Howling winds, part of Tropical Storm Arlene, whipped down the streets in Santa Elena, a little touristy town perched in the mountains in Costa Rica. Clouds of fog and rain thrashed around like ghosts. “Not a good day to go to the Reserve,” said the man at the cafe where we stopped for coffee. “You won’t see anything.” The cold gusts blew us into the hotel to pout.
We’d planned to visit Monteverde Reserve, a park protecting a swath of cloud forest and home to the Resplendent Quetzal, a flamboyantly plumaged bird which was number one on my “hope to see” list for this trip. Early afternoon the storm seemed to lighten; though it was still blustery we donned our rain gear and hailed a cab. By 2pm we were on a muddy trail plastered with fallen leaves. The forest looked beaten. Broken limbs littered the undergrowth and the wind tossed the trees as if it wanted to bring them all down. Drips and drops were all around us but there were hardly any other noises. We saw few smallish birds, a huge tree fern, a fungus.
Then my eyes focused on a striking green bird – could it be? We watched as the bird flew for a few yards and perched on a mossy, plant-covered branch. I immediately thought, quetzal!, but wasn’t completely sure. We ran into a guide who confirmed it was female quetzal, and told us she’d seen the male farther back on the trail. We retraced our steps and spotted him a few minutes later, his long tail unmistakable. Later we heard this was the first time they’d been seen in three months! We watched until a blast of wind sent the pair flying out of sight deeper in the forest. (Pic is through the binos…not the best photo but proof we saw him.)
On the long, wet walk back to our simple hotel we saw a watercolor-perfect sunset. The day was capped off by a fantastic meal at Trio, a little cafe with the freshest, most imaginative dishes we’ve sampled yet, then a shower that was tolerably warm but ten degrees shy of “hot”.
Incredibly satisfied with our day, we crawled into bed, drifting off to sleep with the raucous sounds of the bar next door filtering into our dreams.
I’d like to type while we’re driving, but it makes me carsick, so I just sit in the passenger seat, watching raindrops dance on the windshield, thinking up sentences that never make it to a page. The radio is tuned to a folk station. Beneath us the grey-black asphalt rumbles as we speed through little towns with little populations. Towns like Dale, Indiana, where I filled my belly with pancakes at Windell’s, which is closing on Sunday after serving families and church groups and Kiwanis Clubs since 1947. The cab of the RV is soothing with the heat on full-blast and the slap of the wipers setting a beat for harmonies between the radio and the hum of the pavement. I’m drowsy. Alongside the road, the Ohio River strains at its banks like a fat belly against a belt.
Maybe I’m a little homesick. Maybe I need a nap or a beer or a cozy new sweater. Maybe it’s just the rain, but I’ve got this bluesy feeling and I’m worrying my Big Stuff Worries, wondering what happens when this trip ends, where we’ll live, what I’ll do, what comes next. I pop these thoughts in my mouth like a cinnamon hard candy to roll around on my tongue. I tuck them into the softness of my cheek where I taste them every time I inhale. Everything I say comes out laced with Big Stuff worries, the scent of cinnamon behind all my words. The river outside pulses and threatens to overflow.
All the state parks belong to us now. In wide river bottoms and beside hardwood-rimmed lakes hundreds of empty campsites line up in neat loops, saving space for the summer crowds, the weekend boaters and the suntanned shouting kids. The bathhouses may be locked and picnic tables turned over against impending snow, but these places are ours alone. We walk slick trails in the company of cardinals and white-tailed deer. Even now, slender roots are pushing down through the earth, small are buds forming beneath a thick layer of fallen leaves. The woods exhale a rush of wind.
No one believes us when we say this, but we’ve been busy. Really. Sure, we’re not working, but we’re intent on getting as much out of this trip as possible, and the daily hikes, bike rides, plans, hunts for campsites and 26-point turns to get the RV out of dead-end forest service roads can be a bit tiring. Continue reading
All night long the thunder cracked and ricocheted down the rocky walls of the Owyhee River Canyon, rain pelting the roof of the Minnie just a foot above our heads in our sleeping loft. Between flashes of lightning, the full moon peeked out through cloud breaks, washing the sagebrush and willows in pale blue light. It was not a restful night, but thrilling to hear the storm crash over us. We slept late and woke to clear skies and a warm breeze. We bumped over the short sandy track up to the main road, and drove out of the red-walled ravine into farmland.