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There is nothing like having cancer at 31 years of age, and seriously facing your mortality, to put a different spin on birthdays. I don’t mind the idea of getting older, I’m just happy to be alive. I feel that it has all been a gift, the last twenty years, and each year that passes is another deposit in my giftbag. So turning fifty hasn’t bothered me at all. The giftbag grows. As it happened, my 50th birthday party was the best way possible for entering the next part of my life. It was a party held out on Yasgar’s, I mean Cole’s, farm, I mean property, half an hour out of Hamilton. And will be now and forever known as Kstock.
Friends are the best. I come from a very small family – one sister, neither of us with children – our parents having died over ten years ago. In the background is a large Ukrainian clan but they mostly live far away. Vi and Andy taught us to nourish and honor our friendships and both my sister Maggie and I have benefited from their counsel. And now that I am fifty, with no children, and Maggie and her husband Tom living far away in Washington State, it is even more important that I have great friends. And they really came out of the woods for my birthday, and many of them really cranked it out to make it a great one.
Chuck, Mike, Freda, MaggieMike and Freda Cole, who have held some rocking parties over the years, know how to do it. Freda, east coast gal, can’t make enough food (and others contribute) and it is always beyond delicious. We will never starve at one of her gatherings. Mike takes care of the outdoor details – together they make everything flow. They are both real gracious hosts when the strangers start arriving and welcome all into their home. They moved to this big old farmhouse over a year ago and it is definitely made for holding an event like Kstock. There must have been close to one hundred folks there, but we were spread out around the property, there was lots of room for camping, lots of room for dancing – people could wander off for private tete-a-tetes, or whatever you might wanna do in the bushes.
Maggie & MIke on the bacon
My seeester Maggie came from Washington State and spent a couple days with Freda and Mike getting ready, helping Freda with food, and making the huge signs that could be seen a kilometer away on the road – “Kstock 2008” – for those who didn’t know where they were going. The Kstock thing started with my friends Treeza and Rick north of Toronto (and Terry, Steve and Gloria), who not only started saying “we’re going to Kstock” but on my birthday card Rick provided a copy of his original ticket from the real Woodstock – kinda brought it all together.
Treeza & get-down Gloria
Chuck, Stu, Dawson & Coral
Then the gang from Westport came to truly turn it into a musical happening. Chuck, Carolyn, Marty, Sandy, Stu, Dave, Helen, John, Susan, Dawson and Coral filled their vehicles (a bad day for footprints in carbon) with instruments, speakers and camping gear and brought their various musical talents up the highway.
Nineth Line – a jump ‘n jive band kept us hopping;
Then the “other band” played by the campfire with mandolin, accordian, stand up bass and guitar, beautiful renditions of bluegrass, country and folk tunes (most notably, for this little Steve Earle worshipper, Copperhead Road). The music never stopped from early in the evening till I don’t know when in the early morning hours. Nineth Line had learned a couple new songs for the occasion – I’ve been bugging them to learn a Latin rhythm or two and they got it done. They were hot that night, and just kept getting hotter as the night went on.
Since I love to dance more than just about anything (well, dancing on a big rock in the middle of a lush forest beside a lake with a beautiful man who dances is ideal) this party played out just as I would hope to celebrate…we danced from start to finish, and I saw most of the folks up on their feet at some point. Of course, in Canada I’ve always found the dance floors filled more with females than males and this night was no exception – I’ll always remember a wild night in Montezuma, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, when there were about thirty men dancing and only four women. Now that! was a dream…but I digress.
Then there were the people who had come from far and wide for the occasion: my sister probably came the furthest, from the mountains of Washington State. But the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee were represented by our friend Kathy Lowery, who left Hamilton and married an old sweetheart (and he is), Stan, a few years ago. Freda, our friend Dean, and I have ventured down a few times to Tennessee to visit them on their beautiful porch that looks out on those perty mountains. In that time we’ve become friends with some of theirs, particularly William and Missy Murphy and William’s parents Gerry and Shorty. We’ve spent a lot of hours on Kathy’s porch with the gang playing bluegrass and singing. William’s dad, Gerry, has been struggling with cancer for a couple of years and without him able to join in, William and Missy stopped playing music. At Kstock, they got up on the stage and sang a few sweet songs again, despite the lengthy absence from strumming and singing, and it was wonderful to hear them. They’ve got a couple of the biggest warmest smiles in the state, and that they would jump on their motorcycle and drive north from Tennessee for Kstock was another gift in my giftbag.
A couple days before the party, I got a phone call from my friend Jean Trickey, from Little Rock, Arkansas, who said she had booked her ticket and was on her way! We’ve managed to spend some great weekends together in the last couple of years, her daughter’s wedding in Little Rock, and the 50th Anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, of which Jean is one of those brave teenagers who back in 1957 walked through the hateful crowd to be one of the first black kids to attend Central High School. I had gone last year to Little Rock for the 50th, (a phenomenal occasion it was), seen John Lewis the freedom fighter, met Ruby Bridges the little girl in the Norman Rockwell painting, shook Bill Clinton’s hand, got snagged on his secret service guy…again, I digress…but Jean had been so busy on these occasions that we really only got to talk a bit late at night when she finally could sit down. So to have her come for the weekend for my birthday, stay for a few days and have some down time to just talk (alot about Barack and Hillary of course), to dance as we love to do, and to see her get up on the stage and belt out “Women be wise, keep your mouth shut, don’t advertise your man” (a wise old song) was another big deposit in the gift bag.
Jean being here brought out her sons Isaiah (we had real Toronto paparazzi there) and Sol from Toronto and their kids, Amelia and Jaaziah, who added extra joy and energy to the occasion. (Many of these photos were from either Isaiah, Peter or Marty – thanks guys)
K, Sol, Isaiah, & Miss Kathy from Tennessee
The Trickey clan is always interesting, fun, dynamic, and loud (in this gang, I don’t feel like the loudest in the room) – great to have three generations represented at Kstock. (Notice the photographic image of me on the cake – what will we eat next?)
Kay, Sol, Amelia & Jaaziah talk cake business
And then there was my soul sister Cocky who lives in a nature sanctuary outside of Freeport, Maine and her partner Peter MacMillen. They had been up in Temagami, on Peter’s beautiful island, and came down from the north for the event. Cocky has been here in the Hammer often, but Peter went well out of his way for this one.
And along with my close friends Linda and Bill Murray from Charlton (along with Jean and Cocky, we all lived up in the Temiskaming area of northeastern Ontario for years – the Murrays still do), Patti and Leo Lessard and Terry and Ted from Mattawa, they brought the fresh clean northern air down to the Hammer. Cocky, Jean and I are a feisty trio when we get together, which doesn’t happen very often, but I love these women and to have a few days together was beautiful.
Beyond these folks there was Bill and Cheryl from Virginia, Lynda and Carole representing Guelph, friends from Toronto, Freda’s family, fine Hammerfolk and good neighbours, a number of old high school friends I hadn’t seen in years, the now-getting-old kids of friends, and a couple of my favorite dogs, Alpha and Ziggy. It all added up to the best party ever.
After this wild summer of rain and thunderstorms, the sky was completely clear, the temperature perfect all night long for being outside dancing (I guess some people were sitting) or around the campfire, people camped in comfort and peace, and we all woke up to more sunshine. Freda and Mike and gang made us a big breakfast, only after making a deal with the Swingers to play just a few more tunes in the morning. That Stu can drum on anything! We swam in the pool and I opened my gifts (the ones not already in the giftbag).
Stu, John & Marty, most of the Swingers
I ceremoniously burned the box full of paper copies of Walking with Wolf (Steve Earle was doing his Sirius radio show in the background as this happened – it was all so poignant). I have been printing out copies of the manuscript for how many years? and no longer need them, so I put the box on the coals and slowly watched it catch fire and disintegrate. It was a cleansing and a celebration. If I do nothing else of value in my life, I managed to get this book written and published while Wolf and I are still alive, and miraculously before I turned 50!
It was at the moment that the last of the overnight guests had got in their cars and honked their way down the road, leaving only Freda, Mike, Maggie, Cocky, Jean and I with Isaiah and Jaaziah, that the storm hit. Everything had been cleaned up, put inside, as we could see the storm approaching over the fields. There was some heavy rain that we watched from the porch, amazed that this whole outdoor event went on without a hitch, not a drop of rain to spoil anything, no chance for a mud-dance like at the real Woodstock. Just as the storm seemed to have subsided there was one HUGE thunderclap with one HUGE bolt of lightning – Jean was just putting her hand on the outhouse door and was shook to her bones. Jaaziah was in the car, but Isaiah was still outside and could hear the sizzle of electricity in the air. I think Jean’s hair went a little curlier and we all jumped and were rocked all over. Just one CLAP that carried the power of the whole dark sky. How lucky were we that none of us were hurt by this extremely close electrical jolt – it would have been a horrible way to end perfection – and life has been so good for me lately that a bolt of lightning almost feels inevitable – and that the storm waited until our friends were safely on their way home. One last grand hurrah, the big finish, to Kstock 2008! The gratitude I feel to all my friends who came out and worked, then played, so hard is impossible to express. Peace, love and grooviness will have to do!
It is now Sunday, which was once heralded as a day of rest but not for the wicked, as my grandmother would say. Guess I know which list that puts me on. I’m on the cusp of leaving for Costa Rica, in full-blown sales mode, completely caught up in the celebration of the arrival of Walking with Wolf in book form and trying to see friends before I leave for a couple of months. I will sleep on the plane.
The reaction I’ve received from people who have bought the book and started reading is just what I would hope for – they don’t want to put it down. That’s all a writer can ask for – because it doesn’t matter what brilliant thoughts, keen observations, delectable wisdoms or hilarious anecdotes you wrote in your book, if people can’t read it, or don’t want to go beyond the first page, then it’s all for not. So the second stage of publication – receiving feedback – is being met with great positive reaction and I’m breathing easier still.
I have now become a book peddler – fortunately I believe in the book and the story so selling it isn’t so hard. I’m not a natural salesperson – I’d rather give it all away – but after pouring my life and money into this project for so long, I really have no choice – it’s take money or I’ll be pouring coffees at Tim Hortons, and that could get ugly really fast. As the coffee is spilling down the front of the customers, I’d be explaining, “but I’m really an author.” And I can hear what the caffeine-deprived in their stained shirts would be responding…
Ken, the manager at Coles in Jackson Square in downtown Hamilton, was my first book merchant who I dealt with and he was extremely kind, supportive, enthusiastic and gentle. Took the book at a reasonable commission, and told me that Chapters/Indigo/Coles, the cross-country chain, would most certainly pick this book up to go to their stores across Canada. But they take 45%! I reacted quite unprofessionally and a mellow expletive escaped my lips, but caught myself (well, my friend Freda kicking me helped too). Although the writing of the book paid me nothing and the production of the book took a lot of time and money, I’m so glad that I persevered and went this route of self-publishing. What a lift I get everytime someone tells me how good the book looks or how much they are enjoying the read. That’s all my heart and soul and aesthetic on those pages within the smiling Wolf cover – certainly with the professional influence of those who worked on it with me as well as Wolf’s stories and spirit – but the overall product was within my control and I now reap the direct results. And I am really enjoying that. When my friend Lori wrote and said, “You see Kay, I feel that I know Wolf already, feel a little possessive, and I’m only at page 40, so your book is a true success!!” amongst other wonderful comments, well, the satisfaction is overwhelming.
The last few nights have also brought some great music – the musical mayhem of Gallery 435 on Barton Street here in the Hammer, a place that gave me faith that I could survive in the urban jungle when I first returned to the city after many years of living in the bush. I hadn’t been there for ages and am thrilled to see that Ellis’ room is still happening, hotter than ever, a hidden den of bliss. A little dancing on the bayfront in the wee hours under an almost full moon, car stereo pumping out great tunes by local rockers – that was also too much fun. Rocking day and night with the eight-month Lily, the granddaughter of my Mattawa friends Patti and Leo, a gem of a baby and a hot little dancer already – while Steve Earle kept the tunes rolling on Sirius. Don’t ever stop the music she screams! Last night with my wonderful, old, until-recently-lost friends, Dave & Carolyn Stupple and their daughter Beth…we used to do the bluegrass circuit in the 70s and I haven’t seen them since. And here they are again, dropped back into my life, in time for the arrival of the book – another night that meandered through magical musical moments. I just have to get them down to the jam at Gallery 435 – a completed circle. How lucky am I?
But now I really have to get with it, finish arrangements for sales while I’m away, PACK! When you have a chance to read the book, I think you will find that if you don’t already drink coffee, you may have to start. Coffee is a recurring theme in the book because Wolf is such a regular imbiber – and the love of the nectar comes across in the pages enough that it may help boost coffee sales in Costa Rica – but I think I may have to lay off the coffee for these next couple days so I can slow down and concentrate. This will be the last post till I arrive in Costa Rica and meet Wolf at the airport and hand him his life as printed on the pages (100% post-consumer recycled paper pages of course). I will write again when I find a computer with a half-decent keyboard that doesn’t stick all the time – and a chunk of time to concentrate. Hasta pronto chicos!