Brilliant yellow butterflies float above the tropical plants in the yard below. Another specimen lands on the small hedge next to Sheila. This one is black with a vertical, white stripe with an orange dot on the tip of its wing.
It is late morning and the air is sultry under a partly sunny sky. The humidity feels like a balm on my old, desiccated skin made even more parched by the dry, winter air of the Montana winter. Here, near the Pacific Ocean the warm air carries the scent of endless varieties of vegetation. Palm trees with hanging coconuts line the drive, banana trees wave their great leaves, date palms tower above the dusty gravel road, palmettos squat in the yard. Other palms with a spray of thin, variegated blades guard the steps leading to the lower drive.
Palm trees are abundant, but they do not dominate the landscape. A papaya tree with broad leaves and hanging, orange fruit stands next to a steep, grassy hill. An iguana clinging to the trunk, nods its head up and down, appreciating the possibility of an early lunch of leaf salad with fruit for dessert.
The air also carries the sounds of birds, most of which are inconsiderately hiding in among the leaves of the palms and a huge tree next to the patio. Yesterday a tanager with a large red spot on its back deigned to light next to our pool and serenade us during meditation. Later, a neighbor pointed out a large, round, black bird with a scarlet gullet sitting on a branch, a guan.
Several doves can be heard cooing in the distance, and black birds screech in the marsh. Still, there are a lot of hoots, screams and chirps that come from the trees and bushes that remain a puzzle.
Later, a black headed vulture landed in the yard below, possibly looking for my body. Finding nothing upon which to dine, it laboriously flapped its silvery, black wings making many low passes until returning to its watch in the sky.
Our little casita, about five miles outside the beach town of Jacó, Costa Rica, is relatively isolated sitting on a mid level elevation between two other such small lodges. There are enough plants and bushes so that we can use our own swimming pool to go skinny dipping, an activity in which we can engage several times a day, and once before retiring to bed at night. The pool is also joyously refreshing upon returning from a jog.
Actually, at my age (80 next December) it is not a jog, more a slog, which is a messy gait somewhere between lurching and stumbling.
The gravel road where this clumsy traverse takes place is just about a football field’s length from the casita. It is a tertiary arterial with little traffic, and once past the two buildings there is a broad expanse of grass and small bushes on either side. There is little maintenance and hence, there are many dips and ruts left by vehicles that traveled the road during the rainy season. But, there are very few cars or trucks, and the scenery is terrific, great for a slow jog.
The thought of our icy driveway in Montana a month ago quickly was replaced by the appreciation of the balmy tropical morning as I plodded on the gravel. The road took me through a small grove of palms that waved their fronds at me as I approached another small community of tiny houses, many of which were empty, awaiting weekenders from San Jose or vacationers from the US and Canada. A young blonde woman, dressed in clothing that suggested that she was not a Tica (female Costa Rican) was shoving a stroller with a small child inside. She was careful to avoid eye contact with this old fart as he came gasping and wheezing down the road.
At approximately one mile, where the road became narrow and started a steep climb, I turned around, began my return. About two hundred yards back up the road, I was distracted by a noise off in the bushes. There was no time to think about the possible venomous snake that might slithering around on the side of the road. I’d tripped over a small rock (no doubt rolled there by the snake) and crashed onto the sharp gravel.
My appearance was that of someone who’d been tossed off a train. Both knees were scraped and bleeding. The joint where my right arthritic thumb meets my wrist was sprained and lacerated. My right shoulder was scraped bruised and there was a hematoma on my right bicep. Somehow a hole was torn in the back of my shirt. On the bright side, I’d avoided hitting my head.
As I dragged myself to my feet, the first thought that came to my mind was, “thank god that young woman did not see me.” The second thought was, “how can I hide this mess from Sheila?”
Eventually, I came to realize that no matter how long I hid in the trees, Sheila would at last see this, her bloody husband. So, I tried to look manly and even a bit proud as I limped back toward the casita. She did not yell at me, but still looked horrified at the blood running down my legs and arms. She did not once use the words “stupid” or “foolish.”
Instead of lecturing, she used kind and caring words as she helped me peel off the bloody clothing and shoved me into the shower. And, after applying band aids and an ace bandage, we quietly, and with no recriminations, discussed the possibility that I might raise my awareness to avoid injuries that are more serious now then they’d been in the past, even ten years ago.
Here’s the thing though. It has been becoming increasingly apparent that activities in which I have frequently engaged are becoming more hazardous as I age. And, even small injuries have consequences and take a much longer recovery time.
This latest spill brings to memory of old people falling when we were children. Most kids, like me, probably thought, “so what? I fall all the time. Falling down is part of the games we play. We might cry and moan, but eventually we get up and continue to engage in our roughhousing.”
Of course, children don’t stop to think about how much further adults have to fall. Nor do they realize the frailty of old people. Kids don’t think about the fact that active growth also shortens the recovery time of injuries.
Shit, I only have come to lately realize these facts in the last few years, and I am still slow to admit that my physique is fading before my eyes. My mirror ignores the atrophy of my upper body and the expanding waist line. My eyes glance over the spider veins on my legs without registry.
Three years ago, while cleverly wearing cowboy boots on ice, I slipped and broke a bone in my left hand. Yes, it hurt. And, like my fall here, I was shocked at how hard the ground is, whether ice, cement or even gravel. The surface is unyielding.
I have been bucked off a horse and knocked down on a football field. I’ve crashed on a bicycle and fallen while ice skating (always been a horrible skater). I’ve tumbled down stairs, tripped on a tennis court, and found myself flat on my ass on innumerable occasions.
When did the ground get so hard?