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strange bicho

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

peace liliesjudith

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

trostles

The Trostle family

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

 

jannelle and katy

berto and angelina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jannelle & Katy                                                    Alberto Guindon & Angelina

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

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

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

Darlene and Nataliamichael, janet and elan

 

 

Jannelle’s sister Darlene and daughter Natalia                      The Jenkins family

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

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

forest

 

 

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

ricky

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

dan perlman

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

gelatinous stalked puffball

Gelatinous stalked puffball

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

tower trail

 

 

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

 

 

Quebrada Cuecha

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

 

towers

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

over Monteverde

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

grandfather oak

 

 

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

 

 

kay

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

mothers day

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

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

sunset

 

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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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