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treetop

 

I’ve settled into my life as a dog nanny here in Monteverde. I’m sure that the three dogs, Chiqui, Betsy and Cutie Pie, must know I’m a dog lover, they can sense it, but they also must wonder once in awhile just who this crazy woman is that their family left them with. Bless their little muddy paws, they have driven me to the point of verbal insanity on too many occasions. I have taken it as my duty to add a little discipline to their lives and have made it my goal to break some of their bad habits by the time Veronica and Stuart return.

roberto-la-negrita 

Cutie Pie, aptly named though I’ve taken to calling her La Negrita, is both a champion football player and a chronic chewer. Whereas the other dogs can be trusted to sleep in the bedroom at night, on their doggie beds, Cutie is confined to the main room of the house where most chewable things have been removed or already chewed up. In the exactly three minutes I helped Veronica carry her suitcases to the driveway to meet the car coming for her when she left last week, Cutie had managed to chew a corner of the wooden arm of the chair she sleeps in.  So then I felt that I had to take the whole chair out of the room, along with everything else. This just seems crazy to me. A dog, even a very cute one, can certainly learn better habits. So I keep a keen eye on her and am all over her when I see her chewing. I also smeared hot chili all over the arm of the chair to deter the behavior. She seems to like it.

 

Betsy, the youngest of the three, maybe seven months old, is a barker and a sharp one at that.  If something gets her started, the barking goes on till I wanna scream which, of course, only adds to the noise. So I keep trying the dog-whisperer techniques (a show I’ve watched when in houses with cable TV), and bit by bit Betsy is understanding that she can do a bit of barking but when I get that crazed look in my eyes and my voice rises, it is time to stop.

chiqui1 

Being a pack of three, if one gets going, they all do. La Negrita is the first to stop, and the elder, Chique, is older and wise enough to back off quickly, but Betsy, well, let’s just say that I hope she ages a lot in the next few weeks. I don’t want to insinuate that I don’t love these little dogs – they greet me with all that canine love when I walk up the path, they look at me with as much tenderness as any man I’ve ever known (well, maybe), and they are quite entertaining when not chewing and barking and jumping up so they can drag their claws down my now-bruised thighs.

 

My best investment in 2009? A thousand colones ($2) for a water spray bottle. Appropriate technology – the only weapon I’ve used in the struggle to great effect.

gerardo-dogs 

Fortunately I’ve had company here – Marilyn and Gerardo from San Ramon/Sarchi were here for a couple days and then Roberto came up from the Caribbean to see Monteverde. I’ve decided that it is a tribal thing going on here – when the dogs outnumber me, they have the definite cultural advantage. However when other humans are here, we collectively have more power.  Bit by bit, the dogs are learning some manners. Less things are being chewed, the barking is slowing down. We’ve all joined in playing soccer with them – La Negrita is a great ball handler and Betsy is nothing if not enthusiastic and will actually bring the ball back once in awhile. An hour of soccer helps to wind these little energizer-bunnies down.

 

trail-tree

When not at home doing the canine shuffle, I’ve been doing the book selling thing all over the area – the local stores all needed more copies of Walking with Wolf. Wolf and I can sell well if seated at the entrance to the Reserve when the tour groups come out of the forest mid-morning. It is fun to sit in the often drizzly, windy weather (we retreat to one of the restaurants when it is really bad) and even nicer on the sunny days under the beautiful tree canopy, with a variety of bird and animal sightings ranging from black guans and quetzals to pizotes, monkeys and olingos. We’ve had wonderful conversations with interested tourists and I’ve made some great contacts for possible future presentations of the book in North America.

 

motmot-top

People report seeing quetzals in the forest but the blue-crowned motmots have been here, there and everywhere. They are a beautiful, simpler alternative to the elegant, elusive quetzal, being one of the friendlier and consistent birds around.

mot-mot

I’d really have to say they are more deserving to be designated the Monteverde mascot than any other bird.

 

I was at a local restaurant to see the inauguration last Tuesday but had to meet the bus at the same time so I missed Obama’s speech (but not the fashions – loved Michelle O’s dress & Aretha’s hat). I’ve seen some lines from it which made me think it was a beautiful beginning to the next stage of life in the USA and thus the world. I’m actually glad I’m not in North America during this period – here on the green mountain I miss so much of what is going on internationally by not having steady access to media and I would just as soon believe that things are going well and not know the details. I’ll be back in the thick of it again soon enough.

 

bullpen-tree

Instead I’ve been wandering around the dusty roads and back trails of Monteverde, filling my soul with the magic of the woods while showing my visitors some of the local highlights. My spiritual center here is the bullpen up on Campbell’s land, a medieval St. Augustine pasture hidden in an open forest where the gigantic trees left standing can stretch their branches wide. Roberto appropriately renamed it the wolfpen when I explained that Wolf had been the main traveler over the years through this hidden park-like land.   

 

The other day Wolf and I stopped in at Historica  Monteverde. This was the dream of Lindi, his former daughter-in-law who passed away two years ago after a long battle with health issues, cancer being the ultimate victor. We talk about Lindi in Walking with Wolf – she was married to Tomás Guindon, Wolf and Lucky’s second son, and was always a strong presence in the Monteverde community. I knew her from early in my time here, and got to know her better when I lived with a university group from Evergreen College in 1995 and she was the Spanish and culture instructor. Lindi was a tall statuesque woman whose robust physicality didn’t suit her chronic illnesses.

mv-map 

The last time I visited with her was a few months before her death, before I returned for Canada, and she was still fighting but already at peace with whatever eventual ending was being designed for her script. Since I had had cancer, she appreciated the frankness with which I spoke (being quite direct herself), but of course, I’m a survivor. It was already clear that she probably wasn’t going to be much longer. One of the things that held her interest until the end was the idea of building this museum of Monteverde artifacts on a corner of her property. Although she didn’t live to see its completion, her daughter, Kayla, saw that it was finished and went on to celebrate its opening at the end of August this past year.

 

At the time, I had a beautiful email from my friend Mary Stuckey Newswanger about what a wonderful day it was, despite torrential rains, when the community gathered to honor the completion of Lindi’s dream, the history of this special place, and the spirit that keeps Monteverde whole. One of the highlights that day, as well as for me on this one, was the very large model map of Costa Rica, apparently the largest in the country. It sits in a pool of water, representing the oceans, surrounded by a fence that spectators can gather up to. A slide show with images collected from all over this beautiful land is punctuated by lights on the topographically-correct map that show where the images are located.

 

volcano-map

 At the end of the show the map’s volcanoes, those magical cones of fire and brimstone that wander down the spine of Central America, are lit up like flowing lava and smoke gushes out. When a door was opened to help clear out the smoke, the haze lifted and swirled and flew off to the horizon, just as you could watch sitting in La Fortuna after the rumble and roar of the Arenal volcano has passed.

 

So good for you, Lindi, but also for Kayla and Robin and everyone else who helped bring this dream to its completion. As someone said to me recently, the fifty-plus year history of Monteverde is expansive, covering about 200 years of progress – it was very much a pioneering community being cut out of the forest in 1951 and is now a pretty modern one regularly receiving international guests and linked worldwide through technology in 2009. 

lecheria

The other day I took this photo of the various methods used for transporting milk to the dairy plant each morning – from the original oxen and cart to the big shiny modern tank truck, all lined up, waiting their turn to unload the stainless steel jugs of fresh milk.

 

cow-jam

Fortunately you can still get held up in a bovine traffic jam in downtown Monteverde. Even with all the changes that have come to the mountain and the immense pressures put on the community by development, Monteverde holds it own when it comes to its charms.

 

leaning-tree

marilyn

Learning how to get along, adapting to change, realizing dreams and appreciating the beauty around us – and bringing a little order to the chaos – the continuing themes of life as it plays out on the green mountain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It is as inevitable as the wind and rain in Monteverde, that one day my time will be up and I have to leave. I don’t worry about going and I quickly transfer my thinking to arriving instead – back to Canada, friends there, familiar haunts, a different kind of music and the beautiful northern landscape. As long as I have the privilege and ability to return when I want to Costa Rica, then I can leave with a simple “nos vemos” – “we’ll see each other”, rather than “adios”, which feels much more final.

 

Of course this year also takes me back to Canada with a whole new purpose in life – bringing Walking with Wolf to the masses, doing publicity, marketing and distributing of my precious little tome. So there is an excitement at the back of my brain that I try not to get too caught up in, but will soon – within twenty-four hours now, I’ll be full on ready to conquer the north. I have until September 6 to prepare for the first big official book launch in Hamilton, and then the following weekend I’m returning to my old community in the northeast to do hopefully three presentations over a few days. This is the part of the world close to Temagami, Ontario, which I talk about in the book. I have many old friends there who have been very supportive and I am really looking forward to the book parties there. And in the second week of October, I think I will be doing a presentation at Olney Friends School in Barnesville, Ohio, which we also talk about, Wolf’s alma mater, for their Homecoming weekend. This hasn’t been decided yet, but the idea seems to have interested the director and so I will soon be in touch with him about the possibility. 

 

Having received such wide spread acceptance and praise in Monteverde from the people who are closest to the story will truly help me go out in the big northern world and hold my head up, proud of our book. I know that I was most nervous of the reaction of the biologists – sticklers for detail that they are, strong-willed, educated and quite sure of their own versions of the world – but several of them have spoken up for the quality of the book and have enjoyed reading it and shared a minimum of criticism (maybe I shouldn’t have called the tropical cloud and rain forest “jungle” but to the outsider, that is truly what it is, by dictionary definition as well.)

 

One of the surprises of the reaction to the book is how many people have said to me that it has revived in them the spirit of the community. Wolf’s stories about the founding of Monteverde, and my modern day descriptions have given them a renewed sense of what a special community they are part of. I had always hoped to properly present Wolf’s life and accomplishments but it had never occurred to me that our book might be a positive factor in the community. How proud can one be for playing a role such as that?

 

I have also heard from friends in Canada who don’t know Wolf, Monteverde or Costa Rica, and have said they love the story and the writing. So that bodes well for the future of the book simply as a piece of literature. I think it’s deepest purpose is the telling of Wolf’s interesting and dedicated life with all its flaws and colorful tales, and that is what I feel the most able to go out and talk about. His is an inspirational story of humor, hard work and humility and I take great pride in being able to tell this story.

 

In the week that I was offline, I returned to Monteverde, saw friends, packed and repacked, sat down with Wolf and signed a whole box of books to take back to deserving friends in Canada, did some dancing, had some great conversations and enjoyed my final days of tropical life. I spent a day down in San Luis waiting for the arrival of fifteen teams of oxen who were coming from the low lands for a festival, but unfortunately had to leave by the time only one team had arrived (those beasts move very slowly). I managed to get bit on my finger by something – I thought an ant, but now think maybe a spider – that now, four days later, is still swollen up in a bunch of itchy bumps. What a year for bites! I think it may be caused by the rainy season, as I found the bug population rampant. I ran off to Cahuita on the Caribbean for twenty-four hours and was blessed with sunshine and a starry night, whereas there had been pouring rain for the days before I got there. Here too I was bitten while swimming in the sea, something that rarely happens at all, especially in the Caribbean. But I was floating and some seaweed wrapped itself around me and four sharp stings (jelly-fish? Some say sea fleas?) sent me out of the water, waiting to see if I’d have some weird reaction like that poor Australian nature guy. You just never know these days. My papalomoyo seems to be under control, though I’ll continue with my sulpha treatments in Canada – and I still have a series of bitemarks on my thighs that we think are from mites of some sort. Hmmmm, August in Hamilton, the bug situation should be pretty tame in comparison.

 

I spent the last couple nights with Edin Solis (the photo is me with one of his Grammies) and his wife Lorena Rodríguez, he of Editus, she an interior, exterior and just about all round everything designer.  Edin was finishing the work on the soundtrack to a BBC documentary production called “The Winds of Papagayo” – about the changes of the environment in Guanacaste, the northwest province of Costa Rica.  How interesting was that – not just listening to the musical themes that Edin had composed (great surf beat dude) and admiring how the music followed the images and the story of the documentary, but the information within the work itself. It promises to be a very interesting piece of journalism (with a beautiful soundtrack) about what is happening with development on the fragile Pacific coastline. I had never realized that the winds collect and transport great fertility that has risen from the huge Lake Nicaragua to the north, as well as from the potent gases of the various volcanoes that run in a chain straight through Central America. The strong winds we know in parts of Costa Rica do have an important purpose besides blowing us around and keeping us cool. The doc also focuses on the over-expansion of development on the coastline, the extreme change of community life in less than thirty years, the changes in the winds themselves, and the struggle of the turtle population to survive the many forces that are working against them. 

 

I think of Costa Rica in general as about as fragile as a population of olive ridley sea turtles. Even though I know so many dynamic, charismatic, kind, intelligent and hardworking people in this little country, over all I feel they are all under threat. Out of control development, foreign influence, fear, and an economy that isn’t servicing the people at the lower end of the scale are all signs of a difficult future. The country has great “green” policies but doesn’t seem to have the backbone to enforce the laws. Most people I talk to have little faith in the government, having had three of their last presidents found guilty of some form of kickbacks. The president of the day, Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work in the 80s on bringing peace to the Central American region, had the constitution changed, by the vote of 4 judges, so that he could be re-elected (up until the last election, Costa Rica had a rule, similar to the USA, that presidents could only serve one term). He also supported CAFTA, the free-trade agreement with the USA, which many people are extremely leery of. This all adds up to a disgruntled society in an over-stressed country with a frustrated view of the future.

 

I love these people and this country.

 

The very talented Sofia Zumbado, award-winning saxophonist and her beautiful mom Myrna Castro

My friend 100-year old Otilia Gonzales and her daughters Gladys and Margarita

Luis Angel Obando, Head of Protection, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

HEY! How’d this guy make it in here?

 

Everyone I know in Costa Rica is involved in some interesting project, not only to make a living, but to bring some new awareness to their life. I wish them all well. Tenga fe mis amigos, nos vemos pronto.

 

 

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