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

Mary Rockwell with Wolf and Lucky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chilly verdant greetings to you from blustery Monteverde. The air has an arcticistic feel to it. We may be in the tropics, but we are in the mountains, and it is just dang chilly…and not at all white. I must admit, I miss the snow.

This week of Christmas festivities has been glorious – meeting up with friends on the street, twinkly nights in dressed up houses, the food flowing on festive tables. In Monteverde, on Christmas Eve, the group of traveling carolers, ebbing and flowing in numbers throughout the evening, grew so much this year that to fit all the requests in, they had to start their singing at 3:15 on a cool afternoon. They walked and sang and snacked until sometime after 11 p.m.

I had spent the afternoon with Wolf and Lucky – listening to our friend Wolf who has not stopped talking for over a week (more on this later) – and playing a renegade game of Scrabble with Lucky. She couldn’t believe she was taking the time to play Scrabble on Christmas Eve. The carolers arrived about 5 and, as is their habit, sang two carols in fine harmony. I then joined them and visited a few houses of expectant listeners armed with warm agua dulce and cookies before heading home.

It’s a wonderful tradition in Monteverde, this Christmas Eve roving community caroling choir. I heard that they had over 40 houses requesting that the carolers stop by – that’s a lot of carols sung and a lot of treats (squares, fruit, tamales, juices) consumed. Fortunately, there are lotsa young folk, along with the older and aging neighbors, who look like they will keep up the tradition just fine.

It is great to be back in the Cerro Plano apartment although it is a very cold building and the weather took a bad turn a couple of days ago. Poor Roberto has been very cold, as is poor Kay. We spent much of the week hunkered down with Tyra the dog, and Miel and Oly the cats. There has been lots of seasonal cheer to keep us all warm despite the chilly winds.

Oly and Tyra hadn’t met until I came, so now I am keeping an eye on them. If Oly the kitten gets too close to Tyra the bowl bully, everyone snaps and fur flies. Oly also had never gone outside until I came, and now that he’s had a taste, he is getting restless to explore the great outdoors. Given the chance, he moves carefully down the long balcony, wondering what is around the corner.

Christmas Day was a real potpourri. Roberto made rice and beans in the morning, the smell of coconut wafting about and exciting our senses; we took it to the community lunch where we feasted with friends on food that arrived from every house. Then Santa Claus rolled in on his bicycle and tossed candies to tthe excited kids.

Roberto and I didn’t stay after the lunch, but instead walked up to our friends Saray and Melvin’s. She invited us to be part of an afternoon spent with a Japanese film crew and tamale making. Under the big trees we watched Saray toss about her Tica charm and teach the young soap opera actor the fine art of making tamales.

From grinding the corn without losing his fingers, to assembling the perfect pockets of tamale love, to cooking them in the big cauldron of water over an outdoor fire, the nameless Japanese heartthrob did as Saray demonstrated with the friendly crew looking on. Apparently this is to be part of a series for a TV channel in Japan, taking well-known actors and having them host a travel show.

This particular episode will highlight three countries – Jamaica, Costa Rica and Cuba – and the theme is finding the passion of the country. In Costa Rica’s case, the passion is for nature, and so Monteverde is a great venue to demonstrate that.

Saray, Melvin, their kids and his sister Ana were perfect hosts, animated teachers, and I hope that they will have a place in the final product. I know from experience that hours of filming, regardless of the expenses incurred, end up on the cutting room floor. But we all will be happy to see our friend Saray become a big star in Japan!

After the film crew left, we ate the tamales, and gathered around a huge campfire that kept us warm against the night chill. Roberto kept us warmer still by singing calypso songs and Spanish boleros, accompanied by the boys on drums. To finish off the night, and this blog, and this year, we oohed and aahed as the kids set off fireworks. With sparklers, we wrote our wishes in the sky for love, joy and good health for 2011! 

Before leaving on that sweet note, and speaking of good health, I want to just let you know that Wolf has entered a new stage in his medical journey. He’s been getting stronger, walking gently, eating well. But he has also been talking incessantly and becoming increasingly more manic. It has been over a month since he stopped taking lithium which kept his bipolar under control but was also responsible for a high level of toxicity in his system, damaging his kidneys and no doubt causing any number of secondary complications.

Wolf and his granddaughter Hazel


The day he left the Puntarenas hospital, he was given a new medication. The first week back home, Wolf was serene, in the present, and gracious. But since then, his bipolar condition has resumed. Obviously the medication is not doing the trick, but it is very difficult here to get him to a psychiatrist who could monitor him and prescribe the appropriate medication and dosage. Unfortunately, as time passes, Wolf is becoming more unstable and this is, of course, hard not only on him, but on those around him.

So once again, as I have asked so many times of you before, please hold Wolf in the light and pray that he will soon get the help he needs to get him through this very difficult time. And hold Lucky and the rest of the family in the light, as living with a person going through this is very difficult – I think more difficult than dealing with physical issues. May 2011 find Wolf, Lucky, and the Guindons – along with the rest of us – living with peace.

July 2020