You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category.

The gusty wind is pushing the clouds across the pastures and out to the Pacific horizon. Here in Monteverde there are often two layers of clouds, the upper level of slower clouds moving over the sky like elders shuffling across the lawn enjoying the journey to their favorite bench. The spirited lower layer of clouds speed past the unhurried ones as youth do in their great haste to get where they are going. Here on the green mountain, under that shifting quilt of clouds, we celebrate the young and the not so young. There is no doubt that Monteverde is getting older but, as in the natural world, it is constantly renewing itself!

Nan, Martha & by Mary StuckeyThe first celebration of 2012 was for the petite but always feisty Martha Moss, who turned 90 in early January. Martha arrived here in 1973 and decided to try inn-keeping when Irma Rockwell, who at that time ran the only pension in the community, was anxious to head back to Iowa. After a short visit and a quick decision to uproot her life in New York, Martha drove down in an orange Volkswagen Safari named “Tiger Lily,” her 15-year-old daughter Nan along for the adventure. By 1978, the small Green Mountain Inn was not big enough for the tourism that was increasing annually and other pensions were built, including the larger Hotel de Montaña. So Martha got out of the hospitality business, officially at least. She went on to a rich life of working in prisons teaching alternatives to violence, doing peace work, and writing and illustrating children’s books that feature her animal friends– a passion that still keeps her mind alive! For the occasion of her 90th birthday, she was visited by her daughter Nan and her step-daughter Cynthia (who lives in Nairobi, Kenya and runs the Amboseli Trust – an elephant sanctuary) and the gathering was full of stories, laughter, cake and love.

The next big gathering happened as a joint celebration for the 90th birthday of John Trostle and the 80th birthday of Lucky Guindon. Lucky is of course the ever-suffering, ever-loving wife of our dear friend Wolf. It is hard to imagine that she is 80 years old as she has that blond hair and those farm girl genes that keep her looking very youthful. While the family spent much of the last year caring for Wolf through his many health issues (see former posts from 2011), it is also true that Lucky had a number of health concerns herself. No doubt the stress of Wolf’s hospital stays and his near-death experiences helped contribute to Lucky’s heart and blood pressure problems but once she finally conceded to taking medication regularly, the crisis past.

Lucky isn’t as mobile as she was – she is now uncomfortable walking from the farm down to the meeting house and to Friday scrabble games – but she is always very busy, tending the chickens, hosting the many friends and family who come through the open door of their home, and going to as many of the community events as she has energy for. She also tries to save space for herself, finding time to make her beautiful ink drawings of the local trees, but it often happens that she forsakes her own time for that of Wolf, the family and the community. I often stay here on the farm with Wolf, Lucky and Benito and am witness to the love and kindness she shares on a daily basis with all those around her. I would also suggest that the health scares of the last couple of years have perhaps brought Wolf and Lucky closer, appreciating that their time on earth is passing rapidly and they have been blessed with each other and their beautiful family and need to enjoy every precious moment together.

John and Sue Trostle are other fine examples of living life in healthy, loving and productive ways. John has reached 90 years of age with a vitality, sharpness and curiosity that hasn’t seemed to waver. Sue and John made their initial contact with Monteverde in 1951, first visited in 1962 and moved here in 1974 to continue their life work as peace activists. They have been active in many aspects of the community, but particularly in the founding and development of the Monteverde Institute. They are also great supporters of music and other cultural and educational activities here. I will always remember that Sue, at a gathering in 1990, told me that she had seen Bob Marley live – I think she was the first person I knew who could say that! I certainly equate John and Sue with all things artistic in the area and expect to see their warm smiling faces at any community event I manage to get to.

On March 4th, a large group gathered at the meeting house and one of Monteverde’s traditional “coffee houses” was held in Lucky and John’s honour. Monteverde is a wonderful breeding ground for artists of all kinds. Participation in all the arts – music, writing, theatre, textile and visual arts – is encouraged and applauded. There is a wealth of talented mentors willing to pass on their knowledge and there are many occasions throughout the year to share songs, poems, painted creations and plays. I think the coffee houses – where near-professional talent shares the stage with the nervous first-time performers – is one of the best examples of the magic that is Monteverde as a community.


People who arrive on this seductive mountain and have their first exposure to its vibrancy often believe that they have met with some kind of communal-nirvana, but the truth is (and I think most people who live here would agree with me) that it is still just a small community with all the gossip, frustration and conflicts of any group of human beings – aka imperfect. There are organizations within the community that work to encourage conflict resolution, open-mindedness, constructive dialogue, non-violence and collective movement towards a healthy way of life. In the end, Monteverde is composed of people who are essentially flawed creatures, especially in their social structures, and there are plenty of occasions for disagreement and pettiness. Many people who live here understand that and actually bristle at the comments about what a perfect place it is. Myself, I kind of like that people enjoy the idea of a “perfect” community, even if it is but an illusion. It gives us hope that such places can exist on this troubled earth.

I’ve had the great fortune to spend much of the last twenty-two years here, and much of that time in the presence of Wolf Guindon. He is definitely a flawed character who has made valuable contributions. His imperfection is one of the things I love about him and is what I think made him such a wonderful subject for our book (besides being the protagonist of so many great ventures – the community, the dairy plant, the Reserve, the Conservation League). However, no matter what his missteps I have no doubt that he is guided by love, understands the power of respect, and tries to practice kindness in his dealings with people….and always has a wonderful sense of humour.


I am now considering another local man as the subject of my next book. Paul Smith – artist, musician and luthier (and like myself, a Canadian with many years living in Monteverde) – approached me about writing text for a book about his art. I was immediately intrigued with the idea for a number of reasons. One is that I like Paul. He has many of the same qualities as Wolf Guindon that I love – he is a very unique character who does things his own way, he is funny and irreverent and intelligent, and, I believe, under-appreciated in the world. He is definitely a flawed character as well but with a big heart and an open mind. He is also a very active member of the arts community here in Monteverde, a huge part of this place that we barely touched on in Walking with Wolf. Writing about Paul (and his very talented sisters Margaret and Lorna) would allow me to tell the tales of music, theatre and art on the green mountain and in Costa Rica, including the infamous Monteverde Music Festival that Margaret and Paul started and I worked with for years. Paul said to me, “all you have to do is come up with the vision, Kay”….but I know that ‘all’ I have to do is all the work!! I already have the title – “Playing with Paul“! Since he is already in his late seventies, I will have to work a lot faster than I did on the Wolf book. Hmmmm…


As for the new in Monteverde, I’ll share a couple of pictures of Benito’s latest orphan, a two-week old sloth that came to him after it dropped out of a tree and was left for dead. Beni has a lifetime of bringing creatures young and old back to life and although he tends to grumble through the process, it is amazing to watch his patience and commitment to them. These days Beni can be seen wandering around with a pouch that houses the little guy (Maximus, Mini, Lovely?) although he doesn’t really like taking him out in public as people can be quite insensitive in their desire to see the baby.



Here in the house, Lucky and Beni take turns feeding him a small bottle of milk and colorful hibiscus flowers (I happily take my turn when I can). The sloth makes a little creaky sound when he/she is unhappy (gender is difficult to determine) and this is often because he/she has been put back alone in the basket with a heating pad. Baby sloths live wrapped around their mothers in the trees so it is obvious that they don’t enjoy being left on their own. At the same time, Beni doesn’t encourage petting it or treating it in human ways as we would our own children. I have watched him over the years tend to many animals and so I take heed of his experience. It is lovely having this little creature in the house, almost as sweet as the presence of a new born baby.

There are always new ideas, projects and individuals emerging out of the mists of Monteverde. It seems to me that this mountainous place, still very much a rural and forest landscape, has the cultural life of a dynamic small city. One of the extremely talented men here, Mauricio Valverde, and two of his friends have opened a new bar named Tr3s Monos, to provide a place for local musicians,artists and friends to gather in a lounge-like atmosphere. Mao is also part of Ars Monteverde, a new organization that is working to support all the arts in this broad community. The Camara de Tourism (Tourism Council) is looking at bringing back the Monteverde Music Festival. Last week the poetry group, Gatos Pardos, along with Ars Monteverde and others put on the first Peña Cultural, a day-long event that included theatre, music, poetry and dance, along with many traditional games and activities for the children, that was such a grand success they are making plans for many more – there is so much talent here, the program lasted two hours longer than expected.


Aah, Monteverde. What a colourful and crazy creation, complete with beautiful flaws, you are!

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

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!

This is a very quick post meant for those of you who haven’t been linked to this amazing project happening this month in Monteverde. In celebration of the 60th anniversary of the community, and in hopes of raising $60,000 for the Monteverde Friends School and its scholarship fund, the community has taken to the treetops. Anyone who wishes to has the opportunity to climb a tall strangler fig near the school with climbing rope technology…or to go up a tree on the ridge over the San Luis valley by extension ladder and spend the night on a platform…or do yoga on a platform closer to ground level in Baja del Tigre that is accessible for most… or gather with others, who are perhaps too young or old for the big trees, on a platform in the children’s playground at the school…or sit on Wolf Guindon’s SuspensionBridge in the middle of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve amongst the treetops and watch birds.

I am hoping to spend Monday night, along with my friend Mary Stuckey Newswanger, in that tall tree on Katy and Frank’s farm – we are waiting to see if the time slot has already been booked. If we can, I will take my laptop and camera, and Mary will bring snacks, and we will spend the night in the canopy, with our sleeping bags, a spectacular view, a sky full of stars, and each other for company which means alot of conversation and laughter. The creative energy that has been flowing out of those who have gone up the trees is amazing and being recorded on their website, in a new blog, and on Facebook.

So please check out the website below: make sure you read through the wonderful entries by treesitters that include tales from their nests, haikus, and more….look at the photo gallery…go to the art auction where local artists such as Lucky Guindon, Paul Smith, Sarah Dowell and Patricia Jimenez have donated beautiful original paintings for the fundraising efforts…and make sure you go to People and Places and follow the link to “Connections”. You can register and share your own memories of Monteverde or your thoughts on alternative education or your experiences climbing trees. The community hopes to expand its horizons in cyberspace and include as many of its friends as possible.

And please, if you are able, send a donation to this amazing school in the cloud forest – any amount is appreciated and will go to supporting children both here at MFS and those who graduate and need assistance to carry on studying at university. The information is all on the website.

In the meantime, I’m preparing a short presentation on Wolf  for Monteverde’s Ecofest on Sunday – speaking just five minutes is much harder for me than an hour…and hoping to get the confirmation that Mary and I can be night owls in the treetops of Monteverde Monday night…I’ll keep you posted. Peace and high high hopes….

Another very quick update on Wolf and Lucky. Yesterday the doctor said that Wolf was showing signs of improvement – the infection is subsiding that has been bringing him down. He has been with a feeding tube, but the doc hopes that he´’ll get strong enough in the next few days to be taken off that and able to eat so that he can go home. Wolf was upset that he wasn’t going home, but when it was explained to him that he needs to get stronger so we can take him up themountain, he started pumping his leg with the force of a (somewhat lightweight) weight lifter.

Lucky, who had some serious bronchitis about a month ago, was much better last week, but the heat of Puntarenas and the stress has worn her down. She saw a doctor yesterday who gave her some serious antibiotics and said to make her rest rather than going to see Wolf. We moved to a hotel just 100 meters from the hospital which makes it much easier to go back and forth. She is sleeping, somewhat feverish, but we made a big pot of chicken soup and figure that’ll fix her right up. She isn’t in any danger, just worn down and in need of some care, which is happening.

Tomas and Helena arrived on Saturday from the US to help Alberto, Benito, Ricky and Melody, various grandchildren (and yours truly) – the Guindon Support Team- and we think that Tonio and Carlos are on their way. So family is taking care of family, love abounds, the community sends their support in many ways (The Guindons gave thanks daily for the many donations that are helping them to make decisions without too many monetary limitations), and all those who know these special people are holding them all in the light.

That light is so bright, we need sunglasses! Or maybe that is the hot sunshine here in Puntarenas. Whichever, the warmth is wonderful.

Hi friends, a very quick note as I’ve left the hospital briefly to come into Puntarenas to check my email and buy Benito and I new clothes for our extended stay in the heat. Family is arriving to help care for our friend, father, husband and dear Wolf, who is not doing well. The doctors are hard to see and hard to follow, but the geriatric doctor on Friday said ¨Give us 3 more days to see what we can do to help Wolf recover¨before the family must make a decision on moving him to a private hospital for a different care, or getting him home to his wonderful mountain, his loving community and that beautiful forest that surrounds his house, to spend his last days with everything and everyone that he loves, in peace.

Please hold him in the light, send him love and prayers, think of him with big smiles – though he is having a hard time talking, his humor shines through, but some of the only words that come clearly out of his mouth are..’I WANT TO GO HOME’…so I hope we get him there soon. I have been distributing ‘I Walked with Wolf’ buttons to nurses and fellow patients and the ward is filling with love from his family and friends, and a growing respect from those who are just meeting Wolf in a weakened state that isn’t what any of us who know him would identify as ‘normal’ Wolf.  Wolf’s legend lives on, the tougher the conditions, the stronger he is, but I fear he is getting tired, and justifiably so. Hasta la proxima…and Lucky is okay physically, but, understandably just trying to keep up to shifting realities.

A very quick  note to you who are trying to keep up to the Guindon medical show through this blog. Lucky is now at home, fine but tired. After cracking a couple of ribs a few weeks ago, she then developed bronchitis but attributed the pain (and constant cough) to her ribs…then it took severe angina pain to get her to the doctor. Now with antibiotics, high blood pressure pills and her aspirina a day, she is back home and resting.  However, next week Wolf goes in for an operation….maybe. I’ll keep you posted. This is all the time I have today, but I wanted people to know that Lucky is doing A-OK!

This is a very quick post to say Happy Birthday to my – our – good friend Wolf Guindon. He turns 80 today. Wolf has been having a series of health scares, emergencies, problems. The last I heard, two days ago he was taken into the hospital in San Jose and was going to receive a pacemaker for that big heart of his.

If his heart beats as fast as he walked, that pacemaker is going to have to learn to keep up to him!

I am packing and preparing to leave home today and fly tomorrow to Costa Rica. By Thursday I should be in Monteverde joining in the celebration with the Guindons…or staying a day or two longer in San Jose to visit Wolf in the hospital. I’ll keep you posted.

Once I’m back in Costa Rica, I will pick up writing this blog with renewed vigor, keeping you up-to-date with Wolf news, Monteverde stories, Costa Rican politics, and my life in the jungle.

In the meantime, this is the letter sent out by the Monteverde Friends School, who has assisted the Guindon family both emotionally and financially. Please read it and if you can help cover the medical costs for Wolf’s continuing health care, that would be a very generous act of kindness and would be appreciated by the family and the community. 

Dear Friends,

As you can see from the subject of this email, Wolf Guindon is in need of a pacemaker and your prayers today. He is in the Clinica Católica in San José in intensive care. Lucky, Alberto and Angelina are with him.
As I write this email, funds are being delivered from the Monteverde Meeting to the hospital with the hopes that this payment will make it possible for the operation to happen tonight.  The doctors fees are $4000. The hospital fees, including the cost of the pacemaker, are $7000.  The total needed is at least $11,000. The Meeting has agreed to loan the Guindon family up to this amount.  We hope that most of the funds will be repaid by friends and family who love Wolf.
If you would like to donate you may do so in one of the following ways:
(1) Deposit into the Monteverde Meeting’s Banco Nacional account number 200-02-127-000137-0. It is important to specify in the detail that the donation is for Wolf’s medical needs.
(2) Send a check to:
Monteverde Friends U.S.
P.O. Box 993
Amherst, Massachusetts 01004
Make the check out to Monteverde Friends U.S. and specify that it is for the Special Needs Fund.
Thank you for your support and prayers. It is holy to experience the care, love and unity in making this operation happen.  We hope that those of you who are not in Monteverde feel a part of the circle of love too.
With love and gratitude,
Katy Van Dusen
for the Monteverde Monthly Meeting of Friends

My sister Maggie and I grew up in Ontario knowing the magic of morels. Hunting for these little sponge-like mushrooms was an important, if elusive, part of spring thanks to our mother’s own obsession with wild local foods. The month of March was about collecting maple sap to boil down over an open fire until it became a smoky golden syrup. Cold nights and warm sunny days were necessary to make the sap run. We then waited for the season to heat up to just the right temperature for the morels to pop out of the ground, which usually happened in early May. The weather couldn’t get too hot but had to maintain the correct mix of cool nights, sunny days and carefully timed rain. My mother knew the woodlots where to go looking, and we would find morels in church yards and at the side of roads, but in all my childhood I never remember having more than a good feed or two a year, if we were lucky. The most morels I ever saw at one time filled a 2-quart basket. They were as precious as true love and just as hard to find.

When Maggie moved out to the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in west-central Washington State over thirty-years ago, she started sending stories and photos of the results of the morel hunt here. There have been years that, with her husband Tom, they have found big garbage bags full! So many that after almost making themselves sick eating them, they would freeze them, dry them, and still have some to give away.

After years of fantasizing about finding masses of these delectable little fungi, I finally made it to Leavenworth in the right season to take part in this addictive pastime. It has been one of the longest picking seasons the locals can remember, lasting from April and will go well into June. So as often as we can, we head up into the mountains and walk for hours, expecting to fill our bags, hoping to find the motherlode.

The conditions this year have been perfect – the nights are still cold, the days have been quite warm but not too hot, the rain falls just enough to keep the ground moist. We started at the lower elevations and are now, close to three weeks later, finding good amounts up near the spring snowline at around 3000 feet. Even with Maggie, Tom and another couple of keen experienced hunters, Kim and Matt, it is still a challenge. We have returned to places where they found plenty other years but have only come away with a handful but we haven’t been skunked yet either. I have come to realize that there is no rhyme or reason to where they may be, even though the conditions are perfect, and thus you just have to enjoy the hunt and keep hoping to bump into the pot of morels at the end of the rainbow.

Then you walk down an old bush road at just the right moment and the babies are everywhere, loving the disturbed ground, seduced into growth by a sunbeam. If you get down close to the ground, you can see the shape of the bigger ones standing out like big deformed thumbs, but as often as not you are searching for their unique shape against the earth where they are very well camouflaged. You have to get “into the zone” with eyes that can distinguish them from the pine cones and last autumn’s leaf litter.

Of course, all this hunting means we get to spend many hours of many days wandering around these beautiful pine and spruce covered hills, glimpsing deer, listening to the juncos and chickadees, breathing in the fresh mountain air.

Flowers such as yellow violets, fading trilliums, delicate purple orchids and Indian paintbrush sprinkle colour about. There are no insects (except for the possibility of ticks), the bears aren’t out berry-picking yet (they are down close to town raiding people’s garbage bins), and the vegetation is light and easy to get through.  It is prime mountain time.

Once you bring the morels home, you must wash them to lose the sand and soak them in salty water to evict any bugs, slice the big ones, and cook them up – in any number of ways. Simply pan-fried in butter or in a light tempura batter shows off their delicate taste the best, but in an Alfredo sauce with seasonal asparagus over pasta or with scrambled eggs for breakfast is wonderful too. My mouth keeps watering just at the thought of eating them. I’ve dried enough to fill a small baggie which I’ll reconstitute when I get home to Ontario. Each meal will bring me back to these glorious spring days in the mountains.

There are only two morel hunting days left before I leave for Vancouver, and so we will head back to the river canyons and trailheads – the Icicle, Scotty Creek, Tumwater – and hopefully the motherlode of morels will present herself to us. If not, I leave satisfied, if not completely sated. As with true love, it is that possibility of finding it around the next corner that keeps us searching.


Happy pickers with the motherlode (found on Sunday May 23, 2010, up the Icicle)

After a couple of weeks of fun in California, we ended up near Waldport on the Oregon coast where we spent a few relaxing days on a sunny sand-swept beach with my sister Maggie, brother-in-law Tom, and our friends Ken and Noreen. From there I’ve come to the Cascade Mountains near the Columbia River valley in west central Washington State where my sister lives.  I’ve been visiting these parts for close to thirty-five years, since Mag and I came to pick pears and apples in 1976 when she ended up pairing up with apple-picking Tom and stayed.

This blog left off with Laurie and I rain-soaked in northern California. Being in those redwood groves was a blessing, especially in the sacred old-growth forest of the Jedediah/Smith River area. I have wandered in many forests of various types, but there is something about walking through those woody mammoths’ legs – so still, so serene – that is prehistoric, primal, and increasingly precious.

We watched the waters of the Smith River (the last of the undammed salmon rivers on the west coast) rise in the endless downpour and had our plans to go on a longer hike or follow the shoreline wash away. We didn’t mind though, as we were happy to see that moisture after experiencing the drought-like conditions in the rest of California.

We spent a few days in sunny but chilly Arcata in Humboldt County, home of redwoods resistance and activism. It was our base camp for Laurie’s work and my book talks. We stayed in another VRBO house with a view of a young redwood stand on the hill behind us, a lone palm tree poking above the domestic northern trees (waving at me, I’m sure), and a wealth of wisteria in full purple regalia all around the house.

At my Strawberry Creek Friends talk a few days earlier I met a wonderful woman named Carol Mosher. She helped to arrange a book talk in Arcata and also did some networking for my talk that was coming up at San Francisco Friends Meeting the following week.  When you are counting on the assistance and generosity of others to promote your book, it is a gift when a stranger reaches out and makes suggestions and follows through, doing whatever they can to help you make connections. Carol was one of these people, no longer a stranger, now a friend.

As we went from task to task, Laurie and I had a super road trip through north western California. We called in on her friends in Mendecino County – great people, great stories, great dogs – especially the black dot dog, which hogged every picture and was keen to join us on the Walking with Wolf tour.

We went down to what we thought was the Mendecino blow hole (highly recommended by a woman in Monteverde), but upon further discussion, I think there may be more than one and we weren’t at “The” Mendecino Blow Hole. But true to the name, I just about got blown off the cliffs. Except for when we were protected at the base of those big redwoods, we spent a lot of time in heavy winds on the Pacific coast.

I spent a night with a couple, Kate and Lars Larsen, who I had never formally met before, but they graciously hosted me in their home in Fort Bragg. They had a number of Friends over for a potluck and to listen to the Wolf story. Kate and Lars were super hosts and full of questions about Monteverde where they had spent a year back in the late 90s and many vacations since. The community had embraced them and they are anxious to return. Once again, I was overwhelmed by their generosity and kindness – and also really enjoyed reminiscing and laughing with them. Lovely folks.

I also did a talk in Arcata for another family of ex-Monteverdians. Andrea Armin and her daughter Rose hosted a potluck gathering of Friends. Once again I received a warm reception. I know that all those beautiful photos, along with getting updates and email addresses for old friends in Monteverde, was enough to push Andrea and especially Rose into planning their return. You can take the person out of Monteverde, but you can’t take Monteverde…well, you know the rest.

The other talk I did was in downtown San Francisco for the Quaker meeting there. I was assisted in the organizing there by Rolene Walker who has just completed a walk for peace and the environment from San Francisco through Central and South America to Chile.  Her dedication and spirit is admirable – her blog is at  – – she is writing a book about her experiences which I look forward to reading. 

At the San Fran meeting, I had the pleasure of talking to John Standing, a second cousin of Lucky Guindon’s. I’ve found that at any given talk there are usually people who have lived in Monteverde and often those who are related to someone in Monteverde. It gives me the chance to listen to more stories and share some that I already know.

A familiar face came into the room while I was talking – it was a man I had met a few days earlier, Dennis, a good friend and colleague of Laurie’s. He didn’t know I’d be there, and I didn’t know he’d arrive to lead a meeting in the same building, but in that big Bay Area, it was nice to recognize someone when they came in the door. I was especially proud of myself that I remembered his name!

To accomplish all my plans, it entailed a couple of days of serious driving on my own. Luckily, the weather was beautiful, the roads weren’t busy, the scenery was stunning. I drove Highway 20 out of Fort Bragg very early in the morning and caught the fog rising around each corner, unveiling the vistas across the forested valleys.

I passed the vineyards and orchards, quaint old wood buildings and split rail fences with a reddish tinge, awe-inspiring scenes around each corner.

I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge – twice! – observing that there were almost more pedestrians than cars – and through downtown San Francisco, but it was Sunday and not too bad for traffic at all. I was quickly back out in the country and headed back to Arcata, Laurie and the big trees, kept safe by a guardian angel.

We hunkered down in the log cabin on the Smith River, warm by the fireplace while listening to the rain fall, discussing academia, activism, and relationships.

As we made our way north to Oregon, we met up with a number of street people – highway people actually. California proved to be a land of sharp contrasts and great diversity.

And then we were in Oregon. Driving up Highway 1 along the coast, I was appalled at the industrial landscape – the hills were all in various stages of clear-cuts – from recently slashed to twenty-year-old or more tree plantations. The Pacific Ocean rolled wildly to the west as we became aware of the lack of wilderness to the east, mostly barren or replanted rolling hills with the souls of lost forests hovering. Scotch broom, an aggressive invasive plant thriving in disturbed areas, was covering the roadsides, choking the fir trees and spreading throughout the clear cuts, even heading into the sand dunes. Because the plant was in full flower, with bright yellow pea-like blooms, it was possible to see how far it had spread. There was very little natural looking about the landscape of southern Oregon, until we got north of the Eugene highway where the forests seemed to have been either left alone or not logged recently.

Three days passed quickly on the beach. The weather changed as regularly as the hour, allowing us some time outside in the sunshine or around a campfire at night between bursts of rain and howling winds.

We were in a house located right at the mouth of the river and each day we could watch a large herd of harbour seals sunning on the shore. However nature isn’t always fun and games.

One morning we realized that there was a baby seal that had come ashore right in front of the house, separated from its mother and left by the receding tide. When I noticed a raven starting to peck at the injured yet alive seal pup, I took up my post for about three hours and kept the seal safe from the eagles, ravens, gulls and vultures, hoping it would return to sea with the high tide and rejoin its mother.

Unfortunately the seal didn’t survive, but nor was it pecked to death. At one point, a bizarre looking sea lion walked out of the sea onto the beach, its nose in the air, heading towards the dying seal pup. It then stopped and lay down, halfway to the corpse. Not long after, another sea lion came out of the sea and seemed to catch its attention, beckoning it back into the water. We watched fascinated as the sea lion turned around, perhaps disappointed, and walked back into the waves. Between the seals, sea lions, osprey, and other birds, there was never a shortage of entertainment on the beach

It is nice to have some time to spend with my sister and brother-in-law. Laurie stayed for a day on the coast and then had to carry on with her own work. We had a great time together and I know that I saw a part of California that I wouldn’t have found on my own.

It was also super to spend some time with our old friends Ken and Noreen who now live in Eugene. After the beach, we went to their home for a couple of days, where I spoke to the Eugene Friends.

I’ve got a few weeks here with Maggie and Tom, picking morels, visiting friends and doing a couple of book events, wandering in the mountains and seeing some more of the beautiful west coast before heading inland – way inland – and home.

As I write this from inside a cozy log cabin, outside the rain is pouring down. I can almost hear the mossy trunks slurping up the water. Every once in awhile the sun tickles the top of the clouds, giving us a glimmer of hope that before we leave the land of the Californian Redwoods tomorrow, we’ll have the chance to go for one more hike through their serene glory.

My friend, Laurie Hollis-Walker, is with me on this sojourn through these straight-to-the-sky sisters. We’ve wandered and lingered in as many redwood groves as we can, starting north of San Francisco in Mendecino County, following the Avenue of the Giants into Humboldt County, and now winding down in Jedediah/Smith River National Park in the northwest corner of California.

I’m a bush babe, but this ain’t no bush. This is a woods of silva-magic welcoming us with its tall thick souls and their multi-hued layers of soft spongy bark. Here in the Smith River area, we have been walking through lush old growth redwood forest. In the tamer, more visited groves to the south, where California is definitely parched, the understory is pure duff, thick needles and bark droppings. In most places, the stream beds were waterless indentations on the forest floor.

For much of the trip we were in the Eel River watershed and the road crossed this seafoam-coloured waterway so many times we lost count. Large pebbled beaches lined its passage and I found myself thinking of the Eel as quite serpentine, reminding me of the delicate aqua coloring of the keelback snake slithering down our stream bank back in Cahuita.

The land in the Eel watershed, however, was scarily dry considering this is all temperate rainforest. There was very little shrubby vegetation at ground level – there isn’t much greenery until you look up somewhere between forty and ninety feet into the lower part of the canopy where the redwoods’  branches begin to reach out in mutual support toward each other. Like all forests, there is much co-dependence going on. If one tree goes down here, it tends to take a few others with it. They rely on mycorrhizae, a fungus that serves as soup kitchen between the soil and the trees. This fungi has probably never been considered as important by those cutting the forest, yet 51% of the biomass of an old growth redwood forest is made up of this busy little worker that keeps the big trees healthy.  

One can only imagine what is going on in the upper branches three hundred feet or more above us. There are many species that are part of the ecology of this forest – the spotted owl, the marbled murrulets (fog-larks as they are called by old-timers), flying squirrels – but as the largest and wildest stands of the redwoods disappeared, so has the habitat for healthy sustaining populations of its inhabitants and so they move permanently on to the Endangered Species List. Maybe imagination is all that remains up in the heavens at the top of the redwoods.

The bark is so thick that it protects the trees from forest fires and provides refuge for small critters like salamanders to survive as well. Although the trees are called redwoods for their rosy inner core, the bark glows with every shade of purple, pink, orange, green, brown and grey. The fact that these rugged giants have this soft skin is one of the biggest surprises for me – I can feel my mother’s tender hands responding as I caress them. It is as mystical to me as the fairy-rings, the circles of trunks that sprout out from around the base of the dying madonna, keeping the soul of the being alive, turning one tree into four or six or more.

We camped for a night in Richardson Grove, choosing a campsite that was protected from the cold wind by a downed sister, her Georgia O’Keefe-inspired root mass standing vertical while her long, wide body lay sleeping like a gentle giant in repose.

It was a chilly but gorgeous clear evening spent in the shadow of this beauty. We had time to wander through the grove which was eerily zoo-like in comparison to the much wilder old growth forest that we are near now. There is a hard tale of greed that accompanies the story of the destruction of the old growth redwoods. In the case of the Richardson grove, the struggle continues as the government wants to cut the grove to widen Highway 101 to smooth the way for the large trucks, this being one of the few areas where the road remains narrow and winds respectfully around the large trees necessitating slowing down.

Many companies have taken their turn at profiting from the lumber that comes out of these woods, but in northern Humboldt County, for over one hundred years it was Pacific Lumber. Up until a hostile corporate takeover in 1985, PL cut responsibly, selectively and sustainably. Then a Texan by the name of Charles Hurwitz and his corporate claws took over, with the intention to clear-cut and liquidate as much of the redwood forest in as quick a time as possible. The story involves incomprehensible business dealings, illegal logging and government-compliance, but ends with the evil man being charged with defrauding the forestry service though not before he had raped the land, taken down the giants, made homeless the resident wildlife, and polluted the local salmon streams with the silt released when a hillside is left devoid of root mass and vegetation. It is easy to understand why people were enraged, devoted their lives to the protection of these forests, and chose to get arrested or live in treetops – anything to save them.

As it is April and off-season, we’ve had most places to ourselves as well as very little traffic to contend with. In fact, we seem to have shared the road more with cyclists and their bike/trailer rigs than with cars, buses or trucks. They looked idyllic in that sunny dry weather, but I feel for them as the rain continues to pour down quite heavily at times.

On that rather barren golden ground to the south, redwood sorrel, brownish ferns, and verdant mosses are present, but the most prolific greenery is the poison oak. It sprouts all over and grows as ivy up the tree-trunks. Where it is dry, the oak ivy seems more successful than most other leafy forest vegetation. One shouldn’t be lured into a sense of false security provided by these giant peaceful grandmothers – instead, if they could really talk, they would no doubt warn you to consider carefully where you are squatting.

It is reassuring to be here while it is raining. We’ve watched the Smith River, directly below our cabin, rise dramatically in the last twenty-four hours. This land can definitely use this moisture before they settle in for six months of summertime dryness.

We have driven backroads that wind through the groves, the path asking permission to brush past these benevolent hosts, making long trucks or trailers unwelcome but allowing us to continue as privileged visitors. The soundtrack on the car stereo has been coming from local community radio station KHUM – as we drove down the Avenue of the Giants, they were playing The Lumberjack Song with its chainsaw solo – couldn’t have been more appropriate.

In Jedediah/Smith River National Park, we are where the last of the wild stands of ancient redwoods are, where you can see the understory is much more varied and vibrant than what we saw along the hauntingly-beautiful but comparatively barren Avenue of the Giants.

My companion on this journey, Laurie, is a scholar whose concern and calling is the living experience of non-violent activism. Her PhD research brought her here, to the hardcore activists that fought for the future of these forests. I’ve been introduced to friends of hers in the area who have been deeply involved in the struggle to save the redwoods since at least the 1980s. Laurie has fallen in love with the redwoods while doing her research, but she also works with Joanna Macy in Berkeley, the renowned teacher of “The Work that Reconnects.” Being a facilitator of that method of spiritual activism is perhaps Laurie’s strongest motivation.

Laurie and I met in 1989 on the blockade in Temagami (I’ve mentioned this in other posts or read Walking with Wolf). We know the depth of the actions we went through in that area of northern Ontario to bring some protection to the last stands of old growth red and white pine (as well as support the local native band’s struggle for justice).

I’m finding everything here in California comes super-sized – these gigantic trees, long vistas of ocean, big colourful characters, and epic tales of activism. I’ve witnessed the adrenalin rise in the story-tellers as they relate their personal experiences from that Redwood Summer of 1989, sharing stories of campaigns maintained for years, held in remote forests in the dark of night, and of the incredible power of crusaders such as Judi Bari and Julia Butterfly Hill who are legends from the time. Our friend Maryka lived in a big red pine for nine days in our Temagami story – here, near the community of Scotia, Julia lived in a tall redwood named Luna for two years! You can still see that survivor tree, graceful amidst the gash of a clearcut, standing like a beacon of justice on a high hillside.

We spent a night with Kay Rudin, her son Clovis and friend Rex, in an old recycled playboy mansion bursting with artifacts and memories from the years of redwoods’ activism. I’m always intrigued to meet another K, as I don’t meet many, and this woman – film-maker, activist, clown, artist – is a fine example of someone I’m proud to share my name with.

She shared with us her early edit of a documentary about her friend Judi Bari, who, along with Darryl Cherney barely survived a bomb explosion in her car on the eve of Redwood Summer. Much of the footage in the doc is from an interview with her as Judi lay dying of cancer in the late 90s. Watching this woman from earlier footage as she stands up to the liquidators and inspires the warriors, you know that it is a great tragedy that she died so young, in her forties, as she had the spirit and power to connect and convince. We need people like her and they so often go too fast.

It is noticeable how many women have been involved in the protection of these redwood groves. Many of the groves were preserved by women’s garden clubs early in the last century – the early activists of the Save the Redwoods League – or by the wives of forest barons to honour their husbands when they died. Their husbands may have been supporting their families by making money off the incredible amount of lumber these large woody mammoths provided, but their wives seemed to realize that the protection of these forests was more important for the future of their children and grandchildren.

To try to catch up to what has happened here, I’ve been reading Joan Dunning’s captivating book, “From the Redwood Forest”. It’s giving me the history of the struggle to protect forests throughout the area, the history of the local logging industry, some natural history of the redwood forests, and the author’s personal experiences amongst these gentle glorious giants.

But there is nothing like wandering through the silent groves, touching the thick soft bark that becomes a sponge in this rain, leaning back until you almost topple over just trying to see the tops (something that is generally impossible), recognizing faces in the burls that bubble like facial moles on the trunks, being awestruck each time you think you’ve seen the biggest tree yet.

That happened for us in the Stout Grove close to this cabin. Laurie and I, meandering slowly through this old growth redwood grove, with the first drops of rain landing gently on our cheeks, turned a corner in the path and knew we were in the presence of a great-great-great-grandmother. I was so moved by the survival of this beauty, who must be one of those who has endured close to 2000 years that I had to implore the “youth” in the forest to hold on and follow the example of this wise abuela.

Keep growing. Stand tall. Continue to prosper in your communal embrace with each other. If you don’t succumb to the forces of nature, perhaps those who stand in awe at your base will manage to keep the forces of societal greed, corporate evil and governmental stupidity at bay. Hopefully you will stay safe.

 Heed the grandmother for as long as you are able.

June 2020