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leaves

The leaves, having attended their annual costume party,  have been whipping around, making that inevitable trip downward from their lofty heights. I’ve been waiting for the orange cones to appear on the street, signifying that Hamilton’s big leaf-sucking trucks will be coming around the next day. I raked the thick blanket of maple leaves that has accumulated on my front yard into a big pile. I now keep watch, wondering if any of the school kids walking by will take the plunge into that soft heap of crunchy vegetation – I know I couldn’t resist when I was young.  Once those work-cones appear, I’ll rake the whole lot out on the street and hopefully be here to watch the big truck suck ’em all up like a super-duper Molly Maid.  It always gives me a thrill. 

We are having a mid-November week of warm temperatures and hot sun, beautiful weather to be dealing with the final stages of the gardening season. In two weeks, I’ll be on my way to Costa Rica, and at this rate I won’t see even a flake of snow before I leave.  I’m anxious to get down there, as this weekend Wolf was back in the hospital with a series of seizures. He is already home again, and I’m not sure just what happened, except that he hit his head when he fell and needed stitches.

wolf

I don’t know if anyone knows what happened. I’m guessing it has to do with his medications, whether he is taking them properly or not, whether they are collectively causing problems while individually dealing with his diabetes, prostate, bipolarity and knee pain. Someone suggested that he was de-hydrated. With all that water on the mountain, particularly in the streams that the Quakers have been protecting all of these years, Wolf should be drinking lots of water even if he has to go get it straight from the stream if he doesn’t like it by the glass.  I’m relieved to know that he was released quickly, which means it was a passing concern, but I know that he must be getting very discouraged and frustrated with these recurring episodes. For the moment, it would seem that Wolf is okay.  

Good health is fleeting. Sometimes it disappears as quickly as it takes the heart to burst and other times it is a long slow cancer that sneaks up. You need to really appreciate good health when you have it – and it generally takes having cancer (as I did) or something chronic for that to sink in. As often as not, there are signs that things are going wrong whether with our personal health or our relationships, and we may choose to turn a blind eye and avoid the truth as long as possible. So is it also with the health of our communities and forests and waterways – the disease has been settling in for decades now. The planet is suffering from chronic illness and we can’t remain blind to the reality.

I recently received an email from friends in San Pedro de Laguna, Guatemala. I wrote a couple blogs about this lakeside town when I spent Christmas there last year (The Land of the Mayans/The Magic of San Pedro posts.) The email is a call for people to help the communities around Lake Atitlan that are trying to deal with the decreasing health of this beautiful mountainous laguna. I am copying some of that letter here with the hopes that people who come to my blog may read it and pass it on, and in this way perhaps the people who are struggling with this will get help from the rest of the world.

lake_atitlan[1]

This is coming from a group “Todos por el Lago” but, as they state in the letter, the concern about the lake’s health has been discussed for years by a number of groups. Development and tourism on the lake is growing and putting more stress on the area without appropriate measures being implemented to deal with the inevitable problems. It is a very long, detailed letter written in Spanish and translated into English. I have edited it and only included parts, but if you want to read the whole thing or contact the group, this is their twitter account:

 lakeatitlan http://twitter.com/todosporellago 

The following paragraphs come out of their communication:  

“Unfortunately, it seems like we are about to witness a drama way more serious than we would like to believe. It has been a year now since we have started to see scary signs that something really wrong is going on with the lake water -algae, skin diseases and stomach problems of swimmers, dying fish, cyanobacteria and even sewage smells – and it feels like somehow we have chosen not to see those signs. There is no worse blindness than the one of who does not want to see and in this case, the reality we have in front of our eyes seems so terrible that it produces immediate blindness. I feel like maybe what we are witnessing is the beginning of the end of a way of life we all fell in love with at some point, that being the reason why we decided to make this our way of life. The death of this lake would be the death of a dream-like environment -one of the most beautiful in the world – of the life style of ancient Mayan villages that have a lot to teach, a lot to live, and also the death of this little sociological experiment of which we are all part, a mixture of people with different nationalities, ages and cultures that got together here in a unwritten decision to live together a different life style to the ones we left behind back home.   

“From our point of view the pace in which Mayan villagers have had to adapt to the consequences of the so called industrial development has been unnatural – it did not leave them space or time to understand the negative effects of consumerism and of lack of inorganic rubbish -and other byproducts- treatment. Because of this, us ¨westerners¨ who inhabit this land that has  belonged to the Mayan since the beginning of time, have the obligation of doing all we can for these people to have an understanding of how the byproducts of consumerism can affect their environment, and with it their way of life.

“We have some ideas for discussion we have obtained from neighbours and friends, that could be little seeds for community dialogue:   

  1. Organise informative meetings that explain not only in Spanish, but also in Kakchikel, Tzutujil and English what the lake is actually suffering, what are the symptoms, what are the causes and what will be both the long term and short term effects.  
  2.  Information is the key, let’s inform everybody, let’s make signs, drawings, posters, get out there and pass the info around, the lake is seriously ill, yes, we are not exaggerating, you just have to look at the water surface, at the sewage in Tzanjuyu… let’s do something! 
  3. We have to appeal to international organisations, whether it be realm of govnermental or non-governmental, contact everyone we can think of , Greenpeace, European Commission for Environment… we are sure there must be inhabitants and visitors of the lake with contacts, ideas, let’s use them!  Let’s motivate them!  There are home owners in San Lucas belonging to the entreprenereal world, let’s ask them for help!  From the local business to the political world there are people who may have vested interests in the lake – take whatever steps necessary to find funds, subsidies and international aid to fund treatment plants, studies and technologies that would give us organic alternatives to harmful phosphates, that is to get SOLUTIONS.  We also need information about whether it is possible not just to prevent the growth of bacterias but if there is a way to undo the damage already caused by what already exists here!   
  4. We need to stop the sewage from going into the lake.  We have all heard at some point that this and that embassy or organization has proposed to finance some treatment plant but then it has never happened, is this true?  can anybody give exact information?  we all need to know what has happened in order to take action… 
  5.  We need to stop the use of chemical products for  agriculture.  This means not only educating the workers in the agricultural sector, but maybe taking more drastic measures like prohibiting the total use of these products in the entire surrounding areas of the lake; a comment made by a neighbour in Santa Cruz: if they can make a law that prohibits smoking in public spaces, why can’t they make a law that prohibits bloody phosphates!?   The huge coffee plantations should have to set an example for all and make their crops organic, in this way also giving greater worth  -come on, ORGANIC is a magic word today in the west!- and more international fame to Guatemalan coffee.  But what is the likelihood that civil society has the power so that this is really going to happen­?
atitlan[1]

“We need to begin to organise ourselves, do something now, before it’s too late, and not sit here waiting in the hope that the algaes on the surface disappear from sight so that we can act like nothing’s happened.  IT´S HAPPENED, and there’s no pretending that this is just a surface problem anymore.  Let’s start the  DEBATE  with this fórum and hold meetings so that every single person will contribute what they can, only in this way will we be able to save the lake.  We are offering what we have: our doors are open to be used as a meeting space, we offer our time  to translate   and  our  energy, the important thing is to see that everyone is ready and is going to actually  SPREAD THE WORD, this will be the seed towards change, hopefully! ”  

* * * * *
  
I have watched the changes in Costa Rica over twenty years of going there while development swelled around me. If you are a thinking person, at least one with no personal benefit involved, you can’t help but dismay at what results when tourism takes off in an area. When it is a beautiful landscape, many tourists will find ways to return, to stay and build homes and participate in the local economy. It’s inevitably a double-edged sword, bringing development to a depressed economy, at the same time changing the lives of locals and their environment forever. Even when people try hard to do things in smart and responsible ways, at a certain point, “progress” takes over and often spins out of control.
 
It happens all over the world. When I hear North Americans complaining about immigrants, I think of how many of us have moved elsewhere in the world, bringing our development and consumerism with us. We forever change an area and not always for the good. I don’t call it progress when we turn people who have lived well on the land into hardcore consumers, dependent on foreign-produced goods and hankering for bigger, better, shinier, faster. However, this has happened as long as people have been walking and moving, and will continue, so there is no point in thinking you can stop the movement nor stop the process of migration and integration.
 
 But, as this letter is asking, we need to seriously look at how we integrate and the new influences we are bringing. How do we help the earth’s natural systems adapt to the new waves of population as well as the old communities develop into healthy new ones?
  
If you have ever been to this magical lake in Guatemala, or hope to go there one day, or simply have a means to respond to their cry for help, please do what you can.  Or do something for a lake or community that is suffering close to your home. There is never a shortage of crises. There shouldn’t be a shortage of minds, hearts and hands reaching out to help our global family and the land, water and air that sustains us.
 
snoopy_woodstcok_jumping_leaves[1]
 
 
As I have been writing, the orange cones appeared, so I moved the leaves to the street. I’m laughing along with the kids who are coming home from school and leaping through the pile, squealing and shouting in glee! It reinforces the fact that joy comes from the simplest things, as often as not straight out of Mother Earth’s special box of toys. So kiddies, take care of those toys and keep the box safe.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

   

 

 

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lake-atitlanThe community of San Pedro at the base of Volcano San Pedro on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala 

 

It is December 30, 2008 and I’m now in Costa Rica.  I arrived last night (blessedly put in executive class on the two planes that brought me from Guat City to Panama to San Jose – I took that as my Christmas present from Copa airlines, not that they owed me anything) and came directly to my friend Marilyn’s. After a day here in the barrio of San Pedro in San Ramon, I’ll head up the mountain tomorrow to spend the last night of the year, and the first manana of 2009, in my home away from home, Monteverde.

 

ricky-reindeer 

Before I’m steeped in everything Tico, I want to write a bit about the other San Pedro, the funky town on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala where I spent most of the last two weeks. The time went by in a blur of Christmas festivities, great food and sunshine. Thanks to the fact that I was visiting my friends Rick and Treeza (who treated me to all the extras including a superb Christmas breakfast), I was introduced to many locals, mostly folks from other parts of the world who now make their home and business there, but also a few real live Guatemaltecos. Without a doubt, the majority of people I met while in Guatemala, whether residents or travelers, were from Canada, many from Quebec. And here I thought they were all in Cuba.

 

processiojn 

Being a relatively short, round and generally dark-skinned person myself, I blended in quite well with the Mayan population. I was asked several times if I had Indian blood – not a new theme, as I grew up often being asked this, most specifically if I was an Eskimo – as in Kay Chor-Nook of the north. The phenomena of San Pedro is that for perhaps the first time in my life I felt very tall – at five foot three inches, this doesn’t happen often. One night I was walking home on one of the narrow paths through San Pedro, and found myself surrounded by more than a hundred Mayans who had just come out of a religious meeting, all dressed in their traditional woven wraps and tipica clothing. They were socializing along the pathway, sharing some refreshment.  I got caught behind the man collecting the cups and couldn’t move one way or another, so just had to shuffle along slowly, greeting those who caught my eye with “buena noche amigo.” Never in my life have I stood as the tallest in a crowd – but here I was, what felt like a good head above the rest – I could see from sea to shining sea – many of them laughed as they saw my predicament of barely being able to move, trapped amidst their brown smiling faces. My friend Rick, who could be my equally-short twin brother except for his Boston accent, also appreciates being in this population where he feels absolutely tall at times.

 

santos-santa 

There was a steady schedule of events all week leading up to Navidad.  Every day and night, well practically every hour, you could hear the explosions of the bombillas – the fireworks that the people here love so much.  From multi-crackling poppers to the large boomers, you have no choice but to get used to them…I couldn’t help but think about North American dogs I know who would spend this season hiding under a bed but here I saw that most of the dogs seemed oblivious (although I’m sure there were many hidden under beds who I couldn’t see) as do most of the people. Every morning I would walk through the scattered left-over litter of the fireworks along the paths and every night walk through the lingering sulfur smells, and despite developing a resistance, still jump when a loud BOOM would burst beside me without warning. At midnight on Christmas Eve the firework display was super loud and impressive, a barrage of explosions set off higher up in the town, but also visible coming from every community around the lake.

 

internet-table

As I said in my last blog, San Pedro may be described as a village, but it is actually a good-sized town (or very small city). I stayed in the lovely Sak’cari Hotel, at the recommendation of my friends – it sits on the edge of the lake with beautiful views and is right in the middle of many of the great restaurants. Treeza and Rick live in a small house a little away from the action and so they suggested that I might want privacy and to be closer to the nightlife. At $12 a night (private bath and cable TV – you can’t beat it and that is pricey in San Pedro) and the fact that I could sit in the garden and pick up the neighbouring café’s wireless for free, it was a great choice – and Manuel, one of the managers, and the Mayan folks who worked there where real nice to be around.

 

road-in-san-p 

In reality, nothing was more than a ten minute walk from anywhere else. The central market of San Pedro and the bank machine both were up the hill in the central part of the town – the lower part closer to the water held the majority of the restaurants and bars, all linked by an intricate system of walking paths that were just recently paved with blocks. I can imagine how dusty or muddy these walkways would have been before the cobblestone was put in. Another big change in the community, according to the locals, was the arrival of the little tuktuks – these Italian three-wheeler carts that are used as cheap taxies. Dave, an ex-pat from Canada who runs the fine Bistro Sol restaurant, told me that about three years ago a man brought two into the community. Dave went to Canada for six months and when he returned there were more than forty! I can only dream how quiet this place was just three years back, before these little motors started squealing around everywhere. They can move people and their packages over greater distances and much faster than before but perhaps that is the point – once everyone feels the need to move further and faster, the wave of change is well on its way to being a tsunami.

 

 

bocci3

One of the places that I really loved to be at was La Piscina. People generally don’t swim in the lake close to the communities (although the Mayan women do their laundry and bathe on the shore) but go to places out of town – a beach at La Finca, cliffs across the lake for diving – where people go to be in the cool water of the lake. A friendly guy from Quebec, Daniel, put this swimming pool in last year. He also happens to make the best bloody marys in the land. La Piscina is a great place to hang out, catch some sun, swim, or relax in the shade of the trees around the bocci ball and horseshoe courts. Recently Daniel began a friendly bocci ball competition on Saturday afternoons which is becoming an addiction for the locals. Having grown up around a lot of Italians, I’m familiar with the sport. I was at La Piscina for two of these Saturdays, hilarious hours spent with a large cast of characters, some who actually could play the game well. There was an eleven-year-old boy from the US, Cody, who was very competitive and managed to get into the finals the first week – I seemed to run into him everywhere and almost felt like he was the red-headed mascot of the place by the time I left. However it was the red-headed Kevin – the Guatemalan-born son of hippies who was born here in the early wave of grooviness in the seventies – who beat the competition both weeks and now is the undisputed and big-headed bocci champ. Rick has promised to keep me informed as to who finally dethrones him.

 

neil-daniel-santaNeil the sweet kiwi, Daniel and poor Santa

 

Daniel also had an “I Hate Christmas” party December 24th which I went to, even though I don’t, where the highlight was the destruction of the Santa pinata. Lovely to see all that pre-Christmas aggression played out on a tissue-paper effigy of the Father of Consumption instead of in mall parking lots. Daniel also treated me to the music of Harmonium, a band that I learned French to while living in Lac St. Jean in northern Quebec many years ago. I haven’t heard any of their music in years and so he played several songs for me, him and I singing out – it brought tears to my eyes and took me back to crispy white wintery days living in the northern bush of Quebec.  Although I find it hard to string together a sentence in French anymore, I could still sing most of the lyrics to these songs! Amazing how the mind works.

 

The most popular girl at Daniel’s barat-daniels 

 

 

If you find yourself one day in San Pedro, I highly recommend Daniel’s place – a great outdoor space for relaxing through the constantly hot sunny days with the entertainment provided by the locals, the music, cocktails and the clear cool waters of the pool provided by Danielito.      

 

that-path-below-treeza

Speaking of those hot days, I was amazed at the intensity of the temperature on the lake. I can imagine that it is because of the dry climate – in the sun, it was very hot in that pure clean atmosphere – but the second you moved into the shade or a cloud passed over the sun, the temperature dropped several degrees. At about four o’clock each day, when the sun made its way behind the shadow of the volcano, the temperature would really drop and stay there. If the afternoon wind was blowing off the lake, and you were in the shade, it was downright chilly. It was a constant effort to re-balance my temperature in San Pedro and just moving a few feet could mean the difference between sunstroke and frostbite.

 

high-lake

The lake itself was very high from an intense rainy season recently ended, the evidence apparent all along the shoreline.  Many trees were sitting in the lake along with crops and shore grasses. People who have buildings and businesses right on the shore are worried about the loss of their land. Treeza and I spent a morning walking outside of town along the shoreline where the public path has mostly disappeared. The distinction from town to country is slight – spaces not filled with buildings are filled with maiz or other crops such as coffee and a variety of vegetables or are small corrals for tethered horses. The land around the lake, on the hilly volcano skirt, has been terraced by the Mayans for generations.

 

anise

On the path from town to Rick and Treeza’s, one passes through a crop of anise – I have no doubt that every time I smell licorice I will remember that bit of dusty trail where I had to stop and breathe deeply each time.

 

 

 

edwardo-and-passion-fl1

Many of the people I met were folks who came once and returned, now perhaps having built a home or renting a cheap house somewhere in town. Many of them, such as Eduardo and Beth, were volunteering in the local schools. Literacy has been a problem in Guatemala. Public schooling has not been a priority but as tourism grows and the locals find that speaking English is an asset for their childrens’ future, there is more interest in classes. So there is no shortage of volunteer work as a teacher in the area. And to do my little part to evict literacy, I managed to sell or trade a few copies of Walking with Wolf, so our story will live on in San Pedro long after I’m gone.

 

boat

In my two weeks in Guat, I slowly became aware of the use of the word “they” – as in the Mayans. I have no doubt that “they” also have a similar word for the foreigners. “They” do things in very different ways than the folks who have come from afar and I listened to a lot of criticism and frustration by people attempting to run businesses based on their foreign standards. I’ve lived through this in Costa Rica – where “they” aren’t from as distinctly different of a culture as the indigenous communities in Guatemala. The influence of foreigners in Costa Rica is profound – I am not sure that the standard of living has improved here but the arrival of a large foreign residency has certainly meant that life moves faster, that time and money have taken on a different meaning, that people work hard to buy all the stuff that is now available, and there is great pressure on the next generation to be educated and capable of working in this newly-Americanized world based on consumerism. 

 

the-kids

I’ve never quite understood it, as most foreigners I’ve met have moved to these beautiful countries not just for the sunshine but also for the slower pace of life…and before you know it, they are amping up that pace and demanding that the locals who work on their houses and in their businesses meet their standards that they’ve brought with them. It isn’t fair or right for me to come to any strong conclusions from my short time in Guatemala, but this concept of “they” hit me – I started to recognize who “they” were as I sat in a restaurant or at a bar eavesdropping on new residents discussing their Guatemalan realities. I certainly saw lots of very warm relations between the foreigners living in San Pedro and the Mayan residents.  It is very difficult to blend into an old culture without creating change – and no doubt some change, since as literacy and health care, is good change. But tourism is seldom a completely clean and healthy alternative – providing services that appeal to foreigners – and more often than not there are many conflicts that get swirled into the exploding waves of change. I would say that the Mayan culture has proven itself to be a very strong one and so I trust that they will hold their own against the tsunami that is building force in the area.

 

freedom-bar

I had some great nights of dancing in San Pedro – at El Barrio, the Buddha Bar, and Freedom Bar. The embers of a big hippie fire are still burning in San Pedro and the longhairs and their influences are evident. A local band, Dr. Brownie and the Space Cookies, play original latin-groove music – couldn’t get enough of them – well, the name says it all. In reality there’s no shortage of organic local foods, street artisans, music wafting on the breeze, friendly folks and all that colorful Mayan cloth that is the national dress of the country. The place breeds originality and has attracted people with flare – this can be found in so many of the restaurants and hotelitos. 

 

ventana-azul

A real sweetie of an ex-pat gringo, Blake, runs two restaurants with his partner Santos, a wonderful chef from a local Mayan community across the lake. They own La Puerta, an oasis with great breakfasts sitting right on the edge of the water, and recently opened the Ventana Azul, with asian/latin fusion cuisine. It has to be the smallest restaurant around in size but their attention to detail is impressive and their food divine. Once again, I send a high recommendation to visitors in San Pedro to check out either of these places and when you go, say hi to the boys for me.

 

xmas-dinner 

When you arrive on the boat from Panajachel at the dock in central San Pedro, you look up and immediately see D’Noz, a restaurant that has been there several years, run by a beautiful couple named Dean and Monique. Dean is one of, if not the best, chef in the area. On Christmas Day they put on a buffet dinner (serving Space Turkey – the theme holds) that has to be one of the finest orgies of food in a restaurant setting that I’ve ever participated in. Every kind of food was represented, all beautifully presented, from exotic salads, to sage dressing balls, to bacon-wrapped beans, grilled eggplant – well the list is endless along with the turkey and your choice of gravy – straight or groovy-space-style. Unfortunately I had picked up a small stomach problem for a couple of days – best described as a gaggle of gurgling in my body – and couldn’t eat as much as I would have liked.  But every single bite that I took was delicious, each dish distinct, and it was all served up by Dean and Monique with their helpers in a way that made the whole thing look amazingly easy.

 

dean

For the price (I think it was about $15), as their Christmas present to their guests, they also threw in a gigabite of music that they would download on your MP3 or on a DVD, out of their huge collection of digital music so I came away with several albums of music that will remind me of my time in San Pedro. After the main spread of fantastic foods, we were then treated to the fine desserts of Margy – carrot spice muffins and double chocolate caramel fudge to die for and her specialty, butter tarts.  Considering that she lives quite a ways out of town with no refrigeration, her ability to create these wonders for a crowd of about sixty and then transport them there and serve them crispy cold was amazing.

 

treesa-new-stove

Those of you who read the last couple of posts, may remember that I was making butter tarts on my last day in Canada to bring for Rick and Treeza.  It was Margy’s tarts that had been their introduction to this very Canadian dessert. Our versions are quite different but equally delicious (I think). You will be happy to know that my tarts not only arrived in perfect condition, but that Rick, Treeza and I were able to indulge ourselves daily for most of the time I was there. One day we went across the lake to Panajachel, a very busy commercial center that perhaps has lost its charm that I had heard it once had. Treeza bought herself a gas oven that will move with them into their new house which is to be built in the coming months. The next day the store brought the oven over and a man walked it down the dirty path on his back to their rental house and hooked it up. One of my last evenings there, I gave Treeza a lesson in pie dough making (the rules – the right proportion of ingredients, touch it as little as possible, keep it cold, touch it as little as possible.) We ate a great quiche that night with perfect dough but I can imagine that back in San Pedro, Treeza is probably already making butter tarts. Give a man a butter tart, he’ll kiss you – teach a woman to make butter tarts, life between man and woman will be sweet forever.

 

k-in-hammockcorn-people 

So thank you Dean, Monique, Alex and Jaden at D’Noz, Daniel at La Piscina, Ben and Xena at El Barrio, Dave at the Bistro de Sol, Blake and Santos at the Ventana Azul, Eduardo, Beth and Sasha, Felicia, Jill, Axel along with the Guatemalan and other musicians, the sweet kiwi Neil, and especially Rick and Treeza – you all made San Pedro more than the beautiful place it is – you made it feel like I was home for the holidays. Ciao chicos, un abrazo fuerte.

 

 

 

lakeview

 

 

 

 

And a very peaceful, healthy and joyful 2009 to us all!

 

 

atitlan

 

After over thirty years of dreaming of this place, I have finally come to el lago de Atitlan in Guatemala.  I am so fortunate to have my good friends, Rick and Treeza, here – they’ve been spending winter here for the last five years or so and are now preparing to build a house in the lakeside community of San Pedro.  Although they, and others I spoke to while staying in Antigua for a couple of days, describe this place as a village, I think that the place is growing up around everyone faster than they are aware.  There are between twelve and fifteen thousand inhabitants, or more, now. Certainly it is a bustling place that laps the lakeshore and then winds its way in a series of paths, alleyways and terraces up to the volcano that looms behind – to this Canadian, it is definitely a good-sized town.

 

I came to Guatemala with the high expectations of a magical landscape that would be home to a colorful and friendly people and so far I have had these long held ideals met by the people and the place. Since I have some familiarity with other parts of Latin America, especially Costa Rica, I felt quite at home when I walked out of the modern airport in Guatemala City and saw the crowd of people pushing against the barriers, waiting for family and friends or to hustle a taxi fare out of the arriving planeloads of tourists. Arriving into that chaos in a new place always makes a big impact until you’ve done it a few times. Speaking the language helps to take away some of the confusion. 

 

modern-mayanAn elegant modern tipica Mayan – notice the great shoes…

 

The first language in this country is a variety of the different dialects of the Mayans but Spanish has been here for centuries and the Mayans speak it in a more understandable way than anyone else I’ve heard, probably because it is their second language. They speak it very cleanly and patiently and politely for the most part, and so my personal version of Spanish – learned in the campo of Costa Rica, spoken with a French accent that I picked up in the northern bush of Quebec, colored by my lack of attention to detail and perfection – well it works very well here. I find very little problem in understanding anything except the new vocabulary that is indigenous to this place.

 

skyline 

I took a $10 shuttle van to Antigua as people uniformly seem to recommend getting out of the city, or Guate, quickly. Antigua is a smallish ancient cobble-stoned city where people have headed for years to study Spanish.  The Mayan population there is accustomed to the ways of foreigners and tourism runs the economy but the traditional aspects of the place are still strong. Although I just arrived in this new country and city, I was eased into its comfortable slow and friendly pace.

 

san-vicente

I met a nice guy from Montreal, Georges, on the shuttle and we stayed at the same hotel, the very pretty Mayan-family run San Vicente Hotel, right downtown but off the street with a plant-covered courtyard, very colonial looking, with Hugo the talking parrot and Toby the terrier mascot. Georges and I discovered the joys of the city together, heading out by foot and just walking and circling, visiting the big cemetery that houses the ancestors, taking pictures in the amazingly clear mountain light, and trying out a variety of restaurants – great breakfast at La Escudilla, sunset at Cafe Sky. 

from-cemetery

Antigua sits on a flat table at the base of volcanoes – one of those places where you feel peaceful and protected by the shadowy mountains but are aware that this tranquility can be fleeting if one of those volcanoes decides to roar or an earth tremor wants to well up from below. Signs of destruction are all around in the old churches and traditional houses but there is a very modern energy that permeates out of the painted facades and old stone walls.

 

xmas-market

The mercado central, as is present in so many communities in the world, takes up blocks at the northwest end of town, where mostly Mayans dressed in their bright woven clothing are selling everything from fruit and fresh patted tortillas to bootleg CDs and plastic conveniences. Because of it being Christmas time, there was a whole section of decorations – many cornstalk and grass nativity figures, seasonal plants, and religious figures, but also tables of singing strings of Christmas tree lights that made me crazy just walking past as well as the aluminum-foil wreaths, hanging stars and garlands.  I have been amazed in the past when I’ve spent December in Costa Rica at the art form I call tinsel-creations – I bought an intricate tinsel snowflake ball to take to Rick and Treeza – an Antiguan snowball.

 

lit-up-ruins

 Everything about Antigua was low key yet vibrant, steeped in the past but with signs of the 21st century all around. I will return for my last night to Antigua before heading to Costa Rica and already have ideas in my head of what food I want to taste and what streets I want to visit more closely. I have really enjoyed the food here – access to lots of fresh fruit and tropical vegetables as in Costa Rica, along with traditional corn tortillas and a variety of salsas. And because there is a significant foreign population here now, you can enjoy fusion cuisine made with local products, something that often takes food to new heights.

 painting-la-merced

Hand-painting La Merced, a beautiful decorated cake of a cathedral…

 

From Antigua, it was a two and a half hour drive in another comfortable shuttle van up to Panajachel on the other shore of Lake Atitlan.  From there you take one of the many lanchas, small boats, across the lake to San Pedro.  I have now been here over a week – Christmas just passed, and I have a couple of days before heading back to Antigua and onward to Costa Rica before New Years.  I’ve been writing this but actually have been too busy to finish up – and now just want to post it with a few pictures. It will surely be next year before I’m writing about this great community that I’m loving called San Pedro.  Instead of trying to carry on, I will just leave you with what’s been said and will write about the lake, the food, the people and the beauty of Lake Atitlan later.

 atitlan-2

Suffice it to say, it’s been a comfortable, friendly and truly gorgeous place to spend the Christmas season. I hope that wherever you are, you have felt the same joy and contentment that I have, and been able to partake of the wealth of love that comes from family and friends. I am finishing 2008 in a very beautiful, peaceful place and hope that bodes well for the future. May 2009 be better in every way than anything that has passed before – and if it is meant to be a trying year, as fate sometimes predicts, than may we have the strength and humor to survive it gracefully.  Hasta la proxima chicos.

 mariposa

 

 

 

slow-dancer

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.

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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.

jamie-macey

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.

cat-lady

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. 

colony

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.

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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.

hemingway

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. 

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If you want to see what the ladies and cats are up to, or look at other pictures of the cats, or donate, go to Tory’s blog on wordpress – cherrystreetcats.wordpress.com. It gives you a look at a different community in Toronto.

 

 

amber

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.

doreen-piano

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.

kiddies

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.

bob-freda

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.

mikey

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.

madelaine

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:

wenceslas

 

 

“Therefore Christian men be sure – wealth or rank possessing – thee who now shall bless the poor, shall themselves find blessing.”

It has been a very busy couple of weeks since I last wrote a post. If people are going to keep reading, I feel a responsibility to keep writing. And, as the title of this post hints at, I’ve witnessed first hand the power of putting information out on the internet. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

The next two weeks promise to be crazy as I leave on December 15 and won’t be back till the end of March.  I’m headed to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala to spend Christmas with my friends Treesa and Rick at their winter home in the community of San Pedro.  I’ve wanted to go to this enchanting country as long as I can remember,  specifically to this lake since my sister went there in the mid 70s. I saw the pictures and heard the stories and am already  captivated by its beauty. So in my quest to go to the places I’ve been putting off over the years of working on Walking with Wolf, and despite the economic downturn – my view is I better spend money while I have it because I could be working at Tim Hortons splashing coffee down people by next year – I am making a stop in Guatemala on my way to Costa Rica. 

bromelia-fire

I will be in Monteverde for New Year’s Eve when the locals put on a big Beatles show which I’ve heard about but have yet to experience. That is just the beginning of the evening and I know that the night will be filled with more music, dancing and mayhem.  One of the best New Year’s I spent was the year of the millenium when we started the night under a starry sky around the firepit at Bromelias, my friend Patricia’s home and business in Monteverde. If the weather cooperates, I like to think that’s where I’ll be on December 31st.

 

four-beatles

I spent a night last weekend listening to a variety of local musicians here in Hamilton, organized by the stupendous Christopher Clause, performing the Beatles White Album. They raise money for a shelter for the homeless in the basement of the church where the concert is held. Many of their covers of the songs from this great album were truly inspired. The energy that Saint Clause must put out to organize all of these evenings (he’s pulled together many musicians to do other Beatles albums in the past) is remarkable along with his own enthusiastic singing and skill on the guitar. The Beatles night in Monteverde will have a lot to live up to – the bar has been set high.

Here in Canada we are in the middle of a very wild ride in our parliament.  You’d think that we had enough excitement this fall with the American election of Barack Obama…the huge collective sigh of relief that went around the world the day after his victory was palpable.  Here in Canada we had our own federal election about a month before where nothing really changed. We had a minority government with the Conservative party in control and they were returned to office with only slightly altered numbers. Following the election, the buzzword was “cooperation” – as in there was a new air of a cooperative spirit in Ottawa and the four parties with elected members would work together and get on with running the country. This of course means dealing with the economic crisis that has basically smothered us with its dire predictions, pocketbook panic, and totally inconceivable amounts of cash buckets that are bailing out the barely floating ship of commerce (protected by the ever-bouyant corporate powers-that-be).

Well, how things change…

As the Conservatives launched their economic package last week, they seemed to leave out their version of a bailing bucket except for the part where they removed the funding to the other political parties. This sent the other three parties to the backrooms to make a deal to bring down the government and organize themselves to step in as a coalition government.  Our constitution and parliamentary system allows for this – when the Prime Minister loses the support of the majority of the House, he can be defeated. The politics involved in all of this seems very schmarmy, the strategy is polarizing, the result is extreme.  We are now sitting listening to the pundits and party purveyors – trying to figure out the constitutional aspects of what is going on, the hidden agendas – but the speed in which we fell into this only serves to point out how fragile this new government was and how truly uncooperative the air was in Ottawa between the Conservatives and the others. Basically the opposition has had enough of dealing with the very right-wing agenda of the minority Conservatives who proceeded like they had a majority.

I’d be thrilled to see Stephen Harper and the Conservatives go – I’m obviously not a C/conservative, never have been, never will be (one of the few times I would let myself utter “never”) – and I rarely agree with any of their policies concerning taxes, social programs, the environment or war.  I was saddened when they got in again, although the way our election system works there was as much support for the other parties collectively as there was for them – which only goes to support the argument for proportional representation where the numbers of elected members in parliament would truly reflect the voting numbers.  I heard Michael Moore say the other day on a radio show that after all these years of telling Americans to try and think more like Canadians, it is funny that when they finally took the step in a new direction with Obama, we Canadians supported (or half of us did) the more conservative agenda here.  

I have no problem with the idea of a coalition government.  Canada is this huge country with so many different cultures, climates, histories and social requirements, that it only makes sense to me that our government needs to reflect all of those diversities and give them all a voice. There is this huge cry over the fact that the party that represents the majority of Quebecois, the Bloq, known for its sovereignty plan for Quebec, is now in the position of being part of the sitting government (if the coalition goes through). Which I don’t think is true – they are not actually part of this coalition, they just support it.  I think the only way we can continue in this country is by having representatives of all sectors of our huge country represented.  And the Bloq is voted in and represents much of Quebec.  Perhaps the scariest and saddest part of this is the polarization that will likely rear its ugly head again (having only been a big napping ostrich) between the west and east of Canada, the French and English, and the left and right.  Spirit of cooperation indeed!

canadian_bacon1

 

 

 

The amount of anger on the airwaves is reflecting how unhappy and unhomogenous we truly can be in our big land of bacon and beavers. At a time of the year already fraught with darkness, coldness and pre-holiday stress, I don’t know if this political adventure is a good distraction or a bad omen.

 

 

brent

 

Speaking of across-Canada-cooperation, a few days ago I took part in a CBC radio show.  This is our national public radio and the GO show airs across the country on Saturday mornings.  The GO crew, with host Brent Brambury, taped the live show here in Hamilton at the famous-on-my-blog Pearl Company. I got free tickets and went with my friend David.

 

brent-k-2

The theme of the show was “If Hamilton were a country song…” and the musical guests were Garnet Rogers, Kim and Frank Koren (who I have written about before), Thomas Wilson (not the original Hammerhead, but an import from Winnipeg who must tire of having to share his name with the larger-than-life native son Tom Wilson), and Tiny Bill Cody. The challenge was for the songwriters to write a country song about the Hammer.  The songs were truly brilliant, incorporating local legends and features of the city, and hilarious. We put out a lot of energy in laughter in that room for so early on a Saturday morning.  I was asked prior to the show to be the audience plant who they would call on to be part of their trivia challenge and of course I said yes.  So here I am at the mic, answering the silly questions that Brent threw at me though I had to correct him on my name (he called me Faye, I said, “That would be K! Brent”.)

The question that stumbled me was about Michael Moore’s film – Canadian Bacon – which was filmed here in Hamilton but I remember many of the scenes were in Niagara Falls – unless one of Hamilton’s 100+ waterfalls subbed for the big one.  And Brent talked on the phone with Michael Moore (this is where I heard him say that thing about Canadians/Americans – somehow this blog just keeps tying it all together, no?) who has a love for the Hammer too!

tiny-bill

 

A couple of days after that, Barbara Milne (who I thank for a couple of these photos) and Gary Santucci, who own the Pearl Company, won a Hamilton Arts Lifetime Achievement Award – which they totally deserve for years of supporting the arts community, as the boundless energy behind the Pearl Company as well as the Art Bus – and Tiny BIll Cody (aka Tor Lukassik Foss), a brilliant songwriter, musician and visual artist, also won a Hamilton Arts Award.  (This is a wonky pic of Tiny Tor waiting to sing his song about our notorious Sheila Copps)

Now I want to tell another tale, one that began on this blog back in July.  In the post “East Coast Pleasures”, I wrote about my friend, Roberto Levey, who lives in the steamy tropical forest near Cahuita on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica – okay, if you want to go and read that now, I’ll wait for you…..or you can pick up the story here…

 jungle1

About mid-August, when I was back in Canada, I received a comment on this blog from a woman in Perth, Australia.  She wrote how she and her daughter, Gabriella, had read with interest the story about Roberto (and his father Bato) as Gaby was Roberto’s daughter.  Debra and Roberto had been together for awhile eighteen years ago and she had returned home to Australia to find that she was pregnant.  Debra decided to stay in Australia, always imagining that she would return to Costa Rica one day.  Roberto had stayed in touch for many years, offering to do his share of parenting if Gaby was to return to Cahuita.  But father and daughter never met and as the years went by, Debra eventually lost contact with Roberto.

As Gabriella is now at an age when her interest in knowing her father and visiting her Tico roots on the Caribbean is intense, Debra had plans to take her, along with her younger sister Angelique, to Cahuita.  However, despite her attempts to contact him, Debra was unable to get any news about Roberto. Perhaps he wasn’t picking up his mail – I know he had gone through a rough period following a collapsed relationship a few years back. I had seen him in that period, but then had seen him again in July and he was more like the man I have known for fourteen years.

Debra had tried to get information about Roberto’s whereabouts from the police, the school, a variety of hotels in Cahuita – but either she was contacting new people who didn’t know Roberto (who has lived there almost all his life) or those who did know him were keeping their information close.  People aren’t quick to give out information to foreigners in Cahuita – it can get you in more trouble than it is worth. So even as Debra went ahead and booked their tickets and proceeded with the plan to make this big trip via the United States to Costa Rica with her two daughters, she truly had no idea what they would find – thinking that it was even possible that Roberto was dead since he hadn’t returned any of her letters in a long while.

Then in August, a couple months before the proposed trip, she googled Roberto Levey’s name one more time – and this time it kicked to my blog.  She wrote me that she and her daughter had cried reading my descriptions of both Roberto and his father – Gaby’s grandfather – and filled with relief knowing that Roberto was truly still alive. Debra and I began a correspondence then that continues today. I put her in touch with a friend in Cahuita, Inger, who actually uses her email once in awhile and was able to help Debra  contact Roberto and tell him that he was about to meet his daughter after eighteen years.  roberto-gaby

In October, father and daughter met. Debra, Gabriella and Angel spent two wonderful weeks in Cahuita.  Father and daughter got to know and love each other and all of Roberto’s family welcomed them as well.  And, of course, Debra and Roberto’s own love was re-ignited, not a surprise at all to me. Roberto is easy to fall in love with, it was bound to happen.  At the end of the two weeks, Debra, bit by both the coastal mosquitos and the bug of love, returned to Australia, a long long way from Costa Rica.  I’m sure Roberto was also suffering in Cahuita with his heart stirred up again. Debra wrote me that she couldn’t decide what to do about the situation. Should she return to Costa Rica – where she really didn’t have any interest in living except for being with Roberto – or did she help him to go to Australia and be part of his daughter’s life there? Everything sounds good in the short term, but would he really be happy, this beach and bushman living in the suburbs of Western Australia? He had lived elsewhere before and always returned to his home, where his roots run much deeper than the shallow root systems of the tropical trees. Debra was letting herself take some time to figure out what to do, weighing her options, seeing if her feelings are strong enough for such a big commitment, looking for a sign.

roberto-letter

 

 

Debra and I continue exchanging letters. She appreciates that I understand her feelings and the great dilemma she finds herself in. I have been in love at a distance and know how it feels to leave it behind. Because I know Roberto, I share her feeling that he is a good man but I also have watched international relationships fail quite regularly. I find myself in this very personal conversation with a woman I have never met, though have grown fond of, about a man that we both love. (They have permitted me to share this story with y’all by the way.)

 

 

robertos-shack

Then, about two weeks ago, the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica was hit hard by torrential rains from a near cyclonic condition that moved in and just sat over the area, causing serious flooding with extreme damage to thousands of people’s homes.  Roberto, who lives just outside of town in a little shack nestled in the elbow of a stream, was at home when a huge head of water came down the creekbed without warning.  His home was taken away in an instant and he had a struggle just to get himself across the now raging river. He was lucky to not be washed away himself, hit by floating debris, or drowned. He lost everything he had, taken by watery force down the creekbed and out to the sea.

The last thing I heard from Debra was that they were trying to get him a visa to go to Australia.  Roberto has had his little world rocked several times these last few months. I’m sure at this point he’s just grateful to be alive. The opportunity to spend time with his daughter and Debra came just when his waters were seriously shifting. I don’t know how long the visa process will take but I selfishly hope that he will still be in Costa Rica in January so I can visit him before he goes down under. Roberto would survive just fine somewhere around Cahuita – people begin again after these disastrous storms and carry on – but if Debra was looking for a sign that they should try to be together, this was it.

I was astounded when I read that first letter Debra sent me, amazed at what a small world cyberspace encompasses. I wonder if I hadn’t gone to see Roberto in July and written about him on this blog, how differently things may have happened. I’m happy that I was able to bring joy and relief to Debra and Gaby, this teenager who was wondering if her father was even alive so she could one day meet him. Through the miracle of google-dust, my blog helped the women in the suburbs of Western Australia connect with the rasta who lives his very simple life in the Caribbean jungle. Love endures despite distance, time and really bad weather.  It makes me feel like … Kupid!

 What a week! It seems that everything possible has been said about the election of Barack Obama.  I follow the celebrations of my friends in phone conversations, by the internet and on Facebook – particularly the Minniejean Brown Trickey family from Little Rock, Arkansas. After a lifetime devoted to civil rights, her work now being carried on by the next generation, Jean must still be whooping and hollering in Little Rock (when not crying for the sheer joy of it all – she’s actually crying below over finally receiving her high school diploma fifty years late in 2007.)jean-weeping

 Jean was one of the nine teenagers who stood up to the taunts, jeers and physical abuse of the indignant and racist white crowd in 1957 and desegregated Central High School, a massive tomb of an institution in that otherwise smallish southern city of Little Rock Arkansas.  Perhaps my heart explodes in festive fireworks for her more than anyone, she being the personal face I can picture amidst all the happy masses.  I saw Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey, tears in their eyes, in the crowd at Obama’s Chicago celebration – but I was thinking about Jean and her daughter Spirit and the rest of their clan in Little Rock and beyond and how they must  be feeling. 

z-ceremony-jean-clintons I was at the 50th celebration of the Little Rock Nine in Arkansas last year and it was an incredible occasion – Obama’s former opponents, the Clintons, front and center – and how much more potent it would have been if they had known then that the next president was going to be an African-American.  Jean was one of those who started paving this long road to change that Obama is now promising to continue to remove the barriers from.

Everyone I know personally is revelling in the results of the election, yet I know that there are many who are devastated by the election of Obama.  If that is due to their extreme right-wing views, as life-long Republicans, well, fine…that is no different than any other win/lose situation in politics (and I’ve felt that kind of disappointment more times than not.)  However, if their devastation is due to racism, that they have a problem with a black man, an African-American, being their leader, then I have no time for that mentality.  Get over it.  Open your minds. Open your hearts. Erase the hatred and widen your belief system. 

Our world is small, beautifully diverse, and needs to be integrated in a peaceful and intelligent way.  And equalized.  Across races, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, abilities and class. We have no choice.  How we can have such wide diversity in thought and desire as such a very real part of our human condition but not respect our differences is perhaps one of the biggest questions I grapple with. Yet sometimes we can’t even come to peaceful decisions with our family or neighbours, those who we know and love.  Although I am not a Quaker, there is much of their wisdom that I adhere to naturally – pacifism, consensus, respect, community. Being alive and living communally is a constant challenge. If we proceed with open hearts and minds, and make positive steps forward, with love, in harmony, in health, in peace, we will get a little closer to justice and sanity bit by bit. 

                                                           

It is so refreshing to me to have a leader, anywhere in the world, that I can listen to for more than a minute without wanting to scream.  Barack Obama is a magnetic man, a great orator, and wise person – who somehow managed to never lose his cool through the months of stressful politicking. As I continue to follow the analysis of the pundits, I listen to how his sturdiness and strength of mind is already part of his power.  And the beauty of the man and his family is only icing on the visual cake that we will now be feasting on for the next four (hopefully eight) years.

On Wednesday, the morning after, I was the visiting activist at my friend Laurie Hollis-Walker’s Eco-Psychology class at Brock University in St. Catherines.  Laurie and I became friends on the Temagami blockade in 1989, lost touch until she contacted me several years later to be part of her undergrad thesis she was preparing.  She interviewed me, along with ten other participants from the blockade, investigating what had compelled us to be part of this civil disobedience – where we had come from, what had molded us, why we had taken part in the blockade, and what this experience had meant in our lives. It had uniformly been a very profound experience for each of us – as Laurie said, after overseeing all the interviews, we have much in common, mainly the deep belief that we had to take action when we saw injustice.  It was a life-intensifying experience for most of us and also introduced me to some of the most committed, colorful, and interesting people I have ever met, many of whom I am still connected with. I believe we are going to have a twenty-year anniversary camp up in the bush of Temagami next September and look forward to reconnecting with those who I have lost contact with.

                                                               

It was following that profound experience deep in the Temagami wilderness that I went to Costa Rica and, very quickly, met Wolf and started recording his stories.  Although I had been involved in environmental and peace causes for years, it was the blockade that really empowered me and, I have to believe, led me to Wolf and the eventual completion of our book.

laurie1

A year ago, Laurie and I reconnected in cyberspace and she took on the huge task of doing the layout of Walking with Wolf.  We have now stayed in much closer contact which has included me being part of her Eco-Psych class.  This is her third semester teaching this class that she developed – and my second time sitting in as specimen activist.  This time I also did a presentation on the book.  I am so proud of Laurie, her hard work and perseverance in following a path that helps others understand what is behind social activism.  We are not deviants.  We are believers.  We are not criminals.  We take risks according to what we believe is important and absolutely necessary for the future and well-being of our society and planet. Our power comes from our collective spirit and our firm desire for positive change with a vision, not from material wealth or social status. Laurie is now working on her PhD and studying the activists who have been protecting the redwoods in California for years, a much more aggressive and dangerous activism than what we experienced in Temagami so many years ago.

I also spoke with Wolf and Lucky today.  They are at the end of their American sojourn – from Connecticut through Ohio (see Not Only Olney post), Iowa and now they are in California with their son Tomas, his wife Gretchen and their grandson Julian. They head back to Costa Rica on Monday, happy to have been present in the US at the time of this historical election. They were out yesterday in the Muir Forest, those redwoods that Laurie has been visiting. Wolf presented Walking with Wolf  to Lucky’s family and their friends in Earlham, Iowa and didn’t have enough books for the demand! Hopefully those who want the book will contact me or Kathryn as is explained in the Buy this Book page of this blog and we will send them.  I will be heading to Costa RIca at the end of December (after a couple weeks with friends in Guatemala) and we will work away at getting the book out in Costa Rica. We had a new plan, a renewed sense of hope and lotsa vigor! I know, it’s a tough job but someone has to do it – and that someone would be me – and the Wolf. He’s been selling so well that I have to ship more boxes down. Watch out Ticolandia! Wolf is coming home.

muir-woods

There is no comparison between anything I have ever done to what people like Barack Obama, Jean Trickey, Laurie Hollis-Walker or Wolf Guindon have accomplished against all odds, but I inherently understand and respect how sincere and correct their commitment has been for a better world and a more just society. I am honored and blessed to have known these people (well, not Barack of course, but maybe one day…) who have made big differences in the world and influenced so many others by the constance of their actions and the strength of their beliefs and the rightness of their vision. Perhaps, in the wake of this incredible election, the rugged path followed by some will widen into a wide boulevard filled with strong loving souls, leading us toward a more just and inclusive world.

                                                                    Red-necked Wallaby

And just an update on Wendell the Wallaby, the marsupial who walked up a fallen tree trunk and out of his enclosure in a small animal park near Ottawa, Ontario.  Before the snow falls, this poor creature better get home to his woolies cause it’s a dangerous world for a wallaby out there.  It has actually been a very mild week here in central Canada and I’m sure that is helping his survival.  He has hopped his way across the fields far from Ottawa – almost to where my pals live in Westport – uh? remember the coyote gang? – but the most recent sightings have been back near Ottawa.  He has wandered across hundreds of miles, kilometers, whatever you want to measure in. A long long way.  For some reason, in this week of global elation and history-making politics, I remain highly concerned with the well-being of Wendell. Perhaps I see some symbolism in this innocent creature out there in the world, lost, no doubt scared, but obviously determined to get somewhere. Maybe he is representative of all those folks who have found themselves wandering in a strange world, trying to survive on their natural instincts and with their own strengths, only to be more lost and less powerful with each mile they travel but always with the possibility that they will make it home. Or maybe I’m just a wannabe-wallaby who has spent the last week worried over the fate of our world and who would be the next American president, and Wendell has provided a distraction from the bigger issues as well as titulated my gypsy blood. Now that the president is taken care of, and the Lucky Wolf is almost back in Monteverde, come on, Wendell, get on home.

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