For a long time, I have looked for a way to describe my connection to the natural world. I tried in Evelio’s Garden, but no writer that I have encountered since has come as close as I have the privilege to quote here. Of course there have been many before me, but none that I have discovered as right on as these two: Robinson Jeffers and Oliver Sacks. (And I’ll keep looking!)
The parts change and pass, or die, people and races and rocks and stars, none of them seems to me important in itself, but only the whole. This whole is in all its parts so beautiful and is felt by me to be so intensely in earnest, that I am compelled to love it, and to think of it as divine. It seems to me that this whole alone is worthy of the deeper sort of love; and that here is peace, freedom, I might say a kind of salvation.
— Robinson Jeffers
The sense of deep time brings a deep peace with it, a detachment from the timescale, the urgencies of daily life. Seeing these volcanic islands and coral atolls, and wandering, above all, through this cycad forest on Rota, has given me an intimate feeling of the antiquity of the earth, and the slow, continuous processes by which different forms of life evolve and come into being. Standing here in the jungle, I feel part of a larger, calmer identity; I feel a profound sense of being at home, a sort of companionship with the earth.
There’s a big difference between writing stories and telling them out loud. This is something I’ve discovered as, over the years, I have recorded bits and pieces of various things I have written. Somehow, the spoken word is infinitely more powerful. Recently I was invited by an interviewer to record a story from Evelio’s Garden, and since her website focused on finding joy in our lives, I picked robins and sea lions. Well, listen and you’ll see how they’re related.
Georgia O’Keeffe, Red Canna, 1924 (Georgia O’Keeffe Museum)
In a passage originally published in the exhibition catalog An American Place, she writes, “A flower is relatively small. Everyone has many associations with a flower — the idea of flowers. You put out your hand to touch the flower — lean forward to smell it — maybe touch it with your lips almost without thinking — or give it to someone to please them. Still — in a way — nobody sees a flower — really — it is so small — we haven’t time — and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time. If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because I would paint it small like the flower is small.
“So I said to myself — I’ll paint what I see — what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it — I will make even busy New-Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.
“Well — I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flower, you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower — and I don’t.”
When you’re writing, sometimes surprising things spill out. This little prose poem was completely spontaneous; it didn’t follow any plot line nor was it the product of any forethought. It came from a moment of pure presence with what I was doing. I looked at it on the screen, slightly amazed, and decided to leave it in.
Sandra Shaw Homer has lived in Costa Rica for almost 30 years, where she has taught languages and worked as a translator and environmental activist. For several years she wrote a regular column, “Local Color,” for the English-language weekly, The Tico Times.
Her creative nonfiction, fiction and poetry have appeared in a number of print and online travel and literary journals, as well as on own blog, WritingFromTheHeart.net.
Her travel memoir, Letters from the Pacific, received
excellent Kirkus and Publishers Weekly reviews; a brief inspirational memoir,
The Magnificent Dr. Wao, is available as a Kindle Book; and a second travel
memoir, Journey to the Joie de Vivre, details two Atlantic crossings on cargo
ships as well as a swing through Europe.
I’m so excited for you to connect with Sandra, check out her writing and her books, and follow along as she continues to remind us of our connection to nature, and its power to transform our experiences.
I’d love it if you’d introduce
yourself, what you do, and what you’re working on.
Having lived in Costa Rica for almost 30 years has given me
an opportunity to discover what I value most. At one point I helped
found and worked with three environmental non-profit organizations and headed
the county environmental commission. This was long before the climate crisis
was on anybody’s radar, and our efforts were directed at saving the Lake Arenal
watershed from illegal development. We had some important successes,
and I realize now that what we were doing did have implications for our climate
How did you get started?
But I’m really a writer! And that’s one of the
reasons I moved to Costa Rica – to find a quiet place where I could start
looking within to my creative self and do what I had always wanted. I’ve
always been a writer – for other people, clients,
environmental causes. But I knew that somewhere my own story was
percolating inside, and I wanted to get at it.
What inspired the work that you’re
Interestingly, the environmental work I did inspired my
writing, so that my book, Evelio’s Garden, is a lyrical exploration
of the environment as well as a memoir, my personal story.
What is your biggest passion? Do you
feel like you’re living your passion and purpose?
My biggest passion now is to help others connect to the
natural world in ways that will move them to work to save it. And,
yes, after a lifetime of work and discovery, I feel as if I’m living my dream.
What is your joy blueprint? What
lights you up, brings you joy, and makes you feel the most alive?
A good first sentence. Whatever you’re writing has to start
with a good first sentence. For me, they usually come out of the
ether – I may not even be thinking of a particular poem or writing
project. But once that first sentence lights up, the joy of it
carries me forward. There are lots of things that bring me joy:
water, mountains, clouds, trees. But that first sentence taps into
an inner creative self that just wants to sing.
How do you live intentionally? Are
there tools/resources/practices that you rely on to help you stay mindful and
Weather permitting, I always sit outside at the end of day
to watch the sunlight climb up the eastern trees, the vultures swooping as high
as the clouds, the wind singing, my cat trying to squeeze into my car through
the partially open window. These are precious moments in which I am
conscious of how grateful I am.
What would your younger self think
about what you’re doing now?
She’d probably understand, since those sunset moments were
special to her too. But she was too angry to feel grateful.
Do you have a go-to mantra or
A simple “thank you,” directed to the universe for whatever
moves me. I read once that the only proper prayer is one of gratitude, and
I’ve taken that to heart.
What is your biggest dream?
I hardly dare to think of finishing the novel I started so
many years ago. I’m old now. I want to continue to live in peace in this
beautiful rural setting in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I
want to feel that I’ve led a useful life and be grateful for all the many gifts
I experience every day. A Laughing Falcon calling in the wee hours just before
dawn. The monkeys howling in the sunset. The stray cat that’s showing up every
day for dinner. My loving friends. My sister and her family. Too many gifts to
count. My dreams are simple now, things to be grateful for, that’s enough.
To learn more about Sandra and her work you can visit her on Facebook, Amazon , on B&N and on Powells.com.
Joy Corner is an interview-style blog series brought to you
by Seek The Joy Podcast. Our mission
continues to be a desire to share your stories, truths, joys and inspiration in
your words. We invite you to join our corner, and share your joys, passions,
and moments of inspiration as we continue to seek the joy, together. Join this
Listening, Fromm argues, is “is an art like the understanding of poetry”
and, like any art, has its own rules and norms. Drawing on his half-century
practice as a therapist, Fromm offers six such guidelines for mastering the art
of unselfish understanding:
The basic rule for practicing this art is the complete concentration of the listener.
Nothing of importance must be on his mind, he must be optimally free from anxiety as well as from greed.
He must possess a freely-working imagination which is sufficiently concrete to be expressed in words.
He must be endowed with a capacity for empathy with another person and strong enough to feel the experience of the other as if it were his own.
The condition for such empathy is a crucial facet of the capacity for love. To understand another means to love him — not in the erotic sense but in the sense of reaching out to him and of overcoming the fear of losing oneself.
Understanding and loving are inseparable. If they are separate, it is a cerebral process and the door to essential understanding remains closed.
I have admired and loved Erich Fromm ever since I read his The Art of Loving, the most sane and humane treatise on love I have ever encountered. The parallels he draws in The Art of Listening make perfect sense to me. And I reflect that an author must be capable of listening to and loving his characters. Otherwise, they will never seem real.
January is turning into a busy month. Today my poem “Tropical Rain” appeared in Sky Island Journal. The editors of this relatively new on-line journal have been wonderfully supportive of my writing, so I’m grateful to be able to highlight their existence.
You can read my poem here: https://www.skyislandjournal.com/issues#/issue-11-winter-2020/ . Please remember to scroll down to my photo/bio and click on the poem there. And thanks.
Thanks to the Internet, I don’t have to move out of my chair to have a publicity tour for Evelio’s Garden: Memoir of a Naturalist in Costa Rica. In fact, this one was conducted from my sister’s house in Washington State, where I visited for the holidays.
Sherri was a good interviewer and we had an interesting conversation about what makes a writer. I encourage you to tune in on January 16 at 3:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. That would be 4:00 in Costa Rica, so simply count backwards to get to, Toronto, say (where the hell is that, anyway? I am spatially challenged). Once it’s live, of course, you can tune in on line anytime you feel like it, so I hope you enjoy.
After so many years, and so much waiting and dithering around, putting the manuscript in the hands of professionals made it happen — whoosh! December 1st it was on Amazon (and as a Kindle Book), Barnes & Noble (also as a Nook Book) and Powells.com. With increasing demand on line, it will also make it into bricks and mortar stores.
Over the course of a challenging year of unpredictable weather and the depredations of wild animals and toxic chemicals, their friendship grows as Evelio teaches her about the rural sustainability of Costa Rica in decades past. But stresses over the garden and a serious health detour churn up the author’s long-buried memories, forcing her to try to make sense of her past and opening her up to profound personal change.
Evelio’s Garden is a lyrical meditation on cultural values, friendship, aging, loss, and, ultimately, the healing power of the natural world.
“The conversational prose is rich in detail about the wide variety of trees, flowers, fruits, and vegetables that blanket the area, and there are some wonderful stories about various wildlife that Homer has encountered. A vignette in which she creates a makeshift bridge for a band of monkeys is particularly delightful . . . . A remembrance that effectively captures one woman’s connection with nature in Central America” — Kirkus Reviews