Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Costa Rican hiatus

In daily lives, it is easy to become disconnected, unplugged from Nature. In a competitive work world, we pontificate, philosophize, categorize, order, list, regulate, exploit, exaggerate, abuse, control, manipulate, distort, lie, make claims….

But when we see that monkey in the wild looking right at us, as we look into her deep eyes as she tries to fathom us, we melt into a profoundly stimulating sense of connection. It is a mere token of our sensibility, and a shame that such encounters with the wild rarely spark a deeper exploration of Earth, a deeper ongoing appreciation of its inseparability from our personal experience. We can of course stay plugged into the world of quick views, quick shots, fast downloads, instant replays on cameras, laptops and I-Pads, but it is immensely gratifying to be able to delve deeper.

The ocean is unusually placid for several weeks here on this tiny nation of Costa Rica’s south west Pacific coast. The view from our Pacific Edge cabin is simply breathtaking. Perched on the deck, as if suspended overlooking the lush green jungle canopy, the distance reveals a view north up forty kilometres of scalloped bays and sweeping shoreline beyond Dominical to Manuel Antonio. At night we can hear the waves kissing the land. By day, this gentle rhythm is drowned out by the pervasive throbbing hum of crickets and cicadas which reaches fever pitch an hour or so after the sun comes up and just before that same sun sinks like a fireball into the ocean to the west, occasionally honouring us with a green ray at the last millisecond. Some mornings, the still ocean comes alive with the dark shapes of humpback whales just beneath the surface; they are just arriving from the Arctic to calve in the warm waters. If we are patient enough – and, after a few days of tuning in, we are - big iridescent blue morpho butterflies fly jerkily by, toucans squawk and swoop onto the guarumo trees to peck at the seeds, howler monkeys send out their primeval grunts and growls from the jungle down below, a flock of screeching green parrots flies by in a mass frenzy, and a giant lobster locust lands on the wooden deck to sun himself before alighting again revealing his red undercarriage.

Trippers return from several days further south in Corcovado on the Osa Peninsula. They report on pristine Nature devoid of human influence, just as it was before the first Europeans arrived scratching their heads just over five hundred years ago. It is heartwarming to know that there are still places on this Earth moreorless untouched by human depredations, left to Nature to tend so magnificently. A few intrepid souls tiptoe around this sanctuary in awe of the profusion of decorated birds, large reptiles, multitudes of frogs and insects, kaleidoscopic butterflies, big cats, sloths and tapirs. 

To counterpose immersion in this rich coast (it was the Spanish who christened it Costa Rica), my reading takes in two contrasting books. The first is a cutting analysis of the world that keeps us all constantly on edge with its wildly excessive machinations, a financial system that is a madly careening rollercoaster. It is Extreme Money, by Satyajit Das. The second is an engrossing exploration of a world that could and should be through our connection with Nature. Becoming Animal by David Abram probes well beneath the surface. Orion Magazine wrote that Abram’s “profound recognition of intelligences other than our own enables us to enter into reciprocal symbioses that can, in turn, sustain the world. Becoming Animal illuminates a way forward in restoring relationship with the earth, led by our vibrant animal bodies to re-inhabit the glittering world.” Reading this book helped me appreciate that Nature doesn’t always perform tricks like breaching whales, cavorting dolphins, parading peacocks, soaring eagles. Sometimes you just sit with it, feel a faint whiff of wind, hear far-off rolls of waves on the shore, sense the gathering moisture in the air or the intensifying heat of the morning, smell the waftings of flowers, of woodfire smoke, of cows in the field. Nature in all its guises flows subtly over, into, and through us, or it can explode without warning like a booming firework. We just have to open our minds and bodies and embrace the charge. 

George from London and Suzy from California discovered their Pacific Edge haven some twenty years ago. They took in the magnificent view for the first time, purchased the land from locals, then set about opening up a dirt road up the mile or so from the coast, and building their cabins and house.

According to the New Economics Foundation, Costa Rica ranks first in the Happy Planet Index and is the "greenest" country in the world. In 2007, the Costa Rican government announced plans for Costa Rica to become the first carbon-neutral country by 2021. We are happy, not wealthy in our own home country, but when we spend times on this naturally rich coast, we too are enrichened. As George always says in his straight-up Cockney accent, “Happy Days”. Happy Days, George.