Change is in the Air

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There’s a set of three dials set in wood by the desk at the beach house. The barometer is pointing at the ‘Pluie’ end of ‘Variable’, the temperature is 34 degrees, and the time is always 9:05. Earlier this morning this was all as it should be  (although the French seems out of place) because we are undergoing The Change.

Theoretically, Costa Rica has two seasons: wet and dry, but it has altitude, so should you feel like a bit of autumn, you can nip up to Zarcero or Barva and drink coffee wearing a jumper and rubber boots, watching drizzle. And any time you fancy a bit of spring, you can pull over on the Cerro de la Muerte, step out of your truck and feel the frosty grass crunch under your foot while enjoying a nip in the air (which is precisely what we had to do when we broke down on the way back from the beach, and George was a baby, and everyone was wearing wet swimwear under other clothes selected for Extreme Heat).

However, if you remain in one place long enough, for example, a house in a rainforest on the Osa peninsula, you start to become aware of – to tune into – many other seasons and cycles, the various flowerings and dying offs, births and deaths, arrivals and departures, all of which, gradually begin to affect you, and colour your days.

Obviously that includes the moon. Personally I’m not too sure what this moon does and doesn’t do other than suck the sea into tides, but people here hold it responsible for a lot of stuff, from whipping the purrujas, sand fleas, into a frenzied attacks, and making bull frogs sing, to the success of crops, weddings and business ventures. Certainly, having a night that looks like a film negative on a light box out there making the sea look milky is unsettling, and I can believe it’s up there doing something.

Then there are migrations, some international, some just local as trees come into fruit – the so-called ‘elusive’ tapirs have thrown caution aside and spend every night tromping through the hotel grounds in their greedy quest for maranon, the fruit of the cashew; some spider monkeys have decamped to the beach for the palm nuts; there are toucans outside the house (although I don’t know what they want).

And then there are smaller things that, in great volume, have impact, like a big increase in the numbers of the plate-sized blue morpho butterflies (Londoners: think of crisp packets caught up in the air coming out the tube station vents); the flowering of the ylang ylang trees filling the air with Chanel No.5, and, this year, the deafening, ratcheting of cicadas throughout December and January (followed by the sudden but pleasant Silence of the Cicadas in February).

Anyway, of all the seasonal and cyclical shifts, the most dramatic, the most seismic, is dry to wet. Every year, around mid-November, there’s a collective sigh of relief as the supply of rain dries up. By the end of March, we’re desperate for it.

For several days the sea gone green, grey and black and frothy in the afternoons, and the sky over to the west, or the south or the north, turned dark purple. It has been insufferably hot, the temperature notching up through the day to teeter at its peak, the air is thick, tingling steam, and everything on edge, hopping along twigs and rushing through undergrowth, squawking and chuntering, and you are sure the sky has to crack open and let the deluge begin – you’re begging for it – come on, dammit! . . . before backing off. All the talk is of rain – will it rain? it might rain! I thought it was going to rain, please let it rain etc.

But there is electricity in the air, literally, and last night, feeling restless and energised, I wandered outside and saw a distant storm lighting up the sky. The air had little twists of cool stuff in it, and it smelt different, carrying whiffs of damp vegetation and wet earth.

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