I’m just back from a week in beautiful Costa Rica and the deepest discovery I made is that I’m allergic to the entire place.
I’ve long known I have a slight allergic reaction to mold. In Minnesota my head gets a bits stuffy when the fallen leaves begin to rot in the autumn and again when the snow melts in the spring. A nuisance, nothing more. I never once stopped to think when my partner and I were making plans for a glorious week in the rain forest of Costa Rica that the entire place would be made of mold.
The trip was sponsored through a wildlife rehab center here where my partner volunteers, and we would be visiting another wildlife rehab center there, Kids Saving the Rainforest. What could be better? Mountains! Ocean! Rainforest! Monkeys, sloths, birds, crocodiles! A whole new world of experience and information. Surely I would find much that would be fresh to write about. And it wasn’t incidental, of course, that we’d be escaping the Minnesota winter for tropical sun.
Within an hour of stepping off the plane, my bronchial tubes tightened. Interesting, I thought. By the second day, I had a constant, deep, rattling cough. By the third, my head was congested, too. And yet the vacation my partner and I had planned with such enthusiasm still lay before us, jolting bus rides, long treks under a blazing sun, swinging bridges to be navigated while my head seemed to float free of my body, constant conversations with fellow travelers though my voice was merely a croak.
When we arrived back home, snow has never looked so good!
Was it a lost experience? Money spent merely on misery?
No, because I’m a writer, and every experience, comfortable and uncomfortable, exotic and ordinary, is fodder for a writer.
I came home with a head full of nonfiction possibilities drawn from the generous caretaking I saw dedicated people giving that fecund and fragile world. The three young women who work day and night to save the endangered macaws. (In addition to all else they do, for six months out of the year they feed the babies every two hours twenty-four hours a day.) The care taken at Kids Saving the Rain Forest for monkeys and birds injured or once kept as pets that can no longer fend for themselves in the wild. The hurt sloths they take in, treat and return to their forest canopy. Our guide who turns down opportunities for work if he doesn’t believe what the clients want help with would be good for his beloved land.
And beyond all that was new and fascinating, I carried my old work with me as I always do, not in a computer, but in my head. As the plane thrust itself through the sky, as we bounced down rutted roads, as I climbed and trudged and gazed overhead, I was constantly sorting through everything I’m working on: Blue-Eyed Wolf, the young-adult novel; Patches, a new verse novella I’d almost completed a draft of before we left, and a ditty set off by a friend’s sending me an article on the phrase “Higgledy-piggledy.”
It was time outside of time, which gave me a rich opportunity to let everything I’m working on turn over inside my head, slowly and steadily. I read some of the new ALA-award novels on the flights and decided to try first person for the new points of view I’ll be introducing to Blue-Eyed Wolf. I gazed at the unfamiliar world all around me and realized that Patches needs to have a more distinct reaction to the unfamiliar world she is thrust into. And I played endlessly, not a scrap of paper in sight, with the phrase higgledy-piggledy. By the time I got home I had half a dozen lines ready for the page.
I also arrived home more than ready to see Minnesota snow and a doctor.
It’s a strange world we writers live in, this world that grows inside our heads. Wherever you take us, however our bodies betray us, those stories just keep jogging along inside us.
But isn’t it fun?