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I’ve just arrived in Boston, riding the Greyhound bus from Montreal, Quebec to Portland, Maine with a couple of hours to kill in the bus terminal. I’m too cheap to pay $10 to store my bags and they are too heavy to be carrying around on a walking tour of downtown Boston…aah, the value of traveling light. You’d think an experienced traveler like me would know better, but when you have written a book and then need to haul copies of it everywhere you go, the weight of those pages really messes with your better baggage sense.

I arrived back in Canada a couple of weeks ago at the perfect time. Summer was just settling in after what people complained was a very wet spring. Fortunately the sky has quit its crying and happy sunshine has been the new norm. The migratory birds got here long before me, the gardens are in full bloom, and even sweet Ontario strawberries are in the markets! In the short time I was in Hamilton before hitting the road again, I squeezed in as much visiting as I could along with the inevitable springtime visit to the taxman – one must take the bad with the good.

The folks who are renting my house are happy there, thank goodness, and I’m happy they are there. For the first time in years, I didn’t return to an overwhelming jungle of a backyard in need of serious machete work. Instead I stayed at my friend Jeff’s beautiful home overlooking the marina in Hamilton Bay, facing west for perfect sunsets. It took me a couple of days just to leave this retreat and head out into Canada, the bayside balcony providing a very nice transition between tropical paradise and northern bustle.



Although I’m very good at living in the moment – meaning that I don’t usually pine for the friends, food and forests that I’ve left behind in “the other place” – I do arrive ready and excited to see my pals, taste familiar flavors and wander through different shades of green.

The very wet rainy season and the very sunny dry season in Costa Rica yielded a bumper crop of mangoes that never seemed to end – it seems we were eating juicy locally grown fruit for months and seeing millions more wasting on the ground. I arrived to piles more mangoes here in the northern markets, but resist them, as I am making the switch to local foods – those strawberries, rhubarb, fresh asparagus, salmon. My Canadian palette squeals with delight. Eating locally is not difficult at this time of the year – resisting exotic species, which I love, is a simple question of political will. I am one of the lucky ones who gets to return to the land of local mangoes, papaya, and bananas soon enough.

As always, the biggest changes I see are in the faces of my friends’ children. There are new babies to meet, children who can now ta-ta-ta-talk, others graduating from the innocent years to the hormonal ones. More and more of my friends are becoming grandparents, a role that brings a light to their eyes, unencumbered by the responsibility they felt when their own children were born. I’ve gone from Auntie K to Great Auntie K, a name I can only try to live up to.

I’ve taken the opportunity to catch live music and switch up my dancing from calypso and salsa to rock ‘n roll. Our buddy, Kevin, another music lover, came up from New Brunswick and we were the flops at Jeff’s flophouse. Our friend Randy holds house parties and one night had smokin’ guitarist James Anthony along with a band called Pop Cherry which does covers of the Stones, the Doors and Aerosmith. The singer, who I call Steven Mick Tyler, has the look and the moves of those tall lanky frontmen. It was a great night for dancing.

I also finally made it to an Island Party on Ward Island in Toronto (yes, for those of you who don’t know, Toronto has islands), where old friends Pat Allcock and Tim Bovaconti played their unique selection of covers to a raging dance floor. Tim, who has been on tour with Burton Cummings (Guess Who), plays guitar and sings harmony with the best of them but also is a ukulele king. Love versatile musicians especially when they are also real nice guys.

I managed to return to the Hammer in time for the James Street North Art Crawl (second Friday of each month) which keeps getting bigger and wilder each time I’m in town. I spent most of the time at Blackbird Studios, visiting with the gals, Lynn and Kerry, who create beautiful clothes for rock ‘n roller chicks (and dress Roller Derby Teams around the world). We stepped next door into Dan Medakovic’s studio to catch some of the great local musicians – Dan, Mike Trebilcock, Linda Duemo and the lovely Lori Yates – jamming and having fun. I have given up trying to do everything there is on an Art Crawl night, it’s impossible – better to just stay where you’re having fun and move on when you must.


There is no shortage of music, art, theatre or fashion in the Hammer, only a shortage of time to catch it all. But we try…

I also had a number of book orders to fill, but was hampered by the lock-out of the Canadian Postal Corp (thus the books in my bag which I will be mailing while here in the US at a much cheaper rate). There is a conservative corporate mentality raging in Canada that should be scaring my fellow country-folk to death – instead, enough of them voted last month to give the right-wing Conservatives even more power to deplete workers’ rights, diminish environmental protections, and continue to shift our beautiful country to a less progressive, less inclusive, less caring agenda that favors the wealthy and powerful.

We need Michael Moore to come to Canada and do an exposé on our bewildering society which he has idolized in his documentaries. What is going on? The media machine and corporate controllers have managed to get stronger despite all signs pointing to a diminishing social intelligence that is going to lead us into dark years. The amount of mis-or-dis-information about the postal situation in the media is a prime example. I think most people believe that Canada Post is still a tax-funded department of the federal government which is wasting our tax dollars paying overpaid workers who went on strike when it is actually a profit-earning distinct corporation that locked out its workers rather than negotiate fairly. The government, with their union-busting mentality, forced them back to work and the contract, when ratified, is going to take the workers backwards, not forwards. As I read somewhere, it is interesting that the work of the posties is not considered important enough for a proper negotiation of a progressive contract, but is essential enough to demand back-to-work legislation.

On my way to Maine, I passed through Montreal and stayed with my friend Donna and her partner Cem. Donna worked for the Canada Post Corp for years (when she wasn’t creating and teaching art). Cem and our friend Matt are still lugging mail up and down the twisting staircases of downtown Montreal. Like other posties I have known throughout my life, their bodies suffer from the years of hauling heavy bags of mail to homes and businesses, clocking close to 15 kilometers each day. And despite the use of the internet for personal mail, their bags are no lighter as businesses flood our psyches and mailboxes with propaganda. Not just with free flyers that we can refuse to receive, but the addressed commercial stuff that must be delivered to the person, bringing us the information that inundates our lives and begs us to consume. So knowing all this, I went out in solidarity with my friends and the other posties for their last morning on the picket line before they were forced back to work.

Not everything is as it appears. As can often be seen with the public perception of working conditions, such as happens with the teaching profession, people don’t have a clue as to how difficult the job is – for example the accumulative wear and tear on the posties’ bodies (through sleet and hail and snow…etc.) Some just see it as unimportant, overpaid union work. We now have a government in Canada who is working hard at removing the rights of workers to strike for better conditions as well as the rights of activists to assemble and protest. It comes from the same mentality that considers our health and our environment as expendable in the pursuit of more outlandish profits for the wealthy upper tier of society.

What are Canadians thinking? Exactly who is voting for Stephen Harper, a man known for his contempt of the democratic parliamentary process, his life-long commitment to reducing the taxes of the wealthy as well as lowering environmental and safety standards? He believes in and supports the economy of war, including the War on Drugs, even as experts speak against it. The WOD keeps a lot of people, including the narco-traffickers, the security forces, the courts, and the arms dealers, rolling in money while its customers roll expensive joints until they find out that crack is a much cheaper high.And they say that marijuana smoking leads to harder drugs? maybe it is just politico-economic manipulation.

Wake up! Even the United States is rethinking some of this stuff. Just as happened last year at this time, during the days of the G8/20 fiasco in Toronto, I return home and feel sick about what I see happening. Is it that people will sell their souls today, along with their children’s future, for the possibility that one day they too will be part of the elite class? Good luck with that! Is it apathy? Is it greed? Is it stupidity? All of the above?

                                           Happy Birthday Canada!  I hope you grow up to be a kinder, gentler nation. I always thought that it was your destiny, but lately I fear that you’ve been smoking a corporate crack pipe and the profits are all in the hands of the dealers. It is hard to stand on guard for a system that is exploiting everything I believe in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Ben and Jacob, the Bair grandsons, geeks of glory

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

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

Judith Sandford, JP Riemens, Edgar Breau

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 2017
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