Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Sound of Trees Weeping

Last month, during the dry season here in Costa Rica, Nancy was on her stomach on a massage table when she heard a familiar yet slightly odd stir from the garden: a rustling in the trees and what sounded like raindrops plunking on leaves.

“Is it sprinkling?” she asked.

“No, the trees are weeping,” replied our local massage therapist. “They are so thirsty they are asking the rains to come soon.”

Apparently, it worked. The rainy season started early this year. We’ve had some thunder and lightning storms worthy of Thor, himself.

Likewise, the Costa Rican national bird, the clay-colored robin, starts singing a loud wandering tune two weeks before the rains come. The robins were spot on again this year, and now they continue with their melodious call for rain (and for a mate), often starting at 4 a.m.

Before living in Costa Rica, Nancy and I assumed that the rainy season, usually from May through November, meant day after day of rain. Not so. The days usually dawn clear, with temperatures in the 70s. By late morning, it’s in the high 80s, and the sun feels brutal. Then, while we are having lunch on the veranda while the clay-colored robins pour out their song, the temperature suddenly drops, and clouds fill the sky. Soft thunder gradually rolls toward us until great booms shake the earth and the first fat drops splat on our metal roof.

The storms are thrilling, and we are both excited to experience a bit of Costa Rica’s winter or “green season” (as the travel agencies like to call it) before we leave. Bare trees are sprouting leaves, dry brown lawns are turning a lush emerald, and just today the nearby college campus sported a fresh mow job.

One warm afternoon last week, Nancy went out in the downpour to see water streaming through the maze of drainage trenches. She splashed under waterfalls sluicing off the palm trees and down our flooded driveway to the road. Just beyond the entrance to our apartment complex, two-foot-deep drains had already over-flowed, and a river was rushing down the road. A couple hours later, when we went for a walk in shorts and T-shirts, the sun was already drying the driveway.

The trees no longer make their special sound. All the weeping now takes place from the skies . . . . and from our eyes as we prepare to leave tomorrow. Nancy squeezes a last bag of Costa Rican coffee into our suitcase, and we take a final moonlit walk, our skin caressed by the tropics. We will go to bed early, knowing that the clay-colored robins will wake us at 4 a.m., plenty early to walk into the dawn of another spectacular day in Costa Rica.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Farewell, Costa Rica

After three months in Costa Rica, Becky and I return to Minnesota next week, leaving friends, the exquisite climate, and incredible beauty and bounty. In Minneapolis, there are no clusters of magenta bougainvillea blooming at our door. Royal palm trees don’t line the driveway. Pyramids of tree-ripened mangos, papayas, and bananas aren’t at our farmers’ markets. Nor does Cub Foods sell large pineapples for a dollar—what I paid this morning at the produce stand down the road. The owner skinned and sliced my golden pineapple with a few deft strokes of her machete.

I’ll also miss the Costa Ricans.

Not only are they amazingly friendly; they are also extraordinarily helpful. Two weeks ago our neighbors, retired community college teachers like me, got hung up on a rough mountain road. Within minutes, two farmers were on the scene with shovels to help Monica and Dick dig out their Nissan Xterra. When that didn’t work, one of the men drove into town, returned with two tow ropes, hitched the big Nissan to his pint-sized Suzuki Samurai, and was able to position the SUV so its wheels could get traction. When Dick tried to pay him, the guy wouldn’t hear of it. When Monica tried to reimburse him for his purchase, the man insisted he needed those ropes anyway.

Becky and I had a similar experience bicycling in the Osa Peninsula near Corcovado National Park, one of the largest remaining tracts of original tropical rain forest in the Americas. When my bike chain slipped, I tried to reset it, but the chain was jammed tight in the crankshaft. We were in the middle of nowhere an hour before sunset. We hadn’t seen a human being for two hours. Just then, some locals drove by, stopped, and analyzed the problem. The driver pulled out a wrench from his trunk and loosened the crankshaft enough to release the chain. Becky and I pedaled back to our hotel in time for a sunset margarita.

That evening, I ran into the same folks crossing a street in town. They greeted me warmly and invited us to join them at their house by the sea. The next morning the Garcias picked me up (Becky preferred to read under our ceiling fan and avoid the midday heat), and off we went for the day. Getting into the vehicle of complete strangers in a foreign country may sound crazy, but not in Costa Rica. I had a great time with the family, eating juicy red “water apples” from the tree in their yard and joining in their laughter at my Spanish pronunciation.

Now, when I see water apples at the farmers’ market, I remember the Garcias and the many other angels who have blessed our time here. Since Becky and I plan to explore other places in the coming winters, we may not return until 2011. We bid a grateful farewell to this tropical paradise, which has blessed us for six winters.