|Publisher:||Trinity University Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.50(w) x 1.50(h) x 9.50(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
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Guests ask. All the time. “So what made you want to do this?” “How’d you…?” or “Why…?”
Funny, it seems so natural to me. Don’t we all want to grow up to be innkeepers on tiny tropical islands? Isn’t the Swept Away/Gilligan’s Island/Fawlty Towers combo fantasy simply basic human nature? Regardless, I never know how serious the guests are, or how much time they have. Because answering could take a while.
Sometimes I wonder if they’re asking for do-it-yourself instructions on how to ditch the work world. They may want to know if it’s safe, or a good investment, or if anyone can do it. Sometimes they’re pretty open about being jealous of my good luckI’ve learned to laugh that one off. I’m usually busy hanging the laundry, or duct-taping a fix to some emergency, so I am able to dodge the questions. But even if I am in the mood and have the time to answer, I still get stymied on where to begin. It’s a bit like peeling an onion. One layer reveals more of what’s behind. If I go deep enough someone might end up crying.
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Truth is, I’m not sure exactly what made me fall in love with a piece of property on a small Puerto Rican island when I was forty years old, now twenty years ago. Not just fall in love, mind you, but act on it make a commitment, and to a foreigner no less.
This is the story of La Finca Caribe: three acres in the hills of Vieques, a small Caribbean island just off Puerto Rico’s eastern coast. It’s the why and how I and my family found it, loved it, and held onto itdespite the fact that we had pretty much no idea what we were doing. It’s about listeningeven in the din of tropical depressionsto your spirit place, inside and out. Ultimately, it’s about learning how much we can learn from a place, and the silly futility of asking ¿por qué?
It's difficult, and a little daunting to try and capture one's memories over 40 years with certitude. I’m so bad with numbers, whole years could be off. Luckily, I usually have my journal and sketchbook nearby as some oddball form of witness. Nonetheless, in case I got anything wrong, I’ve changed some names and locations, and condensed conversations to the best of my memory. The part about the magic; I’m totally clear about that.
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“Corcho, what you need is a finca.”
Rocio’s thick Barranquillan accent made it sound so exotic: A feeeenka. I was in my early thirties, old enough to have traveled a bit and know a little Spanish, but not this.
“Gee, Rocio. Maybe I’ll get one… what’s a finca?”
“Finca just means a place in the country, like a ranch, a farm, a beach house, or just a little garden plot, anywhere you go to escape from the city. You’re not a city girl, Corcho.”
I wonder what Rocio saw in me at the timea young wife, mother, and harried small business managerthat made her see so clearly what I needed. Maybe she was psychic. She was certainly right about the escape part. I had begun to wonder what I was I doing living in the suburbs.
My husband, David, and I had moved to Seattle with our baby, Tyler, from Alaska where we’d met. Seattle held more opportunity for growing our film production company, but we had mixed feelings about leaving Alaska’ open beauty. David was from Oregon and Montana. I was from Northern California, and Vermont for college. We both sought out the far horizon, or at least the rural parts of wherever we lived. We were more than comfortable heating with wood, rafting rivers, and wearing sweatpants. Seattle was a rugged, soon to be grungy city back then. It seemed natural we would buy a home far north enough out of town, to have a woodsy yard with raccoons and possums. It helped us feel at least distantly related to our wild, wilderness-filled pasts. It was 1986. Tyler was in preschool.
I wanted to get “a real job” for a few years, and then bring all the business savvy I could soak up back to our mom and pop creative team. The winery where I had been hired to manage public relations and write wine labels, and ignore the executive’s overt flirtations seemed as unreal as its phony French Chateau headquarters. My female coworkers seemed hell-bent on climbing the corporate ladder in those Godforsaken padded-shoulder suits and girl-style neckties, that only served to strangle me.
Even in our mid-thirties, David and I wanted to escape our own emerging rat race. We were equal parts grossed out and bored by what seemed to be a new and growing American dream, something called a “lifestyle,” yuppie-ness. It had its own handbook that listed the attributesa whole host of perils and comforts that scared us. I can see now we were probably afraid of losing our wild edge, nervous that cushy living would soften us. My corporate stint had to be brief. No wonder Rocio’s advice felt so right.
The week our second son, Gus was born, I quit the winery. I was back to work with David at Merwin Creative. My three years in the corporate world had been a perfect training ground for pitching our services. Some of my co-workers were leaving the winery to work at a new business venture down the road, Microsoft. No one could really explain to me what it was that they did, or what software was...so I kept with the plan of working with David. Besides, with friends going over there, maybe they’d hire us if they needed film work done.
The search for a finca took some time. It began with us looking for a little weekend place. We’d visit friends in their various getawayson farms or cabins in the mountains, islands and waterways of Puget Sound. As sweet as they all looked, the notion of owning and caring for two lawnmowers and barbeques and schlepping away every weekend seemed less sweet. We refocused our sites on an escape that was nearer to town; someplace rural enough to feel right, but where we could still get in and out of the city for work. On weekends we’d bundle up the kids and go looking.
Vashon Island, a ferry away from downtown Seattle, looked just the part. It was late spring; the whole island was a little shaggy, the grass long and wet. On our first day looking for a house, we could have easily missed itwe weren’t even to the top of the long first hill when we spotted the little sign: “Farmhouse with pool. OPEN HOUSE.”
“It’s an omen,” David says. “You know how I’ve always wanted a pool.”
“Yep, and I’ve always known you were crazy. We don’t have the money for a pool, David. But what the heck, it says farmhouse, too. Let’s go check it out. The boys want out of the car.”
It was our first day looking and the house seemed a version of each of our own dreams come true: a big red farmhouse on a hill looking north over Puget Sound, all the way to Canada. For me, it was two acres with fruit trees; for the boys it was the forests that rimmed the land; and for David it was that funky 30-year-old saltwater pool.
“I think having a pool would probably be the coolest thing in the entire universe. Cool all the way to the moon and the stars. Right, Gus?” Ty was supporting his Dad’s platform, and seeing very accurately into his own future.
“Yeah, Ty. I do.” Gus always sounded emphatic. He was as always in Ty’s camp, being the little brother and forever a first mate. “Right, Mommy?” He circled back to me.
I can imagine his three-year-old mind working: A house with a pool is too good to be true: Mommy better be okay with it. I was.
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For the next twelve years, life on Vashon was a frenetic juggling act of child rearing, housekeeping, growing a new business, nursing typical childhood ailments, and marriage counseling. I drove way too fast between client pitches, ferries, and soccer matches, and was always just a little late for everything. And then there was our weekly date night: dinner and the movies, a surefire way to keep the love alive, right?
It turns out Vashon wasn’t an escape from the rat race.
In May 1995, David and I adopted our third child, a daughter, Xing Ji. I always wanted a large family, so with Xing’s arrival the family was complete. She was almost four years old, Tyler was eleven, and Gus was seven; the three kids tipped the scalesthey outnumbered us.
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Ty was passionate about all things baseball and at that time the Seattle team was on a major roll. And Ken Griffey Jr. was the superstar. Ty had decided that he wanted to bring his new little sister a baseball cap when we went to get her in China. “Yep. A Mariner’s baseball cap. It’s something she’s going to need when she gets here. Specially if they make the World Series.” I loved his planning. He was so confident. And he was right. She wore that little hat from day one. She saw how proud it made him.
Meanwhile Gus had been studying China in Mrs. Marr’s first grade class. Perfect timing. “I’m gonna bring her a set of markers, Mom. We found out the kids in China don’t have them.” Gus was right about his gift too. Xing kept those markers handy in the little backpack we brought her, ready to draw everything and anything. Like on her own arm the day we were kept waiting in Chengdu. It was supposed to be our last stop, a dingy bureaucratic government office where her last adoption paperwork would get rubber-stamped with that all-important big red star.
I was just about to ask her to stop on drawing the self-inflicted tattoos, when the boys figured out she was drawing a watch. Her newly markered strap went all the way around her tiny wrist, with a clasp. Her watch face was a mix of Chinese characters and numbers. We all wore watches back then. And Xing would, too.
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At home during that time, it always seemed like I was in at least two places at once. When I was at the office, I was the boss with her kids always calling. At home, it was the other way around. The kids would have to wait“Quietly!”while I had the office or clients on the other end of the phone. Playing outside was the default, the norm, whenever it wasn’t raining.
Ours was the house where freedom reigned, science experiments exploded, and go-carts peeled down the long, sloped driveway with a train of neighbor kids and dogs following, screaming at minor crashes or just close calls. The kids stormed in and out of the kitchen, for supplies and props for their adventures. “Mommy, Ty wants to know if we can build a bunker up near the orchard.”
“Well… that depends pal. What does he mean by a bunker?”
“Um… just a fort, under the big tree.”
“That sounds fine, honey. Is Xingers up there with you guys?”
I was lucky to work from home a few days a week. I was often on the phone with clients or someone at the office. I didn’t notice the growing mud and dirt all over the carport, the “Oh, Mom, you won’t believe how cool it is!” It wasn’t until I saw the dirt tracks making their way into the pantry, and I find Gus grabbing cans of chili and soup.
“You guys want to come in for lunch?”
“No thanks, Mommy. We’re fine.” Gus was always very sweet like that. “We just need cans and stuff that will last us!” Before provisioning, I ask him to show me their bunker.
Gus and I walked up, across the overgrown lawn, and around my modest attempts at flowerbeds to get to the massive 100-foot Douglas fir. It’s sort of the lynch pin to our whole yard, and property. We’d just watched “The Great Escape” on a Friday Family Cuddle night, and there they were, with their dirt and sap-smudged faces. Little Charles Bronsons, little escapee-wannabes, halfway through the tunnel digging.
Little Xing and much taller Tyler, were both crouched inside a dugout almost standup height, under the fir. They had tarps spread and sleeping bags stashed. Amidst the roots and dirt they’d carved out shelves for their supplies, which already had small boxes of juice and packages of Goldfish. Their pickaxes, tools and sweatshirts were scattered, with dirt piled, spread and tracked in every direction. Of course, I was proud of them. There was nothing my kids couldn’t pull off. Like me, they seemed intent on making life as adventurous as possible. Plus, now we had one of those survivalist getawaysjust in case we ever needed it.
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It’s not like I wanted out. I was busy raising the kids and running the business. I had jettisoned my job and was back to building our film production company, Merwin Creative. It was rocking, and I was riding the roller coaster. I had the distinguished honor of being the only mom around who’d brushed Bill Gate’s hair, or escorted him to the restroom. Other moms made grilled cheese sandwiches or baked cookies without burning them. Me, I had other attributes.
As part of the effort to market this new fledgling software company, we got to fly all over the world and film people like Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs, Andy Groves, Julia Roberts. We met Japanese squid fishermen giving prayers in their ancient shrines, and visited orphanages in Calcutta. We’d go on helicopter shoots over Hong Kong and Stockholm, or shoot on historic wooden schooners, on Wall Street, or Carnaby Street. Sometimes we even shot in Panavision, for God’s sake hiring symphonic composers and feature film crews.
Truth is, I didn’t get to (or want to) go on many of the cool shoots. As director, David went. I stayed home, ran the business, and raised the kids. I didn’t mind. It was a respite from the pace of our togetherness. Instead, I stayed back and wrote about stuff that I increasingly didn’t believe in or have a clue, or care, what it was about.
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Clients hired us for thinking outside of the box. That was easy. I didn’t know there was a box. So we impressed the corporate world with our wacky, new solutions. It’s almost a no-brainer to look creative to folks who aren’t. But honestly, who was I impressing? The work began to have no meaning for me. We were working for Corporate America. Coming from my left-wing family, and Berkeley in the 60s, that wasn’t something to brag about. Working for big business was never something a good Unitarian/quasi-socialist hippy chick, raised on farms and schooled on communes and backpacking trails, ever wanted to do.
It’s easy to say I had it all. It was a good lifealbeit over the top, and spilling out over the edges. Racing back and forth between building bunkers, car camping, sand-covered full moon beach potlucks, ferrying and scurrying between worlds: the downtown Seattle office, and our sweet Vashon Island and home.
Somehow, because of, or despite, or in addition to all that, I started to dream of a raft to sail away on. I kept thinking about a real finca to escape to. None of the business and technology, or the importance that folks attached to it, made any sense to me. I wanted something that did make sense: something tangible, or at least a plan.
Table of ContentsContents
Guide to Key Characters
1. Livin’ the Dream
2. Hatching the Plan
3. Exploring the New World
4. Finding New Dawn
5. On our Own
6. A Month of Firsts
7. At the Helm
8. Happy Travelin’
9. The Losing End
12. Meanwhile Back at La Finca
13. On the Job Life Lessons
15. Chaos of Construction
16. Another Day in Paradise
17. No Stopping this Carnival
18. Smooth Sailing
19. When Alice Comes to Visit
20. Being Here Now, Finally
21. The Winter Things Couldn’t Get Right
22. How & ¿por qué?