Sunday, January 30, 2011

Follow the Light

One facet of life I have learned to embrace in a town where "tan" is a verb is the absolute lack of any kind of schedule on most days. It takes some getting used to for us over-scheduled Americans with our color-coded calendars, but easing into the day and trusting it to bring it on is a lovely change of pace. I am never disappointed looking back at what has transpired when the sun sinks into the sea at day's end. While my friends in the States are waking up to a Saturday morning and negotiating the commitments of the day with their spouses about who will take X to indoor soccer and who will head to the hockey rink with Y, Bella and I are carrying our white plastic chairs out to the short wall that separates us from the beach to drink coffee and watch the world go by.

Yesterday we exited our casa with the intention of watching the surfers and reading her Wizard of Oz script since Bella is to be a munchkin in her stage debut. As we were settling down in the morning shade, we noticed a few trees down from us a double line of people extending from the top of the playa to the water's edge. Thinking it some kind of Little Mermaid wedding rehearsal where the bride emerges from the sea to join her landlubbing spouse, we turned back to Dorothy when Delbert, the rasta surf instructor, sauntered over and said, "Baby sea turtles are hatching." Now we have watched countless female turtles heave themselves up the beach and have worshiped at their feet with sand flinging in our faces while observing every step of the turtle-egg-laying process on many a star-filled night And recently I was paddleboarding around a mating pair of olive ridleys when an extra male-in-waiting surfaced right in front of me and exhaled loudly. But the running of the babies is the one step in the making of sea turtles that I have never seen. And the fact that a turtle dared to lay her eggs on Tamarindo beach qualifies as a small miracle in and of itself.

I grabbed my camera and we ran over to watch, arriving at the water's edge when what appeared to be the last little guy took his final sandy steps and was introduced to the salt water he would call home for the rest of his or her life. Baby sea turtles do not have sex chromosomes so the ole' pink or blue is completely dependent upon the temperature of their nest. If the eggs incubate at an ideal 83 to 85 degrees they will be a nice mix of each. Anything warmer results in all females and anything colder creates a hundred or more bouncing baby boys. As a wave washed over this particular baby and he was given the old sink or swim mandate, he never hesitated for a second, bravely paddling like a pro away from the crowd of humans photographing his every first step.

With a sigh of happiness and a prayer that this would be the one in a thousand to survive, we began our journey back to the land of Oz awaiting us in our chairs and were just settling down in Munchkinland again when we noticed that folks were still congregating at the top of the beach from whence the baby turtles began their journey. Some of the few things we understand about sea turtles include that they are born with a caruncle - word for the day. A caruncle is a sharp egg tooth which gives the pointy appearance to the little guy here. The caruncle is used by the ninos to break out of their egg shells and then it falls off, bringing to mind a sweet anthropomorphic image of the turtle tooth fairy depositing gifts of tiny molluscs under sea sponge pillows. Once the baby turtles come out of their shells (pun intended) they remain underground in their flipper-deep nests for days slurping up raw egg-yolk from their shells and building strength like Rocky in training, only not for a title match but to survive their first few days at sea during their crash course in deciphering food from non-food.

(This, incidentally, has become more of a challenge for the lonely little turtles thanks to all the tiny floating plastic pellets and tar balls we have introduced to their snack selection, which is one of many contributing factors as to why all six species of the world's sea turtles are listed as threatened or endangered and why you, too, can pay thousands of dollars per week to "volunteer" to save them in countries like this one while the rest of us are busy tanning.)

Meanwhile, back in their hole, the hatchlings chat amongst themselves and determine when it is time to move on up. Then, in a remarkable feat of sibling cooperation unknown in the mammal world, they all coordinate their efforts and work harmoniously to dig themselves up to the surface. Once they approach the light, they resist the urge to break free of the claustrophobic confines of their womb, demonstrating remarkable reptilian restraint by waiting until the sand cools off, which typically signals night. The wee ones can then emerge under the cover of darkness and avoid daytime predators as they scramble towards the sounds and sights of the sea, swimming away to the rest of their lives. The end.

Bella and I then observed people running from the top of the beach to the ocean cradling something in their hands. "What are they doing now?" we wondered as we abandoned Zelda, the wicked witch, to her unlucky fate and returned to have a look. To my dismay, I saw that our Tica neighbor was now on her chunky knees in her housedress digging into the turtle nest and pulling out handfuls of baby turtles and eggs. A group of misguided mammals all joined in on the action, thinking they could somehow improve on what these reptiles had somehow been successfully doing for over 200 million years without them and their supposedly superior intelligence.

To my horror, they started pulling baby turtles out of their eggs and rushing them down to the sea. When a few of us folks tried to curb their enthusiasm, myself included, by begging them to leave them alone, Tica threw her weight around and imparted her infinite wisdom that the nest was too deep and too compacted from, of all things, people walking on it and that these turtles would die if they did not save them. Save the turtles? Even though they did risk becoming breakfast for hovering birds and crabs, the process of crawling the gauntlet from sand to sea is considered to be a critical event in the new life of a baby turtle. They need the exercise to strengthen their flippers for swimming and they need to smell the particulates of their natal beach in order to return once they have survived their "lost years" at sea, having successfully grown to the size of a dinner plate instead of being served on one.

Saddened and concerned, we returned to Oz where only Zelda's legs were happily sticking out from underneath a house. Later that morning Bella and I were walking on the beach past the spot where the turtles had become swimmers when a couple stopped us. "We found this swimming around," the husband said, cradling a baby sea turtle in his hands with some combination of shock and awe. "That is probably because it is disoriented," I told him and informed him that this was where it had had its first swimming lesson that morning. "This would be a good place to put it down and let it crawl back in the water," I suggested. He glanced at his treasured souvenir and determined, "No, I think it's tired. I think I'll hold it and let it rest awhile." "Whatever," I thought resignedly, "I am sure you know best." We walked on, our heads filled with ruby slippers and swimming turtles, towards whatever the rest of the day would bring.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Make New Friends

I am 49 years old and I just had my first friend cancel our friendship like a postal worker. No, obviously she didn’t kill me. She “resigned” as my friend. Now this is probably not the first time I have lost a friend and it is definitely not the first time I have been excommunicated as a family member, but that is another story. In fact, this may not even come as any great surprise to some of you. And it could be that I have joined the whining ranks of the “unfriended” on facebook but would I even know? Ignorance is bliss.

In elementary school I had fights with my friends but there were happy endings with skipping home from school together once again. I had an older brother and was somewhat of a tomboy, fancying myself as kind of tough, so this probably happened on a regular basis just so I could keep in shape for kickball.

High school brought the added drama of hormones to the playground and discrepancies usually revolved around boys. At the ninth grade dance my so-called friend’s so-called boyfriend persuaded me to tell him that so-called had in fact been “cheating” on him, promising never to tell her what I said and then proceeding to march right on over and create a big scene which somehow ended with the two of them happily making out to the teenage equivalent of make-up sex – an hour of rotating to Stairway to Heaven. And while their lips slowly chapped my own so-called date marched home to the tune of their lies about me ringing in his ears, closely followed by yours truly. A brilliant retreat except that I was staying at so-called’s house for the night, the unhappy details of which I have happily forgotten by process of selective brain cell loss. (Now that is an interesting concept coming as it is on the aching heels of a deadly drinking/disco combination at Super Wendy’s birthday bash the other night. Would that we could target the brain cells we’d like to lose.)

What I do recall about the ninth grade dance besides one more polyester dress with matching blue eyeshadow plus a bad experience with so-called’s sunlamp which has cost me a lot of money forever-after in the form of expensive sunglasses to protect my once-burned retinas (actually, that came later in preparation for the Starlight Ball or some other gropefest which must mean that even that friendship was rekindled, ah, yes, it must have been because she later became my brother’s girlfriend which once inspired him to punch the wall and break his hand. So really we all should have kept our distance.) But I do still wonder to this day what they told my retreating date to make him leave me standing at the ninth grade equivalent of the altar but was too embarrassedly mortified to ever ask him. Surely, it can’t have been very flattering. So MM, wherever you are, you should know that whatever they said, I didn’t do it. I was a virgin in every sense but especially in the ways of mean girls and their so-called boyfriends.

On beyond high school the friends I lost were usually of the opposite sex. Boys morphed from friends into lovers and girlfriends were more or less what I did in between. So I lost the menfolk in one way or another also. Sometimes that was mutual and sometimes as dramatic as losing them to their own awakening sexuality or to death - which was certainly neither voluntary nor a resignation. I lost the good graces of their families and sometimes our mutual friends as well depending on the severity of devastated dreams.

But here I am midstream in life and I am reminded of the song we sang as wee Brownies while toasting marshmallows around the campfire: “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold.” We sang it in rounds. Over and over. Until the fading echoes of the final verse tickled the stars above and we all shivered from the beauty of our high young voices and from too much sugar. Maybe it was the s’mores, but somehow those words stuck with me. I don’t discard friends. I am the one sending hundreds of smiling greetings to all holiday corners of the globe each year. I have moved around a lot, as you might surmise from the title of this blog, and I drag my friends along with me, ready or not. I love to laugh and to make new friends and the writer in me loves to listen to other people’s stories. I have friends I see daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, and annually. I have friends I never see and rarely if ever hear from but still I wonder about them at 4 a.m., hold them in my heart and hope they will darken my doorstep again some day. Some of you might agree that I am a good friend to have; some of you might be reading this with a sneer on your lips. Thanks to the world-wide-web I have no idea who reads this but I am smiling at you all as I type.

I may have lost friends along the way, even as recent as recently, but the deliberateness of this particular incident is what is new. No guesswork about, “I resign as your friend.” Can you do that? What if I don’t reciprocate? My friendship is not a commodity, after all. There are no returns nor refunds. It is given freely, like the sunset. You may forget about it or choose not to look but it is there, sinking into the sea with a glowing smile every evening all the same. And it goes on and on and on.

As a supposedly mature adult whose life is more than half over, what is my response to this? Enter serenity prayer stage left please and endow me with the wisdom to know the difference, por favor. Enter Maya Angelou stage right and remind me once again that if I don’t like something, change it, if I can’t change it, change the way I think about it. Enter that hokey song and know when to walk away or when to run. I certainly won’t beat her up on the playground. I could spread rumors like in high school, but never mastered the art of subterfuge. So I guess that leaves accepting her decision with grace and humility, moving along and wondering when I might run into her in the marshmallow aisle at Auto Mercado.

My response so far? “Wow.” I know, a simple yet profound palindrome. So, strike up the fire and unwrap the Hershey bars. It’s time to add a new verse and sing along. “Make new friends, but keep the old, if they unfriend you, that’s pretty cold. Or welcome to the fold. Or send them some mold.” I’ll have the s’mores ready in case she wanders by at sunset. An open invitation.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Star of Wonder

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea . . . Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." . . . They went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” - Matthew 2

Dear Friends and Family, near and far,

On the twelfth day of Christmas I am finally sending you our holiday epistle. I apologize if you were hoping for twelve lords a leapin’ instead. We have been busy embracing each of those dozen days in their entirety, this being the only time of year we are all together as a family. We have been lazy and indulgent in the welcome presence of each other with long days on the beach walking, shell collecting, swimming, shadow tagging, reading, surfing, and teaching Bella to ride her bike at low tide. Each day begins with morning coffee watching the surf and ends with the sun melting into the Pacific in front of us.

If life is a beach, ours is here in Costa Rica. In August I moved back to Tamarindo with the three youngest kids where we live on the playa in Casa Azul and rarely miss a sunset. I have traded my glittens for a bikini and sleep with the sounds of the surf outside my window. It is lovely to be back, basking in the warmth of the tropics and in the smiles of our friends.

We have kissed the yurt-filled 2010 farewell and will send it on its journey into the annals of the past once this missive is concluded. 2011 is stirring to life now and resolutions for its success and productivity are set firmly-ish in place as we each begin following the stars which lead us onward. I am still searching for the literary agent who will lead me down the path to publication. Andy is busy expanding Silke communications and firing up his sawmill with periodical tropical excursions here to see us. (No, after 22 years of marriage we are not getting divorced!)

Hannah was selected to be Captain of the Varsity Crew Team in her Senior year at Georgetown and is hoping to lead them down the path to victory. She will be graduating in May with a degree in Physics, a minor in Portuguese, and a pre-med concentration, hoping (along with her father) that these credentials will lead her to employment and into med school.

Christiana is in her freshman year at University of MA in Amherst and beginning her journey to perhaps become a wildlife biologist.

Micah will graduate from CDSG here and his college applications have headed off into cyberspace. Hopefully a few acceptances will travel back in his direction soon.

Isaiah is studying in a bi-lingual fifth grade class and his preferred path lately has been along the face of the waves out in front of our house as he and Micah learn to surf.

Bella is starting her academic journey and on track to master the art of reading in the first grade. She is full of joy and very observant of the feats and foibles of her older siblings. And parents.

As we head towards 2012, we are hoping the Mayans were math-challenged. But just in case they were not, we hope you are living your dreams. May the stars you follow be worthy of song.

“Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to Thy perfect light.”