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I am always intrigued by what might be behind the unfriendly metal gates that line many of the streets of San José. I remember being in Havana Cuba, and how many of the old, often crumbling but almost always anciently elegant buildings had open doorways that you could just walk through. There would be fanciful courtyards and tropical gardens and sometimes an elderly person sitting there, totally unperturbed that you had walked into their home.

 

 

The locked gates of San José don’t present that friendly face at all. Instead it seems like a city under siege, and with crime as prevalent as it is, and fear the predominating state of mind, it sometimes feels just like that. People have built great cauldrons of metal around their homes to the point that you can barely see anything beyond. What is always interesting to me is how beautiful many of the homes are behind those portons – the carefully tended gardens, the heavily-carved antiques, the ceramic tiles, along with the normally generous and warm Ticos that reside within their prison walls.

 

Richarda y Lorena

 

 

I’m presently staying in one of those incredible “behind-the-gate” homes with my friend Richarda. I came to help her do some purging and packing, but so far we just seem to be playing. That’s okay, it’s her call. Without saying too much and invading her privacy, may I just say that she is a captivating colorful character, originally from Germany, who has lived an amazing life in a variety of places around the world, socialized with famous actors, artists and writers, cooks like a cordon bleu chef and has stories that would raise your hair. I met her probably a year ago, but I’m just getting to know her and thoroughly enjoying the process.

 

 

 

 

She lives here with her two dogs – a gentle spaniel-type named Souki and a not so mellow Chihuahua named Maximilian – as well as four cats who stay separated from the dogs. I share my room with Adonis, a lovely black cat, possibly, says Richarda, the reincarnation of her deceased mother, who is happy for the company and purrs incessantly.

 

 

There is a lovely garden in the back with a lion-spitting fountain and fresh herbs and cherry tomatoes for the kitchen and tropical plants galore. The house is full of treasures from around the world, mirrors and crystals and Buddhas, shiny baubles, colored lights, exotic furniture and soft fancy fabrics. It feels more like New York then Costa Rica and the food that Richarda and her Peruvian cook Alina serve is finer than any restaurant I can afford. I feel like I’ve fallen into an alternate universe, one featuring a generous hostess with no end to her savory sagas and repasts.

I’ve come here from another universe, the delightfully green Monteverde, where it was a very busy month. I did some upholstering, resurrecting some antique hostess chairs, repairing some oddly reupholstered furniture and making both a giant thermos-cozy to keep coffee hot and a booster seat for friend Katy’s EZ cart. This is a new creature on the mountain, an electrically-charged battery-operated glorified golf cart that runs completely silently – a dream after the loud whines and puttering of the tuk tuks and motorcycles – and holds at least four if not more people plus their packages. I wonder if this new eco-friendly vehicle will take off in popularity like the tuk tuks did.

 

Our book continues to sell well and Wolf and I had a few occasions to speak to groups of visiting students at the Monteverde Reserve. We have it down to a fine art, to come in as they finish their lunch, and in less than fifteen minutes we tell them some of the history of Wolf, the community and the founding of the Reserve. We have sold several books this way, happy to sign them, answer questions and have personal contact with visitors. People are truly touched to meet Wolf (and Lucky when she is with us) and it is an all-round pleasant experience for everyone, augmenting the visit to the Reserve for them, giving Wolf some continuing exposure to those enjoying his lifelong work, and giving us a chance to sell more copies of Walking with Wolf.

Other days I spent working with Pax Amighetti, my personal hero of the moment, on the design of Caminando con Wolf.  We decided that the change we would make to the book jacket would be simply changing the color of the title (and obviously the language). We redid the maps and also put the new Spanish endorsements on the back of the book . I gathered blurbs of support from musician and historian Manuel Monestel; founder of the Costa Rican National Parks Alvaro Ugalde; Pedro León from the Center for Advanced Studies, and well-known author and biologist, Dan Janzen – an impressive bunch of scholars. Let me know what you think of the purple design (we are still tweeking things and this may not be the final cover, but comments are welcome).

Yesterday I went to a meeting here in San José with Javier Espeleta, the director of the Tropical Science Center and the new (at last!) director of the Editorial Universidad de Costa Rica, Alberto Murillo. Javier and I were curious to see if the new director would have the same enthusiasm as the past director, Julian Monge, had about publishing the Spanish edition of our book. We had a long, very positive meeting with Don Alberto. He explained that on the 16th of February the board of EUCR would meet and decide on their projects so we have until then to put together a package to convince them not only to publish Caminando con Wolf but to do it before October which is when the Monteverde Reserve will celebrate their 40th anniversary and host a conference for representatives of private nature reserves in Latin America. We think that would be the perfect time to release the book in Spanish!

 

 

Yes, 2012 is the 40th anniversary of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve (the Reserve as we call it) and there are going to be many events throughout the year as part of the celebration. The first one was a talk last week by Carlos Hernandez, the director at the Reserve. One of the highlights was the video he shared taken from the motion cameras that are strategically placed in the Reserve to record animal movement. One of the first images in the video was of three! puma walking down the trail together. What marvelous beauty was this feline family! There were several other images of puma as well as peccaries, coatis, agoutis and a margay or two. These were recorded on a camera not 600 meters from the entrance to the Reserve.

 

 

During Don Carlos’ talk, I was inspired to present a plan to get Wolf back into the cloud forest for a night. Wolf spent fifty years wandering in that forest and happily camping by the side of the trail, many times without a tent, perhaps with a plastic cover, sometimes in a hammock, often alone. He knows the joy of being in the forest at night. If you have read the book, you may remember his words in the Acknowledgements where he talks specifically about the nocturnal beauty:

 

 

… “the fact that there is always something new to observe and enjoy…that when you run out of sunlight, which happens at least once a day, a whole new world of sound and life emerges…the sharp silhouettes and varied patterns of its shadows…even the plant life with its own routines, some blooms coming alive at night while others are closing. Add to all of this the moon with its constantly changing phases bringing its own rhythm that drives the pulse of the forest at night.”

 

 

I got thinking that he probably wonders if his days of camping are over. I imagined that we could arrange, as part of the anniversary of the Reserve, to take a commemorative walk and camping trip with him. I presented the idea to Don Carlos, who was enthusiastic, and then to Wolf and Lucky. I think Wolf is a little nervous about taking care of his new nocturnal necessities in the forest but he is, of course, willing and I think was somewhat tickled that I had come up with this idea (tickled might not be quite the word he would use). We came up with a plan, Carlos is figuring out a date, we will invite many people to join us in the hike, but only a small number will be able to spend the night in a makeshift camp at the end of the old horse trail, now known as La Camina, where the trail plunges down to Peñas Blancas or climbs up to La Ventana.

Wolf has been doing so great that I didn’t fear that he could handle this adventure though our thinking involves the possibility of a vehicle coming down this bush road if necessary. However, just a couple of days ago he had an incident that I hope won’t affect his general strength and mobility. I phoned Lucky with the results of the meeting with EUCR and she told me that while he was out chopping his trail, Wolf had taken a fall. He likes to get out with his machete most days on the trail that runs from the house to the bullpen. He has recovered the use of his hand that was damaged by being tied in the hospital bed, the hand he needs to write his name, raise his fork and swing his machete with.

I guess he was chopping away at a vine that was tangled around some branches and the machete got caught up in the vegetation at the same time a branch came down and knocked him off his feet. He rolled backwards a little ways down the slope but he’s lucky he didn’t chop his arm off. I’m not sure how long he was there, but when I asked Lucky how he had got back to the house, she told me the part of the story that reminds me of the old fable “The boy who cried wolf”.

Lucky was inside, playing Scrabble with Kenna (another Canadian migratory in Monteverde), and she did hear Wolf’s voice from afar, but as she said “he is always shouting. It is hard to pay attention to him all the time.” Fair enough! Eventually she realized that he was still carrying on and it had been awhile, so she went out to see what he wanted and found him up on the hillside laying on the ground.  They got him back to the house and the next day took him to the clinic after Lucky became concerned that he may have bruised or broken a rib.

 

 

 

 

Fortunately he is okay, though I imagine his body is a little sore and he is no doubt embarrassed. I know how Wolf, like most of us, hates being unable to take care of himself as he did all his life. The idea that a bit of vegetation could get the better of him and leave him stranded on the ground must truly irk him (I wouldn’t want to be that vine next time Wolf gets out there). Thank goodness it was not too serious of a fall. We need Wolf to be strong and able to go camping!

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.

March 2017
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