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I’ve started writing this while laying in the hammock – it’s early morning and the heat is beating down the slight coolness that accompanied us in the night. If I try to count the number of types of leaves I can see without moving my head, face turned skyward, I reach twenty shapes and quit counting, the effort a little too much.  Or if I try to isolate the sounds – the voices of the creatures, the frogs, the morning birds, the cicadas – what are all those other insects anyway? – and the sound of a big bushman chopping firewood to get the coffee brewing – well, I get lost in the various layers of songs coming out of this steamy, verdant landscape. The only sound that could be deemed intrusive is the occasional passing of a vehicle on the highway a couple hundred meters through the bush. No matter how jungle-bound one may feel, civilization is never really that far away.

road in

It has been about a week since I last wrote (now two I admit as I finish this), thus my blogological clock is ticking and telling me to write. The time has gone by in a haze of lazy jungle love. From the moment I saw Roberto’s tall dark silhouette outside the airport doors, I felt myself breathe deeply again and knew I had come back to where I should be. When we arrived in Cahuita the next day and walked up the bush road, down the jungle path, crossed the now quiet (yet often fast-flowing) moat that encircles the place, and settled into his rancho nestled beneath the tall Guanacaste trees, I felt like I had come home.

home 1

 

We’ve barely left the place except to get food and to go dancing a couple of nights. The Quebrada Suarez, the twisting stream, provides enough sunning and cooling time that even taking the twenty minute walk to the beach seems like too much work.

 

nightroom

 A woman moving into a man’s domain always shakes things up, so we’ve been “remodeling” – making space for my things, increasing the comfort level, Roberto building rustic furniture as we sense the need – assemblage art it would be called back in Canada.

I brought a minimum of “stuff” with me, being very selective, simple living being one of the things that I truly appreciate about this place. The two most important things are my coleman stove which needs a different connection for the gas tanks here – in the soggy tropical forest cooking with wet firewood can be a full-time affair, not always a bad thing but often a frustrating one – and the components to hook up a solar system. My pal Chuck lent me a small solar panel and I bought the power inverter and now just need to buy a boat battery to get it all working.  With a bit of effort , a few dollars, and a little luck, I should soon be able to write directly on my laptop being powered by that free and easy big ol’ sun, the same beast that keeps us moving slowly and conserving our own energy – unlike the bustling hummingbirds who are zipping about me and the butterflies of all colors who don’t stop their fluttering all day long.

roberto

 

 

However, we haven’t got around to getting the stove or the solar stuff working – as I said, it’s been hard just getting out to buy food.

 

 

 

Instead we’ve been watching the howler monkeys fearlessly leaping about the tops of the fifty meter high trees.  There are moments here – mostly at daybreak and sunset – when the cacophony of jungle life swells to a crescendo before settling back down to a background buzz. It is often the male howler monkey who officially starts the day with his lazy roar – if he is in one of the closest trees it is as subtle as the engine of a Harley Davidson revving outside your bedroom window.

A pair of green and black poison dart frogs lives in the hammock tree (along with at least four different kinds of herps – geckos, lizards et al.)poison dart

Other constantly noisy neighbours are the oropendulas, tropical relatives of the orioles.  Like ecstatic percolating coffee pots, they bubble away while getting food in the treetops and building their long dangling nests.  The last couple of days the squawking parrots have taken over – it seems to me that there is a domestic dispute going on high up in the trees and those loud green birds are really having issues with each other.  Not everyone can be so content in the jungle it would seem.

The other afternoon we spent time watching a King Vulture, a strange sight here in the vibrant green forest – they are more usually seen around open places or where there is rotting food of some kind or circling high in the sky. This guy came and sat down on a branch in the cool jungle, as if pretending to be an exotic quetzal seeking a quiet refuge from its adoring fans. We were laying in the hammock watching him watching us when a weak rope holding Roberto and I finally gave out and sent us to the ground. I swear that vulture had a smile on his waiting beak, always happy to see an accident in progress.

As it turned out, he had his eye on the corpse of a large toad, laying dead in the foliage on the far bank. Who knows what killed it or when, but that vulture knew its worth and struggled to lift it up. This was one of those big cane toads, big enough to fill a coffee pot. It was a fight for the vulture, and he was under pressure when he realized that I was chasing him with my camera, but he managed to get that big carcass up and away before I could get a decent picture.

beach

The humidity has been building around us, night skies are filled with lightning and thunder rumbles in the distance, but not more than a drop of rain has fallen in the now two weeks I’ve been here. The rest of Costa Rica has had wild storms and deluges – the one night we went half an hour down the coast to Puerto Viejo to go dancing where it was pouring – but it remains dry and hot and steamy in Roberto’s piece of jungle paradise.

The country is waiting in anticipation of a big earthquake on the Pacific side and last night the Caribbean coast of Honduras suffered a significant earthquake. One never knows what one will be dealing with here in the tropics – it isn’t all pretty.

I’m now in San Jose with Wolf, awaiting the arrival of the shipment of the second printing of Walking with Wolf – we have all our ducks in a row, the Reserve truck is coming to get us, the money is in the bank, our customs man, Eliecer, is on the job – and the books seem to have got hung up in the same highway closure I did last night on my way here from the Caribbean. So our ducks are about to get scattered again and we will all be winging it. 

limon highway

As I made my way to the city yesterday, having left on the 11:30 a.m. bus, the highway from Limon was closed for several hours, the result of at least ten landslides from the heavy rain.  The workers wouldn’t clear the rocks and earth and trees while the rain was still pouring down and so the traffic sat – me in a dry bus so in no discomfort – but we pulled into the city about five hours later than usual, at 8 p.m. in the dark.  And I expect that is what happened to the books – slowed down by the forces of nature. Like our ducks.

 Once we have those books we’ll be heading up the green mountain and I’ll stay a few days in Monteverde talking book business and visiting friends. It’s nice to be out of the mosquitoes and humidity, but I am already looking forward to getting back down to the jungle next week. After all, love awaits and that is worth a little sweat.flower

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It is a joyous occasion when your hard work and your good friends come together to create an event that is exactly what you want.  This was what happened on Saturday night at the Pearl Company here in Hamilton – the official Canadian launch of Walking with Wolf was a magical evening. Just like the first presentation that Wolf and I did for the book in Monteverde at Bromelias, it was a full house, very positive, fun, successful – yes, magical.

It took place at the beautiful Pearl Company, a three-story brick building that originally housed a coffin factory and later a costume jewelry business which left pearls inbedded in the cracks between the wide pine floorboards.  The bottom floor is a stunning art gallery space with a boutique that sells locally-produced art and books, including Walking with Wolf; the second floor is this large acoustically-live performance space; the third floor is the studio apartment of Gary Santucci and Barbara Milne, the owners.  They bought the building about three years ago and have restored it to the glorious gem that it is now, and have started spreading that renewal around the neighbourhood with an association they got started to bring some unity to this rather marginalized city barrio. 

Recently they joined forces with Ron Weihs and Judith Sandford, who are transplants from the Toronto theatre scene.  They are now the artistic directors of the performance space.  They helped with the physical set up of the room for our event.  They are introducing a whole new program to the Pearl, regularly scheduled theatrical, musical and spoken word evenings.  The Pearl continues to grow into a great cultural community situated in this grand old building which deserves this chance at a renewed life.  There was never any doubt in my mind that this would be the perfect place for a book launch and it truly was.

With the help of my friends – Cocky who was here visiting me and helped me get my act together; Freda and Mike Cole who did almost all the food (I threw in a bean dip and some marinated mushrooms, but otherwise Freda, as usual, fed the masses her delicious creations); Kathryn and Bob Johnston who took care of the sales table – the evening went off without a glitch. 

People estimate that there were maybe up to 130 people there – we charged $5 at the door to cover expenses, and it did!  The important thing is the building was filled with friends, old and new, all enthusiastic and supportive – there was a lot of love in the room that night.  How lucky am I? I ask that, but I know that this book project has been surrounded by love and support since it started, particularly in the last year of getting the book done and now getting it out to the reading public. 

My wonderful friends Al and Jean Bair (on the left in the photo), along with their daughter Sandy and her husband Bruce and their sons Ben and Jacob, came from Petawawa.  A long time ago I asked Al if he would do me the honor of introducing me when the day came to present the book. I met Al and Jean in Monteverde in 1995 when they had a house in the area and, like me, spent a lot of time there each year.  Our friendship grew here in Canada.  I love this couple and admire how they live and most of all the strength of their family-bond.  They have five very successful children, who with their spouses and the grandchildren, make a very tight unit with Al and Jean.  It is one of the most dynamic, smart and colourful families I have known (like the Guindons, but different).  Al and Jean are not like parents to me, mentors is a better word, friends is the best. When my parents died in the late 90s, Al and Jean provided great comfort and guidance, but most of all made me laugh and made me feel that everything would be okay. When I have the chance to spend time with them, whether in their home or traveling together somewhere, the conversation is always interesting and honest and hugely entertaining. 

Al gave an introduction that brought me to tears with his kind words about how we had met, about our travels together, and how I am almost more Costa Rican than many Costa Ricans he knows.  I sure picked the right person to introduce me – as many people said to me later in the evening, that man sure loves you.  The feeling is very mutual.

 

 

 

 

There was a small technical glitch with my laptop as the room was filling up and I was wanting to start the images on the screen.  Thankfully the computer geeks in the crowd stepped in and took over, including Bruce who has helped me every step of the way with the book, and Al’s grandsons. I stayed calm, kept greeting people, and believed everything would work out, and it did.  One must love their geek friends.

Ben and Jacob, the Bair grandsons, geeks of glory

 

The crowd who came out represented many periods of my life and communities that I’ve been part of. Doug Agnew, who was my teacher from Grade 5 to Grade 8, and his wife Janice came.  I reconnected about ten years ago with them and stay in touch, having dinner together once every couple of years.  Doug was my absolutely favorite teacher from all my schooling years. It was just a huge shock when we reconnected and got talking and found out that this man, whose word we took as law, who we looked up to as our guide when we were about ten years old, was only 21 himself when he started teaching us! Twenty-one! And we thought he was this wise old man!  I have always felt that his four years of teaching played a huge part, along with my parents, in my formation and so I have to give some credit to him for who I am and what I do now.  That may or may not please him (depending on what he thinks of who I am now), but it is meant with the greatest of respect and affection.

Christine Carleton and I took a couple of creative writing classes together at Mohawk College back in 2001 when I was prepping myself for writing the book.  We then joined with Joanne Levy and Kelly White and a couple of other aspiring writers to form a writing group, to read and critique each other’s writing.  Although eventually our group fell apart, I did receive some great feedback from them on the early chapters in the early stages.  Christine and Kelly came to the Pearl – we all just shake ourselves, me included, that one of us has actually published something! Christine particularly was a very supportive writing mate and has offered much encouragement over the years. It was great to see her.

Besides Cocky from Maine and the Bairs from Petawawa, there were friends from Toronto like Deb Holahan and Tory Byers and Lynda Lehman from Guelph brought my editor Jane Pavanel down. She came all the way from Montreal (via Guelph) for the occasion and wo-manned the entrance, extracting $5 out of everybody without exception – good work Jane! She also brought me six of the best butter tarts in the world! It was wonderful to see her, to have her there to celebrate this book, as she played a huge role in its creation.  The relationship between editor and writer is a difficult one, as they just want to mess with your words, throw them around, throw them out, but the end product has as much do to their diligence as the writer’s. So Jane deserves much credit for the flow and clarity of the writing in Walking with Wolf.  And I’m very happy to call her a friend and that she was able to come to Hamilton for the book launch.

Ken Kroesser, who did the cover and maps, and Bruce MacLean, who did the index, and prepared the photographs and the copy for the printer, also came from Toronto.  I am in awe of these men.  I can’t say enough about how much help they have given me in all aspects of designing, finishing and now marketing the book.  Ken lives in anonymity (he worries that my blog will bring him undue notoriety) but is a very successful designer and brand-man – and a very recently married man – and brought me a belated birthday gift of Walking with Wolf bookmarks – my new calling card.  How lucky have I been to get to know these two and benefit from their knowledge and professionalism.  I just adore them and was thrilled that they too came out. I was only sorry that the last person in the team who helped me turn my manuscript into a book, Laurie Hollis-Walker, couldn’t make it.  She should have been there to receive her share of my praise.

It was wonderful to see friends from the Bruce Trail – Bill and Barb Cannon, Barbara and Ian Reid, Ivor Mansell, and of course Shirley Klement. They were good friends of my parents who became good friends of mine.  Also the Poag and Johnston family – besides Bob and Kathryn, her mom, Doreen, and their daughters Marianne and Sarah (along with Joe, the about to be husband), came out in support.  They are as close to family as anyone can get without having a drop of genetic blood in our veins.

My Uncle Paul and Aunt Lois, along with my cousins Barbara (in the picture with me) (and John) and Stephen (and Laurie) showed up, coming from Mississauga and Fergus.  I haven’t seen any of these Chornooks in a long time and I was sorry that I didn’t have more time to actually chat, but I was very touched that they would all come and support me – they had already bought and read the book this summer, but I was able to sign their copies.

  

Wendy and Robert E. Ross showed up. Robert is a very established painter in Hamilton who I met many years ago and happened to run into recently.  I had invited him to the launch and was very happy that he and Wendy showed up.  Receiving support from people in the arts community here is important – and I try to go out and support people in the various arts myself.  There were also a number of people from the musical community, including JP (Paul) Riemens, a great singer-songwriter and music producer in Hamilton. He is a friend of Lori Yates, of the Evelyn Dicks, who performed that night at the Pearl, and I’ve met him a couple of times.

Judith Sandford, JP Riemens, Edgar Breau

 

On Thursday night Cocky and I went to see him play at a local bar. We got into a discussion about house parties that hire musicians to play – there is a whole circuit across Canada that musicians get linked into.  He was telling us about playing a house concert in northern Ontario near Sudbury, which was put on by Laurientian University professors to celebrate people who were receiving honorary degrees that day.  As he said this, Cocky and I both piped up “Jean Trickey” – our friend from Little Rock (refer to blog: 50 and Kstock 2008) – and sure enough when she was in Sudbury to receive her honorary degree, she had ended up at this party that Paul and his band the Barflies played at.  He had talked with her and told us how the whole tour could have ended right there for him, that was the highlight, speaking with this civil rights icon and fascinating woman.  When he found out that she had just been in Hamilton last week for my birthday he was disappointed that we hadn’t had this conversation a week earlier, as he could have seen her again. It’s a big big country, our Canada, but it’s a small small world.

My former primary nurse from my cancer days, Trish Haines, came as well – another person who is thanked in the book, along with my doctor Dr. Ralph Meyer, for the great care they provided during my cancer-fighting days. I’m proud to call her my friend still and was very happy to see her.  Another Patricia, the one I go to for the occasional facial or massage – actually now she comes to me with her Beautiful Needs mobile spa – showed up with a lovely flower arrangement that she had made, full of best wishes and kind thoughts.  This is her with Mike and Freda Cole, taking a break from the food table

Cocky, who has been staying with me (she has fallen in love with the Hammer and is looking for excuses to come here now), and I managed to get everything together, along with Mike and Freda, and got to the Pearl on time, but managed to leave my cheat sheets at home.  I don’t have a problem talking in front of a crowd, and I always wing it, never read it, but I am sensible enough to write down a few points on a paper, in case I lose my way.  But since I left the paper at home, I was on my own.  People were very kind with their praise afterward, so I guess it all went well enough. I only stumbled once, when I looked up and saw my friend Wendy reacting to a picture on the screen behind me, but other than that I pretty much said what I wanted to. 

I read from a couple of chapters in the book – the end of the first chapter that introduces Wolf and how this project began, and then a couple pages about snakes.  As I do book events and readings, I like to read something from both my own narration and Wolf’s dialogue but also like to add one of the stories that other people provided me with.  It gives a fair representation of the book, an idea as to how it is composed. I figured that in this urban crowd, many people would be icky about snakes and I was right. So I read Gary Diller’s great story about Wolf bringing a fer-de-lance out of the jungle and setting him up for a fall in front of his clients as well as a number of Wolf’s stories about snakes. Well, what better way to take the city folk on a literary trip to the jungle than by talking about snakes! I could hear people squirming in their seats, just the reaction I wanted. 

Well, as I said there were well over a hundred people there, I can’t mention them all, but suffice it to say that the room was filled with friendly faces, supportive souls and classy characters.  We sold 39 books and I signed others that people had bought elsewhere.  Did I feel like a queen? You betcha! It was a wonderful feeling to celebrate in Hamilton with all these people. 

 

And when my little talk was finished, that irreverent band of Hammer superstars, the Evelyn Dicks, stepped up and blew the roof off the building. Their songs are all written around the notorious Evelyn Dick, serial murderess of Hamilton’s past, femme fatale.  Lori Yates and Lynn Buckshot Beebe, dressed the part – femme fatales themselves – in classic red and black vintage dresses – the boys in the band, Chris Houston, Cleave Anderson and Jimmy Vapid, provide the rockin rhythm section to these two front women (and Chris steps up and growls out a few songs as well). But the attitude that exudes out of these ladies, and the humor they toss around like balls looking for a bat, amused the audience and kept those of us who are keen to be dancing on our feet.  Lori gave me this band as a gift for the night – my abundant appreciation goes out to her for topping off an already successful literary-type evening with the Dicks brand of musical mayhem.  The Dicks rocked the house, sent some folks right out the door, but thoroughly entertained those of us who stayed on.

My new friend Larry Strung, who has been documenting the faces of Hamilton, one day at a time, each day of 2008, and creating a photographic record on his website http://hamilton365.com also showed up and took some photos, including this great shot of the Dicks in all their glory.

When the party was over, a number of us moved on to a local pub, The Cat and Fiddle, to hear JP Riemens bandmates, Linda Duemo, Brian Griffith and friends, playing rockabilly kinda music that kept us all dancing.  They had to kick us out. The musicians were all tired, having played at the Locke Street Festival that was also on that day.  But it didn’t show in their music and no doubt the infusion of this gang of happy post-book-launch celebrants helped spike their energy back up. 

Cocky, my friends Shirley, Jeff and I came home by 3 a.m.  Cocky decided we were hungry and she would make us an omelet.  Now I have to say that we were all fine from a night of minimal drinking and maximum dancing, but my pal Jeff was slightly inebriated unlike the rest of us.  When he saw that Cocky was cooking, he decided that he would step up and take over.  He has fed me many great meals, I know that he is a good cook, but I was a little concerned that he should be driving that frying pan in his condition. Shirley and I sat back and watched the two of them negotiating in the kitchen, Cocky (very unlike herself) letting him take over, bringing him ingredients.  I wondered how long it would be before he was kicked to the curb and she took control of the frying pan.  The three of us women were rolling our eyeballs wondering what he was going to concoct, and I must say without belief that he was going to be able to prepare much of anything.

And then, as we sat in our silent cynism, that man picked up that great big frying pan and did the most perfect flip of a multi-egged omelet that I have ever seen! WOW we all blurted out! Anyone who could make that great big omelet do a perfect back flip in the air and back into the pan can drive my frying pan any day! We lost our disbelief immediately and a couple minutes later bit into the best omelet I’ve had in years.  So here I publicly apologize to Jeff for doubting him and thank him for his culinary prowess.  And Cocky for being so mellow in her old age and letting him take over.  We ate our omelet breakfast at 4 in the morning and then went to bed, beyond satisfied at the perfection of the whole night.

I’m very proud of Walking with Wolf, and the great response to it affirms my own belief in its value.  I can’t really express, even though I guess I’m a writer now and should be able to, how thankful I am that people are liking it.  I can’t imagine all the years of work Wolf and I put into it ending with a sub-standard result, when people wouldn’t be able to look me in the eye after they’ve read it, if they even had. But now I can look people in their eye and talk about my book and know that it is as good as I could make it.  Not only was I given the privilege and pleasure of getting to know Wolf and telling his story, but I managed to do it right, and I get teary every time I even think about that (I am teary now).  I am so thankful that this is how this project turned out, as I said, I can’t even begin to express my amazement and my gratitude.

Well, it took a lot of doing, but I got my jungle under control.  Lost count of the compost bags and bundles of vegetation that went out to the compost truck on garbage day.  Thank goodness the men on the truck were easily convinced to take well over my weekly limit.  I’m sure they took pity on me as I stood there asking them to take the excess, covered in dirt, scratches all down my legs from the rosebushes that I got too close to, and sweat pouring outa my skin. “Sure lady, don’t worry about it – we’ll take it all”. Thanks kind men. (Refer to former post, Steve and the Hammer, for the before pics)

Now I can see my beach, my flowers, as well as a bit of lawn back there – I only have grass for enough room for a couple of tents and chairs around my fireplace.  I live in the city but my backyard is a campground, a beach, a shady garden and a patio terrace on the Mediterranean.  I can sit in any spot in my backyard, depending on whether I want sun or shade, to face the city skyline or be shielded from the north wind, to see the full moon passing or to roast weinies in the fire, or to have a peaceful candlelit dinner on the terrace.  The only trouble in my backyard now is the skunk that has definitely taken up residence under my shed.  I thought he/she was there when I left in May but had no time to deal with it – well, now I just hope there isn’t a whole family. And I have to come up with some kind of peaceful way to send him/her packing.

Since I have been home, and once my swollen gland in my neck calmed down, I have been multi-tasking but mostly dealing with setting up the future of Walking with Wolf.  I’ve been sending books out to journals and media for reviews, taking books to bookstores, setting up book events, emailing anyone and everywhere about the book.  I am very excited that sooner or later a real review will appear – beyond the great response from people who have been reading the book, it is important to get some professional support.  My fingers are crossed that any review will be mostly positive.

Now well on my way to being a marketer, public relations manager and distributer, I am on another new learning curve.  I went and had lunch with my friend Ace Piva, a drummer who is building a new career as a road manager for bands, traveling throughout North America.  He has years of experience doing his own publicity and management, getting attention for his bands.  He gave me some great advice, expanding every one of my ideas with his own brilliance, enthusiasm and experience.  We were down on the waterfront where he lives which is only minutes from my home – it was also Mardi Gras parade day, when the Afro-Caribbean community comes out to play.  

It took me back to Cahuita and Limon in Costa Rica.  But on this day, as the calypso and reggae rhythms filled the air, the grey clouds turned black and got darker and darker, even as the colorful feathers soca-ed their way down the street into the Bayfront Park, and then the lightning started zigzagging through the sky.  I danced with the crowd for awhile but as the ominous sky grew scarier, I jumped on my bike and made it home just as the first drop of rain fell.  Within ten minutes, it was a deluge that lasted for hours. This wiped out the rest of Mardi Gras, as well as the day at the Festival of Friends, and no doubt many other outdoor activities on that busy summer Saturday. 

And gave my jungle an extra thrust.

 

For three years I’ve been working as an background performer in local film and TV shoots.  I get called at the last minute by my agent Patti at Stonewall Talent, gather the appropriate wardrobe, and go to wherever I’m instructed usually very early in the morning.  I get paid well and fed, sometimes really well, and hang out all day with interesting, often wacky, people and watch the making of movies (I show up in Lars and the Real Girl and was also in the latest version of the Incredible Hulk).  It gives me a little extra money and although the days can be very long and sometimes boring, I enjoy the work.  My mother didn’t allow my sister and me to be bored when we were kids (“I’ll find you something to do”) and her insistence at evicting that word from our vocabulary has stayed with me all my life.  If nothing else is going on, I watch people.  I look at the trees or the sky.  I sleep.  I daydream.  That’s as close to bored as I get, and none of those things are boring, just relaxing.  Otherwise, I tend to be very busy.  Or on downtime.  It’s all in the attitude. That is how I survive those long days on set, though I find that there is an illness amongst alot of extras that causes them to moan and complain about everything all day long.

In the end, I had a very short day of only six hours (usually we go closer to twelve or fifteen hours) that started at the very reasonable hour of noon in a TV show called Hardwired. We ended up being passer-bys, shooting in Gage Park, the same place I saw my hero Steve Earle play the other night. It was truly a walk in the park. Today I am mailing out books, packing up my laptop, and heading out to Westport, Ontario, to visit my friends and participate in the Westport Music Festival on the weekend.  I’m multi-tasking, of course, taking advantage of a friend with the expertise to do some work on my multi-media presentation for the book launches coming up in September.  I imagine I will disappear from bloglandia for awhile again, but wanted to check in before I go.  All appendages crossed for a sunny, dry day for outdoor music in Westport on Saturday, for a lack of growth in my yard while I’m away, and, as always, for world peace – even with my neighbour, the skunk.

I am back in Hamilton, Ontario, my home. Even though I just spent ten weeks in the tropical rain forest during the rainy season, there has definitely been more rain here this summer than I experienced there.  And I thought I was getting wet! The jungle that is my backyard is evidence of a great growing season. Luckily, in the week I’ve been home, the sun has been shining in a bright blue sky more often than not.  It poured earlier today but the planets aligned, the solid bowl of clouds broke up into popcorn, and the few stars you can occasionally see above the city glow were out. On this beautiful night, I went and spent two hours at the base of my musical hero, Steve Earle.

I’ve been listening to Steve – songsmith, multi-instrumentalist, political commentator, troubadour, activist – for more than twenty years. He has written the soundtrack to my life. I feast on each new CD that I hear and somehow this southern boy from Texas, ex-heroin addict, ex-con but also anti-war, anti-death penalty, anti-insanity activist has spoken in his music of my own experiences, moods, frustrations and loves.  When he was singing songs of restlessness, I was restless.  When he’s been angry at his government, I’ve also been livid.  Now he’s in love both with his new wife and with his new city, New York, where he moved to after years of living in Tennessee.  And although I’m not in the big love, I am in love with the Hammer, this rusty little city I live in. 

He has constantly expressed my politics in beautiful simple poetic lyrics and gone down a number of musical avenues from country to rock to tropical to folk to bluegrass and taken me with him on each ride. Tonight, after playing his guitars, mandolin, and banjo and dueting with his wife, he played with a DJ behind him providing electronic beats. He has so many songs, all great. And although there was a big representation in the Hammer-crowd of drunken wild folks demanding “Copperhead Road” (which you can see him cringe to with impatient disdain, for it would seem that, fifteen years later, it is the only song people know of despite a repertory of hundreds), the majority of the audience were singing along to his lyrics from several of his albums, demonstrating that they, like me, were in awe.  To have the chance to sit twenty feet from him, down below the high stage of the Festival of Friends, on the concrete ground (which, of course also doubled as a seat right on the dancefloor), be encouraged by him to sing out, and to be able to watch his face as he sang, and watch his subtle and not so subtle reactions to the antics of the crowd, well, in an odd way,  at moments it was like it was just him and me and we forgot the other ten thousand folk.  In fact, I’m quite sure he smiled at me at one point. Sigh.

His wife, Allison Moorer, played the first set and although the best thing about her for me is that she is Steve’s wife, I do enjoy them singing together and she is a good singer of songs.  I do know from reading her blog that they are both readers, and she writes about the books she reads.  So after my soul was totally swelled by the sounds of Steve, I lingered outside his black bus for a good half hour or more with the other diehard Steve fans – all guys wanting to get their albums and CD covers signed.

Fortunately he finally came out and although I wasn’t the first in line, he turned to me (probably because I was the only woman) and I quickly handed him Walking with Wolf. I could tell he was tired and wasn’t going to have patience for long. I told him how thrilled I was to give him these words of mine after all the years that his words have excited me, pushed me, caressed me, comforted me, filled me (actually, I mumbled something much shorter). I truly believe that he and Allison will enjoy Wolf’s story.  I was so moved to be able to give him the book.  He looked me in the face and said “cool, thanks” in his southern drawl and with a tone of surprise, maybe cuz I wasn’t asking for anything, just giving him something. He reached out his arm and I touched it. I’ve still got chills.

These chills were much better than the chills I had all last weekend when I had a reoccurrence of the swollen gland in my neck with a touch of fever that I had about a month ago in Costa Rica.  I finally went to the doctor and got the right drugs and started feeling better, after five days of laying around moaning.  My beautiful neighbour, Genevieve, who left a lovely welcome home spread of wine, cheese and crackers in my fridge, also fed me fresh corn and grilled vegetables through my illness – what a wonderful person to have nearby. 

Once I felt better, I went into Toronto and distributed the book to media outlets and Pages bookstore.  I also put signed copies in the hands of my grand gurus, Bruce and Ken, who were so much a part of the final production of the book and continue to support, encourage and amuse me.  I know I will re-employ their services in the Spanish translation (which Wolf’s son Carlos is now in the process of working on). Meeting these two talented blokes (along with Jane our editor and my old friend Laurie who did the layout) was one of the biggest gifts of the last year.

Now that I am slowly coming back to earth after my near-Steve encounter, I have to get out in that jungle and get it under control.  The next month is so busy with preparing for the book launches in September and for all the visitors who are coming to help me celebrate my 50th birthday at the end of August, that I gotta get those weeds outa my path so I can see the forest through the trees.  But I will be working to the sounds of Steve in my soul, renewed, rejuvenated, re-happy. Consider the following photo a “before” picture…”after” to follow.

It is as inevitable as the wind and rain in Monteverde, that one day my time will be up and I have to leave. I don’t worry about going and I quickly transfer my thinking to arriving instead – back to Canada, friends there, familiar haunts, a different kind of music and the beautiful northern landscape. As long as I have the privilege and ability to return when I want to Costa Rica, then I can leave with a simple “nos vemos” – “we’ll see each other”, rather than “adios”, which feels much more final.

 

Of course this year also takes me back to Canada with a whole new purpose in life – bringing Walking with Wolf to the masses, doing publicity, marketing and distributing of my precious little tome. So there is an excitement at the back of my brain that I try not to get too caught up in, but will soon – within twenty-four hours now, I’ll be full on ready to conquer the north. I have until September 6 to prepare for the first big official book launch in Hamilton, and then the following weekend I’m returning to my old community in the northeast to do hopefully three presentations over a few days. This is the part of the world close to Temagami, Ontario, which I talk about in the book. I have many old friends there who have been very supportive and I am really looking forward to the book parties there. And in the second week of October, I think I will be doing a presentation at Olney Friends School in Barnesville, Ohio, which we also talk about, Wolf’s alma mater, for their Homecoming weekend. This hasn’t been decided yet, but the idea seems to have interested the director and so I will soon be in touch with him about the possibility. 

 

Having received such wide spread acceptance and praise in Monteverde from the people who are closest to the story will truly help me go out in the big northern world and hold my head up, proud of our book. I know that I was most nervous of the reaction of the biologists – sticklers for detail that they are, strong-willed, educated and quite sure of their own versions of the world – but several of them have spoken up for the quality of the book and have enjoyed reading it and shared a minimum of criticism (maybe I shouldn’t have called the tropical cloud and rain forest “jungle” but to the outsider, that is truly what it is, by dictionary definition as well.)

 

One of the surprises of the reaction to the book is how many people have said to me that it has revived in them the spirit of the community. Wolf’s stories about the founding of Monteverde, and my modern day descriptions have given them a renewed sense of what a special community they are part of. I had always hoped to properly present Wolf’s life and accomplishments but it had never occurred to me that our book might be a positive factor in the community. How proud can one be for playing a role such as that?

 

I have also heard from friends in Canada who don’t know Wolf, Monteverde or Costa Rica, and have said they love the story and the writing. So that bodes well for the future of the book simply as a piece of literature. I think it’s deepest purpose is the telling of Wolf’s interesting and dedicated life with all its flaws and colorful tales, and that is what I feel the most able to go out and talk about. His is an inspirational story of humor, hard work and humility and I take great pride in being able to tell this story.

 

In the week that I was offline, I returned to Monteverde, saw friends, packed and repacked, sat down with Wolf and signed a whole box of books to take back to deserving friends in Canada, did some dancing, had some great conversations and enjoyed my final days of tropical life. I spent a day down in San Luis waiting for the arrival of fifteen teams of oxen who were coming from the low lands for a festival, but unfortunately had to leave by the time only one team had arrived (those beasts move very slowly). I managed to get bit on my finger by something – I thought an ant, but now think maybe a spider – that now, four days later, is still swollen up in a bunch of itchy bumps. What a year for bites! I think it may be caused by the rainy season, as I found the bug population rampant. I ran off to Cahuita on the Caribbean for twenty-four hours and was blessed with sunshine and a starry night, whereas there had been pouring rain for the days before I got there. Here too I was bitten while swimming in the sea, something that rarely happens at all, especially in the Caribbean. But I was floating and some seaweed wrapped itself around me and four sharp stings (jelly-fish? Some say sea fleas?) sent me out of the water, waiting to see if I’d have some weird reaction like that poor Australian nature guy. You just never know these days. My papalomoyo seems to be under control, though I’ll continue with my sulpha treatments in Canada – and I still have a series of bitemarks on my thighs that we think are from mites of some sort. Hmmmm, August in Hamilton, the bug situation should be pretty tame in comparison.

 

I spent the last couple nights with Edin Solis (the photo is me with one of his Grammies) and his wife Lorena Rodríguez, he of Editus, she an interior, exterior and just about all round everything designer.  Edin was finishing the work on the soundtrack to a BBC documentary production called “The Winds of Papagayo” – about the changes of the environment in Guanacaste, the northwest province of Costa Rica.  How interesting was that – not just listening to the musical themes that Edin had composed (great surf beat dude) and admiring how the music followed the images and the story of the documentary, but the information within the work itself. It promises to be a very interesting piece of journalism (with a beautiful soundtrack) about what is happening with development on the fragile Pacific coastline. I had never realized that the winds collect and transport great fertility that has risen from the huge Lake Nicaragua to the north, as well as from the potent gases of the various volcanoes that run in a chain straight through Central America. The strong winds we know in parts of Costa Rica do have an important purpose besides blowing us around and keeping us cool. The doc also focuses on the over-expansion of development on the coastline, the extreme change of community life in less than thirty years, the changes in the winds themselves, and the struggle of the turtle population to survive the many forces that are working against them. 

 

I think of Costa Rica in general as about as fragile as a population of olive ridley sea turtles. Even though I know so many dynamic, charismatic, kind, intelligent and hardworking people in this little country, over all I feel they are all under threat. Out of control development, foreign influence, fear, and an economy that isn’t servicing the people at the lower end of the scale are all signs of a difficult future. The country has great “green” policies but doesn’t seem to have the backbone to enforce the laws. Most people I talk to have little faith in the government, having had three of their last presidents found guilty of some form of kickbacks. The president of the day, Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work in the 80s on bringing peace to the Central American region, had the constitution changed, by the vote of 4 judges, so that he could be re-elected (up until the last election, Costa Rica had a rule, similar to the USA, that presidents could only serve one term). He also supported CAFTA, the free-trade agreement with the USA, which many people are extremely leery of. This all adds up to a disgruntled society in an over-stressed country with a frustrated view of the future.

 

I love these people and this country.

 

The very talented Sofia Zumbado, award-winning saxophonist and her beautiful mom Myrna Castro

My friend 100-year old Otilia Gonzales and her daughters Gladys and Margarita

Luis Angel Obando, Head of Protection, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

HEY! How’d this guy make it in here?

 

Everyone I know in Costa Rica is involved in some interesting project, not only to make a living, but to bring some new awareness to their life. I wish them all well. Tenga fe mis amigos, nos vemos pronto.

 

 

I somehow find myself in my last week in Costa Rica.  No matter how long I’m here, whether two months or six months, the time flies by.  I never get to everything I want to, I don’t see everyone I want to, but I always seem to manage to experience a new part of the country and see some old friends who I missed the last time around.  This year has been no exception – what has been exceptional has been the addition of Walking with Wolf  in my life and now it is in the community and the country. 

A book has a long life and so what I have missed in promoting it this time I will get to the next time.  Wolf and I are still waiting for the interview that we did with Alex Leff of the English paper the Tico Times to appear.  A month has passed and it hasn’t shown up, yet it was a great interview we thought.  When I contacted Alex a couple of weeks ago about the state of the article, he admitted to me that he was still working on it but was having a problem interpreting Wolf from the taped conversation that we had.  He said, ”I have a renewed appreciation of just what was involved for you in writing this book”. As in, how did I understand Wolf? Let’s just call it a sixth sense, luck and determination. So there is now only one Friday left, the publication day for Tico Times, before I leave.  Who knows if the story will be there.  I will start it all up again when I return next winter so am not worried. 

The negotiations for the Spanish translation have also been stalled as we awaited word from Wolf’s son, Carlos, who lives and works in the northeastern USA.  I just got word from him that he can’t come up with a price but does want to do the work.  So before I leave, perhaps we’ll have a chance for one serious conversation with the Tropical Science Center who is interested in financing it, otherwise thank goodness for the internet and cheap long distance phone plans. This too will happen when it should.

The book is in many bookstores and selling.  And those who have read it seem to really like it and appreciate the history it relates. For this, I am most grateful.

I have returned to San Carlos, to the base of Arenal Volcano, to be with my friends, the Martinez family, for a few days before I go.  The last week I experienced a number of strange health issues.  I had a twenty-four hour virus in Monteverde that felt like I had been hit by a truck, every bone and muscle, particularly my neck, very painful.  It passed, but the sore neck part of it returned the day I got here and I’ve been receiving nightly neck massages which have helped. The virus didn’t affect my stomach or give me a headache, so I think that it isn’t dengue. One never knows around the tropics.

The other problem is the continuing saga of a bug bite that I got while on the Caribbean, that the folks here are quite sure is a nasty little number called papalamoya.  Most Ticos I know, especially the ones who have lived part of their lives in the country, have big scars (usually round patches of rippled skin) from this bug that gets into their blood and takes forever to cure.  The treatment usually involves injections of something nastier than the bug venum.  In my eighteen years coming to Costa Rica, I’ve been waiting on two things – a scorpion bite and papalamoya.  So far, I’ve evaded the scorpion bite, but I may finally have been caught by the bug that causes the other.  I’m not really sure if it is a botfly or a sand fly or what it is (I’ve heard many versions) but I know the scar.  So I am now using a country treatment – I’m using a cow drug called sulphatiasol ground up with fresh nutmeg and some of my own saliva which I plaster on the bite.  Slowly but surely the big wound is shrinking in size and doesn’t look as nasty, but the new tough skin that the treatment forms must be softened and washed off a couple times a day and more guck put on and, well, it’s a process.  The good news is that it hasn’t erupted anywhere else in my body, meaning that the venom hasn’t traveled in my bloodstream – she says hopefully. If I end up with a small scar on the back of my leg from this, well, it only makes me more Tica, something I am already in my heart and soul. In which case I will wear it like a badge of honor.

The final piece of bad news before I get to some good, is that last night, after we arrived back from our day spent on the beautiful Rio Celeste, we received the horrible news that Zulay’s nephew, Victor, who was just here with us up until a couple of days ago, had been shot by robbers trying to steal his motorcycle in the city of Alajuela.  Unfortunately this is a more common occurrence here now.  In fact, people say that they, los ladrones, will shoot you for a cell phone.  I refuse to be overrun with fear and I’m not convinced that Costa Rica has become more crime-riddled than anywhere else, but I do know that the difference of rich and poor in this country has grown and the influx of serious drug-related activity has increased and this all means that it feels at times like there is a general air of lawlessness.  My great sadness for the whole country is the amount of fear that people live with here.  If they watch the news in the evening, they go to bed with these images of robberies and assaults on the streets in their heads.  It reminds me of when I was young, living in the very safe suburban city of Burlington in southern Ontario, but we watched the Buffalo, New York, TV stations.  It became very obvious over the years that some of these stations started their newscasts with all the street crime and police reports and so we were assaulted nightly with images of killings and armed robberies – as a kid I got very nervous, but sooner or later we realized that this was affecting us and we stopped watching those stations.  And the news wasn’t even about our locality,  where this stuff seldom happened, but it made us feel unsafe as well.

Now here in Costa Rica, people are living with this fear everywhere, in some places much more justified than in others.  And when crime hits a family personally, as it just has this family, then it only reinforces the terrible possibilities.  Victor, who is only 19 years old,  as well as two of his brothers, has been assaulted before (while being robbed), and the story right now about last night is that he refused to give the motorcycle to the guys, who shot him in the lung, and then fled – well, my dear Victor, hand over the bike, please.  But who knows what passes in the mind at a moment such as that? Anyway, I believe he is going to be okay, even if he loses his lung (and as this is published, he is past the danger).  At least he is alive. And he kept his motorcycle. But a very troubling day for this family.

Before this tragedy yesterday, ten of us piled into two cars and drove fifty kilometers north of here to the town of Guatuso.  Another fifteen kilometers or so, down a rough rocky road, took us to the entrance to Tenorio National Park and the magical Rio Celeste.  I only started hearing about this place about two years ago, when it captured my attention and imagination, and find that it now shows up more and more in articles in tourist guides and newspapers.  I know that as word gets out, people will go there, and am always happy to be there before the crowds, although there were several Ticos visiting, being the end of a 2 week school holiday.  What a beautiful place.

The deep turquoise color of the river is caused by the convergence of two rivers which carry certain minerals – you can smell the sulphur – on which studies are being done to determine just what chemical reaction is occurring.  We entered the area from the ”backside”.  There is another entrance into Tenorio National Park from a place called Bijagua, from which I think the hike is longer. From our entrance, we hiked on very beautifully maintained wide muddy trails (remember, I know what rough trails in these mountains are). 

You can walk to the teñidoras, the convergence of the two rivers where you see a grey-green river mixing with a yellowish river and very distinctly, at a line, becoming this brilliant blue. We walked in pure jungle, with twittering birds and a large variety of tropical plants and trees hanging over us, along with the occasional roar of Arenal Volcano but more often the loud cracking of thunder.  Somehow we didn’t receive more than a drop of water on us, even though the thunder around us was ominous. 

The trail was only maybe four kilometers long to get to everything – the convergence, the waterfall, the hot springs as well as a lookout and blue lagoon – unfortunately we didn’t make it to the last two because of time and that increasing threat of a big storm. The waterfall was out of the movies, the shady path along the cascading blue and white water was inviting, the meandering turquoise like a liquid jewel, and the hot springs were super hot.  As in, you couldn’t put your hand into the water in places, it was boiling hot.  In other places the cool mountain water flushed the hot water and created very comfortable pools to sit in, but if you happened to move out of the cool current and touch the hot mineral water, it scalded.  Incredible.

We spent about four hours hiking and playing in the waters until the threatening storm sent us back to the car – and sure enough, we were just back on the road when the downpour came.  Driving back from Guatuso we were facing Arenal Volcano which went in and out of clouds all the way, and lightning appeared and disappeared in various parts of the sky all the way home providing a light show of special effects.  It is places like this and days like this that make Costa Rica the phenomenally intriguing place that it is – sadly, the spell is broken when you return home to bad news, but the splendour of the day isn’t negated, only temporarily replaced by life’s reality checks.

  Andrey in front of the huge ceiba, The Tree of Peace near Rio Celeste

August 2019
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