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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
So 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!
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.
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!
This is the scariest week of the year. Of course, many of us say that every year, especially those of us who jump into Halloween festivities with a fever. I have always loved Halloween – probably got started with the candy thing. We didn’t have access to candy then the way I think many kids do now. Candy was doled out on special occasions or we saved our little quarter-a-week allowance to indulge ourselves. I remember how big a pillow case of candy seemed, even before the days of king size pillows.
I do know that it was always the costume-making and masquerading that was the big draw for me. I can remember a long line of great costumes, each year learning something more about what makes the perfect outfit. Besides being silly, sexy, literal, conceptual, colorful, creepy, and highly original, the costume receiving high marks from me has a lot to do with how functional it is, as in you should be able to walk. I learned that when I was about eleven, when I tried walking around the block trick-or-treating wrapped up like a mummy – forced to take miniscule steps, barely able to lift my legs up stairs, generally being so slow and awkward that I was left behind by my older sister and her friends, who, let’s face it, were happy to ditch me.
Then once I was older and going to parties and bars, there was the matter of dance-able costumes as in you must be able-to-dance… not too hot, not with extremity add-ons that can trip you or hurt other people on the dancefloor, not masks that you can’t breathe or see, or an ensemble that has to be pulled apart and tossed aside within the first half hour. One of my favorite works-of-costume was transforming my mother’s wedding dress into a mermaid outfit years ago – green shiny sequined material for the long fish-tail sewn onto the lacy white bodice of Mom’s dress. I controlled the tail with a string attached to it from my wrist. It was all-in-all a very comfortable fun costume – the only trouble was when I got too far into character and jumped into the kiddies apple-bobbing basin like a mermaid-outa-water who had just returned to the sea. The big galvanized bobbing tub fit me nicely – but sent all the kids running to the parents crying, “Mom, Kay just sat in the apple-bobbing water. YUCK! We can’t bob for those apples now!” I tell ya – some people’s kids…
So I carry on each year, searching for great costume ideas, always happy when something works out real well. This year, having just returned from several weeks away in the US, England and Spain, all I could do was throw a bunch of sarongs and pearls into a bag along with a great pair of shoes that I had bought at an amity years ago for a costume but never worn. I arrived on Friday at my friend Carolyn’s and said, “Please make me into a costume”. These thrown-together things often work out just swell – and so it was that I became some sort of Haitian voodoo queen with cleavage…and great shoes.
But first, being the scariest week and all, there was a freaky story to be told when I arrived at Carolyn and Chuck’s house near Westport. They have the cutest little dog, Ziggy (or Zigmeister, Ziggidy-dooda, the Zigster…). He is a beauty, a mid-sized dog of African descent – a Basenji – that Chuck brought home about a year and a half ago. All the extended family and friends have fallen in love with him. Reading about the breed, I found that Basenji’s are hunters with cat-characteristics and “silent voices”….it is true, Ziggy doesn’t bark all that much, always a loveable trait especially in small dogs.
About three weeks ago, Carolyn had gone walking with Zig, leaving their home, across Faerie’s Hill (where the magic people dwell), through the backfields, her eye to the colored foliage along the windrows. They heard coyotes as they went along, Zig’s ears perking up with each sound. Being a natural hunter, he doesn’t particularly shy away from things, but up until this point it has only been a case of keeping him inside at night so he doesn’t mess with the skunks. At one point Carolyn saw three coyotes a good distance away, walking along a path that follows the edge of the field. Zig took notice and went running to them – so fast that Carolyn couldn’t stop him – and the coyotes advanced towards him. Next thing, one of the coyotes had picked the Zigitito up and tried to run, little black and white body in his mouth.
As Carolyn told it, this all happened in a few loud heartbeats. She went running, arms flapping, screaming toward the canine chaos. The other two coyotes ran away but the one with Zig tried to keep him. Zig isn’t that small and no doubt fought back. The coyote finally had to drop him as Carolyn arrived.
Ziggy was gashed up pretty good but had survived – nipped Carolyn as she tried to pick him up so we figure he had got a few good ones in on the coyote as well. Carolyn carried him back over the fields and took him to the vet for a buncha stitches. When Chuck came home a few hours later, as he put it, Carolyn was more freaked out than Zig – who was basically just stoned on pain killers and (maybe) just happy to be alive.
I’m happy to report that Zig is now, three weeks on, feeling back to himself and the hair on his shaven wound areas is growing back. Everyone I talked to in town was talking about poor little Zig (and poor big Carolyn) and we are all glad that he survived and wasn’t taken into coyote slavery – or worse. There is a sad story out in eastern Ontario this week – very scary for the owners of the missing wallaby known as Wendell – who got loose last week and has been spotted far from home (but, come to think of it, getting closer to Chuck & Carolyn’s home). I hope that he is caught and returned home, because this wallaby won’t survive the winter, that alone dogs, cars, coyotes, etc. So if you see a fleeing wallaby, you know what to do (throw a pillow over his head and call…)
Saturday afternoon I spent a couple of nice hours at Stillwater Books in Westport – hanging with my friend Steve Scanlon and signing books. We had a few visitors – and sold a nice number of books. It was great to see some folks I haven’t seen in awhile and don’t get to see often, and trade Wolf stories with some other folks who have been to Monteverde and met him. Steve and I are going to think up a different approach next summer – maybe an outdoor table, some music and food??
On Saturday night was the spook-tacula-fiesta. This was the fourth annual at Chuck and Carolyn’s off-the-grid music hall out there on Faerie’s Hill (where the spooky people lurk) and keeps growing. This year was the best hardcore group of dancers you could wish for. At most points in the night there were more people on the dance floor than around the edges. My kinda crowd.I used my sarongs and pearls and Carolyn not only put a great face on me (she knows how to make great lips) but tied her and my hair up around yogurt containers to great effect. I think I’ll try it with coconut shells some night I’m going out and see if anyone notices. I was colorful (check), comfortable (check), sexy in a creepy voodoo kinda way (check), and had the best dancing shoes on that kept my feet moving all night (check check). We danced our dead souls alive – but also wandered out into the frosty forest and looked at the dozens of carved pumpkins that were waiting out there. A store in Westport (the Life is Good people) had organized a hundred or more pumpkins to be lit along the town dock and once Halloween was over, encouraged people to take them. Carolyn and Chuck were able to bring a bunch to light along their long drive, their flickering orange faces welcoming the folks, and then scattered through the woods of Faerie’s Hill (where the pumpkin people grow).
I really appreciate when people put a little thought into the costumes and this was no exception – we had tall shiny people, finely dressed damsels, a lovely whirling dervish and a whole bunch of men in various costumes but with very similar hats.
The best costume though was the simplest – by putting on just the right duds – bicycle helmet, rayon summer shirt and shorts – and gluesticking a little ball of white cotton fluff on his chin, a friend of Chuck’s came dressed – as Chuck. We all knew who Brin was immediately – if Chuck hadn’t been so made up as Beetlejuice, we wouldn’t have known the difference between them.
Now the scariest part of the week. It is the eve of the Great American Election. I can’t even imagine how most people I know would feel if Obama isn’t elected. I refuse to dwell on it, but the thought crosses my mind. And the safety of this courageous man and his young family also crosses my mind, as I know it does most people I know.
Keep him safe. Let things be as they should. Give the world some good news so that we can at least for awhile believe that positive change is possible in the too often over-whelmingly long tunnel of negativity in this world.
There is nothing like having cancer at 31 years of age, and seriously facing your mortality, to put a different spin on birthdays. I don’t mind the idea of getting older, I’m just happy to be alive. I feel that it has all been a gift, the last twenty years, and each year that passes is another deposit in my giftbag. So turning fifty hasn’t bothered me at all. The giftbag grows. As it happened, my 50th birthday party was the best way possible for entering the next part of my life. It was a party held out on Yasgar’s, I mean Cole’s, farm, I mean property, half an hour out of Hamilton. And will be now and forever known as Kstock.
Friends are the best. I come from a very small family – one sister, neither of us with children – our parents having died over ten years ago. In the background is a large Ukrainian clan but they mostly live far away. Vi and Andy taught us to nourish and honor our friendships and both my sister Maggie and I have benefited from their counsel. And now that I am fifty, with no children, and Maggie and her husband Tom living far away in Washington State, it is even more important that I have great friends. And they really came out of the woods for my birthday, and many of them really cranked it out to make it a great one.
Chuck, Mike, Freda, MaggieMike and Freda Cole, who have held some rocking parties over the years, know how to do it. Freda, east coast gal, can’t make enough food (and others contribute) and it is always beyond delicious. We will never starve at one of her gatherings. Mike takes care of the outdoor details – together they make everything flow. They are both real gracious hosts when the strangers start arriving and welcome all into their home. They moved to this big old farmhouse over a year ago and it is definitely made for holding an event like Kstock. There must have been close to one hundred folks there, but we were spread out around the property, there was lots of room for camping, lots of room for dancing – people could wander off for private tete-a-tetes, or whatever you might wanna do in the bushes.
Maggie & MIke on the bacon
My seeester Maggie came from Washington State and spent a couple days with Freda and Mike getting ready, helping Freda with food, and making the huge signs that could be seen a kilometer away on the road – “Kstock 2008” – for those who didn’t know where they were going. The Kstock thing started with my friends Treeza and Rick north of Toronto (and Terry, Steve and Gloria), who not only started saying “we’re going to Kstock” but on my birthday card Rick provided a copy of his original ticket from the real Woodstock – kinda brought it all together.
Treeza & get-down Gloria
Chuck, Stu, Dawson & Coral
Then the gang from Westport came to truly turn it into a musical happening. Chuck, Carolyn, Marty, Sandy, Stu, Dave, Helen, John, Susan, Dawson and Coral filled their vehicles (a bad day for footprints in carbon) with instruments, speakers and camping gear and brought their various musical talents up the highway.
Nineth Line – a jump ‘n jive band kept us hopping;
Then the “other band” played by the campfire with mandolin, accordian, stand up bass and guitar, beautiful renditions of bluegrass, country and folk tunes (most notably, for this little Steve Earle worshipper, Copperhead Road). The music never stopped from early in the evening till I don’t know when in the early morning hours. Nineth Line had learned a couple new songs for the occasion – I’ve been bugging them to learn a Latin rhythm or two and they got it done. They were hot that night, and just kept getting hotter as the night went on.
Since I love to dance more than just about anything (well, dancing on a big rock in the middle of a lush forest beside a lake with a beautiful man who dances is ideal) this party played out just as I would hope to celebrate…we danced from start to finish, and I saw most of the folks up on their feet at some point. Of course, in Canada I’ve always found the dance floors filled more with females than males and this night was no exception – I’ll always remember a wild night in Montezuma, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, when there were about thirty men dancing and only four women. Now that! was a dream…but I digress.
Then there were the people who had come from far and wide for the occasion: my sister probably came the furthest, from the mountains of Washington State. But the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee were represented by our friend Kathy Lowery, who left Hamilton and married an old sweetheart (and he is), Stan, a few years ago. Freda, our friend Dean, and I have ventured down a few times to Tennessee to visit them on their beautiful porch that looks out on those perty mountains. In that time we’ve become friends with some of theirs, particularly William and Missy Murphy and William’s parents Gerry and Shorty. We’ve spent a lot of hours on Kathy’s porch with the gang playing bluegrass and singing. William’s dad, Gerry, has been struggling with cancer for a couple of years and without him able to join in, William and Missy stopped playing music. At Kstock, they got up on the stage and sang a few sweet songs again, despite the lengthy absence from strumming and singing, and it was wonderful to hear them. They’ve got a couple of the biggest warmest smiles in the state, and that they would jump on their motorcycle and drive north from Tennessee for Kstock was another gift in my giftbag.
A couple days before the party, I got a phone call from my friend Jean Trickey, from Little Rock, Arkansas, who said she had booked her ticket and was on her way! We’ve managed to spend some great weekends together in the last couple of years, her daughter’s wedding in Little Rock, and the 50th Anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, of which Jean is one of those brave teenagers who back in 1957 walked through the hateful crowd to be one of the first black kids to attend Central High School. I had gone last year to Little Rock for the 50th, (a phenomenal occasion it was), seen John Lewis the freedom fighter, met Ruby Bridges the little girl in the Norman Rockwell painting, shook Bill Clinton’s hand, got snagged on his secret service guy…again, I digress…but Jean had been so busy on these occasions that we really only got to talk a bit late at night when she finally could sit down. So to have her come for the weekend for my birthday, stay for a few days and have some down time to just talk (alot about Barack and Hillary of course), to dance as we love to do, and to see her get up on the stage and belt out “Women be wise, keep your mouth shut, don’t advertise your man” (a wise old song) was another big deposit in the gift bag.
Jean being here brought out her sons Isaiah (we had real Toronto paparazzi there) and Sol from Toronto and their kids, Amelia and Jaaziah, who added extra joy and energy to the occasion. (Many of these photos were from either Isaiah, Peter or Marty – thanks guys)
K, Sol, Isaiah, & Miss Kathy from Tennessee
The Trickey clan is always interesting, fun, dynamic, and loud (in this gang, I don’t feel like the loudest in the room) – great to have three generations represented at Kstock. (Notice the photographic image of me on the cake – what will we eat next?)
Kay, Sol, Amelia & Jaaziah talk cake business
And then there was my soul sister Cocky who lives in a nature sanctuary outside of Freeport, Maine and her partner Peter MacMillen. They had been up in Temagami, on Peter’s beautiful island, and came down from the north for the event. Cocky has been here in the Hammer often, but Peter went well out of his way for this one.
And along with my close friends Linda and Bill Murray from Charlton (along with Jean and Cocky, we all lived up in the Temiskaming area of northeastern Ontario for years – the Murrays still do), Patti and Leo Lessard and Terry and Ted from Mattawa, they brought the fresh clean northern air down to the Hammer. Cocky, Jean and I are a feisty trio when we get together, which doesn’t happen very often, but I love these women and to have a few days together was beautiful.
Beyond these folks there was Bill and Cheryl from Virginia, Lynda and Carole representing Guelph, friends from Toronto, Freda’s family, fine Hammerfolk and good neighbours, a number of old high school friends I hadn’t seen in years, the now-getting-old kids of friends, and a couple of my favorite dogs, Alpha and Ziggy. It all added up to the best party ever.
After this wild summer of rain and thunderstorms, the sky was completely clear, the temperature perfect all night long for being outside dancing (I guess some people were sitting) or around the campfire, people camped in comfort and peace, and we all woke up to more sunshine. Freda and Mike and gang made us a big breakfast, only after making a deal with the Swingers to play just a few more tunes in the morning. That Stu can drum on anything! We swam in the pool and I opened my gifts (the ones not already in the giftbag).
Stu, John & Marty, most of the Swingers
I ceremoniously burned the box full of paper copies of Walking with Wolf (Steve Earle was doing his Sirius radio show in the background as this happened – it was all so poignant). I have been printing out copies of the manuscript for how many years? and no longer need them, so I put the box on the coals and slowly watched it catch fire and disintegrate. It was a cleansing and a celebration. If I do nothing else of value in my life, I managed to get this book written and published while Wolf and I are still alive, and miraculously before I turned 50!
It was at the moment that the last of the overnight guests had got in their cars and honked their way down the road, leaving only Freda, Mike, Maggie, Cocky, Jean and I with Isaiah and Jaaziah, that the storm hit. Everything had been cleaned up, put inside, as we could see the storm approaching over the fields. There was some heavy rain that we watched from the porch, amazed that this whole outdoor event went on without a hitch, not a drop of rain to spoil anything, no chance for a mud-dance like at the real Woodstock. Just as the storm seemed to have subsided there was one HUGE thunderclap with one HUGE bolt of lightning – Jean was just putting her hand on the outhouse door and was shook to her bones. Jaaziah was in the car, but Isaiah was still outside and could hear the sizzle of electricity in the air. I think Jean’s hair went a little curlier and we all jumped and were rocked all over. Just one CLAP that carried the power of the whole dark sky. How lucky were we that none of us were hurt by this extremely close electrical jolt – it would have been a horrible way to end perfection – and life has been so good for me lately that a bolt of lightning almost feels inevitable – and that the storm waited until our friends were safely on their way home. One last grand hurrah, the big finish, to Kstock 2008! The gratitude I feel to all my friends who came out and worked, then played, so hard is impossible to express. Peace, love and grooviness will have to do!