"Winter" 2007 Check In from Frank -- Costa Rica
I brought in the new year in Costa Rica. A group of us awoke in the early morning darkness of the 31st and climbed a mountain to attend a sweatlodge to reconnect with our selves and nature. We were reborn into the morning light and spent the day in silence preparing for the year ahead. (Below is an account of our trip to Costa Rica which I returned from last week.) It was perfect for me. I feel ready . . .
January 23, 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
Happy New Year! For those of you in the northern hemisphere this is such a wonderful time of year for reflection and visioning. I pray you take the time for that special gift we have as humans. I brought in the new year in Costa Rica. A group of us awoke in the early morning darkness of the 31st and climbed a mountain to attend a sweatlodge to reconnect with our selves and nature. We were reborn into the morning light and spent the day in silence preparing for the year ahead. (Below is an account of our trip to Costa Rica which I returned from last week.) It was perfect for me. I feel ready. . .
For me the year is already building speed. I am now in England over the next week visiting Schumacher College where I intend to seek a Masters in Holistic Science this fall, spending time in the Royal Botanical Gardens looking at the plants of Australia/New Zealand, and connecting with many new friends. Then I will fly Downunder for the next two months seeking to meet the plants and healers there for my next book project. (If you know any plants or places or people I should connect with please let me know!)
For those of you who have made a resolution to get to know more deeply the plants this year (hopefully that is most of you!), I hope to see you on some of the many plant walks and talks in the plans. Also for the seventh year I will be facilitating an online discussion group on the book, “Botany in a Day”. Send an email to planttalk2007 at yahoo.com if you are interested in participating. The book can be ordered at www.hollowtop.com.
I will return this spring to some exciting happenings planned. See below for an overview of the spring and summer plans. I am slowly learning the ins and outs of caretaking a virtual space. Check out www.plantsandhealers.com to see how I am doing. Feedback (and help!) is encouraged.
I know for most of you life is beyond full so I will not go on and on, but let me say that I feel so humbled by how many people, through their love and support, allow me to live this life. I carry you with me and feel a wonderful vibrant feeling in my heart and soul. Praise Be! You are with me!
I’ll write again once I have had some time with the kangaroos and koala bears; the Eucalyptus and Acacias.
Remember we are all connected.
Plans for the Spring and Summer 2007 (Mark your calendars)
- April 7- Walk in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California
- April 21- Tree Walk in Wood Acres w/ Jim Duke, Maryland
- April 22- Earthday in Jim Duke’s Garden, Maryland
- April 24-May 7 Teaching in NY, NJ, and PA
- May 11-Wild Foods and Fermentations w/ Sandor Katz, Asheville, NC
- May 23-25- Wild Roots walk on the Appalachian Trail, NC
- Early June- Seaweed Harvest, Mendocino, California
- Late June-National Rainbow Gathering Arkansas/Oklahoma
- July 12-22- Wild Foods and Fermentation w/Sandor around Oregon
- July 27-29- Plants, Mushrooms and Neo-Shamanism with Ken Crouse Hot Springs, NC
- August 3-5 Summer Permaculture Gathering, Celo, NC
Show up, Pay Attention, Speak your Truth, and Be Ready for Anything!
Costa Rican Adventure- Dec 27, 2006 thru Jan 12, 2007
As the plane lifted off from San Francisco, I let go of my winter hibernation and prepared for immersion into the tropical paradise of Costa Rica(CR). I had been the year before for a similar adventure so my mind was filled with memories of my last visit. As you may know CR is a nature wonderland with over 10,000 species of plants (including 1400 trees and over 2000 orchids). What adds to this is that CR is 0nly half the size of Virginia! (All of North America has only about 17,000 plant species.) There are an equally impressive array of fauna and geological wonders.
After a smooth flight I landed in the capitol, San Jose, and met up with the organizer Tenasi Rama (you can checkout their website www.artofunion.com) and the next day we gathered up a couple of the other teachers and headed southwest to the retreat center. The center, Diamante Verde, is like none other I have ever been to. It is a couple thousand feet up, nestled in the jungle an hour hike from the road. The center itself is in a cave with waterfalls going over it and a 600-foot waterfall below. In the distance over the coffee-covered hills you can see the Pacific Ocean.
Over 20 of us gathered for a three-day Plant Symposium. It was a wonderful mix of local people, foreigners who had settled there and visitors from the US. For the next three days we went on plant walks, held circles on many aspects of plant knowledge, sang many heartsongs and ate amazing, vibrant food. Pre-dawn of the 31st we hiked up the mountain to participate in a new years sweat lodge focused on reconnection with nature. We went through a rebirthing emerging in the morning light to see a giant blue Morpho butterfly fluttering by. We jumped in a creek to cleanse ourselves and spent the day in silence reflecting on the year that was and visioning the year to be. I felt how 2006 was a wonderful healing of my heart through the love of many.
The next day was spent in the finca (farm) of the center, learning the weeds and cultivars there. Then we held a closing circle and prepared for our 9-day walking journey.
To the Mountain Top
An old friend of mine often reminds me of how much of life is in the comings and goings. I certainly felt that upon our arrival at the Seelye family mountain retreat center. I had met this family on my trip there last year and was very much impressed with who they are. They are wonderful mix of botanical maestros and mountain folk. This time was no less memorable and we were blessed to have two of the daughters, Satya and Janie, join us for the whole walk and the son, Andy, participate in the some of the walk and act as a link in his amazing Landrover to drive us through parts of the journey.
This year we scheduled a day longer visit with them as there is so much to learn up there. We spent the first day on a plant walk on their land and up to the Paramo. While walking Satya implored that we smell the Paramo as she and Andy described its history and significance. If you are interested, I am sure there is information on it online but let me say that CR was formed as an island millions of years ago from the same volcanoes that formed the Andes. This island floated up and rammed into the Caribbean Plate linking North and South Americas. (Reminds me a lot of the “Doctor Doolittle” story!) As a result, the Paramo contains plants that are very similar to the Andean plants. Ever since the Seelye children were young, experts have done research up there and taught the kids much knowledge. Just below the Paramo are the Elfin Moss Forests containing all sorts of plants including endemic oak forests.
Around the farm we visited huge Podocarpus trees. These ancient conifers can live for thousands of years and are among the oldest trees on earth. We saw huge thistles (Cirscium) and docks (Rumex costaricensis) over 12 feet tall that can provide lots of edible food. There were some wonderful members of the ginseng family including Oreopanax—a tree that can also grow as an epiphyte and has a wonderful ginseng-like root. Another plant to catch our imagination was the endemic Bowmaria which we dubbed Bob Marley as mnemonic device. It grew up as a wonderful spiraling being and sent out a nice bunch of dready red flowers. That night the Seelye family shared with us their amazing family history starting with how they came to CR about 30 years before on a vacation and never went back.
Walking to Providence
The next day we headed slowly along the top of the mountain seeing so many plants then steeply descended the mountain to catch a ride with Andy to our next stop. Near the farm we were taken to a Podocarpus they called the castle tree that was hollow and could hold all of us within its trunk. We encountered so many amazing beings including tasty Boletes that had red-brown caps and stained blue on their stem. We saw several species of Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla) covered in dew and ate berries from a number of different bushes. On the way down it started to rain (and this is the dry season! Some areas we walked through get 15 feet of rain a year!) so we were glad to see Andy and his rig waiting to take us to a small farm outside Providencia.
The Spanish government apparently invested 75 million dollars into education and protection of the Savagre River watershed after they found it to be one of the cleanest rivers in Latin America. This investment clearly paid off in terms of transforming a CR native named Nori into a spokesperson for ecological awareness. We stayed on her farm. She is a fireball of energy and spent hours with us sharing her insights into organic farming, recycling and land stewardship. We had been favorably impacted by her last year so scheduled an extra day there to get a full flavor of her lessons. Her husband also taught us about how to make mats out of banana stems and how to press sugar from cane.
Going Up to Get Down
After a day of rest we headed out on our longest walk of over 13 miles. For the first couple of hours we walked up dirt roads and through farms, climbing up hundreds of feet. Then we entered the jungle and began 5 hours of steady down. I held up the rear most of the time following in awe the tree maestro Tin learning all I could about the trees. Tin would lean back and look up into the canopy sizing up the giant trees around us. When one caught his fancy he would approach it looking at it bark. Usually he would pull his knife out and make a small cut and check its sap. Then he would look around on the ground for fallen leaves, flowers and fruit. With those hints he usually knew the tree and would excitedly share with me his discovery and how he came to know it. Only occasionally would he need to look something up to confirm his feelings of what species we were looking at. I was continually amazed at the depth of his knowledge and learned many new trees with him.
Fortunately it was not nearly as muddy as last year and I remembered my lesson from then of wearing socks with my sandals. We arrived tired to the outpost of Chaqueta after eight hours of walking. We ate well the familiar rice and beans dinner enjoying the pungency of the homemade hot sauces. Fortunately we had amble high vibe foods to supplement the diet of the peoples we were staying with including nori sheets and other seaweeds, blue-green algae, maca, and Chinese tonic herbs. That night we held a powerful healing circle.
Crossing the Savagre River
The next morning we did a review of plants we had seen the day before then headed out on a six hour walk to the cluster of houses called Piedra Blanca. Here we crossed the Savagre River for the first time and made our way to our next stop for the night. Along the way I harvested a fungus, wood ears (Auricularia sp.), which we ate with our dinner. This place had changed a lot in the year away with their adding a whole new floor to their sleeping quarters. Many of us went for an evening swim in the fresh waters of the Savagre and then we settled on mats in one of the rooms and shared stories and massages for the evening.
Albino the Curandero
The next morning I shared a story of the history of plants on the earth followed by Tin sharing how to identify trees by the color of their sap. Then we walked about four hours to the retreat center of the curandero Albino who is half-indigenous. We stayed with him for two days. On the first night we partook in a sauna. The first round was very hot and powerful. The resonance in the stone kiva was wonderful and we traveled all sorts of places with our voices. This was followed by a jump in the river. Albino asked that we maintain silence when we were out of the lodge. There were supposed to be three rounds but soon into the second round there was an accident and the woodstove fell over. Fortunately no one was hurt but it ended our sauna early. That did not seem to discourage anyone for it seemed the long first round satisfied most peoples cleansing needs.
The next day we went on an informative plant walk with Albino first in the woods around the lodge. We met several members of the pepper family and saw the famous Sangre de Draco (dragon’s blood) that he uses for stomach ulcers and for cleaning the teeth. In his garden we met many plants including the world famous noni which he ferments into a wine to keep cancer cells in check. We also looked at two kinds of Smilax he uses for anemia and leukemia. On the walk Albino gathered a number of plants for a wild food lunch. It was a very memorable meal with a dish made from the flower buds of panama hat palms and Heliconias as well as boiled air potatoes (Dioscorea). It was a nice change from the standard fare.
That night our group journeyed together on a plant spirit journey followed by a deep breath work exercise designed to release blocked emotions in the body. I went to sleep late that night buzzing.
Walking to Finca Brujo
We headed out the next morning on our last long walk. It was not a hard walk given the journey we had taken so we were able to cover the couple of hours easily. The last part of the walk was through young teak tree (Tectonis grandis) plantations which we sadly learned was the wood used to make pallets. These are beautiful big leaved trees in the Verbena family that traditionally have been valued as wood for furniture.
We crossed a newly built walking bridge over the Rio Division and up a dirt road to the Finca Brujo. That night we had a feast then shared the most important families and plants we had met along the way for food and medicine. (See below for a list of those plants). I was blessed to receive some healing work from two of the people in our circle and slept wonderfully outside under the stars.
Riding the River
The next morning we walked a few kilometers to where we were to meet the members of the Quepoa river rafting company. Unfortunately a landslide blocked their bringing the boats to the river. With some quick thinking a plan was hatched to take horses carrying our bags out and bringing back the boats. Two from our group left with the horses for other engagements. We sat by the river for what turned out to be four hours as this plan was carried out. It was a good test of patience for the group. I managed to get a nap and to work with a couple of others to finish the updates for the Diamante Verde Plant List. I reviewed my plant notes and realized I had been introduced to over 100 new genera and 10 new plant families!
Finally the horses arrived and the rafts were inflated. We ate fresh fruit they had brought and dressed in hardhats and life preservers. After an amusing safety talk we boarded the boats and headed out. Evening was coming and we enjoyed a wondrous sunset. White egrets flew over and the air was filled with the seductive smells of flowers beckoning the moths and bats they need for pollination. We splashed through some wonderful rapids and just as darkness came, we arrived at our take out point. We reunited with Andy and friend who had our bags.
Back into Babylon
It seemed like a long journey to the beach. Once there at the lodge where we had arranged to stay, our group energy fell to an unexpected low. People dispersed looking for food and the owner of the lodge was drunk and irresponsible. Eventually we were able to pull the circle together out on the glorious beach under the stars. Despite the sand fleas, we had a little time together before people went off to sleep.
Warm Pacific Waters
I sat up a while watching the heavens and the waning moon rise with some from our circle enjoying our last night together. I slept out on the beach and awoke at dawn. I waded into the Pacific waters preparing for the cold I associated with that ocean. To my surprise I met warm, gentle water. I splashed around for a while and caught a few waves in feeling the gentle love of the mother ocean. I reflected on all that we had been through as a group and sang praises for this glorious life I have been granted.
Tenasi, in his super human way, climbed a big coconut tree and dropped down a big pile of young coconuts for our morning breakfast. This brought together our circle and after a little settling in time, we slowed down and shared our heartsongs. It was a beautiful closing circle in which we felt the love and joy of being family together.
Then it was time to disperse. We headed off in two groups. Our group did some errands and dropped off those staying in the area. Tenasi, Tin and I drove up over the mountain into the cold and fog sharing some good brother time. Then we traveled back down the other side into San Jose to our resting place for the night—The Ark Herb Farm (check out their website: www.arkherbfarm.com). We stayed up late catching up on email and the next morning Tenasi headed off to Columbia for ceremonies he was participating in there and I flew off a few hours later back to North America.
The title of this section means “pure life”. With each journey here we hope to walk further down a healthier way of life. This year we made great strides—eating something wild every day, eating more local food, as well as, learning more who grows around us. Pura Vida. The land there calls out with its incredible flora and fauna. Pura Vida. We walked from the headwaters in the mountain heights along the Savagre River down to the mother ocean; one of the cleanest rivers in the world. It is alive with vitality and energy. Pura Vida. With nature we can evolve to be the light-manifested beings we are. Without nature we will surely become extinct.
Hope to see you on our journey there next year. Tentative Dates: Dec 27 –Jan 13. There should be pictures up in the next few weeks at www.artofunion.com. Check it out.
Love and Light,
Plants to Know for Health and Thriving in Costa Rica
Below are three lists that are perhaps some of the most important sources of food and medicine that one can find growing wild. The first list is general families that you can get to know and explore which have extensive amounts of healthful constituents. The second list is plants you will find on the mountain tops. The third list is plants found in the lower lands.
- Arecaceae (Palms)
- Urticaceae (Nettles)
Grasses, Rushes, and Sedges
Fiddleheads of Ferns