When I was a young child, an adult asked me if I would travel when I had grown up. I was afraid to say yes. My mind, desperately practicing the angles of logic in a spherical space, felt over stimulated; making decisions about things now, that were lifetimes away. And so I said “no”, for I’d heard that traveling was expensive, and I did not expect to have much money.
Now I sit on the tail of an old truck, rusted by the ceaseless, salty sea breeze. I look out toward the Pacific Ocean, upon whose shores I have lived in many places throughout Central and Northern California. It turns out I very much love to travel. I ponder this, congratulating my inner child, for changing her mind. I have now found myself much farther from home than every before. I am with a group of locals who have just finished closing the seven surf shops that surround us. They joke and talk about the day’s experiences, I pick out only the simplest words, and rely on mannerisms to understand the rest. But I am happy, for they have accepted my company. An understanding of singularity that is so rarely felt in the U.S surrounds me.
Dusk is settling in. The sand glows with warm pinks, the blue of shallow water painting a swirl of purple more radiant than any image brought forth from canvas. Innumerable geometric shells glisten in response to new angles of light. The last remains of crustaceous creatures so enthralled in the dramatic experience of body as they struggle for life upon the dust of their ancestors, from which they are expressions and to which they will return.
As if reading my mind, the man sitting next to me begins to speak. Slowly, with long pauses, using unfamiliar, beautiful sounds.
“What?” I ask.
He pauses for a moment, unsure how to translate.
“Whatever you take from the Ocean, she will take back from you, one way or another.”
I have a feeling that English, the only language I am comfortable with, does not fully express the meaning of his words. I wonder what it will be like, to return what I have borrowed, as I look out upon her unfathomable mass, her horizon an illusion in an attempt to define density.
I sit in awe of this spectacle. My mammalian mind endowed with curiosity of pattern. Our father star drifts majestically from sight, a deep red orb so pure of light that to look upon his glory for only a few moments will blind my eyes. As he draws away with him the bright colors of the day, his light remains encapsulated within the bodies left in the wake of shadow. I think to myself that Spanish is a beautiful language, for they named the son Sol. And that English is beautiful also; I wonder why it added a ‘U’.
I ask what his name is.
“Rigo,” he replies.
I smile, because my name is Ria, and they are close. I often think that life is like a video game and ironies such as this help me decide whom to ask for clues. I learn that Rigo has lived here all his life. His skin is copper, tanned darker than many of the local’s. For though they have also remained here, in their native land, they have resigned to work inside, serving the onslaught of gringos. They are forgetting the warmth of the light. Not Rigo; for there is rarely a day in which he does not glide upon the surface of the ocean. The life in him is clear; he looks to be only a couple of years older than myself, in his mid 20’s. When he jokingly asks how old I believe him to be, I am a decade off.
The tide is sneaking back now, almost unnoticeable to a foreigner like myself. But I sense in my companions a constant connection to her pull. They don’t need to look, to know what the tide bears.
“There are so many people here.” I say, for the sake of conversation.
I have been a hermit living off grid for the past year; the populated streets make me uneasy.
“It has not always been this way,” Rigo says,
Gesturing towards the row of new restaurants, bars, and surf shops. “Fifteen years ago, none of this was here.”
He is silent for a moment. I wait, for I know he will continue. “It was all mango trees.”
The tone in his voice is one of acceptance. But it is still pained. I look around; the only large tree left is a great old Banyan Tree. Four walls of thick cement, upon which I saw a drunkard sound asleep this morning, surround her. Her roots are beginning to lift up the sidewalk running past, but she stands alone.
“It must have been so beautiful,” I say. He says nothing.
For all of my life I have been curious, and endowed by parents who have allowed me great freedom of imagination and spirituality. I have gathered that everything is part of a pattern, and patterns repeat. So when I wish to observe something that is much bigger than myself, I look at something that is much smaller. When I wish to understand industrial growth, I observe ants. Especially since I have landed in flourishing Costa Rica.
The ants here are a proud, vengeful being. A local agriculturalist tended to a beautiful fruit tree for seven years. In one night, the ants came and took the tree away. When I asked him what he does about the ants, he told me that there are natural methods (leaf cutter ants collect leaves to propagate a fungi with, there is second rare fungi that infects the ant’s crop, starving them out). He continued with a forlorn laugh, “with the ants you may win a battle, but you are losing the war”.
The Western culture is a much larger colony than any of those in this jungle. There are few places where it’s homosapian tendrils have not spread. This beautiful ocean shore was taken in the last fifteen years. The last five years have bore the worst drought in the people’s memory. It is now the driest province in the country. The monkeys are dying of thirst, only one clan remains near the drying estuary; they howl at the dawn, and it sounds like pure rage. There are few birds; their songs replaced by the revving of engines and the chatter of tourists. Where once the mango trees stood, there is now a parking lot. Rigo and I sit here, on the tail of an old truck. He sips a bottle of water from the corner store. I look down at my dark beer. My mouth feels thick and foamy. I feel unclean.
He looks over at me. “Do you feel alright?” he asks.
I have tucked my head into my chest, to go to sleep like a seed. “I’m fine.” I say. “I just don’t know how to fix this.”
“How long will you be here?”
“In the country? I don’t know… ”
“And how old are you?”
“Perfect,” He says.
I look over, a bit confused. He is smiling for something that I do not see.
“Why did you come here?” he asks. “To Costa Rica? I wasn’t sure at first. But now I see it’s to study Permaculture.”
He smiles again. “What is Permaculture?” I think for some moments before replying.
“I’m yet to find one definition. But I’ve heard it described as a system of design. I think that it is the concept that everything is connected, that this connection builds patterns. Those patterns grow, when cultivated well, like a spiral. So it is self-perpetuating, consciously designed growing systems. It can be applied to anything. It is beautiful. It is the name for something I’ve watched all my life, something that all of us have known, but which has been hidden beneath asphalt roads and cement buildings.
Many Permaculturists focus on water, food, shelter, and community systems, because those are the things most necessary for our survival. The beautiful thing is that by creating a sustainable water system, it enables the growth and expansion of a sustainable food system, which then enables a sustainable place to live, which then draws people towards it. This is a very basic image of how Permacutlure grows. Of course, like any pattern, it can be followed equally far towards both micro and macro scales. The detail is infinite. It is the understanding that everything affects everything else. And I believe it is how we will heal Tierra.”
I fall silent, and look up at the expanse of stars. It is a new moon, and though this town is growing quickly, the light pollution is not yet enough to fade out the stars. With nothing for thousands of miles past the ocean’s break, and few trees on the Eastern horizon, the night sky is massive and the constellations shine brilliantly.
“I think we will be alright,” he says.
I think that he is right. Although at times the pain of the world seems unbearable, as if there is no possible return form this place of brutality and grief. Indeed, there is much work to be done. A great deal of the earth is rendered unusable for growing because of toxicity, cement, and waste. It will take much time to heal these wounds. But they will heal. They will be absorbed back into the molten core of our planet, and turned to grow again like a grand compost pile. Life will persevere. The question then, is if we will be a part of that life, and in what state. When a time of great change comes, as it undeniably will, what systems will come to follow? The people will look towards those who can provide them with food, shelter, and clean water. Plastic water bottles will only go so far. When that time comes, let us be prepared. Let us nurture the seedlings of sustainable communities, nestled in the crevices of mountains, so that when the blinding light of the sun glares down and the water pours upon them they may burst up with life and spread great branches that reach towards the sky. May those of other communities, all the earth over, meet these branches and roots and may their strength hold fast the soil and renew it so that the earth will be healed, and we will be healed with it. This is not a prayer, nor an omen, but a truth that is already in motion.
This is why I work for climate justice.