Yesterday I took a slow, needed walk in the woods. It was slow because my eight-year-old walked behind me drinking his apple cider the whole way. (That was the only way I was able to get him to walk in the woods with me.)

It was much needed, because I have been dealing with all sorts of change/decision/anxiety-related fatigue this last week.

Problems no less weighty than:

How do I form a bubble cohort for my kids during the dark, wet, cold days of fall/winter that stretch on forever in Juneau, Alaska?

How do I keep my kids from experiencing the same kind of isolation trauma that was inflicted on me in elementary school and informed my entire life, that molded me to the adult I am who still deals with such demons?

How do I educate and care for my kids while working? How do I teach Spanish to middle schoolers over a strictly online platform?

How do I find a bubble that is small enough I don’t get sick (I’m high risk) and don’t expose my children to long-term health heart and lung damage?

You know, small, petty stuff.

While John Muir-ing through the stormy, windy trees under the slight pitter-patter of raindrops, I started sensing the bears lurking under the broad fans of devils club leaves. Without a dog, and just me and my eight-year-old (forgot bear spray—bad mom), we wouldn’t stand much chance against a black bear. Due to the wind storm, we were the only souls on this trail. And my poor little son with his stick—not much of weapon. I started oodey-ooping loudly into the forest.

I was also watching the trees closely, swaying strongly in the gale force winds, just in case one decided to come down on us.

In any new world—whether in nature or another culture—the only choice is to adapt. As the tree bends in the wind so it will not break, so must I. So I try to adapt by sensing with all senses— most importantly, my sixth sense, intuition.

With my senses on heightened alert in that forest, the most remarkable thing happened. I started getting tingles up and down my spine. The constant heightened state of awareness felt akin to that feeling of being high on drugs. It felt as if I was using more brain power. My body was washed in a feeling of wisdom and truth that hued green and the red like the inside of spruce trees.

But in the calm of the green woods and exhale of the warm wind, I did not feel fear. Instead, I felt a tingling under the skin that bloomed into my arms and legs and vibrated at the end of my fingertips, fluttering into my heart and lungs, and culminated into my head almost to the point where I could spill tears and cry out Oh my goddess, I feel alive!

How I wish that we as a culture we could vibrate at this level at this energy. To slow down, look, listen, breathe, and feel. To feel time more palpably than ever before. It’s like adding years to your life. But, of course, this totally goes against our goal-, action-oriented culture, geared towards rapidity and efficiency.

The best way to experience the wilderness is to have no clock, except for daylight. No destination, no goal of miles or calories burned. The only goal being to take in the green, wet, wild world around you.

The same could be said for travel. No goal, no check list. Feel the world with all your senses. Slow, stop, look, listen.

Feel the vibrations.

His hair is the same color as the bark of spruce

One out of seven jobless, Venezuela size statistics,
but the Tongass is alive, listen—
 
the wilderness so thick, I could lean into this.
No helicopters to spoil, and there’s a 
part of me
 
that likes to do hard things— like fool 
myself
into jumping off this cliff sixty feet
 
into the drink, blue like a California sunset
reflected in a rear view mirror.
 
Hear the birds—  if they were words
they’d say gimme this, gimme that
 
so & so started it, and I don’t want you to die.
Word to your bird baby mama.
 
Oh wild wilderness, why do I love you
so fierce? Is it because I relinquish 
control,
 
is it because you show up in a flooded
beaver dam pool where you can’t tell
 
where the tree ends and its mirror 
begins—
the spider web that clings when you 
least expect it,
 
nurse log kind of love.
If it ain’t a good day I’m cryin’,
 
laughin’ and cryin’ at the same time,
inhaler in my pocket,
 
mask I’m rockin’
‘cause it’s not about me
 
this time— no one lives forever.
A girl cries every night,
 
she don’t want mama to die,
but I don’t wanna let it go yet
 
‘cause there’s still a part of me
that likes to do hard things.
 

photo: Dani Nicole Photography

Breeze exhales in your left ear. Inhale sea spray. Hot sun consumes the thick jungle and complexions, varnishing the lucky ones until they sparkle. Your body, boneless, slithers into a hammock. Shadows of palm fronds dance over bare legs, chased by sunbeams. Toenails resemble pink shells in the sand.

Ocean waves wash through your lungs, salty. Exhale peace.  

Foreign words babble like water over river rocks and splash with a laugh into a turquoise pool. Isn’t that all you really need to understand? 

Soldier ants the size of your fingernail march in single file toward a tropical plant, returning along the same trajectory with chunks of red and orange leaves the size of your pinky. The tree will be gone within the hour.

No one in a rush. Pura vida. Pure life.

Steam emanating from the black sand begins to suffocate your skin until you feel you might burst like the chicharra. 

Rrrrrrrrrrr…. POP!

Only the lushest of rains can quench the thirst. You feel your skin squeeze, the black steam casting its spell, breathing is heavy. You don’t know if you can stand it anymore… until the sky breaks open and releases, sweet reprieve. 

Shhhhhh…..

Rain drops dance off palm fronds and corrugated tin roofs, sounding like a steel pan symphony. Broad banana leaves cocoon you through the downpour as the powerful aroma of flowers overtake your senses. Everything is glowing electric green.

And as quickly as it came, the rain moves on. You can see it darkening the dirt path just a few feet away. Sun returns hot, its lust unabated. 

A young figure with a back like a chestnut climbs a coconut tree and disappears into the canopy. A green ovoid coconut drops from the tree, plop! Followed by another, and then another. Man versus nature… 

Climbing down, he slices off the top of the coconut with a skinny machete. Man wins! 

“Así,” he says – like this, and he takes a swig from the young fruit then passes it to you. You put your lips against the small hole in the smooth green ovoid, tilting the bottom up. Sweet coconut juice charges your limp body, bringing you back to life and out of your lazy repose. You join him in the lowering sun, gentle like a lover’s embrace. 

Late afternoon sun tickles your skin until you smell like baked bread. For a second two scarlet macaws eclipse the sun’s rays, flashing brilliant vermillion and cobalt blue tails like arrows. As fervent heat surrenders to a gentle breeze, howler monkeys begin their posturing. Guttural iterations ring throughout the forest, sending frightened kittens running for cover. Untamed, wild, the jungle maintains its sovereignty. 

Photo: mapsdecostarica.info

Real talk

Costa Rica is practically paradise on earth. More than 25 per cent of their land is protected – the highest in the world. As a world leader in conservation, and in an effort to preserve the natural beauty and surroundings, 25% of their rainforests, tropical dry forests, cloud forests, marine areas, and wetlands has been set aside and turned into protected parks and reserves. 

photo: Rebloggy

Their citizens enjoy free healthcare, free preschool, and top-notch education (their literacy rate at 94.4% is much higher than the U.S.’ 86%). The most common refrain in Costa Rica is pura vida, meaning pure life, and can mean hello, thank you, you’re welcome, good-bye, and very good. 

The culture is so peaceful that when I lived there in 2001 even the police didn’t carry guns. They have no standing army. 

It is a very progressive and egalitarian society; the rich hobnob with the poor, but nobody really knows the difference when everyone’s wearing board shorts and sandals. Many women own businesses, although as an American woman business owner in Costa Rica, few took me seriously but deferred to my male partners. Voting day is a national holiday. The whole family goes out to vote, and the government throws parties and concerts at polling places. 

Costa Rica is pura vida, indeed.

Art by Solignia Arellano