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It is the day after I got home from my little all-American roadtrip and the day before I set off on my quickie Euro-tour to London, England and Barcelona, Spain. How lucky am I? When I read my own words, I get a chill, a good one, down my spine. I have never been “across the pond” and now that I’m within a few hours of leaving, I’m very excited. I am going to visit my friend Chrissey Ansell, who I met eighteen years ago on a beach in Costa Rica, who has come to Canada no less than five times and visited me, and has consistently, patiently invited me to her homes in both of these fantastic European cities. I’ve always had an excuse why I couldn’t go – usually something to do with cancer or book-writing – but finally just bit the bullet and bought the ticket. I’ve always thought I’d find a two-month period to do Europe properly, but in the end decided that I better just go while I still have some money in the bank (international economic crises make me want to spend not save) and while I have my health and the world is in a lull between international catastrophes. As I’ve said in past blogs, I tend to plan for the future but live in the moment but here the moment has met the future and tomorrow I’ll finally be on a plane and headed over the Atlantic to take advantage of this long-standing invitation.
So I’m taking this opportunity – now that I’ve unpacked and repacked – to write about the last few days that took me from Ontario, across the border at Niagara Falls through Virginia to Ohio. The first important piece of news was that I bought a new camera so I can post photos again. I suppose the next important piece of news was that the weather was autumnally-beautiful – truly summerlike – we watched the treeline become more colorful as the days went on and actually sweated on occasion. Shirley and I traveled the interstates more than anything because of time. I wanted to do a secondary highway between Staunton, Virginia and Wheeling, W. Virginia but Shirley, my dear older & anxious friend, got thrown off by the CAA recommendation to stay on the interstates. Shirley has gone with me on backroads through northern Ontario and Costa Rica and always loves the back country but as she gets older, she gets more anxious (I believe that as we age, we are simply more condensed versions of our former selves) and got it in her head that this particular highway 250 that crossed the mountains would be somehow more dangerous than the truck-laden interstate. I tried my best to change her mind but in the end gave in and followed I-64 around to Charleston and up I-77 to Barnesville. I don’t mind racing the transports and getting into the interstate groove but it is truly much groovier on the backroads. Next time, I’m doing that Highway 250 (I wish somebody reading this would give me a good report that I could convince Shirley, next time we visit her relatives in Virginia, that this is a road worth traveling).
So that is where we went first – to Spotsville, Virginia, where Shirley’s kindly kinda-aunt Louise lives on a farm with her black angus cows munching the grass on the rolling fields and her hard-working, lovely family close-by. Louise is 84 years old (I think that is right) and still helping her son Warren unload the corn silage into the silo, cooking up delicious meals, and tending to the needs of her family, cows, neighbours and church. We visited her 94 year-old neighbour, Nellie, who also seems to have a firm hand on the running of the farm there.
For the couple of days we were with these warm friendly Virginian folk, I observed that though the men were hard-working, the women seemed to still run the place! Age un-important! Shirley, who I have known most of my life originally as a friend of my parents and always as my friend, has her roots in this country. She was born in England but was sent here in the second world war to be safe and far away from bomb-blasted London. She and her brother Tony lived in an “orphanage”, which was actually more like a home for wayward children, and benefited from being around her extended family. Shirley is now 76 and not willing to drive to Virginia on her own so when I invited her to accompany me to Ohio, I offered to drive her to visit her kinfolk on the way. Of course, I benefited for the experience.
So we stayed in this big ol’ farmhouse, ate way too much good food, fed the young angus cow who was being weened but was still happy to slobber all over the bottle, went to all of Shirley’s touchstones in the area and enjoyed the Virginian hospitality.
We went to the graveyards that house Shirley’s grandfather and Louise’s husband, Charles, who I met here in Canada many years ago.
We visited the McCormick farm, home of the reaper (not the grim one, but the pragmatic farm implement). There is also an old grist mill on the site.
Louise’s son, Warren, and her son-in-law, Lenny, both work at the nearby Hershey’s factory which is non-unionized. They often are working seven days a week for weeks on end, besides running the farm and tending to their families. If they complain, there are many others who will take their jobs, so they just go to work. It is a hard life, making those Reeses Peanut Butter Cups and Almond Joy bars that we take for granted as “candy” – although I tended to stay out of political discussions with these kind, country folk, we did talk about the value of unions and the need for socialized health care in the US. I shared my experiences of having cancer which brought so many worries to my life – as in “will I survive?” – but didn’t involve worrying about who would pay for the treatments since we have socialized health care here in Canada. Louise’s family – Warren Bradley and Linda Lou, Lenny, and Christy Phillips- were all interested in the concept of having medical insurance provided by the government and I was able to share my own experience. When Barack gets in, may he follow through and get the support from the Senate and Congress to implement his promise to provide medical insurance for all Americans. It seems to me to be the most basic of human rights in a civilized society. Perhaps – just a suggestion – cut the military spending and provide for a little nationalized humanity.
When people talk about how politics doesn’t affect their lives, I always shake my head. Next time you eat a chocolate bar, remember the guys who are working seven days a week, months on end, to keep the line going – limited medical insurance provided, no job security, tired, but unable to complain. I guess I’ve lived in Canada too long.
So after the lovely warmth of Virginia, we headed out in the morning through the fog that eventually lifted to reveal the coloring leaves, through Virginia, West Virginia, and across the Ohio River into Ohio. This is very idealic countryside until you see the big smokestacks – I have to admit, I’m not sure what kind of fabrication or energy plant this is, but I have seen the scene often when passing close to the gracious wide Ohio River, and shudder at the sight of the monolithic cauldrons.
We arrived on Friday afternoon at Olney Friends School just outside of Barnesville, Ohio. Anyone who has read Walking with Wolf will know that this is where Wolf grew up and then returned to for high school. He also met his beautiful wife, Lucky, there, who had come from Earlham, Iowa. It was Homecoming weekend at Olney and Wolf and Lucky managed to come up from Costa Rica, as Shirley and I came down from Canada.
Everytime I see this wonderful couple, even after all the years of working on the book, I get a warm rush of love that passes through my body straight to my heart. To have managed for us all to get to Olney for this occasion, for the weather to have cooperated as if it were a fine June day, for the extended family and friends of both of them to have shown up en masse for the occasion – well, it all added up to a beautiful weekend filled with laughter and tears and memories and friendship.
I find it quite amusing that when Wolf and I get together now, we are like a couple of business people, discussing marketing possibilities, exchanging publicity stories, sharing accounting information. Understand – we have been playing around at “writing a book” for years and now we are actually selling it! Wolf has continued to visit the stores in Costa Rica who carry our book, replenishing the stock on the shelves but most likely selling the best while sitting in the parking lot at the Monteverde Reserve waiting for the tourists to finish their guided tours in the forest. I will return to Monteverde in January and we will try to find ways to pick up the pace again, but I know that Walking with Wolf will continue to sell to people who come to Monteverde and are interested in the soul of the place. I believe that is what we managed to convey. What with all our words and history and recollections, Wolf represents the soul of this beautiful, dynamic community and we, luckily, managed to capture it in our tomb.
So here we now were at Olney Friends Boarding School, the place where Wolf met and wooed Lucky, a Friends school that has been teaching young people about reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, life and Quaker values since 1837. On Friday night there was a concert by an energetic a capella group of men from Ohio’s liberal arts Kenyon College (Paul Newman’s alma mater) called the Kokosingers. I think there were thirteen of them – taking turns as the solo guy upstage, providing harmonized, finger-snapping, renditions of both popular and classic songs and a few obscure tunes. They are going to be opening for Miley Cyrus (I won’t get into who she is, but if you already know, you should be impressed at least as far as the size of the audience) in a couple of weeks. Maybe I was as impressed by their male beauty as their talent (I digress…) but it was truly entertaining.
Saturday was filled with alumni reunionizing, students taking part in the annual run/walk and field hockey and soccer games (alumni 4/students many more). Bit by bit the alumni, many of them relatives of Wolf or Lucky’s, arrived and I could now hear that Guindon/Standing laughter ringing out amid the stately buildings and hardwoods. I have to say that the food at Olney was excellent – having worked for several years at a canoe camp, where the food was great, I was truly impressed with the quality and variety of the food at Olney – I’m not sure of the cook’s name but she was well aware of her responsiblity of feeding an international student body with a variety of taste buds and obviously loves to try new recipes. That kale soup was excellent.
Wolf and I presented the book on Saturday night to a packed house – somewhere between 150 and 200. Wolf spoke very clearly and lovingly, and I followed, proud of myself for sticking to my new program which involved slowing the slide images down to fit the readings from the book. We sold all the books I brought and received a lot of great response from those who had already read it.
I met a bunch of people who I’ve heard about over the years from Wolf and Lucky. Shirley and I lingered with Herbie Smith and Marie Bunty for a long time after the program and exchanged stories – mine of knowing the Guindons in recent times, theirs of sixty years ago.
On Sunday Shirley and I went to the Friends Meeting in Stillwater which was both the same as Monteverde – silent – but more verbally Christian than is Monteverde. The benches weren’t in a circular style and the way things proceeded was a little different. My personal Quaker experience has been consistently in Monteverde. When people stood and spoke I was naturally awaiting the Spanish translation that occurs in Monteverde. When we got to the afterthoughts and announcements, I was listening for Wolf’s son, Benito, in the background, his low voice simultaneously translating the english to the spanish. In Monteverde there is often an orange trogon – a relative of the beautiful resplendant quetzal – perched on a branch outside the window, perhaps hooting, perhaps silent like the Quakers, its orange breast and striped tail shining. In Monteverde, when the wind is blowing and the tree branches are snapping against the building, I often feel that I am in a tree – if that is so, then here at Stillwater, I was among the roots. I could feel Wolf and Lucky’s past all around me and knew that this was where the miracle happened, the life force rising from the seed that germinated into the roots that became the family tree that is Monteverde.
I saw other folks who I have met before – Roy Joe and Ruthie Stuckey, Susie Roth, Sylvia who is Lucky’s cousin. Following meeting there was a picnic nearby at Wolf’s nephew’s, Don Guindon’s. Guindons and Standing relatives gathered to celebrate the presence of Wolf and Lucky and to visit with each other.
Sylvia, Rachel & their Aunt Lucky
I had the pleasure of meeting Lucky’s oldest sister, Helen, 94 years old and laughing up a storm. I met a multitude of extended family and unfortunately don’t remember the names of many of them unless I had managed to meet them on a previous occasion.
One of the most touching conversations I had was with one of Wolf’s nieces. On Saturday night, she had implied that she wanted to talk with me but we didn’t have the chance until just before I left on Sunday afternoon. What she wanted to share with me was that in the Guindon family there have been chemical imbalances – mental illness – and yet they haven’t talked about it.
In Walking with Wolf we do talk about this. Wolf’s manic depression was a puzzle to me when I met him, but in the three years after meeting him but before returning to Costa Rica and continuing our oral history project, I bumped into people with this malady a couple more times. Then I lived with a man with a mental disorder for a number of years while I was working on the book. Mental illness is as common as any other illness but has carried a stigma that makes people keep their mouths shut about it.
This lovely woman (and I apologize for not remembering her name) has lived with depression herself, as has one of her two daughters – the other lives with Aspergers syndrome. Wolf’s daughter Helena’s son, Silvio, also has this affliction yet last year he was awarded as the top scoring student graduating from a Costa Rican high school. The niece had only just bought the book but had heard from sisters and cousins that we discuss the depression that her grandmother experienced and Wolf’s own manic depression. The book also includes Lucky’s story about living with Wolf in the years before he was properly diagnosed and prescribed lithium.
When I met Wolf and saw some of his behaviour, it was both comical and mystical to me. However, over the years, as I met various other people with a variety of mental illnesses – including my ex-partner who I shared struggles with for eight years – I realized the difficulty of living with this. It was important to me that we talk about it in the book, as it was a very real part of Wolf and Lucky’s life. Even though perhaps it was me who insisted we talk about this, it was Wolf and Lucky who provided the honest, candid details of their experience. And neither one ever suggested that we hide it. It is now out in the open and makes it possible for the family – who can share many examples and experiences – to start and continue the dialogue. There is no place for shame in this, only room for love and understanding.
Rich Sidwell and the staff at Olney – Mary, Leonard, Cleda, Ela & my Canadian-cohort Jaya – provided the opportunity and the backdrop for this wonderful weekend. Their invitation helped us sell books, connect with family and link to the broader Quaker community. Olney itself is a very special place with a student population from all over the world. When we sat down for meals, the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural aspect of the place was apparent. For me, a non-Quaker but someone who has lingered among these peaceful, considerate, simple people who are encouraged to be seekers, Olney provided a place to rejoice with a community that was honoring Wolf and Lucky and that very special community in Costa Rica – Monteverde. Every path that this book takes me down allows me to breathe deeply, smile widely and hold my head proudly – to have participated in any small way in this community is a true privilege. The roots and the branches of this large tree of humanity have spread far and wide in my own life and I’m very thankful for that. Today being Canadian Thanksgiving, that will be my grace.
If one must travel, one should at least try to make it worthwhile. Now sometimes, for some people, for their sanity – which is something that affects all those around them and therefore the world – a trip to the Caribbean for a week of sun, endorphins, rest and relax is worth the footprints. If you must spend them then you should try and trade them off by good ecologically-sound behavior at other times. I think that the fact that I gave up my car four years ago, don’t have an air conditioner, very seldom use my dryer, turn off my lights, control my general consumption – well, that will have to balance out the fact that in the next while I’m going to be doing a lot of traveling.
Tomorrow I head to northeastern Ontario (in a small rental car). This is where Temagami is, which is a small community and large lake I mention a few times in Walking with Wolf. It is also the area where I lived from 1982 until I left my husband in 1990, on my way to Costa Rica and a changed life. Might I add that I lived without electricity or running water for seven years – kaching! in the carbon bank for me.
I worked at Camps Wanapitei and Keewaydin through the 1990s, two canoe camps on beautiful Lake Temagami. At Wanapitei, where I worked for six years, I would stay at the camp the better part of four months of the year, two of those while camp was in session and two when there was only a handful of us enjoying our isolation in the bush at the northeast end of this huge body of water. I then worked at Keewaydin, an all boys camp at the time, for one summer at the end of my canoe camp career, cooking for a dining room full of grateful boys who would come to my window and sing for extra pieces of dessert – how cute was that. Life at both of these camps allowed me to spend the summer in the north, on water, with groovy people. It all involved a lot of work and chaos, but I loved it.
I am going to be an hour north of there in New Liskeard on Friday night, presenting Walking with Wolf at the Chat Noir Bookstore. Because I lived in the area, I should know alot of people there – it is the third presentation (after Monteverde and Hamilton) where I feel I’m bringing the book home. My friend Dave Patterson, of the Wabi Delta Band, is playing a set before and after my little book talk. It’ll be great.
Then on Sunday, I go a bit south to Mattawa. Friends own a colorful new cafe there and I’m presenting the book in the afternoon – at the Moon Cafe at 2 p.m. Once again, I know enough folk in the area so will be happy to see friendly faces.
On Tuesday September 16 in the evening, I do one more presentation at HIbou Boutique in North Bay. I have never been there but friends tell me it is a good space and community with sound eco-practices so I look forward to that.
After the Pearl adventure, the rest gets easier, and really, that was an easy night. Traveling and talking is what I do best. I’m not shy and I’m proud of the book and privileged to tell Wolf and Monteverde’s story, so this is fun for me.
I have October booked up but I’m running out of time and will write when I’m through this northern tour. But coming up: Barnesville, Ohio; London, England; Barcelona, Spain; Kingston and Guelph, Ontario. Did I say carbon footprint? – maybe a coalmine worth of bootprint is more like it. Sorry about that.
After those lovely few days of food and friends in San Carlos, I went to San José and on Monday morning met up with Wolf and Lucky. We dropped off books at Seventh Street Books with Marc, one of the owners who has been very helpful. We also left books with a couple of other chain bookstores who will hopefully decide to carry Walking with Wolf and place an order soon.
We spent an hour and half with Alex Leff, the reporter from Tico Times, the English weekly newspaper. He was very generous with his time and asked a lot of great questions that kept Wolf and I talking (HA! As if we needed help…) We walked with him and the photographer up to a park to take pictures that looked like we were surrounded by greenery. It will be interesting now to see how the photos and the story come out, but we both felt that Alex was truly interested in the book and the material and hopefully that will show up in his article.
We also left books with William Aspinall who owns the Observatory Lodge at Arenal. He was the director of the Monteverde Reserve when I first came in 1990 and happily took books to sell. It was great to see him after all these years.
Monday evening, I went and saw the recently released movie The Incredible Hulk. I had been an extra when it filmed in Hamilton last September. They had built a large false set that was meant to be Brooklyn in a couple of empty lots in downtown Hamilton. On the same block was scaffolding around the reconstruction of an old stone building that will be the first rooftop patio bar in the city, I believe it is called the London Tap House, and the filming included this construction site. Although I didn’t see myself, there were a few minutes in the movie that came out of that whole week of nighttime shooting that we did – and I’d say the London Tap House got as much screen time as anything else. Not my kind of movie, but I’ll still probably have to check out the DVD and scan the scenes where I’m running the streets to see if I can pick myself out in the crowd. It is fascinating to have participated in and seen how they make these movies.
We came back up the mountain yesterday to be here for today’s presentation of Walking with Wolf at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Since the maintenance crew and the forest guards were all in the forest the day of the community book launch, we felt it was only right to do something with them and the other employees of the Reserve where Wolf has worked all these years. The director, Carlos Hernandez, once again was very supportive in enabling as many of the workers to be there as possible, and Mercedes Diaz, who has been unfailingly helpful for the last year in keeping Wolf and I connected by internet, organized the event. Our heartfelt thanks goes out to both Carlos and Mercedes for the support they have given us.
Below: Luis Angel Obando, Head of Protection
Some other members of the community came as well as some of the guides who take people on nature hikes in the forest. Even the reclusive biologist, Alan Pounds, who plays a big role in the chapter on the golden toads, showed up. There were probably about forty people. It was as touching and poignant as the community book launch had been. It feels like family there, even for me, who only spends a part of each year here and only some of that at the Reserve. For Wolf, it has been his home away from home for many years. Many of the staff has been there a long time, like the Obando brothers, Lionel and Luis Angel, and the Brenes brothers, Miguel and Jose Luis. Much of the staff changes, new younger faces appear, yet there is a sense of history there and they are all very aware of the role Wolf has played in the development of the Reserve that now furnishes them with their jobs and the area with its beautiful protected forest. He is an elder in this community, an entertaining and dedicated figure that people don’t always understand but look up to and respect and thoroughly enjoy.
Since I knew that we would do the presentation in Spanish and it didn’t make sense to do a reading in English, I had thought that it would be good if we asked anyone there if they would like to share a story of walking or working with Wolf. So that was part of the program. Carlos introduced me and I gave the story of the beginnings of the book in the longest Spanish public talk I have ever given. I’m very comfortable with this gang, many of whom I’ve known since I came here, so stumbled my way through, knowing that they would be generous with their understanding of what I was trying to say. I don’t think I did too badly in the end (fortunately I’m far from a perfectionist, so speaking strangely in any language doesn’t bother me). We had the pictures showing on the screen as we had at the other presentation, many with folks from the Reserve, and of course people love seeing themselves and each other, so that was a great backdrop.
Before Wolf spoke, Carlos presented him with two plaques, one in English, one in Spanish, each with a picture of him and a summary of his story. Wolf’s son, Carlos, had asked me a year ago if I would write a short background on Wolf for something, and this is what appeared on the plaque in English, then translated in Spanish. These will hang in the restaurant of the casona at the entrance to the Reserve so that visitors will always be able to read about Wolf’s role in the preservation of these woods. Wolf was very touched – he was also given copies for his house. Carlos also gave him a beautiful wooden walking stick with an “I love Costa Rica” glass ball on the head of it. It was all very appropriate and kind and a really wonderful gesture to Wolf from his co-workers. I can’t overstate how much I appreciate Carlos Hernandez’ constant and respectful generosity to both Wolf and our book project.
The administrative assistant, Marjorie Cruz, then stood up and presented me with a beautiful arrangement of tropical flowers with thanks for the work I’ve done to record Wolf’s story. That was very much a surprise to me and, once again, very nice of them.
Mostly keeping his tears in check, Wolf spoke about his years of developing the Reserve and working with the Tropical Science Center, the satisfaction he gets of seeing the young staff carrying on his work, the thrill of watching the guides teach visitors about the flora and fauna, and the fact that it takes a community to do such great things. He is always humble when he speaks about his contributions.
Wolf’s son Ricky with his son Francis on his lap
Marjorie than asked if anyone would like to share their own experiences and several people stood up and spoke – some with stories, some just expressing their gratitude to Wolf for the work he has done, some stating how glad they were that his stories and history have been recorded while he was still alive and able to see the book in print. They all expressed, in different ways, the realization that what they were doing today came from Wolf’s hard work and gentle ways and that this would live on forever both in the spirit of the preserved forest and the pages of Walking with Wolf. Wolf’s son Ricky, who hadn’t been able to be at the other presentation, was there today and took the opportunity to stand and publicly embrace his father.
Miguel Leiton’s son, William, also spoke of the great relationship between his family and the Guindon’s and how his father was there today in spirit; Adrian Mendez, an employee of the Reserve since he was a teenager, now a professional guide, also spoke of the role Wolf had played in influencing the direction of his life.
William Leiton on right, with the elusive Alan Pounds in the blue
We laughed a lot, soft tears were shed, great stories were shared, then coffee and treats were had by all. We took a group picture of the Reserve staff, although some had already left to get back to work and others had been left behind to run things while the rest participated. The morning couldn’t have been nicer, the gestures kinder, the faces friendlier, or Wolf and I happier. Gracias ustedes, es un honor ser un parte de esta communidad.
ON TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN
Last night was the apex moment for Walking with Wolf. We’ve hit the summit and start down the backside now. What a night! Actually what a couple of days before what a night! Global warming causing extreme weather brought near hurricane turmoil to Costa Rica at a time of the year when you just don’t expect this weather. We thought it was going to ruin the celebratory book launch, but in fact it was all perfect, including a last-minute change in the weather.
It is normally quite still here at this time of the year, unlike November till March when the winds can be ferocious and, minimally, are constant. But starting Wednesday afternoon it got real blustery, adding extra kick to what was already curtains of rain. Incredible! Wolf, Lucky & I spent the morning hunched around the woodstove, wondering how many people would possibly make their way out at night in this nasty weather. I said that the only people we could count on were the forest guards and the maintenance guys from the Monteverde Reserve since this is just what they do – go out in whatever the conditions are. So coming through the storm to the presentation, to eat bocitas and drink coffee all the while staying in a dry warm building, is easy for them. As it turned out, they were the one group who didn’t show up.
The rain was coming horizontally with such force that you just can’t stay dry unless you are completely covered in rubber. The old jeep we were using to carry the books from the house down to Bromelias Music Garden was almost as wet inside as out, the water entering wherever it could. Antonio Guindon’s wife Adair was driving me and the books down at 2 p.m.. At 12:30 water was everywhere – puddles consolidating into rivers, a downpour of rain that was also a sidepour, and the humidity hovering as a heavy mist that kept things wet even when the faucet turned off for a few minutes. I was thoroughly soaked just running out to the barn. I wrapped the three boxes of books in plastic and kept hoping that the rain would subside when it was time to go. And, miracle of miracles, it did!
At about 1 p.m. as we took the bagged boxes out to the vehicle and wrapped them in a dry tarp inside the jeep, the frequency of the raindrops definitely lessened. By the time Adair and I got to Bromelias and unloaded the boxes shortly after 2, we were only working in heavy mist. By the time people started coming around 5, even the mist was lighter. The winds stopped sometime mid-afternoon and by evening, it was just a thin fog that was blurring the night air, deadening the sounds, bringing serenity.
It had been such bad weather that roads were washed out, people’s houses shifted – the newspaper was filled with stories of landslides and flooding throughout western Costa Rica. So even with the change in weather, many people wouldn’t be heading out after such a harsh day. However about seventy-five did and together we enjoyed a warm and cozy night in beautiful Bromelias.
My friend Mercedes at the Reserve helped me put together about 180 photos that we projected from my laptop – those from the book, other old pictures I had scanned that didn’t make the book, pictures from our hikes, many of Wolf, a few from Canada or the beach thrown in. These ran constantly as a backdrop through the evening. Russell Danao played his beautiful vibraphone – high-end marimbas. He played at the Havana Jazz Festival this year. He kindly accepted our request to grace the evening with his music. As people came out of the fog and into the amber light of the room, they took their seats and watched the slideshow and listened to Russell’s jazz-toned and classical vibras.
People brought bite-size food and sweets, we had coffee and juice prepared, and Patri had the bar open, though this wasn’t a drinking crowd. We set up a table with a buncha books, it looked great, all those little Walking with Wolfs piled there. To introduce the evening, I had asked Mark Wainwright, our friend who read an early draft of the book and gave me valuable editorial comments. He is an artist, biologist, teacher and writer himself – and in many ways has mentored me (younger pup that he is). It meant a lot to me that he would introduce the evening. He didn’t really want to do it – doesn’t like being on stage though he is great – and had very firm plans to go off onto the trails looking for the elusive golden toad or any other amphibian he could find. Since the rains started, it is prime frogging season and Mark is a frogger who has already found two missing species thought to be extinct. So he wasn’t going to be able to be at the presentation. Then due to the extreme weather, he didn’t go into the forest. Mark did a wonderful, funny and super kind introduction to the book, Wolf and myself. Then Gary Diller, one of the story tellers in Walking with Wolf, read a poem about Wolf that he had been inspired to write yesterday in all that rain. It was a nice addition to the evening.
Wolf got up and very emotionally talked about the beginning of the concern in the community for the forest. He reiterated the thought that “all those who wander are not lost,” his mantra. I was amazed how well he got through talking, as I knew he was fighting those ever-ready Guindon tears. He then passed the microphone to me and I said my little piece – that we hoped to have a Spanish translation in the works, and I apologized for any discrepancies with how community people remember the events we discuss, and I thanked people who were there for their contributions – then I read some pages from the book. It all felt real good, the people were wonderful, and the whole night just rolled out smooth as pie dough.
We sold about sixty books and I knew there were many people missing who have said that they would buying in quantity. Mary Stuckey Newswanger bought ten books and then handed me a copy of a book that she has been working on with her brother – she and I have spent a lot of time at the side of the road talking about our books over the past couple of years. At the end of the evening, people were able to walk out into the misty night air without getting soaked. Patri and I went to Moon Shiva, our pal Nir’s place, for dinner. Great new chef there, loved loved loved the food – Nir has always run a beautiful restaurant – has for about five years now – but when the chefs change so does the food. Three guitar players were playing – Irish ex-pat Robert Dean who toured with Sinead O’Connor before moving to Monteverde, and Andres and Bernardo, hot local talent – it was great music and a bit of dancing. Off to Fish’s new bar for some more dancing. Through the night it would hit me every once in awhile – this was the climax of eighteen years of a certain thought, a vague plan, a lasting commitment, our book.
To finish this hugely long story, the reason the forest guards weren’t at the presentation, considering how much they would have wanted to be there to support their mentor Wolf, was that they were doing what they had to do – that is, go out to help a group of people who were down in Penas Blancas and needed to be assisted to come out of the forest. The vague details are that the guards and maintenance crew had to head out early in the morning in the worst of that bad weather, through the torrential rain and dropping branches, around the mudslides and over the raging streams. They escorted the group across the streams with cables, cleared away tree falls, and carried their packs through the pouring rain and thick mud. They didn’t get out of the forest until after 7 p.m. so they missed the celebration.
A few years ago, Wolf wouldn’t have made it to his own book launch – he would have been with the other men doing their job – making jokes, ignoring the brutal weather, helping troubled hikers to get back to civilization, no doubt filling them with hot coffee before they got started. The forest guards are the jungle version of fire fighters – heading into what most people walk away from. I was so sorry they weren’t there, but find the reason quite poetic.
It is now Sunday, which was once heralded as a day of rest but not for the wicked, as my grandmother would say. Guess I know which list that puts me on. I’m on the cusp of leaving for Costa Rica, in full-blown sales mode, completely caught up in the celebration of the arrival of Walking with Wolf in book form and trying to see friends before I leave for a couple of months. I will sleep on the plane.
The reaction I’ve received from people who have bought the book and started reading is just what I would hope for – they don’t want to put it down. That’s all a writer can ask for – because it doesn’t matter what brilliant thoughts, keen observations, delectable wisdoms or hilarious anecdotes you wrote in your book, if people can’t read it, or don’t want to go beyond the first page, then it’s all for not. So the second stage of publication – receiving feedback – is being met with great positive reaction and I’m breathing easier still.
I have now become a book peddler – fortunately I believe in the book and the story so selling it isn’t so hard. I’m not a natural salesperson – I’d rather give it all away – but after pouring my life and money into this project for so long, I really have no choice – it’s take money or I’ll be pouring coffees at Tim Hortons, and that could get ugly really fast. As the coffee is spilling down the front of the customers, I’d be explaining, “but I’m really an author.” And I can hear what the caffeine-deprived in their stained shirts would be responding…
Ken, the manager at Coles in Jackson Square in downtown Hamilton, was my first book merchant who I dealt with and he was extremely kind, supportive, enthusiastic and gentle. Took the book at a reasonable commission, and told me that Chapters/Indigo/Coles, the cross-country chain, would most certainly pick this book up to go to their stores across Canada. But they take 45%! I reacted quite unprofessionally and a mellow expletive escaped my lips, but caught myself (well, my friend Freda kicking me helped too). Although the writing of the book paid me nothing and the production of the book took a lot of time and money, I’m so glad that I persevered and went this route of self-publishing. What a lift I get everytime someone tells me how good the book looks or how much they are enjoying the read. That’s all my heart and soul and aesthetic on those pages within the smiling Wolf cover – certainly with the professional influence of those who worked on it with me as well as Wolf’s stories and spirit – but the overall product was within my control and I now reap the direct results. And I am really enjoying that. When my friend Lori wrote and said, “You see Kay, I feel that I know Wolf already, feel a little possessive, and I’m only at page 40, so your book is a true success!!” amongst other wonderful comments, well, the satisfaction is overwhelming.
The last few nights have also brought some great music – the musical mayhem of Gallery 435 on Barton Street here in the Hammer, a place that gave me faith that I could survive in the urban jungle when I first returned to the city after many years of living in the bush. I hadn’t been there for ages and am thrilled to see that Ellis’ room is still happening, hotter than ever, a hidden den of bliss. A little dancing on the bayfront in the wee hours under an almost full moon, car stereo pumping out great tunes by local rockers – that was also too much fun. Rocking day and night with the eight-month Lily, the granddaughter of my Mattawa friends Patti and Leo, a gem of a baby and a hot little dancer already – while Steve Earle kept the tunes rolling on Sirius. Don’t ever stop the music she screams! Last night with my wonderful, old, until-recently-lost friends, Dave & Carolyn Stupple and their daughter Beth…we used to do the bluegrass circuit in the 70s and I haven’t seen them since. And here they are again, dropped back into my life, in time for the arrival of the book – another night that meandered through magical musical moments. I just have to get them down to the jam at Gallery 435 – a completed circle. How lucky am I?
But now I really have to get with it, finish arrangements for sales while I’m away, PACK! When you have a chance to read the book, I think you will find that if you don’t already drink coffee, you may have to start. Coffee is a recurring theme in the book because Wolf is such a regular imbiber – and the love of the nectar comes across in the pages enough that it may help boost coffee sales in Costa Rica – but I think I may have to lay off the coffee for these next couple days so I can slow down and concentrate. This will be the last post till I arrive in Costa Rica and meet Wolf at the airport and hand him his life as printed on the pages (100% post-consumer recycled paper pages of course). I will write again when I find a computer with a half-decent keyboard that doesn’t stick all the time – and a chunk of time to concentrate. Hasta pronto chicos!
When any extreme event, good or bad, happens in your life, everything seems to take on a life of its own and quickly spin out of control. Well, maybe that’s a gross exaggeration in this case, and maybe, seeing as I’ve been waiting forever for this book to appear, I should’ve been prepared, nonetheless I’m still feeling slightly askew.
I had a hard time making my bed this morning. I mean, really! I’ve been doing that since I was four but could I straighten out the wrinkles today? I think it took 10 minutes, going back and forth, side to side, and it still wasn’t right but hey, it’s only a bed. The fact that I kept working at it is the silly part. I’m about to head out with my friend Freda Cole to visit local bookstores and do some business, and it’s a good thing I’m not driving. Distracted and discombobulated I am I am.
I just spoke with Wolf who himself is still in a state of disbelief – until he sees the book for himself, he’s taking my word for the fact that it exists and has all ten toes and fingers (oh right, I said I wouldn’t do the baby metaphors anymore – sorry.) Turns out that I’m going to arrive in Costa Rica as a real VIP this year – the Monteverde Reserve is sending Wolf and Beto, the chauffeur, down in a company truck to pick me up at the airport! That’s a good three to four-hour trip from Monteverde to Alajuela and no small gesture on behalf of Carlos Hernandez, the director of the Reserve. I’m sure they’ll be in their crisp Reserve uniforms – it’ll be like getting greeted by the army. I’ll know I’ve arrived. I’m taking bets on how many seconds will pass before Wolf & I are crying.
I sold the very first book last night to a couple of my longest-time friends – Gerry Thompson and Pat Estey – who came to help me cut up some firewood before I leave for the summer, stayed for supper and celebrated. Little details like that – who gets the first book? – are somehow very profound right now. Tonight I head to Toronto to celebrate with Ken and Bruce – my design team – and a variety of other folks at some place called the Shanghai Cowgirl – somehow Canadians celebrating a book about the rain forest in an Asian rodeo seems apropos. Right now, you know, everything seems right.
Freda just walked in the door with balloons (blue & pink with parrots and hibiscus on them – non-gender specific but tropical) and blowing a tooter – an appropriate flourish for the occasion!
Addendum: several hours later, we return, having met with great success at local booksellers. They all took books, all said that the book and my little “For Immediate Release” blurb looked great, and were thinking about who they knew who would read it first. I liked that. Walking with Wolf is now available in Hamilton at The Pearl Company, Coles in Jackson Square, Bryan Prince in Westdale, as well as Different Drummer in Burlington. I return from my first book-peddling expedition feeling like these books are just gonna disappear off the shelves (an optimist I am I am) – and Freda & I felt like we’d done a good days work and had a whole lotta fun. Gotta rest now…big soiree in TO tonight.