Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Love Note to 2014, March 18 - 30

I love the sudden sproutings of nieces and nephews - re-seen after months,
limbs stretched,
eyes deeper with questions and idiosyncrasies.

I love coming home.

I love this late March rain that pounds and pools in rippling, unstill puddles,
worms uncoil in earth made wet,
and seed casements rupture from root and stem.

I love this love of dirt,
some strange inkling that I might yet be a gardener.

I love the purring of cats,
their ludicrous headbutts,
the way their passions run to tip of tail and twitch of ear.

I love the kindness of my sons, which just might be the most important thing.

I love the charm that Monica exerts on people that she meets,
because I glimpse what made me love so irrevocably.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Back into the fray

A week ago we returned from our travels in Costa Rica, back into the teeth of a winter still going strong.  After a few hours sleep I was at work, leading phone research calls among Midwesterners about sustainable agriculture.  And the week since has intensified the pace.

We have three projects wrapping up, none of which I'm involved in, except for sporadic editing of drafts as they pass by.  But we are ramping up 5 active research projects that I'll be managing.  One on sustainable agriculture, one on money in politics, one on how to craft a progressive model of government, and two over-lapping ones on matters of budgets and taxation, with the first focused on Washington state and the other national.

Gardening has gone completely off the rails.  I don't even have my seeds yet, and I'm going to have to scramble for seed potatoes depending on what I find in the cellar.  But on the bright side, the ground is still frozen, so at least I'm not gnashing my teeth like all the other gardeners.  This weekend I'll rake the raised bed and put on some cold frames to start warming up the soil for when I do have something to plant.

I still haven't unpacked my suitcase.  I'll probably be traveling for a week or so to Wisconsin (on a taxes and budgets project) as well as to the Midwest (on the sustainable agriculture project).  There are another 4 such trips to another 4 states on the governance project - but I'll have to hire ethnographer(s) for most or all of those.  Mix in a trip to California to see Porter at the end of April and it may be that gardening never gets back on the rails.  And the bees had best look after themselves.

Nico may have to start pulling his weight around here . . .

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Love Note to 2014, March 11-17, in Costa Rica

at Rio Celeste
I love the Oropendola in their raucous colonies of woven, swaying nests - these birds whose calls ring out as penny whistle, bamboo chime, and snare drum.

I love the frigate birds whose easy grace on cliffside, seaside air belie their silhouettes so sharp and weapon-ish.

The gaudiness of honey creepers, tanagers, and colibri, fierce feathers flashing like they're made of molten metal.

I love the din of howler monkeys that hootfully proclaim a sprawling forest valley as their own.

I love to take an unknown twisting road through woods and farms and dusty villages,

To stop at some dark and shaded soda for beans and rice and icy fruit refresco.

To have my sons along so some of this weaves into who they are and will become.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Manuel Antonio national park

Fiery-billed aracaris
This is our fourth visit to Costa Rica, but we've never been to Manuel Antonio, despite the fact that it is one of the most popular destinations in the country - for Ticos and foreigners alike.  A spit of land on the coast has been preserved as a nature preserve, and the outskirts of the park have sprouted a bewildering array of hotels and restaurants.

Playa Manuel Antonio
We've usually gone a bit more low key and off the beaten path.  But at some point you have to do these kinds of things - just as you have to see Arenal.

Nico, Monica and I left the car at the entrance to the park, hemmed and hawed about hiring a guide - in the end deciding not to.  Most of the trails are closed for maintenance, so the main path, which leads to the most popular beach was fairly peopled.  Still, we saw sloths and fiery-billed aracari, and a golden naped woodpecker on a leafless tree.  There was a turtle beneath a culvert - one of the few remaining pools of fresh water in this dry season.  A troop of howler monkeys moved noisily overhead.  Blue morpho butterflies fluttered down the path.  Passing conversations were in Spanish, German, Russian, English and others.

Our balcony
The beach is beautiful, with fruit trees all along the high tide line offering shade.  We set up on a large piece of driftwood.  Nico and I went into the warm water to swim.  Monica stayed by the stuff, since the beach is notorious for thieving capuchins.  (Though it was actually a pair of persistent raccoons that were working that beach.)  Clara, Eckart and Sofie joined us soon after.

When we'd had enough, the rest left me to go to the municipal beach where there would be food and beer and musicians.  I opted to walk the trail out onto Cathedral point instead.  I took it slowly, watching for birds, though it was the middle of the day and everything was on siesta.  But the views were magnificent - waves over rocky islands and frigate birds riding the wind.  I saw a couple of agoutis - like slender capybara quietly going about their business.  And a pair of beautiful hawks cruising among the vultures.  A small deer walked past me on the path, sniffing at me suspiciously.

I came to another beach - less populated - and took a swim to cool off.  I kept an eye on my un-defended stuff from the water, but there were no signs of raccoons or monkeys here -- only iguanas.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Volcán Arenal

Volcán Arenal  
It's a drier than usual dry season here, but the slopes of the great volcanos are still covered in lush forest.  Arenal is the most active of Costa Rica's volcanos, though is has been quiescent for a couple of years.  No lava runs down its sides -- only streamers of steam emerge upon the peaks.

Waterfall on Rio Danta
Lunch at the lodge

The first night we stayed at a resort outside of the town of Fortuna at the foot of the mountain.  Swimming pools for the boys, hot springs for Monica and birdwatching for me.

The second night was at the Arenal Observatory Lodge.  Dozens of species of birds move around the gardens and woods there.  Coatis roam the property scavenging.  Geckos, "gek-gek-gek-gek!" noisily as they hunt in the rafters for prey.

Early in the morning, before I went walking I recorded the sounds: Oropendola, distant howler monkeys, crested guan and all the other birds of the dawn chorus . . .

Porter took a picture at night - the mountain under the big dipper:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Rio Celeste and Volcan Tenorio

In Costa Rica, south of Lake Nicaragua, a series of volcanos dot the landscape from the northwest to the southeast. One of those is the triple-humped Volcan Tenorio, famous as the headwaters for the Rio Celeste.  A sulfurous vent and calcium carbonate cause the river to run an opalescent blue.  We hiked up into the cloud forest to the catarata, past blue lakes and bubbling hot springs.  To the strange place where a white vein of mineral slashes across the crystal clear river.  There the river is shocked immediately into its unlikely shade of blue.

click on any picture to enlarge

The Love Note to 2014: February 16 to March 10

February 16 to March 10:

I love words.

These baskets woven of sound - these containers for some nugget that we have cut from the stream of our thinking.  We click and hiss and hammer the air and another brain catches our thoughts.

I love the murmur of a place where people gather - air vibrating as these woven baskets and their cargoes of meanings move among minds.

I love that humans play with this elaborately crazy adaptation - we joke, we sing, we pun.

I love to travel to places visited long ago.  To see the peaks of Olympus rising above the Puget Sound and think, "Oh, I'd forgotten how they loom over the city in light like this."  To see old friends who are sudden years farther down their paths and have them see me.  To replace memories that are tattered, blurred and incomplete, with new ones.

I love when memories of place get crossed - the drizzle of Seattle so exactly like the soft rain of Cork.  

I love to travel to places new.  In Costa Rica, there is a place upon the skirt of a volcano where a little seam of white turns a river an opalescent blue.  And markets where the fruit is strange and the seller must explain what parts to eat - tomate de palo, cas, manzana de agua, rambutan . . .

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Anatomy of a Long Day

February 27:
I wake up in the morning in a house perched upon a hillside.  It is Mercer Island in Seattle's Lake Washington, and I am staying with old friends, Jordan and Susan.  We were housemates 20-odd years ago, when Jordan was trying to be both artist and anthropologist.  (He's an artist now.)  Beyond the far shore the peaks of the Olympic peninsula loom among clouds.  Every evening Jordan soaks some steel-cut oats and in the morning cooks them with dried fruits and nuts.  Susan has already gone off to work at  a school district to the north.  There is fresh coffee in the pot, and I eat my share of the oatmeal.

I'm here to work - on a week's sojourn in Washington state talking to people about taxation, government, community and such things.  The first two days I did a few longer sit-down interviews and walked the parks on Lake Washington talking to the young immigrants and others who were enjoying the rare sunny day.  But today, I don't have any appointments lined up, so I load my equipment into the car: a small video camera on a tripod, a pair of maps, a little black notebook and a laptop computer.

I drive southward, finding the 515.  I stop somewhere near the town of Kent in a land of strip malls and franchises.  I find a pair of African American women sitting in their car waiting for a Chinese mechanic.  They don't want to be taped, but I talk with them - about what it means to be a single-mother Black woman in Washington state, about taxes and community, and the priorities of the powers-that-be, about what might change and what won't.  After 20 minutes of so, when their mechanic arrives I thank them and leave.  I step into a vacuum repair store, but the proprietor won't talk to me, and a leather store where the proprietor's Mexican brother is willing to talk, though he knows little enough about Washington state.  I spend a quarter of an hour in a nail salon.  (The old Vietnamese woman who owns the place tries to destroy my camera with a glare, but when I close it up she ignores me and returns to giving the manicure.)  A Black girl with indigo toenails and a young Mexican couple with a toddler talk with me about the state and about taxes and jobs and getting going in life.

Soon I am driving further south.  Route 515 has ended, but with the Cascades on one side and Puget Sound on the other there is only so lost I can get.  I come across a large and bustling community college, where the guard seems uninterested in me.  I first interview a half dozen Danish students, but their take on things is pretty irrelevant to the task at hand.  A pair of landscapers are willing to talk and I video tape a chat with an Alaskan Vietnam vet, who's been in Washington since the 70's.  And I talk to a pair of friends sitting by a fountain - one Black one White - neither of whom seem particularly bright, but that's a demographic, too.  I get a trio of students - one African American, one half and half Italian, and a half-Anglo-half-Mexicano.  They are sharp and articulate and trying to find a way in a society more or less indifferent, if not hostile to their success.  It's a good, long, rich, far-ranging interview there in the bustling center of the college.  They take me into the main building to introduce me to others who'd have something to say, but I have to move on after some brief, polite interrogations.

Down out of the hills I find the run-down center of Auburn.  A construction crew is tearing up the central avenue because of some water main issue.  I interview a conservative union contractor outside of a bar where he'd stepped out to have a smoke.  I interview a liberal man out walking his dog.  But I'm hungry now, and a local woman directs me to a Vietnamese restaurant.  I have a soup and a mango bubble tea with black tapioca pearls in the bottom.

I get back on the road to Tacoma.  I walk the streets of Tacoma.  I shoot some video of the port across the river mouth - with its piers and ships and billowing smokestacks.  I'm pleased by some shots with a curious gull in the foreground.  I'm not finding many people to interview.  A parking attendant, a quartet of state workers on a smoke break, but the conversations are brief.  Probably I'm done for the day.  The ability to charm or cajole a person into a spontaneous conversation with a stranger is a delicate thing, and once that ability falls away, there is little chance of gathering useful data.

In any case, I need to offload my video and write down my notes for the ones that weren't taped.  I stop in a cafe in Des Moines for a couple of hours.  I drink a peppermint tea and tip the high school girls 5 dollars for letting me work there in peace.  I drive back north along highway 99 toward Seattle - past all the seaside industry.

I find my way to Freemark Abbey upon Phinney Ridge, where a poetry reading is scheduled.  An old friend has a new book out and she is reading from it tonight with some other poets. (There's a conference of writers in town.)  I know it must be 15 years since I saw her last, because I remember showing her my son Porter as a babe in arms.  She's surprised to see me there on the corner outside.  I can't stay long - but enough to hold hands and stare at each other and marvel at the trajectories of life.

There is another reading across town I've promised to go to - friend I've known since high school.  There is nowhere to park near the bar where he is reading poetry.  I drive around for a while until I settle on a little pay parking lot, buy my coupon, lock up and go off in search of the place.  It’s a gallery actually, but move down past the art and there is a bar in the back.  A beautiful woman with olive skin and a black dress is reading the last couple of her poems, and I settle in with a glass of red wine.  The poets read and I listen.

Afterwards, we go out for dinner and conversation - a couple of poets, a publisher and his wife, and another woman.  The first restaurant we try is packed, but upstairs is the Tin Table.  (Across the corridor is a hall filled with a swirling mass of dancers -- every age sweating and spinning, coming out in the hallway to cool off and stretch.  The sound of swing music reverberates.) This restaurant doesn't have any tables either, but they settle us in a rough circle of easy chairs.  They bring me grilled trout and my friend has wild boar sausages and we split a bottle of Verducchio.

When it is time to go my friend and I walk the couple of blocks to where my jeep in parked.  As I go to unlock the door, it takes me a moment to comprehend what I am seeing - that there is a glittering constellation of glass all over the back seat.  When I comprehend it, I mutter to my friend that someone has smashed in the window.  He curses and curses again when I tell him that the thief took my camera, laptop and all the video that I shot over the past three days.  I set about picking up glass that has fallen onto the front seat, mentally going through the inventory of things that are gone.

He asks me if I want to scream, but I don't want to scream.  I'm annoyed that I parked in such a dark corner, and that so much of the past days' work is lost.  But it has been more than 25 years since I've been robbed.  In that time I have intentionally not worried myself and I have trusted much and taken my chances.  That seems like a pretty good deal.  My coat and gloves are gone, though the thief left the second-hand novels that I'd bought for the plane.  The thick purple straw from the bubble tea is gone -- along with most of what I'd left there from lunchtime.  My friend takes pictures of the damage and talks to the police about how to report the crime.  But it is nearly midnight and there is nothing that a police officer could do tonight.  I will file the report tomorrow.

I take my friend back to his lodgings, and drive out across the bridge toward Mercer Island.  The open back window creates a throbbing, reverberation in the car that threatens to give me a headache.  But the day is nearly over.