My good friend Al Bair tells this joke: “Kay has a speech impediment. She has to stop and take a breath once in awhile.” We laugh, but there may be some truth to it.
Anyone who knows Wolf Guindon knows that he too is a talker. Of course, just because he talks doesn’t mean that listeners can follow, anymore than when he walks, those behind can keep up to him. Any of you who have read Walking with Wolf, (and if you haven’t, what have you been doing???) knows that it could also be called Talking with Wolf. I wrote the book after years of taping Wolf’s monologues and our conversations. Over the twelve years of making tapes, I listened to literally thousands of hours of Wolfspeak and ended up with hundreds of pages of written Wolfbabble. I know how this man can talk.
Well, let me tell you. The previous 80 years have just been a warm up for the marathon of chatter that is coming out of Wolf now. I believe it was December 14, the day that nurse Stefany and I took Wolf up to the Monteverde Reserve to visit his compañeros, that he started talking. And I swear, and I think the family would probably concur, that he really hasn’t stopped talking since.
Wolf is now in the Blanco Cervantes Hospital in San José. It has been just over a week since they admitted him to this social security geriatric hospital. As his body was getting stronger, it was also releasing more manic energy. When he arrived, he was still able to walk and was eating pretty well, but his mind was in another world and he was beginning to act strangely. And he was talking – a lot.
I am truly amazed that someone could talk this much and not lose their voice. His voice undulates – from whispers to shouted commands – but maintains a very steady monologue. I feel sorry for the five other men in the room with him. They are in varying stages of their own distress and a couple of them let out loud shouts and moans from time to time. So though he isn’t necessarily the loudest one, Wolf certainly is the most constant noise maker. It might not have been so bad if he just talked in a low monotone that blended with the background city noises and you could become immune to it. Wolf’s voice rambles up and down as does his mind, just about lulling you to sleep only to then make you jump out of your skin as he shouts to someone ahead of him on his mental path. I’m sure the men wanted to strangle him at times.
And what has he been talking about, you ask? That is hard to say since much of it is mumbled, but there are certainly some common recognizable themes. The most frequent, and my favorite, is when he is in Peñas Blancas valley with his good friends Eladio Cruz and Frank Joyce. “Eladio,” he shouts. “Frank. Vamanos!” I can’t follow much of his speech, but can just about follow him up and down the muddy trails. He throws in names of cabins – El Valle, the German’s – and talks about the rain or drinking coffee. One day there were a number of “Hallelujahs” interspersed as well. He often has a smile on his face during these long verbal hikes.
True to his lifelong commitment to the protection of the Monteverde forests, he also talks about issues of conservation and about the need to attend meetings and have his opinion heard. Just as he was starting to enter this rather psychotic period in December, he attended the Bosqueeterno S.A. annual meeting, where he had a hard time concentrating. He was starting to prepare statements to be read at the Monteverde Conservation League and Tropical Science Center meetings that are coming up soon. Even in his rambling state, we still see these issues that are at the core of his being.
Other days he’s driving a machine. For most of this week, Wolf’s hands have been tied to the bed to prevent him from getting out and hurting himself or others. But as he talks, his right hand works a gear shift, and every little while he exclaims in a high voice, “Ping!” We have all wondered what this is, guessing that he is driving either his tractor or his truck, perhaps from the years he was hauling pigs to the lowlands or milk to the lecheria. Whatever the “ping” is, we haven’t figured that one out yet.
He has less pleasant conversations with God. It’s heartbreaking to listen to him asking God why he can’t die, why he must suffer. That is something often asked in these difficult moments of life. When he turns his head and glares into my eyes, I feel terrible for not having the answer for him.
Wolf is receiving great care in this hospital. We have been reassured by many of the family members visiting other patients that the doctors and staff are very attentive and concerned. Unfortunately Wolf was admitted just before New Year’s Eve, so of course the staff was minimal and the doctors were on holiday. But now everyone is back to work, tests have been taken, and now we are in the process of trying to find a new medication to bring Wolf some mental stability. The first one they tried just seemed to make matters worse, so he was taken off that and they are letting his system cleanse for a couple of days before trying something new.
A couple of days ago, they removed his catheter to try to stop the continuing urinary infections. There is a good chance that this will also help his mental state with less infections and less discomfort.
Each member of the Guindon family in Monteverde, along with his nurse Stefany and myself, have come to San José to take turns watching over Wolf. We don’t have as much to do this time as we did at the Puntarenas hospital. The staff here takes better care of things and we are only allowed there between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. He has not been uncomfortable, except for the restraints on his arms, but we can’t do anything about that until he is of a sound enough mind to be responsible. He hasn’t been asking to go back to Monteverde, since he doesn’t seem to know where he is. He has pretty much refused to eat, so we don’t need to feed him though we try to convince him to take a few spoonfuls of soup so they won’t insist on putting a feeding tube in him. He has barely slept, his manic energy not allowing him such peace.
All we can really do is sit with him, touch his arm, and listen, since, it would seem, all he can really do is talk.
PS: On the day I’ve written this, on Wolf’s ninth day in the hospital, there’s been a change. When I went in to be with him today, he was sleeping soundly. When he awoke, the silence continued. He had stopped talking. I sang some songs with him and he joined in. I asked him some questions, and he answered them fairly sanely. He asked me where he was and I told him. I had a mandarin with me, and he sucked on some sections and then asked for some other fruit – cantaloupe or watermelon. I ran across the street and got some and he took small bits and sucked the juice from them. It was the first time he had desired any food in over a week and he enjoyed it. It was the first time I had seen him sleeping soundly in as long. When I looked in his eyes, I saw a small flicker of light that hasn’t been there for awhile.
But it is the silence, that blessed non-verbal silence, that is truly golden. Wolf finally ran out of things to talk about, although I’m sure he still has plenty to say.