Pura Vida Part I

Pura Vida – the Costa Rican law of the land. It is a way of life. A state of mind. An attitude. A philosophy. It means to live life to the fullest with joy, love, laughter, kindness, caring and tolerance.

I’ve just returned from a glorious, life-affirming week in Costa Rica. Pura vida is alive, well and thriving. A country with no military and every effort put into preserving, safeguarding and sustaining its biodiversity, its culture and its identity. Pura vida is now my mantra.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll focus on matters environmental but suffice to say that the people are exceptionally friendly and the food and water perfectly safe and satisfying no matter where you are in the country. From roadside fruit stands to food stalls, cafes, bars, local hangouts and restaurants, I thoroughly enjoyed them all. To know that what I consumed was safe and clean felt very reassuring.

Costa Rica is 0.05% of the earth’s landmass but it has 5% of the worlds diversity. The richness in flora and fauna is staggering and this was why this country was #2 on my bucket-list of places to visit. While I was aware that places like the cloud-mountain rainforest at Monteverde were major centers for research where scientists of all kinds of disciplines and from all over the globe come to work, I was pleasantly surprised that the whole population is environmentally conscious and proud of their efforts to do right. Water is diligently conserved, 75% of the energy is renewable with an aim to get to 100% in the near future, flora and fauna respected and protected, and the air is clean. And it shows. Everywhere I went was clean, comfortable and characteristically lovely.

The cities and countrysides were dotted with Cortez trees ( Tabebuia ochracea) in full pink or yellow bloom. Stunning. Add the loose, yellow flowers of the tamarind trees, the bold orange of cannas and the sunset hues of birds-of-paradise and you can picture the sheer exuberance of color.

In the cloud forests, I was totally overwhelmed by the wealth of different plants, exotic birds and other odd yet disarming creatures like sloth, choati and kinkajous. A guided hike at night revealed creatures like stick insects, tarantulas, minuscule frogs and some other nocturnal critters. Listening to the night sounds, feeling the mist and walking in the dark was an amazing experience. All the senses were heightened and the awareness that hidden animals were probably observing the humans gave me goosebumps.

The hike at daybreak was differently exciting. To see plants we normally grow indoors thriving in their natural habitats, listen to the cacophony of all sorts of birds, insects and animals and breathe in the air redolent with earthy fragrances was a total joy. I was in heaven. This is virgin forest and older than Methuselah. Zip-lining over this ancient rain forest, I was reduced to tears by its sheer majesty.

From the come-hither-linger-awhile beaches and large, antediluvian looking iguanas of the Pacific coast to the more arid, scorching parts of the northwest where I saw forest fires to the cool, lush, wet greenery of the mountain rain forests and finally to the fertile, gorgeous landscape leading up to a volcano crater sitting magnificent and beguiling, I’ll just say that I witnessed pura vida in action.

This earth of ours is all we’ve got. She deserves to be cherished and preserved. Our survival depends on her survival. And while we are at it, surely we can look out for each other and live with passion, compassion and purpose.

Now, who cannot get with the Pura Vida program? Seems a no-brainer and yet, we fall short all the time. Well, let’s try harder.

[ It is worth knowing that Costa Rica does not have zoos. One can either go to the natural habitats/forests to search for and observe the animals or, visit a preserve that keeps animals that have been rescued from those keeping them as illegal pets, for fights or other equally reprehensible reasons. For one reason or other, these animals cannot be released in the wild as they no longer have the skills to make it there. A country after my own heart]

Before you drool over the photos below, I just want to alert you on an upcoming art show that I’m in.

ARTISTS OF NORTHERN WESTCHESTER SHOW

Sponsored by the

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Hudson Valley

2021 Albany Post Road, Croton-on-Hudson

Directions on website: www.uuchudsonvalley.org

Four Weekends of Exhibit Hours: Sun. 4/9, Sat. 4/15, Sun. 4/16, Sat. 4/22, Sun. 4/23, Sat. 4/29, and Sun. 4/30 – Noon – 3 p.m. Opening Reception, Saturday, April 8th from 4-6 p.m.

Enjoy the photos! I’m only sharing a tiny portion of the vast collection – will give you more next week! A big shout out to our excellent Monteverde guides Ronnie, Roy and Chikkie and, to dear friend Brithany whose pride in her country is contagious!

Pacific sunset

Pacific sunset

Playa Negra

Playa Negra

Iguano

Iguana

Chifrijo

Chifrijo

Cashew

Cashew

Casados

Casados

Approaching Monteverde

Approaching Monteverde

Sunset over cloud mountain

Sunset over cloud mountain

Monteverde rainforest

Monteverde rainforest

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Bromeliades

Bromeliades

A matter of scale!!

A matter of scale!!

Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Looking way up the inside of a hollow tree that is still standing.

Looking way up the inside of a hollow tree that is still standing.

Rare lily

Rare lily

Daughter on the zipline

Daughter on the zipline

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Blowing Hot, Blowing Cold AND Stinky Stats

Stella blows into town tonight. Boy! Has she got us all talking and preparing for her arrival! Events and agendas have been canceled and cleared. Pantries and refrigerators stocked. Fireplaces made ready. Blankets and sweaters on hand for cozy times once Stella is here. She should be so honored that 50 million people are anticipating her visit. With anxiety and apprehension. Stella is after all the bomb. A glorious, whoppingly impactful snow storm of a girl. And it is predicted that she will undergo bombogenesis ( it’s a real word) which means conditions are right for snow to accumulate up to 4 inches an hour with high winds and possible thundersnow. We are therefore expecting 18 to 24 inches of snow. Let’s hope we do not lose power.

It is already mid-March and after a dismally weak-spirited winter, it just feels too much too late no? Besides, what about all those days in February and just last week when the temperatures were cheerfully spring like? If the weather was a person, a shrink would have a clear and conclusive diagnosis of its rather confusing behavior.

So, as it stands, one must do what one must to safeguard the garden. Protect shrubs with buds and other vulnerable plants with plastic or wooden ‘tents’, Wind rope around shrubs to give them a compact stability against breaking and splaying due to the weight of huge amounts of snow. Pour sand and grit on walkways and driveways to give traction to tires and shoes.  Have flashlights, matches, candles, bottled water on hand. Keep shovels accessible. Fill up bird feeders. Likewise, fill car gas tank. Get out those board games and books. Bring in a good supply of firewood. Stock up on groceries – don’t forget the fixings for hot cocoa and s’mores. Place blankets wherever cozying-up is a possibility.Charge up phones and laptops. During the storm, try and check up on elderly neighbors. Have your camera close by – snow storms can provide great photo ops!

I’m getting a bit tired of this hot and cold treatment. Enough already. Can we please just get back to safely predictable, ‘normal’ seasonable weather?

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Stink Bug Update

There is finally some hope in getting rid of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB). Since their invasion into the US in the 1990s, they have destroyed fruit and vegetable crops and grossed out everyone who has been finding them in their homes. My method of action has been to capture them in toilet tissue and flush them down. Yes, I have probably wasted a good deal of water in this warfare. The guilt has been getting to me so, I’m more than relieved that a solution is in sight.

Scientists at Cornell University have discovered a tiny wasp that lays its eggs in the BMSB and thereby kills off potential bug babies. The Samurai Wasp Trissolcus japonicus, is thus far the only effective BMSB predator we know.

The wasp itself is an alien species so its own long term impact on our native flora and fauna is unknown. Hence applying it to combat the stink bug has to be done thoughtfully. The university and USDA scientists are collaborating on a project to create a map of the areas impacted by the bug. They want all of us to get involved – a National Citizen Science Project.

To participate is simple. Once you find a stink bug, ascertain that it is indeed a BMSB and not any other bug. Take a photo of it and report the finding on the EDDMaps.website. The live link is for New York state but that site can help you find the link to all other states.

Next, every day through March to April 31, count all the BMSBs you find in the home or garden. Enter that data online. That’s it.

After April 31, all the data will be collated and a BMSB distribution map will be created. Scientists will release the Samurai wasps in a controlled manner in the affected areas and help establish the wasps there so they can begin lowering the stink bug populations. At the same time, the scientists will be closely monitoring the presence of the wasp and how it might affect non-target insects. After all, we do not want another alien creature going rogue. At this point, the aim is to use the wasp for the single purpose of eradicating the BMSB.

So, lets all get started. A common enemy to unite us all!

Note: The date for my garden’s Open Day through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Day Program is set! Mark your calendars! Saturday May 13 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. No excuses. Be there!

Protective tents on the ready

Protective tents on the ready

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Isicles

Icicles

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https://njaes.rutgers.edu/images/photos/stinkbug/adult-female-full.jpg

Adult female Brown Marmorated Stink Bug ( photo – https://njaes.rutgers.edu/stinkbug/identify.asp)

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

March Madness

From the first of this month till today, we have gone from balmy, 60 degree temperatures to stormy, highly windy to, extremely cold and dry and now back to spring like conditions. That is in the span of exactly one week. Craayzeeee!

The snowdrops are practically done for. They shone all too briefly. There must be utter confusion underground. I imagine the assorted bulbs talking all at once in a state of panic trying to decide if it’s time to get going yet. The snowdrops are probably saying – “It’s madness up there guys! I wouldn’t risk it just yet.” And I’ll bet the scillas are hesitantly wondering if they ought to listen or just take their chances. No doubt the hyacinths are flexing their muscles and scornful of their more delicate cousin. Meanwhile, the irises are shrugging their corms and listening to the ensuing chaos happy in the knowledge that they do not need to decide anything this early. They get to snooze a few weeks longer.

I’m kind of glad I am a bit behind schedule in trimming back the old foliage on the hellebores. The emerging flowers ought have enjoyed the protection this past weekend. I intend to remove those leaves tomorrow.

Typically, at this time of year, I’m already looking into acquiring pansies and primroses to set the stage for spring. The spring window-boxes are put up a week before the vernal Equinox. Perhaps that will happen this weekend. It really is time to start on the spring clean up and schedule plantings and sowing.

After the barely-there winter, the feeling of spring is almost anti-climactic. There is none of the usual dramatic shift from frigid and bare to pleasant and green. It’s as though spring has been creeping in slowly for a while and appears to have made some sort of cohabitation deal with winter. I personally find this frustrating. Are we done with winter or not? Is she going to drag her feet? I’d like to know one way or other. I have plenty of work to do but the weather doesn’t seem to care one whit about that. It is clearly having a blast tormenting gardeners all around.

So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m starting with the hellebores. Then, I shall begin cleaning up in earnest. Next, set up the window-boxes. This should clearly be a declaration that this garden is spring-ready. And by that time, we ought to know if winter is finally letting go of her hold on us.

In these unpredictable, unsettling times, I really need to get started in the garden – my sanity depends on it.

I hope you enjoy my watercolor rendition and poem below:

Snowdrop. watercolor

Snowdrop. watercolor

Snowdrop

Diminutive cousin of Amaryllis

emerging from Eurasian roots

Harking back to Winter’s white

Alluding to Springs chartreuse.

Visiting just long enough

to reassure seasons change

Never overstaying her welcome

Her departure prearranged.

Sweet bells hang low

So ants can hear them ring

calling to come feast

Depart with seeds to fling

Homer’s magical herb moly

disarms all human hearts

When small can be mighty

and staying humble is an art.

Shobha Vanchiswar

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar