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moose

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work I go

Back home again after a swell week on the road with my friend Shirley. Although we are well into the autumn season we mostly felt warm summer temperatures throughout New England and returned to the same sweet sun in Hamilton. Yes, the trees are starting to have that reddish-around-the-edges look, and we noticed a proliferation of goldenrod on the roadsides, but I’m still wearing short skirts and sandals. My natural clock has not yet moved to the 11th hour that chimes in the final weeks before winter sets in.

pesto

My mini-book tour of Vermont and Massachusetts (with a visit to Maine and New Hampshire thrown in) was very pleasant. We started out with a night in Lachine, just outside of Montreal Quebec, with my editor (once known as “the dastardly”) Jane Pavanel and her husband Sami and their kids. The night was beautiful enough to dine on the deck (pesto made fresh from a big buncha basil bushes in her garden) and for a walk along the St. Lawrence River watching a golden moon rise. Our roles as writer and editor of Walking with Wolf could be very mildly adversarial (“she just doesn’t get it!?!”) but the final result has been very successful. Our roles as friends will hopefully last forever – and maybe, if I ever get to writing another book, we will resume our professional partnership again.

lake champlain

We got across that big bad border just fine, headed into Vermont, and had lunch in Burlington on the waterfront, watching the boats cruise across Lake Champlain. Over the several hundred kilometers we drove through Vermont, we saw a lot of green forest, green pastures and green-consciousness. It would have been great to have the time to investigate some of the state parks, art galleries, interesting-looking restaurants and ecologically-concerned businesses but we had an agenda that didn’t allow for too much side-tracking.

farm and wilderness

We joined the Putney Friends Meeting fall retreat at Farm and Wilderness camp near Plymouth. A small black bear ran in front of our car just as we were arriving and we saw a loon floating on the lake. Being in this setting of wooden camp buildings surrounded by forest took me back to my years on Lake Temagami working at Wanapitei and Keewaydin canoe camps. These long-serving camps with their rustic cabins and large dining-halls hold the ghosts of a lot of summers – anyone who has spent time at one most likely has a keen sense of the history of the place as the long tales from the past get told and retold. Old photographs, names etched in the aged wood and strange artifacts reverently displayed on walls provide memories for those who return over the years and clues to the camaraderie that existed for those of us who weren’t so lucky to be part of it.   

sassafras

Our little humble cabin Sassafras

Although we left our lunch spot in Burlington still soaking up the sun, we arrived at the camp under the only rain clouds we’d seen since the beginning of September. The lake looked tempting and that loon was calling me to join her, but it was just too chilly for this chicky who just returned from warm southern Caribbean waters (sad-to-say since I’m basically a northern bush babe used to refreshing waters.) Most of the cabins were long and three-sided with bunk beds on the three walls. The other non-existent wall opened out to the lake or the forest. I kept asking people if mosquitoes were never a problem.  I couldn’t imagine staying in those cabins in northern Ontario in bug season which is basically most of summer. Everyone I asked told me that mosquitoes had never been a problem in this part of Vermont. I’m wondering if these folks are either tougher than me or have a very selective memory. I just can’t imagine being anywhere in North America in that much forest without a bug season. We chose a small cabin called Sassafras which had four walls, open windows and electricity since I had to work on my laptop a little at night preparing for the book talk. Sleeping in that clear, clean cold air was heavenly.

francie & laurie

The other highlight to being at camp was the large kitchen. I can remember my first time in one of those large industrial yet rustic kitchens on Lake Temagami (after finding a very large puffball and slicing it on the meat-slicer, frying it in butter and garlic in the over-sized frying pan, my friends and I made ourselves ill eating too much of it.) I love cooking in these super-stocked kitchens with their grandiose Hobart mixing machines and eight burner gas stoves. This one was extremely well-equipped including a dish room with lotsa stainless steel sinkage and a sterilizing washing machine. Enthusiastically volunteering for washing duty, I got to run the hose, rinsing off the dishes and filling and emptying the washing machine. I ended up quite wet but thoroughly enjoyed it, feeling like Igor behind the controls of a crazy steam-snorting machine.

indian brook

I had a good time presenting Walking with Wolf to the assembled group, some of whom had been to Monteverde and had their own stories from there. Susan Slowinski had invited me to come to this retreat and was a warm host, as were all the Friends. I sold a few books and received some very positive feedback. I was invited by Francie Marbury to visit her public school in southern Vermont  and we arranged that I would stop there on our way through that area on Tuesday.

ms cocky

Since we were (by Canadian standards) in the neighborhood, we drove a few hours from Vermont to the coast of Maine to see Cocky (my soul sister I’ve written about many times in this blog). We got in a night of dancing (breaking in a pair of cowgirl boots recently given to me), some great food, lots of talk, sunshine and relax time. We watched “Shut Up and Sing,” the documentary about the Dixie Chicks and the horrible, hate-filled reaction to their simple comment that they were ashamed that George Bush was from Texas (during the period in 2002 when the US went into Iraq on the un-proven grounds that there were weapons of mass destruction.) I have loved their music but am now deeply moved by their commitment to speaking their truth in a country that proclaims this is one of the main principles of  its society. If I had known at the time what was going on, I would have gone to a Dixie Chicks concert just to support them (and dance a little too.) This doc is still well worth watching.

ocean

We spent a glorious evening on the local public dock as the sun set. It was still chilly enough to keep me out of the water, but Ms Cocky is more acclimatized and had what might be one of her last swims of the year. We were also visited by a man towing a dead deer (which someone had shot but not killed and it had finally died on the shore nearby) out to a more remote spot to let the buzzards at it. When I started taking pictures he thought we might be radical vegans ready to denounce him, but being northern bush babes ourselves, we are accustomed to carcasses and recognize he was just doing his job.

the girls

 

 

Shirley, Cocky and I, along with the beautiful Alpha-dog, sipped wine and ate sushi and watched the breeze play across the calm Atlantic water. It was hard to leave.

with Carlos Guindon

On our way to Amherst College in Massachusetts, Shirley and I stopped to visit Wolf’s son, Carlos Guindon, who has been translating the book into Caminando con Wolf.  He’s almost finished, down to the index and some blurbs. He’ll then send it to Costa Rica and the Tropical Science Center will figure out the next step. It’s very exciting that our book is going to be available in Spanish so that Costa Ricans, who have shown a very keen interest in reading Wolf’s story, will soon have the opportunity.

shirley and noelia

Shirley with Wolf’s grand-daughter Noelia

We arrived at the house of Benigno and Karen Sanchez-Eppler, who had invited us to stay while in Amherst. They are a very welcoming Quaker couple who own a big old house on the edge of the Amherst College campus that serves as an inn for the many guests that pass through. They have hospitality down to a fine art served up with great heart. They fed us a delicious dinner of Cuban tortilla, rice and fresh tomatoes before we headed over to the college for my talk. We were joined by their daughter Alma and her friend Benny, as well as Clara Rowe, who I knew as a young girl when she lived in Monteverde (she had arranged the talk with the Environmental Studies department) and Noelia Solano, one of Wolf’s grand-daughters who I had just celebrated his birthday with in Monteverde.  She is now at Mount Holyoke, a college nearby, and came for the evening – it is always wonderful to see Monteverde people in other places, especially Guindons.

Amherst Talk

There was a small group at the college for the talk and I have to admit I felt a little disjointed – sometimes it is like that. I switch my talk around for each audience, situation and length of time allotted, and usually am happy with how it goes, but sometimes feel a little off and this was one of those times.  But there were lots of questions and interest in the group about conservation in Monteverde and it was a nice evening despite my own criticism of my performance.

marlboro schoolmarlboro talk

The next morning we drove north to Brattleboro, Vermont and I did another talk for the kids at Marlboro Public School. It was a short period and I had to talk fast but was much happier with how this went.  This school was very impressive – solar panels, vegetable garden, an open classroom with couches for the kids to relax on while reading – and almost made me want to go back to school. The school focuses on self-expression through creativity and learning through field research. The Grade 7 and 8s will be heading to Costa Rica in the spring and this was their introduction to where they would be going and some of the history there. It was a privilege to be part of their trip planning.

vermont house

 

 

With the work done, Shirley and I enjoyed the last bit of back road driving in Vermont – once again sorry that we couldn’t stop for awhile at the interesting villages we passed through – but did stop for lunch in Wilmington at the Vermont House Tavern which I must mention because I had an excellent bowl of French onion soup there and highly recommend it!

 

Carolyn and Dave of String Tease

 

Our last night, now safely back in our Canadian homeland, was at my friends’ Chuck and Carolyn’s near Westport. We arrived just as their band, String Tease, was beginning an evening rehearsal, and so we relaxed to a few hours of music, singing along with the songs they sing, mostly irreverent Canadian tunes that tell stories and feature their mix of accordion, mandolin, guitar and stand-up bass. 

 

near freeport sky

 

Now safely home, feeling the air a little cooler than when we left, having had a successful few book-speaks, mixing up business and pleasure, I’m ready to get on to my next project which is writing Bosqueeterno history. A huge thanks to all those who helped put the tour together and took us in – Jane & Sami, Susan and the Putney Friends, Cocky, Clara, Benigno & Karen, Francie and finally Chuck & Carolyn. The world is small, full of friends and opportunities and, as such, is truly beautiful, whatever the season.

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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 can’t believe it has been two weeks since I wrote last…what was I doing?  I have been on my computer quite a bit, took a couple trips to Toronto and Guelph, but really, there is no excuse.

I am sorry to announce the death of my camera – I have dropped it one time too many and the battery compartment has been taped for awhile but now the batteries aren’t lasting as long and, well, it’s time.  I’m on my way the the U.S. of eh? tomorrow, the land of the free and the golly gee these days – and will have to buy a camera while I’m there.  I feel very bland on my blog without photos – it took me awhile to learn how to post them, but once I did, well, I was having fun.  Now I’m just about the words, and that’s great and all, but the pics are half of what inspires me to write.  As my friends have found out, if the camera takes a good pic, then you’ll probably make the blog.  And I now try and remember to ask people if they don’t want their full name on the blog, those who want to keep living in relative obscurity, and keep it first names only with little bits of tape across their distinguishing features in the pics.  HA! As if we can really hide.

A week ago I wrote some articles – one for the Tropical Forests UK website, which was chopped down significantly since I hadn’t asked how many words they wanted and, well, I’m wordy. The other went to Quaker Monthly and I haven’t heard anything from the editor to know what she is going to do with it.  I spend a lot of my time on the internet, sending press releases, contacting media folk, and seeking out places to get reviews done.  I’m most disappointed with the local media specifically the Hamilton Spectator and CH Television.  I mean, I just don’t think there are that many authors in Hamilton that they couldn’t do a little piece about Walking with Wolf.  But I keep trying and maybe I’ll find the right hook to get their attention.

Tomorrow I start a roadtrip with my friend Shirley.  The purpose of the trip is to go to Olney Friends School in Barnesville, Ohio for their Homecoming weekend.  Wolf and I are presenting the book next Saturday night – he and Lucky are coming up from Costa Rica.  I’m so excited to be doing this, but extremely happy to spend some time with them.  I know there will be many Guindons there as well as the families of the students who are presently enrolled. Wolf and Lucky are pretty well-known alumni and so this weekend, bringing Wolf’s book back to his alma mater, is bound to be quite emotional. That is what has kept me busy this last week, reworking the power point slides and choosing what to read.  A small problem is that I’ve had a seriously big frog croaking in my throat for a few days.  I’ve been trying not to talk too much but, well, that’s a hard one for me.  And even sitting here at home alone working on the presentation, I’m talking as I read aloud, timing the images with the talk.  I’ll have to try harder and keep quiet and let Shirley do the talking in the car.  I’m not sure if it is bad air quality here in Hamilton or some kinda weird bug, but there it is. Hopefully I’ll be fine by Saturday, but if not, that’s what they make microphones and amplifiers for.

We are driving down to Virginia first to go visit some of Shirley’s family.  Shirley wouldn’t do the drive herself and so I offered to take her there, kind of on our way to Ohio.  The thing we’ll be looking for the most is the deer on the highways.  I’ve driven at this time of the year to Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas – well, anywhere going through Ohio and Pennsylvania and West Virginia it is shocking with the amount of dead deer carcasses and blood puddles on the highways.  It’s a slaughterhouse out there.  It makes it unwise to drive at night which I generally don’t mind doing. It isn’t worth the risk, when those poor crazed deer come leaping across the fences out of the dark shadows. I think it’s happening at this time of the year because of hunting driving the deer out of the woods – they just run onto roads as they try to escape. I guess the other possibility is that it is mating season and they are all love-crazed but I tend to think it is the first thing that is causing the vehicular slaughter. 

A few days ago I went up to the Guelph Arboretum to the launch of a new book called Growing Trees from Seed (Firefly Books).  It was a project started a few years ago by a wonderful man by the name of Henry Kock.  I knew Henry when I went to the University of Guelph in the early 80s and we were both on the board of the OPIRG (one of Ralph Nader’s Public Interest Research Groups).  I also knew his sister, Irene.  Well, these two people were some of the most dynamic, hardworking, committed individuals in Ontario.  Irene was an anti-nuke activist throughout her adult life.  She died tragically in a car accident on New Years Eve about six years ago.  Then Henry, this outstanding human being, larger than life, developed brain cancer and he died a couple of years ago on Christmas Day.  I’m sure the Kock family doesn’t look forward to that week at all anymore.

Henry was known for his love of trees. He started the Elm Recovery Project, to aid in the renaissance of the elms that were wiped out years ago by disease in southern Ontario.  He had a thumb so green it was emerald and a passion for nature that energized all those who knew him.  He started this book before the cancer was diagnosed but at some point couldn’t continue with it, so three of his friends and co-workers at the Arboretum, Paul Aird, John Ambrose and Gerald Waldron, continued with the book. It is a coffee-table-book-sized practical guide to growing native trees, vines and shrubs and is a must have for anyone who is interested in growing themselves an arboreal garden. Or even one really beautiful tree from scratch.

Also related to Henry, I went with my friend Lynda Lehman, to see the breathtaking textile art of Lorraine Roy.  Well, as a person who has worked with fabric all my life, sewing my own clothes when I was younger and then working as a furniture re-upholsterer for years, I have a natural interest in anything made of fabric.  Lorraine Roy makes these textile canvases that are compositions of tiny pieces of materials laid out and sewn, quilted in a way, into intricate designs – some abstract but many of them inspired by the lifecycle of trees.  She met Henry when she went to the University of Guelph and was moved by his passion which blended with her own love of nature.  She has done several series of these masterpieces that feature seeds, trees, ovulation, and much more. Go to her website, (Lroytextileart.com) and take a look. The delicate power of her work is awe-inspiring.  There is an incredible amount of detail that results in muted landscapes and still lifes which are not still, but living, organic creations. Her colour sense is musical. I wish I could afford to own one of her pieces, which I don’t even find that expensive, but that won’t be happening for awhile. But…wow.

The last little item that lingers in my head is watching the debates last Thursday night.  Here in Canada, we have a federal election next week and the candidates for prime minister sat around a table with a moderator and had a very lively discussion. I quite liked the style of the round table which allowed for lots of real interaction. Proudly, the person who seemed to be announced the “winner” by much of the media was Elizabeth May, the head of the Green Party.  I’ve known her from afar for many years and always known that she was a very intelligent spitfire.  She had to fight her way into the debate, as there was disagreement about the Greens being there at all.  There was a public outcry and so the other parties relented and she was allowed at the table.  As it turned out, she was the hottest on many of the issues, especially hot on Steven Harper’s case. Good on you, Elizabeth, this Canadian woman was all substance, style, spit, and smarts.

The other debate that night was the infamous vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Tina Fey’s less intelligent double, Sarah Palin. I know this woman must be intelligent to have got to the post of governor of Alaska, but her hokey manner, frequent winking and subterfuge of her very right wing values made me crazy. She kept trying to sound like a mild conservative and either stayed away from answering the questions or contradicted herself.  I spent the whole time with my remote, flipping between debates whenever one made me squirm or scream. My take on the Republicans is that I find them wholly irresponsible and arrogant to have put a person of so little experience and sophistication into the (hopefully not so) possible position of being the president. IF McCain were to be elected and IF something bad were to happen to him, she could be the leader of the so-called free world!  It seems to me that they were more interested in choosing someone for the ticket who would appeal to the lowest common denominator of the electorate, to the religious right and perhaps (though I’m not sure how) who would appeal to the women who wanted Hillary. I am appalled that they would have put this woman in this position.  What I do see is that Palin would appeal to the same folks who voted for that other hokey guy, George W.  I can remember seeing an older woman from Kansas in an interview during the last election who I suspect spoke for a certain part of the population when she said that she was voting for Bush because she thought she’d like to sit and drink a pot of tea with him and couldn’t imagine doing that with John Kerry.  Well, that’s all very nice and fine, but do you really want this guy as your president? I mean, is feeling comfortable in the tearoom really a prerequisite for being presidential? I mean, is anyone really surprised at what is going on in the US and the world today because of Bush’s presidency.  I mean, really???

If you want to invite the woman to go moose hunting, well, go for it, but please don’t put the rest of the world at the risk of being run by Palin and her muddy morally-maverick mind (and the Republican powers-behind-the-Palin). Now that is truly scary.

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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