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I’ve been writing this blog since 2008, about the time I published my book Walking with Wolf. Originally this was meant as a marketing tool, but in reality it has served as a writing exercise, a line of communication , a way to relieve my frustrations, and a promotional site for musicians, restaurants and actions that I want to support (that alone a personal diary so I can remember what in the world I’ve been doing!)

Mary Rockwell with Wolf and Lucky

As I go on, and the blogging world gets bigger, I often feel self-indulgent, shallow and silly, but I always approach my blog posts sincerely. I love when I have a real purpose to write – as in the months last year when I was reporting to the great extended family and friends of Wolf and Lucky Guindon through the months of their medical crises. It is so nice to not feel that necessity so deeply – Wolf is doing very well, as good as a man of 81 needs to be, and is so much better than he was during the last couple of years, that to itemize his health issues at this point is over-dramatizing. And Lucky is, well, Lucky!

When I’m travelling and experiencing new places – and feel strongly that I want to share my photos of the beauty I encounter and my discovery of hotels, restaurants, organizations and especially artists and musicians – then it is easy to write and spread the words that come easily.

Being someone who pays attention to the cultural and natural world around me – politically, socially, comically – well, there has been no lack of fodder for my fire. However, I’m finding that there is such a repetition of bad news, incredibly stupid events, and useless government assurances that I am rebelling against spreading the bad news. I’ve always believed in repeating positive news but it is getting harder to find. Perhaps I’ve been an activist too long to believe too deeply that the scraps that are thrown our way will actually ever make us a nutritious meal.

I still stand by the idea that we need to celebrate the small victories because we never know when the next one will be – and any excuse for a collective joyful party is fine with me. The Occupy movement is the best thing that has happened since sliced whole grain bread and I was inspired for a while, but now I’m trying to not get bogged down in the nasty establishment’s corrupt and violent reaction to a very real uprising by the common people – that is, most of us. Well, I don’t feel the need to analyze it, nor explain it, nor condemn it. The actions of the elite, the corrupt, the governments and the multinationals should be understood by all as the disgusting power plays that they are, for the greed that they represent and for the sad future that they herald. And the people who are voting for the right wing politicians who are puppets for the manipulating corporations are probably not reading my blog anyway.

I do what I can – live simply by acts such as giving up my car years ago; live as one with nature despite the mosquito bites and the lack of electricity; practice kindness as my religion even when it hurts; contribute time or money or energy to projects and friends in need. Even though like most people I generally feel that I should do more, I’m not riddled by guilt for how I live….I worked that through many years ago and came to understand that we can’t be held responsible for where we come from or what we are born into – it was my luck to be born in comfortable North America to loving parents – but I can do my best to understand my privilege and that which others don’t have and try to help, in whatever big or small way, to bring the world to some kind of balance. And I don’t think guilt is a great motivator, it is a destroyer of spirit.

My experiences living and working with French-speaking communities in Quebec, the Ojibway and Cree in the north, the Spanish-speaking Costa Ricans and the Afro-Caribbean world in Cahuita – as well as growing up in a majority white English-speaking world divided between the rich, the middle-class and the working-poor – has taught me that life as I knew it when I grew up is only one small version of a complexity that we all share on a very finite globe. Our earth seems huge and phenomenally diverse one day yet small and totally co-dependent the next.

As people we share more similarities than differences, but our cultural and linguistic uniqueness, our adaptation to our distinct natural environments and our social and personal histories affect how our few years on this planet will play out. Some of us have many more options than others on how to influence our own journey but within that privilege we are as varied in our thinking about what is sustaining us as there are covers of “Yesterday”.

During the Christmas season just past, I experienced the festivities in a variety of ways according to three very different communities here in Costa Rica, demonstrating how different are our traditions and our celebrations. In the early part of December I was up here in Monteverde where I have spent the last two Decembers. The Quakers have a long history of traditional activities and community gatherings – the gift exchange, the day of “wassail” and local talent, the community BBQ and the Christmas Eve roaming carolers.  I was only here for some of the preparations including a Sunday afternoon of Christmas carol singing at the Guindon house. I had to leave before the schedule really revved up and was sorry to miss the week of Christmas when the community comes together with their homemade gifts and cookies and laughter. For me, Christmas has always been about family and friends and joyful gatherings.

A week before Christmas I was in San José with my friends Lorena and Edín. Rather than the traditional tamale making, for many years Lorena has been making beautifully decorated shortbread cookies that she gives as gifts to family, friends and colleagues. For her, Christmas is about sharing.

I was able to help her for three days, working in a big modern kitchen in a friend’s beautiful house in the Escazu hills, rolling dough, cutting shapes, baking and decorating through the nights with the twinkly lights of the Central Valley sprawling below us. Every night, somewhere in the city, there were fireworks! I’ve made many Christmas cookies in my day but never ones as colorful and joyful as these nor in an environment as luxurious as this one!

Just before leaving the city, Lorena and I returned to Barrio Escalante in time to enjoy the Christmas program put on by the Editus Academy of Music which Edín, as the guitarist of Editus, is a director of. We sat outside where they had erected a stage and listened to a number of their students, along with the musicians of Editus, playing various instruments and singing seasonal and classical music. It was lovely, even when an intoxicated man insisted on shouting complaints from the street…no party seems complete without a drunk!

The last two weeks of December, I spent in Cahuita with Roberto and Miel the cat. Roberto was raised a Jehovah Witness, as are many of the people in that community. He hasn’t attended this church since he was young, but he is influenced as an adult by his upbringing and celebrating Christmas is not something he does. There were very few traditional signs of Christmas around. In the town there were some nice decorations and many tourists making merry but in the forest the most festive thing we had were the fancy cookies I had brought from our bakefest.

There is much poverty in the area, and though I’m sure there were many celebrations in people’s homes, I have never passed a Christmas season with so little tinsel tradition even though I’ve enjoyed a number of green Christmases.  The Caribbean Sea was very out of sorts during this time, too rough to swim in, too stirred up to snorkel and fish in, too high to even find much sand to lay on – I think only the surfers were happy as there were more waves than usual. Our forest was gorgeous, the wet foliage twinkling in the occasional bursts of sunlight and an abundance of sloths moving about – the local version of a slow partridge in a pear tree.

One of the traditions that Roberto remembers from his childhood is his grandmother making banana cakes. We cook with wood and created an oven using the thick dry husks of the coconuts that burn slowly and with a good heat. I baked several banana cakes over the week, using up our many ripe bananas, and Roberto felt that bittersweet melancholy that comes with the foods of our childhood and the accompanying aromas. We did plenty of dancing, including on New Year’s Eve when the town, young and old, local and foreign, rich and poor, black and white, came out and partied. Even the sloths were in town that night, dangerous though it may be. I then left Cahuita to return to Monteverde, leaving Roberto with the hope of a dryer, sunnier January to start building his little casita.

On my way, I had a final experience of a typical Tico Christmas when I stopped and visited friends who were making one more batch of tamales, something that is very traditional amongst the Costa Ricans at this time of the year – well, at any time of festivities. I was told that many people on the Caribbean make tamales at Christmas, but it wasn’t part of Roberto’s traditions and I can’t say I saw any nor was invited to eat any. I was very happy to have an afternoon in Palmares with Vilma and Keyla, rolling the corn masa in the carefully prepared leaves and ending the day with a good feed of tamales…it felt like a satisfying finale to a very strange, quiet, yet still pleasant, Christmas season.

I returned to a cold, wet and extremely windy Monteverde which gave my Canadian blood a little rush of winter chill. But now the weather has changed towards summer, the sun has been brilliant, the sky blue and the wind, well, it continues to blow but not so harshly. We have just passed through the first full moon of 2012 – what some North American natives call “The Wolf Moon” as it is common to hear packs of wolves howling through the bright snowy nights. For me it has indeed been a Wolf moon, spent distributing books with Wolf, doing a couple of impromptu speaks to visiting student groups, and trying to have patience and resolve to get the translation, Caminando con Wolf, ready for print. It has to happen soon because I’m getting stopped regularly by people on the street asking, “Cuando va a salir el libro en español?” The year is 2012 – let’s hope that is the answer!

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)

Here in Monteverde it’s the rainy season, but who said the weather is normal anywhere in the world anymore? The green mountain is no exception – after weeks of December/January type weather (tumultous wind, blowing rain, chilly), we are now in “puro verano”, that is summertime. The sun is shining and hot, the wind is casual, the moisture level at a monthly low. Thank goodness.

sunshine

This gorgeous climate has provided some beautiful final days for me. I’ve been squeezing in as many activities as possible before I go – first back to Cahuita for a couple weeks with Roberto and the pleasures of the Caribbean, then home to Canada just in time for our autumnal beauty.

caroline

 

A couple of weeks ago, a new person walked into my life, one of those cases of the right person arriving at the right time. Caroline Castillo Crimm, a Professor of History at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, came to Monteverde to work on a book that will document the comings and goings in this area – much of which has been recorded in some form or another (read Walking with Wolf) but her book will look at the details of this history, in particular who the original Tico families were, something that is only documented in the government archives in San José.

 Caroline introduced herself to Wolf and me at an event at the Monteverde Institute and charmed us immediately by saying how she had read our book and thought it was “brilliant.” I, of course, immediately thought she was too! Her smile and enthusiasm is contagious. Since then, she has been mentoring me in how to get the book out – convincing me not to put my efforts into finding a distributor or agent, middlemen who will take their percentage while putting the book on store shelves amongst the millions of others. Caroline has written three books herself and knows that the onus will still be on me to publicize the book. So if I don’t mind doing it, she recommends that I spend more time writing to universities, environmental groups, Quaker meetings, etc. and offer my services as a speaker with an interesting presentation and a great book. The catch is I need to charge an honorarium and travel expenses since, as she says, I’m now a professional writer. I’m working on that part. 

So I’ve created an internet announcement that I will send by the thousands when I return to Canada in September. I love to travel and have no problem speaking in public and am, of course, very proud of the book. I’m honored to go out and tell Wolf’s story as well as some of the fascinating history of Monteverde. Caroline has given me a new objective, renewed confidence and a direction that I’m excited about.

oxcart

In return, I’ve shared my knowledge of things here with her – over dinner we discussed the Monteverde Music Festival of the 1990s that I was a part of. Last Saturday I took her on a walking tour of Monteverde, showing her where the original families live and telling her some of the background chisma that one can only gather from years of living here and knowing a large variety of people.  We had a beautiful day for this walk, starting out near the cheese factory (where the milks cans were being delivered, some still by oxcart) and walking up towards the Reserve, the “northern” part of the community. I think of the top part of the mountain as “north” since it is inevitably colder than going down to the “southern” part, Santa Elena, where you can find sun and sweat more readily – even though the compass would tell you the absolute opposite.  Maybe it’s a Canadian thing.

plastic house

We stopped for coffee at the gorgeous new home of local biologist, Mills Tandy, another Texan, who is the owner of one of my favorite little abodes, “the plastic house”.  Built with corrugated plastic siding back in the late 1980s, it isn’t any bigger than the modern bathroom in his new home, but for one person, or a very loving couple, it is perfect.  I lived there for a few weeks many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed its remote location in the forest and its very simple layout. Small is beautiful stuff. Mills has recently cleaned it up – because of its deep woods location, it can become a moss-covered relic quickly – and is ready to rent it out again and the place never looked better.

caroline marco

Continuing on to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, we bumped into Marcos, a resident of San Luis, the farming community just below Monteverde, who is an employee of the Reserve and was out doing some road repairs. He is one of the original founders of La Finca Bella project down in the valley of San Luis. Since the 1990s, local families took matters into their own hands and, with some assistance from the Monteverde Conservation League, have worked at creating a sustainable agricultural center for the community, growing coffee and other crops and helping each other survive economically. It has been a struggle but somehow this project, along with other initiatives in San Luis (such as a satellite campus of the University of Georgia), have kept this simple healthy community alive.

san luis

It may be inevitable that tourism is going to replace agriculture eventually – the pressure to move into a tourism-based economy is too strong and the difficulties of a farm-based economy too real – but the families of San Luis continue to face the future with a communal concern and intelligence. They have the volcanic growth of the communities above them – Santa Elena, Cerro Plano and Monteverde – as a good example of what happens if you don’t plan and control the development that comes with the influx of new people and the demands of tourism.

wolf and lucas

Wolf & Lucas Ramirez, former Reserve employee at U of Georgia campus, San Luis

Many of the employees at the Reserve have come from San Luis. I remember being astounded in 1990 at the fact that most of these young men (and a woman or two) walked up from the valley. I’m not sure how many kilometers that is, but I can tell you it is a long, very steep climb. They worked all day at the Reserve and then walked back down at night.

geordy caro luis

Caroline with Yory Mendez and Luis Obando – who I remember walking up from San Luis since 1990

I decided back then that there is a genetic fortitude to the people of San Luis and my enjoyment of this, along with their humble manner and warm smiles, has made it a great pleasure to know many of the families – with names such as Leiton, Vargas, Brenes, Cruz, Ramirez, and Obando. 

hammock

 

Caroline and I visited with friends at the Reserve before continuing our tour by passing through the beautiful bullpen, which worked its magic on her as it does on all, for a quick visit with Wolf and Lucky. Lucky was in the middle of a terrible virus, so we didn’t linger. Wolf was relaxing in the hammock that he hung recently out on their wrap-around veranda overlooking the goats in the field and the Gulf of Nicoya in the distance.

 

ciee

 

We then went back down to the Friends’ school to catch the end of the CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) group’s final presentations at the end of their two month’s program here. Their professor, Karen Masters, also happens to be my “boss lady” in the Bosqueeterno S.A. work I’ve taken on, and her husband, Alan, who co-runs the course with her, is also the excitable and talented keyboardist/singer in the group Chanchos de Monte, our local British rock band that I’ve written about before (and went to dance to that night).

mary r

 

We hungrily ate lunch with them and then walked out to the Rockwell corner of Monteverde, past the controversial pig farm that supplies the cheese plant with their pork products, and to see the stunning vistas from that corner of the community. We had a quick visit with Mary Rockwell, another of the original Quakers who arrived in 1951 with her husband Eston. In a matter of minutes, Mary had us intrigued by her many stories. Caroline truly saw for herself the beauty that is Monteverde.

blogh

 

We ended our tour back at the meeting house to discuss the flower decorations for the wedding that we were all attending the next day. Caroline and I, along with Wolf’s son Alberto and his wife Angelina, offered to take care of that – very pleasant work but someone had to do it.   I am truly appreciate of the help that Caroline has given me – as I said, she arrived just as I needed a new inspiration for getting Walking with Wolf out in the world. She is someone who will only add to the beauty which is Monteverde.  It is all around us, every day. I’ll keep with this theme in the next episode of …………

 

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