I am always intrigued by what might be behind the unfriendly metal gates that line many of the streets of San José. I remember being in Havana Cuba, and how many of the old, often crumbling but almost always anciently elegant buildings had open doorways that you could just walk through. There would be fanciful courtyards and tropical gardens and sometimes an elderly person sitting there, totally unperturbed that you had walked into their home.
The locked gates of San José don’t present that friendly face at all. Instead it seems like a city under siege, and with crime as prevalent as it is, and fear the predominating state of mind, it sometimes feels just like that. People have built great cauldrons of metal around their homes to the point that you can barely see anything beyond. What is always interesting to me is how beautiful many of the homes are behind those portons – the carefully tended gardens, the heavily-carved antiques, the ceramic tiles, along with the normally generous and warm Ticos that reside within their prison walls.
I’m presently staying in one of those incredible “behind-the-gate” homes with my friend Richarda. I came to help her do some purging and packing, but so far we just seem to be playing. That’s okay, it’s her call. Without saying too much and invading her privacy, may I just say that she is a captivating colorful character, originally from Germany, who has lived an amazing life in a variety of places around the world, socialized with famous actors, artists and writers, cooks like a cordon bleu chef and has stories that would raise your hair. I met her probably a year ago, but I’m just getting to know her and thoroughly enjoying the process.
She lives here with her two dogs – a gentle spaniel-type named Souki and a not so mellow Chihuahua named Maximilian – as well as four cats who stay separated from the dogs. I share my room with Adonis, a lovely black cat, possibly, says Richarda, the reincarnation of her deceased mother, who is happy for the company and purrs incessantly.
There is a lovely garden in the back with a lion-spitting fountain and fresh herbs and cherry tomatoes for the kitchen and tropical plants galore. The house is full of treasures from around the world, mirrors and crystals and Buddhas, shiny baubles, colored lights, exotic furniture and soft fancy fabrics. It feels more like New York then Costa Rica and the food that Richarda and her Peruvian cook Alina serve is finer than any restaurant I can afford. I feel like I’ve fallen into an alternate universe, one featuring a generous hostess with no end to her savory sagas and repasts.
I’ve come here from another universe, the delightfully green Monteverde, where it was a very busy month. I did some upholstering, resurrecting some antique hostess chairs, repairing some oddly reupholstered furniture and making both a giant thermos-cozy to keep coffee hot and a booster seat for friend Katy’s EZ cart. This is a new creature on the mountain, an electrically-charged battery-operated glorified golf cart that runs completely silently – a dream after the loud whines and puttering of the tuk tuks and motorcycles – and holds at least four if not more people plus their packages. I wonder if this new eco-friendly vehicle will take off in popularity like the tuk tuks did.
Our book continues to sell well and Wolf and I had a few occasions to speak to groups of visiting students at the Monteverde Reserve. We have it down to a fine art, to come in as they finish their lunch, and in less than fifteen minutes we tell them some of the history of Wolf, the community and the founding of the Reserve. We have sold several books this way, happy to sign them, answer questions and have personal contact with visitors. People are truly touched to meet Wolf (and Lucky when she is with us) and it is an all-round pleasant experience for everyone, augmenting the visit to the Reserve for them, giving Wolf some continuing exposure to those enjoying his lifelong work, and giving us a chance to sell more copies of Walking with Wolf.
Other days I spent working with Pax Amighetti, my personal hero of the moment, on the design of Caminando con Wolf. We decided that the change we would make to the book jacket would be simply changing the color of the title (and obviously the language). We redid the maps and also put the new Spanish endorsements on the back of the book . I gathered blurbs of support from musician and historian Manuel Monestel; founder of the Costa Rican National Parks Alvaro Ugalde; Pedro León from the Center for Advanced Studies, and well-known author and biologist, Dan Janzen – an impressive bunch of scholars. Let me know what you think of the purple design (we are still tweeking things and this may not be the final cover, but comments are welcome).
Yesterday I went to a meeting here in San José with Javier Espeleta, the director of the Tropical Science Center and the new (at last!) director of the Editorial Universidad de Costa Rica, Alberto Murillo. Javier and I were curious to see if the new director would have the same enthusiasm as the past director, Julian Monge, had about publishing the Spanish edition of our book. We had a long, very positive meeting with Don Alberto. He explained that on the 16th of February the board of EUCR would meet and decide on their projects so we have until then to put together a package to convince them not only to publish Caminando con Wolf but to do it before October which is when the Monteverde Reserve will celebrate their 40th anniversary and host a conference for representatives of private nature reserves in Latin America. We think that would be the perfect time to release the book in Spanish!
Yes, 2012 is the 40th anniversary of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve (the Reserve as we call it) and there are going to be many events throughout the year as part of the celebration. The first one was a talk last week by Carlos Hernandez, the director at the Reserve. One of the highlights was the video he shared taken from the motion cameras that are strategically placed in the Reserve to record animal movement. One of the first images in the video was of three! puma walking down the trail together. What marvelous beauty was this feline family! There were several other images of puma as well as peccaries, coatis, agoutis and a margay or two. These were recorded on a camera not 600 meters from the entrance to the Reserve.
During Don Carlos’ talk, I was inspired to present a plan to get Wolf back into the cloud forest for a night. Wolf spent fifty years wandering in that forest and happily camping by the side of the trail, many times without a tent, perhaps with a plastic cover, sometimes in a hammock, often alone. He knows the joy of being in the forest at night. If you have read the book, you may remember his words in the Acknowledgements where he talks specifically about the nocturnal beauty:
… “the fact that there is always something new to observe and enjoy…that when you run out of sunlight, which happens at least once a day, a whole new world of sound and life emerges…the sharp silhouettes and varied patterns of its shadows…even the plant life with its own routines, some blooms coming alive at night while others are closing. Add to all of this the moon with its constantly changing phases bringing its own rhythm that drives the pulse of the forest at night.”
I got thinking that he probably wonders if his days of camping are over. I imagined that we could arrange, as part of the anniversary of the Reserve, to take a commemorative walk and camping trip with him. I presented the idea to Don Carlos, who was enthusiastic, and then to Wolf and Lucky. I think Wolf is a little nervous about taking care of his new nocturnal necessities in the forest but he is, of course, willing and I think was somewhat tickled that I had come up with this idea (tickled might not be quite the word he would use). We came up with a plan, Carlos is figuring out a date, we will invite many people to join us in the hike, but only a small number will be able to spend the night in a makeshift camp at the end of the old horse trail, now known as La Camina, where the trail plunges down to Peñas Blancas or climbs up to La Ventana.
Wolf has been doing so great that I didn’t fear that he could handle this adventure though our thinking involves the possibility of a vehicle coming down this bush road if necessary. However, just a couple of days ago he had an incident that I hope won’t affect his general strength and mobility. I phoned Lucky with the results of the meeting with EUCR and she told me that while he was out chopping his trail, Wolf had taken a fall. He likes to get out with his machete most days on the trail that runs from the house to the bullpen. He has recovered the use of his hand that was damaged by being tied in the hospital bed, the hand he needs to write his name, raise his fork and swing his machete with.
I guess he was chopping away at a vine that was tangled around some branches and the machete got caught up in the vegetation at the same time a branch came down and knocked him off his feet. He rolled backwards a little ways down the slope but he’s lucky he didn’t chop his arm off. I’m not sure how long he was there, but when I asked Lucky how he had got back to the house, she told me the part of the story that reminds me of the old fable “The boy who cried wolf”.
Lucky was inside, playing Scrabble with Kenna (another Canadian migratory in Monteverde), and she did hear Wolf’s voice from afar, but as she said “he is always shouting. It is hard to pay attention to him all the time.” Fair enough! Eventually she realized that he was still carrying on and it had been awhile, so she went out to see what he wanted and found him up on the hillside laying on the ground. They got him back to the house and the next day took him to the clinic after Lucky became concerned that he may have bruised or broken a rib.
Fortunately he is okay, though I imagine his body is a little sore and he is no doubt embarrassed. I know how Wolf, like most of us, hates being unable to take care of himself as he did all his life. The idea that a bit of vegetation could get the better of him and leave him stranded on the ground must truly irk him (I wouldn’t want to be that vine next time Wolf gets out there). Thank goodness it was not too serious of a fall. We need Wolf to be strong and able to go camping!