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It’s an overcast morning in Cahuita. While torrential rains saturate the rest of Costa Rica, and perhaps most of Central America, it remains relatively dry here. We can hear the thunder rumbling up in the mountains behind us but that doesn’t mean we are going to get wet down here close to the sea. Dry on the Caribbean still means humid, drippy and lush but we are always warm and if we pay attention to the sky as we plan our day, we won’t get caught in the sparse rain showers as we walk to town or collect wood. If we take the umbrella, it’ll probably be used to shield us from the sun more than the rain.

the rancho from a crocodile's viewpoint

Roberto just saw our occasional neighbor, the spectacled cayman, who comes to hang out in the stream several meters from the rancho from time to time. We now are keeping an eye on the shady wet refuge where it hides. I’ve only seen its eye at night, a big green diamond glaring at us out of the darkness, no doubt annoyed by the flashlight. We found some caca on the edge of the water along with the marks that some animal dug around while depositing it. Now we are more curious than ever, as we can’t imagine that a cayman’s droppings look like that of creatures such as racoons, yet we don’t know what animal would have got that close to the water with a cayman lurking close by. Unless it was the cayman itself who pooped there.

when girlfriends mess with ya

I’m used to being able to google questions such as “what does a cayman’s poop look like?” instantly while online. It feels prehistoric to not have the cyber-gods at my beck and call…alas, you can’t have it all.

with my great friends Bob and Kathryn

Although I didn’t write much on this blog while I was in Ontario in July and August, I did have a lot of fantastic times with friends, heard great music, danced a lot and swam as often as possible in the clear cool waters of both Lake Michigan and Lake Ontario. I took lots of pictures and thought I’d sprinkle them throughout this and the following posts with as little comment as possible. After all, I know people like the pretty pictures as much as anything and it’s a shame to take nice photos and not share them.

the divine Ms Cocky

To report on Mr. Wolf, the news is good. According to his son Benito, who I talked to by phone the other day, Wolf is getting stronger, with more oxygen filling his brain and body, and now the problem will be keeping him from overdoing things. He is, as Benito said, getting cranky with his limitations. He will have to get busy or his caretakers will grow less inclined to listen to him. Wolf is definitely not used to having to sit for too long and it has been several weeks now. You know the man is starting to feel much better when he wants to get out and swing his machete again.

With Cocky and the Trickey clan

There was a great response by people to the Monteverde Friends Monthly meeting request for donations to help Wolf take care of his medical needs. The final bill for the pacemaker operation was well over $12,000 (which doesn’t seem like much by North American standards) and they have collected over $15,000. Wolf will have to continue to return for checkups with the cardiologist and these are expensive, so the money collected will continue to be used for his ongoing care, including the cataract operation that is coming up next. Katy Van Dusen, the clerk of the meeting, sent an update and thank you letter. I expect that some of the readers of this blog may have donated money – if you wish to, you still can by reading the letter on my post “Happy 80th Birthday Wolf” which has the details – and I want to also extend my gratitude to those of you who have been so kind as to help the Guindons with these life-saving expenses. May Wolf walk many more miles with the help of that new pacemaker and a better quality of medical attention.

Lori Yates and her gang

 

The sun has poked through the cloud cover and things are heating up. One of my favorite neighbors here is the kingfisher family – I’ve seen five species on our stream from the tiniest American Pygmy to the large Ringed Kingfisher. One of these big noisy beauties just came by, chatting away about who knows what. That is something about life in the tropical forest – there are a lot of outspoken creatures who live here creating an almost constant cacophony of chatter (like a bunch of almost teenage kids), but it is hard to understand what they are trying to say. If I did, then maybe I wouldn’t miss that google thing so much. I bet one of them would be able to tell us who shit in the woods.

walking the road

I spend much of my time in Costa Rica. When I’m there I have very little exposure to North American news and culture. The big scandals and important world events show up in the newspapers and on cable TV, but I have to make a real effort to see them and without any context I often don’t understand what’s going on. In Costa Rica, if we walk into Cahuita from the jungle to watch an important soccer match or to get groceries, Roberto always gets a couple of newspapers to consume till the next town trip. If we stay in a hotel in San Jose with television, we devour lots of news and movies. In Monteverde it’s the radio. The world comes to me in fits and starts.

big city

When I’m in Canada, I’m constantly on the internet, listening to CBC on the radio, watching TVs that are mounted everywhere it would seem, talking about it all with friends – I’m full of what’s going on,  listening to the buzz of pop-culture and politics, and caught up in the latest media diet.

And so - how nuts  is this world? There are the horrid images of crimes and tragedies that bombard us, played over and over again until a new one replaces them. Just as disturbing are the outrageous lives that we are voyeurs of, the excess of wealth and celebrity that plays in stark contrast to the devastation of war and poverty. 

hmmmm

 

 

After awhile a person can lose their perspective and  get real confused about what is of real importance or not, and whose lives seem to be of more value or interest. Television obscures reality from both ends – for those of us consuming the edited fodder, and for those who live their lives feeding us what they think we should know.

 

water peace

When I get away from the media, I feel myself slow down and my breathing changes. My exasperation builds when I’m paying too much attention. I’m aware that the extreme stuff is still happening when I’m oblivious, but I don’t have to think about it when the images aren’t in my face. I can concentrate on choosing what I think are more valuable issues to fill my brain with.  I feel a very different sense of tranquility when I’m living in the jungle or the bush, and it’s not just because of the beauty, power and peace of my natural surroundings.

Because I’m savvy to this huge media cloud that threatens my own truth-o-meter while telling me the-way-it-supposedly-is, and my awareness is peaked when I return to my North American life after chilling in my less-hooked-up life in the tropics, I admit that I react more to what I hear, see or read. For a brief while upon my reintroduction to North American culture, I am still thinking straight before I become blurry once again. It makes me worry for children who consume massive amounts of television, much more than we were allowed in our day - and really, we only watched nice shows like Red Skelton and Ed Sullivan.

tv watching

 

 

What is considered important, normal and reasonable, that is, what is reality in the developing brains of children today?

 

 

 

Lately there have been a few conversations on television  that have blown my mind, some by celebrities who I basically respect. Is it my imagination or are the wealthy celebrities having a little backlash to the New Order for the Common Good as suggested (if not yet implemented) by Obama (and in the new documentary by Michael Moore.) In the last week I heard Oprah and Barbra Streisand sit together and talk about just being poor girls at heart - “if you are raised poor, you’ll always be a poor girl at heart”. And in the next breath, Barbra declared how Oprah needed to go to Spain and join her at a restaurant which I happen to know is considered one of the most expensive in the world. I appreciate that they may cherish memories of the simple life and insecurities might follow them from their humble beginnings, but these women are so beyond not even just rich anymore, it is staggering. I don’t understand how they can’t just shake their heads in disbelief at how ridiculously wealthy they are rather than claiming to still think in terms of food stamps. Maybe they could start a new fad - instead of adopting children from the third world, they could adopt whole countries and share their wealth that way since they have more money than many countries’ GNP. I know I know, Oprah does lotsa good I’m sure, probably Barbra too, but there is also a disconnect going on that grates me.

vintage motel

A year or two ago, I remember catching a moment of Oprah on a roadtrip with her sidekick Gayle and they had to stay in a regular motel – the family-run kind that my family certainly would be staying in (with great excitement) on the one night of the holiday when my parents let us stay in a motel instead of camping. The kind that millions use gracefully and billions more would be happy for the opportunity of visiting one day.  Oprah whined and fussed about having to be there so much that I remember feeling embarrassed for the motel owners. She almost kissed the tiled floor in the lobby of the Ramada or Hyatt  or whatever upscale hotel she was in the following night. I guess it was honest of her producers to keep these scenes in her show, but anyone I know who saw this bit came away shaking their heads.

oprah fav things

My personal biggest beef with Oprah is her love of “stuff” and her desire to share “her favourite things” with the world. I guess with all the thousands of shows she’s done and the experts she’s met, she hasn’t figured out that consumerism is one of the biggest threats to the planet. Promoting more and more stuff and sharing the satisfaction she feels in accumulation of it also grates me.

I guess she won’t be putting Walking with Wolf on her bookclub list any time soon!

whoopi

Another day, I saw Whoopi defending wealthy folks who do good work with their cash, not wanting to be lumped in with the wealthy folk who don’t. This was in reaction to Michael Moore’s  Capitalism: A Love Story. There were many things she could have said about the doc, and the issues it raised, but that was her reaction.  Of course it was only a day or two later that she defended the convicted-rapist-escapist Roman Polanski – it wasn’t really “rape-rape” (read the court transcript and decide). How would she look at the case if he wasn’t a fellow celebrity? I’ve always really liked Whoopi as both an entertainer and a smart out-spoken woman, but I’m questioning if she and I are on the same planet these days.

can you blame them

Then there’s the foofarah of David Letterman’s admitted trysts with female employees. Does anyone really think this stuff DOESN’T go on? If we hear that there was actual harassment as opposed to mutual consent or jobs lost because of refusing to partake – well, that is different. At this point, doesn’t one expect to hear these stories about celebrities (that alone your neighbours?)…and if you were going to marry one, would you truly be surprised if this happened? And in a celebrity-driven-universe, don’t you expect underlings to want to have their moment with the great ones? Perhaps personal morals aren’t what they used to be, but certainly in moments of idol worship, what else do you expect. I’m sure Cleopatra had the pick-of-her-groupies too.

flood line

My favorite response to Letterman’s situation was Craig Ferguson, the recovering alcoholic Scots-funny man who’s show follows Letterman’s, saying, “If we are now holding our late-night talk show hosts  to the same moral accountability as our politicians and clergymen, I’m out. I’m gone.” Those standards obviously aren’t always being met by the latter gang  but don’t we have more reason to be concerned about their behaviour and how it affects our daily lives?  Some things are just more important than others.

oscar and rebound

I seldom write about this stuff, but it has been in my face these last couple weeks as autumn comes on. I’ve been in my house, writing, staying warm, trying not to spend money.  I’m letting myself be distracted from my work to see what is going on out there on the glamorous side of the world (while tsunamis, earthquakes and wars continue to terrorize those in other hemispheres). My head is spinning from the absurdity of what I hear, my heart breaks for those who suffer in this lop-sided world, my body reminds me to leave all this behind, go outside and breathe before I’m grated raw.

kath & K

I really appreciate the wonderful, down-to-earth, thoughtful people I’m lucky enough to have as friends and the time I spend with them reminds me that there is still something in the middle, a “normal” class, that crosses economic lines but is based on humane notions of accountability.  I thank my friends for making it through life with kindness and humour even when we struggle (and I thank them for providing the photo-track to this blog.)

freda & mike

peace trevor

 

 

And then  Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. May he get the support he needs to live up to the challenge of making this world a better place, starting in Washington.

I can turn off the TV now… I’ll go grate some cheese instead.

rhubarb

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.

my home

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.

snow

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.

fretz

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.

the bairs

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.

rebecca family

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.

the happy bairs

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.

picking leeks

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.

pilates machine

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?

faeries hill

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.

spencer and boys

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.

seamus

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.

girls with attitude

b-daySo 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!

jig the hoopster

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.

tory

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!

redwinged blackbird

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.

 

morning-new-hampshire

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.

 

cemetery-nyc

 

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.

 

gw-bridge

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.

 

garden-westtown

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-and-nora

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!

 

main-building-westtown

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-south-room

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.

 

greene-st-school

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.

 

philly

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.

 

pendlehill

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.

 

trotter-hall-swarthmore

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.

 

dawn-redwoods

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. 

 

 

champion-beech-tree

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.

 

the-forest-pendle-hill

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.

 

the-main-house-pendlehill

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.

 

ambassador

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.

 

 

 

 

I am safely back in my home in Hamilton, unpacked and reconnected. It was a festive few days in northeastern Ontario that I just had the pleasure of passing while presenting Walking with Wolf and visiting friends.  There was also a bit of bush time, some sailing, and, of course, music involved and now all that is left are the memories.  I sold enough books to justify the trip, which wasn’t difficult as I will always jump on the chance to head north to the rocks and pines and lakes, so selling some books and getting the story of Wolf out only makes it that much richer.

The night before I left, my old friend Bob Martinez came to the Hammer. I was driving him home the next day to New Liskeard.  We can now tally one more convert, an innocent seduced by the brick city’s charms.  Sitting in my jungly backyard with the sun streaming through the leaves was beautious.  We then followed the call to go to the bayfront where some folks were drumming.  Bob is a fine drummer himself, just not doing it much these years, so it was good to see him doing the skin thing and enjoying himself. 

 

We then had the delicious favas and shrimp at the Wild Orchid (this restaurant in itself tends to bring my friends back) and then walked up to Pepperjacks.  Watermelon Slim - a truck-driving, union-carded, slide-guitar playing, harp-blowing, incredible teller of tales and interpreter of songs -  was playing and singing and talking.  Though I was falling asleep in my chair and knew I had to get up and drive, I couldn’t leave. The man was mesmerizing in a slippery kind of way. I think it might have been his shiny satin shirt but it was also his buttery voice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday night at the Chat Noir in New Liskeard was warm and comfortable as a cat on your lap.  A number of friends, and others, came out – maybe thirty-five? – and we had a pleasant soiree.  Dave Patterson, one of the sweetest guitarists you could know, played along with Dean Murphy on bass and Dan Dalcourt on drums.  Although Dave has played for decades all over the area, this managed to be his first time at the Chat Noir Bookstore, a cool space run by Jennifer and Paul Fournier.  Besides a large variety of books and other items, as well as a stocked coffee bar, the place has a real friendly character. They have a perfect event space in Liskeard and are real nice folks to boot. (No, don’t boot them. Where does that expression come from anyway?)

A bunch of friends were there - from Temagami came Glen and Diane Toogood who, after more than two decades, have left isolated lake-living for closer access on the highway. We have lived in some bushy places together, and survived camp life at two wilderness canoe camps, along with other trials and tribulations, proving we can survive anything. They brought Heidi Buck, another comrade from past Temagami adventures. I learned many years  while in Costa Rica that Canadians have a very different sense of distance and time – to drive an hour to see a movie or have dinner with a friend has never been much of an issue when you live in the Canadian countryside, just the cost of living in a very big land - that is changing with rising gas prices, but is still part of our very large psyche.

Bobby, Terry, Linda & Bill From further north near Englehart came Joe & Kathy, Linda & Ambrose, Bill & Linda – all my old neighbours and wonderful friends. Even my ex-mother-in-law had been through and bought a book for me to sign.  A pleasant surprise that was. It was all real nice, and although I didn’t feel I talked as clearly as I did in Hamilton, it helps to not be a perfectionist…really, it was fine. 

               Kathy Martin & Heidi Buck with the Wolf.

 

 

The next morning Terry and Eva Graves, who helped me put the evening together, threw the afterparty and gave me a real comfy bed, took me out on steamy Lake Temiskaming in their sailboat.  That’s twice I’ve had the luck of going sailing in the last month after several years of nary a sheet in the wind. The lake, at the inevitable end-of-the-summer, was warmer than the air that morning, and the sun was beaming down, so there was a lot of mist and cloudy fog in the distance. What a way to start the day.

As it turned out, this was New Liskeard’s Fall Fair weekend. There were all the prerequisites – horses, chickens, cows, the midway and candy floss. And a huge crowd with a definite French accent – makes me think that the Quebecois (the border between provinces is less than half an hour away) really enjoy homegrown community-driven entertainment. With their band, Headframe, Terry and Eva played a set in the afternoon on the Harvest Queen stage.

 

 

 Our friend Dave Patterson, recently of Chat Noir fame, played a little violin with them.  Or was it fiddle? … still a question that.  Dave is very sentimental about the whole community fair thing.  It was real nice walking around with someone who wasn’t cynical but instead enthusiastic and downright tender with the spirit of the fair.  

Tom Preston &  Eva of Headframe & Dave Patterson

 

Alec Morrison of Crank Radio, Jeff Lundmark & Terry of Headframe

Near the end of the night at the Chat Noir, I realized just how well the Hammer was represented – I live here and Terry, my longtime friend, former boss and committed activist extraordinaire, who very kindly introduced me, is from here, as is Dave Patterson. Who said it’s only slag that comes from the Hammer? I spent the night with my pals Linda and Bill Murray up in Charlton, relaxing, eating mmm-mmm food and drinking a precious little bottle of Don Julio tequila they had given me for my birthday – I brought it back north to share with them, in Bill’s very tasty margueritas. That must be why there are no photos to document the occasion.

Sunday afternoon’s book show was about a three-hour drive away in Mattawa at the Moon Cafe. Lorne Mick and Bev Bell have a perfect recipe - great food, great people, great building.  They’ve only been open a year and a bit, and it is a struggle in a small northern town like Mattawa, but hopefully they’ll do well and the Moon will become a stop on everyone’s journey west from Ottawa on Highway 17. There wasn’t a big turnout that afternoon but it was a quality group.  I stayed with my friends Patti and Leo Lessard – Patti and I being old friends from the same neighbourhood and high school in Burlington. It was while visiting her back in 1982 that I got the job that landed me in that northeastern area of the province.

 

The youngest participant so far at any of the book events was the lovely Lily, their grandaughter, who seemed to enjoy the show.  There was an impromptu concert following the readings by Haley and Chanel, the granddaughters of our friends Terri and Ted Kennedy. Chanel promises to be a talented songwriter and Haley, well, she’ll just be a star. 

 

 

 

  Bev, K & Lorne of The Moon

 

 

The next day Terri and I took Little B and Trula, her bear-like dogs, out on the trails at Eau Claire Gorge. A new place for me, it was beautiful.

Autumn is in the air, there is no doubt.  You feel it faster up there, compared to here in Hamilton – and I’m feeling it here too.  Crisp walks in the woods at this time of the year is some of the best walking you’ll do – you can almost hear the sighs of the flowers as they fade and twittering of the leaves changing colour. The river was pretty high, what with all the rain that has fallen.  No drought this year in that area.

 

The last book talk happened at the Hibou Boutique in North Bay on Tuesday night.  Liz Lott and Christine Charette have a very friendly shop, eco-wise and people-wise, specializing in their own creations (restyled/recycled clothing, photography and porcelain jewelry) and very deliberately chosen smart products. Once again it was a small crowd out, but a warm one in a lovely space. Bob and Anna Gibson-Olajos came down from Temagami, carrying their 7-month baby melon with them (well, Anna is the vessel.)  I stayed with the Northwatch folks, my friends Brennain Lloyd and Phillip Penna and their daughter Beatrice who was headed to her first day of junior kindergarten.  A big day in the Penna-Lloyd house.

 

  Inside Hibou

 

 

I drove home as the green forest shifted colours in front of my eyes. This is the time of year I feel the most Canadian – it must be the red maple leaves everywhere.  The temperature is just fine for a northerner. And you know you need to enjoy every minute before the winter comes on.  Thanksgiving is coming up and ideas of fall food start to invade your mind’s taste buds…potatoes, brussel sprouts, turkey dressing, apples, pumpkin pie. I’m feeling tired and I don’t think it is from the trip – my natural rhythm tends to follow that of the world around me – and the days are getting shorter, the nights are coming on strong, my body is preparing for hibernation. Slowing down, slowin dow, slow...

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