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walking the road

I spend much of my time in Costa Rica. When I’m there I have very little exposure to North American news and culture. The big scandals and important world events show up in the newspapers and on cable TV, but I have to make a real effort to see them and without any context I often don’t understand what’s going on. In Costa Rica, if we walk into Cahuita from the jungle to watch an important soccer match or to get groceries, Roberto always gets a couple of newspapers to consume till the next town trip. If we stay in a hotel in San Jose with television, we devour lots of news and movies. In Monteverde it’s the radio. The world comes to me in fits and starts.

big city

When I’m in Canada, I’m constantly on the internet, listening to CBC on the radio, watching TVs that are mounted everywhere it would seem, talking about it all with friends – I’m full of what’s going on,  listening to the buzz of pop-culture and politics, and caught up in the latest media diet.

And so – how nuts  is this world? There are the horrid images of crimes and tragedies that bombard us, played over and over again until a new one replaces them. Just as disturbing are the outrageous lives that we are voyeurs of, the excess of wealth and celebrity that plays in stark contrast to the devastation of war and poverty. 

hmmmm

 

 

After awhile a person can lose their perspective and  get real confused about what is of real importance or not, and whose lives seem to be of more value or interest. Television obscures reality from both ends – for those of us consuming the edited fodder, and for those who live their lives feeding us what they think we should know.

 

water peace

When I get away from the media, I feel myself slow down and my breathing changes. My exasperation builds when I’m paying too much attention. I’m aware that the extreme stuff is still happening when I’m oblivious, but I don’t have to think about it when the images aren’t in my face. I can concentrate on choosing what I think are more valuable issues to fill my brain with.  I feel a very different sense of tranquility when I’m living in the jungle or the bush, and it’s not just because of the beauty, power and peace of my natural surroundings.

Because I’m savvy to this huge media cloud that threatens my own truth-o-meter while telling me the-way-it-supposedly-is, and my awareness is peaked when I return to my North American life after chilling in my less-hooked-up life in the tropics, I admit that I react more to what I hear, see or read. For a brief while upon my reintroduction to North American culture, I am still thinking straight before I become blurry once again. It makes me worry for children who consume massive amounts of television, much more than we were allowed in our day – and really, we only watched nice shows like Red Skelton and Ed Sullivan.

tv watching

 

 

What is considered important, normal and reasonable, that is, what is reality in the developing brains of children today?

 

 

 

Lately there have been a few conversations on television  that have blown my mind, some by celebrities who I basically respect. Is it my imagination or are the wealthy celebrities having a little backlash to the New Order for the Common Good as suggested (if not yet implemented) by Obama (and in the new documentary by Michael Moore.) In the last week I heard Oprah and Barbra Streisand sit together and talk about just being poor girls at heart – “if you are raised poor, you’ll always be a poor girl at heart”. And in the next breath, Barbra declared how Oprah needed to go to Spain and join her at a restaurant which I happen to know is considered one of the most expensive in the world. I appreciate that they may cherish memories of the simple life and insecurities might follow them from their humble beginnings, but these women are so beyond not even just rich anymore, it is staggering. I don’t understand how they can’t just shake their heads in disbelief at how ridiculously wealthy they are rather than claiming to still think in terms of food stamps. Maybe they could start a new fad – instead of adopting children from the third world, they could adopt whole countries and share their wealth that way since they have more money than many countries’ GNP. I know I know, Oprah does lotsa good I’m sure, probably Barbra too, but there is also a disconnect going on that grates me.

vintage motel

A year or two ago, I remember catching a moment of Oprah on a roadtrip with her sidekick Gayle and they had to stay in a regular motel – the family-run kind that my family certainly would be staying in (with great excitement) on the one night of the holiday when my parents let us stay in a motel instead of camping. The kind that millions use gracefully and billions more would be happy for the opportunity of visiting one day.  Oprah whined and fussed about having to be there so much that I remember feeling embarrassed for the motel owners. She almost kissed the tiled floor in the lobby of the Ramada or Hyatt  or whatever upscale hotel she was in the following night. I guess it was honest of her producers to keep these scenes in her show, but anyone I know who saw this bit came away shaking their heads.

oprah fav things

My personal biggest beef with Oprah is her love of “stuff” and her desire to share “her favourite things” with the world. I guess with all the thousands of shows she’s done and the experts she’s met, she hasn’t figured out that consumerism is one of the biggest threats to the planet. Promoting more and more stuff and sharing the satisfaction she feels in accumulation of it also grates me.

I guess she won’t be putting Walking with Wolf on her bookclub list any time soon!

whoopi

Another day, I saw Whoopi defending wealthy folks who do good work with their cash, not wanting to be lumped in with the wealthy folk who don’t. This was in reaction to Michael Moore’s  Capitalism: A Love Story. There were many things she could have said about the doc, and the issues it raised, but that was her reaction.  Of course it was only a day or two later that she defended the convicted-rapist-escapist Roman Polanski – it wasn’t really “rape-rape” (read the court transcript and decide). How would she look at the case if he wasn’t a fellow celebrity? I’ve always really liked Whoopi as both an entertainer and a smart out-spoken woman, but I’m questioning if she and I are on the same planet these days.

can you blame them

Then there’s the foofarah of David Letterman’s admitted trysts with female employees. Does anyone really think this stuff DOESN’T go on? If we hear that there was actual harassment as opposed to mutual consent or jobs lost because of refusing to partake – well, that is different. At this point, doesn’t one expect to hear these stories about celebrities (that alone your neighbours?)…and if you were going to marry one, would you truly be surprised if this happened? And in a celebrity-driven-universe, don’t you expect underlings to want to have their moment with the great ones? Perhaps personal morals aren’t what they used to be, but certainly in moments of idol worship, what else do you expect. I’m sure Cleopatra had the pick-of-her-groupies too.

flood line

My favorite response to Letterman’s situation was Craig Ferguson, the recovering alcoholic Scots-funny man who’s show follows Letterman’s, saying, “If we are now holding our late-night talk show hosts  to the same moral accountability as our politicians and clergymen, I’m out. I’m gone.” Those standards obviously aren’t always being met by the latter gang  but don’t we have more reason to be concerned about their behaviour and how it affects our daily lives?  Some things are just more important than others.

oscar and rebound

I seldom write about this stuff, but it has been in my face these last couple weeks as autumn comes on. I’ve been in my house, writing, staying warm, trying not to spend money.  I’m letting myself be distracted from my work to see what is going on out there on the glamorous side of the world (while tsunamis, earthquakes and wars continue to terrorize those in other hemispheres). My head is spinning from the absurdity of what I hear, my heart breaks for those who suffer in this lop-sided world, my body reminds me to leave all this behind, go outside and breathe before I’m grated raw.

kath & K

I really appreciate the wonderful, down-to-earth, thoughtful people I’m lucky enough to have as friends and the time I spend with them reminds me that there is still something in the middle, a “normal” class, that crosses economic lines but is based on humane notions of accountability.  I thank my friends for making it through life with kindness and humour even when we struggle (and I thank them for providing the photo-track to this blog.)

freda & mike

peace trevor

 

 

And then  Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. May he get the support he needs to live up to the challenge of making this world a better place, starting in Washington.

I can turn off the TV now… I’ll go grate some cheese instead.

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!

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

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