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leaves

The leaves, having attended their annual costume party,  have been whipping around, making that inevitable trip downward from their lofty heights. I’ve been waiting for the orange cones to appear on the street, signifying that Hamilton’s big leaf-sucking trucks will be coming around the next day. I raked the thick blanket of maple leaves that has accumulated on my front yard into a big pile. I now keep watch, wondering if any of the school kids walking by will take the plunge into that soft heap of crunchy vegetation – I know I couldn’t resist when I was young.  Once those work-cones appear, I’ll rake the whole lot out on the street and hopefully be here to watch the big truck suck ’em all up like a super-duper Molly Maid.  It always gives me a thrill. 

We are having a mid-November week of warm temperatures and hot sun, beautiful weather to be dealing with the final stages of the gardening season. In two weeks, I’ll be on my way to Costa Rica, and at this rate I won’t see even a flake of snow before I leave.  I’m anxious to get down there, as this weekend Wolf was back in the hospital with a series of seizures. He is already home again, and I’m not sure just what happened, except that he hit his head when he fell and needed stitches.

wolf

I don’t know if anyone knows what happened. I’m guessing it has to do with his medications, whether he is taking them properly or not, whether they are collectively causing problems while individually dealing with his diabetes, prostate, bipolarity and knee pain. Someone suggested that he was de-hydrated. With all that water on the mountain, particularly in the streams that the Quakers have been protecting all of these years, Wolf should be drinking lots of water even if he has to go get it straight from the stream if he doesn’t like it by the glass.  I’m relieved to know that he was released quickly, which means it was a passing concern, but I know that he must be getting very discouraged and frustrated with these recurring episodes. For the moment, it would seem that Wolf is okay.  

Good health is fleeting. Sometimes it disappears as quickly as it takes the heart to burst and other times it is a long slow cancer that sneaks up. You need to really appreciate good health when you have it – and it generally takes having cancer (as I did) or something chronic for that to sink in. As often as not, there are signs that things are going wrong whether with our personal health or our relationships, and we may choose to turn a blind eye and avoid the truth as long as possible. So is it also with the health of our communities and forests and waterways – the disease has been settling in for decades now. The planet is suffering from chronic illness and we can’t remain blind to the reality.

I recently received an email from friends in San Pedro de Laguna, Guatemala. I wrote a couple blogs about this lakeside town when I spent Christmas there last year (The Land of the Mayans/The Magic of San Pedro posts.) The email is a call for people to help the communities around Lake Atitlan that are trying to deal with the decreasing health of this beautiful mountainous laguna. I am copying some of that letter here with the hopes that people who come to my blog may read it and pass it on, and in this way perhaps the people who are struggling with this will get help from the rest of the world.

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This is coming from a group “Todos por el Lago” but, as they state in the letter, the concern about the lake’s health has been discussed for years by a number of groups. Development and tourism on the lake is growing and putting more stress on the area without appropriate measures being implemented to deal with the inevitable problems. It is a very long, detailed letter written in Spanish and translated into English. I have edited it and only included parts, but if you want to read the whole thing or contact the group, this is their twitter account:

 lakeatitlan http://twitter.com/todosporellago 

The following paragraphs come out of their communication:  

“Unfortunately, it seems like we are about to witness a drama way more serious than we would like to believe. It has been a year now since we have started to see scary signs that something really wrong is going on with the lake water -algae, skin diseases and stomach problems of swimmers, dying fish, cyanobacteria and even sewage smells – and it feels like somehow we have chosen not to see those signs. There is no worse blindness than the one of who does not want to see and in this case, the reality we have in front of our eyes seems so terrible that it produces immediate blindness. I feel like maybe what we are witnessing is the beginning of the end of a way of life we all fell in love with at some point, that being the reason why we decided to make this our way of life. The death of this lake would be the death of a dream-like environment -one of the most beautiful in the world – of the life style of ancient Mayan villages that have a lot to teach, a lot to live, and also the death of this little sociological experiment of which we are all part, a mixture of people with different nationalities, ages and cultures that got together here in a unwritten decision to live together a different life style to the ones we left behind back home.   

“From our point of view the pace in which Mayan villagers have had to adapt to the consequences of the so called industrial development has been unnatural – it did not leave them space or time to understand the negative effects of consumerism and of lack of inorganic rubbish -and other byproducts- treatment. Because of this, us ¨westerners¨ who inhabit this land that has  belonged to the Mayan since the beginning of time, have the obligation of doing all we can for these people to have an understanding of how the byproducts of consumerism can affect their environment, and with it their way of life.

“We have some ideas for discussion we have obtained from neighbours and friends, that could be little seeds for community dialogue:   

  1. Organise informative meetings that explain not only in Spanish, but also in Kakchikel, Tzutujil and English what the lake is actually suffering, what are the symptoms, what are the causes and what will be both the long term and short term effects.  
  2.  Information is the key, let’s inform everybody, let’s make signs, drawings, posters, get out there and pass the info around, the lake is seriously ill, yes, we are not exaggerating, you just have to look at the water surface, at the sewage in Tzanjuyu… let’s do something! 
  3. We have to appeal to international organisations, whether it be realm of govnermental or non-governmental, contact everyone we can think of , Greenpeace, European Commission for Environment… we are sure there must be inhabitants and visitors of the lake with contacts, ideas, let’s use them!  Let’s motivate them!  There are home owners in San Lucas belonging to the entreprenereal world, let’s ask them for help!  From the local business to the political world there are people who may have vested interests in the lake – take whatever steps necessary to find funds, subsidies and international aid to fund treatment plants, studies and technologies that would give us organic alternatives to harmful phosphates, that is to get SOLUTIONS.  We also need information about whether it is possible not just to prevent the growth of bacterias but if there is a way to undo the damage already caused by what already exists here!   
  4. We need to stop the sewage from going into the lake.  We have all heard at some point that this and that embassy or organization has proposed to finance some treatment plant but then it has never happened, is this true?  can anybody give exact information?  we all need to know what has happened in order to take action… 
  5.  We need to stop the use of chemical products for  agriculture.  This means not only educating the workers in the agricultural sector, but maybe taking more drastic measures like prohibiting the total use of these products in the entire surrounding areas of the lake; a comment made by a neighbour in Santa Cruz: if they can make a law that prohibits smoking in public spaces, why can’t they make a law that prohibits bloody phosphates!?   The huge coffee plantations should have to set an example for all and make their crops organic, in this way also giving greater worth  -come on, ORGANIC is a magic word today in the west!- and more international fame to Guatemalan coffee.  But what is the likelihood that civil society has the power so that this is really going to happen­?
atitlan[1]

“We need to begin to organise ourselves, do something now, before it’s too late, and not sit here waiting in the hope that the algaes on the surface disappear from sight so that we can act like nothing’s happened.  IT´S HAPPENED, and there’s no pretending that this is just a surface problem anymore.  Let’s start the  DEBATE  with this fórum and hold meetings so that every single person will contribute what they can, only in this way will we be able to save the lake.  We are offering what we have: our doors are open to be used as a meeting space, we offer our time  to translate   and  our  energy, the important thing is to see that everyone is ready and is going to actually  SPREAD THE WORD, this will be the seed towards change, hopefully! ”  

* * * * *
  
I have watched the changes in Costa Rica over twenty years of going there while development swelled around me. If you are a thinking person, at least one with no personal benefit involved, you can’t help but dismay at what results when tourism takes off in an area. When it is a beautiful landscape, many tourists will find ways to return, to stay and build homes and participate in the local economy. It’s inevitably a double-edged sword, bringing development to a depressed economy, at the same time changing the lives of locals and their environment forever. Even when people try hard to do things in smart and responsible ways, at a certain point, “progress” takes over and often spins out of control.
 
It happens all over the world. When I hear North Americans complaining about immigrants, I think of how many of us have moved elsewhere in the world, bringing our development and consumerism with us. We forever change an area and not always for the good. I don’t call it progress when we turn people who have lived well on the land into hardcore consumers, dependent on foreign-produced goods and hankering for bigger, better, shinier, faster. However, this has happened as long as people have been walking and moving, and will continue, so there is no point in thinking you can stop the movement nor stop the process of migration and integration.
 
 But, as this letter is asking, we need to seriously look at how we integrate and the new influences we are bringing. How do we help the earth’s natural systems adapt to the new waves of population as well as the old communities develop into healthy new ones?
  
If you have ever been to this magical lake in Guatemala, or hope to go there one day, or simply have a means to respond to their cry for help, please do what you can.  Or do something for a lake or community that is suffering close to your home. There is never a shortage of crises. There shouldn’t be a shortage of minds, hearts and hands reaching out to help our global family and the land, water and air that sustains us.
 
snoopy_woodstcok_jumping_leaves[1]
 
 
As I have been writing, the orange cones appeared, so I moved the leaves to the street. I’m laughing along with the kids who are coming home from school and leaping through the pile, squealing and shouting in glee! It reinforces the fact that joy comes from the simplest things, as often as not straight out of Mother Earth’s special box of toys. So kiddies, take care of those toys and keep the box safe.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

   

 

 

IMG_3062

I’ve started writing this while laying in the hammock – it’s early morning and the heat is beating down the slight coolness that accompanied us in the night. If I try to count the number of types of leaves I can see without moving my head, face turned skyward, I reach twenty shapes and quit counting, the effort a little too much.  Or if I try to isolate the sounds – the voices of the creatures, the frogs, the morning birds, the cicadas – what are all those other insects anyway? – and the sound of a big bushman chopping firewood to get the coffee brewing – well, I get lost in the various layers of songs coming out of this steamy, verdant landscape. The only sound that could be deemed intrusive is the occasional passing of a vehicle on the highway a couple hundred meters through the bush. No matter how jungle-bound one may feel, civilization is never really that far away.

road in

It has been about a week since I last wrote (now two I admit as I finish this), thus my blogological clock is ticking and telling me to write. The time has gone by in a haze of lazy jungle love. From the moment I saw Roberto’s tall dark silhouette outside the airport doors, I felt myself breathe deeply again and knew I had come back to where I should be. When we arrived in Cahuita the next day and walked up the bush road, down the jungle path, crossed the now quiet (yet often fast-flowing) moat that encircles the place, and settled into his rancho nestled beneath the tall Guanacaste trees, I felt like I had come home.

home 1

 

We’ve barely left the place except to get food and to go dancing a couple of nights. The Quebrada Suarez, the twisting stream, provides enough sunning and cooling time that even taking the twenty minute walk to the beach seems like too much work.

 

nightroom

 A woman moving into a man’s domain always shakes things up, so we’ve been “remodeling” – making space for my things, increasing the comfort level, Roberto building rustic furniture as we sense the need – assemblage art it would be called back in Canada.

I brought a minimum of “stuff” with me, being very selective, simple living being one of the things that I truly appreciate about this place. The two most important things are my coleman stove which needs a different connection for the gas tanks here – in the soggy tropical forest cooking with wet firewood can be a full-time affair, not always a bad thing but often a frustrating one – and the components to hook up a solar system. My pal Chuck lent me a small solar panel and I bought the power inverter and now just need to buy a boat battery to get it all working.  With a bit of effort , a few dollars, and a little luck, I should soon be able to write directly on my laptop being powered by that free and easy big ol’ sun, the same beast that keeps us moving slowly and conserving our own energy – unlike the bustling hummingbirds who are zipping about me and the butterflies of all colors who don’t stop their fluttering all day long.

roberto

 

 

However, we haven’t got around to getting the stove or the solar stuff working – as I said, it’s been hard just getting out to buy food.

 

 

 

Instead we’ve been watching the howler monkeys fearlessly leaping about the tops of the fifty meter high trees.  There are moments here – mostly at daybreak and sunset – when the cacophony of jungle life swells to a crescendo before settling back down to a background buzz. It is often the male howler monkey who officially starts the day with his lazy roar – if he is in one of the closest trees it is as subtle as the engine of a Harley Davidson revving outside your bedroom window.

A pair of green and black poison dart frogs lives in the hammock tree (along with at least four different kinds of herps – geckos, lizards et al.)poison dart

Other constantly noisy neighbours are the oropendulas, tropical relatives of the orioles.  Like ecstatic percolating coffee pots, they bubble away while getting food in the treetops and building their long dangling nests.  The last couple of days the squawking parrots have taken over – it seems to me that there is a domestic dispute going on high up in the trees and those loud green birds are really having issues with each other.  Not everyone can be so content in the jungle it would seem.

The other afternoon we spent time watching a King Vulture, a strange sight here in the vibrant green forest – they are more usually seen around open places or where there is rotting food of some kind or circling high in the sky. This guy came and sat down on a branch in the cool jungle, as if pretending to be an exotic quetzal seeking a quiet refuge from its adoring fans. We were laying in the hammock watching him watching us when a weak rope holding Roberto and I finally gave out and sent us to the ground. I swear that vulture had a smile on his waiting beak, always happy to see an accident in progress.

As it turned out, he had his eye on the corpse of a large toad, laying dead in the foliage on the far bank. Who knows what killed it or when, but that vulture knew its worth and struggled to lift it up. This was one of those big cane toads, big enough to fill a coffee pot. It was a fight for the vulture, and he was under pressure when he realized that I was chasing him with my camera, but he managed to get that big carcass up and away before I could get a decent picture.

beach

The humidity has been building around us, night skies are filled with lightning and thunder rumbles in the distance, but not more than a drop of rain has fallen in the now two weeks I’ve been here. The rest of Costa Rica has had wild storms and deluges – the one night we went half an hour down the coast to Puerto Viejo to go dancing where it was pouring – but it remains dry and hot and steamy in Roberto’s piece of jungle paradise.

The country is waiting in anticipation of a big earthquake on the Pacific side and last night the Caribbean coast of Honduras suffered a significant earthquake. One never knows what one will be dealing with here in the tropics – it isn’t all pretty.

I’m now in San Jose with Wolf, awaiting the arrival of the shipment of the second printing of Walking with Wolf – we have all our ducks in a row, the Reserve truck is coming to get us, the money is in the bank, our customs man, Eliecer, is on the job – and the books seem to have got hung up in the same highway closure I did last night on my way here from the Caribbean. So our ducks are about to get scattered again and we will all be winging it. 

limon highway

As I made my way to the city yesterday, having left on the 11:30 a.m. bus, the highway from Limon was closed for several hours, the result of at least ten landslides from the heavy rain.  The workers wouldn’t clear the rocks and earth and trees while the rain was still pouring down and so the traffic sat – me in a dry bus so in no discomfort – but we pulled into the city about five hours later than usual, at 8 p.m. in the dark.  And I expect that is what happened to the books – slowed down by the forces of nature. Like our ducks.

 Once we have those books we’ll be heading up the green mountain and I’ll stay a few days in Monteverde talking book business and visiting friends. It’s nice to be out of the mosquitoes and humidity, but I am already looking forward to getting back down to the jungle next week. After all, love awaits and that is worth a little sweat.flower

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