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It has been a week of very sad, strange events on both sides of Costa Rica.

Up in Monteverde, with that beautiful view west over the Nicoya Peninsula and Pacific Ocean, Wolf Guindon returned home (along with his sons Berto and Benito) after forty-eight hours in the Calderon Guardia Hospital emergency room in San José. It was finally determined that he had a blocked catheter, causing a serious urinary tract infection, along with dehydration. They didn’t keep him (except waiting in the waiting room) or do much besides giving him the antibiotics that he needed along with some sleeping pills. It was a most frustrating hospital visit, the family hoping he would be interned and helped on a more sustained level.
They all came back to Monteverde exhausted, Berto now sick with pneumonia, something he is susceptible to. Lucky and I had been pretty relaxed for the few days they were all gone, yet her own bronchial/possible heart issues didn’t really subside. She was still feeling punk when the house filled up and Wolf’s necessities took over again.

From his return on Wednesday, poor Wolf continued to have a hard time eating, always followed by vomiting, and everything tasted metallic, including the water he needs for the several pills he has to swallow. Even though he was trying to follow doctor’s orders, it was a challenge for him to keep anything down and he was beginning to give up on eating altogether. It was hard to know what pills had a chance to be absorbed in his system by the time he was throwing the rest of his stomach contents into a bowl. He had a number of visitors, all received warmly, as friends and family are more appreciated as the days get harder. One of the highlights early in the week was a visit from Wolf’s cousin Sue Roth, her daughter Brenda, her son Dennis and his wife, Adele. I met Sue on other occasions in the US and it was wonderful to spend time with her and her fun family. Fortunately they managed to catch Wolf on a pretty good day before things changed. By Friday afternoon, Wolf’s family decided to take him to the local clinic and insist he get some IV fluids or he was going to become dehydrated again. His inability to eat was very worrisome, particularly when you gave him a hug and felt his bones.

Ricky Guindon and brenda, Sue, Adele, Dennis Roth

Melody and I took Wolf to the clinic where he received an IV bag laced with Gravol. It was a different man that walked (well, kinda stumbled along on Melody’s arm) out of the clinic a couple of hours later. When we got home he was able to eat and keep things down, the metallic flavor was gone and he even sat up and played dominoes for awhile with Lucky and me. He spent Saturday in fine form, eating, joking, telling tales, and we all went for a short shopping excursion to Santa Elena. We thought that he was going to have some good days.

I had to leave on Sunday morning and am now back in Cahuita. Roberto and I have a trip to Panama coming up for my visa requirement of 75 hours outside of Costa Rica every 90 days. I left the family all recovering, even Lucky feeling a little better. My final night in Monteverde was spent at the Friends House dancing the stately yet somehow slightly provocative English dances. Led by Jonathan and Heather, two very talented teachers at the Friends School, we stepped and swirled to their instructions and their taped music library that covers several centuries of traditional (and recently written but sounding old) music for English dances. It’s always a pleasure to tickle my bit of British blood and join with a mixed crowd of Monteverdians, young and old, community founders and visitors, and dance like a character in a Jane Austen book, without the hoop skirt. Doing the dances, you appreciate the moments when the young sons and daughters of a proper class, normally expected to maintain a decent social posture, could have found a chance to flirt, gossip and make illicit plans while sashaying past each other.

It is now Monday and I phoned Lucky to see how things are. Unfortunately the stabilizing effect of the Gravol seemed to wear off right in the middle of Sunday Quaker meeting’s hour of silence. Within a few hours of my leaving, Wolf was unable to eat again, burping up the metallic taste and raising the flag of concern once more. I guess they took him back to the clinic but since he didn’t respond to the IV as well this time, the family is considering the next step, probably involving a trip back to San José.  Poor Wolf and Lucky that alone all the Guindons.

In a week or so, I’ll go back to Monteverde to stay with them and do whatever I can, specifically while Benito goes to a conference of traditional peace churches in the Dominican Republic. Central America could use as much peaceful influence and conflict resolution as possible while relations between Nicaragua and Costa Rica break down and the rhetoric gets nastier. I’m curious about how much the rest of the world is watching what has recently blown up from a relatively simple breach of border etiquette into what is now considered an invasion by Nicaragua on Costa Rican soil.

This conflict began two weeks ago with the dredging of the San Juan River by the Nicaraguans in the extreme northeast corner of Costa Rica to make river navigation possible. There is a piece of land known as Isla Calero, 150 square kilometers sitting between the mouths of the mostly-Nicaraguan controlled San Juan River and Costa Rica’s Rio Colorado. Until recently it was a neglected zone, home to poor fishermen and their families living a peaceful, if subsistence life.  As the story of the illegal dumping of the bottom sludge onto Tico territory, along with tree cutting and subsequent environmental damage, played out in the media, it seemed like both the government and the press were sensationalizing the seriousness of the situation in a war of words. It appeared to be the kind of distraction used to take minds off of more serious issues and to get patriotic blood boiling on both sides of the border.

Now the radio, newspapers and no doubt television is filled with the language of war and images of military and police movement. Politically, the countries that are aligned with Nicaragua share anti-American leaders as well as much deeper interests – Venezuela and Iran are both involved with Nicaragua in a long-held dream to construct a canal from the Caribbean to the Pacific Ocean, along the San Juan River basin, to rival the Panama Canal. On the other hand, the Organization of American States (OAS), with minimum exceptions amongst its members, has backed Costa Rica’s ownership of Isla Calero which is ground zero for the conflict. Swords are sharpening in all camps while diplomacy and negotiations struggle along to avoid military action.

As tensions build, you have to wonder what the larger interests are here, besides that of the canal-builders from oil-rich countries. Daniel Ortega, once a Sandinista savior of the campesinos against the powerful interests of the corrupt Somoza regime, is now considered by most as an equally corrupt, power-hungry despot. He is coming up to an election and somehow starting a war, they say, is good for vote-getting. As the country has been embracing tourism and foreign investment, quite successfully, it is hard to imagine how turning it back into an unstable region of military conflict is going to win him votes although raising nationalistic ire always seems to be considered politically astute. Here in Costa Rica we aren’t hearing many of the voices of the people of Nicaragua, only the politicians and military.

Peace LilyRecently Ortega charged Costa Rica and the countries (Columbia, Panama, Mexico, US, etc.) that support her with being corrupted by the interests of the Narco-traffickers – particularly Columbia, where much of the cocaine trade originates before it makes its way to the drug-thirsty US of A. Although I don’t understand what this has to do with anything on tiny Isla Calero, he has touched a nerve. Costa Rica has certainly been affected in negative ways by the movement of international drug cartels (I would add they have been affected by the movement of international pharmaceutical companies too, but that is a different drug and a different story.) There are few here who wouldn’t agree that there has been a significant increase in crime within her borders, much of that related to heavy-handed, serious business drug running (as well as increasing poverty and the gap between the rich and poor, but once again, a different story….) I doubt that any of these governments are innocent of profiting from the spoils of the drug and, subsequent, arms trade.

Columbia herself can’t say much about such a charge, but their interest perhaps lies more deeply in a continuing struggle with Nicaragua over San Andres Island. Like most islands throughout the Caribbean, San Andres changed hands at different times between England and Spain but it was Nicaraguan territory when, in a treaty written in 1922, it was passed to Columbia. Nicaragua wants it to be returned, and Ortega has raised patriotic fervor while talking about the desire to regain San Andres along with some other islands in the area. Columbia wants the OAS to support them in the case of a more militant demand by Ortega. And it is because of their own lack of an army that Costa Rica is turning to other nations to help them if Ortega refuses to back off and military action is deemed necessary.

Here in Costa Rica, there has been a steady influx of Nicaraguans for decades. The migrants from the north do much of the low paying and hard labor here. There is no denying the negative opinion that many Ticos hold towards the “Nicas”. While the Ticos have been justifiably, but almost arrogantly, proud of the fact they abolished their army in 1948, their neighbors were engaged in civil war and struggles that has produced at least two generations with both a more aggressive nature and a more politically-engaged mind. As long as I’ve been coming to Costa Rica – twenty years – I’ve heard Ticos say that any particularly nasty crime “must have been committed by a Nica.” Sometimes they are, but, of course, not always.

Now, in 2010, Costa Rica is filled with Nicaraguans, too often considered a lower class and barbarian, and as the tensions rise, there are increasing reports of racist and xenophobic behavior on the part of Costa Ricans against Nicaraguans in their communities. A Molotov cocktail was thrown at the Nicaraguan Embassy in the city. A soccer player, originally from Nicaragua but with years of playing and living here in Costa Rica, was verbally abused by spectators, in a very hateful manner, when he made a poor play in a futbol game. It’s amazing how quickly human nature plummets to a pack mentality when given the opportunity.

As Roberto says, the media here is using a language that provokes these kinds of tensions, speaking disrespectfully of Nicaraguans. Costa Ricans listen to these verbal attacks and those with their own tendencies for violence and stupidity are reacting in the streets – and thus acting no better than the brutish behavior that they so quickly accuse the Nicaraguans of.

 It is very hard to imagine that armed conflict is going to break out just a couple of hundred kilometers north of here, but as the days pass, it feels like it may be a reality. It is hard not to get caught up in the rhetoric that screams from the daily headlines of the newspapers and believe that these two small countries are going to come to serious blows. It is hard to imagine that a war could begin that could involve any number of nations with their own agendas and affiliations to protect. As we head down to Panama, I’m very grateful we are going south, not north, but it doesn’t make me feel any better about what is happening to this beautiful area of the world that has managed to stay out of serious military conflict for many years. 

It is equally hard these days to know what my great friend Wolf is going to have to endure. I feel that his main problem now isn’t strictly with organic physical issues but rather is drug-induced, and the combination of meds is wreaking havoc with him. Drugs may be close to the heart of both of these conflicts, but the struggle of greed and power versus the struggle of one man to survive is distinct. Please join me in holding Wolf in the light, and let’s collectively work and pray for peace.

temagami lake

Today I realized, while looking at a poster of the event that hangs on the wall behind me, that exactly twenty years ago I was standing on the steps of Queen’s Park in Toronto, facing a crowd of 1500 concerned citizens. I’d come down to the big city from a remote camp on a lake in the Temagami area of northeastern Ontario. For six weeks I’d been living with a group of activists who were blockading the construction of a logging road. I was a member of the board of the Temagami Wilderness Society who had initiated the blockade. We started off with over two hundred enthusiastic supporters in September, many who were arrested for standing their ground against the big machines, and as the weeks went by we held our position but with less and less visitors. They were either cops or construction workers, Indians from the area, the occasional journalist with a budget to fly-in, or committed souls hardy enough to make the day trip paddle into the camp. Those of us who lived fulltime in the bush throughout the several weeks of the blockade were all folks who thrived in this natural environment, but by the sixth week we were definitely getting kind of bushed.

poster

 

 

When a rally was called for October 29, 1989 in Toronto to support the action in the Temagami forest – “Halt the Chainsaw Massacre!” the t-shirts proclaimed – organizers wanted someone to come and describe what was going on up there. So I cleaned up and went south to the city.  

 

blockade-rae[1]

I was on the same bill as half a dozen people, including a powerful anti-racist and warrior for aboriginal rights, the late Rodney Bobiwash, as well as Bob Rae. In his finest hour, the year before he became Ontario’s first NDP premier, Bob came and supported our action in the woods, getting taken out in the paddy wagon. He also helped keep the issue in the news and on the government’s agenda. That afternoon on the concrete steps, each of us spoke about the need to protect the old growth pine forests and the integrity of the wilderness surrounding Temagami and search for long term solutions for jobs for people living in the area. We also spoke of the great responsibility the government had to finally settle the local first nation’s land claim that had been steeping in a bowl of tepid  tea for years. The Teme-Augama Anishnabai’s struggle for justice was peaking. It was a very powerful time, one of those moments when you think that what you are doing might really make a difference to the future of your community and our planet.

 Pyramid road tiesI remember walking up those steps, feeling a little shaky, and turning to face a sea of excited and expectant faces After having lived a very primal existence for weeks, albeit one kept charged by constant intense discussion and political awareness, I felt like a wild beast who’s been invited to the dinner table.  I truly don’t remember exactly what I said but I know it was received warmly. I knew that TWS wanted me to explain our present position – that the action was still alive, we were hoping more people would come and stand strong with us against the construction, that we were still in talks behind-the-scenes with the government to get the road stopped. Organizers had told me that people needed to put a human face on activism and so to just speak from my heart (which tends to be the only way I wanna go). Because the blockade was five hours north on the highway and another several hours in by lake, they wanted me to bring the thoughts and feelings of the protestors to supporters in the city who couldn’t take that long trip north.

chainsaw[1]

The fifteen minutes that I spoke flew by in a haze of culture shock that I survived due to my great belief in the cause and my ability to ramble on. I didn’t get to see a recording as this was before everyone carried a cell phone.  I only know that it was a powerful hour or so that we spent on the front landing of Queen’s Park. And I came to realize, clearer than ever before, that there is nothing in powerful political action that can substitute for sharing first-hand experience, bringing the issues down to the human level, maintaining open dialogue, and feeling passion for justice.

Bonnie%20Raitt[1]

The other thing I remember about that whirlwind trip to Toronto (I quickly retreated back to the camp the next day) was going to see Bonnie Raitt in concert but ending up falling for Lyle Lovett. One of my buddies in the bush, Eddy, knew that Bonnie was going to be playing and insisted that I buy a ticket for myself with his credit card and enjoy the show for the dozen or so folks left at camp. Her latest album, Nick of Time, was one of the few cassettes that we had with us to listen to at camp on our little battery-run cassette player – it became a big part of the soundtrack of the blockade and we were all huge fans.

lylelovett[1]

With my friend Cocky and a couple of others, we went to see the concert. This guy we had barely heard of shared the bill with Bonnie. By the time Lyle Lovett and his Large Band played their larger-than-life set, we were all blown away by his talent, energy, and the range of his music. We were exhausted by the time Bonnie came out – she was fantastic too, but Lyle had been the bomb.

Yes, October 29, 1989 was an amazing day in my life.

k & boys

Twenty-years later, I find myself living half of my life in a city (the hard rock Hammer), the other half in Costa Rica (which I barely knew a thing about in 1989), communicating through a thing called a blog, staying in touch by e-mail, and hanging from time to time in a strange community called the Facebook.  I’ve written a book about a man, Wolf Guindon,  I hadn’t yet met in 89  (but would soon) and loved then lost a few men more. I had cancer but it didn’t kill me. I just spent October 29, 2009 healthy, happy and with pretty much the same political beliefs and value system that sent me from a camp in the bush to the steps of Queen’s Park twenty years ago. And music is still a huge part of what I love about living.

peace_1222692145_01

They say as you get older you get more conservative. Fortunately, that particular sickness doesn’t seem to have struck me. I may better understand and anticipate the results of my actions and the risks I’m willing to assume in all matters of life now, but I still believe in working for social justice and that still falls on the left side of the pendulum swing. I believe in the power of the grassroots, that establishing peace is paramount, and that a just world would be a healthier world (and vice versa). Besides that, it’s more complicated than ever, the questions becoming more numerous, the answers always dangling ahead of us like a carrot that baits the rabbit that  tempts the dog – in the end no one wins if we don’t hook on to the solution. I try not to lose perspective or hope. I refuse to not feel joy on a daily basis despite all the news that forces a thinking person to the dark side. I continue to retreat to the bush or the jungle or to the base of the nearest tree to regain my balance, renew my passion, and self-medicate myself with nature’s restorative elixirs.

tropical

 

 

Fortunately, in about three weeks, I have a date with a tropical cure.

atitlan

 

After over thirty years of dreaming of this place, I have finally come to el lago de Atitlan in Guatemala.  I am so fortunate to have my good friends, Rick and Treeza, here – they’ve been spending winter here for the last five years or so and are now preparing to build a house in the lakeside community of San Pedro.  Although they, and others I spoke to while staying in Antigua for a couple of days, describe this place as a village, I think that the place is growing up around everyone faster than they are aware.  There are between twelve and fifteen thousand inhabitants, or more, now. Certainly it is a bustling place that laps the lakeshore and then winds its way in a series of paths, alleyways and terraces up to the volcano that looms behind – to this Canadian, it is definitely a good-sized town.

 

I came to Guatemala with the high expectations of a magical landscape that would be home to a colorful and friendly people and so far I have had these long held ideals met by the people and the place. Since I have some familiarity with other parts of Latin America, especially Costa Rica, I felt quite at home when I walked out of the modern airport in Guatemala City and saw the crowd of people pushing against the barriers, waiting for family and friends or to hustle a taxi fare out of the arriving planeloads of tourists. Arriving into that chaos in a new place always makes a big impact until you’ve done it a few times. Speaking the language helps to take away some of the confusion. 

 

modern-mayanAn elegant modern tipica Mayan – notice the great shoes…

 

The first language in this country is a variety of the different dialects of the Mayans but Spanish has been here for centuries and the Mayans speak it in a more understandable way than anyone else I’ve heard, probably because it is their second language. They speak it very cleanly and patiently and politely for the most part, and so my personal version of Spanish – learned in the campo of Costa Rica, spoken with a French accent that I picked up in the northern bush of Quebec, colored by my lack of attention to detail and perfection – well it works very well here. I find very little problem in understanding anything except the new vocabulary that is indigenous to this place.

 

skyline 

I took a $10 shuttle van to Antigua as people uniformly seem to recommend getting out of the city, or Guate, quickly. Antigua is a smallish ancient cobble-stoned city where people have headed for years to study Spanish.  The Mayan population there is accustomed to the ways of foreigners and tourism runs the economy but the traditional aspects of the place are still strong. Although I just arrived in this new country and city, I was eased into its comfortable slow and friendly pace.

 

san-vicente

I met a nice guy from Montreal, Georges, on the shuttle and we stayed at the same hotel, the very pretty Mayan-family run San Vicente Hotel, right downtown but off the street with a plant-covered courtyard, very colonial looking, with Hugo the talking parrot and Toby the terrier mascot. Georges and I discovered the joys of the city together, heading out by foot and just walking and circling, visiting the big cemetery that houses the ancestors, taking pictures in the amazingly clear mountain light, and trying out a variety of restaurants – great breakfast at La Escudilla, sunset at Cafe Sky. 

from-cemetery

Antigua sits on a flat table at the base of volcanoes – one of those places where you feel peaceful and protected by the shadowy mountains but are aware that this tranquility can be fleeting if one of those volcanoes decides to roar or an earth tremor wants to well up from below. Signs of destruction are all around in the old churches and traditional houses but there is a very modern energy that permeates out of the painted facades and old stone walls.

 

xmas-market

The mercado central, as is present in so many communities in the world, takes up blocks at the northwest end of town, where mostly Mayans dressed in their bright woven clothing are selling everything from fruit and fresh patted tortillas to bootleg CDs and plastic conveniences. Because of it being Christmas time, there was a whole section of decorations – many cornstalk and grass nativity figures, seasonal plants, and religious figures, but also tables of singing strings of Christmas tree lights that made me crazy just walking past as well as the aluminum-foil wreaths, hanging stars and garlands.  I have been amazed in the past when I’ve spent December in Costa Rica at the art form I call tinsel-creations – I bought an intricate tinsel snowflake ball to take to Rick and Treeza – an Antiguan snowball.

 

lit-up-ruins

 Everything about Antigua was low key yet vibrant, steeped in the past but with signs of the 21st century all around. I will return for my last night to Antigua before heading to Costa Rica and already have ideas in my head of what food I want to taste and what streets I want to visit more closely. I have really enjoyed the food here – access to lots of fresh fruit and tropical vegetables as in Costa Rica, along with traditional corn tortillas and a variety of salsas. And because there is a significant foreign population here now, you can enjoy fusion cuisine made with local products, something that often takes food to new heights.

 painting-la-merced

Hand-painting La Merced, a beautiful decorated cake of a cathedral…

 

From Antigua, it was a two and a half hour drive in another comfortable shuttle van up to Panajachel on the other shore of Lake Atitlan.  From there you take one of the many lanchas, small boats, across the lake to San Pedro.  I have now been here over a week – Christmas just passed, and I have a couple of days before heading back to Antigua and onward to Costa Rica before New Years.  I’ve been writing this but actually have been too busy to finish up – and now just want to post it with a few pictures. It will surely be next year before I’m writing about this great community that I’m loving called San Pedro.  Instead of trying to carry on, I will just leave you with what’s been said and will write about the lake, the food, the people and the beauty of Lake Atitlan later.

 atitlan-2

Suffice it to say, it’s been a comfortable, friendly and truly gorgeous place to spend the Christmas season. I hope that wherever you are, you have felt the same joy and contentment that I have, and been able to partake of the wealth of love that comes from family and friends. I am finishing 2008 in a very beautiful, peaceful place and hope that bodes well for the future. May 2009 be better in every way than anything that has passed before – and if it is meant to be a trying year, as fate sometimes predicts, than may we have the strength and humor to survive it gracefully.  Hasta la proxima chicos.

 mariposa

 

 

 

 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.

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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 the day after I got home from my little all-American roadtrip and the day before I set off on my quickie Euro-tour to London, England and Barcelona, Spain.  How lucky am I?  When I read my own words, I get a chill, a good one, down my spine.  I have never been “across the pond” and now that I’m within a few hours of leaving, I’m very excited.  I am going to visit my friend Chrissey Ansell, who I met eighteen years ago on a beach in Costa Rica, who has come to Canada no less than five times and visited me, and has consistently, patiently invited me to her homes in both of these fantastic European cities. I’ve always had an excuse why I couldn’t go – usually something to do with cancer or book-writing – but finally just bit the bullet and bought the ticket.  I’ve always thought I’d find a two-month period to do Europe properly, but in the end decided that I better just go while I still have some money in the bank (international economic crises make me want to spend not save) and while I have my health and the world is in a lull between international catastrophes.  As I’ve said in past blogs, I tend to plan for the future but live in the moment but here the moment has met the future and tomorrow I’ll finally be on a plane and headed over the Atlantic to take advantage of this long-standing invitation.

So I’m taking this opportunity – now that I’ve unpacked and repacked – to write about the last few days that took me from Ontario, across the border at Niagara Falls through Virginia to Ohio.  The first important piece of news was that I bought a new camera so I can post photos again.  I suppose the next important piece of news was that the weather was autumnally-beautiful – truly summerlike – we watched the treeline become more colorful as the days went on and actually sweated on occasion.  Shirley and I traveled the interstates more than anything because of time. I wanted to do a secondary highway between Staunton, Virginia and Wheeling, W. Virginia but Shirley, my dear older & anxious friend, got thrown off by the CAA recommendation to stay on the interstates. Shirley has gone with me on backroads through northern Ontario and Costa Rica and always loves the back country but as she gets older, she gets more anxious (I believe that as we age, we are simply more condensed versions of our former selves) and got it in her head that this particular highway 250 that crossed the mountains would be somehow more dangerous than the truck-laden interstate.  I tried my best to change her mind but in the end gave in and followed I-64 around to Charleston and up I-77 to Barnesville.  I don’t mind racing the transports and getting into the interstate groove but it is truly much groovier on the backroads. Next time, I’m doing that Highway 250 (I wish somebody reading this would give me a good report that I could convince Shirley, next time we visit her relatives in Virginia, that this is a road worth traveling).

So that is where we went first – to Spotsville, Virginia, where Shirley’s kindly kinda-aunt Louise lives on a farm with her black angus cows munching the grass on the rolling fields and her hard-working, lovely family close-by.  Louise is 84 years old (I think that is right) and still helping her son Warren unload the corn silage into the silo, cooking up delicious meals, and tending to the needs of her family, cows, neighbours and church.  We visited her 94 year-old neighbour, Nellie, who also seems to have a firm hand on the running of the farm there. 

 

For the couple of days we were with these warm friendly Virginian folk, I observed that though the men were hard-working, the women seemed to still run the place! Age un-important! Shirley, who I have known most of my life originally as a friend of my parents and always as my friend, has her roots in this country.  She was born in England but was sent here in the second world war to be safe and far away from bomb-blasted London.  She and her brother Tony lived in an “orphanage”, which was actually more like a home for wayward children, and benefited from being around her extended family.  Shirley is now 76 and not willing to drive to Virginia on her own so when I invited her to accompany me to Ohio, I offered to drive her to visit her kinfolk on the way.  Of course, I benefited for the experience.

 

So we stayed in this big ol’ farmhouse, ate way too much good food, fed the young angus cow who was being weened but was still happy to slobber all over the bottle, went to all of Shirley’s touchstones in the area and enjoyed the  Virginian hospitality.

 

 

 

 

 

We went to the graveyards that house Shirley’s grandfather and Louise’s husband, Charles, who I met here in Canada many years ago. 

 

 

 

 

We visited the McCormick farm, home of the reaper (not the grim one, but the pragmatic farm implement). There is also an old grist mill on the site.

 

 

Louise’s son, Warren, and her son-in-law, Lenny, both work at the nearby Hershey’s factory which is non-unionized.  They often are working seven days a week for weeks on end, besides running the farm and tending to their families.  If they complain, there are many others who will take their jobs, so they just go to work.  It is a hard life, making those Reeses Peanut Butter Cups and Almond Joy bars that we take for granted as “candy” – although I tended to stay out of political discussions with these kind, country folk, we did talk about the value of unions and the need for socialized health care in the US.  I shared my experiences of having cancer which brought so many worries to my life – as in “will I survive?” – but didn’t involve worrying about who would pay for the treatments since we have socialized health care here in Canada.  Louise’s family – Warren Bradley and Linda Lou, Lenny, and Christy Phillips- were all interested in the concept of having medical insurance provided by the government and I was able to share my own experience. When Barack gets in, may he follow through and get the support from the Senate and Congress to implement his promise to provide medical insurance for all Americans.  It seems to me to be the most basic of human rights in a civilized society. Perhaps – just a suggestion – cut the military spending and provide for a little nationalized humanity.

When people talk about how politics doesn’t affect their lives, I always shake my head.  Next time you eat a chocolate bar, remember the guys who are working seven days a week, months on end, to keep the line going – limited medical insurance provided, no job security, tired, but unable to complain. I guess I’ve lived in Canada too long.

So after the lovely warmth of Virginia, we headed out in the morning through the fog that eventually lifted to reveal  the coloring leaves, through Virginia, West Virginia, and across the Ohio River into Ohio.  This is very idealic countryside until you see the big smokestacks – I have to admit, I’m not sure what kind of fabrication or energy plant this is,  but I have seen the scene often when passing close to the gracious wide Ohio River, and shudder at the sight of the monolithic cauldrons.

 

We arrived on Friday afternoon at Olney Friends School just outside of Barnesville, Ohio.  Anyone who has read Walking with Wolf will know that this is where Wolf grew up and then returned to for high school.  He also met his beautiful wife, Lucky, there, who had come from Earlham, Iowa. It was Homecoming weekend at Olney and Wolf and Lucky managed to come up from Costa Rica, as Shirley and I came down from Canada. 

 

Everytime I see this wonderful couple, even after all the years of working on the book, I get a warm rush of love that passes through my body straight to my heart. To have managed for us all to get to Olney for this occasion, for the weather to have cooperated as if it were a fine June day, for the extended family and friends of both of them to have shown up en masse for the occasion – well, it all added up to a beautiful weekend filled with laughter and tears and memories and friendship.

 

I find it quite amusing that when Wolf and I get together now, we are like a couple of business people, discussing marketing possibilities, exchanging publicity stories, sharing accounting information. Understand – we have been playing around at “writing a book” for years and now we are actually selling it!  Wolf has continued to visit the stores in Costa Rica who carry our book, replenishing the stock on the shelves but most likely selling the best while sitting in the parking lot at the Monteverde Reserve waiting for the tourists to finish their guided tours in the forest.  I will return to Monteverde in January and we will try to find ways to pick up the pace again, but I know that Walking with Wolf will continue to sell to people who come to Monteverde and are interested in the soul of the place. I believe that is what we managed to convey. What with all our words and history and recollections, Wolf represents the soul of this beautiful, dynamic community and we, luckily, managed to capture it in our tomb.

So here we now were at Olney Friends Boarding School, the place where Wolf met and wooed Lucky, a Friends school that has been teaching young people about reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, life and Quaker values since 1837. On Friday night there was a concert by an energetic a capella group of men from Ohio’s liberal arts Kenyon College (Paul Newman’s alma mater) called the Kokosingers. I think there were thirteen of them – taking turns as the solo guy upstage, providing harmonized, finger-snapping, renditions of both popular and classic songs and a few obscure tunes.  They are going to be opening for Miley Cyrus (I won’t get into who she is, but if you already know, you should be impressed at least as far as the size of the audience) in a couple of weeks. Maybe I was as impressed by their male beauty as their talent (I digress…) but it was truly entertaining.

Saturday was filled with alumni reunionizing, students taking part in the annual run/walk and field hockey and soccer games (alumni 4/students many more). Bit by bit the alumni, many of them relatives of Wolf or Lucky’s, arrived and I could now hear that Guindon/Standing laughter ringing out amid the stately buildings and hardwoods. I have to say that the food at Olney was excellent – having worked for several years at a canoe camp, where the food was great, I was truly impressed with the quality and variety of the food at Olney – I’m not sure of the cook’s name but she was well aware of her responsiblity of feeding an international student body with a variety of taste buds and obviously loves to try new recipes. That kale soup was excellent.

Wolf and I presented the book on Saturday night to a packed house – somewhere between 150 and 200. Wolf spoke very clearly and lovingly, and I followed, proud of myself for sticking to my new program which involved slowing the slide images down to fit the readings from the book. We sold all the books I brought and received a lot of great response from those who had already read it.

 

I met a bunch of people who I’ve heard about over the years from Wolf and Lucky.  Shirley and I lingered with Herbie Smith and Marie Bunty for a long time after the program and exchanged stories – mine of knowing the Guindons in recent times, theirs of sixty years ago.

 

 

 

On Sunday Shirley and I went to the Friends Meeting in Stillwater which was both the same as Monteverde – silent – but more verbally Christian than is Monteverde.  The benches weren’t in a circular style and the way things proceeded was a little different. My personal Quaker experience has been consistently in Monteverde. When people stood and spoke I was naturally awaiting the Spanish translation that occurs in Monteverde. When we got to the afterthoughts and announcements, I was listening for Wolf’s son, Benito, in the background, his low voice simultaneously translating the english to the spanish. In Monteverde there is often an orange trogon – a relative of the beautiful resplendant quetzal – perched on a branch outside the window, perhaps hooting, perhaps silent like the Quakers, its orange breast and striped tail shining. In Monteverde, when the wind is blowing and the tree branches are snapping against the building, I often feel that I am in a tree – if that is so, then here at Stillwater, I was among the roots.  I could feel Wolf and Lucky’s past all around me and knew that this was where the miracle happened, the life force rising from the seed that germinated into the roots that became the family tree that is Monteverde.

I saw other folks who I have met before – Roy Joe and Ruthie Stuckey, Susie Roth, Sylvia who is Lucky’s cousin. Following meeting there was a picnic nearby at Wolf’s nephew’s, Don Guindon’s.  Guindons and Standing relatives gathered to celebrate the presence of Wolf and Lucky and to visit with each other. 

                       Sylvia, Rachel & their Aunt Lucky

 

I had the pleasure of meeting Lucky’s oldest sister, Helen, 94 years old and laughing up a storm. I met a multitude of extended family and unfortunately don’t remember the names of many of them unless I had managed to meet them on a previous occasion.

 

 

One of the most touching conversations I had was with one of Wolf’s nieces. On Saturday night, she had implied that she wanted to talk with me but we didn’t have the chance until just before I left on Sunday afternoon.  What she wanted to share with me was that in the Guindon family there have been chemical imbalances – mental illness – and yet they haven’t talked about it. 

In Walking with Wolf we do talk about this. Wolf’s manic depression was a puzzle to me when I met him, but in the three years after meeting him but before returning to Costa Rica and continuing our oral history project, I bumped into people with this malady a couple more times.  Then I lived with a man with a mental disorder for a number of years while I was working on the book. Mental illness is as common as any other illness but has carried a stigma that makes people keep their mouths shut about it.

This lovely woman (and I apologize for not remembering her name) has lived with depression herself, as has one of her two daughters – the other lives with Aspergers syndrome. Wolf’s daughter Helena’s son, Silvio, also has this affliction yet last year he was awarded as the top scoring student graduating from a Costa Rican high school.  The niece had only just bought the book but had heard from sisters and cousins that we discuss the depression that her grandmother experienced and Wolf’s own manic depression. The book also includes Lucky’s story about living with Wolf in the years before he was properly diagnosed and prescribed lithium. 

When I met Wolf and saw some of his behaviour, it was both comical and mystical to me. However, over the years, as I met various other people with a variety of mental illnesses – including my ex-partner who I shared struggles with for eight years – I realized the difficulty of living with this. It was important to me that we talk about it in the book, as it was a very real part of Wolf and Lucky’s life.  Even though perhaps it was me who insisted we talk about this, it was Wolf and Lucky who provided the honest, candid details of their experience.  And neither one ever suggested that we hide it. It is now out in the open and makes it possible for the family – who can share many examples and experiences – to start and continue the dialogue.  There is no place for shame in this, only room for love and understanding.

Rich Sidwell and the staff at Olney – Mary, Leonard, Cleda, Ela & my Canadian-cohort Jaya - provided the opportunity and the backdrop for this wonderful weekend.  Their invitation helped us sell books, connect with family and link to the broader Quaker community. Olney itself is a very special place with a student population from all over the world. When we sat down for meals, the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural aspect of the place was apparent.  For me, a non-Quaker but someone who has lingered among these peaceful, considerate, simple people who are encouraged to be seekers, Olney provided a place to rejoice with a community that was honoring Wolf and Lucky and that very special community in Costa Rica – Monteverde. Every path that this book takes me down allows me to breathe deeply, smile widely and hold my head proudly – to have participated in any small way in this community is a true privilege. The roots and the branches of this large tree of humanity have spread far and wide in my own life and I’m very thankful for that. Today being Canadian Thanksgiving, that will be my grace.

I just finished watching Michael Moore’s new film, Slacker Uprising.  As of today, September 23, 2008, you can go online and download it for free at http://slackeruprising.com  I intended on working on a couple of articles today for publications in England, but I got sidetracked by Mike – again. I always find his movies interesting and moving. And again I marvel at his prowess in making captivating documentaries with a message – you can call it propaganda, but that’s okay. As is part of his message, we are inundated with propaganda daily in a media that supports the powers that be, making sure their message is being spread far and wide. One of the first things he talks about in Slacker Uprising is the responsibility of the media to investigate beyond the walls of controlled information, ask the difficult questions, dig up the facts, and disseminate truth. Which is exactly what wasn’t done in the months leading up to the second invasion of Iraq (or probably in the build up to any military performance) – instead the mass media supported the United States heading into a war based on lies. And further to Mike’s message is that this work of seeking and supporting the spread of truth should always be protected by the famous First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States – the freedom of religion, expression, the press, and speech .

 

Mike started a movement in the weeks prior to the 2004 presidential election when he saw John Kerry and the Democrats’ campaign floundering. This film records the Slacker Uprising Tour that he embarked on, organizing events in sixty cities to see that the truth about the war in Iraq and the antics of the Bush administration would be heard. The slackers referred to are the youths of America who are uninterested in politics and can’t be bothered putting down their playstations and ipods long enough to vote – with reason they have lost faith in government and fail to understand that their vote can still count in making real change. On his mission to get them up, reinspired, and moving to the ballot box, Mike was joined along the way by musicians, actors, politicians, parents of fallen soldiers, and war veterans opposed to the insanity of this war. He has now released this new film, without a doubt timed so that its message will be seen and heard far and wide before the coming presidential election amd hopefully rile up the masses to get out the vote. It is the first full-length film to be made available for free on the internet. Mike has become a master at editing film clips into a powerful, flowing instructional video for an angry society and giving the public the alternative facts from what they are being fed on CNN and Fox. He is equally as skilled at getting publicity, both by his own actions (free download throughout North America? – the attention he’ll get just for doing the download will serve his purpose) and by the ensuing media reaction to his documented outcry. 

 

Slacker Uprising shows the opposition to the war that is omnipresent, as well as the outrage from both sides of the issue, including those who believe that he, Michael, is the devil, not Bush.  To me you don’t need to see mothers crying about their children who died in Iraq to be against war, but obviously those are powerful images. Mike employs them. As the father of a soldier says in SU, people would be “supporting our troops” more by bringing them home then sending more into Iraq. To be against the war is not to be abandoning the young men and women who are fighting for corporate and entrenched political interests in Iraq or Afghanistan, it would be demanding a saner approach to solving conflicts than throwing usually young, usually poor citizens into that so often deadly arena. There are people who continue to make huge amounts of money as war rages on, and it generally isn’t their sons and daughters who are dying. 

 

Of course much of Mike’s films are edits taken out of context and he pieces together each film in a very deliberate way. But every newscast that we digest is prepared in just the same way, night after night, deliberate information sent streaming into each home in the country. Here in Canada we are only marginally ahead in the fairness and non-partisanship of our media. Mike isn’t looking to be president, he is simply asking that people think and seek and stand and vote. As Joan Baez says in SU, she believes his best quality is his compassion. I have found that the people who spend their lives doing difficult but important work on behalf of the less fortunate or powerless or voiceless, must be driven by compassion – as well as a sense of outrage. And hopefully are blessed with a big sense of humour for their own sakes. Michael Moore obviously has all of this. As Michael Moore states so eloquently in Slackers Uprising, it is not what we look like or what we own that we should be judged by, but by how we treat the poor, the less-able, the disadvantaged.

 

I am one of those with believes that war is not the answer. Perhaps peace takes more work, but war is generally waged at the price to the poor and for the benefit of the rich. Wolf Guindon is one of those who stood up for his conscience as a young man at nineteen years of age and went to jail for refusing to register for the draft. He took this action in peace time, in 1948 and 49 when the US was between wars, but he did not believe in what the military was standing for and therefore would not support it.  As he says in Walking with Wolf, it was reasonable to believe that American taxes and its military should be used for promoting peace and helping the poor and hungry in the world, but not preparing to enter into and raise the level of armed conflicts outside of the border of their own country. Wolf, along with three young Quaker men from the Rockwell family in Fairhope, Alabama, spent four months of a one-year sentence in prison. Their incarceration was followed by their move from the U.S. to Costa Rica, a country which had just abolished its army following its own internal conflicts. Pacifism is a central tenet of Quakerism. It is one of the beliefs that draws me to the Friends.

 

I happened to meet Michael Moore last year. I was in Traverse City, Michigan with my friend Cocky.  We went to visit her brother but also to attend the film festival there.  Mike started and supports that festival and was present at the various screenings. On a beautiful warm summer’s evening, Cocky and I went to the opening party of the festival, mingling with the pretty people of Traverse City. Mike arrived himself half way through the evening, obviously exhausted, and I have to say, not looking well but pale, short of breath, and obviously too overweight.  One of the men we were with went over and asked him if he’d like a plate of food as he collapsed into a chair. He said that he would and soon a plate was put in front of him which he tried to eat while being smothered by the pressing crowd. A couple of hours later, we were walking by his car just as Michael Moore was coming to get into it.  Cocky spoke up and thanked him for making the great films he does. I piped up, “And take care of yourself Mike”, as I’m quite convinced this man is going to drop over dead if he doesn’t look after his own health. We need him as few manage to get done what he does in spreading the truth to the masses – but he is just a mortal like the rest of us, moving into a time of his life when health issues become serious, and I truly fear for him.

 

He thanked us and then noticed the man with us, the one who had brought him that plate of food. Somehow, in the crush of fans and media and film buffs all wanting to get near him, he had actually noticed this man who had quietly brought the food to him. He stepped back as he was entering the car, and walked over to the guy, saying, “Thanks man for bringing me that food. That was real kind of you.” He shook his hand warmly and then got in his car. That moment cemented for me the image of Michael Moore as a real human being who speaks the truth with compassion, who is paying attention, and who believes in doing the right thing and taking the moment, or lifetime, to just do it.

 

In Slacker Uprising there are performances or speeches by Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Eddie Vendor, Rosanne Barr (never my favorite but her sarcasm here was priceless), Viggo Mortensen (who mentioned Canada in a positive light), and another of my great heroes, Steve Earle (see my blog post Steve and the Hammer). Steve sang Rich Man’s War, another in a long line of anti-war, anti-insanity songs that he has written. When he sings, or even talks, it gives me shivers, because he poetically and musically always speaks the truth. All of these people, along with the thousands who filled the arenas on the Slacker Uprising Tour, are committed to the future, dedicated to finding better ways to solve conflicts that don’t involve killing young people and destroying environments, speaking up against the powers who control and profit by the military mentality. I sure hope that in both the American election in November and the Canadian federal election in October, that the compassionate ones will win – those who care for the poor, who don’t support sending them to war against other poor people to do some rich man’s dirty work, who believe in demanding that politicians and corporate barons take care of the world not use it as a playground for profit and power games…and who believe that speaking the truth is the only way we will ever really begin to solve anything.

 

    

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