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There is a powerful breeze blowing in Monteverde these days. It is creating a stir in the treetops, a whirl on the dance floors and a buzz in the back forty at the Monteverde Friends School. This community never seems to be short of projects that need the commitment and sweat of volunteers and the enthusiastic participation of supporters near and far. If you have the good fortune to be on this verdant mountain in the first months of 2013, you know that you are needed – somewhere to help someone with something – and that you are going to have a very satisfying time doing it. And if you can only dream of being here, well, there is probably something for you to help with from afar too!
Trying to keep this short, so I too can get back to one of the many other things going on, I will start with a quick update on our good friend, Wolf Guindon. Following that very difficult period two years ago, Wolf has made a phenomenal recovery. He has obviously aged – now 82, he isn’t doing the marathon hikes through the Peñas Blancas valley as he did for the last sixty years, but he is back to being able to walk from his farm, through the mystical bullpen, and up to the Reserve – slow and steady, usually with Lucky at his side, but he can do it. He gets out with his machete and works on his own trail around his farm and he keeps a small campsite open and ready for any visitors who may want to spend a night under the stars or share in a family cookout.
Both Wolf and I are waiting with bated breath, following communication from the Editorial Universidad de Costa Rica stating that they are ready to proceed with the publication of the translation of our book, Caminando con Wolf. In December, the EUCR contacted Olivier Chassot, Director at the Tropical Science Center, saying that they are going to re-edit the translated text to their standard and so we believe that the process has begun. I have every extremity crossed that the Spanish edition with be ready before I return to Canada in early May, as I want to be here for a very big fiesta! I will keep you posted…
In another personal project, I’ve been spending time “doing research” into the creative side of Monteverde. I am slowly working towards a second book looking at Monteverde as the Muse of so many artists, dancers, musicians, and writers. People come to this community often unaware of their own special talents and in short order they are on stages receiving applause from a very appreciate and encouraging audience. You don’t have to be a star and run a fast mile, you just have to take the first tentative creative step, and you will be supported here. I certainly didn’t plan on writing a book when I arrived in Monteverde twenty-three years ago, and now I’m headed towards my second tome after the positive reception that Walking with Wolf received – my own entanglement with the lovely Muse.
So I’ve been dabbling in all manners of Musiness (dancing, singing, writing…) and spending time with the man I feel is the obvious protagonist of this book about the arts in Monteverde, Paul Smith – violinist, painter, and luthier. Recently he added creating mosaics to his CV, playing with broken ceramics and grout and producing some beautiful large mosaics that are being hung at his family’s hotel, the Fonda Vela. He welcomes any and every one to come and play with him. I’ve helped him with the grouting which is the most satisfying part of the process – when you wipe the dirt away, the glory of the design is revealed. Playing with Paul is coming to life through colours, shapes, words, and musical inspiration.
Monteverde has always been rich in music and as the population grows here, the number of musicians and audience members grow accordingly. There are some spectacular places to hear music and feel its magic – one in particular being Bromelias Amphitheatre. Patricia Maynard started the new millennium with a beautiful building surrounded by a garden full of bromelias; in January of 2005, she opened a unique concert hall. The wooden stage is set inside a concrete bromeliad flower and the tiers of Romanesque seating, designed for both sitting and dancing, are protected by a roof that resembles a modified parafoil kite. The acoustics are perfect and, especially when the weather cooperates, as in not too windy, cold or rainy, we are treated to bewitching nights of music under the stars. Patri has been away for a couple of years and just started holding concerts again, starting with the very cool Ojo De Buey, a Costa Rican reggae band for which her son, Mark, is the stage manager. If you come to Monteverde, check out Bromelias.
Over the last several years, Robert Dean, a gifted artist and guitarist who came here from Britain many years ago, has been gathering local musicians and singers to perform popular music together. The first years were all about the Beatles – New Year’s Eve would bring many people together (originally at Bromelias) – musicians performing, singers singing and the audience joining along in all those songs that we tend to know so well. Then Robert started moving through the decades and this year was a tribute to the 80s. The talent in this town continues to amaze and this concert was no exception. Although people are apt to say “there was no good music in the 80s” (something I highly disagree with – there has always been, and will always be, good music written and performed), Robert, and his collaborator Alan Masters, arranged about twenty-five great songs that featured some of the best singers and players on the green mountain (by no means all of them though).
There was a very enthusiastic crowd, a full band, a visiting accordion-player (my good friend Stu Pike from Kingston, Ontario), and Robert even let me be a doo-wop girl which I do with as much abandon as possible so he will let me return to the stage another time. Shows like this, along with the coffee houses, open mics and local stages at restaurants and bars, constantly reaffirm just how musical is the Muse of Monteverde.
2013 is the year of the newest rendition of the famous Monteverde Music Festival. This year a new group of volunteers has taken over the organizing and it will be held in a new location. The musical groups who are coming are guaranteed to please, many of them having participated in past years with some new additions. Editus360 and Son de Tiquizia are composed of members who have won Latin Grammys and are well-loved here in Monteverde; Rumbo Jam, the Big Band, and the Percussion Orchestra will bring big sound and energy while the Latina Ensamble of strings and then Edin Solis and David Coto’s classical guitar duo will represent the softer classical side of life. So if you are coming to Monteverde between February 23 and April 6, and find yourself here on a Saturday night, check out the concerts starting at 6 pm, $6 for visitors – and no doubt there will be more live music later in the night at either Bromelias, or Bar Amigos, or the new bar, Farallones. Bring your dancing shoes….
Amongst the sunshine and splendor of Monteverde, a little rain must fall – sometimes a lot of rain – and the community has suffered some serious losses in the last few months. If you are reading this and knew these people, but did not know of their deaths, I apologize if you are finding out in a less than gentle way. Meg Wallace – artist, Creative Learning Center board director, singer, entrepreneur, mother, and husband of Richard Laval – passed away in October after a year-long struggle with cancer. She approached her illness bravely, choosing to not undergo conventional treatments, but the cancer proved too strenuous. Her loss has left a huge hole in the community.
Following years of living as well as her multiple sclerosis would allow her, including the last two years spent in a very social and happy neighborhood near Alajuela, Doris Rockwell returned to her beloved green mountain and died in November with her family nearby. She was well known for her positive and sunny approach to life and, like Meg, is missed as a long term, much loved member of the Monteverde community.
The most shocking and least understandable loss was of the beautiful 17-year-old Adriana Salazar Ugalde. Well known for her lovely voice, huge smile and her many talents on stage as an actress and dancer, Adri packed a ton of positive living into her short life. She was a great friend and mentor to her fellow students at the Monteverde Friends School. She died on January 23rd from complications of Wilson’s Disease, a genetic disorder, very quickly and almost without warning. In December she was singing in the Christmas choir, in January she was helping haul and work the timbers for the new schoolhouse building project and on Saturday, just four days before her death, she was at the English country dance at the Friends School, laughing and swinging about with her friends. And then she was gone. We are all, especially her parents, brothers, and many close friends, still reeling from such a dynamic life being taken so quickly from a sleeping giant of a disease within a seemingly strong body. Some things are so hard to explain.
We lost another giant at almost the same time. The huge strangler fig that has guarded the entrance to the Monteverde Friends School since it was built fifty-seven years ago, and we can only guess how long it stood before that, had to be taken down. Almost every child and many adults who have visited Monteverde have climbed up the center of that tree at some point. In this the windy season, its shallow root ball could be seen rocking on the surface of the ground, and people have been aware for some time that it would have to come down. In a show of community cooperation, a crew went out one Friday and cut down its branches, sawed up its largely unusable wood (it is too soft for lumber and isn’t even good firewood I’m told) and brought it gently to the ground where its large body remains. Fortunately it is seldom that you walk by now that you don’t see a gaggle of happy children climbing over, around and through the woven wooden limbs that laced their way around the trunk of the original tree. It reminds me of kids crawling on top of a big golden Lab laying calm and still with the patience and wisdom of an elder.
Which brings me to the biggest project of all, the one that is putting callouses on the hands of the locals – and many visitors – the timber frame construction of the new Friends meeting house. Under the direction of another giant, David Hooke, and supported by both experienced and newly trained volunteers, this mammoth project is truly a work of love and a testament to community cooperation. At the same time that a new kinder is being constructed at one side of the school, an ever evolving, very dedicated crew is preparing the timbers for the new meeting house that will sit where the old kinder has been. More and more people are joining David (and Shannon, Sam and Sara), learning how to measure, cut and chisel, taking part in whatever way big or small – some bringing lunches, others working where the trees are being cut nearby, yet others baking pies for the big pie social that was held last night.
At the beginning of the evening, Lucky Guindon reminded us that the first pie social held in April 1951 by this same group of Quakers, in anticipation of their move up the mountain to their new land that would become the community of Monteverde, was held to raise funds for their new meeting house.
David wrote this report on the Timber Frame Meeting House Facebook page this morning:
“Fantastic Pie Social and Art Auction last night. More details to follow, but the short is that we have $3700 in hand, and another $700 expected, from 48 pies, 10 artworks, and various other sales. There were some hilarious moments, and some remarkable prices, including $110 for a certain pecan pie… so this means (by my count) less than $2500 to go to finally commit to raising and roofing the frame, less than $19,000 to completely enclose, and about $29000 to completely finish. We have now cut 537 of 1292 “joints,” including just under 250 in the past week.”
Rather than try to explain this myself, I am giving you the link to a short video that was made very recently by Bill Adler and videographer Jody Jenkins, giving David Hooke himself the opportunity to explain the history of the project, the design process and the depth of the commitment by the community. Please copy and past to go to the video at: http://vimeo.com/58865363 and see for yourself how the new Monteverde Friends meeting house is coming along. The hope is that the frame will be raised on the March 22, 2013 weekend – can you make it down here by then?
If you can’t be here, you can participate in this great community work bee in many fun ways… one is to donate! Please be sure to specify that your donation is for the meeting house and go to: https://www.networkforgood.org/donation/MakeDonation.aspx?ORGID2=223722119
And if you haven’t come up with some way to get involved in Monteverde, whether you are here or far away, then you just haven’t been paying attention!
The gusty wind is pushing the clouds across the pastures and out to the Pacific horizon. Here in Monteverde there are often two layers of clouds, the upper level of slower clouds moving over the sky like elders shuffling across the lawn enjoying the journey to their favorite bench. The spirited lower layer of clouds speed past the unhurried ones as youth do in their great haste to get where they are going. Here on the green mountain, under that shifting quilt of clouds, we celebrate the young and the not so young. There is no doubt that Monteverde is getting older but, as in the natural world, it is constantly renewing itself!
The first celebration of 2012 was for the petite but always feisty Martha Moss, who turned 90 in early January. Martha arrived here in 1973 and decided to try inn-keeping when Irma Rockwell, who at that time ran the only pension in the community, was anxious to head back to Iowa. After a short visit and a quick decision to uproot her life in New York, Martha drove down in an orange Volkswagen Safari named “Tiger Lily,” her 15-year-old daughter Nan along for the adventure. By 1978, the small Green Mountain Inn was not big enough for the tourism that was increasing annually and other pensions were built, including the larger Hotel de Montaña. So Martha got out of the hospitality business, officially at least. She went on to a rich life of working in prisons teaching alternatives to violence, doing peace work, and writing and illustrating children’s books that feature her animal friends– a passion that still keeps her mind alive! For the occasion of her 90th birthday, she was visited by her daughter Nan and her step-daughter Cynthia (who lives in Nairobi, Kenya and runs the Amboseli Trust – an elephant sanctuary) and the gathering was full of stories, laughter, cake and love.
The next big gathering happened as a joint celebration for the 90th birthday of John Trostle and the 80th birthday of Lucky Guindon. Lucky is of course the ever-suffering, ever-loving wife of our dear friend Wolf. It is hard to imagine that she is 80 years old as she has that blond hair and those farm girl genes that keep her looking very youthful. While the family spent much of the last year caring for Wolf through his many health issues (see former posts from 2011), it is also true that Lucky had a number of health concerns herself. No doubt the stress of Wolf’s hospital stays and his near-death experiences helped contribute to Lucky’s heart and blood pressure problems but once she finally conceded to taking medication regularly, the crisis past.
Lucky isn’t as mobile as she was – she is now uncomfortable walking from the farm down to the meeting house and to Friday scrabble games – but she is always very busy, tending the chickens, hosting the many friends and family who come through the open door of their home, and going to as many of the community events as she has energy for. She also tries to save space for herself, finding time to make her beautiful ink drawings of the local trees, but it often happens that she forsakes her own time for that of Wolf, the family and the community. I often stay here on the farm with Wolf, Lucky and Benito and am witness to the love and kindness she shares on a daily basis with all those around her. I would also suggest that the health scares of the last couple of years have perhaps brought Wolf and Lucky closer, appreciating that their time on earth is passing rapidly and they have been blessed with each other and their beautiful family and need to enjoy every precious moment together.
John and Sue Trostle are other fine examples of living life in healthy, loving and productive ways. John has reached 90 years of age with a vitality, sharpness and curiosity that hasn’t seemed to waver. Sue and John made their initial contact with Monteverde in 1951, first visited in 1962 and moved here in 1974 to continue their life work as peace activists. They have been active in many aspects of the community, but particularly in the founding and development of the Monteverde Institute. They are also great supporters of music and other cultural and educational activities here. I will always remember that Sue, at a gathering in 1990, told me that she had seen Bob Marley live – I think she was the first person I knew who could say that! I certainly equate John and Sue with all things artistic in the area and expect to see their warm smiling faces at any community event I manage to get to.
On March 4th, a large group gathered at the meeting house and one of Monteverde’s traditional “coffee houses” was held in Lucky and John’s honour. Monteverde is a wonderful breeding ground for artists of all kinds. Participation in all the arts – music, writing, theatre, textile and visual arts – is encouraged and applauded. There is a wealth of talented mentors willing to pass on their knowledge and there are many occasions throughout the year to share songs, poems, painted creations and plays. I think the coffee houses – where near-professional talent shares the stage with the nervous first-time performers – is one of the best examples of the magic that is Monteverde as a community.
People who arrive on this seductive mountain and have their first exposure to its vibrancy often believe that they have met with some kind of communal-nirvana, but the truth is (and I think most people who live here would agree with me) that it is still just a small community with all the gossip, frustration and conflicts of any group of human beings – aka imperfect. There are organizations within the community that work to encourage conflict resolution, open-mindedness, constructive dialogue, non-violence and collective movement towards a healthy way of life. In the end, Monteverde is composed of people who are essentially flawed creatures, especially in their social structures, and there are plenty of occasions for disagreement and pettiness. Many people who live here understand that and actually bristle at the comments about what a perfect place it is. Myself, I kind of like that people enjoy the idea of a “perfect” community, even if it is but an illusion. It gives us hope that such places can exist on this troubled earth.
I’ve had the great fortune to spend much of the last twenty-two years here, and much of that time in the presence of Wolf Guindon. He is definitely a flawed character who has made valuable contributions. His imperfection is one of the things I love about him and is what I think made him such a wonderful subject for our book (besides being the protagonist of so many great ventures – the community, the dairy plant, the Reserve, the Conservation League). However, no matter what his missteps I have no doubt that he is guided by love, understands the power of respect, and tries to practice kindness in his dealings with people….and always has a wonderful sense of humour.
I am now considering another local man as the subject of my next book. Paul Smith – artist, musician and luthier (and like myself, a Canadian with many years living in Monteverde) – approached me about writing text for a book about his art. I was immediately intrigued with the idea for a number of reasons. One is that I like Paul. He has many of the same qualities as Wolf Guindon that I love – he is a very unique character who does things his own way, he is funny and irreverent and intelligent, and, I believe, under-appreciated in the world. He is definitely a flawed character as well but with a big heart and an open mind. He is also a very active member of the arts community here in Monteverde, a huge part of this place that we barely touched on in Walking with Wolf. Writing about Paul (and his very talented sisters Margaret and Lorna) would allow me to tell the tales of music, theatre and art on the green mountain and in Costa Rica, including the infamous Monteverde Music Festival that Margaret and Paul started and I worked with for years. Paul said to me, “all you have to do is come up with the vision, Kay”….but I know that ‘all’ I have to do is all the work!! I already have the title – “Playing with Paul“! Since he is already in his late seventies, I will have to work a lot faster than I did on the Wolf book. Hmmmm…
As for the new in Monteverde, I’ll share a couple of pictures of Benito’s latest orphan, a two-week old sloth that came to him after it dropped out of a tree and was left for dead. Beni has a lifetime of bringing creatures young and old back to life and although he tends to grumble through the process, it is amazing to watch his patience and commitment to them. These days Beni can be seen wandering around with a pouch that houses the little guy (Maximus, Mini, Lovely?) although he doesn’t really like taking him out in public as people can be quite insensitive in their desire to see the baby.
Here in the house, Lucky and Beni take turns feeding him a small bottle of milk and colorful hibiscus flowers (I happily take my turn when I can). The sloth makes a little creaky sound when he/she is unhappy (gender is difficult to determine) and this is often because he/she has been put back alone in the basket with a heating pad. Baby sloths live wrapped around their mothers in the trees so it is obvious that they don’t enjoy being left on their own. At the same time, Beni doesn’t encourage petting it or treating it in human ways as we would our own children. I have watched him over the years tend to many animals and so I take heed of his experience. It is lovely having this little creature in the house, almost as sweet as the presence of a new born baby.
There are always new ideas, projects and individuals emerging out of the mists of Monteverde. It seems to me that this mountainous place, still very much a rural and forest landscape, has the cultural life of a dynamic small city. One of the extremely talented men here, Mauricio Valverde, and two of his friends have opened a new bar named Tr3s Monos, to provide a place for local musicians,artists and friends to gather in a lounge-like atmosphere. Mao is also part of Ars Monteverde, a new organization that is working to support all the arts in this broad community. The Camara de Tourism (Tourism Council) is looking at bringing back the Monteverde Music Festival. Last week the poetry group, Gatos Pardos, along with Ars Monteverde and others put on the first Peña Cultural, a day-long event that included theatre, music, poetry and dance, along with many traditional games and activities for the children, that was such a grand success they are making plans for many more – there is so much talent here, the program lasted two hours longer than expected.
I have returned to life on the green mountain…and life here has somewhat returned to normal. Of course, what exactly is normal in this constantly shifting thing called life!? Normal so quickly becomes abnormal – and vice versa – that we all – humans along with all the rest of the earth’s creatures – must continually adapt if we are to survive.
The best story of survival in Monteverde that I can share is that of our friend Wolf Guindon. He is immensely better than he was when I left last June. Stefany, his lovely nurse, has left; he then had another young woman helping with his physical therapy, but she too has gone. Lucky has taken over guiding Wolf through his daily exercises. The results of all this attention is obvious – Wolf is walking steadier, even without his stick much of the time. He takes care of his own bathing needs. He gets in and out of the car on his own. He goes for short hikes on trails in the Reserve and elsewhere. He even has been working on a trail in the forest beside the house, where his son-in-law Rodrigo installed a bench so that Wolf and Lucky can go and sit to watch the sunset together.
Wolf is back to having some purpose in life – he gets out daily and works a little more on that trail. One of the best improvements is the use of his right hand that had serious damage from being tied to the bed posts during his time in the hospital. In June, about three months after his release, he was still barely using it. Now he can clearly sign his own name, handle his eating utensils, and hold and swing his machete with a fair amount of force.
He is also getting woollier. There was a time, exactly a year ago, when he was weak, his body frail and his head almost bald. I remember walking into his hospital room and thinking that he looked like Gandhi. One year later, his sideburns are bushy, his eyebrows are furry and he has the look of a robust, if elderly, bushman. The twinkle has returned to his eye and his humor remains contagious and genuine.
Something that brought huge smiles to his and Lucky’s faces were recent visits by their son Tonio and his family from Connecticut – who left eldest daughter, Oriana, here for a prolonged stay with her Monteverde family; a week with son Tomás and his family from California; and a very quick visit by Wolf’s nephew Dale and his family from Ohio, their first time in Costa Rica. They were here for their eldest son’s wedding down on the beach, and despite the fact that their son, Jeff, broke his foot playing beach soccer a couple of days before, it sounds like they had a wonderful wedding. Unfortunately, Jeff and his new bride couldn’t come up the mountain with the rest of the family as he needed to rest his foot and I’m sorry not to have met him. As I’ve often said, I’ve never met a Guindon I didn’t like – wonderful folks all.
So, this year I returned to Costa Rica without a plan. I usually have a good idea of what I’m going to do in my months here and some sense of how I’m going to do it. Last year became an amazing roller coaster ride undulating between Wolf’s health crises, working to finalize the paperwork for my bit of jungle near Cahuita, and the push to complete the publication of the Spanish edition of Walking with Wolf. Wolf survived, the property paperwork appeared on my last day in the country, and the translation got edited, but nothing went quite like I expected. This year, I decided that instead of arriving with expectations, I would come with a buncha seeds in mind, cast them out, and see what germinates. Now, a month later, I’m starting to water the plants that took root, and I hope that I’ll have a fruitful garden to show for it over the next six months.
The most important project, and the one that will take the most of my time, will be overseeing the layout/design and computer work of Caminado con Wolf. If I get nothing else done in the following months, I am committed to publishing, one way or another, the translation of our book. The English version continues to be very popular, selling well by word-of-mouth here in Monteverde and online, as well as on the shelves of the Café Britt souvenir shops in the San José airport.
Last March and April I spent working with Lester Gomez, the young editor hired by the Tropical Science Center to edit Carlos Guindon’s translation. The TSC has been very generous in its financial support in this project. Carlos Hernandez, the director of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve, and Javier Espeleta, the director of the TSC, as well as other staff and board members, have been very enthusiastic and helpful in getting this done. Don Javier then went to the Editoriales de la Universidad de Costa Rica, whose director, Julian Monge, agreed our book should be published in Spanish as a valuable addition to Costa Rica’s historical and nature-centered literature.
More than three years have passed since I self-published the English version in Canada. We have watched a warm and critically-positive reception to our book – it has been used as the inspiration for a high school course in New Hampshire, it’s been bought by local biology professors for their visiting university classes and I’ve received many letters of thanks from visitors to the Monteverde community who say that it has provided a valuable background that enriched their time here. We know there are many Spanish-reading Costa Ricans waiting to read the book. The coming year 2012 is the 40th anniversary of the Monteverde Reserve and the 50th anniversary of the Tropical Science Center. They have numerous activities and special events planned and it would be wonderful to have Caminando con Wolf available for the participants of these celebrations throughout the year.
Since I have already gone through the process of “self-publishing”, I don’t fear stepping back into it. We are so close to finished I can taste the hors-d’oeuvres at the book launch! So I have decided to start walking down another path with Wolf, and get this thing done. It will mean some fundraising on my part for the costs of printing, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. If the EUCR’s new director remains interested, we will be thrilled. If not, we will be ready to go to print ourselves.
Throughout Wolf’s months of medical crises last year, he told people that he had no plans to die until the Spanish book came out. I think it was one of the mantras that kept him alive, along with his love for Lucky, his joy in the time he got to spend with his family and friends, and his phenomenal strength of spirit that is nurtured by his relationship with the natural world around him. The rest of us had somewhat of a dilemma on our hands when we didn’t know if getting the book finished quickly would send Wolf sooner to heaven, but happy, or if we should be slowing the process to keep him with us here on earth as long as possible, perpetually waiting for the book to appear.
In the end, of course all of our fates were out of our hands and things happened as they would. Wolf doesn’t look to me like he is going anywhere soon, but he regularly expresses his faith in my ability to get this translation done. Our talented friend here in Monteverde, Pax Amighetti, is ready, willing and able to do the computer/design/layout work for the book. I have arranged my dance card between time in Monteverde working with Pax, time in San José helping out a friend in need of some organization in her home, and time in Cahuita helping Roberto build a small casita. I have my eye on the prize, my heart in the right place, and my body and mind will go wherever it needs to be to get this job done.
As we move into the very busy holiday season, I am leaving Monteverde to spend Christmas in Cahuita. Pax and I have already made some important decisions about the design of the book’s cover. We will break for the yuletide and return with strength and determination in January. I have great faith that Caminando con Wolf will see the light of day in this exciting upcoming year of 2012!
I proceed inspired by the words of one of my heroes, civil rights leader and freedom fighter John Lewis, who says, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” I find it interesting that his own autobiography is titled “Walking with the Wind”…coincidence, I think not. Happy festivities everybody! I’ll keep y’all posted.
I’ve been up and down the mountain to Monteverde several times over the last ten months – this is my last stay here for awhile, as I fly back to Canada next week. Last minute tasks are at hand, getting book business in order, saying goodbye to friends, and making
the first plans for what should be several months in the north.
I wish I could say that we will be celebrating the release of Caminando con Wolf, our Spanish translation, before I go, but sadly I can’t say that. I hope, for Wolf’s sake, that it will be soon…for my sake, later is better as I don’t want to turn around and make a costly return visit here within a couple of months. Alas, the timing is out of my hands and I will just adapt to whatever happens. I know Wolf is very anxious for that book to be in his hands so he can share it with his Costa Rican neighbors and friends who couldn’t read the English version, Walking with Wolf.
Wolf is doing okay, his spirits mostly high and stable, his physical state showing slow steady signs of improvement. He does his physical therapy twice a day with Stefany, his nurse, or with Lucky when Stef isn’t there, and he does the exercises quite willingly. However, as you can see by the picture, he does get bored with the process and often drifts off when he should be putting all his
strength into each movement. The hand with the damaged nerves (from being tied to the bedrail in the hospital) is reacting well to the exercises and bit by
bit Wolf can use it and it doesn’t seem so swollen. It is a long hard road to
This coming Saturday, the International Day of the Environment, Wolf will be receiving recognition for his lifetime of work in protecting the cloud forest. There is a
symposium happening here in Monteverde, and the various groups involved,
invited by the Costa Rican chapter of the Mesoamerican Society for Biology and
Conservation, will be gathering for a daylong event focused on the science of biological
corridors running from the mangroves at sea level to the cloud forest close to
the sky. It is wonderful to see Wolf’s work still being acknowledged by
colleagues and those on the frontline of conservation in Latin America. I know
it means a lot to him.
The MonteverdeFriends School’s campaign to raise funds – Monteverde 60th: Friends
in the Canopy – was very successful. My last blog post was mostly written during my 17 plus hours on a platform in the canopy. Many people in the community took part by climbing up a variety of tall trees, sleeping on platforms in various locations, painting, photographing and writing while in the trees, even performing music. The school raised about 2/3 of what they had hoped to gain money-wise, but as importantly, they excited the whole community to go out into nature and breathe in its magic. Most then shared their experiences with the world through the internet. There was also an art auction, with stunning work contributed by many of the very talented artists of this community. Bravo to the fundraising committee who oversaw this great month-long event – I hope they repeat it.
The tree and pics I’ve posted here are of Wolf’s son, Benito, climbing up to his hammock that he tied at the top of this big tree on the farm. He spent a few nights
there, happily swaying in the breeze, enjoying his solitude and the nighttime
sky. Like Wolf, Beni never fails to amaze us with his physical endurance and
the unique ways he employs it.
Many came out one Saturday afternoon for a goodbye dance party for our friend AA Leath who is leaving Monteverde to live in the United States after twenty years here. AA was part of the San Francisco post-modern dance scene in the 1950s, a collaborator of Anna Halprin, well known as a creator of this dance genre. During AA’s years here in Monteverde, he has treated us to many impromptu dance performances and enthusiastically supported both the arts and the artists.
Now, in his mid-eighties, AA has had knee replacements and other health difficulties, but
the worst tragedy has been the number of times his cabin was broken into. A year or so ago he moved and then he was attacked and robbed on the street – a total of seven times the punks have stolen from AA. Yes, this is true – in Monteverde – that an old man was assaulted for what little money he had while walking on the main road. And he isn’t the only one. (with Mary Stuckey Newswanger and Lucky Guindon)
Fortunately people came out to give him lots of love before he left, as it is horrible that he would leave this community with the bad taste of abuse on his mind and a lingering fear in his heart. Not only did we all dance together, but AA and neighbor Mills Tandy treated us to an improvised dance routine, dedicated to a dance instructor they had both happened to work with years ago.
I hope that AA will keep the lovely images of this day and the people who love him here foremost in his mind, replacing the negative ones that have been bothering him for the last couple of years. He is already truly missed in Monteverde.
Unfortunately, AA left just days before Monteverde had its first major dance event. Over the years, many professional dancers, besides AA, have visited and performed, but never has someone taken community members, young and old, and worked with them on original choreography in preparation for a grand night of performance. And the community must have been starving for it, because well over 200 people came out, so many that we couldn’t all fit into the room.
Marie Chantal Nadeau, a beautiful woman originally from Quebec, Canada but living here many years now, who is well known for the stunning jewelry she makes, has been working with a group of dancers for months. Her principle male lead dancer is Daniel Vargas, a multi-talented, much loved local, soon heading to the US and college. Marie and Daniel performed a stunning piece of modern ballet to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah which was sung by the amazing Riley Walker. Daniel and Riley both lost their mothers to cancer about a year ago and Marie’s father also succumbed to the scourge a few years back. They dedicated this lovely piece of art to the parents they are all missing and it was truly moving and beautifully manifested.
There were colorful performances of folkloric dance by Costa Ricans, there was an enthusiastic South African gumboot-slapping number, acro-yoga dancing, a mother and son from Montreal doing a structured improvisational dance… something for everyone. Most numbers were accompanied by live music played or sung by locals. The night ended with fire dancing outside, and Marie, who had danced in two of the numbers and choreographed many of the others, left us with the image of her joy twirling in flames, no doubt with post-performance relief and contentment. The community is still thanking Marie, Daniel and all those who participated, for this spectacular evening.
The huge turnout, including a bus of tourists that we had to turn away, demonstrated that this community has been waiting for a show like this and if you give it, they will come. It also showed the necessity of a new community arts center for Monteverde and area. As Monteverde continues to grow in population, it continues to attract more artists and performers, and we need a place not just for performances, but studio space dedicated to each of the artistic disciplines. Originally these kinds of activities took place in people’s homes, then got moved to restaurants and hotels, and then there were private venues such as Bromelias Amphitheatre or the Centro Cultural Galeron where this dance evening took place. But these places aren’t fully equipped for this big of an event to be held in any kind of weather. Monteverde has grown beyond its small rural roots, and is bursting at the seams with people who appreciate the arts.
I came up the mountain specifically to help Marie with the show as the on-site keeper of the
keys and guardian of the gardens and animals who live here on the property of the Galeron. I am real happy to spend time with Marlene, who works here, and Tyra, the gentle white husky who takes over my bed when I stay. It was an easy decision to come right now as I wanted to have time with Wolf before I leave for Canada, to be present at his award ceremony, and I also had an upholstery project waiting for me.
As you can see, the chair got pulled apart, much to the pleasure of the cats Miel and
Olly, but due to technical difficulties – as in having very poor toolage – I’ve put off its completion until I return in a few months. Monteverde will still be here, and so will the chair – hopefully so will the trees, the birds, the wonderful people, and the howling Wolf of the mountain.
Morning is starting to lighten the eastern sky. It has been a starry starry night – each time I opened my eyes, there seemed to be another layer of stars sprinkled across the top of the world. All last evening, the fireflies that played throughout the valley below seemed like playful reflections of the stellar ceiling, and sometimes it was unclear if I had seen a shooting star or if it was just one of the more adventurous fireflies traveling at the top of its range. The branches above us, bobbing in the constant breeze, kept distorting the pattern of the heavens – was that star moving or a satellite or a plane or was I dreaming? On our platform in the tree up on the ridge, we were under the influence of a nocturnal mirage.
Mary Newswanger and I were excited to spend a night together on the Joyce platform which sits about six meters up a tree – but that tree sits on a steep ridge hundreds of meters up from the deep dark valley floor. The total effect is one of being securely suspended over top of a verdant abyss. We volunteered for our time on this platform, following those other tree sitters who have joined in this unique fundraising effort for the Monteverde Friends School. We listened to all those who climbed before us – expect it to get a little freaky when the wind blows, prepare ourselves for a cold night. Mary insisted that we haul her heavy thick sleeping bags – the kind used for camping in a previous century, the ones that roll up into something almost the size of round muffety hay bales (hey, those Muffets are Quakers too!) – so we lugged them down the narrow ridge path and up the ladder to the platform. Thanks to Mary, we’ve both been warm and comfortable all night.
The wooden platform feels like a raft being manipulated by a current, but the force providing the push isn’t water, it is wind. Here on my back, looking up at those stars, I can imagine our raft floating lazily down an airy stream until it hits the turbulent white rapids of wind. We are pushed into an eddy where we are held against our will for a few moments, threatening to be tossed, until we are released again and resume our tranquil floating. During the first hour or two of darkness, as can only happen in cloud forests such as Monteverde, or when you are on a river or sea, a spray of mist kept our faces moist and added to the watery effect, yet there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. Considering that in our aerie we seem closer to the sky than the land, I’m sure we would notice if a cloud was lurking above us.
I fell asleep as Mary was telling me stories of her experiences with the Peace Pilgrim and her hopes and dreams for the future. I realized I was asleep when I felt her crawling into her sleeping bag, no doubt noticing that she had lost her audience to slumber. I slept quite well through the night but woke from time to time and watched the heavens, once listening to a creature of some kind passing on the ridge below. I didn’t have a flashlight to check it out without waking Mary, so I will just think of it as the jaguarondi that Liam spotted here the other day and be pleased with the possibility.
Of the night time thoughts that came to me, there were some that visited my drowsy mind often. One was wondering how our friend Wolf is doing as he has been struggling with his blood sugar more and more. Yesterday they took him to the local clinic believing him to be in insulin shock. They fixed him up with an IV but he also came away with yet another round of more serious antibiotics for his chronic urinary tract infections. Benito, Stefany and Wolf dropped me off here yesterday on their way home from the clinic and Wolf seemed okay, but as time goes on, one wonders if he will need some medication adjustments again soon. He often seems down, though whether that is emotional, physical, or drug-related is difficult to decide.
My mind also wandered to my homeland, Canada, this being the end of an election day. I realized that at the same time I was lounging in the tree, somewhere in that maple-flavored country one of the party leaders, a man, would be walking to a microphone in front of a room full of supporters and claiming victory in the federal election. I took two trips to the Canadian Embassy in San José to cast my vote, a privilege that I continue to take seriously. I don’t like the present right wing conservative government and the direction it is taking our beautiful country. As I finish writing this, obviously back on the ground and in cyberspace, I ache with the knowledge that the same party is back in power, with a majority and more possibilities of extending their agenda. The consolation is that the NDP, the social democratic party that has always attempted to speak for the working man rather than the ruling class, gained ground and is now the official opposition for the first time.
Just as promising is the fact that an incredibly intelligent and devoted woman, Elizabeth May, also had her moment at a microphone, claiming victory as the head of the Green Party. She is the first one of their members elected to a seat in our federal parliament and she will keep the important issues of environmental and social protections on the floor. Our voting system is deceptive, with the number of party members elected not reflecting the actual numbers of people voting for each party and until we change to some kind of proportional representation, we will continue to struggle to achieve a government that truly reflects our national political desires. As Canada is dragged down a more corporate and less humane path, I consider that I feel safer, up here in a tree, suspended over the sheer cliff edge, wind shaking our little raft to the bones at times, than at the hands of any ultra-right wing regime. Oh Canada, I weep for thee.
As we passed our peaceful night, I thought about the many tree sitters who used this type of action as one of protest to draw attention to specific forests under threat of destruction by logging companies. They placed themselves physically between the harvesting machines and the remaining Abuelas, those large redwoods or pines or hardwoods that had survived all the natural forces for centuries only to be cut down in a matter of hours for lumber.
Forests and trees have been saved and others not, but tree sitting is an effective and non-violent means of civil disobedience. Perhaps it started in the Pureora Forest Park of New Zealand in the 1970s – which was saved by peaceful protest in the treetops. Famously, in northern California, Julia Butterfly Hill stayed for two years in the late 1990s in her arboreal home “Luna” – a tall redwood that is still standing amidst the ravages of barren deforested hillsides in Humboldt County. In central Los Angeles, in 2006, Julia Butterfly, actress Darryl Hannah, Joan Baez and others sat in trees in what was then a large fourteen acre urban organic community garden. They were there to draw attention to the injustice that was unfolding as a company refused to allow the neighborhood to continue growing food on this plot of inner city land – even though the community came up with the same amount of money to purchase the land as it was being sold to a developer for. In the end, the garden was moved out of the city core.
Back in 1989, in Temagami Ontario, I was one of a group who supported our friend Maryka (the same woman who later introduced me to Monteverde), who lived in a tall ancient pine for nine cold, almost wintery days and nights. The action was part of several months of non-violent protest to prevent the continued construction of a logging road through one of the last remaining old growth pine forests, which was also indigenous territory, of Ontario. We were successful in stopping the road, and for the most part saved the forest, but weren’t able to stop the chopping of that stately old tree.
In true Quaker fashion, this tree sitting exercise in Monteverde is neither illegal nor in protest, but a joyful display of a community working together, communing with nature, bringing attention to their school and hoping to raise funds from their many supporters around the world through the use of the internet. I doubt that there is a school in North America who would condone such an adventurous fundraising plan – it wouldn’t make it past the discussion of liability at the board meeting. Just the fact that the Monteverde Friends School and the Monteverde community are taking part in this month long tree sit is an expression of the kind of freedom and originality that is very much a part of life at MFS.
I’m neither a Quaker nor a teacher nor a parent, but I was raised to live carefully on the earth and I have enough love of life and love for this precious planet to hope that we will continue to survive here. The only way I truly see that happening is for children to be taught to walk softly on the earth, to respect all the living creatures as well as the inanimate ones , to make decisions based on sustainable and ecological reasoning, to learn how to solve conflicts in a peaceful non-violent way, and to be cooperative and kind. The Monteverde Friends School is a place where all these values and many more are not only taught, but expressed in a myriad of ways by both young and old, teachers and students, past and present. I am happy to support their efforts in any way that I can, but the truth is that coming up this tree and spending the night, surrounded by the treasures of the cloud forest, with my friend Mary, under a blanket of stars – well, I would do it for no reason at all.
As I write, dark feathery clouds are gathering above the eastern ridge. As they shift and move in the wind, a brilliant light peeks through, the size of five of the night time stars joined together – it must be Venus, that planet of rising love. It reminds me of last November when we were caring for our ailing friend Wolf on the Guindon farm. We would awaken in the very early morning hours to that love light shining down on the family home. It doesn’t surprise me that we are seeing that messenger of love glowing over Monteverde again this morning, perched here in our nest. For Mary, who can see her home just across the valley, where her husband and sons are probably still asleep, the light of love is very clearly rising over the eastern ridge and shining down on the house that Elias built.
Now that the sky has lightened into blue and Venus is almost faded away, it is time to close this, have some breakfast, and await the moment the sun comes over the ridge. (As it turned out, we couldn’t get ourselves out of that tree till 10:30 a.m. and even then, we went reluctantly.) I sincerely thank everyone for the opportunity to spend these seventeen hours up this tree, especially the Joyce/Van Dusen household who are our “hosts”. Thanks to the MFS fundraising committee who facilitated the opportunities for each of us to climb various trees and continue to keep us all connected and inspired through their website.
Mary told me that it was Jude Gladstone, a dedicated woman who has worked hard on many committees helping the community, who brought the idea to the table. Searching for an effective way to raise much needed money for the scholarship fund that assists students at the school as well as those who go on to higher education, Jude suggested they create an event, something that people can join in whether here in Monteverde, or from afar via the internet. She suggested that it needed to be something exciting that would catch people’s imaginations, like Julia Butterfly Hill living high up in that redwood. Katy Van Dusen, thinking about her family’s platform in this tree on the ridge, took the idea and climbed higher. Good thinking Katy! Great idea Jude! And thanks Mary – too bad we have to go down.
Please follow the link below and donate whatever is possible to this wonderful school so that more children will be taught the values necessary to continue the good work for our earth and our mutual peaceful co-existence:
One last word on a very successful initiative by Fish and his team who held the first Ecofest in Monteverde. On May 1st, hundreds of community members participated in a day that blended displays, demonstrations, art, music, poetry and information in a seamless and spectacular manner. The things that happen in this small rural mountain community are truly stupendous, smart and sustainable! I applaud you Ecofest – we are all ready for next year!
PS It has taken a couple of days to get this writing to my blog and the weather has changed. Mary and I may have spent one of the last nights in the tree with clear weather as the rainy season in Monteverde begins. Hopefully others will still have the opportunity for a beautiful dry starry night during the last two weeks of the campaign, but we were definitely blessed.
Once again, time has got away from me. Due to extreme busyness, and a lack of internet much of the time, it has taken weeks to get back to this blog. It is Semana Santa, Easter Week, and I’m relaxing in Cahuita with some time to write and a good battery in my laptop. The good news is that I’ve managed to finish a few projects this past month, just in time for my imminent return to Canada.
One of these has been getting a mouthful of dental work done. Once or twice a week I’ve been going to the Clinica Dental Sonría Feliz (the Happy Smile Dental Clinic) and opening wide for the team, who have cleaned my root canals, planted posts and placed crowns. My mouth feels like a finely chiseled porcelain garden. There was almost no pain involved, and compared to North American prices, there wasn’t even much discomfort financially.
I’ve had the same dentist in Canada all my life, so just opening up for strangers took a lot of nerve; however a lack of insurance and the economics of dental work made the decision to have the work done in Costa Rica a relatively easy one. Antionetta, Yessenia and Carlos gently walked me through the procedures. I recommend them highly and consider the Happy Smile my new dental office, though I’ll have to go visit Dr. Cipparone back in Ontario just to flash him my new happy smile.
While I’ve been living in San José with Lorena and Edín, I did a little gardening on their balcony. There were some neglected plants as well as empty pots to fill, so I seeded some basil, thyme, cilantro and arugula and started watering. We’ve all been watching our garden grow, picking the young peppery arugula leaves for salads and now we’re starting to get enough sweet cilantro to garnish our meals. Even a very small garden patch can soothe your soul.
Among the other green residents are jade and spider plants and young frangipani. I walked out one morning with a pitcher of water and as I leaned over to water the pots, the glass globe on the ceiling light fell like a bomb, missing my ear by mere inches, slicing half of the leaves off the frangipani before shattering like a broken heart on the ceramic floor. Weeks later, we are still finding tiny shards. How I didn’t get touched by a single sliver of glass, I’ll never understand…as Lorena said, it’s my green life force protecting me…maybe true, but, phew, that was close.
Another project wrapping up in San José is the work with the editor of the Spanish version of Walking with Wolf. Lester and I spent many hours of many days and finally completed the question and answer portion of the revision, as in “What did you mean by this, Kay?” Once again I found myself trying to convince an editor that Wolf’s special turn of the tongue needs to be preserved in the text, even if it makes for a pause or two on the part of the reader. I have much less control over what is written in Spanish than I did in English, trusting that both Carlos Guindon’s initial translation and Lester Goméz’ corrections will stay true to the original.
The manuscript now goes back to the Editorials Universidad de Costa Rica for the next stage of publication. I hoped that Caminando con Wolf would be in print before I leave the country in June, but I highly doubt that will happen. I fear that it will be released in the months that I plan on being in Canada which would mean a very expensive if short return trip to Costa Rica to join in the celebration. Wolf is waiting as patiently as he can in Monteverde, telling everyone that the release of the book in Spanish is worth living for.
With the help of Lucky, Benito, nurse Stefani, all the family and many friends, Wolf goes about his daily exercises, physical therapy and medication protocol. He is most enthusiastic about eating and if appetite is any gauge, Wolf is feasting at the trough of good health. It is as if he exchanged walking, and even talking, for eating, and engages in it as relentlessly and tirelessly as his former pastimes. Soon to come: a cookbook featuring recipes for healthy meals that require little chewing called Eating with Wolf…
While I was in Monteverde a week or so ago, I also went and visited Martha Moss. Martha is about 88 years old, still living on her own, and still feisty. We started talking twenty-one years ago and our conversations easily pick up each year where we left off. As we both get older, we take on new subject manner – how to deal with the fact that we don’t all age gracefully, how to both support others properly and let others support us without resentment, wondering whether it is possible to change our ways as we get older (or why we should). The only real conclusion we ever arrive at is that you must never lose your sense of humor – and hope your friends don’t lose theirs either.
Another elder of Monteverde that I had the chance to visit with is Doris Rockwell. Many of you will know her as one of the originals of the Monteverde Rockwell clan. She has been living with multiple sclerosis for years but up until recently she was in her own home on the Rockwell farm and managing nicely with daily help. In February, Doris had a health crisis that has left her less able to cope with her physical reality, so she is now living in a rented home near Alajuela being tended by some womenfolk she knows. Her daughter Kathy and I went to see her one day, and I was very happy to see Doris very content with her situation. Life brings us all struggles, and it is with humor and good grace that we must try to meet them. Doris shares her story with a kind spirit, patience and a ready laugh and so it was a very pleasant visit.
April 19 was the 60th anniversary of Monteverde Day, celebrating the arrival of the first of the Quakers on the green mountain. Unfortunately I couldn’t be there, but just prior to it I was contacted by a man I met a year or so ago in Monteverde, Austin Haeberle. With the support of the Monteverde Institute and the United Nations Mandated University for Peace, Austin created a series of videos of conversations with various residents of Monteverde and the project was to be shared with the community on Monteverde Day. Like me, you may not have been in Monteverde for this special anniversary, but we can go to the website and watch the short videos. There is a lovely one with Wolf and Lucky, made more precious by how young Wolf looks, though the video can’t be more than two years old. The link is http://MonteverdeNow.org and it is a very impressive modern look at the past, the path, the plan and the present of Monteverde.
May 1st will celebrate the first Eco Fest in Monteverde. Local pal Fish has put together a team of people planning this special Mayday to share the many environmental, ecological and creative projects going on in the Monteverde area. A daylong event, it will give residents, visiting students and organizations a chance to demonstrate their work and get information on the work being done by others, including grey water treatment, glass bottle walls, recycling, composting, etc. The Monteverde Conservation League will be participating as part of their 25th anniversary celebration. There will also be a display of creations by local artists and an evening of local entertainers, including songwriters, musicians, and poets (even yours truly giving a short presentation on Wolf and the book). Monteverde is growing by leaps and bounds and Eco Fest is hoping to be an (annual?) event where locals can get together and celebrate our collective commitment to caring for the earth, still planting and watering the seed of conservation, always looking toward a peaceful and sustainable future for the green mountain.
For me, the highlight of the last month, if not the last year, was the arrival in Monteverde of a group of students from Lister Street Academy in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A teacher there, Bryan Mascio, had twice visited Costa Rica, the second time picking up our book. Over three days he consumed the stories, intrigued by the various themes and recognizing Walking with Wolf as a teaching resource. He returned to his school in New Hampshire and convinced the principle that he could design a course for his high school students that would incorporate everything from biology and conservation to peace and community – and they would use the book as a central reference.
It was a big undertaking, aided by another teacher Jessica, who had originally visited Costa Rica and urged Bryan and his wife to take their first trip to the land of coffee and bellbirds. From the beginning of the school year, they planned a trip to Monteverde as part of the curriculum. Many of the students are economically marginalized and so it was only through class fundraising that they gathered the money for the group of seven students and two teachers to realize this dream field trip.
Bryan contacted me last July to buy several copies of our book, which I sent, never hearing from him again until March when he wrote me to see if there was any hope of meeting us while the group was in Monteverde. On April 7th, they came to Wolf and Lucky’s farm and we spent a very emotional morning together. Wolf was in good form and, as always, happy to receive a group with the hope of encouraging them down their own paths of commitment to community and the welfare of the earth. Lucky added her own warmth and intelligence to the encounter along with an excellent batch of Lucky Surprises (blonde brownies to die for). Wolf’s good friend and comrade, Eladio Cruz, came along to bring to life one more character from the book that they had read about. The students shared their stories, claiming that the book, Wolf’s story and my persistence in telling it, had affected them deeply, even changing some of their lives. It was a powerful morning for me, listening to a group of adolescents who had read Walking with Wolf and taken it into their hearts and minds in such a positive and profound manner.
Those who know Wolf know that his eyes water up readily and his emotions rise to the surface like cream. In this gathering, there were tears and shaky voices all around as the students shared their impressions and their reactions. Until we got together with this group, I hadn’t realized the depth of their involvement with Wolf and I and the positive influence that our collective words had on them. I plan on going to visit these students in New Hampshire in June. They were just at the beginning of ten days of discovery, of meeting the beauty of Costa Rica, and creating a lifetime of memories. They were all working on individual projects that looked at the similarities and differences of their northern homes and Costa Rica and I’m intrigued to hear their findings. Wolf and I may have influenced their lives, but I can assure them that they touched mine as deeply.
When it was time to leave, I offered to escort them through the magical bullpen where Wolf’s trail to and from the Monteverde Reserve passes. Unfortunately Wolf couldn’t join us, his walking still limited. The students, their teachers, and I started out in a single file along the path to the Bullpen, all of us at varying comforts of being surrounded by forest. When we arrived in the middle of the verdant clearing, huge trees sheltering us, birds twittering in the shadows, I asked for a copy of the book which some had brought along to get autographed. I opened it to the beginning of the chapter “All Trails lead to Home” and read the beginning quote where Wolf recounts his many encounters with animals he had while in this special place, reminds us that all paths eventually end in a woods somewhere and, most poignantly, all trails will lead us home. It was a moment when literature came to life for this gathering of people standing on Wolf’s path, all of us having grown to love Wolf through his stories, very aware that he was close by but not able to be walking with us. For that reason alone it was bittersweet but as we listened, we could hear Wolf’s laughter lingering in the trees, and his spirit urging us down our own trails. Vamanos!
Welcome 2011! From my window looking out on Monteverde, it appears to be dawning with turbulent winds, undulating temperatures, and a mosaic of sun and clouds…hmmm, sounds like another year of surprises and change!
Last night a portion of the talented mass of Monteverde musicians took to the stage and presented both an acoustic and electric set of 60s pop music. The community has grown to expect a great show from Robert Dean, Alan Masters and their friends. For three years, on New Year’s Eve, they did a Beatles Revue, but this time they broadened the spectrum to embrace the whole decade of the flower children. I don’t think there was a Beatles song in the bunch. However their version of Suite: Judy Blue Eyes was exceptional, as was Robert doing Hendrix’ Purple Haze.
Alan and Robert’s rock band, the Chanchos de Monte, Monteverde’s horn section (Richard Trostle on sax), Monteverde’s string section (Jonathan Ogle, Heather Grosse, Alan Masters and Jeffrey Dixon), took turns backing a variety of guest singers including the lovely Annie Wenz, who comes to Monteverde from the US and has joined in musical events here before.
Talented locals Jesse Gryst, Nicolette Smith, Ken Landers, Maya Salma and the beautiful young Riley Walker all provided vocals. So did the audience, most of who sang along to the tunes, many who danced throughout the show.
I was the host and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Being the sixties, and a party, it was worth getting a new dress and some great earrings to match the occasion. Nicolette and I had our hair styled by our friend Willy Bach. I’ve known Willy and his partner Rowan since they came to Monteverde a couple of years ago, but have only known Willy as a serious academic who is always interesting to talk to about issues of profundity.
Little did I know that in his former life, and for many years, he was a hair dresser. When I saw him the other day, he offered to come and bring out his rusty scissors (metaphorically of course) and give us appropriate dos. We had a lot of fun, the hair poofing interspersed with interesting hair story chit chat, and saw a whole other side of Willy that was quite charming. And both Nicolette and I looked fabulous!
My Roberto left a couple of days before, and that kind of took the oomph out of my New Year’s Eve celebration. After a couple hours of exuberant singing and dancing with Robert Dean and gang, followed by a candle-lit tapas and sangria gathering at the Hotel Belmar, I didn’t last long at the Mata, where the dancing no doubt went well into this morning.
Which is, of course, the first morning of this new year 2011!
The year is starting off in a rough way for our friend Wolf. Four days ago, the family finally got permission to take him to Blanco Cervantes Hospital in San José. This is a social medicine hospital that specializes in elder care and chronic, long term illnesses. Over the last few months, we’ve been hoping that Wolf could be taken care of there, but it has been quite a process to get him admitted. Now that he has been, I believe that any emergencies or treatments in the future will be at this place.
Neighbour and friend Harriett Joslin, who has helped out as chauffeur for the family before, took nurse Stefany and sons Berto and Benito down to the city, the latter two acting as body guards for Wolf. This meant restraining him from trying to get out of the car or getting restless with those in the car. They got to the hospital and Wolf got admitted. From there, it isn’t a nice story that has unfolded so far.
For whatever reason – confusion caused by an infection, dementia, stroke-related problems, or (my personal belief) the wrong substitute medicine for Wolf’s bipolar condition after he was taken off lithium – or a potent mix of all these -he has been in a very manic, agitated state. This started a couple of weeks ago with constant talking, but has grown to aggressive and quite obnoxious behavior – I use those words with all due respect for a man who I love and admire. It is simply hard to find other words to describe what is a behavior that is obviously out of Wolf’s control.
As his body has gotten stronger, he has more energy with which to be manic. Unfortunately, much of this is negative energy. They have restrained him, tied him down, much of the time at the hospital. That is a very difficult thing to experience, for both Wolf and his family.
He did tell me on Christmas Eve that he knew he was losing control of both his mind and what came out of his mouth. He was ready to get help. He has now been in another reality several days and those who have been with him don’t think he is very aware of anything in this, the more common, reality.
I am heading down to the hospital tomorrow with Lucky and Stefany. We don’t know what we will find, but I’m going to spend a couple of days on Wolf-watch. Unlike Puntarenas hospital, where we managed to have at least two or three people with him at most times, the Blanco Cervantes is apparently very strict about visitors and only one person can be with him at any time.
We await the results of blood and urine tests as the doctors (mostly on vacation until Monday of course) evaluate what is going on in Wolf’s mind and body. Once they have an idea, they will hopefully be able to give him a medication that works to control his wandering mind. This is what we are all hoping and waiting for. I am prepared to spend a couple of difficult days with my old friend, or at least with the outer rather strong shell that houses a very troubled man with a mind that is blowing around like the wild Monteverde wind. I’m sure he still has his sense of humor, though it may be revealing itself in inappropriate ways. I’ll keep you posted.
Chilly verdant greetings to you from blustery Monteverde. The air has an arcticistic feel to it. We may be in the tropics, but we are in the mountains, and it is just dang chilly…and not at all white. I must admit, I miss the snow.
This week of Christmas festivities has been glorious – meeting up with friends on the street, twinkly nights in dressed up houses, the food flowing on festive tables. In Monteverde, on Christmas Eve, the group of traveling carolers, ebbing and flowing in numbers throughout the evening, grew so much this year that to fit all the requests in, they had to start their singing at 3:15 on a cool afternoon. They walked and sang and snacked until sometime after 11 p.m.
I had spent the afternoon with Wolf and Lucky – listening to our friend Wolf who has not stopped talking for over a week (more on this later) – and playing a renegade game of Scrabble with Lucky. She couldn’t believe she was taking the time to play Scrabble on Christmas Eve. The carolers arrived about 5 and, as is their habit, sang two carols in fine harmony. I then joined them and visited a few houses of expectant listeners armed with warm agua dulce and cookies before heading home.
It’s a wonderful tradition in Monteverde, this Christmas Eve roving community caroling choir. I heard that they had over 40 houses requesting that the carolers stop by – that’s a lot of carols sung and a lot of treats (squares, fruit, tamales, juices) consumed. Fortunately, there are lotsa young folk, along with the older and aging neighbors, who look like they will keep up the tradition just fine.
It is great to be back in the Cerro Plano apartment although it is a very cold building and the weather took a bad turn a couple of days ago. Poor Roberto has been very cold, as is poor Kay. We spent much of the week hunkered down with Tyra the dog, and Miel and Oly the cats. There has been lots of seasonal cheer to keep us all warm despite the chilly winds.
Oly and Tyra hadn’t met until I came, so now I am keeping an eye on them. If Oly the kitten gets too close to Tyra the bowl bully, everyone snaps and fur flies. Oly also had never gone outside until I came, and now that he’s had a taste, he is getting restless to explore the great outdoors. Given the chance, he moves carefully down the long balcony, wondering what is around the corner.
Christmas Day was a real potpourri. Roberto made rice and beans in the morning, the smell of coconut wafting about and exciting our senses; we took it to the community lunch where we feasted with friends on food that arrived from every house. Then Santa Claus rolled in on his bicycle and tossed candies to tthe excited kids.
Roberto and I didn’t stay after the lunch, but instead walked up to our friends Saray and Melvin’s. She invited us to be part of an afternoon spent with a Japanese film crew and tamale making. Under the big trees we watched Saray toss about her Tica charm and teach the young soap opera actor the fine art of making tamales.
From grinding the corn without losing his fingers, to assembling the perfect pockets of tamale love, to cooking them in the big cauldron of water over an outdoor fire, the nameless Japanese heartthrob did as Saray demonstrated with the friendly crew looking on. Apparently this is to be part of a series for a TV channel in Japan, taking well-known actors and having them host a travel show.
This particular episode will highlight three countries – Jamaica, Costa Rica and Cuba – and the theme is finding the passion of the country. In Costa Rica’s case, the passion is for nature, and so Monteverde is a great venue to demonstrate that.
Saray, Melvin, their kids and his sister Ana were perfect hosts, animated teachers, and I hope that they will have a place in the final product. I know from experience that hours of filming, regardless of the expenses incurred, end up on the cutting room floor. But we all will be happy to see our friend Saray become a big star in Japan!
After the film crew left, we ate the tamales, and gathered around a huge campfire that kept us warm against the night chill. Roberto kept us warmer still by singing calypso songs and Spanish boleros, accompanied by the boys on drums. To finish off the night, and this blog, and this year, we oohed and aahed as the kids set off fireworks. With sparklers, we wrote our wishes in the sky for love, joy and good health for 2011!
Before leaving on that sweet note, and speaking of good health, I want to just let you know that Wolf has entered a new stage in his medical journey. He’s been getting stronger, walking gently, eating well. But he has also been talking incessantly and becoming increasingly more manic. It has been over a month since he stopped taking lithium which kept his bipolar under control but was also responsible for a high level of toxicity in his system, damaging his kidneys and no doubt causing any number of secondary complications.
The day he left the Puntarenas hospital, he was given a new medication. The first week back home, Wolf was serene, in the present, and gracious. But since then, his bipolar condition has resumed. Obviously the medication is not doing the trick, but it is very difficult here to get him to a psychiatrist who could monitor him and prescribe the appropriate medication and dosage. Unfortunately, as time passes, Wolf is becoming more unstable and this is, of course, hard not only on him, but on those around him.
So once again, as I have asked so many times of you before, please hold Wolf in the light and pray that he will soon get the help he needs to get him through this very difficult time. And hold Lucky and the rest of the family in the light, as living with a person going through this is very difficult – I think more difficult than dealing with physical issues. May 2011 find Wolf, Lucky, and the Guindons – along with the rest of us – living with peace.
I know, I know. Somewhere in the world right now there is war, there is famine, there is heartbreak, there is suffering. By not watching the television, reading the newspaper, listening to the radio, or scanning the internet, I can avoid pondering these tragedies and injustices for a moment. I can linger in the peace that surrounds me here in Monteverde.
Above me an orange glow is slowly taking over the moon, as a lunar eclipse coincides with the winter solstice – how beautiful of a night is this!? I managed to stay awake till the appointed hour of 1:30 a.m. and took Tyra, my new dog friend, out for a walk. But the night is cold and the wind is strong, and I realized that I could watch the marvel from the comfort of the house, through the wall of windows facing to the northwest. So I brought Tyra into the house – a treat for her – and turned off the lights and have watched the sun, earth and moon at play. I know there are powerful forces at work making this spectacle happen, but from here it appears to be a most peaceful choreography.
I have left the Guindon house for the holidays. Wolf is doing much better and now has a nurse, so it is time for a break. I’ve returned to the apartment in the lower community of Monteverde known as Cerro Plano where I spent several months last year. At that time there was only the young cat named Miel (who our Caribbean cat is named after) but now there is also a rambunctious kitten named Oliver and the placid Tyra. Oly is hardly what I’d call a peaceful addition but Tyra, who survived life on the street (she was usually on the very busy corner near here) was brought into this loving place, bathed, fed, and pampered. Now she is a very happy puppy. These two had their first meeting yesterday and, as predicted, the kitten was in total control. For the most part, it was a peaceful encounter.
It is just days from Christmas. Monteverde excels at doing the season right – what they lack in snowflakes they make up for with a collective warm and glowing spirit. Each Sunday, following the hour of silent tranquility at the Friends meeting, carols have been sung since sometime in early November. There were recently three nights of the local choir, under the direction of Hugh and Phoebe Grey, singing beautiful arrangements of well-known and not-so-well-known Christmas music in a variety of venues. The choral part of Christmas will reach a crescendo on Christmas Eve, when the many people who love to sing will wander together from house to house, treat to treat, for hours sharing the good joy.
At the Monteverde meeting, there is a community gift exchange where two months ago, all who cared to pulled names. The only requirement about the gifts is that you make the gift yourself and you think sincerely about what the recipient may want or need. There are some beautiful homemade creations exchanged on Christmas Day. The emphasis is on thought and effort, not extravagance.
This week is one social fest after another, starting with last Sunday’s Christmas Wassail. A variety of people sang, acted, read poetry, and amused the gathered masses – there is so much talent in this town it is amazing. A big reason for this is that any little bit of talent is encouraged and appreciated. Kids here grow up not being afraid to get up and try something new, secure in the fact that no one will make fun of them no matter how undeveloped their talent may be. The adults have set the standard for being imperfect, often silly on stage and the audiences laugh with, not at, the performers. In this way, some remarkable musicians, writers and actors have developed their craft here.
Many local amateur (and not so amateur) musicians have gathered, under the direction of Heather Gosse, in something called the Kitchen Sink Orchestra. With a minimum of practice and a couple of dozen musicians at varying levels of experience, they did a fine performance of the Nutcracker Suite.
After the program, everyone heads into the room where what seems like thousands of cookies, contributed by each household, await on platters along with two huge cauldrons of spicy wassail. The lines of people flow past the sugary confections, choosing their favorites and trying the new, often garishly decorated, Christmas sweets. This may be the one time that “peaceful” isn’t exactly an appropriate description – instead it is one huge sugar rush!
Later this week will be the Christmas Barbeque – succulent meats roasted on a slow spit (with vegetarian options), Finally there is the big community lunch following Friends meeting on Christmas Day, ending with the gift exchange. There are also house parties of course, and local musicians such as Turid Forsyth and Margaret Adelman, are in demand as musical accompaniment for more carol singing.
Wolf is going into this festive season with renewed spirit and strength. Following the departure of his three sons (and now Helena, his daughter, has also gone back to the U.S.), with the excitement and activity of the previous week having settled down, he seemed a little depressed. We all miss Carlos, Tonio and Tomas and his family. The house got noticeably quieter and the reality of Wolf’s situation settled in.
Fortunately many friends and community members came to visit, including neighbor and new mayor, Chepe Vargas, and an old friend, Gary Diller. It helped to ease the transition. His new nurse, Stefany Rodriguez, arrived and now takes care of his baths and other elements of his care. She is wonderful with him and he, of course, appreciates having a lovely young nurse taking care of him.
Throughout last week, Wolf’s mood was up and down, his mind everywhere. He was often talking non-stop all day, so much that he lost his voice for awhile. As long as he was in a positive mood, it was fun as his sense of humor is healthy. When he’s down, all we can do is wait for the bad mood to pass, knowing it inevitably will.
But what this has meant is that his spunk is back. Each day we have seen a remarkable recovery – he started walking a couple of days ago, he’s eating more enthusiastically and taking the pills without any problem. Wolf has many ideas in his busy mind of what he wants to do. Understandably he gets frustrated that he can’t do everything he wants yet, and is still very dependent on others. For him, he isn’t getting stronger fast enough.
One day Stefany and I took him to the Monteverde Reserve where he held court from the comfort of the old Toyota Land Cruiser. Reserve employees, guides and even the elusive biologist Alan Pounds stopped by to visit. Wolf didn’t want to get out of the car and into his wheelchair, something I think he doesn’t feel good about. After nearly sixty years of walking through this forest, the idea of being helped out of the car and pushed around in a chair is just too much for him. Now that he is walking, I’m sure he’ll be back up at the Reserve and getting himself out of the car.
As Wolf has improved, I’ve taken more time to get around Monteverde, do some book biz, play Scrabble, and go out to some special parties. One was the 60th birthday party for the lovely Deb Penn at the Mata e Caña. There was a lot of dancing to blast-from-the-past music and super dancers. The night satisfied my soul.
There was also a very sad farewell to Cindye Rushing and her daughter Hunter. They’ve been here over three years and are both very much a part of the community – Cindye feeds the folks, Hunter entertains them, and everyone loves them. It was just their time to return to the US for the next chapter of their lives.
It’s been a week of feeling the Christmas spirit blanketing us, just like a soft new layer of white snow. It is great to get out and spend time with the wonderful folks of Monteverde. It’s been chilly enough to wear seasonal clothes and drink warm drinks. Not exactly Canada, but not quite so tropical either. Although I’ve moved a couple kilometers away, I still feel warm within the bosom of the Guindon clan. There is a grand sense of relief that Wolf is doing better and is now actively taking part in his own recovery. The light that he has been held in by friends and followers all over the world has shone bright enough to bring the color back to his cheeks.
My sweetie Roberto has just come up the mountain. We will spend these festive weeks with Tyra, Miel and Oly, and take in as many community activities as possible. Tranquility has taken the place of worry, sunshine has replaced the clouds, and peace reigns. May it linger in each of your lives and all over this precious earth.