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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.

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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.  

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Maine in the springtime – what a lovely thing.  It’s still cold, but the sky is blue and the sun is shining as bright as a lighthouse beacon warning us of summer approaching. 

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Peter and Alpha the wonder dog

Have some time here to write something so thought I better do it.  I’m reworking my powerpoint for tomorrow night’s talk to the Maine Audubon Society in Falsmouth.  My lovin’ family here, Cocky and Peter, have put a lot of time into make this work and inviting people and trying to get local media attention…we will see how it goes.  As usual, I approach it all the same – think of who I’m talking to and do the best I can to entertain them, hopefully sell at least one book (that makes it worth it and keeps my expectations real low) and enjoy the experience. You never know what might happen or who you might meet.  Each presentation gives me the chance of having something wonderful happen…and minimally enjoying myself. And gives me the opportunity to spread the story of Wolf and Monteverde a little further.

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Before I left home, I went to Toronto to slurp oysters with my book boys, Ken and Bruce, and was getting interesting cellphone information from my pal Sol, when I ran into my cousin on the street.  I guess that often happens to people, meeting up with relatives you rarely see on the busiest street (Queen West) of one of the busiest Canadian cities, but when they are on a gigantic horse and dressed out in full winter police wear, it adds a new twist. What an imposing sight they were.  Stephen has been a policeman in Toronto for years and a cop-on-horseback for maybe eight years or so (probably many more and I just don’t remember.)  It was great to see him, chit chat while standing in the heat of the horse’s breath, realizing how little I see these relatives of mine from nearby Mississauga and Fergus – that it is more likely I will run into Stephen riding a horse through downtown Toronto than in one of our houses is crazy.

On Saturday I got my rental car and drove to the border listening to JP Reimen’s new CD, Love is a Dog – the first song, the first of this roadtrip, is Troubadour and its lines about spilling wine and leaving my troubles behind was an appropriate send off. Nice songs again from the boy from tobacco country.

I got through the border but did get processed and so I guess I will have to talk to a customs broker before I cross with books again.  The border guy – I have to be glad he was a nice one – let me through but warned me that since 911, boxes don’t just travel around the country, big brother needs to know what they are and who they’re with. Yeah, well, books. With me. Whatever.

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I got to Ithaca, New York, near the Finger Lakes, where my friend Manuel Monestel is teaching a course in Music Industry and Society – the state of contemporary music in society and its relationship with the music industry and market. I’m betting it’s a fascinating course. I stopped for the night at his nice rented home in the pretty town that sits in a valley below Cornell University (a small city in its own right). I had come to not only see my friend (a Tico being only four hours from my Canadian home is well worth the trip) but it was also a good stop on my way to Maine and I had a favour to ask of him.  Manuel has agreed to write a new endorsement blurb for the back of the Spanish translation of Walking with Wolf – Caminando con Wolf. I’m honored that this well-known musician, author, professor and all-round wise and talented man is going to put his name to the book. So I dropped one off for him to read and managed to get a full  night of music in the process.

I did find out from Manuel, who has written a book on the history of calypso music on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and is very knowledgeable about not only the history and culture and music but the dialect there, that the term I’ve been using – cabanga (read former posts) – which Roberto taught me, does indeed, as he insisted, have Afro-Caribbean roots. It is in the Spanish dictionary and the Ticos know it but it comes from the southern Caribbean. It meant that you should be sharing something – and that kind of worked its way around to feeling that you lost something – and that further got fused with the idea that you are feeling a loss, melancholy, the lovesick blues. That’s what I’ve been feeling – and with a capital K – Kabanga – all the more apropos. Roberto will be happy to know he was right, the proof in a book on Afro-ethnicity.

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There was a Peruvian celebration going on at the university, and the great Eva Ayllon, the beautiful star of Afro-Peruvian lando and festejo music, performed in the nice small room with her hot jazz band. That was a very sweet treat to arrive to a show like that – she took the chill off the wintery night. 

 

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A dance and cajon  band from New York City, Carabumbe, also performed, including an Afro-Peruvian dance workshop (that I of course joined in to sweat a little).  It was powerful to hear six of those wooden boxes being beaten together. There was also a typical dinner served.  Viva Peru!

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Afterward we went over to  the house of some grad student friends of Manuel’s – Marcela, a Costa Rican and Juliana, a Columbiana, both who know Monteverde well and bought a couple books (always working I tell ya.) Manuel and Juliana, along with friends from Chili, Mexico, Uruguay, Tennessee (and of course Canada), played guitar and sang till the madrugada, a variety of political, social and romantic latin songs (stirring my poor little tender soul again).  Juliana had a powerful expressive voice and Manuel is always butter in your ears (or that would be buttered rum in this case.)

By the time we got back to the house, I was lucky to get a few hours of sleep before getting back in my car and driving seven hours east to Freeport.  I was flying on the highway but without any sense of incident – it was Easter Sunday after all and the roads were relatively quiet as everyone was home eating turkeys and rabbits and pigs and things.  So here I be in Maine, preparing, relaxing, visiting, happy to be on the road again.

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Here I am on the eve of leaving for Guatemala.  I have yet to pack, but I’m pretty good at that so the idea that I have to get three months worth of things together in the next few hours is not really a problem. Instead of doing that however, I’m in the middle of baking butter tarts because my lovely friends in Guatemala, Rick and Treeza, requested that I bring some with me (apparently they only just learned of the pleasure of the BT a few years ago and they seem to like my version.) They don’t have an oven so we can’t be making them there.

Sheesh! What one is willing to do in the spirit of Christmas…it isn’t the making of them, but the transporting them whole (as in not in crumbs) up into the mountains of Guatemala over the next three days that has me thinking this is nuts…but whatever, I just chopped those nuts up and threw ’em in the mix and can smell the tarts baking now. I’m thinking that they better be the best damn batch I’ve ever made.

After my two weeks hanging out in Guatemala – where I can envision myself sitting with my laptop, warm sun beating down, one day looking out over beautiful Lake Atitlan and writing something on this blog – I’ll be getting to it again in Monteverde.  Wolf is anxiously awaiting my arrival and we will be doing our best to get Walking with Wolf further afield throughout Costa Rica.  If you are down there, you’ll no doubt find one or both of us sitting at the entrance to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, in our own version of a meet and greet. The guides often bring their groups over to introduce them to Wolf, the man hugely responsible for this stunning protected forest, who will be sitting there with a cup of coffee in his hand and a big smile on his face.  I’m looking forward to seeing the staff of the Reserve, many who I have known since I first went the Costa Rica, all of whom have been very supportive of the book. They treat me like visiting royalty – not to suggest that I’m a princess, much less a queen, but I know when people are being that nice to me I better lap it up!  

I managed to get eight more boxes of books (big KACHING) off to Toronto to be shipped in early January to Costa Rica. I’ve also forwarded another seven boxes with my friend Laurie who will be driving to the west coast and able to deliver them to my sister in Washington and Wolf’s son in California. I plan on following them next summer to do a book tour and it’ll be great to have the boxes there already. That leaves only five boxes here in Hamilton – available for my friend Kathryn who will be back in charge of mailing orders that come from this blog, and for me to take to Philadelphia and NYC at the end of April.

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That means we’ve almost gone through 2000 copies of  Walking with Wolf – or at least distributed them – and it will be time to do another printing! I’m pretty thrilled about that, though the idea that my living room, which has just finally cleared of boxes, will be a depository again isn’t as thrilling.

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My good friend Tory Byers came and got me and my boxes and took us to the Toronto shipper.  We then spent a couple days together at her home in Toronto, just visiting and relaxing, as her partner Jamie Grant fed us real good food and Macie the beagle kept us entertained.

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Tory is this beautiful talented woman with a heart that takes everyone and thing in. She has been working for one of the Toronto cruise ships that people hire to float about in the lake while they get married or drunk or both with the  Toronto skyline sparkling behind them.  While working down on the waterfront, Tory has met up with a colony of feral cats who live around one of the boatyards. 

colony

Along with her friends Sandy and Aaffeine, she has been providing food for these abandoned cats, many who were once quasi-domestic street cats living with the squatters at Tent City, a makeshift home for street folks that was eventually dismantled a couple years ago.  The people left for other fields, the cats moved into this boatyard.

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The women look for homes for the cats – since they are feral, they won’t really become house cats but some are tamer than others and will be outdoor cats who can handle a little human interaction. They have found homes for many kittens. They purchase big bags of catfood and cans of sardines and take turns going daily to feed the felines. They also have  constructed cat shelters out of recycling boxes and tarps.

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This is Hemingway – papa to many

The three women and their friends have taken all this on and fortunately are starting to get support from others who can contribute time or money or catfood once they hear about the Cherry Street Cats. They don’t want people to know exactly where they are as they have already seen that people will drop off unwanted cats there, figuring that they will be absorbed into this colony and the ladies will take care of them.  Meanwhile, not only is that terribly irresponsible and cruel, but those domestic cats don’t necessarily fit in with the tougher ferals…so it is a bit like throwing your pup to the wolves. 

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If you want to see what the ladies and cats are up to, or look at other pictures of the cats, or donate, go to Tory’s blog on wordpress – cherrystreetcats.wordpress.com. It gives you a look at a different community in Toronto.

 

 

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On Thursday night, I made it to a Christmas party at the Earthroots office. Saw my old friend Amber Ellis – the only person I know who is still there after all these years.  This non-profit environmental group grew out of the Temagami Wilderness Society, of which I was a board member in the late 1980s during the time of the blockade on the Red Squirrel Road in northeastern Ontario. In September 2009, we will be having a 20-year anniversary reunion of the blockade up on Lake Wakimika, on whose beautiful shores I lived with several others for seven weeks in the fall of 1989. I stay in touch with alot of people from those days and I hope that many of us will turn out and spend a couple days together, reliving what was a very powerful time for many of us. If September is kind, it will bless us with warm sunny weather – the way it was that first day that we gathered there on September 15, 1989 for a camp-in that, because of the massive support and passion of the hundreds who came deep into the bush that weekend, grew into the non-violent blockading of a logging road extension.

Other than that little trip to Toronto, I’ve been real busy taking care of business, getting ready to go, catching some great music in town, doing a little dancing, and spending evenings with friends who I won’t see for a few months. Of course there is the usual enthusiasm from folks who swear they are going to come to Costa Rica and visit – but I’ve learned not to get excited until they have their plane ticket in hand.

doreen-piano

Last night I went up to spend the evening with the Poag, Marskell, and Johnston clan – the family that subs as my real family though we are only “pretend” cousins.  Although I do have some blood relatives in the Toronto area, I seldom see them.  I spend most of those big holiday occasions – Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving – if I’m in town – at Bob and Kathryn’s with their big extended family. Kathryn’s parents, Doreen and Bill Poag, and my parents were close friends from before they all had children and we continue the friendship on.

kiddies

Throughout my childhood, my parents hosted a Christmas carol and euchre  night the weekend before Christmas.  We all grew up looking forward to that one night of the year when we all sang these great songs together. Doreen Poag and Bea Marskell, the singing Miller sisters, would accompany us on our piano. Their husbands, Art and Bill, sang in the International Harvester Choir and Bea and Art also were in this rocking seniors club called the Geritol Follies that put on musical cabarets for years.  So there is a lot of singing going on in that clan.

bob-freda

After my parents died in the late nineties, my sister and I gave our piano to Kathryn and Bob. Maggie didn’t want to transport it out west and I didn’t have a home for it. So when the piano moved to their house, so did the carol singing. For the last ten years, an ever-growing crowd gathered at the Johnston’s. Once we were done with the trough of fantastic food, we carried on the tradition of singing with Bea playing the songs on the piano and Doreen beside her turning the pages of the music books.

Bea died last year and not only was it a very sad day for us all to lose her, but it wasn’t good for our carol singing – we needed her loud enthusiastic key-tinkling to cover up the general uproar of our voices.

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When I was young, my dad would tape our carol-singing on his reel-to-reel – and when we would listen to it, ouch! There are some great voices amongst us, but collectively, we can be pretty pitiful – fortunately we laugh as much as we sing. I was sick last year and didn’t make the party, but they told me that it was very sad – Bea had just recently died and no one was quite ready to take over providing musical accompaniment. The spirit wasn’t strong enough that night to overcome the loss of our friend Bea. If I had been there, I’d have tried to help as I’m often one of the ringleaders, keeping track of the musical requests, making sure we sing the best verses of each song and dictating who has to sing the part of the three kings or Good King Wenceslas and his page.

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Last night, we gathered again and the spirit was great.  We now have a variety of musicians to accompany us on different songs. Everyone is trying to keep it alive. The lovely Madelaine played her clarinet – very well, I might add. Rich and then Don and then Keira played the piano and Lindsay’s guitar was a real great addition. So we managed to get through the majority of the carols we wanted to sing and once in awhile, we even sounded pretty good. Two years ago I took all the various songbooks we were working from – it would get very confusing as everyone was looking in a different book (that were so old they were falling apart) so I consolidated them and made new songsheets. That seems to have helped us move forward as well. Trying to keep this great family tradition not only alive, but fun enough to keep the next generations bringing their friends along to partake is worth the effort. All that great food, along with the riotous fun of this family, helps to ensure that people will continue to come out.  And I am forever grateful to have had these wonderful folks in my life, all my life, and proud to be a family-member, if only of the pretend kind. I’m also extremely grateful that Kathryn agreed to take over my book sales while I’m gone – although I hate the idea that it could really keep her busy, that also has a nice ring to it somehow.

Well, my butter tarts are done and not bad, if I do say so myself. Now I have to figure out how to pack them, along with everything else. In case I’m not online or able to blog for awhile, and in the spirit of last night’s swelling of joy amid Christmas tradition, I will wish you now all a big HO HO HO, a very Merry Christmas or whatever you are celebrating, and leave you with the hopes for a miracle called worldwide peace in 2009.  And also with a quote from my favorite carol, that being Good King Wenceslas:

wenceslas

 

 

“Therefore Christian men be sure – wealth or rank possessing – thee who now shall bless the poor, shall themselves find blessing.”

I am back in Hamilton, Ontario, my home. Even though I just spent ten weeks in the tropical rain forest during the rainy season, there has definitely been more rain here this summer than I experienced there.  And I thought I was getting wet! The jungle that is my backyard is evidence of a great growing season. Luckily, in the week I’ve been home, the sun has been shining in a bright blue sky more often than not.  It poured earlier today but the planets aligned, the solid bowl of clouds broke up into popcorn, and the few stars you can occasionally see above the city glow were out. On this beautiful night, I went and spent two hours at the base of my musical hero, Steve Earle.

I’ve been listening to Steve – songsmith, multi-instrumentalist, political commentator, troubadour, activist – for more than twenty years. He has written the soundtrack to my life. I feast on each new CD that I hear and somehow this southern boy from Texas, ex-heroin addict, ex-con but also anti-war, anti-death penalty, anti-insanity activist has spoken in his music of my own experiences, moods, frustrations and loves.  When he was singing songs of restlessness, I was restless.  When he’s been angry at his government, I’ve also been livid.  Now he’s in love both with his new wife and with his new city, New York, where he moved to after years of living in Tennessee.  And although I’m not in the big love, I am in love with the Hammer, this rusty little city I live in. 

He has constantly expressed my politics in beautiful simple poetic lyrics and gone down a number of musical avenues from country to rock to tropical to folk to bluegrass and taken me with him on each ride. Tonight, after playing his guitars, mandolin, and banjo and dueting with his wife, he played with a DJ behind him providing electronic beats. He has so many songs, all great. And although there was a big representation in the Hammer-crowd of drunken wild folks demanding “Copperhead Road” (which you can see him cringe to with impatient disdain, for it would seem that, fifteen years later, it is the only song people know of despite a repertory of hundreds), the majority of the audience were singing along to his lyrics from several of his albums, demonstrating that they, like me, were in awe.  To have the chance to sit twenty feet from him, down below the high stage of the Festival of Friends, on the concrete ground (which, of course also doubled as a seat right on the dancefloor), be encouraged by him to sing out, and to be able to watch his face as he sang, and watch his subtle and not so subtle reactions to the antics of the crowd, well, in an odd way,  at moments it was like it was just him and me and we forgot the other ten thousand folk.  In fact, I’m quite sure he smiled at me at one point. Sigh.

His wife, Allison Moorer, played the first set and although the best thing about her for me is that she is Steve’s wife, I do enjoy them singing together and she is a good singer of songs.  I do know from reading her blog that they are both readers, and she writes about the books she reads.  So after my soul was totally swelled by the sounds of Steve, I lingered outside his black bus for a good half hour or more with the other diehard Steve fans – all guys wanting to get their albums and CD covers signed.

Fortunately he finally came out and although I wasn’t the first in line, he turned to me (probably because I was the only woman) and I quickly handed him Walking with Wolf. I could tell he was tired and wasn’t going to have patience for long. I told him how thrilled I was to give him these words of mine after all the years that his words have excited me, pushed me, caressed me, comforted me, filled me (actually, I mumbled something much shorter). I truly believe that he and Allison will enjoy Wolf’s story.  I was so moved to be able to give him the book.  He looked me in the face and said “cool, thanks” in his southern drawl and with a tone of surprise, maybe cuz I wasn’t asking for anything, just giving him something. He reached out his arm and I touched it. I’ve still got chills.

These chills were much better than the chills I had all last weekend when I had a reoccurrence of the swollen gland in my neck with a touch of fever that I had about a month ago in Costa Rica.  I finally went to the doctor and got the right drugs and started feeling better, after five days of laying around moaning.  My beautiful neighbour, Genevieve, who left a lovely welcome home spread of wine, cheese and crackers in my fridge, also fed me fresh corn and grilled vegetables through my illness – what a wonderful person to have nearby. 

Once I felt better, I went into Toronto and distributed the book to media outlets and Pages bookstore.  I also put signed copies in the hands of my grand gurus, Bruce and Ken, who were so much a part of the final production of the book and continue to support, encourage and amuse me.  I know I will re-employ their services in the Spanish translation (which Wolf’s son Carlos is now in the process of working on). Meeting these two talented blokes (along with Jane our editor and my old friend Laurie who did the layout) was one of the biggest gifts of the last year.

Now that I am slowly coming back to earth after my near-Steve encounter, I have to get out in that jungle and get it under control.  The next month is so busy with preparing for the book launches in September and for all the visitors who are coming to help me celebrate my 50th birthday at the end of August, that I gotta get those weeds outa my path so I can see the forest through the trees.  But I will be working to the sounds of Steve in my soul, renewed, rejuvenated, re-happy. Consider the following photo a “before” picture…”after” to follow.

November 2017
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