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Well, I finally got off the rainy mountain top and went to the beach. The rainforest is a beautiful place, as is Monteverde in general, but I left my home in southern Ontario in the middle of summer and was definitely in need of some summer sunshine. It has been doled out in small portions since I got here – when the sun does shine, it is always gorgeous, but too much rain was dampening my spirits. From up here on the Pacific side of the Tilaran Mountains, the view west over the Nicoya is incredible and the storms that have been whipping around the skies have provided a great light show. So I decided to go to Montezuma, where I’ve seen some of the best thunderstorms in my life – that alone done some great hiking, beaching and dancing.
Before leaving we had a celebratory sushi night – real great new sushi restaurant here in Santa Elena. Our good friend Marc Egger, who used to live here and owns the House in the Hole where I sometimes stay but who now lives in Brazil, surprised us and came into town. With my friend Patricia Maynard, her ex Mark Wainwright, their son Kyle, another friend Jim Wolfe, and Marc, we went and feasted. A good omen about seaside things to come.
Patri and I then drove down to the coast last Saturday to see the group Editus playing at Jaco beach also on the Pacific. Editus started out close to twenty years ago as a duo – Ricardo Ramirez, virtuoso violinist, with Edin Solis, classical guitarist. They were known for playing classical pieces and soft sophisticated covers of well-known songs with a latin edge. In the early nineties, they brought in ‘Tapado’, Carlos Vargas, one of the best percussionists I’ve seen in my life. Watching him play his large collection of percussive devices is like watching a stream flow over multi-colored rocks – he is so fluid that he barely moves yet the rhythm and strength of his playing is fierce. The three of them, Editus, have performed steadily and their music moved from classical to original jazz-flavored, interpretive, atmospheric swelling vistas of composition. All three of these musicians are extremely talented. In the late 90s, they played with Panamanian salsero and politician, Ruben Blades (also known in North America as an actor in movies), for which they won three Grammies for two separate CD recordings. A few years ago they opened a music academy in San Jose where they teach music and bring together musicians for a variety of projects. They also have held concerts with a large number of their musical friends and influences – great shows where Editus plays behind well-known singers, songwriters and rockers – always touching and dynamic shows.
Well, in the last year they have joined forces with a bassist (forget his name) and Zurdo, a great rock-style keyboardist and now they call this new configuration Editus 360, since they have moved 360 degrees from where they started. They have upped the light show and the tone of the music and now play a variety of world music with synthetized backdrops and recorded vocals on some pieces. I hadn’t seen this new version of Editus but have always loved the group and know the guys and truly appreciate their talents. Editus 360 is a rocking show, with lights and smoke and a mosaic of rhythms – I know that many of their original fans who loved the quiet classical content of their work will not enjoy this but for those of us who do, wow. And as importantly, you can tell that they are enjoying playing the music themselves – they needed a change and are all excited about this new version of themselves. They have a 33-concert, 2 month tour in Japan planned for August & September. As Tapado told me, all the years he’s been drumming with Editus, he never broke a sweat – as I said, he is as fluid as water and it all seems so effortless – but now he is sweating in each show as he rocks out on the drums. He’s as skinny as a weed tree, that boy, and will no doubt melt away to a toothpick in Japan. It was a great show in Jaco last Saturday night and great to see these guys having fun – and for the first time, I think, I danced at an Editus show.
My friend Patri’s son Machillo had his first gig helping the sound guys at this show – one of the reasons we went to check it out and support him. Machillo grew up helping out at the music festival in Monteverde when his mother ran the concert series which I also worked on. I always knew I could trust on Machillo to do whatever you asked him – he’s always been a great kid and now he’s getting the chance to move into being part of the very accomplished sound and light team behind Editus. Looks good on ya, Mark. I think nothing will make Patri happier than having a son who can do the backstage production of the shows she’ll always continue to produce here in Monteverde and elsewhere. A very talented, music-loving family.
I left them on Sunday and went off to Montezuma, a beach where I spent a lot of time in 1990. I return every few years to check up on the folks I know there and to indulge in the beautiful landscape that exists on the south end of the Nicoya Peninsula. You get there from the main part of Costa Rica by going to the port city of Puntarenas – a much maligned dirty seaside city that I’ve always found very interesting. And I have to say that they have been working at cleaning it up. There is much evidence of growth and progress and the funky old hotels and buildings that sit along the 11-mile long, half-mile wide sandspit that the city is built on were all looking more quaint than debilitated. Places change drastically here in Costa Rica, sometimes for the better tho not necessarily. I’m giving poor little Puntarenas a thumbs up on effort.
From Puntarenas you take an hour long ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya (part of the Pacific) to the town of Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula. I’ve taken this ride dozens of times and always love it – the waters are tranquil and the sun is hot and on the boat you can find shade or get sun, or even go inside the air-conditioned lounge on the newer ferry. That little boat ride makes you feel like you’ve gone somewhere special. From Paquera it’s a one to two hour bus ride to Montezuma. The road has finally been paved most of the way so the trip is very smooth up until the last few kilometers into town.
Montezuma itself continues to change – very European, but with a strong environmentally-concerned community. But growth doesn’t always feel like progress and the change in the soul of this community always bothers me. I suppose it is providing economic well-being for many, but I visit my old friends there who have been negatively affected by the constant fiesta and the high price of everything. That is what I tend to find in most of the beach communities in Costa Rica – those beaches which have grown radically, become very popular, changed drastically are maybe great destinations for tourists but the change of the lives of the local people is incredible. In 1990, this little town was a sleepy fishing village with a good nightlife – now it runs day and night on tourist dollars. The local families are in competition with each other and many of the locals either stay hidden in their homes away from the crowds and the scene or are very messed up in the middle of it. To be fair, many make a living and no doubt love their lives, but it is questionable as to how many people have truly fallen into a better life in Montezuma.
The long stretches of sandy beaches and the rocky outcrops that separate each beach, along with the fresh water streams that flow down through the forest (including the famous Montezuma waterfalls) is what continues to make Montezuma a stunning place. I spent each morning going about a twenty minute walk down the beach to the Quebrada Colorada, where there is a soaking pool of cool fresh water. The coloured pebbles shine in the sun and the ocean waves crash in just fifty feet away. I passed this soaking time with a friendly and interesting couple, Russell and Margaret, from Asheville, North Carolina who live in nearby Cobano. On any trip, it is always nice to come away with at least one special meeting with new friends. We met each morning and talked about the world as we soaked up the sun while floating in the stream.
One of the most bizarre things of this time in Montezuma was the super high tides that rose to the top of the beaches. It meant that our little fresh water pool was salty half of the time. But more shocking was the amount of refuse that the ocean kicked out with each tide. Montezuma’s beaches are basically white sand and clean. Even back in 1990, the tides would bring in garbage that the locals claimed came from nearby Puntarenas, and you would find strange plastic toys and, of a less innocent nature, medical supplies, washed up with the tide. But this week, with the extremely strong sea, the amount of garbage – plastic baubles, metal cans, broken glass, pieces of trash – that littered the “pristine” beaches was mind-boggling. I saw a guy with a large trash can out there trying to clean up in front of one of the beachside hotels – I wished him well, as his can was already half full and he had barely made a dent in the pock-marked sands. Russell told me that friends have told him that this is the nature of oceans and beaches around the world now – that the angry seas are throwing back the trash everywhere in the world. I’m sure that proximity to large populations and the direction of currents has alot to do with which beaches receive what, but it was truly impossible not to gasp at the amount of garbage that was on that beach – and unfortunately not hard to imagine that many other beaches would also be getting their fill. There is just way too much garbage out there in the world and it only makes sense that it will fill even paradise if we aren’t more diligent in reducing packaging, handling our trash, and minimizing our social addiction to junk.
So I got sun, met nice people, danced at Chico’s Bar a couple nights, broke a toe (well, maybe just bruised it bad), ate great food, left a couple of books at Topsy’s Bookstore, and came back up the mountain. Fortunately, the rains have subsided to a reasonable mist by day and some rainfall by night. Thursday night, when I arrived around 8 p.m., was gorgeous – a quadrillion stars were in the sky, clouds went floating by in the light of the new slice of moon, and it was a warm temperature. Happy to be back in Monteverde, thankful that the weather has changed. Back to work.
I’ve moved into my friend Mark’s house while he is out searching for the missing golden toads. Now that the rains have come, he has great hopes he’ll find them, or maybe some other missing toad. As I said in the last post, he has already found two species that were thought to be extinct. I wish him well, am very appreciative that he was around to do the introduction at the book launch, and am thankful to have his little cabin in the wet forest, even if I’ve already killed three scorpions!
I have this thing about scorpions…I’ve been coming to the tropics for eighteen years and, touch teak, I have yet to be stung by a scorpion. They seem to disappear once the rains begin – they come into the houses in dry season, but here in the House in the Hole, the scorpions don’t seem to have cottoned on to the change in season yet. Mark said that this year was a ridiculous year for them – he was killing two or three a day – but he hadn’t seen any since the rains began last week. Well, I guess he missed the three I got yesterday! Makes you a little nervous each time you put your hand in a bag or grab a towel or piece of clothing – I truly feel it is just a matter of time till one of them gets me, and I’m tempting fate by living in a house such as this one.
The slow boat to Costa Rica that was bringing our books turned out to be a fast boat and the books are already here in the country. Wolf and I are heading down the mountain to San José tomorrow to start the process of getting them released from customs purgatory. The paperwork and run-around will probably take several days. So we will go visit the Tico Times, the English newspaper, who has already put something on line at http://www.ticotimes.net about the book. They want to do a review and an interview. We will also talk to 7th Street Books, the English bookstore/publisher in the city, about distributing the books around Costa Rica. And then there is beginning discussions with the Tropical Science Center about the Spanish translation. Carlos Hernandez, the director of the Monteverde Reserve, sounds very serious about it. We are hoping that Wolf’s son Carlos will do the actual translation. But we are just starting with that issue. No doubt I’ll visit friends and go out to hear some music and do some dancing while down in the big city.
And then I’m going to the beach. Enough of this rainforest stuff, I need some sun. Today is actually dawning with a very blue sky here on the mountain, and the sun will no doubt be warm and wonderful, but I want some real heat! So once the city business is done, I’ll make my way to one of the beaches, which I’ll decide on by the weather – wherever there is the most sun and heat, I shall go. There are so many great beaches in Costa Rica that one doesn’t need to be limited. Best swimming – Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste. Best relax – anywhere on the Caribbean. Beauty walking across sandy beaches and rocky outcrops and swimming in cool streams – Playa Moctezuma. Ai yi yi – decisions! I may disappear from bloglife for a few days but will write again when I’m on a good computer. Ciao chicos!
PS: A fine gentleman, Nicholas Goodwin from Minnesota, just helped me get the system down for posting photos. I like to think that it’ll be easy now….as long as someone nice guy like Nicholas is sitting close by. Or maybe I’ll manage it solo one of these days….
ON TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN
Last night was the apex moment for Walking with Wolf. We’ve hit the summit and start down the backside now. What a night! Actually what a couple of days before what a night! Global warming causing extreme weather brought near hurricane turmoil to Costa Rica at a time of the year when you just don’t expect this weather. We thought it was going to ruin the celebratory book launch, but in fact it was all perfect, including a last-minute change in the weather.
It is normally quite still here at this time of the year, unlike November till March when the winds can be ferocious and, minimally, are constant. But starting Wednesday afternoon it got real blustery, adding extra kick to what was already curtains of rain. Incredible! Wolf, Lucky & I spent the morning hunched around the woodstove, wondering how many people would possibly make their way out at night in this nasty weather. I said that the only people we could count on were the forest guards and the maintenance guys from the Monteverde Reserve since this is just what they do – go out in whatever the conditions are. So coming through the storm to the presentation, to eat bocitas and drink coffee all the while staying in a dry warm building, is easy for them. As it turned out, they were the one group who didn’t show up.
The rain was coming horizontally with such force that you just can’t stay dry unless you are completely covered in rubber. The old jeep we were using to carry the books from the house down to Bromelias Music Garden was almost as wet inside as out, the water entering wherever it could. Antonio Guindon’s wife Adair was driving me and the books down at 2 p.m.. At 12:30 water was everywhere – puddles consolidating into rivers, a downpour of rain that was also a sidepour, and the humidity hovering as a heavy mist that kept things wet even when the faucet turned off for a few minutes. I was thoroughly soaked just running out to the barn. I wrapped the three boxes of books in plastic and kept hoping that the rain would subside when it was time to go. And, miracle of miracles, it did!
At about 1 p.m. as we took the bagged boxes out to the vehicle and wrapped them in a dry tarp inside the jeep, the frequency of the raindrops definitely lessened. By the time Adair and I got to Bromelias and unloaded the boxes shortly after 2, we were only working in heavy mist. By the time people started coming around 5, even the mist was lighter. The winds stopped sometime mid-afternoon and by evening, it was just a thin fog that was blurring the night air, deadening the sounds, bringing serenity.
It had been such bad weather that roads were washed out, people’s houses shifted – the newspaper was filled with stories of landslides and flooding throughout western Costa Rica. So even with the change in weather, many people wouldn’t be heading out after such a harsh day. However about seventy-five did and together we enjoyed a warm and cozy night in beautiful Bromelias.
My friend Mercedes at the Reserve helped me put together about 180 photos that we projected from my laptop – those from the book, other old pictures I had scanned that didn’t make the book, pictures from our hikes, many of Wolf, a few from Canada or the beach thrown in. These ran constantly as a backdrop through the evening. Russell Danao played his beautiful vibraphone – high-end marimbas. He played at the Havana Jazz Festival this year. He kindly accepted our request to grace the evening with his music. As people came out of the fog and into the amber light of the room, they took their seats and watched the slideshow and listened to Russell’s jazz-toned and classical vibras.
People brought bite-size food and sweets, we had coffee and juice prepared, and Patri had the bar open, though this wasn’t a drinking crowd. We set up a table with a buncha books, it looked great, all those little Walking with Wolfs piled there. To introduce the evening, I had asked Mark Wainwright, our friend who read an early draft of the book and gave me valuable editorial comments. He is an artist, biologist, teacher and writer himself – and in many ways has mentored me (younger pup that he is). It meant a lot to me that he would introduce the evening. He didn’t really want to do it – doesn’t like being on stage though he is great – and had very firm plans to go off onto the trails looking for the elusive golden toad or any other amphibian he could find. Since the rains started, it is prime frogging season and Mark is a frogger who has already found two missing species thought to be extinct. So he wasn’t going to be able to be at the presentation. Then due to the extreme weather, he didn’t go into the forest. Mark did a wonderful, funny and super kind introduction to the book, Wolf and myself. Then Gary Diller, one of the story tellers in Walking with Wolf, read a poem about Wolf that he had been inspired to write yesterday in all that rain. It was a nice addition to the evening.
Wolf got up and very emotionally talked about the beginning of the concern in the community for the forest. He reiterated the thought that “all those who wander are not lost,” his mantra. I was amazed how well he got through talking, as I knew he was fighting those ever-ready Guindon tears. He then passed the microphone to me and I said my little piece – that we hoped to have a Spanish translation in the works, and I apologized for any discrepancies with how community people remember the events we discuss, and I thanked people who were there for their contributions – then I read some pages from the book. It all felt real good, the people were wonderful, and the whole night just rolled out smooth as pie dough.
We sold about sixty books and I knew there were many people missing who have said that they would buying in quantity. Mary Stuckey Newswanger bought ten books and then handed me a copy of a book that she has been working on with her brother – she and I have spent a lot of time at the side of the road talking about our books over the past couple of years. At the end of the evening, people were able to walk out into the misty night air without getting soaked. Patri and I went to Moon Shiva, our pal Nir’s place, for dinner. Great new chef there, loved loved loved the food – Nir has always run a beautiful restaurant – has for about five years now – but when the chefs change so does the food. Three guitar players were playing – Irish ex-pat Robert Dean who toured with Sinead O’Connor before moving to Monteverde, and Andres and Bernardo, hot local talent – it was great music and a bit of dancing. Off to Fish’s new bar for some more dancing. Through the night it would hit me every once in awhile – this was the climax of eighteen years of a certain thought, a vague plan, a lasting commitment, our book.
To finish this hugely long story, the reason the forest guards weren’t at the presentation, considering how much they would have wanted to be there to support their mentor Wolf, was that they were doing what they had to do – that is, go out to help a group of people who were down in Penas Blancas and needed to be assisted to come out of the forest. The vague details are that the guards and maintenance crew had to head out early in the morning in the worst of that bad weather, through the torrential rain and dropping branches, around the mudslides and over the raging streams. They escorted the group across the streams with cables, cleared away tree falls, and carried their packs through the pouring rain and thick mud. They didn’t get out of the forest until after 7 p.m. so they missed the celebration.
A few years ago, Wolf wouldn’t have made it to his own book launch – he would have been with the other men doing their job – making jokes, ignoring the brutal weather, helping troubled hikers to get back to civilization, no doubt filling them with hot coffee before they got started. The forest guards are the jungle version of fire fighters – heading into what most people walk away from. I was so sorry they weren’t there, but find the reason quite poetic.
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.