Monthly Archives: February 2020

Diary: El Cajón de Grecia, January 2020

For this month I’ve reworked pieces I’ve posted previously, they (in revised form) are now the first two chapters of a book that I’m working on. Please have patience and understanding, this is a work in process and I’m sure it will continue to undergo many and major modifications as the process unfolds. I’ve never tried anything like this before, so it’s a learning experience.

The Four Horsemen of Zecharia

Chapter 1:  Expats

It was the first week in May, a beautiful morning in the rolling hills fringing the Willamette Valley. The sky was a cloudless blue, the air clean and crisp. Robins strutted about the lawn, plucking worms from the grass. Beyond in the vineyard, canes leafed in bright green were beginning to stretch upward through the trellising.

Zeke was up early. He had revived the embers in the wood stove and made a pot of coffee, as always. He was already dressed for the day’s work – a pair of jeans, cowboy boots, a t-shirt layered with a snap-up denim shirt that could be stripped off as the morning warmed. 

Zeke enjoyed time spent in the vineyard. He loved the quiet of his own thoughts, working to his own rhythm, the meadow below sloping gently down to the creek, the stands of fir and pine on the rises, all framed by the shadow blue of the distant mountains. But this morning, his shoulders drooped at the thought of the work.

He turned to his wife Eva, who had come down from the loft and was sitting in the kitchen at the table by the stove, her coffee cupped in her hands. 

“Babe, I don’t think I can do this any more.”

Eva raised her head and looked at him, eyebrows furrowed, as she sipped her coffee. She put her cup down. “Can’t do what, Zecharia? What’s wrong?”

“I’m not young any more. I’m worn out. The summer ahead, every day working the vineyard.” Zeke continued as he paced the kitchen. “Putting up alfalfa for the sheep, mucking out the shed. Then September, cutting, splitting, stacking cords of wood for the winter. “October, the harvest, the crush, the fermentation, the pressing, racking off last year’s wine, putting the new wine up in barrels in the cellar. For twenty years, I’ve loved it. But I can’t face it again.”

Eva took another sip of coffee. Her face relaxed in a little smile. “Okay, what’s next?”

“I’ve been thinking,” Zeke said, his gaze locked on Eva. “We’ve spent years working on the house, it’s looking great. Our little vineyard, the woodlot, the pastures, the lambing shed, the barn, the fences – everything’s neat and in good repair, looking the best it ever will. We’ll never get more for the farm than right now.”

“But if we sell, where would we go?” Eva asked. “I can imagine moving back to the city. But you, you went stir-crazy living in the condo in Seattle, unable to just step outside. Besides, even if we got top dollar we couldn’t afford a closet in a decent neighborhood in Portland or Seattle. And where else would we even consider? On our little pensions, anywhere in the States we would be living in poverty. A trip to a hospital would break us.”

Zeke sat down next to Eva, took her hand and looked her in the eyes. “Remember our year in the Languedoc, how much we loved the life? The villages and countryside were beautiful, the food revelatory. Everyone was relaxed, warm and welcoming. We made new friends from all over the world.

“But the weather, that could be nasty. Scorching in the summer, the winter long and cold with fierce biting winds. And except for the local wine, living there was expensive. Our electricity bill – it was more than the rent.

“We need to find another France but with a more pleasant climate, never too cold or too hot or humid. And less expensive, where we can live on our social security without worry that our savings will run out before we do.”

Eva drained her cup. She stood up, walked over and set the cup in the sink, and turned to face Zeke. 

“Here’s what we’re going to do. I’ll call Karen this morning, we’ll get the farm on the market. I’ll take care of getting rid of everything – the sheep, the household stuff we won’t be needing. Your job is to find us a new home.  Someplace happy and peaceful, where people aren’t always at each others’ throats, where the headlines don’t constantly scream bombing and killing.”

Six months later, a plane approached an airport in a valley pocketed in the mountains of Central America, touched down and taxied to the terminal. Zeke and Eva stepped off wearing backpacks and carrying a couple pieces of luggage apiece. They had become expats.

* * *

Eva and Zeke found a small house in a small community halfway up the slopes of Vulcán Poás. In addition to the requisite Catholic church and school, the village had a little grocery store, an auto repair shop, a liquor store, a recycling center. A ferreteria in the next village carried hardware and building materials. All the necessities for everyday life, within easy reach. Grecia, a major center for services and shopping, was just a 15-minute bus ride down the hill and the bus ran every hour. Eva would be able to get around – run errands, take excursions, visit friends – without having to drive or be driven.

Their house was a modest two-bedroom two-bath, but it was beautiful, with an open floor plan, high ceilings, and big sliding glass doors opening out to a veranda overlooking mountains sloped with tropical forest and patches of coffee. The scene was replete with birds and butterflies. White clouds floated along the top of the opposing ridge dancing in the arms of the trade winds.

Their property included a casita, a tiny guest house, perfect for Zeke’s studio. Zeke had spent the best part of his life doing anything but what he really wanted. Whatever he put his hands to he managed to do, but not very well.  All excuses at last exhausted, he finally was going to set aside the fear of failure and spend his remaining days writing. He was going to become the poet he always knew that he was.

Chapter 2:  La Pacifica

Seven Years Later

Zeke selected a two-fingers thick, ten-inch long piece of guitite from the several branches already prepared and hanging in the greenhouse. He firmly pinched a small orchid to the spongy bark and tied it on with a length of elastic. Just as he was finishing up, he heard a woman’s voice calling.

Listas,” Ligia chirped from the casita. She and Marlene had finished cleaning up after house guests, two old friends from Oregon days, had left. They had arrived on New Year’s Eve, stayed the night, then went touring for a week. They had returned to spend three more days with Eva and Zeke before flying back to the States.

Yo voy,” Zeke answered. He hung the newly-mounted orchid next to the others in the greenhouse and set off up the path to drive them home.

Ligia, Marlene and her daughter Nancy climbed into the car, all squeezing onto the back seat. Nancy wasn’t so little any more, it seemed like yesterday she was just starting school. Capo waited for Zeke to lift him into the front passenger seat. The old dog’s knee would never be the same, even after the surgery to repair a torn ligament. 

Zeke first drove up the hill to drop off Marlene and Nancy at their house, then turned down the hill to Ligia’s. On the way back home he pulled into the parking lot at La Pacifica and let Capo out to sniff around. Zeke went in to buy milk and tortillas, and queso fresco for the dogs’ afternoon treat. Willey, who ran the store, wasn’t behind the counter. There was an unfamiliar  face at the register, complexion a little darker than normal for a Tico.

Hola, como está?” Zeke said, placing his purchases on the counter. “Me llama Zeke.”

“Good morning, I’m Raul,” the man answered. He could tell Zeke was a gringo. “I’m fine, how are you?”

Pura vida. Good to meet you, Raul,” Zeke said. “Where’s Willey?”

“Willey won’t be here any more, my wife and I have taken over the lease,” Raul answered as he rang up the items.

“Your English is great. Where did you learn it?” Zeke asked.

“I worked in Georgia for five years as a finish carpenter,” Raul said, “then I had to go back to Honduras. That will be tres mil tres cientos cinquenta.”

“Honduras, what did you do there, and how did you end up here?” Zeke asked, counting out the money.

“When I got back to Honduras, I worked construction for my cousin. But Honduras is dangerous. The violence, the killings, I had to get my family out, my wife, two little girls,” Raul answered. “Need a bag?”

Porfa,” Zeke answered. “No problems with migración? My wife and I had to hire an attorney and jump through hoops to get residency.”

“It wasn’t difficult,” Raul said, bagging the groceries. “I have a sister here, married a Tico. Did cost us a thousand dollars, though.”

“Well, welcome to El Cajón,” Zeke said, picking up the bag, “and good luck with the store. Hasta luego.” Zeke turned towards the door.

Chao,” Raul said, “and don’t forget that Jesus loves you.”

* * *

After a day in his studio, Zeke locked up and followed the path to share the evening with Eva and the pups. Eva had set out a little bowl of nuts and was fixing cocktails, Cacique and tonic. The dogs Bela and Capo were already devouring their “family hour” treats. Jazz classics played in the background as Zeke and Eva relaxed and read their books. When the cocktail glasses were emptied, Eva poured two glasses of red wine while Zeke sliced a few bits of good local cheese, and for the pups, queso fresco. The dinner that followed was simple – leftover chicken, with fresh bread and butter shared with the dogs. They read for a while longer, until an early bedtime.

In the middle of the night Zeke awoke, a dream ending abruptly. He rose, went into the kitchen, turned on the light, and noted the images down quickly. The dream was already fading from memory. 

In the morning upon awaking Zeke and Eva were lying next to each other for a few minutes before getting out of bed. Zeke said to her, “I had the strangest dream last night, like a vision. Horsemen, like in the Bible, were sitting in the woods sharing stories. Weird.”

“I had a busy night in dreamland too,” Eva said. “But I don’t remember the dreams.”

Zeke got out of bed and went into the bathroom to take a shower.

Later that morning in his studio, working over his notes, his dream took the form of a poem.

Three Horsemen in the Forest

Rising from bed
the body floats slowly
through ceiling, soaring
above power lines, trees
high into the sky
skimming the clouds.
Below spread the forest
a clearing, a campfire
three men sitting
down logs pulled ‘round
their mounts number three
colored white, red and black
tethered loose to a tree.
Skewered, a rabbit
roasts on the fire
the men pass a bottle
while above, unseen
in the dream listening
as the first horseman speaks.

In the new world I was
the part to the north
hugging close the coast
the whole countryside ablaze
wind howling the slopes
embers and smoke
people fleeing in terror
ones that are able
some caught in their cars
bones baked to ash.
In the woods, in the hills
homes burnt to the ground
towns, cities too
lines down, power cut
dark save for light
fierce flush of flames.

The second horseman takes up.

Riding the austral land
east near the sea
from the north to the south
summer early but scorching
dry air a gale
there I too saw
an horizon ablaze
landscape, settlements
abandoned to fire
reaching high to a sky
day and night turned red.
Creatures wild, human
that could flee, had
those remaining, roasted
the scene looking, sounding
apocalypse come.

The third talks in turn.

In the new land, the south
the Amazon afire
at the hands of those
stripping the land
to mine, to raise cattle
emboldened by usurpers
arrogant, lawless.
The Guardians of the Forest
having lived there forever
hunted down, murdered
by bands of armed thieves
cutting, selling trees
countless beings of the jungle
destitute, dying, dead.