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Have you ever had a chance to listen to the loons? Maybe you’ve heard one mournful melody rising above the pine trees as a lone loon makes its way across a placid lake. Or a reverberating chorus of several, inspired by some unknown catalyst to join together perhaps just for the sheer joy of hearing their own song echo off the rocky cliffs. Since I first heard the call of the loon, a little bit of my soul has always remained floating on a clear freshwater lake waiting for the loons to return and start telling their stories again.

In August, as the northern summer draws to a close – touches of color appearing like rust stains on the green forest, cool mornings demanding you pull the blanket higher – the loons begin to gather. Normally solitary feeders casually swimming about, diving for fish in their own territorial waters, the loons take on a new social pattern in preparation for the migration south. Throughout the summer they may join with three or four of their kind from time to time, but as autumn approaches, they collect in groups of ten, twenty or more, forsaking their independent spirits for the benefits of group travel. There is safety in numbers and efficiency in more eyes looking for food while en route over unfamiliar waters between their northern and southern homes.

It was during this gathering time that I went to N’dakimenan, the land of the Teme-Augama Anishnabai – the deepwater people. The water that is at the center of this Ojibway First Nation is Lake Temagami, the deepwater lake. It is one of my spiritual centers on this planet and the loons are my fellow summer sojourners, all of us drawn northward by instinct and necessity before returning to the south.

My history on Lake Temagami isn’t as ancient as the loons, but it is as natural. It began in the 1980s when I was living further north in Charlton, Ontario and we would head south for canoe trips over Temagami’s extensive series of waterways and portages. It includes the summer of 1984 I spent educating the lake community about the reality of the acidic rain blowing our way from the Ohio valley and the steel mills in the south, threatening the health of the northeastern lakes. It includes years working with the Temagami Wilderness Society to protect the ancient pines and more years spent supporting the Anishnabai’s struggle to regain their inherent rights to N’dakimenan, their land. Chief Gary Potts was the young leader of the community who took them to the Supreme Court seeking a settlement on their land claim and through his intelligent eyes and careful words I absorbed lessons about patience and justice that have helped me in my own struggles. As he said, you can’t cry over each broken twig or you won’t have the strength needed for the struggle that will save the tree that alone the forest. It was helpful counsel back in 1990 as I entered into the long battle with Hodgkin’s Disease. Gary is as much a part of the Temagami landscape as the rock and pines.

My friend Peter McMillen has an island of rock and pine that has been in his family for generations. It is up the north arm of this deceptively huge lake, several watery spokes radiating out of a central hub. The further you move from the hub, the less civilization you encounter. Peter’s island sits between the two canoe-tripping camps I worked at in the 1990s, Keewaydin and Wanapitei. These camps, and the many others like them, are little settlements of history and tradition. Although the wooden buildings and crib docks are inevitably restored and eventually replaced, it is impossible to completely eliminate the spirit of the past. Returning to the lake after four years felt like traveling back in time a half a century.

Peter and Cocky and I had almost two weeks to listen to the loons, swim laps around the island, watch the occasional boat passing by, catch up with friends and gather news from life in the lake community. For the first few days my friend Jeff was with us, a newbie on the lake. I think he would agree that its serenity envelopes you as quickly as you move away from the public landing and head out of the hub.

Jeff left and Laurie – she of ECO Camp – arrived for her own reunion with the lake, as grateful as I for the holistic therapy it provides. The days were gorgeous, blue skies with enough fluffy clouds to add a little filter to the hot sun. It wasn’t until the day before we left that the weather started turning with warnings of a possible tornado that never appeared, but strong enough winds that we kept the boats tied at the dock and ourselves hunkered down in the cabin reading and napping. It was good that the storm didn’t come, as Peter, Cocky and I couldn’t agree among us where to seek shelter from it. I think we all would have run in separate directions and whoever survived the most intact would be rescuing the others with a big “I told you so” attached.

Besides the requisite R & R, socializing is a big part of being on the lake. Ears perk up when a boat motor breaks the silence. Up the north arm there is very little activity, so it is always a possibility that the sound of a boat means visitors, hopefully desirable ones. Some days we’d all pile into Peter’s boat and head off to see the neighbours such as our friends Bruce and Carol Hodgins at Wanapitei.  Sixty years ago, Bruce’s parents took an old fishing camp and later made it into a children’s canoe camp complete with the almost century old stately log chateau that now serves as a rustic bed and breakfast. I worked there for six summers and the place is full of nostalgia for me as it is for the thousands of campers who, over the years, have learned how to paddle canoes through choppy waters, raise a secure tarp in the wind, and cook gourmet meals on a campfire.

Although staff at these camps change regularly, at Wanapitei it is Heffy who is the constant. He came to camp as a teenager in the late 1980s and basically grew up there, amassing the skills to construct cabins out of reused materials and keep old boats and tired machines somehow miraculously running until the camp finally replaces them. He has been the year round caretaker for many years now, enduring the two months of summer craziness when camp is in session for the ten months of peace and solitude, the sweet part of the over-wintering job when he makes drums and watches the snow fly.

 

 

And you never know what you will see on Lake Temagami. It is remote, but there has always been an active community on the lake – whether it was centuries of the Ojibway community spreading out to fish and hunt, or the heyday of tourism in the first half of the 20th century when celebrities like Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford would tour the lake on the steam ship, or the last hundred years of hectic summer canoe camps, the decades of mineral and lumber exploitation and jobs, or the years of political struggles when environmentalists and natives blockaded ill-conceived industrial plans for the land and worked for social justice. It may be northern bush but it is vibrant and always interesting.

One of the rules that Cocky and I always adhered to in our many years of living in the bush and on the lake was that just because you are a forest dweller it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dress for a party. Imagine running into celebrities like Bobby McFerrin or Grey Owl, both among the many Temagami part-timers, in your dungarees? No self-respecting bush babe would let that happen! I once facilitated a magical weekend that brought dignitaries from all over the world to camp on the rocks. In the morning we watched as the wife of a Philippine government official emerged from her tent (first time ever camping) dressed and adorned in gold jewellry like breakfast was being served in the palace! She outshone everyone with her grace and provided us with a little morning star-gazing. Another way to look at it is there is so much green leaf, brown soil and grey rock around, one should always do their part to add a little color and bling to the mix.

As it would turn out, Cocky, who can dress up a brown paper bag and make it look runway-ready, was even in sync with one of the Bear Island dogs, with their matching pink animal prints. That’s what I’m talking about – dress for all occasions!

That occasion was a wonderful barbecue on the shores of Bear island with our old friend John
O and his partner Katy. There is nothing as sweet as cool drinks, cool friends and all the trimmings (like schmores) under the pines as the sun sparkles
across the lake and the loons start their evening song.

In my last blog post I wrote about overcoming despair and living with hope. Spending time in Temagami’s natural splendor is a definite tonic for surviving this troubled world. Cocky and Laurie, both therapists, started tending the germ of an idea they had to create a retreat for activists on Peter’s island (I believe I’d be the cook!). They know that many of the people who are working full time to overcome the environmental and justice challenges of our planet never actually get out in her wild places and definitely need time to replenish their energies, so they brainstormed on the idea of a Temagami retreat for renewal. I bet the fireside discussions would be hot! I’ll keep you posted on their plans.

Temagami has always provided that for me. It is where I spent much of my time while in treatments for cancer in the early 1990s and it is where I retreated to on September 12th 2001, out of range of the horrible images that were spreading over our psyches from New York City. This week is the tenth
anniversary of that unbelievable morning. New York and perhaps the rest of the civilized world changed that day, but the lake, the forest, the rocks and the
loon’s song have remained pretty much the same. The smell of the pines –
whether emitting from the majestic standing groves or wafting as campfire smoke when the trees have died – is my incense. Temagami has been a blessing in my life and fortunately I just drank from her waters and
renewed my spirit once again. Thanks Peter and Cocky. These are precious days.

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Margaret, Paul, K, Jean, Al

I’m spending my summer in Canada as it is meant to be – swimming in refreshing northern waters, enjoying veggies out of the garden and spicy delicacies off the grill, and catching up with friends on their recent projects, latest travels and family happenings. I’m also enjoying the northern landscape – in Eastern Ontario, in July the fields are white with delicate Queen Anne’s Lace blended with blue chicory, and the woods are vibrant green and buzzing with insects.

Beautiful hot sunny weather has followed me wherever I’ve been, but thankfully not as scorching as what people have been experiencing in the south and central United States. I can only hope that many have access to clean water to refresh themselves naturally as I do, but I fear many more are cranking up their air conditioners and escaping inside. It is normal to seek shelter from the harsh elements but living in artificial environments to avoid nature can’t be good for us or the planet.

There are common themes that arise talking with people no matter where you go: the joys and tragedies of living, the burden of too much work or not having enough, the absurdity of what goes on in the world, and the petulance of the weather everywhere. Everyone seems to be witnessing this, some definitely in more extreme ways than others. Social networks help keep us immediately apprised of when a friend in Central America feels a significant earth tremor, another in the southern US is being blinded by the blaring sun, or another is digging through the ruins of a home assaulted by the wild wind. It was one thing when we used to follow these happenings in newspapers, and yet another when we could see the incredible images on television, but now that we can basically watch cataclysmic events as they happen – we can be talking face to face, skyping, with our friends as the waters rise around them – it’s as if we are all on a permanent voyage with Noah and the Arksters and forty days and forty nights may just be the beginning of it.

I was a couple of weeks in eastern Ontario and during that time a fast and furious storm growled its way down the Ottawa River valley. I was in the forest outside of Petawawa with Al and Jean Bair in their beautiful home. We had just finished watching the Japanese women out-kick the USA team in the women’s soccer finals, something I think gave most people watching a warm glow. Japan deserves whatever joy it can muster these days following their horrifying experiences with chaotic weather. And for those of us who like underdogs, this was truly the little guy beating the big guy, literally.

We were going to move on to watching the semi-final of the Copa America – big Brasil was about to get knocked out of the competition by little Paraguay (an apparent theme of the day) – but decided to get dinner together first. We had been inside watching the game, so didn’t realize how dark the sky had turned outside. As the BBQ was warming up on the deck, the wind picked up and within minutes trees were bending to the ground and anything not secured was flying. Pellets of water struck us and the sky crackled with electricity. Soon the drops joined together into a wall of water and as quickly as Al was drenched, the power also went out and we were searching for flashlights – we remained without power for 24 hours, the first time Al and Jean remember that happening in decades of living here.

At the same time, their son, Brad, who lives two hours away in Ottawa, was about to head out to the field with his daughter’s soccer team. Al called to warn him that if the wind picked up he should get everyone off the field since a doozy of a storm was coming. Turns out, as soon as they got on the field, the storm hit, debris started flying, hurricane winds and a downpour pushed them back to their cars just in time to watch a lightning bolt strike a tree on the edge of the pitch.

Not far away from Brad, at the Ottawa Bluesfest, the storm hit with a wallop.  Thousands of people were rocking to Cheap Trick, and just as they left the stage, the whole thing collapsed in the winds and heavy rain. The band wasn’t hurt and fortunately only a few others were hit by flying debris, but I have no doubt it was a very scary experience for the thousands present, especially those just leaving the stage.

That storm could be seen from my friends’ home two hours north, up the Ottawa River valley in Mattawa. Thankfully, it didn’t hit Patti and Leo, but they could see the black churning clouds across the Ottawa River in Quebec and hear the sinister warning rumbles of thunder. They buttoned down their own hatches but fortunately were out of its range. As it was, Cheap Trick was to play the following Saturday night at an outdoor festival in Mattawa, and fortunately they had a beautiful clear starry night for their show. I can’t help but wonder if they were feeling vulnerable. Just as people suffer from fear of flying and heights, I would think that fear of
whacko storms is an anxiety condition on the rise.

My days with Al and Jean began with a get together with some other Canadian Monteverdians – siblings Margaret Adelman and Paul Smith. We gathered at their northern home near Lake Dory in the Ottawa Valley. It was a Friday afternoon, so Margaret and I were feeling the pull of the regular Monteverde Scrabble game. Alas, we were the only two players so we weren’t able to get a game going. Instead we all walked down the road to the lake for a late afternoon swim. After the cool waters of the Atlantic in Maine, I found the water very warm, especially for early July. Even a Costa Rican could swim in this water.

It was a perfect lazy summer day to sit and talk. Paul showed me his workshop where he continues to make violins and play them as well. Margaret and Paul make music together in their little home on land that belonged to their grandfather. It is always nice to see where people call home, even when they may say that about more than one place. Even though I don’t have a bed of my own these days, I don’t think of myself as homeless, but instead feel homefull, feeling serene and comfortable in a number of settings.

Another part of my eastern Ontario tour was seeing old friends from my days working at Wanapitei, a canoeing camp on Lake Temagami a few hours further north. I worked there for six summers in the 1990s and my working partner and best buddy during those years was Cathy Fretz, a Tasmanian devil when it comes to work and play. We had both wonderful and hard times working our butts off in the bush at this often insane place, but survived the wild summers at camp by sticking together.

Fretz and her second husband Gerry built a home surrounded by hay fields and woodlots on land where Fretz raised her three daughters from an earlier marriage. The new house is several grades of luxury up from the original one, and the land has never looked so good, but there is plenty of the past still being honored. Old tool sheds, mature pine trees planted when her kids were small, a collection of rusted farm machinery, mementoes of their lives everywhere.

We had dinner with three other Temagami camp alumni, Fretz’ sister, Lexa, and her husband, Matt, and her son, Dan. We all worked together at either Wanapitie or Keewaydin and have many tales of life in the camps and on that magical deep water lake to
remember.


They recently built a new home looking over marshlands with forested hills in the distance. What an amazing landscape to watch and listen to. With a cast of silent herons and a chorus of frogs, that watery bog will go through its seasonal transformations -hidden under a blanket of white snow then bursting alive in the spring, to lazy summer swampiness and colourful autumn stillness before returning to that frozen pristine state again. What a beautiful place to call home.

We dined on Lexa’s great cooking – more delicious dishes than I can remember, each one better than the last – and did what old friends are prone to do: laugh about the past, remember things in unique ways, feel like no time at all has passed since we were last together, even though the proof of everyone’s labour is all around us. Friendship is a lovely thing.

I got a chance to see another of my ol’ dog friends, Harley. About seventeen years ago, as a favor to Fretz and Lexa, I picked up Harley and her brother, whose name was always complicated and escapes me, from the farm where they were born near
Petawawa. They were a little young to leave home and they cried the whole five hour trip north to Wanapitei, where I thankfully handed them over to their new mothers. The other pup didn’t live long, but Harley has become a fine old dame of a dog and is finishing out her years on the veranda of Fretz and Gerry’s country house. We have been close since Harley imprinted on me in the van all those years ago and then spent summers together at camp. She never forgets me even if years pass between visits. I felt very lucky to have had a chance to see her, as it is hard to imagine she will go on much longer. Seventeen is a very respectable age for a dog.

Our time on earth is so short, delicate and unpredictable. I have learned to accept my vulnerability but tend to see life as a game of chance that can go any which way, rather than an endurance test, though it does often feel like that too. We can survive numerous drawn out calamities and then succumb to a bolt of lightning. Some live well beyond a normal life span, and if they are fortunate, live it well. Others live very short and ultimately tragic lives. I don’t sit waiting for that lightning bolt, but I do like the buzz of electricity in the air and the smell of fresh rain – it all awakens my senses.

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.

rhubarb

Another week has passed – finally, time is going quickly. I’m less than a week away from heading back to Costa Rica. Although I’ve been super busy, these two months seemed to have passed very slowly. I think the pace picked up in New York City – since that great night in the Big Apple, time has been on my side. Now it is working against me as I try to take care of book business, prepare my house for Ben, who is going to come and live in my house this summer, and cut the vegetation in my urban jungle back as much as possible, including a rotten tree that has been dropping big limbs over the last year. What seemed like it was taking ages to get here is now around the corner and I’m rushed.

my home

The pear tree is blanketed in blossoms, the tulips are kissing, the young leaves are stretching, and so the great summer growth has begun. Although I’m appreciating springtime in all its beauty, my heart is elsewhere and so I’m thinking more about what is happening with the sticks of ylang ylang and croton that I put in the ground back on Roberto’s land in Cahuita – he’s told me they are coming along slowly. For a gardener, planting in the tropics and planting in the temperate zones of Canada are total opposites, although here in the Hammer, it isn’t anything like the north where I lived for years. But the north is the north – while the temperature is just heating up here, I’m packing clothes for the constant warmth and humidity of the Caribbean coast.

snow

Last week I left Philadelphia and New York City in temperatures hovering around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (that night out in NYC was like steamy mid-July), by the time I got to Petawawa and my friends the Bairs, it was much cooler, and there was still a big pile of snow trying to melt at the end of their driveway. It was warm enough to walk without a jacket in the daytime – but I feel like I’ve spent the last two weeks changing clothes, adjusting layers and looking out at blue skies that mask the chill in the air. Soon I’ll be where hot is just…hot.

fretz

While at the Bair’s beautiful home, I managed to sell a few books to visitors – among them my good friend Fretz, who I worked with for years at Camp Wanapitei on Lake Temagami in the 90s. It seems to get harder and harder to see each other, but she came for one of Al’s great dinners and we caught up – that will have to do for awhile. I’ve lived and worked in a lot of places throughout my life and hang on to my friends. I return to visit them when possible, love to see them when they come and visit me wherever that may be. Once in awhile you either lose touch or give up on friendships that are no longer working, but for the most part, if you have loved people, it is always wonderful to reconnect. Although time may change your situations, it doesn’t need to change the spark that made you friends.

the bairs

That last week of my road trip was made up of visiting friends like that – people I have loved for years who live in eastern parts of Ontario – as I wound my way home to the Hammer. Al and Jean Bair are on the top of the list. I met them in 1995 when they had a home near Monteverde in Costa Rica.

rebecca family

They have a fascinating, dynamic, purely positive large family who I also adore – I was meant to be from a big family but missed my chance in this life. So I grasp onto large families like a street mutt – if they will take me in, I’ll love ‘em forever. And the Bairs are one of my favorite. Al and Jean came into my life right at the time my own parents died and although I don’t think of them as surrogate parents, they have been part of my Costa Rican life and my Canadian life and have dispensed great advice and supported me emotionally. And we constantly laugh and discuss serious politics and philosophy – Al’s favorite line about me is that I have a serious speech impediment – I have to stop talking to breathe once in awhile. I’d say he suffers equally but I’m not sure he’d agree.

the happy bairs

We had four wonderful days together catching up on my travels and their recent trip to southeast Asia. They listened to me moan on about my kabanga blues, and sent me off down the road with renewed vigor, as if I had just spent a week at the spa. Love those folks.

Next stop was in Westport where there is a whole whack of friends who I can’t get enough of. I’ve seriously looked at property there a couple of times in the past ten years but never made the move. If things truly happen for a reason, perhaps I wasn’t meant to be there so that I could make this move to Cahuita – it would be much more difficult if I was in the middle of developing a beautiful piece of property in eastern Ontario.

picking leeks

I went and visited my friend Paul McKay – musician and investigative journalist extraordinaire. He has written several books, most recently on the scandalous marketing of nuclear reactors by the Ontario government at a time when the rest of the world is taking to the alternative technologies – wind and solar – that are available and functioning well. Speaking with people of great knowledge and intelligence like Paul always gives me great hope for the future – his optimism points to the good things going on in the world, advances that you don’t hear about in the media. Paul lives in the bush, where he picked wild leeks (one of my favorite Ontario bush foods – makes the best French Onion Soup) for our dinner, and then we passed the evening doing what we both love – listening to a wide array of fantastic music, dancing, talking.

pilates machine

This particular evening was augmented by his strange pilates machine I spent a long time exercising on (kinda gym-dancing) while I listened to the music – by the time I got off of it, my poor legs, atrophied from close to three weeks driving a car, were cramped from top to bottom, but a little more dancing was the cure. Although I expected to be crying out with cramps in the night, it didn’t happen.

I went into Kingston the next day to see Turid Forsyth’s beautiful artwork in a show put on by the Kingston Field Naturalists. I’ll be speaking at their October meeting (third Thursday in October) about Wolf and Monteverde. Turid lives near Kingston but also in Monteverde – and so I see her in both countries and it is always an interesting time. She is a very talented writer, gardener, artist and photographer. How lucky am I to know these people?

faeries hill

The night was a big fiesta for Carolyn – her 50th – played out at her and Chuck’s home on Faeries Hill. This is a house totally off the grid – a wind turbine was reeling in the stiff breeze, the solar panels were cooking in the sunshine, and the power came in to fuel the rockin’ band of Spencer Evans, the Cowen brothers and Bunny Stewart, a hot sax player from Kingston.

spencer and boys

I’ve talked about these guys before, playing at the Cowen family’s bed and breakfast, The Cove in Westport. Spencer puts on a great show with his incredible array of tunes and sometimes it gets kinda “shticky” for the crowd at the restaurant – but those talented twins, Seamus and Jeff Cowen, just keep the whole thing going as a tight jazz duo behind whatever Spencer decides to do with his piano, clarinet and voice.

seamus

However, for this occasion, they lowered the “shtick” and raised the bar, and along with the smokin’ saxophone, performed a very funky show that kept us dancin’, dancin’, dancin’. This is always a dance floor that is full of spirit and joy and beautiful people.

girls with attitude

b-daySo big happy birthday to Ms Carolyn – take it from your slightly older fifty-ish friend – it only gets better as long as you got the right attitude (and good health and a little bit of luck on the side) – and honey, you got it!

jig the hoopster

And just throwing in a plug for all the hard work Carolyn’s been doing with everybody’s favorite Basenji dog, Zig – he can now jump through her hooped arms – we made him do it a quadrillion times as I tried to capture the movement in the right moment on film…he was exhausted by the end of it (already worn out from a night of partying) but just kept jumping. Love that Zigmeister.

I carried on to Toronto, still heading home – to catch my friends Donna Akrey and Janine Miedzik’s show on the Danforth – “Oh”. Donna lives in Montreal where she teaches art at Concordia so I rarely get to see her anymore. Over the years I’ve gone to many of her art shows which usually involve documenting or collecting junk off the streets and creating installations and bizarre scenarios. Recycling and reusing with a fine arts degree. I’d say a great use of higher education. Oh yah.

tory

The last night of my road trip was spent with my pals Jamie and Tory (along with Jamie’s mom, Joan, and their houseboy, Chris) in Toronto – dining outdoors, throwing toys for Mazie the beagle and enjoying the last night of these three weeks on the road with wonderful friends. It really has been a fantastic time. I put off returning to my house as long as possible – a full day in TO with Sol buying a Blackberry for a friend in Costa Rica was really pushing the limit on avoidance – as I knew that the moment I got in the door the work would begin, and now it has. So enough already, there is a tree to come down, a garden to seriously weed, and a blue sky to enjoy. And only six days left before my heart starts to sing again. Oh yah!

redwinged blackbird

August 2019
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