Life Forces

The forces generating life processes are fast asleep underneath our snow-covered farm. Evidence of their previous activities reveal themselves in tree trunks and the anastomosis of the bare branches stretching skyward. Growth is not visible at this time of year, but the life forces involved are not inactive. When the winter sun’s angle to the earth is low, rather than shooting up green growth as in summer, the life forces remain under the surface and form humus, release minerals, and prepare the soil chemistry for spring.

The sun is the great attractor of forces in our solar system. In spring and summer, during the day, they flow through the earth and shoot up the green growth of plants. In fall and winter, they stay in the soil and don’t shoot up on the other side of the earth. This concentration of life forces underground is the reason why we bury biodynamic preparations over winter.

The question arises, what about the lifeforce in the tropics where there is no winter? The constant carbon sequestration there quickly becomes new growth, so humus formation remains shallow. Tropical soils are not deep and well-structured like here, and they erode rapidly when exposed. Exploring life forces, the dynamics of biology (i.e. bio-dynamics) provided great entertainment when we tired of beaches, hot springs, and mountain vistas on our recent tropical vacation.

Twenty-five years ago, the late Hank, who started Villa Vanilla, invited us to his farm for furthering biodynamics in the tropics. His daughter, Jenny, hosted us recently for a two-week whirlwind tour of farms featuring life forces using biodynamic principles. Our first day on their farm found me putting the preparations in three compost heaps and stirring horn manure for an hour. Her preparations were a bit drier than ours.

Hugh Courtney advocated for adequate moisture in the preparations at all times, compared to the drier storage techniques common in Europe. Biology, life, requires water. We add living forces, through the preparations, to compost. He felt that when the preparations dry out, they lose some of these living forces.

I dried out, too, in the hot tropical sun, so we headed up the hill from Quepos to Copay. A sign lured us on to Rio Blanco for cheese, but no one was home. As we were leaving, a truck pulled up and Alberto exclaimed “barefoot farmer”. He recognized me from many years ago, and responded positively when I asked if Bill still lived on the hill. 

A chance encounter on the beach 25 years ago had led us to Copay to look for Bill. We asked around and nobody knew what we were talking about. No Bill here. As we turned to leave a lightbulb went off and I said “Be-ell” and they all repeated it and pointed up the hill where he lived.

And what a hill it is. At about 8000 feet elevation, we are sitting on top of the world. Holly greeted me at the door as if I were a ghost, because 17 years had elapsed since my last visit. Lush vegetation, rushing rivers, and giant oak trees attested to a life force here that needed no encouragement. It was great to see old friends again. 

Back at the cheese farm the next morning, Tomas also remembered me. We had heard the story of a Swiss man who visited there 40 years ago and taught dairy farmers how to make gruyere cheese in the Swiss tradition. A long, twisty mountain road then took us up to 10,000 feet, where we stopped above the clouds and harvested wild horsetail.

We wound back down the mountain to Providencia, where Jenny saw the elusive quetzal bird and we met her friend, Alonso, for a waterfall picnic. While they swam, we learned about eighteen small organic coffee farms who receive international helpers from Green Communities, a group dedicated to preserving this area’s ecology. These farmers make bokashi, a mixture of rice hulls, compost, and micro-organisms collected from the cloud forest, and tend their land sustainably.

Our next stop was in San Gerardo de Rivas, where we found more Swiss-style cheese and Ben from Nashville. It’s a small world. An organic restaurant caught our eye and we enjoyed tropical fruit and a salad. I met Harry at the checkout counter, he was just back from LA. When I mentioned Tennessee, he said the friends he was with the day before had just bought 30 acres there. I took a wild guess and asked if it was my friends, Zen and Bunni, and it was. The world keeps shrinking. He told me my organic farming friend there, Richard, had recently passed away, and that he had almost bought Richard’s farm. 

After a dip in the hot springs we followed the road to Herradura, only to find this small, sleepy village partying up a storm with a horse parade and dance. Loud live music, laughter, and cowboys filled up the street. We could feel the simple innocence of souls living the pure life. On our way out of town we pulled into another organic coffee farm and followed the smoke to a small fire. In a large, cast-iron tub, like we use to cook down lard, the farmer and his wife were stirring coffee beans with a long wooden paddle, roasting them the natural way. 

Back at Jenny’s farm, I made the horsetail into a tea to ferment. Then we hiked around checking out the vanilla, black pepper, cacao, cinnamon and other tropical plants, accompanied by toucans, monkeys and huge blue butterflies. Our next destination was two biodynamic farmers near Monteverde, and Jairo and Rona welcomed us to their foggy, windswept garden. Jairo had worked for Weleda at the fellowship community in Copake, NY, so we had mutual friends, and afterward he managed the farm there and made the Pfeiffer compost starter and field sprays. By the next morning, we realized that we had met at a biodynamic conference six years ago.

His neighbor, Noam, from Israel, operated Paradise Farms, a biodynamic coffee plantation interspersed with avocado, cacao, and many other plants. They were preparing for an arboreal gathering of climbers and had a high line about 300 ft long and 100 ft above a gorge. People tightrope walked across this, totally blowing our minds. The daily rainbows filled the sky at 4:20 as they always do, adding a magical face to this magical place. 

Our morning hike in the cloud forest preserve left us damp and chilled, nothing another hot spring couldn’t cure. The river itself, flowing out of Arenal volcano, was heated to just right, and we soaked by candlelight until we became prunes. Danilo hosted us for the next few days on his biodynamic dairy farm nearby. The Jersey herd had a bit of Gir in the genetics for better adaptation to tropical conditions. 

His father had 400 acres in cassava, the third biggest crop in the world. It is the starchy plant they make tapioca from. His preparations were also very dry, so we spent a morning moistening them with water into which we had stirred honey and valarian for 20 minutes.

The yarrow was so transformed you could not differentiate the florets like we can with ours. The chamomile and oak bark looked like ours, and the nettle, from a local plant (they said it was not Urtica dioica), was beautiful. The dandelion was also very transformed, and the valarian from a local variety, smelled better than the one from V. officianalis. My teachers would not have liked how dry the horn manure was. The silica came from near the volcano, and I received a pretty, pink crystal to try on our farm. 

A side trip took us to Eldgar and his native bee sanctuary. Twenty-three unique species were scattered throughout beautiful, flower-lined paths. Many were smaller than sweat bees. He’d been raising them as a hobby most of his life, and his deep understanding of nature astounded us. This man could really observe. He opened up a hive, and in waxed honey pots holding no more than a few spoonfuls, was the finest and most medicinal of honeys you could imagine.

Luna Nueva, where I helped introduce biodynamics to 25 years ago, has become more of a lodge than a botanical garden, but the beauty remains. My friend, Steven, who began this project, wasn’t feeling up to par so we did not get to visit. An early morning walk took me down to a murky pond, which an alligator swam across and stopped dead still about 30 feet from me. We studied each other a long while, and I had to walk even closer to follow the path home. When within 20 feet, the gator turned and followed me, but as they are quite fast on dry land, I hightailed it out of there with nary a look back.

The road to Limon was closed, not unusual in this country. So we headed to Roderick’s, our last biodynamic farmer and a really interesting student of Rudolf Steiner. The discussion ranged far and wide, and again the depth of observation and understanding for nature’s life forces was eye-opening. From the tropical sun and swirling, misty clouds, wind and rain, to the rushing rivers and dense flowering forests, life forces simply seem to remain above the thin soils here. 

The farmers we met are anxious for our return, and a Costa Rican biodynamic conference for next February is in the air. 

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