La Leguna de Zarcero is up and down. It is 2000 meters above sea level. Translation: on my 3 mile hike to work, I can hear myself breathing heavy up the hills, and feel my lungs large, shrink, large, shrink, large like the air is not filled with much of anything. At the top of the hill, I can see the clouds settle in the valley below me. One-inch moss hanging onto fence posts indicates the heavy fog and mist that engulfs this land. The hills are green and lush and dotted with Holstein and Jersey cattle. Sections of terraced soil rise in soft steps off the road, ready to be filled with cabbage, potatoes, carrots or remolachas. Invernaderos (greenhouses) are scattered about. The owners are white (Spanish) and the workers are brown (Nicaraguan). The houses are barless, doors are open. A car stops as I am walking, and I smile and say “no, thank you, I am close.”
I, I am up and I am down. I am up, up, up, sipping agua dulce at 6 am, walking from the clouds into a pink sky at 6 pm. I am up sneaking my roadside goat friend a guava snack. I love this walk. I am up capturing forest micro-organisms in the bosque.
Other times I am down, trellising tomatoes with mercates, head down, eight hours alone (well, near Ezekiel, who leaves my hello alone or grunts when I ask how, and so I watch, and follow along) and I think and I talk to, and sometimes fight with myself in my head. I like to think, debate, ponder, dream, plan in my head, but there’s a point when thinking gets too heavy and too much, and my thoughts become angry and silent, and they build and I stop thinking and am just counting: one, two, three, four,…fourteen un-winds it takes to hang the mercates so that the thread just touches from the alhambre to the ground. And all I can see is the end of the row, fast, fast, faster, unwinding, wrist, wrist, wrist, and now it is a secret race: can I un-wind, pull, yank, calculate, hook faster than Ezekiel, who works fast, steady, whistling, never stopping to take a drink, always un-winding just enough twine?
But my angry thoughts are still there, and finally the day is over and I am still bitter riding home silently, sullenly, and I walk in the door, home, and Kristen is calling to check in. I don’t have a chance to filter myself. It is all there waiting no longer, automatically, systematically, there. “How are you?” I erupt, voice high, “okay,” I squeak out, already gasping to talk, tears brimming, words stuck, Ana walking up from the road, opening the door, fresh bread loaves in hand, Gabriel right there on the coach. I try to clear my throat, “ahem,” tears spilling, “what sorts of things have you been doing?” “…tomatoes…--It’s just (gasp) not what I—I’m okay, I don’t know why I’m so—“ “sentimental,” Ana fills in. “It’s just I didn’t think I would be doing the same thing all day with tomatoes.” There, it's out. And Gabriel goes off: “He was supposed to show you…I told him you weren’t just another…" he shakes his head, "You’re going to work in the school and la ganaderia…” We sit, me facing Gabriel and Ana, bread loaves on floor.
It is better now. Now I work at the lecheria once or twice a week, escaping the tomates. Hi, I am Spencer, can I work with you? I stir a vat of liquid manure that pumps into a giant irrigation sprinkler and I talk with Carlos (the 2nd), about our family, about the breeds of cows, about our homes. We feed the cattle wheelbarrows of pineapple and papaya cascaras. I grip a bucket of milk for the cutest chiquitica calf to slurp and bob and splash. I learn how to milk the 28 cows with machine tubes. I am still in a place of ups and downs, but it is better now. This is where I am.