Lately my mind has centered in on the places where I could’ve taken different pathways and what that might have meant for me. With our Costa Rica retreat coming up in January, it occurred to me that one of my divergences happened here at the young age of 24, recently out of college and feeling directionless and lost.
That year I had worked a temp job to scrape together the money for the three-week interim course on tropical ecology. I carried with me more than a suitcase—emotions I couldn’t sort out, rendered sleepless and raw, as I often am when traveling, though this was my first solo out-of-country trip, the first that put me far outside my element. The first away from my husband.
Like my mix of emotions on that trip there were terrible and beautiful things everywhere. Scorpions and tarantulas and a 16-foot boa constrictor captured in a swamp we were supposed to walk through. There were long bumpy roads and watery food and endless treks and mud and tiny tents and sleepless nights and fear of the unknown we had yet to encounter.
I wanted to absorb all of it. Howler monkeys groaning in the treetops. Colorful hummingbirds, feathered jewels that buzzed around us like fairies. A walking palm, a tree whose roots grow on the outside, allowing it to slowly move itself to a place where it can get more sun. There was a magic flower that popped open into splendor if you removed the covering that hid it from sight. The beauty and magic were speaking to me, sending messages about turning my face to the light.
One night we camped on a beach, waiting for sea turtles, and in the no-moon darkness we followed each other’s flashlights to a place where an endangered leatherback laid her eggs, surrounding her in a circle as she labored in a trance. In the depth of her concentration, we were invisible to her. We were invisible to time and place. I felt like a ghost haunting another world.
Out of my element, I found something. I couldn’t fully interpret what at the time, but something took seed and began to grow in that lush rainforest environment. On the dry side of the country, the winds blew strong, fanning an inner flame. I had come with a mission, fresh out of college and working at a suffocating job, trying to figure out my next steps, complicated by a young marriage and all of the expectations that came with it.
I had this idea that I needed to choose between a pathway of journalism or one of fiction writing. Being far away from my life and sitting on top of a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the setting sun, swirling around Roca Bruja (Witch’s Rock), I also had the nagging yet unreconciled sense that I shouldn’t have to choose. I became overwhelmed with the idea that the world was large and untamable and that I had locked myself away from it. I had the first true inklings that the cracks in my marriage were only temporarily patchable, that the roots of whatever was growing would eventually wind themselves in and pull everything apart, and it was too much for me at the time to accept.
Practicality won out at the time and I returned to school for journalism classes that eventually led to an internship and then a career. Whether or not it was the right pathway, it was a pathway, and I’ve become a fiction writer regardless. The marriage fell apart regardless. Perhaps it’s telling that I chose to write a series of poems instead of a long report as my ecology class project. It was bad poetry but it was a beginning. Then I wrote a bad novel, but it was a beginning. I stumbled and lamented through much of this trip, but it, too, was a beginning.
I had gone to Costa Rica as a way to begin to repair a broken pathway, the lost dream of taking a semester abroad in college, and, whether conscious or not, to reclaim my lost self. Sometimes we know where our pathways broke off and sometimes we don’t but I think they want to turn and twist and converge to bring us back to where we belong.
Step out of your element with us. We’re headed to Costa Rica in January-- join us for 7 days/6 nights as we settle our body mind and spirit into the magical bounty of the Costa Rican Rainforest.