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 A SHORTER VERSION WITH LESS PHOTOS CAN BE FOUND AT THE MONTEVERDE 60 WEBSITE, LINK BELOW

Morning is starting to lighten the eastern sky. It has been a starry starry night – each time I opened my eyes, there seemed to be another layer of stars sprinkled across the top of the world. All last evening, the fireflies that played throughout the valley below seemed like playful reflections of the stellar ceiling, and sometimes it was unclear if I had seen a shooting star or if it was just one of the more adventurous fireflies traveling at the top of its range. The branches above us, bobbing in the constant breeze, kept distorting the pattern of the heavens – was that star moving or a satellite or a plane or was I dreaming? On our platform in the tree up on the ridge, we were under the influence of a nocturnal mirage.

Mary Newswanger and I were excited to spend a night together on the Joyce platform which sits about six meters up a tree – but that tree sits on a steep ridge hundreds of meters up from the deep dark valley floor. The total effect is one of being securely suspended over top of a verdant abyss. We volunteered for our time on this platform, following those other tree sitters who have joined in this unique fundraising effort for the Monteverde Friends School. We listened to all those who climbed before us – expect it to get a little freaky when the wind blows, prepare ourselves for a cold night. Mary insisted that we haul her heavy thick sleeping bags – the kind used for camping in a previous century, the ones that roll up into something almost the size of round muffety hay bales (hey, those Muffets are Quakers too!) – so we lugged them down the narrow ridge path and up the ladder to the platform. Thanks to Mary, we’ve both been warm and comfortable all night.

The wooden platform feels like a raft being manipulated by a current, but the force providing the push isn’t water, it is wind. Here on my back, looking up at those stars, I can imagine our raft floating lazily down an airy stream until it hits the turbulent white rapids of wind. We are pushed into an eddy where we are held against our will for a few moments, threatening to be tossed, until we are released again and resume our tranquil floating. During the first hour or two of darkness, as can only happen in cloud forests such as Monteverde, or when you are on a river or sea, a spray of mist kept our faces moist and added to the watery effect, yet there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. Considering that in our aerie we seem closer to the sky than the land, I’m sure we would notice if a cloud was lurking above us.

I fell asleep as Mary was telling me stories of her experiences with the Peace Pilgrim and her hopes and dreams for the future. I realized I was asleep when I felt her crawling into her sleeping bag, no doubt noticing that she had lost her audience to slumber. I slept quite well through the night but woke from time to time and watched the heavens, once listening to a creature of some kind passing on the ridge below. I didn’t have a flashlight to check it out without waking Mary, so I will just think of it as the jaguarondi that Liam spotted here the other day and be pleased with the possibility.

with visiting Patricia Fogden

Of the night time thoughts that came to me, there were some that visited my drowsy mind often. One was wondering how our friend Wolf is doing as he has been struggling with his blood sugar more and more. Yesterday they took him to the local clinic believing him to be in insulin shock. They fixed him up with an IV but he also came away with yet another round of more serious antibiotics for his chronic urinary tract infections. Benito, Stefany and Wolf dropped me off here yesterday on their way home from the clinic and Wolf seemed okay, but as time goes on, one wonders if he will need some medication adjustments again soon. He often seems down, though whether that is emotional, physical, or drug-related is difficult to decide.

My mind also wandered to my homeland, Canada, this being the end of an election day. I realized that at the same time I was lounging in the tree, somewhere in that maple-flavored country one of the party leaders, a man, would be walking to a microphone in front of a room full of supporters and claiming victory in the federal election. I took two trips to the Canadian Embassy in San José to cast my vote, a privilege that I continue to take seriously. I don’t like the present right wing conservative government and the direction it is taking our beautiful country. As I finish writing this, obviously back on the ground and in cyberspace, I ache with the knowledge that the same party is back in power, with a majority and more possibilities of extending their agenda. The consolation is that the NDP, the social democratic party that has always attempted to speak for the working man rather than the ruling class, gained ground and is now the official opposition for the first time.

Just as promising is the fact that an incredibly intelligent and devoted woman, Elizabeth May, also had her moment at a microphone, claiming victory as the head of the Green Party. She is the first one of their members elected to a seat in our federal parliament and she will keep the important issues of environmental and social protections on the floor. Our voting system is deceptive, with the number of party members elected not reflecting the actual numbers of people voting for each party and until we change to some kind of proportional representation, we will continue to struggle to achieve a government that truly reflects our national political desires. As Canada is dragged down a more corporate and less humane path, I consider that I feel safer, up here in a tree, suspended over the sheer cliff edge, wind shaking our little raft to the bones at times, than at the hands of any ultra-right wing regime. Oh Canada, I weep for thee.

As we passed our peaceful night, I thought about the many tree sitters who used this type of action as one of protest to draw attention to specific forests under threat of destruction by logging companies. They placed themselves physically between the harvesting machines and the remaining Abuelas, those large redwoods or pines or hardwoods that had survived all the natural forces for centuries only to be cut down in a matter of hours for lumber.

Forests and trees have been saved and others not, but tree sitting is an effective and non-violent means of civil disobedience. Perhaps it started in the Pureora Forest Park of New Zealand in the 1970s – which was saved by peaceful protest in the treetops. Famously, in northern California, Julia Butterfly Hill stayed for two years in the late 1990s in her arboreal home “Luna” – a tall redwood that is still standing amidst the ravages of barren deforested hillsides in Humboldt County. In central Los Angeles, in 2006, Julia Butterfly, actress Darryl Hannah, Joan Baez and others sat in trees in what was then a large fourteen acre urban organic community garden. They were there to draw attention to the injustice that was unfolding as a company refused to allow the neighborhood to continue growing food on this plot of inner city land – even though the community came up with the same amount of money to purchase the land as it was being sold to a developer for. In the end, the garden was moved out of the city core.

Back in 1989, in Temagami Ontario, I was one of a group who supported our friend Maryka (the same woman who later introduced me to Monteverde), who lived in a tall ancient pine for nine cold, almost wintery days and nights. The action was part of several months of non-violent protest to prevent the continued construction of a logging road through one of the last remaining old growth pine forests, which was also indigenous territory, of Ontario. We were successful in stopping the road, and for the most part saved the forest, but weren’t able to stop the chopping of that stately old tree.

In true Quaker fashion, this tree sitting exercise in Monteverde is neither illegal nor in protest, but a joyful display of a community working together, communing with nature, bringing attention to their school and hoping to raise funds from their many supporters around the world through the use of the internet. I doubt that there is a school in North America who would condone such an adventurous fundraising plan – it wouldn’t make it past the discussion of liability at the board meeting. Just the fact that the Monteverde Friends School and the Monteverde community are taking part in this month long tree sit is an expression of the kind of freedom and originality that is very much a part of life at MFS.

I’m neither a Quaker nor a teacher nor a parent, but I was raised to live carefully on the earth and I have enough love of life and love for this precious planet to hope that we will continue to survive here. The only way I truly see that happening is for children to be taught to walk softly on the earth, to respect all the living creatures as well as the inanimate ones , to make decisions based on sustainable and ecological reasoning, to learn how to solve conflicts in a peaceful non-violent way, and to be cooperative and kind. The Monteverde Friends School is a place where all these values and many more are not only taught, but expressed in a myriad of ways by both young and old, teachers and students, past and present. I am happy to support their efforts in any way that I can, but the truth is that coming up this tree and spending the night, surrounded by the treasures of the cloud forest, with my friend Mary, under a blanket of stars – well, I would do it for no reason at all.

As I write, dark feathery clouds are gathering above the eastern ridge. As they shift and move in the wind, a brilliant light peeks through, the size of five of the night time stars joined together – it must be Venus, that planet of rising love. It reminds me of last November when we were caring for our ailing friend Wolf on the Guindon farm. We would awaken in the very early morning hours to that love light shining down on the family home. It doesn’t surprise me that we are seeing that messenger of love glowing over Monteverde again this morning, perched here in our nest. For Mary, who can see her home just across the valley, where her husband and sons are probably still asleep, the light of love is very clearly rising over the eastern ridge and shining down on the house that Elias built.

Now that the sky has lightened into blue and Venus is almost faded away, it is time to close this, have some breakfast, and await the moment the sun comes over the ridge. (As it turned out, we couldn’t get ourselves out of that tree till 10:30 a.m. and even then, we went reluctantly.) I sincerely thank everyone for the opportunity to spend these seventeen hours up this tree, especially the Joyce/Van Dusen household who are our “hosts”. Thanks to the MFS fundraising committee who facilitated the opportunities for each of us to climb various trees and continue to keep us all connected and inspired through their website.

Mary told me that it was Jude Gladstone, a dedicated woman who has worked hard on many committees helping the community, who brought the idea to the table. Searching for an effective way to raise much needed money for the scholarship fund that assists students at the school as well as those who go on to higher education, Jude suggested they create an event, something that people can join in whether here in Monteverde, or from afar via the internet. She suggested that it needed to be something exciting that would catch people’s imaginations, like Julia Butterfly Hill living high up in that redwood. Katy Van Dusen, thinking about her family’s platform in this tree on the ridge, took the idea and climbed higher. Good thinking Katy! Great idea Jude! And thanks Mary – too bad we have to go down.

Please follow the link below and donate whatever is possible to this wonderful school so that more children will be taught the values necessary to continue the good work for our earth and our mutual peaceful co-existence:

http://www.Monteverde60th.org

One last word on a very successful initiative by Fish and his team who held the first Ecofest in Monteverde. On May 1st, hundreds of community members participated in a day that blended displays, demonstrations, art, music, poetry and information in a seamless and spectacular manner. The things that happen in this small rural mountain community are truly stupendous, smart and sustainable! I applaud you Ecofest – we are all ready for next year!

PS It has taken a couple of days to get this writing to my blog and the weather has changed. Mary and I may have spent one of the last nights in the tree with clear weather as the rainy season in Monteverde begins. Hopefully others will still have the opportunity for a beautiful dry starry night during the last two weeks of the campaign, but we were definitely blessed.

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Because I have more fotos than time, taking y’all through the Christmas week festivities here in Monteverde with images. I hope your week was as fun, foodful, festive and frolicking.

First: the Christmas Program and Wassail (aka laughter then sugar rush)…

Lucky Guindon and Hazel, one of her beautiful grandkids

Mary Rockwell with others watching the show

Roy Joe and Ruth Stuckey

Benito and Martha and Sloth, the star

Guindon & friends chorus - Good King Benito

Monteverde Kitchen Sink Orchestra - lotsa wind!

The divine and extremely talented Patricia Jiminez

Wining and dining with Roberto and Patricia Jiminez, it’s all fun till the shoe breaks….

Thank goodness there’s a shoe cobbler in the crowd

Roberto Levy

When Patricia was having problems with the boots and brace that she needs to walk safely, cobbler Roberto  came to the rescue – a good Christmas elf, he.

BARBEQUE DAY – getting the meat ready for Community Christmas Dinner… 

William Vargas - chief BBQ man

Carolers arrive at John and Sue Trostle's

And on the eve before Christmas, out came the carolers, to wander the paths of Monteverde, singing and munching  along their way…

Benito and Melody Guindon – hardcore carolers

Martha Moss, receiving the carolers

 

When the carolers call, one must leave the potluck and follow....

And in our cozy apartment in Cerro Plano (the flat part of Monteverde), our Christmas tree was the Ficus and the ornaments the birds…

No snow, but the white treetops suffice...

The friendly mot mot at our window

The emerald toucanet, only here for the festivities

And then came Christmas morn. We awoke to many birds, singing, shining and sparkling – just like gifts wrapped on the tree…

The clorophonia are the tinsel...

 

After the birds, there was the Friends meeting, where Tim Curtis very aptly put the feeling of Christmas – it is the time when we are focused on giving, and it soothes our soul…

Doris Rockwell and friends awaiting Santa

After the meeting, we shared in the biggest potluck of the year, cooked and shared and served by community members – even the dessert servers seemed to give with their full hearts…

It's only brownies, but it looks like love...

Richard and John Trostle, scoopers with a smile

 And then it is time for the big gift exchange – a couple months back, the community draws names and everyone must make the gift – from children to elders, the gifts that are shared are beautiful, created with heart…and Santa arrives just in time to help with the gift-giving. Wouldn’t you know, this year Santa came directly from Canada, and brought her Wolf-deer, since rain (and thus reindeer) has been scarce this year in these parts…it was a very hot Christmas Day and Santa had to take her clothes off bit by bit…but all was OK! After all, it’s a family show….

Wolf-dear & Santa K-laws

When the going gets hot....

The community is all around…

Roberto, Mercedes y Veronica

Theo and his pal Stuart

The Wolf happily eating...

Katy Van Dusen, family & friends - Monteverde!

Another navidad passes in Monteverde – it has been many years since I was here in this season and I have enjoyed it so much – the traditions of Christmas with Monteverde’s own slants…too much food (which happens everywhere that people are blessed with that bounty) and lots of community joy – and this year, phenomenal weather. Roberto, a man used to living alone in the jungle, not a Christmas kinda guy, adapted well – love, peace and joy were all around. I hope for you all too… now, almost a decade within this new millenium has passed – can you believe it? – so we dance! New Years Eve! At la Mata de Cana (formerly La Taverna) in Santa Elena – see you there! Or wherever you are, may you be with the ones you love….

Roberto and K (aka Santa 09)

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

 

chewonki-inlet

I am still in Freeport Maine.  The weather has turned to spring bit by bit, but the clouds are moving in again and it would appear that we are going to be cold this weekend.  Oh well, if one dances harder, you warm up just fine.

 

sign

Did a talk at the Maine Audubon Society’s Gilsland Farm in Falmouth the other night.  A nice crowd – half were Audubon folks, the other half friends from this area.  Was great to see everyone and they all seemed to enjoy the presentation. Only sold a couple of books but as long as I keep my expectation low (selling one makes me happy) then I’m not disappointed. 

I’ve stayed on here at Mast Landing Sanctuary with Peter and Cocky, who, as always, feed me healthy food, share whatever dancefloor we can find and keep the conversation stimulating.  We have decades of history together, much of it while being social activists in the Temagami area of northeastern Ontario, and never fault for political talk. They went to Cuba this year (I was there maybe five years ago) and what with the American government’s change in policy towards Cuba happening quickly at Obama’s hand, we are all wondering how Cuba will fare as the wealthy Cuban-Americans return to their homeland and the American tourists follow.  I sure hope that the Cuban government has some sort of transition plan ready.  Cuba will never be the same – and some think that is good, but “progress” could just as easily turn against the people of Cuba as work for alleviating poverty or hardship. 

bestof

Best of…with Jacob Augustine on right

Cocky and I went to an event in Portland the other night – the Best of Portland – with free food and music, it was a celebration of the best of everything in the city.  It was quite the crowd – we met music promoters, the guy who did the interior design of the building we were in, musicians, insurance men…well, a wide swath of Portland’s finest.  The food was phenomenal – a bistro version of tamales, divine – and the music – well, we really only caught one act, Jacob Augustine, a great big bear of a man with a small horn and string section behind him – an act we’d both go and and see again.  Great political, social commentary with a rocking backbeat.

dancing

I am now preparing to talk to a class at Bowdoin College in nearby Brunswick on Monday.  I’m also staying on top of all the details of Philadelphia (which has grown to 4 presentations in 3 days) and the Sunday afternoon at Marian Howard’s home in the  Bronx in NYC. So each day I’m doing a little work, trying to keep the focus, but mostly enjoying being here with my friends, getting out for walks in the sunshine and dancing  most nights.  Our pal Dennis came over last night and you couldn’t stop us – put four dancers in a room with a huge selection of music and you almost have to shoot us to get us to stop (or remind half of the folks that they have work early the next day – that’ll get them home.)

And I made an executive decision to not go to the west coast this summer.  I haven’t got enough lead time to plan it properly and get booked in places I’d like to be (and my sister is starting a new job this year and therefore may not have the flexibility to spend time with me.) It felt like a huge relief when I finally decided that I can’t do it all.  I can now stay longer in Costa Rica when I return there in May and that sounds just fine to me.

chewonki

I was invited up to the Chewonki Foundation, an environmental education center near Wiscasset Maine, just a half an hour north of here.  As serendipity would have it, Katy Van Dusen, a friend and great supporter of the book in Monteverde – along with her two sons, Richard and Francis – were visiting the area, checking out the colleges that the boys have been accepted to as they continue their education here in the States in September.  The director of Chewonki, Willard, along with his wife Jenn and their young daughter Sirena invited us all for dinner and I had the joy and privilege of seeing this world class outdoor classroom and dining with a table full of interesting people.  It was also wonderful to be with Monteverde people in Maine, to talk about Wolf,  get an update on Benito’s sloth, and tell stories from the Tapir Trail (Wolf has just sent me an email proclaiming this week Tapir Trail week – you had to have walked this difficult path over the ridges between Monteverde and Arenal, or minimally have read the last chapter of Walking with Wolf, to appreciate the significance.) I felt like a breath of home had whispered in my ear.

blues-dogs

Since then I’ve danced away the kabanga blues with the Blues Dogs at the Freeport Cabaret (believing this sardine-packed house was a normal night out in the little LL Bean town), and swirled and swished and sipped a variety of great wines at the Freeport Cheese and Wine’s little wine tasting event.

with-pat

I also visited with Cocky’s brother Henry and his wife Christine – even more stimulating talk aided by the addition of her mom Pat who is supposed to be suffering from alzheimer but seemed awfully witty to me – and today did the ten minute talk at Nat’s class at Bowdoin. 

A very interesting class for me, listening to Nat’s stories from Monteverde and about Dan Janzen, the well-known biologist and conservationist now at the University of Pennsylvania, who wrote the naturalist’s bible on Costa Rica – The Natural History of Costa Rica – and is also going to provide an endorsement blurb for the back of Caminando con Wolf, the Spanish version of our book. I’m going to be taking a copy of the English version to him in Philly this week, so hearing of his powerful work, his irreverent  personality and his intriguing style as a speaker which has all contributed to a new kind of conservation in Costa Rica has really got me excited about possibly meeting the man.

peter-cocky

No two characters on earth could be more fun or better friends than Cocky and Peter -they’ve been so generous and supportive all week, giving me love and soul nourishment constantly along with their wisdom and advice. They know I love them – but here and now I declare it publicly!

gang

With my gang of Mainiac friends at the Audubon talk

 

I’m going to get in that car tomorrow and start driving right straight on through New York City to Philadelphia – they tell me that’s the only way to go, I95 all the way. Last night, I spoke with Roberto, holding down la finca in Cahuita – giving me an update of the plants we had planted, the monkeys who were stealing his ripe bananas and the death of a character in the area who has haunted me for years – with all due respect, I can’t say I’m sad to see him go. Roberto told me that he prays for me every night, that I’ll be okay out on the highways.  I thank him for that, and promise to be very careful – and with that said, Noo Yawk & Philly here I come, highways and bi-ways make room!

It is Sunday afternoon.  I’m back at my wireless aerie here at Bob and Susana’s Cabure Cafe.  The soft clouds are floating about, obscuring the treetops and reducing the view of the ocean today, but the sun is on the other side of the clouds and so it is warm and bright.  Monteverde’s mists change the scene as constantly as our lives do – we go from great moments of clarity to dark clouds on our horizons to foggy obscurity and back to sun-sparkling visual bounty. Life constantly sends us down different paths and the peek around the next corner is sometimes taken with great anticipation, other times with great trepidation.

Wolf and I made a presentation yesterday to a group of visiting administrators from protected areas throughout the world from Conservation International.  Representatives of Ghana, Guyana, Brazil and Figi along with a dozen other countries were there.  We didn’t have more than a little time as their program was already very full, but it was nice to talk about the book and Wolf’s contribution to conservation to a group of people who participate in this work in protected areas every day.  I never write down anything when I talk in front of groups and then often wish I had remembered to say such and such. However, I forgive myself and carry on. With each presentation, I’m sure I’ll get better, but it is also a matter of gearing what we say to our audience, adapting to English or Spanish, and the amount of time we have.  It was an honor to have the time that we did to speak with these people – we left before we had a chance to sell books and our friend Mercedes was going to take care of that in the coffee break.  Hope we sold some as just to know that Walking with Wolf would maybe end up in southeast Asia, Africa or South America soon is very exciting.

One place the book is going is to the Ukraine.  This is very poignant for me, as my father’s parents were both from the Ukraine, having arrived as teenagers on the Canadian prairies in the early 1900s.  My last name, Chornook, is the result of a Canadian customs agent’s choice of spelling – my grandfather was the only one of his family who was given this spelling from his original name Cherniuk.  A woman here in Monteverde, Betsy, bought a book to send to her son who is a peace corp worker stationed in the Ukraine.  So it was exciting to sign the book with the hopes that her son may run into one of my Cherniuk relatives while sitting with a traiga of vodka in a cafe.

The Quaker meeting this morning was, as always, silent – up until the last ten minutes or so.  The first person to stand and speak was local biologist Mills Tandy who stood and thanked Wolf and I for writing the book and speaking so honestly about the community and recording this important history.  He said, “I’ve waited with great anticipation for this book since I heard about it and have to say that it has far exceeded my expectations.”  Well, his words brought tears to my eyes and they stayed there for the remainder of the meeting.

When it got to what is called after-thoughts, that is the moment after we have broken the silence and greeted each other but a chance is given for further thoughts to be expressed, Wolf’s wife Lucky stood up and, fighting her tears, talked about how people come and go in this community but so often come back and are always welcomed – and that is what makes it the dynamic place it is.  Her son Antonio, wife Adair and their children Skye and Sam are headed back to Connecticut after one full year here. They left in a taxi for the airport right after meeting.  Well this comment by Lucky started an outpouring of similar messages by a number of people both retiterating her thoughts or expressing something similar.  Katy Van Dusen spoke about Ann Kreigel, a woman who lived here back in the 70s and then died suddenly and prematurely in the early 90s after being bitten by a squirrel.  She had had a profound effect on Katy’s life and on many other programs and events in the community and was a great example of someone who came and left their valuable contribution here.  Her sudden and early death was a reminder about the importance of expressing your love for those you care about each day.  Katy also spoke through tears.  It was hard to break up the meeting today – people seemed to want to stay and share their appreciation for this community and this meeting that gives us all a chance to be reflective, communal, spiritual and social all at once.

It is also Father’s Day and that of course makes me think of my father, Andy Chornook, who I write about briefly in Walking with Wolf, who died of cancer very quickly after diagnosis in 1996, twelve years ago.  How the time has gone by.  And thinking about that makes me think of the people I now know who are struggling with this nasty disease:  my friend Lori Yates’ mother in Hamilton, who has just started chemo for lung cancer; Monteverde’s friend, Andy Sninsky, who is in Austria being treated for what is maybe bone cancer, maybe leukemia, maybe something else – Andy and his wife Inge have run the Good Times quarterly magazine that highlights Costa Rican and Nicaraguan tourism destinations for several years and have done a number of pieces of early publicity for our book.  Wolf and I, as the rest of the community, have them in our hearts.  And a female Andy, Andy Walker, who has lived for a few years with her talented family here in Monteverde and just left a day or two ago for further treatments in Texas on a difficult melanoma.  Our thoughts follow her as well.

These tales of cancer diagnosis, treatments, survival and sadness go on relentlessly.  As a survivor myself, I both identify with the fear and the difficulty, but also send messages of encouragement and strength. None of it is easy and I’m forever greatful to have lived to tell my own story as well as Wolf’s. For the most part I look down the trail with excitement and courage, but I know all too well just how scary that unknown bend in the trail can be.

August 2019
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