August 31, 2005


The last time I saw New Orleans it was in pouring rain with gale force winds from an offshore tropical storm in October 2004. I remember looking down at the street from my hotel window in the middle of the night, the sheets of rain whipping along the asphalt pavement in the ghost white light, the fleur de lys and stars and stripes flags wrapped around the flagpoles above the hotel awning, the occasional pedestrian hunching along next to the walls of the buildings under a breaking umbrella, the occasional cab splashing up a wave.

I was in NOLA for the weekend with a friend, a wandering poet who had felt compelled to fly in from Paris for a semester to teach in Clarksville, Tennessee. He’d never been to New Orleans, and I’d suggested we take separate hotel rooms in case he wanted to entertain a guest. “This is New Orleans, that’s what New Orleans is for,” I said, but as it turned out, charming and worldly as he is, he was in too unsettled a condition to follow my advice.

I’d come in by car from Texas so we were able to drive around town: through the French Quarter and into the Faubourg Marigny, up St. Charles Street and down the wonderful length of Magazine Street with its endless cafes and restaurants and used bookstores and clothing boutiques. We sat an extra hour in the Café du Monde, unwilling to get soaked on the one-block dash to the parked car, and that place looked like the center of the world, its little round tables crammed with raingeared tourists speaking German and French and Dutch and Portuguese and more, its expert Asian waitresses memorizing everyone’s order even though everyone ordered slight variations on the same thing: café au lait and beignets.

A city as obsessed with restaurants as I am! I could spend an entire vacation prowling from one window-posted menu to another, peeking at the dining room décor and the customers, weighing which places to pass by and which to enter. On this trip I discovered Mother’s, the downtown breakfast spot where you order eggs and smoked sausage and grits at the counter; and a big new seafood place in the Quarter with piles of fried shellfish that daunted even me; and revisited Casamento’s Oyster’s on Magazine Street. And spent hours browsing for that other necessary nutriment: used books, at Beckham’s Bookshop on Chartres Street, and the Faulkner House, and elsewhere. And passed Fleur de Paris, where Susan bought her wedding dress in 1994.

Leaving the city I drove the long raised straightaways of I-10 through the bayou in hard rain and mist, going carefully to stay on the road. What does that road look like today? What has happened to the books in the bookstores, the tables in the restaurants, the sacks of beignet mix in the Café du Monde? I’ve got a guidebook crowded with handwritten annotations and hotel brochures and restaurant business cards – places I’ve been, places I’ve hoped to go someday. If they’re still there afterwards, what will they look like?

I imagine myself as a travel publisher planning the next edition of a guidebook to New Orleans. What do I say?

August 30, 2005

Dreaming of Uncle A.

A couple of days ago I posted about a premonitory dream that turned out not to be valid. And yesterday my post was a total down. I’ll try to make it up to you today by telling about a premonitory dream that seems valid to me.

The following is a nonfictional story and all details are true to my memory.

It happened on a night in December, 1990. Saturday December 8 into Sunday December 9, I think. My uncle A., my father’s older brother, had been ill with cancer for some months, and my father had died of cancer two years earlier. My last dream of the night was about Uncle A. I dreamed that he visited me and assured me that he was fine, he was healthy. In the dream, my father showed up alongside him, and I was assured that my father was healthy and happy as well. The emotional tone of the dream was one of gladness combined with surprise at seeing Uncle A., especially alongside my dead father.

The dream was startling enough to me that I woke up, and it was just after sunrise. I immediately felt that there was something special about the dream, and I sat in bed thinking about it for a minute or so. I said to myself, “If it turns out that Uncle A. died this morning, I’ll know that the dream was a premonition.”

I got up and went about the day’s business. The dream slipped out of my mind. That afternoon, I got a phone call from one of my brothers telling me that Uncle A. had died overnight. Then I remembered the dream again.

It was the only time in my life, up to that point, that I had ever dreamed about Uncle A., as far as I can recall. He and I didn’t know each other that well. We met at infrequent family gatherings and we didn’t talk much at them. We had a peculiar relationship that I’d call frustrated intimacy. I think we were curious about each other but didn’t know how to communicate. There were too many differences of background and history between us. There were barriers around him and different kinds of barriers around me. Yet we felt – or at least I felt – an unspoken affinity that was never realized in life. I think that was one reason I dreamed of him: it was a chance to create a bond, acknowledge an intimacy, that we never allowed ourselves to establish.

On the night of the dream, I knew Uncle A. was ill but I didn’t know whether it was terminal or not and I had no reason to expect that he was on the brink of death.

This is the only clearly premonitory dream I have ever had.

I think I was especially sensitive to mortal matters that night because it was the tenth anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, the event in my lifetime that has caused me the keenest grief. I wept over John Lennon’s death (as well as the two Kennedys’ and King’s) in a way I have not wept over either of my parents’.

It would be easy to dismiss my dream of Uncle A. as a coincidence. Simply multiply the probability that a man dreams of his uncle by the probability that the uncle will die on that night. The result is some small number which, if landed upon by the roulette wheel of life, will produce a feeling of uncanniness in the dreamer.

But I reject such mechanistic explaining-away as reductionistic. They ignore the fact that this dream had profound subjective meaning for me even before I learned that the death had occurred. It wasn’t a dream about just anyone, it was a dream about a person with whom I had a specific relationship that the dream addressed. It was a unique occurrence in my life, not just one in a series of spins of the wheel. The conjunction didn’t occur on just any night, it occurred on a night of special significance that was both public and private. I recognized the dream as special the moment it happened, not merely afterward. Factor in all this and the chance of coincidence becomes so infinitesimal as to be scarcely worth considering. To cling to an explanation of coincidence, in this circumstance, would seem to me to be a kind of reverse mysticism, a clinging to the power of numbers however tiny, from fear of facing the obvious. It could have been a coincidence, but it wasn’t.

August 29, 2005

Baby Dolphin Down

Last vignette from our Costa Rican trip:

It was yet another guided motorboat search for dolphins and whales. Really we’d have preferred to snorkel that afternoon, but the search was included with the snorkeling expedition. Just as we were getting deeply bored, we sighted our first and only dolphin of the day: it was a juvenile, about a meter long, a pantropical spotted dolphin but too young to have spots. We followed it slowly for a minute or so and it tried to evade us, but it didn’t do a very good job – it didn’t stay submerged for more than a few seconds. And we were puzzled that no other dolphins were nearby. What was a juvenile doing alone?

Soon our boat driver realized that the dolphin was ill or injured. It listed as it swam, breathing shallowly. The driver, a young man named Junior, borrowed my fins and tried to capture and aid the dolphin, but it kept evading him. Eventually Junior was able to swim under the dolphin, and he pulled away a length of heavy black commercial fishing line about 30 feet long and tossed it into the boat.

But the dolphin still listed, and did not swim away. Junior returned to the water and a second man from the boat, a young Spaniard on a snorkeling vacation, joined him. Together, they caught the dolphin – which surprised me, I had thought a dolphin could have easily outswum them – and heaved it into the boat for examination. We saw that it was still tightly bound in fishing line, the line cinching its glossy gray hide, and it was bleeding from its mouth, where a big metal hook was stuck sideways.

No one on the boat had a knife. First someone tried cutting the remaining line with a key, but then Susan remembered she had a nail clipper. Someone cut the line with that and Junior yanked the hook out of the dolphin’s mouth. Blood and water sloshed in the bottom of the boat.

Junior and the Spaniard gently lowered the baby dolphin into the sea and held it in a sling of human arms for several minutes, but its breath was getting feebler. When they let it go, it swam a few meters and then sank. It had probably exhausted its last energy trying to escape its rescuers.

Junior said it had probably spent days caught in the line. Then he began bailing out the reddened water.

August 27, 2005

Thank You, and an Inkling

To all of you who have sent comments and emails of condolence during this difficult period of my life, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I can't put into a few words how much your presence has helped sustain me. Your understanding, your compassion, your sharing of personal stories, are signs of a friendship that can't be belittled as "virtual".

And for those of you are are intrigued by signs and premonitions, here's a true anecdote. One of the funeral guests, my brother's former wife, who has remained close friends with my mother over the years, had a dream about her the night she died. My mother came to visit the dreamer, and after a while, my mother said she had to leave for home. "To the Bronx?" the dreamer asked. "No, to Queens to be with those other people," my mother said.

Queens is where the family cemetery plot is. Otherwise that borough has no significant connection to our lives. My mother never lived there. At the time of the dream, the dreamer knew my mother was dying imminently -- she was a regular visitor to the nursing home -- but she didn't know that the burial would be in Queens. Nor did she know that it would be in a family plot with "those other people" -- my grandparents and uncles.

August 26, 2005

Notes from Graveside

The man from the funeral home has a deformed left hand attached to a half-length arm – he doesn’t seem to notice the condition, nor does anyone else. The hearse driver has a fat, red, wrinkled face under his shock of white hair, blinks spasmodically behind dark glasses, and has a creased earlobe – the sign of future stroke. The young woman at the cemetery office is slim and brown and earringed, and looks so comfortable at her leisurely work – looking up plot numbers, offering forms to sign – that I imagine her sitting at the same desk, stouter, double-chinned, when the body in the hearse will be me.

I hug people I haven’t seen in thirty years and may never see again, and the hugs are completely sincere. Each person who wants to pours the customary shovelful of earth onto the lowered coffin in its hole. After the ceremony I walk from grave to grave, placing the traditional pebble on each relative’s headstone to commemorate my visit. Do these stones sense the addition of a pebble’s weight? Favorite uncle, do you know I’m here, waiting for one of your rollicking stories? And you other one, uncle I never met, do you know me somehow, you whose deaths set in motion that events that led to my birth?

At the restaurant afterwards, I eavesdrop on five white-haired people talking brightly of an overseas trip to their ancestral land, to a wedding. A dress is described, and an inherited shawl, and the friendliness of faroff nephews and nieces. “We hated to leave.”

We drive a long way through unfamiliar streets. On a lawn, an old woman stands blowing away the first leaves of autumn. A young mother walks alongside her two sons, on tricycle and training bike, wearing helmets to keep them from harm. And then the shops of all those who help us get where we’re going: the gas station, the coffeehouse, the florist’s, the car rental…

How do they do it? They seem as heroic to me as Norse gods – more so, for in the old stories the gods’ end was far away, while for these people it’s next year, at most a few years, maybe even this year.

“Have a good day.”

“Have a safe trip.”

“Is everything okay for you?”

Defiant war cries flung in the face of the infinite.

August 22, 2005

Go Gentle

I got the call fifteen minutes ago. Mom died peacefully in her sleep. My brother A. visited her yesterday afternoon and saw that she was sleeping peacefully and in apparent comfort even though she had a high fever. He praised the attentiveness of the hospice staff, who kept her lips moist and changed her bedding and injected her with small doses of morphine.

Her tranquility in mortal crisis was the starkest kind of contrast with her life, a life marred by needless psychological pain, no rest, no peace of mind. If only her passage through life had been as kindly attended as her passage out of it. If she had, for one day as a living person, been able to feel the calm she felt as a dying one.

My brother S. is taking care of the funeral arrangements and I will know in a few hours what day the funeral will be, what flight I need to take.

In the meantime, thank you, my dear blogfriends, for your prayers and wishes and words. If human thought is able to travel across distances and affect events unseen, then your thoughts may have touched with mercy the passing of someone you never met.

Jean Cohen (1921-2005)

August 20, 2005

Mom In Hospice

Many of my readers know that my mother was diagnosed with terminal lymphoma a couple of months ago (see here and here and here). Her decline has proceeded more quickly than anyone expected. Mercifully, it’s been painless for her. Her mind and body have been gradually shutting down over the past weeks. First forgetting words, she got to the point where she couldn’t speak at all, only make syllable-like sounds, and now she makes no sounds. Increasingly feeble and immobile, she became paralyzed on her right side a few days ago – either a stroke or the pressure of the lymphoma on certain areas of her brain.

She’s been moved to a private room in the hospice wing of her nursing home. My brother who lives in the same town as her says that the care she’s receiving is first-rate and solely directed toward her comfort. She’s receiving anti-anxiety medication, but so far there’s no need for morphine.

No heroic measure will be taken – no IV fluids, no feeding tube. According to her doctors and nurses, those interventions can cause significant problems such as fluid backup or reflux.

My 22-year-old son is on the scene with her; my 24-year-old plans to visit tomorrow. The report is that she sleeps most of the time, and when she’s awake it’s not clear how aware she is. Her vision may be too weak by this point for her to see more than a blur, but my son says that she visibly lit up when he arrived at her room. Sometimes she seems to have those moments of happiness. At other times she seems confused, and waves weakly with her left hand as if asking a question. At other times she seems agitated by her inability to communicate, or irritated by the physical discomfort of an immobile position in bed, or by some shortness of breath.

I’ll be flying out there soon, I don’t know exactly when. My schedule is hampered by the fact that I’m chained to a major freelance assignment with an inflexible deadline. Beginning this past Tuesday, the day I returned from Costa Rica, I must write a 224-page book, an educational manual, in four weeks. I would have had six or eight weeks except for the fact that it’s sandwiched between two vacations that I’d previously booked: Costa Rica with the family on one end, and on the other end a long-planned two weeks motoring through Spain with a couple of friends.

I hope to send some reports from the road in Spain – not every day, but now and then. Then I’ll come back to the States and collapse.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll all understand if I don’t have as much time as usual for blogging.

August 19, 2005

Pictures from Drake Bay

It’s one of the world’s prime whale-watching spots, the only place in the world that’s a migration destination for both northern and southern humpbacks, the former coming down from California and Oregon in December-May and the latter from near the Antarctic during our summer and fall. Large pods of pantropical spotted dolphins can also be found here, as well as orcas and pseudo-orcas that scare the dolphins away.

This is mating season for the southern humpbacks and it’s nursing season for both the humpbacks and the dolphins.

We went out three times in motorboats and saw small groups of dolphins, about half a dozen at a time, often with calves. We heard of large pods out beyond the bay, and went there seeking them, but they may have been chased off by the orcas which we also heard were in the area.

Much better luck with the humpbacks. Right in the bay, near Caño Island which is a few miles offshore, we saw a couple of mother-calf pairs at separate times. More spectacularly, we saw groups consisting of one mother-calf pair and anywhere from two to four males competing for the female’s attention. Humpback whale competition consists of displays of splashing and breeching. Which male gets to mate with the female can be literally a matter of which one makes the biggest splash. Males also try to block each other’s access to the female, and sometimes they jump over each other. We saw one breech completely out of the water two or three times, which is apparently a relatively uncommon sight. It was breathtaking, but unfortunately we don’t have decent photos of it, because the action is too fast for an amateur’s off-the-rack digital camera to catch.

We did get pictures of a much slower phenomenon: an aged Olive Ridley sea turtle idling along in the current, with a flock of brown boobies flying around it and landing not only near it but actually on top of its shell. The boobies were hunting for the small pilot fish that travel everywhere underneath the turtle, keeping its underside clean. We couldn’t resist jumping into the water with our snorkel gear and swimming around with the turtle, even touching it – which you’re not supposed to do.

The snorkeling in the shallows off Caño Island was terrific: many varieties of multicolored fish, sometimes in schools of twenty to one hundred. Some small yellow ones with black stripes traveling in a school; foot-long blue-green ones traveling alone; dusty green ones with white spots; inch-long ones of saturated blue, which were the juvenile stage of a fish that looked much grayer and plainer when it grew up; the “golden phase” of yet another fish that matured into plainness… I wish I knew the names of all the varieties. The water was usually ten to twenty feet deep and we snorkeled around encrusted rocks among which fish were hiding. Someone saw a ray. And our friend Mark from London, making one last dive before we departed, saw a tiger shark, five or six feet long, resting at the bottom. Mark also made a spectacular underwater catch when Agent 61’s camera fell off her wrist, swiftly intersecting the camera’s fall at the perfect oblique angle. And the man never even played baseball!

Here are some of the picture Agent 61 (code name: Susan) took with her underwater digital Pentax:

Olive Ridley sea turtle with brown booby topping

Underside of same turtle – the little flake-shaped things are its pilot fish

Agent 95 in the Pacific

Frogman 97, US Navy: note turtle’s fin near his right hand

August 18, 2005


Mornings were gorgeous, afternoons were overcast with occasional rain, and evenings were rainy – steady and hard with intermittent thunder. There’s a certain mad logic in going to the tropics in the rainy season – after all, if you’re going to a rain forest, shouldn’t you experience the rain?

We took the inevitable motorboat to Corcovado National Park and hiked in wearing river sandals, the preferred footwear for all circumstances in this part of the world. The trails were hilly and the ground was red clay mud, and when a drenching lunchtime shower fell, it was a relief because it meant we were wading in streams rather than slurping through mud, and our feet and shoes got clean.

Pink crabs and hermit crabs on the beach. Toucans in the trees, curassows – a kind of black and white peacock – on the ground. Brown spider monkeys racketing through the high branches with matchlessly long swings. American crocodiles and caiman crocodiles invisibly in the upland streams and estuaries. Coconut palms with bunches of big green or orange-yellow coconuts; banana trees with bunches of green or yellow or brown fruit; almond trees, cashew trees; guava papaya, loquat, star fruit, pineapple. The distinctive forest scent is of pleasantly rotting coconut. I begin to wonder why all the monkeys and acoutis and coatis aren’t permanently soused from eating all the fermented fruit. Intoxication is older than humanity.

There’s another distinctive smell too, which you come upon at the foot of giant ficus trees that have incredibly long, thick, shallow roots: the roots of these focuses are as thick as big logs, as this wood desk I’m writing at, and taper off into red tips. The scent is musky but light, and you come upon it at trees with lots of half-eaten fruit on the ground: it’s the scent of howler monkeys. We search upwards yearningly whenever we smell that musk, but we don’t see the monkeys. Nor do we see squirrel monkeys, the shyest primates in the forest .

Some of Corcovado is secondary growth and some is primary: the trees in the primary forest are taller and straighter, though not necessarily thicker, than in the secondary. The very thickest trees are many hundreds of years old, though. We see a balsa tree, tall and straight, remarkably thick and strong-looking for a source of such light wood; a calomine tree, its trunk spotted with dried white sap; baco, or milk tree, whose sap treats indigestion.

Our guide, Roy, a Costa Rican grad student in biology, stamps around the perimeter of an anthill in order to scare up some soldier ants, catches one, and shows us how the Indians used to apply soldier ants to their skin to stitch wounds, the ants’ pincers making excellent sutures and the ants’ bodies secreting an antibiotic. (Roy demonstrates on clothing, not skin.)

My favorite forest creature, though, is the leaf-cutter ant. These steadfast gardeners travel in a line, thousands of them, starting from the top of a coconut tree, meandering across the wide lawn of the park ranger’s station, and from there into the forest. Each of them carries aloft a torn-off scrap of leaf: the line looks like an endless flotilla of tiny green-sailed boats. Each ant secretes a trail-marking chemical, and so many of them have passed by that they’ve burned a six-inch-wide trail into the lawn. I’ve heard that 15% of the forest’s foliage is processed by leaf-cutter ants. I think it would be a proud thing to be one of them.

A blue morpho butterfly as big as my hand floats by – there are lots of them here, though not nearly as many as there used to be. Roy points out a poison dart frog, specked black and red, crouching in a hole: the Indians used to manufacture poison for their darts from it. Now and then a little basilisk skitters by: it’s called the Jesus Christ lizard because it runs on the surface of the water.

Tiger heron. Brown pelican. Magnificent frigatebird (“magnificent” is its name, not my adjective). White ibis. Black-throated trogon. Long-tailed manakin. Keel-billed toucan. Chestnut-mandibled toucan.

Another group at our lodge saw a sloth. There are rumors of people seeing tapirs. And then there’s that fer-de-lance. Coiled up smack in the middle of the hiking trail. I would have liked to see it, but just as well we didn’t – it was the other group. A fer-de-lance in the trail is no joke. It’s one of the most deadly vipers on earth. You could get bitten by one on forty-Second Street and Fifth Avenue, if there happened to be fer-de-lances at that intersection (and in fact there are, though only metaphorically), and stand an excellent chance of dying before you could reach medical care. Roy steered the group up the hill and around and down, but that course wasn’t without its drawbacks: a boy fell from a tree onto his mother’s face, giving her a black eye; and his sister slipped in the mud and began to slide down toward the snake, stopped only by a root protruding from the ground.

One of our guides at a subsequent lodge told us he had twice been bitten by fer-de-lances. I don’t know what to make of his claim. He knows his snakes, but maybe he mistook their identities those times. Or maybe he’s immune, or the bites were glancing ones. Who knows? In any case, a very lucky guy.

Sign at the park entrance: “El Guardaparque Es Su Amigo; Atienda Sus Recomendaciones.” The park ranger is your friend; heed his recommendations. Good advice.

August 17, 2005

Delfin Amor Lodge, Drake Bay

The first of our two ecolodges was on the Osa Peninsula, a little bulb of land on the southwestern coast of Costa Rica and perhaps the best-preserved natural area in the country -- certainly the best place for cetacean-spotting. My most lasting impression of ecotourism is of being coddled in the middle of nowhere. Our 19-seater landed at the unpaved, one-runway Drake Bay airstrip, whose “terminal” was an openwork thatched cottage, whose equipment consisted of one baggage cart and one fire extinguisher, and whose staff consisted of one teenage boy, and just as we were thinking, “What now?”, a Toyota Land Cruiser pulled up and the driver asked us, “What hotel?” “Hotel” was a misnomer, though, for there are no large edifices of any kind in that area: the nearby village contained about five scattered shacks and a couple of motorboats. The Land Cruiser drove us along a rutted, muddy, hilly trail, across creeks and past downed palm trees, and by the time we reached the village, cell phones had ensured that our motorboat would be waiting to take us across the bay to the Delfin Amor.

The lodge has six cabinas of dark green plywood with green corrugated vinyl roofs, unglassed screened windows, and palm wood patios. The water, cold only, is piped from upstream in the hills, and the electricity, which comes from the lodge’s solar generator, gives some light in the evening if, as the sign in the cabina urges, you keep the lights off during the daytime. There’s even a computer in the dining room – an ancient AOC brand with a corroded mouse, which I tried to use when I arrived but which kept giving an error message saying that the cooling system was damaged.

The lack of electricity has its romantic compensations, though: we ate by candlelight. (It got dark before six, being so close to the equator.) There were anywhere from seven to fourteen guests in the lodge at any time, and we ate at a big communal table as the rain battered the banana and palm trees, unwittingly baring our souls like characters in a Maugham short story. There was a family from London, a couple from Holland, and Americans from various regions. The adults were as follows: a philosophy professor, an education professor, a medical doctor, a physics graduate student, a psychotherapist, a psychotherapist in training, a software engineer turned transpersonal therapist in training, and an ex-novelist trying to keep his mouth shut. At times the conversation turned to university politics, and one wondered, “Have I inadvertently booked my vacation in the faculty lounge?” But given the right frame of mind the chat beneath the roof blended with the chatter of monkeys and insects and birds outside. It was life, it was members of a species calling back and forth, “This is my area, this is what I control.”

The food was great, by the way. Mostly vegetarian, with the occasional grilled fish. I’m a committed carnivore, but at the first night’s dinner I was trying to guess what the delicious cubes of fish were in their sauce of tomatoes and onions and cilantro -- a bit chewy, perhaps mahi-mahi -- and the answer from the kitchen came, “Soy.” And there was dessert at two meals a day -- homemade ice cream and pastry.

In the mornings, white-faced capuchin monkeys swung down from the trees to hop on the dining room roof and taunt the lodge dogs. Capuchins are the smartest New World monkeys, the only ones that use sticks to catch insects, and they’re omnivorous. Sometimes the capuchins entered the dining area and swung on the interior beams, which they shared with a pair of inseparable green parrots. The owner’s scarlet macaws screeched on her shoulders, and invisible howler monkeys roared away predators. (There are still some jaguars in the forest, though we didn’t see any. We heard that the time to see them is at night during a full moon, when they drift down to the water to hunt turtles.) Howler monkeys sound at times like psychotic jaguars, at times like dogs chortling over a good joke. When you finally get to see one, it’s such a disappointment it’s funny: they’re just plain little brown monkeys. My hat’s off to them for a clever adaptation: aural mimicry of their predators.

Agent 95 declared, “A day without monkeys is a bad day; a day with one or two monkeys is a good day; a day with three or more monkeys is a great day.”

The first day, we did a canopy tour, which turned out to be more an amusement park ride than an environmental education. We were under the misapprehension that a canopy tour was a forest walk on a raised path or bridge. Not so! It’s not a walkway but a steel cable strung from tree to tree, eighty feet up. You’re fastened into a harness and attached to the cable by a pulley, you lift your feet off the platform, and whee!, you zip through the air to the next platform, up to 200 yards away. Cannily I let the dauntless Agents 95 and 97 go first, which they did with great delight. Since they’d done it, I had to, and besides, once you’re up there there’s no turning back -- the only way out is to travel forward through the entire six-cable loop. The first one was a bit daunting, but by the end I was a pro (there’s some judgment involved in using your hand on the cable as a brake).

More tomorrow, people! I’m drowning in freelance work, and I may not have as much time as I’d like to answer comments, or comment on your blogs, in the next few days -- but I’m extremely grateful for the welcoming messages, and hoping to get back in stride soon.

August 16, 2005

Hello Again

Well, I remembered my password and how to log on, so I'm off to a good start.

We got back last night from two weeks in the Costa Rican rain forest -- the Pacific side -- where we'd awakened to the demented growls of howler monkeys every morning and fallen asleep to the chatter of insects, the patter of rain on corrugated vinyl roofs, and the crashing of coconuts to the ground. This morning we awoke in the gentle hum of air conditioning and promptly drove Agents 95 and 97 to their first day of the new school year. 95 wore a tee shirt with a big iguana painted on it, and 97 wore a gap in his front teeth where he broke one off playing Twister on the palm wood floor of the lodge. (He's going to the dentist today after about ten days of being unable to drink liquids without a straw -- una pajilla, as we quickly learned it's called in Spanish.)

They're in fifth and third grades now, and they both got the teachers we were hoping for. They'll both have lots of things to tell their classes -- about the humpback whales we saw breeching fully out of the water from about 50 yards; and the dying baby dolphin, hook-caught and net-wrapped, that the driver of our motorboat hauled into the boat to try to save; and the coiled fer-de-lance that some of our fellow tourists had to walk around in the forest path; and more.

I'll tell you about that stuff over the coming days, and I fully expect to provide PHOTOS as we examine our stock of them, but today I've got to face a big new freelance project that arrived in a FedEx package on my doorstep yesterday, as well as doing all the other stuf one does when returning from a trip: washing the clothes (rain-mildewed in this case), refilling the fridge, contacting housecleaners, etc.

For now, I just wanted to say hi. It's great to be back.