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My book tour up the west coast of the United States has finally brought me back home to Canada…I have a few thousand kilometres more to go to get to my actual home in the Hammer, but just being back in my birth country makes me happy. I’m in Vancouver, spending time with friends here in the seaside city that just rocked out with the Winter Olympics (various friends here have said that though they were very critical of the games at the start, they had way too much fun during the actual event to keep frowning). I planned on being here for two weeks but already extended my stay as a good friend is arriving on the day I was booked to leave and it just wouldn’t be right to leave now.

To break up the almost three weeks I will be in this big city, I decided to get out to the bush and go and visit my friend John who lives on the west coast of Vancouver Island. He invited me to come to Bamfield, a place I had never heard of before. Now that I’ve been there, I hope to return one day for the little town with the not-so-pretty name is another sweet spot on the earth well worth discovering. I love when I am introduced to new places and find them irresistible – then they get put on my boomerang list.

Bamfield is situated in an enviable location on the rugged Pacific coast on the south shore of Barkley Sound, adjacent to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and neighbours to the Huu ay aht First Nation. It is all mainland, though it feels like you have gone to an island when you cross Bamfield Inlet from East Bamfield, which is accessible by car, to West Bamfield which is not.

Bamfield must have more stellar views per capita than any other little community of a few hundred people. Each house I visited looked out in a different direction to a different vista of sheer beauty. In the area there are countless islands – the Deer Group, the Broken Group – as well as the mountainous horizon of Vancouver Island to the east and endless sky to the west over the Pacific Ocean.

You can get to the town by driving up a 100 km logging road from Port Alberni. There is still logging going on in the area and you need to keep an eye to avoid the massive trucks (many of them transporting massive logs) on your way up the road since they have very little swerving ability. Except for the views of clear cuts on the surrounding hillsides, the drive is quite pleasant (coming from an old bush road frequent flyer).

You can also take the Francis Barkley ferry – the ship that took over from the original Lady Rose – from Port Alberni on the days that it runs. Its arrival in Bamfield is a major social and commercial event – like going to market day in Central America. People arrive, goods arrive, mail arrives, and the locals all head to the dock to see each other, help unload the skids and find what surprises may have come from the outside.

There isn’t a lot of commerce going on in Bamfield and for that reason it is a dying town (though there is still a lot of life to it). Apparently the school has dropped from around one hundred students to only nine! The main employers are the Coast Guard and the Bamfield Marine Biology Station, started in 1972 by five western universities as a center for marine research. According to the locals, at one time Bamfield had more PhD’s per capita than anywhere in Canada. No shortage of brains in the area, just jobs. There are several fishing charter companies and lodges, there is the trailhead of the West Coast Trail nearby at beautiful Pachena Beach, and the native community of the Huu ay aht which recently completed extensive negotiations over treaties and settled with the government. Their future may decide much of the future in the whole area.

The Huu ay aht have a beautiful community long house built several years ago and are now in the process of building a large administration building overlooking Pachena Bay. Apparently they are discussing moving their homes to the higher ground where these community buildings are, in anticipation of the much expected tsunami that may one day wipe out everything along the west coast of North America.

People who live in Bamfield have to make a living – there seem to be a lot of carpenters as well as some galleries and a nicely stocked general store – but what the locals know is how to live a good life together in this rather isolated post and that includes making a lot of music. My friend John is a fine musician and so he fits in with all the talent in Bamfield.

One of the local musicians is Fay Bennet who has lived in Bamfield for several years and has a lovely voice and, along with making exquisite pottery, writes songs that tell tales of life on the west coast. She just produced a CD of her music – Kinda Corny, Sorta Sweet – and among the songs there is the line “salty sea-spray kisses”, an evocative image that stays with you from her song about sea women waiting for their fishermen to return safely home. Fay and her partner Malcolm had us over along with some other musicians for a night of Canadiana roots guitar-playing and song-a-long which also included another visitor, Mitch Anderson, who sings Stompin’ Tom songs like the man reincarnate. I knew I was back in Canada listening to lyrics about hockey and trucks and dogs and Sudbury Saturday Nights.

It rained much of the time I was there but fortunately the sun broke out enough to go exploring. West Bamfield is very much a water community, but then you get out of the boat and walk along the boardwalk that follows the shore. John told me that the boardwalk came about when a company accidentally delivered a load of lumber to the town – the town folk had the thing halfway built before the company came back to claim their lumber. Whatever its history, that meandering pathway is the social center for a community that walks more than it drives.

A beautiful place to walk to is Brady Beach, on the northwest side of the community. The beach and sea are rugged and wild, but you are really only minutes from town – and it is one of the last places you can go camping in the area without some kind of permit or trespassing on private or government land.

John and I ran into a couple who were camping – they were almost rained out the night before but were basking in the clear evening sky and almost warm sun around a driftwood campfire. The young woman from Port Alberni, Lisa, has visited this beach all her life – she was one in a long line of people who made me realize that for many Bamfield is their hidden paradise. I thoroughly get that.

Just like in my own piece of paradise, Costa Rica, I was still in rainforest, evidenced by the wide array of vegetation that is as common in the tropics as everywhere else up the temperate west coast but would only be found in summer planters if you were inland in Canada, unable to survive our frozen winters. The Gunnera leaves were as big as you see in Monteverde.

The community was welcoming and musical and compassionate, as revealed by the existence of the little village of cathouses for neutered feral cats. Members of the town built these whimsical dwellings and continue to care and feed its feline residents (as well as the racoons who know a good deal when they see it).

And just like in Costa Rica, the rain fell much of the time but it didn’t dampen the warm hospitality or dull the spirited conversation of the characters who live there. I was only in Bamfield a couple days but felt like it was a place that could be home – well, except for all that cool rain – largely due to the kindness and friendliness of the local folk. So big thanks to all the friendly people of Bamfield, especially Lars, who drove me there from the Nanaimo ferry and filled the time with colourful stories of the history of the town; Fay, who drove me back to Nanaimo and shared more tales and laughter; and my ol’ pal Johnny Blue who invited me there in the first place and kept the music and conversation rolling. I hope the sun shines brightly on you all. Save a little for the next time I make the trip to Bamfield, the land of music, well-fed feral cats, and a thousand spectacular views.


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 – 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.”

July 2020