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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!

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After more than two years of writing this blog on a relatively steady basis, I have let my devotion slide over the last few months while I was at my home in Ontario. Not completely – those of you reading know that there’s been a new post here and there, mostly spurred by political and social issues that got my goat. Now I’m back in Costa Rica, with a renewed vigor for writing, with more time to devote to it, and, of course, new Wolf and jungle stories to share. I’m aware that some of my friends keep track of me through this blog (yet don’t think that I might want to hear from them as well??? Hello!) and friends of Monteverde and readers of Walking with Wolf visit my ramblings to get updates about our friend Wolf and life on the green mountain.

So I return with a new commitment to the written word. This is a great venue for me to exercise my keyboard brain especially as I work at developing a new book theme; to express my fascination and frustration with this crazy world around us (otherwise poor Roberto has to listen to it all); to publicize artists, businesses, and organizations who I think deserve to be recognized; and to spread local news throughout the cyber world by means of this new fan-dangled digital drum.

And for those who accidentally ended up here by googling some obscure subject like pacemaker or pejiballes, check it out. Sorry for the rambling, but I do actually try to add a bit of valuable information. It might be of use to those who plan on visiting Costa Rica, or to people who like to hear about new music. Or maybe it will appeal to those of you who, like me, are moved to tears by injustices in the world, or to laughter by the absurdity of it all, and need to gather together to share the good and the bad.

So first, a Wolf update. If you read my last post, you will know that Wolf turned 80 on August 17. Unfortunately he spent that time in the Clinica Católica, a private hospital in San José, recovering from an operation where he received a pacemaker. The absolutely good news in this is that he has improved each day since. He still received a lot of birthday wishes, including pretty nurses singing the happy song for him, so the day wasn’t completely a loss. Actually, as both he and Lucky say, he received the best gift of all – a new chance at life, with better health and hopefully many more years of celebrating his birthday.

Over the last couple of years, Wolf has been struggling with various health issues. Here in Costa Rica there is social medicine (la Caja) but unfortunately, Wolf hasn’t always been served well by it. Living in a remote place like Monteverde, even with a local clinic in nearby Santa Elena, means that each specialized issue – from his diabetes to his prostate to his need for a knee replacement to the manic depression that still requires lithium – has been treated by a different doctor in a different place, from Santa Elena to San José to Puntarenas. For the most part, these doctors don’t consult with each other. As Wolf ages, he’s less inclined to keep track of his simmering stew of drugs and the growing calendar of appointments. Fortunately he now has his son Berto and daughter-in-law Angelina, a former nurse, living close by and they have been able to help Lucky, Melody and the rest of the clan to take care of his complicated medical requirements and to drive him up and down the mountain for scheduled appointments and in moments of emergency.

In the Canadian version of social medicine, we have family doctors or general practitioners (except in areas where cutbacks have made this impossible) who are responsible for sending us out to specialists and in turn receive reports back from them. It is still in each person’s best interest to stay on top of their own medical care, or have family members who can oversee things for them, but, as in my own case, if you have a quality family doctor, they’ll look at all the reports that come in with you and coordinate your overall health care. Having gone through the process of surviving cancer, with chemo and radiation treatments, I can only sing the praises of social medicine, imperfect as it may sometimes be.

The Guindon family went to a geriatric doctor a few months ago at a different private clinic with the idea of finding a doctor who would oversee Wolf’s various health issues. They paid dearly for a number of tests (as Lucky told me, she has a renewed appreciation for the costs that social medicine consume) but didn’t receive satisfactory analysis of those tests from that specialist so they didn’t return to him. When Wolf had a near-death emergency the week before his birthday, they brought him to the Clinica Católica and have been very happy with the care provided by doctors and nursing staff alike.

The cardiologist that has attended him made it clear that the tests he ran indicated immediately that Wolf needed a pacemaker and that any doctors before him should have seen this. It makes you wonder what is going on – why la Caja doctors didn’t catch this (because he’s old and they didn’t want to use public funds to help him?) or why the doctor at the other private clinic didn’t recommend this? Considering the dizziness and swings in blood pressure that Wolf has been having over the last year, it is easy to believe that giving him a pacemaker is an obvious call. And he seems to be getting stronger and clearer each day, indicating that it is hopefully the right call. So why wasn’t it done earlier?

Along with the new beat to his heart, Wolf has also had his insulin adjusted. He was taking a kind of insulin that wasn’t working for him and is now taken human insulin, along with a pill. It requires his blood to be tested regularly throughout the day and the medication to be adjusted accordingly. It was also found that he was being toxified by too much lithium in his system to the point that they were concerned that he would need kidney dialysis. He hasn’t had an adjustment in the dosage in years for his manic depression. I’m sure his aging body has changed but the doctor responsible didn’t change the amount of lithium. Wolf now must have his lithium level tested every three months.

The Guindons have chosen to keep Wolf’s health care consistent by seeing specialists – cardiologist, urologist, psychiatrist, ophthalmologist (for his cataracts) – at the Clinica Católica. It means they must pay for most of the care, but it will hopefully also mean that Wolf will live a longer and better life.

Wolf devoted much of his life to the well-being of the flora and fauna that residents and visitors to Monteverde continue to enjoy. He did so at a cost to his family and without a great degree of monetary compensation. The Friends Meeting in Monteverde lent money to the family to help with the immediate costs of Wolf’s health care. We now ask any of you who feel moved to donate towards Wolf’s expenses to please do so. The information on how to send money is in my last post (Happy 80th Birthday Wolf).

I arrived in Costa Rica in time to visit with Wolf, Lucky, and their sons Berto and Carlos, in the hospital a couple of times and then we all headed up to Monteverde. Community birthday celebrations were put on hold, but Roberto and I joined in with the family on Sunday evening. A big birthday cake was shared by Wolf, his son Berto (born on the same day 59 years ago), his son Tomás (who was visiting from California with his wife Gretchen and their children Julian and Olivia), and me! I turned 52 on the 26th. It was a wonderful evening spent with this large warm family celebrating our lives and especially Wolf’s recovery. And I have to report that Wolf ate two large plates of food followed by a bowl of cake and ice cream, so, as my Gramma would’ve said, he ain’t dead yet.

His birthday was also celebrated with much of the staff of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve one sunny day when he made his triumphant return to visit his former co-workers. Fortunately the maintenance crew and forest guards were around, as were the office and reception staff, and so we shared a cake and sang the song and each face reflected the joy we felt in being together with our dear friend Wolf.

A special birthday present for both of us came in the form of a meeting I had with Javier Espeleta, the new director of the Tropical Science Center. There is a renewed thrust being put into the publication of the Spanish version of our book, Caminando con Wolf, which Wolf’s son Carlos has already translated. I appreciated Don Javier’s enthusiasm and the fact that they have met with the University of Costa Rica Press and are close to signing a contract with that esteemed press to continue with the publication. I think Wolf’s brush with fate has pushed the powers to get this done while we can all enjoy it. For that, I am most grateful.

After that eventful week in Monteverde, Roberto and I returned to Cahuita. After days of rain in Monteverde (as well as a cacophony of bellbirds, quetzals, toucans, and the spectacular visit of a small flock of rarely seen oilbirds), we passed along roads being cleared of mudslides caused by all this wet weather. Roberto promised me that it would be hot and sunny in Cahuita. The first night we brought the rain with us, but now, as promised, the sun is shining, the air is warm, and the sky pure blue. We heard that the Pan-American Highway, the route from Monteverde to San José, was closed by a major landslide the day after we passed along it.

We have a new member to our little family here in the jungle – a serious male kitten that followed Roberto home one day several weeks ago. He’s named Miel, as he looks a lot like the cat we cared for last year in Monteverde by the same name. The two boys are getting used to having a woman around – Roberto already understands the pros and cons, but Miel is finding that though Roberto will feed him more, I’m more likely to spoil him by letting him take his place on my lap or beside me on the daybed. The immediate struggle is the idea of having a hunter in our midst. The truth is that the cat is welcome to keep the bush rats at bay (and Roberto has already seen him kill a good-sized snake), but I don’t want him to kill the colorful lizards, tiny dart frogs, or songbirds. You can already see the troubled writing that will appear on this wall.

Today we go to town to find the surveyor who will map the land across the stream from Roberto’s. Soon I will have my own little piece of paradise and there I will make the humblest abode I can and settle down to write a book (or so says my inner fortune-teller). The day after I arrived, as soon as the rain quit, we went onto the land and harvested a big bunch of pejiballes, one of my all time favorite Costa Rican foods. Known locally as peach palms, they are hooked off their thorny palm tree from the ground with a very long bamboo stick by a nubile rasta. Boiled and served up with mayonnaise, these tasty nutritious nuggets welcomed me back to my tropical home. As did the local howler monkeys, who have been serenading us with exaggerated mumbo jumbo each night since my return. 

Now I sit in the shade of the rancho, writing on my laptop and playing with the curious kitten, while Roberto renovates the cooking area with scavenged lumber from down the stream, as he says “building a Taj Majal for my Mumtaz”.   Jungle joy and Jah love abounds.

It is a warm evening here in Philadelphia. Today the sun was shining brightly enough to raise the temperature up close to 80 degrees (or 25 Celsius) – I returned to wearing the shorts I had been living in down in Costa Rica. I find myself in the heartland of the Quakers, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, and it isn’t just the air that is warm here. I’ve met a lot of friendly Friends over the last three days, kind-hearted souls with questioning minds.

 

morning-new-hampshire

When I left Maine on Tuesday, I stopped for the night at Carlos and Lidieth Guindon’s in New Hampshire. Carlos is getting near the end of translating Walking with Wolf.  It is very exciting. When he is done, his hard work will be passed on to an editor and we will be another big step closer to seeing Caminando con Wolf become a reality. The poor man is not exactly translating English to Spanish – he is translating Canadian and Alabamian to Costa Rican. Carlos is not a professional translator, just a very smart man with a big heart who wants to see his father’s story made available to those Costa Ricans who don’t read English. It was a very enjoyable evening, discussing details of the book and catching up on our lives. It was particularly great to see Lidieth, who I knew back in the nineties when they were still living in Monteverde but who I haven’t seen in at least a decade. No matter where I go, when I run into Monteverde folk there is a strong connection, a common thread that binds us – our mutual love of that community and culture and remarkable natural landscape. And when they are Guindons, it is that much sweeter.

 

cemetery-nyc

 

I left early in the morning from New Hampshire to get to Philadelphia for an evening talk. It was a very easy drive, right through New York City, on I-95, across the George Washington Bridge. The only bad traffic I ran into in eight hours of driving was the bottleneck that occurs on the east side of that bridge – there seems to be eight lanes of traffic on four different ramps all merging – it took me an hour to get onto and over the bridge, much of which I spent sitting beside this cemetary –  not a particularly peaceful resting spot I’d say.

 

gw-bridge

It gave me a chance to look around and snap pictures – I was sorry that I was moving too fast while on the bridge that I couldn’t take a good shot of the Empire State Building that I could see in the distance along with the rest of the famous skyline. Now that I have passed through the Big Apple, I am not at all intimidated for when I return there this weekend – maybe I’ll manage to get some good skyline pics this time.

 

garden-westtown

I arrived mid-afternoon at my first Philadelphia stop, Westtown School.  A Quaker school started in the late 1700s, this beautiful campus sits out on the west side of the Philadelphia area, incorporating some of the last farmland as part of its grounds – much in the area has been eaten up by development, apparently in just the last ten years – McMansionland, as someone called it appropriately.

 

whitney-quincy-and-nora

Whitney, Quincy & Nora

 

My contact there was Whitney Suttel, a teacher who taught a few years ago at the Monteverde Friends School. She arranged a beautiful room for me to do my slide show and present the book – and a room in the Farmhouse, the overnight accommodation for Westtown.  I was amazed at the size of the buildings of Westtown and the chimneys!

 

main-building-westtown

I’m not sure how many topped the high roof of the main building but they are so proud of their chimneys that they are spoken about in the school’s literature. Westtown is just one of many Quaker schools in this area – I’ve heard of so many Friends’ elementary, middle, high schools and colleges, I’ve lost count. There is no doubt that Philly must be the epicenter of earthQuakerism in the United States. 

 

the-south-room

The talk was attended by a few students but being their free time, they were more tempted to be elsewhere. But each time I talk, there is always lots of enthusiasm by those who know Wolf and Monteverde and the others pick up on it. This was no exception – Whitney told her own stories of her experiences of walking with Wolf and there was also a student, Laura, who had lived with the Guindons when she did an exchange with Wolf’s granddaughter Noelia last year. And the biology teacher who has taken a number of groups to Monteverde and stayed down at Eladio’s in the Peñas Blancas valley – everyone has their own tales of their times spent with Wolf. There could easily be a second and third volume added to our original book, Walking with Wolf.

 

greene-st-school

Early the next morning, I had to make my way into the Center City to Greene St. Friends School.  The Spanish teacher, Sandra Rodriguez, had asked me to come and speak to the grade 7s and 8s – she goes to Costa Rica each year with the grade 7s – so all of these students had been in Monteverde.  I started out from the bucolic countryside of Westtown, leaving in plenty of time and should have been able to arrive easily half an hour before I was to talk. However I ended up getting horribly lost, driving in the morning rush hour traffic, following cars up and down the wooded hill and valley roads, past the mansions and numerous academic institutions housed in big old stone buildings surrounded by big old hardwood trees.  It would have all been lovely except for the fact that I was starting to think I would miss the whole class time and would be doing all this driving for nothing and leave Sandra very disappointed wondering where I was.

 

I finally drove past a corner store where I could ask directions and when I found out that I basically had to return to the point where I think I had gone wrong in the first place – by a different way, but still, miles backward it seemed – I was sure that I would never make the school in time. The traffic was thick everywhere and I was still not really sure how far I was and time was passing quickly. But just as I was truly feeling forlorn, I somehow miraculously came across one of the roads that I recognized as being where I was to turn to get to the school – and pulled into the parking lot with about 15 minutes to spare, enough time to set up the projector, get the power point in position, and wipe the sweat from my brow. 

 

As it would happen, that was one of the nicest audiences I’ve talked to – maybe forty kids from diverse backgrounds, all who understood Quakerism, all who have been to Monteverde, many of whom have aspirations to write themselves.  So when I finished my talk, there were lots of great questions and enthusiasm on the part of these young students. I always tell kids (well, anyone) that if I can write a book, anyone who can construct a good sentence and has a good story to tell surely can write their own book. It was a message that a lot of these kids seemed to want to hear.

 

philly

When that was over I bravely faced downtown Philadelphia and headed to the University of Pennsylvania to drop off a book at the office of Dan Janzen, the famous biologist/conservationist who wrote the Natural History of Costa Rica.  He has agreed to write a blurb for the back of the Spanish edition and I thought that dropping the book off at his office would be cheaper and easier than mailing one – ha! After driving up and down the busy streets then walking through the maze of university buildings for close to an hour trying to find his office, I once again questioned my reasoning.

 

pendlehill

I took the slow road out of the center of the city toward Pendle Hill, the Quaker spiritual and educational retreat. I have heard of this place from people in Monteverde but really didn’t know what to expect. It is a beautiful collection of old stone buildings on grounds full of native trees, with the magnolia flowers just fading, the redbuds shining brightly, the daffodils nodding happily and the leaves starting to appear throughout the canopy.

 

trotter-hall-swarthmore

I spoke last night at Swarthmore College – originally a Quaker college made up of more large stone buildings on beautiful grounds very close to Pendle Hill.  Mark Wallace, another former visitor to Monteverde, had invited me. Unfortunately the crowd was super small – Mark and a student and Sybil, a woman I know from Monteverde but haven’t seen in a few years. She was thrilled to come out and get a copy of the book and we all engaged in a great discussion about our experiences in Monteverde. It turned out that Mark and his children had been on the same hike that Whitney from Westtown had been on with Wolf, doing his crazy Tapir Trail in 2004, the year that he wasn’t able to complete the trail. I made the connection when Mark started talking about how his daughter had seen a fer-de-lance while on that hike – and remembered that Whitney had told the same tale, of a young girl seeing a fer-de-lance. It is a small world – they don’t know each other but had actually spent a few days in the wild and wooly cloud forest of Monteverde together and now work only miles apart from each other here in Philadelphia.

 

dawn-redwoods

Here at Pendle Hill, Lloyd Guindon, Wolf’s nephew, is the groundskeeper and today, under that sparkling sun, he took me on a tour – telling me the history of some of the trees – such as the Dawn Redwood, a native tree that completely disappeared in this area until some were found in China and brought back – they are meta-sequoias, similar to the California Redwoods but not the same, and were just leafing out like the Larch or Tamarack trees (as we call them in Canada) would be doing. 

 

 

champion-beech-tree

There is also the State Champion American Beech tree on this campus – I always remember the beech trees at our cottage and how the smooth yet wrinkled grey trunks looked like elephant legs – this big ol’ tree was no exception. It is humungous – one has to wonder how much longer it can spread its big branches out but perhaps being recognized as the biggest in the state will keep it going for awhile longer. As do most of the staff here, Lloyd and his wife Robin and their children live in an old stone house on the campus. He is obviously and justifiably very proud of his work, taking care of this partially forested, partially meadowed land with a big organic vegetable garden and numerous flower beds, mostly filled with native plants and perennials.

 

the-forest-pendle-hill

At each meal I talk with some of the people studying and working here. There are several writers about and I find myself being the “published author” and sharing my own experiences – when did this happen? I often wonder to myself. When did I become someone who knows something about writing and publishing a book? I amaze myself – enough to think I can write another one.

 

the-main-house-pendlehill

Tonight I dined with Lauri Perlman, the director here at Pendle Hill.  She explained some of the history of the place to me – how a small group of Quakers decided that they wanted to start this spiritual retreat as an alternative to Swarthmore College – and made the decision to go ahead back in 1929, four days after the big stock market crash that brought on the Depression.  As she said, what a courageous move they made, and obviously a smart one as Pendle Hill is thriving eighty years later.  She said that she uses that as an example when people are so concerned about going forward in these times of great economic worry – if that group of visionaries could stick with their plan to expand the small meeting at the time into something of this relevance and make it work during the Depression, then maybe we shouldn’t be so worried about taking risks in these troubling times either. If you have a smart plan and work at it diligently, you just might find success despite the fears that rain down from the doomsayers that abound, in our neighbourhoods and in our media.

 

ambassador

Tomorrow I will be reading from the book and hopefully having an interesting discussion with folks over the lunch hour.  I’ll then be set up to sell and sign books for a couple of hours in the bookstore.  It is supposed to be getting close to 90 degrees – I’ll no doubt be wishing I was swimming in the ocean. As soon as the work is done, I’ll be getting back in my car and driving a couple hours north, back to New York City, to go hear my friend Memo play with a Cuban band in the city and do a book presentation on Sunday afternoon. I am very thankful to Lloyd, Mark, Sandra and Whitney, the folks who brought me here to beautiful Philadelphia. I leave with very warm memories of the Friends, their stone houses and the rich green life that flourishes around them.

 

 

 

 

It is snowing outside. The rooftops are cold enough that the snow is turning them white. Lucinda Williams is on the stereo and singing about snow covering her streetlamps too but she’s talking about Minneapolis in December. This is Canada in April, the spring bulbs are out of the ground and shivering, and you just gotta love it. I should have known that the weather I came home to last week was too good to be permanently true.

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One of my favourite Canadian pastimes – helping someone else stack their firewood…

I’m a few days away from heading to Maine. I hope the weather smartens up so that the highways and turnpikes and interstates are dry and quasi-sane. At the same time I’m preparing for this trip, I am also contacting people on the west coast for the book tour out there in July. If you are reading this and living between British Columbia and California and have a good idea of a Quaker meeting, naturalist group or bookstore who would be interested in hosting a Walking with Wolf evening, please send me a comment to this blog. I’m also making a few corrections to Walking with Wolf, preparing it for a second printing of the English edition to be done in the next weeks. And I’m helping with the details of the production of the Spanish translation in Costa Rica. I’m also making my plans to return there in May. I think I’ll be home about one week a month all summer. It’s a busy time.

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With Lauren Schmuck and her mother Patricia Reynolds and Grandma Reynolds

I did a presentation of the book to the McMaster University Biodiversity Guild – a nice group of people, mostly with biology backgrounds. There was a good little crowd and it was a nice evening. One of their members, Lauren Schmuck, put it together – she has a burning desire to go work or volunteer in Costa Rica and I expect I’ll see her down there one day. I told her that any volunteer work I have ever done has paid off in spades – and it is true, many of my lasting friendships and most valuable contacts have come from being a voluntary grunt worker with a smile on my face (that last part is important.) 

I’ve managed to hear some great music in the week I’ve been home – por supuesto. I went out and danced away a night when some of the top musicians in town (Jesse O’Brien, Brian Griffith, Joel Guenther et al) got together for a great gig of blues, funk and reggae tinged music to make ya dance. Love those guys.

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My four dates for the night – Randy, Pete, Kevin & Jeff (taking photo)

The other night I went and saw Lori Yates, backed beautifully by Brian Griffith and Lisa Wynn, break our hearts with her tunes and that honey voice – she writes some hurtin’ songs, but she is very funny and irreverent and outrageous and she makes us cry as much with laughter as pain. Then Tom Wilson did a great show, fitting this hometown concert in amidst a very busy tour from coast to coast in Canada and the US – it was a Hamilton proud night. Followed by Jesse, Brian and Mark LaForme keeping it moving at the Westtown. I need those nights of music – my soft little soul is feeling all aflutter and music always soothes me.

I also saw the great Charly Chiarelli – a Hammer-boy with Sicilian roots who also happens to live down near my friends, Kingston way. I’ve heard him play his harmonica and tell great stories over many years. He has written a trilogy of plays about growing up Italian here in Hamilton and Sunday afternoon was the last performance (at the good ol’ Pearl Company) of the third play, Sunamabeach. He is a very talented, funny, charismatic actor/musician/story teller – and the local crowd of Italian offspring were loving it. So were we who have not a drop of olive oil in our blood. Charly got in trouble with the Sons of Italy (no doubt the daughters too but that would be a different story) in the United States over his last play, Cu Fu. They felt he was negatively stereotyping Italians when really he was just telling stories from his life with great passion and amusement.

I also saw, at the same ol’ Pearl, a rehearsal for their next play, Tobacco Troubadour, written by the art director of Artword Theatre, Ron Weihs. It is about local musician, songwriter and music producer, J. Paul Reimens. When Ron heard Paul’s songs, he decided he needed to write a play around the stories that Paul tells in them. I had gone out on Thursday to see Paul playing at a local pub (with Brian Griffith – how lucky was that, hearing the best guitarist in town play four times in a week) and we got to talking about this play, written about his life growing up in the tobacco country of southern Ontario and just wanting to play the guitar. Since I won’t be around for the performances, I went and sat in at the rehearsal and am truly sorry I won’t be here for the real thing. It is going to be a very poignant and entertaining play with Paul’s sweet songs throughout.

troubadour

This all takes place at the poor ol’ Pearl Company, where my book launch was back in September. Gary Santucci and Barbara Milne have poured their energy, soul, money, and heart into creating this very alive art center in an old three story brick factory building that once was home to a costume jewelry business.  They also run the popular Art Bus that takes people around to arts events throughout the city twice a month. They both received Arts Hamilton Awards last autumn and Barbara just received a Woman of Distinction award recently.

Against this very successful backdrop, sits the big purple elephant of stubborn and stupid bureaucracy that is attempting to close them down due to zoning. For many years this old neighbourhood was zoned commercial, sitting about four blocks outside of the downtown core. It then went residential, but the commercial use of the building (along with paying commercial taxes) continued for decades. Now the city is issuing a new zoning plan and one of the biggest problems is parking spaces as well as a very expensive re-zoning application process. Considering that the Smart Plans and Green Plans or whatever plans that cities issue these days do a lot of talking about minimizing the use of automobiles and promoting public transit, the requirement of parking spaces to allow an arts center to exist is mind-blogging – and the spots do exist, just not in a neat parking lot adjacent to the building. The Pearl folks may have to take their struggle to keep this center going to the national press if the city doesn’t step up here soon and support what is such a happening community place. The Pearl Company drives a big part of the cultural scene of Hamilton. Anybody who wants to read more and support their cause can go to their website at www.thepearlcompany.ca

In late great breaking news, the local newspaper, the Hamilton Spectator, has finally put a small article in about the book. Jeff Mahoney, a real nice journalist who writes an always interesting column about local people and cultural things, interviewed me last November. He also read the book and told me he loved it. I had asked that they don’t print anything while I was away in Costa Rica – so today there was a small piece and picture about my presentation to the Biodiversity Guild and singing the praises of the Canadian embassy’s financial support. Jeff told me that he’ll try to get his review of the book in the paper in May. I’m very appreciative that the local, under-staffed and over-worked newspaper finally found a couple of inches of space for Walking with Wolf.

hamilton

I feel like I’ve mostly been sitting in front of my computer, contacting people, working on book stuff, feeling lovesick, but when I read what I’ve just written here, I realize that I’ve been enjoying myself too, taking advantage of being in this very dynamic, culturally-rich city lovingly called the Hammer, formerly known as Hamilton the Steel City. I continue to sing its praises wherever I go, invite my friends here who inevitably fall in love with it, and try to get out and support as many arts events while I’m here as possible.

In a moment of extreme stupidity, I managed to erase all my photographs off of my laptop – all the more stupid because, yes, I do have an external hard drive in which to download everything but, no, I didn’t do it since I got home. I then decided to make room on my laptop by taking out the photographs from one program – and they disappeared off all programs and I emptied my recycle bin and well, it wasn’t pretty. I paid a man to recover them and have them all on DVD in messed up files but at least I have them for when I need to access the photographs for my power point presentations or my blog!

That was definitely a low point.robertos

 

The rest have been high, except for the cabanga, which will go away as soon as I go back to Cahuita in May.

Perhaps the title is a little melodramatic, yes, but life is truly a whirlwind for me right now and I feel like I need to come up for breath every once in awhile. I’m back home here in Hamilton Ontario.  Thankfully the snow is long gone, the tulips and other spring bulbs are out of the ground, the weather is bouncing around between sunny, cloudy, windy, cool, and springtime warm, sort of like Monteverde was much of these last few months.

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I have exactly two weeks today before I get in a car and travel to Maine – to speak to the Maine Audubon Society and to a class at Bowdoin College; to Philadelphia – to speak at Swarthmore College and Pendle Hill and maybe a public school or two; and to New York City! Me – Noo Yawk Noo Yawk ! On Sunday, April 26 I’ll be doing my book presentation at Marian Howard’s home in the Bronx. Marian is a long standing member of the Monteverde community and has been kind enough to offer me her home. We hope to see lots of faces that we recognize from over the years in Monteverde.

So I’m very excited about all that.  I’ll also see my friend Manuel Monestel, a Costa Rican musician and very smart man, who is teaching at Cornell in Ithaca New York.  I’ll spend time with my friends Cocky and Peter in Freeport Maine and my other friends in that area.  I’ll have a visit with Carlos Guindon who is working on the Spanish translation of Walking with Wolf.  It will be an action-packed two weeks on the road, I’ll hopefully sell lotsa books and spread Wolf’s and Monteverde’s positive stories even further.

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And it is a good thing that this is going on, as I return to Canada body and mind, but my heart remains on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica with Roberto. This long-distance stuff is both poignant and frustrating. Fortunately I have reason to return to Costa Rica in May and so it won’t be such a very long separation.  In the meantime, I just have to keep my nose to the front and head that way. 

I am preparing here for a presentation to the McMaster University Biodiversity Guild, a radio spot with my friend Gord Pullar on CFMU, the university radio station, and to correct the few errors found in the first edition of Walking with Wolf. We will be going to print again here real soon. I’ll be back in Monteverde to help receive those books when they come in. I learned last time that the printer can ship at half the cost I can, so will be sending as many as we can store down to Costa Rica directly from the printer this time.

I am so low in books that I have to get my sister in Washington State, where a friend had dropped off some boxes of books for a western coast tour in July, to ship some boxes back to Maine so I have enough for this coming up tour. Less than one year later, we have almost sold out 2000 copies of Walking with Wolf.

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Turid and Margaret

 

Last Sunday afternoon, before leaving Monteverde, a wonderful afternoon was spent in Margaret Adelman’s house. This is the kind of thing that Monteverde excels at – homemade quality music played in a beautiful setting to a friendly group of people.

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As the sun shone in on us through the open doors (thank goodness the summer weather has finally come to Monteverde), the string quartet of Jonathan Ogle, Heather Gosse, Alan Masters, and Paul Smith, along with piano accompaniment by Turid Forsyth, soothed our souls.

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Except for Paul, they have been playing together over the last year and had a very nice musical program (I particularly liked the English Bach’s Quartette).  Paul is known for his many talents as a painter and musician but widely for the string instruments he makes. So the cello, and violins and viola were all made by him (well, Alan apparently worked on his with Paul). 

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That evening Roberto and I went up to spend Sunday dinner with the Guindon family – which now includes Alberto’s step-daughter Melody and her son Jayden who recently arrived from California, Annika and Heather and their sons and a friend – who will be leaving Monteverde soon when Annika’s two-year position as director of the Friends School is up in June, and a baby sloth. 

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Benito, baby & Melody, Wolf’s son and daughter

 

I really have seen more sloths this year (see recent posts about the Sloth Center in Cahuita) – and this particular one, maybe six months old, that Benito is caring for after a tyra killed the mother, was as soft and furry and slow-moving and gentle as the others.  Watching it wrapped around Benito, taking feed from a baby’s bottle in Lucky’s lap, and stretching slowly to meet the hand of any inquisitive child, once again brought me a great sense of peace. I don’t know how long Benito will keep it and what it’s future will hold, but I know it was lucky to end up with the kind Guindon family.  As was I.

I managed to get the contract with the Canadian Embassy signed along with Pax Ameghetti, a highly recommended computer artist in Monteverde who will use the money from the Embassy to do all the changes to the computer files, maps, cover and index, into Spanish. I am very appreciative to the Embassy, particularly Jose Luis Rodriguez and Stuart Hughes who helped me so much. I’m only sorry I’m not in Monteverde for when Pax gets the check and the fiesta is held.

chair

I’m also in talks with an organization in Monteverde for a part time job as an information director. Between the translation, this position, receiving the books being shipped down, and Roberto, there is alot of reason to return to Costa Rica in May.  I hope to find Mr. Guindon, sitting in his new rocking chair given to him by the Tropical Science Center, telling stories, drinking coffee, and happy to see me back in town.

manant

Well, what a difference a couple of weeks and several hundred feet in elevation can make! I am now at the beach, specifically Manuel Antonio, on the central Pacific coast. My Canadian friends Jeff, Randy and Kevin arrived in the country last week and I am their official guide, though my duties so far have consisted only of applying sunscreen to their backs – they have been taking care of me much more than I them.

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I managed to have three great dates for Valentine’s Day which just passed – if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the ones you’re with. We are heading up the mountain to Monteverde later today and have a date with Wolf to go walking tomorrow. I’m sure my credibility as a tour guide will be put to the test here sometime real soon.

 

The last two weeks were super full ones. The weather situation took several days to change from what I was describing at the end of the last post I wrote. I was cold, wet and windblown for several days before leaving Monteverde. When the weather there is bad, it can be horrendous. Although it wasn’t really raining (here rain has as many words to describe it as snow in the far north) when heavy mist is blowing at you from all directions at once, diagonally, vertically, horizontally, then you are going to get very wet and it doesn’t much matter what you call it. Anywhere else I have lived, wind like this means it’s blowing something in or out, whereas here, it just blows till the season wears itself out. The winds remained so powerful that I often had to take very serious samurai-warrior positions to hold myself upright while trying to walk along the road. Trees and their branches were down, as were the overhead wires in many places. I kept asking people how you know when a wire is alive and dangerous but all anyone could really suggest was just making a point of walking around them. Point taken.

 

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On one of those very blustery and chilly nights, Wolf, Mercedes and I headed to the Hotel Montaña and had a wonderful dinner with the nice folks from Okayama, Japan. As I explained last post, this is the sister city of San José and the mayor, other officials and a group of interested citizens had come to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the relationship between their home towns. Our friend Takako was one of the organizers and guides (as was another friend, local guide Iko) and was responsible for getting us the invite to talk to the group about Monteverde’s history and eco-tourism in the area. 

 

with-mayor-and-council

Nobody in the group besides the guides spoke much more than a few words of English nor was there any Spanish, so we spent an evening with much translating. Mostly we smiled, laughed, nodded our heads, and employed international sign language, and thus we managed to have a very warm encounter with the group. To a backdrop of photographic images that I put together, we welcomed them, explained a little history, and introduced Walking with Wolf to them. They presented us with some beautiful gifts from their city and shared their curiosity and friendliness as much as our language constraints would allow.

 

candlelight-discussion

Just as the actual dinner part ended, all that wind outside managed to take the power out and the restaurant fell dark except for the candles already glowing on the tables. Although losing power can so often be a royal pain if you are engaged in something that definitely requires it, the truth is that some of the most magical moments I’ve experienced in Monteverde – and elsewhere – came when the plug was pulled and the night went natural and acoustic. My first year on the mountain, in 1990, I sat through a very moving and interestng presentation and discussion featuring Elizabeth Sartoris who wrote a book called Gaia and happened to be in Monteverde. She was extolling her ideas about the earth as a living being to a group of Quakers and scientists. The power was out and we sat in the shadows of the glowing candles, using people’s flashlights to spotlight the speakers. The differences in acceptance of her ideas between the academics and the local spiritual farmers was quite pronounced, but discussing ideas in soft voices and backlit by flickering flames seemed to bring everyone to a place of commonality in their thoughts. The earth’s loud voice as the powerful wind passed through the trees outside made its own point. It was one of the nights that made me appreciate the very special soul that exists in Monteverde.

 

So when the power went out the other night, about half of the Japanese were still interested in sitting with us and talking, so we moved to a lounge area, and by the light of the candles, carried on our discussion. Once again the subdued lighting and surrounding darkness begged us all to sit closer and there was a hushed sense to our voices.

 

still-friends

The visitors wanted to know more about Wolf and asked a lot of questions about how the community grew and included the people who were already living here, the early Ticos, los campesinos – did they accept the changes that came or resent them? Between the three of us we told our versions of the story and Takako translated.

 

When it was getting late and Wolf and I finally said that we had to get going, an older Japanese gentleman, who had asked many questions, said that what he had learned was this: that although he had read about the conservation of the forest and was aware that Wolf and others had contributed a lot to the future of the trees in the area, he had now learned that much concern had also been given by the Quakers to the community itself and the future of the people in the area. When I explained how Wolf, as the original and long-term forest guard in the area, refused to carry a gun and thus had strongly influenced the next generation of guards to not carry arms but instead taught them by example to deal with adversaries with respect and humor, the kind folks gave him a round of applause. Something I think he deserves for many of his contributions, but I, like they, felt that this is a very significant legacy that he should be recognized for.

 

happy-takako

We sold a number of books and so now live with the thrill that Walking with Wolf has gone to Japan. Our very positive and energetic friend Takako, who we hadn’t seen since doing the hike with her which is the last chapter of the book, was thrilled to have put us all together and to see the completed book – when she saw her name in it and the couple lines I wrote about her, she was ecstatic. She said that she will look into the possibilities of getting it translated into Japanese – and I believe her.  She is a doer and a great friend.

 

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So thank you Takako along with all the other warm, smiling people of Okayama. I hope to visit your fair city one day.

 

wolf-and-george

The other highlight of my last couple of days in Monteverde before setting out for warmer climes, was tracking down the elusive George Powell. George is the founder of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, along with his ex-wife Harriett and Wolf, and is an internationally-renowned tropical biologist. I’ve known him since I arrived in Monteverde in 1990, first through Wolf and later when my friend the late Vicente Espinosa worked for him in the mid-nineties, chasing quetzals and bellbirds (which had been equipped with location transmitters) around Central America. I lived with Vicente and his wife Zulay, and George was around a lot in those days.

 

big-tree

George still has a funky (and getting funkier by the year) cabin on a corner of Wolf’s land, sitting amongst a beautiful bit of primary forest. He is seldom here, as he has been involved for years not only with conservation projects here and elsewhere in Costa Rica but in many places including Peru and more recently in Madagascar. I haven’t seen him in years so it was well worth donning our rain ponchos and heading down the muddy path, under the constant drip from the soggy canopy, to visit him. He received us warmly and was thrilled to get a copy of the book. He is appreciative that Wolf and I managed to finish this project, to tell these tales in this book, to record the local history. I hope that when he gets around to reading it that he laughs at the stories we tell of him in his early days in Monteverde, eating black guans as Thanksgiving turkey and collared peccary as pork chops.

 

As I get serious about finding funding for the Spanish translation of the book, which is well underway in New Hampshire where Wolf’s son Carlos is doing the initial work, I take the opportunity to ask everyone I know who may have connections to funds to accomplish this. I will be making a second printing of the English version of the book this spring (the original 2000 will have been sold or distributed by May) but I can’t afford to fund the Spanish translation. The Tropical Science Center has contracted Carlos for the first stage of the work. We now look for donors to assure that the book gets completed and printed. So if anyone reading this has a suggestion for funding, please let me know.

 

With that in mind, I contacted the Canadian Embassy in San José and that lead to a very interesting lunch with two men from the Economic/Political Office there. I will write about this more in the future, but be assured, it is a wonderful thing to have the support of some people representing the Canadian government. They were keen, helpful, and our discussion lead to great possibilities for getting both some real financial support as well as the possibility of presenting the book – most likely waiting for the publication of the Spanish translation – at the embassy with the Ambassador, who apparently liked the letter I sent them and sees the value in the book. So my homework now (difficult though it is to pull myself away from the surf and sun and tour guide duties) is to write a proposal to the embassy.

 

horiqana

Over a week ago, Veronica and Stuart came home, my doggy-duties ended and I was released to be able to leave Monteverde. So I left its cold, wet blowiness for much warmer if not dryer San Carlos, anxious to have a visit with my friend Zulay and family. Her niece Horiana has a new puppy Zeti, so I wasn’t totally without canine accompaniment but at a couple months he is already better trained than Betsy was back in Monteverde (see former posts.)

 

pool

 As it turned out, we had, as always, a wonderful time together (including hanging around the beautiful new springfed swimming pool) but it was also hampered by some of life’s realities. Zulay and her husband Keith were called away two of the five days I was there to attend funerals – people are buried quickly in this country where traditionally they don’t have the ability to keep bodies around for days, and so when the phone call comes announcing a death, preparations are made quickly for getting to the funeral as it will certainly take place within a day or two at the most.

 

abcess

The other thing that I have been dealing with over the last few weeks has been suffering the misery of boils and blood abcesses. I’m not sure why this has happened but it is common here in the tropics to have these nasty little pockets of pus on your body, especially in the kind of wet weather that we have been experiencing. First I had a boil in my nether-regions and it was extremely painful. Between epsom salt baths and applying sulpha (and a couple days of putting the leaves of hot chili peppers on it), I managed to get that under control and finished within about six days. But it wasn’t long before another nasty bubble started hurting on the back of my thigh. Traveling all day by bus over to Zulay’s wasn’t comfortable. Zulay and I tended to the beast but it wasn’t showing signs of curing and, in fact, a couple of days later another blister started on my lower back and I finally decided I better get antibiotics to get control of this. After googling information about all this, I decided the one on my leg was actually an abcess as opposed to a boil. It got infected and hurt a lot and oozed a lot of bad stuff out and well, you don’t need anymore details. And sorry about the photo – I know it isn’t good quality but do you really need to see it any better?

 

One thing I do know from experience and common knowledge is that you don’t mess with these things in the tropics as they can take forever to cure, can get seriously infected and become bigger problems to deal with. So since I left Zulay’s and came down here to the beach with the boys, my personal nurse Jeff has been tending to my wound, which is in a position that I can’t see except in mirrors – cleansing it and applying that wonder drug, sulpha, which they use a lot in this country for cows and these kinds of things like I have. Last year I used it to cure my papalamoya. So I’m big on sulpha drugs right now.

 

beach

But my favorite treatment is to soak in the warm salty sea, for hours if necessary. I can feel it curing as the soft waves lap over me. And I think that is what I should do right now, while I still have a few hours left here on the beach. The boys are all awake and putting on their sunscreen and so I think it is time to get out there and do a little medicinal floating before we have to pack up and go back up that green mountain. It’s a harsh treatment, but nobody ever said I wasn’t tough.

I somehow find myself in my last week in Costa Rica.  No matter how long I’m here, whether two months or six months, the time flies by.  I never get to everything I want to, I don’t see everyone I want to, but I always seem to manage to experience a new part of the country and see some old friends who I missed the last time around.  This year has been no exception – what has been exceptional has been the addition of Walking with Wolf  in my life and now it is in the community and the country. 

A book has a long life and so what I have missed in promoting it this time I will get to the next time.  Wolf and I are still waiting for the interview that we did with Alex Leff of the English paper the Tico Times to appear.  A month has passed and it hasn’t shown up, yet it was a great interview we thought.  When I contacted Alex a couple of weeks ago about the state of the article, he admitted to me that he was still working on it but was having a problem interpreting Wolf from the taped conversation that we had.  He said, ”I have a renewed appreciation of just what was involved for you in writing this book”. As in, how did I understand Wolf? Let’s just call it a sixth sense, luck and determination. So there is now only one Friday left, the publication day for Tico Times, before I leave.  Who knows if the story will be there.  I will start it all up again when I return next winter so am not worried. 

The negotiations for the Spanish translation have also been stalled as we awaited word from Wolf’s son, Carlos, who lives and works in the northeastern USA.  I just got word from him that he can’t come up with a price but does want to do the work.  So before I leave, perhaps we’ll have a chance for one serious conversation with the Tropical Science Center who is interested in financing it, otherwise thank goodness for the internet and cheap long distance phone plans. This too will happen when it should.

The book is in many bookstores and selling.  And those who have read it seem to really like it and appreciate the history it relates. For this, I am most grateful.

I have returned to San Carlos, to the base of Arenal Volcano, to be with my friends, the Martinez family, for a few days before I go.  The last week I experienced a number of strange health issues.  I had a twenty-four hour virus in Monteverde that felt like I had been hit by a truck, every bone and muscle, particularly my neck, very painful.  It passed, but the sore neck part of it returned the day I got here and I’ve been receiving nightly neck massages which have helped. The virus didn’t affect my stomach or give me a headache, so I think that it isn’t dengue. One never knows around the tropics.

The other problem is the continuing saga of a bug bite that I got while on the Caribbean, that the folks here are quite sure is a nasty little number called papalamoya.  Most Ticos I know, especially the ones who have lived part of their lives in the country, have big scars (usually round patches of rippled skin) from this bug that gets into their blood and takes forever to cure.  The treatment usually involves injections of something nastier than the bug venum.  In my eighteen years coming to Costa Rica, I’ve been waiting on two things – a scorpion bite and papalamoya.  So far, I’ve evaded the scorpion bite, but I may finally have been caught by the bug that causes the other.  I’m not really sure if it is a botfly or a sand fly or what it is (I’ve heard many versions) but I know the scar.  So I am now using a country treatment – I’m using a cow drug called sulphatiasol ground up with fresh nutmeg and some of my own saliva which I plaster on the bite.  Slowly but surely the big wound is shrinking in size and doesn’t look as nasty, but the new tough skin that the treatment forms must be softened and washed off a couple times a day and more guck put on and, well, it’s a process.  The good news is that it hasn’t erupted anywhere else in my body, meaning that the venom hasn’t traveled in my bloodstream – she says hopefully. If I end up with a small scar on the back of my leg from this, well, it only makes me more Tica, something I am already in my heart and soul. In which case I will wear it like a badge of honor.

The final piece of bad news before I get to some good, is that last night, after we arrived back from our day spent on the beautiful Rio Celeste, we received the horrible news that Zulay’s nephew, Victor, who was just here with us up until a couple of days ago, had been shot by robbers trying to steal his motorcycle in the city of Alajuela.  Unfortunately this is a more common occurrence here now.  In fact, people say that they, los ladrones, will shoot you for a cell phone.  I refuse to be overrun with fear and I’m not convinced that Costa Rica has become more crime-riddled than anywhere else, but I do know that the difference of rich and poor in this country has grown and the influx of serious drug-related activity has increased and this all means that it feels at times like there is a general air of lawlessness.  My great sadness for the whole country is the amount of fear that people live with here.  If they watch the news in the evening, they go to bed with these images of robberies and assaults on the streets in their heads.  It reminds me of when I was young, living in the very safe suburban city of Burlington in southern Ontario, but we watched the Buffalo, New York, TV stations.  It became very obvious over the years that some of these stations started their newscasts with all the street crime and police reports and so we were assaulted nightly with images of killings and armed robberies – as a kid I got very nervous, but sooner or later we realized that this was affecting us and we stopped watching those stations.  And the news wasn’t even about our locality,  where this stuff seldom happened, but it made us feel unsafe as well.

Now here in Costa Rica, people are living with this fear everywhere, in some places much more justified than in others.  And when crime hits a family personally, as it just has this family, then it only reinforces the terrible possibilities.  Victor, who is only 19 years old,  as well as two of his brothers, has been assaulted before (while being robbed), and the story right now about last night is that he refused to give the motorcycle to the guys, who shot him in the lung, and then fled – well, my dear Victor, hand over the bike, please.  But who knows what passes in the mind at a moment such as that? Anyway, I believe he is going to be okay, even if he loses his lung (and as this is published, he is past the danger).  At least he is alive. And he kept his motorcycle. But a very troubling day for this family.

Before this tragedy yesterday, ten of us piled into two cars and drove fifty kilometers north of here to the town of Guatuso.  Another fifteen kilometers or so, down a rough rocky road, took us to the entrance to Tenorio National Park and the magical Rio Celeste.  I only started hearing about this place about two years ago, when it captured my attention and imagination, and find that it now shows up more and more in articles in tourist guides and newspapers.  I know that as word gets out, people will go there, and am always happy to be there before the crowds, although there were several Ticos visiting, being the end of a 2 week school holiday.  What a beautiful place.

The deep turquoise color of the river is caused by the convergence of two rivers which carry certain minerals – you can smell the sulphur – on which studies are being done to determine just what chemical reaction is occurring.  We entered the area from the ”backside”.  There is another entrance into Tenorio National Park from a place called Bijagua, from which I think the hike is longer. From our entrance, we hiked on very beautifully maintained wide muddy trails (remember, I know what rough trails in these mountains are). 

You can walk to the teñidoras, the convergence of the two rivers where you see a grey-green river mixing with a yellowish river and very distinctly, at a line, becoming this brilliant blue. We walked in pure jungle, with twittering birds and a large variety of tropical plants and trees hanging over us, along with the occasional roar of Arenal Volcano but more often the loud cracking of thunder.  Somehow we didn’t receive more than a drop of water on us, even though the thunder around us was ominous. 

The trail was only maybe four kilometers long to get to everything – the convergence, the waterfall, the hot springs as well as a lookout and blue lagoon – unfortunately we didn’t make it to the last two because of time and that increasing threat of a big storm. The waterfall was out of the movies, the shady path along the cascading blue and white water was inviting, the meandering turquoise like a liquid jewel, and the hot springs were super hot.  As in, you couldn’t put your hand into the water in places, it was boiling hot.  In other places the cool mountain water flushed the hot water and created very comfortable pools to sit in, but if you happened to move out of the cool current and touch the hot mineral water, it scalded.  Incredible.

We spent about four hours hiking and playing in the waters until the threatening storm sent us back to the car – and sure enough, we were just back on the road when the downpour came.  Driving back from Guatuso we were facing Arenal Volcano which went in and out of clouds all the way, and lightning appeared and disappeared in various parts of the sky all the way home providing a light show of special effects.  It is places like this and days like this that make Costa Rica the phenomenally intriguing place that it is – sadly, the spell is broken when you return home to bad news, but the splendour of the day isn’t negated, only temporarily replaced by life’s reality checks.

  Andrey in front of the huge ceiba, The Tree of Peace near Rio Celeste

Rain is pounding down on the zinc roof of Wolf and Lucky’s house, making conversation difficult, but finally giving me a chance to write from Monteverde. Aah yes, the cloud forest in the rainy season – not for the faint of heart but paradise for those with webbed feet. Actually it has been so dry here that water was being rationed in the community up until the rains started in earnest about a week ago. Looks like I got here right on time. The humidity has cranked up the clamminess, the landscape is a collage of intense greens, and the dirt roads are slowly becoming water-filled ditches supporting small gravel islands. 

 

 

I was so busy with getting the book ready and preparing to leave my home and garden for a couple of months, that I wasn’t thinking so much about where I was going, other than to Wolf’s house to present him with his book. But in very short order, upon my arrival in Costa Rica, my heart has filled with the warmth of the Guindon family, the anticipation in the community for Walking with Wolf, and the enchantment of the place. The last time I was here in this particular season, the beginning of the rainy season, was 1990, my first year here.  I had forgotten how the view from up on the mountain in May, looking over the Nicoya peninsula to the Pacific, is this magical world of clouds, mountains, water, and sky –  these elements merge and mingle and seem to get turned upside down, in a way that even Stephen Spielberg couldn’t capture with an arsenal of special effects. When I woke up on Thursday morning, just as day was breaking, and looked out the windows to the west, my breath was taken away by the layers of color and shadow suspended on the shifting horizon. I grabbed my camera and went out to try to capture it (a picture here isn’t worth the thousand words it would take to describe the scene) – I startled two masked tityras, beautiful white birds with pink and black facial markings, who were feeding in a guayaba tree and didn’t notice me right away.  They fluttered about grabbing the small fruit, only five feet from me, until they realized that I was there and flew off. 

Welcome back to Monteverde…

 

The flight down was fast (those individual TV screens on the planes are great – two movies of your choice and you’re here); the books arrived safe and sound (did I mention how expensive they were as extra baggage? – Kaching); customs didn’t look once at me that alone twice; and as soon as I got through to the wall of windows at the exit, there were Lucky and Wolf, smiling and waving.  As promised, the Reserve’s four-wheel drive, army-fatigue-green, Toyota crew cab truck-limo, complete with Beto the chauffeur, had come to pick me and the books up.  We waited until we were in a restaurant to unveil the books – and, as hoped, Wolf and Lucky were very excited and pleased. We had our first moment of celebrity – the waitress saw the cover and looked at Wolf and asked if that was him – and then saw my photo on the back – and was thrilled to be serving two such important people! HA! Not like we got a free meal or anything, but it was fun for all of us nonetheless. 

 

We didn’t make it up the mountain to Monteverde, normally about a three to four hour trip from the airport, until 9 that night. They were putting in a culvert on the highway and there was only one lane open and they were letting the traffic going to the city pass much more frequently than those of us heading to the country.  We spent close to three hours inching forward in fits and starts, Lucky playing old tunes on the harmonica, Beto and I getting out to tempt fate with the oncoming traffic, Wolf picking up the book from time to time, checking to see if it was real.  By the time we got up the mountain, there was nothing left but sleep. But we were very, very happy.

 

 

On Thursday morning we took the book up to Carlos Hernandez, the director at the Reserve. He insists that the Tropical Science Center (who owns and administers the Reserve) is serious about wanting to finance a Spanish translation. I told him that although I think this is wonderful, I don’t want to give up the rights to the book and also want to control the translating process (new little control freak that I’ve become – makes me wonder just what kind of parent I might have been after all…).  I believe he is on Wolf’s and my side in this – he took copies to give to the members of the board of the TSC.  I suggested that he have someone who is fluent in English read the book first and make sure they are still interested. He suggested that I check out how much the translation itself might cost and who we might employ to do it. We will proceed from there. But my immediate feeling was a good one, that he understands how personal the project is for Wolf and I, and that he will represent us well to the board. 

 

We made our rounds showing off the book (one last baby comparison – the book’s cover really is soft like a baby’s bum, I swear).  Our friends Mercedes Diaz and Luis Angel Obando, who show up in the last chapter of Walking with Wolf, were thrilled to finally get their copy – immediately plans were started for the fiesta, la presentacion del libro, and we started selling books. Lucky began reading and her reaction has been wonderful (although she did find an error deep in the book – a factual one, not just a difference of memory from her husband – I think I will leave it ambiguous and see how many people catch this error….hopefully not too many more will be found). 

 

Leaving Wolf and Lucky with the book safely in hand, I jumped on a bus on Friday morning and returned to the big city of San José to meet up with my friend Patricia Maynard. She was taking a group of Latin American literature students from the University of Georgia around town to a variety of cultural events.  I sat in on talks by our musician friends Edin Solis of Editus and Jaime Gamboa of Malpais on the historical context and present day reality of Costa Rican music. They both tried to convince the American students, who listed reggaeton as one of their favorite genres of music, that songwriting which includes poetry and composition that is more than three chords is of more value than easy, commercial music – I’m not sure if they convinced the students, but Edin and Jaime spoke with such passion that I would hope they at least made them think. We had a great meal at the Café Arco Iris and watched Alejandro Toceti – now a kind of Cultural Attache with the government, but who we’ve known as a beautiful dancer, whose every muscle speaks even when he stands still – tell stories with his body. We finished our day with a night of hot dancing at Jazz Café in San Pedro – Manuel Monestel and his ever-changing Afro-Caribbean band, Cantoamerica, kept us jumping to salsa, calypso and reggae. Since my years involved in the music festival in Monteverde, all these musicians have remained great friends and a night of hearing them play only whets my appetite for more.

 

The next day we had the great privilege of a visit with Daniel Villegas, one of the top authors and playwrights in Costa Rica. He studied years ago in Europe as well as Los Angeles and New York City at The Artists Studio. Not only was his conversation colorful and informative, but for me, the new young author that I be, it was very touching. When he spoke about how he found inspiration, how stories can be told, and the most important thing being to write honestly and about what is real in your life – well, I like to think that I have tried to do that with Walking with Wolf.  I humbly gave him a copy of our book. He accepted it graciously, though who knows if he will ever read it.  But it was the first instance where I presented myself as an author with a book I am proud of and wasn’t embarrassed to share it with such a distinguished writer.

 

I came back up the mountain in time for the Quaker meeting on Sunday.  After the hour of silence, when it came time for introductions by visitors and announcements, I confirmed the rumors to those present, that I had indeed returned with the book in hand (I had left last May stating I wouldn’t return until the book was truly a book). I invited everyone to the celebration to be held later this week at Bromelias Café, on Thursday, May 29th at 5 p.m. I then presented Jean Stuckey, the head of the Monteverde library committee, with a signed copy of Walking with Wolf.  The dedication reads:

 

“For the Monteverde Friends Library, my favorite library in the world. It is with the greatest pleasure that we give you our book to be placed on your musty shelves. With love, Kay and the Wolf”.

 

I’m on my way there now to help catalogue it and place it on the shelf!

 

 

 

 

      

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