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I know, I know. Somewhere in the world right now there is war, there is famine, there is heartbreak, there is suffering. By not watching the television, reading the newspaper, listening to the radio, or scanning the internet, I can avoid pondering these tragedies and injustices for a moment. I can linger in the peace that surrounds me here in Monteverde.

Above me an orange glow is slowly taking over the moon, as a lunar eclipse coincides with the winter solstice – how beautiful of a night is this!? I managed to stay awake till the appointed hour of 1:30 a.m. and took Tyra, my new dog friend, out for a walk. But the night is cold and the wind is strong, and I realized that I could watch the marvel from the comfort of the house, through the wall of windows facing to the northwest. So I brought Tyra into the house – a treat for her – and turned off the lights and have watched the sun, earth and moon at play. I know there are powerful forces at work making this spectacle happen, but from here it appears to be a most peaceful choreography.

I have left the Guindon house for the holidays. Wolf is doing much better and now has a nurse, so it is time for a break. I’ve returned to the apartment in the lower community of Monteverde known as Cerro Plano where I spent several months last year. At that time there was only the young cat named Miel (who our Caribbean cat is named after) but now there is also a rambunctious kitten named Oliver and the placid Tyra. Oly is hardly what I’d call a peaceful addition but Tyra, who survived life on the street (she was usually on the very busy corner near here) was brought into this loving place, bathed, fed, and pampered. Now she is a very happy puppy. These two had their first meeting yesterday and, as predicted, the kitten was in total control. For the most part, it was a peaceful encounter.

It is just days from Christmas. Monteverde excels at doing the season right – what they lack in snowflakes they make up for with a collective warm and glowing spirit. Each Sunday, following the hour of silent tranquility at the Friends meeting, carols have been sung since sometime in early November. There were recently three nights of the local choir, under the direction of Hugh and Phoebe Grey, singing beautiful arrangements of well-known and not-so-well-known Christmas music in a variety of venues. The choral part of Christmas will reach a crescendo on Christmas Eve, when the many people who love to sing  will wander together from house to house, treat to treat, for hours sharing the good joy.

At the Monteverde meeting, there is a community gift exchange where two months ago, all who cared to pulled names.  The only requirement about the gifts is that you make the gift yourself and you think sincerely about what the recipient may want or need. There are some beautiful homemade creations exchanged on Christmas Day. The emphasis is on thought and effort, not extravagance.

This week is one social fest after another, starting with last Sunday’s Christmas Wassail. A variety of people sang, acted, read poetry, and amused the gathered masses – there is so much talent in this town it is amazing. A big reason for this is that any little bit of talent is encouraged and appreciated. Kids here grow up not being afraid to get up and try something new, secure in the fact that no one will make fun of them no matter how undeveloped their talent may be. The adults have set the standard for being imperfect, often silly on stage and the audiences laugh with, not at, the performers. In this way, some remarkable musicians, writers and actors have developed their craft here.

Many local amateur (and not so amateur) musicians have gathered, under the direction of Heather Gosse, in something called the Kitchen Sink Orchestra.  With a minimum of practice and a couple of dozen musicians at varying levels of experience, they did a fine performance of the Nutcracker Suite.

After the program, everyone heads into the room where what seems like thousands of cookies, contributed by each household, await on platters along with two huge cauldrons of spicy wassail. The lines of people flow past the sugary confections, choosing their favorites and trying the new, often garishly decorated, Christmas sweets. This may be the one time that “peaceful” isn’t exactly an appropriate description – instead it is one huge sugar rush!

Later this week will be the Christmas Barbeque – succulent meats roasted on a slow spit (with vegetarian options), Finally there is the big community lunch following Friends meeting on Christmas Day, ending with the gift exchange. There are also house parties of course, and local musicians such as Turid Forsyth and Margaret Adelman, are in demand as musical accompaniment for more carol singing.

Wolf is going into this festive season with renewed spirit and strength. Following the departure of his three sons (and now Helena, his daughter, has also gone back to the U.S.), with the excitement and activity of the previous week having settled down, he seemed a little depressed. We all miss Carlos, Tonio and Tomas and his family. The house got noticeably quieter and the reality of Wolf’s situation settled in.

The mayor and the king

 

Gary Diller

 

Fortunately many friends and community members came to visit, including neighbor and new mayor, Chepe Vargas, and an old friend, Gary Diller. It helped to ease the transition.  His new nurse, Stefany Rodriguez, arrived and now takes care of his baths and other elements of his care. She is wonderful with him and he, of course, appreciates having a lovely young nurse taking care of him.

Throughout last week, Wolf’s mood was up and down, his mind everywhere. He was often talking non-stop all day, so much that he lost his voice for awhile. As long as he was in a positive mood, it was fun as his sense of humor is healthy. When he’s down, all we can do is wait for the bad mood to pass, knowing it inevitably will.

 

But what this has meant is that his spunk is back. Each day we have seen a remarkable recovery – he started walking a couple of days ago, he’s eating more enthusiastically and taking the pills without any problem. Wolf has many ideas in his busy mind of what he wants to do. Understandably he gets frustrated that he can’t do everything he wants yet, and is still very dependent on others. For him, he isn’t getting stronger fast enough.

Alan Pounds, Wolf & Adrian Mendez

 

One day Stefany and I took him to the Monteverde Reserve where he held court from the comfort of the old Toyota Land Cruiser. Reserve employees, guides and even the elusive biologist Alan Pounds stopped by to visit. Wolf didn’t want to get out of the car and into his wheelchair, something I think he doesn’t feel good about. After nearly sixty years of walking through this forest, the idea of being helped out of the car and pushed around in a chair is just too much for him. Now that he is walking, I’m sure he’ll be back up at the Reserve and getting himself out of the car.

As Wolf has improved, I’ve taken more time to get around Monteverde, do some book biz, play Scrabble, and go out to some special parties. One was the 60th birthday party for the lovely Deb Penn at the Mata e Caña. There was a lot of dancing to blast-from-the-past music and super dancers. The night satisfied my soul.

There was also a very sad farewell to Cindye Rushing and her daughter Hunter. They’ve been here over three years and are both very much a part of the community – Cindye feeds the folks, Hunter entertains them, and everyone loves them. It was just their time to return to the US for the next chapter of their lives.

Guillermo and Ana

It’s been a week of feeling the Christmas spirit blanketing us, just like a soft new layer of white snow. It is great to get out and spend time with the wonderful folks of Monteverde. It’s been chilly enough to wear seasonal clothes and drink warm drinks. Not exactly Canada, but not quite so tropical either. Although I’ve moved a couple kilometers away, I still feel warm within the bosom of the Guindon clan. There is a grand sense of relief that Wolf is doing better and is now actively taking part in his own recovery. The light that he has been held in by friends and followers all over the world has shone bright enough to bring the color back to his cheeks.

My sweetie Roberto has just come up the mountain. We will spend these festive weeks with Tyra, Miel and Oly, and take in as many community activities as possible. Tranquility has taken the place of worry, sunshine has replaced the clouds, and peace reigns. May it linger in each of your lives and all over this precious earth.

I’m back down in the hammock in Cahuita sharing my last weeks in paradise with Roberto. We are in talks with the neighbors about buying the property across his moat, the Quebrada Suarez, a process that is a little confusing, a little frustrating, but we survive knowing that in the end whatever happens, we’ll be fine. I returned to the Caribbean last week after close to three weeks in Monteverde, taking care of the apartment and Miel the cat, spending time with Wolf, and listening to as much music as that prolifically melodic mountain could provide.

When I first arrived in Monteverde in 1990, I lived for a few months with the Villegas family – Yolanda and Mario and their kids Sylvia, Johnny, Diña, Dana and Daniel – even though half of them weren’t born yet -as they were beginning to build their Pension Manakin in Cerro Plano. This year, I needed a place to stay for a few nights before the apartment was ready, so I got a room at a great rate and witnessed firsthand what the family has done in twenty years of work.

The Manakin Lodge is a friendly modern large-roomed pension, with one balcony facing the forest, another facing the community where one can witness what has grown up around it in these last two decades. Their prices are very reasonable and the family continues to offer warm service, delicious breakfasts and a comfortable ambiance. Why anyone would stay at the large Hotel Establo when they can stay in a cozy family-run lodge I will never truly understand. The Establo has spread like an out of control disease up the hillside and you can now see its lights burning all night from as far away as the Pan American Highway. It has four restaurants within its borders – as close to an all-inclusive-type resort as Monteverde will ever get I hope. It doesn’t feel like sustainable tourism to me. 

While in Monteverde, I did four slide presentations for the community about Bosqueterno S.A. I was honored to play a part in sharing this incredible history of what I believe is the first nature reserve in Costa Rica, (http://www.bosqueternosa.wordpress.com), a country now internationally known for its national parks, biological preserves and wildlife refuges. In many places, this little country seems to be a great big untamed jungle and it feels that perhaps there is still land that doesn’t “belong” to anyone; however, as Roberto and I work out the deal with the neighbors here, one is reminded that every inch of this earth is “owned” by someone who probably has plans for it. The family who is selling their inherited land next door told us that another big chunk of their property, just a couple hundred meters away from Roberto’s isolated homestead, is expected to be bought by a man who wants to put in a large hotel and golf course! Karamba! That’s a scary thought. They paved paradise…and we all know the rest of that song.

 If you’ve been reading this blog, then you know that I indulge in as much live music as I can manage. Everywhere I live, everywhere I go, music is there. From a community stage in a shady park, to a smoky room with tortured souls uttering sorrowful lyrics, on the streets of a foreign town of gyrating dancers, or in fine halls echoing with hundreds of years of choruses of hallelujahs – it doesn’t matter, music is alive and well and keeping us connected. The last month in Monteverde, I was blessed with a huge array of great music and lots of opportunities to dance.

It was the season of the Monteverde Music Festival. The community always made its own music and supported visiting artists – the Trostle family built the Casa Sunset and intimate gatherings were held there. The Music Festival began as a community-run event back in 1992 when Margaret Adelman (a multi-artistic Canadian with many years living in Monteverde) began a four-month festival, bringing classical musicians from San José to the Villa, a building with a stunning view over the Nicoya. Three nights a week the music-loving community would make the trek up the steep hill to hear these concerts and watch the sunset. The next year, Margaret moved the concerts to her nephews’ hotel, the Fonda Vela, where it stayed for a couple of seasons. As the years went by, different people took over the management of the festival and the venue continued to change. Any money gained from the festival was used for music programs and instruments in the area’s schools.

Patricia Maynard and her son Mark

In ‘98 and ‘99, Patricia Maynard took over the direction of the festival and brought in a wider range of music, reflecting the tastes of Costa Ricans and younger foreigners who weren’t as interested in classical music. The concerts were held in the Monteverde Institute’s new building. I worked with Patri for those two years, managing the home that housed the musicians. We ran close to seven weeks of nightly concerts each year. I describe my job as doing everything or anything for the musicians during the 22 hours that they weren’t on stage – then I could just enjoy the music. It was a lot of work, but also the best investment in volunteer hours I’ve ever given. I became friends with many of the talented musicians and their families and feasted on a wealth of delicious music – both Costa Rican and international. One of the highlights was when Ruben Blades came up the mountain with Editus – an interesting, dynamic man with a gift for gab, a sharp political mind, and a soul for salsa – and he did his own dishes!

In 2000, the Monteverde Music Festival ended up in the hands of a committee organized by the Monteverde Institute and eventually petered out. In the early years of the new millenium, Gloria Waissbluth., a former director of the Costa Rican symphonic youth orchestra now living in Monteverde, held concerts in the Galerón Cultural Centre, a small hall in Cerro Plano. At the same time, Patricia Maynard built Bromelias Café and Amphitheater, an outdoor acoustically-lovely stage set inside the flower of a bromeliad’s bloom, and continued holding concerts as well. She also has an intimate indoor stage in the cafe. The Galerón is now closed, but the Amphitheater continues to burst with live music. So the Monteverde Music Festival continues – even though its direction may change, its purpose of bringing top quality music to Monteverde remains.

Machillo and Ricky

Alan Calvo

 

This year, Patricia had a great roster with a variety of musical genres. She was aided by her son, Mark, home for a few  months from studies in Argentina and his friend Ricky. I’ve watched Mark grow from a little kid and always been impressed with his ability to help…he is now a young man with the ability to multi-task while smiling and has become a stage technician not only for his mother but for large concerts held in the big city. The sound team for the festival was mainly Mechas (a musician who plays regularly in Monteverde) and another guy. Patri also gets perennial help from her sidekick Alan Calvo, another sweet human being who can do just about anything and maintain that smile on his face.  

Kumary and Johnny

From Miami, our rasta friend Johnny Dread returned with his Tico-musical friends and brought some roots reggae back up the mountain. It was a windy cool wet night, but Johnny warmed us all with his sweet soul and truth speaking. Kumary Sawyers, the singer from Costa Rican reggae band, Kingolovers, and Sergio Camacho of Unity joined him as they have before.

I had a chance to see Martha Fonseca, a singer with a large repertoire, who has traveled the world and sang with many. As with so many of the Costa Rican musicians, she has a Tico humility about her with a voice as diverse as the land. Nice woman, lovely voice. 

My friend Veronica Zumbado came with the group Alma Gitana – flamenco guitar, sorrowful lyrics, contagious hand clapping and Alejandra, the sharp-heeled flamenco dancer. A hot night that brought your blood temperature up. The neighbours told me that they didn’t hear the music, but the staccato sound of the dancer’s shoes kept their hearts pounding.

A couple of nights later was a show with Humberto Vargas followed by the Latin-American Idol runner-up, Maria José Castillo.  I’ve met Humberto before – he is a humble, amusing, and talented singer-songwriter as well as guitarist. He played with percussionist Chinny, charming the audience and reminding me of why I like him. The amphitheatre was full this night, testament to the commercial appeal of Latin American Idol just like the big brother Idol in the north. I can’t say I was overly impressed with Maria José – she sang with a soundtrack, not live musicians, and only brought four songs to Monteverde – then when the crowd demanded an encore, she was at a loss for what to do. Of course, I think she’s only eighteen.

Humberto joined her for the last song of the evening which was a well known song though not by me – he played it on the guitar and she sang and finally I saw a bit of her natural talent, unfettered by production. The machine of the monster called Idol was apparent, but it brought the local Ticos to the show, and if that’s what the people want….

Me, Milton and all

There were many concerts that I didn’t get to see but the last two of the series were both spectacular. One was Maestro Milton Mascriadi – a professional contrabassist from the University of Georgia who plays internationally and was visiting Costa Rica. He arrived with a professor from the University of Costa Rica and eight of their students from both schools. It was magical seeing eight huge double basses on the stage – one of them a 320-year old beauty from Italy. El Maestro was charming and very talented, his fingers playing over that big bodied bass as if it was a tiny violin. The encore of the show was a piece for bass and violin, played by two of the students, and it was memorable. The night was gorgeous, though a little damp for the stringed instruments, with mists wafting through the open amphitheatre. Pure magic.

That evening the music continued inside with Parque en el Espacio, the acoustic version of a latin rock band. With a bonfire outside, Bromelias is a great place to spend an evening, especially when the music is fine. The highlight of Parque for me was the “hang”, the inverted steel drum instrument from Switzerland – I heard them played in a back alley in Barcelona last year – a haunting sound with a versatility that relies on the player’s prowess. 

The last night of the Festival was Costa Rica’s Celtic band, Peregrino Gris. Frequent visitors to Monteverde over the years, these multi-instrumentalists never fail to move the crowd. They are extremely likeable gents with big talent on a variety of instruments. Rolando, their violinist, was out of the country, but Rodrigo, Carlos and Eduardo with his bagpipes played their jigs, reels and soulful instrumentals with the same heart as always.

Costa Rica has a wide range of music and the Monteverde Music Festival has always been a great showcase for it. The schools have benefited both from the festival and from the arrival of excellent teachers who bring their talents with them. Right now there are three teachers at the Friends School – Jonathan Ogle, Heather Gosse & Tricia Wagner – who have added to the musical celebration through theatre, music and dance. Tricia’s latest big production was the musical Grease, performed by the Grade 7 and 8s at the Friends School, but she can be heard singing and playing guitar and reciting poetry all over the community, including at Bromelias open mic nights.

I once said to Heather that she probably never imagined when she took the job teaching here in Costa Rica that she would have such a big opportunity to play her violin with a variety of professional bands. With her husband, Jonathan, a cellist, she can be found not only playing, conducting the Kitchen Sink Orchestra, and singing, but the two of them have led the English country dances on alternate Saturday nights when it isn’t square dance night at the Friends School. I grew up square dancing but these elegant dances with delicate steps and lovely movements were new to me. Following the very organized and clear instructions of Jonathan and Heather brought order to a room full of many debutantes and brought a whiff of Jane Austen to the room. Jonathan also proves that you can keep order by speaking in a “small voice” – everyone stays very quiet just to hear you – a technique I need to try some day.

It isn’t unusual for Monteverde to be visited by touring groups and choirs, and Yale University has supplied a few of these over the years. This year is was a female acappela group called Proof in the Pudding who gave a couple of performances for the community. The chance to travel up that beautiful green mountain and perform for very appreciative audiences must be as great a pleasure for the visitors as it is for those of us receiving them.

Doug, Tucky, Ron and Arden

And lastly, there was the flowing of honey while I was in Monteverde. I was visited by my friend Tucky, whose daughter is married to a man named Honey in Canada. I was also visted by my friend Ron Honey and his wife Arden and their friend Doug – we all had a great time, and the two Canadian Honey families were joined over dinner, trying to make connections around this rather unique family name though they aren’t sure what the relation is. The next night, Martha Honey, a journalist (famous for a book written with her husband about La Penca bombings in Nicaragua back in the 80s) and expert on eco and sustainable tourism, arrived to show a couple of short documentaries on the perils of corporate tourism on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

I enjoyed spending time with all these Honeys – and appreciated the underlying message that Martha brought with her – as in so many other things in life, small is beautiful, community is sacred, a healthy environment is irreplaceable. Costa Rica still has it all, I hope they never lose the green magic nor the music that is a big part of that.

Perhaps the title is a little melodramatic, yes, but life is truly a whirlwind for me right now and I feel like I need to come up for breath every once in awhile. I’m back home here in Hamilton Ontario.  Thankfully the snow is long gone, the tulips and other spring bulbs are out of the ground, the weather is bouncing around between sunny, cloudy, windy, cool, and springtime warm, sort of like Monteverde was much of these last few months.

flowers

I have exactly two weeks today before I get in a car and travel to Maine – to speak to the Maine Audubon Society and to a class at Bowdoin College; to Philadelphia – to speak at Swarthmore College and Pendle Hill and maybe a public school or two; and to New York City! Me – Noo Yawk Noo Yawk ! On Sunday, April 26 I’ll be doing my book presentation at Marian Howard’s home in the Bronx. Marian is a long standing member of the Monteverde community and has been kind enough to offer me her home. We hope to see lots of faces that we recognize from over the years in Monteverde.

So I’m very excited about all that.  I’ll also see my friend Manuel Monestel, a Costa Rican musician and very smart man, who is teaching at Cornell in Ithaca New York.  I’ll spend time with my friends Cocky and Peter in Freeport Maine and my other friends in that area.  I’ll have a visit with Carlos Guindon who is working on the Spanish translation of Walking with Wolf.  It will be an action-packed two weeks on the road, I’ll hopefully sell lotsa books and spread Wolf’s and Monteverde’s positive stories even further.

us

And it is a good thing that this is going on, as I return to Canada body and mind, but my heart remains on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica with Roberto. This long-distance stuff is both poignant and frustrating. Fortunately I have reason to return to Costa Rica in May and so it won’t be such a very long separation.  In the meantime, I just have to keep my nose to the front and head that way. 

I am preparing here for a presentation to the McMaster University Biodiversity Guild, a radio spot with my friend Gord Pullar on CFMU, the university radio station, and to correct the few errors found in the first edition of Walking with Wolf. We will be going to print again here real soon. I’ll be back in Monteverde to help receive those books when they come in. I learned last time that the printer can ship at half the cost I can, so will be sending as many as we can store down to Costa Rica directly from the printer this time.

I am so low in books that I have to get my sister in Washington State, where a friend had dropped off some boxes of books for a western coast tour in July, to ship some boxes back to Maine so I have enough for this coming up tour. Less than one year later, we have almost sold out 2000 copies of Walking with Wolf.

turidmarg

Turid and Margaret

 

Last Sunday afternoon, before leaving Monteverde, a wonderful afternoon was spent in Margaret Adelman’s house. This is the kind of thing that Monteverde excels at – homemade quality music played in a beautiful setting to a friendly group of people.

heatheralan

jonathan1

As the sun shone in on us through the open doors (thank goodness the summer weather has finally come to Monteverde), the string quartet of Jonathan Ogle, Heather Gosse, Alan Masters, and Paul Smith, along with piano accompaniment by Turid Forsyth, soothed our souls.

paul

Except for Paul, they have been playing together over the last year and had a very nice musical program (I particularly liked the English Bach’s Quartette).  Paul is known for his many talents as a painter and musician but widely for the string instruments he makes. So the cello, and violins and viola were all made by him (well, Alan apparently worked on his with Paul). 

wolfluckyrob

That evening Roberto and I went up to spend Sunday dinner with the Guindon family – which now includes Alberto’s step-daughter Melody and her son Jayden who recently arrived from California, Annika and Heather and their sons and a friend – who will be leaving Monteverde soon when Annika’s two-year position as director of the Friends School is up in June, and a baby sloth. 

benmelsloth1

Benito, baby & Melody, Wolf’s son and daughter

 

I really have seen more sloths this year (see recent posts about the Sloth Center in Cahuita) – and this particular one, maybe six months old, that Benito is caring for after a tyra killed the mother, was as soft and furry and slow-moving and gentle as the others.  Watching it wrapped around Benito, taking feed from a baby’s bottle in Lucky’s lap, and stretching slowly to meet the hand of any inquisitive child, once again brought me a great sense of peace. I don’t know how long Benito will keep it and what it’s future will hold, but I know it was lucky to end up with the kind Guindon family.  As was I.

I managed to get the contract with the Canadian Embassy signed along with Pax Ameghetti, a highly recommended computer artist in Monteverde who will use the money from the Embassy to do all the changes to the computer files, maps, cover and index, into Spanish. I am very appreciative to the Embassy, particularly Jose Luis Rodriguez and Stuart Hughes who helped me so much. I’m only sorry I’m not in Monteverde for when Pax gets the check and the fiesta is held.

chair

I’m also in talks with an organization in Monteverde for a part time job as an information director. Between the translation, this position, receiving the books being shipped down, and Roberto, there is alot of reason to return to Costa Rica in May.  I hope to find Mr. Guindon, sitting in his new rocking chair given to him by the Tropical Science Center, telling stories, drinking coffee, and happy to see me back in town.

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