• Q&A

    1. Sandra, what inspired you to write the beautifully told Evelio’s Garden?

    I wanted to get back into the habit of writing creatively (after decades of work-related scribbling). What better way than to start describing things – thus my career as a backyard naturalist. Evelio taught me a lot about the plants and animals here.

    2. What is it about?

    As the book begins, almost immediately Evelio steals the scene with his planting of an organic garden on our farm. What follows is a poignant and sometimes comical clash between cultures as he tries to involve me in all the emotional ups and downs of his project.

    3. Your memoir highlights living as a naturalist in Costa Rica and focuses on an organic garden that is planted on your property by a man, Evelio, who helped build your house. How does the garden – and a serious health detour – force you to make sense of your past?

    Evelio’s drawing me ever deeper into the daily drama of the garden, plus a close scrape with death, drive me deeper into some memories that beg to be turned into a story. That’s when my story becomes a memoir embedded in the story of Evelio’s Garden.

    4. As a result of this self-discovery, you open up to profound personal changes. How can others find their way to make such changes?

    Changes from within are often driven by powerful external events. But internal change can also be driven by a feeling that we’re just not living the life we want, we’re not the person we think we want to be. It’s urgent to follow these prompts and seek help, if necessary.

    5. You tell us it is important to start paying attention to the natural world. Why?

    As a species, we’re bound headlong towards our own extinction if we don’t figure out how to live without destroying the planet. Observing the natural world can help us understand that we’re just one more tiny part of an incredibly intricate ecosystem. The belief that humankind is at the top of Creation is long overdue for revision.

    6. Your book beautifully reminds us of the importance of living sustainably. How can one go about doing this?

    Since most of the world’s people will be living in cities by midcentury, it’s going to be even harder to remember we are a part of Nature. We need to think differently about urban planning, provide more green spaces, plant organic gardens in empty lots, recycle, ride a bike . . . many of these things are already happening on a small scale – we need to scale them up big time.

    7. You talk about the healing power of the natural world. Yet, we live in a modern society dominated by technology, artificial foods, and designer drugs that distract, sedate, and even harm us. How do we move towards an enlightened, nature-centric lifestyle? 

    Aside from efforts to reduce your carbon footprint, go find some GREEN somewhere. Sit in the middle of a park and breathe deeply. Focus on the ducks in the pond – what are they doing? Select a particular tree and look up into its branches, touch its bark, feel the circulation that pins this incredible creature to the Earth. It’s a shift in perspective, perhaps a meditation. We have to invite the connection if it doesn’t happen naturally.

    8. Evelio’s Garden is a meditation on cultural values, friendship, aging, and loss. What are some of the most important life lessons you would like to pass on to us?

    1) That being open to the values of another culture is stepping into a new and precious world. 2) That friendships, once honestly made, cannot be undone. 3) That aging has advantages, wisdom primary among them. And 4) that loss is inevitable and forever, but it takes nothing away from you.

    9. You have worked for several environmental NGOs. Are you glad the U.S. rejoined the Paris Accords? What can be done to battle climate change and environmental degradation?

    I’m delighted the US has rejoined the Paris Accords. As for climate change, we have to free ourselves of fossil fuels, however we do it. This requires an attitude toward the planet we share that firms our desire to protect and preserve it.

    10. Your earlier book, a travel memoir, Letters from The Pacific, was about your 49-day journey on a cargo ship. What was that experience like?

    I’ve always dreamt of climbing on board a freighter and writing a book. It was just the adventure I needed at a difficult time in my life . . . and I rediscovered that the Earth is round, and the ocean goes on forever.

    11. You wrote of battling depression and recalled your ex-husband’s gruesome suicide. How does nature act therapeutically on you?

    Nature always calms me – even bad weather! There are two trees – robles de Sabana – between my village and the next that are flowering an intense dark rose that is heart-stoppingly beautiful. I can’t pass those two trees without being filled with joy. Colors are brighter in tropical light, and there are 1000 shades of healing green.

    12. Your book also sheds light on your father’s sexual abuse of you. How does confronting that demon help you move forward? 

    There was no way to move forward in my life as long as I was filled with rage at my father. I finally saw him as old and increasingly helpless, the product of much abuse himself. How could he know differently? Forgiveness is necessary in order to live one’s own life to the full.

    13. There is a ton of development taking place in Costa Rica. Are you concerned its popularity with tourists will turn the natural beauty of the landscape into a concrete jungle?

    Costa Rica determined that it was its natural wonders that tourists wanted to see, so it systematically went about protecting them. 25% of the country is either a national park or a wildlife reserve. Half the country’s land surface is covered with trees. The tourists aren’t contributing to a concrete jungle – they’re here for the incredible experience of Nature.

    14. You live near a volcano. Does that frighten you or draw you even closer to nature?

    Volcán Arenal has been seismically so quiet lately that they took the seismometer away. But in its day, it was spectacular. With 3 shifting tectonic plates converging off Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, the volcano is bound to act up again. Rather than fear, it has always inspired respect. And I’m glad that there’s a big lake between it and me!

    15. Kirkus Reviews said of Evelio’s Garden: “A remembrance that effectively captures one woman’s connection with nature in Central America.” Is it possible for a city dweller to connect with nature as you have?

    Although I spent much of my working life in cities, I grew up in the country. Coming here was returning to my roots; all that city stuff melted away so fast, I never missed it. I have friends, avowed urbanites, who find it hard to feel an urgency about our changing climate. Somehow, we have to cultivate that urgency among those we know, but we’re going to need passion if we’re to save ourselves. Evelio’s Garden was written with a passion to help others see what I see.