This last week, in the early morning hours, I’ve awoken to an amazingly intense light in the eastern sky. The first time was about 3:30 a.m., a couple of days after our return from the Puntarenas hospital when we brought Wolf home. My eyes were teased open by this light piercing the darkness like a streetlight outside my window. Rising slowly over the black silhouette of the tree line into what was left of the night sky, the light shone so brightly I had to get up out of bed to figure out what it was.
Wolf’s son, Antonio, on night duty keeping watch over his father, was sitting in the darkened house. I went to him and asked, “Tonio, what is that light out there?” He answered, “It’s Venus. I’ve been watching her rising over the last couple of nights.” We both watched her in silence for a few minutes in the stillness of the sleeping house.
Satisfied, I returned to my room which was lit up by her brilliance, thinking I’d crawl back into bed to escape the chill that had settled around us. I watched as fleeting clouds, backlit like hovering white angels, passed over the planet of love. Sleep was now impossible.
In this house, nestled amongst the trees, surrounded by cow pastures, capped with clouds, and tickled by rainbows, love has been on the rise all week, just like her matriarchal planet, Venus. The Guindons have come home.
It’s been seventeen years since Wolf and Lucky had all eight of their children together at the same time. The last picture of the family, taken in 1994, is featured in Walking with Wolf, next to a picture from the late sixties of the kids as children, lined up in Von Trapp family style. Fortunately, we’ve had many opportunities in the last week to take family pictures.
The love of family and the comfort of home has been the best medicine for Wolf. The views from the house over the treetops to the Gulf of Nicoya have brought joy to him daily. Along with the family members who live close by – Benito, Melody, Ricky and Alberto – I’ve been helping take care of Wolf with those who have come home from the US, Tomas, Helena, Carlos and Tonio. Friends from near and far have come to visit, often with food in hand. Wolf’s spirits have risen daily, following Venus on her path to the heavens.
From his first night back home, Wolf began sleeping sounder than he ever did in the hospital. Bit by bit, he started imbibing a variety of liquids – Beni’s kefir, fresh fruit juices, homemade soup broths, and Monteverde’s pure sweet water – which have made him stronger. He’s now advanced to soft foods, taken in small amounts, enough to keep his physical strength up just like his spirit.
Wolf never lost his sense of humor, but for awhile there we couldn’t understand him at all. People who know Wolf are aware that he mumbles and talks in circles, but those of us with experience can usually follow him, though keeping up to him could be as hard as keeping up to him on the trail. In the last couple of months, his mind has wandered and it’s been harder to stay on his path. This is probably from Lithium poisoning, a result of twenty-five years of taking Lithium for manic depression, as well as confusion caused by dehydration and the infections that have plagued him.
In those last two weeks in the hospital, he had a feeding tube. Along with too much time spent lying in bed with too little activity, he collected water on his lungs. The problem grew each day – Wolf coughed and tried to expel what seemed like phlegm in his throat – and with each passing day we understood less of what he was trying to say. He became more frustrated as we tried, with less and less success, to understand him. The problem grew to the point that he appeared to be a man drowning, fighting for whatever little breath he could get.
A respirologist came in the last night in the hospital and finally suctioned out what was blocking his breathing. Melody, Tomas and I held him for the few seconds it took that seemed like an eternity. It was a frightful moment for him and for us, but one that ended in instant relief and immediate understanding when he said, “Is it over?”
And I would say that was the beginning of his return to the land of the living.
This week in Monteverde has been filled with special moments and wonderful surprises. Last Sunday, with Wolf still very weak and his future not at all certain, the family decided to hold Sunday meeting in the house (Quaker silent meeting as it is held on Sunday mornings at the Friends house here in Monteverde). After an hour of silence, each of us took turns expressing our thoughts, our thanks, and our hopes. I thanked this wonderful family for allowing me to be part of what is a very special yet difficult time for them.
The rest of the day was a big feast of food and affection, followed by singing Christmas carols, and visits from friends. Wolf went to sleep that night exhausted but happy and secure in the care of his family.
Two days later, we joined together to go walking with Wolf on his trail that he has cut and maintained around the Guindon farm. His great friends and hiking buddies, Frank Joyce, Eladio Cruz and Jim Richards joined his children and grandchildren on an amazing trek to the mirador, the lookout across the valley towards the forested ridges of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
We planned on doing this on Monday, a very windy, rainy, chilly day, but we had to wait for a visit from a nurse that delayed us until we had to give up the idea for that day. Wolf didn’t care that the weather was miserable. “Vamanos,” he said, as he would have said all his life. The worse the conditions, the keener Wolf would be. The rest of us may have thought it wasn’t a great day for the hike, but Wolf just said, “We have raincoats!”
As fate would have it, the delay brought us a gorgeous Monteverde day – brilliant blue sky, warm sunshine kept fresh by mountain winds. Antonio designed a Cacique-throne that Wolf could be carried in by attaching two long strong sticks to the base of a leather rocking chair, the kind famously made in the artisans’ town of Sarchi, Costa Rica.
Wolf was strapped securely in the chair. We all bundled up and headed up the trail. The men – his sons, son-in-law, and friends – took turns carrying Wolf, one in front, one behind (I took a very short turn, just for the honor of it, enough for a little gender quality, but without pushing it till someone got hurt!) The trail winds through the forest away from the house, up towards the famous Bullpen, and past the big oak trees to the cliff edge. Every few minutes, we stopped for a rest, to see the views, to look at birds, to adjust the position of the Cacique, and to change the sherpas.
When we reached the mirador, we were greeted by the clearest view possible, a gift seldom given in the cloud forest. We could see the shadowy layers of ridges, the individual trees across the valley, and even people standing on the platform at La Ventana, about two kilometers away as the toucan flies, the destination of many hikers in the Monteverde Reserve. There is no doubt that Wolf suffered a little in the chair – he has a catheter that can get very uncomfortable – but for Wolf, and the rest of us, it was a couple hours of sheer Monteverde splendor and a magical morning spent following the leader of the pack.
After this successful expedition, with Wolf seeming stronger each day, the family asked him what his “bucket list” was. Perhaps a desire to go to South America may not be met (tho’ never say never), his wish for strawberry ice cream was very doable. However, his wish to return to the base of Arenal Volcano was something that the family saw as a challenge, but one that could be met.
Wolf and Lucky’s children had promised them a couple of nights in the stunning Arenal Observatory Lodge for their 60th Anniversary that they celebrated this October. At that time, Wolf was recovering from his eye cataract surgery and Lucky was weak from the bronchitis. They had to make do with a lovely evening out at a local restaurant. It was questionable if they would ever get to fulfill the bigger dream.
The Observatory Lodge helped make this a very special event. When Benito contacted them, they said that they would provide the beautiful White Hawk House for the whole family – compliments of the Lodge! So with all eight Guindon children, Tomas’ wife Gretchen and his children Julian and Olivia (who flew down from California for a few days), Melody’s daughter Naomi, and your intrepid reporter-PAPArazzi-personal assistant-to-the-Guindon clan, Kay – we took a twenty-four hour trip to Arenal.
There is a very convenient “jeep-boat-jeep” trip that tourists take advantage of between Monteverde and Arenal Volcano. It is actually van-boat-van, but the other sounds more rugged I guess. The bunch of us piled into the vans on Thursday morning, bumped our ways along the backroads to Rio Chiquito, where we got into the flat-bottomed tour boat that was commissioned privately for the trip. Wolf traveled in a lounge chair provided by Phebe and Jim Richards, something that proved invaluable for easing transferring and Wolf’s comfort.
Don Miguel Hernandez, who owns the boats and lives over in La Fortuna, personally met us on the other side of the lake to drive us that last bit to the Lodge. Wolf has met up with Miguel many times over the years and they were joking and telling stories together. Wolf is well known near and far for his adventures and his friendly, funny manner. Everywhere you travel with Wolf, you realize how many people know him and have great affection and respect for him.
We were received by Henry, the manager of the Arenal Observatory Lodge and a former employee at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. From the moment of arrival, Wolf was treated as the king he is in these parts, and we were all treated royally.
We spent a wonderful night at the base of the volcano, but it remained shrouded as the clouds never totally lifted to reveal her complete glory. Fortunately all of us have seen the volcano before, except Tomas’ young children.
It didn’t matter. There were beautiful birds – the crimson-collared tanager and the green honeycreepers – a collared anteater, and a beautiful margay, romping around like a domestic cat with wild tendencies.
Our friend Zulay Martinez and her husband Keith Maves brought a homemade dinner so we could stay together at the house. Once again, Wolf enjoyed it all, even though he started having problems with his catheter again, not a surprise after the jostling he took on the way there. Each member of the family basked in the joy of being together, soaking up the spectacular views, birding off the balcony, playing their family-favorite double solitaire at night, drinking coffee and laughing at every possible moment.
Now we are back home. Carlos and Antonio have already left , Tomas and Gretchen are soon on their way. The house is getting quieter, but the memories created in this special week are still ringing as loud as the bells of Christmas that are taking over the season.
Love is a powerful drug, a restorative tonic, a magical medicine. Thanks from everyone here, to all who have come and continue to be here in spirit. The Guindons are truly an amazing clan. The light of Venus continues to shine down on the Guindon farm and Monteverde and love continues to rise and swirl in the Monteverde mist.