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I’ve been in the house quite a bit lately due to the hurricane-type weather we’ve been having on the green mountain. I have lots to do on my laptop and have internet in the house I’m staying at, so I don’t need to go out in that wind and rain unless there is something on my social calendar that demands it. So Wilkens, Betsy and Cutie Pie, the K-9s, are thrilled – like most of us, they enjoy having company.

V and dogs

A relatively recent phenomena in Monteverde – likely all over Costa Rica – is that there are people trying to deal with the problem of street dogs. Veronica, the mistress of these three dogs, is a very kindhearted woman with a great love for animals. To see any creature suffer, no matter how small, breaks that kind heart of hers. Wilkens is a little terrier she rescued eight years ago in the U.S.; Betsy was found here in Monteverde last September, a strange tiny puppy left in a cardboard box in the middle of the road (a brutal method to let someone else in a car take care of your problem); and Cutie Pie was brought to a spaying clinic that Veronica, her friend Andrea and the local vet had arranged, and she was just too cute to let go.

cp

The problem of hungry, homeless dogs has always been huge in Costa Rica (as it is in many places in the world) but the recent influence of North Americans – who sometimes treat their dogs better than their children – has meant that attitudes are changing. You see more purebred dogs here now. Costa Ricans have caught on to this new attitude and often are happy to get a fancy model dog, but getting them fixed isn’t necessarily a top priority or in some cases an economic reality. That’s why people like Veronica get the local vets to participate in spaying and castrating clinics – to try to limit the amount of unwanted dogs and cats left to wander the streets.

pasture

As I’ve written before, these three dogs have matured a lot in the last months but they are still a gang.  We live in a house near the cliff edge surrounded by bucolic pastures, the feeding trough to a couple of horses, bordered by dense forest, and the dogs run free range out there. Around here, noise pollution means barking dogs – when one starts, the whole neighbourhood responds!  The full moon of the last week has kept Betsy particularly on edge and I wake up with her nightly yowls still ringing in my ears.  Although I love these dogs (usually), I have yet to totally adapt to this new reality in Monteverde.

cane toad

This is a place where wildlife has always come right to your window, if not walked in your door – agouti, pizotes, monkeys, birds, olingos, amphibians, on and on – but the large presence of dogs in the community is changing things. Most houses here now have at least one dog, but many have two, three, four, even five. Once you start rescuing them, it is hard to stop when you know a little dog needs a home. Another reason for people wanting dogs is to protect their homes from the recent rash of robberies (a whole other blog there folks). But the fact that lots of these dogs run free around the houses, often barking incessantly, and more than one dog creates a pack-like mentality, has meant that there are less wildlife sightings near the houses.

2 monkeys

I say that, yet in the next breath I will tell you a tale about the visiting white-faced monkeys. I was sitting here working on my laptop the other day, one of the few beautifully warm and sunny ones we’ve had this week. The top half of the door was open and the dogs were running around outside. I glanced up and noticed the branch of the tree just four feet from the door was frantically nodding up and down. It wasn’t long before the dogs were jumping around, barking up a storm. I went to see what was going on. As I headed out the open door, I stared right into the white-face of a capuchin monkey. I could almost touch it. On further scrutiny, I realized there were four more crawling around the branches – one very young – eating the tree’s little fruits (the kind, I’m sorry, I can’t say).

white face

The dogs, all short-legged, were driven insane by the fact that these smaller creatures were just out of reach. The monkeys were coming down, quite aggressively as white-faced monkeys will be, barring their teeth in primate-sneers and jumping up and down on the branches. I put the puppies in the house where they stayed glued to window, watching the intruders. The monkeys stayed around for at least fifteen minutes, shaking the tree and almost smiling in glee. I’m sure they would have come in the open door if the dogs weren’t there.

sneering monkey

So there you go, my theory of the dogs keeping the wildlife far away already disproven.  But I would still assert that having all these dogs around the Monteverde houses is affecting the behavior of the wild kingdom here. Generally the wild animals have returned in the forest since hunting was banned with the creation of the Reserve and the League decades ago and the critters feel safer. But as more houses are built on the edge of the forest, there are different threats now, and the dog population is definitely one – unless they are tied up or kept inside.   

andy flori

We have a lot of talented cooks around here and a recent addition to the list of culinary treats is the new bread that Andy and Flori are baking. In an outdoor adobe oven, they bake beautiful sourdough, buttermilk, and whole grain breads. They have the oven working in the morning and then take their warm loaves (along with their sweet daughter Mora) around to different places in the community to sell…or you can go out to their home, which happens to be an old homesteading house on Wolf Guindon’s farm. I devoured the first loaf I bought last week while chatting with Andy as Flori and Mora sold the rest – great idea Pan Casero Artesanal!

My Canadian friends, Kevin and Doug Fraser, along with my friend Mercedes (the environmental education coordinator at the Monteverde Reserve), came to dinner the other evening. Doug is an award-winning biology teacher in northeastern Ontario, now also engaged in writing biology textbooks and creating teaching programs, who brought a student group here to San Luis, just below Monteverde, about ten years ago. There was lots of great story-telling, Doug entertaining us with his tales of going to Montreal to be part of Al Gore’s environmental disciples…the chosen ones who learn how to present a slide show based on Gore’s famous documentary spreading the word about climate change. Doug also was chosen to be part of the Cape Farewell project which took a group of students and adult mentors (Doug being one) from across Canada and a variety of other countries on a boat through the Canadian Arctic waters to Iceland and Greenland. A program developed by British artist David Buckland, it combines the creativity of art and the discipline of science along with firsthand experience to teach about the realities of climate change and through the creation of art to inspire action. What an experience! 

frasers

After our interesting evening, the men left the next morning on a hike with Eladio Cruz and another local guide, heading through the Monteverde Reserve, over the Continental Divide and down the Peñas Blancas River valley to Poco Sol – the same hike that makes up the introductory chapter of Walking with Wolf. Unlike the sunny, dry weather we had back in February 1990, they walked in torrential downpours that filled the rivers as well as the paths with raging water. Both Doug and Eladio seemed to be stricken with some kind of bug as well. I had thought about them down there in these last couple days, knowing that what the weather was doing would not be kind to them. They did survive, barely, and called me to come out for a drink last night and told their tale of crossing raging streams only by luck, the constant water rolling down their backs and filling their rubber boots, and their amazement at the fortitude of 62-year-old Eladio…now just a little older than Wolf was when I went on that hike with him in 1990 (he was 60). Even Eladio doubted that they could continue on traversing the heavy waters at one point, and did twice as much walking as the others. He ran back up the steep ridges to try to get reception on his walkie-talkie and cell phone to get help. My Canadian friends were as impressed as I have always been when out in the tropical forest with Eladio, Wolf and the other men like them. What an experience!

bank street

Wolf, Lucky and I shared a panel on the history of Monteverde for a group of aspiring environmental teachers from Bank Street School in the Bronx (New York City). This gig came to me thanks to Marian Howard, a former instructor and now director at the school who hosted me in her home in the Bronx last April. It was wonderful to listen to Lucky since I haven’t heard her tell her own tales of life in early Monteverde in years. Her experiences as a young woman, mother of eight, living as a pioneer, learning to do just about everything in a different way than the way it was done in her home state of Iowa, was fascinating. Wolf, feeling pretty good and talking in a strong voice, added in stories of selling chainsaws and felling trees, the beginning of the cheese factory and the Reserve. I chimed in with additional stories that I’ve gathered, many from the book. It was a very pleasant afternoon that ended in the sale of several books. A good experience!

betsy

This weekend I’m going to help decorate the Friends meeting house for the Sunday afternoon wedding of Jannelle Wilkins, the Executive Director at the Monteverde Institute. I’ve been seeking out peace lilies (callas) and will join a few other folks to make the place beautiful for what will no doubt be a special day. May this crazy wind and rain stop before then – in fact, this morning has dawned clear and bright. And, hopefully, people will leave their dogs at home.

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 Time has been passing quickly. In a couple of days, Veronica and Stuart will return and my days as a relatively-sane-yet-losing-it-tamer-of-canines will end. I like to think that I’ve had some small influence on Chique (also known as Wilkens after a similarly-whiskered Caribbean character and, on bad days, as Cinderello, for having to survive life with his two nasty sisters), Cutie Pie (La Negrita, Blackie or La Salchichona, having grown to a good-sized sausage), and the one-of-a-kind one-nice-name-only Betsy the mad cow. But every time I think that I may have made a point about good behavior that stuck, I come home and the newspapers on the table have been ripped to shreds the size of a classified ad (including a copy of Quaker Monthly, a publication out of London, England that Wolf had just given me as there is an article I wrote in it this month), another corner of the recently-new chair has been chewed away despite being slathered in hot chili peppers, and the line between not jumping up on me and using me as a vertical mosh pit has blurred again.

 

k-and-dog

A couple of days after Veronica returns, I’ll be taking a break and heading to San Carlos, to see my friends over there – no dogs there, not even cats, just blessed slow, quiet sloths in the trees. Sigh. After that, some boys from the Hammer come down and I will go off to play guide around the country which is always fun. 

 

 

takako

In the meantime, Wolf and I and our Reserve friend Mercedes go for dinner tomorrow night with a group coming from the city of Okayama. This is the Japanese sister city of San José and they are celebrating their 40th anniversary of that relationship. Their translator and guide is none-other-than our friend Takako Usui, who was with the three of us on the hike that makes up the last chapter of Walking with Wolf.  She invited us to have dinner with the mayor and other dignitaries while they are here on a short trip up from San José to see Monteverde. We aren’t actually doing a presentation but instead will show photo images as a backdrop to dinner and while we eat will talk about the community, the conservation efforts and successes, and the role of ecotourism in the area.

 

 

mercedes

Mercedes teaches natural history courses for groups at the Reserve, Wolf comes with his own lifetime of experiences and of course I wrote the book, but the real reason Takako has asked the three of us to talk with this group is because of her time spent with us – those four days in the high wet cloud forest, slogging through the thick vegetation, breathing in the humid beauty, talking late into the night from our dry clean sleeping-bag oases surrounded by a world of mud and moisture. I think she wants us to talk as much from our view as people who love to be in the richness of that natural chaos as much as being people who have taken part in the chaos of environmental politics. 

 

Either way, we get a free meal at the Hotel Montaña, no doubt an interesting evening with curious people from the other side of the world, and maybe will even sell some books. And get to visit with our friend Takako, the secretary of the Japanese-Costa Rican Friendship Association. I find it only slightly coincidental that these folks are coming from O-KAY-ama in the year of Obama, O-Kay? I often read too much into these things…

 

Much of my last week was spent in the process of moving, sorting, organizing and ultimately storing or selling the personal effects of our friends Andy Sninsky and Inge Holecek. They are a couple of long time Monteverde residents who have spent most of the last year over in Austria in a very tough battle with Andy’s cancer. He has gone through the roughest of treatments and is now waiting to rebuild his strength and weight so that he can have a stem cell transplant. His many friends here keep him in their hearts and hold both him and Inge, no doubt his secret weapon of strength in this great battle, in the light. 

 

guans

When it became clear that they wouldn’t be returning soon to Monteverde, they needed their stuff, which they had left relatively innocently and unsorted behind, to be removed from their rental house. Some of it is to be shipped to them, some stored, but much of it was to be sold in a katchi-batchi, garage sale. The Monteverde Institute lent us one of their classrooms where Jane Wolfe and I and number of other volunteers spent three days going through the myriad of stuff – the physical effects of other peoples’ lives.

 

I love to organize and purge. I often do it when I go home after a few months of living out of a backpack – how come we need more than that? We got through everything in three days, priced it to sell, and in a whirlwind of bargain shopping on Saturday, managed to get rid of everything. We raised some money and found homes for the stuff that Inge wants to keep. I fell asleep one of those nights to flocks of plastic junk – tupperware, dishes, containers, bags – flying through my approaching dreams.

 

 

red-flower 

We were all happy to help Inge and Andy out and knew that by taking care of their stuff, a chunk of concern could be taken off their list of worries when they obviously have so many other more serious concerns. I hope they felt the love from Monteverde over there in Europe – it was certainly radiating out on Saturday from those of us who are thinking of them and from others as they became aware of what the impetus behind the sale was. Stay strong both of you – as a survivor, I send you hope.

 

 

clean-trail

One day earlier this week, I arrived on another blowy, misty day at the Reserve to meet Wolf and take our spot in our coffee-shop office and see if we could sell books. I bumped into Mercedes and Marcos outside who told me that Wolf was talking about going for a walk. I wasn’t particularly dressed for walking with Wolf that day in the damp forest, but wouldn’t miss the opportunity. Sure enough, after a cup of coffee, he said that he wanted to get out in the forest and get some exercise and stretch his legs.

waterfall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So we headed out on the River Trail, a mostly flat, wide, recently refinished trail that takes hikers the easy way to the waterfall a kilometer or so away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

with-stick

However the sport is still called “walking with Wolf” and even though he is slower, walks with a stick, and tires easier, Wolf is still an off-the-beaten-trail kinda guy. Though we meandered pretty leisurely down to the waterfall, I could see his attention taken by some little side trails barely noticeable in the underbrush of the thick forest. Wolf knows this forest like his own family-tree and is very aware of every recently fallen branch, every new view revealed, and each unfinished path that he would love to keep working on.

 

 

A group of northern Europeans came by as he was slashing away at the vegetation with his walking stick, having forgotten to bring his machete. I suppose he would appear slightly mad to the uninitiated. I saw the look on one of the women’s faces and quickly explained that although it looked very illegal – this grey-haired man energetically knocking down the precious plants of the Cloud Forest Reserve at the side of the trail – that actually Wolf had designed the trails and was still quite active in re-designing them. Once they realized they were in the presence of “the man”, they looked relieved and then they seemed to be really trying to make sense of Wolf’s destructive, if joyful, manner.

 

wolf-in-slash

Sure enough, Wolf and I ended up wandering off the neat clean trail as a light rain fell and a cool breeze blew, up a small slash from a treefall, around the huge branched head of a fallen cedro, through the muddy seam of a slip of a stream, along the dirt ledge created where the shallow but widespread roots of another huge tree had pulled out of the earth, all the time heading to a trail that was cut a couple of years ago. It had been started on the Bosque Eterno land but then stopped when interested parties couldn’t reach an agreement on its use.

 

leaves

Bosque Eterno is the original piece of land put aside by the Quakers when they started dividing up the land in Monteverde back in 1951 and wanted mainly to protect their forested watershed up on the top of the mountain. It was leased for very little to the Tropical Science Center in 1973 as one of the first pieces of land that made up the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. There is an organization, Bosque Eterno S.A., which keeps an eye on the property, just as the Tropical Science Center administers the whole Reserve. In the process of changing people and changing times, the relationship between the Reserve and BESA ebbs and flows and the future of the land and its uses also changes.

 

tree-shapes

Wolf and I had been on this trail a couple of years ago when the controversy over its development started. The cleared path still exists, wide as it is, but is quickly filling in. Where fallen brush has obscured the route, there is no clear way around to the continuing trail. Of course we made one, Wolf steadily hacking away with his stick. The extreme rains of this past wet season have left the scars of landslides all over the mountain and this area is no exception. We hit a spot where the mud that came down in a landslide looked too thick to maneuver, where a tree completely blocked our way and it was looking like our only choice was to go back from where we came. I refused, never being one for retracing my steps, and instead found a leafy ledge in the mud that would hold us up as we crawled upward. On the other side of it all, surrounded by waist-high thick vegetation, Wolf was explaining that we should be heading off towards a big tree marker to meet up with the old trail just as I almost flipped over an old block buried deep in the foliage from the long-time unused bit of trail. We had arrived right on target again, guided by Wolf’s innate sense of direction in this playground of his and sheer luck.

 

wolf-begonia

By the time we got out of the forest a couple of hours had passed, I was soaked and chilled, but we were both happy for having had spent the time wandering around like wood nymphs, peeking out through the leafy walls at the views across the valley, proving that we could still find our way through the chaos and follow our laughter down the streambeds. It is an enduring pleasure to be walking with Wolf even when the physical conditions are demanding. Like having cancer, it’s all been a grand experience once you survive it.   

 

I have to tell you that the rain on the zinc roof tonight, as I sit writing this, is ferocious. My neighbor Jason stopped in on his way to go for a run and returned soaked and chilled. Although even light mist blown in the wind here can sound like freezing rain, usually it doesn’t amount to much. But it sounds like a hurricane out there tonight, keeping me and the dogs on edge. A good night to crawl into bed and read Call of the Wild, Jack London’s beautiful story about Buck the dog forced into a northern life of hardship. It was one of my favorites as a child. My mother read it to my sister and me when we were kids and it always touched me deeply.

 

wolf-in-moon

I’m thinking that I should be reading this to these three little spoiled dogs I’m living with so they can hear about poor ol’ Buck’s enslavement in the far north and take heed. In the pocketbook version I picked up out of Inge’s stuff the other day, the introduction explains Jack London’s socialist leanings with a deep underbelly of individualism…I think this story may have had more of an effect on me than I’ve been aware.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

treetop

 

I’ve settled into my life as a dog nanny here in Monteverde. I’m sure that the three dogs, Chiqui, Betsy and Cutie Pie, must know I’m a dog lover, they can sense it, but they also must wonder once in awhile just who this crazy woman is that their family left them with. Bless their little muddy paws, they have driven me to the point of verbal insanity on too many occasions. I have taken it as my duty to add a little discipline to their lives and have made it my goal to break some of their bad habits by the time Veronica and Stuart return.

roberto-la-negrita 

Cutie Pie, aptly named though I’ve taken to calling her La Negrita, is both a champion football player and a chronic chewer. Whereas the other dogs can be trusted to sleep in the bedroom at night, on their doggie beds, Cutie is confined to the main room of the house where most chewable things have been removed or already chewed up. In the exactly three minutes I helped Veronica carry her suitcases to the driveway to meet the car coming for her when she left last week, Cutie had managed to chew a corner of the wooden arm of the chair she sleeps in.  So then I felt that I had to take the whole chair out of the room, along with everything else. This just seems crazy to me. A dog, even a very cute one, can certainly learn better habits. So I keep a keen eye on her and am all over her when I see her chewing. I also smeared hot chili all over the arm of the chair to deter the behavior. She seems to like it.

 

Betsy, the youngest of the three, maybe seven months old, is a barker and a sharp one at that.  If something gets her started, the barking goes on till I wanna scream which, of course, only adds to the noise. So I keep trying the dog-whisperer techniques (a show I’ve watched when in houses with cable TV), and bit by bit Betsy is understanding that she can do a bit of barking but when I get that crazed look in my eyes and my voice rises, it is time to stop.

chiqui1 

Being a pack of three, if one gets going, they all do. La Negrita is the first to stop, and the elder, Chique, is older and wise enough to back off quickly, but Betsy, well, let’s just say that I hope she ages a lot in the next few weeks. I don’t want to insinuate that I don’t love these little dogs – they greet me with all that canine love when I walk up the path, they look at me with as much tenderness as any man I’ve ever known (well, maybe), and they are quite entertaining when not chewing and barking and jumping up so they can drag their claws down my now-bruised thighs.

 

My best investment in 2009? A thousand colones ($2) for a water spray bottle. Appropriate technology – the only weapon I’ve used in the struggle to great effect.

gerardo-dogs 

Fortunately I’ve had company here – Marilyn and Gerardo from San Ramon/Sarchi were here for a couple days and then Roberto came up from the Caribbean to see Monteverde. I’ve decided that it is a tribal thing going on here – when the dogs outnumber me, they have the definite cultural advantage. However when other humans are here, we collectively have more power.  Bit by bit, the dogs are learning some manners. Less things are being chewed, the barking is slowing down. We’ve all joined in playing soccer with them – La Negrita is a great ball handler and Betsy is nothing if not enthusiastic and will actually bring the ball back once in awhile. An hour of soccer helps to wind these little energizer-bunnies down.

 

trail-tree

When not at home doing the canine shuffle, I’ve been doing the book selling thing all over the area – the local stores all needed more copies of Walking with Wolf. Wolf and I can sell well if seated at the entrance to the Reserve when the tour groups come out of the forest mid-morning. It is fun to sit in the often drizzly, windy weather (we retreat to one of the restaurants when it is really bad) and even nicer on the sunny days under the beautiful tree canopy, with a variety of bird and animal sightings ranging from black guans and quetzals to pizotes, monkeys and olingos. We’ve had wonderful conversations with interested tourists and I’ve made some great contacts for possible future presentations of the book in North America.

 

motmot-top

People report seeing quetzals in the forest but the blue-crowned motmots have been here, there and everywhere. They are a beautiful, simpler alternative to the elegant, elusive quetzal, being one of the friendlier and consistent birds around.

mot-mot

I’d really have to say they are more deserving to be designated the Monteverde mascot than any other bird.

 

I was at a local restaurant to see the inauguration last Tuesday but had to meet the bus at the same time so I missed Obama’s speech (but not the fashions – loved Michelle O’s dress & Aretha’s hat). I’ve seen some lines from it which made me think it was a beautiful beginning to the next stage of life in the USA and thus the world. I’m actually glad I’m not in North America during this period – here on the green mountain I miss so much of what is going on internationally by not having steady access to media and I would just as soon believe that things are going well and not know the details. I’ll be back in the thick of it again soon enough.

 

bullpen-tree

Instead I’ve been wandering around the dusty roads and back trails of Monteverde, filling my soul with the magic of the woods while showing my visitors some of the local highlights. My spiritual center here is the bullpen up on Campbell’s land, a medieval St. Augustine pasture hidden in an open forest where the gigantic trees left standing can stretch their branches wide. Roberto appropriately renamed it the wolfpen when I explained that Wolf had been the main traveler over the years through this hidden park-like land.   

 

The other day Wolf and I stopped in at Historica  Monteverde. This was the dream of Lindi, his former daughter-in-law who passed away two years ago after a long battle with health issues, cancer being the ultimate victor. We talk about Lindi in Walking with Wolf – she was married to Tomás Guindon, Wolf and Lucky’s second son, and was always a strong presence in the Monteverde community. I knew her from early in my time here, and got to know her better when I lived with a university group from Evergreen College in 1995 and she was the Spanish and culture instructor. Lindi was a tall statuesque woman whose robust physicality didn’t suit her chronic illnesses.

mv-map 

The last time I visited with her was a few months before her death, before I returned for Canada, and she was still fighting but already at peace with whatever eventual ending was being designed for her script. Since I had had cancer, she appreciated the frankness with which I spoke (being quite direct herself), but of course, I’m a survivor. It was already clear that she probably wasn’t going to be much longer. One of the things that held her interest until the end was the idea of building this museum of Monteverde artifacts on a corner of her property. Although she didn’t live to see its completion, her daughter, Kayla, saw that it was finished and went on to celebrate its opening at the end of August this past year.

 

At the time, I had a beautiful email from my friend Mary Stuckey Newswanger about what a wonderful day it was, despite torrential rains, when the community gathered to honor the completion of Lindi’s dream, the history of this special place, and the spirit that keeps Monteverde whole. One of the highlights that day, as well as for me on this one, was the very large model map of Costa Rica, apparently the largest in the country. It sits in a pool of water, representing the oceans, surrounded by a fence that spectators can gather up to. A slide show with images collected from all over this beautiful land is punctuated by lights on the topographically-correct map that show where the images are located.

 

volcano-map

 At the end of the show the map’s volcanoes, those magical cones of fire and brimstone that wander down the spine of Central America, are lit up like flowing lava and smoke gushes out. When a door was opened to help clear out the smoke, the haze lifted and swirled and flew off to the horizon, just as you could watch sitting in La Fortuna after the rumble and roar of the Arenal volcano has passed.

 

So good for you, Lindi, but also for Kayla and Robin and everyone else who helped bring this dream to its completion. As someone said to me recently, the fifty-plus year history of Monteverde is expansive, covering about 200 years of progress – it was very much a pioneering community being cut out of the forest in 1951 and is now a pretty modern one regularly receiving international guests and linked worldwide through technology in 2009. 

lecheria

The other day I took this photo of the various methods used for transporting milk to the dairy plant each morning – from the original oxen and cart to the big shiny modern tank truck, all lined up, waiting their turn to unload the stainless steel jugs of fresh milk.

 

cow-jam

Fortunately you can still get held up in a bovine traffic jam in downtown Monteverde. Even with all the changes that have come to the mountain and the immense pressures put on the community by development, Monteverde holds it own when it comes to its charms.

 

leaning-tree

marilyn

Learning how to get along, adapting to change, realizing dreams and appreciating the beauty around us – and bringing a little order to the chaos – the continuing themes of life as it plays out on the green mountain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 2017
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