My week in paradise is almost over.
I sit here on the third floor veranda of the Blue Spirit Retreat Center in Nosara, Costa Rica. It’s still dark and I’m in my special place—a corner I’ve claimed in the early morning darkness. I look north toward the ocean a ½ mile down below and east to the horizon over the dark hill nearby. The curve of the ocean bay is barely visible—a dull oval jutting into the inky black mass of the land. But the sound of the crashing surf is unmistakable. Later this morning those waves will be dotted with surfers of all shapes and sizes who are mostly visitors in paradise like me. Guiones beach is a surfer’s Mecca with its consistent waves and two-mile sandy beach.
In the northern sky, over the sound of the surf, the big dipper hangs. Handle pointing directly up as if it had been hung on a hook in God’s kitchen. As a New England boy, I’m used to seeing the big dipper in Vermont in the summer where it appears in the early night sky just a little over the northeastern horizon. It’s is always—every year of my life—at a slight angle. Handle a little higher than the cup. And the two pointer stars describing the far end of the handle reliably led to the less dramatic but much more dependable north star and the related little dipper.
But I’ve never seen the big dipper standing on its head. Not until this week on a hill by the blue ocean in Costa Rica. It’s the roosters' fault. They begin their full throated call to the universe at around three a.m. At first it’s just a few malcontents, proclaiming the coming day though the darkness is still full. But soon they are joined by others. If you listen carefully you can imagine the shape and size of the body of each of these amazing beings when they call. Some quite scrawny and half-hearted. Others colorful and proud. The pitch is higher or lower, the volume varies, the rhythm of the crowing changes, each one a brief solo in the symphony of God.
Of course, most of us here at the resort complain about their inconvenient cacophony. This is not music, this is merely irritating sound.
But the roosters are nothing compared to the howler monkeys who join in as the sky shows its first light. These relatively small black-faced monkeys live in the trees around the retreat center and beyond. During the dawn and twilight you can actually see them traveling unseen roads in the tangled branches of the nearby trees. The don’t really ‘swing’ from branch to branch, they go surely with an easy confidence—even the little ones. They don’t mind the branches bending down under their weight, they simply reach out with a hand or a foot and grab another thin branch while their monkey tails hold on surely till the new perch is attained.
But I meant to talk about how annoying they are.
These creatures with opposable thumbs on their feet as well as hands, make the most surprising and resonant sound. Hearing them call out in the dark of the first morning here, most visitors assume they are surrounded by some form of lion or tiger—though someone did once guess wild pig too. They make a roaring-howling sound with intricate variation. One calls out for a few minutes, then goes silent. Then another. And another. The sound is loud and weirdly arresting. When they are close to the building we are staying in their call reverberates through the hallways and into our still darkened rooms.
And the birds, I almost forgot the birds' sweet calls. They enter after the roosters begin the party and the howler monkeys have joined in. Squawking and chirping and tweeting—a delightful wash of sound. They are like the woodwinds coming in altogether in a trembling manner after the blare of the trumpet and the wild growl of the double bass.
Still, as I write, the sun is not yet up, though the light has come. The green tree-covered hills have revealed the steep sides and white waves are visible on the still gray water that runs up toward the beach. I clearly see my hands on the keyboard of my laptop and the glass of water resting by the base of the column that holds up the roof. It’s quarter to six and six is when the coffee is put out. Ten is when my shuttle leaves for the airport.
A soft breeze blows and all the animals of creation sing their hearts out. I try to hear God’s voice in each one. I am grateful that no one holds back, even that first annoying rooster. Yesterday I was galloping down the white beach, past the surfers on a gentle and eager Costa Rican horse. Tomorrow I’ll be groggily waking up in my unfamiliar own bed and walking down the cold wooden stairs to make my own coffee drink.
The sun has risen once again over the eastern hills. I squint my eyes and think about packing.
So it goes. Dream after dream. Life after life.