I’m riding the Greyhound north savouring the last of Vermont’s colourful October forests. Although we are riding over dry pavement here, I am very aware that elsewhere many people I know are suffering from torrential rains and the subsequent damages they cause. Reports from Monteverde have been full of soggy complaints following about two weeks of downpours, grey skies and lack of sun. That means that landslides are probable and so traveling becomes quite unpredictable, making my hour-behind-schedule-otherwise-smooth bus ride from Maine to Montreal seem quite insignificant.

More seriously, my friends living on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala – an enchanting place I’ve written about frequently over the last few years – have been watching the water levels rise at a rate that they couldn’t imagine and were hoping they wouldn’t see quite yet. The pictures being posted on Facebook are truly alarming. I believe that many living close to the shoreline on the lake have been forced into evacuating their homes, perhaps permanently, for even if the water hasn’t entered the building, it has destroyed septic beds and compromised their water system – and is still rising. They say the lake has a fifty year cycle of rising and the elders know that the lake still has a ways to go. My heart goes out to those who built their homes and businesses only to have their dreams gradually washed away like eroding sand castles.

In Monteverde, our friend Wolf has just spent close to two weeks again in the Puntarenas Hospital. I am happy to say that he is back home and apparently doing fine. He had a bladder infection that they couldn’t control with antibiotics administered at the house so he was put into the hospital to receive treatment intravenously. Experience has shown that bladder infections cause a greater distress in older people, confusion and weakness being common symptoms and I guess that is what was happening with Wolf. Fortunately it seems that Wolf has rebounded well. I am anxious to be back down there, to see with my own eyes how he is doing. Once I’m there, I’ll be blogging about all things Wolf, Monteverde and booklike much more regularly.

I’ll be headed back to Costa Rica on November 16, just in time to attend a concert honouring the late Fidel Gamboa, Costa Rica’s recently departed musical genius. Malpais, the band he fronted along with his brother Jaime and five other great musicians, have decided to disband. I expect that the strength and reorganization it would take to carry on without their main composer, singer and guiding spirit was just too great. I believe it will be an incredible night of Fidel’s powerful music performed by his musical brothers and sisters, his lyrical poetry sung by friends and the night augmented by the addition of Costa Rica’s Philharmonic Orchestra. I am so glad that I can make it back to Costa Rica in time for this last-in-a-lifetime show.

In the meantime, I’ve been paying attention to the Occupy Wall Street movement as it ignites our world. For those of us who have been paying attention to the corporate takeover of the world with trepidation for decades, the rising of the 99% in North America is a wonder to behold. It’s about time! I move around with the sound of Lorraine Segato’s “Rise up, Rise up” playing in my mind – a song performed at Jack Layton’s wedding years ago and again at his funeral in August (for those unfamiliar with this man, I wrote about him a couple of posts ago.) I know that Jack, if he had not died so prematurely of that nasty cancer, would have been joining Canadians in the street and helping to inspire the peoples’ movement.

The timing and strength of the protests has surely exploded with the examples set in other parts of the world – Egypt, Tunisia, Libya – where populations of largely oppressed people realized that they have taken enough abuse from the upper echelons of power. At a certain point, people figure they have nothing to lose but plenty to gain in rising up. North Americans don’t like to think that such revolutions, sometimes violent, could happen here, but I’ve always thought, or at least hoped, that even in the comfort zone of the passified North American consumer society, people would eventually realize the folly of our system. It’s based on the lies and greed that reward a few while keeping the masses distracted with shopping and sports addictions (how many corporate logos can you wear in one outfit or fit on one car?) and fed with the belief that one day they too will get to feed from the golden trough. It would seem that we have reached the tipping point here, where people have had enough of supporting a system that isn’t supporting them any longer. While the 1% licks the cream off their lips too many others never even get to lick out the bottom of the pot.

Surely the movement has been fueled by the frustration of people trying to get ahead with hard work, if they can find it, but without the rewards promised. We pay for insurance that doesn’t guarantee security, for schools that don’t properly educate, for health care that isn’t available when you really need it. The two industries that seem to thrive in this harsh climate, that people are forced to seek work within, is the military and prisons, neither of which offer any hope for the future or health benefits for our society. Even here in soft-shelled Canada our very conservative government has decided to buy into this draconian way of creating jobs and controlling the poor.  As French/Basque musician activist Manu Chao says, a country that spends more money teaching their citizens to kill than they do on education is a country based on fear, not hope for the future.

Besides following the leads of other dissatisfied societies around the world, perhaps the 99% movement in the US is taking advantage of having a president in power who may be somewhat sympathetic, at least enough not to have the protesters immediately tear-gassed and jailed, though there are signs that mayors in some cities are going in that direction. Although there is plenty to be disillusioned about with Obama’s presidency, it was always obvious that he was up against a corrupt and well-entrenched system that retains power and wealth for the select few in a historic perfect storm of global collapse. I believe that he can still do the right thing as this movement gains strength, and I will continue to believe that deep in Obama’s gut, there is a spark waiting to burn a hole from where his real strength and humanity will fly. I like to imagine that he and Michele watch the news at night and embrace each other, happy with the knowledge that the citizens of the United States, as elsewhere, are passing the goblet overflowing with empowerment and justice. When it makes its way to them, the Obamas will be ready to replenish it. At least that is what I like to think.

Being Canadian, I obviously didn’t have a chance to vote for Obama, but I joined with the millions who celebrated his election and believed in his message of hope and change. A simple fact of global life at this point in time is that though the citizens within the confines of the US may be able to live in ignorance of the governance of other countries, the rest of us are as deeply affected by the politics of the USA as we are the global governance by multinational corporations.  How to explain what has been going on for the last three years? A system so entrenched in corporate power and elite privilege that even a man of deep principles and experienced in community welfare can’t remain immune nor stand up to the force of its greed. I remember Obama’s 100-days in power interview when he answered the questions “What has surprised you the most?” What has troubled you the most?” by expressing his not-so-naive understanding of just how difficult it is to work within the system, that change in Washington (and on Wall Street) comes very slowly, that even in the middle of a big crisis the discussion is lost to a lot of partisan bickering. Even as President of the USA, he can’t make the bankers do what he would want them to do or turn on a switch and have congress fall in line. Well, that is why he needs the help of the population to stand up and insist that the corporate rulers, the bankers, and the outrageously wealthy pay their share. It is time to get the power back into the hands of the people.

I also believe that it is the responsibility of people everywhere to stand up to the massive brainwashing that has created a global epidemic of consumption. The belief that owning a bigger home, a newer car, a better wardrobe, every new appliance and electronic device available, that all these things are going to bring happiness and peace to your soul – well it is time to step back and stop the madness. How can one possibly defend the needs of those who own several mansions, a fleet of luxury vehicles, whose bracelet probably costs more than your monthly salary unless you are thinking that it your own goal? This kind of ostentatious outlandish decadence is setting the example of so-called fulfillment. It has tricked everyone else into supporting those who feed this dream to us even as it is making people physically, emotionally and mentally ill. If one can’t afford the luxury items, they shop with the same abandon in the dollar stores. Junk, stuff, tomorrow’s landfill. It is insanity and, to me, it is a big part of the problem, this desire for more and more of everything. The drug lords are the corporations, the pusher is the television, the addicts are everybody…and the loser is the earth.

Instead of spending so much money on the war on drugs and the criminalization of marijuana, the government should be cracking down on the real crack – stuff!!!!!

Those of us who are the protesters, the 99%, whether we are living in a tent in one of the occupied city parks, or disseminating information through the social media, or speaking up in support of the Occupy Earth movement at every chance we get, know that it is time. We don’t need a “leader” or a single headline for the media to grip on to that will simplify their job. It is impossible to narrow the issues into one stream when it is already an ocean out there, full of inequality, insane policies and despair. The “free market” system, capitalism as it is called, has stopped working for the majority of not just the humans, but all creatures who share this fragile earth. A few may be getting rich – even very very disgustingly rich– but most are experiencing life as one crisis after another with nowhere to hide. Climate change, environmental degradation, health decay, economic collapse, fiscal mismanagement, the inequities that pit workers against workers and the middle-class against the poor… the absurdity of it all is well beyond a single slogan or one spokesperson. It is time. Gather your loved ones, put on your dancing shoes, be peaceful, open your mouth, feed your mind and RISE UP!

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I’m sitting in a shady yard and, as I watch, the leaves are starting to blush red, rust and yellow before making their downward drop to become a colorful quilt on the ground. I’ve been here in southern Ontario for the last month, taking care of business but also enjoying an eclectic potpourri of music and art provided by some of the great performers and artists in the area.

Back in late August, I went to the (first annual?) Daniel Lanois Harvest Picnic at the Christie Lake Conservation Area a few miles outside of Hamilton. The local-boy musician, international über-music-producer invited a bunch of his musical friends (and no doubt worshipers) to this leafy-green-and carrot-top friendly event. The weather cooperated, the stage ran smoothly, the vibe was relaxed and the mix of music was fantastic. Dan and his associate Jean-Paul Gauthier put together this day to celebrate local family farms and I would describe it as a kind of low-key Canadian-grown Farm-aid. They raised money for some local gardening initiatives but mostly gathered a crowd to celebrate the fresh produce that grows nearby, the people who tend it, and the sweet music of the performers.

Metal collage by Dave Hind and Gord Pullar

Instead of MCs, a number of farmers and their families spoke about their lives spent providing us with healthy, often organic, food in this age of agro-business and industrial farming. Some were quite political and blunt about the disturbing realities of trying to survive in this corporate chemically-consumed age, while others were simple and sincere with stories of their love for the land, sharing tales of several generations in one family working the same fields.

My friend with the sweet voice and rockin’ spirit, Lori Yates – who we will revisit a few times in this post – played her poignant songs with the great Brian Griffith and her new bassist, Peter Sisk. Cocky and I got to the daylong show early to be sure to see Lori and this enabled us to have a good position right in front of the stage.

It meant that we could later see the stunning Emmylou Harris up close. She sang both solo and with Dan Lanois’ band, her voice still pure and her face still lovely. You know when you are in the presence of a queen. She was as gracious as her long, slender hands strumming her guitar.

Another musical icon I got to see for the first time was Canadian Gord Downie, famously known as leader singer and lyricist of the Tragically Hip. He was with one of his other bands The Country of Miracles featuring Julie Doiron and radiated the same energy and wit that he is known for.

A band I saw for the first time and really enjoyed was The Reason. Great name for a band (“Well folks, thanks for coming, we are The Reason.”) Alt-country, attitude, good licks, stage presence…yup, liked them.

From California, Dan recruited a young soul man named Rocco Deluca. First time many of us had seen him and he was beautiful with stirring music that stirred you up. Apparently he has been touring with Dan, opening his shows. Don’t know, maybe he’s a famous guy south of the border, but I think he just got himself a new buncha followers up here in Ontario.

There were a number of other acts – John Ellison, Sarah Harmer, and the very enigmatic and powerful Ray Lamontagne – but the hardest working musician of the day was definitely Dan Lanois. Besides putting the show together and being our affable host, he played with Rocco and later performed a set with his own band Black Dub as well as backing Emmylou’s set. And during stage changes, he was jamming in the sound booth with his two musicians, Jim Wilson and Steve Nistor, pulling the crowd into center field for some spontaneous combustion with the South American dancers who accompanied much of his show. Depending on how you saw it, they added either world beat colour or feathery female distraction.

It was a perfect day and it’s hard to imagine that they could create the same magic though I expect they will try. There was lots of green energy and smart thought put into the organization and no corporate sponsorship nor plastic marketing garbage – the biggest logos screamed “RECYCLE HERE”. Instead local artisans and small food vendors had a captive audience. Food wise, I fell in love with Feng’s Dumplings, juicy tasty nuggets created by Hsaiao-feng Wu, who came to Guelph from Taiwan a few years ago and started her small business. I was so enamored with these “titillating Taiwanese temptations” as she calls them, that I recently went to the always wonderful Guelph Farmers’ Market to meet her. I thanked her for making them, devoured many more and took some frozen ones home. I am now going to try to find her a place in Hamilton to sell them otherwise I’ll be returning to Guelph from time to time. Check her out at www.fengsdumplings.com and if possible taste her dumplings – for you too could fall in love.

A couple of weeks after the Picnic, there was a convergence of music and art with community in the Hamilton area. The mid-September weekend began with the arrival of the Pride of Baltimore, a tall ship that sailed elegantly under gusty winds into Hamilton Harbour, blasting her cannons as she arrived.

I got to spend a glorious afternoon on a sailboat myself – thanks to Francis and Jeff – that included cruising close to the tall ship, views of a couple of submarines in dry dock and another large ship visiting the harbour from the Canadian Navy, amid all the other happy boaters out enjoying the early autumn weather that still resembled a perfect summer day.

A four-day run of music began in Toronto at the Lula Lounge. Lori Yates has been part of a Patsy Cline Birthday Tribute held annually where several great vocalists share the mic to belt out those songs that make you wanna weep or drink or maybe even try your luck at love again. They do Patsy proud. The hair and outfits were priceless, including those that came from our favorite local designers, Blackbird Studios. They make dresses for roller derby queens, real women and glam-punks and were well represented that night, lending some glamour and shine to the stage.

The next night, I took a tour down to Port Credit to Chuck Jackson’s (of Downchild Blues Band) Southside Shuffle, an annual blues festival at the mouth of the Credit River. There was a great group of six loud ladies – most notably the phenomenal Lady T and Cheryl Lescom – called the Motor City Women. Cheryl covered Etta James’ “I’d rather go Blind” and it sent shivers through the crowd. But the night was made truly memorable by the Blind Boys of Alabama. Only three of them are blind and only one of the original five still performs but after over seventy years of singing gospel and the blues, those boys and their band know how to raise the congregation’s spirit just fine. Jimmy Carter, the 80-year-old original, was jumping like a teenager and you could see that he was gathering more energy as the night went on. As part of the show he comes down into the audience, aided by the sighted guitar player, and people reach out to touch him like a talisman – whatever that man’s got, we all want it. You could tell that he would have stayed on singing all night but maybe those younger musicians were pooped. Glad I got the chance to testify at one of their revivals.

Back in the Hammer, on Super Saturday the city was celebrating Supercrawl on James St. North, the Locke Street Festival, the Canadian Country Music Awards, Festitalia in Westdale, the Pegan Fest in the east end…well, the list goes on. It all brought tens of thousands of art and music lovers to the city. There were a number of large public art installations such as these blown up bodies on the top of the Mixed Media building and the metal collage pictured earlier….

…as well as the knitted panels-for-siding on one of James Street North’s friendly little bars, The Brain. Wandering the street through the day and night, I ran into crazy people (often friends), soaked up music, pondered the depth of artists’ imaginations, mused over amusements…well, the fun never stopped. I was so overwhelmed by the options that day that I almost didn’t go out at all, but fortunately I got it together and caught a rag-a-ma-tag bunch of art and sound. It is getting that one hardly recognizes the old Hamilton – knitted brick buildings? Very cool – or cozy.

The outskirts of James Street North may have been quiet as usual, but the heart of it was pumping. There was only positive energy all around, great chaos and good will. And just to finish off a perfect weekend, we went to see one of the Hammer’s best bad boys Tim Gibbons rocking This Ain’t Hollywood for the Sunday matinee. My time in Hamilton isn’t complete without a little Tim, and I ain’t talking coffee.

A few days later, Lori was on stage once again, this time with another hot rockabilly chick from Texas, Rosie Flores. Lori and her band The Nashville Rejects hit the stage full tilt and played one hot set of I’d-be-crying-if-I-wasn’t-having-so-much-damn-fun music. It was Lori as I haven’t quite seen her since back in the 80s when she was royalty on edgy Queen Street West in Toronto. Her band – Stephen Miller, Ted Hawkins and Peter Sisk – were as tight as a G-string on a steel guitar.

Rumor had it that Rosie, the headliner, said “How the hell am I supposed to follow that gal?”, but of course she just kept us rocking with her guitar licks and Texas attitude. It was truly a smokin’ night with Lori and Rosie and their bands – in both cases, newly put together, one rehearsal, but no one could have known. It was a red hot ending to a great summer of music and good times.  Thank you Hammer-town, you continue to amaze me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

My friend Laurie Hollis-Walker recruited me as cook for an August weekend gathering she organizes called ECO Camp. My friendship with Laurie goes back to the Red Squirrel Road
blockade in Temagami, Ontario in 1989, an experience that brought her to her present academic world of eco-psychology. After doing her research for her Bachelor and Master’s degrees studying the activists involved in the Temagami action, Laurie went on to design and teach the first university course in Canada in eco-psychology at Brock University in St. Catherines.

An important feature of the course for her students was a weekend spent together in the forest not far from the campus, a time for renewal of spirit in a natural setting. These class retreats evolved into a larger gathering bringing together students, academics and concerned citizens of various ages and experience. An activist and therapist from Guelph, Sally Ludwig, who is one of Laurie’s mentors, joined with her vision and together they brought ECO Camp to life.

Laurie is also a colleague of Joanna Macy, a scholar and writer in Berkeley, California, who is the brain and soul behind “The Work that Reconnects.” Her work serves to support the community of activists – academic, grassroots, political – who become overwhelmed by despair in this troubled world. Ms Macy has worked worldwide helping people overcome despondency to carry on their work against the raging Machine. Many of the rituals that make up ECO Camp are based on her work. Much of the discussion is about the burn-out inherent in environmental and social activism – considering that for so many taking on issues in this complex, troubled world it is a life-long commitment.  As someone who has been paying attention to the issues since I was young, I can understand the frustration, anger and fear that arises in one’s soul as the news seems to get grimmer, the answers more complex, and the solutions further from our collective grasp.

Laurie arranged for me to stay at a small cottage on Lake Erie – the “great lake” that connects Detroit and Niagara Falls – for the week prior to the camp where I could prepare some of the food. This would then allow me to participate in parts of the program on the weekend itself. I was present at one of the first camps a few years ago. This year was the fifth year and up until now, Laurie had not only organized and facilitated the gathering, but also been the head cook. As someone who believes in only biting off as much as one can chew, I couldn’t imagine that this was an ideal situation for anyone to take on that much responsibility, so I was happy to take the job – partly for the money but as much to support Laurie, allowing her to put her energy in the workshops which I could also take part in when not stirring soup.

I enjoyed the humble home belonging to Laurie’s student Emma and her family, but I’ve never been a fan of Lake Erie. I was introduced to crystal clear lakes in the north as a child, so I have had the privilege of growing up with a high ideal of what a healthy body of water is. In my lifetime, I’ve probably been to Lake Erie at least a dozen times and only ever felt comfortable swimming in her questionable waters when we sailed far out from her shores that too often made me think of bathtub ring.

Still, I spent a relaxed week watching the seagulls frolic on the rocks under the sun, the lights of ships passing under the moon as it grew plumper each night with bright meteors exploding around her in the heavens. Each morning, I spent some time cooking, listening to CBC radio, and thought about the possibility of swimming, an idea I rejected each afternoon when I saw no change to the scum that sullied the lake edge.

The moon was full by the time we moved the boxes of food to the camp. I spent four days feeding people healthy, mostly vegetarian food. I have cooked for groups for most of my adult life in some form or other and recognize that it is important, now more than ever, to pay attention to people’s dietary requirements. Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, lactose-intolerant, allergies…along with trying to eat local, organic and generally healthy, it is a challenge to get it right for everyone. But I was a vegetarian for years and never found it hard to make great food without meat and fish. Nowadays there are so many products available to replace milk, eggs and cheese that doing vegan isn’t difficult as long as you have the right attitude and pay attention.

Part of the program called for participants to, well, participate…as in help out with the necessities including in the kitchen. So I had some great helpers – Marissa, Ingrid, Drew, Helen, Russ, Jenn, Jess – who peeled, sliced, washed, tossed and took my direction with good humor. Jess arrived with donated organic produce from gardens and cooperatives in the Guelph area, bags bursting with collard greens, kale and kohlrabi. Marissa was the cheery and functional morning person who got up with me extra early to make breakfast.

In the kitchen, when pots are bubbling and hunger is looming, it can be easy to shout out quick directions minus those essential terms “please (do this) and thank
you (for doing that).”  The gentle, soft-spoken, very helpful Ingrid, as well as the others, took my brusqueness in stride and accepted my thank-you’s when I managed to stop for a second and make sure the workers understood that I appreciated all they were doing.

The one vegan in the crowd, sweet Dan, was appreciative for the dishes we made that met his requirement. He told me how he is often maligned for his diet and political beliefs and was happy that I embraced him. Although I am no longer a vegetarian, and never was a vegan, I have great respect for those who follow their principles, guided by any number of good reasons, and eat what is the least offensive and most ecologically-intelligent diet. Making vegan dishes is always interesting, they can be just as tasty and are usually healthier than carnivorous fare, so it wasn’t just Dan that enjoyed the mac & cheese made with a nutritional yeast cheesy-type sauce and rice noodles or the raw nibbles made with dates and nuts. Dan became a vegetarian at 10 years of age while living in beef-fed Calgary, against the best wishes of his parents, and then moved on to being a vegan a few years later. I say, Bravo Dan! May the rest of the planet learn to live as gently and thoughtfully as you rather than shifting to super-sizing Mc-slaughterhouse fare. Be proud and live with a free conscience dear Dan, and don’t let them get you down.

Art installation by Steve Mazza and Steve Hudak

The first day of ECO-Camp was devoted to the participants sharing their despair over the state of the earth, the loss of our brethren creatures, and our precarious future. Through a series of workshops and rituals, each person could express in a supportive environment their sadness, anger and overwhelming sense of loss as it pertains to our beautiful home, Mother Earth. There was a powerful presentation by Peter Timmerman, Professor of Environmental Studies at York University, titled “Mourning and Melancholia: 7 Wounds We Live With,” following the progression of environmental decline, the movements that have arisen to deal with each issue, and our collective emotional response. Starting in the 1940s and the advent of nukes, through the chemical poisoning of the land and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, acid rain killing our waters, to the extinction of species, the depleted ozone and global warming. Each one of these atrocities has caused a reaction, ecological, political, social and spiritual, that collectively we keep trying to deal with while the greedy – what I call “the Machine”, or musician/activist Manu Chao calls “the Mafia”– continue to drag us along a destructive and ultimately fatal path. The most recent, the last of the seven wounds, is the changing of life itself  through cloning and genetic-modification, and Peter pointed out that the environmental movement has barely started this latest fight to keep life on our planet somewhat true to its natural form.

Peter’s discussion was joined by a beautiful, if shocking and disturbing, slide show put together by Laurie. She mounted both positive and negative images that illustrated the seven wounds and the precious body called earth that is being continuously scarred. The music that accompanied the pictures sent shivers through my body, a soundtrack of tribal rhythms, earth sounds and voices that both pummeled my heart and caressed my soul. The pieces were “My heart is moved by all I cannot save”, based on a poem by Adrienne Rich with music composed and sung by Carol McDade; “Initiation” written and composed by guitarist Tommy Emmanuel; and “Tombeau” by David R Walker – who is also Laurie’s very talented husband known in the guitar world as Dr. Dave. Magical music.

The second day featured solo walks in the surrounding forest for each of the participants – I stayed in the kitchen – and concluded with a wonderful gathering called the Council of All Beings. Time was allowed for each of us to get creative and make masks so that we could come to the council representing one of earth’s beings: we joined as trees, water, a cardinal, spider, skunk, deer, moth, and even a human being who took it upon himself to listen to the creatures as we expressed our concerns for our mutual home. It was a gathering to discuss our struggles under the assault of greed, exploitation and stupidity.

I was a two-toed sloth. My main message was that everyone – including activists, artists, teachers, and musicians – everyone needs to slow down. As I move between my jungle home on the Caribbean in Costa Rica, to busy Monteverde in the mountains and return to the northern industrial world of Canada, I find that almost everyone I know is spinning, faster and faster, trying to produce, to create, to learn, to earn, to develop – struggling over the sharing of our precious resources, making ourselves sick with stress. Perhaps if we took a lesson from the gentle peaceful sloth and slowed down, we might all live better.

Fortunately, I am generally not a person overwhelmed by despair, depression or anxiety though that isn’t to say I never feel these things. Perhaps that comes from the positive example and teachings of my mother, perhaps it is my personality, perhaps it is the fact that I have lived most of my adult life surrounded by nature which replenishes my spirit daily – most likely it is all these things together that allow me to pay attention to what is going on around me but not be overwhelmed (usually).

The best thing to do when I’m bothered by something is to take action and to surround myself with others who are taking action which has led me to many protests and peaceful gatherings. By my own design, I live as close to the earth as possible. I live well with very little and my happiness comes from things that don’t cost much – my friends, music, dancing, walks in the woods, swimming in the sea, listening to the birds. Although I am as outraged as anyone at the many injustices, rich mens’ wars, poor womens’ suffering and the corporate takeover of the world, I generally don’t hold on to rage and I work against feeling despondent. As much as I feel sick when thinking of those who are barely surviving, I also feel concern for how much stress and fear people live with, something I witness both here in North  America but also in Costa Rica.

Having said that, I do find myself in a lingering moment of sadness that’s been triggered by the death of two great men. All Canadians will know that we have just lost Jack Layton, a man known for his activism, his eternal optimism, his humor, and his recent rise in the government to a position where we believe that he could affect positive social change that he has been committed to all his life. A year ago he announced he had prostate cancer, was beating it, and then a month ago, looking frail and sounding worse, he told us he was fighting a new cancer. Just weeks later, he was dead. It has been a huge loss for those of us who felt that we finally had a strong visionary in a political position of power who would speak on behalf of the poor, the disenfranchised and the environment as well as inspire youth to be involved in the process. In a final letter to Canadians he wrote words that will be a lasting part of his legacy:

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

On Sunday I was watching the video of his memorial in Toronto, an amazing collection of eulogies and music that made my spirit soar but also brought tears. I was just beginning to recover and was ready to carry on when I read the shocking news (on Facebook) that one of the most prolific, talented and revered musicians in Costa Rica, Fidel Gamboa, had died suddenly of a heart attack just a few weeks after his fiftieth birthday.

Along with that whole tiny nation, I was devastated for the loss of a man who has composed some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. I fell under the spell of his music when it was performed by a group called Probus back in about 1994. It took my breath away with its seductive slow melody for a voice rising above discordant strings. It reminded me of music from a group from Quebec called Conventum, who had seduced me similarly back in the late 70s. I was amazed to find such similar music being played in two very distinct, distant, small societies.

Fidel grew up playing music in a musical family, graduated with a history of arts degree from the University of Habana in Cuba, and was a prolific composer as well as part of Adrián Goizueta’s experimental jazz group in Costa Rica for decades. Fidel was notoriously shy and it took his brother, Jaime, also a musician and poet, and his friends Manuel Obregón and Iván Rodríguez (presently the Minister and Vice-Minister of Culture in Costa Rica and phenomenal musicians in their own right) to convince him to join together with them to form the band Malpaís. This Costa Rican “supergroup” began gracing stages about ten years ago. To their surprise, Malpaís was not only received warmly by all ages and regions of Costa Rica but became troubadours, historians, and basically musical deities. They played the music written by the Gamboa brothers – often Jaime’s lyrics to Fidel’s music – and it spoke for the country’s past, present and future. Their music gives a melody to the landscape and resonates with the humility and heart of its people. Their music is pure poetry.

Fidel will be as missed in Costa Rica as Jack will be in Canada, but his huge catalogue of music, recorded by almost every significant musical group in the country as well as by performers elsewhere in the Latin world and gracing the soundtracks of many films and documentaries, will live on and continue to touch all who hear and feel it. I share these few words that finish Fidel’s beautiful song Como un pájaro (Like a bird) and hope you will find your way (http://www.grupomalpais.com/) to much more of his and Malpaís’ beautiful music.

Y cantando, Y cantando así sin voz y sin aliento, Y cantando así sin voz y
sin aliento, como aquel primer amor entre tu pecho…

“Como un árbol, como un árbol sacudido por el viento,  Y cantando…como un pájaro en lalluvia, vuelo lejos…”

“And singing, singing so voiceless and breathless, singing so voiceless and breathless, as when that first love enters your chest…

“Like a tree, like a tree shaken by the wind… and singing…like a bird in the rain, flying away….”

I thank both Jack and Fidel (and another man of vision, our dear Wolf Guindon – who, by the way is doing very well I am told) and the many others in the world like them who inspire us with their words and actions. They are who keep me from feeling despair and remind me to continue with hope and optimism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much fun we had.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret, Paul, K, Jean, Al

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

We will miss you Alpha. 

 

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m coming to you from Hamilton Ontario, my northern nest that’s woven together with maple leaves and pine needles. I’m running around like a squirrel trying to remember where she stored all her nuts months ago. Everything seems familiar and
though I haven’t quite acclimatized yet, I can see that it’s all coming back to me (or the nuts are starting to reveal themselves).

SAN JOSE ON FIRE!

Each day I meet up with my Canadian friends, great people I missed during my ten months in Costa Rica. Now it’s tropical breezes that blow through my mind and my Costa Rican loved ones take their turn licking my heart. I’m still starting my sentences with “bueno”, and I’m missing fresh sweet mangoes and the seductive smell of coffee being roasted, not just brewed. Waiting until after 9 p.m. for the sun to set and the sky to darken seems unnatural after a 6 to 6 light/dark ratio that has barely changed in ten months. I always find that day/night transition difficult when I return to the north.

 

 

I’m thinking of my southern friends, those left to fend in the rainy season – Roberto in
Cahuita where the rains are warm and the river is known to rise; Wolf in Monteverde, no longer able to set out on muddy trails through the soggy forest, but still holding his own against sudden storms; Lorena and Edín in San José, shiny happy people making music and cupcakes that will keep people smiling despite the cloudy skies and grey days of a Costa Rican winter.

 

 

 

Along with these and so many more two-legged friends, I also miss my four-legged friends, of which there are
a few. I’ve become very attached to the five felines in the city apartment, to
the semi-wild Miel in the jungle rancho, and the mellower Miel and his sidekick Olly at the Monteverde Study Center.  There is also the lovely white husky Tyra and the old farm dogs on the Guindon farm.

My favorite canine of course is Wolf. After all these months of poor health and our vigils at his hospital bedside, I feel very secure in leaving Wolf for a few months. He seems to be stronger every time I return to Monteverde, and I know that he had very good reports when he visited his doctors last week. I trust that he will be okay until I get back there.

A few days before I left the green mountain, in a room packed full of scientists and students, there was a very touching tribute to Wolf. On the occasion of
celebrating the International Day of the Environment, the Costa Rican chapter
of the Mesoamerican Society of Biology and Conservation thanked three men for their contribution to conservation and the advancement of scientific knowledge in Costa Rica. Besides Wolf, they acknowledged Dr. Richard LaVal, who lives in Monteverde and is the Batman of Costa Rica, a living encyclopedia about those flying mammals; and Dr. Jorge Cortés for his work with mangroves.

 

The present Director of the Monteverde Reserve, Carlos Hernandez, brought tears to many eyes as he thanked Wolf for his leadership, inspiration and dedication. Don Carlos expressed how he learns something new about the forest and the history of the community in every conversation he has with Don Wolf. He also expressed for the many employees of the Reserve how Wolf will always be their spiritual leader. There were many university students who were deeply touched by meeting the grandfather of Costa Rican conservation as we all have been upon our first meeting with Wolf. It is wonderful to see Wolf’s commitment and contributions being celebrated especially at a time when he is feeling like his usefulness is diminishing. In his lifetime, Wolf has contributed more than most to the country he adopted, the community he helped develop and the forest that he dedicated himself to protecting. Although he is entitled to a rest, Wolf’s restless nature is frustrated within his worn down body – hopefully he will find some activity that will engage him and satisfy his altruistic soul.

The Spanish edition of our book – Caminando con Wolf – should be in the hands of the editor at the Editorial de Universidad de Costa Rica. I wish I could push the process forward, but now I must wait with patience and Wolf must get stronger while he waits. As I said, I think Wolf will be okay, even though life isn’t necessarily easy for him and the family, but he is determined to see the book in Spanish and that helps him stay focused on doing the things that he needs to do to get better.

 

As for the English version, Walking with Wolf, I took a third order of books to the Café Britt headquarters the day before leaving Costa Rica. Juan Diego, the buyer for the company, came down to the receiving desk to see me and told me that the book was doing very well at the airport stores.

 

 

When I went through the San José airport on my way to Canada it was the first time I was in
the airport and saw our book there. I went in one of their stores and saw the book sitting proudly in a center book display. I took a picture with the young clerk and was satisfied that the book was given a prominent position on the shelf. I then visited the bigger of the Café Britt stores that was closer to my departure gate and was thrilled to see that familiar picture of Wolf wrapped in the big leaf staring down from the Best Sellers wall! Walking with Wolf was number five on their most sold list, after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series but above a book titled “I Hope They Sell Beer in Hell”.

 

 

I spoke with the staff who seemed as excited to meet a real life author as I did to see my book on that wall! Of course we took more pictures and made quite a commotion. It was a super way to leave Costa Rica.

 

 

 

 

Those ten months in paradise unfolded in ways that I couldn’t predict. I didn’t expect to spend months helping to care for an ailing Wolf; I thought I’d get the papers for my property in Cahuita together quickly, but only just managed to get everything in order before leaving; I had planned on building a small house on that property but between being distracted by Wolf’s situation and not having the legal papers in my hand, I put that off.

 

 

 

Roberto was very supportive and patient with the fact that I was busy elsewhere most of the
time. I’m sure he thought that when I bought the property I would be staying closer to his home but things didn’t work out that way. Well, when you love a gypsy, what do you expect? When I was there we enjoyed the sea, the monkeys, coconut-flavored food and as much dancing as
we could squeeze in.

 

 

I also hoped that the Spanish edition of the book would be released, but that didn’t happen –
yet it is bound to be soon! I made a new friend with Lester, the editor of the Spanish translation. I certainly didn’t expect to spend months living in San José and if I had been planning on it, I would still have been surprised as to how much I enjoyed life in the big city especially that time I spent with Lorena
and Edín and the cats.

 

 

 

 

They were generous and kind and constantly creative. We talked life and politics and music, and the power of kindness, the craziness of life – laughed until we cried and cried until we had to laugh.  I tried to repay their good hearts by cooking and helping wherever possible. I can’t thank them enough for giving me an urban home and family.

 

It was a very emotional ten months, with super highlights like my trip to Guatemala with EDITUS and the Dance Fusion show in Monteverde. I will never forget Wolf in his mania talking non-stop for a month, nor the love of his family rising like soft bread dough around him in his time of need. I will miss so many friends, and special ones like Barb and Deb in Monteverde who are two of the most loving spirited gals on the planet. And always look forward to returning to see Zulay and her big family in every corner of that little green country.

 

 

 

So I dedicate this blog to all those, big and small, furry or not, who have become my family
in Costa Rica. I expect to be back by November, but if Caminando con Wolf is released sooner, there I will be for the fiesta!  In the meantime, I’m loving my
Canadian home and friends and forest. Maple trees, palm trees, no matter what
the leaf – as long as there is love in the soul, food in the belly, and friends
under the sun, life is a gift.

I’ve been up and down the mountain to Monteverde several times over the last ten months – this is my last stay here for awhile, as I fly back to Canada next week. Last minute tasks are at hand, getting book business in order, saying goodbye to friends, and making
the first plans for what should be several months in the north.

I wish I could say that we will be celebrating the release of Caminando con Wolf, our Spanish translation, before I go, but sadly I can’t say that. I hope, for Wolf’s sake, that it will be soon…for my sake, later is better as I don’t want to turn around and make a costly return visit here within a couple of months. Alas, the timing is out of my hands and I will just adapt to whatever happens. I know Wolf is very anxious for that book to be in his hands so he can share it with his Costa Rican neighbors and friends who couldn’t read the English version, Walking with Wolf.

Wolf is doing okay, his spirits mostly high and stable, his physical state showing slow steady signs of improvement. He does his physical therapy twice a day with Stefany, his nurse, or with Lucky when Stef isn’t there, and he does the exercises quite willingly. However, as you can see by the picture, he does get bored with the process and often drifts off when he should be putting all his
strength into each movement. The hand with the damaged nerves (from being tied to the bedrail in the hospital) is reacting well to the exercises and bit by
bit Wolf can use it and it doesn’t seem so swollen. It is a long hard road to
recovery.

3 of 7 cane toads found piled together

This coming Saturday, the International Day of the Environment, Wolf will be receiving recognition for his lifetime of work in protecting the cloud forest. There is a
symposium happening here in Monteverde, and the various groups involved,
invited by the Costa Rican chapter of the Mesoamerican Society for Biology and
Conservation, will be gathering for a daylong event focused on the science of biological
corridors running from the mangroves at sea level to the cloud forest close to
the sky. It is wonderful to see Wolf’s work still being acknowledged by
colleagues and those on the frontline of conservation in Latin America. I know
it means a lot to him.

The MonteverdeFriends School’s campaign to raise funds – Monteverde 60th: Friends
in the Canopy – was very successful. My last blog post was mostly written during my 17 plus hours on a platform in the canopy. Many people in the community took part by climbing up a variety of tall trees, sleeping on platforms in various locations, painting, photographing and writing while in the trees, even performing music. The school raised about 2/3 of what they had hoped to gain money-wise, but as importantly, they excited the whole community to go out into nature and breathe in its magic. Most then shared their experiences with the world through the internet. There was also an art auction, with stunning work contributed by many of the very talented artists of this community. Bravo to the fundraising committee who oversaw this great month-long event – I hope they repeat it.

The tree and pics I’ve posted here are of Wolf’s son, Benito, climbing up to his hammock that he tied at the top of this big tree on the farm. He spent a few nights
there, happily swaying in the breeze, enjoying his solitude and the nighttime
sky. Like Wolf, Beni never fails to amaze us with his physical endurance and
the unique ways he employs it.

Many came out one Saturday afternoon for a goodbye dance party for our friend AA Leath who is leaving Monteverde to live in the United States after twenty years here. AA was part of the San Francisco post-modern dance scene in the 1950s, a collaborator of Anna Halprin, well known as a creator of this dance genre. During AA’s years here in Monteverde, he has treated us to many impromptu dance performances and enthusiastically supported both the arts and the artists.

Now, in his mid-eighties, AA has had knee replacements and other health difficulties, but
the worst tragedy has been the number of times his cabin was broken into. A year or so ago he moved and then he was attacked and robbed on the street – a total of seven times the punks have stolen from AA. Yes, this is true – in Monteverde – that an old man was assaulted for what little money he had while walking on the main road. And he isn’t the only one. (with Mary Stuckey Newswanger and Lucky Guindon)

Fortunately people came out to give him lots of love before he left, as it is horrible that he would leave this community with the bad taste of abuse on his mind and a lingering fear in his heart. Not only did we all dance together, but AA and neighbor Mills Tandy treated us to an improvised dance routine, dedicated to a dance instructor they had both happened to work with years ago.

Martha Moss, Margaret Adelman, Sarah Dowell

I hope that AA will keep the lovely images of this day and the people who love him here foremost in his mind, replacing the negative ones that have been bothering him for the last couple of years. He is already truly missed in Monteverde.

Unfortunately, AA left just days before Monteverde had its first major dance event. Over the years, many professional dancers, besides AA, have visited and performed, but never has someone taken community members, young and old, and worked with them on original choreography in preparation for a grand night of performance. And the community must have been starving for it, because well over 200 people came out, so many that we couldn’t all fit into the room.

Marie Chantal Nadeau, a beautiful woman originally from Quebec, Canada but living here many years now, who is well known for the stunning jewelry she makes, has been working with a group of dancers for months. Her principle male lead dancer is Daniel Vargas, a multi-talented, much loved local, soon heading to the US and college. Marie and Daniel performed a stunning piece of modern ballet to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah which was sung by the amazing Riley Walker. Daniel and Riley both lost their mothers to cancer about a year ago and Marie’s father also succumbed to the scourge a few years back. They dedicated this lovely piece of art to the parents they are all missing and it was truly moving and beautifully manifested.

There were colorful performances of folkloric dance by Costa Ricans, there was an enthusiastic South African gumboot-slapping number, acro-yoga dancing, a mother and son from Montreal doing a structured improvisational dance… something for everyone. Most numbers were accompanied by live music played or sung by locals. The night ended with fire dancing outside, and Marie, who had danced in two of the numbers and choreographed many of the others, left us with the image of her joy twirling in flames, no doubt with post-performance relief and contentment. The community is still thanking Marie, Daniel and all those who participated, for this spectacular evening.

The huge turnout, including a bus of tourists that we had to turn away, demonstrated that this community has been waiting for a show like this and if you give it, they will come. It also showed the necessity of a new community arts center for Monteverde and area. As Monteverde continues to grow in population, it continues to attract more artists and performers, and we need a place not just for performances, but studio space dedicated to each of the artistic disciplines. Originally these kinds of activities took place in people’s homes, then got moved to restaurants and hotels, and then there were private venues such as Bromelias Amphitheatre or the Centro Cultural Galeron where this dance evening took place. But these places aren’t fully equipped for this big of an event to be held in any kind of weather. Monteverde has grown beyond its small rural roots, and is bursting at the seams with people who appreciate the arts.

I came up the mountain specifically to help Marie with the show as the on-site keeper of the
keys and guardian of the gardens and animals who live here on the property of the Galeron. I am real happy to spend time with Marlene, who works here, and Tyra, the gentle white husky who takes over my bed when I stay. It was an easy decision to come right now as I wanted to have time with Wolf before I leave for Canada, to be present at his award ceremony, and I also had an upholstery project waiting for me.

As you can see, the chair got pulled apart, much to the pleasure of the cats Miel and
Olly, but due to technical difficulties – as in having very poor toolage – I’ve put off its completion until I return in a few months. Monteverde will still be here, and so will the chair – hopefully so will the trees, the birds, the wonderful people, and the howling Wolf of the mountain.

October 2017
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