Today has been the first full day on our family's trip to Costa Rica. This is our second trip here as a family, having been fortunate enough to visit here in February of 2009 as well. However, it's my third time to be here--my first was in the summer of 1978. Each time I've been to the same place, and while not much has changed in the past 2 ½ years, it is very different than it was when I was here at the age of twelve.
Our connection with this place, this land, is thanks to my brother Hunter (1955-1996) and the work he did to help acquire it for H.G. Pattillo in the late 70’s. I don’t have many memories about exactly what he did, mainly since I had little interest in things like that when I was twelve, but I’ve been told that he was here both to gain the trust of the Costa Rican people, and to help recommend and negotiate the transactions that resulted in H.G. owning the hacienda that is Pinilla. The memories I have about my time here all those years ago are more vivid. My first experience with theft was here, when my purse was stolen from our Jeep in downtown San Jose. One of my earliest small-world connections occurred here when we met a group of tourists from Macon, Georgia atop Volcan Irazu, one of Costa Rica’s still-active volcanos. My first puka bead necklace was purchased for $2.00 from a young tico selling them to tourists on the beach at Tamarindo. And my first time to ride horses on the beach was with my brother Hunter when we visited The Ranch on that trip, back when Hacienda Pinilla was visible only in the mind and heart of H.G. Pattillo.
The love between my brother Hunter and me ran deep. He was eleven or twelve when I was born, and Mom said he thought of me as his own child more than he did a sibling. I adored him, in part because of the childish silliness that he never seemed to outgrow, and in part because of his intelligence—there was nothing that he didn’t know as far as I was concerned. So I was eager to spend a few hours horseback riding with him, and even more excited to ride on the beach. Also, Mom and Dad seemed quite apprehensive about our trek, which made it all the more enticing to me at the time.
It was the rainy season then, so we had to stop at every flora and fauna spot we passed, particularly the known orchid locales. While I would love this now, then it was less than exciting to me. I was eager to ride on the beach, and didn’t really enjoy the winding route we took from the barn to the water. But as was typically the case when Hunter was involved, we did it his way, and I was thrilled to be along for the ride.
We finally made it to the beach, and had to cross what seemed like a smallish creek at one point to continue down the shoreline. I learned then from Hunter that what we were crossing was an estuary, which is a partially enclosed body of water along the coast where freshwater from rivers and streams meets and mixes with salt water from the ocean. At low tide, estuaries are generally knee-deep with gentle currents, but at high tide, they can become deep rivers with dangerous currents. We crossed the estuary easily at low tide, with the horses barely kicking up enough water to wet the hems of our jeans. However, at my pleading, we rode farther than we should have before turning around, so when we reached the same estuary on our return trip, the gentle stream had become a bit of a river, at least three feet deep with swirling currents of significant strength.
Hunter seemed mildly concerned, which was enough to cause me great concern since he was generally unflappable. “Looks like we rode a bit too far, Jill. We’ve got to cross now, though. It’s only going to get worse since the tide is coming in. It will be fine—the horses are strong, and they can swim.”
Into the currents we went. I took comfort in two things: One, while Hunter was concerned, he didn’t seem overly anxious, and two, neither horse seemed to balk at entering the fast-flowing water. It was probably 25 to 30 feet across, and my apprehension grew with each step as the water got deeper and deeper towards the halfway mark. The water was at my feet, then at my shins. At one point, I seem to recall that the horses were no longer walking, but swimming. Finally they stumbled a bit as they regained their footing, then just like that, we’d made it past the deepest part and my feet were no longer under water. The horses’ gaits quickened as we reached the other side and their strong legs were no longer fighting the harsh current. Their gait was, I might add, in negative correlation to my heart rate, which had begun to slow down once it seemed the danger was past.
“Let’s not mention this part of our ride to Mom & Dad, okay? I don’t want them to worry after the fact, y’know?” I nodded in full agreement. One of my favorite things about spending time with any of my three older siblings when I was younger was that, as the adult in charge, they could make decisions about what I could / should and could / should not do that were generally must less stringent than what my parents would typically allow. They were cool like that.
My memories of that estuary-crossing all those years ago reminded me that Hunter had both a confidence about him and a way of believing in me that was unique only to him. Those that knew him well can attest to that. As I wandered around the Langosta Estuary this morning on my walk and reminisced about that dangerous crossing, which was admittedly probably not as dangerous then as it is in my memory, I reveled in the inner confidence that memory brought forth in me. I vowed to call up that confidence in the days and weeks ahead as we continue this crossing upon which we have embarked—from the place we’ve loved and called home for almost ten years now to a new and different place, with new faces and new challenges.
Later this afternoon, Daniel and I walked from the Beach Club to the estuary at Avellanas, which was most likely the estuary that I crossed with Hunter all those years ago. The tide was receding, and we thought we might be able to cross it, but after only a few steps in, I realized how strong the current was and insisted that we play it safe and turn back.
My general tendency is often to play it safe and turn back. And so today in particular, I thank God for the memory of the estuary, for the bold confidence of my beloved brother, and for the faith that I know he still has in me, despite the fact that he left this life almost sixteen years ago. As our family approaches the halfway point of THIS crossing, my prayer is that all five of us will find solid footing along the way, and that our confidence both in ourselves and in each other will remain strong as we venture through the strongest currents of change, looking forward to the new adventures that lie ahead!