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Here I am lounging on a beautiful screened-in porch, listening to a chorus of insects, overlooking the queen-anne’s laced fields on the outskirts of Westport. That would be in Leeds County, north of Kingston, Ontario. This is one of my favorite homes away from home – in no small part due to the great community of people I know here, starting with my friends Chuck and Carolyn, with who I usually stay while in the area. They have built a large off-the-grid home and performance space a few kilometers from town but sleep year round out on their (now) screened in porch.
Chuck has been a long time proponent of, expert on, and purveyor of alternative technologies – this building puts it all into practice – wind-generation and solar collection maintain a perfectly modern building as well as providing the power for the nights that plugged-in musicians are performing in “the room”. Carolyn is one of those performers as well as a great artist – she also took the photo of me on the back of Walking with Wolf in the snow in a field at their place.
I came down for Music Westport – a daylong free outdoor event that Chuck and others in the community started last year. Highlighting music from the general Kingston/Perth/Ottawa Valley area, last year was a great success – beautiful day, great attendance, increased business for the little boutique town, and amazing performances in a variety of musical genres. This year’s crazy storms and downpours will hopefully make themselves scarce for the day – the weather report is good but I guess if it does rain, it will send the people into the restaurants and stores and that will be good for business, if bad for music lovers. As always, I’m sure it’ll all work out.
One of the main attractions in this town are the musical twins, the Cowan brothers. Their family owns The Cove, a bed & breakfast inn, which sits prettily by the lake and has that old Ontario charm. They have a nice restaurant with many special dinner occasions and a great staff who provide real good service. Jeff and Seamus, the twins, returned a few years ago from Montreal where they both studied music, and have brought their energy and musical talents home with them and amped up the entertainment in the Cove- now there are monthly blues concerts throughout the winter, featuring the best in Canadian blues performers (via the Blues on the Rideau music series) which fill the house. The rest of the year features regular nights of music.
One of these is the trio of the twins with the eccentric Spencer Evans from Kingston. He is a multi-instrumentalist, and manipulator of tunes – he creates song mixes that leave you speechless (I think last year he put Led Zeppelin and Feelings together), performed with a great amount of spunk and attitude. But the backbone to all the schtick (a very talented schtick it tis) are the twins – Jeff drumming, Seamus on stand-up bass – they keep the jazz licks rolling while Spencer rolls across the keyboard, off the lyrical map, or through the audience with his clarinet. I came in last night to catch the show and do some dancing – the place was packed and rocking. I couldn’t help but notice that the little Cove is growing – getting a name for itself with the quality of music being played and the friendly ambience.
Jeff and Seamus play in other bands as well – I saw them recently in Toronto as Spoon River – along with sitting in with the musicians who grace the stage at the Cove – and I’m always impressed by their talent. Even more so because they not only play music but mix drinks, serve tables and then play more music – they do it all, with big smiles and obvious intelligence and an easy manner with their clientelle. I would say that just these two alone will create a buzz in Westport that’ll bring folks from far away – and there is no shortage of other talented folks and interesting businesses in this community, as well as the classic beauty of lake-filled scenery.
I dropped some books off at Stillwater Books in town. When I walked by a little later, there was Walking with Wolf on display in the window – how cool was that! I tell you, I’m very new at this book peddling business, and I get a thrill each time I sell one, I see someone reading one, or I see it on a shelf somewhere. Now in a window! May I never take this rush for granted. So thanks, my new best friend Steve, for being a fine purveyor of my book….
…..I’m now back in Hamilton, the weekend a huge success and the return trip highlighted by picking my sister Maggie up at the airport in Toronto. She has come for my big 50th birthday bash on Saturday. I did some business in Toronto as well, trying to get a poster together for my book events coming up, working with the lovely Bruce MacLean on computer stuff.
Music Westport flowed beautifully. The day was clear, sunny, not too hot or cool, just perfect. The bands were varied and all entertaining. The highlight for the audience seemed to be The Abrams Brothers – the hottest bluegrass band in the area, I think they are from Peterborough – three young brothers, their father and a couple of others (not sure if they were family or not, maybe grandpa and cousin – I missed the introductions).
They travel in a bus, have been all over North America, including Nashville at the Grand Ol Opry, and Israel in the last year. A huge crowd came out on the lawn behind the Foley House to hear them. The brothers play stand up bass, fiddle, and guitar – as well as a second fiddle at times. And sweet harmonies they sing.
The day started with the very silly Bald like Dad, amusing the kids, getting the folks on their feet, demanding a little class participation. A lot of talent disguised as a free-for-all of fun. My pal Cocky showed those young kids how to shake it.
Carolyn’s eclectic trio, Romeria, were this year’s roving band. Carolyn, Isidora, and Rob put their accordian, drum, recorders and a variety of stringed instruments together to play gypsy music and old minstrel pieces – they are purveyors of the ancient and exotic. They played a set on a small stage at the Victorian B&B on Church Street and then spent a couple of hours roaming the streets, playing their unique brand of european pop tunes from the 16th century…give or take a hundred years.
The Cowan brothers joined in with their old bandmate and friend Eric Lawrance – together they were a band called Bullmoose, a rocking band with great licks based in Montreal. Eric did a solo performance and the twins played a couple with him.
Then there was Lance Anderson,a well-known player of the B3-Hammond organ. It took a team to wrestle that baby around. The show was worth the effort – that rippling down your back organ thing, makes ya shiver. Made me think of Garth Hudson and Richard Bell. The trio also played inside at night, with Teresa Holierhoek singing – apparently just off a tour with Dream Girls – a hot smokey bar room sound.
A big treat for me was seeing my pals MC Rapper and Stu the Pike reunite with David Bull in their Buddy Holly Live act. I have known these boys for years but they stopped playing this show about five years ago and I had never caught it. They have a whole historical commentary going on, each taking turns playing their parts, covering the history of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, their short year and a half life as a band before he was lost in an airplane crash. Buddy Holly Live does it all justice and insists that you dance. It ended out the perfect afternoon beside the lake, under the blue sky, soaking up the sun, groovin’.
The last of our energy went out that night to the sounds of the band Pica de Gallo from Kingston. Hot hot latin rhythms, a great singer, samba, rumba, salsa, all heavy-handed and piquante. It was down to the diehards at the end of the night – even my pal Chuck, who was still working sound at the end of the night, after a long day on the boards, was out there dancing. Gotta love that man, the attitude keeps him going.
Great work Chuck, Brin, Norman and all – alot of folks get a free afternoon in the sun with great music because of all that effort of yours.
Besides my book-in-the-window experience there were three other Walking with Wolf moments on the weekend. One was a short visit with Turid Forsyth, who lives near Westport but also has a home in Monteverde. I took her a book but couldn’t stay long. Turid’s stunning art and photographs have graced many books, most recently a book, Tropical Plants of Costa Rica: A guide to the native and exotic flora, with Willow Zuchowski.
The second was a small world moment. At the end of the day of music, we were on the lawn at the Cove, talking with friends, including a woman named Barb. Cocky and I left to change our clothes and later meet up with everyone for dinner at Marty and Sandy’s. After I left, Sandy was explaining to Barb who we were, saying that I had just come back from Monteverde, having written a book there. Barb’s jaw dropped – she said, “I was just in Monteverde and I know about this book. My friend has a copy of it and was telling me about it.”
Turns out that Barb and I had met about a month ago in Santa Elena, on the street, under umbrellas in the pouring rain, so we didn’t remember each other well. She was down with a student group from Toronto, with Jim Reed and his partner Tanya, part-time residents of Monteverde. JR was on the big hike to Arenal with me last year, the story that makes up the last chapter of Walking with Wolf. And Barb had met him just last winter in Whistler, B.C. and had ended up substituting for a teacher on the excursion. She came to Sandy’s for dinner and as soon as we started talking, we knew that we had actually met recently. She has lived in the Westport area yet we have never met here, even though I’ve been there often over many years and know many of the folks that she does. We had to wait to be in a rainstorm in Costa RIca for that event.
Walking with Wolf continues to make community connections even up here in the north country. It is a side effect of this project that I didn’t anticipate but am enjoying daily.
The third book-related event was the fact that it was Wolf’s 78th birthday on Sunday. So I called him and we a good chat, catching up on family stuff, hearing of the birthday celebrations, and a little book business. Happy Birthday my friend, and many many more…it is now time for me to get busy with my part of the preparations for my big 50th birthday party – Mike and Freda Cole are pulling out all the stops for a big celebration at their place – really, all I have to do is invite people, give directions and show up – the Westport gang are coming to provide music – there will be many purveyors of all fine things purveying that day – it is starting to be known as Kaystock! So if you are in the area on August 23, come on over, and bring your dancing shoes!
I am back in Hamilton, Ontario, my home. Even though I just spent ten weeks in the tropical rain forest during the rainy season, there has definitely been more rain here this summer than I experienced there. And I thought I was getting wet! The jungle that is my backyard is evidence of a great growing season. Luckily, in the week I’ve been home, the sun has been shining in a bright blue sky more often than not. It poured earlier today but the planets aligned, the solid bowl of clouds broke up into popcorn, and the few stars you can occasionally see above the city glow were out. On this beautiful night, I went and spent two hours at the base of my musical hero, Steve Earle.
I’ve been listening to Steve – songsmith, multi-instrumentalist, political commentator, troubadour, activist – for more than twenty years. He has written the soundtrack to my life. I feast on each new CD that I hear and somehow this southern boy from Texas, ex-heroin addict, ex-con but also anti-war, anti-death penalty, anti-insanity activist has spoken in his music of my own experiences, moods, frustrations and loves. When he was singing songs of restlessness, I was restless. When he’s been angry at his government, I’ve also been livid. Now he’s in love both with his new wife and with his new city, New York, where he moved to after years of living in Tennessee. And although I’m not in the big love, I am in love with the Hammer, this rusty little city I live in.
He has constantly expressed my politics in beautiful simple poetic lyrics and gone down a number of musical avenues from country to rock to tropical to folk to bluegrass and taken me with him on each ride. Tonight, after playing his guitars, mandolin, and banjo and dueting with his wife, he played with a DJ behind him providing electronic beats. He has so many songs, all great. And although there was a big representation in the Hammer-crowd of drunken wild folks demanding “Copperhead Road” (which you can see him cringe to with impatient disdain, for it would seem that, fifteen years later, it is the only song people know of despite a repertory of hundreds), the majority of the audience were singing along to his lyrics from several of his albums, demonstrating that they, like me, were in awe. To have the chance to sit twenty feet from him, down below the high stage of the Festival of Friends, on the concrete ground (which, of course also doubled as a seat right on the dancefloor), be encouraged by him to sing out, and to be able to watch his face as he sang, and watch his subtle and not so subtle reactions to the antics of the crowd, well, in an odd way, at moments it was like it was just him and me and we forgot the other ten thousand folk. In fact, I’m quite sure he smiled at me at one point. Sigh.
His wife, Allison Moorer, played the first set and although the best thing about her for me is that she is Steve’s wife, I do enjoy them singing together and she is a good singer of songs. I do know from reading her blog that they are both readers, and she writes about the books she reads. So after my soul was totally swelled by the sounds of Steve, I lingered outside his black bus for a good half hour or more with the other diehard Steve fans – all guys wanting to get their albums and CD covers signed.
Fortunately he finally came out and although I wasn’t the first in line, he turned to me (probably because I was the only woman) and I quickly handed him Walking with Wolf. I could tell he was tired and wasn’t going to have patience for long. I told him how thrilled I was to give him these words of mine after all the years that his words have excited me, pushed me, caressed me, comforted me, filled me (actually, I mumbled something much shorter). I truly believe that he and Allison will enjoy Wolf’s story. I was so moved to be able to give him the book. He looked me in the face and said “cool, thanks” in his southern drawl and with a tone of surprise, maybe cuz I wasn’t asking for anything, just giving him something. He reached out his arm and I touched it. I’ve still got chills.
These chills were much better than the chills I had all last weekend when I had a reoccurrence of the swollen gland in my neck with a touch of fever that I had about a month ago in Costa Rica. I finally went to the doctor and got the right drugs and started feeling better, after five days of laying around moaning. My beautiful neighbour, Genevieve, who left a lovely welcome home spread of wine, cheese and crackers in my fridge, also fed me fresh corn and grilled vegetables through my illness – what a wonderful person to have nearby.
Once I felt better, I went into Toronto and distributed the book to media outlets and Pages bookstore. I also put signed copies in the hands of my grand gurus, Bruce and Ken, who were so much a part of the final production of the book and continue to support, encourage and amuse me. I know I will re-employ their services in the Spanish translation (which Wolf’s son Carlos is now in the process of working on). Meeting these two talented blokes (along with Jane our editor and my old friend Laurie who did the layout) was one of the biggest gifts of the last year.
Now that I am slowly coming back to earth after my near-Steve encounter, I have to get out in that jungle and get it under control. The next month is so busy with preparing for the book launches in September and for all the visitors who are coming to help me celebrate my 50th birthday at the end of August, that I gotta get those weeds outa my path so I can see the forest through the trees. But I will be working to the sounds of Steve in my soul, renewed, rejuvenated, re-happy. Consider the following photo a “before” picture…”after” to follow.
Yesterday the pre-print proofs of Walking with Wolf arrived from the printer. Short of some unforeseen disaster (the printing company blows up or falls down? the world runs out of ink?) there is no turning back now. I received the package from the courier, ran to downtown Hamilton, hopped on a bus to Toronto, and met up with my two design guys – Ken and Bruce. We looked over the proofs and decided that all was okay – well, actually, Ken scanned the cover and Bruce carefully looked at the pages while I slurped oysters & wine, too giddy to concentrate. Actually I’m afraid of looking too closely and finding something wrong that would slow the process down. I know that it would be better to find an error now than to have it printed into perpetuity (or at least until the next printing), but at this point, I’m counting on all the proofreading that was done to have caught any mistake that would have been a serious faux pas. I’m prepared for something small showing up – I’ve been told that is inevitable. As it is, we gave the big thumbs up to the printer and now it is in their hands.
That was probably the last event before the book enters the birthing canal. I feel like I’ve been carrying this baby forever, so like all overdue mamas everywhere, I am beyond anxious to finish the process, lighten my load, and bring my child into existence. It’s still scary, but also exhilarating. I can feel the weight lifting off my soul, even as a new fluffy white cloud starts building on the horizon – marketing, distribution, publicity, sales – the next stage. But more than anything, I suspect it will be the waiting for reaction from readers that will make me toss and turn at night.
It is the reaction of Wolf as well as his wife Lucky and their children, whose lives are exposed in this book, that I most anticipate. Although Wolf worked with me on the text throughout the process, there are still a few surprises in there for him, stories from his family and friends added since I was last in Costa Rica in May 2007. Lucky read the manuscript about three years ago, but it has changed immensely since then, although not in any way that she can’t live with, I hope. As soon as I receive the book, I will be on a plane, taking this tome down to the Guindons in Monteverde – no doubt that will be the longest flight I’ll have ever been on.
In the meantime, I expect that these next two weeks, waiting to hear this baby squeal (or is that me?), will be the slowest passing of time I’ve ever experienced. I can hear the clock ticking real slow…