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I’m home in the Hammer. I left here mid-November for Costa Rica, left there early April for the USA, took the Walking with Wolf West Coast Tour up the wet west coast to Vancouver and finally returned to my home in Ontario. After weeks of mostly rainy, cool weather in the west I’ve arrived to summer temperatures but the dark wet clouds are still following me. Life is now about enjoying the Canadian summer and settling into my home just long enough to make it simpler to rent before I return to Costa Rica.

And then there is the World Cup. Since my first year in Costa Rica (which was their first year in the Copa Mondial de Futbol – 1990), I have been susceptible to the fever and am thankful that, like a good bout of malaria, it only hits once every four years. The added emotion this year of the beautiful game being played in free and proud South Africa has brought a rainbow of tears to the eyes of the world and it’s still only the first round. On the plane home I watched the movie Invictus and cried some more. Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika!

In Vancouver I was staying with my friend Star Trickey at her co-op building in the east end of the city. Anyone would tell you that Commercial Drive is THE place to be watching international futbol on the west coast. With my friend Saskia, we headed out each day to catch the 11 am games, visiting a different establishment each time, sampling various menus (loved the potato latkes at Stella’s and the lattes at Joe’s Café). I have to admit that a big part of my game watching is about something I’ve engaged in since I was young (my mother used to tell me that I’ve been doing this since I was 2 years old) – which is boy-watching. They don’t call it the beautiful game for nothing. Pure unadulterated (no padding or helmets) athletic bodies of all sizes and colours, powerful leg muscles, adrenalin-tinged faces, huge smiles, great hair, cute butts…well, you get my drift.

Commercial Drive offers great medicine for futbol fever and a whole lot more – great food, great music, great shops, great sausages. On Italia Day, The Drive closed for several blocks to car traffic, the restaurants sold food on the street and musicians performed and everyone danced. A highlight was a small community chorus, the Cultural Medicine Cabinet Choir, which rehearses at Britannia Community Center, and sings music in sweet harmony representing the diverse ethnicity of its members. Star, a woman of strong glorious voice and dynamic passionate personality, is hoping to join them.

Star has spent the last year singing with the fabulous Universal Gospel Choir in Vancouver. They held their final concerts of the season while I was there. Star’s mother, my good friend Jean, as well as her sister Spirit, came to town for the occasion. I was so lucky to be there at the right time. Jean and I went to hear Star and the choir sing both nights. The first night we managed to get in to the almost sold out show, but had seats in the second to last row of the big Canadian Memorial United Church – we felt like church mice sneaking in to the party, twisting our heads this way and that to catch a glimpse of Star or any of the other performers, knowing we would surely not be seen by any of them.

The second night, friends and family in tow, we got to the church on time, early in fact, and managed to get seats in the second row from the front. What a difference about twenty rows makes! We could see the concentration in the faces of the singers, the joy and pride in their eyes, their quivering tonsils in their wide open mouths. We could watch the director, Kathryn Nicholson, in her animated conducting, and Linda Lujan playing her electric guitar like the ol’ rock ‘n roller that she is. A side note about Linda is that she runs a bi-weekly karaoke night at the Princeton Pub in Vancouver. We went there one Sunday and she opened the show with Etta James’ heart-wrenching “At last” – and had us shouting for more! A very talented, lively and friendly lady is that Linda Lujan.

 But for us, our rising star is Morning Star. I’ve known the Trickey family since the early 80s when we all lived in the bush of northeastern Ontario from where we have all wandered in many directions. I’ve spoken in blogs before about her mom, Minnie Jean Brown Trickey, one of the Little Rock Nine (first teenagers who desegregated Central High School in Little Rock Arkansas in 1957). Star was just becoming a teenager when I met the family. She and her siblings were raised in a house in the bush with no electricity and grew up with strong arms from milking cows and swatting blackflys. When Jean left her husband, she took the kids out of the bush on an adventure that hasn’t stopped. It included a time when Jean worked in Clinton’s White House and Star was living in nearby Maryland and had a horrific car accident that resulted in her leg being amputated.

Now Star lives in Vancouver, providing the maternal and spiritual heart for her co-op apartment building, raising her very cool son, Thelonius, and singing in this celebrated choir. She sang the final duet, Over My Head, with her idol, Dawn Pemberton (who also performed with the No Shit Shirleys in these concerts) and they rocked the joint, mmm, I mean the church. I have no doubt that this Star is going to keep rising until she becomes the super nova – next time I’m in Vancouver, I expect to see her singing the blues in a smoke-free barroom with a trio behind her and a crowd of worshippers in front. You are the light in the sky, Ms Star.

The rest of this family ain’t just sitting on their laurels either. Jean does workshops on tolerance, diversity and equality, and guides tours on civil rights throughout the US.  Her youngest , Leila, is in university but is also a talented cake designer, nanny, and recently addicted world traveler (who shows up in former blog posts when we hung out in Costa Rica together in 2009).

 And then there is Spirit, who lives with Jean in Little Rock and is a key figure behind the Little Rock National Historic Site museum. She just received her Master’s from the Clinton School of Public Service (U of Arkansas) and is dedicating her life to social change through the arts. She’s already produced her first play, “One Ninth”, telling the Central High story through her mother’s 15-year-old eyes. A few months ago Spirit was placed on The Grio’s 100 History Makers in the Making – I saw her featured on Good Morning America along with Newark’s mayor and Wyclef Jean – at 29 years, she’s just getting started. Stand back, cause Spirit is on a roll and I don’t think she’s gonna stop till she’s changed the world!

There are also three male siblings in this family – Ethan, who made a cameo appearance in Van, Sol and Isaiah – but their stories will have to wait till another time. The female Trickeys are enough for one blog.

There was a colourful cast of characters who constantly accompanied the Trickeys, including Mook, a talented chef from New Zealand who happily fed us a fantastic lamb dinner and much more (and I constantly apologized to for messing up his name); Craig, a kindly soul who seems to step in to take care of anything Star needs; Jeremy, an animated father and friend; Nelia and Mike, Dan and Jackie, the kiddies-Mason, Nathan and Taylor – well I couldn’t keep up to the people and relationships, but was very aware that the co-op is more than just an apartment building – as Star says, it’s Melrose Place without the money or the pool (although I decided that Jackie could fill in for Heather Locklear in a pinch). It’s a large kinda quirky family who shares in fun, childcare, and dog care. Which brings me to Miso.

Star’s dog Miso became my latest animal buddy. She’s of the pointer variety, rescued by Star before she was put down. She’s a sweet thang, mostly well-behaved, unbarkable, a little whiney sometimes. We went for daily walks to the local schoolyard where she could chase the ball endlessly. I got to know the local dogs and their people, and, as always, now miss the pup as much as I miss the people. I’m a dog person, and a cat person, but because of my erratic life-style, I can’t keep them. So I have to have affairs whenever possible. So Star let me share in loving Miso while I was there.

The other folks I spent a lot of time with while in the city were an old friend, Michael, who I hadn’t seen in many years; Saskia, a good friend since years ago in Monteverde who I manage to hook up with now and then; and a more recent friend I met in Monteverde, the divine Ms Holly Burke. She’s a flautist, a piano player, a songstress and a great performer. In the short time we had together, I managed to catch her playing in a few different capacities.

She played flute one cold wet day for a garden tour on the North Shore. She was accompanied by a very talented bassist and drummer and though it wasn’t a great day for garden viewing, it was perfect for sambas, bossa novas and jazz played in a dry comfortable room.

 Another night she sat in for a couple numbers with a hot band, Brown Paper Bag, at the Libra Room on Commercial. I got some dancing in that night and apparently inspired this very fine man to get up and boogie, something that, according to the band, they hadn’t seen this regular patron do before. He knew how, so I guess he just needed me, the K-atalyst, on the dancefloor!

Saskia and I went with Holly to a party where she also picked up her pretty blue ukulele and accompanied her good friend Donna Newsom, another talented lady. I am convinced that in a world where just about everything we do and create takes precious resources from the earth – even producing art and books uses materials that aren’t necessarily healthy or renewable – it’s the making of music, the singing of songs and the movement of dance that gives the most bang for your buck. They provide precious soul medicine, health benefits and communal healing without demanding much in the way of fossil fuel or mineral consumption (I’m not talking about the Rolling Stones world tour here folks) Kinda like soccer, in its simplest form. All ya need is the ball.  

Besides spending time together in her beautiful apartment hovering over Stanley Park, wandering around that same precious green space one rainy day, and cruising Denman Street’s buffet of fine foods and wares, Holly also arranged for me to be interviewed on Co-op Radio in Vancouver by Charles Boylan, a well-known writer, teacher and socialist broadcaster. It was for the Wake Up with Co-op program – you can imagine with a name like that how early the interview was at. I made the effort to wake up and talk clearly, as I appreciate whatever publicity I can get for Walking with Wolf.

I also spoke one Sunday at the Vancouver Friends Meeting and managed to sell the last of the books that I had with me. It was a very attentive friendly crowd and a lovely ending to the Walking with Wolf takes the West Coast Tour. I thank my new friend Gail Harwood not only for arranging the day and providing the projector, but also meeting up for spirited conversation over breakfast and a soccer game.

You can imagine in a city like Vancouver how many terrific restaurants there are. I had some wonderful foods caress my taste buds but want to give a recommendation for two special places (besides the little sausage shop on Commercial at about 3rd that isn’t always open but has a line-up when it is). One is an Ethiopian restaurant on Commercial – the Harambe – where the service is friendly, the food divine and the atmosphere exquisite.

The other is the eclectic Latin-tapas restaurant in Gastown called Cobre. It belongs to a good friend of the Trickey’s, Jason Kelly, and his partners. In a very modern coppery setting, they serve new world Latin-fusion cuisine based on old world traditional ingredients. Our last night out was spent lingering over fine wine and a parade of beautifully presented tapas, including maple glazed wild boar belly as well as a blue corn bread with sweet chili butter to die for. It was a grand finale of a feast to remember Vancouver by, enjoyed with this special gathering of the Trickeys and friends.

A few days before I left, Star added a little kitten to her family who became known as Velcro. Both Miso and Velcro are gentle animals and are bound to be good company for each other. In this season of the World Cup, even they succumbed to futbol fever – it was all fun up until the dog ate the little soccer ball…but that’s another story. I send out my love, respect, and appreciation to Star, T, Leila, Spirit and Jean (and the co-op family), for including me in their days of merriment and mirth – see you in July! Also to Holly and Saskia for the great times we had here, there, and everywhere. I miss you all and enjoyed every moment – hasta la proxima, amorcitas! 

Jean, K, T, Andre, Spirit, Leila, Jason & Star @ Cobre

My book tour up the west coast of the United States has finally brought me back home to Canada…I have a few thousand kilometres more to go to get to my actual home in the Hammer, but just being back in my birth country makes me happy. I’m in Vancouver, spending time with friends here in the seaside city that just rocked out with the Winter Olympics (various friends here have said that though they were very critical of the games at the start, they had way too much fun during the actual event to keep frowning). I planned on being here for two weeks but already extended my stay as a good friend is arriving on the day I was booked to leave and it just wouldn’t be right to leave now.

To break up the almost three weeks I will be in this big city, I decided to get out to the bush and go and visit my friend John who lives on the west coast of Vancouver Island. He invited me to come to Bamfield, a place I had never heard of before. Now that I’ve been there, I hope to return one day for the little town with the not-so-pretty name is another sweet spot on the earth well worth discovering. I love when I am introduced to new places and find them irresistible – then they get put on my boomerang list.

Bamfield is situated in an enviable location on the rugged Pacific coast on the south shore of Barkley Sound, adjacent to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and neighbours to the Huu ay aht First Nation. It is all mainland, though it feels like you have gone to an island when you cross Bamfield Inlet from East Bamfield, which is accessible by car, to West Bamfield which is not.

Bamfield must have more stellar views per capita than any other little community of a few hundred people. Each house I visited looked out in a different direction to a different vista of sheer beauty. In the area there are countless islands – the Deer Group, the Broken Group – as well as the mountainous horizon of Vancouver Island to the east and endless sky to the west over the Pacific Ocean.

You can get to the town by driving up a 100 km logging road from Port Alberni. There is still logging going on in the area and you need to keep an eye to avoid the massive trucks (many of them transporting massive logs) on your way up the road since they have very little swerving ability. Except for the views of clear cuts on the surrounding hillsides, the drive is quite pleasant (coming from an old bush road frequent flyer).

You can also take the Francis Barkley ferry – the ship that took over from the original Lady Rose – from Port Alberni on the days that it runs. Its arrival in Bamfield is a major social and commercial event – like going to market day in Central America. People arrive, goods arrive, mail arrives, and the locals all head to the dock to see each other, help unload the skids and find what surprises may have come from the outside.

There isn’t a lot of commerce going on in Bamfield and for that reason it is a dying town (though there is still a lot of life to it). Apparently the school has dropped from around one hundred students to only nine! The main employers are the Coast Guard and the Bamfield Marine Biology Station, started in 1972 by five western universities as a center for marine research. According to the locals, at one time Bamfield had more PhD’s per capita than anywhere in Canada. No shortage of brains in the area, just jobs. There are several fishing charter companies and lodges, there is the trailhead of the West Coast Trail nearby at beautiful Pachena Beach, and the native community of the Huu ay aht which recently completed extensive negotiations over treaties and settled with the government. Their future may decide much of the future in the whole area.

The Huu ay aht have a beautiful community long house built several years ago and are now in the process of building a large administration building overlooking Pachena Bay. Apparently they are discussing moving their homes to the higher ground where these community buildings are, in anticipation of the much expected tsunami that may one day wipe out everything along the west coast of North America.

People who live in Bamfield have to make a living – there seem to be a lot of carpenters as well as some galleries and a nicely stocked general store – but what the locals know is how to live a good life together in this rather isolated post and that includes making a lot of music. My friend John is a fine musician and so he fits in with all the talent in Bamfield.

One of the local musicians is Fay Bennet who has lived in Bamfield for several years and has a lovely voice and, along with making exquisite pottery, writes songs that tell tales of life on the west coast. She just produced a CD of her music – Kinda Corny, Sorta Sweet – and among the songs there is the line “salty sea-spray kisses”, an evocative image that stays with you from her song about sea women waiting for their fishermen to return safely home. Fay and her partner Malcolm had us over along with some other musicians for a night of Canadiana roots guitar-playing and song-a-long which also included another visitor, Mitch Anderson, who sings Stompin’ Tom songs like the man reincarnate. I knew I was back in Canada listening to lyrics about hockey and trucks and dogs and Sudbury Saturday Nights.

It rained much of the time I was there but fortunately the sun broke out enough to go exploring. West Bamfield is very much a water community, but then you get out of the boat and walk along the boardwalk that follows the shore. John told me that the boardwalk came about when a company accidentally delivered a load of lumber to the town – the town folk had the thing halfway built before the company came back to claim their lumber. Whatever its history, that meandering pathway is the social center for a community that walks more than it drives.

A beautiful place to walk to is Brady Beach, on the northwest side of the community. The beach and sea are rugged and wild, but you are really only minutes from town – and it is one of the last places you can go camping in the area without some kind of permit or trespassing on private or government land.

John and I ran into a couple who were camping – they were almost rained out the night before but were basking in the clear evening sky and almost warm sun around a driftwood campfire. The young woman from Port Alberni, Lisa, has visited this beach all her life – she was one in a long line of people who made me realize that for many Bamfield is their hidden paradise. I thoroughly get that.

Just like in my own piece of paradise, Costa Rica, I was still in rainforest, evidenced by the wide array of vegetation that is as common in the tropics as everywhere else up the temperate west coast but would only be found in summer planters if you were inland in Canada, unable to survive our frozen winters. The Gunnera leaves were as big as you see in Monteverde.

The community was welcoming and musical and compassionate, as revealed by the existence of the little village of cathouses for neutered feral cats. Members of the town built these whimsical dwellings and continue to care and feed its feline residents (as well as the racoons who know a good deal when they see it).

And just like in Costa Rica, the rain fell much of the time but it didn’t dampen the warm hospitality or dull the spirited conversation of the characters who live there. I was only in Bamfield a couple days but felt like it was a place that could be home – well, except for all that cool rain – largely due to the kindness and friendliness of the local folk. So big thanks to all the friendly people of Bamfield, especially Lars, who drove me there from the Nanaimo ferry and filled the time with colourful stories of the history of the town; Fay, who drove me back to Nanaimo and shared more tales and laughter; and my ol’ pal Johnny Blue who invited me there in the first place and kept the music and conversation rolling. I hope the sun shines brightly on you all. Save a little for the next time I make the trip to Bamfield, the land of music, well-fed feral cats, and a thousand spectacular views.

 I’m back in Canada – still a long way from my home in Ontario, but at least in my homeland. Before moving on to things Canadian though, I wanted to share a few pics and memories from my final weeks in the US, spent with my sister Maggie, her husband Tom and my “nieces” Sadie the dog and Miss Milly the cat.

The day we drove north from Oregon brought me into the familiar territory of the Columbia River. Many many times over the years, I’ve crossed this wide flowing body that has been altered by dams all along its course. I love the dry, often craggy hillsides that flank it, the tumbleweed that rolls on by it,  and the blue skies that always seem to hover above it. In the past we’ve camped on its banks and boated, fished and frolicked in its waters. It marks the border between Oregon and the beautiful state of Washington.

Maggie and Tom live about half an hour west of Wenatchee, a small city developed around the plateaus of fruit orchards which are irrigated from the great river. After experiencing all that rain since northern California, I found myself in a snowstorm as we went over Blewett Pass heading into the Wenatchee River valley. That was the first snow I had seen in 15 months and I loved it!

They live “up the Chumstick” in one of the many valleys that radiate out of the Leavenworth area. They both work in Der Town, which is the Bavarian-inspired community of Leavenworth. It is a mecca for shopping tourists from Seattle as well as a center for rock climbers, rafters, and hikers. The town took on its Alpen look back in the 70s when local people decided they needed a schtick to attract visitors, and the scheme worked.

Now the town is painted, pretty, and planted with pots of petunias. Ringed by the Enchantment range of the Cascade Mountains, growing up around the convergence of the Wenatchee and Icicle Rivers, it is the epitome of picturesque.  My sister worked for years at the well-known Katzenjammers Steakhouse but now works at the smaller Alley Café.

The Alley Cafe is one of the best restaurants in town – I remember having my birthday dinner there years ago – it was, and still is, excellent food and service (best wait staff in town!). An old friend, Andy Cuevas and his friend Mike accompany dinner at the Alley with their guitars and fiddle on Sundays, playing some very sweet covers of a wide variety of music. Andy’s son, Sergio, is also a fine guitarist who joins singer/songwriter Stephen Sharpe in sets of rootsy rap with a world rhythm at other local restaurants – I guess they are also known as the Chumstick Liberation Front. It is so nice to go into communities and hear original local music from folks with a lot of talent having a lot of fun. Stephen’s music has a real Manu Chao kinda sound, very Euro, very cool. Loved them – told Stephen he should come to Costa Rica – he could get gigs and they’d love him too.

 

I did two book events while in Leavenworth – one was a “book buzz”, selling and signing books at the local independent book store A Book for All Seasons, where I shared pens with another author, Gina Ochsner. It was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon talking to readers and selling a few books – and so nice to work with independent booksellers. I also did a presentation at the Alley Café one evening and sold some more. Happy to leave copies of Walking with Wolf behind in Der Town.

I also had the great pleasure of going into Seattle to the University Friends Meeting there and presenting the book to a nice group of folks. I have really enjoyed meeting Friends in my travels, sharing Wolf’s story and connecting with other Monteverde-lovers and perhaps influencing a few more to make the trek up the green mountain. Thanks to Pablo Stanfield who put that all together for me.

Maggie and I – both seals in our former lives – from the amount of raw fish and seaweed we like to eat, that’s the only conclusion we can draw – visited an interesting sushi restaurant while in Seattle. The chefs fill plates with portions and the plates move around the restaurant on a conveyor belt. Perhaps this is common in Japan or elsewhere, but we had never eaten at a place like this. We learned that it is better to go there at the beginning of their open hours as the chefs will be making more food – we arrived not too long before they closed for the afternoon, so the chefs stopped putting new food out. It isn’t my favourite way of having sushi, but it was fun for the experience – we felt like Lucille Ball making chocolates as we tried to get the plates off the train without creating chaos.  We ate much better sushi in East Wenatchee at Wasabi Sushi – highly recommend their jalapeno roll.

Most of my time in Leavenworth area was spent with my foodie sister and brother-in-law, eating way too much really good food, playing scrabble, and hunting for morels as often as possible (see last post).

Over the years I’ve done some serious landscaping at Maggie’s – I’ve moved a lot of rocks to create gardens, a fish pond and the last project was a stone terrace. The year I built that I had to leave the day after it was done and so this was the first time I had a chance to sit out in the sunshine and enjoy it. We got an old brass bed frame to use as railing and trellis – and it has worked beautifully. The weather was too cold and wet to get into gardening so this was one of the first times I haven’t got into an outdoor project with Maggie.

The snow was still in the high mountains, the rivers were still on the rise as the days warmed very slowly, lots of rain (& snow in the high mountains) fell, and bit by bit that snow melted and made its way down to swell the mountain streams which then fill up the Columbia River and head out to the sea. Since my time in super-dry southern California, I continue to be thankful for the falling rain on this desperately needy planet.

After about three weeks I had to say goodbye to Maggie, Tom and the furry kiddies. I don’t know when I’ll have a chance to return – maybe they’ll come to Costa Rica next year. It is hard having just one sister and she lives far away – thank goodness we have the means to get together every couple of years. I think of families that get separated and don’t have that possibility of visiting each other over great distances. The privilege of my life. I am thankful for that, and for a wonderful sister. Miss you Mag (okay, and Tomas as well….)

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.

Postscript:

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  – http://www.walkwithearth.org/ – 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.

One of the best things about traveling is putting places into perspective. I love maps and can decipher them easily, but even with that visual understanding, it isn’t until you go to a place that you finally understand the lay of the land. This trip to California has finally given me a real sense of where places are in the Sunshine State and how they are related to each other.

I came up from LA to the Bay Area for a number of reasons. One was to visit Wolf’s son, Tomás, and meet his wife Gretchen and his children Julian and Olivia. I last saw Tomás in St. Louis Missouri back in 2003 when Wolf received the Conservation Action Prize for his life time of work protecting the Monteverde forest.

Tomás remarried and moved to California in the late 90s and with Gretchen they’ve had two beautiful children to add to the Guindon clan. It was wonderful to spend a couple of days with them. They gave me a great tour of the area and treated me to some delicious pizza from The Cheeseboard in Berkeley – where they only make one kind of pizza a day but it is always delicious – and some great Mexican from the Cactus Taqueria near them in Oakland. Was delicious Mexican food – apparently they use local fresh ingredients – and their spicing was a stretch beyond the norm.  How happy am I to be in the land of fine eateries.

They live in the Oakland Hills where Gretchen grew up. She had great stories of the place including her memories of the Oakland Firestorm of 1991 that destroyed 4000 homes and killed 25 people. Some of her extended family’s homes survived – they now live in one of these. Rebuilding the city brought in new architecture and just around the corner there is a simple yet unique house built by Bernard Maybeck. I was impressed with its design and also the fact it is only 1400 square feet though it has the presence of a mansion.

We went over to the Bay Area Discovery Museum near the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. In my short time in the Bay Area, I managed to see the bridge from half a dozen different angles – it is a real sentinel in the bay. I will be returning to San Francisco in a few days and will drive back and forth over that bridge. If I have seen no other iconic landmark on this trip, I’ll have seen the Golden Gate Bridge plenty.

      

At the Discovery Museum, we went to a kiddies’ concert by a very enjoyable songwriter and performer named Francis England. With her band, she was lively for the children, the songs were rockin’ and the lyrics were soft and sweet and smart.

I really enjoyed this concert – the audience of mostly under 6’s (and their parents) was as enthusiastic as the Brazilians at the Caetano Veloso concert in LA last week. I’m good with all kinds of music and tend to pick up on the excitement of others and thus enjoy new music even more – which was easy to do with these kids (and their folks) all singing and shouting and dancing along.

Gretchen told me that Olivia is known for taking serious looking photos, but I managed to get a few great shots of her laughing. I always bond quickly with dogs and cats, but kids can be tricky. Some are reticent to be friends too fast – if they are in their ‘making strange’ phase – but by the time I left, little Olivia was letting me spend time alone with her, for a few minutes anyway, lower lip quivering but no actual tears.

Her big brother Julian had so much fun in the children’s playground at the museum that he had a real hard time leaving – but don’t we all know that sooner or later, no matter how much fun we are having, we usually have to leave and go home. This was a great playground of wooden pirate ships and musical instruments and sea creatures floating in shallow waterways so it was a lot of magic for one little guy to have to resist.

The other reason I came to the Bay area was to begin the official Walking with Wolf takes the West Coast tour. The whole family went with me on Sunday to the Strawberry Creek Friends meeting. Held in a rented room at an academy close to downtown Berkeley, it is a fairly large meeting and apparently one popular with activists. It was suggested by my friend Roberta Llewellyn that I arrange to talk at this meeting as the Friends here would be very interested in the work done in Monteverde. Thanks to Roberta’s contacts and promotion, I had a wonderful time presenting the story, sold a number of books and met a nice bunch of people, many with their own stories about Monteverde and Wolf. If I haven’t said this enough times in this blog so far, the side benefit of the book is the opportunity to go out and meet people, particularly Friends. They give me hope for the future. I can only imagine how many tales of wisdom and activism were represented there that day. Thank you Roberta and Strawberry Creek Meeting for that warm reception (and Dick Strong who provided the projector).

Sunday afternoon I hooked up with Laurie Hollis-Walker who came down from Grimsby, Ontario to join me in a roadtrip through the redwoods to northern California. This is a dream come true. I’ve wanted to know these beautiful large sisters of the forest forever, linger in their shadow, spread my arms wide to embrace them. Laurie is working on her PhD in Psychology, interviewing the activists from the late 80s and 90s, delving deeply into what makes activists commit their lives to the well-being of the earth and how they survive the traumas that come with active participation in the process. It is an honour to meet these passionate souls who barricaded and blockaded, supported and spread the word, lived in trees and held out against the corporation that wanted to come in and liquidate the forest.

Laurie managed to find the time to come to California at the same time as I was going to be here to conduct her own work and we are headed north to the Lost Coast and Arcata and Smith River as well as a number of other hot spots in the story of the Redwoods. She will take me to visit some of the colourful individuals she has been working with, as well as to meet as many of her “friends”, the tall trees, as possible. For my part, I’m keeping track of how far north the palm trees go.

We had a day to pass in the city first though, as Laurie had to meet with an associate while in Berkeley. I went by BART (rapid transit) into the downtown core of San Francisco to visit a couple of thrift stores, needing more warm clothes then I had with me for the occasion. And I wanted a funky thing or two as a souvenir of San Francisco. The Goodwill store  on Geary near Hyde satisfied my cravings.

I headed out by city bus to the western shore of the city to see Punta Lobos. The windblown trees, the eroding cliffs, the blustery sea and the Golden Gate Bridge, once again in the background, were a sharp contrast to the rolling hills, street people, and big ol’ buildings in the downtown of the city. It was my first taste of being around big trees, though here they were windswept like the trees in the elfin cloud forest above Monteverde.

I did get a sense of how big San Francisco is, for it has mostly finite borders, at least on three sides, and I took a bus across its width, east to west. I also got to stand back in Oakland, Berkeley and on the north shore of the bay and look at it some more. It is truly a geographically diverse area of ocean, mountain, forest and beach. Just as LA seemed smaller to me than I had imagined it would, San Francisco seemed bigger. Hmmm, perceptions shift when faced with the reality.

Laurie and I stayed in Berkeley in a comfy little studio house that she rented through the VRBO site – Vacation Rentals by Owner. It is a good way to have a home away from home, though not the cheapest for this dirt-floor-sleeper from the jungle. However I’m getting ideas of what I can do with my house in the Hammer. Laurie’s also an incredible packer, having included all sorts of extras in her bags to make sure we have whatever our hearts desire.

I can understand why this area has attracted the movers and shakers in so many social movements. There is an energy in the Bay Area that makes me think of the Monteverde clouds. Several layers of intense movement, each strata having their purpose, heading in deliberate directions, collecting their forces to create storms that stir up the earth.

It has taken a lifetime of curiosity about it before I could see it, but I’ve finally come to California. One of the things I realized on my first day in Los Angeles was that I am already familiar with almost every street, neighbourhood, beach and road name in the city. I just wasn’t paying enough attention to realize that all these places – Venice Beach, Santa Monica, Ventura Highway – are all part of this great big shiny white city called Los Angeles. And true to most movies, books, songs, and TV shows, excess reigns (at least in the neighbourhoods I was in).

The billboards are as ubiquitous as the howling monkeys back in Costa Rica. In their not-so-subtle way they roar out their demands.

They add a silent soundtrack to the city – as it would happen, this new movie coming out seemed to be speaking to the millions running around LA , and I rarely turned a corner that I wasn’t reminded to kick ass! The signs added to the feeling that this is a playground for dreamers and over-achievers.

I stayed with my friend Terry in the Sawtelle neighbourhood near Santa Monica. She is my friend from Toronto, recently moved here to live with her mother. Although Terry is new as a resident, she has been a visitor to LA for decades and was a great guide and gracious hostess. She took me out each day in that constant warm sun to visit different areas of the city from the Venice Canals to Runyon Canyon to the Santa Monica Pier.

And we did see excess everywhere we went. Many of the streets were lined with tall palm trees (I would always think of Roberto in Cahuita telling me that you don’t want to plant coconut palms close by as they get too tall and fall over – I guess these are a different variety and that the roots have much deeper soil to cling to). The high end shiny cars were also everywhere and came in all sizes…I thought of my sister when I took this picture, as Maggie had an Austin Mini when we were teenagers – it was a car that a teen could afford back in the 70s but I think you probably have to be a student at Beverly Hills HS to afford one now.

The first day we moseyed down Venice Beach amidst the botox-lips and the medical marijuana hawkers, past the hippie artists, rasta musicians and Hispanic jewellery makers, the young and old, the crazy and maybe not-so-crazy. Spent awhile watching the skateboarders playing in their cement jungle then headed to the Venice Canals.

The canals were originally dug in 1904 when Abbot Kinney decided he wanted to make an American Venice. Started in the horse and buggy era, they became obsolete in the car world, impractical for the new addiction, and by 1929 were filled in. Beatniks and artists took over the older houses (including Jim Morrison of the Doors – LA woman Sunday afternoon ringing through my head). Eventually the canals were re-dug and the houses refurbished and now it is an upscale neighbourhood with front yard duck-wading moats and backyard car alleys to accommodate the four-wheeled family pet.

Walking up and down the canals was a garden and architecture tour. I was amazed at the wide array of plants that grow here from pines and cypress to cactus and succulents. I have to do some work on my yard when I get home and have decided that I will redo my little postage stamp front yard in the Hammer as a California succulent garden, albeit that I have a much more limited variety of sedums to choose from.

There was every kind of outdoor space, patio, veranda and deck imaginable. I was amazed at how exposed many of these yards were. Of course I’m not a true city person and I like my bushy privacy, so the idea of having a cocktail party on a deck in the hot sun facing a walkway of tourists isn’t my idea of luxury. With all the money involved in these houses, you would think people would put that one-way glass so people couldn’t look into their homes and use construction or plant materials to screen themselves…

…but in LA, one may just want to “be seen”. I became enamored by the shady, dark spaces that many had created in their tiny yards, where one could retreat from the sun and from being the show. This building kinda sums it up – there wasn’t a single sign on these two spectacular structures near Venice Beach – but as a friend said to me, if you need to ask what these buildings are, you wouldn’t be invited to the party anyway – and you weren’t meant to be seen.

And there were wolves in Venice…

And Walking with Wolf went to Hollywood!

We hiked the second day up the Runyon Canyon near Hollywood. This super dry canyon got me thinking about how much water this huge city must consume – a thought that continued to cross my mind always, especially when I left LA in a bus headed north to Oakland and went through miles and miles of dry high plains that had large irrigated orchards and vineyards. No wonder there is a water crisis looming.

In Runyon, there were lots of walkers and runners  and bitches (of the canine variety of course). This wild space was right in the middle of the city with views over top of mansions on all sides – I’m sure I looked down on homes belonging to celebrities I would recognize but I don’t have an interest in Star Tours (though the maps were everywhere and I do like maps) – I have no interest in seeing just how decadently the beautiful people live. I will look at buildings as interesting architecture and yards as intriguing gardens but prefer not to dwell on the excessive lifestyles that consume much more than their share in this world.

The next day my friend Melody, Wolf’s step-granddaughter, drove up from San Diego to take me shopping on Melrose Avenue. It was a far cry from the dusty roads of Monteverde where I last saw her to the palm-lined roads of Santa Monica and Hollywood! We spent a night wandering the Santa Monica Boulevard with Terry and then went to have some dinner with friends of hers.

It was great food at Monsoons on the 3rd Street Promenade – I finally got some sushi to satisfy my little seal soul – but kinda devolved into a debate about healthcare. I have come to realize that this is an extremely touchy subject here in the US right now – as a Canadian who has lived my life with a right to medical attention when I need it without having to mortgage my home or work for a corporation that provides insurance, to have survived two years of cancer treatments without my parents having lost their savings – well, it is a no-brainer to me. My question remains (this is the one that broke up the swell evening I must admit) – in a country that considers themselves the most generous and benevolent on earth, sending their army and foreign aid throughout the world, how can there be such an issue about providing well-being and good care to their own people?

So once that nice dinner broke up, we wandered down to the Santa Monica Pier where the ferris wheel’s lightshow kept us hypnotized. As did this one-man-band, who was musician, comedian and wannabe “America’s Got Talent” contestant (I don’t think he made it, but I was impressed with him).

The city coastline loomed to one side, the quiet ocean to the other, it was an enchanting night and once the political discussion faded from memory, we enjoyed the glory in the land of the angels.

The next day we spent on Melrose Avenue, shopping in retro stores and cheapo clothing shops, seeing LA fashion, and constantly on the lookout for cowboy boots for my pal Lori back in the Hammer – I saw a lot of great leather but nothing that I was sure enough of that was under about $1000 – tho I knew she would love those ones. Flowers, palm trees, skulls, “peace and love” – all sorts of great boot-art on these high end nose-pickers. I enjoyed the search – and as I head to northern California, I’m still searching.

My last night in LA was spectacular. We went to see Caetano Veloso – often called the Dylan of Brazil,  recently referred to as a combination of Dylan, Bowie and Lou Reed when he is actually the father of Tropicalismo and an elder of bossa nova. And has the voice of an angel with wings of steel. He played at the Greek Theatre in Griffith Park, outside on a joyous night, to a crowd of excited Brazileños and at least one very happy Canadian. The stage was minimalist and eye-soothing, the music moved through various rhythms, Caetano’s graceful arm movements and dance steps were enticing and we got up to move along with him. The lyrics were in Portuguese so I didn’t catch most of them but I could tell from the energy of the crowd (and from what I know about his music) that they touched people’s souls and moved their minds. He did a beautiful cover of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean – ending the song with a line from the Beatles…”all the lonely people, where do they all belong?” Perfect for LA.

And it was at this concert that I had my only celebrity moment. I had my eyes out all week for a famous face and I’m sure that I passed a hundred of them without recognizing them – this is Hollywood after all. But Terry’s friend is Brian George and he came to the concert with us. As soon as he walked up, I knew his face. As I’m sure any Seinfeld watchers would – as well as many others, as he has been on many shows and in movies. But on Seinfeld he was Babu Bhatt, the Pakistani cafe owner. He laughed when I said he was my one celebrity-sighting. “You haven’t done well if I’m “it””, he said. But I’d say that I made up for star-power with quality of experience – we enjoyed the concert together, talked about music, and then I got this great picture with him. And I expect he is as recognizable as anyone due to those few episodes he did on Seinfeld. So thank you, Babu Brian. Nice man.

I must thank Terry and her mother  for their warm hospitality. Evelyn turned me on to a new show – the Pawnshop Boys or something like that – when I’m around cable I’ll have to watch it and remember TV in LA. She has a lovely home and garden with a sparkling white kitchen. I came away from LA thinking that this is a very white city – not as in race, but as in clothes and buildings and general color. All cities present themselves to me as a color or texture, and LA is white and shiny! I had a small world moment when the new next door neighbour came over and introduced herself. Turns out she is from the Monteverde area in Costa Rica – her sister is married to a man I know in Santa Elena!

My favourite food find in LA? Two things – a babaganoush made by Sabra – the best commercial baba I’ve ever had, in fact one of the very few that I even like (if it ain’t homemade…). And a new favourite fruit, the lowly loquat! Known as nisperos in Costa Rica, I’ve seen a smaller version there though I’m not sure I’ve eaten it. I think of nispero a great lumber for building. In Evelyn’s backyard, there was a tree just bursting with these juicy little ripe golden nuggets and each day I went up the ladder and brought some down. I ate them morning, noon and night and took a bag on the bus as well. Apparently people don’t really get excited about these fruits around here yet they are abundant. Eat local! I have some seeds with me, hoping to get them back to Costa Rica and see if they will grow, though I think it is too wet in Cahuita for them.

Terry took me to the bus terminal to catch the Greyhound north to Oakland and the next part of my adventure in California. We walked around the industrial end of LA and I got to see some of the lowlier side of the city, where the palm trees hold their own against the concrete buildings and the street people shout out their greetings.

I take away great memories of LA. Yes, it was hazy, yes it was huge, but it was also much more pleasant than I imagined it would be. Every corner was a lyric in a song by Sheryl Crow or the Doors or America or….well, it seems that everyone sang a song about the land of the angels.

Of course it is a place that you could return to over and over and never see it all. But I got a taste and I can now picture all these places that I hadn’t even realized were part of this big city. When the water wars begin, I’m sure LA will be a battlefield – in the meantime, I’m headed north to commence the Walking with Wolf takes the West Coast book tour in Berkeley and to visit the land of big trees and do some serious tree-hugging.

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Houston. Thanks to my dear friend Professor Caroline Crimm of Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, I have just spent four days being treated like a queen here. I also have to thank Dean Jamie Hebert of the Department of Biology who provided comfortable lodgings and generous treatment in return for my coming to talk about Walking with Wolf with the biology students. I did my talk to a very small crowd, but thanks to the warm Texas hospitality, I leave with fond memories.

I am at the beginning of several weeks of book gigs, visiting friends and road-tripping through the west. Tomorrow I will fly on to Los Angeles, California, and spend a few days with my friend Terry who has recently moved there…and then start making my way north up the west coast, back to Canada.

It is bluebonnet and azalea season here – everyone tells me that I have come to Texas at the best time of the year. The weather is warm but not stinking hot as they say it can get. The flowers are beautiful – Lady Bird Johnson’s program from years ago of letting the roadsides fill with wildflowers is still evident. There are purple fields of bluebonnets (of the lupine family no doubt); undulating hedges of pink, purple and white azaleas; gardens of candy-colored gerberas and snapdragons….well, I may miss the tulips and daffodils in Ontario, but am being treated to all this floral beauty, Texas-style.

Caroline picked me up, introduced me as the “famous author” everywhere, made sure I was always comfortable, and took me out to restaurants that satisfied whatever craving I had. I have to speak up about a wonderful server we had in the Woodlands, just north of Houston – her name is Britney and she works at the Saltgrass Steakhouse. I love Costa Rica but wouldn’t say that restaurant service is always professional. The first night here in Texas brought me back to great service and this gal was truly a gifted server – friendly, informative, personal and appreciative – and after Caroline’s introduction – “famous author” – she was standing even tippier on her toes.

Besides my book thing, I followed Caroline around and saw how busy this award-winning professor, author, community-member, historian and human being is! She lectured, she moderated a Academic Challenge for area high school students, she participated in an interesting event called Poster Day – where faculty created posters about their research and displayed them in a conference room and then were present to discuss their areas of expertise with others. Caroline’s is about her most recent work in Monteverde, where she is doing research to write a history of pre-Quaker life on the green mountain, so I was her visiting poster-child, and we both talked about that community that we love so.

Caroline was the driver behind the reconstruction of a log building that is now a visitor center in the town square of Huntsville. She teaches courses that bring her students into the community to do service and to celebrate history. Her courses are hands-on, with students expected to dig in and get dirty – it was her and her students who rebuilt the log cabin. She has a room full of period costumes to use in local festivals, and a wall full of plaques in her office that express the appreciation of local communities for her enthusiastic involvement. Meeting Caroline has been one of the greatest pleasures of my last year. And now I’ve experienced her five star hospitality in the lone star state.

I arrived in Texas with a craving for red meat. A vegetarian for years, I no longer am, much of that due to the realities of traveling and living with people, and also sometimes my body craves it. As my time to go to Texas arrived, the cravings arrived. Caroline made sure I had some of that good Texas meat – and one of the highlights was the barbeque, a southern staple. In Huntsville, the big one is McKenzie’s, where the ribs were divine. We also picked up some ribs at what the locals affectionately call “The Church of the Holy Rib”, a funky family-run affair connected to the New Zion Church next door. I have to say the ribs may have been holy but not as divine, but the atmosphere was tops and the folks real nice.

The other thing that Huntsville is known for is its fine hospitality for prisoners. There are several prisons in the area. I think one of the oldest is the Huntsville State Prison, established in 1848 and still serving convicts all these years later, just up the road from Sam Houston University where Criminal Justice is their speciality. Locally known as “The Walls”, it was just next door to my hotel and hard to miss, though taking a miss on the inside tour is probably best. In my few days in Huntsville, I saw a lot of evidence of the prison system – the university had recruiting seminars going on in lobbies of buildings, anti-death penalty groups had events planned (because they still give a hang – is that a dang – in Texas) and I saw more species of police cars than you could imagine. But even the guard in the watchtower of “The Walls” smiled and waved as I took his picture – oh, those friendly Texans.

I’m not a shopper, but nevertheless went to a bunch of flea markets, antique stores and second-hand clothing shops, looking for used cowboy boots for my friend Lori back in Canada and myself. If you must go shopping while traveling, I think that visiting these kinds of stores is much more interesting than malls or chain stores whose merchandise is about the same everywhere you go. At least the used places give you a taste of what is, or was, local – they are like visiting small museums. So I’ve seen a lot of Texas charm, young and old.

The last day we went into Houston to the Live Oak Friends Meeting. As I said while introducing myself to the Quaker group, when I travel I’m not much interested in tourist attractions and souvenir shops. Instead I want to be immersed in the natural beauty of a place and meet the community. And I think visiting Friends meetings, where you always find wisdom, compassion, interesting conversation, and the existence of hope, is a much more valuable experience than any suggestion a tourism guide would give you.

I met some great people, sold a few books, and had a chance to sit in their beautiful meeting house, reflecting on my time in Texas, thinking about those I’ve left behind in Costa Rica, and those I’m headed to see on the west coast. I’ve a great appreciation for the warmth of the Texans, the beauty of the Texan springtime, and the generosity and friendship of Ms Caroline Crimm. Only sorry I didn’t get to go two-steppin’ – pero hay siempre la proxima. Girlfriend, may we meet again soon.

May 2017
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