Geckos make little barking noises at each other, drawing lines, setting boundaries, establishing who gets which insects from what corner near the light that draws bugs near. Occasionally, some sort of night bird screeches, and I hear cooing from one of the trees in the garden.

I talked to a woman who told me she and her family were so afraid of lizards that when one got inside their home, near San Diego, they all stayed outside. When the lizard ended up in the couch, they had a neighbor take the couch away. As a six-year-old, my daughter K.C. would have taken that lizard outside the house and put it somewhere in the sun to be happy, then brought it something to eat.

This morning, a long-tailed bird with top feathers, it’s a magpie or jay in Costa Rica style, lands on the chair on the opposite side of the table from me. He eyes my granola. I paid good money for this breakfast, I tell him, it’s out of the question.

This is by far the fanciest restaurant I’ve been in on this trip. The waiter is deferential, even after he asks, “Are you staying here at the hotel, sir?”

Um, no. I wandered up from the beach.

He is still polite after I order the cheapest breakfast on the menu (but it’s my first choice! Regardless of price! I want to tell him. But I stick to ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ He knows I know.) It was a lovely walk through the sand, past tents where the nomads live, if you will, past elegant round huts with peaked roofs and just enough room for a bed and bathroom for upscale guests staying at the hotel.

I’m on my fourth or fifth cup of Costa Rica coffee (I really should throw out all that Starbucks I brought. What was I thinking!?) when I finally arrive, late and out of breath, to a semblance of awareness. I debate whether watermelon is a waste of red. But covered in yogurt and a sprinkle of granola, it serves as a vehicle, if not a fruit.

Papaya, now that’s another story.

Other guests of all ages slowly fill the veranda. The waiter treats us all equally, but he is starting to get behind as he brings fruit and yogurt, or French Toast, or pancakes or omelettes.

I can tell he’s not catching up by the way he asks the couple dithering over a decision of what to have for breakfast, as if world peace hung in the balance, if they needed just a little more time. He’s still a pro.

Some of these people can purchase anything on the menu, possibly purchase the hotel. But there is silence on the patio, even between couples. Especially between couples. No one seems to be particularly glad to be here, having breakfast. Maybe it’s too early, but there was more laughter at the small bakery outside the back door of the cheap hostel where I stay in the middle of town, when I headed down the beach a little after dawn on my first walk of the day.

An ancient, tiny man, bird-like and nearly lost in the plumage of an expensive Hawaiian shirt not that large, and red shorts, comes to the table with a full figured woman who is maybe a third his age. I want to believe she is his nurse, but her top falls open when she leans forward to sip her coffee and she makes no effort to conceal her breasts.

“Maybe we should buy some aloe body lotion,” she suggests. “Should I look for some After-bite?” Both comments take me to a place I don’t want to go. When the waiter comes, she flashes him a coy smile.

“How are you today?” she asks in a tone that is intimate all by itself. The smile lingers as she looks at her aged companion, as if gauging his reaction.

“I am good. And how are you?” replies the waiter, just within a boundary that makes it seem he may be slyly mocking her. She has a small silk scarf that had been around her neck. Now she pulls it nervously between her two hands, twining and untwining it between her fingers. Eventually she wraps it tightly around the index and middle finger of her left hand like a bandage to staunch a bleeding.

Pelicans are masters of wave energy. As waves push air up on their way to shore, pelicans glide just in front of the curl, wingtips inches from the water, getting lift.  At the last second, just before the wave rolls over, they peel off and out from the land to hitchhike on the next set on their way up the coast.

If they see a fish, they quickly point up, do a wing over then dive, wings raked back and beak straight down, into the water to catch a meal. Sometimes they sit there and swallow, sometimes they miss and immediately take wing.

After writing all morning, I walk a hundred yards to a cafe looking over the beach to brave a lunch of bacon and chicken and cheese. A middle aged Tico collects sticks and leaves left by the surf on the sand. He moves slowly in the hot sun; I wonder if he has been hired to clean up the beach or is scavenging firewood.

A young woman stands beside my table taking pictures of the shore. I look up and she says to me, “It’s so beautiful, isn’t it?” I compliment her Nikon, trying to place her accent, different than most I’ve been hearing on this trip but vaguely familiar.

“I’m from Israel,” she says. I ask what part. She says the north. I ask what town or kibbutz.

“You know Israel? Have you been there?” she asks.

“I was a volunteer in the Yom Kippur War, long before you were born,” I tell her. “They called us ‘Mitnavin.’ The volunteers. ”

She says something to the others at the table and they look at me with interest.

“How did you go there?” she asked.

“I was in Greece when Syria attacked Israel. The leader of Israeli Defense Forces, Moshe Dyan, the man with the eye patch? said ‘Haifez Assad believes it is 200 kilometers from Damascus to Tel Aviv. I’m here to tell him it is also 200 kilometers from Tel Aviv to Damascus.’ I said to myself, this is a war I can believe in, and volunteered.

“Because I wasn’t a Jew, they refused me at the embassy in Athens, so I flew into Tel Aviv. Eventually I got a job driving a forklift in Kyriat Shmona, where Katyusha rockets had fallen. I watched Israelis retake the Golan Heights.”

“You have given me goose bumps,” she says to me, pointing at her arm. “I have never met a volunteer who was not a Jew.”

A large bird, it looked just like an owl but maybe it just had its head tucked tight to its body because why would an owl be out at noon in this heat, glided quickly past the corner of the restaurant. I stand to get a better look but it is gone, down and round the corner before I can see more. The girl takes a few more pictures, tells me she has to run, they are going to catch a ferry.

The trail up to the waterfall is like walking along smooth rock trails that wind along the McKenzie or Deschutes, rivers of “my” Cascades, though I wouldn’t do those in flip flops. It’s what I had on, I was wearing my usual black swim/running shorts, the white shirt I live in but had wrapped around my waist. It took about 20 minutes and I was glad for the uphill workout, though it was not at all difficult.

At the falls, two men sat on rocks, playing chess. A man played a small Hang, the drum-like instrument I’d been introduced to in Santa Elena, sounding more like a steel drum than anything else, hollow notes ringing in the rock amphitheater with a metallic harmonic that played with notes of the flute played by the man sitting in a hollow nearby. They were musical elves where falls filled a pool deep and clear. Thirty or so people all clapped when a young boy made a 40 foot plunge into the water.

Older, stronger men did not go nearly as high.

Two girls from the falls were stopped on the road as I walked back to the main area of Montezuma. I asked what they could see.

“A parrot, a tiny one,” said the blond, pointing to a bird the size of a sparrow and not  much more colorful. She was from Newport, Oregon, about 180 miles from my home town but she’d never heard of it, she moved to Newport only a year and a half ago from Alaska, she said, but spends winters elsewhere to get out of Oregon’s rain.

We talk about salmon fishing in Alaska, where I had worked in South Naknek, and she said, “I did salmon too, and squid,” I think she said.  She had elegant tattoos, some from Mexico, others from Hermosa Beach, California, one tracking the vertabrae of her spine with either a pattern or letters in Chinese, I didn’t want to be close enough to look.

“I wanted to get one in Costa Rica but I haven’t met anyone here who does tattoos,” she said.

I said goodbye because I wanted one more walk up the beach. There was a small outcropping of red rock I’d seen this morning. The rock pure in color and smoothed by the ocean. I didn’t know what it was, but knew it was something I’d not seen ever before.

At the edge of the jungle, birds were singing about something that made them happy. Afternoon brought many people to the sand, to surf and swim and offer to the softening sun as much skin as they possibly could, which in some cases, was quite a lot.

The outcropping of red rock shattered the stone I brought as a small hammer, it was much harder than I thought, but a small piece came loose and I put it in my pocket  for the trip across the gulf to Jaco the next morning.


The shuttle was late, but Ryan wasn’t back yet either. Ava came out several times to the dusty sun-baked street of Samara to look for him.

I finally told her that if she was going to be on watch, I was going back in the shade to drink my coffee. She laughed and said she’d keep an eye out.

Five minutes later she called to me that the shuttle was coming. Ryan got back at the same time, carrying two styrofoam containers of scrambled eggs, rice and beans. After we got our bags on board and climbed on, we sat together in back.The vinegary smell of chili Tabasco sauce wafted up when he opened the lid. It made my stomach rumble.

I’d bought my breakfast the day before. I knew I was truly on the road when I stopped going out to eat just to eat. One of the local tiendas sold yoghurt and granola, mangos and bananas. My room had a fridge, so I took advantage of a chance to breakfast like I do at home looking out on the Three Sisters.

I’d had dinner with Ron the night before. He seemed a bit lonely, stopping at chairs of various young couples to ask where they were going, where they were from. Most often, he sat on the beach in the shade, drinking beer from cans with an Austrian Eagle, smoking Viceroy cigarettes.

I wondered what his story might be, asked if he wanted to join me for dinner.

Rather than the conversation I was hoping for, he mostly complained about food prices in Costa Rica, prices at this restaurant on the sand in Samara. He said most things with an unpleasant half laugh, as if that leavened the complaining. A couple of times I suggested he didn’t need to keep me company, there were less expensive places up the beach, but he found something he was reluctantly willing to spend the money on, so I listened while he told me about jobs he’d had he didn’t like, exgirlfriends who were whack jobs, family members who were envious.

But there were benefits, he pointed out more than once.

“No wife, no kids; my money’s my own to spend.” I got up once to go back to my room for air, and to bring him cream so he wouldn’t have to compulsively scratch at bug bites he’d picked up in Nicaragua on his legs. He reminded me, for reasons I can’t quite pull together, of the hermit crabs I found scuttling about on my way back to my room.

I first noticed the tracks. They were everywhere. An uneven line drawn in the sand, flanked by little divots in a row on each side. I’d not noticed them during the day, and since they went over and through recent footsteps from the casitas, I knew they were nocturnal and fresh. But I could hear nothing, see nothing. I hoped they weren’t rats.

There were so many of these tiny trails, I knew whatever was causing them must be close by. So I stopped walking and stood as still as I possibly could.

It didn’t take long. One by one, what I thought were small rocks and shells in the sand started to stand up and move. Hermit crabs! Everywhere! As soon as I walked near, they pulled into their shell and dropped to the sand and became just part of the landscape.

I picked one up to peek at the occupant. His legs were wrapped into a fist guarding the entrance, the largest claw holding it all together.

On the bus the next day I worried that rather than the dynamic and creative Ryan, the accomplished and athletic Eaton, I was one of those older cliches traveling alone, unable to know why I had no connection, shelled up in a past I didn’t really understand but carried around with me.

But my breakfast mango had been fresh and sweet, a nice contrast to the tang of real yoghurt, all mixed up with granola roasted in fat and sugar I chose to ignore, or pretend it was oats.

On the bus, Ryan told me he always cut it close.

“You ever miss a connection?” I asked him.

“Once, in Paris, I missed a train. We’d been out, I overslept or my alarm didn’t go off. It wasn’t a big deal, I caught another. Once I missed a plane.” I couldn’t be sure but I think he said he’d overslept for that one, too.

Ryan is a young filmmaker from New York. He had wrapped up a “narrative comedy” just before coming to Costa Rica. Ava has two more months of classes at Brooklyn Law, and will take her law board exams this summer. She has already interviewed for jobs, wants to go into criminal law. I try out a joke I use in a book being reviewed by a publisher, also a female lawyer.

“The trouble with criminal law is that you have to deal with criminals.” I wait for her to smile. She doesn’t.

“But that’s what I like,” she says, not a hint she caught the glint. She is so earnest, so sweet. Ryan hasn’t figured out what to do with his styrofoam container of leftover breakfast. Ava takes and stacks it on top of hers, and holds both in her lap until our next stop where she will be the one to throw them away.

Ryan’s narrative comedy is about guys who are movers in New York. “A keyhole view of the city,” he says. It sounds full of possibility, but at first I didn’t get that these weren’t real moving men.

“When I pitch it, they always say, ‘Hey, that’s a great concept for a reality show.’ I say, ‘Really! That’s an idea.’ ” Ryan and I agree that reality TV has cumulatively lowered America’s IQ.

We get out of the minibus in Nicoya to change to a larger bus coming down the coast. Ryan comes across the highway with another styrofoam container of food. On the way out of town, I see a sign pointing to “Tres Hermanas Bar and Grill.” Three Sisters Bar and Grill? Are you kidding me? What kind of cosmic joke is that?

I want to tell someone that I live in the shadow of the Three Sisters in Oregon and there, right there! is a sign in Spanish about the Three Sisters Bar and Grill but … but it’s not funny. Not significant. It just is.

The hills in this central part of the peninsula on the west side of Costa Rica remind me of the hills south of San Francisco, California, between San Jose, California and Monterey. They are dry, low, harshly covered in scrub; waiting for the rainy season. When we cross river beds, sometimes driving through them, men are working on bridges, a backhoe reforms in the channel; preparing for rainy season.

There are large trees full of bright pink blossoms but seemingly without any leaves. I wonder how they do that, why the work/reward ratio isn’t out of whack. Don’t they need leaves to create the blossoms?

There are more seats on this larger bus. Across from me sits a younger woman reading a book written by a Norwegian, translated into German, about a murder in Sweden at a masquerade party in a park; three young people were murdered and put into plastic bags, so it was impossible to tell when the murders occurred.

As Donata is telling me this, she struggles to find the right word for why the plastic bags made it impossible to tell when the young people were killed.

“Decomposed,” I offer.

“Yes! That’s it!”

We stop again at another way point. I’m still not hungry and like me, Donata hasn’t found Costa Rica cuisine to be something of excitement. “I don’t like so much the food,” she says in her German accent. We stand outside waiting for the bus to reload. She is well over six feet tall in flat shoes. I can’t see if Ryan, thin as he is, has found another meal but I’m sure I saw him looking.

Donata is from around Cologne, in Germany. She is a doctor, OB/Gyn. She went to Heidelberg. “A great university,” I say. “You know Heidelberg?!” She is charming in her willingness to talk about the mystery she is reading, and why she is on this bus today, since her two younger sisters were already at the hostel in Montezuma.

“We had our laundry done. The laundry said it would be open at 8, but when we went to get the clothes, no one was there.” So, Donata stayed behind an extra day to get the laundry, her sisters went on to Montezuma where they waited for her. There is only one bus a day down the peninsula. She had to pay for both, for the bus she took and the one she didn’t.

Donata stayed behind because, at 28, she was the oldest. Her youngest sister is 23, a student, her middle sister, a midwife, is 25. There is something in Donata’s German accent that resonates, thematically, as if spoken from the middle of a large room.

They are going to stop in Miami for four days on the way back to Germany. She is baffled by my question, “Why?” and then I realize it was a pretty silly thing to ask. Donata really liked Thailand when she was there, and thinks Sri Lanka is a lot like India, but more modern. She is a traveler, when not a doctor.

I ask Ryan, since I’ve decided he’s an expert, what local food he likes best. Seviche, he and Ava agree has been very good, and grilled fish, either mahi or marlin. I don’t know if that qualifies as local cuisine, but then he talks about a dish of plantain fried with avocado which is something I want to try.

The roads are rough, usually potholed gravel and rock and barely two lane. Where paved, they are potholed asphalt and barely two lane. The bus driver expertly weaves around slower trucks and bicycles that would have had me pause and wait if I were driving my compact Subaru.

I’m finally hungry after I get checked into my room. One of the better restaurants is next door. I wander down and sit at a table closest to where large pacific waves crash hard on dark rock veined with minerals I can’t identify. This is the Pacific I know, full of hissing and low thunder, pounding at the continent, not the easy warm shallows I paddled about yesterday in Samara.

I have an excellent salad of smoked tuna, lettuce, tomatoes, olives, mild onions, croutons and feta cheese. I ask for an iced tea instead of a Coke and what they bring me is the color of tea but must have been made with full cup of sugar. I pretend it’s okay for me to drink since my intentions were good. After a short walk, the sugar leaves my system, taking any residual energy with it and I fall asleep in the hammock outside my room at 5 p.m.

I was awakened just after 10 p.m. by a man’s loud hollering in Spanish. It wasn’t a howl, because his words were distinct. I just couldn’t understand them. It wasn’t simple shouting, either. It sounded like he was making angry demands of someone or something. I could tell he was drunk, maybe making demands of his wife, or kids.

Occasionally he would break into song, of sorts. He had a very powerful voice and was close, maybe in one of the shanties next to the hostel. I finally got up from my sleep, drugged from heat and travel and an iced tea listed as herbal but laced with sugar of near lethal proportions. I walked out to the barely lit tiny main street of this tiny town stretched along sand and palms and mangos in a thin line between cliffs and the Pacific.

He is as big as his voice, or would be if he could stand tall. His huge head has a full full beard shot through with gray that merges with long uncombed hair. Together they form a matted mane. Two metal crutches wrap around his forearms to assist his withered legs. He has a bottle of clear liquid in one hand, maybe a plastic bag in another, a cup sits beside him on the concrete step.

He looks at me as I walk past, only 10 feet away, but doesn’t see me, I don’t think. The cadence of his rant doesn’t change. It’s as if he’s in an argument with people I can’t see, maybe from his past.

Maybe he is arguing with God.

He has a case to be made, after all. Having made his case, he staggers up, trying to hold bottle, bag and crutches. He drops one and I suppress the urge to get it for him. I wonder if he will topple over as he bends to pick it up, but finally he gets all in hand and begins an uncertain progress forward. But just as a couple comes around the corner behind him, his pants fall nearly to his knees, exposing him completely.

God’s rebuttal.

“Mi pantalones…” is all he says, much more quietly than anything he’s said in the last two hours. It takes him a long while to pull them back up with the one hand available after he put the bag of whatever it was in his teeth.

I wonder how many steps he will take before his beltless pants fall again, exposing him again, arresting his agonizing progress again, down a tiny street that ends a hundred yards away in the sand.

No Clue

At the first hotel in Costa Rica, I realized I had no clue of where to head next. But I had a month and could take it a day at a time.  After all, I never expected to to have an interest in butterflies. 

My first exposure to butterflies was decades ago, long before I’d heard anything about the “butterfly effect,” or metamorphosis, or anything to do with the bug, which really didn’t interest me.

It was from Chuang Tzu, a Chinese philosopher, who wrote something to the effect: “I dreamt I was a butterfly, happily flying among the flowers. Then I awoke. But how do I know that I am not a butterfly, dreaming I am Chuang Tzu?”

 More recently, I came across a couple of facts about butterflies that struck me as wonderful and bizarre. The first was that in its metamorphosis, the caterpillar essentially dies, its body turns to soup, and from this soup, a butterfly is assembled.

To me, that’s like making a rooster out of chicken broth.

The second was that in the migration of butterflies north in the spring, the butterfly that arrives is not the one that left the south. It is the fourth generation: It takes three generations of birth, life and death to get north, and the fourth generation of butterfly goes south again to winter in the very same tree as its great, great, grandparent. Four soups ago.

That challenged my notions of  “an individual.”

In the hostel in San Jose going through the Lonely Planet,  I decided my first stop had to be the Monteverde Rainforest. I called up a hostel in Santa Elena recommended primarily for their honest advice, made my reservation and faded early, about 8 p.m.

Admittedly, there are  lows traveling this cheap. But there are  highs, too, that for me outweigh the troubles. I’d walked for miles through the city. I’d taken photos of architecture and guitar players, enjoyed the sights and sounds. I especially liked the rotunda where teens were breakdancing while adults sat on benches along the promenades.

At dinner at the hostel, I had a burger and watched 20 somethings start to get drunk on the upstairs deck. Which I didn’t need to remember in quite that much detail. I was probably asleep by 9.

I woke up at three o’clock to the sound of violent retching.

“Whoa, she’s really sick,” I thought, and rolled over to go back to sleep. I wondered if it was the pot or the vodka the kids were consuming, the sugar in some of the godawful drinks.

“Whoa, he’s really sick too,” I thought a couple of minutes later. I figured I knew which couple it might be.

I was wrong. When I finally got up at 5 a.m., showered and sat in one of the alcoves waiting for coffee to be available at 7 a.m., three girls had taken up residence on the sitting shelf outside stalls of the communal bathroom. Every 10 minutes or so, one of the three would go into one of the stalls and loudly throw up the water she had been drinking. Unless she hadn’t been drinking any, then she’d sing the high notes of dry heaves.

“You are so sick,” I said with sympathy as I walked past. It was sincere, I did feel bad for them.

“Food poisoning,” said the young woman. “The seviche.”

“That’s awful. I’d figured it was the vodka.”

“I don’t think so, we all had the vodka,” she said. After thinking about that, I let it drop. The misery on their faces was something I could still feel, nearly 30 years after last drinking vodka or anything like it. And mostly avoiding seviche in second world kitchens.

I finished the book I was reading, left it behind on the couch and headed out the front door. A book?! I can read on my phone! But leaving things behind is one of the treats of on the street travel. You get lighter the longer you’re out there.

I’d been told to head to the Coca Cola Terminal to catch the bus up north to Santa Elena. A cab driver was at the door. And I jumped in.

We had driven 10 minutes when we came to a park. One of my favorites from my walk the day before. It had the rotunda, and was about a five minute walk from where we started the cab ride 10 minutes before.

“Ah, no,” I said to the cab driver, who spoke no English in that moment. At least I didn’t hear any. But he could tell from my pointing at where we were on the map, and where we started, that our route was far from my favorite. Eventually we were close enough to the bus station I told him to let me out. He didn’t argue.

For 10 minutes I threaded my way through stalls and vendors who had taken up occupancy on already narrow sidewalks, my backpack making me larger sideways than straight ahead, my big bag bumping behind me on the broken pavement. It was hot, the sun was out, the streets busy, cab and lorry drivers seemingly speeding up and on the horn up when I was only half way across an intersection. I was thankful for the miles I’d spent on the river trail at home, the hours in the weight room. It made it pretty easy to haul me and my stuff through the city.

To the wrong bus station.

A cab driver there told me the buses to Santa Elena left from the station in the north. I’d been misinformed. Squinting at the map, and trying to summon enough of my nonexistent Spanish to understand the flea-size print, I decided he was right. He offered to drive me to Santa Elena.

“Three hours,” he said. Three hours was how long it was going to be until the next bus left the station for a five hour ride. But he was saying it would take him three hours to take me to Santa Elena. I told him no, and grabbed the handle of my bag and threaded my way through industrial streets to the bus station for northern destinations. I got there an hour after I left the hotel.

I could have walked there directly in 20 minutes.

I bought my ticket and went to sit in a cafe where I tried unsuccessfully to boot up my computer, had a bit of lunch. Eventually I sat next to a woman from Santa Elena who spoke nearly no English, a younger couple from Poland whose English was quite good, and a young woman with red hair the color of aged and lacquered copper. We watched each other’s bags while we went to the bathroom one last time.

When the bus pulled out of the station I was sitting next to the woman with red hair, 26 years old and from Holland. She was still a university student, and has been traveling for four weeks on a two-month trek through Central America.

She had already been through Asia on a similar adventure, one that took about six months and included riding on the back of a motorcycle for three days through Viet Nam, a trek in Indonesia. Now she’d snorkeled in the Caribbean of Nicaragua, was hassled at the border for not having a specific exit date and nearly denied entry, and like me, is looking for giant butterflies in Costa Rica.

I told them I’d once been on the road for nearly two years in the 70s. The young man from Poland lamented he had gone to work before he started to travel, now he is limited to two week stints. His girlfriend had a dream catcher tattooed on the side of her neck.

We rode for five hours through the low but steep sided hills of Costa Rica. My bus mate told me Holland was quite flat.

“I don’t like having an agenda, an itinerary,” she told me. “If you have an agenda, you don’t see something new, but who you already are. I’d miss so much.” I’d already used that line in a book, or I would have stolen it. She was studying social psychology, would probably teach others. She had been an art student, but could not find enough purpose in that.

When we got to Santa Elena after dark, she went to find a room at one hostel, I trundled off to find my room in another, where I’d called ahead. I’d decided that for the next couple of days, I wanted my own bathroom.

“Oh,” I turned around. “What’s your name?” I thought I’d at least like to know with whom I’d shared the ride and conversation.

“Cheyenne,” she said to me.

“Excuse me?”

“Cheyenne,” she repeated, laughing at the expression on my face.

I turned and walked away, knowing I’d never learn why a young woman from Holland who looked like she’d not seen a day in the sun with hair the color of copper had a Native American name.

After I checked in, I had dinner in Morphos, a restaurant decorated with giant butterflies.

Final countdown

In little more than a day, I’m off to Costa Rica. Took a photo of home, and a dinner from the last week to test the camera and the links. (Click here for photos. Please let me know if something is not working).

Those pictures are also to remind me what I get to come back to when I’m stuck  for a day or two in a bus station where fluorescent lights draw clouds of bugs with teeth, stingers, or suckers, and the hotel, if any, is too far to walk at 3 a.m.

On the other hand, my hope is to see butterflies larger than your hand. And listen to a cacophony of  howler monkeys. To get there, you have to go there. In some places, avoid a couple of poison snakes, and poison dart frogs. Covered in DEET and netting, too, I suppose.

But the ocean beaches are spectacular, I’m told, and warm weather will be a welcome respite. It snowed here again this morning. I’ve been told by experienced travelers that Costa Rica is the most beautiful place they have ever been. Two days of work left and 30 hours to get it done, and I can hardly wait.

It’s been decades since I’ve trekked with no agenda, time targets roughly defined by “or so.” I’ll be in San Jose for a day or so, Jaco for a few days or so, Golfito and David and Boquete for a few days or so each. Back in a month or so.

More to come.


Unforeseen changes

Surprises every turn. Over Christmas, a friend invited me down to Costa Rica. He’s down there at a newish job, had lovely things to say about the area, the country, and I’d always wanted to see it. He’s got a house a minute from the beach where he’s learning to surf, friends, and knowledge of the terrain. But I wasn’t sure if he really meant it or was just being nice, and I had things to do.

Oh yeah.

Then a couple of weeks ago, he reiterated the invite, and asked if I would assist his lovely and fun fiance to get there as well. We talked about logistics, he booked our flights, round trip for me and I’ll be gone for a month.

Oh, yeeaah.

As a result, I have an adventure in front of me, a new old dog waiting when I get back, days full of laughter and great company as she and I pull it all together for her life transition, I try to finish a book and maybe complete a major business transaction with untold but significant impacts on my own life.

Oh, yeeeaaah.

When they’re ready*

Decades ago a dear friend, Bill, drove up my driveway with a very young boy. His brand new wife, a very unstable woman, had just committed suicide. The boy was her son.

Bill left the child with my wife and me for the day. We had a good time, if I remember. He played on the deck in a huge stainless bowl full of water. Late in the day, Bill came back and picked up the boy.

I don’t know when I realized Bill was trying to place his lost son with a family who could care for him. My wife and I weren’t ready. It was some time later we adopted our daughters from India, and they taught me some much needed lessons about unconditional love.

Years later I was meeting with my lawyer, Max, who was also a friend of Bill. We were laughing and doing legal business when Max told me Bill had visited him the same week he’d visited me. Max and his wife, Teresa, did not hesitate. They accepted the boy into their hearts and their family. The next couple of decades were not easy. But their commitment never waned.

Some years passed. I was again in need of Max’ legal fangs, and went to his office. On the floor, on a huge pillow, was the skinniest dog I’d ever seen. She barely struggled to her feet when I came in the room. Max mentioned that she was a bit of work, getting her out to go to the bathroom, lifting her in and out of the car. She didn’t have many days or weeks left, he said.

“Why don’t you put her down?” I asked.

“She isn’t ready,” quickly came Max’s reply.

You have to realize how much this startled me, coming from one of the toughest people I knew, an Irishman from Chicago who could make his blue coffee cup turn red with his every-day language.


“She isn’t ready.”

From there we argued about the Catholic Church, abortion, the I.R.A., the death penalty, homosexual priests,  etc. He was a damn good lawyer and had no problem defending what seemed to me contradictory superstitions. But he walked his talk, and taught me something by his actions, if not his words.

Not that I wasn’t receptive. I have been laughed at by more than one person for putting spiders outside, even houseflies. For using live traps for my kitchen mice, and driving them a half mile away so they wouldn’t beat me back to the house. That was all part of a deal I made with my higher power when a couple of pets suffered during a time I thought it was okay to kill porcupines. Long story.

Last week, I was helping a friend, Stacy, wrap up local business before she left the country to join her fiance and start a new life. One of the items on the agenda was finding a vet who would euthanize her two old dogs. Molly, who is quite old, has cancer and not long to live; the smaller one has cataracts. The clock was ticking.

I took over that difficult process. With the help of friends on Facebook, I found a kind local vet who would come and transition the animals. Everything was set to happen on Saturday. I was ready to foot the bill.

Before you judge Stacy, you need to know she is one of the most compassionate human beings you could ever hope meet. She assists people in grinding poverty, and in the last days of their lives. But Stacy had to go, and there was no one, even her ex who shared the dogs’ history, who could take them. And the dogs lived for her voice. This was mercy, not callousness.

On Tuesday I joined another of her friends who had a van to move Stacy’s furniture. I met the two dogs. Rubbed ears. Got sniffed. When I got home, I paced my living room for more than an hour. One thought kept pushing me around.

“They aren’t ready.”

All night and the next day I chewed on the fact that I was facilitating death, and they weren’t ready. But I could not take two dogs, especially a small yapper, and had no place for either while I escorted Stacy to her new love and life in Costa Rica.

Yes, I will mention the rainbow I saw to the north when I came to my decision. And pretend it’s irrelevant.

Right after which, Stacy left me a text: the small dog had a home! Some friends had come through, but could just take the little dog. I waited. I was willing to wait a day or two, too, while things resolved without my effort, but I was smiling a rainbow of my own.

Stacy called an hour and a half after texting.

“My heart is a little less heavy,” she said, as she asked for the telephone number to tell the vet there would just be one animal to euthanize.

“I’m going to lighten it the rest of the way,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“Molly can stay here with me. I talked to the house-sitter earlier about taking on an old dog while I’m gone, and he said ‘sure.’ When I get back, Molly will be here with me until she’s ready to die. If it doesn’t work out for you in Costa Rica, you come back for her. If it does, I’ll have a life-long friend, even if that life isn’t too long.”

All I could hear were sobs on the other end of the line, because I was crying myself. I don’t really know why, except I knew it was my job to be the boatman to take Molly from this shore to the next.

Sometimes things work out just how how they’re supposed to, and that feeling is overwhelming. My tears were in gratitude for being where I was supposed to be, when I was supposed to be there, that I would be there when Molly was ready, and not send her on her way before she was.

I’m also looking forward to taking her to the beach, which I’m told is one of her favorite places. Mine too.

*Names have been changed.

Functional style

My daughter K.C. and I are on the road, now, taking her back to college. Privilege is the chance to discover my children as adults I can communicate with and respect, as well as love more than air. We’ll credit their mother.

K.C. is more of a city girl than her sister. She likes the ambience, the lights, the cuisine, though she was a bit taken back touring the Portland of my hard-spent youth. But it’s part of “city,” and my goal has always been that she will walk with care but not fear, anywhere in the world. She does, and we’ll credit her father.

There’s a building I see from the hotel while I wait for her to wake so we can hit the road. It’s new since I left town, with a flat roof that cantilevers over tall windows. I like it mostly, and think how I like design that works with natural forces, rather than forcing itself.

We can air condition a solar oven, but why would we if overhangs and trees can shade, relate us to where we are, if a quieter place can grace with humidity rather than assault with an icy chill from vents along the wall of a too-bright room?

But the energy wasted is only the price of a latte or two here in PDX, and that’s a choice, a value, far from absolute. On the hill is a concrete cube with glass corners: different, dramatic, a place to launch the imagination over city lights at night, and I’m sure it gives its owners a smile every time they enter that room.

This post is not as incoherent as it seems, I hope. Maybe it has to do with gratitude, how we take “here” where ever we go, how diffuse that can be.

Remember the future

Yesterday, I bought my first robot.

Also yesterday, my Link (cellphone to you) upgraded itself to Android 4.4.2, though I had to manually invoke the “Android RunTime” upgrade.

Today I read about Google buying Boston Dynamics, a company that makes a robot that runs like a cheetah faster than a man, and while I couldn’t quite see the lounge chair on my porch with the satellite view in Google Maps, I can see the front door of a friend’s house. And my Link can guide me from my remote Oregon hilltop to a deli in San Francisco if I ask it to.

At one time, getting lost was the adventure.

They are are floating Google cameras down the Grand Canyon, and two thousand cars  photograph the streets of Hyderabad, India every day. When I was in India the first time, it was on the other side of the world. Now I can drive the streets from my easy chair.

Everything. Is. Being. Digitized.

This column started to be about how we might expect to see a flood, with frozen ground covered by snow, if warm, wet Pacific storms head our way for Christmas as they often do. But something happened on the way to the laptop. A friend recalled the flood of 1964, which we both remembered, then we both realized at about the same time that was a half century ago.

I learned to read from Asimov, Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Delaney and the others. They took me to worlds where anything that could be imagined could be true, a place better than where I lived. I wrote a paper in sixth grade that described such a place.

I live there, now. Its job done, my vacuum cleaner just put itself away.

You need to cry

When was the last time you cried? From loss, joy, relief, fear, gratitude? When was the last time you let yourself be that vulnerable?

Well, I’ll recommend it, especially on Thanksgiving. Because, I think, there is no way to really, truly give thanks without shedding a tear. Otherwise, you’re holding back. Not nearly thankful enough.

Yesterday a friend gave me a book, and I’m recommending it to you. There’s a couple of them, in fact. But first, know that these books will make you cry tears from being embraced by someone who knows, who cares, who has seen every thing you’ve been  through, and can see through you, as well. They will bring tears back to your eyes from things you’ve been hiding from yourself. That’s good.

Each was written by someone twice as smart as I ever thought I was, and twice as wise as I will ever be. Each was written by someone who may, just may, have a bit of the antidote for the toxic, inauthentic, self-absorbed yet indifferent world some of us can’t seem to find our way through. Each was written by a woman with strength that would intimidate a roomful of warriors.

Warning: these books are at times explicit, but always honest, human, literate; they will make you cry because of what the writers are not afraid to look at, not afraid to see, not afraid to feel. These books are emotional fire storms.

They will give you reason to say thanks.

“tiny beautiful things,” by Cheryl Strayed.

“Bluets,” by Maggie Nelson.


In writing Chalice, and now again researching It’s Nobody’s Fault, I stumbled across the idea of “who” we think we are. This “sense of self” actually has a home in the left hemisphere of our brain, and it basically integrates all sorts of inputs.

Dr. Michael Gazzaniga has called it the “Interpreter.” I call it “Weaver.” Three quick thoughts, then I’ll leave it alone, for now.

First, it is important to know that one of Weaver’s primary jobs is to give reasons for what is happening in our world. Weaver is constantly weaving yarns of various colors into cause and effect, weaving them to make up our “reality.” That’s what Weaver does. Weaver explains. Always. Constantly.

Secondly, the fabric Weaver creates out of all these inputs is only as good as what Weaver gets by way of information. Some of that information is bogus. Not only external information, but internal, as well. My amygdala may fire a flash of fear through the circuits, and Weaver won’t know it’s a false alarm. Weaver will know only that there has been a signal of fear. Weaver will find an explanation for that signal, usually external, because Weaver explains. Always. Constantly.

This has been called “Tigers in the grass.” We evolved to run from tigers, so we run when the grass moves, even when it is only the wind.

Finally, it is possible to catch Weaver in the act. It’s a two-step process for me. First, I recognize that my unnatural calm may be the result of the chamomile tea, nervousness might be the coffee, the twinge is from seeing a car like one driven by someone I used to know, getting up to do something may not be because it needed to be done five minutes ago, but the result of a memory that just drifted through I did not want to face.

In other words, what I think is happening, even with my own emotions, is not necessarily what is happening. It feels real, Weaver says it is real, but it might not be.

Then I sit and watch Weaver work. That gives me space. It takes a few minutes now, it used to take longer, to put Weaver in his place. He doesn’t stop weaving or explaining, because Weaver explains. Always. Constantly. But, after a few minutes, “I” am no longer being yanked around at the end of his leash.