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This Little Light of Mine

December 15, 2009 

...notes from the jungle...

There are old colones to spend in Costa Rica, left over from last year, in the unspent foreign currency jar I keep in my cupboard. I upend the entire jar over the kitchen table and out fall a jumble of memories. The only paper money, $15.00, is for New Zealand. The rest is the spare change in the denominations of old pesos and new Mexican dollars, Eire pounds and pence, 39 British pennies, 2 ½ francs plus 50 centimes from France, and some denomination of coin from Israel – I don’t know where that one came from. Anyway, I come up with $1,125 colones - enough for 5 one-way bus rides to downtown San Jose from Barrio Dent in San Pedro. Only I’m headed in the opposite direction this time.


I don’t know how far away I am from the city of San Jose – which was in itself a culture shock with all of its car alarms, razor wire, and graffiti covered mansions – in terms of miles. I can tell you it’s a long bus ride if you have the misfortune to miss the express. I am on the fringe of the small town of Ciudad Colon, 700 meters from the cemetery, 200 meters after the pavement ends, a few hairpin turns down the valley, in the ink-black-after-sunset heart of Central American darkness. Daylight is glory - I am breathless from the panoramic vista of mountainside beauty that surrounds me and the subsequent peace I feel as I watch the treetops sway with breezes that eventually pass over me, too. I am moved with them. At night in the jungle, I inhabit what seems like the mother of all 100-watt lightbulbs given the onslaught of insect life that descends upon the house like hungry guests at a Bruce Kaufmann birthday buffet. It may as well have been the Jurassic Park of bugs, my reading lamp their headquarters. It’s fair to say I spent my first night here like Columbus in Zombieland, before he met Tallahassee: Rule 1, Cardio. 


My lovely cottage has a terra cotta roof that also serves as vast cathedral ceiling inside. Five 24-light windows swing open to the large screened porch that surrounds two full sides. The inside walls of the house that are enclosed within the porch stop two feet shy of the roof – a detail to love. I live with constant breeze inside for me to both feel and see in the ripple of mosquito net while I sleep at night. I live among blown-away leaves, geckos, and a trail of ants that each morning systematically remove whichever of the dozens of varieties of flying insects that have died overnight – straight out the open front door. Thank you, ants.


There is a learning curve that comes with occupying this cottage, and I am happy to say that I have successfully negotiated it. I know what to shake out, fold over, and put a pot lid over. I know where to put the lamp in order to trick the insects away from me – they’re not even interested in me, they just want to go into the light. So I can read at night, now. I can write after dark without miniature misguided missiles in the face, or a grasshopper in the middle of my monitor. This is the best possible scenario because given the lack of television or companionship, without words on the page or the screen, there is utter isolation until morning. And while I have gotten exactly what I wished for, which is a distraction-free environment in which to write, the isolation itself became the direst distraction of all.

Tomorrow I’ll get my four hours of writing time in the morning, have lunch with Liz, speak more bad Spanish, walk through the market, look for the other swimming pool of God with lap lanes, and read after dark. And, write again. Soon.

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