Ethnocentric Japan

Japan. Ethnocentric Japan. It gives one a feel for how it must be to come to the US as a non-English speaking tourist; we do things the way we think is best and damned the rest who can’t figure it out. That is the same attitude the Japanese operate under, and if you don’t like it they feel okay about you leaving.

Almost all signs are in Kanji, one of three Japanese alphabets. Not since I was eighteen and a fresh traveler visiting Greece have I been in a country where I had no idea if I was entering a bank or a restaurant. My son has a great story about entering what he thought was an ATM when he first came to Japan only to discover after being unable to locate the card slot for his bankcard, he was actually in a rice weighing station for the neighborhood.

A person has to learn the train and subway system by time rather than by destination. Although they do put the towns in our Latin alphabet in larger towns, the majority of smaller towns only have Kanji. However, because the Japanese are habitually punctual, you can bet that if your train is bound for a certain place from a certain track at, say, 10:53 it will be your train. Get on it and you’re sure to get to your destination.

The conductors wear little blue suits and white cotton driving gloves. Every so often on the route they will point to a marker on the track, then to their watch, and then a time table stating when they are due at that particular point in the journey. My son tells me that, although he thought it was a myth, in fact the train companies have sued families of suicide victims who chose the train as a method of exiting this world because it put them behind schedule.

The Japanese have a fondness for vending machines that borders on the irrational. The second day we were there we stopped at a machine to pick up some water. Sam’s friend, Jack, climbed back into the van drinking a “Depresso.” It was a canned semblance of espresso and not very good he said, but we all got a laugh out of the beverage name.

I would guess the amount of items sold out of vending machines must edge up into the billions per year. Everything can be bought out of a machine; there are sports drinks (Pocari Sweat), soft drinks, green tea, canned flan, rice crackers, chips, and anything else you might think of. All I could think about was the tons of garbage generated by these distribution systems, so I was stunned by the lack of litter I found during my stay there. Every public place has a recycling system that shames the US. Stainless steel counters are found everywhere offering the opportunity to recycle everything from cellophane wrappers to plastic bottles.

Japan Notes

 I am still exhausted from this chest cold/pneumonia, but with the aid of antibiotics and lots of aspirin I am able to function, after a fashion. Today I rented a car, drove on the wrong side of the road- on purpose- ate little sweet fish, visited a temple, saw and ancient cherry tree, and slept like a baby.

I had wanted to beg off going to lunch with Yuka’s parents, but my son, Sam, told me this was the only day Mr. Oba had been able to get off from work, and he wanted to take us all out to lunch. My daughter, Meraiah, and her husband, Tim, weren’t able to get there yet- some snafu with their travel agent in Australia sending them off on a non-existent flight to Japan. They arrived the next day having laid over in Kuala Lumpur for a day, but it appeared another family member absent would be a disappointment to Mr. Oba, so I said okay.

We rented a car in the small town of Ogachi and I followed Sam over to Yuka’s parent’s house, which is located about twenty minutes drive from Sam’s house in Wanouchi-Cho. I have driven on the left before, but it is a challenge. I always feel slightly off balance driving on the left, and doing it this time on cold medicine was even worse. It’s that first left hand turn out of an intersection that always throws me, as I think, Oh my God, did I ever even look to the right before diving into the onrush of traffic? Plus, all of the intersections had four-way mirrors for the narrow streets, so I felt even more confused at each turn. But, I managed, and we arrived at the Oba household all in one piece.

All the way there, the mix of power grids, small farms and incredible family gardens overwhelmed me. Japan is the most amazing place I have ever visited because of the juxtaposition of farming and agriculture to urban living. Yuka’s parents, for instance, have been in the rice business for generations. Their rice paddies are near their house, and yet their house is in the middle of a small town. The rice paddies are intermingled with houses and small businesses in the neighborhood, and generally are no bigger than a city lot.
At the corner, just before their house was a small lake, more like a cistern really a mere twenty feet across, where everyday there sat elderly men earnestly fishing for carp. Sam told us that the town stocked the little pond regularly or there would be no carp to fish for. If there were more than two gentlemen there, their lines would become hopelessly tangled. We enjoyed watching those men and their past time.
The house itself is a traditional Japanese house built by Yuka’s grand parents, and maintained by the family ever since. All the rooms have sliding Shoji screens to separate them from the out of doors, as well as each other. Inside the house they had two low tables and no other furniture. We sat on the floor on Tatami mats to visit, and at night slept on futons, which were folded away during the day. Outside, Yuka’s mother has a fabulous garden, which the whole family tends. I recognized eggplants, zucchinis, and many other vegetables, but there were many I didn’t know. She has been kind enough to raise Basil for my son, but she says she thinks it stinks. Cultural differences abound.

Once we all got organized, we drove further out into the country to a little restaurant Yuka’s family has been going to for as long as she can remember. It sits on the banks of a rushing river, Ibi, and its specialty is “little sweet fish.” We were shown to our table, and after removing our shoes, sat cross-legged or straight legged under the table, whatever our complaining knees would tolerate.

Japan in mid-July is muggy and hot; I would say the average temperature was in the mid-eighties, and the humidity about the same. This little restaurant had rigged up an air-conditioning system, of sorts, from the river. Pipes brought the water in off the river upstream, fed it by some kind of soaker hose arrangement onto the roof, where it proceeded to run down the corrugated tin roof in tiny rivulets, cooling us off as we dined.

Apparently Yuka and her mother decided what to order off the menu before we ever sat down, because the waitress began bringing little fish to us almost immediately. All the dishes were of the same fish. The first one was cured in some kind of Teriyaki sauce. It was leathery, but the flesh was surprisingly sweet and tender once it was pulled off the frame, and tasted quite a bit like a small mackerel or sardine. As a side dish we had the same fish pickled in sweet brine along with tiny cucumbers.

The dishes kept coming, and they were all nothing but this small fish. We had them in Hoi sin sauce, or something like it, as sashimi, the carcass still wiggling- the fish was so fresh- and deep-fried in Panko served and with a little soy sauce. Each had its own distinctive flavor, but all were definitely the same fish.

Because the fish was cooked whole, Yuka and her father taught us all how to get the bones and guts out. First we pulled the tail off, then placed the fish on its belly and pressed along the backbone with our chopsticks. Next we broke the skin right behind the head and pulled gently on the head extracting the whole vertebrae as well as all the guts caged within the ribs- clean and simple.
After lunch, Yuka’s father wanted to take us to a temple where his family goes to pray every year on New Year’s Day eve. We drove up the Ibi River into the Mt. Tanigumisan Kejonji Temple area. The route was littered with houses and small farms. I should probably define “small farm” here; it means a piece of property anywhere from a quarter of a city block to an acre. All the rice paddies had been paved and the dirt hauled into their shallow catch basins. The fields were then flooded and planted. We drove through miles of these interspersed with small towns, immaculate gardens and rockwork. Everyone’s house and yard here could be in a book about oriental gardening. All gutters were covered with orderly concrete tiles, which could be easily removed for cleaning.

We arrived in the small town of Tanigumi and wandered up through the cobblestone streets to the temple at the top of the village. The shops and houses in this small village were traditional Japanese with sliding Shoji screens to the out-of-doors. Where some of them had been left partially open, welcoming gardens appeared and a path that beckoned us around a bend into to who-knows-what. The traditional swooping rooflines tiled in glazed ceramics, ornate chains hanging at the eaves to guide rain off the roof making its own music as it falls, made for a very tranquil scene.

This temple has been here for 1200 years, and people have been making their pilgrimages to it for just as long. Yuka says it is one of 33 pilgrimage temples in Japan in honor of the goddess Kannon, or “Goddess of Mercy,” because she can manifest herself in thirty-three forms. As it is traditionally the last in the series of temples visited, the pilgrims remove their pilgrim coats and leave them at the site.

We wandered up the ancient cobblestone walkway- indented from thousands of footsteps before us and, undoubtedly, thousands after us. We were surrounded by ancient and knowing Cedar trees, their fragrance filled the air. The sides of the path were littered with Shogun living quarters and small temples, small Buddha’s and stone animals dressed in cloth hats and cloaks by the monks. The Japanese mix their original Shinto religion with the Buddhist beliefs creating a wonderful mix of shrines and temples in their worship.

Compared to other temples this is very small and intimate and I felt instantly at home there. Perhaps it was the Kannon and the feminine that drew me. It would seem that this was a temple for healing. Yuka’s father came with strips of paper with Kanji scripture written on them. We were to wet them with water and place them on the Buddha in places where we were sick or hurt. My husband, who was wearing two arm braces for his elbow tendonitis, immediately plastered them to the corresponding part of one of the statues. Mr. Oba pointed to my chest, and so I put one on the chest of the Buddha, and began to feel better.

All the temples are set up so the worshiper can draw the deities attention by gonging a bell or striking a wooden mallet against a steel pot three times. The dim sounds of worshippers echoed dully through the forest as we wandered the site.

A Buddhist Monk was on duty and encouraged us to pass down a set of stairs at the side of the main altar. We descended the steep stairs, separated by a small handrail, into complete blackness. The only thing we could do to make our way was to feel blindly for the handrail and the wall. We edged on into sheer blackness, veering ever to the left. Suddenly, the wall sheered off to the right and the little path fell away beneath us. We crept forward, feeling our way with hands only. Suddenly we began to see light in front of us, and then a set of stairs. We exited exactly where we had entered, but on the other side of the handrail. The Monks explained to us that it was an exercise to simulate the feeling of being reborn in the wheel of life.

After the temple we decided to go and see a 1500-year-old cherry tree. It sat on a small farm not far from the temple site. It was simply enormous. The trunk at the bottom is 15 meters around. It has been propped up with poles and guy-wires, but I suppose when we get that old we might need a bit of propping up as well. It must be spectacular in the spring when it blossoms.

It was a fascinating day and I’m so glad I found the strength to go, but by this time I was truly exhausted. We headed home to our beds, and with the aid of Benadryl, Alka-Seltzer Cold Plus and Antibiotics, I slept soundly through the night. There would be more to see the next day.

 

Headed for Japan with Pnuenomia

July 16, 2006

We got into San Jose last night after probably the single most grueling bus ride I have ever experienced. I told Alan I now know what to expect in Purgatory. Not only was it the excruiatingly uncomfortable seats, but the Latin pop music played at full volume for six solid hours, that wore us down.

For some reason we don’t understand there were thousands of college students in Port when we arrived for the 11a.m. bus. Mepe, the bus company, added another bus that was decrepid even by Costa Rican standards. We got under way late and then discovered that they were taking us by the Turrialba route.

We also had a fellow American passenger who had found sex for the first time, I think, and spent the entire trip necking with the fellow copulator right in front of us. We have had better bus rides. . It was a pretty miserable ride.

We slept like logs last night and feel pretty good today. I am really glad we came up a day early so we have today to recover. Fly tomorrow and arrive PDX about 5 p.m..
Spent the day hiking around San Jose in torrential rain storm that soaked us to the bone. We went to the Continental office to change our seats and they had the air conditioner on full-blast.

July 17, 2006

Woke with a scratchy throat and thought to myself, Uh Oh, I’m probably going to get sick. What was it someone said to me in nursing school, “if you don’t want to get sick keep up the stress level and don’t take any time off.” How true.

July 22,

I am really feeling panicky. The slight cold I felt in San Jose has now mutated into full-blown pneumonia or something along those lines. I have been running temperatures of 102F and unless I take aspirin, tylenol and Aleve on a regular basis, the headache makes me feel as though someone were cleaving my head open with an axe. i am beginning to think I won’t be able to attend the wedding, OR will end up in some Japanese hospital on intravenous antibiotics. I called mike Roberts at St Vincent’s Hospital. He got me on the phone with Brent Russell and I got a script for Zithromax. I started the run the minute I got it filled.

I Finally Get a Cell Phone

 

Two days before Christmas I went into Port to pick up some supplies for Alan at the local Ferreteria, or hardware store. The items I needed were in the bodega, so I pulled around on a side street, parked the truck and went in to pick up the PVC pipe.

The kid working there was kind enough to cut it in half so I could transport it without bending it. We loaded the pipe, I got back into the truck and turned the key. There was a slight click and then the key spun free in the steering column. I felt a tight sick feeling in the pit of stomach. I might not be a mechanic, but I do know when I am genuinely screwed, and this would be one of those times. If I had had a cell phone I would have used it to call Alan, instead I went to the public phone and called. He never answers the phone, so, next, I walked over to the bus station and found a couple of taxistas loitering the morning away.

I got a price on a round trip to the farm and got in. He took off like he was driving the Dakar Road Race. After about two blocks of speeds that made dogs curl their tails under and slink into the bush, I reached over and clenched his arm telling him I wanted a roundtrip, but it could be tranquilo, please. He got the point and we went out and retrieved Alan and the tool box, banging our way over the potholes, twice, for more enjoyment.

It was just about noon when we got back to the truck. I had parked it outside the bodega on a side street which runs North and South, so we were well situated to catch all the afternoon sun. In temperatures reaching ninety Alan proceeded to try crossing wires to hot-wire us so we could get home. He could get the motor to turn over, but the motor wouldn’t start. Seems these newer (old actually- 1987) automatic transmission Jeeps were built to protect us from thieves, as well as ourselves. Somehow we needed to find the wires that bypassed the transmission and fuel pump. They were not under the hood. We spent about two hours in the blazing sun trying everything we could think of to get her started.

Leaving the car in Port was not an option. We figured she would be stripped to the bones by morning. A couple of people we know came by and offered help. Baco, who drives the local recycling truck and is nephew to our old friend John John came by and called his father in Manzanillo. Ruben was to go around to someone named Philip, who “knew that kinda business good.”

We never heard back, so after about a half hour I walked back to the public phone and stood in line behind two young lotharios who were apparently talking to some girl who had recently been in Port. They kissy-kissied and I listened to them, “Please, you got to pro-mise me. Pro-mise me. When are you comin’ back?” It was endless. While I was waiting I was lucky enough to see Chola, Tun’s ex-wife, and Johnnie, their daughter, strutting down the street in their finest clothes. Both of them had their hair in long extenders in wild shades of purple and blue. Johnnie had just graduated from high school and had a big sash across her chest announcing her as a graduate -2005. Chola couldn’t have been a prouder mother. I gave them both a hug and they went on down the street; they were their own parade. I had been at the phone booth for so long Alan finally locked the car up and came looking for me. When I finally got the phone and reached Ruben, he said, “I speak to the man, but he still here.” It looked like we weren’t getting any help there.

We went over to see Danny, who runs a little tire repair business in the center of Port. Danny said, “You know who know that business, is Danielo. But, he ex-PEN-sive Mon.” On our way back to the car we ran into Andy, who was on our work crew the first year we built our house. He said he was taking a couple to Limon and would ask the guy at the junk yard up Hone Creek way if he could tow us home. Waiting for anybody was no longer an option. It was now getting on past three and the next day was Christmas Eve. Nothing would be moving then. We walked up to Juni Stewart’s house and Juni showed us where Danielo lived. We never would have found him by ourselves. His little hidden house was shoved back in between two others, a tiny trail meandered back to his door.

We talked to him for a bit and in my best Spanish asked him if he knew how to cross wires to bypass the key. How do you say “hot-wire” in Spanish, anyway? Alambrar en caliente? Anyway, He said he knew that business. He would get his tools and be there soon. We went back to the car and about ten minutes later here he came with his tool box- a paper sack with a screw driver sticking out one end.
He lay on the floor of the Jeep, his butt just inside the sill, his feet out the door and his head jammed in between the pedals. With one arm he reached up into the steering column and messed around until he came out with a wad of wires. Once he had them out, he sat for a long time and thought, and thought, and thought. Eventually he took a whole mess of them and twisted them into one. Then he took a single black wire he had left and touched the group. we could hear the fuel pump start and the the car started. He shut it back off and headed home to get some connecters for the final installation.

While this was going on I saw Andy’s brother, Chumbo, across the street at the local liquor store drinking with his pals. Chumbo had been on our work crew too. I walked over and asked him if he had Andy’s number so I could call him to tell the guy at Hone Creek we wouldn’t need him. Chumbo handed me his cell phone and said with slurred speech, “You call.” I told him I couldn’t call because I didn’t know the number. “I tell you; You mark it.” I called Andy who informed me that the deal in Hone Creek was dead. “The guy not working; too close to Christmas,” He said.

Back to the car and our little miracle worker. Our next problem was the automatic gear shift which was locked in park position. Danielo pried the cover off the shifter off and with a huge screw driver began prying at things I thought he had no business prying at. I kept telling Alan to make him quit before he broke something. But, it turned out he knew that business too. He popped something off the shifter and we had a car that started and could be shifted into gear. We drove it that way for about two weeks during “The Christmas.”

We went to san Jose during all of this and looked for the key switch. No one had one, and everyone said the car is too old. We also tried to get my cell phone, but that is a whole chapter to itself. On the way home the wires under the dash caught on fire and we had to pull over and cool everything off, Alan separated the melting wires, disconnected the air-conditioner and we went on home without further incidence.

We went back to San Jose a couple of weeks later, and found a new mechanic who used to own a Jeep Comanche pick-up and loves them. Alan told him about our difficulties and he reached up into the steering column, probed around for a bit, and said, “You need one of these,” holding up a rod that connects from the key to the ignition that he had laying around on his shop floor. He repaired all the wires from the steering column to the motor, fixed the switch rod, and charged us about eighty dollars.

Cell Phones and How to Get Them

 

I have been driving myself nuts by trying to obtain a cell phone line here. It is really unbelievable how difficult they can make things. There have been lines two days deep of people waiting at the phone company for the 300,000 lines recently made available. You would think that they would be handing them out like candy so they could collect the revenue off the calls, but no. Here you have to prove financial responsibility, have two copies of a Cedula, or other paperwork showing that you are a real person, copies of the receipt showing you purchased the phone in Costa Rica (and paid those all important taxes) and have a copy of a recent phone and electric bill before they can connect you to a line. 

I got all that done and took it to San Jose before Christmas to get connected. Turns out that the woman who took my original application for service put a “C” before my residence visa instead of an “A” and hence they could not connect me. The only person who could make the change was “on vacation.” I will call today to see if she is “off vacation.” Maybe we will get one this week. But, I can tell you that my desire for a phone line dwindles pretty quickly with all the bullshit and the lines. I have lived fourteen years here without one and really don’t find it at the top of my list. But, when I have to make a phone call while we are in San Jose and have to wait behind someone making inane conversation for hours, the desire comes back. 

High winds

 

We had heavy rain the other day- about 3″ in twenty four hours. Heavy winds in the night. I think most of us in Talamanca were awake through the night worrying about what tall trees might be within striking range of our houses. Alan and I lay in bed listening to great crashes in the night and both our thoughts were on the big tree in front of our house. When we built we measured it off as best we could, using Meraiah’s aboriginal method, and we are pretty sure it’s far enough away not to fall on the house, but you never know.


I.C.E.

 

We took a trip up to Bribri to talk to the I.C.E. boys about our transformer and our new neighbor, Roy’s, desire to hook up tas we purchased the tank back in 1995 for $1100.00. They were no help to us and informed us that the way it works here is that we buy the tank, and then it becomes theirs. “After all,” he explained, “we have maintained it for all these years.” Any new customer can then hook up off our transformer for free and “If there are problems with decreasing power, we will replace the tank,” They reassured me. It was not reassuring, and I told him that it was a bad system. He shrugged his shoulders in that way that only the Latins can do. It was highly unsatisfactory, but what the Hell are we supposed to do about it other than shoot the neighbor’s wire down. From there we went to Bordon to see the guy about our lumber that we ordered last spring.

We drove up to his house expecting to do the Latin visit that informs them that we are here and will be back to actually visit. We did not expect him to be home as it was a Saturday and people usually work on Saturdays, but he was right there and welcomed us with open arms. My Spanish is a little rusty and it took me awhile to realize that he was making a huge joke. He kept saying “you remember that $1000.00 you left with me? Well, I had a great time- the beach, the hotels,the restaurants. It was great. Have you come to give me some more money? I finally caught the bite and we had a good laugh. He showed us the Nispero he had cut for us and explained that it took a lot longer to get the permissions from the Parks Dept. than he thought so the cedar wasn’t ready yet, but, soon. We are waiting for lumber to come before we can start the “Passo Elevado” to the sea.

Hurricaine Beta

 

Hurricane Beta- WikiWe rolled into the farm yesterday about 4PM. We got a ride from a Tico taxi driver who happened to be the taxi in line at the airport the night we came in. On the ride to the hotel he offered his services to Puerto Viejo for a nominal sum. Alan and I did the math and with gas now running about $4.00 per gallon it was cheaper to take the taxi than do a round trip with our car. So he drove us down and regaled us stories of his illegal cross over into Texas in 1988 during some hurricane. He said he almost died trying to swim the Rio Grande with his clothes soaked and a hole that filled his bag of clothes with water. He said he would never go back.

The place looks really beautiful with all manner of maturing fruit trees starting to bear, Jose has planted a whole new row of pineapples so we should be getting lots of those this spring. The house has been well cared for. It took us about an hour to open up and have everything pretty much on line. The refrigerator made little knocking sounds all evening getting our ice supply on board for today.

As I told Alan you can’t ask for much more from people. When I opened the liquor cabinet a 3/4 full bottle of Bacardi that we left was still there as well as bottles of wine, Marsala, and varios others I use for cooking. I call that a miracle in the jungle. Jose and Rosa came over for a bit last evening and we got the run down on the goings on about the neighborhood. All is pretty much como siempre. No deaths of note.

Hurricane Beta is hitting Nicaragua and Honduras today according to the news. The weather here is sunny and bright. No signs of torrential rains here. My house cleaner, Dianna, was supposed to come today to clean, but has gone to Puerto Viejo instead to try to call her kids who live in Bluefields on the Nicaraguan coast. I hope she can get through to find out if everyone is okay.

Today Alan and Jose pulled the phone line to the entrance of the property. It went very smoothly, unlike our previous electrical line pull of a few years ago. I am now receiving and sending at 50,000bps. A far cry from a few years back. I remember my first internet connection here was all of 1600 bps. We’ve come a long way.

The Oropéndolas

 

I realized some time ago that I was in a bit of a slump. I think that’s how they put it in baseball, anyway. Since we arrived the first of November until the end of February there has been seventy-six inches of rain here. We know because we bought a rain gauge this year. To put some perspective on it that is Alan’s height- 6′ 3″. I call that rain. I think almost every woman in Talamanca was going quietly crazy; cramped quarters, no sun, no dry clothes, mold, lots of spiders and their webs can all make a girl go mad. I, at least, have a big house and a dryer, so I guess there’s really no reason for me to be down. But, ninety-plus days of rain is a lot.

Alan’s brother, Pat, and his wife just left us after a week’s visit. Miraculously, the rains quit the day before their arrival. The sea turned flat, lap-lapping on the shore. It is that wonderful clear turquoise color with the dark purple reef showing you where nice snorkel spots are if you have the inclination. The kind of hot weather that people think of as tropical. Languid days, but cooling off in the evening with a nice breeze from the mountains. Truly delicious. And, a much needed break from the torrential rains we have had this year.

For those you who were creeped out by the bugs in my last letter I will change the subject to birds.

The Oropéndolas arrived just before Pat and Connie. The locals call them Yellow-Tails because of their striking yellow tail feathers. There are two species here in Costa Rica: The Montezuma and the Chestnut-Headed Oropéndola. We have been graced with the Chestnut-Headed variety. The girls are about 11″ and seem to be entirely black at a distance. One got hit by a car on the road, temporarily stunning her, and we could see that she is actually dark chestnut brown on the body and head, wings black. She has a crest of two long black feathers curled outward at the bottom, bright blue eyes, a long sharp beak that is a greenish- ivory color, and of course the bright yellow tail feathers. We gave her to José to recuperate, but she flew off back to work when he set her on a perch.

Their call is a deep resonant “chek” and a liquid burbling sound a little like a coffee percolator: “poik,” “ploop” proceeding crash and rustling noises. They also have a warning cry, sharp and machine gun like “cack-cack!” They all fly at once. When they fly, it is like being under a hovering helicopter when the blades make that steady whoosh-whoosh-whoosh sound.

There are probably fifty to seventy-five of them working on their nests right outside our back door. They have chosen a tree that we were planning to cut down last yeaOropendola nestr as it is beginning to make us nervous in its proximity to the house and Alan’s shop. This tree is exactly what they like, standing alone in a clearing, high and with branches without too many leaves. Alan thinks they have figured out that when they nest close to humans there are fewer predators; snakes and the like. And it is true we see their nests all up and down the Caribbean coast line close to houses and farm buildings.

So, all day we hear them; ploop, ploop, poik, chek, rustle-rustle and then they fly off into the Jungle to hunt more building material. They seem to coordinate their building, and all fly at once back into the Jungle their bright yellow tails shining as they go; whoosh-whoosh-whoosh. They look like jet fighters swooping through the trees. Then they all come back carrying long strands of building material trailing out behind them. They are an industrious bunch. We have probably fifty plus nests hanging in the tree, and they are still building.

Their nests are sack-like pouches about a yard long with an opening in the upper part of the nest, which are intricately woven from fibers, slender vines and mosses. We have watched them weaving the material in with those long sharp beaks, and they are very dexterous. They line the inside with soft leaves and moss.

The other day Alan noticed an all black Oropéndola flying up into the tree while most of the girls were gone. On closer inspection we discovered it to be a Giant Cow-Bird, a parasite who waits until the Oropéndolas leave the tree, and lay their eggs in the sacks, forcing the Oropéndolas to raise their young for them. When you begin to really see what goes on in nature the interdependence is a miraculous thing.

We also have bird-watchers.A unique species unto themselves. On any given day, there will be people standing at our front gate looking in with binoculars. It’s a bit unnerving, but we are pretty sure they are looking at birds, and probably not us.

So our days go. The house is almost finished now. We still have about three or four projects, but nothing that has any pressing deadline to it. We enjoyed a break from the work while Pat and Connie were here. Now we are back to getting a few of the items off the list. I think my desk is next. I have been using a work bench that was originally used to bend rebar for the first bodega back in 2000. Alan sanded it down for me, and it became my temporary kitchen counter before the real one went in, and now it’s my desk. The only draw back is that it is a little too high. It will be nice to have a real one.