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over-nicoya 

Here I am writing from my familiar perch in Monteverde, Costa Rica. The winds up here on the green mountain are furious as they will be at this time of the year – whipping away the dust that had settled over last year and shaking the trees as we try to imagine what this new year will bring us. Of course in another week or so, the big promise of change in the United States – Mr. Obama and the Democrats – will be blown in, inaugurated, feasted on, and then analyzed to death – and the poor man will have to take the wheel of this crazy ship that is tossing and turning in a very churned up sea.

 

I have to admit to getting out of touch with the bigger world while here in Costa Rica. I don’t see television or listen to radio very often.  Newspapers come to me sporadically. I am happy to re-immerse myself in all things Tico so I generally don’t mind losing touch with the rest of the world. Bad news travels quickly and finds me – I can always find good news from home on the internet when I need the tranquility of old friends and a peaceful snow-covered northern winter scene. The wild winds here keep my head rattled although I know that I’ll eventually get used to them, about the time that they quit in early March or so. It has been two years since I was here in this season, the beginning of the dry period, having spent last winter getting Walking with Wolf to press in Canada, so I’m finding myself all the more affected by the dervish breezes, dancing shadows, clacking branches and fleeting clouds. The wind brings voices through the air that may be real or may just be forest music. It was only six months since I’ve been here but that was in the dead calm of the rainy season (except for the phenomena of the Pacific-influenced hurricane on the day of the book inauguration last May). Thankfully I tend to adjust to changes relatively unscathed so I’ve learned to just let these winds do what they will with me.

bus-accident 

I came up the mountain on December 31st and had my first bus accident experience. If you know this road, twisting and turning its narrow self up the rough slopes to the clouds at the top, you’d think that accidents were common. But when the French tourists in a rental car came flying around the gravelly corner and couldn’t pull over in time and the big CRUNCH came, I was actually quite shocked, not just by the impact but by the fact that after eighteen years the obvious had finally occurred. Fortunately nobody was hurt, just the car, and of course the big ol’ Monteverde bus barely registered a scratch on its aged and hardened metal skin. We sat in the middle of the road for about three hours till the insurance guy and transit policeman came, took pictures and measurements, all the while cracking jokes with the very relaxed bus chauffeur. They eventually let us clear the way so the cars that had come along and couldn’t pass could finally get on their way to their New Year’s Eve celebrations. The only highlight was a fruit truck getting caught in the traffic line, which meant we were able to buy some juicy watermelon to sustain us as we waited out the procedure in the hot sun on the side of the dusty road.  

 

beatles-strings

I got to Monteverde in time to help my friend Patricia who was preparing for the big Beatles tribute concert at her Monteverde Amphitheatre at Bromelias. I sold tickets at the door, a handy thing, giving me the chance to say hi and pass out New Year’s kisses to a lot of local friends. Over one hundred and fifty people were there, packing the place, and the music was joyful as it should be on such an evening. Robert Dean (on the far right in the pic), a Brit who now lives locally and is known for his book on Costa Rican birds, put together about twenty singers and musicians (backed by the Chanchos de Monte, his local band, as well as a string section and flutes) and they covered a wide variety of Beatles songs in an acoustic set followed by a rocking electric one. Robert’s musical reputation in Monteverde is built on the fact that he toured with Sinead O’Connor as her guitarist and his projects are always impressive. In the case of the Beatles, how can you go wrong? The audience sang along and danced – the spirit was great and it made me very happy to be back in this engaging community.

 

beatles

It all took place outside, under the canopy of the magical amphitheatre, accompanied by a smiling slip of a moon, those seasonal gusty winds and lluvisna – the light misty rain that is as normal in Monteverde at this time of the year as the howler monkey’s roar. It can spit moisture here when there doesn’t appear to be a cloud in the sky and rainbows often seem to come out of nothing more than promises. 

 

k-and-wolf

The rest of the night was all about dancing at Moon Shiva – with our pal Fish behind the tunes we couldn’t stop till the roosters were thinking about crowing. I’d say that 2009 arrived in perfect style. I happily met up with Wolf first thing on the first morning of 2009…we have plans for a renewal of marketing books, which are selling well. We are awaiting the publication of a couple of reviews, an article and an interview in some Quaker journals this month (Friends Journal and Quaker Life out of Philadelphia; Quaker Monthly out of London) Wolf is well, happy, only a little grumpy about his aches and pains, but always warm and enthusiastic. It always touches my heart, this friendship I have with this wonderful man.

 

 

Veronica and her son Stuart, folks from New Jersey who I had met briefly on my last trip here, offered for me to live with them in the house they are renting. It is the Cresson house, one I am very familiar with from my first years in Monteverde when I’d come to the Sunday evening pot lucks held by Osborn and Rebecca Cresson. They were a lovely Quaker couple who have been gone from Monteverde for many years and passed away since. Their son Ozzito, has a small casita next door which I had just moved in to back in September 1990 when I quickly decided to return to Canada – partly because a friend offered me a great contract working on northern forestry issues with local First Nations, partly because I knew something was terribly wrong with my health. Three months later I would be diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease and begin the chemotherapy and radiation treatments that took me out of the forest project and delayed my return to Monteverde, but ultimately saved my life.

 

the-marks

Stuart, Kyle & Mark (one of my editors) at the first community potluck of 2009

 

So coming back to this house is a return to an interrupted dream that I was living at the time – my first year in Monteverde, collecting Wolf’s stories, learning Spanish, falling in love with all things Latino. There are three other residents at the Cresson house now who go by the names of Chiqui, Cutie Pie, and Betsy – three little dogs rescued by Veronica at different times. Chiqui came from the US with her when she decided to move here a few months ago and put Stuart in the Friends School.  Cutie Pie really is the sweetest little thing, taken off the streets of Monteverde – and Betsy, found in a box in the middle of the road, is named for her slight resemblance to a Holstein cow, though on very short legs. I am their nanny while Veronica and Stuart head back to the US for a few weeks.

 betsy

Betsy the lucky dog

It was a serious decision for me to take on the responsibility, as I am a wanderer and generally don’t stay put in Monteverde long before I head off visiting friends in other parts of this beautiful country. But the offer was generous, Veronica and Stuart very friendly and kind, and I love dogs, so I decided quickly that having a commitment to keep me in Monteverde for a few weeks wasn’t a bad thing. It will give me a chance to visit with local friends, work with Wolf on our continuing book-selling efforts, help take care of the belongings of our friends Inge and Andy who are in a struggle with cancer over in Austria, and get started with my next writing project.

mactinsel 

In the week before my duties began, I did take advantage to go down to the city with Wolf and get the boxes of books I had shipped out of customs. With our friendly customs man, Eliecer Alfaro, all went well and painlessly (after awhile, the kaching doesn’t hurt so much). We also took more books to the two big book stores in San José that carry them – Seventh Street Books and Lehmans – and I made contact with the company that buys for the airport stores. I had been in touch back in June but then didn’t hear back and had thought that they weren’t interested.  I decided to call them to see why that might be. As it turned out, the woman hadn’t received my last email (no doubt lost to the spam gods) giving them the information they needed to place the order, and since I hadn’t followed up, they hadn’t either. I am still learning the fine art of marketing – always follow up on contacts! So we begin the process again and with any luck (and tenacity on my part) I will see Walking with Wolf in the busy gift stores of the Juan Santa Maria airport when I leave the country at the end of March.

tinsel-head

 

 

 

While in downtown San José, I took some pictures of more fine examples of Christmas tinsel art – if you will remember from my Guatemalan posts, I am always fascinated with what people do here with a little aluminum foil.

 

 

 

 

 

wolf-and-mercy

We made a plan to do a book presentation at the Quaker Peace Center in San José on March 12 (who are also hosting a conference in early March on the eradication of depleted uranium weapons – check it out at amigosparalapaz.org).  I have also just been talking with our good friend Mercedes at the Monteverde Reserve who thinks we may be able to do a presentation in February to a group of visiting Japanese tourists. Our friend Takako, who accompanied us on the hike to Arenal that makes up the last chapter of the book, is bringing this group and will be available to translate – that could be a very fun evening – hope they bring the sashimi!

 

roberto-on-sea

I then took advantage of the few days I had before my dog duties began to head to the Caribbean to see my friend Roberto before he leaves for Australia. If you have been reading this blog, you will know the story (East Coast Pleasures; The Power of the Blog). He was working when I bumped into him but decided to follow me a few miles down the coast to Manzanillo for a couple of days to escape the craziness that can be Cahuita. He is still in the middle of the extensive paperwork necessary for a visa to Australia and I’m not sure how it will all turn out. He is older now and the work it takes to travel is much more complicated than the last time he went somewhere (before September 11th happened and security issues created a tiresome worldwide bureaucracy). I gave him another copy of the book, since his was washed away in the flood that took away his home a couple months ago and he had been enjoying reading it. He is slowly rebuilding and, in true Caribbean style, not too worried about anything much.

 

manzanillo

I hadn’t been to Manzanillo in years and expected changes, but except for several new cabinas and an expanded restaurant at Maxi’s, the business at the heart of the community, Manzanillo was pretty slow and peaceful like I remembered it. Maxi’s has a roaring business in the day and evening – they make great food served generously on big platters – rice and beans with fish or chicken in coconut-rich sauces, refreshing ceviche, rich flan.

 

img_1382

At night the place was very quiet in comparison to Puerto Viejo and Cahuita, both hot night towns. Nonetheless we got in some great soca dancing – and the days were spent on that beautiful Caribbean Sea, soaking up the sun, floating in the embryonic turquoise waters, talking life with my Rasta friend.

 

foliage

On the day that I left San José, headed for the coast, I left Wolf in the city with his plan to head to the bus station to catch the Monteverde bus at 2:30 in the afternoon. I was a couple days at the beach before I heard the catastrophic news that there had been a major earthquake (6.2) just outside of San José and Alajuela at 1:20 that day. Bit by bit the news filtered to Manzanillo, the newspapers showing the tremendous landslides that took the lives of no less than thirty people. When I realized the timing and proximity, I called Wolf’s house and Lucky assured me that he was fine, but had certainly seen the buildings move around him while waiting for the bus. As of today, five days later, they say that eighty-two people are still missing and dozens are injured. The pictures show the extent of the damage, particularly a powerful series in one paper showing the exact same scene of the Catarata de la Paz (Peace Waterfalls) at Poas a few days before and a day after; a small restaurant, the Soda de la Campesinita, standing humbly but proud a week ago, now all gone except for a couple of poles that were the doorway.

 

beach-dread

It is tremendous, the force of the earth, the fragility of life, the heart-wrenching immediacy of disaster in people’s lives. In a moment, change comes. And in so many other ways, change takes forever. Or is it that bad change happens quickly and good change demands time and effort? The wind blows it all past our door, leaving us shaken in its wake, sometimes in celebration, other times left to pick up the plastic garbage impaled on the bushes, wondering where in the world all this stuff comes from, and what are we meant to do with it anyway?

 garbageday

ON TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN

 

Last night was the apex moment for Walking with Wolf. We’ve hit the summit and start down the backside now. What a night!  Actually what a couple of days before what a night! Global warming causing extreme weather brought near hurricane turmoil to Costa Rica at a time of the year when you just don’t expect this weather. We thought it was going to ruin the celebratory book launch, but in fact it was all perfect, including a last-minute change in the weather. 

 

 It is normally quite still here at this time of the year, unlike November till March when the winds can be ferocious and, minimally, are constant.  But starting Wednesday afternoon it got real blustery, adding extra kick to what was already curtains of rain. Incredible! Wolf, Lucky & I spent the morning hunched around the woodstove, wondering how many people would possibly make their way out at night in this nasty weather. I said that the only people we could count on were the forest guards and the maintenance guys from the Monteverde Reserve since this is just what they do – go out in whatever the conditions are. So coming through the storm to the presentation, to eat bocitas and drink coffee all the while staying in a dry warm building, is easy for them.  As it turned out, they were the one group who didn’t show up.

 

 The rain was coming horizontally with such force that you just can’t stay dry unless you are completely covered in rubber. The old jeep we were using to carry the books from the house down to Bromelias Music Garden was almost as wet inside as out, the water entering wherever it could. Antonio Guindon’s wife Adair was driving me and the books down at 2 p.m..  At 12:30 water was everywhere – puddles consolidating into rivers, a downpour of rain that was also a sidepour, and the humidity hovering as a heavy mist that kept things wet even when the faucet turned off for a few minutes. I was thoroughly soaked just running out to the barn. I wrapped the three boxes of books in plastic and kept hoping that the rain would subside when it was time to go.  And, miracle of miracles, it did!

 

At about 1 p.m. as we took the bagged boxes out to the vehicle and wrapped them in a dry tarp inside the jeep, the frequency of the raindrops definitely lessened.  By the time Adair and I got to Bromelias and unloaded the boxes shortly after 2, we were only working in heavy mist.  By the time people started coming around 5, even the mist was lighter. The winds stopped sometime mid-afternoon and by evening, it was just a thin fog that was blurring the night air, deadening the sounds, bringing serenity.

 

It had been such bad weather that roads were washed out, people’s houses shifted – the newspaper was filled with stories of landslides and flooding throughout western Costa Rica. So even with the change in weather, many people wouldn’t be heading out after such a harsh day. However about seventy-five did and together we enjoyed a warm and cozy night in beautiful Bromelias.       

 

My friend Mercedes at the Reserve helped me put together about 180 photos that we projected from my laptop – those from the book, other old pictures I had scanned that didn’t make the book, pictures from our hikes, many of Wolf, a few from Canada or the beach thrown in.  These ran constantly as a backdrop through the evening. Russell Danao played his beautiful vibraphone – high-end marimbas. He played at the Havana Jazz Festival this year. He kindly accepted our request to grace the evening with his music. As people came out of the fog and into the amber light of the room, they took their seats and watched the slideshow and listened to Russell’s jazz-toned and classical vibras. 

 

People brought bite-size food and sweets, we had coffee and juice prepared, and Patri had the bar open, though this wasn’t a drinking crowd. We set up a table with a buncha books, it looked great, all those little Walking with Wolfs piled there. To introduce the evening, I had asked Mark Wainwright, our friend who read an early draft of the book and gave me valuable editorial comments. He is an artist, biologist, teacher and writer himself – and in many ways has mentored me (younger pup that he is). It meant a lot to me that he would introduce the evening.  He didn’t really want to do it – doesn’t like being on stage though he is great – and had very firm plans to go off onto the trails looking for the elusive golden toad or any other amphibian he could find.  Since the rains started, it is prime frogging season and Mark is a frogger who has already found two missing species thought to be extinct. So he wasn’t going to be able to be at the presentation. Then due to the extreme weather, he didn’t go into the forest. Mark did a wonderful, funny and super kind introduction to the book, Wolf and myself.  Then Gary Diller, one of the story tellers in Walking with Wolf, read a poem about Wolf that he had been inspired to write yesterday in all that rain. It was a nice addition to the evening.

 

Wolf got up and very emotionally talked about the beginning of the concern in the community for the forest.  He reiterated the thought that “all those who wander are not lost,” his mantra. I was amazed how well he got through talking, as I knew he was fighting those ever-ready Guindon tears. He then passed the microphone to me and I said my little piece – that we hoped to have a Spanish translation in the works, and I apologized for any discrepancies with how community people remember the events we discuss, and I thanked people who were there for their contributions – then I read some pages from the book. It all felt real good, the people were wonderful, and the whole night just rolled out smooth as pie dough.

 

We sold about sixty books and I knew there were many people missing who have said that they would buying in quantity. Mary Stuckey Newswanger bought ten books and then handed me a copy of a book that she has been working on with her brother – she and I have spent a lot of time at the side of the road talking about our books over the past couple of years. At the end of the evening, people were able to walk out into the misty night air without getting soaked.  Patri and I went to Moon Shiva, our pal Nir’s place, for dinner.  Great new chef there, loved loved loved the food – Nir has always run a beautiful restaurant – has for about five years now – but when the chefs change so does the food.  Three guitar players were playing – Irish ex-pat Robert Dean who toured with Sinead O’Connor before moving to Monteverde, and Andres and Bernardo, hot local talent – it was great music and a bit of dancing. Off to Fish’s new bar for some more dancing. Through the night it would hit me every once in awhile – this was the climax of eighteen years of a certain thought, a vague plan, a lasting commitment, our book.

 

 

To finish this hugely long story, the reason the forest guards weren’t at the presentation, considering how much they would have wanted to be there to support their mentor Wolf, was that they were doing what they had to do – that is, go out to help a group of people who were down in Penas Blancas and needed to be assisted to come out of the forest. The vague details are that the guards and maintenance crew had to head out early in the morning in the worst of that bad weather, through the torrential rain and dropping branches, around the mudslides and over the raging streams. They escorted the group across the streams with cables, cleared away tree falls, and carried their packs through the pouring rain and thick mud. They didn’t get out of the forest until after 7 p.m. so they missed the celebration.

 

A few years ago, Wolf wouldn’t have made it to his own book launch – he would have been with the other men doing their job – making jokes, ignoring the brutal weather, helping troubled hikers to get back to civilization, no doubt filling them with hot coffee before they got started. The forest guards are the jungle version of fire fighters – heading into what most people walk away from. I was so sorry they weren’t there, but find the reason quite poetic.     

July 2020
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