The Toppling of a Tree
After arriving at my second home in Costa Rica, it takes little time to synchronize with the timbre and rhythm of a tropical land, responding to the lure of its charms. Everywhere I see openness, humility, and hardworking cheerfulness—the blessed life of campesinos and “pura vida.”
Recently, a fierce wind toppled an imposing tree against the roof of my open-sided rancho, used for relaxing in the heat of the day and fiestas. My neighbor, Fernando, came to my door, and in his thick, almost indecipherable dialect, commenced telling me about it. He offered to chop down the tree, taking care not to disturb the bathroom window of the rancho, and remove it from my property.
The next day Fernando showed up with a machete, chainsaw, and son-in-law. As they worked, I watched from the edge of the rancho. Once in a while Fernando would look over and smile, commenting on the wealth of animalitas crawling over the limbs—mainly ants and spiders.
Fernando was not going to let the tree go to waste. With his machete he cut sturdy limbs into sections for a fence. The smaller pieces he threw into a pile along with chain-sawed hunks of trunk to scatter in his field, where the cows would trample and grind them into fertilizer.
A few hours slipped by, with the task of carrying off the unwieldy wood heap remaining. I told them I was going to pay. “Muy bien,” they said, but neither had a clue as to the worth of their labor. I drew out 10,000 colones, about $20, and asked if it was enough. “I have no idea; ask Diego” Fernando said. When I asked Diego, he said, “Ask Fernando.” I drew out another 5,000 colones, peering questioningly at Fernando. Fernando yelled up to Diego, who was on the roof of the rancho removing debris from the gutter, “What do you think about 15,000 colones?” “I have no idea,” Diego responded. “Bueno,” I said, and handed Fernando the money. Clearly, being paid for helping a neighbor was as perplexing as it was pleasing. “Any time you need help for whatever reason, call me,” Diego said.
To live on rich, fertile land among farmers who are the salt of the earth, whose days, though much the same, are filled with simplicity and grace, is to inhabit a slice of paradise.
I frequently see Fernando tending his cows. He brings over fresh milk and cheese. We stroll up and down the dirt path, chatting amiably. I feel rewarded when I can break through the dense Spanish dialect and get to the heart of what he is saying. Mainly, I love his sparkle and joy for life. We were coming to the end of the long dry months from November through April. He was bemoaning the fact that it was just so very dry, and his cows were suffering from the lack of edible pasture. With a stomp of his foot as if warding off flies, he shook his head and looked skyward. “We have not received a drop of rain, ni una gota! Ah, Dios, in God’s time,” he reminded himself. “I’ll pray,” I offered.
Soon the rains came, great blinding sheets that flooded houses and streets. Then all was right with the world again—that perfect Costa Rican balance of sun-streaked mornings and afternoon cloudbursts, turning the land emerald green.
I love the pristine spirit of the Costa Rican farmer, whose life, so close to the equator, is attuned to twin cycles of day and night. I’ll take some of it back with me when I return to Colorado. I learn here that life carries on in much the same way as it has for eons, in spite of technology and sophistication. What is worthwhile about life is ageless. It’s the light that shines through our eyes in the simplest of experiences, the native gladness in being alive without greed or design, the willingness to trust—qualities captured in lands where the campesino still thrives. “Pura vida!”—pure life, as the saying goes in Costa Rica.