, R & B, funk, New Orleans brass, and ended up in the infamous Apple Barrel Bar listening to a guitar player who was maybe someone well-known but was now a gristly ol’ guy who could really play that geetar. What a great night, in and out of venues, no covers, relatively inexpensive drinks, friendly people and not too many of them. These are the spots you want to find when you are in a new city. Satisfaction of spirit.

The next morning we had to hold up our end of the bargain and go to a presentation where they would try to sell us a timeshare. Wyndham is apparently the biggest timeshare corporation in the world, according to them and their charts. Leading up to our trip, I talked to a number of people who have taken advantage of these offers, willing to get a nice room in a big hotel in exchange for listening to the pitch. We both knew that we wouldn’t be buying anything, this is not our style of travel nor do we have that kind of money, but it would be a learning experience. Everyone said that you just had to be clear at some point that you weren’t interested and they might get cranky with you. I assume the company makes enough sales to make these offers of “free” rooms (which are not at all free – in our case, with room fee, very pricy parking, tips and taxes it worked out to about $80/night in downtown NOLA – I think a good price, not counting our precious time spent at the presentation).

We were shuttled to a different hotel where there was a room full of waiting couples and “friendly” sales people descending on them. For about two hours, the woman in charge of our pitch showed us picture after picture of big hotels in cities, modern condos on beaches, chalets in snowy mountains, paying little attention to our comments that they weren’t our preferred style of accommodation.  The pitch goes without any talk of what this would cost. After asking what our “fantasy” four vacations for the next two years would be, she went on to tell us how much they were saving us, somehow forgetting that this was just “fantasy”, talking to us like we were stupid not to save ourselves money when we showed that we weren’t interested. She had started with the line “whatever you decide here today, to buy or not, we will part as friends”, but of course we weren’t friends and she sure didn’t act like one when we left without signing. They send in a cleaner-upper to make a last ditch effort on a smaller deal but you just have to say a very firm no and stick with it. We were all hungry with low blood sugar by this point, and I don’t know if they make more sales that way or if offering a little food would be wise. Anyway, once they got the “NO THANKS” out of both of us, they released us, gave us a $75 dollar gift card (that we used against the extra charges on the room) and took us back to our hotel, never to bother us again….up until Cocky went with the gift card and some cash to pay the outstanding charges on the room and found out that they had already put them all on her credit card. I think a rather shifty way of doing business, as you should have a chance to look at your final bill, agree with it, and choose how to pay on check-out. They tell us some people take advantage of this system many times to get “cheap” deals on rooms. I guess if you like staying in $200 a night hotel rooms, it is a great deal. I’d just as soon find places through the internet or by talking with friends, and stay in more personable, reasonably priced places with character, giving my money to smaller local businesses.

Once that little piece of business was thru, with time passing much too quickly, Ruby Bridges and her husband Malcolm picked us up and took us on a tour of New Orleans. It was a rainy day, and even though the city was quite dry by their standards, we at least could feel the sense of what excessive moisture can do in this town. We visited several neighbourhoods, our enthusiastic guides wanting us to see the range of damages and reconstruction that has occurred.

We mostly visited the 9th Ward, one of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina with her rising waters, storm surges and heavy winds. Divided by the big industrial canal and the levees that were to protect the city, there is much talk about why these levees failed in the storm. The system was not yet finished, but while it managed to protect the French Quarter and the downtown of the city, which is where the money is made through the number one industry of tourism, it has failed more than once to protect the poorer parts of the city.

The Bi-water neighbourhood had less damage than other parts of the 9th Ward and is showing signs of gentrification as young families buy up relatively inexpensive historical houses and bring the place back to life. It is a colorful mix of styles with businesses of all kinds. The multi-hued houses felt very Caribbean to me, the community very alive and according to Malcolm, a lot of spirit was returning to this part of the city.

Also in the Upper 9th Ward was the Musician Village, a beautiful example of people and organizations coming together to honor and take care of the artists that have provided so much joy and cultural richness to the city. Part of a Habitat for Humanity reconstruction project, conceived by Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis, there have been something like 75 homes built to house musicians and their families who lost what little they had in Katrina. It also has the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, a concert hall and teaching venue to support up and coming musicians, keeping alive the tradition of music that has been the lifeblood of New Orleans.

It would be our luck to hear Ellis Marsalis, the father of Branford and Wynton, a renowned jazz pianist in his own right, play later that night. But that afternoon we were humbled by what we saw everywhere in the 9th Ward – simple houses, some damaged beyond repair but still not torn down, others beautifully reconstructed and others built to replace those that were destroyed, for the most part eloquent, small and efficient homes, all that any of us should ever need.

We crossed the bridge into the Lower 9th Ward and this is where the signs of real loss lingered everywhere. From the remainder of cement footings, emptied of the homes that they had supported, to the boarded up buildings that must be filled with molds and fungus now, to the houses in mid-repair, there was the evidence of the catastrophe that was Katrina all around us.

Fats Domino was born in the Lower 9th and when Katrina was charging in, he refused to leave. He and his family barely survived, in fact there were rumours of his death, but he was alive, rescued and relocated while they rebuilt his home. He is a proud and true New Orleanian, besides a musical hero.

After the flood waters resided, one of the celebrities who came to town and has accomplished a lot for the people of the 9th Ward is Brad Pitt. He raised funds and oversaw the construction of many new homes in the Lower 9th, energy efficient, designed by architectural students and administered by his Make It Right Foundation. The new houses in the area have numerous features – cars parked under the houses which are raised on cement posts, screening that would keep flying debris from breaking windows, solar panels, architectural details that keep some old Orleans flavor in the construction.

In all that we saw, one of the most encouraging signs for me was that the homes were very reasonably sized – not huge mammoth houses that are being built in the suburbs across Southern Ontario, single family dwellings taking up enough room for a big clan. One of the continuing battles in the 9th Ward was the presence of tour buses, a reality that has many of the locals running out of patience. It has been very hard for them to return to any normalcy, and having large buses of camera-gawkers driving down the tiny streets all day is frustrating them. As we toured in Malcolm’s car, we tried to be respectful of this, leaving people on their porches to their privacy. Since we were there, they have passed a law that the big buses aren’t allowed on the residential streets of the Lower 9th and the tour companies and the city are working on alternative ways of allowing people the opportunity to witness what is happening there.

In the middle of our tour of the recent past in New Orleans, we also went past the public school, William Frantz Elementary School, where Ruby made history back in 1960. It was also damaged and is under reconstruction, as many of the surrounding houses are. Ruby and Malcolm also lost their own home in the hurricane. A lot of sadness and disruption has happened in New Orleans.

I remember, back in Little Rock in 2007, Ruby telling us some of her experiences as a little girl in the middle of the insanity, brought on by the racist laws of the times and the place. It was a very hard decision for her parents to expose their young child to an angry society, but more than just feeling it was her right to receive a better education, her mother also saw it as important to “take this step forward…for all African-American children”. Ruby says that since this was, after all, New Orleans, and she was only six years old, she thought that all the crowds and noise on the street as she arrived at the school was just another Mardi Gras parade! Unlike in Little Rock three years earlier, where the white community came out in angry protests every day against the integration of Central High, in New Orleans the parents withdrew all their white children, refusing to allow them to be in the same classroom as a black child. In the beautiful innocence of youth, Ruby had never really seen or known any white people, so her teacher, a Caucasian from the north, Barbara Henry, who taught her alone in a classroom that whole first year and treated her with love and kindness, effectively showed her that there are decent white people, demonstrated through the goodness of her open heart.  Unfortunately Ruby would be exposed to the nastier side often enough.

It may be difficult for some of us to think of a time when our schools and workplaces weren’t the mix of skin tones, linguistic accents and cultural backgrounds that we live in today in many parts of North America, but unfortunately it isn’t impossible to believe just how cruel, small minded and fear-driven people can be…there are still constant examples in the news of racism, homophobia, sexism and bullying. Blaming the poor and oppressed for the discomforts of the more fortunate, going to war rather than seeking peaceful solutions, fighting for individual gains instead of negotiating for a more just collective society. We remain indebted to every little black girl, brave gay boy, every teenager who resists the temptation to go join the war machine….every freedom fighter and promoter of tolerance that plants those seeds in a garden of love rather than a climate of fear and hate.

Ruby’s image is perhaps most famous as the subject of a Norman Rockwell painting “The Problem We All Live With”, depicting little Ruby in her white dress and shoes, walking between the legs of the US marshals escorting her to school. The painting is now hanging in the White House. When Ruby and Malcolm visited the White House last year to see the painting, President Obama thanked her for being an important part of his journey to the Oval Office. Imagine what a moment it was for them all.

We finished our tour of New Orleans with a visit to Parkway Bakery, where the Obama family had also been taken, to enjoy what are said to be the best po’boys in the city. An unassuming place in a working class neighbourhood, also brought back to life after the hurricane, the sandwiches were excellent, as was the time spent in this humble eatery with these gracious hosts, Ruby Bridges and Malcolm Hall. The afternoon with them was fascinating, we had great laughs but we also felt the sorrows of the millions who have struggled in New Orleans and throughout the South. As in other places of great hardship, I often feel that beauty rises like steam over rivers formed by tears and flood waters.

That night we went to Tipitina’s to enjoy a benefit put on by the Fess Foundation with George Porter Jr’s band backing performances by Ellis Marsalis and Dr. John and others. It was a great show of hot blues and jazz and R&B music raising money for renovations to the house of Tipitina’s patron music saint Professor Longhair. There were the famous local pianists, as the Professor was, and the Tipitina Interns, young musicians who are the next generation to come out of New Orleans. What a great night it was, an exciting and appropriate way to end our time in this great city.

We headed back up the interstates to Maine. Through the power of the internet, I was able to find us live music in out of the way venues, and hotel rooms nearby. The first stop was in Montgomery, Alabama, a night of torrential rain but it was dry and hot at the Capital Oyster Bar. The gumbo was great and the oysters sweet. Johnny Neel, an old blind southern rocker who played with and wrote songs recorded by the Allman Brothers, Dickie Betts and Wet Willie, played a growling keyboard to a small local crowd.

Cocky and I got in some good dancing with the locals, especially our new friends Jimmy and Beth. Jimmy is a very interesting guy (safecracker? Mr. Budweiser Man?) who had an accident that left him mostly paralyzed in a wheelchair, but he could control that chair and smoked up the dancefloor and we had an awful lot of fun dancing with him. The Capital is a super friendly place with a history of bringing great music to Montgomery, so if you are ever passing through, check it out, there just might be some hot licks waiting for you.

The next day, road car-ma got us and we had to hunker down for a couple nights on the outskirts of Lagrange, Georgia with cooling system problems. What could have been a disastrous and expensive experience (overheating in the pouring rain on the interstate? crooked mechanics? bad restaurants? bad coffee!) turned into a lovely couple of days of rest at the Jameson Inn, swimming in the pool though the weather was kinda chilly, even by our standards, eating great sushi and Korean from just across the road.

We had super friendly and professional service from Jimmy and Josh at Mike Patton Honda – I must speak out for them, as people are often so leery of finding honest people when stuck in a strange land, and these guys were not only honest but very helpful and very nice. Along with the folks at the hotel, they made our unscheduled stop in Lagrange a pleasure!

Then we were back on the road, spending the next night in the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina with Cocky’s step brother and his family. It was the night of the first presidential debate and it was unfortunate that they were very much on the other side – “right of the tea party” as Jamie himself said. Needless to say, we didn’t watch the debate together – instead we had a wonderful dinner on the patio and sipped wine in the hot tub under the stars. This was perhaps the only place where we were on the opposite side of the political mirror and considering how that first debate went for our guy Obama, just as well we didn’t watch it.

Another internet search brought us into Allentown, Pennsylvania for our last big hurrah before getting home. There was an open mic jam in a groovy little place on the outskirts of town called Grumpy’s BBQ Roadhouse – and fitting as it was, the food was New Orleans style spicy jambalaya and gumbo and ribs, the music was a mix of older blues musicians playing with teenage musical interns, and the dance floor was once again friendly and hot!

Cocky and I blazed a trail on dance floors across sixteen states and fueled up on Starbucks and sushi in most of them. We fell in love with New Orleans and already have plans to visit again, next time the New Orleans Jazz Festival which happens in the springtime, when, Ruby tells us, the weather is perfect and sunny. I don’t know if we would do the whole roadtrip again – it was a long drive – but it would be hard not to return to the Capital Oyster Bar in Montgomery, stop in for a swim at Gaston Lake in North Carolina, visit all those old and new friends we spent time with this trip. Whichever way we get there, we’ll be sure to laissez les bons temps rouler, in big, easy and beautiful New Orleans.

last cigarette!

My friend Lore needed to quit smoking cigarettes. She knew about a clinic in Colombia run by one Dr. Enrique Ramírez who has helped some of her friends quit and Lore was convinced that he could help her too. So I went for five days to Medellín in May, accompanying Lore, providing support and distraction from this difficult challenge.

I can’t tell you what he did. It has to do with pulse adjustment, lowering your anxiety level, and some other magic. Well, it’s not magic, it is a combination of bio-physics and something called Sensible Pulse Gymnastics (and of course effort on the part of the smoker – this is never done without some struggle) but it all seemed quite mysterious. Even Lore couldn’t explain what happened when she went behind closed doors. You can read about the treatment yourself at the website http://www.sensoterapia.com.co.

What I do know is that with a minimum of fuss, by barely touching her fingers, within three short hour-long visits (that, according to Lore, were mostly spent relaxing on the examination table) Lore quit smoking. After the first hour, when she returned to the waiting room of the clinic (a very unassuming house in a residential area near the big football stadium of Medellín) the doctor held one of her cigarettes near her nose and she was immediately repulsed, an adversity that would continue for several days as we wandered the city. And fortunately, since these treatments only took a couple hours out of each day, we had lots of time to look around Medellín.

I’ve never been to Colombia before but had heard, rightfully, that Colombians are real friendly folk. True true, we met a lot of outgoing, helpful people. Apparently Medellín was once known as one of the most dangerous cities on the planet (Murder Capital of the World!) when the drug cartels were a booming business, specifically in the heyday of Pablo Escobar, a notorious criminal who became a billionaire by controlling most of the cocaine economy of the world in the 1980s. He turned the city into a blood bath when he paid his hitmen to kill policemen and when he eliminated his competition in an all-out war against other drug families. Quite the character was Escobar. As is often the case, he was also known for his public service, a Zorro-type, building housing projects, hospitals and football fields which endeared him to the poverty stricken residents of Medellín and kept him somewhat beloved at the same time he was feared and reviled. He was finally gunned down in 1993 by Colombian police in a spectacular manner that was captured on canvas by another of Medellín’s favorite sons, artist Fernando Botero.

Since Escobar’s demise, the government has done a lot to lower the crime rate in Medellín and many people spoke with pride about this. More than once, we heard citizens condemning some suspicious character on the street or on the metro (“ladron, ladron!”). I got the sense from talking to people that they feel their city is much calmer than it was not that long ago, but it is still a hot-headed place. And in the center of this colourful, brick lined urbanicity of about three and a half million, is a beautiful courtyard filled with the great artist Botero’s voluptuous sculptures, and it is one of the most artistically peaceful, if busy, plazas on the planet.

Botero’s art is well-known. His large imperfect people painted on large perfect canvases capture the heart of Colombian family life, the cruel yet archaically noble world of bullfighting, political events (such as the demise of Escobar) and even the passion of Christ, an examination of the final days of Jesus Christ that Botero prepared for his 80th birthday, on exhibit in the Museum of Antioquia while we were there. As a round-around-the-edges woman myself, I have always loved Botero’s gracious approach to over-sized people. Botero at one time called his characters “fat people” but now insists that they aren’t “fat” but instead that he rounds them up as it is more interesting to paint and sculpt substantial figures than skeletons. They are more sensuous and offer the artist a larger character and greater expression to work with. I know that you don’t have to be large and round to love Botero’s art, but I think that he can put a self-satisfied smile on a chubby face and certainly add a little confidence to a voluptuous body in a sensual moment of disrobing. We lingered among his paintings which are highlighted by his amazing sensitivity to light and colour, and amidst his robust bronze sculptures that capture not only men, women and children in repose but also sympathetic animals and hands and guitars, inanimate objects to which the artist applies motion. We returned a second and then third time to the plaza. We were gluttonous admirers, unable to get our fill of Botero.

The best meal we had in the city was at a tiny café called La Meza del Barrio. It sits up on the mountainside overlooking the city, next door to the Biblioteca Espagna, a rather dramatic outcropping of three concrete and glazed stone buildings that house a public library and serve a somewhat impoverished neighbourhood. La Meza was a bustling little restaurant with regional foods but one dish blew us away – Cazuela de Frijoles – a multi-layered bean soup with a bean base, tomatillo broth and, mmmm, wait for it – chicharones mixed in. Somehow those little fried pork rinds remained crunchy yet soft and delectable while blending flavors with the beans and other vegetables. We ate in some finer restaurants while in Colombia, but both Lore and I remembered that simple Antioqueño stew, cheap and wholesome, as pure campesino delight for the taste buds.

Going up in the metro cable car was part of the adventure to find that little bowl of pleasure. Medellín has the only metro system – urban rail – in Colombia and one of the best public transit systems in Latin America. Because of its projects on sustainable transport, the city received, along with San Francisco, the 2012 Sustainable Transport Award, given by the New York-based Institute for Transport & Development Policy. It was a fast and cheap way to get around this big city and the price of admission (a bit over a buck) included the cable car that takes you up to that stunning library, and higher yet to what is reputed to be a fabulous place to walk, Arvi Park (on my list for “next time”).

The cable car swayed over the zinc and tiled rooftops, many decorated with gigantic photographs and posters. You looked down into laundry drying on balconies, children playing, sky high gardens and the hidden recesses of simple lives. The city receded into a clay-coloured desert as the monolithic library rose up like boulders on a cliff edge in front of us. There was also a strange red bamboo bridge set in the same vignette but it was apparently unsafe and therefore had been closed. The journey up and down the mountainside was a fantastic way to view this expansive city.

One morning while Lore was at the doctor’s, I went to the brand new Museo del Agua, devoted to the story of water – its origins, its uses, its abuses and its precarious future.  Everywhere we went in Medellín we were surrounded by groups of young school children, escorted by energetic teachers,  which was encouraging to see them learning through the use of their city’s resources. This museum was very interactive, filled with modern technology that used videos and touch screens to inform about our most precious life force and resource, water.

They gave me my own English guide, the sweet Daniel, who, understanding I was on a time constraint, whisked me through the normally three hour tour in about half the time, practicing his English as he went. I wouldn’t call myself a museum fanatic, but I really enjoyed this place as it was not only entertaining but obviously trying to encourage the wise use of water. There were displays of the flora and fauna of the various geographical regions of the country, from the Andean highlands to the Caribbean coast, from the jungles of the Amazon to the savannahs of the Llanos,  and the role that water plays in each of those ecosystems. I am definitely intrigued with the idea of returning to Colombia, with more time to visit its many fascinating corners, to eat its regional cuisines, to dance to its many rhythms, and to know its friendly folk.

The last room of the museum was a mixed media art installation that provided the feeling of walking through a cave of stalactites, created out of metal watering cans and pails, with screens inlaid in the floor playing fishy videos. It was a refreshing finale to the story of water. At the exit, after all that talk of roaring rivers, images of pounding waves and rising flood waters, and the sound of drips accompanying us everywhere, was the bathroom… the museum’s designers recognized that a toilet would be very necessary for full and triggered bladders at the end of this watery journey.

We stayed in a perfect little place called 61 Prado Inn, situated in the Zona Patrimonial, or historic section of the city. It was a quiet neighbourhood and only a two block walk to the metro station. Nothing to look at from outside, the inside of this small boutique-like pension has been redone with designer elements that gave it a very sophisticated atmosphere. I think we paid about $50 a night for a room the size of a small classroom. The staff was friendly and helpful, there was a kitchen we could use or buy breakfast from, there was cable and wireless, and it was simply a great deal.

I always find that having access to a rooftop elevates cheap lodging into first class enjoyment. This was no exception. We could see the whole city from the rooftop patio including the miles and miles of clay tile roofs and the stunning view of the Iglesia Jesus Nazareno.

I took a walk around the area. Unfortunately the church wasn’t open when I was there, but it was beautiful to behold the stone structure both day and night. I continued wandering through El Prado, where the styles of construction and details blended art deco with colonial, stone with metal, stucco with wood. The predominant material of construction though was brick, seen in churches, hospitals, museums, modern high rise buildings, and almost every residential dwelling throughout the city. As a girl raised in a red brick house in a red brick city in Ontario, it felt like home to me.

El Hueco

Since I was there to support Lore, I ended up doing more shopping in those few days than I would usually do in a year. We discovered that there wasn’t much that was any cheaper than you could find in Costa Rica or Canada which was disappointing for Lore who went with the belief that Columbia – a textile and fashion center in South America – would be great quality for cheap prices. They have been building ultramodern and grandiose malls, as big as any I have seen, which seemed to be mostly empty of shoppers – after all, except for professionals, foreigners, or those rolling in laundered drug money, where do the local people get the money to shop in these luxurious places? On the other hand, the masses were gathered in the downtown streets, buying shoes and jeans (made in Colombia) and fabrics from the small vendors, including in a palace of a building known as “el Hueco”, a place repurposed into a huge market of mostly cheap plastic shoes and poorly made T-shirts.

Colombian women are supposedly the most beautiful in the world (don’t they actually exist everywhere – beautiful women?) and their salons are reknowned. So our last morning, we went to a little salon recommended by our hotel and it was fun, cheap, relaxing and left us looking good for our return to Costa Rica!

Medellín is called the City of Eternal Spring. If you look up the temperature online, often the information comes from a weather station at the airport which is not only 45 minutes outside of the city, but at a much higher elevation and therefore significantly colder. Once on the road leaving the airport, the highway brings you to the precipice of a ring of mountains and you start plunging down into the city, where there is a whole different climate from that at the airport. So don’t be fooled. It was much warmer, day and night, in the city. We were there at the beginning of the rainy season, so we definitely used my umbrella that I insisted on bringing. It was a very short visit in a very big city, but it gave me a taste for Colombia, for cazuela de frijoles, and for planning a return. And I’m very happy to report that two months later, Lore is smoke-free!  So maybe Dr. Cigarro knows what he’s doing!

Have you ever had a chance to listen to the loons? Maybe you’ve heard one mournful melody rising above the pine trees as a lone loon makes its way across a placid lake. Or a reverberating chorus of several, inspired by some unknown catalyst to join together perhaps just for the sheer joy of hearing their own song echo off the rocky cliffs. Since I first heard the call of the loon, a little bit of my soul has always remained floating on a clear freshwater lake waiting for the loons to return and start telling their stories again.

In August, as the northern summer draws to a close – touches of color appearing like rust stains on the green forest, cool mornings demanding you pull the blanket higher – the loons begin to gather. Normally solitary feeders casually swimming about, diving for fish in their own territorial waters, the loons take on a new social pattern in preparation for the migration south. Throughout the summer they may join with three or four of their kind from time to time, but as autumn approaches, they collect in groups of ten, twenty or more, forsaking their independent spirits for the benefits of group travel. There is safety in numbers and efficiency in more eyes looking for food while en route over unfamiliar waters between their northern and southern homes.

It was during this gathering time that I went to N’dakimenan, the land of the Teme-Augama Anishnabai – the deepwater people. The water that is at the center of this Ojibway First Nation is Lake Temagami, the deepwater lake. It is one of my spiritual centers on this planet and the loons are my fellow summer sojourners, all of us drawn northward by instinct and necessity before returning to the south.

My history on Lake Temagami isn’t as ancient as the loons, but it is as natural. It began in the 1980s when I was living further north in Charlton, Ontario and we would head south for canoe trips over Temagami’s extensive series of waterways and portages. It includes the summer of 1984 I spent educating the lake community about the reality of the acidic rain blowing our way from the Ohio valley and the steel mills in the south, threatening the health of the northeastern lakes. It includes years working with the Temagami Wilderness Society to protect the ancient pines and more years spent supporting the Anishnabai’s struggle to regain their inherent rights to N’dakimenan, their land. Chief Gary Potts was the young leader of the community who took them to the Supreme Court seeking a settlement on their land claim and through his intelligent eyes and careful words I absorbed lessons about patience and justice that have helped me in my own struggles. As he said, you can’t cry over each broken twig or you won’t have the strength needed for the struggle that will save the tree that alone the forest. It was helpful counsel back in 1990 as I entered into the long battle with Hodgkin’s Disease. Gary is as much a part of the Temagami landscape as the rock and pines.

My friend Peter McMillen has an island of rock and pine that has been in his family for generations. It is up the north arm of this deceptively huge lake, several watery spokes radiating out of a central hub. The further you move from the hub, the less civilization you encounter. Peter’s island sits between the two canoe-tripping camps I worked at in the 1990s, Keewaydin and Wanapitei. These camps, and the many others like them, are little settlements of history and tradition. Although the wooden buildings and crib docks are inevitably restored and eventually replaced, it is impossible to completely eliminate the spirit of the past. Returning to the lake after four years felt like traveling back in time a half a century.

Peter and Cocky and I had almost two weeks to listen to the loons, swim laps around the island, watch the occasional boat passing by, catch up with friends and gather news from life in the lake community. For the first few days my friend Jeff was with us, a newbie on the lake. I think he would agree that its serenity envelopes you as quickly as you move away from the public landing and head out of the hub.

Jeff left and Laurie – she of ECO Camp – arrived for her own reunion with the lake, as grateful as I for the holistic therapy it provides. The days were gorgeous, blue skies with enough fluffy clouds to add a little filter to the hot sun. It wasn’t until the day before we left that the weather started turning with warnings of a possible tornado that never appeared, but strong enough winds that we kept the boats tied at the dock and ourselves hunkered down in the cabin reading and napping. It was good that the storm didn’t come, as Peter, Cocky and I couldn’t agree among us where to seek shelter from it. I think we all would have run in separate directions and whoever survived the most intact would be rescuing the others with a big “I told you so” attached.

Besides the requisite R & R, socializing is a big part of being on the lake. Ears perk up when a boat motor breaks the silence. Up the north arm there is very little activity, so it is always a possibility that the sound of a boat means visitors, hopefully desirable ones. Some days we’d all pile into Peter’s boat and head off to see the neighbours such as our friends Bruce and Carol Hodgins at Wanapitei.  Sixty years ago, Bruce’s parents took an old fishing camp and later made it into a children’s canoe camp complete with the almost century old stately log chateau that now serves as a rustic bed and breakfast. I worked there for six summers and the place is full of nostalgia for me as it is for the thousands of campers who, over the years, have learned how to paddle canoes through choppy waters, raise a secure tarp in the wind, and cook gourmet meals on a campfire.

Although staff at these camps change regularly, at Wanapitei it is Heffy who is the constant. He came to camp as a teenager in the late 1980s and basically grew up there, amassing the skills to construct cabins out of reused materials and keep old boats and tired machines somehow miraculously running until the camp finally replaces them. He has been the year round caretaker for many years now, enduring the two months of summer craziness when camp is in session for the ten months of peace and solitude, the sweet part of the over-wintering job when he makes drums and watches the snow fly.

 

 

And you never know what you will see on Lake Temagami. It is remote, but there has always been an active community on the lake – whether it was centuries of the Ojibway community spreading out to fish and hunt, or the heyday of tourism in the first half of the 20th century when celebrities like Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford would tour the lake on the steam ship, or the last hundred years of hectic summer canoe camps, the decades of mineral and lumber exploitation and jobs, or the years of political struggles when environmentalists and natives blockaded ill-conceived industrial plans for the land and worked for social justice. It may be northern bush but it is vibrant and always interesting.

One of the rules that Cocky and I always adhered to in our many years of living in the bush and on the lake was that just because you are a forest dweller it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dress for a party. Imagine running into celebrities like Bobby McFerrin or Grey Owl, both among the many Temagami part-timers, in your dungarees? No self-respecting bush babe would let that happen! I once facilitated a magical weekend that brought dignitaries from all over the world to camp on the rocks. In the morning we watched as the wife of a Philippine government official emerged from her tent (first time ever camping) dressed and adorned in gold jewellry like breakfast was being served in the palace! She outshone everyone with her grace and provided us with a little morning star-gazing. Another way to look at it is there is so much green leaf, brown soil and grey rock around, one should always do their part to add a little color and bling to the mix.

As it would turn out, Cocky, who can dress up a brown paper bag and make it look runway-ready, was even in sync with one of the Bear Island dogs, with their matching pink animal prints. That’s what I’m talking about – dress for all occasions!

That occasion was a wonderful barbecue on the shores of Bear island with our old friend John
O and his partner Katy. There is nothing as sweet as cool drinks, cool friends and all the trimmings (like schmores) under the pines as the sun sparkles
across the lake and the loons start their evening song.

In my last blog post I wrote about overcoming despair and living with hope. Spending time in Temagami’s natural splendor is a definite tonic for surviving this troubled world. Cocky and Laurie, both therapists, started tending the germ of an idea they had to create a retreat for activists on Peter’s island (I believe I’d be the cook!). They know that many of the people who are working full time to overcome the environmental and justice challenges of our planet never actually get out in her wild places and definitely need time to replenish their energies, so they brainstormed on the idea of a Temagami retreat for renewal. I bet the fireside discussions would be hot! I’ll keep you posted on their plans.

Temagami has always provided that for me. It is where I spent much of my time while in treatments for cancer in the early 1990s and it is where I retreated to on September 12th 2001, out of range of the horrible images that were spreading over our psyches from New York City. This week is the tenth
anniversary of that unbelievable morning. New York and perhaps the rest of the civilized world changed that day, but the lake, the forest, the rocks and the
loon’s song have remained pretty much the same. The smell of the pines –
whether emitting from the majestic standing groves or wafting as campfire smoke when the trees have died – is my incense. Temagami has been a blessing in my life and fortunately I just drank from her waters and
renewed my spirit once again. Thanks Peter and Cocky. These are precious days.

I continued my July road trip up the Ottawa River valley to Mattawa. I went to visit good friends Patti and Leo and to see the new straw bale house that they built and moved into since the last time I was there. It also happened to be Voyageur Days in the town. We had a fantastic few days – music, sunshine & fresh caught fish all weekend long.

I’ve not been at an outdoor festival in the north in years. This setting was stunning – in one visual sweep past the stage you could see the convergence of the Mattawa and Ottawa Rivers and the forested hills of Quebec rising magestically on the other shore. There was barely a cloud in the sky and it was hot, but not dangerously so. It really doesn’t get better than this for a concert. The town has the logistics down – beer crowd on their feet on one side of the fence, non-drinkers in their chairs on the other, a pretty good view had by most, so very little tension between different parts of the audience.

I think that the performers had the best view, off the stage, over the crowd of several thousand attentive fans to the blue water, green trees and brilliant blue sky. The organizers of this festival cater to an older crowd. There is a night of local talent, a night of new country and then two nights of old rock and rollers – one of my favorite Canadian rockers, Kim Mitchell, Trooper, Brian Howe of Bad Company who was quite charming, Cheap Trick (recent survivors of a stage collapse in Ottawa), Stampeders and Eddie Money. I heard a lot of songs that I had almost forgotten about but turns out they still make me rock – imagine that!

They finished the weekend with one of the best fireworks displays I’ve seen in a couple of
years. Rumour has it that they save all their party pennies for this one night of the summer. Glad I was there to see it, all those ooh-aah explosions reflected in the water and set to a soundtrack featuring the music of the weekend’s performers. I could imagine the old voyageurs paddling their canoes around a bend in the Ottawa River and wondering what in the world they had stumbled upon.

The other great part of the week was being with Patti and Leo and all the family that
came by, some to take part in the music, some to take advantage of the social gatherings in Mattawa on this festive weekend.

Leo’s sisters Tucky and Myrna and their clans came and the guys spent a lot of their time out on the river catching pickerel. What a treat that was, fresh fish out of northern waters.

 

Another local delicacy is the local blueberries. Patti planted three bushes at the entrance to the house and they were all loaded with big plump berries, something that her granddaughter Lillie loves to pick. Anyone who has lived in the north or
anywhere that blueberries grow abundantly knows the pleasure of a bush heavy
with the purple fruit. I used to spend a lot of time in the summer picking les bleuets when I lived in northern Quebec and northern Ontario. Bears, berries and bare-asses – ah, those were the
days.

I originally intended to help Patti with landscaping around the new house, but it turned into a social time instead. We didn’t do much work, besides feeding
people, but we did manage to make a nice little perennial garden before I left.

Instead I got to enjoy the results of the last year of hard work that they put into building their home. Three of the walls are made of straw bale construction – clean bales of straw
stacked and packed tightly making walls that are insulated, about 18” thick. It
was a whole new form of construction to learn but the final result is organic
and efficient, as it holds the heat in the winter and keeps the house cooler in
the summer. Besides the adobe-type feel of the walls, the house has many
details designed by Patti and Leo, diamonds everywhere. Simply beautiful.

At my birthday party a couple of years ago, they met Dawson, who lives down in the Westport area of Ontario, a place I visit regularly and have
written about often. Dawson is both an excellent musician – stand-up bass – and
a talented constructor. He built his own straw bale house and worked on
others, and so he became a consultant for Patti and Leo on their project as well as a
friend of theirs. Patti drove me back to Toronto area (in her brand new
Mitsubishi Eclipse sportscar!) and we went via Westport, so that she could see
Dawson’s home and we could visit with some of those great Westport people. He
has used a different kind of covering on his straw bale walls, incorporating more organic material with the mud. It reminded me of the cob wall sauna that I watched being built in
Monteverde but built to last in the Canadian climate.

The finished effect is the same though – earthy and efficient – and beautiful.

Fortunately we arrived the evening that Dawson and our friends Chuck, Carolyn and Dave – together known as Stringed Tease – had a band practice. About once a year I get to catch up with these folks and they just keep getting better. They play a cool mix of gypsy, classic folk, and oddball Canadiana, with voices that blend well – and they laugh a lot.

As the sun set, we sang and danced out on the large screened-in porch at Chuck and Carolyn’s home that exists completely off the electrical grid. They have their own solar and wind generator and produce more than enough power. Recently the Ontario
government has offered a grant for people to install alternative power systems, guaranteeing that they will buy the excess power at a fixed rate for several years. A lot of friends in that area are taking advantage of this program and installing rooftops full of solar panels. Others are involved in very small-scale hydro-electric plants.  At the same time that there is such a backlash against massive wind-generating farms, this smaller scale seems much more feasible. I am sorry to see “Stop the Wind Machines” signs everywhere I go.I do recognize that there are issues with the large plantations of big wind generators but I haven’t looked at this issue to understand it properly.

In our whirlwind tour of Westport, I managed to see a lot of friends, including my doggie pal Ziggy and Chuck’s 91-year old mother, Lucienne, who moved to the area last summer. She is an inspiration for how to age gracefully, may we all be so lucky and blessed.

After nearly a month of visiting friends in their rural and forest homes, it was finally time to return to southern Ontario. A good transitional point from bush to city is the little historical gathering of cottages known as Naivelte in Brampton. My friends I visit in Guatemala, Treeza and Rick, and others now living in Los Angeles, Terry and Steve, all spend most of their summers here. This camp has a history as a place where non-secular but socialist-leaning Jewish and other Europeans spent their summers and now it is protected as a historical site. That is a really good thing, as the massive expansion of large suburban developments takes over all the farmland around the area.

They do a lot of things as a community including holding many meetings. I had a chance to
sit in on a community meeting as well as a “bagel brunch” featuring an activist involved in the continuing legal challenges brought on by the G20 fiasco last summer in downtown Toronto. Listening to the man talk, it reminded me of how disgusted I was when I arrived back in my northern home last year and saw what had happened in Toronto.

To balance the serious discussions, we did a lot of laughing and played a lot of games. We went through Scattegories, Taboo, Imaginiff, but really found our fame with Hummmzinger where you have to get people to recognize the song you are so terribly humming. I love people who like to play games – not head games, social games, war games – but fun games – and I love these folk.

We cranked out our tunes –hmmm-mm-mmm – try humming White Rabbit!

So much fun we had.

Headed into Toronto to celebrate my pal Jamie’s birthday in the UP house with more laughter, great food, and old friends. Jamie decided to be a really good cook a few years ago and we all benefit! Before he was playing music and we benefited then from his great songs and strong voice, but now he mostly fills our bellies!

A very sad word about the passing of Jamie and Tory’s good friend Mike Moquin in Toronto. Another fun musician, big character, an excitable boy – he made you laugh and sing louder – but he succumbed to a nasty cancer. Rest with peace, but also with joy, Mike. Your friends are missing you.

I spent a peaceful night at the Irie Festival in Toronto – a more laidback venue than the bigger and boisterous Carabana. It wasn’t all reggae, but it was a groovy
island vibe. We saw the Fab 5, a dance band from Jamaica celebrating 40 years
making people jump. Irie!

I got back to the Hammer just in time to turn around and go to the Lake Erie/St. Catherines area and do some cooking at Ecocamp 2011, a retreat and respite for activists organized by my friend Laurie Hollis-Walker. More of that next time. In the meantime, during the evening I was in the city, I went out with my friend Jeff, whose house I stay in. We had a plan to go sailing on his catamaran, but Lake Ontario was rough, the wind was blowing a gale, and this little tropical gal thought it would be cold, that alone a little wild for an inexperienced sailor like myself. Jeff has sailed all his life and didn’t need to work that hard for another sail, so we chose not to go
out. Others in the catamaran club did and the next day we saw some of them had been rescued by the Harbour Police out of the big waves. Thank you Jeff for not taking me out there!

Instead we left and went to see Miss Robin Banks, a very entertaining lady with a big voice who sings the blues just fine. Got in a little dancing, heard a new voice that I like, and stayed dry. Dancing is always the best decision! The cure for all! Never stop the music!

And very Happy 81st Birthday Wolf! May this next year be much kinder to him than the last. I heard he was seen chopping firewood recently – stronger still!

Margaret, Paul, K, Jean, Al

I’m spending my summer in Canada as it is meant to be – swimming in refreshing northern waters, enjoying veggies out of the garden and spicy delicacies off the grill, and catching up with friends on their recent projects, latest travels and family happenings. I’m also enjoying the northern landscape – in Eastern Ontario, in July the fields are white with delicate Queen Anne’s Lace blended with blue chicory, and the woods are vibrant green and buzzing with insects.

Beautiful hot sunny weather has followed me wherever I’ve been, but thankfully not as scorching as what people have been experiencing in the south and central United States. I can only hope that many have access to clean water to refresh themselves naturally as I do, but I fear many more are cranking up their air conditioners and escaping inside. It is normal to seek shelter from the harsh elements but living in artificial environments to avoid nature can’t be good for us or the planet.

There are common themes that arise talking with people no matter where you go: the joys and tragedies of living, the burden of too much work or not having enough, the absurdity of what goes on in the world, and the petulance of the weather everywhere. Everyone seems to be witnessing this, some definitely in more extreme ways than others. Social networks help keep us immediately apprised of when a friend in Central America feels a significant earth tremor, another in the southern US is being blinded by the blaring sun, or another is digging through the ruins of a home assaulted by the wild wind. It was one thing when we used to follow these happenings in newspapers, and yet another when we could see the incredible images on television, but now that we can basically watch cataclysmic events as they happen – we can be talking face to face, skyping, with our friends as the waters rise around them – it’s as if we are all on a permanent voyage with Noah and the Arksters and forty days and forty nights may just be the beginning of it.

I was a couple of weeks in eastern Ontario and during that time a fast and furious storm growled its way down the Ottawa River valley. I was in the forest outside of Petawawa with Al and Jean Bair in their beautiful home. We had just finished watching the Japanese women out-kick the USA team in the women’s soccer finals, something I think gave most people watching a warm glow. Japan deserves whatever joy it can muster these days following their horrifying experiences with chaotic weather. And for those of us who like underdogs, this was truly the little guy beating the big guy, literally.

We were going to move on to watching the semi-final of the Copa America – big Brasil was about to get knocked out of the competition by little Paraguay (an apparent theme of the day) – but decided to get dinner together first. We had been inside watching the game, so didn’t realize how dark the sky had turned outside. As the BBQ was warming up on the deck, the wind picked up and within minutes trees were bending to the ground and anything not secured was flying. Pellets of water struck us and the sky crackled with electricity. Soon the drops joined together into a wall of water and as quickly as Al was drenched, the power also went out and we were searching for flashlights – we remained without power for 24 hours, the first time Al and Jean remember that happening in decades of living here.

At the same time, their son, Brad, who lives two hours away in Ottawa, was about to head out to the field with his daughter’s soccer team. Al called to warn him that if the wind picked up he should get everyone off the field since a doozy of a storm was coming. Turns out, as soon as they got on the field, the storm hit, debris started flying, hurricane winds and a downpour pushed them back to their cars just in time to watch a lightning bolt strike a tree on the edge of the pitch.

Not far away from Brad, at the Ottawa Bluesfest, the storm hit with a wallop.  Thousands of people were rocking to Cheap Trick, and just as they left the stage, the whole thing collapsed in the winds and heavy rain. The band wasn’t hurt and fortunately only a few others were hit by flying debris, but I have no doubt it was a very scary experience for the thousands present, especially those just leaving the stage.

That storm could be seen from my friends’ home two hours north, up the Ottawa River valley in Mattawa. Thankfully, it didn’t hit Patti and Leo, but they could see the black churning clouds across the Ottawa River in Quebec and hear the sinister warning rumbles of thunder. They buttoned down their own hatches but fortunately were out of its range. As it was, Cheap Trick was to play the following Saturday night at an outdoor festival in Mattawa, and fortunately they had a beautiful clear starry night for their show. I can’t help but wonder if they were feeling vulnerable. Just as people suffer from fear of flying and heights, I would think that fear of
whacko storms is an anxiety condition on the rise.

My days with Al and Jean began with a get together with some other Canadian Monteverdians – siblings Margaret Adelman and Paul Smith. We gathered at their northern home near Lake Dory in the Ottawa Valley. It was a Friday afternoon, so Margaret and I were feeling the pull of the regular Monteverde Scrabble game. Alas, we were the only two players so we weren’t able to get a game going. Instead we all walked down the road to the lake for a late afternoon swim. After the cool waters of the Atlantic in Maine, I found the water very warm, especially for early July. Even a Costa Rican could swim in this water.

It was a perfect lazy summer day to sit and talk. Paul showed me his workshop where he continues to make violins and play them as well. Margaret and Paul make music together in their little home on land that belonged to their grandfather. It is always nice to see where people call home, even when they may say that about more than one place. Even though I don’t have a bed of my own these days, I don’t think of myself as homeless, but instead feel homefull, feeling serene and comfortable in a number of settings.

Another part of my eastern Ontario tour was seeing old friends from my days working at Wanapitei, a canoeing camp on Lake Temagami a few hours further north. I worked there for six summers in the 1990s and my working partner and best buddy during those years was Cathy Fretz, a Tasmanian devil when it comes to work and play. We had both wonderful and hard times working our butts off in the bush at this often insane place, but survived the wild summers at camp by sticking together.

Fretz and her second husband Gerry built a home surrounded by hay fields and woodlots on land where Fretz raised her three daughters from an earlier marriage. The new house is several grades of luxury up from the original one, and the land has never looked so good, but there is plenty of the past still being honored. Old tool sheds, mature pine trees planted when her kids were small, a collection of rusted farm machinery, mementoes of their lives everywhere.

We had dinner with three other Temagami camp alumni, Fretz’ sister, Lexa, and her husband, Matt, and her son, Dan. We all worked together at either Wanapitie or Keewaydin and have many tales of life in the camps and on that magical deep water lake to
remember.


They recently built a new home looking over marshlands with forested hills in the distance. What an amazing landscape to watch and listen to. With a cast of silent herons and a chorus of frogs, that watery bog will go through its seasonal transformations -hidden under a blanket of white snow then bursting alive in the spring, to lazy summer swampiness and colourful autumn stillness before returning to that frozen pristine state again. What a beautiful place to call home.

We dined on Lexa’s great cooking – more delicious dishes than I can remember, each one better than the last – and did what old friends are prone to do: laugh about the past, remember things in unique ways, feel like no time at all has passed since we were last together, even though the proof of everyone’s labour is all around us. Friendship is a lovely thing.

I got a chance to see another of my ol’ dog friends, Harley. About seventeen years ago, as a favor to Fretz and Lexa, I picked up Harley and her brother, whose name was always complicated and escapes me, from the farm where they were born near
Petawawa. They were a little young to leave home and they cried the whole five hour trip north to Wanapitei, where I thankfully handed them over to their new mothers. The other pup didn’t live long, but Harley has become a fine old dame of a dog and is finishing out her years on the veranda of Fretz and Gerry’s country house. We have been close since Harley imprinted on me in the van all those years ago and then spent summers together at camp. She never forgets me even if years pass between visits. I felt very lucky to have had a chance to see her, as it is hard to imagine she will go on much longer. Seventeen is a very respectable age for a dog.

Our time on earth is so short, delicate and unpredictable. I have learned to accept my vulnerability but tend to see life as a game of chance that can go any which way, rather than an endurance test, though it does often feel like that too. We can survive numerous drawn out calamities and then succumb to a bolt of lightning. Some live well beyond a normal life span, and if they are fortunate, live it well. Others live very short and ultimately tragic lives. I don’t sit waiting for that lightning bolt, but I do like the buzz of electricity in the air and the smell of fresh rain – it all awakens my senses.

A Canajun in Maine, eh? Love that place: northern, coastal, progressive, backwards, homespun, a perfect place to launch a ship and sail around the world. It doesn’t hurt that I go there to stay with my soul sister Cocky and her partner, my pal, Peter, who live in a quiet Maine Audubon wildlife sanctuary. They can swim just minutes from their home in the ocean at high tide and are protected by the peacefulness of a forest from the consumer insanity of the LL Bean shopping mecca of Freeport. It also doesn’t hurt that Maine is just a timber toss from Canada, so if all hell breaks loose in the good ol’ US of Eh, I can scoot north and cross the border to my homeland real quick like.

 

 

Cocky and I got out swimming every day but we had an even more important mission and that was to dance as much as possible in the time that we were together. Although perhaps we can never dance enough, we certainly managed to dance a lot in those two weeks to a variety of music provided by many local bands in numerous venues.

 

Portland, just south of Freeport, was just starting to get busy with summer tourists but it is a young town and at any time of the year there is live music on every corner and seafood on every table. The day I arrived, rolling off an all night bus run from Montreal, we feasted on crab cakes on the salty dog wharf at the Porthole Fountain, followed by amazing Mushroom Spring Rolls at Havana South in the Old Port. These were so delicious we had to have two orders, and although I swore I would get back there for another round, sadly it never happened.

 

 

 

Havana South provided the first of two opportunities to see a very smooth, tight band called Primo Cubano. As you can guess, they play sweet Cuban son, ready for dancing. They have a regular early evening gig at Havana South on Wednesdays – between the mushroom rolls and the band, I can’t recommend it enough.

 

 

 

We finished that first evening by catching Eric Bettencourt, a local hot songwriter/guitar player and gravelly-voiced singer who performs in various musical incarnations, one being Giraffe Attack. That first night he was with his trio on a relaxed patio on the water’s edge, and a couple of nights later he was rocking with the band Velourasaurus at Buck’s Naked BBQ in Freeport. I love a versatile musician who plays both original music and cool covers – and makes you wanna dance.

 

I have to take a moment to rant about bars and restaurants with big screen TVs on every wall. It’s an obvious draw for the television-addicted masses who like to go out but don’t want to miss a ball game, but it drives me mad when they don’t have the decency to turn the screens off when a live band is playing. On more than one occasion I’ve asked a bar to lose the TV so that it doesn’t disrespect the band. Televisions draw your eyes and attention even when you have no interest in what is on. In the case of Buck’s on this night, even the band was distracted by the baseball game playing on the various screens around them. Minimally, the TV screens closest to the stage or the dance floor could be blackened for the few hours that the boys and girls in the band are performing. Please. Most people live with televisions cackling constantly in their homes – it would be healthy and appropriate to take a break while a live band is giving you a musical alternative.

In Portland they hold First Friday Art Walk – similar to Hamilton’s 2nd Friday Art Crawl. The difference, from what I could tell, is money (well, and the salty sea air). Many of the galleries and restaurants that participate in Portland are well established and deal in sophisticated art. My hometown of the Hammer has been building its James Street North Art Crawl over the last few years and new edgy alternative galleries have been popping up like mushrooms but even though it is a wonderful showcase for emerging and established artists and a chance for local businesses to shine, I doubt that many make large sales during the festive artsy event – yet in the long run I expect that it is very good for the businesses. My friend Cat Schwenk is an artist and member of the Nine Hands Gallery on Congress Street in Portland and I know that they have made some significant sales during the Art Walk.

 

 

 

 

Each time I visit Maine, Cat has new projects on the go – from her finely mounted butterfly maps to concrete casts of babies and books (one beautifully reads: You may have tangible wealth untold, caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be…I had a mother who read to me). Check Cat’s work out at www.catschwenk.com.

 

 

This time she was working with her carpenter husband Jim to make adult toys – as in swings and teeter totters for full-sized bodies. The idea came to them as they thought of this stressful world in which adults, like children, need time to play. So now Jim and Cat come home at the end of a busy day and unwind together on the teeter totter that Jim built and continues to refine. It helps them find balance in their relationship, build communication and get a little outdoor exercise. Brilliant! I”m hoping they’ll build a push carousel by the next time I visit.

 

 

I was in Maine over the July 4th weekend. LL Bean presents free outdoor concerts on Saturdays and had a special one featuring Red Horse singer/songwriters for the holiday followed by fireworks. Cocky and I were there and I noticed a familiar looking couple walking through the crowd. The Monteverde-small-world-effect kicked in and it proved to be Nat Wheelwright and his wife Genie. He is a biology professor at nearby Bowdoin College who invited me to speak to his class about Wolf Guindon a couple of years ago. We had a chance to talk for awhile. He is now co-teaching a course with a professor in the Music Department called “Bird song, human song.” He described the course as “listening to bird songs and singing along in class”. It sounds magical to me.

 

While on the subject of Wolf, it was my great pleasure to drive down to Exeter, New Hampshire for a special reunion with the class from Lister Street Academy who had spent this last year in a course designed around our book Walking with Wolf. Back in April the group of seven high school students and their two teachers had visited us in Monteverde and described what has been a life-changing experience for them, reading about Wolf’s inspirational life while studying the many themes in the book – social justice, peace, pioneering, conservation and community. They had worked together to raise the money for the trip and I was amazed at how many adventures they had in the time they were in Costa Rica. Our meeting on Wolf’s farm had been a very moving experience for all of us and it was wonderful to see some of them again and hear how their trip had wrapped up. They have posted many of their class video projects on YouTube.com under ListerCostaRicaClass. One particularly stood out for me called “This is Sustainable Education” by Winston. If you have a chance, check out the work of these students.

I had dinner that night with the teachers Bryan Mascio and Jess Hebert and their partners as well as Wolf’s son Carlos and his wife Lidieth who also live in Exeter. It was a pleasure to see them all and more Monteverde-small-world connections were made. It turned out that Bryan and Lidieth, who also works in education, realized that they had taken a course together, years ago. It also happened that Bryan had started a course that very day and found himself eating lunch with another Monteverdian, Jenny Rowe, a former director of the Monteverde Friends School. I expect Jenny was as surprised as Bryan was to hear that he would be having dinner with Carlos, Lidieth and I that night.

 

 

Back in Maine, we did a lot of great eating but of course these days consuming seafood demands research into its sustainability, eating local is environmentally wise, and everything is political, often leaving a bitter taste. We shopped in local Bowstreet Market and at the Brunswick outdoor Farmers Market on Saturdays, and enjoyed the friendly mussel man and his edible bivalves as well as the local organic produce. What a great time of the year!

 

Maine’s lobster industry is a big one and they work at being sustainable. We found ourselves out one night with Cocky’s friend Ed, a Freeport fixture, retired lawyer and dancing fool like ourselves. The two of them have been suffering since their favorite local dancing spot, The Venue, shut down a year ago. A new restaurant opened up this July on the downtown corner of Freeport, owned by Linda Bean, a heiress in the famous outdoor gear family known for her lobster rolls and her chain of restaurants called Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine. We went to check the new place out, as Ed is hoping to convince her to bring in live bands suitable for dancing. The owner herself arrived and bought our round of drinks. However when we got home, Peter showed me an article about Ms Bean who has been buying up businesses in the tiny coastal communities of St. George and Port Clyde, and is building a monopoly in the lobster industry. She is very conservative, supporting anti-gay, anti-women’s rights, anti-gun control, as well as anti-Canadian when it comes to competition in the lobster industry. Her policies have been dividing the communities that she is monopolizing, though she apparently feels that she is doing everything in her power to help the Maine lobsterman. As I said, food is political, and that will be the last drink I have at Ms Linda Bean’s and I will just have to forego her famous lobster rolls. I also really hope that Cocky and Ed find an alternative place for dancing.  

 

There were other great nights of dancing to Maine bands – Outerspace at Gritty’s and Wiley Coyote at Ciana’s in Freeport, and The Mallet Brothers (great!) at Alive at 5 in Portland. My last night in Maine took Peter, Cocky and I south of Portland to a place called The Landing at Pine Point where that sweet Cuban band, Primo Cubano, had started a regular summertime Tuesday night gig in this big fancy dance hall with a super dance floor. If you find yourself in the Portland area, check them out. Cha cha cha!

 

 

When I wasn’t out dancing with Cocky, I was hanging out with Peter, on his boat or helping him around the yard. I put in the garden only to have a cute little family of groundhogs eat it up as fast as I could plant it.

 

 

About seven years ago, when a neighbor succumbed to cancer, Peter took over the parentage of her cat, Chad, and Alpha, one of the nicest German Shepherds I have ever known. The funny thing about Chad is that over the many visits I’ve had in Maine, I’ve barely seen this cat as he was very skitsy, disappearing as fast as he could. However now that he is older, 21 years, and showing his age, Chad barely left the house. His spot of choice was right in the middle of the living room rug in the room where I slept and so we were roommates and finally friends.

 

Alpha, on the other hand, has been a wonderful companion for Peter and Cocky but also a pal of mine. She has visited me in Hamilton, we’ve spent time at Peter’s island on beautiful Lake Temagami, and when I visit in Maine she and I have spent lots of time walking the trails or going into town while the others went to work. I have laughed as people made a wide circle around her on the sidewalk in Freeport, fearful of this large dog who is actually the gentlest of giants. When I arrived this time, Alpha came bounding out of the house to greet me but with less energy than normal. At thirteen years, she, like Chad, was showing her age with cataracts on her eyes and her hearing obviously impaired – only her nose for food still worked rather efficiently. I felt like I’d moved into a house for the aged.

 

Over the two weeks I was there, Alpha was breathing heavily and became more and more lethargic to the point that she was barely lifting her head when people arrived. Finally Peter took her to the vet who saw in an X-ray that she had a massive tumor on her spleen. Peter brought her home and the next day the vet came and with us all present at her side, Alpha went to sleep. She seemed almost grateful to be put out of her growing misery and went as graciously as she lived her life. It was a sad day for us, but as I have found in other moments such as these, it is a great privilege to spend their last days with the ones you love and to be at their side as they pass. It is nice to think that you helped ease them into the next life and caressed them with much love at the end of this one.

We will miss you Alpha. 

 

I’ve just arrived in Boston, riding the Greyhound bus from Montreal, Quebec to Portland, Maine with a couple of hours to kill in the bus terminal. I’m too cheap to pay $10 to store my bags and they are too heavy to be carrying around on a walking tour of downtown Boston…aah, the value of traveling light. You’d think an experienced traveler like me would know better, but when you have written a book and then need to haul copies of it everywhere you go, the weight of those pages really messes with your better baggage sense.

I arrived back in Canada a couple of weeks ago at the perfect time. Summer was just settling in after what people complained was a very wet spring. Fortunately the sky has quit its crying and happy sunshine has been the new norm. The migratory birds got here long before me, the gardens are in full bloom, and even sweet Ontario strawberries are in the markets! In the short time I was in Hamilton before hitting the road again, I squeezed in as much visiting as I could along with the inevitable springtime visit to the taxman – one must take the bad with the good.

The folks who are renting my house are happy there, thank goodness, and I’m happy they are there. For the first time in years, I didn’t return to an overwhelming jungle of a backyard in need of serious machete work. Instead I stayed at my friend Jeff’s beautiful home overlooking the marina in Hamilton Bay, facing west for perfect sunsets. It took me a couple of days just to leave this retreat and head out into Canada, the bayside balcony providing a very nice transition between tropical paradise and northern bustle.



Although I’m very good at living in the moment – meaning that I don’t usually pine for the friends, food and forests that I’ve left behind in “the other place” – I do arrive ready and excited to see my pals, taste familiar flavors and wander through different shades of green.

The very wet rainy season and the very sunny dry season in Costa Rica yielded a bumper crop of mangoes that never seemed to end – it seems we were eating juicy locally grown fruit for months and seeing millions more wasting on the ground. I arrived to piles more mangoes here in the northern markets, but resist them, as I am making the switch to local foods – those strawberries, rhubarb, fresh asparagus, salmon. My Canadian palette squeals with delight. Eating locally is not difficult at this time of the year – resisting exotic species, which I love, is a simple question of political will. I am one of the lucky ones who gets to return to the land of local mangoes, papaya, and bananas soon enough.

As always, the biggest changes I see are in the faces of my friends’ children. There are new babies to meet, children who can now ta-ta-ta-talk, others graduating from the innocent years to the hormonal ones. More and more of my friends are becoming grandparents, a role that brings a light to their eyes, unencumbered by the responsibility they felt when their own children were born. I’ve gone from Auntie K to Great Auntie K, a name I can only try to live up to.

I’ve taken the opportunity to catch live music and switch up my dancing from calypso and salsa to rock ‘n roll. Our buddy, Kevin, another music lover, came up from New Brunswick and we were the flops at Jeff’s flophouse. Our friend Randy holds house parties and one night had smokin’ guitarist James Anthony along with a band called Pop Cherry which does covers of the Stones, the Doors and Aerosmith. The singer, who I call Steven Mick Tyler, has the look and the moves of those tall lanky frontmen. It was a great night for dancing.

I also finally made it to an Island Party on Ward Island in Toronto (yes, for those of you who don’t know, Toronto has islands), where old friends Pat Allcock and Tim Bovaconti played their unique selection of covers to a raging dance floor. Tim, who has been on tour with Burton Cummings (Guess Who), plays guitar and sings harmony with the best of them but also is a ukulele king. Love versatile musicians especially when they are also real nice guys.

I managed to return to the Hammer in time for the James Street North Art Crawl (second Friday of each month) which keeps getting bigger and wilder each time I’m in town. I spent most of the time at Blackbird Studios, visiting with the gals, Lynn and Kerry, who create beautiful clothes for rock ‘n roller chicks (and dress Roller Derby Teams around the world). We stepped next door into Dan Medakovic’s studio to catch some of the great local musicians – Dan, Mike Trebilcock, Linda Duemo and the lovely Lori Yates – jamming and having fun. I have given up trying to do everything there is on an Art Crawl night, it’s impossible – better to just stay where you’re having fun and move on when you must.


There is no shortage of music, art, theatre or fashion in the Hammer, only a shortage of time to catch it all. But we try…

I also had a number of book orders to fill, but was hampered by the lock-out of the Canadian Postal Corp (thus the books in my bag which I will be mailing while here in the US at a much cheaper rate). There is a conservative corporate mentality raging in Canada that should be scaring my fellow country-folk to death – instead, enough of them voted last month to give the right-wing Conservatives even more power to deplete workers’ rights, diminish environmental protections, and continue to shift our beautiful country to a less progressive, less inclusive, less caring agenda that favors the wealthy and powerful.

We need Michael Moore to come to Canada and do an exposé on our bewildering society which he has idolized in his documentaries. What is going on? The media machine and corporate controllers have managed to get stronger despite all signs pointing to a diminishing social intelligence that is going to lead us into dark years. The amount of mis-or-dis-information about the postal situation in the media is a prime example. I think most people believe that Canada Post is still a tax-funded department of the federal government which is wasting our tax dollars paying overpaid workers who went on strike when it is actually a profit-earning distinct corporation that locked out its workers rather than negotiate fairly. The government, with their union-busting mentality, forced them back to work and the contract, when ratified, is going to take the workers backwards, not forwards. As I read somewhere, it is interesting that the work of the posties is not considered important enough for a proper negotiation of a progressive contract, but is essential enough to demand back-to-work legislation.

On my way to Maine, I passed through Montreal and stayed with my friend Donna and her partner Cem. Donna worked for the Canada Post Corp for years (when she wasn’t creating and teaching art). Cem and our friend Matt are still lugging mail up and down the twisting staircases of downtown Montreal. Like other posties I have known throughout my life, their bodies suffer from the years of hauling heavy bags of mail to homes and businesses, clocking close to 15 kilometers each day. And despite the use of the internet for personal mail, their bags are no lighter as businesses flood our psyches and mailboxes with propaganda. Not just with free flyers that we can refuse to receive, but the addressed commercial stuff that must be delivered to the person, bringing us the information that inundates our lives and begs us to consume. So knowing all this, I went out in solidarity with my friends and the other posties for their last morning on the picket line before they were forced back to work.

Not everything is as it appears. As can often be seen with the public perception of working conditions, such as happens with the teaching profession, people don’t have a clue as to how difficult the job is – for example the accumulative wear and tear on the posties’ bodies (through sleet and hail and snow…etc.) Some just see it as unimportant, overpaid union work. We now have a government in Canada who is working hard at removing the rights of workers to strike for better conditions as well as the rights of activists to assemble and protest. It comes from the same mentality that considers our health and our environment as expendable in the pursuit of more outlandish profits for the wealthy upper tier of society.

What are Canadians thinking? Exactly who is voting for Stephen Harper, a man known for his contempt of the democratic parliamentary process, his life-long commitment to reducing the taxes of the wealthy as well as lowering environmental and safety standards? He believes in and supports the economy of war, including the War on Drugs, even as experts speak against it. The WOD keeps a lot of people, including the narco-traffickers, the security forces, the courts, and the arms dealers, rolling in money while its customers roll expensive joints until they find out that crack is a much cheaper high.And they say that marijuana smoking leads to harder drugs? maybe it is just politico-economic manipulation.

Wake up! Even the United States is rethinking some of this stuff. Just as happened last year at this time, during the days of the G8/20 fiasco in Toronto, I return home and feel sick about what I see happening. Is it that people will sell their souls today, along with their children’s future, for the possibility that one day they too will be part of the elite class? Good luck with that! Is it apathy? Is it greed? Is it stupidity? All of the above?

                                           Happy Birthday Canada!  I hope you grow up to be a kinder, gentler nation. I always thought that it was your destiny, but lately I fear that you’ve been smoking a corporate crack pipe and the profits are all in the hands of the dealers. It is hard to stand on guard for a system that is exploiting everything I believe in.

I’m now back in San José, Costa Rica. Let’s get straight to the good news: two days ago, Wolf was released from the hospital. He is now very happily at his home in Monteverde. He is free of infection – may he remain that way for a very long time. He is taking medications that are keeping him alert and relatively clear but also allowing sleep (for everyone). I have spoken with him a couple of times and he is full of plans and optimistic.

On the book front, I have been snarled in the red tape of dealing with a big company, Café Britt, in Costa Rica. My contact there has been very helpful and most supportive, but there are procedures that one can’t get around regarding details like commercial invoices. With the help of the exceptionally wonderful Deb Hamilton in Monteverde (of Chunches Bookstore and the Bellbird Conservation Project) I think I have jumped through the last hoop to get the books into the airport stores for the thirty day trial.  As soon as I know they are on the shelves, barring any more unforeseen issues, I will let y’all know so that you can hopefully spread the word to travelers who may be able to buy a copy and help us secure a bigger contract.

Next week I will continue working with Lester Gomez, who is editing the Spanish translation of the book. We spent several hours together before I went to Guatemala and have many more days of work to finish. He is very keen about the project, even more so after talking directly with me about Wolf, Monteverde and this great project of love. He has become a valuable part of the team that keeps Wolf’s stories spreading further. I think the published book is beginning to come to a boil.

But it is really Guatemala that I want to write about. After those great few days in beautiful Antigua with EDITUS, I went up to San Pedro la Laguna on magical Lake Atitlan. There are other ways of describing this place – spiritual, serene, stunning – but magical is how it seems to me. The clouds and light and winds are constantly shifting. Tinkling laughter floats past, voices of ancient tongues rise then disperse, the spirits of the ancestors linger by the shore caught between the old world of their existence and the new world of change.

Owners of land within one hundred meters of the lake edge keep an eye on the rising water that has already drowned many individuals’ concrete dreams. All eyes are on the Mayan calendar that marks only twenty-two more months before turning its final page and we head precariously into the next five thousand years.

I was visiting my friends Treeza and Rick who built a comfortable beautiful home last year. Their property originally ran from the walking path down to the water’s edge – about 150 feet. In this last year they have lost more than fifty of those precious feet. They had a concrete gateway that is now in the water, their property line moved back substantially.

The good news is they now have waterfront property with American coots and other water birds floating in the marsh, men harvesting tule (reeds used for mats and baskets) from their wooden kayaks, local women washing their endless piles of clothes just over the bamboo fence that surrounds their property.

I was told that the lake, a cauldron surrounded by volcanoes whose slopes host several indigenous villages, has no natural outlet. It is a catch basin and, in the same extreme weather period that the whole world is experiencing, heavy rainfall has kept the lake on a steady rise. It is already the deepest lake in Central America and, it would seem, it’s getting deeper each rainy season.

Last year, the lake and all the living creatures that depend on its benevolence suffered from a serious outbreak of a Lyngbya microorganism (or cyanobacteria) which spread rapidly, forming mats of fibrous scum that floated on the surface. This was fed by the high levels of phosphorous and nitrogen that are in the fertilizers being used around the lake for the coffee crops as well as the wide variety of farm crops – corn, onions, lettuce, strawberries, cabbage and on and on. Untreated sewage flowing directly into the lake from the growing communities, introduced fish species that have diminished populations of endemic feeders, and a rising water temperature (that ol’ global warming) have created an environmental disaster that has affected every aspect of life on this beautiful landscape.

The Kaqchikel and Tz’utujil people continue their subsistence farming, speak their Mayan languages and wear their colourful traditional clothing. The culture is strong but change is everywhere led by these environmental challenges and tourism. Like in all places dependent on that fickle industry, the rise and fall of tourist numbers either over-stresses people and systems at its height or leaves boats empty and vendors’ stalls abandoned when numbers drop. After millennia of clean water supplies, the communities are now warned not to drink the water that alone bathe in it.     

Groups of women and children worked together to remove the mats of scum. There was little of it apparent last week so it is either under control or conditions are less favourable right now. The day Rick and I went out in a kayak, we returned to find a large group of local Mayan fishermen cleaning up the trash – both plastic and natural – along the shore. With the problems they are encountering, it will take a village – as well as a reluctant government’s money and international aid – to take care of this priceless aquatic and volcanic heaven.

People I met when I was in San Pedro two years ago told me that this last year was very hard for the lack of business due to the harsh weather and the bacteria-story keeping tourists away, besides the devastation caused by the rising water level. Then there were the serious landslides that washed many homes down in a river of mud and rock. If there is any truth to the prophesy that there will be mass confusion and disasters in the lead up to 2012, San Pedro may be a micro-example of what is to come.

A Canadian who has been in San Pedro for many years, Dave, lost his home and two of his dogs to a landslide last year. He closed one restaurant and then reopened a new one with new partners called Bubuluski’s. On Friday nights they have “white table cloth dinners” – fixed menu theme dinners. I was there for Romanian night. Felicia, a co-partner in the restaurant and a Romanian, created a beautiful menu of cabbage rolls (sarmale), a vegetable casserole (ghiveci) and tochitura which is tasty roasted pork in wine sauce. There was a fantastic beef salad as an appetizer and a chocolate desert. All this for about $7.50! Food in Guatemala is so cheap and in San Pedro, fantastic food abounds.

I went on a hike one morning with Dave, his two dogs Can Can and Mimi, and Steve, a sweet man from Oregon, through the community of T’zununa to a waterfall. As almost every day at this time of the year is on the lake, it was hot and sunny. We walked in searing sunlight up an exposed rocky trail. I felt the elevation – about 3500 meters or twice that of Monteverde – in my breathing. Arriving to the cool mist of this fresh mountain water stream was a just reward.

Another day I went by boat with another lovely man from Oregon, Michael, to the town of Santiago. I had seen the textiles from this town that feature beautiful embroidered birds and so I went to buy myself a bag with birds on it. Michael is old friends with Dave, the owner of the Posada de Santiago, a hotel and restaurant that’s been growing for 35 years. I have to say that I had a glorious French Onion Soup (of which I’m a connoisseur) for lunch, a tasty Caesar salad and excellent Bloody Mary. Next time on the lake, I’ll return to this restaurant for its great food and the possibility of hearing live music, something it is renowned for.  

One of the hottest food tickets in San Pedro happens only on Sundays. A big red-headed character named Nestor Castillo has created Smokin’ Joe’s BBQ. He started a couple of years ago with his own line of salsas and smoked meats and it has grown into BBQ gone wild! Held at la Piscina – a happening bar and swimming pool scene I wrote a lot about two years ago – Nestor keeps the BBQ hot for a huge menu until he runs out. People now come from all over the lake for his excellent products – meat, chicken and tuna steaks augmented by several sides of salads and vegetable dishes. I think this guy should be on the Food Channel and it is only a matter of time until somebody discovers him both for the great food he makes and his kinda crazy manner, that alone the cool order delivery system he has – a wire strung between where his wife sits at the bar taking orders and Nestor controlling the fire. She slings a clothes-peg carrying the little order paper across the yard with a “whhhhhinggggg” to Nestor. If you go to San pedro, don’t miss it!

Another thing not to miss is this – the finest hot stone massage you could ask for – two hours of slippery rock bliss, herbal seduction and the magic hands of Andrea, another Canadian living the good life in San Pedro. Follow the signs that are on the eastern side of town. For just over $25 US, you can’t beat the rub and you’ll float home to dream of sliding over rocks in a stream of soft fragrant oil.

I want to recommend a nice little hotel – $7 will get you a private room with cable TV and wireless. Hotel San Antonio is along the path heading east from the Pana-dock (where boats come in from Panajachel). I only stayed a couple of nights there as I wanted to be closer to Rick and Treeza’s, but would have been very happy there for ages. Nice people, beautiful rooms, and a little café downstairs open early for all your caffeine needs.  

As I wrote in an earlier blog, I was going to try to find out what the expectations for 2012 were in the center of this Mayan world. I spent awhile talking with a local ashuan, Juan. He has just come back from a tour, attending conferences and gatherings, speaking as a messenger of Mayan thought, and history and prediction. He is also the owner of Big Foot Travel and an expert on things local, touristy, and popular. Another character not to be missed.

I asked him about the changes in his community, on the lake, and the upcoming calendar climax. He is a very funny rather irreverent guy, but speaks about the Mayan prophecy quite seriously. The elders have been predicting much of what is happening – the rising lake, the sliding slopes – but so many people haven’t listened.

Juan’s main message was this – 2012 will be a year of great celebration. Party, as we’ve made it this far and life will go on after! Yes, there will be upheavals, and there will be collapsed systems. The further you are from the natural world and the more dependent on the false gods of money and materialism, the more you may suffer. But the closer you are to Gaia, the Mother Earth, and to the power at the center of the universe – whether you call that power Allah, Manitou, God or Self – the closer you will be to the biggest fiesta of our time.

It seems to me that we have about twenty-two more months to figure some things out. Maybe I’ll make it back to beautiful Lake Atitlan before…I love seeing Rick and Treeza and their friends and appreciate everyone’s hospitality. Thanks guys! In the meantime, it’s back to the jungle for me….

According to those analyzing the Mayan calendar, we are in for some pretty crazy events in the next couple of years. One should consider carefully where they want to be, especially on December 21, 2012, just in case any of these prognostications come true. An obvious place would be here in the land of the Mayans themselves – Guatemala – ground zero for safe passage into the future. As I realized on my last trip here in 2008, it would be a beautiful place to end your days if that so be the case. I’d happily wrap myself in colorful cotton cloth, feast on beans and corn tortillas, listen to the stories coming out of the rumbling volcanoes, and enjoy these brown people who will continue to call each other “amigo” even as the lights fade out.

I expect that strong Mayan spirit will be rising steadily to meet the challenges inherent in global chaos, aided by their experience over millennia of surviving environmental and social hardships. So I have returned to Guatemala to check out the preparations for 2012 before the big crowds come.

I left Wolf back in the hospital Blanco Cervantes in San José in good form, relatively speaking. He’s having physical therapy and feeling strong enough that he told me to go and have a good time, he wasn’t going anywhere. I heard from Stefany, his nurse, that the day after I left his blood sugar and pressure were all over the place, but that is part of the struggle, trying to regulate Wolf’s aged and problematic system – or maybe he just missed me. Latest word is that he should truly be going home soon!

Editus

 

In early January, as my ninety-day visa run out of Costa Rica was approaching, I knew I had to consider where to go for at least three days to be legal again. As it turned out, all the planets aligned themselves for this trip: I’ve been staying with Lorena and Edín, he the guitarist of Éditus, and they told me that in February they were playing a concert opening an arts festival in Antigua. I then contacted my friends Rick and Treeza in San Pedro on stunning Lake Atitlan who had been talking about coming down to see me in Cahuita. They’ve just built a house and have had too much company to consider taking the trip right now so they said why don’t I come and visit them? And the final sign came when I checked airplane prices and there was a great sale on. The winds practically blew me to Guatemala.

We all flew on the same day.  Lorena and I, along with violinist Ricardo’s wife Moy and percussionist Tapado’s girlfriend Monica, came together on the same flight. The band – with their two stage hands and techies Chino and Eric – arrived shortly after. It was the beginning of two days of living la vida dulce as a groupie in magical Antigua.

Of course Éditus had lodging in a very nice hotel befitting rockstars courtesy of the festival organizers. I, the lowly gypsy, stayed about a five minute walk away at the Villa Esthela, a charming little pension that cost me $10 for a private room (I splurged as there were shared rooms for $6). The best part of the place was the rooftop. When I went to Antigua before, I had spent a couple nights in a place with a rooftop (Hotel San Vicente – nice but too expensive for me now) and one night in a place without and realized that having access to the sky is a desirable feature.

If I can’t afford to stay in one of the many spectacular hotels in the city, at least I can sit on the rooftop of my humble abode and feel rich in the sunshine or privileged under the stars, surrounded by volcanoes and ancient churches. Villa Esthela was super comfortable, everything worked (though the only three-prong outlet for my laptop I found was up on that rooftop, a convenient inconvenience), the bed was comfortable, there’s a kitchen, and Daniella, the Dutch woman who runs the place, was very accommodating and friendly. Highly recommended.

Although I slept there and visited the rooftop day and night, I also spent a lot of time with the others at their hotel and out and about across Antigua.  One of the best places was Casa Santo Domingo, an ancient village within the ancient city: stoned walls in various stages of decay and refurbish (sounds like old rockstars, no?), a candle shop, a museum, a hotel, a restaurant and a spectacular open theatre where there was a wedding rehearsal going on – it turns out that Éditus played there a couple of years ago.

We ate dinner outside under the rising moon at Angie Angie, the restaurant of “the local loca Argentinian beauty” with live music, funky art, succulent parrilla and a super-suave Crème Brulee. Lorena, Monica and I cruised the streets throughout Antigua where every corner directs you to another magical sight. We checked out the textiles at Nimpot, the huge store of traditional huipiles and masks already advertising for Maya Y2K12 (only 830 shopping days until…)

Editus at La Ermita de la Santa Cruz

The main attraction in Antigua was the concert at La Ermita de la Santa Crúz, a convent built in the 1600s and destroyed various times by earthquakes. I’ve spoken many times in this blog about Éditus. They started out as a classical acoustic duo – Ricardo Ramírez on violin and Edín Solís on guitar. They added Carlos Vargas – lovingly and respectfully known as Tapado – on percussion, and their music moved into jazz fusion/new age colored by classical influences and upswept with Latino rhythms.

With their great friend, Rubén Blades, they received Grammy’s for Best Latin Pop Recording, Best World Music Recording and Best Contemporary Latin Recording. They are spectacular whether playing as an acoustic duo, a modern jazz trio, a classical quartet, or as the quintet EDITUS360 – an electronic world music version of their former selves. I’ve known them as friends since the 90s when they played often in Monteverde, and I cooked and cared for them during the music festival there.

With rockstar Alvaro Alguilar

They have been friends with the musicians of Alux Nahual for years and shared the stage before. Alux is a Guatemalan rock band legend, founded by singer Alvaro Alguilar and his brother Plubio in 1979, that has undergone various transformations. The band members switch up the lead vocals and their instruments throughout the concert – from guitars to cello to flute to keyboards to drums,.

On this night, Éditus opened the concert with a mix of pieces from various Latin American composers, their music perfectly blending with the heavy religious overtones of the site and the ethereal modern light and smoke show.

The audience received the music enthusiastically – Éditus’ violin and guitar solos seared the clear night air and Tapado’s always fluid river of percussive rhythms poured over us. Although I was only slightly familiar with a couple of the songs of Alux Nahual, the audience knew every word and sang along to what were obviously anthems in this country – lyrics that speak of justice, peace and equality.

Tapado filled the musical bridge between the bands as Alux Nahual took the stage. The Costa Ricans accompanied the Guatemaltecos on several pieces, the audience loving it all.



Their drummer Lenin Fernandez was a very friendly and amusing host over the weekend, as was Gloria Cáceres, a Guatemalan singer who accompanied Éditus on Esta tarde vi llover by Mexican songwriter Armando Manzanero.

There was some backstage drama when the organizers explained that Éditus shouldn’t sell CDs because there were representatives of an agency present who could confiscate their products since they didn’t have proper permission nor receipts. They  still opened a backstage table  to sign autographs and it took more than an hour for the line of fans to pass through, requesting photos with the rockstars. We had about eight heavily armed policemen around us and fortunately nothing happened to excite them.

Gloria then invited us to a late night gathering at the house of one of the older wealthier families of Guatemala – the Zacapa Rum family. We wound down dark, almost empty cobble streets well after midnight to arrive at a walled-off building that took up most of a central block.

When the heavy wooden door was pulled open, it revealed a preserved mansion behind the walls. There were courtyards with fountains and rooms full of heavy wooden antiques gilded with gold, brocade upholstery intact, crystal shining on the shelves.

We were night time wanderers in this marvelous place, amazed at what ancient luxury was hidden beyond the walls. Though everyone was tired, the atmosphere, the wine and a spectacular chickenpaté kept us awake and amused.

While we were playing in the day, and as Éditus played through the night, the roadies Eric and Chino worked setting up the stage and managing the lights and sound. Chino – Andres, Tapado’s brother – has been the stage technician for Éditus for years – as well as for many other bands and events in Costa Rica. He has a look that fits well amongst hippies and artists (and tends to attract crazy people in the streets), but it would appear he could also be a lord-of-the-rings-type if the opportunity presented itself.

It was a beautiful time we had in Antigua. Lorena and Edín have been very welcoming and generous with me at their home in Chepe over the last month while I’ve been on Wolf-duty. They were very kind to invite me along and I thank them. I’m a willing and enthusiastic groupie and love the Éditus maestros, their music, their lovely women, and their comical roadies. Gracias a todos ustedes por un viaje magico en Antigua.

I left the others behind on their last day in Guatemala and headed to Lake Atitlan. That’s the next blog…I’ll pass on to you what I find out regarding the end of the world, right from the mouth of the Mayans.  Recently, I was told by someone who is studying literature about 2012 that the land I have in Cahuita, on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and tucked into the foothills of the Talamanca Mountains, will also be a great place to spend that momentous time watching the pendulum swing between the past and the future. Talamanca is considered one of the best places on earth to survive massive physical and social upheavals. It’s out of the path of some of the treacherous fault lines, not too close to active volcanoes, sparsely populated but loaded with native fruits to live off of, and with a spiritual native intelligence that will guide those of us who manage to survive into the next epoch – if one should want to linger around after all that mass destruction.

So I may be staying home in Cahuita that month after all, prepared to head out by foot to higher ground if and when the tsunami horn sounds. But that’s a question to ponder another day…here on the shores of magical Lake Atitlan, I’m reading the seeds and studying the currents, looking for more signs…. 

As promised and pre-destined, Roberto and I came back to Bastimiento to hang in the hammocks at the Hospedaje Seaview while we wait out my 72-hour extradition from Costa Rica. The island pace is slow, the Panamanian music is hot, the Caribbean sea is enticing, the local fish is fresh, the frogs are red, and life is seductively sweet, so taking this little trip every 90 days (only four hours from Cahuita) isn’t such a hardship.

 The weather here has varied, as I suspect it does much of the year. It hasn’t been nasty or threatening, just unsettled – from hot sun and calm turquoise water, to dark billowing clouds laced with thunder, to an overcast sky with a slightly tossed sea, and back to that hot sun again. But except for the need to grab a sweater because you might think a chill is coming on, life in the hammock doesn’t change. I shouldn’t say that – last year I could pick up the neighboring hotel’s wireless connection here under the rancho while swinging in the hammock.

This year, a little hut has been built between the hotels and that seems to have weakened the signal so that I can’t do anything more than get my home page once in awhile. It’s a weak signal even within that hotel’s office, as even with a full signal I can’t Skype (a new definition of slow –“Life and the connection is so slow, I can’t skype”.) This morning, as a gentle rain kept us from thinking more serious thoughts of taking a snorkeling trip, I happily set myself up at the Caribbean View Hotel with a cup of coffee and imagined a morning of online Scrabble and Skype-talk with friends as that rain continued, but alas, due to technical difficulties, it wasn’t to be.

I realize that complaining about online access seems like an unnecessary (if not addictive) behavior, but seeing as we don’t have electricity at our jungle home near Cahuita, having power and internet is part of what a vacation is all about, along with icy drinks and conversation with strangers. I can hear my friend, Cocky, in Maine saying, “Yah, right, making excuses, like a true addict.” –to which I’d have to agree, since entering the games section of Facebook and wanting to play online Scrabble.

 A big change here at the hotel ($12 for a seaside room with private bath) is that Victor Francis, the man who owns it and serenaded us last Valentine’s day with love songs, has rented it to a young couple to manage. The new host, Josue, is from the Dominican Republic but has lived here in Panama for many years. His wife, whose name escapes me as I almost never saw her, is in the middle of a difficult pregnancy and didn’t come out of their room much, leaving Josue and his daughter, Matilda, to take care of things. It turns out that Josue is quite a good cook. As he cooks his family’s food, he offers those of us staying here a plate for $5, a great deal considering the plate is full and the food is delicious. With his Dominican and Panamanian influences, he has a different style of Caribbean cooking than Roberto, but also uses lots of coconut and a lot of achiote. He makes nuggets of patacones, usually made with green plantain, using bananas, a down-sized variation I like. I don’t think I’ve seen him make a bean dish or rice and beans yet, but instead he made a nice spicy lentil sauce for the rice.

The way things change in these parts, I don’t know if he’ll be here the next time we come, but I know that is his plan – to work hard at keeping the Seaview the pleasant, cheap little hotel on stilts that it is but also developing a restaurant to showcase his cooking. His food and the price have been great, so maybe he’ll still be here next time we come. I wish him and his family well. I continue to recommend the Seaview Hotel – the sheets are clean but slide off the mattress, and the bathrooms are basic, but if you are a cheap, basic traveler like me, it has both charm and a sea patio of hammocks that balances out the drawbacks.

Another very disappointing change came when we stopped in the town of Bocas, where last February we danced all night to Taboo Combo at Carnaval. We had also enjoyed lunches and very tasty Bloody Maria’s at a place called Caribbean View (a popular name it would seem.) I have been thinking of these particular Bloody Marys – the trick was the Panamanian pepper salsa that the bartender used – since leaving last February. Unfortunately the restaurant is closed and I couldn’t find the woman who was making the drinks, so another great cocktail seems to have come and gone.

 

At the other end of things, the saddest continuing reality is that the garbage problem hasn’t diminished here. There is waterlogged litter all along the shoreline – the exception being on the northwest side of the island where the shore is shallow and rocky. I met a woman who has a home on that shore (who lived for years near the little town of Killaloe in eastern Ontario, a very out of the way place I know quite well.) She told me that the locals clean up the shoreline regularly. It is the only way to get on top of this scourge. Although the situation seems so out of control that it is hard to imagine getting it cleaned up, Marlize told me that once they were on top of it, it was easy to keep it under control. However there is so much garbage floating around in the sea, it never stops invading their shore.

Although I am always very aware of litter and tend to clean it up when I see it, here I am overwhelmed. My reaction to this much litter is to accept it, like everyone else. When a small piece of paper flew out of my hand yesterday, I wasn’t concerned – where normally I would go chase it. I’m appalled at my own reaction. I remember reading about one of the mayors of New York City taking the problem in hand and saying, “If we clean up the city and make it a place of pride, people will change.” If you set a good standard, people respond accordingly. I believe that can happen everywhere.

I hope that one day the community will start picking up the garbage. They’ll have to accept that they will always have to pick up what comes from the bowels of the sea and is continuously dumped on their shore. Garbage piles has grown by leaps and bounds since plastic packaging and disposal bottles and containers have made their way everywhere, especially to countries where poverty facilitates buying food in the smallest quantity available. Not long ago, all people carried their own woven or feed sacks to the local mercado, even for very small amounts, but now plastics are everywhere which facilitates micro-packaging. I would hate to make a list of what I see in the water here, and I won’t, as it would spoil my serenity. In my short stay there is nothing that will change, but I’m very aware of what is floating around me. Fortunately, once you head out to the other islands and beaches, the garbage disappears.

                                                                                                   

 Yesterday, we went to Playa Polo on the east side of the island with Louis, a beauty boy we met last time, who flies about in his boat and offers guided tours out of his family’s hotel, the Caribbean View. This time, his wife Zuly, his five-year-old son Naya and their new baby Calouie, came along for the ride. Naya, at the age of discovery and action, immediately wandered up the beach to where a shallow watery path meanders out of the jungle and onto the beach, no doubt connecting with the sea at high tide. Naya’s obviously familiar with it, as he took off like a shot to get there as soon as the boat landed. Out of curiosity I also went up to see what was of such interest to a young boy.

Naya started catching tiny fish and I stored them in my water bottle – liquid sushi. We saw a small shrimp and recently hatched frogs darting under one leaf to the next. Naya is not completely fearless yet, so when he disturbed the shrimp and it skittered near his hand, he jumped and called me in as reinforcement to help with the fish catch. Zuly came along just then, checking up on her son, and joined in his search.

“My mother always told me that before the hunt, you clear the area first,” she said, so we pulled leaves and branches out of the shallow water to see what we might uncover. The aquatic creatures darted into the shadowy waters to hide amid the small roots under a sandy overhang. Zuly, an enthusiastic mama-teacher, hitched her long skirt up and bent down into position to catch her son a wild specimen.

All of a sudden she shot straight up, pulling her hand back like she had just touched a hot burner. Releasing a slow breath, she exclaimed, “There is a snake there.” Sure enough, as I moved closer to her and we both slowly bent back down, you could see that one of the benign looking root stems had a forked tongue darting in and out at us. What great eyes Zuly must have to have spotted this little creature. Who knows if it was poisonous or not, but it sure looked onerous hiding there with that scary tongue.

 “Ay, Naya, see what can happen when you go off looking for things,” she sighed. Looking at me, but still speaking to Naya, she added, “We let him come down here by himself now, and the second he jumps out of the boat, that’s all he wants to do. But you have to be so careful. He could have been alone, looking for fish, and been bitten by the snake without us knowing.”

 That’s the truth of life – both in and out of the jungle. There are so many dangers that affront us in life, at any age, hiding in the shadows, coming out of the blue. You can only hope to survive.

 So speaking of surviving, the latest news I have about Wolf and Lucky comes from a phone conversation today with Berto’s wife, Angelina. She said that they took Wolf down to the city a few days ago, and finally last night (Thursday November 19) he was admitted to Puntarenas hospital where they have a ward dedicated to older people. He has been having the same problems with eating and keeping things down that was happening when I was there last week, but now, hopefully, he is being helped. The thing is that the problem may be bigger than anticipated – so we continue to pray for him and hope that the Costa Rican medical community will take care of him.

PS: I’m now in San José on my way to Puntarenas Hospital to visit Wolf. I’ll let you know what is happening. Hopefully, there are no snakes lurking in his shadow although I know for a fact Wolf would rather be in the forest wrestling snakes than where he is now.

March 2017
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