During November, I wrote a novel! The National Novel Writing Month, (NaNoWriMo) challenge was to write 50,000 words in 30 days. The suggested daily word count was 1,667. I missed one whole day when I drove to the airport to fetch my cousin Betty Ann, but I ended up finishing a day early.
I imagined that I wouldn’t have time to cook, shop, read, clean the house, do laundry, or the dishes. I just knew I’d have to give up NaNoWriMo. How could I have invited a guest and signed up to write a novel? In fact, the writing took about three hours a day. Even so, I needn’t have worried: my cousin likes Farmville, and other computer games, so I could write while she played, without feeling like a neglectful, inconsiderate host.
Betty Ann arrived at the unstable end of the rainy season. Happily, the mornings were bright and sunny, and the little rain we had didn’t persist throughout the day. In any event, she didn’t care about the rain: whatever the weather here, she said she preferred it to the barren cold in Philadelphia. Here, flowers are in perpetual bloom. In fact, our canna lilies put out spectacular blossoms of yellow and bright orangey-red just in time for her to see them unfold.
Costa Rica is the first stamp in my cousin’s passport, and she didn’t know what to expect. I’d told her about our house in the mountains, but I’d failed to describe mountains in the tropics. She fell in love with the outdoors here, and loved to sit on our porch, watching the fog advance and retreat, gobbling up vast acres of landscape, and then revealing them once more.
She loved the silence, she said, though the raucous cries of the blue-black grackles and the insistent squawk of the yellow-bellied flycatchers pierce the silence often and shrilly. At night, the sharp cries of the coyotes and the staccato cluck of the geckos float on the wind.
Each morning, we fed the birds with stale bread or banana halves, and if we weren’t on time, they buzzed us like stunt planes in an air show. This year, a feeding flock of scarlet-rumped tanagers, brown-breasted robins and a single Baltimore oriole wowed us with bright red and orange feathers.
She adored the way rufus-tailed hummingbirds circled the house, sipping at a vibrant array of butterfly bushes, impatiens and other flowering plants and the apple-red feeder that hangs outside the kitchen window, and taking a rest on the clothesline or on a branch of the cedar tree.
When we were children, she and I were inseparable, but that changed when I was twelve, and she was fourteen. Her mother moved her to Norristown, northwest of Philadelphia, and we began the inexorable process of growing apart. She got married, and I went to college, increasing the distance between us until it became a chasm.
Three years ago, my cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer. The thought of losing her galvanized me. We began talking again, visiting each other, sharing secrets the way we did in childhood. But I had one foot in Philly and the other in Costa Rica by then. We decided she had to come for a visit- the sooner the better. “I won’t go through chemotherapy again,” she said, in the understated way she has.
Betty Ann turned out to be the perfect guest: She helped us finally relocate the rooster that’s been plaguing us, and she cheerfully did the dishes- a chore I don’t love. She reminded me to notice the beauty that surrounds us and to appreciate sounds we take for granted, like the clapping of the palm branches in the wind, or the hovercraft-like sound of a grackle in flight.
Together we tripped through childhood memories funny and scary , we laughed and we cried.