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The gusty wind is pushing the clouds across the pastures and out to the Pacific horizon. Here in Monteverde there are often two layers of clouds, the upper level of slower clouds moving over the sky like elders shuffling across the lawn enjoying the journey to their favorite bench. The spirited lower layer of clouds speed past the unhurried ones as youth do in their great haste to get where they are going. Here on the green mountain, under that shifting quilt of clouds, we celebrate the young and the not so young. There is no doubt that Monteverde is getting older but, as in the natural world, it is constantly renewing itself!
The first celebration of 2012 was for the petite but always feisty Martha Moss, who turned 90 in early January. Martha arrived here in 1973 and decided to try inn-keeping when Irma Rockwell, who at that time ran the only pension in the community, was anxious to head back to Iowa. After a short visit and a quick decision to uproot her life in New York, Martha drove down in an orange Volkswagen Safari named “Tiger Lily,” her 15-year-old daughter Nan along for the adventure. By 1978, the small Green Mountain Inn was not big enough for the tourism that was increasing annually and other pensions were built, including the larger Hotel de Montaña. So Martha got out of the hospitality business, officially at least. She went on to a rich life of working in prisons teaching alternatives to violence, doing peace work, and writing and illustrating children’s books that feature her animal friends– a passion that still keeps her mind alive! For the occasion of her 90th birthday, she was visited by her daughter Nan and her step-daughter Cynthia (who lives in Nairobi, Kenya and runs the Amboseli Trust – an elephant sanctuary) and the gathering was full of stories, laughter, cake and love.
The next big gathering happened as a joint celebration for the 90th birthday of John Trostle and the 80th birthday of Lucky Guindon. Lucky is of course the ever-suffering, ever-loving wife of our dear friend Wolf. It is hard to imagine that she is 80 years old as she has that blond hair and those farm girl genes that keep her looking very youthful. While the family spent much of the last year caring for Wolf through his many health issues (see former posts from 2011), it is also true that Lucky had a number of health concerns herself. No doubt the stress of Wolf’s hospital stays and his near-death experiences helped contribute to Lucky’s heart and blood pressure problems but once she finally conceded to taking medication regularly, the crisis past.
Lucky isn’t as mobile as she was – she is now uncomfortable walking from the farm down to the meeting house and to Friday scrabble games – but she is always very busy, tending the chickens, hosting the many friends and family who come through the open door of their home, and going to as many of the community events as she has energy for. She also tries to save space for herself, finding time to make her beautiful ink drawings of the local trees, but it often happens that she forsakes her own time for that of Wolf, the family and the community. I often stay here on the farm with Wolf, Lucky and Benito and am witness to the love and kindness she shares on a daily basis with all those around her. I would also suggest that the health scares of the last couple of years have perhaps brought Wolf and Lucky closer, appreciating that their time on earth is passing rapidly and they have been blessed with each other and their beautiful family and need to enjoy every precious moment together.
John and Sue Trostle are other fine examples of living life in healthy, loving and productive ways. John has reached 90 years of age with a vitality, sharpness and curiosity that hasn’t seemed to waver. Sue and John made their initial contact with Monteverde in 1951, first visited in 1962 and moved here in 1974 to continue their life work as peace activists. They have been active in many aspects of the community, but particularly in the founding and development of the Monteverde Institute. They are also great supporters of music and other cultural and educational activities here. I will always remember that Sue, at a gathering in 1990, told me that she had seen Bob Marley live – I think she was the first person I knew who could say that! I certainly equate John and Sue with all things artistic in the area and expect to see their warm smiling faces at any community event I manage to get to.
On March 4th, a large group gathered at the meeting house and one of Monteverde’s traditional “coffee houses” was held in Lucky and John’s honour. Monteverde is a wonderful breeding ground for artists of all kinds. Participation in all the arts – music, writing, theatre, textile and visual arts – is encouraged and applauded. There is a wealth of talented mentors willing to pass on their knowledge and there are many occasions throughout the year to share songs, poems, painted creations and plays. I think the coffee houses – where near-professional talent shares the stage with the nervous first-time performers – is one of the best examples of the magic that is Monteverde as a community.
People who arrive on this seductive mountain and have their first exposure to its vibrancy often believe that they have met with some kind of communal-nirvana, but the truth is (and I think most people who live here would agree with me) that it is still just a small community with all the gossip, frustration and conflicts of any group of human beings – aka imperfect. There are organizations within the community that work to encourage conflict resolution, open-mindedness, constructive dialogue, non-violence and collective movement towards a healthy way of life. In the end, Monteverde is composed of people who are essentially flawed creatures, especially in their social structures, and there are plenty of occasions for disagreement and pettiness. Many people who live here understand that and actually bristle at the comments about what a perfect place it is. Myself, I kind of like that people enjoy the idea of a “perfect” community, even if it is but an illusion. It gives us hope that such places can exist on this troubled earth.
I’ve had the great fortune to spend much of the last twenty-two years here, and much of that time in the presence of Wolf Guindon. He is definitely a flawed character who has made valuable contributions. His imperfection is one of the things I love about him and is what I think made him such a wonderful subject for our book (besides being the protagonist of so many great ventures – the community, the dairy plant, the Reserve, the Conservation League). However, no matter what his missteps I have no doubt that he is guided by love, understands the power of respect, and tries to practice kindness in his dealings with people….and always has a wonderful sense of humour.
I am now considering another local man as the subject of my next book. Paul Smith – artist, musician and luthier (and like myself, a Canadian with many years living in Monteverde) – approached me about writing text for a book about his art. I was immediately intrigued with the idea for a number of reasons. One is that I like Paul. He has many of the same qualities as Wolf Guindon that I love – he is a very unique character who does things his own way, he is funny and irreverent and intelligent, and, I believe, under-appreciated in the world. He is definitely a flawed character as well but with a big heart and an open mind. He is also a very active member of the arts community here in Monteverde, a huge part of this place that we barely touched on in Walking with Wolf. Writing about Paul (and his very talented sisters Margaret and Lorna) would allow me to tell the tales of music, theatre and art on the green mountain and in Costa Rica, including the infamous Monteverde Music Festival that Margaret and Paul started and I worked with for years. Paul said to me, “all you have to do is come up with the vision, Kay”….but I know that ‘all’ I have to do is all the work!! I already have the title – “Playing with Paul“! Since he is already in his late seventies, I will have to work a lot faster than I did on the Wolf book. Hmmmm…
As for the new in Monteverde, I’ll share a couple of pictures of Benito’s latest orphan, a two-week old sloth that came to him after it dropped out of a tree and was left for dead. Beni has a lifetime of bringing creatures young and old back to life and although he tends to grumble through the process, it is amazing to watch his patience and commitment to them. These days Beni can be seen wandering around with a pouch that houses the little guy (Maximus, Mini, Lovely?) although he doesn’t really like taking him out in public as people can be quite insensitive in their desire to see the baby.
Here in the house, Lucky and Beni take turns feeding him a small bottle of milk and colorful hibiscus flowers (I happily take my turn when I can). The sloth makes a little creaky sound when he/she is unhappy (gender is difficult to determine) and this is often because he/she has been put back alone in the basket with a heating pad. Baby sloths live wrapped around their mothers in the trees so it is obvious that they don’t enjoy being left on their own. At the same time, Beni doesn’t encourage petting it or treating it in human ways as we would our own children. I have watched him over the years tend to many animals and so I take heed of his experience. It is lovely having this little creature in the house, almost as sweet as the presence of a new born baby.
There are always new ideas, projects and individuals emerging out of the mists of Monteverde. It seems to me that this mountainous place, still very much a rural and forest landscape, has the cultural life of a dynamic small city. One of the extremely talented men here, Mauricio Valverde, and two of his friends have opened a new bar named Tr3s Monos, to provide a place for local musicians,artists and friends to gather in a lounge-like atmosphere. Mao is also part of Ars Monteverde, a new organization that is working to support all the arts in this broad community. The Camara de Tourism (Tourism Council) is looking at bringing back the Monteverde Music Festival. Last week the poetry group, Gatos Pardos, along with Ars Monteverde and others put on the first Peña Cultural, a day-long event that included theatre, music, poetry and dance, along with many traditional games and activities for the children, that was such a grand success they are making plans for many more – there is so much talent here, the program lasted two hours longer than expected.
Once again, time has got away from me. Due to extreme busyness, and a lack of internet much of the time, it has taken weeks to get back to this blog. It is Semana Santa, Easter Week, and I’m relaxing in Cahuita with some time to write and a good battery in my laptop. The good news is that I’ve managed to finish a few projects this past month, just in time for my imminent return to Canada.
One of these has been getting a mouthful of dental work done. Once or twice a week I’ve been going to the Clinica Dental Sonría Feliz (the Happy Smile Dental Clinic) and opening wide for the team, who have cleaned my root canals, planted posts and placed crowns. My mouth feels like a finely chiseled porcelain garden. There was almost no pain involved, and compared to North American prices, there wasn’t even much discomfort financially.
I’ve had the same dentist in Canada all my life, so just opening up for strangers took a lot of nerve; however a lack of insurance and the economics of dental work made the decision to have the work done in Costa Rica a relatively easy one. Antionetta, Yessenia and Carlos gently walked me through the procedures. I recommend them highly and consider the Happy Smile my new dental office, though I’ll have to go visit Dr. Cipparone back in Ontario just to flash him my new happy smile.
While I’ve been living in San José with Lorena and Edín, I did a little gardening on their balcony. There were some neglected plants as well as empty pots to fill, so I seeded some basil, thyme, cilantro and arugula and started watering. We’ve all been watching our garden grow, picking the young peppery arugula leaves for salads and now we’re starting to get enough sweet cilantro to garnish our meals. Even a very small garden patch can soothe your soul.
Among the other green residents are jade and spider plants and young frangipani. I walked out one morning with a pitcher of water and as I leaned over to water the pots, the glass globe on the ceiling light fell like a bomb, missing my ear by mere inches, slicing half of the leaves off the frangipani before shattering like a broken heart on the ceramic floor. Weeks later, we are still finding tiny shards. How I didn’t get touched by a single sliver of glass, I’ll never understand…as Lorena said, it’s my green life force protecting me…maybe true, but, phew, that was close.
Another project wrapping up in San José is the work with the editor of the Spanish version of Walking with Wolf. Lester and I spent many hours of many days and finally completed the question and answer portion of the revision, as in “What did you mean by this, Kay?” Once again I found myself trying to convince an editor that Wolf’s special turn of the tongue needs to be preserved in the text, even if it makes for a pause or two on the part of the reader. I have much less control over what is written in Spanish than I did in English, trusting that both Carlos Guindon’s initial translation and Lester Goméz’ corrections will stay true to the original.
The manuscript now goes back to the Editorials Universidad de Costa Rica for the next stage of publication. I hoped that Caminando con Wolf would be in print before I leave the country in June, but I highly doubt that will happen. I fear that it will be released in the months that I plan on being in Canada which would mean a very expensive if short return trip to Costa Rica to join in the celebration. Wolf is waiting as patiently as he can in Monteverde, telling everyone that the release of the book in Spanish is worth living for.
With the help of Lucky, Benito, nurse Stefani, all the family and many friends, Wolf goes about his daily exercises, physical therapy and medication protocol. He is most enthusiastic about eating and if appetite is any gauge, Wolf is feasting at the trough of good health. It is as if he exchanged walking, and even talking, for eating, and engages in it as relentlessly and tirelessly as his former pastimes. Soon to come: a cookbook featuring recipes for healthy meals that require little chewing called Eating with Wolf…
While I was in Monteverde a week or so ago, I also went and visited Martha Moss. Martha is about 88 years old, still living on her own, and still feisty. We started talking twenty-one years ago and our conversations easily pick up each year where we left off. As we both get older, we take on new subject manner – how to deal with the fact that we don’t all age gracefully, how to both support others properly and let others support us without resentment, wondering whether it is possible to change our ways as we get older (or why we should). The only real conclusion we ever arrive at is that you must never lose your sense of humor – and hope your friends don’t lose theirs either.
Another elder of Monteverde that I had the chance to visit with is Doris Rockwell. Many of you will know her as one of the originals of the Monteverde Rockwell clan. She has been living with multiple sclerosis for years but up until recently she was in her own home on the Rockwell farm and managing nicely with daily help. In February, Doris had a health crisis that has left her less able to cope with her physical reality, so she is now living in a rented home near Alajuela being tended by some womenfolk she knows. Her daughter Kathy and I went to see her one day, and I was very happy to see Doris very content with her situation. Life brings us all struggles, and it is with humor and good grace that we must try to meet them. Doris shares her story with a kind spirit, patience and a ready laugh and so it was a very pleasant visit.
April 19 was the 60th anniversary of Monteverde Day, celebrating the arrival of the first of the Quakers on the green mountain. Unfortunately I couldn’t be there, but just prior to it I was contacted by a man I met a year or so ago in Monteverde, Austin Haeberle. With the support of the Monteverde Institute and the United Nations Mandated University for Peace, Austin created a series of videos of conversations with various residents of Monteverde and the project was to be shared with the community on Monteverde Day. Like me, you may not have been in Monteverde for this special anniversary, but we can go to the website and watch the short videos. There is a lovely one with Wolf and Lucky, made more precious by how young Wolf looks, though the video can’t be more than two years old. The link is http://MonteverdeNow.org and it is a very impressive modern look at the past, the path, the plan and the present of Monteverde.
May 1st will celebrate the first Eco Fest in Monteverde. Local pal Fish has put together a team of people planning this special Mayday to share the many environmental, ecological and creative projects going on in the Monteverde area. A daylong event, it will give residents, visiting students and organizations a chance to demonstrate their work and get information on the work being done by others, including grey water treatment, glass bottle walls, recycling, composting, etc. The Monteverde Conservation League will be participating as part of their 25th anniversary celebration. There will also be a display of creations by local artists and an evening of local entertainers, including songwriters, musicians, and poets (even yours truly giving a short presentation on Wolf and the book). Monteverde is growing by leaps and bounds and Eco Fest is hoping to be an (annual?) event where locals can get together and celebrate our collective commitment to caring for the earth, still planting and watering the seed of conservation, always looking toward a peaceful and sustainable future for the green mountain.
For me, the highlight of the last month, if not the last year, was the arrival in Monteverde of a group of students from Lister Street Academy in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A teacher there, Bryan Mascio, had twice visited Costa Rica, the second time picking up our book. Over three days he consumed the stories, intrigued by the various themes and recognizing Walking with Wolf as a teaching resource. He returned to his school in New Hampshire and convinced the principle that he could design a course for his high school students that would incorporate everything from biology and conservation to peace and community – and they would use the book as a central reference.
It was a big undertaking, aided by another teacher Jessica, who had originally visited Costa Rica and urged Bryan and his wife to take their first trip to the land of coffee and bellbirds. From the beginning of the school year, they planned a trip to Monteverde as part of the curriculum. Many of the students are economically marginalized and so it was only through class fundraising that they gathered the money for the group of seven students and two teachers to realize this dream field trip.
Bryan contacted me last July to buy several copies of our book, which I sent, never hearing from him again until March when he wrote me to see if there was any hope of meeting us while the group was in Monteverde. On April 7th, they came to Wolf and Lucky’s farm and we spent a very emotional morning together. Wolf was in good form and, as always, happy to receive a group with the hope of encouraging them down their own paths of commitment to community and the welfare of the earth. Lucky added her own warmth and intelligence to the encounter along with an excellent batch of Lucky Surprises (blonde brownies to die for). Wolf’s good friend and comrade, Eladio Cruz, came along to bring to life one more character from the book that they had read about. The students shared their stories, claiming that the book, Wolf’s story and my persistence in telling it, had affected them deeply, even changing some of their lives. It was a powerful morning for me, listening to a group of adolescents who had read Walking with Wolf and taken it into their hearts and minds in such a positive and profound manner.
Those who know Wolf know that his eyes water up readily and his emotions rise to the surface like cream. In this gathering, there were tears and shaky voices all around as the students shared their impressions and their reactions. Until we got together with this group, I hadn’t realized the depth of their involvement with Wolf and I and the positive influence that our collective words had on them. I plan on going to visit these students in New Hampshire in June. They were just at the beginning of ten days of discovery, of meeting the beauty of Costa Rica, and creating a lifetime of memories. They were all working on individual projects that looked at the similarities and differences of their northern homes and Costa Rica and I’m intrigued to hear their findings. Wolf and I may have influenced their lives, but I can assure them that they touched mine as deeply.
When it was time to leave, I offered to escort them through the magical bullpen where Wolf’s trail to and from the Monteverde Reserve passes. Unfortunately Wolf couldn’t join us, his walking still limited. The students, their teachers, and I started out in a single file along the path to the Bullpen, all of us at varying comforts of being surrounded by forest. When we arrived in the middle of the verdant clearing, huge trees sheltering us, birds twittering in the shadows, I asked for a copy of the book which some had brought along to get autographed. I opened it to the beginning of the chapter “All Trails lead to Home” and read the beginning quote where Wolf recounts his many encounters with animals he had while in this special place, reminds us that all paths eventually end in a woods somewhere and, most poignantly, all trails will lead us home. It was a moment when literature came to life for this gathering of people standing on Wolf’s path, all of us having grown to love Wolf through his stories, very aware that he was close by but not able to be walking with us. For that reason alone it was bittersweet but as we listened, we could hear Wolf’s laughter lingering in the trees, and his spirit urging us down our own trails. Vamanos!
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)…
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…
And in our cozy apartment in Cerro Plano (the flat part of Monteverde), our Christmas tree was the Ficus and the ornaments the birds…
And then came Christmas morn. We awoke to many birds, singing, shining and sparkling – just like gifts wrapped on the tree…
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…
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…
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….
The community is all around…
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….