IN THE MOUTH OF THE SNAKE

I live on the mouth of the Sierpe River on the northern part of the Peninsula de Osa. The Peninsula juts out from Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast like a bent forefinger pointing at South America. A large part of the Peninsula is dedicated to Corcovado National Park – over one hundred thousand acres. Twelve kilometers offshore lies Caño Island, also a national park.

“Sierpe” is another word for snake; the river bends and twists through thousands of acres of mangrove forest, to the port town of Sierpe – forty-five kilometers upriver. No roads anywhere through here, no power lines. All traffic is by boat, horse or foot.

Our house is just inside the mouth of the river, on the south side. At this point the river is one kilometer wide. The Pacific Ocean is just to the left, the west. We can see the waves hit the beaches on the other side. Here, on this side, the waves come in low and easy. At high tide the water laps up to the palm-lined beach, fifty meters in front of the house.

The house is surrounded by thousands of acres of rain forest, which supports a full compliment of animal life, from jaguars to snakes to army ants.  Two kilometers to the east, upriver, is one of the largest mangrove forests in the world.

The original inhabitants of this region were Boruka Indians. In fact, they once lived where our house sits, and they buried their dead up the mountain behind us. The cemetery has been raided several times over the centuries, but hundreds of broken stone carvings still remain. We are caretakers of this cemetery. Archaeologists are excited because it’s a fairly rare culture. They estimate these Indians lived here around two thousand years ago.

The Indians wrote their stories in stone when Jesus Christ walked on the other side of the earth. Now I’m here writing stories on a PC, and Christianity has become a gigantic institution.

Water bubbles out of holes high in the mountain and forms a fresh water stream. It rushes down the side of the mountain, cutting a sharp ravine, scouring away the soil to raw stone, bedrock. We harness the power in this stream to make electricity.

This is a curious thing. Our electricity depends entirely on the force of gravity and gravity results from the relative positions of bodies in space. Thanks to the solar system and its position in the Milky Way, I’m able to pound on this computer.

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