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Welcome 2011! From my window looking out on Monteverde, it appears to be dawning with turbulent winds, undulating temperatures, and a mosaic of sun and clouds…hmmm, sounds like another year of surprises and change!
Last night a portion of the talented mass of Monteverde musicians took to the stage and presented both an acoustic and electric set of 60s pop music. The community has grown to expect a great show from Robert Dean, Alan Masters and their friends. For three years, on New Year’s Eve, they did a Beatles Revue, but this time they broadened the spectrum to embrace the whole decade of the flower children. I don’t think there was a Beatles song in the bunch. However their version of Suite: Judy Blue Eyes was exceptional, as was Robert doing Hendrix’ Purple Haze.
Alan and Robert’s rock band, the Chanchos de Monte, Monteverde’s horn section (Richard Trostle on sax), Monteverde’s string section (Jonathan Ogle, Heather Grosse, Alan Masters and Jeffrey Dixon), took turns backing a variety of guest singers including the lovely Annie Wenz, who comes to Monteverde from the US and has joined in musical events here before.
Talented locals Jesse Gryst, Nicolette Smith, Ken Landers, Maya Salma and the beautiful young Riley Walker all provided vocals. So did the audience, most of who sang along to the tunes, many who danced throughout the show.
I was the host and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Being the sixties, and a party, it was worth getting a new dress and some great earrings to match the occasion. Nicolette and I had our hair styled by our friend Willy Bach. I’ve known Willy and his partner Rowan since they came to Monteverde a couple of years ago, but have only known Willy as a serious academic who is always interesting to talk to about issues of profundity.
Little did I know that in his former life, and for many years, he was a hair dresser. When I saw him the other day, he offered to come and bring out his rusty scissors (metaphorically of course) and give us appropriate dos. We had a lot of fun, the hair poofing interspersed with interesting hair story chit chat, and saw a whole other side of Willy that was quite charming. And both Nicolette and I looked fabulous!
My Roberto left a couple of days before, and that kind of took the oomph out of my New Year’s Eve celebration. After a couple hours of exuberant singing and dancing with Robert Dean and gang, followed by a candle-lit tapas and sangria gathering at the Hotel Belmar, I didn’t last long at the Mata, where the dancing no doubt went well into this morning.
Which is, of course, the first morning of this new year 2011!
The year is starting off in a rough way for our friend Wolf. Four days ago, the family finally got permission to take him to Blanco Cervantes Hospital in San José. This is a social medicine hospital that specializes in elder care and chronic, long term illnesses. Over the last few months, we’ve been hoping that Wolf could be taken care of there, but it has been quite a process to get him admitted. Now that he has been, I believe that any emergencies or treatments in the future will be at this place.
Neighbour and friend Harriett Joslin, who has helped out as chauffeur for the family before, took nurse Stefany and sons Berto and Benito down to the city, the latter two acting as body guards for Wolf. This meant restraining him from trying to get out of the car or getting restless with those in the car. They got to the hospital and Wolf got admitted. From there, it isn’t a nice story that has unfolded so far.
For whatever reason – confusion caused by an infection, dementia, stroke-related problems, or (my personal belief) the wrong substitute medicine for Wolf’s bipolar condition after he was taken off lithium – or a potent mix of all these -he has been in a very manic, agitated state. This started a couple of weeks ago with constant talking, but has grown to aggressive and quite obnoxious behavior – I use those words with all due respect for a man who I love and admire. It is simply hard to find other words to describe what is a behavior that is obviously out of Wolf’s control.
As his body has gotten stronger, he has more energy with which to be manic. Unfortunately, much of this is negative energy. They have restrained him, tied him down, much of the time at the hospital. That is a very difficult thing to experience, for both Wolf and his family.
He did tell me on Christmas Eve that he knew he was losing control of both his mind and what came out of his mouth. He was ready to get help. He has now been in another reality several days and those who have been with him don’t think he is very aware of anything in this, the more common, reality.
I am heading down to the hospital tomorrow with Lucky and Stefany. We don’t know what we will find, but I’m going to spend a couple of days on Wolf-watch. Unlike Puntarenas hospital, where we managed to have at least two or three people with him at most times, the Blanco Cervantes is apparently very strict about visitors and only one person can be with him at any time.
We await the results of blood and urine tests as the doctors (mostly on vacation until Monday of course) evaluate what is going on in Wolf’s mind and body. Once they have an idea, they will hopefully be able to give him a medication that works to control his wandering mind. This is what we are all hoping and waiting for. I am prepared to spend a couple of difficult days with my old friend, or at least with the outer rather strong shell that houses a very troubled man with a mind that is blowing around like the wild Monteverde wind. I’m sure he still has his sense of humor, though it may be revealing itself in inappropriate ways. I’ll keep you posted.
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.
I’ve started writing this while laying in the hammock – it’s early morning and the heat is beating down the slight coolness that accompanied us in the night. If I try to count the number of types of leaves I can see without moving my head, face turned skyward, I reach twenty shapes and quit counting, the effort a little too much. Or if I try to isolate the sounds – the voices of the creatures, the frogs, the morning birds, the cicadas – what are all those other insects anyway? – and the sound of a big bushman chopping firewood to get the coffee brewing – well, I get lost in the various layers of songs coming out of this steamy, verdant landscape. The only sound that could be deemed intrusive is the occasional passing of a vehicle on the highway a couple hundred meters through the bush. No matter how jungle-bound one may feel, civilization is never really that far away.
It has been about a week since I last wrote (now two I admit as I finish this), thus my blogological clock is ticking and telling me to write. The time has gone by in a haze of lazy jungle love. From the moment I saw Roberto’s tall dark silhouette outside the airport doors, I felt myself breathe deeply again and knew I had come back to where I should be. When we arrived in Cahuita the next day and walked up the bush road, down the jungle path, crossed the now quiet (yet often fast-flowing) moat that encircles the place, and settled into his rancho nestled beneath the tall Guanacaste trees, I felt like I had come home.
We’ve barely left the place except to get food and to go dancing a couple of nights. The Quebrada Suarez, the twisting stream, provides enough sunning and cooling time that even taking the twenty minute walk to the beach seems like too much work.
A woman moving into a man’s domain always shakes things up, so we’ve been “remodeling” – making space for my things, increasing the comfort level, Roberto building rustic furniture as we sense the need – assemblage art it would be called back in Canada.
I brought a minimum of “stuff” with me, being very selective, simple living being one of the things that I truly appreciate about this place. The two most important things are my coleman stove which needs a different connection for the gas tanks here – in the soggy tropical forest cooking with wet firewood can be a full-time affair, not always a bad thing but often a frustrating one – and the components to hook up a solar system. My pal Chuck lent me a small solar panel and I bought the power inverter and now just need to buy a boat battery to get it all working. With a bit of effort , a few dollars, and a little luck, I should soon be able to write directly on my laptop being powered by that free and easy big ol’ sun, the same beast that keeps us moving slowly and conserving our own energy – unlike the bustling hummingbirds who are zipping about me and the butterflies of all colors who don’t stop their fluttering all day long.
However, we haven’t got around to getting the stove or the solar stuff working – as I said, it’s been hard just getting out to buy food.
Instead we’ve been watching the howler monkeys fearlessly leaping about the tops of the fifty meter high trees. There are moments here – mostly at daybreak and sunset – when the cacophony of jungle life swells to a crescendo before settling back down to a background buzz. It is often the male howler monkey who officially starts the day with his lazy roar – if he is in one of the closest trees it is as subtle as the engine of a Harley Davidson revving outside your bedroom window.
A pair of green and black poison dart frogs lives in the hammock tree (along with at least four different kinds of herps – geckos, lizards et al.)
Other constantly noisy neighbours are the oropendulas, tropical relatives of the orioles. Like ecstatic percolating coffee pots, they bubble away while getting food in the treetops and building their long dangling nests. The last couple of days the squawking parrots have taken over – it seems to me that there is a domestic dispute going on high up in the trees and those loud green birds are really having issues with each other. Not everyone can be so content in the jungle it would seem.
The other afternoon we spent time watching a King Vulture, a strange sight here in the vibrant green forest – they are more usually seen around open places or where there is rotting food of some kind or circling high in the sky. This guy came and sat down on a branch in the cool jungle, as if pretending to be an exotic quetzal seeking a quiet refuge from its adoring fans. We were laying in the hammock watching him watching us when a weak rope holding Roberto and I finally gave out and sent us to the ground. I swear that vulture had a smile on his waiting beak, always happy to see an accident in progress.
As it turned out, he had his eye on the corpse of a large toad, laying dead in the foliage on the far bank. Who knows what killed it or when, but that vulture knew its worth and struggled to lift it up. This was one of those big cane toads, big enough to fill a coffee pot. It was a fight for the vulture, and he was under pressure when he realized that I was chasing him with my camera, but he managed to get that big carcass up and away before I could get a decent picture.
The humidity has been building around us, night skies are filled with lightning and thunder rumbles in the distance, but not more than a drop of rain has fallen in the now two weeks I’ve been here. The rest of Costa Rica has had wild storms and deluges – the one night we went half an hour down the coast to Puerto Viejo to go dancing where it was pouring – but it remains dry and hot and steamy in Roberto’s piece of jungle paradise.
The country is waiting in anticipation of a big earthquake on the Pacific side and last night the Caribbean coast of Honduras suffered a significant earthquake. One never knows what one will be dealing with here in the tropics – it isn’t all pretty.
I’m now in San Jose with Wolf, awaiting the arrival of the shipment of the second printing of Walking with Wolf – we have all our ducks in a row, the Reserve truck is coming to get us, the money is in the bank, our customs man, Eliecer, is on the job – and the books seem to have got hung up in the same highway closure I did last night on my way here from the Caribbean. So our ducks are about to get scattered again and we will all be winging it.
As I made my way to the city yesterday, having left on the 11:30 a.m. bus, the highway from Limon was closed for several hours, the result of at least ten landslides from the heavy rain. The workers wouldn’t clear the rocks and earth and trees while the rain was still pouring down and so the traffic sat – me in a dry bus so in no discomfort – but we pulled into the city about five hours later than usual, at 8 p.m. in the dark. And I expect that is what happened to the books – slowed down by the forces of nature. Like our ducks.
Once we have those books we’ll be heading up the green mountain and I’ll stay a few days in Monteverde talking book business and visiting friends. It’s nice to be out of the mosquitoes and humidity, but I am already looking forward to getting back down to the jungle next week. After all, love awaits and that is worth a little sweat.
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!
I am still in Freeport Maine. The weather has turned to spring bit by bit, but the clouds are moving in again and it would appear that we are going to be cold this weekend. Oh well, if one dances harder, you warm up just fine.
Did a talk at the Maine Audubon Society’s Gilsland Farm in Falmouth the other night. A nice crowd – half were Audubon folks, the other half friends from this area. Was great to see everyone and they all seemed to enjoy the presentation. Only sold a couple of books but as long as I keep my expectation low (selling one makes me happy) then I’m not disappointed.
I’ve stayed on here at Mast Landing Sanctuary with Peter and Cocky, who, as always, feed me healthy food, share whatever dancefloor we can find and keep the conversation stimulating. We have decades of history together, much of it while being social activists in the Temagami area of northeastern Ontario, and never fault for political talk. They went to Cuba this year (I was there maybe five years ago) and what with the American government’s change in policy towards Cuba happening quickly at Obama’s hand, we are all wondering how Cuba will fare as the wealthy Cuban-Americans return to their homeland and the American tourists follow. I sure hope that the Cuban government has some sort of transition plan ready. Cuba will never be the same – and some think that is good, but “progress” could just as easily turn against the people of Cuba as work for alleviating poverty or hardship.
Best of…with Jacob Augustine on right
Cocky and I went to an event in Portland the other night – the Best of Portland – with free food and music, it was a celebration of the best of everything in the city. It was quite the crowd – we met music promoters, the guy who did the interior design of the building we were in, musicians, insurance men…well, a wide swath of Portland’s finest. The food was phenomenal – a bistro version of tamales, divine – and the music – well, we really only caught one act, Jacob Augustine, a great big bear of a man with a small horn and string section behind him – an act we’d both go and and see again. Great political, social commentary with a rocking backbeat.
I am now preparing to talk to a class at Bowdoin College in nearby Brunswick on Monday. I’m also staying on top of all the details of Philadelphia (which has grown to 4 presentations in 3 days) and the Sunday afternoon at Marian Howard’s home in the Bronx in NYC. So each day I’m doing a little work, trying to keep the focus, but mostly enjoying being here with my friends, getting out for walks in the sunshine and dancing most nights. Our pal Dennis came over last night and you couldn’t stop us – put four dancers in a room with a huge selection of music and you almost have to shoot us to get us to stop (or remind half of the folks that they have work early the next day – that’ll get them home.)
And I made an executive decision to not go to the west coast this summer. I haven’t got enough lead time to plan it properly and get booked in places I’d like to be (and my sister is starting a new job this year and therefore may not have the flexibility to spend time with me.) It felt like a huge relief when I finally decided that I can’t do it all. I can now stay longer in Costa Rica when I return there in May and that sounds just fine to me.
I was invited up to the Chewonki Foundation, an environmental education center near Wiscasset Maine, just a half an hour north of here. As serendipity would have it, Katy Van Dusen, a friend and great supporter of the book in Monteverde – along with her two sons, Richard and Francis – were visiting the area, checking out the colleges that the boys have been accepted to as they continue their education here in the States in September. The director of Chewonki, Willard, along with his wife Jenn and their young daughter Sirena invited us all for dinner and I had the joy and privilege of seeing this world class outdoor classroom and dining with a table full of interesting people. It was also wonderful to be with Monteverde people in Maine, to talk about Wolf, get an update on Benito’s sloth, and tell stories from the Tapir Trail (Wolf has just sent me an email proclaiming this week Tapir Trail week – you had to have walked this difficult path over the ridges between Monteverde and Arenal, or minimally have read the last chapter of Walking with Wolf, to appreciate the significance.) I felt like a breath of home had whispered in my ear.
Since then I’ve danced away the kabanga blues with the Blues Dogs at the Freeport Cabaret (believing this sardine-packed house was a normal night out in the little LL Bean town), and swirled and swished and sipped a variety of great wines at the Freeport Cheese and Wine’s little wine tasting event.
I also visited with Cocky’s brother Henry and his wife Christine – even more stimulating talk aided by the addition of her mom Pat who is supposed to be suffering from alzheimer but seemed awfully witty to me – and today did the ten minute talk at Nat’s class at Bowdoin.
A very interesting class for me, listening to Nat’s stories from Monteverde and about Dan Janzen, the well-known biologist and conservationist now at the University of Pennsylvania, who wrote the naturalist’s bible on Costa Rica – The Natural History of Costa Rica – and is also going to provide an endorsement blurb for the back of Caminando con Wolf, the Spanish version of our book. I’m going to be taking a copy of the English version to him in Philly this week, so hearing of his powerful work, his irreverent personality and his intriguing style as a speaker which has all contributed to a new kind of conservation in Costa Rica has really got me excited about possibly meeting the man.
No two characters on earth could be more fun or better friends than Cocky and Peter -they’ve been so generous and supportive all week, giving me love and soul nourishment constantly along with their wisdom and advice. They know I love them – but here and now I declare it publicly!
With my gang of Mainiac friends at the Audubon talk
I’m going to get in that car tomorrow and start driving right straight on through New York City to Philadelphia – they tell me that’s the only way to go, I95 all the way. Last night, I spoke with Roberto, holding down la finca in Cahuita – giving me an update of the plants we had planted, the monkeys who were stealing his ripe bananas and the death of a character in the area who has haunted me for years – with all due respect, I can’t say I’m sad to see him go. Roberto told me that he prays for me every night, that I’ll be okay out on the highways. I thank him for that, and promise to be very careful – and with that said, Noo Yawk & Philly here I come, highways and bi-ways make room!
This is the scariest week of the year. Of course, many of us say that every year, especially those of us who jump into Halloween festivities with a fever. I have always loved Halloween – probably got started with the candy thing. We didn’t have access to candy then the way I think many kids do now. Candy was doled out on special occasions or we saved our little quarter-a-week allowance to indulge ourselves. I remember how big a pillow case of candy seemed, even before the days of king size pillows.
I do know that it was always the costume-making and masquerading that was the big draw for me. I can remember a long line of great costumes, each year learning something more about what makes the perfect outfit. Besides being silly, sexy, literal, conceptual, colorful, creepy, and highly original, the costume receiving high marks from me has a lot to do with how functional it is, as in you should be able to walk. I learned that when I was about eleven, when I tried walking around the block trick-or-treating wrapped up like a mummy – forced to take miniscule steps, barely able to lift my legs up stairs, generally being so slow and awkward that I was left behind by my older sister and her friends, who, let’s face it, were happy to ditch me.
Then once I was older and going to parties and bars, there was the matter of dance-able costumes as in you must be able-to-dance… not too hot, not with extremity add-ons that can trip you or hurt other people on the dancefloor, not masks that you can’t breathe or see, or an ensemble that has to be pulled apart and tossed aside within the first half hour. One of my favorite works-of-costume was transforming my mother’s wedding dress into a mermaid outfit years ago – green shiny sequined material for the long fish-tail sewn onto the lacy white bodice of Mom’s dress. I controlled the tail with a string attached to it from my wrist. It was all-in-all a very comfortable fun costume – the only trouble was when I got too far into character and jumped into the kiddies apple-bobbing basin like a mermaid-outa-water who had just returned to the sea. The big galvanized bobbing tub fit me nicely – but sent all the kids running to the parents crying, “Mom, Kay just sat in the apple-bobbing water. YUCK! We can’t bob for those apples now!” I tell ya – some people’s kids…
So I carry on each year, searching for great costume ideas, always happy when something works out real well. This year, having just returned from several weeks away in the US, England and Spain, all I could do was throw a bunch of sarongs and pearls into a bag along with a great pair of shoes that I had bought at an amity years ago for a costume but never worn. I arrived on Friday at my friend Carolyn’s and said, “Please make me into a costume”. These thrown-together things often work out just swell – and so it was that I became some sort of Haitian voodoo queen with cleavage…and great shoes.
But first, being the scariest week and all, there was a freaky story to be told when I arrived at Carolyn and Chuck’s house near Westport. They have the cutest little dog, Ziggy (or Zigmeister, Ziggidy-dooda, the Zigster…). He is a beauty, a mid-sized dog of African descent – a Basenji – that Chuck brought home about a year and a half ago. All the extended family and friends have fallen in love with him. Reading about the breed, I found that Basenji’s are hunters with cat-characteristics and “silent voices”….it is true, Ziggy doesn’t bark all that much, always a loveable trait especially in small dogs.
About three weeks ago, Carolyn had gone walking with Zig, leaving their home, across Faerie’s Hill (where the magic people dwell), through the backfields, her eye to the colored foliage along the windrows. They heard coyotes as they went along, Zig’s ears perking up with each sound. Being a natural hunter, he doesn’t particularly shy away from things, but up until this point it has only been a case of keeping him inside at night so he doesn’t mess with the skunks. At one point Carolyn saw three coyotes a good distance away, walking along a path that follows the edge of the field. Zig took notice and went running to them – so fast that Carolyn couldn’t stop him – and the coyotes advanced towards him. Next thing, one of the coyotes had picked the Zigitito up and tried to run, little black and white body in his mouth.
As Carolyn told it, this all happened in a few loud heartbeats. She went running, arms flapping, screaming toward the canine chaos. The other two coyotes ran away but the one with Zig tried to keep him. Zig isn’t that small and no doubt fought back. The coyote finally had to drop him as Carolyn arrived.
Ziggy was gashed up pretty good but had survived – nipped Carolyn as she tried to pick him up so we figure he had got a few good ones in on the coyote as well. Carolyn carried him back over the fields and took him to the vet for a buncha stitches. When Chuck came home a few hours later, as he put it, Carolyn was more freaked out than Zig – who was basically just stoned on pain killers and (maybe) just happy to be alive.
I’m happy to report that Zig is now, three weeks on, feeling back to himself and the hair on his shaven wound areas is growing back. Everyone I talked to in town was talking about poor little Zig (and poor big Carolyn) and we are all glad that he survived and wasn’t taken into coyote slavery – or worse. There is a sad story out in eastern Ontario this week – very scary for the owners of the missing wallaby known as Wendell – who got loose last week and has been spotted far from home (but, come to think of it, getting closer to Chuck & Carolyn’s home). I hope that he is caught and returned home, because this wallaby won’t survive the winter, that alone dogs, cars, coyotes, etc. So if you see a fleeing wallaby, you know what to do (throw a pillow over his head and call…)
Saturday afternoon I spent a couple of nice hours at Stillwater Books in Westport – hanging with my friend Steve Scanlon and signing books. We had a few visitors – and sold a nice number of books. It was great to see some folks I haven’t seen in awhile and don’t get to see often, and trade Wolf stories with some other folks who have been to Monteverde and met him. Steve and I are going to think up a different approach next summer – maybe an outdoor table, some music and food??
On Saturday night was the spook-tacula-fiesta. This was the fourth annual at Chuck and Carolyn’s off-the-grid music hall out there on Faerie’s Hill (where the spooky people lurk) and keeps growing. This year was the best hardcore group of dancers you could wish for. At most points in the night there were more people on the dance floor than around the edges. My kinda crowd.I used my sarongs and pearls and Carolyn not only put a great face on me (she knows how to make great lips) but tied her and my hair up around yogurt containers to great effect. I think I’ll try it with coconut shells some night I’m going out and see if anyone notices. I was colorful (check), comfortable (check), sexy in a creepy voodoo kinda way (check), and had the best dancing shoes on that kept my feet moving all night (check check). We danced our dead souls alive – but also wandered out into the frosty forest and looked at the dozens of carved pumpkins that were waiting out there. A store in Westport (the Life is Good people) had organized a hundred or more pumpkins to be lit along the town dock and once Halloween was over, encouraged people to take them. Carolyn and Chuck were able to bring a bunch to light along their long drive, their flickering orange faces welcoming the folks, and then scattered through the woods of Faerie’s Hill (where the pumpkin people grow).
I really appreciate when people put a little thought into the costumes and this was no exception – we had tall shiny people, finely dressed damsels, a lovely whirling dervish and a whole bunch of men in various costumes but with very similar hats.
The best costume though was the simplest – by putting on just the right duds – bicycle helmet, rayon summer shirt and shorts – and gluesticking a little ball of white cotton fluff on his chin, a friend of Chuck’s came dressed – as Chuck. We all knew who Brin was immediately – if Chuck hadn’t been so made up as Beetlejuice, we wouldn’t have known the difference between them.
Now the scariest part of the week. It is the eve of the Great American Election. I can’t even imagine how most people I know would feel if Obama isn’t elected. I refuse to dwell on it, but the thought crosses my mind. And the safety of this courageous man and his young family also crosses my mind, as I know it does most people I know.
Keep him safe. Let things be as they should. Give the world some good news so that we can at least for awhile believe that positive change is possible in the too often over-whelmingly long tunnel of negativity in this world.
It is the morning of the book launch day here in the Hammer. I don’t have a lot of time – in fact, I shouldn’t be spending the few hours remaining blog-writing, but I guess it is a good distraction and having just downloaded pictures to clear my camera for tonight, I thought I’d add a note.
One would think by reading my blog that all I do is travel around, visit friends, dance and party. Well, it has been a summer of great celebration, that is for sure, but also of book busyness. I’ve always had a way of balancing work and play, some would say I make it look easy. I think that is why the arrival of Walking with Wolf in a form that pleases people in Monteverde also surprised many. They thought I was just hanging around, going to the beach, dancing alot. When actually I was working on the book over all these years…yes, it was many years, but better slow and sure than fast and furious I say. The book became what it is from the years I spent getting to know Wolf, getting his stories out of him, and gaining trust from his family and the community. I think if I had managed to do that in a five or ten year period, it wouldn’t have been the same at all. So that is my excuse, and I’m sticking with it.
Since Kstock last week, once my sister and friends all left, I hunkered down and started preparing for tonight’s book launch. Over Labour Day weekend, even though I had the use of my friend Cocky’s car (who had gone west but has now returned), I didn’t even get into it between Thursday and Tuesday. Even as the sun shone brightly outside, and the days passed in end-of-summer glory, I was bent over my laptop, preparing the music and images for the book show. I did manage to sit outside with my laptop one day, and without even knowing what bit me, ended up with a great big fat lip from some amorous bug who obviously wanted to kiss me. I think that was Saturday and if I had any plans of going out that evening, my swollen face changed that, instead I got more sleep and got up and kept working.
Sunday night I did go out with my friend Jeff and some friends of his on their catamaran (nicely named My Mistress). The Burlington Bay (which we called it when I grew up on the other side over in Burlington) or the Hamilton Harbour (which is closer to home now), was a scary piece of water when I was a kid. The steel companies loomed over it and back in the day, they belched out pollution like a kettle making steam. From the Burlington side of the bay, you looked over at the shoreline of factories and for me it was some kind of purgatory. It was what sent me running to the wild north country as a teenager. I knew that I didn’t want to live in the shadow of the smokestacks all my life.
Now that I’m back and living in Hamilton, those factories are actually sitting in a way that I don’t see them from my home nor from the Bayfront Park that is moments away. When you go out in a boat on the water, they form an industrial backdrop, the truth being that the steel companies are only producing a fraction of what they used to and so they are starting to have a look of antiquity about them. The bay has always been a place for boaters, including the ice boats that take advantage in the years when the ice is thick and safe, and seeing flotillas of sailboats is a pleasant sight, even with the monolithic smokestacks rising behind them. When the smoke rises just right, it is almost reminiscent of a volcano and with great imagination, you can look at the smokestacks like old palm trees who have lost their leaves (big big imagination).
You can head out to the dark, deep, cold waters of Lake Ontario by passing under the Skyway Bridge when the lift bridge is raised. Once on the other side, you can continue as far as you like, I guess all the way to Africa if you really wanted to.
Something that I loved to do when I was a kid was fishing for smelts at the base of the lift bridge. I think it was in the spring (tho I’m not really sure) that my dad would get his net together and take Maggie and I out at night – we would join all the other people at the end of the pier in the dark with our lanterns. We’d put our net in and pull it out, the little silvery smelts wiggling in their woven trap – Maggie and I would free them, only to put them in the pail and take them home for a great fish fry. Maybe that’s why I had cancer many years later, having eaten all those little fish from the industrial lake. I wouldn’t touch anything from there now, but people still stand on the pier and fish, and I know some keep their catch, while others are flexing their fishing muscles or just loving the peaceful solitary activity of fishing.
Jeff has been a member of a local sailing club for most of his life and took me along on his friends’ boat for this beautiful evening sail which is really like a social club on pontoons. It reminded me of walking around the neighbourhood, stopping to visit the folks down the road, having a beer on the veranda, and then carrying on to visit the next neighbour. The boats raft up, talk boats, tell stories, discuss the details of the next upcoming race, and then move on until they come close to another friendly boat and then raft up again. Here is Mr. Jeff Glen, known amongst the sailors as El Commodore
Jeff and I originally thought that we may go on the boat but later jump ship on the Burlington side, where the annual ribfest was happening and there was great music playing. But it was too beautiful on the water, and in all honesty, the Burlington shoreline looked like an army had invaded, set up camp, and was burning down the city, the result of all those rib barbeques sending their exhaust in the air. It seemed much safer to stay on the boat and continue the floating social soiree.
We stayed out from 5 p.m. till midnight – it was a glorious night, thanks to Dirk and Kendra and their 3-month old baby, the owners of My Mistress, and all the other nice people we would raft up to. Sometime near the end of the night, as I was slowly being lulled into a floating dreamland, the boat we were tied to put on a Jimmy Buffet CD – it was all so cliche I had to laugh. The parrotheads are everywhere, and even with the steel companies leafless-palm tree stacks belching volcanic plumes behind us, it was somehow paradise.
Besides that evening, I have stayed close to home to get my work done, to be focused and in constant email contact with people concerning upcoming book-gigs. I did two radio shows – one, a rock n roll show on the Mohawk College radio station with Lou Molinaro, who is the husband of Lynn Beebe, one of the members of the Evelyn Dicks who are playing at the launch tonight. Along with Lynn and Lori Yates, also in the band, we plugged the book and the launch and the Dicks’ performance. Lori and Lynn played a song at the end, called Soiled Girl, but with a line about black widow spiders – nature in the city. It was a great half hour. I’ve found local media very difficult to get involved – some of it is that they are short staffed, but if you watch our local television and read the paper, so much is from the wires, American-based news and entertainment. Local musicians empathize with me, saying that getting local media to support homegrown art is difficult unless you are already well established. So I really appreciate when Lou, or any other local media folks, take a moment to plug the book and the launch.
I woke up yesterday morning to a phone call from Bob Bratina, my local municipal councilman who also does a very popular morning radio show on CHML. He asked if I could be near the phone in ten minutes and they’d call me and do a live plug for the book. Well, I hadn’t even had coffee, but I shook myself, poured a cup, and was ready. I don’t know what I said in response to the questions, but I did appreciate the enthusiasm for the book, Wolf’s work, and the promo for the launch that came from Bob and his cohost, Shiona Thompson. And I did receive an email last night from Connie Smith, a news anchor at CH, the local TV station, who said they couldn’t do anything before the launch but maybe we could put together something about the book soon. So I am happy with all that.
I am preparing for northern Ontario next weekend, three book-gigs, at the Chat Noir Bookstore in New Liskeard, at the Moon Cafe in Mattawa, and at Hibou Boutique in North Bay. I drove half an hour up the road to Guelph on Tuesday and set up a book event at the Bookshelf, a very dynamic bookstore, actually a whole book community, that I frequented when I went to the University of Guelph back in the early eighties. I will be doing a book event at the Bookshelf on November 18 and am very excited about that, my friend Lynda Lehman helping me put that together.
I have my power point presentation ready, the projector that my sister and brother-in-law bought me is working just fine, and I am ready to go. Cocky just returned, we’ve been taking care of business and managing to get out to do a little dancing in the Hammer at night, but there will be dancing and celebrating going on tonight, once I’ve finished my work at the Pearl Company and can relax and enjoy the Evelyn Dicks as well as the Costa Rican music I have compiled for the event.
Just talking about it makes me antsy – I better get going and doing something about tonight. The next blog will be a report of the book launch. This last picture is an alleyway here in Hamilton, close to my home. I believe it is a Portuguese woman who puts the flowers there and has provided the colour to the walls. I appreciate that I have managed to find enough beauty in this funky little city to keep me happy, even though my heart tells me I should be living in the bush. Ah, the Hammer, urban jungle, my hometown.
There is nothing like having cancer at 31 years of age, and seriously facing your mortality, to put a different spin on birthdays. I don’t mind the idea of getting older, I’m just happy to be alive. I feel that it has all been a gift, the last twenty years, and each year that passes is another deposit in my giftbag. So turning fifty hasn’t bothered me at all. The giftbag grows. As it happened, my 50th birthday party was the best way possible for entering the next part of my life. It was a party held out on Yasgar’s, I mean Cole’s, farm, I mean property, half an hour out of Hamilton. And will be now and forever known as Kstock.
Friends are the best. I come from a very small family – one sister, neither of us with children – our parents having died over ten years ago. In the background is a large Ukrainian clan but they mostly live far away. Vi and Andy taught us to nourish and honor our friendships and both my sister Maggie and I have benefited from their counsel. And now that I am fifty, with no children, and Maggie and her husband Tom living far away in Washington State, it is even more important that I have great friends. And they really came out of the woods for my birthday, and many of them really cranked it out to make it a great one.
Chuck, Mike, Freda, MaggieMike and Freda Cole, who have held some rocking parties over the years, know how to do it. Freda, east coast gal, can’t make enough food (and others contribute) and it is always beyond delicious. We will never starve at one of her gatherings. Mike takes care of the outdoor details – together they make everything flow. They are both real gracious hosts when the strangers start arriving and welcome all into their home. They moved to this big old farmhouse over a year ago and it is definitely made for holding an event like Kstock. There must have been close to one hundred folks there, but we were spread out around the property, there was lots of room for camping, lots of room for dancing – people could wander off for private tete-a-tetes, or whatever you might wanna do in the bushes.
Maggie & MIke on the bacon
My seeester Maggie came from Washington State and spent a couple days with Freda and Mike getting ready, helping Freda with food, and making the huge signs that could be seen a kilometer away on the road – “Kstock 2008” – for those who didn’t know where they were going. The Kstock thing started with my friends Treeza and Rick north of Toronto (and Terry, Steve and Gloria), who not only started saying “we’re going to Kstock” but on my birthday card Rick provided a copy of his original ticket from the real Woodstock – kinda brought it all together.
Treeza & get-down Gloria
Chuck, Stu, Dawson & Coral
Then the gang from Westport came to truly turn it into a musical happening. Chuck, Carolyn, Marty, Sandy, Stu, Dave, Helen, John, Susan, Dawson and Coral filled their vehicles (a bad day for footprints in carbon) with instruments, speakers and camping gear and brought their various musical talents up the highway.
Nineth Line – a jump ‘n jive band kept us hopping;
Then the “other band” played by the campfire with mandolin, accordian, stand up bass and guitar, beautiful renditions of bluegrass, country and folk tunes (most notably, for this little Steve Earle worshipper, Copperhead Road). The music never stopped from early in the evening till I don’t know when in the early morning hours. Nineth Line had learned a couple new songs for the occasion – I’ve been bugging them to learn a Latin rhythm or two and they got it done. They were hot that night, and just kept getting hotter as the night went on.
Since I love to dance more than just about anything (well, dancing on a big rock in the middle of a lush forest beside a lake with a beautiful man who dances is ideal) this party played out just as I would hope to celebrate…we danced from start to finish, and I saw most of the folks up on their feet at some point. Of course, in Canada I’ve always found the dance floors filled more with females than males and this night was no exception – I’ll always remember a wild night in Montezuma, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, when there were about thirty men dancing and only four women. Now that! was a dream…but I digress.
Then there were the people who had come from far and wide for the occasion: my sister probably came the furthest, from the mountains of Washington State. But the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee were represented by our friend Kathy Lowery, who left Hamilton and married an old sweetheart (and he is), Stan, a few years ago. Freda, our friend Dean, and I have ventured down a few times to Tennessee to visit them on their beautiful porch that looks out on those perty mountains. In that time we’ve become friends with some of theirs, particularly William and Missy Murphy and William’s parents Gerry and Shorty. We’ve spent a lot of hours on Kathy’s porch with the gang playing bluegrass and singing. William’s dad, Gerry, has been struggling with cancer for a couple of years and without him able to join in, William and Missy stopped playing music. At Kstock, they got up on the stage and sang a few sweet songs again, despite the lengthy absence from strumming and singing, and it was wonderful to hear them. They’ve got a couple of the biggest warmest smiles in the state, and that they would jump on their motorcycle and drive north from Tennessee for Kstock was another gift in my giftbag.
A couple days before the party, I got a phone call from my friend Jean Trickey, from Little Rock, Arkansas, who said she had booked her ticket and was on her way! We’ve managed to spend some great weekends together in the last couple of years, her daughter’s wedding in Little Rock, and the 50th Anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, of which Jean is one of those brave teenagers who back in 1957 walked through the hateful crowd to be one of the first black kids to attend Central High School. I had gone last year to Little Rock for the 50th, (a phenomenal occasion it was), seen John Lewis the freedom fighter, met Ruby Bridges the little girl in the Norman Rockwell painting, shook Bill Clinton’s hand, got snagged on his secret service guy…again, I digress…but Jean had been so busy on these occasions that we really only got to talk a bit late at night when she finally could sit down. So to have her come for the weekend for my birthday, stay for a few days and have some down time to just talk (alot about Barack and Hillary of course), to dance as we love to do, and to see her get up on the stage and belt out “Women be wise, keep your mouth shut, don’t advertise your man” (a wise old song) was another big deposit in the gift bag.
Jean being here brought out her sons Isaiah (we had real Toronto paparazzi there) and Sol from Toronto and their kids, Amelia and Jaaziah, who added extra joy and energy to the occasion. (Many of these photos were from either Isaiah, Peter or Marty – thanks guys)
K, Sol, Isaiah, & Miss Kathy from Tennessee
The Trickey clan is always interesting, fun, dynamic, and loud (in this gang, I don’t feel like the loudest in the room) – great to have three generations represented at Kstock. (Notice the photographic image of me on the cake – what will we eat next?)
Kay, Sol, Amelia & Jaaziah talk cake business
And then there was my soul sister Cocky who lives in a nature sanctuary outside of Freeport, Maine and her partner Peter MacMillen. They had been up in Temagami, on Peter’s beautiful island, and came down from the north for the event. Cocky has been here in the Hammer often, but Peter went well out of his way for this one.
And along with my close friends Linda and Bill Murray from Charlton (along with Jean and Cocky, we all lived up in the Temiskaming area of northeastern Ontario for years – the Murrays still do), Patti and Leo Lessard and Terry and Ted from Mattawa, they brought the fresh clean northern air down to the Hammer. Cocky, Jean and I are a feisty trio when we get together, which doesn’t happen very often, but I love these women and to have a few days together was beautiful.
Beyond these folks there was Bill and Cheryl from Virginia, Lynda and Carole representing Guelph, friends from Toronto, Freda’s family, fine Hammerfolk and good neighbours, a number of old high school friends I hadn’t seen in years, the now-getting-old kids of friends, and a couple of my favorite dogs, Alpha and Ziggy. It all added up to the best party ever.
After this wild summer of rain and thunderstorms, the sky was completely clear, the temperature perfect all night long for being outside dancing (I guess some people were sitting) or around the campfire, people camped in comfort and peace, and we all woke up to more sunshine. Freda and Mike and gang made us a big breakfast, only after making a deal with the Swingers to play just a few more tunes in the morning. That Stu can drum on anything! We swam in the pool and I opened my gifts (the ones not already in the giftbag).
Stu, John & Marty, most of the Swingers
I ceremoniously burned the box full of paper copies of Walking with Wolf (Steve Earle was doing his Sirius radio show in the background as this happened – it was all so poignant). I have been printing out copies of the manuscript for how many years? and no longer need them, so I put the box on the coals and slowly watched it catch fire and disintegrate. It was a cleansing and a celebration. If I do nothing else of value in my life, I managed to get this book written and published while Wolf and I are still alive, and miraculously before I turned 50!
It was at the moment that the last of the overnight guests had got in their cars and honked their way down the road, leaving only Freda, Mike, Maggie, Cocky, Jean and I with Isaiah and Jaaziah, that the storm hit. Everything had been cleaned up, put inside, as we could see the storm approaching over the fields. There was some heavy rain that we watched from the porch, amazed that this whole outdoor event went on without a hitch, not a drop of rain to spoil anything, no chance for a mud-dance like at the real Woodstock. Just as the storm seemed to have subsided there was one HUGE thunderclap with one HUGE bolt of lightning – Jean was just putting her hand on the outhouse door and was shook to her bones. Jaaziah was in the car, but Isaiah was still outside and could hear the sizzle of electricity in the air. I think Jean’s hair went a little curlier and we all jumped and were rocked all over. Just one CLAP that carried the power of the whole dark sky. How lucky were we that none of us were hurt by this extremely close electrical jolt – it would have been a horrible way to end perfection – and life has been so good for me lately that a bolt of lightning almost feels inevitable – and that the storm waited until our friends were safely on their way home. One last grand hurrah, the big finish, to Kstock 2008! The gratitude I feel to all my friends who came out and worked, then played, so hard is impossible to express. Peace, love and grooviness will have to do!