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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Here I am lounging on a beautiful screened-in porch, listening to a chorus of insects, overlooking the queen-anne’s laced fields on the outskirts of Westport. That would be in Leeds County, north of Kingston, Ontario. This is one of my favorite homes away from home – in no small part due to the great community of people I know here, starting with my friends Chuck and Carolyn, with who I usually stay while in the area. They have built a large off-the-grid home and performance space a few kilometers from town but sleep year round out on their (now) screened in porch.
Chuck has been a long time proponent of, expert on, and purveyor of alternative technologies – this building puts it all into practice – wind-generation and solar collection maintain a perfectly modern building as well as providing the power for the nights that plugged-in musicians are performing in “the room”. Carolyn is one of those performers as well as a great artist – she also took the photo of me on the back of Walking with Wolf in the snow in a field at their place.
I came down for Music Westport – a daylong free outdoor event that Chuck and others in the community started last year. Highlighting music from the general Kingston/Perth/Ottawa Valley area, last year was a great success – beautiful day, great attendance, increased business for the little boutique town, and amazing performances in a variety of musical genres. This year’s crazy storms and downpours will hopefully make themselves scarce for the day – the weather report is good but I guess if it does rain, it will send the people into the restaurants and stores and that will be good for business, if bad for music lovers. As always, I’m sure it’ll all work out.
One of the main attractions in this town are the musical twins, the Cowan brothers. Their family owns The Cove, a bed & breakfast inn, which sits prettily by the lake and has that old Ontario charm. They have a nice restaurant with many special dinner occasions and a great staff who provide real good service. Jeff and Seamus, the twins, returned a few years ago from Montreal where they both studied music, and have brought their energy and musical talents home with them and amped up the entertainment in the Cove- now there are monthly blues concerts throughout the winter, featuring the best in Canadian blues performers (via the Blues on the Rideau music series) which fill the house. The rest of the year features regular nights of music.
One of these is the trio of the twins with the eccentric Spencer Evans from Kingston. He is a multi-instrumentalist, and manipulator of tunes – he creates song mixes that leave you speechless (I think last year he put Led Zeppelin and Feelings together), performed with a great amount of spunk and attitude. But the backbone to all the schtick (a very talented schtick it tis) are the twins – Jeff drumming, Seamus on stand-up bass – they keep the jazz licks rolling while Spencer rolls across the keyboard, off the lyrical map, or through the audience with his clarinet. I came in last night to catch the show and do some dancing – the place was packed and rocking. I couldn’t help but notice that the little Cove is growing – getting a name for itself with the quality of music being played and the friendly ambience.
Jeff and Seamus play in other bands as well – I saw them recently in Toronto as Spoon River – along with sitting in with the musicians who grace the stage at the Cove – and I’m always impressed by their talent. Even more so because they not only play music but mix drinks, serve tables and then play more music – they do it all, with big smiles and obvious intelligence and an easy manner with their clientelle. I would say that just these two alone will create a buzz in Westport that’ll bring folks from far away – and there is no shortage of other talented folks and interesting businesses in this community, as well as the classic beauty of lake-filled scenery.
I dropped some books off at Stillwater Books in town. When I walked by a little later, there was Walking with Wolf on display in the window – how cool was that! I tell you, I’m very new at this book peddling business, and I get a thrill each time I sell one, I see someone reading one, or I see it on a shelf somewhere. Now in a window! May I never take this rush for granted. So thanks, my new best friend Steve, for being a fine purveyor of my book….
…..I’m now back in Hamilton, the weekend a huge success and the return trip highlighted by picking my sister Maggie up at the airport in Toronto. She has come for my big 50th birthday bash on Saturday. I did some business in Toronto as well, trying to get a poster together for my book events coming up, working with the lovely Bruce MacLean on computer stuff.
Music Westport flowed beautifully. The day was clear, sunny, not too hot or cool, just perfect. The bands were varied and all entertaining. The highlight for the audience seemed to be The Abrams Brothers – the hottest bluegrass band in the area, I think they are from Peterborough – three young brothers, their father and a couple of others (not sure if they were family or not, maybe grandpa and cousin – I missed the introductions).
They travel in a bus, have been all over North America, including Nashville at the Grand Ol Opry, and Israel in the last year. A huge crowd came out on the lawn behind the Foley House to hear them. The brothers play stand up bass, fiddle, and guitar – as well as a second fiddle at times. And sweet harmonies they sing.
The day started with the very silly Bald like Dad, amusing the kids, getting the folks on their feet, demanding a little class participation. A lot of talent disguised as a free-for-all of fun. My pal Cocky showed those young kids how to shake it.
Carolyn’s eclectic trio, Romeria, were this year’s roving band. Carolyn, Isidora, and Rob put their accordian, drum, recorders and a variety of stringed instruments together to play gypsy music and old minstrel pieces – they are purveyors of the ancient and exotic. They played a set on a small stage at the Victorian B&B on Church Street and then spent a couple of hours roaming the streets, playing their unique brand of european pop tunes from the 16th century…give or take a hundred years.
The Cowan brothers joined in with their old bandmate and friend Eric Lawrance – together they were a band called Bullmoose, a rocking band with great licks based in Montreal. Eric did a solo performance and the twins played a couple with him.
Then there was Lance Anderson,a well-known player of the B3-Hammond organ. It took a team to wrestle that baby around. The show was worth the effort – that rippling down your back organ thing, makes ya shiver. Made me think of Garth Hudson and Richard Bell. The trio also played inside at night, with Teresa Holierhoek singing – apparently just off a tour with Dream Girls – a hot smokey bar room sound.
A big treat for me was seeing my pals MC Rapper and Stu the Pike reunite with David Bull in their Buddy Holly Live act. I have known these boys for years but they stopped playing this show about five years ago and I had never caught it. They have a whole historical commentary going on, each taking turns playing their parts, covering the history of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, their short year and a half life as a band before he was lost in an airplane crash. Buddy Holly Live does it all justice and insists that you dance. It ended out the perfect afternoon beside the lake, under the blue sky, soaking up the sun, groovin’.
The last of our energy went out that night to the sounds of the band Pica de Gallo from Kingston. Hot hot latin rhythms, a great singer, samba, rumba, salsa, all heavy-handed and piquante. It was down to the diehards at the end of the night – even my pal Chuck, who was still working sound at the end of the night, after a long day on the boards, was out there dancing. Gotta love that man, the attitude keeps him going.
Great work Chuck, Brin, Norman and all – alot of folks get a free afternoon in the sun with great music because of all that effort of yours.
Besides my book-in-the-window experience there were three other Walking with Wolf moments on the weekend. One was a short visit with Turid Forsyth, who lives near Westport but also has a home in Monteverde. I took her a book but couldn’t stay long. Turid’s stunning art and photographs have graced many books, most recently a book, Tropical Plants of Costa Rica: A guide to the native and exotic flora, with Willow Zuchowski.
The second was a small world moment. At the end of the day of music, we were on the lawn at the Cove, talking with friends, including a woman named Barb. Cocky and I left to change our clothes and later meet up with everyone for dinner at Marty and Sandy’s. After I left, Sandy was explaining to Barb who we were, saying that I had just come back from Monteverde, having written a book there. Barb’s jaw dropped – she said, “I was just in Monteverde and I know about this book. My friend has a copy of it and was telling me about it.”
Turns out that Barb and I had met about a month ago in Santa Elena, on the street, under umbrellas in the pouring rain, so we didn’t remember each other well. She was down with a student group from Toronto, with Jim Reed and his partner Tanya, part-time residents of Monteverde. JR was on the big hike to Arenal with me last year, the story that makes up the last chapter of Walking with Wolf. And Barb had met him just last winter in Whistler, B.C. and had ended up substituting for a teacher on the excursion. She came to Sandy’s for dinner and as soon as we started talking, we knew that we had actually met recently. She has lived in the Westport area yet we have never met here, even though I’ve been there often over many years and know many of the folks that she does. We had to wait to be in a rainstorm in Costa RIca for that event.
Walking with Wolf continues to make community connections even up here in the north country. It is a side effect of this project that I didn’t anticipate but am enjoying daily.
The third book-related event was the fact that it was Wolf’s 78th birthday on Sunday. So I called him and we a good chat, catching up on family stuff, hearing of the birthday celebrations, and a little book business. Happy Birthday my friend, and many many more…it is now time for me to get busy with my part of the preparations for my big 50th birthday party – Mike and Freda Cole are pulling out all the stops for a big celebration at their place – really, all I have to do is invite people, give directions and show up – the Westport gang are coming to provide music – there will be many purveyors of all fine things purveying that day – it is starting to be known as Kaystock! So if you are in the area on August 23, come on over, and bring your dancing shoes!