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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.

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Two weeks ago I arrived back in Hamilton, Ontario. After more than two months on the long road between my tropical home in Costa Rica and my northern nest in Canada, I was both relieved and overwhelmed. I had issues to deal with in my house, my backyard is, once again, a jungle, and I realize that the two months I plan on being here may not be sufficient time to accomplish the things I need to.

Sadly, my trusty little camera pretty much died on the journey, so except for the odd image from my files or pulled off the internet, there will be less pretty pictures until I break down and buy another camera. Anybody got a slightly used digital for sale?

Since getting here, my mind has been absorbed with various themes, but for the sake of writing, there are two big ones – the World Cup and the G8/G20 Summit. Both are internationally-based, one drawing the world’s attention to South Africa, the other bringing the world’s political leaders to Toronto, just down the road from where I live; one incited fever and fun, the other incited rage and frustration; one will result in a clear winner (even with the probability of controversial referee calls), the other has already left a smashed-up city in rage with many questions where it feels like everybody has lost.

I’ve been watching the soccer games each day, surprised at my own accumulated knowledge after twenty years of exposure to the beautiful game in Costa Rica. If you have the slightest capacity for watching sports, it is impossible to ignore this game when you live in a country where it is the only game. Here in North America, I think people suffer from sports fatigue – people follow baseball, football (American and Canadian), basketball, hockey, Nascar, golf, tennis – one season overlaps the next and there is never a break.

 In Costa Rica there is only one season – futbol – and though it ebbs and flows throughout the year, in the end people are pretty much only watching this one sport. Men spend their Sundays on and around the “plaza”, which isn’t a mall but a soccer field, and by the end of the day their wives, children and parents are all there watching the game and visiting with each other.

In other countries there may also be rugby or cricket, huge sports outside of North America, but definitely futbol is the universal game that only requires a ball and a somewhat flat area to play in. It provides hope to  youth living without privilege everywhere that if they are good enough, they can make their local team, then a national team, then be picked up to play in the big leagues overseas and one day possibly play in the World Cup. This year, there were more countries in contention to go to South Africa and represent their homeland’s team than there are countries in the United Nations. World Cup indeed!

We are now down to the elimination round and the South American teams are going forward. The big European leagues draw the most attention throughout the year – as their star players get paid massive sums of money (think David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo) and take on the lives of celebrities (think the same boys again) – and the international media, the original celebrity gawkers, is paying attention to them. So the expectations have been that these are the best teams and Spain was crowned the favorite. Many of the great players that fill the European leagues are from South America and now they are back home and playing the poetic kind of futbol that they were raised on and it is carrying the Latinos to the top in South Africa.

Brasil is the perennial favorite but Argentina is putting on a huge show this year. Their star-player-gone-bad, Diego Maradona, is now their coach. He was the world’s best and then fell into scandal from too much fame and money, got fat then went on a diet, and has now come back as the coach of his country’s team. Although he is generally not considered a great coach, his team is winning. I love watching his passion sizzling at the side of the pitch – he looks like, with the blow of a ref’s whistle, he’d strip off his Italian designer suit, throw on a team shirt, run onto the field and take off down the field with the ball if he could get away with it.

So my prediction is this – I think that Holland will play Argentina (Brasil will unfortunately fall out of the competition a game before) and Argentina will win. Maradona will be re-crowned King of Argentina and his picture will show up next to their other chosen one, Che Guevera, on T-shirts and coffee mugs all over the world. I would prefer a Brasilian/Argentina game (so hope I’m wrong on my prediction) but would have a hard time watching either team lose.

Speaking of Che, I expect he’d have been a keen participant in the chaos known as the G8/G20 Summit that took place this last weekend in Toronto. These gatherings of political leaders have proven to attract all kinds of activists objecting to corporate political and economic control and the subsequent diminishing of human/environmental rights. I expect if he was alive today, Che would be fighting for the poor and the disenfranchised and to remove power from the ivory corporate towers.  And no doubt, Che would’ve been arrested, probably punched and roughed up for being an insolent if innocent protester, and held under a secretly-instituted temporary (and apparently misleading) law that gave the police undemocratic and frightening short term powers.

 Although blame is flying and everyone is under suspicion for who caused what and what was intentional as opposed to random, spot-provoked violence, one should look to the leaders who set up this expensive ($$ billion-plus) circus, erected a huge fence ($5.5 million) to make sure the division of power over people had a focus, built an $$ million-plus artificial lake to keep the international media in Toronto (instead of letting them know our beautiful natural lakes and countryside) close to what became out-of-control street destruction and great photo-ops, with an outrageous security bill (the bulk of the $$ billion-plus budget) that then seemed to be justified by what happened in the streets. If you build it, they will come.  

 What transpired in Toronto was a massive mess of provocation and power abuse. It also managed to move the focus away from the intelligent, important messages of the many thousands of peaceful protestors who had been assembling for days in Toronto. Throughout the week, while they held events concerning human and environmental rights, the fence was being erected. As the G8 leaders came into town and with a minimum of fanfare headed north to Deerhurst Resort in Muskoka for their meeting, more people poured into the downtown core of Toronto. By Saturday, when the G20 were gathering inside the downtown Toronto Convention Center, there had already been days of organized and peaceful gatherings according to the right that we have here in Canada to organize, gather and protest.

Then things started going wrong and this is where the onion gets really smelly and the layers pull back to suggest something much more deeply sinister. By all accounts, on Saturday there were up to 25,000 protestors who marched between the fence and the government buildings, continuously chanting their messages in a typically-Canadian orderly calm. At some point in the afternoon, several hundred protestors of a different kind – call them Black Bloq, call them anarchists, call them revolutionists, call them angry suburban youths given big sticks & free reign – started using tactics of a very different kind that resulted in burned out police cars and smashed storefronts. According to eye-witnesses and youtube images, the police did little to stop this wanton violence – in fact, it would appear that they brutally instigated much of the violence. While letting the destruction rage on on some streets, they formed lines in other areas that corralled groups of peaceful demonstrators and herded them, often with abusive language and physical violence, towards holding cells. They also raked in joggers, tourists, journalists, and protestors who remained peaceful and non-aggressive.

I have no doubt that among the anarchists who (whether I agree with their message and methods or not) have a very strong anti-corporate ideology, there were just youths raised on computer game violence and a desire for thrills, given the chance to trash the downtown – photos of  marauders with expensive clothes have emerged. And I don’t think there is any question that there were also agitators – supplied by the police, the government or corporate interests – who helped get the destruction rolling. Photos of these undercover provocateurs have also come out. As these crimes are exposed, the Toronto Police and the RCMP will have much to answer to. I also don’t believe that all the police were acting inappropriately or with bad intention, though put into this kind of insanity, calm heads seldom prevail and adrenalin, power issues and a big stick can cause a lot of damage. Just as people have pointed out how many innocent bystanders were picked up in the huge sweeps that resulted in over 900 arrests, I expect that there were also non-aligned people who were happy to take part in a violent free-for-all. Growing up in a wealthy suburban city, Iwitnessed this early in my life – destruction for the fun of it – and I really don’t see why this circus atmosphere would be any different. Tigers living in cages will go nuts when the cage door is opened.

Amongst all this mayhem – eaten up and regurgitated by mainstream media which thrives on conflict and violent images – there were well-respected journalists who were close to the action and either twittered or blogged their observations. One of these is Steve Paikin, a journalist of 30 years and host of a very sane and intelligent public television show called The Agenda. Here is the link to an interview that he gave following what he saw as police provocation and brutality. I appreciate that someone I consider a relatively conservative journalist is speaking out. Perhaps his comments will be listened to by some of the middle class masses who look at it all in pure disgust but don’t know where to lay the blame.

     http://www.therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=5328

If you want to see a huge selection of images from this fiasco, just go to youtube and look under G8/G20 Toronto. I couldn’t begin to tell all the stories that have been coming out, including wrongful midnight arrests of innocent citizens in their homes and gender-based trauma on the streets and in the holding cells.

The media discussions continue looking at the actions of the police – as they should – while more stories of abuses on the streets, during and following arrests, appear. I am a firm believer in peaceful protest and non-violent civil disobedience and although I can understand the anger of the more aggressive protestors, I don’t have any interest in joining in that kind of negativity. I don’t believe in war under any circumstance, and would rather see all this energy put towards finding peaceful resolutions. It is how I have approached more than thirty years of some kind of activism.

An inquiry has been called for – perhaps it will figure out who was behind the curtain. My outrage lies with our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who, against security experts’ advice, chose to set up this warzone in downtown Toronto. In the face of the experiences of past summits held in large cities inevitably leading to violence, arrests, and destruction (Quebec City, Seattle, London UK, etc.), he still decided to spend a phenomenal sum of money to create this circus, most of that money going to security. My outrage also lies with Dalton McGuinty, Ontario’s Premier, who passed regulations under the cover of darkness that allowed police to use measures and harass, detain, and arrest people in ways that aren’t consistent with Canada’s constitution, democracy or freedom to gather.

If ever it felt like the Conservative government of Canada, very much advocates of corporate and multi-national economic power as opposed to a more national socialist view, was moving its agenda forward to empower police and to marginalize the voices of sanity and the rights of the poor, the environment, natives, workers, women,  gays & lesbians, the time is now. The fiasco of Toronto has pushed people into corners. The extremists have new fodder to keep their agendas moving – they certainly aren’t going away. The middle-class may not like what the police did, but no doubt will blame “activists” who they think should just stay home and they will ultimately hold responsible for bringing this mayhem to their beautiful city (you just have to read Facebook posts and letters to the editor to know that many don’t agree with social activism taking to the streets). The hard-working, committed social activists who saw their messages lost in the barrage of burning police cars and broken store windows (and many traumatized by violent arrests) must be highly frustrated, angered and disillusioned by their sincere intentions for change getting so lost in the mess. And depending on what an inquiry says about how the police conducted themselves, the police forces involved will certainly be starting at square one in rebuilding their relationship with the citizenry of Toronto. Meanwhile, Stephen Harper goes off on a gentile tour with the Queen of England who is visiting Canada and leaves the fallout to the local and provincial politicians.

Once again, I believe strongly in the right to organize, gather and protest. I also believe strongly in peaceful protests, because it is a peaceful world I want to live in, and so, to me, every action must be intentionally non-violent (even when one’s anger and disgust prompts something different). If it weren’t for activists being willing to step up to the line, indeed crossing it, we would never advance human, civil and environmental rights throughout history and throughout the world. One has to be disgusted by what happened in Toronto. The problem is how the blame will be transferred and what will come out of this. I fear that Harper’s corporate/police state agenda will rise to the top as all the pawns on his chessboard spin around in anger, disbelief, self-righteousness and confusion. Harper should never have brought this circus to town and then released all the animals into the streets. I doubt that he will ever apologize for a poor decision or even enter into the discussion. I think he got exactly what he paid for and wanted.

After arriving on the bus last night in Monteverde, I let myself into the spacious apartment where I’ll be based for the next two months. I’ve never been in here so I had to search for light switches. Before I found any, the remnants of the full moon broke out from behind a large nocturnal cloud and illuminated the scene for me. The main room has three walls of windows gazing out on the tops of trees, close enough to touch. In short order I settled down on the couch to finish the book I’ve been reading and fell into a cool slumber.

The first thing my eyes gazed on this morning was the busy life in those tree tops around me. No less than a dozen varieties of birds were almost lined up on a branch, peering in on me – multi-hued euphonias, lime-green chlorophonias, shiny blue dacnis, motmots, tanagers – an incredible smorgasbord of winged delicacies, all so close I could count their feathers. The main attraction for them, and in turn for me, is the Ficus pertusa tree, full of ripening small red fruits. Welcome home to Monteverde!

I was just as excited when I walked out of the airport last week in San José and saw not only my lovely Rasta-bird Roberto waiting in the crowd with open arms, but also my friends Zulay and Hilda Martinez. Zulay’s husband Keith happened to be on the same plane as me, returning after several months in Canada to his San Carlos home. It was a surprise to see him walk down the aisle on the plane in Toronto and take his assigned seat right next to me! We had a chance to visit and then I had a little time upon arrival to talk with Zulay and her sister. Tucky, the sister of another friend in northern Ontario, was also on the same plane. I always say that Canadians in Costa Rica have only three degrees of separation, unlike the American six! This plane ride seemed to illustrate my point.

Roberto and I spent the week on his land outside Cahuita on the Caribbean. The three months’ separation passed like it had never been. It was both sunny and wet, hot and at times a little cool. A year ago, there was so much rain on the Caribbean that Roberto lost his home to a tidal river wave that washed it all to sea, but this year the rains both there and up here on the mountain have been minimal…which is not good for a rainforest but nice for sun worshippers.

There was enough rain while I was there one day to watch the Rio Suarez, what I call the moat, rise up by a couple feet. Each time this happens, the banks erode a little, the sandbars shift, and the river takes a slightly altered course. This season, a wonderfully deep and wide swimming hole has been created and I took advantage to bathe and soak up the sun on the new sandy beach that now exists. That will all have changed by the time I return there in a couple months. Being at Roberto’s is always full of surprises.

The huge higueron that hovers over the rancho and supports the hammock was absolutely full of fruit. Its little green figs were more abundant this year than Roberto has ever seen. They started dropping just before I got there but the whole week we were being bombed by these little green missiles. They’d drop like a metal shot on the zinc roof in the middle of the night awakening us and each morning we’d have to rake the pathways or you’d feel like you were walking on ball-bearings. Literally thousands fell – neither of us were directly targeted but we seriously questioned if you couldn’t be struck down in the event of a direct hit. The monkeys and oropendulas were having a hay (Hey!) day up there. When the wind rustled the treetops the bombing increased. By the time all those figs come down, I’m sure the count will be approaching a million or quadrillion, whichever comes first.

We were visited by the usual vast array of bugs and amphibians. My little friends the green and black dart frogs were hopping about each day, as well as the geckos, lizards and salamanders. Due to the season, there were more pesky insects like mosquitoes, bush lice, sand fleas and who-knows-what-else than usual. Life in the jungle can’t always be fun. 

Throughout the week I was reading the book, Warriors of the Rainbow – A Chronicle of the Greenpeace Movement by Robert Hunter. I met Bob in 1989 on the blockade in Temagami where he came as both a supporter of the cause as well as an environmental reporter based in Toronto at the time. Bob was one of the founders of Greenpeace back in the 1970s on the west coast of Canada, a true warrior for the planet who put himself in danger multiple times to fight the mass insanity while maybe going a little insane himself. He also used his journalistic skills to make media waves around the world and bring attention to the crimes of nuclear proliferation, bomb testing, and the slaughter of whales and seals. I tell a story in Walking with Wolf about the discussion he brought to our fire circle on the blockade. What are you willing to do in defense of the defenseless in this world? What kind of activist are you going to be?

Reading this book while floating in the hammock in the peaceful jungle meant that I could stay calmer than I would have been if I was reading this book amidst news reports back in Canada – including the preparation of people heading to Copenhagen for the climate talks this month. Yes, we continue to make bits of progress, but at this point, with all the information known about the dangers inherent in the nuclear industry, about the futility of war, the disappearance of species and natural habitats, the earth’s very struggle to survive as the beautiful organism that it is – it is hard to fathom what the hell is taking us so long to get our collective act together and change the course we are on before we fall off the cliff. Actually, not so hard to fathom – it mostly comes back to the greed of the wealthy few, desperation of the poor masses and the apathy of the rest.

Roberto and I had a conversation about Greenpeace last year. He said that he thought that they were racist (though he’s not inclined to condemnation usually) or else why have they never taken up some of the issues directly affecting the equatorial countries in Africa and Latin America…specifically we were talking at the time about the big fruit corporations that run the banana and pineapple plantations (Dole, Del Monte, Chiquita) and have been leveling the forests, polluting the waters and poisoning the earth and its poor inhabitants for a bunch of fresh bananas for decades. I still have no answer for that, except that I always imagined that Greenpeace took on what it could and with a world so full of major insanity, it couldn’t take on everything. It was started by people in the northern hemisphere and seemed to radiate over the oceans going where nuclear tests were being conducted and whales were trying to survive. I don’t know what Greenpeace is today and which major struggles it continues with, I only know there has never been a shortage of issues to choose from.

Warriors of the Rainbow is an emotional account of activism of a serious kind in the 70s. I was starting on my own road of shit-disturbing at the time. Unfortunately so much hasn’t changed. Each decade, the activists, the environmentalists, the poets and the radicals claim that there is a new wave of commitment and real change coming. And yet the real changes have been small, the biggest waves remain that of consumerism and disrespect and greed – reinforced by the media, profited and advertised by corporations, allowed and bought into by the rest of us. I will never believe that social struggle is useless – lots of wrongs do get righted – whether it comes in the form of eco-warriors throwing themselves between the harpoon and the whale, angry youths taking to the streets,  mass meditation striving for a new global emotional and spiritual health, or a simple man such as Wolf Guindon wandering for years through a forest that actually managed to get protected. There is room in this world for all kinds of activism – it is more important to do something, anything, than to do nothing. Even old Greenpeacers criticize the very organization that they founded with so much heart and anger, claiming it gives people something to appease their consciences if they make a donation. But one has to sincerely wonder just how close to that cliff we have to get before we truly start rising to the challenge and living in a way that will bring health and sanity and security to all the species including our own. I wish all those committed individuals and collective forces much luck over there in Copenhagen.

 Just a quick update on Mr. Wolf – I spent yesterday with him. He seems to be coming around to the fact that he has to really watch his water intake and his diet and his energy output if he wants to not be having the “episodes” that have been plaguing him. His spirit is strong as usual. It is wonderful to be here with him as we prepare for the publication of the Spanish edition of Caminando con Wolf and he prepares to have his second knee operated on in a few months. The translation has been done and is now in the hands of the Tropical Science Center…Wolf and I see it as our task to keep them focused and keep the push on.

In the meantime, I’m off to a meeting with the board of Bosqueterno to discuss the history I have been working on for them. I’m enjoying this apartment with the singing colorful birds outside its windows – it will be even nicer when Roberto comes up to join me next week – there is a big open kitchen for him to work his culinary magic in. As I have said so many times in this blog, it is while surrounded by the simple beauty of our natural world and the love of friends, family and like-minded people (and good food and music) that I feel truly blessed and richly alive – even if at other moments I fear we are living in one big earthly insane asylum, quickly watching the planet fade to the washed-out green of our attendants’ uniforms.

 What a week! It seems that everything possible has been said about the election of Barack Obama.  I follow the celebrations of my friends in phone conversations, by the internet and on Facebook – particularly the Minniejean Brown Trickey family from Little Rock, Arkansas. After a lifetime devoted to civil rights, her work now being carried on by the next generation, Jean must still be whooping and hollering in Little Rock (when not crying for the sheer joy of it all – she’s actually crying below over finally receiving her high school diploma fifty years late in 2007.)jean-weeping

 Jean was one of the nine teenagers who stood up to the taunts, jeers and physical abuse of the indignant and racist white crowd in 1957 and desegregated Central High School, a massive tomb of an institution in that otherwise smallish southern city of Little Rock Arkansas.  Perhaps my heart explodes in festive fireworks for her more than anyone, she being the personal face I can picture amidst all the happy masses.  I saw Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey, tears in their eyes, in the crowd at Obama’s Chicago celebration – but I was thinking about Jean and her daughter Spirit and the rest of their clan in Little Rock and beyond and how they must  be feeling. 

z-ceremony-jean-clintons I was at the 50th celebration of the Little Rock Nine in Arkansas last year and it was an incredible occasion – Obama’s former opponents, the Clintons, front and center – and how much more potent it would have been if they had known then that the next president was going to be an African-American.  Jean was one of those who started paving this long road to change that Obama is now promising to continue to remove the barriers from.

Everyone I know personally is revelling in the results of the election, yet I know that there are many who are devastated by the election of Obama.  If that is due to their extreme right-wing views, as life-long Republicans, well, fine…that is no different than any other win/lose situation in politics (and I’ve felt that kind of disappointment more times than not.)  However, if their devastation is due to racism, that they have a problem with a black man, an African-American, being their leader, then I have no time for that mentality.  Get over it.  Open your minds. Open your hearts. Erase the hatred and widen your belief system. 

Our world is small, beautifully diverse, and needs to be integrated in a peaceful and intelligent way.  And equalized.  Across races, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, abilities and class. We have no choice.  How we can have such wide diversity in thought and desire as such a very real part of our human condition but not respect our differences is perhaps one of the biggest questions I grapple with. Yet sometimes we can’t even come to peaceful decisions with our family or neighbours, those who we know and love.  Although I am not a Quaker, there is much of their wisdom that I adhere to naturally – pacifism, consensus, respect, community. Being alive and living communally is a constant challenge. If we proceed with open hearts and minds, and make positive steps forward, with love, in harmony, in health, in peace, we will get a little closer to justice and sanity bit by bit. 

                                                           

It is so refreshing to me to have a leader, anywhere in the world, that I can listen to for more than a minute without wanting to scream.  Barack Obama is a magnetic man, a great orator, and wise person – who somehow managed to never lose his cool through the months of stressful politicking. As I continue to follow the analysis of the pundits, I listen to how his sturdiness and strength of mind is already part of his power.  And the beauty of the man and his family is only icing on the visual cake that we will now be feasting on for the next four (hopefully eight) years.

On Wednesday, the morning after, I was the visiting activist at my friend Laurie Hollis-Walker’s Eco-Psychology class at Brock University in St. Catherines.  Laurie and I became friends on the Temagami blockade in 1989, lost touch until she contacted me several years later to be part of her undergrad thesis she was preparing.  She interviewed me, along with ten other participants from the blockade, investigating what had compelled us to be part of this civil disobedience – where we had come from, what had molded us, why we had taken part in the blockade, and what this experience had meant in our lives. It had uniformly been a very profound experience for each of us – as Laurie said, after overseeing all the interviews, we have much in common, mainly the deep belief that we had to take action when we saw injustice.  It was a life-intensifying experience for most of us and also introduced me to some of the most committed, colorful, and interesting people I have ever met, many of whom I am still connected with. I believe we are going to have a twenty-year anniversary camp up in the bush of Temagami next September and look forward to reconnecting with those who I have lost contact with.

                                                               

It was following that profound experience deep in the Temagami wilderness that I went to Costa Rica and, very quickly, met Wolf and started recording his stories.  Although I had been involved in environmental and peace causes for years, it was the blockade that really empowered me and, I have to believe, led me to Wolf and the eventual completion of our book.

laurie1

A year ago, Laurie and I reconnected in cyberspace and she took on the huge task of doing the layout of Walking with Wolf.  We have now stayed in much closer contact which has included me being part of her Eco-Psych class.  This is her third semester teaching this class that she developed – and my second time sitting in as specimen activist.  This time I also did a presentation on the book.  I am so proud of Laurie, her hard work and perseverance in following a path that helps others understand what is behind social activism.  We are not deviants.  We are believers.  We are not criminals.  We take risks according to what we believe is important and absolutely necessary for the future and well-being of our society and planet. Our power comes from our collective spirit and our firm desire for positive change with a vision, not from material wealth or social status. Laurie is now working on her PhD and studying the activists who have been protecting the redwoods in California for years, a much more aggressive and dangerous activism than what we experienced in Temagami so many years ago.

I also spoke with Wolf and Lucky today.  They are at the end of their American sojourn – from Connecticut through Ohio (see Not Only Olney post), Iowa and now they are in California with their son Tomas, his wife Gretchen and their grandson Julian. They head back to Costa Rica on Monday, happy to have been present in the US at the time of this historical election. They were out yesterday in the Muir Forest, those redwoods that Laurie has been visiting. Wolf presented Walking with Wolf  to Lucky’s family and their friends in Earlham, Iowa and didn’t have enough books for the demand! Hopefully those who want the book will contact me or Kathryn as is explained in the Buy this Book page of this blog and we will send them.  I will be heading to Costa RIca at the end of December (after a couple weeks with friends in Guatemala) and we will work away at getting the book out in Costa Rica. We had a new plan, a renewed sense of hope and lotsa vigor! I know, it’s a tough job but someone has to do it – and that someone would be me – and the Wolf. He’s been selling so well that I have to ship more boxes down. Watch out Ticolandia! Wolf is coming home.

muir-woods

There is no comparison between anything I have ever done to what people like Barack Obama, Jean Trickey, Laurie Hollis-Walker or Wolf Guindon have accomplished against all odds, but I inherently understand and respect how sincere and correct their commitment has been for a better world and a more just society. I am honored and blessed to have known these people (well, not Barack of course, but maybe one day…) who have made big differences in the world and influenced so many others by the constance of their actions and the strength of their beliefs and the rightness of their vision. Perhaps, in the wake of this incredible election, the rugged path followed by some will widen into a wide boulevard filled with strong loving souls, leading us toward a more just and inclusive world.

                                                                    Red-necked Wallaby

And just an update on Wendell the Wallaby, the marsupial who walked up a fallen tree trunk and out of his enclosure in a small animal park near Ottawa, Ontario.  Before the snow falls, this poor creature better get home to his woolies cause it’s a dangerous world for a wallaby out there.  It has actually been a very mild week here in central Canada and I’m sure that is helping his survival.  He has hopped his way across the fields far from Ottawa – almost to where my pals live in Westport – uh? remember the coyote gang? – but the most recent sightings have been back near Ottawa.  He has wandered across hundreds of miles, kilometers, whatever you want to measure in. A long long way.  For some reason, in this week of global elation and history-making politics, I remain highly concerned with the well-being of Wendell. Perhaps I see some symbolism in this innocent creature out there in the world, lost, no doubt scared, but obviously determined to get somewhere. Maybe he is representative of all those folks who have found themselves wandering in a strange world, trying to survive on their natural instincts and with their own strengths, only to be more lost and less powerful with each mile they travel but always with the possibility that they will make it home. Or maybe I’m just a wannabe-wallaby who has spent the last week worried over the fate of our world and who would be the next American president, and Wendell has provided a distraction from the bigger issues as well as titulated my gypsy blood. Now that the president is taken care of, and the Lucky Wolf is almost back in Monteverde, come on, Wendell, get on home.

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