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strange bicho

Here on the green mountain, beauty is all around us.  Some of this is just the sheer natural splendor of the place – the misty-erios cloud forest, the tall, twisted, bromeliad-filled trees, the dripping emerald canopy, the rolling pastures with pretty-faced Guernsey cows. Then there is the minute glory, from the delicate orchids to the flashy beetles to the exotic fungi. But beauty is also found in the people here and I think this comes from how they collectively live relatively healthy lives – not all, not always, but compared to the faces of urban sprawl, the inner city and the poverty of spirit one can often find elsewhere, one has to be happy to have landed here.

peace liliesjudith

I spent two days last week celebrating exactly these riches. Last Sunday, there was a wedding at the Friends Meeting House – the director of the Monteverde Institute, Jannelle Wilkins married her man, Rick Mera in a peaceful ceremony, surrounded by their friends and neighbors. I was part of the little group who decorated the room for them – we hung calla lilies in the windows and strategically placed tables to hold the various bouquets of garden flowers that were brought by folks from the community. Calla lilies are also known as peace lilies and they couldn’t have been more appropriate for the occasion. My new friend Caroline Crimm provided many of these lilies and more were donated by others, enough that we were able to hand them out to guests as they arrived. The room was simple and serene.

trostles

The Trostle family

As at all weddings, the guests arrived looking their best, with smiles on their faces, and that makes for a good-looking assembled crowd. I snapped lots of photos and share several here – perhaps you will recognize some of the faces – weddings tend to bring out hope and joy in people, and this wedding was no exception.

 

jannelle and katy

berto and angelina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jannelle & Katy                                                    Alberto Guindon & Angelina

At the Quaker meeting, the wedding ceremony is as thoughtful and personal as Sunday meeting. Friend Katy Van Dusen nicely explained what would happen – we would sit in silence and await the arrival of Jannelle and Rick. When they came, we sang a song together – “Simple Gifts” – to the guitar accompaniment of Tricia Wagner, who herself has a beautiful voice. As the song says… “when we find ourselves in the place just right, it will be in the valley of love and delight.” And it was. Or at least on the mountain of…

saray, rick, jannelle, melvinRick & Jannelle with Saray & Melvin Leiton

When they were ready, the couple exchanged their vows, looking in each other’s eyes, only the two of them. In between each part of the ceremony, there was silence, time to reflect and appreciate the moment. Jannelle and Rick signed the wedding papers and shortly after people stood one by one and shared their thoughts. This couple was blessed by the warmth of the community.

Darlene and Nataliamichael, janet and elan

 

 

Jannelle’s sister Darlene and daughter Natalia                      The Jenkins family

The members of their families who had come for the wedding were very moved by the occasion. Someone expressed how people often feel that this simple Friends ceremony, where guests are encouraged to share their own thoughts, is one of the most beautiful wedding ceremonies they have been to – the couple say their vows directly to each other, in the presence of their friends, not to a priest or pastor or minister. And the wishes extended by their family and friends are thoughtful and wise and filled with loving concern.

Tricia Wagnerfonda velaAfterward we all walked a little ways up the road to the Hotel Fonda Vela, where there was a huge spread of wonderful food, accompanied by songs of love sang by Tricia Wagner and Robert Dean. A marimba band played outside where meat was roasting on the barbeque. The sun set in a furious explosion of brightness behind the head table while more words of support were expressed. It was a beautiful gathering of friends, surrounded by love and the hope of a joyful future for Jannelle and Rick.

forest

 

 

A couple days after that, I took to the woods with Wolf’s son Ricky Guindon. In my job with Bosqueeterno S.A., where I’ve been challenged to write a history of this watershed reserve set aside by the original Quakers in 1951, I will also include a natural history of the 554 hectares – describing the primary forest and its inhabitants, the use of the land and the various biological studies that have taken place there over the years.

ricky

Ricky has been a field assistant with a number of biologists and was the perfect guide for this hike. We had originally thought that we would head out the trail that starts near the entrance to the Reserve and goes to El Valle and then turn and follow the boundary line of the property. We knew that the maintenance crew had recently cleared it but also knew that it would still be much more challenging hiking than any of the trails as these carril lines are not designed for easy walking.

dan perlman

On my way up to the Reserve to meet Ricky, I ran into Dan Perlman, a biologist from the U.S. who has spent years here studying ants. When he heard where I was going, he told me that he had with him a 360-degree camera and would love to tag along. He would take photos along the way that we could then use on the Bosqueeterno webpage when we get to doing that. I haven’t seen these photos, but can imagine they are incredible. He would stand in one place and the camera would record all around it, along with a couple minutes of sound. This will be a wonderful feature to share on the internet.

gelatinous stalked puffball

Gelatinous stalked puffball

Ricky, Dan and I started out and moved so slow – looking at each precious little bug, leaf, orchid and bird then stopping to stare at the magnificence of the tree-covered mountainside under a cloudy but bright sky – that we had to change our plans.  Dan stayed with us for awhile and had to head back, and Ricky and I decided that instead of trying to move faster and cover a great deal of ground, we would stay on the trail that would lead us to Cerro Amigos. This is one of the highest peaks in the area and it is where there are several communication towers.

tower trail

 

 

I’ve been up there with Wolf a couple of times, always approaching it from the community side on gradually climbing trails.  We were now coming from the backside which meant climbing up a very steep trail, “like climbing up tree limbs,” said Ricky.

 

 

Quebrada Cuecha

Along the way we went past the water pipes where the community draws its water from the Quebrada Cuecha.  We were so lucky not to have a drop of rain, only the usual moisture on the Atlantic side of the cerro where the clouds hit the peak and deposit their moisture. Ricky was a wonderful person to be with, full of knowledge of the birds, the plants and the insects, and as content as I was to be out in this unique piece of wilderness.

 

towers

When we got to the towers there was too much cloud to see Arenal volcano behind us (which I know from past experience sits like a huge grey cone and feels close enough to fall into), but it was clear enough to see the community below us. There is a road that heads almost vertically straight up the hill which is used by the men who live up there (a man stays for 15 days then has 15 days off); we watched a man bringing a bundle of materials up on his shoulder, slowly climbing up this steep dirt track.

over Monteverde

We went down by way of the trails that exist for students at the Canadian Biological Station, a much more pleasant way of descending. We were shortly out of the clouds and in bright sunshine – which is where we met our only little cloudburst. We were refreshed by some gentle rain, even though it was hard to find the cloud above us in the aqua blue sky.

grandfather oak

 

 

We had walked for about seven hours, through the rain forest at the entrance to the Reserve, up to the elfin forest near the towers, and back into the gentile pastures of Monteverde. Stunning, magical and very, very green.

 

 

kay

I guess a week of beauty isn’t complete without a trip to a salon. Alberto Guindon’s step-daughter, Melody, is a very talented hair stylist and make-up artist who came from San Diego a few months ago to be near her mother and give her son, Jaden, some schooling in Monteverde. She worked for years as a photographer’s assistant and enjoys prepping people for a photo shoot. She asked me if I’d like her to do my make-up and hair. I’ve never been a cosmetic person except for Halloween and when playing dress-up but was willing, so spent an evening being primped and then she took many pictures. Some of them were great, and we both enjoyed the experience. I still wouldn’t wear make-up, but had fun playing model for an evening.

mothers day

Here in Costa Rica, August 15 is Mother’s Day. My mother died in 1998 and I miss her. I had the chance to wish Lucky Guindon a Mother’s Day, having arrived at her house with her daughter, Melody, who gave her mom a bouquet of flowers. The love that comes from your mother is one of the most beautiful things in the world, even long after she has gone.

wolf over san luisOn Sunday I gathered with the Guindons to celebrate Wolf’s 79th birthday. It was my last evening in Monteverde for this tour and a very special one. Wolf is slowly feeling better as his medications get straightened out but it has been a difficult couple of months. I hope that we will all be together to celebrate his big 80th next August 17. In the meantime, I’m down in Cahuita with Roberto and the monkeys and the waves and the sweet sounds of calypso. Life is truly beautiful. Hasta la proxima….

sunset

 

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Here in Monteverde it’s the rainy season, but who said the weather is normal anywhere in the world anymore? The green mountain is no exception – after weeks of December/January type weather (tumultous wind, blowing rain, chilly), we are now in “puro verano”, that is summertime. The sun is shining and hot, the wind is casual, the moisture level at a monthly low. Thank goodness.

sunshine

This gorgeous climate has provided some beautiful final days for me. I’ve been squeezing in as many activities as possible before I go – first back to Cahuita for a couple weeks with Roberto and the pleasures of the Caribbean, then home to Canada just in time for our autumnal beauty.

caroline

 

A couple of weeks ago, a new person walked into my life, one of those cases of the right person arriving at the right time. Caroline Castillo Crimm, a Professor of History at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, came to Monteverde to work on a book that will document the comings and goings in this area – much of which has been recorded in some form or another (read Walking with Wolf) but her book will look at the details of this history, in particular who the original Tico families were, something that is only documented in the government archives in San José.

 Caroline introduced herself to Wolf and me at an event at the Monteverde Institute and charmed us immediately by saying how she had read our book and thought it was “brilliant.” I, of course, immediately thought she was too! Her smile and enthusiasm is contagious. Since then, she has been mentoring me in how to get the book out – convincing me not to put my efforts into finding a distributor or agent, middlemen who will take their percentage while putting the book on store shelves amongst the millions of others. Caroline has written three books herself and knows that the onus will still be on me to publicize the book. So if I don’t mind doing it, she recommends that I spend more time writing to universities, environmental groups, Quaker meetings, etc. and offer my services as a speaker with an interesting presentation and a great book. The catch is I need to charge an honorarium and travel expenses since, as she says, I’m now a professional writer. I’m working on that part. 

So I’ve created an internet announcement that I will send by the thousands when I return to Canada in September. I love to travel and have no problem speaking in public and am, of course, very proud of the book. I’m honored to go out and tell Wolf’s story as well as some of the fascinating history of Monteverde. Caroline has given me a new objective, renewed confidence and a direction that I’m excited about.

oxcart

In return, I’ve shared my knowledge of things here with her – over dinner we discussed the Monteverde Music Festival of the 1990s that I was a part of. Last Saturday I took her on a walking tour of Monteverde, showing her where the original families live and telling her some of the background chisma that one can only gather from years of living here and knowing a large variety of people.  We had a beautiful day for this walk, starting out near the cheese factory (where the milks cans were being delivered, some still by oxcart) and walking up towards the Reserve, the “northern” part of the community. I think of the top part of the mountain as “north” since it is inevitably colder than going down to the “southern” part, Santa Elena, where you can find sun and sweat more readily – even though the compass would tell you the absolute opposite.  Maybe it’s a Canadian thing.

plastic house

We stopped for coffee at the gorgeous new home of local biologist, Mills Tandy, another Texan, who is the owner of one of my favorite little abodes, “the plastic house”.  Built with corrugated plastic siding back in the late 1980s, it isn’t any bigger than the modern bathroom in his new home, but for one person, or a very loving couple, it is perfect.  I lived there for a few weeks many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed its remote location in the forest and its very simple layout. Small is beautiful stuff. Mills has recently cleaned it up – because of its deep woods location, it can become a moss-covered relic quickly – and is ready to rent it out again and the place never looked better.

caroline marco

Continuing on to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, we bumped into Marcos, a resident of San Luis, the farming community just below Monteverde, who is an employee of the Reserve and was out doing some road repairs. He is one of the original founders of La Finca Bella project down in the valley of San Luis. Since the 1990s, local families took matters into their own hands and, with some assistance from the Monteverde Conservation League, have worked at creating a sustainable agricultural center for the community, growing coffee and other crops and helping each other survive economically. It has been a struggle but somehow this project, along with other initiatives in San Luis (such as a satellite campus of the University of Georgia), have kept this simple healthy community alive.

san luis

It may be inevitable that tourism is going to replace agriculture eventually – the pressure to move into a tourism-based economy is too strong and the difficulties of a farm-based economy too real – but the families of San Luis continue to face the future with a communal concern and intelligence. They have the volcanic growth of the communities above them – Santa Elena, Cerro Plano and Monteverde – as a good example of what happens if you don’t plan and control the development that comes with the influx of new people and the demands of tourism.

wolf and lucas

Wolf & Lucas Ramirez, former Reserve employee at U of Georgia campus, San Luis

Many of the employees at the Reserve have come from San Luis. I remember being astounded in 1990 at the fact that most of these young men (and a woman or two) walked up from the valley. I’m not sure how many kilometers that is, but I can tell you it is a long, very steep climb. They worked all day at the Reserve and then walked back down at night.

geordy caro luis

Caroline with Yory Mendez and Luis Obando – who I remember walking up from San Luis since 1990

I decided back then that there is a genetic fortitude to the people of San Luis and my enjoyment of this, along with their humble manner and warm smiles, has made it a great pleasure to know many of the families – with names such as Leiton, Vargas, Brenes, Cruz, Ramirez, and Obando. 

hammock

 

Caroline and I visited with friends at the Reserve before continuing our tour by passing through the beautiful bullpen, which worked its magic on her as it does on all, for a quick visit with Wolf and Lucky. Lucky was in the middle of a terrible virus, so we didn’t linger. Wolf was relaxing in the hammock that he hung recently out on their wrap-around veranda overlooking the goats in the field and the Gulf of Nicoya in the distance.

 

ciee

 

We then went back down to the Friends’ school to catch the end of the CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) group’s final presentations at the end of their two month’s program here. Their professor, Karen Masters, also happens to be my “boss lady” in the Bosqueeterno S.A. work I’ve taken on, and her husband, Alan, who co-runs the course with her, is also the excitable and talented keyboardist/singer in the group Chanchos de Monte, our local British rock band that I’ve written about before (and went to dance to that night).

mary r

 

We hungrily ate lunch with them and then walked out to the Rockwell corner of Monteverde, past the controversial pig farm that supplies the cheese plant with their pork products, and to see the stunning vistas from that corner of the community. We had a quick visit with Mary Rockwell, another of the original Quakers who arrived in 1951 with her husband Eston. In a matter of minutes, Mary had us intrigued by her many stories. Caroline truly saw for herself the beauty that is Monteverde.

blogh

 

We ended our tour back at the meeting house to discuss the flower decorations for the wedding that we were all attending the next day. Caroline and I, along with Wolf’s son Alberto and his wife Angelina, offered to take care of that – very pleasant work but someone had to do it.   I am truly appreciate of the help that Caroline has given me – as I said, she arrived just as I needed a new inspiration for getting Walking with Wolf out in the world. She is someone who will only add to the beauty which is Monteverde.  It is all around us, every day. I’ll keep with this theme in the next episode of …………

 

mating bugs

The last several months have been filled with love and wonder, but it would seem that the cross-cultural, cross-countries relationship between Roberto and I is being put to the test. We have taken a break and today he headed back to his home on the Caribbean coast. I am here in Monteverde with my three dog friends to keep me company. Relationships are hard to make work and sometimes you just can’t. Despite the many things that we have in common, the chemistry and the cooperative effort, we may not be able to get past some basic differences. In the meantime, we carry on…

campbell pasture

As I write this, the earth just shook, another tremor, and thunder is rolling around the sky. I awoke with a troubled heart, but the day arrived with an almost clear blue sky and the hot sun consoled me. At some point,  layers of cloud drifted down through the trees and the whole world turned white with a green base. And now the gods are rocking the joint and showering us with yet another deluge. The world around me seems as unsettled as I do.

besa2

I have taken on a contract with Bosqueeterno S.A., the organization that owns the original Watershed Property that the Quakers set aside in 1951. It would be the original “Reserve” in Costa Rica and became one of the first pieces of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve puzzle in the early 1970s. In more recent years, BESA has amassed some money and is considering ways to spend it such as local eco-projects that it can support. They have hired me, largely due to the fact that I wrote Walking with Wolf, to write a history and description of this beautiful primary forest that sits at the top of the mountain, skirting the Continental Divide and protecting the spring waters that furnish the community to this day with its clean, clear water.

butterfly

As with all historical accounts, there are varying versions on the flow of events, the participation of different people, and the roles that were played. My job is to search for the common details which all can agree make up this story of visionary-planning by the community. Many of the original players have died and in some cases it is the second generation – some who were very young children when the Quakers founded Monteverde in 1951 and others not yet born – who are interested in telling their family’s involvement. 

besa 1

In my travels with Walking with Wolf, I have seen the need to publicize Bosqueeterno and tell about this example of forward-thinking, as many people don’t know that the present day Reserve was started with this 554 hectare piece of land as a major part of it. Many confuse it with the Bosque Eterno de los Niños (BEN), a much larger (22,000 hectares) piece of protected land that is managed by the Monteverde Conservation League and was largely funded, back in the late 1980s, by schoolchildren and the government in Sweden. The Swedish kids named it Barnens Regnskog which translated to Children’s Eternal Rainforest and became another “Bosque Eterno” when translated into Spanish, thus causing confusion in the public mind. Due to the League’s websites and higher public profile, BEN is known internationally by tourists and rainforest conservation groups whereas Bosqueeterno S.A. is not nearly as well known, even here in the community.

toucan

I have been hired to collect the stories, write the history and then create a website, or more likely a blog, that will increase the public profile of the land and the people behind its conservation. Local nature guides and environmental education teachers will also have this information so that visitors and school children can understand how that early group of Quakers, hardly aware in 1951 that there would be deforestation and water shortage issues within a few decades, was inspired by God (as one of them told me) to protect this forest that in turn protects the headwaters of the Rio Guacimal.

kevin talk

This was the nineteenth year that the Monteverde Institute has run its Sustainable Futures course. It brings interested university-level students here for ten weeks to look at the issues of planning and functioning in a community in a sustainable way. This year’s participants gave their presentations a couple of days ago and I went, specifically because a friend from northeastern Ontario, Kevin Fraser (son of Susan and Doug, he being a great biology teacher as well as one of Al Gore’s disciples) was part of this. Kevin and a couple of his classmates created a design for an ecological garden on a piece of land directly behind the large Institute building right here in the center of the Monteverde community. This land had pine trees and cypress on it that the Institute harvested a couple of years ago to use for lumber, and so the lot has been sitting waiting for a brilliant idea to come. The students presented their plan for a small interpretive building and trails running throughout a multi-faceted garden.

heliconia

This would be planted with a variety of organic, native and diverse plantings that would cover everything from food crops to a heliconia collection to bird and butterfly attractions. Having lived near and walked through this empty lot for the last couple years, it was great to see this intelligent and creative design. One can only hope that it will be implemented by future groups, volunteers and community members. That would be a wonderful cooperative project that would give us a beautiful place to wander, learn, sit and even eat from. 

wolf and banking

In my last blog post, I spoke about not worrying about the possible calamities awaiting us at Roberto’s in Cahuita until we got back there. As it would turn out, they happened here – first I lost my wallet with my VISA and bank card, which I was able to cancel before any damage was done, but it makes getting money from Canada impossible. Secondly, Wolf and I found out that the local bank, where we do our book business, was mixing up our book accounts with his and Lucky’s personal accounts. We were able to rectify the situation and get their money back to them but it drained our business accounts. Sigh. Noone ever said that I was writing a book to make money. Or that Wolf, Lucky nor I were good book-keepers!

bar amigos

Then Costa Rica lost (but almost won) against Mexico to go into the finals of the Copo d’Oro, a major soccer tournament that Mexico eventually one.  Roberto and I went in to Santa Elena and Bar Amigos to be part of the festivities – always joyous when winning but quickly subdued, even funereal,  when the score goes wrong.  But I love being around the passion of the Ticos in their favorite sport.

roberto & cukes

 

 

And then of course Roberto left. Another sigh. I will miss him and his great humor, warmth and vitality, but fortunately I have learned something about love in my life and am relatively calm about the whole thing – or at least philosophical.

 

 

 

sloth

 

As in all relationships, there are tensions and hopefully through discussion, respect and compromise, consensus will be reached to the mutual benefit of everyone. Sometimes that doesn’t happen, but one must continue working in that direction.  Personal relationships can be ended, but communal ones will continue even when the individual participants change. And cooperation is important to our collective well-being. When there are good examples of positive community-work, they need to be recognized and then can hopefully be repeated.  Just as you hope that sometime in your life, you will stop repeating what doesn’t work. There is always hope that with time, effort and love, we will learn. One last, but not least, sigh.

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