Radar

It’s generally safe to assume that when I’m not posting much it’s because there’s a lot going on.  When I pick up the talking stick, it’s because I’ve had time to think—to transpose everything that’s happened into words.  It takes me a while but you know I get there.  There’s been a lot going on.  I don’t know if I’m there.

THE LIST

For one, there’s my book.

Then, I had to move.

And the 2nd of October marked the one year anniversary of the last day I sat beside Pio and held his hand.

I took his ashes into the ocean on that day.

Also, not specifically related to any of this but happening simultaneously, I’ve started experimenting with intermittent fasting.

So there’s a lot going on inside of me, but I don’t know what to say about most of it yet.  Here’s a feeble attempt to start:

UNSOLICITED ADVICE

I guess I can begin with an unsolicited piece of advice about what to say/not to say to your friend who has lost someone as significant as air.  Do that person a favor and don’t make comments about how fast time has gone.  Have I said this before?  I’m sorry.  I’m saying it again.  Like, for example, “Wow!  Time is flying, isn’t it?  I can’t believe it’s already been one year!”  Please don’t say that.  Because to the person who lost someone, the first week took a year.  I guarantee you that friend of yours feels like they have already lived without their person for 100 years and I promise you they don’t think it’s a nice feeling.  Just so you know.  There’s that.

LUCKY AND UNLUCKY

AMAZING reviews have been coming in about Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie.  I’ve also had touching private conversations with friends who have experienced journeys that are similar to mine in one way or another.  I can see now that I was right:  this book did need to be written.  And it did need to get out of my computer and into other hands.  I’m so proud of it.

And, yeah, I moved.  My landlord suddenly needed his extra house back, so I had to make other plans.  I was SO SAD to get the news that I needed to move, but then something happened that you kind of won’t believe.  I almost immediately (2 days?) found another house.  It’s about the same price and it’s so close to the beach I can hear the waves all night long.  If there is ever a tsunami, I will never know what hit me.  But the best part is that back before I even knew him, Pio built this house.  Can you believe it?  It feels exactly like home.  It is home.  Caramelo and Ambrogio like it as much as cats can like a new house.  Is all of this some random coincidence?  I have no idea.

So again, I’m lucky.  And unlucky.

I’m not ready to tell you about the ashes yet.  I might have to write it as a poem because I don’t know now you make a thing like that fit into sentences.

And the book deserves more focus than what I’ve been giving it.  You’re supposed to blog mercilessly about your new book and drive everyone who knows you insane with shameless self-promotion when it comes out.  I don’t think I’ve been doing that.  That would have been hard for me to do even if this was the only thing on my plate.  It isn’t.

I have a good friend who does intermittent fasting and got me curious.  I didn’t think I could do it.  It sounded horrible. I  thought I would be miserable or dizzy or grumpy or…  I just thought it would be too hard or somehow unbearable.  It isn’t.  It isn’t easy, but what’s easy?  Pretty much nothing worth doing is easy.   And there’s the spiritual/emotional side of it too.  I’m not sure I have words that give this any meaning, either, but I’m acknowledging it.  Either fasting is a spiritual practice that turns out to be good for your body, or it is a health practice that turns out to be good for your spirit.  I don’t really feel the need to differentiate.  If you get curious, you can read about it on line.  If it was anywhere near as bad as you think, I would not be doing it.  I always say I’ll try anything once, and I didn’t think I could live with something as lame-sounding as “intermittent fasting” being the one thing I wimped out on and wouldn’t try.  I’ll save that for something actually dangerous.

I didn’t take all the ashes.  I saved some.  That’s cheating, but whoever does the surviving gets to make at least a few of the decisions.  I made up that rule.

BATS

I’ve been thinking a lot about bats.  How they fly around in dark caves and no, they can’t see, but they “see” with other senses.  Radar.  They turn on their radar and they can tell where they are, where other things are, where they should go.  I’ve been trying to navigate by radar.  Because I can’t see shit.  It’s all fog.  But I try to see and listen with other senses.  Sometimes when I walk or run on the deserted beach, I close my eyes and try to keep going in a straight line by listening to the sound of the ocean to the side of me, feeling the wind in my face, feeling the sun on my back.  It isn’t easy but I can do it.  I keep trying.  I follow my gut, hoping that will teach it to give good advice.

I spent a whole year of evenings, essentially, lying in a hammock on a dark porch in silence trying to take it all in.  Not unlike a bat in a cave, except I wasn’t hanging upside down.  I was hanging though, in the hammock.  Most people are afraid of or dislike bats and dark places and sadness.  Most people run away from the cave.  Not me.  I am trying to see my way around in it like a bat.

I told you, there’s a lot going on and I’m not sure I’ve arrived at the words for it yet.  But I’m trying.  I never stop trying.  I’ll get there.

 

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Acronyms Meet to Discuss Crocodiles in Tamarindo

These are my gleanings from the meeting held at the Barceló with ADI (Association de Desarollo Integral), SINAC (Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservacion), CATURGUA (Camera de Turismo Guanacasteca), and MINAE (Ministerio de Ambiente y Energia). The purpose of the meeting was to discuss The Crocodile/s . I mostly went to listen, because that’s always a good start, and I got to ask a few questions. What follows is what I took away from the meeting. This is not intended to be a complete summary—I’m sure ADI will provide that. It is a subjective gleaning and contains editorial commentary and a concerted effort to minimize sarcasm.

 

MINAE says:

–They carefully observed the crocodiles in the estuary after the July attack. They removed the very big one that exhibited dangerous/unusual behavior, explaining that there was only one exhibiting this behavior and it is certainly the one guilty of the attack. It was taken to Puerto Humo. (I looked it up. It’s where the Tempisque River is born. ) They are still monitoring crocodiles in the Playa Grande/Tamarindo/Langosta area and analyzing their behavior. In the five kilometer marine stretch that they monitor, it is normal for there to be 12-14 crocodiles moving around at any given time.

Laura The Crocodile Expert says:

–It is not true that crocodiles were “seeded” here.

–Salt water crocs are completely natural in the estuaries and oceans of Guanacaste. She says they were depleted in the 40-60s, but that now their populations are becoming “healthy” again.

–It is not true that there is an overpopulation of crocodiles in Tamarindo. Overpopulation occurs when there are so many of a species that there is not enough food for them, and they begin to kill each other. Since crocodiles are not doing this, there is no overpopulation. Lucky for us, crocodiles are of a species that control their own population—as in, crocodiles never have overpopulation because they kill each other first and solve their own problem.

–Swimming in the ocean is normal crocodile behavior. Eating dogs is normal crocodile behavior. (I wanted to ask if eating human preschoolers would be considered normal crocodile behavior, but I was afraid of the answer.)

–Attacking/eating (presumably adult) people is not normal behavior for this species of crocodile. Nile crocodiles, she explained, eat people, but not this kind. She made a big deal about how crocodiles do not hunt people, do not want to eat people and are normally afraid of people.

–The (only) problem in Tamarindo is that crocodiles have been, for so long, fed by humans.

The SINAC guy talked too, but he didn’t say anything that stuck with me. He did take a moment to praise the fact that we have such a wonderful government system that allows us all to participate in decisions, as demonstrated by this meeting.

The meeting, by and large, revolved around how dreadful it is that we have created this dangerous situation for ourselves by feeding the crocodiles. (Which I acknowledge. Our Tamarindo crocs have twisted minds and there’s no one to blame except us.)

But ok. So we’ve corrupted the crocodile population. While we right our wrong, what’s the plan for our safety?
Signs. Signs warning people not to feed crocodiles, and not to swim in the ocean/estuary. (How about a sign asking crocodiles not to eat the people? I didn’t say that, but I thought it.) And crocodile “monitoring.”

That’s when I raised my hand. First, I said why I was there—because I happened to be a first-hand witness of the trauma caused by the attack, and I DO NOT EVER want to see anything like that again. And I don’t want you to, either. The room became very quiet. Then I asked the guy from MINAE: How are you monitoring the crocodiles? And what does a crocodile have to do in order for you to identify it as “malportado? “

They said they are monitoring the crocodiles by observing them. I was imagining chips and tracking devices, but no. That’s way too Animal Planet. “Monitoring” means that MINAE has people watching over the crocodiles. (I haven’t seen these monitors. Maybe you have?) Later in the meeting MINAE stated that they have 7 people in charge of “monitoring” 26,000 hectares. Or maybe I misunderstood that? I hope so. And a naughty crocodile, one who could get itself on the bad-boy list for possible deportation to Puerto Humo, is one that shows abnormal interest in people. Swimming near people. Looking at people. Not humbly slinking away.

MINAE wants us to report to them—that’s the most useful thing I learned at the meeting. If you see a human feeding a crocodile, make a denuncia. If you see a crocodile showing interest in humans, make a denuncia! (I’m not sure it’s called a denuncia if it’s against an animal, but you get what I mean.) MINAE says that for all of the videos on social media and for all the fussing and fuming there is about people feeding crocs, there has not ever been ONE SINGLE denuncia filed against anyone with MINAE. Which is silly. A few denuncias, a long time ago, would have enabled them to act before things turned out the way they did. Or anyway, that’s the story in retrospect. Point being: if you see any funny stuff between people and crocodiles—regardless of which species is the perpetrator—call MINAE. They’ll be right over after they finish observing the other 25,000 hectares they’re in charge of.

Other people asked questions, but I don’t really remember what they were. (I don’t advertise this a lot, but I’m actually quite selfish.) We spent A LOT of time reviewing the evils of people who feed crocs and the wonderful power of signs. Signs in red, to be specific. Red was praised. I’m not kidding. (And all sarcasm aside, red is better than the brown-and-yellow ones originally posted behind the high tide mark.)

I asked my other question to Laura The Crocodile Expert. Because I wanted someone at that table of “experts” to say it to my face. I said, “You’re the crocodile expert. You know these animals better than anyone else in this room. So tell me. Now that the big bad crocodile is gone, but knowing that there are others nearby who were certainly fed by humans, would you , if you were a surfer like I am, put your board in the water and surf in the mouth of the estuary?” Everybody laughed nervously. And Laura said, “No.” Not in the mouth of the estuary, she wouldn’t. No matter how good the waves were. That’s like chilling out on their buffet table.

People surf in the river mouth every day, and so far all of us have been safe. I didn’t say that, because she gave me her honest opinion, which is what I asked for. And she confirmed that my persisting fears are not an irrational.

Now, looking back on it, I feel a small (but futile) twinge of victory. I didn’t mean to set a trap, but if you think about it, I guess the panel of experts admitted that even though they’ve “done something” about the crocodile “problem” in Tamarindo, it still isn’t “safe.” Babies, dogs and surfers, beware: MINAE is working to protect us within the bounds of the law, but the crocodile expert wouldn’t go for a swim.

I took this photo in April 2016, of a crocodile exhibiting "abnormal" behavior--chilling there staring me down. If it ever happens again, I will call MINAE.

I took this photo in April 2016, of a crocodile exhibiting “abnormal” behavior–chilling there staring me down.  If it ever happens again, I will call MINAE.

What I Know in the Ocean / The Good Kind of Zero

There are some things that I think about/feel/know when I’m in the ocean that don’t come to me in the same way any other time.  It’s not about surfing.  I step into the water and stand there with it swirling around my knees, or I lie on my back and float.  And things come to me.

Lo Que Es La Orilla del Mar:

It’s the end of the world and the beginning of what is after/before.   Es donde la vida eterna se toca con la vida mortal.  It is the place where now meets forever.  Right here.  Right where my feet are.  This is the place.  It’s the end.

It’s also the beginning.  It is the amniotic fluid that carries our planet which is constantly being born.

Skin:

I like to float on my back and look up at the sky.  I think about how only a thin layer of skin separates the salt water I am made of from the salt water that holds me up.  It’s those few millimeters that keep me from blending in with Everything.  On land, I am an individual.  In the ocean, I am molecules of salt water among the others.  It’s not a bad feeling.  I tried to write a poem about it but there wasn’t anything else to say.

The Feeling of Zero:

I step into the ocean and what comes to me is the feeling of zero.  Not in a bad way; in a good way.  You might call it “peace” or “balance” or something, but for me that’s those aren’t the right words.  I feel zero.  My Mennonite upbringing would probably say I am feeling “forgiveness”—but there’s no sense of relief associated with it, and no guilt.  It’s quieter.  Like zero is what I owe and zero is what is owed to me.  Like I’ve done, or am doing, what I have to do, and nothing more is required of me than to be what I am.  Zero doesn’t mean that everything is going to be alright, or the way I like it.  It means that the world was here before me, and it will be here after me, and THAT is what is alright.  I don’t need to do or become or accomplish anything in order to make things different than what they are.  Like I do not owe a debt to the Universe and It does not owe me a paycheck.  Zero.  A good zero.

And one more thing.

I walk in to the ocean, past the breakers when the tide is low.  I lie on my back and float, looking up at the clouds.  I think, “This is where I will go when I die.”  Right there.  In the ocean, past the breakers.  It’s not a major item of concern for me what happens to my body after I die—my main concern is that it happens a really long time from now.  But who are we kidding?  I don’t have children or grandchildren who will want to visit my grave.  Got knows I haven’t got a red cent to leave behind, so I don’t imagine anyone will feel possessed to bury me.

I used to think about that in the States.   “Please, when I die, take me and pour me into warm salt water.  Don’t leave me here.  If I can’t live where I belong, at least take my ashes there.”

So I float in the ocean, miro el cielo, and I wonder if this is not in some ways like lying in my grave for a while on a sunny afternoon.  Just floating.  Checking out the scenery.  Watching some hunting birds glide by now and again.   Sometimes you can see the moon. Feeling the good kind of zero.

Does that seem morbid?  I hope not.  If it does, I did a bad job of describing it.  It’s very peaceful.  Then I have to trudge back onto the sand, pedal my bike up the hill, and decide what to make for dinner.

Shout-Out to My First Surf Instructor

This is a shout-out to my first surf instructor, Court Snider.

At the beginning of 2001, I moved to Tamarindo beach. Everything before that is a long story involving marriage and divorce and coming here a lot for work, but in 2001 all of that was in the past. I decided that I wanted to learn to surf. I’ve always loved water so I had to at least try. Unfortunately, I’ve never been terribly athletic—but lucky for me, surfing is not a team sport so nobody has to pick you. Anybody can play, if you suck you don’t ruin it for anyone else, and as long as you’re having fun, you’re winning. What’s not to love?

You cannot just guess how to surf (unless you’re very young or very athletic—which I wasn’t); somebody has to teach you. Court was in his early 50s then, or at least that’s how I remember it, an American expat with that slow calm that people get after a lifetime of surfing. He borrowed a big foam board from the surf shop where he wife worked and one terribly windy day in February when the there was no swell at all, only flat frothy chop, he took me out in front of the Capitan Suizo Hotel. If I remember right, he didn’t push me into waves—from day one he made me paddle.

It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t as fun as I’d hoped, either. Court kept grumbling about the “conditions” which meant nothing at all to me—my problem was staying on the board. And I’m not talking about standing up. I’m talking about staying on it lying down. Then you’re supposed to look at what’s coming up behind you while you paddle forward, and the wind is blowing water in your face and you can’t see anything. And then all of the sudden the wave picks up the back of the board and everything goes to hell in a handbasket. I scraped my eyebrow open on the sand on the bottom.

It gets better if you don’t quit.

Anybody who has figured out how to ride a surfboard, even if they screw up a lot, is not a quitter.

Court told me two things I’ll always remember. One, he told me years later as we sat on our boards watching the horizon. It didn’t mean much to me at the time. In fact, to be honest, I thought it seemed a little lame. But I’m closer, now, to his age then. I’ve been surfing longer. I’ve been more places and done more things. Maybe that’s the difference. “Life only makes sense when I’m surfing,” is what he said.

I think about that every single time I’m on a board.  “Life only makes sense when I’m surfing.” Or: my life only makes sense to me when I’m surfing. I have to say, I find it true. When I’m surfing, it’s very clear how everything has converged to bring me right here (right there, in the line-up with the tide coming in). And how everything has converged to bring the sets of waves across thousands of miles of ocean to the shore where one girl has traveled thousands of miles and given up everything to meet them. If we were sitting on surf boards together right now gazing into the horizon and I said that to you, it would make all the sense in the world. Guaranteed.

The other thing I got from Court, not about surfing although it has its applications: “Everything works if you let it.” Not applicable to things like deceased machinery and abusive relationships, but within the realm of the reasonable—everything works if you let it. In one way or another. Maybe in the way you had in mind, maybe not. If It doesn’t work, maybe you aren’t letting it.  Maybe.

Thank you, Court. For taking me out in the water and showing me how to stay calm. You were right about everything.

Jetty Edge

We twist around to
look out the rear window
laughing until tears blind us
and I’m afraid you are
going to back off the edge
in the dark, that we will
tumble over the rocks into the
Pacific but I can’t stop
laughing.

I can see the headlines:
Stoned Americans Back Jeep Over Jetty
Edge, Directly Into Ocean.
I say, “Go slow,” and you sputter that
you’re going all of two miles
per hour but my God being
this close to you makes me
so dizzy I can’t see and my
hair tangles in what must be your
solar wind.

Bright white shapes move
behind us, a group of cows wandering
out onto the jetty to graze,
and you say, “What are those?
People?” and I laugh more because
you’re wasted and they are cows.
My sides hurt and I can’t talk.
But then they really are
other people walking to their cars,
people who got off the boat with us.

I say, “I thought they were cows,” and
then you have to stop the car because
you are laughing too hard and you
tell me I’m crazy which we both
already know.

I don’t say it, but I don’t
care if you drive over the rocks and
we drown together tonight.
Go ahead.
All day we sailed
on the boat with the sun
slathering our skin drinking
rum and everybody kept passing
the joints and singing along to Bob’s guitar.
I never even smoke and I
tried not to, but I would do
anything for you.
Try me, I would.