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Here on the green mountain, beauty is all around us. Some of this is just the sheer natural splendor of the place – the misty-erios cloud forest, the tall, twisted, bromeliad-filled trees, the dripping emerald canopy, the rolling pastures with pretty-faced Guernsey cows. Then there is the minute glory, from the delicate orchids to the flashy beetles to the exotic fungi. But beauty is also found in the people here and I think this comes from how they collectively live relatively healthy lives – not all, not always, but compared to the faces of urban sprawl, the inner city and the poverty of spirit one can often find elsewhere, one has to be happy to have landed here.
I spent two days last week celebrating exactly these riches. Last Sunday, there was a wedding at the Friends Meeting House – the director of the Monteverde Institute, Jannelle Wilkins married her man, Rick Mera in a peaceful ceremony, surrounded by their friends and neighbors. I was part of the little group who decorated the room for them – we hung calla lilies in the windows and strategically placed tables to hold the various bouquets of garden flowers that were brought by folks from the community. Calla lilies are also known as peace lilies and they couldn’t have been more appropriate for the occasion. My new friend Caroline Crimm provided many of these lilies and more were donated by others, enough that we were able to hand them out to guests as they arrived. The room was simple and serene.
The Trostle family
As at all weddings, the guests arrived looking their best, with smiles on their faces, and that makes for a good-looking assembled crowd. I snapped lots of photos and share several here – perhaps you will recognize some of the faces – weddings tend to bring out hope and joy in people, and this wedding was no exception.
Jannelle & Katy Alberto Guindon & Angelina
At the Quaker meeting, the wedding ceremony is as thoughtful and personal as Sunday meeting. Friend Katy Van Dusen nicely explained what would happen – we would sit in silence and await the arrival of Jannelle and Rick. When they came, we sang a song together – “Simple Gifts” – to the guitar accompaniment of Tricia Wagner, who herself has a beautiful voice. As the song says… “when we find ourselves in the place just right, it will be in the valley of love and delight.” And it was. Or at least on the mountain of…
Rick & Jannelle with Saray & Melvin Leiton
When they were ready, the couple exchanged their vows, looking in each other’s eyes, only the two of them. In between each part of the ceremony, there was silence, time to reflect and appreciate the moment. Jannelle and Rick signed the wedding papers and shortly after people stood one by one and shared their thoughts. This couple was blessed by the warmth of the community.
Jannelle’s sister Darlene and daughter Natalia The Jenkins family
The members of their families who had come for the wedding were very moved by the occasion. Someone expressed how people often feel that this simple Friends ceremony, where guests are encouraged to share their own thoughts, is one of the most beautiful wedding ceremonies they have been to – the couple say their vows directly to each other, in the presence of their friends, not to a priest or pastor or minister. And the wishes extended by their family and friends are thoughtful and wise and filled with loving concern.
Afterward we all walked a little ways up the road to the Hotel Fonda Vela, where there was a huge spread of wonderful food, accompanied by songs of love sang by Tricia Wagner and Robert Dean. A marimba band played outside where meat was roasting on the barbeque. The sun set in a furious explosion of brightness behind the head table while more words of support were expressed. It was a beautiful gathering of friends, surrounded by love and the hope of a joyful future for Jannelle and Rick.
A couple days after that, I took to the woods with Wolf’s son Ricky Guindon. In my job with Bosqueeterno S.A., where I’ve been challenged to write a history of this watershed reserve set aside by the original Quakers in 1951, I will also include a natural history of the 554 hectares – describing the primary forest and its inhabitants, the use of the land and the various biological studies that have taken place there over the years.
Ricky has been a field assistant with a number of biologists and was the perfect guide for this hike. We had originally thought that we would head out the trail that starts near the entrance to the Reserve and goes to El Valle and then turn and follow the boundary line of the property. We knew that the maintenance crew had recently cleared it but also knew that it would still be much more challenging hiking than any of the trails as these carril lines are not designed for easy walking.
On my way up to the Reserve to meet Ricky, I ran into Dan Perlman, a biologist from the U.S. who has spent years here studying ants. When he heard where I was going, he told me that he had with him a 360-degree camera and would love to tag along. He would take photos along the way that we could then use on the Bosqueeterno webpage when we get to doing that. I haven’t seen these photos, but can imagine they are incredible. He would stand in one place and the camera would record all around it, along with a couple minutes of sound. This will be a wonderful feature to share on the internet.
Gelatinous stalked puffball
Ricky, Dan and I started out and moved so slow – looking at each precious little bug, leaf, orchid and bird then stopping to stare at the magnificence of the tree-covered mountainside under a cloudy but bright sky – that we had to change our plans. Dan stayed with us for awhile and had to head back, and Ricky and I decided that instead of trying to move faster and cover a great deal of ground, we would stay on the trail that would lead us to Cerro Amigos. This is one of the highest peaks in the area and it is where there are several communication towers.
I’ve been up there with Wolf a couple of times, always approaching it from the community side on gradually climbing trails. We were now coming from the backside which meant climbing up a very steep trail, “like climbing up tree limbs,” said Ricky.
Along the way we went past the water pipes where the community draws its water from the Quebrada Cuecha. We were so lucky not to have a drop of rain, only the usual moisture on the Atlantic side of the cerro where the clouds hit the peak and deposit their moisture. Ricky was a wonderful person to be with, full of knowledge of the birds, the plants and the insects, and as content as I was to be out in this unique piece of wilderness.
When we got to the towers there was too much cloud to see Arenal volcano behind us (which I know from past experience sits like a huge grey cone and feels close enough to fall into), but it was clear enough to see the community below us. There is a road that heads almost vertically straight up the hill which is used by the men who live up there (a man stays for 15 days then has 15 days off); we watched a man bringing a bundle of materials up on his shoulder, slowly climbing up this steep dirt track.
We went down by way of the trails that exist for students at the Canadian Biological Station, a much more pleasant way of descending. We were shortly out of the clouds and in bright sunshine – which is where we met our only little cloudburst. We were refreshed by some gentle rain, even though it was hard to find the cloud above us in the aqua blue sky.
We had walked for about seven hours, through the rain forest at the entrance to the Reserve, up to the elfin forest near the towers, and back into the gentile pastures of Monteverde. Stunning, magical and very, very green.
I guess a week of beauty isn’t complete without a trip to a salon. Alberto Guindon’s step-daughter, Melody, is a very talented hair stylist and make-up artist who came from San Diego a few months ago to be near her mother and give her son, Jaden, some schooling in Monteverde. She worked for years as a photographer’s assistant and enjoys prepping people for a photo shoot. She asked me if I’d like her to do my make-up and hair. I’ve never been a cosmetic person except for Halloween and when playing dress-up but was willing, so spent an evening being primped and then she took many pictures. Some of them were great, and we both enjoyed the experience. I still wouldn’t wear make-up, but had fun playing model for an evening.
Here in Costa Rica, August 15 is Mother’s Day. My mother died in 1998 and I miss her. I had the chance to wish Lucky Guindon a Mother’s Day, having arrived at her house with her daughter, Melody, who gave her mom a bouquet of flowers. The love that comes from your mother is one of the most beautiful things in the world, even long after she has gone.
On Sunday I gathered with the Guindons to celebrate Wolf’s 79th birthday. It was my last evening in Monteverde for this tour and a very special one. Wolf is slowly feeling better as his medications get straightened out but it has been a difficult couple of months. I hope that we will all be together to celebrate his big 80th next August 17. In the meantime, I’m down in Cahuita with Roberto and the monkeys and the waves and the sweet sounds of calypso. Life is truly beautiful. Hasta la proxima….
I am writing from a hotel room in Puntarenas, the funky little port city on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. I came here yesterday to visit Wolf, who is in the hospital. Last Thursday, after spending the morning in the Reserve, he was walking home mid-day, heading through the magical bullpen. No one knows what happened yet, but he got nauseous and fell over and then had a hard time to get up. He managed to crawl to a tree and support himself up to his feet, but it wasn’t long before he fell again. As far as he remembers, this happened three times until he finally, hours later, managed to get home. The emergency doctors brought him oxygen and then in the morning he had two more episodes of passing out. The ambulance brought him down to Puntarenas hospital the next day and he has been here since (it is now Wednesday).
So they aren’t sure what happened to him. He is going into San Jose to see a heart specialist on Thursday and for some tests. I got word on the weekend and came yesterday. His son, Ricky, is here at the hospital and he doesn’t know much more than that either.
I sat for a couple of hours visiting with Wolf yesterday and don’t see any lasting effects. His mind is lucid, his speech is as clear as he gets, and he is tired but in great spirits. I think he is a little scared but is taking things patiently. And he has a beautiful view out of the hospital room, over the Pacific Ocean and the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, with boats and clouds floating in and out of view. So although he has obviously gone through a rough spell, this just isn’t his time and he is making the best of the situation.
Wolf and I did manage to get the books last Monday morning out of customs. I have no idea why, but the tariffs were almost twice what we paid a year ago for a slightly smaller quantity. However you pay the piper and he gives you the goods. So a fresh crop of Walking with Wolf is safely in storage at the Center for Peace in San Jose. Our customs agent, Eliecer, seen here at his busy desk, helped us and although it was a long, frustrating and ultimately expensive process, we managed.
In the middle of the days of waiting, Wolf and I decided we needed to get out of the city and go up the mountain to Monteverde for a couple days. I got a lot done while I was there, saw many friends, confirmed the contract with Karen Masters and the Bosque Eterno SA as their information officer which will bring me some badly needed money, spoke with Pax about the computer art work for the Spanish version of the book, and did a little contra-dancing at the Friends School house.
We arrived on the Friday night and walked into one of those special nights in Monteverde when young and old bring out their talents and the community gathers to celebrate. This night was no exception, with songs and dance and funny videos made by students at the local schools. These occasions always make me appreciate this special place called Monteverde.
I also saw Veronica and Stuart and the three little dogs where I lived before. We’ve arranged that I will head up late June and again in early August and live in their house and care for the puppies while the human folk go to the US for awhile. They’ve moved houses, into a smaller abode close to the cliff edge, a place I’ve never lived in before but really look forward to staying at. Roberto will come and is determined to help Wolf do some cleaning on the trail that goes around the Guindon farm. As Wolf said, he may have to sit on the sidelines and watch Roberto work, but that will be fine too.
In the meantime, we now await word on what has vexed the Wolf. By the time I left today, Lucky, Melody, Helena and their families were all there and we took turns going up to visit Wolf (the hospital has a strange one visitor at a time system that takes a lot of coordination.) Lucky told me that in true form for Wolf, the morning that they were waiting for the ambulance to arrive, she made him a small cup of coffee. He then proceeded to pass out and she tried to pry his fingers off the cup so that he wouldn’t continue spilling it down him but his fingers gripped that cup like a lifeline. When he came to, the first thing he said was, “Hey, where’s my coffee?”
Wolf spent today sitting in a wheelchair in the hallway, enjoying the great view towards the clouds over Monteverde and receiving the line of visitors who had come. He seemed to be quite normal to me. I trust that the doctors will figure out what went wonky and help him to avoid it in the future. I’m happy that I was here in Costa Rica and able to so easily go and see him. I’m very thankful that I left him in good spirits with a strong mind and his usual laugh ringing down the hall as I walked away.
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.