It was a quirky little life, just the two of us and a pile of dirty dishes,
leftover poetry for breakfast.
We were one hotheaded pair of ragged visionaries,
knocking over furniture and dancin' by candlelight.
Charlotte Vanderwolf, Casting My Shells
DALLAS -- Just two weeks before her 19th birthday, Charlotte Vanderwolf put her guitar in its wooden case and took off on a two-week odyssey across across Canada.
Aside from her guitar and a new pair of cowboy boots, everything else was jammed into a green Army backpack.
"My scheme was romantic, but impractical," she said.
"I still do this kind of thing, but now I have Doc Martins, a proper pack and a nylon case for my guitar."
Vanderwolf may be more practical these days. But she is still just as romantic.
The "Girl With a Guitar" (as she calls herself on her Web site) walks -- or rather strums -- in a folk music procession that stretches from Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell to Sarah McLachlan, Rickie Lee Jones and Ani DiFranco.
She does more than sing songs. She fights the good fight.
As she sees it.
Her causes include helping Renee Boje, a woman fighting extradition from Canada to the United States for medical marijuana charges.
A "proud Libertarian," she also volunteers for the party near her home in Seattle.
Vanderwolfe has two CDs of her original music, "Alchemy" and "Saints and Angels."
She has toured throughout the Northwest and has been a repeat guest of the Palouse Folklore Society in Idaho. She has also appeared in Seattle at The Two Bells Tavern and three times at Seattle Hempfest.
Vanderwolf's folk music journey began with a dance. Her trip across Canada eventually brought her to Victoria, B.C., and the Victoria Arts Collaborative Dance Studios.
She became a student of Constantine Darling, "a little-known genius of dance technique and martial arts."
She was heading for a dance career in New York City when she developed a severe knee and leg problem.
"It almost prevented me from walking for several months, never mind dancing," Vanderwolf said. "It was four years before I could really dance again."
She was now 24. Partially recovered and tired of waiting, she started Stone Soup Collective -- her own dance company.
"I decided to build a grassroots dance company that would bridge the gap between the art of dance and popular media, appealling to a wide audience while still maintaining artistic integrity."
The project was an artistic success but a financial faiilure. The company couldn't generate enough money to keep going.
"My life became a whirlwind of instability," she said.
"I lived for one month in a friend's basement with no heat and rusted pipes."
She made a living in Seattle doing whatever she could -- posing for artists, doing gardening for generous friends and busking in the Pike Place Market.
Somehow, it all worked out.
"For the first time, I was balancing my monthly budget, doing creative freelance work that I enjoyed."
Still, like any good folk singer, life was full of the kind of stuff that makes for good songs.
Like the month she lived in a dance studio on E. Hastings Street in Vancouver.
She shared the space with some friendly mice. There was no refrigerator, no stove and one communal bathroom with no shower.
"In the middle of the night, I could often hear the neighbors practicing martial arts upstairs and the heroin users, prostitutes and drunken folk living it up on the street outside my window."
She returned to Seattle for the rest of my summer and began making a living playing music at the Pike Place Market.
"I had written a bunch of promising new songs, more interesting and upbeat than my previous assortment of moody ballads," she said.
"I was beginning to realize I liked being a free-lance musician."
She has been in Seattle, making a living as a professional musician ever since.
Eventually, she'd like to have the money to make dance videos to going with her. "Like Madonna -- only better and with more class."