Kay and Mary
Morning is starting to lighten the eastern sky. It has been a starry starry night – each time I opened my eyes, there seemed to be another layer of stars sprinkled across the top of the world. All last evening, the fireflies that played throughout the valley below seemed like playful reflections of the stellar ceiling, and sometimes it was unclear if I had seen a shooting star or if it was just one of the more adventurous fireflies traveling at the top of its range. The branches above us, bobbing in the constant breeze, kept distorting the pattern of the heavens – was that star moving or is it a satellite or a plane or am I dreaming? On our platform in the tree up on the ridge, we were under the influence of a nocturnal mirage.
Mary Newswanger and I were excited to spend a night together on the Joyce platform which sits about six meters up a tree – but that tree sits on a steep ridge hundreds of meters up from the deep dark valley floor. The total effect is one of being securely suspended over top of a verdant abyss. We volunteered for our time on this platform, following those other tree sitters who have joined in this unique fundraising effort for the Monteverde Friends School. We listened to all those who climbed before us – expect it to get a little freaky when the wind blows, prepare ourselves for a cold night. Mary insisted that we haul her heavy thick sleeping bags – the kind used for camping in a previous century, the ones that roll up into something almost the size of round muffety hay bales (hey, those Muffets are Quakers too!) – so we lugged them down the narrow ridge path and up the ladder to the platform. Thanks to Mary, we’ve both been warm and comfortable all night.
The wooden platform feels like a raft being manipulated by a current, but the force providing the push isn’t water, it is wind. Here on my back, looking up at those stars, I can imagine our raft floating lazily down an airy stream until it hits the turbulent white rapids of wind. We are pushed into an eddy where we are held against our will for a few moments, threatening to be tossed, until we are released again and resume our tranquil floating. During the first hour or two of darkness, as can only happen in cloud forests such as Monteverde, or when you are on a river or sea, a spray of mist kept our faces moist and added to the watery effect, yet there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. Considering that in our aerie we seem closer to the sky than the land, I’m sure we would notice if a cloud was lurking above us.
I fell asleep as Mary was telling me stories of her experiences with the Peace Pilgrim and her hopes and dreams for the future. I realized I was asleep when I felt her crawling into her sleeping bag, no doubt noticing that she had lost her audience to slumber. I slept quite well through the night but woke from time to time and watched the heavens, once listening to a creature of some kind passing on the ridge below. I didn’t have a flashlight to check it out without waking Mary, so I will just think of it as the jaguarondi that Liam spotted here the other day and be pleased with the possibility.
As we passed our peaceful night, I thought about the many tree sitters who used this type of action as one of protest to draw attention to specific forests under threat of destruction by logging companies. They placed themselves physically between the harvesting machines and the remaining Abuelas, those large redwoods or pines or hardwoods that had survived all the natural forces for centuries only to be cut down in a matter of hours for lumber.
Forests and trees have been saved and others not, but tree sitting is an effective and non-violent means of civil disobedience. Perhaps it started in the Pureora Forest Park of New Zealand in the 1970s – which was saved by peaceful protest in the treetops. Famously, in northern California, Julia Butterfly Hill stayed for two years in the late 1990s in her arboreal home “Luna” – a tall redwood that is still standing amidst the ravages of a barren deforested hillside in Humboldt County. In central Los Angeles, in 2006, Julia Butterfly, actress Darryl Hannah, Joan Baez and others sat in trees in what was then a large fourteen acre urban organic community garden. They were there to draw attention to the injustice that was unfolding as a company refused to allow the neighborhood to continue growing food on this plot of inner city land – even though the community came up with the same amount of money to purchase the land as it was being sold to a developer for. In the end, the garden was moved out of the city core.
Back in 1989, in Temagami, Ontario, Canada, I was one of a group who supported our friend Maryka (the same woman who later introduced me to Monteverde), who lived in a tall ancient pine for nine cold, almost wintery days and nights. The action was part of a two month non-violent protest to prevent the continued construction of a logging road through one of the last remaining old growth pine forests of Ontario. We were successful in stopping the road, and for the most part saved the forest, but weren’t able to stop the chopping of that stately old tree.
In true Quaker fashion, this tree sitting exercise in Monteverde is neither illegal nor in protest, but a joyful display of a community working together, communing with nature, bringing attention to their school and hoping to raise funds from their many supporters around the world through the use of the internet. I doubt that there is a school in North America who would condone such an adventurous fundraising plan – it wouldn’t make it past the discussion of liability at the board meeting. Just the fact that the Monteverde Friends School and the Monteverde community are taking part in this month long tree sit is an expression of the kind of freedom and originality that is very much a part of life at MFS.
I’m neither a Quaker nor a teacher nor a parent, but I was raised to live carefully on the earth and I have enough love of life and love for this precious planet to hope that we will continue to survive here. The only way I truly see that happening is for children to be taught to walk softly on the earth, to respect all the living creatures as well as the inanimate ones, to make decisions based on sustainable and ecological reasoning, to learn how to solve conflicts in a peaceful non-violent way, and to be cooperative and kind. The Monteverde Friends School is a place where all these values and many more are not only taught, but expressed in a myriad of ways by both young and old, teachers and students, past and present. I am happy to support their efforts in any way that I can, but the truth is that coming up this tree and spending the night, surrounded by the treasures of the cloud forest, with my friend Mary, under a blanket of stars – well, I would do it for no reason at all.
As I write, dark feathery clouds are gathering above the eastern ridge. As they shift and move in the wind, a brilliant light peeks through, the size of five of the night time stars joined together – it must be Venus, that planet of rising love. It reminds me of last November when we were caring for our ailing friend Wolf on the Guindon farm. We would awaken in the very early morning hours to the love light shining down on the family home. It doesn’t surprise me that we are seeing that messenger of love glowing over Monteverde again this morning, perched here in our nest. For Mary, who can see her home just across the valley, where her husband and sons are probably still asleep, the light of love is very clearly rising over the eastern ridge and shining down on the house that Elias built.
Now that the sky has lightened into blue and Venus is almost faded away, it is time to close this, have some breakfast, and await the moment the sun comes over the ridge. (As it turned out, we couldn’t get ourselves out of that tree till 10:30 a.m. and even then, we went reluctantly.) I sincerely thank everyone for the opportunity to spend these seventeen hours up this tree, especially the Joyce/Van Dusen household who are our “hosts”. Thanks to the MFS fundraising committee who facilitated the opportunities for each of us to climb various trees and continue to keep us all connected and inspired through their website.
Mary told me that it was Jude Gladstone, a dedicated woman who has worked hard on many committees helping the community, who brought the idea to the table. Searching for an effective way to raise much needed money for the scholarship fund that assists students at the school as well as those who go on to higher education, Jude suggested they create an event, something that people can join in whether here in Monteverde, or from afar via the internet. It needed to be something exciting that would catch people’s imaginations, like Julia Butterfly Hill living high up in that redwood. Katy Van Dusen, thinking about her family’s platform in this tree on the ridge, took the idea and climbed higher. Good thinking Katy! Great idea Jude! And thanks Mary – too bad we have to go down.
PS It has taken a couple of days to get this writing to the website and the weather has changed. Mary and I may have had one of the last nights of clear weather in Monteverde as the rainy season begins and replenishes the thirsty earth. Hopefully others will still have the opportunity for a beautiful dry night during the last two weeks of the campaign, but we were definitely blessed.