Letters From Earth: Banana Leaf Joy
by Jeanita Ives
We are in what is called the rainy season that occurs between September and November here in the Central Valley of Costa Rica. My usual stroll around the garden where I take note of new flowers, butterflies and birds was being limited to what I could view from under a roof or umbrella. We are talking about a LOT of rain during this time. My husband, Jerome, announced this morning that since September 17 he had estimated about 36 inches of rain in his home-made rain gage with 10 inches having fallen in the last 2 days. And it is still coming down! 100 inches a year is usual in the Central Valley but last year we received much more that that and this year may be another record breaker.
Today, with the rain coming in sheets, I was limiting my plant inspection to the potted plants on our large covered patio. In the closely populated neighborhood in which we live here in the small town of Atenas, Costa Rica, residences are built with little or no setbacks and garden space is limited. Plants grow fast here and within a year of sticking unrooted cuttings in the ground, I have created a jungle of privacy around us on the west and north sides of the house we rent.
the famous banana leaf
In the west garden we had transplanted two small banana plants from my friend’s property to our yard; they are now larger than a two-story house. From our covered patio I was checking out the view of the west garden, where the hydroponic garden from which we grow our salad greens is located. The shrubs and tangle of vines that climb the neighbor’s wall are home for many birds and small animals. I was especially drawn to a four-foot leaf of the nearest banana plant that seemed to be covered in raindrops that sparkled like diamonds in the cloud-dimmed light. As I was admiring this vision, a bright yellow bird that looked like a warbler landed right in the middle of the huge leaf, causing the liquid diamonds to tumble to an indentation in the lower part of the leaf where a pool of water collected. The warbler leaped into this miniature birdbath, flapping its wings in joy. As the rain created more diamonds above, the bird moved to the top of the leaf and slid all the way back down to the pool again and repeated the process. Who needs Disneyland? It was obviously having a great time on the rainy slide and pools on the banana leaf as it flitted from one place to another. It only ceased its joyous celebration when it spotted me standing below getting ready to snap its photo. Sadly I watched it flit to the nearby orange tree before its joyous frolicking could be recorded anywhere but in my mind.
So how did we happen to be here watching a warbler play on a banana leaf in the rain in Costa Rica, and why has “Banana Leaf Joy” become a reaction we strive to have in all we do?
Why Costa Rica as our retirement home? Partly it had to do with the fact that the USA is so large and our family so scattered, it seemed like we would not be much further from those we left behind than we would be in Costa Rica. From San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica (less than an hour from where we live), we can be in Texas with our grandchildren in about four hours. The other two children are in Missouri and Oregon.
We had visited several Latin American countries over several years and we kept coming back to Costa Rica. Something about it felt good to us. We loved its diverse topography with lush forests, colorful flowers, lots of animals and a short trip from mountaintops to ocean beaches that can be seen within a day trip. Its biodiversity is amazing and it is serious about preserving its forest and its wildlife. National Parks here are for animals, not humans, and I liked that … many of the parks don’t even have a road through them.
We especially liked the fact that there would be no snow or Texas style droughts. Rain we can deal with. The utilities would be low because the daytime temperature stays between 70 and the mid-80s year round. No heating or cooling bills, unless you count a fan.
The country is about the size of West Virginia, much smaller than most of the states we had lived in. We had traveled extensively in the US and lived in many states in our 33 years together. We were ready for a really new adventure. The treadmill in the US seemed to get us nowhere and we saw our hard-earned savings dwindling faster than we could ever replenish it at our late ages. When our Social Security kicked in and both of us knew we couldn’t keep working as hard as we had been, “Plan Costa Rica” went into action.
With the blessings of our three children, we started the process of unloading our life of stuff. The kids got the family heirlooms and a lot more they weren’t expecting and probably didn’t need. But we figured it was time they got to make the choices about what was important stuff and what wasn’t. It is hard work thinking about stuff.
Between the two of us, both collectors of oddities, we had accumulated enough to open a junk store, but time was of the essence. We settled on an estate sale … let someone else do it. The economy wasn’t that great for buyers at that time and we still ended up donating a lot to Goodwill. What was left we packed up ready for shipping, some of which we knew we didn’t need, but time to deal with it had run out.
Previous to the sale, we had made a list of what things we should take with us, and what we shouldn’t. We had calculated the shipping costs and how much it would take to replace certain items … particularly linens, appliances, tools and some furniture. Some people down here have left it all behind and started over and are happy to have done that. But we are glad we compromised the way we did. I find it comforting to have some familiar and favorite things surrounding me. I like being connected to my past as much as I like anticipating the future.
the author at Vista de Valle Gardens
We loaded a container to be shipped to Costa Rica and thought we were on our way when it left our driveway. But several other things happened in the next month that delayed our journey, and the December leave date ended up being in March. One thing did go right at this time though, and that was that when the ship with our goods on them reached the port in Costa Rica, it couldn’t be unloaded because the port employees were on vacation for a month over Christmas and didn’t catch up on the ships that needed unloading until close to the time we arrived in Costa Rica. That saved us some money in storage fees that otherwise we would have been out for. It should have also served as an early warning that things don’t always … actually I should say seldom … go as planned in Costa Rica. Timely, logical actions are not the norm in this country. Another reason to learn about “Banana Leaf Joy” and the art of deep breathing.
At the time of the move it was hard for us to decide what to keep and what to move but I do notice that I find it easier to let go of “things” after two-plus years down here. Breaking a plate doesn’t matter so much any more. I now tell myself that is one less thing to wash. I actually feel good about that change in myself. Some things just aren’t worth fretting about any more and about the only thing I collect now are photographs, plants and lots of friends.
It has taken us over two years of living in Costa Rica to finally feel like we are slowing down to a pace that might be more closely related to that of a native than a transplant from a highly stressed country that is always in high gear. Observing the warbler leaping up and down on that dripping wet banana leaf reminded me that the hardest period of our adjusting to a strange land might be nearing its end. Perhaps we will now be to the point where we can actually have more Banana Leaf Joy than a frustrating time in a strange land where we don’t always know the playing rules.
Think on this after note: What country would choose a three-toed sloth as the mascot of its advertising campaigns to promote its tourism business in 2012? Yep … Costa Rica! Maybe the message is suggesting that it is time to slow down and smell the flowers … or track a sloth. To see this as yet unnamed sloth and maybe win a vacation down here, go to Visit Costa Rica on Facebook.