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I have returned to life on the green mountain…and life here has somewhat returned to normal. Of course, what exactly is normal in this constantly shifting thing called life!? Normal so quickly becomes abnormal – and vice versa – that we all – humans along with all the rest of the earth’s creatures – must continually adapt if we are to survive.
The best story of survival in Monteverde that I can share is that of our friend Wolf Guindon. He is immensely better than he was when I left last June. Stefany, his lovely nurse, has left; he then had another young woman helping with his physical therapy, but she too has gone. Lucky has taken over guiding Wolf through his daily exercises. The results of all this attention is obvious – Wolf is walking steadier, even without his stick much of the time. He takes care of his own bathing needs. He gets in and out of the car on his own. He goes for short hikes on trails in the Reserve and elsewhere. He even has been working on a trail in the forest beside the house, where his son-in-law Rodrigo installed a bench so that Wolf and Lucky can go and sit to watch the sunset together.
Wolf is back to having some purpose in life – he gets out daily and works a little more on that trail. One of the best improvements is the use of his right hand that had serious damage from being tied to the bed posts during his time in the hospital. In June, about three months after his release, he was still barely using it. Now he can clearly sign his own name, handle his eating utensils, and hold and swing his machete with a fair amount of force.
He is also getting woollier. There was a time, exactly a year ago, when he was weak, his body frail and his head almost bald. I remember walking into his hospital room and thinking that he looked like Gandhi. One year later, his sideburns are bushy, his eyebrows are furry and he has the look of a robust, if elderly, bushman. The twinkle has returned to his eye and his humor remains contagious and genuine.
Something that brought huge smiles to his and Lucky’s faces were recent visits by their son Tonio and his family from Connecticut – who left eldest daughter, Oriana, here for a prolonged stay with her Monteverde family; a week with son Tomás and his family from California; and a very quick visit by Wolf’s nephew Dale and his family from Ohio, their first time in Costa Rica. They were here for their eldest son’s wedding down on the beach, and despite the fact that their son, Jeff, broke his foot playing beach soccer a couple of days before, it sounds like they had a wonderful wedding. Unfortunately, Jeff and his new bride couldn’t come up the mountain with the rest of the family as he needed to rest his foot and I’m sorry not to have met him. As I’ve often said, I’ve never met a Guindon I didn’t like – wonderful folks all.
So, this year I returned to Costa Rica without a plan. I usually have a good idea of what I’m going to do in my months here and some sense of how I’m going to do it. Last year became an amazing roller coaster ride undulating between Wolf’s health crises, working to finalize the paperwork for my bit of jungle near Cahuita, and the push to complete the publication of the Spanish edition of Walking with Wolf. Wolf survived, the property paperwork appeared on my last day in the country, and the translation got edited, but nothing went quite like I expected. This year, I decided that instead of arriving with expectations, I would come with a buncha seeds in mind, cast them out, and see what germinates. Now, a month later, I’m starting to water the plants that took root, and I hope that I’ll have a fruitful garden to show for it over the next six months.
The most important project, and the one that will take the most of my time, will be overseeing the layout/design and computer work of Caminado con Wolf. If I get nothing else done in the following months, I am committed to publishing, one way or another, the translation of our book. The English version continues to be very popular, selling well by word-of-mouth here in Monteverde and online, as well as on the shelves of the Café Britt souvenir shops in the San José airport.
Last March and April I spent working with Lester Gomez, the young editor hired by the Tropical Science Center to edit Carlos Guindon’s translation. The TSC has been very generous in its financial support in this project. Carlos Hernandez, the director of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve, and Javier Espeleta, the director of the TSC, as well as other staff and board members, have been very enthusiastic and helpful in getting this done. Don Javier then went to the Editoriales de la Universidad de Costa Rica, whose director, Julian Monge, agreed our book should be published in Spanish as a valuable addition to Costa Rica’s historical and nature-centered literature.
More than three years have passed since I self-published the English version in Canada. We have watched a warm and critically-positive reception to our book – it has been used as the inspiration for a high school course in New Hampshire, it’s been bought by local biology professors for their visiting university classes and I’ve received many letters of thanks from visitors to the Monteverde community who say that it has provided a valuable background that enriched their time here. We know there are many Spanish-reading Costa Ricans waiting to read the book. The coming year 2012 is the 40th anniversary of the Monteverde Reserve and the 50th anniversary of the Tropical Science Center. They have numerous activities and special events planned and it would be wonderful to have Caminando con Wolf available for the participants of these celebrations throughout the year.
Since I have already gone through the process of “self-publishing”, I don’t fear stepping back into it. We are so close to finished I can taste the hors-d’oeuvres at the book launch! So I have decided to start walking down another path with Wolf, and get this thing done. It will mean some fundraising on my part for the costs of printing, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. If the EUCR’s new director remains interested, we will be thrilled. If not, we will be ready to go to print ourselves.
Throughout Wolf’s months of medical crises last year, he told people that he had no plans to die until the Spanish book came out. I think it was one of the mantras that kept him alive, along with his love for Lucky, his joy in the time he got to spend with his family and friends, and his phenomenal strength of spirit that is nurtured by his relationship with the natural world around him. The rest of us had somewhat of a dilemma on our hands when we didn’t know if getting the book finished quickly would send Wolf sooner to heaven, but happy, or if we should be slowing the process to keep him with us here on earth as long as possible, perpetually waiting for the book to appear.
In the end, of course all of our fates were out of our hands and things happened as they would. Wolf doesn’t look to me like he is going anywhere soon, but he regularly expresses his faith in my ability to get this translation done. Our talented friend here in Monteverde, Pax Amighetti, is ready, willing and able to do the computer/design/layout work for the book. I have arranged my dance card between time in Monteverde working with Pax, time in San José helping out a friend in need of some organization in her home, and time in Cahuita helping Roberto build a small casita. I have my eye on the prize, my heart in the right place, and my body and mind will go wherever it needs to be to get this job done.
As we move into the very busy holiday season, I am leaving Monteverde to spend Christmas in Cahuita. Pax and I have already made some important decisions about the design of the book’s cover. We will break for the yuletide and return with strength and determination in January. I have great faith that Caminando con Wolf will see the light of day in this exciting upcoming year of 2012!
I proceed inspired by the words of one of my heroes, civil rights leader and freedom fighter John Lewis, who says, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” I find it interesting that his own autobiography is titled “Walking with the Wind”…coincidence, I think not. Happy festivities everybody! I’ll keep y’all posted.
It is Sunday afternoon. I’m back at my wireless aerie here at Bob and Susana’s Cabure Cafe. The soft clouds are floating about, obscuring the treetops and reducing the view of the ocean today, but the sun is on the other side of the clouds and so it is warm and bright. Monteverde’s mists change the scene as constantly as our lives do – we go from great moments of clarity to dark clouds on our horizons to foggy obscurity and back to sun-sparkling visual bounty. Life constantly sends us down different paths and the peek around the next corner is sometimes taken with great anticipation, other times with great trepidation.
Wolf and I made a presentation yesterday to a group of visiting administrators from protected areas throughout the world from Conservation International. Representatives of Ghana, Guyana, Brazil and Figi along with a dozen other countries were there. We didn’t have more than a little time as their program was already very full, but it was nice to talk about the book and Wolf’s contribution to conservation to a group of people who participate in this work in protected areas every day. I never write down anything when I talk in front of groups and then often wish I had remembered to say such and such. However, I forgive myself and carry on. With each presentation, I’m sure I’ll get better, but it is also a matter of gearing what we say to our audience, adapting to English or Spanish, and the amount of time we have. It was an honor to have the time that we did to speak with these people – we left before we had a chance to sell books and our friend Mercedes was going to take care of that in the coffee break. Hope we sold some as just to know that Walking with Wolf would maybe end up in southeast Asia, Africa or South America soon is very exciting.
One place the book is going is to the Ukraine. This is very poignant for me, as my father’s parents were both from the Ukraine, having arrived as teenagers on the Canadian prairies in the early 1900s. My last name, Chornook, is the result of a Canadian customs agent’s choice of spelling – my grandfather was the only one of his family who was given this spelling from his original name Cherniuk. A woman here in Monteverde, Betsy, bought a book to send to her son who is a peace corp worker stationed in the Ukraine. So it was exciting to sign the book with the hopes that her son may run into one of my Cherniuk relatives while sitting with a traiga of vodka in a cafe.
The Quaker meeting this morning was, as always, silent – up until the last ten minutes or so. The first person to stand and speak was local biologist Mills Tandy who stood and thanked Wolf and I for writing the book and speaking so honestly about the community and recording this important history. He said, “I’ve waited with great anticipation for this book since I heard about it and have to say that it has far exceeded my expectations.” Well, his words brought tears to my eyes and they stayed there for the remainder of the meeting.
When it got to what is called after-thoughts, that is the moment after we have broken the silence and greeted each other but a chance is given for further thoughts to be expressed, Wolf’s wife Lucky stood up and, fighting her tears, talked about how people come and go in this community but so often come back and are always welcomed – and that is what makes it the dynamic place it is. Her son Antonio, wife Adair and their children Skye and Sam are headed back to Connecticut after one full year here. They left in a taxi for the airport right after meeting. Well this comment by Lucky started an outpouring of similar messages by a number of people both retiterating her thoughts or expressing something similar. Katy Van Dusen spoke about Ann Kreigel, a woman who lived here back in the 70s and then died suddenly and prematurely in the early 90s after being bitten by a squirrel. She had had a profound effect on Katy’s life and on many other programs and events in the community and was a great example of someone who came and left their valuable contribution here. Her sudden and early death was a reminder about the importance of expressing your love for those you care about each day. Katy also spoke through tears. It was hard to break up the meeting today – people seemed to want to stay and share their appreciation for this community and this meeting that gives us all a chance to be reflective, communal, spiritual and social all at once.
It is also Father’s Day and that of course makes me think of my father, Andy Chornook, who I write about briefly in Walking with Wolf, who died of cancer very quickly after diagnosis in 1996, twelve years ago. How the time has gone by. And thinking about that makes me think of the people I now know who are struggling with this nasty disease: my friend Lori Yates’ mother in Hamilton, who has just started chemo for lung cancer; Monteverde’s friend, Andy Sninsky, who is in Austria being treated for what is maybe bone cancer, maybe leukemia, maybe something else – Andy and his wife Inge have run the Good Times quarterly magazine that highlights Costa Rican and Nicaraguan tourism destinations for several years and have done a number of pieces of early publicity for our book. Wolf and I, as the rest of the community, have them in our hearts. And a female Andy, Andy Walker, who has lived for a few years with her talented family here in Monteverde and just left a day or two ago for further treatments in Texas on a difficult melanoma. Our thoughts follow her as well.
These tales of cancer diagnosis, treatments, survival and sadness go on relentlessly. As a survivor myself, I both identify with the fear and the difficulty, but also send messages of encouragement and strength. None of it is easy and I’m forever greatful to have lived to tell my own story as well as Wolf’s. For the most part I look down the trail with excitement and courage, but I know all too well just how scary that unknown bend in the trail can be.