A tree fell on our house.
It was amid a furor of thunderclaps and lightening bursts to startle the eternal black they call ‘los nochos’ here at the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. Certainly we were startled by the deafening death of a tree collapsing onto our roof….
The rain was tropical, but benign compared to the tempests we had already experienced, only wily in its squalls from alien directions to confuse the tree’s spirit guardians. This tree, an immense guava, was no neophyte to such trickery, but seemingly unable to withstand this gust from the unknown and the unfamiliar and toppled with an explosion of protest onto our roof.
We had no idea of what had occurred, and ran outside in the storming. It was as if the jungle had leapt next to the house, evoking spells like in a fairy tale. Great limbs with branches and leaves blocked our access; it was too dark to learn much. The lightening bursts just added to the confusion. Unnerved, we sought refuge in the house. Fortunately, there seemed to be no holes in the roof…or in the walls. We had lived here for all of two weeks.
About the house….it is an unusual edifice, probably erected by a sorceress. When we purchased it, we understood its beauty, for it is very beautiful….but we had no concept of its magic until we became enveloped within it. Its synthesis of marvel derives from three improbable psyches.
Firstly, it is a tree house, an aerie aloft and on par with its surroundings: grand trees of the jungle. Here we survey the dawn and twilight, traveling howler monkey troops, birds and bats. There are no glass windows in our tree house, just immense rectangular apertures carved within the ironwood walls, lined with screening. Secondly, our house is a cathedral from which to worship the natural world. The day’s dawning commences at 4:30 am when the light excites all its creatures to awakening. In the tropical world, every being is loud and exuberant about the glory of existence. They celebrate the freshness of their lives beginning anew. They are here for this day, and announce it triumphantly. The pheasants are the loudest, and seemingly all of the other animals attempt earnestly to out-boister them. And much of the time the green parrots are successful only by clustering into large flocks and yelling at one another in a constant stream of information and chatter. Thirdly, our house is an ark, a vessel of refuge and shelter. Clearly there is a prow and a stern, the wooden ribs of its belly quite articulated. The house is a stunner and a place of integration: for the senses, the heart and the soul.
In the morning, after a restless sleep, it was determined by our knowledgeable neighbor, Simon, that a local man, Octavio, would be called upon to try to save our house. We were told we would have to supply the ladder, no small task since our tree house-cathedral is twenty eight feet high. I am a Newbie to Costa Rica; I am from urban centers close to a Home Depot — the lack of a ladder by a tree man, a man who made his living dealing with trees, did not ease my anxiety about Octavio and his professionalism. And this was before Octavio arrived, on a muddy old bicycle, his dismantled chainsaw in a plastic milk carton bungee-corded onto the back fender. My judgments howled their disapproval of him, and I, unable to disguise any emotion, am sure my eyes said plenty.
Octavio’s dark eyes tangoed with mischief and perception, encased in a face that proudly settled into that of a handsome rogue…obviously a devastating combo for the women in the area. As a woman, I knew that he knew it. His long grey hair was pulled back in a pony tail, and he smiled broadly his confidence and warmth. But Octavio was not only a woman’s man, he was one of those rare creatures — he was also a man’s man. And perhaps more importantly in this case, he was a man who loved all natural beings, especially trees.
Octavio regarded the guava tree and quickly realized it was impossible to just cut the tree off the house. Once the top was cut, of its own accord, the tree would crash into the side of the house and severely damage it. The tree would have to be cradled as it was cut. Luis, our incredible gardener, macheted long canes of giant bamboo for this purpose.
I stared at the tree, mourning its dying as machetes hacked away great limbs and branches. The chainsaw is a terrible instrument of killing. The tree still clung to our small river with its roots. It had just keeled over. This was the tree that the white-faced monkey scampered on, a platform on which the more daring would approach our compost area for their treats of bananas and papaya. Poor monkeys, especially the mother capuchin with its tiny newborn. Poor tree. And still the chopping, the sawing, the destruction. Poor, poor tree.
Octavio stopped his work and regarded what was left of the tree, a stump, wedged with props of red trunk at an ungainly, coarse angle. A small swish of green leaves still clung hopefully to the base. It was quickly explained that if he continued to cut, the tree would fall and harm the pipes that ran close to the river. Octavio also explained that if he stopped now, the tree would not only survive, but flourish. I stared unhappily at the unattractive stump, prominent next to our small patio.
Luis chimed in to explain that the guava tree was a special tree in scent as well as fruit, and it would grow to be very beautiful with time, not one tree, but many. Also by its sacrifice, the area was now cleared, granting enough light for a ylang-ylang, as well as other flowering trees and bushes. Up to now, most of the two acres of our jungle property was too dark for such light requisite opulence.
So what happened here this night? Supposedly a tragedy — a tree fell on our house, but the house emerged uninjured. Light was created in jungle shadows. The tree will survive, with its roots bathed by the river. Octavio did not have to kill the tree. We did not have to kill the tree. Only the monkeys are temporarily out of luck. But we have moved the compost area close to the bamboo upon which they prefer to scamper and antic.
Michael and I went to Cobano the other day. Octavio was there on the corner with many of the gathered townsmen. In greeting, he tried to kiss me on the mouth, which I adapted to a European kiss, turning my face quickly to the side. Once a rogue, always a rogue. But I will always be inspired by Octavio’s true nature: the man who had the intelligence, the strength and the heart to save a grand guava tree.
That guava tree has strong guardian spirits. And so does Octavio. And so does Luis. And so does Michael. And so do I. And certainly so does the house.
We have truly arrived in a place of powerful magic that binds us in its mist.