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My friend Laurie Hollis-Walker recruited me as cook for an August weekend gathering she organizes called ECO Camp. My friendship with Laurie goes back to the Red Squirrel Road
blockade in Temagami, Ontario in 1989, an experience that brought her to her present academic world of eco-psychology. After doing her research for her Bachelor and Master’s degrees studying the activists involved in the Temagami action, Laurie went on to design and teach the first university course in Canada in eco-psychology at Brock University in St. Catherines.

An important feature of the course for her students was a weekend spent together in the forest not far from the campus, a time for renewal of spirit in a natural setting. These class retreats evolved into a larger gathering bringing together students, academics and concerned citizens of various ages and experience. An activist and therapist from Guelph, Sally Ludwig, who is one of Laurie’s mentors, joined with her vision and together they brought ECO Camp to life.

Laurie is also a colleague of Joanna Macy, a scholar and writer in Berkeley, California, who is the brain and soul behind “The Work that Reconnects.” Her work serves to support the community of activists – academic, grassroots, political – who become overwhelmed by despair in this troubled world. Ms Macy has worked worldwide helping people overcome despondency to carry on their work against the raging Machine. Many of the rituals that make up ECO Camp are based on her work. Much of the discussion is about the burn-out inherent in environmental and social activism – considering that for so many taking on issues in this complex, troubled world it is a life-long commitment.  As someone who has been paying attention to the issues since I was young, I can understand the frustration, anger and fear that arises in one’s soul as the news seems to get grimmer, the answers more complex, and the solutions further from our collective grasp.

Laurie arranged for me to stay at a small cottage on Lake Erie – the “great lake” that connects Detroit and Niagara Falls – for the week prior to the camp where I could prepare some of the food. This would then allow me to participate in parts of the program on the weekend itself. I was present at one of the first camps a few years ago. This year was the fifth year and up until now, Laurie had not only organized and facilitated the gathering, but also been the head cook. As someone who believes in only biting off as much as one can chew, I couldn’t imagine that this was an ideal situation for anyone to take on that much responsibility, so I was happy to take the job – partly for the money but as much to support Laurie, allowing her to put her energy in the workshops which I could also take part in when not stirring soup.

I enjoyed the humble home belonging to Laurie’s student Emma and her family, but I’ve never been a fan of Lake Erie. I was introduced to crystal clear lakes in the north as a child, so I have had the privilege of growing up with a high ideal of what a healthy body of water is. In my lifetime, I’ve probably been to Lake Erie at least a dozen times and only ever felt comfortable swimming in her questionable waters when we sailed far out from her shores that too often made me think of bathtub ring.

Still, I spent a relaxed week watching the seagulls frolic on the rocks under the sun, the lights of ships passing under the moon as it grew plumper each night with bright meteors exploding around her in the heavens. Each morning, I spent some time cooking, listening to CBC radio, and thought about the possibility of swimming, an idea I rejected each afternoon when I saw no change to the scum that sullied the lake edge.

The moon was full by the time we moved the boxes of food to the camp. I spent four days feeding people healthy, mostly vegetarian food. I have cooked for groups for most of my adult life in some form or other and recognize that it is important, now more than ever, to pay attention to people’s dietary requirements. Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, lactose-intolerant, allergies…along with trying to eat local, organic and generally healthy, it is a challenge to get it right for everyone. But I was a vegetarian for years and never found it hard to make great food without meat and fish. Nowadays there are so many products available to replace milk, eggs and cheese that doing vegan isn’t difficult as long as you have the right attitude and pay attention.

Part of the program called for participants to, well, participate…as in help out with the necessities including in the kitchen. So I had some great helpers – Marissa, Ingrid, Drew, Helen, Russ, Jenn, Jess – who peeled, sliced, washed, tossed and took my direction with good humor. Jess arrived with donated organic produce from gardens and cooperatives in the Guelph area, bags bursting with collard greens, kale and kohlrabi. Marissa was the cheery and functional morning person who got up with me extra early to make breakfast.

In the kitchen, when pots are bubbling and hunger is looming, it can be easy to shout out quick directions minus those essential terms “please (do this) and thank
you (for doing that).”  The gentle, soft-spoken, very helpful Ingrid, as well as the others, took my brusqueness in stride and accepted my thank-you’s when I managed to stop for a second and make sure the workers understood that I appreciated all they were doing.

The one vegan in the crowd, sweet Dan, was appreciative for the dishes we made that met his requirement. He told me how he is often maligned for his diet and political beliefs and was happy that I embraced him. Although I am no longer a vegetarian, and never was a vegan, I have great respect for those who follow their principles, guided by any number of good reasons, and eat what is the least offensive and most ecologically-intelligent diet. Making vegan dishes is always interesting, they can be just as tasty and are usually healthier than carnivorous fare, so it wasn’t just Dan that enjoyed the mac & cheese made with a nutritional yeast cheesy-type sauce and rice noodles or the raw nibbles made with dates and nuts. Dan became a vegetarian at 10 years of age while living in beef-fed Calgary, against the best wishes of his parents, and then moved on to being a vegan a few years later. I say, Bravo Dan! May the rest of the planet learn to live as gently and thoughtfully as you rather than shifting to super-sizing Mc-slaughterhouse fare. Be proud and live with a free conscience dear Dan, and don’t let them get you down.

Art installation by Steve Mazza and Steve Hudak

The first day of ECO-Camp was devoted to the participants sharing their despair over the state of the earth, the loss of our brethren creatures, and our precarious future. Through a series of workshops and rituals, each person could express in a supportive environment their sadness, anger and overwhelming sense of loss as it pertains to our beautiful home, Mother Earth. There was a powerful presentation by Peter Timmerman, Professor of Environmental Studies at York University, titled “Mourning and Melancholia: 7 Wounds We Live With,” following the progression of environmental decline, the movements that have arisen to deal with each issue, and our collective emotional response. Starting in the 1940s and the advent of nukes, through the chemical poisoning of the land and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, acid rain killing our waters, to the extinction of species, the depleted ozone and global warming. Each one of these atrocities has caused a reaction, ecological, political, social and spiritual, that collectively we keep trying to deal with while the greedy – what I call “the Machine”, or musician/activist Manu Chao calls “the Mafia”– continue to drag us along a destructive and ultimately fatal path. The most recent, the last of the seven wounds, is the changing of life itself  through cloning and genetic-modification, and Peter pointed out that the environmental movement has barely started this latest fight to keep life on our planet somewhat true to its natural form.

Peter’s discussion was joined by a beautiful, if shocking and disturbing, slide show put together by Laurie. She mounted both positive and negative images that illustrated the seven wounds and the precious body called earth that is being continuously scarred. The music that accompanied the pictures sent shivers through my body, a soundtrack of tribal rhythms, earth sounds and voices that both pummeled my heart and caressed my soul. The pieces were “My heart is moved by all I cannot save”, based on a poem by Adrienne Rich with music composed and sung by Carol McDade; “Initiation” written and composed by guitarist Tommy Emmanuel; and “Tombeau” by David R Walker – who is also Laurie’s very talented husband known in the guitar world as Dr. Dave. Magical music.

The second day featured solo walks in the surrounding forest for each of the participants – I stayed in the kitchen – and concluded with a wonderful gathering called the Council of All Beings. Time was allowed for each of us to get creative and make masks so that we could come to the council representing one of earth’s beings: we joined as trees, water, a cardinal, spider, skunk, deer, moth, and even a human being who took it upon himself to listen to the creatures as we expressed our concerns for our mutual home. It was a gathering to discuss our struggles under the assault of greed, exploitation and stupidity.

I was a two-toed sloth. My main message was that everyone – including activists, artists, teachers, and musicians – everyone needs to slow down. As I move between my jungle home on the Caribbean in Costa Rica, to busy Monteverde in the mountains and return to the northern industrial world of Canada, I find that almost everyone I know is spinning, faster and faster, trying to produce, to create, to learn, to earn, to develop – struggling over the sharing of our precious resources, making ourselves sick with stress. Perhaps if we took a lesson from the gentle peaceful sloth and slowed down, we might all live better.

Fortunately, I am generally not a person overwhelmed by despair, depression or anxiety though that isn’t to say I never feel these things. Perhaps that comes from the positive example and teachings of my mother, perhaps it is my personality, perhaps it is the fact that I have lived most of my adult life surrounded by nature which replenishes my spirit daily – most likely it is all these things together that allow me to pay attention to what is going on around me but not be overwhelmed (usually).

The best thing to do when I’m bothered by something is to take action and to surround myself with others who are taking action which has led me to many protests and peaceful gatherings. By my own design, I live as close to the earth as possible. I live well with very little and my happiness comes from things that don’t cost much – my friends, music, dancing, walks in the woods, swimming in the sea, listening to the birds. Although I am as outraged as anyone at the many injustices, rich mens’ wars, poor womens’ suffering and the corporate takeover of the world, I generally don’t hold on to rage and I work against feeling despondent. As much as I feel sick when thinking of those who are barely surviving, I also feel concern for how much stress and fear people live with, something I witness both here in North  America but also in Costa Rica.

Having said that, I do find myself in a lingering moment of sadness that’s been triggered by the death of two great men. All Canadians will know that we have just lost Jack Layton, a man known for his activism, his eternal optimism, his humor, and his recent rise in the government to a position where we believe that he could affect positive social change that he has been committed to all his life. A year ago he announced he had prostate cancer, was beating it, and then a month ago, looking frail and sounding worse, he told us he was fighting a new cancer. Just weeks later, he was dead. It has been a huge loss for those of us who felt that we finally had a strong visionary in a political position of power who would speak on behalf of the poor, the disenfranchised and the environment as well as inspire youth to be involved in the process. In a final letter to Canadians he wrote words that will be a lasting part of his legacy:

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

On Sunday I was watching the video of his memorial in Toronto, an amazing collection of eulogies and music that made my spirit soar but also brought tears. I was just beginning to recover and was ready to carry on when I read the shocking news (on Facebook) that one of the most prolific, talented and revered musicians in Costa Rica, Fidel Gamboa, had died suddenly of a heart attack just a few weeks after his fiftieth birthday.

Along with that whole tiny nation, I was devastated for the loss of a man who has composed some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. I fell under the spell of his music when it was performed by a group called Probus back in about 1994. It took my breath away with its seductive slow melody for a voice rising above discordant strings. It reminded me of music from a group from Quebec called Conventum, who had seduced me similarly back in the late 70s. I was amazed to find such similar music being played in two very distinct, distant, small societies.

Fidel grew up playing music in a musical family, graduated with a history of arts degree from the University of Habana in Cuba, and was a prolific composer as well as part of Adrián Goizueta’s experimental jazz group in Costa Rica for decades. Fidel was notoriously shy and it took his brother, Jaime, also a musician and poet, and his friends Manuel Obregón and Iván Rodríguez (presently the Minister and Vice-Minister of Culture in Costa Rica and phenomenal musicians in their own right) to convince him to join together with them to form the band Malpaís. This Costa Rican “supergroup” began gracing stages about ten years ago. To their surprise, Malpaís was not only received warmly by all ages and regions of Costa Rica but became troubadours, historians, and basically musical deities. They played the music written by the Gamboa brothers – often Jaime’s lyrics to Fidel’s music – and it spoke for the country’s past, present and future. Their music gives a melody to the landscape and resonates with the humility and heart of its people. Their music is pure poetry.

Fidel will be as missed in Costa Rica as Jack will be in Canada, but his huge catalogue of music, recorded by almost every significant musical group in the country as well as by performers elsewhere in the Latin world and gracing the soundtracks of many films and documentaries, will live on and continue to touch all who hear and feel it. I share these few words that finish Fidel’s beautiful song Como un pájaro (Like a bird) and hope you will find your way (http://www.grupomalpais.com/) to much more of his and Malpaís’ beautiful music.

Y cantando, Y cantando así sin voz y sin aliento, Y cantando así sin voz y
sin aliento, como aquel primer amor entre tu pecho…

“Como un árbol, como un árbol sacudido por el viento,  Y cantando…como un pájaro en lalluvia, vuelo lejos…”

“And singing, singing so voiceless and breathless, singing so voiceless and breathless, as when that first love enters your chest…

“Like a tree, like a tree shaken by the wind… and singing…like a bird in the rain, flying away….”

I thank both Jack and Fidel (and another man of vision, our dear Wolf Guindon – who, by the way is doing very well I am told) and the many others in the world like them who inspire us with their words and actions. They are who keep me from feeling despair and remind me to continue with hope and optimism.

As I write this from inside a cozy log cabin, outside the rain is pouring down. I can almost hear the mossy trunks slurping up the water. Every once in awhile the sun tickles the top of the clouds, giving us a glimmer of hope that before we leave the land of the Californian Redwoods tomorrow, we’ll have the chance to go for one more hike through their serene glory.

My friend, Laurie Hollis-Walker, is with me on this sojourn through these straight-to-the-sky sisters. We’ve wandered and lingered in as many redwood groves as we can, starting north of San Francisco in Mendecino County, following the Avenue of the Giants into Humboldt County, and now winding down in Jedediah/Smith River National Park in the northwest corner of California.

I’m a bush babe, but this ain’t no bush. This is a woods of silva-magic welcoming us with its tall thick souls and their multi-hued layers of soft spongy bark. Here in the Smith River area, we have been walking through lush old growth redwood forest. In the tamer, more visited groves to the south, where California is definitely parched, the understory is pure duff, thick needles and bark droppings. In most places, the stream beds were waterless indentations on the forest floor.

For much of the trip we were in the Eel River watershed and the road crossed this seafoam-coloured waterway so many times we lost count. Large pebbled beaches lined its passage and I found myself thinking of the Eel as quite serpentine, reminding me of the delicate aqua coloring of the keelback snake slithering down our stream bank back in Cahuita.

The land in the Eel watershed, however, was scarily dry considering this is all temperate rainforest. There was very little shrubby vegetation at ground level – there isn’t much greenery until you look up somewhere between forty and ninety feet into the lower part of the canopy where the redwoods’  branches begin to reach out in mutual support toward each other. Like all forests, there is much co-dependence going on. If one tree goes down here, it tends to take a few others with it. They rely on mycorrhizae, a fungus that serves as soup kitchen between the soil and the trees. This fungi has probably never been considered as important by those cutting the forest, yet 51% of the biomass of an old growth redwood forest is made up of this busy little worker that keeps the big trees healthy.  

One can only imagine what is going on in the upper branches three hundred feet or more above us. There are many species that are part of the ecology of this forest – the spotted owl, the marbled murrulets (fog-larks as they are called by old-timers), flying squirrels – but as the largest and wildest stands of the redwoods disappeared, so has the habitat for healthy sustaining populations of its inhabitants and so they move permanently on to the Endangered Species List. Maybe imagination is all that remains up in the heavens at the top of the redwoods.

The bark is so thick that it protects the trees from forest fires and provides refuge for small critters like salamanders to survive as well. Although the trees are called redwoods for their rosy inner core, the bark glows with every shade of purple, pink, orange, green, brown and grey. The fact that these rugged giants have this soft skin is one of the biggest surprises for me – I can feel my mother’s tender hands responding as I caress them. It is as mystical to me as the fairy-rings, the circles of trunks that sprout out from around the base of the dying madonna, keeping the soul of the being alive, turning one tree into four or six or more.

We camped for a night in Richardson Grove, choosing a campsite that was protected from the cold wind by a downed sister, her Georgia O’Keefe-inspired root mass standing vertical while her long, wide body lay sleeping like a gentle giant in repose.

It was a chilly but gorgeous clear evening spent in the shadow of this beauty. We had time to wander through the grove which was eerily zoo-like in comparison to the much wilder old growth forest that we are near now. There is a hard tale of greed that accompanies the story of the destruction of the old growth redwoods. In the case of the Richardson grove, the struggle continues as the government wants to cut the grove to widen Highway 101 to smooth the way for the large trucks, this being one of the few areas where the road remains narrow and winds respectfully around the large trees necessitating slowing down.

Many companies have taken their turn at profiting from the lumber that comes out of these woods, but in northern Humboldt County, for over one hundred years it was Pacific Lumber. Up until a hostile corporate takeover in 1985, PL cut responsibly, selectively and sustainably. Then a Texan by the name of Charles Hurwitz and his corporate claws took over, with the intention to clear-cut and liquidate as much of the redwood forest in as quick a time as possible. The story involves incomprehensible business dealings, illegal logging and government-compliance, but ends with the evil man being charged with defrauding the forestry service though not before he had raped the land, taken down the giants, made homeless the resident wildlife, and polluted the local salmon streams with the silt released when a hillside is left devoid of root mass and vegetation. It is easy to understand why people were enraged, devoted their lives to the protection of these forests, and chose to get arrested or live in treetops – anything to save them.

As it is April and off-season, we’ve had most places to ourselves as well as very little traffic to contend with. In fact, we seem to have shared the road more with cyclists and their bike/trailer rigs than with cars, buses or trucks. They looked idyllic in that sunny dry weather, but I feel for them as the rain continues to pour down quite heavily at times.

On that rather barren golden ground to the south, redwood sorrel, brownish ferns, and verdant mosses are present, but the most prolific greenery is the poison oak. It sprouts all over and grows as ivy up the tree-trunks. Where it is dry, the oak ivy seems more successful than most other leafy forest vegetation. One shouldn’t be lured into a sense of false security provided by these giant peaceful grandmothers – instead, if they could really talk, they would no doubt warn you to consider carefully where you are squatting.

It is reassuring to be here while it is raining. We’ve watched the Smith River, directly below our cabin, rise dramatically in the last twenty-four hours. This land can definitely use this moisture before they settle in for six months of summertime dryness.

We have driven backroads that wind through the groves, the path asking permission to brush past these benevolent hosts, making long trucks or trailers unwelcome but allowing us to continue as privileged visitors. The soundtrack on the car stereo has been coming from local community radio station KHUM – as we drove down the Avenue of the Giants, they were playing The Lumberjack Song with its chainsaw solo – couldn’t have been more appropriate.

In Jedediah/Smith River National Park, we are where the last of the wild stands of ancient redwoods are, where you can see the understory is much more varied and vibrant than what we saw along the hauntingly-beautiful but comparatively barren Avenue of the Giants.

My companion on this journey, Laurie, is a scholar whose concern and calling is the living experience of non-violent activism. Her PhD research brought her here, to the hardcore activists that fought for the future of these forests. I’ve been introduced to friends of hers in the area who have been deeply involved in the struggle to save the redwoods since at least the 1980s. Laurie has fallen in love with the redwoods while doing her research, but she also works with Joanna Macy in Berkeley, the renowned teacher of “The Work that Reconnects.” Being a facilitator of that method of spiritual activism is perhaps Laurie’s strongest motivation.

Laurie and I met in 1989 on the blockade in Temagami (I’ve mentioned this in other posts or read Walking with Wolf). We know the depth of the actions we went through in that area of northern Ontario to bring some protection to the last stands of old growth red and white pine (as well as support the local native band’s struggle for justice).

I’m finding everything here in California comes super-sized – these gigantic trees, long vistas of ocean, big colourful characters, and epic tales of activism. I’ve witnessed the adrenalin rise in the story-tellers as they relate their personal experiences from that Redwood Summer of 1989, sharing stories of campaigns maintained for years, held in remote forests in the dark of night, and of the incredible power of crusaders such as Judi Bari and Julia Butterfly Hill who are legends from the time. Our friend Maryka lived in a big red pine for nine days in our Temagami story – here, near the community of Scotia, Julia lived in a tall redwood named Luna for two years! You can still see that survivor tree, graceful amidst the gash of a clearcut, standing like a beacon of justice on a high hillside.

We spent a night with Kay Rudin, her son Clovis and friend Rex, in an old recycled playboy mansion bursting with artifacts and memories from the years of redwoods’ activism. I’m always intrigued to meet another K, as I don’t meet many, and this woman – film-maker, activist, clown, artist – is a fine example of someone I’m proud to share my name with.

She shared with us her early edit of a documentary about her friend Judi Bari, who, along with Darryl Cherney barely survived a bomb explosion in her car on the eve of Redwood Summer. Much of the footage in the doc is from an interview with her as Judi lay dying of cancer in the late 90s. Watching this woman from earlier footage as she stands up to the liquidators and inspires the warriors, you know that it is a great tragedy that she died so young, in her forties, as she had the spirit and power to connect and convince. We need people like her and they so often go too fast.

It is noticeable how many women have been involved in the protection of these redwood groves. Many of the groves were preserved by women’s garden clubs early in the last century – the early activists of the Save the Redwoods League – or by the wives of forest barons to honour their husbands when they died. Their husbands may have been supporting their families by making money off the incredible amount of lumber these large woody mammoths provided, but their wives seemed to realize that the protection of these forests was more important for the future of their children and grandchildren.

To try to catch up to what has happened here, I’ve been reading Joan Dunning’s captivating book, “From the Redwood Forest”. It’s giving me the history of the struggle to protect forests throughout the area, the history of the local logging industry, some natural history of the redwood forests, and the author’s personal experiences amongst these gentle glorious giants.

But there is nothing like wandering through the silent groves, touching the thick soft bark that becomes a sponge in this rain, leaning back until you almost topple over just trying to see the tops (something that is generally impossible), recognizing faces in the burls that bubble like facial moles on the trunks, being awestruck each time you think you’ve seen the biggest tree yet.

That happened for us in the Stout Grove close to this cabin. Laurie and I, meandering slowly through this old growth redwood grove, with the first drops of rain landing gently on our cheeks, turned a corner in the path and knew we were in the presence of a great-great-great-grandmother. I was so moved by the survival of this beauty, who must be one of those who has endured close to 2000 years that I had to implore the “youth” in the forest to hold on and follow the example of this wise abuela.

Keep growing. Stand tall. Continue to prosper in your communal embrace with each other. If you don’t succumb to the forces of nature, perhaps those who stand in awe at your base will manage to keep the forces of societal greed, corporate evil and governmental stupidity at bay. Hopefully you will stay safe.

 Heed the grandmother for as long as you are able.

One of the best things about traveling is putting places into perspective. I love maps and can decipher them easily, but even with that visual understanding, it isn’t until you go to a place that you finally understand the lay of the land. This trip to California has finally given me a real sense of where places are in the Sunshine State and how they are related to each other.

I came up from LA to the Bay Area for a number of reasons. One was to visit Wolf’s son, Tomás, and meet his wife Gretchen and his children Julian and Olivia. I last saw Tomás in St. Louis Missouri back in 2003 when Wolf received the Conservation Action Prize for his life time of work protecting the Monteverde forest.

Tomás remarried and moved to California in the late 90s and with Gretchen they’ve had two beautiful children to add to the Guindon clan. It was wonderful to spend a couple of days with them. They gave me a great tour of the area and treated me to some delicious pizza from The Cheeseboard in Berkeley – where they only make one kind of pizza a day but it is always delicious – and some great Mexican from the Cactus Taqueria near them in Oakland. Was delicious Mexican food – apparently they use local fresh ingredients – and their spicing was a stretch beyond the norm.  How happy am I to be in the land of fine eateries.

They live in the Oakland Hills where Gretchen grew up. She had great stories of the place including her memories of the Oakland Firestorm of 1991 that destroyed 4000 homes and killed 25 people. Some of her extended family’s homes survived – they now live in one of these. Rebuilding the city brought in new architecture and just around the corner there is a simple yet unique house built by Bernard Maybeck. I was impressed with its design and also the fact it is only 1400 square feet though it has the presence of a mansion.

We went over to the Bay Area Discovery Museum near the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. In my short time in the Bay Area, I managed to see the bridge from half a dozen different angles – it is a real sentinel in the bay. I will be returning to San Francisco in a few days and will drive back and forth over that bridge. If I have seen no other iconic landmark on this trip, I’ll have seen the Golden Gate Bridge plenty.

      

At the Discovery Museum, we went to a kiddies’ concert by a very enjoyable songwriter and performer named Francis England. With her band, she was lively for the children, the songs were rockin’ and the lyrics were soft and sweet and smart.

I really enjoyed this concert – the audience of mostly under 6’s (and their parents) was as enthusiastic as the Brazilians at the Caetano Veloso concert in LA last week. I’m good with all kinds of music and tend to pick up on the excitement of others and thus enjoy new music even more – which was easy to do with these kids (and their folks) all singing and shouting and dancing along.

Gretchen told me that Olivia is known for taking serious looking photos, but I managed to get a few great shots of her laughing. I always bond quickly with dogs and cats, but kids can be tricky. Some are reticent to be friends too fast – if they are in their ‘making strange’ phase – but by the time I left, little Olivia was letting me spend time alone with her, for a few minutes anyway, lower lip quivering but no actual tears.

Her big brother Julian had so much fun in the children’s playground at the museum that he had a real hard time leaving – but don’t we all know that sooner or later, no matter how much fun we are having, we usually have to leave and go home. This was a great playground of wooden pirate ships and musical instruments and sea creatures floating in shallow waterways so it was a lot of magic for one little guy to have to resist.

The other reason I came to the Bay area was to begin the official Walking with Wolf takes the West Coast tour. The whole family went with me on Sunday to the Strawberry Creek Friends meeting. Held in a rented room at an academy close to downtown Berkeley, it is a fairly large meeting and apparently one popular with activists. It was suggested by my friend Roberta Llewellyn that I arrange to talk at this meeting as the Friends here would be very interested in the work done in Monteverde. Thanks to Roberta’s contacts and promotion, I had a wonderful time presenting the story, sold a number of books and met a nice bunch of people, many with their own stories about Monteverde and Wolf. If I haven’t said this enough times in this blog so far, the side benefit of the book is the opportunity to go out and meet people, particularly Friends. They give me hope for the future. I can only imagine how many tales of wisdom and activism were represented there that day. Thank you Roberta and Strawberry Creek Meeting for that warm reception (and Dick Strong who provided the projector).

Sunday afternoon I hooked up with Laurie Hollis-Walker who came down from Grimsby, Ontario to join me in a roadtrip through the redwoods to northern California. This is a dream come true. I’ve wanted to know these beautiful large sisters of the forest forever, linger in their shadow, spread my arms wide to embrace them. Laurie is working on her PhD in Psychology, interviewing the activists from the late 80s and 90s, delving deeply into what makes activists commit their lives to the well-being of the earth and how they survive the traumas that come with active participation in the process. It is an honour to meet these passionate souls who barricaded and blockaded, supported and spread the word, lived in trees and held out against the corporation that wanted to come in and liquidate the forest.

Laurie managed to find the time to come to California at the same time as I was going to be here to conduct her own work and we are headed north to the Lost Coast and Arcata and Smith River as well as a number of other hot spots in the story of the Redwoods. She will take me to visit some of the colourful individuals she has been working with, as well as to meet as many of her “friends”, the tall trees, as possible. For my part, I’m keeping track of how far north the palm trees go.

We had a day to pass in the city first though, as Laurie had to meet with an associate while in Berkeley. I went by BART (rapid transit) into the downtown core of San Francisco to visit a couple of thrift stores, needing more warm clothes then I had with me for the occasion. And I wanted a funky thing or two as a souvenir of San Francisco. The Goodwill store  on Geary near Hyde satisfied my cravings.

I headed out by city bus to the western shore of the city to see Punta Lobos. The windblown trees, the eroding cliffs, the blustery sea and the Golden Gate Bridge, once again in the background, were a sharp contrast to the rolling hills, street people, and big ol’ buildings in the downtown of the city. It was my first taste of being around big trees, though here they were windswept like the trees in the elfin cloud forest above Monteverde.

I did get a sense of how big San Francisco is, for it has mostly finite borders, at least on three sides, and I took a bus across its width, east to west. I also got to stand back in Oakland, Berkeley and on the north shore of the bay and look at it some more. It is truly a geographically diverse area of ocean, mountain, forest and beach. Just as LA seemed smaller to me than I had imagined it would, San Francisco seemed bigger. Hmmm, perceptions shift when faced with the reality.

Laurie and I stayed in Berkeley in a comfy little studio house that she rented through the VRBO site – Vacation Rentals by Owner. It is a good way to have a home away from home, though not the cheapest for this dirt-floor-sleeper from the jungle. However I’m getting ideas of what I can do with my house in the Hammer. Laurie’s also an incredible packer, having included all sorts of extras in her bags to make sure we have whatever our hearts desire.

I can understand why this area has attracted the movers and shakers in so many social movements. There is an energy in the Bay Area that makes me think of the Monteverde clouds. Several layers of intense movement, each strata having their purpose, heading in deliberate directions, collecting their forces to create storms that stir up the earth.

maple leaf

Here in Canada, we had our Thanksgiving a couple of weeks ago – in the United States, it will be next month. Our Thanksgiving Day is the same day as Columbus Day in the US which celebrates those ships sailing in with the conquistadors. Life was forever changed on Turtle Island and it is hard to mix thanks with what became the destruction of natives throughout the Americas. In both countries, Thanksgiving weekend implies a lot of destruction of pumpkins, football players and turkeys. Holidays in general have pretty much spun out of control with commercialization, expectation and general gluttony.

grasses

I keep my own spin on things and choose to enjoy these special days from the bright side of life. I don’t need these big moments to remember to give gifts, say thanks for my good fortune, or eat too much. However, I appreciate the opportunity holidays give us for getting together with friends and family. Particularly in this season when the air is starting to blow cold, gathering around a table of hot food nourishes the soul as well as our desire to seek warmth and start laying on the winter fat.

butter tarts

For years I was a strict vegetarian, but returned to a carnivore diet. I’ve grown lots of food naturally, fished local waters (though never hunted), milked goats and made cheese, baked bread after grinding the grains and patted tortillas after milling the corn, picked various kinds of fruit in orchards including the grapes that make the wine. My most recent gardening involves papayas, corn and bananas in the jungle on the hot Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.

ladybug

My conscience has dealt with the issues of eating organic and local, whether or not to eat meat or fish, to be a polite guest or a politically-correct one, how to grow food in spite of bugs, and whether vegetables too have rights. The answers to the big questions, as in all things, are both clear and elusive. I bumble along, doing my best, but if I let it, the worry and guilt of not always keeping to what I know is right in the politics of food would probably kill me. Instead, I just try to stay aware and be smart. I don’t need to hear the reasons, I know them. I just need to keep trying to live simply and continue walking softly on our earth.  

 Then there’s Thanksgiving! I admit to partaking in five scrumptious meals with close friends, long lost friends, and friends leaving on adventures – and readily agree that it might have been more than one person should consume. Sunday dinner was with my big pretend family, the Johnston-Poags. It was the biggest table with the biggest turkey, with all the wonderful traditional dishes that include each person’s favorite. There is a new generation, bringing their own likes and dislikes – the table will have to grow even bigger!!         

rob n robin

My second turkey dinner was with friends in Toronto, some who I haven’t seen in years. The table came with the golden bird and many of the same vegetables, but everything was cooked different from the night before, including the stuffing. It was at my friend Deb’s house and included old friends Sally and Rob and their daughters, Robin and Clara. The family had just returned from years living in Halifax for a year’s schooling in Toronto.

clara n deb

We lived together in the north years ago, in these funky old log cabins in the bush. Sal and Rob are phenomenal artists, talented painters who have also built a number of large outdoor sculptures such as a memorial for miners in Kirkland Lake.  They’ve passed on their talented souls to their daughters who are both destined to a life of creativity. Robin is at a performing arts school and they both are in the Canadian Opera Company’s children’s program. Although I haven’t seen them in years, we resumed what we always did as if no time had passed – ate Deb’s great food, talked a lot and laughed endlessly.

barb's pumpkin

Two Toronto friends, Barb and Peter, also great visual artists, were also with us. Barb brought this incredible pumpkin cheese cake creation. When you think you can’t eat another bite, it’s a testament to the irresistibility of the food when you can’t stop yourself from eating more. 

treeza and rick

On the third night, I went out to Nvelte, to my friends Treeza and Rick, who were soon leaving for their second home in Guatemala. A third delicious turkey, a third stuffing, and new versions of different vegetables. It was really quite amazing that I ate all this food over three nights, and I swear no two dishes were identical, all just glorious homemade food cooked with lotsa love.

gloria and treeza

A Canadian who also lives in Guatemala, Bob, was there as well as our friend Gloria, the only one of us not about to be back in Central America quite soon. Out of respect, we kept our musings about warm weather and tropical treats to a minimum.

pepalls

lisa

A fourth night I was with my old pals the Pepall brothers, Andy and Mike, along with Mike’s wife, Lisa and their kids. The Pepall’s and I met in the Temagami bush on the blockade in 1989, spending seven weeks at the bush camp together. Andy was just at the 20th reunion, which I didn’t get to, and brought some stories from Temagami for us. Looking at photos of the mist floating on that cold northern lake in the rising sun made me weep. It is a land I need to return to often for a dose of pine scent, wood smoke and loon songs. A dose of the Pepalls was almost as sweet as a trip north.

laurie

Another dinner was with another friend from the blockade, the woman who did the initial lay out for Walking with Wolf, Laurie Hollis-Walker. Along with her husband David and her longtime mentor in psychology, Dr. Harry Hunt, we continued the feeding frenzy. We also watched the show Survivor. I studied these funny but focused academics studying the social interactions of the participants. Laurie and I met in a Survivor kind of situation, along with those Pepalls and hundreds of other activists. She now teaches a life-altering course at Brock University – Eco-psychology – and is doing her doctorate work on the activists in the Californian redwoods. 

coterc

This week of respectful but relentless gluttony was followed by several days of very humble and simple foods and then it was the International Day for Climate Change or 350 Day. I was the guest speaker that night at a fund-raising dinner at the Toronto Zoo for COTERC (Canadian Organization for Tropical Education and Rainforest Conservation). They have a remote biological station near Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and do important research on turtles.

lynda

It was a friendly, committed crowd full of very interesting people, including Peter Silverman, a well-known investigative journalist and ombudsmen from Toronto, and my always dynamic friend, Lynda Lehman, from Guelph.

karen

Earlier that day, I drove my bike downtown to see what 350.day events were going on. I couldn’t linger long as I was leaving for Toronto, but I did manage to walk into a very interesting workshop at one of our local and smart food cafes, the Sky Dragon.  Karen Burson, a woman I met on a dance floor recently, was hosting this discussion on the ever-increasing importance of eating locally and organically. We must pay attention to all stages of our foods, including how they are grown, where they are grown, how they are packaged, transported and then disposed of, including all that packaging. There was a table of green vegetables in front of me, brought from one of the local organic farms for their Saturday morning market.

hamilton skyline

Karen spoke the truth with passion and intelligence. I commend her and all folks like her who work daily for a healthier and therefore happier planet. I was sorry that I had to leave before people gathered to walk through Hamilton as they were doing all over the planet that day.

sal and k

It was one more day to be giving grace for the bounty, our blessings,  life. And appreciation for every wonderful person who fed me, hugged me, made me think, or kept me laughing in this, the season of thanks giving.

frankie-release-party-7069191

 Frankie Venom 1957-2008 

Well, where does one start? I’ve just survived a week of music here in Hamilton, Ontario, where the king is (was) a punker and rock still rolls but there is room for everything.  The Hamilton Music Awards is an event that stretches over four days and takes up the downtown of the city. This is my fourth year volunteering backstage and each year I’ve been turned on to more great music, met more talented and whacky musicians, and come away having walked and danced beyond what my feet are happy with.                                                     jp                                                                     

The Hammies are the work of Jean Paul Gauthier, who grew up around his parents’ bar and the musicians who played there, then went on to establish the Hamilton Music Scene Festival in 1995 that has now grown into the music awards and festival.  JP manages musicians, produces concerts with Daniel Lanois and has brought a variety of names to the awards – Lanois, Garth Hudson of The Band, Eugene Levy, Ronny Hawkins, U2(via satellite).  The venue changes each year and this year the show took place in the Hamilton Place Studio Theatre, a very industrial mid-sized concert room – and the room was packed.  This was the year of Teenage Head, one of the original punk bands, and they were being honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award.  That honor was announced back in October the same day that their lead singer, Frankie Venom, died of throat cancer.  So the weekend naturally became a memorial gig for Frankie.  As was said in the local paper on Monday, this weekend was a punk love-fest.  I have to say, there is something very sweet about a roomful of leather-clad hard-rock looking punkers with tears in their eyes.  After eight years in this city, I’m quite sure that the music community here is about the tightest and proudest in the land – tribal, as one of them said to me.  They may fight inwardly, but outwardly they’ll watch each other’s backs. And proudly declare their love of the Hammer.  And grieve for the loss of their own together.

panel-no-tom On Friday, the weekend kicked off with a music conference for high school students.  I was out at the Thursday night opening reception and had gone to catch some of JP Reimens and Brian Griffith picking their guitars and singing sweet songs till late at night, but was up to help at the registration table for the conference.  I agreed to come in just to have the chance to see the morning panel.  It was on the future of the music album and was moderated by our east coast friend, Bob Mersereau.  Bob lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick and is a long time arts reporter for CBC TV.  Last year he authored the bestselling “Top 100 Canadian Albums” and now spends his time discussing his choices with people from across the country.  I doubt that the conversation will ever stop.         

Bob’s a great guy. I met him last year when he came here to be a presenter at the awards.  JP had invited him since 16 albums on the list are from Hamilton.  Bob loved it here and begged (as he says) to come back.  He was joined on Friday’s panel by Graham Rockingham, who covers music for the Hamilton Spectator; Ric Taylor, all-round media music guy; Amy King, a music producer in Hamilton who also came from the east – Newfoundland; and Hamilton’s own Tom Wilson of Florida Razers, Junkhouse and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings.

tom-on-panel1

  Although Jean Paul is in charge of keeping the embers glowing on all aspects of the production of this awards weekend, Tom is the flame that keeps things hot.  I’ve talked about Tom before in this blog [see East Coast Pleasures] when he showed up on the hamilton365 website on Canada Day – I agreed that he would be my choice of Canadian songwriter who speaks to me of home and has an attitude I can identify with.  Tom is a big guy – physically he towers over you, vocally he fills the room, and his presence is impossible to ignore. The best part of him to me, besides his musical genius, is his irreverency.  He will say anything and he keeps things stirred up.

With two nights of award-giving, tele-prompted introductions and drawn out back-slapping amongst the musical community, it could get real dull if it weren’t for the fact that Tom throws out verbal darts that prick you awake every once in awhile. He is smart, experienced and very very funny.  He has been engaged for a few years to a well known east coast (are you sensing a sub-theme here?) comedian, Cathy Jones, but made a point of announcing that that relationship was over. So whereas his little darts in past years had a bit of lovedust dulling them, this year they were definitely sharper.  He sat at the outrageous end of the morning panel, he emceed both the music industry awards on Saturday and the big award show on Sunday (along with the very wonderful, very nice, very funny actor Patrick McKenna), he took his turn singing a few songs at both Teenage Head shows and did a set with his hot new band (musical collective he calls it), Lee Harvey Osmond, on Saturday night.  And then he actually hung out on the dancefloor at the rap party on Sunday night when the young band, the Mississippi Kings, played. That’s a lot of energy – keep it rolling, Tommy – don’t ever let it stop.tom-sing

 

 

 

Bob Mersereau says that after spending years going to musical events and gatherings all over Canada, he thinks that the best ones are the East Coast Music Awards, held in various locations in the Maritime provinces, and this weekend in the Hammer. I would guess that, beyond other reasons, it is because these are events that celebrate home grown music that rises out of the soul of the place – though there would definitely be a different tone and rhythm to the east coast than here in the industrial Hammer. I missed if the panel on Friday drew any conclusions about the future of the album, but I did see a room full of students saying they still buy CDs, not just download single songs; I heard alot of discussion around some of the incredible albums that have come from Canadian artists – The Band, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Willie P. Bennett, on and on and on – and I heard them all talk about the difference between the business aspect of the industry and the artistry of the musician.  Real musicians/songwriters will probably always be inclined to make multi-song albums as complete reflections of the full collection of their creative work, despite what the industry might demand for sales. I had an interesting conversation a couple days later with my friend Dean Huyck who pointed out that the workshop aspect of weekend musical festivals is dying out along with the complete album – because of modern technology, today young musicians are able to produce single hit recordings in their home studios but aren’t necessarily experienced at jamming with other musicians or able to play beyond their own isolated basements.  As the older musicians, more experienced with playing collectively, stop participating in the workshops, the music jam slowly disappears. High-quality albums filled with one brilliant song after another are getting harder to find. The industry demands commercial success more than musical ingenuity…aaargh, it goes round and round.

ron-palangio-sextet

Over the weekend, there were many bands playing everywhere, but I can only talk about the shows I saw. On Friday night, I worked the door at the Pearl (my old friend, the Pearl Company) – where the Ron Palangio Jazz Sextet played a tight set of standards; followed by Shawn Trotter, a funny finger-picking guitarist with Scottish roots and great stories; and then the Lowest Lanes provided smooth harmonies to fill the lovely acoustics in the room.  This little trio does nice covers and a few originals – they get their name because they all work at the Hamilton Spectator, our local daily newspaper (on a side note, I finally did an interview today about Walking with Wolf  with Jeff Mahoney who writes a column in the Spec).  Then Santucci and Doumas were going to be playing but I cut out to go and catch the Teenage Head show that was to be a tribute to the fallen Frankie Venom.

head-with-mickey

It was late when I walked into this sea of men with big frizzy hair, cloaked in black leather jackets (can there be a black cow left alive?), with many a blonde at their side, at Hamilton Place – fortunately, in true punk-style, the show was going to start real late so I didn’t miss anything (I knew I would miss Rackula and The Forgotten Rebels who played earlier).  The remaining members of Teenage Head – Gord Lewis, Jack Pedlar and Steve Mahon – were accompanied on stage by two huge photographs of the late Frankie – as well as a line-up of local singers, each who covered a couple of songs – all aware that they couldn’t fill Frankie’s bottomless shotglass, that alone his stageman shoes. Tom Wilson, Tim Gibbons, Edgar Breau (who, in his nervousness, did this dance thing that I thought was brilliant – great seeing new moves Edgar!), Adam Castelli, Brad Germain of Marble Index, Jimmy Vapids, Chris Houston, the always colorful Mickey DeSadist and the raver, Dave-Rave, along with the Head musicians, rocked the house in Frankie’s memory. 

john-lewis

 

 

 

Gord’s brother John came out and sang a beautiful Irish lament accompanied just by Gord’s guitar, a song that they had performed at Frankie’s funeral – sorry I don’t remember the name of it – but it was a somber sweet note amongst the otherwise kick-ass stuff. 

 

 

gord-talk

As someone who wasn’t a Head fan when I was young (I was living in the northern bush in Quebec in the late seventies when the Head reared its ugly self listening to Harmonium) but came to love them when I was a little older – and who is pretty new in this community – it was very touching watching the emotion of the musicians and listening to the influence that Frankie and the band had on all these other musicians in the city. Gord Lewis talked alot over the weekend – on stage and while receiving awards – and spoke eloquently of his band brother Frankie. I think the most recurring theme was that he influenced them to write original songs – that it wasn’t good enough to be a cover band, and so as long as they were writing their own music, they would all support each other. That is a big reason why the Hammer is so smack full of original sound now – this town has its own distinct snarly voice.  Frankie was a rebel, and a punk, and a growling showman and a great singer of songs. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like punk music or even rock n roll, but you have to appreciate someone who has a stage presence that ignites rooms and a manner that inspires others. That kind of charisma is a gift and the rest is talent.  The night was magical, in a dark gruff steel-city kind of way and you had to be moved.

kim-koren

 

Saturday was the music industry awards that recognizes the work by media, promoters, album designers and music producers. The lovely Kim Koren won an award for Musical Event of the Year for the concert she organized and played at raising money for the SPCA.  I caught her resting, reading, and guarding her Hammie in the Green Room.  Kim and her husband Frank can be found contributing their talent to benefit concerts and needy organizations everywhere in the city.  She deserved the award, not only for the quality of her work, but in appreciation of her big heart.

Following the awards, there were three concerts that followed: the first was by local blues man and guitarist, Alfie Smith – who is recovering from his house having been burned back in the summer.  Then we were treated to a set by John Ellison, the man who wrote the song “She’s Some Kind of Wonderful” – originally recorded by his band the Soul Brothers Six and played on the black soul stations in the United States in the sixties, then made super famous on the white radio stations by Grand Funk Railroad. Apparently that song is one of the most covered songs in the world – and as John said, every time you hear it, be assured he is getting the royalties and still being supported by it.  He and his drummer Dean put on a high energy soulful set of covers and originals, including that famous song. Although when they came into the Green Room earlier in the day most people didn’t know who they were (and Dean told me that though John lives closeby in Dundas, they mostly tour in Europe, and we were lucky to have him there that day), by the time they rocked out the awards ceremony on Sunday with Some Kind of Wonderful to a prolonged standing ovation, we all knew who he was – not just a great entertainer and songwriter but a real nice proud gorgeous man.

The last show on Friday night was by Steve Strongman – by now I was only dancing and the camera didn’t come out, but his show blew out the room.  When all was said and done, two words came to mind with him – he was versatile in his guitar playing and song selection, and beautifully restrained in how he delivers both the vocals and the screaming guitar…as in it isn’t always screaming. And, having talked with him backstage a few times, a real nice guy.                                             MY HEAD GOES HERE

the-dress

We jumped into a taxi and tried to make it to see Lee Harvey Osmond at the Corktown, but walked on to the dancefloor just as the last chord hit – and despite a real appreciate crowd, the band didn’t return for an encore.  We headed to my nearby pub, Fisher’s, to finish off the night with the Sugardaddies – always a great band for dancing.

 

So before I finish up on this lovefest of Hammer-music, I have to throw in a fashion statement. Last week I went to Blackbird Studios where the design duo of Buckshot (she of the Evelyn Dicks) and kiki (she of the Lorrainas) make their glam rock creations. It’s a beautiful space they have and a dramatic line of clothes.  I bought this little number to wear to the awards show.  There were at least four of us wearing their line – and I got a lot of comments all night on the dress – to which I replied – “kiki from Blackbird dahling”.  Like at a real awards show! Very cool. Next year I’ll seek out a jewelry designer who will lend me a million dollar bauble to show off!

It was a long night but a musically-incestual hilarious celebration of the remarkable talent in this little city. There were many super performances by everyone from my old friends the Evelyn Dicks, to Rita Chiarelli, to Brian Melo (who won the big Canadian Idol contest last year and happens to be a Hammer boy), to Danny Lockwood – a session drummer who won at least three awards for his new big jazz album “A Few of my Favourite Grooves” and filled the stage with musicians and latin-beats (making me a little homesick for Costa Rica) – and finished off with another set by those never-say-quit Teenage Headers.  It was a repeat of the concert on Friday night, but we all could have kept jumping with them for hours more.  The after-party continued at the Corktown and I danced till the last chord was struck and the feet pleaded to take them home.

Whew – this blog is easily as long as the weekend was…I need Tom Wilson to step in hear and say something outrageous to keep you all going – but almost done…just a couple more things.

Monday I slept.

emil-y-lynda

Tuesday I went up to Guelph to present Walking with Wolf in my old university town at the eBar.  A good sized group of long-time friends, activists and many new faces came out to see the book show and hear the sweet sounds of The Regulars, who played before and after my little photo journey and readings.  I sold a nice buncha books and have to thank my pal Lynda Lehman (who I met in Monteverde in 1990 when she was with her old boyfriend Emiliano – who I saw in Guelph for the first time in maybe 15 years).  Lynda wrote a beautiful review of the book for the Bookshelf’s publication Off the Shelf and helped me put this evening together. I saw some of the folks who influenced me in my early years as an activist – Peter Cameron and Carole Milligan. What a privilege to share my book with them all these years later.

laurie-david

 

 

 And the lovely Laurie Hollis-Walker and her husband David came up from their home an hour away to share in the celebration since they hadn’t made the launch at the Pearl back in September – and gave me the opportunity to embarrass her in front of a crowd, thanking her for her work on laying out the book. And I made a fistful of cashola!

money

 

 

 

 

 

gbs

Wednesday night I had free tickets to see Great Big Sea – a band from Newfoundland who’s been singing its shanty songs across the land for years. My friends, Cocky and Peter, in Maine had met them last year and because of that, I got comp tickets here in the Hammer so I took my friend Bob. We had real great seats but were barely in them as it was an on-your-feet Newfie kitchen party most of the night. My still recovering feet were not amused yet rose to the occasion but actually I found that it was more of an arm work-out with all the hand-clapping involved. 

hand-clapping

After all the east coast references through the awards weekend, it was funny to go see an east coast band a few days later. They played in the Great Hall of Hamilton Place to a very packed-to-the-rafters house. The strange thing was that they made many many comments on not being a punk band, generally to a swell of applause by the crowd – obviously many east-coasters.  It was a great show and I thank Brit, the guitar tech who arranged for me to have the tickets. But after the punk lovefest that I had been a part of all weekend, and knowing that the Hammer is still mourning its king, Frankie, it seemed disrespectful.  I’m not sure what was behind all the comments(they said they’d been watching a Sex Pistols video that day), but I felt like I was in a foreign land, well a stranger’s kitchen, and I felt a bit like a traitor to my tribe.

Then I thought about Wolf’s line in our book that people shouldn’t get too territorial about things – and shook off the strange feeling. Instead I appreciated the performance for what it was, put the tendency-to-drama backstage, and remain thankful that there is this thing called music that rocks our worlds and satisfies our souls.

 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.

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.

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.

A book is created in many stages: first, the idea has to come to you about what you simply must write, working its way from some small niggling in the depth of your being to an AHA! moment when you truly see the possibility, the life of the project, laid out in front of you; then the writing starts, bogs down, starts again, stops, creeps ahead – dependent on you to keep it alive with one eye constantly searching the endless horizon of this new world you have inhabited, somehow able to see through the clouds and fog that there is a future in what you are doing; the horribly anal process of editing the writing, dissecting each word, sentence and paragraph -just like cleaning a messy house, it will get worse before it gets better; and finally placing your precious manuscript in a package that will appeal to buyers, engage readers, and most importantly do justice to your original concept. 

In my case, I chose to self-publish Walking with Wolf rather than spend the time, energy and money on convincing an agent or publisher that it would be worth their while to invest in me and my manuscript.  It was a decision that came to me slowly.  This book was written in Canada by a Canadian, about a man and community in Costa Rica, with a backdrop critical of American history. Although I know that the market for the book can be huge, I wasn’t sure if a publisher in any one country would see the possibilities as I do.  However, when I returned from Costa Rica in the spring of 2006, having “finished” writing the manuscript, I was bent on finding someone to take over the completion of the book.  I imagined myself at home, following the instructions sent by the pros, returning perfectly edited copy, giving my final approval on artistic decisions, relaxing with cups of coffee and glasses of merlot in between.  I didn’t stay in this unreal world for very long.  Once I had taken a breather and truly looked at what was involved with selling my manuscript to a publisher (and after hearing numerous horror stories by authors who had totally lost control of their work) I decided that I was going to keep this project in-house, maintain control and finish the course myself. That simple, naive decision placed me on a whole new learning curve – out of my experience, way out of my comfort zone – and into the hands of the professionals I hired to help me, artists who in short order became mentors and friends.

In February of 2007, on the recommendation of friends in Guelph, Ontario, I hired Jane Pavanel, a professional editor in Montreal.  I went to meet her and spent a night in her home, to see if we might be able to work together, and immediately liked her and her family.  I am not a detail oriented person, much more into wide concepts (while others stop to identify a tree, I’ll keep on skipping merrily through the forest), but have come to appreciate the personality of an editor – totally anal, completely obsessed with minute detail, capable of visualizing the overall picture being painted even when it is out of their personal realm of experience.  I then spent three months in Costa Rica working with Wolf, crawling through Jane’s editorial vision which arrived by internet on a regular basis. We sat on the shady porch of my little wooden casita in Monteverde and worked our way through the manuscript, rewriting, clarifying, reworking.  Jane quickly became known as “the dastardly” – and her ears must have burned to a crisp back in Montreal as we growled and grumbled our way through the work.  I have absolutely no doubt that the book is much better for the editing, and for Jane’s careful criticism, but the process nearly drove me crazy. How could she not understand what we were saying? How stupid can she be? For the first time in all the years of working on this project, it was I who was more impatient than Wolf, and he spent a lot of time calming me down. One evening at a party in Monteverde, I stood around a bonfire with two other local authors, Jim Wolfe and Mark Wainwright, who were also in the editing process of their current book projects, and we fried editors everywhere, like hot dogs skewered on long sticks then dropped into the flames before us. It was some kind of rite-of-passage as an author I would think.  It felt good at the time anyway. And despite the many things said, I am full of respect and affection for Jane, and totally appreciative of what her work contributed to Walking with Wolf.

The editing continued in fits and starts following my return to Canada, through a couple more complete readings, and finally I felt the manuscript was ready for packaging.  Through cyber-serendipity, in September I connected with an old friend, Laurie Hollis-Walker, who worked in publishing in a former life but is now the creator of the first eco-psychology undergraduate class in Canada, teaching about the history, concepts, and value of social activism at Brock University.  She was exactly who I needed to have come into my life at just the right moment – someone I knew, respected, and trusted – someone who was completely overworked herself but didn’t hesitate to take on helping me with my project.  She walked me through the stages of putting the manuscript into page format, kept me calm, and we kept each other laughing.  The added benefit to this relationship was being part of her class on activism and getting to know a great group of fourth-year university students who have been permanently altered by Laurie’s approach to the concept of affecting positive social change.

In October I was introduced through my friend David Willis to Ken Kroesser who runs a computer design company in Toronto called Creative Lift Corp. Ken and I worked together to create the cover. This was really out of my field and having someone of Ken’s expertise and extremely considerate temperment was a gift.  Working together almost didn’t happen, due to emails not getting through and computer-communication breakdowns, but when we finally met over wine and good food, I knew I would enjoy working with him.  And now I consider him not only my mentor and a geek-guru of sorts (although he’s much too cool to think of as geeky), but also a lead cheerleader, mental-health counsellor, business manager, and friend.  I also love what he put together, working very much as a team with me, for the cover of Walking with Wolf.  It involved last minute requests to Jim Richards, a photographer friend of Wolf’s in Monteverde, who went out in the forest to catch one more image of the man for the back cover. It also meant pouring through old photographs of mine till we found what we were looking for for the front cover. It was imposing on my patient sister, Maggie, who lives in Washington State, to create and send drawings of foliage and sketches for a logo (and can you do that yesterday?).  It is her little vine snippet that is the design flourish in the book and her drawing, finished off by Ken, which is the logo for Wandering Words Press, the name of my company. Then, of course, there are all the little details of the actual art and design which Ken patiently explained to me, but I still don’t understand.  But I have trust and respect for him and his talent, and I love the final product, and that’s enough for me.

The last person in the pre-printing circus was Bruce MacLean at 11th Hour Imaging/Scan11 in Toronto.  A friend of Ken’s, he initially was called upon to scan photographs, but eventually took on the big task of the index.  I have decided that if, and when, I write another book, I’m going to write the index first and then write the book to fit the index!  I think it would be easier that way.  Walking with Wolf  is a 300-page book filled with historical and biological data, names, dates, places and events.  The final index is ten pages long.  The decisions about what to include and how and where in the index to include them is another extremely detail-oriented task – something left to obsessive-compulsive folks, not me.  But Bruce did it with professional calmness and an objective eye and somehow we got through it. 

I proofread and proofread again.  Many times.  Always found something.  The index was completed, all the computer files were assembled, the picture layout ready, the cover tweeked within a nano-meter of its life.  I had chosen a printing company in Quebec, Transcontinental, on the advice of a couple of friends who had used them in the past.  I liked the contact I had with Pierre Gilbert, the sales rep at Transcon.  Everything was ready to go, a couple of deadlines missed, and finally, in early April 2008 the files were sent.  Bruce sent me laser copies of the book at the same time that he sent everything to the printer.

The package arrived one afternoon.  I was having friends over for supper and decided to wait until late in the evening for the big unveiling, not really anticipating any problems since I’d been working with Bruce and Ken and seeing the files all the way through the process.  About midnight, after a great night of wine and chatter, we had the big drum roll and opened the package.  The first page that came out was the color copy print of the cover, perhaps the most important page of the book package.  And I cried.  The color was super green, hyper-green I called it.  It wasn’t what I had been expecting, having seen a much more natural coloring in the images that I had seen on my computer screen. I was heartbroken.  I immediately emailed the printer – hold the presses – and emailed Bruce & Ken – what happened? Turns out I was very unaware that the hard copy would be so different from the image on my monitor – but also Ken had upped the green a bit at the last minute (as an illustrator with artistic license).  Unfortunately, it wasn’t what I wanted.  I couldn’t believe that we had come this far on this book that deals with conservation of the emerald forest, and I was having a profound problem with the cover being too green.  It was both anti-climatic and completely ironic. 

But working with professionals, everything gets fixed.  It is just about having patience, and learning that all deadlines are just that – more dead than active – and that after eighteen years, what’s another day or week, or even month for that matter?  The printer has it now – transmission of computer file dilemmas were solved – artistic crises averted – last minute mistakes caught in the eleventh hour were fixed. 

And now, we wait.

 

March 2017
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