Vida de Monte, Vida de Pueblo

There are times when I get exasperated with words because they so stubbornly resist translation. Embedded as they are in the landscape, in the experience, in the richness of a living language, they simply refuse to make it easy for the translator.  You look up two words in Spanish, monte–which means mount and pueblo–which means village and it seems clear enough.  But there is a world of meaning lost in the translation.

An approximation to “vida de monte” is “life in the wilderness”, or at least, life where there’s a whole lot more underbrush and overgrown vegetation and a whole lot less in the way of the comforts of the 21st Century.  Here are some pictures of what life in “el monte” is like:


The road gets destroyed by all the rocks that roll from the cascade in monsoon season.

DSCN2065And when the river meets the road, the road usually looses and it takes years for repairs to be made.


Coffee harvesters, indigenous people called Guambianos, gather around a pickup truck on the side of the road to turn over freshly picked beans and get paid


And homes perch precariously against the hill.

Pueblo means village, of course, but it also has an undertone of disdain–to say you lead a “vida de pueblo” means your world is small, not very sophisticated, filled with gossip; it’s more frayed and tattered than slick and new.  It looks like this

DSCN2073And like this


And if you need to do some shopping


This is about as good as it gets.

I’m headed to Fort Lauderdale tomorrow aware that I’m ready to be back and sad to leave la vida de pueblo and la vida de monte I get to live here.  God help me if I ever lose the ability to travel…

This CRAZY Fun Thing I did Today!

This CRAZY Fun Thing I did Today!

Bucket Lists make me a bit uneasy.  I think it has to do with being formed in a world, and continuing to work and serve at it’s edges, where something like that is such a luxury beyond imaging that I just can’t bring myself to prepare one.  I think I’m also too pessimistic to think I’d get through much of one even if I tried.

But.  Life hands me incredible opportunities these days and early this morning, I got up, walked down the village of Boquete to Los Establos Mall and the TreeTrek de Panamá outfit, where I filled out some paperwork acknowledging that I was about to undertake something that is considered an extreme sport and was taking my life in my own hands.

Before long, I was riding with four other people in the back of a pickup truck way up into the mountains behind Boquete, into the cloud forest at 6000 ft above sea level.  After a ten minute hike, we and 6 guides were at the first platform with this view behind us

Rio Cristal

And then, then I was doing this…

It’s the longest, fastest zipline trek in Panamá. Standing on one of the platforms between ziplines, I got to see a female Quetzal–the mythic bird of Aztec and Mayan literature.  I don’t have a bucket list but I hope and pray that if I have time as I am taking my dying breath, I will be able to remember this morning.  It is one of the crazy-funnest things I have done. Ever.

Small and Charming Morning Dots in Boquete

Small and Charming Morning Dots in Boquete


  • Farmacia Any: “¿Usted no es la hija de Doña Nita?  ¡Cuánto la extrañamos! (Aren’t you Miss Nita’s daughter?  We miss her so much!
  • SuperDeli Barú:  El queso de cabra es para Don Gunnar, ¿no? Que bueno que vino a ver a su papá (The goat cheese is for Mr. Gunnar isn’t it? I’m glad you’re here to see your dad)
  • On the phone: “¡Rosita Querida!  This is your Tía Julie Fogarty–come have a cup of coffee with me. We need to talk”.

We so desperately want to be known and claimed…

Where The Stories Are

Sorting Through The Projects

Driving back from Selma in October, Sherod and I had a really good conversation about the fact that home is where the stories are.  Back in Selma for Thanksgiving, I was regaled with yet more stories, some of them so funny they made me laugh till my sides hurt.  Two days later, this morning was rainy and a cold wind from the north was blowing in Boquete.  I can still hear large rocks rumble in the river by my parents’ house; the river swollen after a whole week of steady rain.  We’ve had a fire going in the fireplace most of the day.

The crackle and warmth are comforting. I did my ritual calls–to some of my parents’ close friends who would be offended if I didn’t call and say I’m back, and then to my Aunt Inga.  We had been talking for a very short time when I heard her voice change and could tell she was crying. When she was able to, she said she almost forgot it was me she was talking to because I sound so like my mom on the phone.

My dad and I started telling stories this morning, and then looked at pictures.  After lunch and a nap for my dad, we found ourselves doing something I hadn’t set out to do.  My grandmother Rosa’s hope chest, that went with her from Sweden to San Francisco where she went to train as a surgical nurse, and then went on to Colombia, and now sits in Panamá, has been full of handiwork projects–knitting, cross-stitch, crewel, all kinds of projects, many of them abandoned and put away for another day that wasn’t going to come.  I went in looking of something and instead, ended up sorting through it all with my dad.  Some will be given to someone–anyone–who does one of those crafts.  Some just had to be thrown away.  A few I will take back with me–filled with the same hope as my mom’s, that the projects will actually get finished.  The stories have kept rolling out, one after another, bemused, surprised and amused.

And with them, yet another moment of understanding.  I have all kinds of places to call home–home is where the stories are and where someone knows your voice.

You In?


I’ve been thinking a lot about how we raise the bar on ourselves, set new goals, or run the risk of becoming self indulgent and complacent. It was a heck of a lot harder this Thanksgiving staying away from all those carb, fat and calorie laden foods. I’ve been so tangled up with work that I’ve been walking less. Bad combination. One I needed to deal with.

Yesterday, when my friend Marsha and I were out walking, we made a commitment to each other. She and I are going to do the half-marathon Mercedes walk in Birmingham on February 17, 2013. I need to loose some more weight and I have to build up my endurance from 6 to 13.1 miles including some hill walking. I’m developing my training plan and will get plenty of hill walking in Panamá next week. Here’s my question: any of you out there want to do this with me? Drop me a line. As my old boss, Walter K, used to say: Gonna do this thing…

I am thankful

I am thankful

I am thankful for the joy and pride in my husband’s face when he spends time with his remarkable son, Charlie, and for Penny, Charlie’s wife’s, happiness these days.  And I am thankful for Robert and Grace, two of my grandchildren.

Charlie and Sherod at Julia’s Kitchen

I am thankful for seeing three generations together, and for a feisty lady who is not ready to let go yet.

Sherod, Charlie and Juanita

I am thankful for the beauty of this old river town, with it’s painful past and uncertain future.

I am thankful for our friends Marsha and Cosby.  They welcome me home

I am thankful for what has been, what is, and what is still left to unfold

And more than anything, I am thankful for the Light, that sometimes shines harsh and steady, insisting I let go of what keeps me from love, and is also gentle, and kind and shows me how extraordinarily beautiful and good my life truly is.

Furniss Avenue, Selma Alabama
November 21, 2012

I am thankful.