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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.
A few weeks ago, when I was up in Monteverde, cold, wet and miserable with fever, I felt the strong urge to write and complain about the rain. Prior to that, I enjoyed three sunny September weeks here in Cahuita of perfect hot, dry weather, but as soon as I ventured out on a trip to San José and up the green mountain, my spirit was soddened as quickly as my clothes. I was caught almost daily in pouring rain, keeping me constantly damp, if not soaked, until I was able to escape inside and change into dry clothes. Eventually I succumbed to “la gripe”, Costa Rican for all that ails you. Last April, after experiencing the desert conditions of Los Angeles in California, I swore I would never speak harshly again about water replenishing our thirsty earth, but it doesn’t take many days of walking about dripping wet and cold to forget one’s best intentions.
At our bush home in Cahuita, we are constantly stoking the cooking fire, and its smoke swirls through the rancho and steeps our hanging clothes like curing sausages. A comfortable odor here, it becomes a foreign acrid smell when you hit the urban life of San José with its fresh scents of soaps and colognes, or the clean but humid mountain air where that smoked chorizo musk follows you like an poor immigrant from the old country. Note to self: freshly wash all clothes and dry far from the fire before visiting civilization.
In Monteverde, I stayed with the lovely ladies Deb and Barbara, who took great care of me as I sunk deeper in my sickness, and in the end, in a very ungracious-guest-like-manner, I left them both under the same nasty weather. The worst of the whole thing was that I had gone to Monteverde with the intention of spending a few hours each day with the ever-recuperating Wolf, but I only managed to visit him one morning and then didn’t dare return with my germs. I missed a bunch of other events as well, but it was the anticipated Wolf time that I really regretted.
To update Wolf’s continuing medical adventures, he continues on a roller coaster, slowing going up the track of wellness, only to crest and slip down another precarious slope. However, I believe that as of this writing (as per a phone call with his son Benito last night) Wolf is doing okay. He had the first of his cataract operations a couple of days ago. I hope that this will mean that while he is laid up with his other conditions, he will at least be able to read again. Often he has been feeling punk enough not to want to do anything, and he is not a television watcher – indeed, the Guindons don’t even own one. However, once he is feeling better yet is still not very mobile, he can at least amuse himself by reading, something that the cataracts have been making almost impossible. He delayed the operation once while he was recuperating from the pacemaker episode, but now he has at least one eye open and I trust he has a date for the second eye.
His heart and pacemaker seem to be working well together according to his check-ups. A change in insulin as well as a more rigid regimen of testing his sugar levels will hopefully mean that he will get better control of his diabetes. He has been told, once again, to drink more water to keep flushing his liver and kidneys of all the medication he takes (Wolf is still trying to come to terms with the fact that coffee is not water). A few days before I visited him, Wolf had a bad urinary tract infection. Combined with his chronic prostate issues, it resulted in the placement of a catheter. Although he wasn’t happy about it at the time, he seems to have made some adjustments and now is finally able to eliminate his liquid wastes with less pain and problem than he has had for a couple of years now.
Carambola! As he told me, a few weeks ago he hit a low point that he thought he wouldn’t return from, but he’s once again feeling like there is a light at the end of the tunnel (not THAT LIGHT), and fortunately his strong spirit is still soaring. Unfortunately, his ever-suffering wife, Lucky, who has become a nurse despite a lifelong desire to never be one, recently took a fall and broke (I believe) a rib, something that is known to be very painful yet seldom fatal. So she has taken at least a couple of bumpy trips down the mountain with Wolf and their son Berto in his car to various medical appointments, no doubt grimacing from the pain but stoically carrying on. Ai yi yi, don’t you think enough is enough for these good folks?
I did manage to get over my sickness in time to participate in workshops for the nature guides at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Mercedes Diaz, head of Environmental Education at the Reserve, asked me to repeat the presentation I had given last year on the history of Bosqueterno S.A., the original watershed reserve that the Quaker community had set aside. So I went up to the Reserve and despite technical problems, a lingering fever and rain pounding on the roof, I told the guides this important story of the beginnings of conservation in Monteverde. I finished that last mountain day wrapped in the warmth of my friendship with Patricia Jiménez, aided by dry blankets, hot conversation and healing wine.
All said and done, I was happy to leave the cold mountain and continue my wandering, challenged by the treachery of the Costa Rican highways during this very wet rainy season. A new highway was opened less than a year ago connecting San José with Caldera on the Pacific coast but due to very poor construction and very adequate corruption, such a terrible job was done that this new and important highway out of the heart of the country has been sporadically closed like a blocked artery constantly requiring surgery. The old highway that passes San Ramon was also closed when a bridge was washed out meaning that both of the main routes west of the central valley were cut off or clogged up. You take your chances moving about a mountainous, overly-underdeveloped country like Costa Rica, especially in the rainy season.
Despite bus delays, I eventually got to visit with people I consider family – the Montero/Martinez gang – one branch having moved from San Carlos to Palmares recently. I also had a chance to visit a different branch of the same family in Sarchi on my way to Monteverde. A year had passed since I saw some of these folks so it was a wonderful time of catching up and seeing their new or improved homes.
In Sarchi, I was thrilled to see Claudio’s organic lettuce operation and made notes as I think that Roberto and I can use some of his ideas to grow some vegetables here on the Caribbean, something that we struggle with constantly (too much sun, too much rain, too hot, not enough soil fertility, voracious ants, every other bug, etc.).
I spent several days near la Fortuna with Zulay Martinez, and wrote about this in the last post as we spent a day at the CRiterio Film Festival…if you haven’t read it, take a look and try to see some of those documentaries. I love being in that region of Costa Rica and Zulay has been one of my closest Tica friends for 20 years. The sun was shining, it was warm and mostly dry, so the time was completely enjoyable and I was only sorry that it was so short.
Before returning to the east coast, I went to San José for an important meeting with the Editoriales de la Universidad de Costa Rica and the Tropical Science Center. Thanks to the enthusiasm of a few men – first, Carlos Hernandez, the director of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve; secondly Javier Espeleta, the new director of the TSC, and now Julian Monge, the editor at EUCR – the translation of Walking with Wolf should see the light in the first half of 2011. Wolf’s son, Carlos, completed the translation a year ago, but editing etc. is still to be done. However, with the energy and commitment of these men behind us, I believe that Wolf and I will be celebrating Caminando con Wolf in the foreseeable future. His health concerns have helped to push these very busy men into action, a positive side benefit to all of Wolf’s trouble.
While in the city, I stayed with my good friend Myrna Castro and her new husband Ron, and her talented daughter Veronica. We were all busy, but they provided me with a 6-star hotel, a mother’s care and always interesting chatter while I was there. Vero took me to a bar I’d never been to, Anocheser, in San Pedro, where musicians gather after their gigs and the music carries on through the night. A small intimate place, the night featured a series of singers, strumming guitars to songs that everyone in the place knew and sang along with (except me, of course, who only knew a few of the Spanish lyrics). Note to self: learn more Spanish lyrics.
I went to visit Lorena Rodriguez, a good friend and very talented designer. Although I went to see her just to visit and catch up on life, the day turned into a design-fest. When I told her that I was getting ready to build a little casita on the land I have just purchased here on the Caribbean, she sat me down at her computer and we started turning my ideas into reality. Hours later, the house details that had been brewing in my mind, aided by her extensive experience and creative juices, along with a fantastic computer design program, could be seen in full color, in scale, and we were even able to take a cyber- walk through the casita to make sure it all felt good. Incredible! Once again, I am so appreciative to Lore for dropping what she was doing and helping me (as she did last year when she fussed over my preparations for my visit to the Canadian Ambassador’s house to meet the Governor General).
Now I have a very workable plan for a humble 5 meter by 7 meter casita that I plan on building on my little piece of land just across the stream from Roberto. I’ve had a couple of frustrations with the buying of the land but in the end, all seems to be in order. I know why I’ve waited twenty years to buy land here. However, this is a property with title and no legal problems, and I’ve had a surveyor come and we are now just waiting for the land survey to be completed, and I think all will be fine although I’m expecting each step to involve frustration. The most difficult thing could be that our relatively isolated but very peaceful life here in the jungle could be changing as our road gets busier, land is bought up, buildings are constructed and electricity is soon to come. You can’t stop progress but you can certainly disagree with its definition.
We had a disagreement over the actual property line with the woman who is buying the land immediately next door but hopefully that has been settled. Roberto and I went out the other day and placed a makeshift fencerow along the boundary line as dictated by the woman who sold me the land, and now we wait and hope that we will all be in agreement. Roberto thinks I should erect a proper fence of barbed wire but I can’t stand the idea. Instead I plan on planting a variety of hibiscus, crotons and other colorful fast growing plants to mark the edge of the property. I told him that I would erect a real fence if I felt it was necessary one day – he shakes his masculine head of dreads. As we discuss issues around land ownership, security and building houses, I’m not sure if it is gender issues, personal experiences or cultural issues that cause our differing opinions, but in the end, it’s my property, my money and my problem. And Roberto’s prerogative to say, “I told you so”.
As I wrote at the beginning, I was feeling like complaining about rain, but once I returned to hot and sunny Cahuita, to the trials of land purchasing and house design, to Roberto’s delicious coconut-cooking and Miel’s amusing antics, and to the very low water level of our little stream, well, I decided I didn’t have to whine about wetness anymore. I brought a new simple battery-operated radio (see former post about radio problems) and it has brought music back into our daily lives – as well as a connection to the news of the world, including the amazing rescue of the 33 miners in Chile. They say that a billion people were watching or listening to the rescue operation – what a nice thought, that so many people across the globe would be focused on something that is positive, not warlike, and has nothing to do with sports.
And as I write this from the shelter of the rancho, our first day of east coast rain has come – beginning with a thunderous pouring in the night and lingering as a mellow shower all day long. Our gasping little stream has swelled again, its renewed current rushing along its banks, washing nature’s refuse back out to the sea, the moisture triggering a brighter twinkle in the green eye of the forest, and cleansing our sun-baked souls. Ah, what a sweet rain it is.