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As promised and pre-destined, Roberto and I came back to Bastimiento to hang in the hammocks at the Hospedaje Seaview while we wait out my 72-hour extradition from Costa Rica. The island pace is slow, the Panamanian music is hot, the Caribbean sea is enticing, the local fish is fresh, the frogs are red, and life is seductively sweet, so taking this little trip every 90 days (only four hours from Cahuita) isn’t such a hardship.

 The weather here has varied, as I suspect it does much of the year. It hasn’t been nasty or threatening, just unsettled – from hot sun and calm turquoise water, to dark billowing clouds laced with thunder, to an overcast sky with a slightly tossed sea, and back to that hot sun again. But except for the need to grab a sweater because you might think a chill is coming on, life in the hammock doesn’t change. I shouldn’t say that – last year I could pick up the neighboring hotel’s wireless connection here under the rancho while swinging in the hammock.

This year, a little hut has been built between the hotels and that seems to have weakened the signal so that I can’t do anything more than get my home page once in awhile. It’s a weak signal even within that hotel’s office, as even with a full signal I can’t Skype (a new definition of slow –“Life and the connection is so slow, I can’t skype”.) This morning, as a gentle rain kept us from thinking more serious thoughts of taking a snorkeling trip, I happily set myself up at the Caribbean View Hotel with a cup of coffee and imagined a morning of online Scrabble and Skype-talk with friends as that rain continued, but alas, due to technical difficulties, it wasn’t to be.

I realize that complaining about online access seems like an unnecessary (if not addictive) behavior, but seeing as we don’t have electricity at our jungle home near Cahuita, having power and internet is part of what a vacation is all about, along with icy drinks and conversation with strangers. I can hear my friend, Cocky, in Maine saying, “Yah, right, making excuses, like a true addict.” –to which I’d have to agree, since entering the games section of Facebook and wanting to play online Scrabble.

 A big change here at the hotel ($12 for a seaside room with private bath) is that Victor Francis, the man who owns it and serenaded us last Valentine’s day with love songs, has rented it to a young couple to manage. The new host, Josue, is from the Dominican Republic but has lived here in Panama for many years. His wife, whose name escapes me as I almost never saw her, is in the middle of a difficult pregnancy and didn’t come out of their room much, leaving Josue and his daughter, Matilda, to take care of things. It turns out that Josue is quite a good cook. As he cooks his family’s food, he offers those of us staying here a plate for $5, a great deal considering the plate is full and the food is delicious. With his Dominican and Panamanian influences, he has a different style of Caribbean cooking than Roberto, but also uses lots of coconut and a lot of achiote. He makes nuggets of patacones, usually made with green plantain, using bananas, a down-sized variation I like. I don’t think I’ve seen him make a bean dish or rice and beans yet, but instead he made a nice spicy lentil sauce for the rice.

The way things change in these parts, I don’t know if he’ll be here the next time we come, but I know that is his plan – to work hard at keeping the Seaview the pleasant, cheap little hotel on stilts that it is but also developing a restaurant to showcase his cooking. His food and the price have been great, so maybe he’ll still be here next time we come. I wish him and his family well. I continue to recommend the Seaview Hotel – the sheets are clean but slide off the mattress, and the bathrooms are basic, but if you are a cheap, basic traveler like me, it has both charm and a sea patio of hammocks that balances out the drawbacks.

Another very disappointing change came when we stopped in the town of Bocas, where last February we danced all night to Taboo Combo at Carnaval. We had also enjoyed lunches and very tasty Bloody Maria’s at a place called Caribbean View (a popular name it would seem.) I have been thinking of these particular Bloody Marys – the trick was the Panamanian pepper salsa that the bartender used – since leaving last February. Unfortunately the restaurant is closed and I couldn’t find the woman who was making the drinks, so another great cocktail seems to have come and gone.


At the other end of things, the saddest continuing reality is that the garbage problem hasn’t diminished here. There is waterlogged litter all along the shoreline – the exception being on the northwest side of the island where the shore is shallow and rocky. I met a woman who has a home on that shore (who lived for years near the little town of Killaloe in eastern Ontario, a very out of the way place I know quite well.) She told me that the locals clean up the shoreline regularly. It is the only way to get on top of this scourge. Although the situation seems so out of control that it is hard to imagine getting it cleaned up, Marlize told me that once they were on top of it, it was easy to keep it under control. However there is so much garbage floating around in the sea, it never stops invading their shore.

Although I am always very aware of litter and tend to clean it up when I see it, here I am overwhelmed. My reaction to this much litter is to accept it, like everyone else. When a small piece of paper flew out of my hand yesterday, I wasn’t concerned – where normally I would go chase it. I’m appalled at my own reaction. I remember reading about one of the mayors of New York City taking the problem in hand and saying, “If we clean up the city and make it a place of pride, people will change.” If you set a good standard, people respond accordingly. I believe that can happen everywhere.

I hope that one day the community will start picking up the garbage. They’ll have to accept that they will always have to pick up what comes from the bowels of the sea and is continuously dumped on their shore. Garbage piles has grown by leaps and bounds since plastic packaging and disposal bottles and containers have made their way everywhere, especially to countries where poverty facilitates buying food in the smallest quantity available. Not long ago, all people carried their own woven or feed sacks to the local mercado, even for very small amounts, but now plastics are everywhere which facilitates micro-packaging. I would hate to make a list of what I see in the water here, and I won’t, as it would spoil my serenity. In my short stay there is nothing that will change, but I’m very aware of what is floating around me. Fortunately, once you head out to the other islands and beaches, the garbage disappears.


 Yesterday, we went to Playa Polo on the east side of the island with Louis, a beauty boy we met last time, who flies about in his boat and offers guided tours out of his family’s hotel, the Caribbean View. This time, his wife Zuly, his five-year-old son Naya and their new baby Calouie, came along for the ride. Naya, at the age of discovery and action, immediately wandered up the beach to where a shallow watery path meanders out of the jungle and onto the beach, no doubt connecting with the sea at high tide. Naya’s obviously familiar with it, as he took off like a shot to get there as soon as the boat landed. Out of curiosity I also went up to see what was of such interest to a young boy.

Naya started catching tiny fish and I stored them in my water bottle – liquid sushi. We saw a small shrimp and recently hatched frogs darting under one leaf to the next. Naya is not completely fearless yet, so when he disturbed the shrimp and it skittered near his hand, he jumped and called me in as reinforcement to help with the fish catch. Zuly came along just then, checking up on her son, and joined in his search.

“My mother always told me that before the hunt, you clear the area first,” she said, so we pulled leaves and branches out of the shallow water to see what we might uncover. The aquatic creatures darted into the shadowy waters to hide amid the small roots under a sandy overhang. Zuly, an enthusiastic mama-teacher, hitched her long skirt up and bent down into position to catch her son a wild specimen.

All of a sudden she shot straight up, pulling her hand back like she had just touched a hot burner. Releasing a slow breath, she exclaimed, “There is a snake there.” Sure enough, as I moved closer to her and we both slowly bent back down, you could see that one of the benign looking root stems had a forked tongue darting in and out at us. What great eyes Zuly must have to have spotted this little creature. Who knows if it was poisonous or not, but it sure looked onerous hiding there with that scary tongue.

 “Ay, Naya, see what can happen when you go off looking for things,” she sighed. Looking at me, but still speaking to Naya, she added, “We let him come down here by himself now, and the second he jumps out of the boat, that’s all he wants to do. But you have to be so careful. He could have been alone, looking for fish, and been bitten by the snake without us knowing.”

 That’s the truth of life – both in and out of the jungle. There are so many dangers that affront us in life, at any age, hiding in the shadows, coming out of the blue. You can only hope to survive.

 So speaking of surviving, the latest news I have about Wolf and Lucky comes from a phone conversation today with Berto’s wife, Angelina. She said that they took Wolf down to the city a few days ago, and finally last night (Thursday November 19) he was admitted to Puntarenas hospital where they have a ward dedicated to older people. He has been having the same problems with eating and keeping things down that was happening when I was there last week, but now, hopefully, he is being helped. The thing is that the problem may be bigger than anticipated – so we continue to pray for him and hope that the Costa Rican medical community will take care of him.

PS: I’m now in San José on my way to Puntarenas Hospital to visit Wolf. I’ll let you know what is happening. Hopefully, there are no snakes lurking in his shadow although I know for a fact Wolf would rather be in the forest wrestling snakes than where he is now.

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 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.

April 2020