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It is a joyous occasion when your hard work and your good friends come together to create an event that is exactly what you want.  This was what happened on Saturday night at the Pearl Company here in Hamilton – the official Canadian launch of Walking with Wolf was a magical evening. Just like the first presentation that Wolf and I did for the book in Monteverde at Bromelias, it was a full house, very positive, fun, successful – yes, magical.

It took place at the beautiful Pearl Company, a three-story brick building that originally housed a coffin factory and later a costume jewelry business which left pearls inbedded in the cracks between the wide pine floorboards.  The bottom floor is a stunning art gallery space with a boutique that sells locally-produced art and books, including Walking with Wolf; the second floor is this large acoustically-live performance space; the third floor is the studio apartment of Gary Santucci and Barbara Milne, the owners.  They bought the building about three years ago and have restored it to the glorious gem that it is now, and have started spreading that renewal around the neighbourhood with an association they got started to bring some unity to this rather marginalized city barrio. 

Recently they joined forces with Ron Weihs and Judith Sandford, who are transplants from the Toronto theatre scene.  They are now the artistic directors of the performance space.  They helped with the physical set up of the room for our event.  They are introducing a whole new program to the Pearl, regularly scheduled theatrical, musical and spoken word evenings.  The Pearl continues to grow into a great cultural community situated in this grand old building which deserves this chance at a renewed life.  There was never any doubt in my mind that this would be the perfect place for a book launch and it truly was.

With the help of my friends – Cocky who was here visiting me and helped me get my act together; Freda and Mike Cole who did almost all the food (I threw in a bean dip and some marinated mushrooms, but otherwise Freda, as usual, fed the masses her delicious creations); Kathryn and Bob Johnston who took care of the sales table – the evening went off without a glitch. 

People estimate that there were maybe up to 130 people there – we charged $5 at the door to cover expenses, and it did!  The important thing is the building was filled with friends, old and new, all enthusiastic and supportive – there was a lot of love in the room that night.  How lucky am I? I ask that, but I know that this book project has been surrounded by love and support since it started, particularly in the last year of getting the book done and now getting it out to the reading public. 

My wonderful friends Al and Jean Bair (on the left in the photo), along with their daughter Sandy and her husband Bruce and their sons Ben and Jacob, came from Petawawa.  A long time ago I asked Al if he would do me the honor of introducing me when the day came to present the book. I met Al and Jean in Monteverde in 1995 when they had a house in the area and, like me, spent a lot of time there each year.  Our friendship grew here in Canada.  I love this couple and admire how they live and most of all the strength of their family-bond.  They have five very successful children, who with their spouses and the grandchildren, make a very tight unit with Al and Jean.  It is one of the most dynamic, smart and colourful families I have known (like the Guindons, but different).  Al and Jean are not like parents to me, mentors is a better word, friends is the best. When my parents died in the late 90s, Al and Jean provided great comfort and guidance, but most of all made me laugh and made me feel that everything would be okay. When I have the chance to spend time with them, whether in their home or traveling together somewhere, the conversation is always interesting and honest and hugely entertaining. 

Al gave an introduction that brought me to tears with his kind words about how we had met, about our travels together, and how I am almost more Costa Rican than many Costa Ricans he knows.  I sure picked the right person to introduce me – as many people said to me later in the evening, that man sure loves you.  The feeling is very mutual.

 

 

 

 

There was a small technical glitch with my laptop as the room was filling up and I was wanting to start the images on the screen.  Thankfully the computer geeks in the crowd stepped in and took over, including Bruce who has helped me every step of the way with the book, and Al’s grandsons. I stayed calm, kept greeting people, and believed everything would work out, and it did.  One must love their geek friends.

Ben and Jacob, the Bair grandsons, geeks of glory

 

The crowd who came out represented many periods of my life and communities that I’ve been part of. Doug Agnew, who was my teacher from Grade 5 to Grade 8, and his wife Janice came.  I reconnected about ten years ago with them and stay in touch, having dinner together once every couple of years.  Doug was my absolutely favorite teacher from all my schooling years. It was just a huge shock when we reconnected and got talking and found out that this man, whose word we took as law, who we looked up to as our guide when we were about ten years old, was only 21 himself when he started teaching us! Twenty-one! And we thought he was this wise old man!  I have always felt that his four years of teaching played a huge part, along with my parents, in my formation and so I have to give some credit to him for who I am and what I do now.  That may or may not please him (depending on what he thinks of who I am now), but it is meant with the greatest of respect and affection.

Christine Carleton and I took a couple of creative writing classes together at Mohawk College back in 2001 when I was prepping myself for writing the book.  We then joined with Joanne Levy and Kelly White and a couple of other aspiring writers to form a writing group, to read and critique each other’s writing.  Although eventually our group fell apart, I did receive some great feedback from them on the early chapters in the early stages.  Christine and Kelly came to the Pearl – we all just shake ourselves, me included, that one of us has actually published something! Christine particularly was a very supportive writing mate and has offered much encouragement over the years. It was great to see her.

Besides Cocky from Maine and the Bairs from Petawawa, there were friends from Toronto like Deb Holahan and Tory Byers and Lynda Lehman from Guelph brought my editor Jane Pavanel down. She came all the way from Montreal (via Guelph) for the occasion and wo-manned the entrance, extracting $5 out of everybody without exception – good work Jane! She also brought me six of the best butter tarts in the world! It was wonderful to see her, to have her there to celebrate this book, as she played a huge role in its creation.  The relationship between editor and writer is a difficult one, as they just want to mess with your words, throw them around, throw them out, but the end product has as much do to their diligence as the writer’s. So Jane deserves much credit for the flow and clarity of the writing in Walking with Wolf.  And I’m very happy to call her a friend and that she was able to come to Hamilton for the book launch.

Ken Kroesser, who did the cover and maps, and Bruce MacLean, who did the index, and prepared the photographs and the copy for the printer, also came from Toronto.  I am in awe of these men.  I can’t say enough about how much help they have given me in all aspects of designing, finishing and now marketing the book.  Ken lives in anonymity (he worries that my blog will bring him undue notoriety) but is a very successful designer and brand-man – and a very recently married man – and brought me a belated birthday gift of Walking with Wolf bookmarks – my new calling card.  How lucky have I been to get to know these two and benefit from their knowledge and professionalism.  I just adore them and was thrilled that they too came out. I was only sorry that the last person in the team who helped me turn my manuscript into a book, Laurie Hollis-Walker, couldn’t make it.  She should have been there to receive her share of my praise.

It was wonderful to see friends from the Bruce Trail – Bill and Barb Cannon, Barbara and Ian Reid, Ivor Mansell, and of course Shirley Klement. They were good friends of my parents who became good friends of mine.  Also the Poag and Johnston family – besides Bob and Kathryn, her mom, Doreen, and their daughters Marianne and Sarah (along with Joe, the about to be husband), came out in support.  They are as close to family as anyone can get without having a drop of genetic blood in our veins.

My Uncle Paul and Aunt Lois, along with my cousins Barbara (in the picture with me) (and John) and Stephen (and Laurie) showed up, coming from Mississauga and Fergus.  I haven’t seen any of these Chornooks in a long time and I was sorry that I didn’t have more time to actually chat, but I was very touched that they would all come and support me – they had already bought and read the book this summer, but I was able to sign their copies.

  

Wendy and Robert E. Ross showed up. Robert is a very established painter in Hamilton who I met many years ago and happened to run into recently.  I had invited him to the launch and was very happy that he and Wendy showed up.  Receiving support from people in the arts community here is important – and I try to go out and support people in the various arts myself.  There were also a number of people from the musical community, including JP (Paul) Riemens, a great singer-songwriter and music producer in Hamilton. He is a friend of Lori Yates, of the Evelyn Dicks, who performed that night at the Pearl, and I’ve met him a couple of times.

Judith Sandford, JP Riemens, Edgar Breau

 

On Thursday night Cocky and I went to see him play at a local bar. We got into a discussion about house parties that hire musicians to play – there is a whole circuit across Canada that musicians get linked into.  He was telling us about playing a house concert in northern Ontario near Sudbury, which was put on by Laurientian University professors to celebrate people who were receiving honorary degrees that day.  As he said this, Cocky and I both piped up “Jean Trickey” – our friend from Little Rock (refer to blog: 50 and Kstock 2008) – and sure enough when she was in Sudbury to receive her honorary degree, she had ended up at this party that Paul and his band the Barflies played at.  He had talked with her and told us how the whole tour could have ended right there for him, that was the highlight, speaking with this civil rights icon and fascinating woman.  When he found out that she had just been in Hamilton last week for my birthday he was disappointed that we hadn’t had this conversation a week earlier, as he could have seen her again. It’s a big big country, our Canada, but it’s a small small world.

My former primary nurse from my cancer days, Trish Haines, came as well – another person who is thanked in the book, along with my doctor Dr. Ralph Meyer, for the great care they provided during my cancer-fighting days. I’m proud to call her my friend still and was very happy to see her.  Another Patricia, the one I go to for the occasional facial or massage – actually now she comes to me with her Beautiful Needs mobile spa – showed up with a lovely flower arrangement that she had made, full of best wishes and kind thoughts.  This is her with Mike and Freda Cole, taking a break from the food table

Cocky, who has been staying with me (she has fallen in love with the Hammer and is looking for excuses to come here now), and I managed to get everything together, along with Mike and Freda, and got to the Pearl on time, but managed to leave my cheat sheets at home.  I don’t have a problem talking in front of a crowd, and I always wing it, never read it, but I am sensible enough to write down a few points on a paper, in case I lose my way.  But since I left the paper at home, I was on my own.  People were very kind with their praise afterward, so I guess it all went well enough. I only stumbled once, when I looked up and saw my friend Wendy reacting to a picture on the screen behind me, but other than that I pretty much said what I wanted to. 

I read from a couple of chapters in the book – the end of the first chapter that introduces Wolf and how this project began, and then a couple pages about snakes.  As I do book events and readings, I like to read something from both my own narration and Wolf’s dialogue but also like to add one of the stories that other people provided me with.  It gives a fair representation of the book, an idea as to how it is composed. I figured that in this urban crowd, many people would be icky about snakes and I was right. So I read Gary Diller’s great story about Wolf bringing a fer-de-lance out of the jungle and setting him up for a fall in front of his clients as well as a number of Wolf’s stories about snakes. Well, what better way to take the city folk on a literary trip to the jungle than by talking about snakes! I could hear people squirming in their seats, just the reaction I wanted. 

Well, as I said there were well over a hundred people there, I can’t mention them all, but suffice it to say that the room was filled with friendly faces, supportive souls and classy characters.  We sold 39 books and I signed others that people had bought elsewhere.  Did I feel like a queen? You betcha! It was a wonderful feeling to celebrate in Hamilton with all these people. 

 

And when my little talk was finished, that irreverent band of Hammer superstars, the Evelyn Dicks, stepped up and blew the roof off the building. Their songs are all written around the notorious Evelyn Dick, serial murderess of Hamilton’s past, femme fatale.  Lori Yates and Lynn Buckshot Beebe, dressed the part – femme fatales themselves – in classic red and black vintage dresses – the boys in the band, Chris Houston, Cleave Anderson and Jimmy Vapid, provide the rockin rhythm section to these two front women (and Chris steps up and growls out a few songs as well). But the attitude that exudes out of these ladies, and the humor they toss around like balls looking for a bat, amused the audience and kept those of us who are keen to be dancing on our feet.  Lori gave me this band as a gift for the night – my abundant appreciation goes out to her for topping off an already successful literary-type evening with the Dicks brand of musical mayhem.  The Dicks rocked the house, sent some folks right out the door, but thoroughly entertained those of us who stayed on.

My new friend Larry Strung, who has been documenting the faces of Hamilton, one day at a time, each day of 2008, and creating a photographic record on his website http://hamilton365.com also showed up and took some photos, including this great shot of the Dicks in all their glory.

When the party was over, a number of us moved on to a local pub, The Cat and Fiddle, to hear JP Riemens bandmates, Linda Duemo, Brian Griffith and friends, playing rockabilly kinda music that kept us all dancing.  They had to kick us out. The musicians were all tired, having played at the Locke Street Festival that was also on that day.  But it didn’t show in their music and no doubt the infusion of this gang of happy post-book-launch celebrants helped spike their energy back up. 

Cocky, my friends Shirley, Jeff and I came home by 3 a.m.  Cocky decided we were hungry and she would make us an omelet.  Now I have to say that we were all fine from a night of minimal drinking and maximum dancing, but my pal Jeff was slightly inebriated unlike the rest of us.  When he saw that Cocky was cooking, he decided that he would step up and take over.  He has fed me many great meals, I know that he is a good cook, but I was a little concerned that he should be driving that frying pan in his condition. Shirley and I sat back and watched the two of them negotiating in the kitchen, Cocky (very unlike herself) letting him take over, bringing him ingredients.  I wondered how long it would be before he was kicked to the curb and she took control of the frying pan.  The three of us women were rolling our eyeballs wondering what he was going to concoct, and I must say without belief that he was going to be able to prepare much of anything.

And then, as we sat in our silent cynism, that man picked up that great big frying pan and did the most perfect flip of a multi-egged omelet that I have ever seen! WOW we all blurted out! Anyone who could make that great big omelet do a perfect back flip in the air and back into the pan can drive my frying pan any day! We lost our disbelief immediately and a couple minutes later bit into the best omelet I’ve had in years.  So here I publicly apologize to Jeff for doubting him and thank him for his culinary prowess.  And Cocky for being so mellow in her old age and letting him take over.  We ate our omelet breakfast at 4 in the morning and then went to bed, beyond satisfied at the perfection of the whole night.

I’m very proud of Walking with Wolf, and the great response to it affirms my own belief in its value.  I can’t really express, even though I guess I’m a writer now and should be able to, how thankful I am that people are liking it.  I can’t imagine all the years of work Wolf and I put into it ending with a sub-standard result, when people wouldn’t be able to look me in the eye after they’ve read it, if they even had. But now I can look people in their eye and talk about my book and know that it is as good as I could make it.  Not only was I given the privilege and pleasure of getting to know Wolf and telling his story, but I managed to do it right, and I get teary every time I even think about that (I am teary now).  I am so thankful that this is how this project turned out, as I said, I can’t even begin to express my amazement and my gratitude.

  BROMELIAS

You have to love a country where you can go from cool cloud forest to hot tropical beach to the base of an active volcano in a matter of hours.  The San Carlos region of Costa Rica, north of the central valley where the capital city San José lies, has always been one of my favorite places to be.  A big part of that is the family I’ve known since I first came here in 1990:  Zulay Martinez and her sister Vilma, Vilma´s husband Horacio and their four children, Marilyn, Jason, Andrey and Keíla Horiana.  Andrey is in Walking with Wolf as he was one of the participants on the hike that makes up the last chapter, Across the Wrinkled Ridges. 

  Jason, Andrey, Zulay, Keíla, Horacio sharing the wealth

I came over to volunteer in the small pueblo of San José de La Tigra in my third month in Costa Rica, when I spoke basically no Spanish, and lived for a month with a poor campesino family, the Morales.  Zulay and her ex-husband Vicente, along with Vilma, Horacio, Marilyn and Jason, who was just a baby, lived down in the village, while the Morales lived in a small farmhouse straight up the mountain 800 metres.  I was getting very weak from the yet-undiagnosed cancer, and that hike up the mountain just about killed me.  So I started staying at Zulay’s, as Vicente was so often away and she liked the company. She became one of my first Spanish teachers.  In her patient manner, she pronounciated words as we discussed ideas, she taught me how to cook Tica-style, and we discovered that we were sisters of a soul-sort.  When she split with Vicente, who has since died from cancer, she went to work in Canada for the Bair family, friends who I’d met in Monteverde.  She met Keith Maves in Pembroke, Ontario and married him about eleven years ago. They returned to San Carlos, bought a beautiful piece of property which they have been planting with every type of tree, bush, flower and fruit that you can imagine.  Down here, you can push a dead stick into the ground and as often as not, it will be a bush within a year.  Even here many things take much more care and time than that, but the rate of growth in the tropics is shocking to a Canadian like myself, who has coddled along shrubs and perennials for years before they finally set well enough to really take off.

          2 kinds of heliconia

Their property has a small pond where I would swim up until the fish stock got too hardy and the pair of ducks moved in – it isn’t as welcoming anymore.  Now there’s a series of cement fish ponds where they are raising bass, an open air rancho where groups of visitors can be fed and entertained, a greenhouse to grow vegetables that don’t stand up to the harsh sun or strong rains without some protection, and a swimming pool is being cemented in as I type.  Next time I come I’ll be swimming again here at the beautiful Jardin Botanico Las Delicias.  San Carlos is much hotter than Monteverde but not as sunny as the beach, receiving a significant amount of year-round rain – and it is a territory with more plant and bird species than you can imagine.  Since the summer has ended and the steady rains have begun, the flowers and fruits are at their peak – there is no end to the vibrant colors that jump out of the green landscape and the twittering sounds that rise from the bushes. 

  The ducks have their pond   Soon we’ll have ours

As a backdrop to all this is that amazing volcano, Arenal.  Back in 1990, you could access the base of it and get close enough to feel the heat in the ground.  The congestion now of hotels, parks, hot springs and private lands has meant that it is hard to get too close without paying money to somebody, but just standing back from any vantage point and gazing on its conical shape against the bright blue sky, waiting for a puff of smoke to escape, is magical.  The first time I came to La Fortuna, the town at the base of the volcano, and stayed with cousins of Zulay, you could go to the now famous and frightfully expensive Tabacon Hot Springs and bathe all day for 100 colones (about a dollar at the time).  I believe it now costs about $45 for any period of the day you want to spend there.  I know that the gardens are beautiful and the resort is well-designed, but I prefer going upstream to where you can wander into the forest and sit in the warm sulphur waters for free, or if I’m with civilized folks, going to one of the half dozen other hotels that offer the same water at a much more reasonable price.

My first visit to Tabacon was on a rainy evening and at times it was a hard deluge falling on us as we floated about in the naturally-heated pool.  It had been nighttime dark for awhile, as well as completely overcast, and I had basically forgotten that a huge volcano was looming in the background, only kilometers from where we were soaking.  At one point, the rains let up for a few minutes, the dense cloud cover broke into pockets of fluff, and suddenly a loud rumble started from the belly of the earth until it boomed somewhere up above.  From my watery lounge-chair, I turned in time to see the orange, yellow and red fireworks escape the volcano in a pyro-technical explosion, the red lava then dropping down the sides of the cone until the perfect shape of the pyramid was defined.  I probably would have drowned awestruck if the water had been deeper. As quickly as it appeared, the clouds moved back in and wiped out any mention of the eruption. I will never forget the power, intensity and sheer drama of those few moments spent bathing in the shadow of the volcano.

  The beautiful Arenal volcano

Arenal is quite active but one must have luck to see it as much of the time the clouds sit low and you have no idea that a volcano is hovering nearby.  The dammed Arenal River, now Arenal Lake, is at its base and that is, in itself, a beauty to behold.  This area of Costa Rica is as unique as any other, perhaps more so, and has become a prime tourist destination, for where else can you go and get all these landscapes at once, along with the possibility of witnessing a volcanic eruption.  However, many people come here for one or two days or more, and never see anything beyond the dense grey clouds and the dark green forest at the bottom of the cone – I guess they go home and watch videos to get a better idea of what they missed.  Others who have luck, as I did on that first night, get the full floor show without even thinking about it.  Life is sometimes like that.

  Zulay and Vilma Martinez with Arenal volcano

Today Zulay, Vilma and I head up to the Arenal Observatory Lodge, on the southwest side of the cone, which is where Wolf’s Tapir Trail arrives after twisting its way from Monteverde along the forested ridgebacks heading northeast to Arenal.  I’m distributing books (this is a business trip after all) and waiting for the light cloud cover to clear so that I can hopefully see smokey puffs escaping, the sign of a small eruption – it’s a “be careful what you wish for” scenario, as one should never wish for a grand eruption. Zulay and Vilma remember being young teenagers when the big eruption on July 29, 1968 sent rocks, ash, cinders and gases throughout the area and killed over eighty people. They told me that about a week before there had been an earthquake at 8 in the morning and their mother thought it could have been caused by the volcano. Through the week there were several smaller eruptions, including one that killed some people close to the volcano, poisoned by the toxic gases. The morning of July 29 dawned very clear and perfectly beautiful, like the last moment of life before death, the calm before the storm. It then got very dark as when a horrible disturbance is coming. Around 2 in the afternoon, while the kids were in school, the volcano erupted in a grand manner, sending a huge cloud of rock and hot ash over the countryside, including where the Martinez family was, perhaps thirty kilometers away.  As the cloud of certain death blew over them, they all ran for shelter, as far and as fast as they could go.  If you went in the wrong direction, as a neighbor’s horse did, you could be hit by a flying hot rock. Zulay watched the horse go down, shot by nature’s artillery. The people who died were mostly close to the volcano, killed by the gases or directly hit by rocks or burned and smothered by hot ash. As Vilma told me, not knowing where to run and how to escape left her quaking with fear in her bed for weeks. It remains a very scary experience for her and even living this close, now about twenty kilometers away from the base, is close enough to Arenal’s regal beauty for her.  Recently the volcano has been very active, spewing rocks so much that last week they closed the National Park that sits at its base.  Better safe than sorry.  The most recent deaths that have occurred on this volcano have come from explorers venturing too close – a plane crashed a few years ago while taking sightseers on a fatal tour, and another man died on the side of the volcano, hit by hot lava rocks, a volcanic bowling fiasco.

  Gerardo and Jimmy Morales selling their produce

We stopped by the farmers’ market held in la Fortuna yesterday, and I ran into Gerardo and Jimmy Morales, the people I had originally stayed with up the mountain in San José de La Tigra eighteen years ago.  They sell their produce there.  It was a great reunion, poor Gerardo being thrown off by my sudden appearance.  Jimmy’s wife Carmen, who is usually there selling tamales, is at home with their three children who, along with a half dozen other neighbors, have dengue.  Not a good scenario.  Somehow the nasty mosquitos responsible have made their way inland to this little town in the mountains only 10 kilometers from here.  I guess we won’t be visiting anybody there too soon. Instead I will stay on the farm until I have to go to San José on Sunday.

  Horacio offering up breadfruit

July 2020
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