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It is as inevitable as the wind and rain in Monteverde, that one day my time will be up and I have to leave. I don’t worry about going and I quickly transfer my thinking to arriving instead – back to Canada, friends there, familiar haunts, a different kind of music and the beautiful northern landscape. As long as I have the privilege and ability to return when I want to Costa Rica, then I can leave with a simple “nos vemos” – “we’ll see each other”, rather than “adios”, which feels much more final.
Of course this year also takes me back to Canada with a whole new purpose in life – bringing Walking with Wolf to the masses, doing publicity, marketing and distributing of my precious little tome. So there is an excitement at the back of my brain that I try not to get too caught up in, but will soon – within twenty-four hours now, I’ll be full on ready to conquer the north. I have until September 6 to prepare for the first big official book launch in Hamilton, and then the following weekend I’m returning to my old community in the northeast to do hopefully three presentations over a few days. This is the part of the world close to Temagami, Ontario, which I talk about in the book. I have many old friends there who have been very supportive and I am really looking forward to the book parties there. And in the second week of October, I think I will be doing a presentation at Olney Friends School in Barnesville, Ohio, which we also talk about, Wolf’s alma mater, for their Homecoming weekend. This hasn’t been decided yet, but the idea seems to have interested the director and so I will soon be in touch with him about the possibility.
Having received such wide spread acceptance and praise in Monteverde from the people who are closest to the story will truly help me go out in the big northern world and hold my head up, proud of our book. I know that I was most nervous of the reaction of the biologists – sticklers for detail that they are, strong-willed, educated and quite sure of their own versions of the world – but several of them have spoken up for the quality of the book and have enjoyed reading it and shared a minimum of criticism (maybe I shouldn’t have called the tropical cloud and rain forest “jungle” but to the outsider, that is truly what it is, by dictionary definition as well.)
One of the surprises of the reaction to the book is how many people have said to me that it has revived in them the spirit of the community. Wolf’s stories about the founding of Monteverde, and my modern day descriptions have given them a renewed sense of what a special community they are part of. I had always hoped to properly present Wolf’s life and accomplishments but it had never occurred to me that our book might be a positive factor in the community. How proud can one be for playing a role such as that?
I have also heard from friends in Canada who don’t know Wolf, Monteverde or Costa Rica, and have said they love the story and the writing. So that bodes well for the future of the book simply as a piece of literature. I think it’s deepest purpose is the telling of Wolf’s interesting and dedicated life with all its flaws and colorful tales, and that is what I feel the most able to go out and talk about. His is an inspirational story of humor, hard work and humility and I take great pride in being able to tell this story.
In the week that I was offline, I returned to Monteverde, saw friends, packed and repacked, sat down with Wolf and signed a whole box of books to take back to deserving friends in Canada, did some dancing, had some great conversations and enjoyed my final days of tropical life. I spent a day down in San Luis waiting for the arrival of fifteen teams of oxen who were coming from the low lands for a festival, but unfortunately had to leave by the time only one team had arrived (those beasts move very slowly). I managed to get bit on my finger by something – I thought an ant, but now think maybe a spider – that now, four days later, is still swollen up in a bunch of itchy bumps. What a year for bites! I think it may be caused by the rainy season, as I found the bug population rampant. I ran off to Cahuita on the Caribbean for twenty-four hours and was blessed with sunshine and a starry night, whereas there had been pouring rain for the days before I got there. Here too I was bitten while swimming in the sea, something that rarely happens at all, especially in the Caribbean. But I was floating and some seaweed wrapped itself around me and four sharp stings (jelly-fish? Some say sea fleas?) sent me out of the water, waiting to see if I’d have some weird reaction like that poor Australian nature guy. You just never know these days. My papalomoyo seems to be under control, though I’ll continue with my sulpha treatments in Canada – and I still have a series of bitemarks on my thighs that we think are from mites of some sort. Hmmmm, August in Hamilton, the bug situation should be pretty tame in comparison.
I spent the last couple nights with Edin Solis (the photo is me with one of his Grammies) and his wife Lorena Rodríguez, he of Editus, she an interior, exterior and just about all round everything designer. Edin was finishing the work on the soundtrack to a BBC documentary production called “The Winds of Papagayo” – about the changes of the environment in Guanacaste, the northwest province of Costa Rica. How interesting was that – not just listening to the musical themes that Edin had composed (great surf beat dude) and admiring how the music followed the images and the story of the documentary, but the information within the work itself. It promises to be a very interesting piece of journalism (with a beautiful soundtrack) about what is happening with development on the fragile Pacific coastline. I had never realized that the winds collect and transport great fertility that has risen from the huge Lake Nicaragua to the north, as well as from the potent gases of the various volcanoes that run in a chain straight through Central America. The strong winds we know in parts of Costa Rica do have an important purpose besides blowing us around and keeping us cool. The doc also focuses on the over-expansion of development on the coastline, the extreme change of community life in less than thirty years, the changes in the winds themselves, and the struggle of the turtle population to survive the many forces that are working against them.
I think of Costa Rica in general as about as fragile as a population of olive ridley sea turtles. Even though I know so many dynamic, charismatic, kind, intelligent and hardworking people in this little country, over all I feel they are all under threat. Out of control development, foreign influence, fear, and an economy that isn’t servicing the people at the lower end of the scale are all signs of a difficult future. The country has great “green” policies but doesn’t seem to have the backbone to enforce the laws. Most people I talk to have little faith in the government, having had three of their last presidents found guilty of some form of kickbacks. The president of the day, Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work in the 80s on bringing peace to the Central American region, had the constitution changed, by the vote of 4 judges, so that he could be re-elected (up until the last election, Costa Rica had a rule, similar to the USA, that presidents could only serve one term). He also supported CAFTA, the free-trade agreement with the USA, which many people are extremely leery of. This all adds up to a disgruntled society in an over-stressed country with a frustrated view of the future.
I love these people and this country.
The very talented Sofia Zumbado, award-winning saxophonist and her beautiful mom Myrna Castro
My friend 100-year old Otilia Gonzales and her daughters Gladys and Margarita
Luis Angel Obando, Head of Protection, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
HEY! How’d this guy make it in here?
Everyone I know in Costa Rica is involved in some interesting project, not only to make a living, but to bring some new awareness to their life. I wish them all well. Tenga fe mis amigos, nos vemos pronto.
The day after my return to Monteverde from the Caribbean, I was invited to go on a hike to Vera Cruz. This is land a little to the southwest of Monteverde, some owned by the Reserve as well as private farmlands – we would call this cattle range country in Canada. Luis Angel Obando, our friendly forest guard, was accompanying a group of youths, the Junior Rangers led by Dulce Wilson, to a mysterious place called the Casa de la Piedra – the House of Stone. The forest guards get out on regular patrols on trails all over the large expanse of Reserve land, looking for signs of squatters, hunters and tree poachers, and can often incorporate their trips with guiding groups to various destinations. Mercedes Diaz, who is Head of Environmental Education at the Reserve, decided to accompany the group and would lead them in an exercise about making environmentally-sound decisions. The last person in the group was Rosai, another forest guard, who would stay with the group once they were settled – and take care of the two characters who I think worked the hardest of all, the two pack horses. Although I had barely got my beach clothes out of my own pack, I didn’t want to miss the chance to go overnight into the forest.
The sad part of this for me was the fact that this was the first time that I was going on a trip into the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve without Wolf Guindon. It has been several months since he decided not to go on long hikes. His knee is bothering him, he gets tired, and he has lost a bit of the spirit for the long treks, although he walks the couple of kilometers back and forth to the Reserve most days. He is good on flat stretches but there isn’t much of this land that stays flat for very long, and the long slogs up and down the hills are getting too difficult to be fun for him. So he didn’t want to join us and I felt the loss. Luis is now Head of Protection, the position that Wolf created and held for more than a couple of decades. Luis in many ways is just like Wolf – full of energy and strength and humor and patience – and his love for being in the forest is constantly apparent. But Wolf is a very unique man and nobody will truly follow exactly in his footsteps. The day before the hike, I did walk with Wolf to his farm to meet Lucky’s niece, Sylvia, and we made our way through the beautiful bullpen. This is the St. Augustine pasture carved out of the old forest by the Campbell family where huge trees were left standing to provide habitat and shade and felled ones were left laying to rot – one of my most favorite places in Monteverde, that alone the world.
So on Thursday morning, Luis and Rosai picked me up in the trusty Suzuki and after getting Mercedes, we drove down to the meeting spot in San Luis. There we met Edgar who had brought the two horses and we were to wait for Dulce’s group to arrive. The meeting time was ten a.m. but what with one thing and another, we didn’t get on the trail until one p.m. A group of twenty-one kids between the ages of nine and sixteen made up the pack. The horses had been employed to carry the bulk of the provisions – tents, food, stoves – well, those poor animals were wider than they were high by the time they were loaded down.
Better them than me I suppose. By the time we got to our camping spot, my respect for these creatures had grown immensely. The trail was part old roadway, part groomed trail, but much of it was cattle paths through old pastures. Although the sun was beating down on us as we were getting our equipment ready, we weren’t very long on the trail before the rain started and stayed with us until close to four hours later when we were settled for the night.
Of course Luis and Rosai were the only ones who knew where we were going and what to expect. I’ve put my faith in these men of the forest so many times and have always been rewarded for the experience, so I don’t question, I just follow. But adding a group of this size to the mix was even more challenging – I know that Luis has many years of experience assisting groups of foreign students as well as Costa Ricans in their travels in the forest. But we got started very late and the rain slowed us down – we were trekking through thick mud much of the time – and although the Casa de la Piedra was our destination, Luis kept reconsidering our possibilities of where we could spend the night. How far could we get before dark? How tired, wet and cold would these poor kids be? And where was there water safe for drinking, meaning a mountain stream, nearby? His concern was only apparent because his usually smiling face looked a little pensive, although I doubt that many in the group would have noticed. But I could tell he was always thinking about just how far this slow-moving group could reasonably get before nightfall, which here is roughly 6 o’clock.
The land we walked through was beautiful. We could see layers of ridges, some cleared for pasture, some covered in new growth forest, with deep forested valleys in between. The Reserve had bought a lot of this land fifteen years ago and so the forest has been regenerating but some of the ridges were so windswept and severe with a sandy soil that only bushes and grasses could grow. Other pockets were well into a new generation of forest. There were some working pastures still, with bright specks on the distant hillsides representing cows. In other places, we could stand on the ridge and look into down upon the huge cedros and higuerons, the big ol’ trees stretching above the rest of the forested valleys. Luis’ keen eyes and ears could pick out white-faced monkeys playing a kilometer away, so high up in trees that you had to wonder what happened if by chance they ever lost their grasp.
Around 5 o’clock we arrived at an abandoned homestead that used to belong to someone named Pipé. It was a small flat pasture of long grass with the remains of a cabin on it. The views stretched west to the Gulf of Nicoya and there was a stream a few minutes walk away. We were still about an hour and a half from the magical stone house and it was going to get dark fast, so the decision was made to stay. Well! I’ve never seen such a disciplined group of kids in my life, although I haven’t hung out with many armies before, although I did work for years at a canoe camp in northern Ontario.
Dulce had those kids in formation, taking care of the necessary tasks, so fast that I couldn’t believe it. It was decided that they would all stay on the wooden floor under the roof in the cabin which would also protect our gear and where we could cook and not get wet. They immediately set up a large tent outside one of the doorways to use as a changing room for this mixed crowd of boys and girls. Dulce set the rules of where people could walk with boots or not – since we had walked through so much mud, and would continue to be wet and dirty, it was imperative that once the plastic tarps were down for sleeping, nobody should walk there in boots.
Rosai unpacked those poor horses who had trogged through the mud, up the steep inclines, in the narrow hollows that defined the path, with hundreds of pounds of weight – how they keep their balance and their humor (I’m sure horses must have a sense of humor), I’ll never know. They were then tethered loosely to trees and left alone to lazily eat the lush grass of the pasture which I can attest they did all night long. Luis set up two tents that the guards and Mercedes and I would sleep in, to have a little space from the large pack of youths. Mercedes and Rosai went down to the stream with containers to get water. I set up the stove and started what water we had boiling to get some hot coffee into us as quick as possible. We were all soaked and tired and it was going to get dark fast. It wasn’t that cold by mountain standards but the wind was blowing and everyone was chilled. I set up the second stove in the middle of the cabin for the kids to gather around like a campfire. In this wet world, it isn’t as typical to have a bonfire outside as in Canada – between the wet wood and wind, it can be almost impossible to start sometimes. They did have plans to make one later and one of the boys chopped out a fire pit in the pasture. Those older boys never stopped working from the time they arrived – at least they stayed much warmer that way. The younger ones were tired and stood about shivering, waiting for the tent to be put up so they could get inside and change into dryer clothes. I gathered whatever water was left from personal water bottles and put a pot on to heat on the second stove so they could have hot chocolate. Beyond that, Dulce and her group were pretty much on their own, and we four adults took care of ourselves. We made a great supper of hot soup, rice, tuna, pejivalles I had cooked and brought along to eat with mayonnaise, and shared the organic avocado that my friend Roberto had given me from his land in Cahuita. It tasted really good up there on the mountainside.
After dinner, Mercedes did her exercise with the kids while Luis, Rosai and I spent the evening laying in the tent together, talking, staying warm. We were all asleep by 9:30 I would think, but awake long enough to see the waxing moon brighten up the sky and the sparks of the fireflies twinkling throughout the forest.
The next morning, after lots of coffee and a good breakfast, Luis took Mercedes and I ahead of the rest to go and see the infamous Casa de la Piedra. We hiked through the wet forest in bright sunshine, up and up, until we got to the top of a ridge where we had a full 360 degree view of the ridges all around us. It was pure sand that only supported a type of miniature pampas grass and alpine plants.
There was the remains of a recent landslide which would have taken us a couple of hundred feet down without stopping. The misty clouds hung low in the valleys and the sun kept us warm despite the strong wind. We then descended down, down, down into the forested valley of Rio La Nica (who knows how and why these rivers get their names – Luis imagined that somebody brought a Nicaraguan wife here and therefore this river got called La Nica).
The river was a beauty – huge rocks strewn about by mythical giants, white water tumbling down various channels only to meet up again in pools of clear water, tropical ferns and vines hanging down over the banks as if to drink.
Luis showed us the first “Casa de la Piedra” which was a huge triangular conglomeration of rocks, trees, and strangler fig roots – maybe forty feet high and immense. We continued down the river edge until we were walking beside a massive wall of rock – and this was the outside wall of the House of Stone. Around the corner and up a rocky ledge and we entered a cave – maybe twenty-five feet deep and twenty feet high but narrow enough to touch both walls with outstretched arms, light streaming in from breaks in the rock above – it was impressive.
Bats flew about as we disturbed their daytime slumber with our flashlights and camera flashes. Luis told us that people used to live amongst these rocks – in fact, one of the young employees at the Reserve apparently was born in the house of stone.
When Rosai, Dulce and the rest of the group arrived, we left and went down to a pool in the river. Mercedes put on her bathing suit but spent most of the time sitting on a rock in the sun, shivering. Luis wouldn’t even go near the water.
I, on the other hand, northern bush babe that I be, swam like a seal in the channel of rushing white water that came through the rocks, happy as a Canadian clam. The mountainous water was about the temperature that the northern lakes I swim in generally get to at the height of summer. I could have stayed there all day and I suspect I will take the opportunity to go back to this rocky spa again just for the chance to swim.
We quickly had to get dressed and start the long slog back up, up, up the trail – we stopped on the top of the ridge where Luis had cell phone reception so he could call his kids and check in. Cell phone in one hand, machete in the other, GPS receiver in his pocket – this is a modern day forest guard.
Luis, Mercedes and I quickly ate some lunch and packed up, leaving Rosai and the group to stay another night. We got on the trail around three in the afternoon and moved quickly as the afternoon rain came down on us. We had flashlights with us but didn’t really want to be walking in the dark. Luis took us on shortcuts – although Wolf wasn’t with us, I was reminded of him often. Luis would point out some piece of trail that Wolf had hacked out while short-cutting his way through the forest, or some tree where during a rest stop Wolf had told some funny story. Wolf’s spirit is so omnipresent in this forest that he will be felt here forever. Luis is very much like Wolf, but whereas Luis would say, as the night was closing in on us and he was deciding which animal trail to follow to cut down our travel time, “we might end up lost” – I know from experience that Wolf would never admit to being lost – he’d just say we may end up in a different place than we hoped to be.
The final bit of Luis’ shortcut took us through a cattle pasture of very rough walking in horrible mud churned by animal hooves – but with beautiful views of the sun setting beyond the ridges and the clouds settling down into the valleys as if to sleep for the night. We came over a ridge top and heard a mad-sounding cow ahead of us. As Mercedes and I caught up to Luis, he told us that it was a mother cow who had just delivered her baby – you could see the very young calf hidden down on the hillside in the grass – and the mother was acting mad to keep the rest of the cattle – and us – away from her newborn. Mercedes and I – non-farmers that we be – were a bit worried as we made our way past this angry large-horned mother but Luis just made jokes and said it was all show. The other cattle were more interested in us than the calf and in the end, we were all amused.
We made it back to Edgar and the jeep in San Luis right as darkness gathered around us. I was at home by 7, unpacked and showered by 7:30 and sound asleep by eight, accompanied by dreams of clouds floating by me, long grass wrapping around my ankles, and a bed of mud cushioning my sore body. It was all perfect, except for the missing Wolf.
I am writing this as the mist swirls – the day started out sunny, but it’s feeling like rain could move in. That’s okay with me because I’m headed to the beach. The Caribbean this time – Cahuita, Puerto Viejo and Punta Uva – check up on friends, get some sun, do some swimming, do a little reggae dancing and eat fish cooked in coconut – they way they prepare it on the Atlantic coast.
But I’ve had a great few days here in Monteverde. I’ve been sleeping around – no, don’t get excited, one way or another – I mean that I’ve been staying in a series of houses – since I came back from the city, I spent a night with Wolf and Lucky, then a night with Canadian Margaret Adelman in her beautiful house (where I’m going to take up residence when I return next week), a night with Patricia Jiminez in Santa Elena, and a couple nights in the apartment at Patricia Maynard’s Bromelias. I’ve finally consolidated all my various bags and stuff to Margaret’s house while I’m gone. I’ve had some great evenings with friends, chitchat, music and dancing – and a wonderful day down in San Luis, the community that sits directly below Wolf Guindon’s farm.
On Wednesday evening, at Margaret’s house, Wolf’s son Benito came over to play the recorder. Well, I can read music and learned the recorder back in about Grade 7, and haven’t played in probably twenty years, but said I’d give it a try. The photo shows the fear in the my face – although it wasn’t that bad – and the other photo shows the bit of biology that was taking place at our feet – a spider had a scorpion spun in her web and we watched this little drama as we played, trying to remember to keep our feet away from the base of the music stand so we didn’t get either in the way of the spider or too close to the angry but doomed scorpion. Benito and Margaret told me that they started with a group of about fourteen recorders a few years ago but it has dwindled down to the two of them. And when they play, they just keep moving quickly through the music for duets, not repeating or trying to work out anything to sound a bit better (Margaret is a very accomplished pianist as well as artist and writer; Benito is accomplished in everything he does). However, my thing was to play a piece at least a couple times to try to make it sound like something – so we actually played one or two pieces not badly. I’d say it was great, considering how long since I played or even read music and was actually quite the physical workout.
On Thursday evening, I visited with my friend Patricia Jiminez in the big city of Santa Elena. She is another phenomenal artist as well as a poet. Her friend Sandra came over for dinner – it was supposed to be poetry night but other members of their group didn’t show so we just talked about things women talk about – men, writing, men, love, men, politics, women. It was a great evening which must have left several men’s ears burning somewhere in the world.
The next day, I took a book over to the lovely Miss Martha Moss – 88 years and glorious. I came upon her laying down with her three kittens. She has been the human mother to many cats and kittens over the years and has a theory that the cats she has shared her house with are related to wild cats that have become domesticated. She is putting together an article to send to the National Geographic or the NY TImes (I don’t remember which one) who has featured stories on these cats from around the world - hoping that the magazine will take interest and maybe send somebody to come and check out her cats’ DNA. Nothing would surprise me. Martha has written books for children as well as others – at 88 she is going strong, but needs to take rests, so you must drop in when it isn’t her nap time. I had heard that she wanted a copy of Walking with Wolf, so I took one to her and signed it with – “For Martha – you have been inspirational, informative, entertaining and a great pleasure to know – I hope this book is some of that for you”. It is so true about Martha – any of us that have had the great privilege of knowing her are indeed fortunate.
Wolf and I spent Saturday down in San Luis with our friend Luis Angel and Rosario the chauffeur from the Reserve. We wanted to go and visit Dona Alicia, the widow of Miguel Leiton, who we talk about frequently in the book and there is a picture of him with Wolf that I took about a year before he died. I can remember the day I took that picture, outside the beautiful new house they were then building and that Dona Alicia is now living in. Wolf and Don Miguel, both in their seventies and slowed down due to illness from the speed that they lived their earlier lives at, talked like a couple of teenagers about their adventures in the forest – and kept urging each other to get back out on the trails – VAMANOS! It was the last time I saw Miguel who died a year later from cancer - and a wonderful memory for both Wolf and I. Having the picture in the book has received great reaction from people in this community.
Dona Alicia and Luis’ sister Cristina served us rice pudding and rich San Luis-grown coffee and we talked about Miguel and the beauty of his passing – that he had his many children and grandchildren around, there was much love for him, not just from his family but from people all over the area. He was a well-liked and well-respected man. Unfortunately, on Friday, the night before we headed down to San Luis, there was a murder in Santa Elena – one of the first anyone can remember. A nineteen-year old boy (the son of friends of mine) stabbed and killed a girl who he was jealous of. It seems to be not really a crime of passion, but more of obsession and jealousy and I can only think that he just lost it. A very very sad occurrence here in this small community – and I know his parents, who I haven’t gone to see since this, must be beyond devastated, as would be the family of the poor girl. Down in San Luis, we talked about the different ways we die, and what luck and privilege it is to die peacefully with those we love and who love us around. Otherwise, there is often too much sadness.
These pink bananas aren’t for eating – when they are mature, they open into this beautiful ball of white seeds and flesh that the birds love…the flesh tastes like very unsweet and less flavorful bananas.
We went down to the Reserve’s Biological Station in San Luis and visited with Edgar and Betelina who stay there. Luis, Edgar and I walked down to the river where Edgar showed me a sunbittern’s nest they were monitoring. We had the great fortune of having a beautiful sunbittern fly across the road in front of us just before we got to the station – with its intricate wing design spread out in full, we had a perfect view as it glided past us. What luck! We stayed for lunch while it poured rain outside and then we headed back up the mountain to get Wolf back home as they had visitors coming from the US, arriving that afternoon, and Wolf was going to be in trouble if he didn’t get back to help Lucky with preparations. It was a perfect day in San Luis. I’ve never lived down there but am very tempted to take up the different offers I’ve had to stay and work for awhile. This tiny little farming community is growing – the University of Georgia now has a small satellite campus there – but so far it feels much like it always has – rural, humble, friendly, surrounded by stunning scenery.
Wolf with Betelina and Edgar at their home in San Luis
Friday and Saturday night I helped my friend Patricia Maynard prepare food for a group of twenty-five students. Her place, Bromelias, which has been a series of things over the years from a beautiful art gallery to a store to restaurants as well as a concert venueand finally her home - I’ve had the use of an apartment in the tree tops there for many years – is still beautiful although she has less going on after moving her store to Santa Elena and changing its name to Ritmos, where she sells a great selection of music and books. We prepared vegetarian lasagna, vegetables in vinegrette, garlic bread and arroz con leche - even though I blew a fuse in a major way putting the microwave and toaster oven on at the same time (this is what we were cooking all the food in) and we lost all power in the kitchen and had to move the microwave to another room - we still managed to get the food out to the crowd. Then Eduardo and Chela, a couple of Argentinians who have lived here for about eight years, came with some friends form Uruguay, and drummed and fire-danced and got this group from Long Island University in New York up on their feet. We danced and sang and clapped around the fire – it was a beautiful night, no wind, no rain, just abunch of stars in the sky and happy people on the ground.
Luis invited me to participate in the bird count that they will be conducting down in San Luis on Monday and Tuesday – he was so kind to arrange to take Wolf and I down, and I’m sorely tempted to go play in the forest of San Luis again – but I’ve got the beach on my mind, and my time here is going by fast, and there are many things yet to do…so the birds will have to wait, but the sun can come out tomorrow as I head out to the Caribbean.
After those lovely few days of food and friends in San Carlos, I went to San José and on Monday morning met up with Wolf and Lucky. We dropped off books at Seventh Street Books with Marc, one of the owners who has been very helpful. We also left books with a couple of other chain bookstores who will hopefully decide to carry Walking with Wolf and place an order soon.
We spent an hour and half with Alex Leff, the reporter from Tico Times, the English weekly newspaper. He was very generous with his time and asked a lot of great questions that kept Wolf and I talking (HA! As if we needed help…) We walked with him and the photographer up to a park to take pictures that looked like we were surrounded by greenery. It will be interesting now to see how the photos and the story come out, but we both felt that Alex was truly interested in the book and the material and hopefully that will show up in his article.
We also left books with William Aspinall who owns the Observatory Lodge at Arenal. He was the director of the Monteverde Reserve when I first came in 1990 and happily took books to sell. It was great to see him after all these years.
Monday evening, I went and saw the recently released movie The Incredible Hulk. I had been an extra when it filmed in Hamilton last September. They had built a large false set that was meant to be Brooklyn in a couple of empty lots in downtown Hamilton. On the same block was scaffolding around the reconstruction of an old stone building that will be the first rooftop patio bar in the city, I believe it is called the London Tap House, and the filming included this construction site. Although I didn’t see myself, there were a few minutes in the movie that came out of that whole week of nighttime shooting that we did – and I’d say the London Tap House got as much screen time as anything else. Not my kind of movie, but I’ll still probably have to check out the DVD and scan the scenes where I’m running the streets to see if I can pick myself out in the crowd. It is fascinating to have participated in and seen how they make these movies.
We came back up the mountain yesterday to be here for today’s presentation of Walking with Wolf at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Since the maintenance crew and the forest guards were all in the forest the day of the community book launch, we felt it was only right to do something with them and the other employees of the Reserve where Wolf has worked all these years. The director, Carlos Hernandez, once again was very supportive in enabling as many of the workers to be there as possible, and Mercedes Diaz, who has been unfailingly helpful for the last year in keeping Wolf and I connected by internet, organized the event. Our heartfelt thanks goes out to both Carlos and Mercedes for the support they have given us.
Below: Luis Angel Obando, Head of Protection
Some other members of the community came as well as some of the guides who take people on nature hikes in the forest. Even the reclusive biologist, Alan Pounds, who plays a big role in the chapter on the golden toads, showed up. There were probably about forty people. It was as touching and poignant as the community book launch had been. It feels like family there, even for me, who only spends a part of each year here and only some of that at the Reserve. For Wolf, it has been his home away from home for many years. Many of the staff has been there a long time, like the Obando brothers, Lionel and Luis Angel, and the Brenes brothers, Miguel and Jose Luis. Much of the staff changes, new younger faces appear, yet there is a sense of history there and they are all very aware of the role Wolf has played in the development of the Reserve that now furnishes them with their jobs and the area with its beautiful protected forest. He is an elder in this community, an entertaining and dedicated figure that people don’t always understand but look up to and respect and thoroughly enjoy.
Since I knew that we would do the presentation in Spanish and it didn’t make sense to do a reading in English, I had thought that it would be good if we asked anyone there if they would like to share a story of walking or working with Wolf. So that was part of the program. Carlos introduced me and I gave the story of the beginnings of the book in the longest Spanish public talk I have ever given. I’m very comfortable with this gang, many of whom I’ve known since I came here, so stumbled my way through, knowing that they would be generous with their understanding of what I was trying to say. I don’t think I did too badly in the end (fortunately I’m far from a perfectionist, so speaking strangely in any language doesn’t bother me). We had the pictures showing on the screen as we had at the other presentation, many with folks from the Reserve, and of course people love seeing themselves and each other, so that was a great backdrop.
Before Wolf spoke, Carlos presented him with two plaques, one in English, one in Spanish, each with a picture of him and a summary of his story. Wolf’s son, Carlos, had asked me a year ago if I would write a short background on Wolf for something, and this is what appeared on the plaque in English, then translated in Spanish. These will hang in the restaurant of the casona at the entrance to the Reserve so that visitors will always be able to read about Wolf’s role in the preservation of these woods. Wolf was very touched – he was also given copies for his house. Carlos also gave him a beautiful wooden walking stick with an “I love Costa Rica” glass ball on the head of it. It was all very appropriate and kind and a really wonderful gesture to Wolf from his co-workers. I can’t overstate how much I appreciate Carlos Hernandez’ constant and respectful generosity to both Wolf and our book project.
The administrative assistant, Marjorie Cruz, then stood up and presented me with a beautiful arrangement of tropical flowers with thanks for the work I’ve done to record Wolf’s story. That was very much a surprise to me and, once again, very nice of them.
Mostly keeping his tears in check, Wolf spoke about his years of developing the Reserve and working with the Tropical Science Center, the satisfaction he gets of seeing the young staff carrying on his work, the thrill of watching the guides teach visitors about the flora and fauna, and the fact that it takes a community to do such great things. He is always humble when he speaks about his contributions.
Wolf’s son Ricky with his son Francis on his lap
Marjorie than asked if anyone would like to share their own experiences and several people stood up and spoke – some with stories, some just expressing their gratitude to Wolf for the work he has done, some stating how glad they were that his stories and history have been recorded while he was still alive and able to see the book in print. They all expressed, in different ways, the realization that what they were doing today came from Wolf’s hard work and gentle ways and that this would live on forever both in the spirit of the preserved forest and the pages of Walking with Wolf. Wolf’s son Ricky, who hadn’t been able to be at the other presentation, was there today and took the opportunity to stand and publicly embrace his father.
Miguel Leiton’s son, William, also spoke of the great relationship between his family and the Guindon’s and how his father was there today in spirit; Adrian Mendez, an employee of the Reserve since he was a teenager, now a professional guide, also spoke of the role Wolf had played in influencing the direction of his life.
William Leiton on right, with the elusive Alan Pounds in the blue
We laughed a lot, soft tears were shed, great stories were shared, then coffee and treats were had by all. We took a group picture of the Reserve staff, although some had already left to get back to work and others had been left behind to run things while the rest participated. The morning couldn’t have been nicer, the gestures kinder, the faces friendlier, or Wolf and I happier. Gracias ustedes, es un honor ser un parte de esta communidad.
Rain is pounding down on the zinc roof of Wolf and Lucky’s house, making conversation difficult, but finally giving me a chance to write from Monteverde. Aah yes, the cloud forest in the rainy season – not for the faint of heart but paradise for those with webbed feet. Actually it has been so dry here that water was being rationed in the community up until the rains started in earnest about a week ago. Looks like I got here right on time. The humidity has cranked up the clamminess, the landscape is a collage of intense greens, and the dirt roads are slowly becoming water-filled ditches supporting small gravel islands.
I was so busy with getting the book ready and preparing to leave my home and garden for a couple of months, that I wasn’t thinking so much about where I was going, other than to Wolf’s house to present him with his book. But in very short order, upon my arrival in Costa Rica, my heart has filled with the warmth of the Guindon family, the anticipation in the community for Walking with Wolf, and the enchantment of the place. The last time I was here in this particular season, the beginning of the rainy season, was 1990, my first year here. I had forgotten how the view from up on the mountain in May, looking over the Nicoya peninsula to the Pacific, is this magical world of clouds, mountains, water, and sky - these elements merge and mingle and seem to get turned upside down, in a way that even Stephen Spielberg couldn’t capture with an arsenal of special effects. When I woke up on Thursday morning, just as day was breaking, and looked out the windows to the west, my breath was taken away by the layers of color and shadow suspended on the shifting horizon. I grabbed my camera and went out to try to capture it (a picture here isn’t worth the thousand words it would take to describe the scene) – I startled two masked tityras, beautiful white birds with pink and black facial markings, who were feeding in a guayaba tree and didn’t notice me right away. They fluttered about grabbing the small fruit, only five feet from me, until they realized that I was there and flew off.
Welcome back to Monteverde…
The flight down was fast (those individual TV screens on the planes are great – two movies of your choice and you’re here); the books arrived safe and sound (did I mention how expensive they were as extra baggage? – Kaching); customs didn’t look once at me that alone twice; and as soon as I got through to the wall of windows at the exit, there were Lucky and Wolf, smiling and waving. As promised, the Reserve’s four-wheel drive, army-fatigue-green, Toyota crew cab truck-limo, complete with Beto the chauffeur, had come to pick me and the books up. We waited until we were in a restaurant to unveil the books – and, as hoped, Wolf and Lucky were very excited and pleased. We had our first moment of celebrity – the waitress saw the cover and looked at Wolf and asked if that was him – and then saw my photo on the back – and was thrilled to be serving two such important people! HA! Not like we got a free meal or anything, but it was fun for all of us nonetheless.
We didn’t make it up the mountain to Monteverde, normally about a three to four hour trip from the airport, until 9 that night. They were putting in a culvert on the highway and there was only one lane open and they were letting the traffic going to the city pass much more frequently than those of us heading to the country. We spent close to three hours inching forward in fits and starts, Lucky playing old tunes on the harmonica, Beto and I getting out to tempt fate with the oncoming traffic, Wolf picking up the book from time to time, checking to see if it was real. By the time we got up the mountain, there was nothing left but sleep. But we were very, very happy.
On Thursday morning we took the book up to Carlos Hernandez, the director at the Reserve. He insists that the Tropical Science Center (who owns and administers the Reserve) is serious about wanting to finance a Spanish translation. I told him that although I think this is wonderful, I don’t want to give up the rights to the book and also want to control the translating process (new little control freak that I’ve become – makes me wonder just what kind of parent I might have been after all…). I believe he is on Wolf’s and my side in this – he took copies to give to the members of the board of the TSC. I suggested that he have someone who is fluent in English read the book first and make sure they are still interested. He suggested that I check out how much the translation itself might cost and who we might employ to do it. We will proceed from there. But my immediate feeling was a good one, that he understands how personal the project is for Wolf and I, and that he will represent us well to the board.
We made our rounds showing off the book (one last baby comparison – the book’s cover really is soft like a baby’s bum, I swear). Our friends Mercedes Diaz and Luis Angel Obando, who show up in the last chapter of Walking with Wolf, were thrilled to finally get their copy – immediately plans were started for the fiesta, la presentacion del libro, and we started selling books. Lucky began reading and her reaction has been wonderful (although she did find an error deep in the book – a factual one, not just a difference of memory from her husband – I think I will leave it ambiguous and see how many people catch this error….hopefully not too many more will be found).
Leaving Wolf and Lucky with the book safely in hand, I jumped on a bus on Friday morning and returned to the big city of San José to meet up with my friend Patricia Maynard. She was taking a group of Latin American literature students from the University of Georgia around town to a variety of cultural events. I sat in on talks by our musician friends Edin Solis of Editus and Jaime Gamboa of Malpais on the historical context and present day reality of Costa Rican music. They both tried to convince the American students, who listed reggaeton as one of their favorite genres of music, that songwriting which includes poetry and composition that is more than three chords is of more value than easy, commercial music – I’m not sure if they convinced the students, but Edin and Jaime spoke with such passion that I would hope they at least made them think. We had a great meal at the Café Arco Iris and watched Alejandro Toceti – now a kind of Cultural Attache with the government, but who we’ve known as a beautiful dancer, whose every muscle speaks even when he stands still – tell stories with his body. We finished our day with a night of hot dancing at Jazz Café in San Pedro – Manuel Monestel and his ever-changing Afro-Caribbean band, Cantoamerica, kept us jumping to salsa, calypso and reggae. Since my years involved in the music festival in Monteverde, all these musicians have remained great friends and a night of hearing them play only whets my appetite for more.
The next day we had the great privilege of a visit with Daniel Villegas, one of the top authors and playwrights in Costa Rica. He studied years ago in Europe as well as Los Angeles and New York City at The Artists Studio. Not only was his conversation colorful and informative, but for me, the new young author that I be, it was very touching. When he spoke about how he found inspiration, how stories can be told, and the most important thing being to write honestly and about what is real in your life – well, I like to think that I have tried to do that with Walking with Wolf. I humbly gave him a copy of our book. He accepted it graciously, though who knows if he will ever read it. But it was the first instance where I presented myself as an author with a book I am proud of and wasn’t embarrassed to share it with such a distinguished writer.
I came back up the mountain in time for the Quaker meeting on Sunday. After the hour of silence, when it came time for introductions by visitors and announcements, I confirmed the rumors to those present, that I had indeed returned with the book in hand (I had left last May stating I wouldn’t return until the book was truly a book). I invited everyone to the celebration to be held later this week at Bromelias Café, on Thursday, May 29th at 5 p.m. I then presented Jean Stuckey, the head of the Monteverde library committee, with a signed copy of Walking with Wolf. The dedication reads:
“For the Monteverde Friends Library, my favorite library in the world. It is with the greatest pleasure that we give you our book to be placed on your musty shelves. With love, Kay and the Wolf”.
I’m on my way there now to help catalogue it and place it on the shelf!