This past week I learned that one of my favorite teachers, Patricia Ortiz- or Pati- as we all called her- died tragically in a rock-fall accident. How can a mere blog post do justice to the life of such a remarkable woman? It can’t, but I still fill the need to write it, perhaps for it to be one of the many places where her light will inevitably collect. She is the woman in the center of this picture, hugging her son.
Was she someone I was very close to? No, but, she was someone I really appreciated and learned a lot from and had hoped to see again in my life.
Pati was one of my teachers during the time that I studied abroad in Costa Rica. None of my favorite teachers in college are from Davis. They’re all from Costa Rica because these were the teachers I actually got to know and spend time with. In fact, for much of my time there we lived with our teachers. All of them were some of the most passionate people I have ever met, and on top of that completely invested in us, their students. Because of them, Costa Rica was by far the greatest experience of my undergraduate years.
Pati in a nutshell was a teacher, a biologist, a song composer, a singer, a guitarist, a videographer, an artist (if you had not already figured that out from the latter three), an environmental activist, a visionary, a friend, and a mother. But you simply can’t put her in a nutshell, her vivacity would burst right through it.
Pati showed us that everything and all of us are inextricably connected because she herself was so connected- through her art, her community, her students, and her science.
When I think of Pati, I think of the woman who wasn’t hardened by the shell of adulthood, but instead let her childlike enthusiasm for all things living flow out of her unrestrained into the great torrent of her passion and energy.
When I think of Pati I think of how she would start explaining everything with her endearing “Osea…” I think of how she introduced us to the major plant families by having us buy tropical fruit in the markets of San Jose and then presenting them to each other in an interactive and tasty discussion. I think of how every time she would see me she would say my full name and pronounce it with a French accent.
When I think of Pati I think of the time she cut a lesson short so we could go on a once in a lifetime opportunity to swim with the sea turtles while she filmed them. I think of how she let us draw and write songs with her- all as part of and alongside our scientific investigation. Because after all art and science were never meant to be separated- Pati showed us that they are the best of friends and once joined- inseperable.
When I think of Pati, I think of her playing her guitar and singing for us under the stars on the paradisiacal beach of Isla Violines. I think of us all composing a song about Murcielago and singing it on the porch where we’d gather every morning, afternoon, and night… “Exploramos el bosque seco… en Murcielago, en Murcielago.”
When I think of Pati I think of how in love she was with her adorable son, Genaro.
I think of the time we had dinner at her house- and could see her creativity and craft reflected down to every nail and floorboard.
When I think of Pati, I think of how she made drawings of us and gave us each our own plant to care for. How she had us take turns overseeing the compost and worms of the Estacion Biologica- our home in Monteverde.
When I think of Pati I think of how we all sorted each other and our professors into the four Harry Potter houses. And how Pati so perfectly fit the role of Professor McGonagall- head of the house of Gryffindor. For two of her most outstanding qualities- her bravery and her passion.
When I think of Pati I remember how she took us to visit farms on Saturdays- Agroecology day hooray! A rickity van-bus would pick us about 8 o’clock and we’d all pile in to bump and roll our way up and down the dirt roads of Monteverde. She took us to meet the farmers, the animals, the crops, all the plentitude and fertility of this grand earth.
When I think of Pati I think of when we went to see her sing at a local restaurant. And how she made the children dance and filled our souls with pure delight.
When I think of Pati I think of how she made stickers out of our drawings to give to us before we left Costa Rica.
When I think of Pati, I think of her many hats, her vibrant clothes, her vibrant her. When I think of Pati, I remember how much she loved insects and how she made me love them too (though I didn’t necessarily detest them before, I definitely wasn’t aware of their magic). I think of the curiosity she inspired in me and countless others.
When I think of Pati, I’ll always remember how happy she was to see us- every single day.
When I think of Pati, I think of the guardian of the cloud forest who was as full of life as the landscapes and people she devoted her life to. She was one of those people changing the world, one small step at a time- starting with the soils and streams of her community- because she knew they flowed into everything. When I think of her I think of this John Muir quote: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” In fact, when I imagine John Muir, I can’t help but think he would be somewhat like Pati. One of those people who is so utterly and wholly enthralled by life in all its fibers. She was a fantastical firefly – spreading light and wonder to all. The Tinkerbell of the tropics, so to speak.
But then I think, how cruel to take such a life away. In my grown up shell, I find it hard to deal with. Because beneath that grown up shell, is the child who wants to cry and say its “It’s not fair, it’s not fair! It’s far too sad!” But that child is a reminder that there is another child- the one who wants to yell out in wonder at the sight of all things living and radiant- the enamored child that inhabited Pati. The child that says- let’s celebrate instead! Celebrate life!
According to a one of her friends, Pati once said “Cuando yo muera, quiero que la gente baile, que cante, que me celebre la vida. Que no se ponga a llorar, por dios!” When I die, I want people to dance, to sing, to celebrate life. That they do not cry, by god!
I am so fortunate to have been graced by her presence. The night after I learned of her death I found myself sitting next to the pond by my apartment complex writing by the light of my headlamp because it seemed the only fitting way to remember such a remarkable being. While listening to the geese, the toads, the frogs, and the other creatures of the night- singing with the great fervor of life- that relentless and admirable exuberance that will not cease despite the blows of tragedy death throws at it time and time again. It will not cease.
People will die, but what is so wonderful is that we can remember them. And there are so many ways for us to remember Pati- she’ll be on the wings of migrating moths, in the rustles of the leaf-litter, in the strings of guitars, in the flashes of fireflies, on the flippers of sea turtles, in the trickles of streams, in the dark earth and the glistening canopies, in every being she sent love and admiration too.
Pura Vida Pati- estará siempre en mi corazon! Gracias para compartir tu alma de luz. La veré cada dia en la magia de la naturaleza. Que todo le vaya bien y siempre bioluminosa…
Please let me know if I used one of your pictures (many I had saved from facebook awhile back so I don’t remember who took them)- Some are mine, but I like to give credit where credit is due!