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It seems I’ve only had minutes here in the Hammer before it’s time to head out again. I truly lucked out in having a week of glorious summer weather since arriving from Costa Rica. The blue skies and sunshine just won’t quit. I’ve unpacked and am now repacking to go to the northeastern US for a couple days – heading to a Quaker retreat in Vermont on a lake, so I sure hope this weather will follow me there and make the lake swimmable. Will then visit again with Cocky and Peter on the coast of Maine and stop in to see Carlos Guindon, who is moving forward with the final details of the Spanish translation of Walking with Wolf.
Between preparing to head out, juggling my book event schedule (have just added a talk on November 19 for the Kingston Field Naturalists), and meeting up with friends who I haven’t seen for a few months, this week has flown by as quickly as the planes that keep appearing above my house as part of the Hamilton Air Show. As is usual when I’m here in the Hammer, I’ve managed to catch a lot of live music this past week.
There is a new music venue that opened up while I was in Costa Rica, just a two minute bike ride from my house. I can see myself becoming a regular here when in the city. What used to be the old Copperhead Bar on James Street North (or the Copper John or Copper Corner or something like that – a place I’ve passed for years but never really taken notice of) has been given a new life as “This Ain’t Hollywood” – more affectionately known as The Saint. Hammerheads Lou Molinaro, Glen the Hamilton Kid and Gary Daly have taken over this ancient beer hall (slinging beer since 1893), done a few smart renovations and added a big sound system. The new stage is filling with rock, punk and alternative acts passing through the area as well as regular open mic nights where local musicians and their friends and fans gather.
Local singer-songwriter-music producer, JP Reimens, has organized a songwriters’ soiree at The Westtown over on Locke Street for a few years, but last week moved his Tuesday night gathering to The Saint. I’ve managed to catch the shows. It is a real nice room to see musicians play with good sightlines and there is a full clear sound. There is so much great talent around and you never know who will show up to perform or just drop by to see what’s going on: from the sultry sirens Ginger St. James, Lori Yates and Buckshot Bebee to guitar wizards Brian Griffith and Dan Walsh to the city’s songwriters with attitude Tim Gibbons, Linda Duemo and Dave Rave.
Last weekend was “the biggest Ribfest in the country” on the Burlington waterfront. With my friends Jeff (no last names please – the CIA is watching) and Heather, we went over to hang out on the beach in the late afternoon and have a barbeque, waiting for the sun to go down before heading up to the biggest pig-out in the land.
It’s a very different beach than the Caribbean shore in Cahuita I just spent the last two weeks on – chilly Lake Ontario sipping at its sand, just as often lashing it with serious waves. But the lake was calm and the full moon was rising and the city startled to sparkle as a gorgeous night came on.
We rode our bikes up the waterfront path to the big rib-affair to see Tom Wilson, another of my favorite musical beasts of Hamilton, along with some great musicians, including Jesse O’Brien, keyboardist extraordinaire.
Tom’s son Thompson and friends have a band – Harlan Pepper – as well as a big self-promoting father who gets gigs and press, so these four young guys are getting some exposure (opening for Tom’s show as they did on this night.) Some talent, some good songs, but still young and could do with some attitude. But the papa-musician, Tom, rocks as always and is guaranteed to be playing with hot talent no matter who he is at the moment – Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Junkhouse, Lee Harvey Osmond, or he himself with an assembled band.
That big full moon continued hanging over us the next night when I went to Sonny Del Rio’s birthday party. Sonny’s the father of the sax here in the Hammer – been playing forever and at 66 is playing more than ever and loving it.
There was a backyard full of musicians and they stepped up to the mic, including Gord Lewis of Teenage Head who played a few with Sonny and friends. It was a real nice evening spent with my good friends Mike and Freda as well as Dean and Gary Duncan and his brother Randy, folks I love but I don’t get enough chances to see.
It is so great to come back to this happening little city where good friends reside and I never need be bored – not a word in my vocabulary anyway. Yet it is all on a scale that makes you look at the central core of Hamilton as truly down-town, as in the backbeat of a town, not the staccato of a big city.
Now I’m hanging my sign on the door of this blog:
GONE ON ROADTRIP…THE DOOR’S OPEN…MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME…BACK SOON
It is now September and, totally off my usual migratory schedule, I’m back in the north. Home in the Hammer, enjoying brilliant blue skies – even Hamilton Bay, the maligned body of water that shares its shores with steel companies and suburbia, has an aqua shine to it these days. I couldn’t ask for a better homecoming. My buddy with a bosom, Cocky, was at the airport to meet me, after her own month of travels. A treat to come home to, but now she’s gone too. I may get a chance to go for a sail on that same water if this weather holds for the Labour Day weekend which it is supposed to.
My last two weeks in Costa Rica were spent down in sweet calypsolandia, Cahuita. Although it rained lots in July on the Caribbean coast just as it had been up in Monteverde, I ended up being followed by beautiful weather from the green mountain to the seashore. There were some casual showers of course, and maybe one night of insistent rain, but the month of September in Cahuita means dry weather. Hard to fathom how, when it is hurricane season just to north, but I stopped trying to figure out weather a long time ago.
We got a lot of hot sunny days that sent us to the beach, but we mostly stayed at home. It was glorious to be back basking under those big trees, bathing in the cool water, being serenaded by the howlers and bailando with Roberto. I was amazed at how much the papaya seedlings we had planted in July had grown in the four or so weeks I was away. But then the growth of vegetation in Costa Rica always unnerves me a bit – you just don’t want to sit in one place too long if there is a vigorous-looking vine nearby.
One afternoon we went up to the Port of Limon, a place I really only have known as a bus-changing town. We walked around the ‘malecon’, the boardwalk that follows the seaside. Limon is one of the oldest cities in the Americas, having been visited by Christopher Columbus in 1502, so if it seems a little worn that should be understandable.
Development in Costa Rica by the Spaniards took place from the Pacific side, and so the Atlantic coast was left to fend for itself against all that crazy rainforest vegetation. In the mid-1800s the government decided to build a railroad and connect Limon (particularly its port) to the rest of the country. They brought in Chinese and Jamaican workers to build the tracks and thus the Caribbean coast is very much an extension of Afro-Caribbean culture with lots of chop suey houses around.
There is no denying racist elements that existed (and unfortunately still do.) When the railroad was finished and the banana plantations became a major employer, the black population provided the workforce. They weren’t encouraged to travel throughout the country, couldn’t afford it anyway, and the fact that they were foreigners themselves made it able to control their movements through their documents. Eventually they went to work in other parts of Costa Rica as laborers were needed and Afro-Caribbean families settled elsewhere in the country. But the heart of the calypso-blooded community will always be Limon.
The city developed once the railroad took off, but government money was never pouring their way. In the last year or two, there has been a move by the Costa Rican government to bring economic development to the area although people are waiting to see the proof. There was an attempt at revitalizing the waterfront of Limon several years ago, but earthquakes and storms destroyed much of the expanded boardwalk as well as what must have been a great little outdoor concert theatre in its short life. As Limon grows into a bigger cruise ship port (it is already a large commercial harbor and a popular cruise ship stop) hopefully some of the wealth that visits its shores will be spread in the area. Although Limon is known for its poverty, its richness of spirit and culture is as much a part of life there. The biggest threat to that, after poverty, is the drug trade which feeds on the poverty and changes the spirit.
The city has a funky flair to it and lots of local color, from the bright hues of the buildings to the cacao skin of the residents. When you take the highway east of San José, over the mountains of Braulio Carillo National Park, and through the miles of flat banana and pineapple fields, over the wide rivers coming out of the mountains and arrive in Limon province, you know you are in a different culture than in the rest of Costa Rica. The food changes – instead of arroz y frijoles, you are now eating rice and beans cooked in coconut milk; the music changes – from salsa and merengue to calypso, soca and reggae; and the language is English-based Limonense-Creole rather than Spanish. It seems that most people are fluently tri-lingual – speaking Tico Spanish and British English as well as their own Caribbean-tongue. It is a disappearing language as are many of the indigenous languages that are being used by less and less natives of Costa Rica. My experience being there with Roberto is that every plant, bird and insect has a different name in Limon than elsewhere in the country. The words are English-based, but the names are distinct to this region. I can get very lost trying to follow the lilt and tilt of the language used in Cahuita.
We had some beautiful days and were out on the ocean as often as we could force ourselves to go for the walk through the forest to the beach. There was another hot night spent in Puerto Viejo, which has a number of bars that cater to different crowds - we go to Maritza’s, which has a live band on Saturday nights and always plays a great variety of music for dancing from soca to salsa.
In the middle of all this it was my birthday and Roberto promised to go out in the sea and get me lobster for dinner. So we spent two fine mornings on the beach under a big sun, the sea a calm shiny turquoise stone. Roberto used to be a diver (snorkeler) and caught and sold octopus, fish and lobster, but quit a number of years ago as he saw the population of these sea creatures diminish. The banana plantations in the area have caused lots of pollution – from their chemical effluent to the silt run-off to the plastic bluebags that they put over the banana bunches – all this stuff ends up in the ocean and, along with a bad earthquake or two, things have never been the same.
But it didn’t take him long to get four nice-sized lobster for dinner and we were thankful for the bounty. We were blessed with the warmth of the sun and the beauty of the sea and took advantage to walk through Cahuita National Park’s shady trails, sharing our time with the monkeys.
Cahuita’s beaches are stunning and the National Park is one of the most beautiful in the country. Between the white sand beach, the reef off the point, the hours of hiking, the constant presence of birds, insects and animals, and the fact that you can enter for a small donation from the town access point, it makes for one of the nicest parks to visit in Costa Rica. They have built bridges over some of the swampier areas (where before there were submerged wooden walkways), using the same recycled-plastic material that the Monteverde Reserve has been using on its trails and signage for a few years now. It was interesting that we could smell the plastic off-gassing in the very hot sun – something that I’ve never noticed up in the cooler cloud forest.
We also continued taking care of Roberto’s little farm. We seeded corn and within three days it was two inches out of the ground – when I head back there in November I should be eating elotes, the young corncobs.
Roberto climbed up his castaña tree, the glamorous cousin of the breadfruit, to chop off the top limbs before it gets too tall and he won’t be able to harvest the fruit.
This tree is also growing on the bank of his stream and, knowing that it will fall one day, he has been concerned that if it is too tall it will fall on his casita. So I took pictures as he shimmied up the trunk and took his machete to the big elegant leaves and chopped off the top.
Afterward he said he was getting too old to do this stuff – between the possibility of falling, wasps, snakes, and other risks he felt lucky to get the job done in one piece - but my guess is he’ll keep climbing and chopping as long as he needs to, for as long as he is truly able. His age is just making him realize how vulnerable he is and that when it hurts, it hurts harder.
We went back through the mountains to San José for my last two days in the country. There was a full day of music awaiting us and we took advantage.
Wandering around the city, we caught the Lubin Barahona orchestra outside of the National Museum. It was big band music and boleros being sung by old timers.
The crowd was mostly older couples who were happy to be dancing on the street while the music played on and the rain held off. Like in most cities, there is live music playing for free to be found most weekends.
We then caught a gospel concert in the Melico Salazar Theatre at night – a contest between three local gospel choirs (won by the University choir) with Master Key (a five man acapella group from Costa Rica now working in the US)
with Manuel Obregon, a musician I’ve known for years in Monteverde (and seen him play here in Toronto twice). He’s one of the most experimental composers in the country – here he was playing gospel with our friend Tapado, the country’s top percussionist, at his side. Manuel never fails to amaze me with where his music takes him and he takes alot of other musicians along for his musical rides. The Let It Shine concert was presented by a gospel choir group and held to celebrate Black Culture Day, August 31. It was a great way to extend my time in the cultural richness of the Afro-Caribbean community.
The inevitableness of leaving woke me up early on the last day of August and when it is time to go, it is time. It makes saying goodbye easier when you know you are going to return within a couple of months (si dios quiere.) Heading to my happy home in the Hammer also makes things easier. I can still feel the Caribbean sun on my skin and if I listen hard enough, the gentle arrival of the waves lapping the beach and gently rocking my soul.
The mellowness of life in the jungle and on the sea exists in stark contrast to the busyness of my life back here in the city as I prepare for a trip to the northeastern US, continue overseeing the Spanish translation of Walking with Wolf, work on the historical record of Bosqueeterno S.A., and catch up with my northern friends.
Stay calm, Kay, stay calm – but keep that ball rolling, there is lots to do.
One of the most constant, fascinating and sometimes frightening realities of life in Costa Rica is the presence of bugs – and I immediately must clarify that I mean the general word used for insects rather than the specific classification of the true bug – the Hemiptera - which is, of course, equally well represented here. I have had many friends visit from the north country who swear that they’ll never be able to deal with the spiders or scorpions or army ants, but they tend to get caught up in the exotic extremeness of it all and before you know it, they are drawn into bug-watching.
Having been a bush-living Canadian, I’m used to our own serious bug situation – as in a season that comes on strong in May with annoying mosquitoes, followed soon by clouds of black flies, with localized deer and horsefly outbreaks throughout the summer (personally I think we should be calling the largest of them the “moose fly”.) Then there are the big green horned worms on the tomatoes, the nasty little earwigs that get everywhere, and other garden-variety (and -centric) insects who fill out the non-frozen season. We don’t need to think so much about these things between September and April except for a few indoor creatures like spiders and cockroaches.
Then there is Costa Rica. The little isthmus with the mostest for biologists of all kinds, it particularly feeds the needs of the entomologists. At the University of Guelph in Ontario Canada, where I studied horticulture, the most enthusiastic prof I had, bar none, who drew us all in with his love of the subject, was he who taught us about the fascinating world of insects and the huge role that they play in our lives. Except for a general awareness of the fleeting beauty of the monarchs, the gentle crawl of the daddy-long-legs, and the constant chorus of the crickets, I just wasn’t paying that much attention to the insect world. But since having my eyes and mind opened by this bug freak (I’m sorry, the name escapes me – Second Year Entomology, U of Guelph, 1982 – great guy), I have a much greater respect for the winged and wingless, 4- or 100-legged, often camouflaged, and always outrageously designed phenomena known as bugs.
Monteverde draws in many biologists because of its great biodiversity and welcoming atmosphere for researchers. It is hard not to get caught up in the interest and knowledge that abounds out of these maniacs, I mean scientists. A social gathering here starts with guests walking in the door barely able to control their excitement, shouting, “Hey, you’ll never believe what creature we saw on the way here”, and at some inevitable point in the evening, everyone gathers at the window, identifying the hundreds of flying insects drawn by the interior lights. Costa Rica is one big cocktail party of creepy crawlies.
I’ve been waiting for 19 years to be struck by a scorpion in Monteverde. I’ve lived in houses here notorious for these hidden, hot-tailed alacrans, have seen many, even taken a mother with her brood of babies on her back home with me to Canada (by mistake) one year, but despite my expectations have yet to be strung by a scorpion. I’ve watched an assassin bug drag a tarantula across the road, drank tea with a woman friend as regiments of army ants marched their way across our ceiling, and been bitten by something hidden in a bag that made my finger throb for hours. I’ve also been bitten by many ants, fleas, bush lice, no-see-ums and sand flies, the thing that gave me papalomoya. Of course there are the mosquitoes which I find much less ferocious here than in the north (laid back like the people) though they can carry a powerful punch of malaria or dengue. And then there was the squeezing of the botfly larva out of my boyfriend’s butt (see Kukulas of Cahuita and…)…I’ve had my share of bug-related moments.
A year ago I wrote about being at Wolf and Lucky Guindon’s house when the termites erupted and for several days the house was filled with gossamer wings. A couple of weeks ago, Roberto and I returned to Cahuita, arriving in the late afternoon. We were nervous about what we would find – perhaps someone would have come and robbed the place or some natural disaster would have left trouble behind. Fortunately, all was in order and we could just sit down and relax, make coffee, do a little dancing in the fading daylight to the calypso music on the radio. We started to notice a few flying critters in the air and soon it was hard to ignore them. In short order there were clouds of termites, that they call ‘duck ants’ on the Caribbean, encircling us, darting into our eyes, getting tangled in Roberto’s dreads, making serious pests of themselves. The clouds were thickest right around the casita as the termites were probably erupting out of the old wood that was used in the structure and for firewood. We moved our dancing down the path a ways but they quickly followed, drawn by our movement and body heat I guess.
Now seriously annoyed, we decided to go lay on the bed where we would be safe under the mosquito net, but no, they were too attracted to us. Somehow their not-so-small bodies were able to stick through the fine netting and in no time they were crawling on the bed, through the sheets, over and under our bodies, dropping their wings, not biting but menacing nonetheless. We finally gave up, changed our clothes from those littered with discarded wings and tiny black bodies, and went to town. When we returned hours later there were no more flying critters in the dark, but the mosquito net was dark with their little carcasses and shorn wings. Fortunately that has been the only night that the termites came to town.
I’ve grown used to shaking out my shoes and clothes in case of intruders, and that just becomes habit as many stories I’ve heard from people being stung by scorpions were attacked from within their clothes. At Roberto’s I am now paying closer attention to everywhere I put my body. Besides the fact that a snake could have moved under the bed at any time, there is also the impressive and somewhat unsettling variety of spiders – large, colorful and quick. It could get ugly if you put your foot right on them as they crawl across the end of the outdoor daybed.
On our way to Cahuita from Monteverde, we passed through San Carlos, near Arenal Volcano, and stayed a few days at my friend Zulay’s. The area is on the Atlantic side of the Continental Divide and though many miles inland, the vegetation is very similar to the Caribbean.
I stopped to visit Gerardo, a friend from my first year here in Costa Rica. He was always a talented musician as well as an artist with wood. A couple years ago he opened a Wood Art Gallery on the road to La Fortuna’s waterfall where he displays his own sculptures, done out of fallen wood, as well as the work of other artists.
This stunning collection of wooden creations is displayed with the majestic volcano as a backdrop. The big beast has been belching a lot lately – they had to vacate the National Park once again because of activity. For forty years, Arenal has been an active volcano and that gives it the record for the longest-running active volcano in the world. And she doesn’t disappoint! Unless, of course, she is shrouded in clouds. Zulay and I brought home a variety of heliconia plants from Gerardo’s ever-expanding garden. By the time Roberto and I left Zulay’s for Cahuita, we had a bag full of cuttings, roots, seeds and branches which we planted following the full moon that was upon us.
The yard around the casita is becoming more and more diverse with our combined enthusiasm for gardening – Roberto mostly concerned about food crops, me adding a few flowers and colorful leaf varieties like the crotons. Since we recently left again for about a month (back up here in Monteverde), we no doubt will head home in August wondering if not only the house is okay but if all these plantings have survived in our absence.
I’m appreciative that, while we are out gallivanting about, there are bats, flycatchers and kingfishers on guard back there, doing their part to keep the insect masses in check.
That alone the lizards, salamanders and geckos, when they aren’t busy eating each other.
We aren’t that concerned about the new plantings getting water as July is a rainy month on the Caribbean and we have already seen great regular downpours. I’ve been digging trenches trying to direct the water away from our living space, but the paths fill quickly. It is something to watch the little benign Quebrada Suarez rise into a heavily flowing river in a matter of an hour, especially having the knowledge that it rose so high last November that it wiped out Roberto’s former rancho and swept all his belongings closer to the sea.
We won’t start thinking about all the possible calamities awaiting us in Cahuita until we get closer to heading back. Instead we’ll enjoy our time here in Monteverde where mosquitoes are rare (we don’t have to sleep under a mosquito net) but scorpions could be lurking…anywhere…
And a quick word on the Wolf. He is doing okay, although he is now injecting insulin rather than regulating his diabetes with pills. I think that will help to get him regulated although he still has a way to go in keeping his diet under control. He is presently in San José being equipped with a 24-hour monitor as a follow up to tests that were done a month ago. He told me on the phone (where he sounded strong and fine) that he has still had episodes – I’m prone to think that the combination of medications that he is taking, and the inevitable changing of them, is what is messing with him. Wolf will be turning 79 on August 17 – age is no doubt a factor, but don’t we know that drugs, and the unknowns involved when you combine them, can mess with your mind and body…Wolf just walked in to Cafe Cabure where I am working and said that except for low blood pressure that he experienced, there are still no answers. But he looks very alive to me – and is asking for coffee, so all is normal.
Another week has passed – finally, time is going quickly. I’m less than a week away from heading back to Costa Rica. Although I’ve been super busy, these two months seemed to have passed very slowly. I think the pace picked up in New York City – since that great night in the Big Apple, time has been on my side. Now it is working against me as I try to take care of book business, prepare my house for Ben, who is going to come and live in my house this summer, and cut the vegetation in my urban jungle back as much as possible, including a rotten tree that has been dropping big limbs over the last year. What seemed like it was taking ages to get here is now around the corner and I’m rushed.
The pear tree is blanketed in blossoms, the tulips are kissing, the young leaves are stretching, and so the great summer growth has begun. Although I’m appreciating springtime in all its beauty, my heart is elsewhere and so I’m thinking more about what is happening with the sticks of ylang ylang and croton that I put in the ground back on Roberto’s land in Cahuita – he’s told me they are coming along slowly. For a gardener, planting in the tropics and planting in the temperate zones of Canada are total opposites, although here in the Hammer, it isn’t anything like the north where I lived for years. But the north is the north – while the temperature is just heating up here, I’m packing clothes for the constant warmth and humidity of the Caribbean coast.
Last week I left Philadelphia and New York City in temperatures hovering around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (that night out in NYC was like steamy mid-July), by the time I got to Petawawa and my friends the Bairs, it was much cooler, and there was still a big pile of snow trying to melt at the end of their driveway. It was warm enough to walk without a jacket in the daytime – but I feel like I’ve spent the last two weeks changing clothes, adjusting layers and looking out at blue skies that mask the chill in the air. Soon I’ll be where hot is just…hot.
While at the Bair’s beautiful home, I managed to sell a few books to visitors – among them my good friend Fretz, who I worked with for years at Camp Wanapitei on Lake Temagami in the 90s. It seems to get harder and harder to see each other, but she came for one of Al’s great dinners and we caught up – that will have to do for awhile. I’ve lived and worked in a lot of places throughout my life and hang on to my friends. I return to visit them when possible, love to see them when they come and visit me wherever that may be. Once in awhile you either lose touch or give up on friendships that are no longer working, but for the most part, if you have loved people, it is always wonderful to reconnect. Although time may change your situations, it doesn’t need to change the spark that made you friends.
That last week of my road trip was made up of visiting friends like that – people I have loved for years who live in eastern parts of Ontario – as I wound my way home to the Hammer. Al and Jean Bair are on the top of the list. I met them in 1995 when they had a home near Monteverde in Costa Rica.
They have a fascinating, dynamic, purely positive large family who I also adore – I was meant to be from a big family but missed my chance in this life. So I grasp onto large families like a street mutt – if they will take me in, I’ll love ‘em forever. And the Bairs are one of my favorite. Al and Jean came into my life right at the time my own parents died and although I don’t think of them as surrogate parents, they have been part of my Costa Rican life and my Canadian life and have dispensed great advice and supported me emotionally. And we constantly laugh and discuss serious politics and philosophy – Al’s favorite line about me is that I have a serious speech impediment – I have to stop talking to breathe once in awhile. I’d say he suffers equally but I’m not sure he’d agree.
We had four wonderful days together catching up on my travels and their recent trip to southeast Asia. They listened to me moan on about my kabanga blues, and sent me off down the road with renewed vigor, as if I had just spent a week at the spa. Love those folks.
Next stop was in Westport where there is a whole whack of friends who I can’t get enough of. I’ve seriously looked at property there a couple of times in the past ten years but never made the move. If things truly happen for a reason, perhaps I wasn’t meant to be there so that I could make this move to Cahuita – it would be much more difficult if I was in the middle of developing a beautiful piece of property in eastern Ontario.
I went and visited my friend Paul McKay – musician and investigative journalist extraordinaire. He has written several books, most recently on the scandalous marketing of nuclear reactors by the Ontario government at a time when the rest of the world is taking to the alternative technologies – wind and solar – that are available and functioning well. Speaking with people of great knowledge and intelligence like Paul always gives me great hope for the future – his optimism points to the good things going on in the world, advances that you don’t hear about in the media. Paul lives in the bush, where he picked wild leeks (one of my favorite Ontario bush foods – makes the best French Onion Soup) for our dinner, and then we passed the evening doing what we both love – listening to a wide array of fantastic music, dancing, talking.
This particular evening was augmented by his strange pilates machine I spent a long time exercising on (kinda gym-dancing) while I listened to the music – by the time I got off of it, my poor legs, atrophied from close to three weeks driving a car, were cramped from top to bottom, but a little more dancing was the cure. Although I expected to be crying out with cramps in the night, it didn’t happen.
I went into Kingston the next day to see Turid Forsyth’s beautiful artwork in a show put on by the Kingston Field Naturalists. I’ll be speaking at their October meeting (third Thursday in October) about Wolf and Monteverde. Turid lives near Kingston but also in Monteverde – and so I see her in both countries and it is always an interesting time. She is a very talented writer, gardener, artist and photographer. How lucky am I to know these people?
The night was a big fiesta for Carolyn – her 50th – played out at her and Chuck’s home on Faeries Hill. This is a house totally off the grid – a wind turbine was reeling in the stiff breeze, the solar panels were cooking in the sunshine, and the power came in to fuel the rockin’ band of Spencer Evans, the Cowen brothers and Bunny Stewart, a hot sax player from Kingston.
I’ve talked about these guys before, playing at the Cowen family’s bed and breakfast, The Cove in Westport. Spencer puts on a great show with his incredible array of tunes and sometimes it gets kinda “shticky” for the crowd at the restaurant – but those talented twins, Seamus and Jeff Cowen, just keep the whole thing going as a tight jazz duo behind whatever Spencer decides to do with his piano, clarinet and voice.
However, for this occasion, they lowered the “shtick” and raised the bar, and along with the smokin’ saxophone, performed a very funky show that kept us dancin’, dancin’, dancin’. This is always a dance floor that is full of spirit and joy and beautiful people.
So big happy birthday to Ms Carolyn – take it from your slightly older fifty-ish friend – it only gets better as long as you got the right attitude (and good health and a little bit of luck on the side) – and honey, you got it!
And just throwing in a plug for all the hard work Carolyn’s been doing with everybody’s favorite Basenji dog, Zig – he can now jump through her hooped arms – we made him do it a quadrillion times as I tried to capture the movement in the right moment on film…he was exhausted by the end of it (already worn out from a night of partying) but just kept jumping. Love that Zigmeister.
I carried on to Toronto, still heading home – to catch my friends Donna Akrey and Janine Miedzik’s show on the Danforth – “Oh”. Donna lives in Montreal where she teaches art at Concordia so I rarely get to see her anymore. Over the years I’ve gone to many of her art shows which usually involve documenting or collecting junk off the streets and creating installations and bizarre scenarios. Recycling and reusing with a fine arts degree. I’d say a great use of higher education. Oh yah.
The last night of my road trip was spent with my pals Jamie and Tory (along with Jamie’s mom, Joan, and their houseboy, Chris) in Toronto – dining outdoors, throwing toys for Mazie the beagle and enjoying the last night of these three weeks on the road with wonderful friends. It really has been a fantastic time. I put off returning to my house as long as possible – a full day in TO with Sol buying a Blackberry for a friend in Costa Rica was really pushing the limit on avoidance – as I knew that the moment I got in the door the work would begin, and now it has. So enough already, there is a tree to come down, a garden to seriously weed, and a blue sky to enjoy. And only six days left before my heart starts to sing again. Oh yah!
It is a warm evening here in Philadelphia. Today the sun was shining brightly enough to raise the temperature up close to 80 degrees (or 25 Celsius) – I returned to wearing the shorts I had been living in down in Costa Rica. I find myself in the heartland of the Quakers, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, and it isn’t just the air that is warm here. I’ve met a lot of friendly Friends over the last three days, kind-hearted souls with questioning minds.
When I left Maine on Tuesday, I stopped for the night at Carlos and Lidieth Guindon’s in New Hampshire. Carlos is getting near the end of translating Walking with Wolf. It is very exciting. When he is done, his hard work will be passed on to an editor and we will be another big step closer to seeing Caminando con Wolf become a reality. The poor man is not exactly translating English to Spanish – he is translating Canadian and Alabamian to Costa Rican. Carlos is not a professional translator, just a very smart man with a big heart who wants to see his father’s story made available to those Costa Ricans who don’t read English. It was a very enjoyable evening, discussing details of the book and catching up on our lives. It was particularly great to see Lidieth, who I knew back in the nineties when they were still living in Monteverde but who I haven’t seen in at least a decade. No matter where I go, when I run into Monteverde folk there is a strong connection, a common thread that binds us – our mutual love of that community and culture and remarkable natural landscape. And when they are Guindons, it is that much sweeter.
I left early in the morning from New Hampshire to get to Philadelphia for an evening talk. It was a very easy drive, right through New York City, on I-95, across the George Washington Bridge. The only bad traffic I ran into in eight hours of driving was the bottleneck that occurs on the east side of that bridge – there seems to be eight lanes of traffic on four different ramps all merging – it took me an hour to get onto and over the bridge, much of which I spent sitting beside this cemetary - not a particularly peaceful resting spot I’d say.
It gave me a chance to look around and snap pictures – I was sorry that I was moving too fast while on the bridge that I couldn’t take a good shot of the Empire State Building that I could see in the distance along with the rest of the famous skyline. Now that I have passed through the Big Apple, I am not at all intimidated for when I return there this weekend – maybe I’ll manage to get some good skyline pics this time.
I arrived mid-afternoon at my first Philadelphia stop, Westtown School. A Quaker school started in the late 1700s, this beautiful campus sits out on the west side of the Philadelphia area, incorporating some of the last farmland as part of its grounds – much in the area has been eaten up by development, apparently in just the last ten years – McMansionland, as someone called it appropriately.
Whitney, Quincy & Nora
My contact there was Whitney Suttel, a teacher who taught a few years ago at the Monteverde Friends School. She arranged a beautiful room for me to do my slide show and present the book – and a room in the Farmhouse, the overnight accommodation for Westtown. I was amazed at the size of the buildings of Westtown and the chimneys!
I’m not sure how many topped the high roof of the main building but they are so proud of their chimneys that they are spoken about in the school’s literature. Westtown is just one of many Quaker schools in this area – I’ve heard of so many Friends’ elementary, middle, high schools and colleges, I’ve lost count. There is no doubt that Philly must be the epicenter of earthQuakerism in the United States.
The talk was attended by a few students but being their free time, they were more tempted to be elsewhere. But each time I talk, there is always lots of enthusiasm by those who know Wolf and Monteverde and the others pick up on it. This was no exception – Whitney told her own stories of her experiences of walking with Wolf and there was also a student, Laura, who had lived with the Guindons when she did an exchange with Wolf’s granddaughter Noelia last year. And the biology teacher who has taken a number of groups to Monteverde and stayed down at Eladio’s in the Peñas Blancas valley – everyone has their own tales of their times spent with Wolf. There could easily be a second and third volume added to our original book, Walking with Wolf.
Early the next morning, I had to make my way into the Center City to Greene St. Friends School. The Spanish teacher, Sandra Rodriguez, had asked me to come and speak to the grade 7s and 8s – she goes to Costa Rica each year with the grade 7s – so all of these students had been in Monteverde. I started out from the bucolic countryside of Westtown, leaving in plenty of time and should have been able to arrive easily half an hour before I was to talk. However I ended up getting horribly lost, driving in the morning rush hour traffic, following cars up and down the wooded hill and valley roads, past the mansions and numerous academic institutions housed in big old stone buildings surrounded by big old hardwood trees. It would have all been lovely except for the fact that I was starting to think I would miss the whole class time and would be doing all this driving for nothing and leave Sandra very disappointed wondering where I was.
I finally drove past a corner store where I could ask directions and when I found out that I basically had to return to the point where I think I had gone wrong in the first place – by a different way, but still, miles backward it seemed – I was sure that I would never make the school in time. The traffic was thick everywhere and I was still not really sure how far I was and time was passing quickly. But just as I was truly feeling forlorn, I somehow miraculously came across one of the roads that I recognized as being where I was to turn to get to the school – and pulled into the parking lot with about 15 minutes to spare, enough time to set up the projector, get the power point in position, and wipe the sweat from my brow.
As it would happen, that was one of the nicest audiences I’ve talked to – maybe forty kids from diverse backgrounds, all who understood Quakerism, all who have been to Monteverde, many of whom have aspirations to write themselves. So when I finished my talk, there were lots of great questions and enthusiasm on the part of these young students. I always tell kids (well, anyone) that if I can write a book, anyone who can construct a good sentence and has a good story to tell surely can write their own book. It was a message that a lot of these kids seemed to want to hear.
When that was over I bravely faced downtown Philadelphia and headed to the University of Pennsylvania to drop off a book at the office of Dan Janzen, the famous biologist/conservationist who wrote the Natural History of Costa Rica. He has agreed to write a blurb for the back of the Spanish edition and I thought that dropping the book off at his office would be cheaper and easier than mailing one – ha! After driving up and down the busy streets then walking through the maze of university buildings for close to an hour trying to find his office, I once again questioned my reasoning.
I took the slow road out of the center of the city toward Pendle Hill, the Quaker spiritual and educational retreat. I have heard of this place from people in Monteverde but really didn’t know what to expect. It is a beautiful collection of old stone buildings on grounds full of native trees, with the magnolia flowers just fading, the redbuds shining brightly, the daffodils nodding happily and the leaves starting to appear throughout the canopy.
I spoke last night at Swarthmore College – originally a Quaker college made up of more large stone buildings on beautiful grounds very close to Pendle Hill. Mark Wallace, another former visitor to Monteverde, had invited me. Unfortunately the crowd was super small – Mark and a student and Sybil, a woman I know from Monteverde but haven’t seen in a few years. She was thrilled to come out and get a copy of the book and we all engaged in a great discussion about our experiences in Monteverde. It turned out that Mark and his children had been on the same hike that Whitney from Westtown had been on with Wolf, doing his crazy Tapir Trail in 2004, the year that he wasn’t able to complete the trail. I made the connection when Mark started talking about how his daughter had seen a fer-de-lance while on that hike – and remembered that Whitney had told the same tale, of a young girl seeing a fer-de-lance. It is a small world – they don’t know each other but had actually spent a few days in the wild and wooly cloud forest of Monteverde together and now work only miles apart from each other here in Philadelphia.
Here at Pendle Hill, Lloyd Guindon, Wolf’s nephew, is the groundskeeper and today, under that sparkling sun, he took me on a tour – telling me the history of some of the trees – such as the Dawn Redwood, a native tree that completely disappeared in this area until some were found in China and brought back – they are meta-sequoias, similar to the California Redwoods but not the same, and were just leafing out like the Larch or Tamarack trees (as we call them in Canada) would be doing.
There is also the State Champion American Beech tree on this campus – I always remember the beech trees at our cottage and how the smooth yet wrinkled grey trunks looked like elephant legs – this big ol’ tree was no exception. It is humungous – one has to wonder how much longer it can spread its big branches out but perhaps being recognized as the biggest in the state will keep it going for awhile longer. As do most of the staff here, Lloyd and his wife Robin and their children live in an old stone house on the campus. He is obviously and justifiably very proud of his work, taking care of this partially forested, partially meadowed land with a big organic vegetable garden and numerous flower beds, mostly filled with native plants and perennials.
At each meal I talk with some of the people studying and working here. There are several writers about and I find myself being the “published author” and sharing my own experiences – when did this happen? I often wonder to myself. When did I become someone who knows something about writing and publishing a book? I amaze myself – enough to think I can write another one.
Tonight I dined with Lauri Perlman, the director here at Pendle Hill. She explained some of the history of the place to me – how a small group of Quakers decided that they wanted to start this spiritual retreat as an alternative to Swarthmore College – and made the decision to go ahead back in 1929, four days after the big stock market crash that brought on the Depression. As she said, what a courageous move they made, and obviously a smart one as Pendle Hill is thriving eighty years later. She said that she uses that as an example when people are so concerned about going forward in these times of great economic worry – if that group of visionaries could stick with their plan to expand the small meeting at the time into something of this relevance and make it work during the Depression, then maybe we shouldn’t be so worried about taking risks in these troubling times either. If you have a smart plan and work at it diligently, you just might find success despite the fears that rain down from the doomsayers that abound, in our neighbourhoods and in our media.
Tomorrow I will be reading from the book and hopefully having an interesting discussion with folks over the lunch hour. I’ll then be set up to sell and sign books for a couple of hours in the bookstore. It is supposed to be getting close to 90 degrees – I’ll no doubt be wishing I was swimming in the ocean. As soon as the work is done, I’ll be getting back in my car and driving a couple hours north, back to New York City, to go hear my friend Memo play with a Cuban band in the city and do a book presentation on Sunday afternoon. I am very thankful to Lloyd, Mark, Sandra and Whitney, the folks who brought me here to beautiful Philadelphia. I leave with very warm memories of the Friends, their stone houses and the rich green life that flourishes around them.
It is snowing outside. The rooftops are cold enough that the snow is turning them white. Lucinda Williams is on the stereo and singing about snow covering her streetlamps too but she’s talking about Minneapolis in December. This is Canada in April, the spring bulbs are out of the ground and shivering, and you just gotta love it. I should have known that the weather I came home to last week was too good to be permanently true.
One of my favourite Canadian pastimes – helping someone else stack their firewood…
I’m a few days away from heading to Maine. I hope the weather smartens up so that the highways and turnpikes and interstates are dry and quasi-sane. At the same time I’m preparing for this trip, I am also contacting people on the west coast for the book tour out there in July. If you are reading this and living between British Columbia and California and have a good idea of a Quaker meeting, naturalist group or bookstore who would be interested in hosting a Walking with Wolf evening, please send me a comment to this blog. I’m also making a few corrections to Walking with Wolf, preparing it for a second printing of the English edition to be done in the next weeks. And I’m helping with the details of the production of the Spanish translation in Costa Rica. I’m also making my plans to return there in May. I think I’ll be home about one week a month all summer. It’s a busy time.
With Lauren Schmuck and her mother Patricia Reynolds and Grandma Reynolds
I did a presentation of the book to the McMaster University Biodiversity Guild – a nice group of people, mostly with biology backgrounds. There was a good little crowd and it was a nice evening. One of their members, Lauren Schmuck, put it together – she has a burning desire to go work or volunteer in Costa Rica and I expect I’ll see her down there one day. I told her that any volunteer work I have ever done has paid off in spades - and it is true, many of my lasting friendships and most valuable contacts have come from being a voluntary grunt worker with a smile on my face (that last part is important.)
I’ve managed to hear some great music in the week I’ve been home – por supuesto. I went out and danced away a night when some of the top musicians in town (Jesse O’Brien, Brian Griffith, Joel Guenther et al) got together for a great gig of blues, funk and reggae tinged music to make ya dance. Love those guys.
My four dates for the night - Randy, Pete, Kevin & Jeff (taking photo)
The other night I went and saw Lori Yates, backed beautifully by Brian Griffith and Lisa Wynn, break our hearts with her tunes and that honey voice – she writes some hurtin’ songs, but she is very funny and irreverent and outrageous and she makes us cry as much with laughter as pain. Then Tom Wilson did a great show, fitting this hometown concert in amidst a very busy tour from coast to coast in Canada and the US – it was a Hamilton proud night. Followed by Jesse, Brian and Mark LaForme keeping it moving at the Westtown. I need those nights of music – my soft little soul is feeling all aflutter and music always soothes me.
I also saw the great Charly Chiarelli – a Hammer-boy with Sicilian roots who also happens to live down near my friends, Kingston way. I’ve heard him play his harmonica and tell great stories over many years. He has written a trilogy of plays about growing up Italian here in Hamilton and Sunday afternoon was the last performance (at the good ol’ Pearl Company) of the third play, Sunamabeach. He is a very talented, funny, charismatic actor/musician/story teller – and the local crowd of Italian offspring were loving it. So were we who have not a drop of olive oil in our blood. Charly got in trouble with the Sons of Italy (no doubt the daughters too but that would be a different story) in the United States over his last play, Cu Fu. They felt he was negatively stereotyping Italians when really he was just telling stories from his life with great passion and amusement.
I also saw, at the same ol’ Pearl, a rehearsal for their next play, Tobacco Troubadour, written by the art director of Artword Theatre, Ron Weihs. It is about local musician, songwriter and music producer, J. Paul Reimens. When Ron heard Paul’s songs, he decided he needed to write a play around the stories that Paul tells in them. I had gone out on Thursday to see Paul playing at a local pub (with Brian Griffith – how lucky was that, hearing the best guitarist in town play four times in a week) and we got to talking about this play, written about his life growing up in the tobacco country of southern Ontario and just wanting to play the guitar. Since I won’t be around for the performances, I went and sat in at the rehearsal and am truly sorry I won’t be here for the real thing. It is going to be a very poignant and entertaining play with Paul’s sweet songs throughout.
This all takes place at the poor ol’ Pearl Company, where my book launch was back in September. Gary Santucci and Barbara Milne have poured their energy, soul, money, and heart into creating this very alive art center in an old three story brick factory building that once was home to a costume jewelry business. They also run the popular Art Bus that takes people around to arts events throughout the city twice a month. They both received Arts Hamilton Awards last autumn and Barbara just received a Woman of Distinction award recently.
Against this very successful backdrop, sits the big purple elephant of stubborn and stupid bureaucracy that is attempting to close them down due to zoning. For many years this old neighbourhood was zoned commercial, sitting about four blocks outside of the downtown core. It then went residential, but the commercial use of the building (along with paying commercial taxes) continued for decades. Now the city is issuing a new zoning plan and one of the biggest problems is parking spaces as well as a very expensive re-zoning application process. Considering that the Smart Plans and Green Plans or whatever plans that cities issue these days do a lot of talking about minimizing the use of automobiles and promoting public transit, the requirement of parking spaces to allow an arts center to exist is mind-blogging – and the spots do exist, just not in a neat parking lot adjacent to the building. The Pearl folks may have to take their struggle to keep this center going to the national press if the city doesn’t step up here soon and support what is such a happening community place. The Pearl Company drives a big part of the cultural scene of Hamilton. Anybody who wants to read more and support their cause can go to their website at www.thepearlcompany.ca
In late great breaking news, the local newspaper, the Hamilton Spectator, has finally put a small article in about the book. Jeff Mahoney, a real nice journalist who writes an always interesting column about local people and cultural things, interviewed me last November. He also read the book and told me he loved it. I had asked that they don’t print anything while I was away in Costa Rica – so today there was a small piece and picture about my presentation to the Biodiversity Guild and singing the praises of the Canadian embassy’s financial support. Jeff told me that he’ll try to get his review of the book in the paper in May. I’m very appreciative that the local, under-staffed and over-worked newspaper finally found a couple of inches of space for Walking with Wolf.
I feel like I’ve mostly been sitting in front of my computer, contacting people, working on book stuff, feeling lovesick, but when I read what I’ve just written here, I realize that I’ve been enjoying myself too, taking advantage of being in this very dynamic, culturally-rich city lovingly called the Hammer, formerly known as Hamilton the Steel City. I continue to sing its praises wherever I go, invite my friends here who inevitably fall in love with it, and try to get out and support as many arts events while I’m here as possible.
In a moment of extreme stupidity, I managed to erase all my photographs off of my laptop – all the more stupid because, yes, I do have an external hard drive in which to download everything but, no, I didn’t do it since I got home. I then decided to make room on my laptop by taking out the photographs from one program – and they disappeared off all programs and I emptied my recycle bin and well, it wasn’t pretty. I paid a man to recover them and have them all on DVD in messed up files but at least I have them for when I need to access the photographs for my power point presentations or my blog!
That was definitely a low point.
The rest have been high, except for the cabanga, which will go away as soon as I go back to Cahuita in May.
Guaria Morada, the official flower (orchid) of Costa Rica
I’m back up in my perch at the Caburé Café, one of Monteverde’s finest dining spots. It also happens to have wireless that Bob and Susana allow us to use for free, no purchase required, though over the last couple of visits to Monteverde I’ve enjoyed a fair amount of their wonderful food, hot drinks and delicate homemade chocolate truffles. It’s a win/win situation, the great view over the trees to Guanacaste a big bonus.
I only have five days left in Costa Rica before heading home to the famous Hammer of Canada. Ai yi yi! How does it happen so fast? I just returned from a beautiful week on the Caribbean coast, staying at Roberto’s jungle home in paradise. Fortunately the weather of Monteverde finally changed to summer while I was gone. Now the sun is hot, the sky is blue with only the occasional fluffy cloud, the winds have just about gone completely.
I’m taking care of Veronica’s three dogs (refer to former posts from January) and I have to say that they have all matured a little in these last couple months. I take no credit except for being the nanny who told the parent that they were outa control. Veronica took charge and now we are all happy! Even Betsy the crazy has stopped jumping on me. The Dog Whisperer would be proud. Veronica and her son Stuart headed down to the hot Guanacaste coastline for some beach fun while I was still around to dog/house sit. My sincere appreciation goes to her and her generosity in allowing me to stay at the house these last months – and for the pleasure of getting to know her, Stuart and the puppies.
Wolf and I presented Walking with Wolf at the Friends Peace Center in San José about a week ago to a small but very appreciative crowd. I hadn’t done a talk for a few months so it felt good to get warmed up, which I need to be as I head home and start doing presentations within the first week – to the McMaster University Biodiversity Guild in Hamilton. Then I’m off to the northeastern US and have a number and variety of events lined up in Maine, Philadelphia and New York City. I also will be making the few corrections needed in the book and printing another batch as, miracle of miracles, we are just about sold out!
Wolf, Lucky and I also had the great pleasure of being toured around the INBio – the National Institute of Biodiversity – insect collection by Jim Lewis. Jim has a long history in Monteverde as a nature guide as well as an owner of the Monteverde Lodge and Costa Rica Expeditions. In his retirement, he went to volunteer working at INBio’s scientific headquarters in Heredia. We went there and saw the largest collection in Latin America of various families of insects. Besides the beautiful butterflies and the shiny metallic true bugs, we were aghast at the variety and size of some of the more dangerous ones – particularly the torsalos (botflies) that I wrote about squeezing out of my friend’s butt recently – the biologists were most helpful with information to pass on to Roberto about what to do next time one of these nasties bites him – and the wall full of species of mosquitoes.
I mean, we all know there are many, and they are pests, but this wall of containers, each one representing a different species found in Costa Rica, sent chills down us.
The Spanish translation is well on its way. Wolf’s son, Carlos Guindon, up in New Hampshire, is at least half way through the translating. The Tropical Science Center, administrators of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, is financing that part and will see that it is published. We are searching for funds elsewhere to help the process and some of those will come from the Canadian Embassy here in San José. I’ve been in steady contact with José Pablo Rodriguez, the Economic/Political Officer there, who has been more than helpful. My lunch a month ago with him and Stuart Hughes, the Political Adviser, was extremely enjoyable. I’ve had nothing but great support from them in trying to find a way to use money from an initiative fund to help with the Spanish translation. José confirmed yesterday that the money is coming to pay for the art, index and computer work – and today the contract arrived – and I am very appreciative and loving my country a little more than usual.
I also have had some great musical moments in the last couple of weeks. While still in Monteverde a couple of weeks ago, I saw violinist Ricardo Ramirez and guitarist Edin Solis of Editus playing with Costa Rican singer Arnoldo Castillo. I have known Editus for years and seen them play with a variety of other musicians but had never heard or seen Arnoldo. It was a lovely night of romantic songs from Costa Rica and Latin America which touched me deeply, being enamored myself these days. Ricardo and Edin played several instrumental pieces as well to a very appreciative local crowd who has supported them since they began playing classical music nineteen years ago. My young house friend Stuart has just taken up playing the violin and was gob-smacked watching Ricardo, as I knew he would be.
Following the concert I ended up at La Taverna in Santa Elena dancing till closing to the Chanchos del Monte, our local rock ‘n rollers, punk etc. band. Robert Dean (who I’ve written about, former guitarist for Sinead O’Connor) who is known for publishing a bird guide here in Costa Rica, and plays along with a Alan Masters, a university professor, Federico, a professional nature guide, Walter, a taxi driver and Arturo, son of the wonderful Eladio Cruz who we talk a lot about in the book – these guys moonlight as the crazy Pigs of the Mountain and put on a great show of music to jump too. Allthough I could feel a cold coming on – my belief being that dancing will either cure me or kill me – I was able to go and sweat a lot of it out, though it did continue on to the bad cough that I still have.
I then went to San José for the book presentation and stayed with Edin (of Editus) and his wife Lorena, who always offer me their home and great company when in the city. Lorena is always full of great business ideas and tossed some good ideas at me for fundraising – her motto, think big, act bigger. My friend Leila showed up at the presentation and it ended in time for us to jump in a taxi and head off to see the Tico Jazz Band with my old friend Luis Bonilla, the hottest trombonist in New York City.
Luis played at the Monteverde Music Festival in 1999 when I was taking care of the house where the musicians stayed. We spent three days and nights having fun – him and his wife Luz and the other Costa Rican musicians he had put together for the three nights of concerts – Luis Monge, pianist, Kin Rivera, drummer, and Danilo Castro, bassist. They were the hottest jazz quartet possible and each night they just got tighter and wilder though they had only been playing together for a couple of days. Luis’ energy is through the roof and his playing is impeccable. We also did some wicked dancing following the concerts – these were three of the best nights of positive energy that I had in two years of working the seven week long music festival of Monteverde.
So to see Luis again after ten years and see that the energy hasn’t diminished, his enthusiasm for the music and improvising with other musicians is still hot and his joy still radiates made me laugh endlessly through the concert. The Tico Jazz Band is made up from young to old musicians and they shone as well. I’m going to go and see Luis when I take Walking with Wolf to New York City at the end of April where he plays regularly at the Vanguard Jazz Club. Danilo,from that hot jazz quartet who I have bumped into in the past few years, was also there, as well as Marco Navarro, another great bassist in the country who I haven’t seen in several years as he’s been in South America playing. He’s back in Costa Rica and playing bass with the Tico Jazz Band. It was a hot night of great jazz and a warm night of meeting up with old friends.
All that city fun was followed by several days in the jungle. The creek (sometimes river) that flows like a moat around Roberto’s rancho was just the perfect temperature for a Canadian.
The howler and white faced monkeys came regularly and kept us company. I had brought some cuttings, roots and seeds from my friend Zulay’s in San Carlos and we planted what will hopefully be a nice garden. Roberto had doubled the size of the rancho in the couple weeks I was away by adding a roof over the woodfire and kitchen table. The jungle was welcoming and it was hard to leave.
We returned to the sloth center and delivered some books to Judy Aroyos, the owner, who was very enthusiastic about the book, having her own long history of conservation in Costa Rica. She thought they would sell well as they have a lot of cruise ships come to them from the Port of Limon. I will take any excuse I can to return to this beautiful sloth rehabilitation center (see Kukulas of Cahuita post) and visit with this very friendly woman as well as see the peaceful little furry creatures who are recuperating there. She showed me the babies in the incubators hidden away in their private quarters, each one with its personal story. And we saw Casper, the baby sloth that Roberto’s daughter Gabriella had found and taken to the center back in October. The friendly ghost is doing just fine.
So now I’m working against the clock to get everything done before I leave next Wednesday. It will be harder than usual to leave. I always enjoy being with Wolf, taking care of book business as we have been doing for so many years now, and now Roberto has given me more reason to stay in this country. But my life takes me home to Canada, on the road to spread the news of the book in the United States in April, and book responsibilities will keep me there until sometime next fall. I may have to return before to deal with the translation – I won’t mind at all.
But my little mind is already thinking of the next book I want to write and the idea of writing it from the Caribbean coast, while listening to the frogs and chatting with the monkeys from a hammock swaying beside that meandering brook- these images will keep my dreams sweet and my focus on the future.
I spent the last week on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, living a very slothful existence. It isn’t hard to do that – the place is sleepy and the pace is slow. The week was rainy – it drizzled, it poured, it spit – and then the sun would shine and all would be forgiven. My friend Leila had her first taste of the towns of Cahuita and then Puerto Viejo – and, like me, finds herself a Cahuita girl. I wrote about this last year – how people are drawn to one of these communities more than the other – and once again lethargic Cahuita has won out over quaking Puerto with one of my friends. We spent one night – Leila and our friend Largo, and Roberto and I – listening to live music and dancing in Puerto – but were happy to leave the next day and head back to Cahuita were life is as slow as a sloth’s jig.
Sometimes life doesn’t work out as we think it will. I have told the story here of my friend Roberto Levey, a man I have loved for years and was reconnected with last June after a few years passed when I didn’t go to Cahuita. I have written of how he was united with his eighteen-year-old daughter from Australia in October and though plans were started for him to go there following the loss of his jungle home in the floods of early November, he decided that he didn’t want to go that far away from his home. Instead he has been rebuilding his little shack in the jungle (after a second flood took some more of his possessions, he finally gave up the spot that he was on and moved to higher ground where the flood waters didn’t reach.)
And though there was a connection made between him and his daughter and her mother that almost took him far away, when he decided not to go it opened the door to our relationship that has simmered for many years. Now it is a pot started with friendship and filled with chemistry that has boiled over with love and respect. So Roberto and I have started something, and only time will tell if it can endure the tests brought by long distance and cultural differences.
In our favor, we are both bush people as well as dancers, thinkers, talkers and naturally positive people who have cared for each other for years and know each other’s history. We both believe in the Dalai Lama’s philosophy of kindness. Roberto lives his life proudly with few possessions and refuses to fret about what he has lost – something I admire since I think that consumerism and desire for material comfort is one of the greatest demands placed on our earth. To be able to live so simply is a challenge but Roberto proves it can be done with grace and humor. He loves deeply and lives passionately and he has lost plenty in his life. As have most. And he endures.
The fact that we are both bush people cannot be undervalued – I don’t think Roberto ever thought he would know a woman who could live in his humble little shack on his wild piece of tropical rainforest. But when I spent my first night there last week, I told him it was just like camping – something I have done all my life, not excluding my years of living in a funky log cabin in northeastern Ontario without running water or electricity. Here, however, there are monkeys in the trees and the possibility that a poisonous snake may have moved in under your bed.
The mosquitoes weren’t as bad as they would be much of the camping season in the north but there’s a whole other buncha bugs here that cause nasty problems. The leaf cutter ants march on their employment lines everywhere, taking down the best of the vegetation. Then there is the botfly, the torsalo, whose eggs are deposited by a mosquito and grow into fat larva and eventually into another fly unless you squeeze the buggers out.
This is what I squeezed out of one of the bites. There was also a white maggot elsewhere… after a visit with some biologists in the know, I found out two importants things: if you put iodine on a suspicious bite right from the offset, you may prevent the growth of the eggs inside you. If you have a torsalo larva growing, put some oil on it – it will suffocate the beast and make it impossible for it to brace its little arms and hold on while you are trying to squeeze it out – instead you have greased its way. Zepol also works (sore muscle ointment) as an irritant for the the little intruders.
There are the sand flies (or maybe mosquitos) that cause papalomoyo (leishmaniasis) whose bite won’t heal and continues to grow into a huge scar of eaten flesh on your body. I’ve now experienced papalomoyo myself and have also had the intense pleasure(?) of extracting both the larva and the grown botfly out of Roberto’s backside. It is hard to explain the sensation of seeing the little hairs on the head of the creature appearing and then the fat maggot coming out. It is hard to squeeze the flesh of the person you love while they try not to scream in pain, but quite satisfying when the little bug pops out as if exploded from a cannon. Roberto has some great stories about these bugs but I don’t think I need to share them here as I can feel you squirming already. My work here is done.
The stream of water that flows through Roberto’s finca is fresh and clean and teaming with his little fish friends, his piranhitas, who clean his pots in a frenzy and nibble on your body when you sit in the aqua pools. He has seen a jaguarundi skulking about the banana plants and wild pigs rooting about as well as domestic ones that have come wandering down from a neighbor’s property. The bird, insect and amphibian songs fill the atmosphere throughout the day and all night long, coming at you from the tops of the trees to the forest floor, reaching a crescendo at dawn and dusk, songs I’ve never heard before. And the monkeys come to keep an eye on his progress as Roberto rebuilds his little hut.
One overcast gloomy day, we went for a walk north of town to where a friend of Roberto’s lived until he passed away recently. It was a sad day for Roberto who will miss his friend Jerry Lee. We passed the grown over ruins of Cahuita, houses that either had served their time and were abandoned, or which were never completed beyond someone’s dreams. The lush vegetation crawls everywhere and strangles everything it can.
We returned by the Black Beach, named for its black volcanic sand (that alone its great Reggae Bar), which was full with the flotsam and jetsam vomited from the sea after the weeks and months of rain. The beach was almost non-existent, replaced by mostly soggy organic refuse and the ubiquitous plastic bottles that wash up from everywhere. I couldn’t help but think of Roberto’s father, Bato, who lived much of his life in wild constructions on the beach made by materials the sea had deposited at his feet (see East Coast Pleasures post). It was a melancholy day already and the waves of debris that we walked through kept us quieter than usual.
The wet weather of the last few months seems to be affecting the wildlife. On the trail through Cahuita National Park, a lovely path just a few feet inland from the beach where you can walk in the shade, I saw two eyelash palm vipers one morning. I have only ever seen these in pictures yet by the end of the week I had seen four. Whether they were the same two seen twice or not, I don’t know, but they were sitting so close to the path, wrapped around small bushes, that a tourist, intent on watching a bird up high in the trees, was warned by the passing park ranger to move out of striking distance as they are quite venomous. The poor birdwatcher hadn’t realized how close he was to this bright yellow serpent. They are usually a little further back in the forest, not so noticeable, but the wet swampy land must have driven them to the drier ground of the pathway.
For three days and nights, sodden by intermittent showers, the howler monkeys roared. Well, they didn’t just roar, they moaned and groaned and lamented and pleaded and cried and chanted and carried on in a way that even Roberto, who has lived here most of his life, had to admit was very strange. I have certainly never heard them go on like this. We started getting a little paranoid when they seemed to react to our every move though we were inside the cabin we had rented (at Villa Delmar, a quiet grouping of cabins with kitchens on the edge of town, very sweet place.) We started looking out the window to the branches where the monkeys were perched, to see if they were watching us with binoculars they had stolen from some distracted tourist. I will never forget this chorus of primates and how they provided a mournful soundtrack to our own restlessness throughout these wet dreamy days.
A highlight of the week was heading up to the Sloth Sanctuary just north of Cahuita. Also known as Aviarios del Caribe, a bird sanctuary created in 1972 by a couple from Cahuita, it has become better known for its rehabilitation services for injured and orphaned sloths since receiving its first infant in 1992. This sloth is still there, Buttercup is her name, and I think she may have been Spielberg’s inspiration for E-T.
Roberto and his daughter had taken a baby sloth there that they had found in October and he knew that I would be fascinated by the place. So we went up and met the babies left behind when their mothers have been killed, the amputees whose limbs were lost to electrical wires or road accidents, and the long-term residents whose luck brought them from whatever danger they had encountered to the tender loving care of the Arroyo family.
Besides nursing the injured back to health and reintroducing the strong back into the wild, the center is very much a place of knowledge and information about sloths (also known as kukulas in Cahuita or peresozos in Spanish, from the word that means lazy.) There is much misinformation and falsehood spread about these gentle animals and the center makes it their duty to correct that as they study and amass understanding about the Bradypus and the Choloepus families (three and two toed sloths). It is well worth a stop at the Sloth Sanctuary, even if you never thought about these beautiful, humble soft little creatures before. There is perhaps a lot to be learned by their vegetarian, pacifistic and slow-moving ways. The world could no doubt benefit from their example of simple non-aggressive living. I think the Dalai Lama would be proud of the sloths as well as the people at the sloth center who have taken on their rehabilitation and protection.
I will be returning there in a couple of weeks to take some copies of Walking with Wolf to their gift shop. I look forward to spending a little more time amid their gentle ways and graceful movements. I’ll then walk back into the vibrant green forest to Roberto’s little humble shack and count my blessings. And suspend myself, in true sloth style, in a hammock, slung between trees, and contemplate my next very slow but deliberately pacifistic move which, I think, involves writing another book.
Here I am on the eve of leaving for Guatemala. I have yet to pack, but I’m pretty good at that so the idea that I have to get three months worth of things together in the next few hours is not really a problem. Instead of doing that however, I’m in the middle of baking butter tarts because my lovely friends in Guatemala, Rick and Treeza, requested that I bring some with me (apparently they only just learned of the pleasure of the BT a few years ago and they seem to like my version.) They don’t have an oven so we can’t be making them there.
Sheesh! What one is willing to do in the spirit of Christmas…it isn’t the making of them, but the transporting them whole (as in not in crumbs) up into the mountains of Guatemala over the next three days that has me thinking this is nuts…but whatever, I just chopped those nuts up and threw ‘em in the mix and can smell the tarts baking now. I’m thinking that they better be the best damn batch I’ve ever made.
After my two weeks hanging out in Guatemala – where I can envision myself sitting with my laptop, warm sun beating down, one day looking out over beautiful Lake Atitlan and writing something on this blog – I’ll be getting to it again in Monteverde. Wolf is anxiously awaiting my arrival and we will be doing our best to get Walking with Wolf further afield throughout Costa Rica. If you are down there, you’ll no doubt find one or both of us sitting at the entrance to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, in our own version of a meet and greet. The guides often bring their groups over to introduce them to Wolf, the man hugely responsible for this stunning protected forest, who will be sitting there with a cup of coffee in his hand and a big smile on his face. I’m looking forward to seeing the staff of the Reserve, many who I have known since I first went the Costa Rica, all of whom have been very supportive of the book. They treat me like visiting royalty – not to suggest that I’m a princess, much less a queen, but I know when people are being that nice to me I better lap it up!
I managed to get eight more boxes of books (big KACHING) off to Toronto to be shipped in early January to Costa Rica. I’ve also forwarded another seven boxes with my friend Laurie who will be driving to the west coast and able to deliver them to my sister in Washington and Wolf’s son in California. I plan on following them next summer to do a book tour and it’ll be great to have the boxes there already. That leaves only five boxes here in Hamilton – available for my friend Kathryn who will be back in charge of mailing orders that come from this blog, and for me to take to Philadelphia and NYC at the end of April.
That means we’ve almost gone through 2000 copies of Walking with Wolf - or at least distributed them – and it will be time to do another printing! I’m pretty thrilled about that, though the idea that my living room, which has just finally cleared of boxes, will be a depository again isn’t as thrilling.
My good friend Tory Byers came and got me and my boxes and took us to the Toronto shipper. We then spent a couple days together at her home in Toronto, just visiting and relaxing, as her partner Jamie Grant fed us real good food and Macie the beagle kept us entertained.
Tory is this beautiful talented woman with a heart that takes everyone and thing in. She has been working for one of the Toronto cruise ships that people hire to float about in the lake while they get married or drunk or both with the Toronto skyline sparkling behind them. While working down on the waterfront, Tory has met up with a colony of feral cats who live around one of the boatyards.
Along with her friends Sandy and Aaffeine, she has been providing food for these abandoned cats, many who were once quasi-domestic street cats living with the squatters at Tent City, a makeshift home for street folks that was eventually dismantled a couple years ago. The people left for other fields, the cats moved into this boatyard.
The women look for homes for the cats – since they are feral, they won’t really become house cats but some are tamer than others and will be outdoor cats who can handle a little human interaction. They have found homes for many kittens. They purchase big bags of catfood and cans of sardines and take turns going daily to feed the felines. They also have constructed cat shelters out of recycling boxes and tarps.
This is Hemingway – papa to many
The three women and their friends have taken all this on and fortunately are starting to get support from others who can contribute time or money or catfood once they hear about the Cherry Street Cats. They don’t want people to know exactly where they are as they have already seen that people will drop off unwanted cats there, figuring that they will be absorbed into this colony and the ladies will take care of them. Meanwhile, not only is that terribly irresponsible and cruel, but those domestic cats don’t necessarily fit in with the tougher ferals…so it is a bit like throwing your pup to the wolves.
If you want to see what the ladies and cats are up to, or look at other pictures of the cats, or donate, go to Tory’s blog on wordpress – cherrystreetcats.wordpress.com. It gives you a look at a different community in Toronto.
On Thursday night, I made it to a Christmas party at the Earthroots office. Saw my old friend Amber Ellis – the only person I know who is still there after all these years. This non-profit environmental group grew out of the Temagami Wilderness Society, of which I was a board member in the late 1980s during the time of the blockade on the Red Squirrel Road in northeastern Ontario. In September 2009, we will be having a 20-year anniversary reunion of the blockade up on Lake Wakimika, on whose beautiful shores I lived with several others for seven weeks in the fall of 1989. I stay in touch with alot of people from those days and I hope that many of us will turn out and spend a couple days together, reliving what was a very powerful time for many of us. If September is kind, it will bless us with warm sunny weather – the way it was that first day that we gathered there on September 15, 1989 for a camp-in that, because of the massive support and passion of the hundreds who came deep into the bush that weekend, grew into the non-violent blockading of a logging road extension.
Other than that little trip to Toronto, I’ve been real busy taking care of business, getting ready to go, catching some great music in town, doing a little dancing, and spending evenings with friends who I won’t see for a few months. Of course there is the usual enthusiasm from folks who swear they are going to come to Costa Rica and visit – but I’ve learned not to get excited until they have their plane ticket in hand.
Last night I went up to spend the evening with the Poag, Marskell, and Johnston clan – the family that subs as my real family though we are only “pretend” cousins. Although I do have some blood relatives in the Toronto area, I seldom see them. I spend most of those big holiday occasions – Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving – if I’m in town – at Bob and Kathryn’s with their big extended family. Kathryn’s parents, Doreen and Bill Poag, and my parents were close friends from before they all had children and we continue the friendship on.
Throughout my childhood, my parents hosted a Christmas carol and euchre night the weekend before Christmas. We all grew up looking forward to that one night of the year when we all sang these great songs together. Doreen Poag and Bea Marskell, the singing Miller sisters, would accompany us on our piano. Their husbands, Art and Bill, sang in the International Harvester Choir and Bea and Art also were in this rocking seniors club called the Geritol Follies that put on musical cabarets for years. So there is a lot of singing going on in that clan.
After my parents died in the late nineties, my sister and I gave our piano to Kathryn and Bob. Maggie didn’t want to transport it out west and I didn’t have a home for it. So when the piano moved to their house, so did the carol singing. For the last ten years, an ever-growing crowd gathered at the Johnston’s. Once we were done with the trough of fantastic food, we carried on the tradition of singing with Bea playing the songs on the piano and Doreen beside her turning the pages of the music books.
Bea died last year and not only was it a very sad day for us all to lose her, but it wasn’t good for our carol singing – we needed her loud enthusiastic key-tinkling to cover up the general uproar of our voices.
When I was young, my dad would tape our carol-singing on his reel-to-reel – and when we would listen to it, ouch! There are some great voices amongst us, but collectively, we can be pretty pitiful - fortunately we laugh as much as we sing. I was sick last year and didn’t make the party, but they told me that it was very sad – Bea had just recently died and no one was quite ready to take over providing musical accompaniment. The spirit wasn’t strong enough that night to overcome the loss of our friend Bea. If I had been there, I’d have tried to help as I’m often one of the ringleaders, keeping track of the musical requests, making sure we sing the best verses of each song and dictating who has to sing the part of the three kings or Good King Wenceslas and his page.
Last night, we gathered again and the spirit was great. We now have a variety of musicians to accompany us on different songs. Everyone is trying to keep it alive. The lovely Madelaine played her clarinet – very well, I might add. Rich and then Don and then Keira played the piano and Lindsay’s guitar was a real great addition. So we managed to get through the majority of the carols we wanted to sing and once in awhile, we even sounded pretty good. Two years ago I took all the various songbooks we were working from – it would get very confusing as everyone was looking in a different book (that were so old they were falling apart) so I consolidated them and made new songsheets. That seems to have helped us move forward as well. Trying to keep this great family tradition not only alive, but fun enough to keep the next generations bringing their friends along to partake is worth the effort. All that great food, along with the riotous fun of this family, helps to ensure that people will continue to come out. And I am forever grateful to have had these wonderful folks in my life, all my life, and proud to be a family-member, if only of the pretend kind. I’m also extremely grateful that Kathryn agreed to take over my book sales while I’m gone – although I hate the idea that it could really keep her busy, that also has a nice ring to it somehow.
Well, my butter tarts are done and not bad, if I do say so myself. Now I have to figure out how to pack them, along with everything else. In case I’m not online or able to blog for awhile, and in the spirit of last night’s swelling of joy amid Christmas tradition, I will wish you now all a big HO HO HO, a very Merry Christmas or whatever you are celebrating, and leave you with the hopes for a miracle called worldwide peace in 2009. And also with a quote from my favorite carol, that being Good King Wenceslas:
“Therefore Christian men be sure – wealth or rank possessing – thee who now shall bless the poor, shall themselves find blessing.”