Time has been passing quickly. In a couple of days, Veronica and Stuart will return and my days as a relatively-sane-yet-losing-it-tamer-of-canines will end. I like to think that I’ve had some small influence on Chique (also known as Wilkens after a similarly-whiskered Caribbean character and, on bad days, as Cinderello, for having to survive life with his two nasty sisters), Cutie Pie (La Negrita, Blackie or La Salchichona, having grown to a good-sized sausage), and the one-of-a-kind one-nice-name-only Betsy the mad cow. But every time I think that I may have made a point about good behavior that stuck, I come home and the newspapers on the table have been ripped to shreds the size of a classified ad (including a copy of Quaker Monthly, a publication out of London, England that Wolf had just given me as there is an article I wrote in it this month), another corner of the recently-new chair has been chewed away despite being slathered in hot chili peppers, and the line between not jumping up on me and using me as a vertical mosh pit has blurred again.
A couple of days after Veronica returns, I’ll be taking a break and heading to San Carlos, to see my friends over there – no dogs there, not even cats, just blessed slow, quiet sloths in the trees. Sigh. After that, some boys from the Hammer come down and I will go off to play guide around the country which is always fun.
In the meantime, Wolf and I and our Reserve friend Mercedes go for dinner tomorrow night with a group coming from the city of Okayama. This is the Japanese sister city of San José and they are celebrating their 40th anniversary of that relationship. Their translator and guide is none-other-than our friend Takako Usui, who was with the three of us on the hike that makes up the last chapter of Walking with Wolf. She invited us to have dinner with the mayor and other dignitaries while they are here on a short trip up from San José to see Monteverde. We aren’t actually doing a presentation but instead will show photo images as a backdrop to dinner and while we eat will talk about the community, the conservation efforts and successes, and the role of ecotourism in the area.
Mercedes teaches natural history courses for groups at the Reserve, Wolf comes with his own lifetime of experiences and of course I wrote the book, but the real reason Takako has asked the three of us to talk with this group is because of her time spent with us – those four days in the high wet cloud forest, slogging through the thick vegetation, breathing in the humid beauty, talking late into the night from our dry clean sleeping-bag oases surrounded by a world of mud and moisture. I think she wants us to talk as much from our view as people who love to be in the richness of that natural chaos as much as being people who have taken part in the chaos of environmental politics.
Either way, we get a free meal at the Hotel Montaña, no doubt an interesting evening with curious people from the other side of the world, and maybe will even sell some books. And get to visit with our friend Takako, the secretary of the Japanese-Costa Rican Friendship Association. I find it only slightly coincidental that these folks are coming from O-KAY-ama in the year of Obama, O-Kay? I often read too much into these things…
Much of my last week was spent in the process of moving, sorting, organizing and ultimately storing or selling the personal effects of our friends Andy Sninsky and Inge Holecek. They are a couple of long time Monteverde residents who have spent most of the last year over in Austria in a very tough battle with Andy’s cancer. He has gone through the roughest of treatments and is now waiting to rebuild his strength and weight so that he can have a stem cell transplant. His many friends here keep him in their hearts and hold both him and Inge, no doubt his secret weapon of strength in this great battle, in the light.
When it became clear that they wouldn’t be returning soon to Monteverde, they needed their stuff, which they had left relatively innocently and unsorted behind, to be removed from their rental house. Some of it is to be shipped to them, some stored, but much of it was to be sold in a katchi-batchi, garage sale. The Monteverde Institute lent us one of their classrooms where Jane Wolfe and I and number of other volunteers spent three days going through the myriad of stuff – the physical effects of other peoples’ lives.
I love to organize and purge. I often do it when I go home after a few months of living out of a backpack – how come we need more than that? We got through everything in three days, priced it to sell, and in a whirlwind of bargain shopping on Saturday, managed to get rid of everything. We raised some money and found homes for the stuff that Inge wants to keep. I fell asleep one of those nights to flocks of plastic junk – tupperware, dishes, containers, bags – flying through my approaching dreams.
We were all happy to help Inge and Andy out and knew that by taking care of their stuff, a chunk of concern could be taken off their list of worries when they obviously have so many other more serious concerns. I hope they felt the love from Monteverde over there in Europe – it was certainly radiating out on Saturday from those of us who are thinking of them and from others as they became aware of what the impetus behind the sale was. Stay strong both of you – as a survivor, I send you hope.
One day earlier this week, I arrived on another blowy, misty day at the Reserve to meet Wolf and take our spot in our coffee-shop office and see if we could sell books. I bumped into Mercedes and Marcos outside who told me that Wolf was talking about going for a walk. I wasn’t particularly dressed for walking with Wolf that day in the damp forest, but wouldn’t miss the opportunity. Sure enough, after a cup of coffee, he said that he wanted to get out in the forest and get some exercise and stretch his legs.
So we headed out on the River Trail, a mostly flat, wide, recently refinished trail that takes hikers the easy way to the waterfall a kilometer or so away.
However the sport is still called “walking with Wolf” and even though he is slower, walks with a stick, and tires easier, Wolf is still an off-the-beaten-trail kinda guy. Though we meandered pretty leisurely down to the waterfall, I could see his attention taken by some little side trails barely noticeable in the underbrush of the thick forest. Wolf knows this forest like his own family-tree and is very aware of every recently fallen branch, every new view revealed, and each unfinished path that he would love to keep working on.
A group of northern Europeans came by as he was slashing away at the vegetation with his walking stick, having forgotten to bring his machete. I suppose he would appear slightly mad to the uninitiated. I saw the look on one of the women’s faces and quickly explained that although it looked very illegal – this grey-haired man energetically knocking down the precious plants of the Cloud Forest Reserve at the side of the trail – that actually Wolf had designed the trails and was still quite active in re-designing them. Once they realized they were in the presence of “the man”, they looked relieved and then they seemed to be really trying to make sense of Wolf’s destructive, if joyful, manner.
Sure enough, Wolf and I ended up wandering off the neat clean trail as a light rain fell and a cool breeze blew, up a small slash from a treefall, around the huge branched head of a fallen cedro, through the muddy seam of a slip of a stream, along the dirt ledge created where the shallow but widespread roots of another huge tree had pulled out of the earth, all the time heading to a trail that was cut a couple of years ago. It had been started on the Bosque Eterno land but then stopped when interested parties couldn’t reach an agreement on its use.
Bosque Eterno is the original piece of land put aside by the Quakers when they started dividing up the land in Monteverde back in 1951 and wanted mainly to protect their forested watershed up on the top of the mountain. It was leased for very little to the Tropical Science Center in 1973 as one of the first pieces of land that made up the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. There is an organization, Bosque Eterno S.A., which keeps an eye on the property, just as the Tropical Science Center administers the whole Reserve. In the process of changing people and changing times, the relationship between the Reserve and BESA ebbs and flows and the future of the land and its uses also changes.
Wolf and I had been on this trail a couple of years ago when the controversy over its development started. The cleared path still exists, wide as it is, but is quickly filling in. Where fallen brush has obscured the route, there is no clear way around to the continuing trail. Of course we made one, Wolf steadily hacking away with his stick. The extreme rains of this past wet season have left the scars of landslides all over the mountain and this area is no exception. We hit a spot where the mud that came down in a landslide looked too thick to maneuver, where a tree completely blocked our way and it was looking like our only choice was to go back from where we came. I refused, never being one for retracing my steps, and instead found a leafy ledge in the mud that would hold us up as we crawled upward. On the other side of it all, surrounded by waist-high thick vegetation, Wolf was explaining that we should be heading off towards a big tree marker to meet up with the old trail just as I almost flipped over an old block buried deep in the foliage from the long-time unused bit of trail. We had arrived right on target again, guided by Wolf’s innate sense of direction in this playground of his and sheer luck.
By the time we got out of the forest a couple of hours had passed, I was soaked and chilled, but we were both happy for having had spent the time wandering around like wood nymphs, peeking out through the leafy walls at the views across the valley, proving that we could still find our way through the chaos and follow our laughter down the streambeds. It is an enduring pleasure to be walking with Wolf even when the physical conditions are demanding. Like having cancer, it’s all been a grand experience once you survive it.
I have to tell you that the rain on the zinc roof tonight, as I sit writing this, is ferocious. My neighbor Jason stopped in on his way to go for a run and returned soaked and chilled. Although even light mist blown in the wind here can sound like freezing rain, usually it doesn’t amount to much. But it sounds like a hurricane out there tonight, keeping me and the dogs on edge. A good night to crawl into bed and read Call of the Wild, Jack London’s beautiful story about Buck the dog forced into a northern life of hardship. It was one of my favorites as a child. My mother read it to my sister and me when we were kids and it always touched me deeply.
I’m thinking that I should be reading this to these three little spoiled dogs I’m living with so they can hear about poor ol’ Buck’s enslavement in the far north and take heed. In the pocketbook version I picked up out of Inge’s stuff the other day, the introduction explains Jack London’s socialist leanings with a deep underbelly of individualism…I think this story may have had more of an effect on me than I’ve been aware.