Saturday, March 29, 2008

Sol Medicine

The sun is my friend once again.

I’ve spurned Helios for many years, heeding the warnings about skin cancer. Thanks to my Irish and Norwegian heritage, my skin is particularly vulnerable to burning. I’ve faithfully applied 25-45 SPF sunblock, worn protective clothing, and donned a wide-brimmed hat. I have stayed inside between 10 and 2. If I ventured onto a beach, I was covered from head to foot.

No more.

“You need sun,” Dr. Kim, my acupuncturist said recently. “Fifteen minutes a day. Go outside in the morning in shorts and a sleeveless shirt.”


“You need Vitamin D from the sun. Not pills.”

For the past week here in Costa Rica, I have been soaking up rays for the prescribed fifteen minutes. I’m rediscovering the dreamy sensation of Old Sol warming my skin and the meditative lull of being held in its full embrace. It is a feeling from long ago.

As a child I would sometimes stretch out in the grass at noon under the summer sun and feel waves of heat wash through me. I could see pink though my closed eyelids. The earth would practically hum.

I’ve been pondering how really it is the sun that gives us life. Most of what we eat is converted sunlight. Think of the fields of wheat and beans, apple orchards and olive trees stretching to the horizon. All in the full glory of the sun, using photosynthesis to grow and ripen. It seems like a miracle.

While still cautious about mid-day exposure, I have released my fear of Helios. Excuse me, while I put on a tank top and go sit with my old friend.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sharing Field and Food

“Where are the fields?” I innocently ask Steven Farrell, the tall, bearded manager of Luna Nueva, an organic, biodynamic farm/lodge near Costa Rica’s Arenal volcano.

“You’re looking at them,” Steven replies with a smile, sweeping his arm toward the forest. “We don’t plant in rows. We mix the species.”

Nancy and I look again, jaws dropped. We’ve been walking a good fifteen minutes on a tour of the farm, expecting to come upon fields like those in the Midwest—lines of beans and corns stretching up and down the hills. But not here. What looks like another rain forest scene—a riot of plants—is where Steven’s workers plant and harvest herbs and salad greens, fruits and tubers.

What monoculture (one-crop-per-field industrialized agriculture) sacrifices for efficiency is the nutrient-rich, chemical-free plants that sprout every-which-way at Luna Nueva. The farm is a living example of the sustainable agriculture that Michael Pollan praises in his books In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

The sharing of land with a variety of species goes further. Steven says that they expect animals to eat part of the crop. He doesn’t mind. Every creature has its niche. Some get a little greedy, though. In the grove of 700 cocoa trees (already mature when Steven bought the farm for New Chapter, a Vermont-based herbal supplements company) the squirrels eat every one of the pods. Steven is devising a way to let squirrels have 90% of the crop and keep 70 trees for human harvest.

Some domesticated animals even work the land. Goats and pigs put in a good day of labor on resting fields by eating down the nitrogen-fixing vegetation and spreading their manure. Pigs love to root around for grubs and by the time they are through turning the soil, the field is ready for planting.

At various places on the farm, workers have hung up stalks of bananas. Birds are free to swoop in and feast. So are the guests staying in the scrupulously clean wooden cabins. Neighborhood children run up barefooted to snap off a treat. Even the baby pigs snort with pleasure when Steven tosses them a yellow delicacy. And nobody has to worry about the kids, guests, or pigs ingesting pesticides and fungicides with the bananas.

There is no sense of hoarding either land or food at Luna Nueva. The delicious meals were ample, and when Nancy and I left after our week-long stay, Steven filled a bag with just-harvested passion fruit, sweet potatoes, plantain, and papaya. He topped it off with the farm’s signature crop: the organic ginger and turmeric grown for New Chapter and used liberally in the hotel restaurant.

Steven Farrell, New Chapter, and the other people involved in Luna Nueva are impressive models of individuals contributing to the health of the planet and its inhabitants consciously and gracefully. They have even createad sacred Seeds, a sanctuary of endangered medicinal plants for future generations. Nancy and I spend two hours strolling its paths, learning about herbs, bushes, and trees that have been healing people for millennia.

There isn't a row in sight.


Saturday, March 1, 2008

With much pleasure, Becky

One day here in Costa Rica, I was listening to a conversation Nancy was having with a repairman. I speak little Spanish, and Luis’s side of the conversation sounded like this:

Blah blah blah blahblahblahblah Nancy blahblahblahblahblahblahblah Nancy blahblahblahblah blah blah Nancy.

That wasn’t the first time I had noticed how much Costa Ricans use a person’s name. Clerks in the store, tellers in the bank, neighbors, friends, and family tend to say a person’s name in a friendly, even loving way, during a conversation. Even a simple “Gracias” often merits a response of “Con much gusto, Becky” (With much pleasure, Becky) rather than the typical Spanish “No problema.” We had dinner with two Costa Rica couples recently, and I bet they said the names of each person at least a dozen times during the meal.

A person’s name is an important part of his or her identity. Using that name in a pleasant, caring way infuses an exchange with warmth and acknowledges that person’s place in the world.

Nancy and I love this custom. We’ve started saying each other’s names more often as well as the names of those we meet. This is one of many Costa Rican customs that seems to make for a friendlier world.