I wake up before the sun, usually.
I’m not sure exactly what wakes me.
I sleep more or less outside, so maybe it is those first few birds calling softly to one another, or the cows growing restless in their stalls.
I roll out of my bed and feel around nervously for my flip-flops. I love to walk barefoot in Costa Rica, but it’s never wise to do so in the dark. There are too many biting ants, poisonous spiders, and hunting snakes during the nighttime hours for my toes to navigate it all safely.
I think the quiet is what I love most about this time. All of the whirring and roaring machines of humanity lie blissfully silent. No motorbikes come charging up the driveway.
The forest, of course, still with life, perhaps even more so at night. The trees below me give off a soft hum. I leave my legs oscillating gently above them on the lip of the yoga deck, listening.
It’s now that you can almost feel the Earth breathe.
The stars still sparkle above me, although I know that they will soon fade. Slowly it begins: the emergence of first light.
The day begins in a corner of the sky like the sudden crack of an egg. A stream of yellow oozes beautifully over the smooth shell of night. I watch the warmth grow and expand, little photons shooting across my tiny raft of universe. It’s like this almost every morning.
Lately, with just a month and a half left here, I’ve been thinking a lot about leaving. I spend my morning solitude trying to soak in my experiences here, to hold on to them and remember them in the way I wish I could hold onto the quiet.
I remember my first couple of weeks here. They remind me of the dawn: everything felt new and unsteady. Just as the light makes its first wavy ventures over the canopy, I was making my first slow steps down the worn paths that now feel like home.
So now, I suppose, even during the dawn, it is really the evening of my time here: the time of re-softening.
I know evening as the moment when the leaves regain some of their nighttime moisture, and suddenly crackle less underfoot. The descending sun fills the whole world with a hazy warm light. The cicadas begin to sing. In a way, I realize, it’s just the world coming back full circle.
No matter what difficult memories I have from this year, they all seem steeped in meaning and purpose now. These memories are beautiful even, in the waning light… beautiful in this waning time.
The dirty feet and mosquito bites, the moldy clothes and interviews that made me cry, the stories that made me angry…all those times that I felt lonely or afraid or homesick or just plain sad…all of it softens a little at the thought that soon I will be going from here.
The memories that used to hurt have already weaved their way in with all the more joyful things—the friendships and waterfalls, the learning of new words, the macaws and the farmers’ markets.
Bare feet. Sweaty hair. Exhausted legs. Everything begins winding in and out between one another until I have something even more valuable: something raw and real. Something meaningful and brave. Something that made me change…a year and a country that made me look at things differently a million times over.
I am different because of my time here. I feel different in my skin. I feel different in my walk, in how I think, in what I see, in who I hope to be.
I can only hope that every year has this kind of an impact on me—that every year finds me in new places, meeting new people, and trying new things. That every year challenges me. That I remember again and again how to be uncomfortable. That I lose myself and find me again. That I hold tight to this sense of love and responsibility to this Earth and her children.
It’s essential to get lost. Sometimes it’s the only way to find out where we belong.
My undergraduate experience was fast-paced. Sometimes it felt like all I could do to hang on. I forgot what it was like to sit down over dinner and have a long conversation with someone. I never saw the sunsets.
Costa Rica, for me, has in many ways felt like a complete 180. It was time to live by different rhythms—to make the sun and the moon again the drivers of my day. My year here still feels “high-intensity”, but it is the intensity of life as it is meant to be lived. These days and nights have fortified me, rather than running me down. These months under the tropical sun have felt rich in sound and color. They are emotional and challenging. However, cracking into pieces has allowed me to look at all the shards, all of what makes me who I am, and pick up again the ones I most want to keep. Through the splinters filters strength. I am being constantly remolded.
I think part of this place’s power is that the days feel entirely unpredictable. My experience in Costa Rica has fed me in all the ways that I sometimes felt starved before…I am shattered by stories and awed by storms. I end the day with sore muscles and long stretches. With bonfires and song. I feel comfortable speaking in both Spanish and English. I know the names of so many new flowers and trees. I say thank you for things that I never even saw before…
I forgot how difficult so many lives are. I forgot what it feels like to be physically miserable. I forgot what it was like to feel as though nothing were familiar. Or to live in a place of real danger.
I rediscovered the frustration of wanting to change everything, when it comes to food and farming. I remembered that knowing that change comes first with myself.
And I learned to let things go, or at least to move in that direction. I learned to let be. I learned to listen. I have begun to build up a capacity for patience. For giving myself up to the unexpected. For going with the flow.
As difficult as my undergraduate experience sometimes was at Duke, I’m thankful because it gave me the skills, strength, and experience to see both beauty and pain with bravery and heart.
I conducted an interview recently that remains seared in my mind, I hope forever.
– “Do you drink the water here?”
– “Why not?”
– “When you turn on the faucet it smells of sulfur and something else. At the town hall meeting they said they are working on fixing the water so that it would be clean. They promised tankers that would bring fresh water, but the shipments are often late. The people are forced to wash their clothes and dishes with the contaminated water. If the tankers are really late, they have to drink the bad water too.”
– “What do you think is wrong with the water?”
– “The big food companies like Dole, they have these huge pineapple plantations everywhere. They use so many chemicals. It makes the pineapples grow faster, I think. But when it rains hard here, it all runs off everywhere. The people, and especially the workers, are sick. And if they puncture their finger harvesting a pineapple it becomes horribly infected. I’ve seen entire hands blown up like balloons. They are paid nothing really, maybe $100 a week for 12 hours a day. They’ll be fired in a month, once the harvest is over.”
I walked away by the end of the conversation feeling angry. Shocked with anger. My mind was spinning…what species does this to the world? To our Earth? To members of its own species?
Where are the voices rising up?
If nothing else, I think, I will be a megaphone for this community.
To calm myself before bed that night, I reread the story of SkyWoman. It is an origin story. It goes like this…
They say Skywoman fell through a hole in the Sky World down towards Earth. The water creatures, while initially afraid of her, realized that she needed help. The Geese flew up and caught her on their wings, placing her gently on the back of Turtle. One by one, the animals dove down deep into the water in search of mud to give to the woman. Many perished, and all that returned came back empty-handed.
Finally little Muskrat dove down, down, down. After a long time, the animals and Skywoman feared for the worst. At last his body surfaced. Muskrat had died. When the animals opened his clenched paw however, they found a tiny handful of mud lying in his palm.
Moved by the compassion the animals had shown her, Skywoman rubbed Muskrat’s gift on the back of Turtle and began to dance a dance of thanksgiving. Turtle’s back grew and grew until it became Turtle Island, which is now the Americas. A home for Skywoman.
This is a creation story, one that I’ve been considering adopting.
Maybe it is not just the world that is broken, but, even more importantly, our relationship with Her, I realize. This origin story is not a relic from the past, but rather guidance meant to drive us into the future.
To view the world as a commodity is to use and use and use until we all ultimately become poor. To understand instead the world as a gift in motion, how differently we choose to act. How much more carefully we walk. How much more deeply we live. And how much more freely we give back. Love and reciprocity.
I feel that I have begun to live in a way that is far more honorable than the one that I was living before. I am learning to tread lightly on the land. I am developing the art of paying attention. I am beginning to take time for the little things. I have started to hold in appreciation all of our fellow creatures. I have witnessed again and again real hardship, real poverty, disease and pain and injustice. And yet here I have also witnessed unbelievable strength and hope and spirit. I have witnessed and experienced love.
And so, at the end of the day, at evening time, when all the world begins to soften, I feel like Skywoman.
I dance for everything, but especially for the lessons learned, and for those still to come.
I love the dawn. But now I am beginning to learn to love the evening, too.