Someone Else's Sky
I think I am somewhere over Mexico. The roads look scrubby and sinuous, they seem to curl to a stop with nothing visible at their loopy ends (at least from twenty thousand feet). I suppose there must be something hidden in the trees: bunkers or shanties, the simplified life of some unknown saint. I cannot tell. I may just be romanticizing poverty or being overtly and sadly superior in my overflying jet. I know the landscape does not have the green of jungle greenery. I don’t think that blooms full below you until southern Yucatan or Belize. And the heights and proportions are distorted here. It looks a bit dusty overall. I know I am too high to see donkeys and dogs, though I still worry about the dogs. I find I am a dog worrier, even at altitude.
Over an ocean and a sea in this one four hour flight, the differences I note between the waters of the Caribbean and the waters of the Pacific are striking. I pass over both as I angle down towards Central America. The Caribbean is all turquoise and white, reef etchings and barriers around glassy water that looks like it would take you so, so softly from a wing dive, a quick swan launch out the plane’s emergency door. The Pacific on the other hand is inscrutably green and murky. Islands rise up unceremoniously. The water is unfathomable in what truly must be the original sense of the word. Fathom, I find, is from the Old English word for ‘outstretched arms’. I can picture rope lengths to rope lengths, hand-to-hand breadths of the man on deck sounding the depths. A dive into the Pacific and you are lost forever, no one knowing where you went. Dive the Caribbean and at least the fish that polish your bones will be rainbow colored, dainty-lipped dancers rolling in the blue surf while they redefine your femurs. At least the sunlight will play one day over your discarded osteogenic knick-knacks, the sun and coral welding you slowly to the life-giving reef.
Airports. The word in the last ten years has new connotations for us all. And, once again, I find the world’s airports away from our own country less condescending and more smile prone than ours. We seem to be holding a long grudge against anyone who wants to come or go even briefly through our Estados Unitos. I am not sure it is all from the towers anymore. Maybe we were just surly all along. In Costa Rica they actually appear glad to see you. They actually say ‘welcome to our country.’ No one in Houston tries that sentence anymore. The looks more approximating ‘what do you want here?’ You would have to be demonic appearing indeed to get your luggage inspected in Costa Rica. In Houston they lay out the occasional Grandmother and strip her down to her undies.
I must say though, despite the friendliness, it can be mayhem outside, however, at these Spanish-speaking airports. And, it is once again in the airport exits at friendly San Jose, everyone scurrying to take some of the newly arrived travel dollars. Surely though, as always, we do want these Central Americans to think that having the world come to them is a good thing. We want busy here, busy all the time, even if it is mostly with half-crazed Americans. One wants to write in the customs form block under reason for visit: “To see what you have saved.”
A man holds a handwritten sign with my name on it. And astoundingly, it appears to be spelled correctly. My friends try to funnel in the same direction. There can be too many people wanting to take your bags at once in these places. It all looks somewhat comical with all the shouting and waving until we suddenly stream away towards the hollow and dark of the quieter parking garage. The head count is right plus a driver and one luggage hauling stranger.
The driver says, “He does not work for me.”
“I know,” I say, both nodding and shaking my head. The man is truly hauling some luggage though. It is the work he makes for himself. And out there among the local luggage grabbers, it is heavy competition. Perhaps the few dollars he makes from us will feed some children and a dog or two as well as this fast and wiry man on the go.
Having been through driving experiences in major metropolitan areas in Central America before and specifically in the mayhem of San Jose, we are staying west of town this time in the valley. One learns, despite one’s self sometimes. We drive away from the city which lies mostly east of the airport. We have one van for all of us with a window-obscuring luggage stack in the back. As they say: we don’t need to see where we have been anyway. The valley seems a patchwork of both active development and abandoned development. Here they seem to stop sometimes after they have created some partial concrete structures and just say, no, that was a bad idea. Let’s move on. "Just leave that shit there." There are plantations for banana and shaded coffee, cattle ranges, big homes and rickety homes, narrow roads and pop-up fruit stands with food items, as always, that I sometimes cannot identify at high speed. Sometimes I can’t even identify them in hand if I stop to check. Everyone in the van tries to shoot random pics out the windows with their various cameras. Everyone tries to see birds and flowering trees. Necks and binoculars whip and fly. But quickly we arrive at Norma’s.
The gate to our first respite, our overnight destination, appears not only locked but chained and bolted. We can see inside the ten acre grounds of the villas but car horns and whoops don’t seem to draw anyone’s attention. A small brown dog comes out to give us a look-over and decides we are all right. He may be in charge but he has no key. He slips in and out by some method we can admire and envy but that is likely useless to us. We can hear our cell phone calls ringing somewhere inside. The driver goes to talk to the nearby pharmacist. Someone talks to a neighbor. But alas, eventually, after much discussion, I just go over the tall and very pointy fence like a thief and walk back among palm trees and a deeply blue but very empty swimming pool, past a radio playing 70s American rock, Journey or Boston I believe, to find some men trimming trees.
“Hallooo,” I say, trying to look non-threatening after my fence intrusion. They look surprised to see me and I am prepared to make some bad efforts at Spanish but the young man in the front speaks English with a New York accent. He is just in from Long Island for the summer season and he knows not where his grandmother is (the absent woman in charge), nor who we are but we get to come in anyway. It is the off season and we have the place to ourselves.
There are several Yellow-naped Parrots in an enclosure. They are heard before seen. And they have quite a bit of loud Spanish in their vocabularies along with whoops and the noises of, say, construction workers on a taunting street line. It sounds like a birthday party for a jackhammer crew. They make you laugh in their exuberance. Occasionally they shout Normm-aaaaa. Which sounds quite a bit like Norr-mannn and it appears it takes a bit of training before Norm stops looking up in response each time. The birds overlook the empty pool, which is being repainted a sky blue over its whole inverted belly. The tools of the painter are sitting nearby. The painter may be sleeping under mangrove fruit. Tropical trees bend over the pool and seem to be trading dove species among themselves.
Out on the lawn which is shaded by many fruit trees, the fruit is truly trying to take over. Mangos of many colors are scattered like someone has kicked over the local purple grenade stash. Now and then a new mango comes down with a thud. One walks carefully beneath these booby-trap trees. Butterflies weave low underneath from fruit to fruit. They are mainly varieties of Satyr and their kin. Some are large and colorful. All of them are camera stealthy. Our Long Island caretaker bemoans the great fruit fall. The mower, which he must personally man, apparently suffers under the whacking task even after he has meticulously tried to pick up as much fruit as he can before powering up and plowing in. This great shower of fruit only lasts this next few weeks but it is, from our perspective, presently a great sweet hailstorm. Must be like mowing cannonballs. We hear the straining and banging process going on several times during our stay that day.
The grounds slope down past another pool and some arbors of flowers towards more fruit trees and another separate grassy area overseen by a great expanding tree of unknown species (to us anyway). We find one of the local wren species here vocalizing. And though we may have thought the caged parrots were exuberant, these Rufous-napes, Campylorhynchus rufinucha are gunning for vocal dominance. Big wrens, seven inches long, they dwarf our home nesting Carolinas. Garrigues and Dean, in their fine Birds of Costa Rica, say, “pairs and family members call back and forth with a potpourri of both musical and grating notes.” I will let you judge for yourself. Here. While they speak, they fan their tails sitting side by side and they swish back and forth with their beaks agape, not necessarily in perfect syncopation. We find their basket nests in several palms near the main house on the grounds. They are with us for the whole visit that day and the next morning. One wants to take these birds home with you.
At late dark, early the next morning, I am awake and I dress quietly and walk carefully down the hill to see what I can hear. I laugh to find Bo and Eric already out and listening ahead of me. Eric has seen the local Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl coming to the streetlights to take bugs. We found the Pygmy pair out in the sun the day before, being scolded by virtually everything including the loud proud local wrens. Small, long tailed owls, these diurnal birds are always a treat. In the great spread of the unknown tree we also hear Tropical Screech-Owls. A pair is calling back and forth. And we see them flying over into the denser treeline and staring back at us nervously from their dark shelters. We will see no owls anywhere else on the trip except here at Norma’s in the valley.
At the poolside tables Norma and her grandson have dark Costa Rican coffee brewed and one of the groundsmen has gone out and harvested several mango varieties. They are easily the finest tasting mangos I have ever eaten and are mixed in with fresh pineapple and papaya. Norma says she has six varieties of mango. They all become ripe at once in the storm of fruit that is happening right now. She tries to give anyone and everyone that comes by this time of year free bags of fruit. Wrens and parrots and several different dove species provide the audio track to the fruit and coffee. It is easy to see why this long valley west of the city is slowly filling up with people.
The road to the mountains is initially just a narrow highway through tropical landscape. A city or two rises up, often in sweeping valleys. They are the usual sprawling Costa Rican towns with no tall buildings. We ask Freddy our driver for the names each time we pass one. San Ramon. Esparza. The places are bunkered down here, as in most Costa Rican locales, against intermittent earthquakes. They are low towns, lego-blocked across hills, our human need for breathing room pressing out into the trees and chewing up more of the world. It is, I suppose, like our own towns, only we are likely worse. We certainly cannot be impartial judges. Our worldwide needs and neediness, if not our actual exacting physical proximity are responsible. And we, the northerners, are running out of room, maybe faster than they are. They just have more to lose per square mile, hell, per square meter, than we do.
We cross some fine looking rivers and vistas that look across to low hills. Rio Barranca, Rio Aranjuez. I am glad I am not driving. Eventually we can see the Pacific off in the distance as we track into the narrower flatter part of the Pacific slope before turning east and north towards elevation. The Pan American highway running so close to the Pacific on the map, it looks like we should have seen the rumple of the city of Puntarenas down by the sea. We stop for lunch at a covered restaurant with this Pacific shimmer in the distance. It is a drier place and far more open than in the valley of mangoes. Cows graze nearby. There are sparrows. And the finest sopa negra I have ever eaten. An egg which looks like it was drop-cooked within the hot soup floats in the purple center of it. This and some Costa Rican beer can sustain a man, I think: bread, soup, beer and the shimmering sea.
The road north goes over to gravel and stone, climbing from the Pacific valley toward the central heights of the country. Costa Rica is dotted along its spine with volcanoes, with some of the highest peaks rising into the ten thousand to twelve thousand foot range. Many of the country’s preserved areas are along this spine, partly because they are beautiful, and partly, I sense, because it would have taken a monumental effort to tame them. The valleys and coastal forests were much easier. The cloud forest here ahead of us, lies in the five to seven thousand foot range. It is a long and winding road there, especially for a van full of eight adults, the engine straining at the great weight in the curves and switchbacks. I don’t think these transport vans are even eight-cylindered. Behind us the Gulf of Nicoya recedes, showing itself at the broader backsweeps between the deeper and deeper falloffs to rivers and the green netherworld. Coffee plantations still cut the slopes here, and some of them seem miraculous. What horse or foot path allows the beans to be taken? Does one just harvest the falloff beans at the bottom of the ravines? The dirt roads wander through countryside that does not look even walkable. Atop some brave horse, one would know fear. Come off your mount and you will not stop for a hundred rocky feet or more. And after a heavy rain, what is left of such roads?
High inside steaming treesmoke and low cloud belly, we come to the town of Santa Elena. Apparently it is the south and western gateway to this huge forest reserve. Reportedly 60 or 70 thousand visitors come to this town in the best season. It seems impossible for this small town at first glance. We are in the slightly off season, so things are not as booming. But still, people are certainly on the streets and looking busy. Restaurants and adventure stalls sit amid grocery stores and churches. The town is really only 50 or so years old, the Quakers being the initiators of the invasion. The Quaker church is still active in town.
We are staying at the spur road that leads up to the reserve east of town, so we push right on in and then out of town and up the hills, further pulling on our miraculous mule of an engine some more until we make a sharp right into the Trapp Hotel parking area. Somehow, I forgot exactly how, the people involved with the place are related to the von Trapp’s in The Sound of Music. Surely a story as complicated as how the Quakers got here first. We are just glad to get our rumps out of the jump seats and stand up. And immediately, even from the parking lot, the sound of Bellbirds rings up the valley. I could describe the vocalizations of this bird but in this electrically advanced world, hell, here it is. Three-wattled Bellbird. This striking sound can carry for miles, especially that extremely loud bonking noise. We have come here during breeding season specifically for this sound and for several other breeding bird sounds. It risks a bit more rain, but, hey, here are birds making metal noises in lush valleys.
We find that the grounds have its pet population of House Wrens and Blue-and-white Swallows, which were also at Norma’s. The swallows seem fond of the open ended beams used for roof construction in this country. They shoot at high speed into these small tubular metal openings, wherein baby swallow noises then commence. Anywhere there are flowers, hummers are coming and going. Bo brought his own feeder and he hangs it outside his back deck. While we are there he gets a Violet Sabrewing that decides it is his feeder and his feeder alone. No one argues with a 7 inch male hummingbird. The big male astounds anyone who sees it over and over.
The greatest local hotel denizen is however a pair of Blue-crowned Motmots. They stay near the grounds of the hotel and the nearby house. Both areas have open yards and lights that attract insects. The Motmots are stunners even in shaded jungle, but these hotel birds are perching out on the streetlight posts and they are coming down to the exposed insects out on the grasses right here at our feet. They are parrot sized things with racket tails that I had heard they modify themselves by plucking out the preterminal tail edges to make a gap and a trailing orb. I discover from varied sources that this is not the truth. Apparently the tails either develop with a weakened section at the tip that wears away easily or they do not. Several of the subspecies of the Rufous Motmot and the Broad-billed Motmot have tails that are entire. And you have no idea how the thought that some of the subspecies (while I was entranced by the mistruth that they pluck the tails themselves) were genetically programmed somehow by the DNA code to tear out only the exact sections of the tail for their own defined birdkind, you have no idea how this hypnotized me. Anyway, they are quite the neighbors while we are mountain bound. And surely I thought over and over, that the Inka pretenders-to-the-Gods must have adorned their drunken selves with those blue green wonder-feathers?
I spend quite a bit of time staring at these birds. We find their burrows in the roadside walls of dirt and you can actually see the marks where the twin terminal retrices scrape grooves on their way in and out of the entrances. What in the hell do you do with that tail in there? I want for a light, a colonoscope to peer inside the curled up darkness of a Motmot burrow. I am amazed to find later in the stunning Birds of Northern South America that there are 9 subspecies of this bird. One that lives only on the islands off the coast of Venezuela: Trinidad and Tobago. Robin Restall takes a whole page to show all the Blue-crowned Motmot varieties. He sneaks the tiny Tody Motmot onto the upper left side of the page. The Highland Motmot, Momotus aequatorialis, of the Andes is pulled out for a separate species. And looking at Mr. Restall’s images this seems absurd. (I am going to have to listen to the various recordings for myself.) Three of the subspecies occur in Ecuador on top of the mountains and on each side of the Andes. I shake my head.
We waste little time in getting out and up the road. It is the only road up to this section of the cloud forest. A big yellow school bus runs a route all day from town and back. The first time we see it we are astounded to find it is printed down its battered sides with the label: Pulaski County Special School District. It is a leftover bus from the Little Rock, Arkansas area, made at the Ward bus factory in Conway the very town where I live. How it arrived here must be quite a story. It looks like it has prospered (though this may be a prouder verb than it deserves at this stage of its life) miles and miles beyond its expected lifetime, grinding up and down the hill for about 3 dollars a ride. The Ward Company should put this yellow beast in its ad brochures. Walking its route, I expect to see random engine fragments shed in the ditches but I find none. There is very little trash on the road of any kind.
The road goes steadily uphill and makes a broad left turn that falls off right into a wild valley of forest. Somewhere on the far side, always, are the Bellbird calls but no sign of the big bright singers. The valley is their echo chamber. Along the road itself other singers abound. Mostly of the thrush relations that reside here: the happy bounciness of the Slaty-backed Nightingale Thrush and the first indescribable metal music of the Solitaires. The Solitaires being the endemic thrush singers that make this local mountain range unique sonically along with these Bellbirds. I am not sure we were ever out of range of the singing of this Solitaire once we walked up this road and approached the true cloud forest. Not known among the general public like the rockstar Quetzal’s but still quite the musical stars of this area. Where the road swings left the wind funnels downhill and blows off my hat just about every time I walk the route. At first I am annoyed and then I just laugh and chase it down, again and again.
The entrance to the cloud forest is like a wonderland. The road comes to an end here. The bus has delivered many others to this final destination. A path in the woods to the left leads into zinging hummer trails. The blur and Doppler whizzes of hummers at high speed seem to point into this place in the trees. And indeed, up the steps is hummer heaven. Feeders dangle from wires strung from tree to tree at the boundaries of a deck. You can sit and stare. You can drink coffee from the café hidden in the trees. And though Central America is just another step toward the true hummer heaven of South America, there are amazing animals buzzing with high energy here.
I have tried to describe before what sitting among hummers is like to those who have not sat among hummers. They are fairy beasts anyway, delusions. The constraints of reality have been pressed by these extraordinary beings that rose up from among the already extraordinary ‘birds’. I have been at feeder arrays in the mountains of Arizona and in the woods of central Panama and now the mountains of Costa Rica and the sense is the same: how could these things be? Tiny rocketship saurians, the descendant of the brontosaur made into apostrophes of motion, it is the stuff of imaginings, Arthur-C-Clarkian when Arthur was stinking of red, red wine. What I know is, they seem to be joyously alive, and the joy is intoxicating when you try to track the traces of their vibrant tears in the local fabric of space. They were not made for us. I always feel I am lucky to be among them.
Sapphires and Gems, mountain-gems even. Those intricate feathers make tricks of light in their turnings. ‘What a little box of jewels’ a Portuguese friend said about one. Well, exactly. And box of jewels sounds so much lovelier in Portuguese (cah-ee-sha jee joh-ee-ahh). As we grow older on this globe, there are fewer things that make us gawk and gape. Ladies and gentleman, I give you one: the hummer. The Green-crowned Brilliants, which I did not expect to be that amazed by, amazed me. Artists try, they truly do, but still, things like the fresh sunflower and the throat of a Brilliant defies them in the end. The throat of the Brilliant made me glad to have functioning eyes. The belly of the Sapphire, the bend in the wing of the Coppery Emerald, like the heart of a new Amaryllis, they will make you wonder about a God like it is a new question. Who could paint these but some great immortal who made protons and pollen, snowdrops and Penelope Cruz? Hummers make you foolish that you ever wasted a day. Or a doubt. Or a doubtful day.
Into the forest, you are acutely sensitive to all sound and color. It is immersion. It is the world that is not your world. Everything that happens seems acutely given, sharply thrown up to the eye or ear. The flitting Slate-throated Redstarts are likely commonplace to a guide or someone smoking outside the coffee shop on their break. But to me they are glitter. Bellbirds ring. Quetzals make their quirky clucking family chatter somewhere up in the canopy. They form the question these tropical places always form: why am I not always here? But is that not what we used to say of home?
Everything drips. Everything seems alive on top of something else that is alive. It is hard to describe all the motions along and over the trails. But a few, anyway. On a higher rocky trail, Bo and Eric and I are moving along just another lovely section of broken sunlight and birds. Every now and then there is a view into sky and Pacific slope. Everyone is always attentive except when we are trying to specifically orient our feet. And then suddenly in a patch of light just ahead of us a bird walks out. It is a large bird and it is walking one foot in front of the other right on the trail. And as it hits the direct light we all freeze. I say something in a whisper but both of my trail partners are already frozen themselves and looking through optics at a large Quail-Dove. These are birds in the genus Geotrygon and they are much more striking again than artist’s capabilities. It is making soft sounds like coo-purrs and it has noticed us from fifteen feet. It is greens and pinks and creams and coppers. It is a foot long. It makes a pigeon seem pedestrian, more pedestrian than we already thought. This is a mountain dwelling species and it is endemic to the mountains of Costa Rica and Panama. And even now, its name Buff-fronted Quail-Dove brings up the image again. And it is something I keep.
The Children’s Eternal forest is named so seriously for a place that is so simple. And claiming eternity for any section of wild in Central America is to be too rosy in the far-gazing glasses for me. It is off the road and marked with a small sign. Much less fuss and bustle than the sometimes hopping Cloud Forest preserve up the road. You have to walk towards town, downhill from our hotel to get to it. A single woman greets you at the small visitor center, conservative compared to the circle of buildings up the hill. She seems to fumble for maps and her glasses and for the methods of initiation into the place. She has a butterfly garden that is aflutter with butterflies. It is drier and closer to the earth than the Monte Verde reserve. Bellbirds ring like they seem to everywhere. And we all split and wander into different trails. Bo and I heading one way, Cheryl and Norm and Eric another. The sounds seem closer and the shade seems less layered somehow. And Bo and I are soon in the sonic realm of some froggy noises. A nasal burst that we know from study and from hope. There are Manakin leks nearby.
Manakins are those mini fruit eaters that are known for their competitive male displays. They gather in certain areas and males pick their favorite branches or clean up a patch of forest floor or both for dancing. Males do the displaying and the mating, and females do all the rest. Garrigues says the displays range from the subtle to the sublime. Like little Birds-of-Paradise. This Long-tailed Manakin in the Children’s Forest is making the froggy noise. Kind of a wahhh note. And every now and then it also makes a three whistled call that sounds for all the world like BEAU-ti-fullll. It is a lovely noise. And we quickly find a male just off the trail. They are visually remarkable to say the least: that sky blue back patch set off in black and then topped off with the red cap. We stop and search for every one we hear. I never tire of hearing the Beau-ti-full call and I slowly learn to imitate it for my own pleasure.
Every evening back at the hotel the wind howls up the valley toward the Cloud Forest. Apparently unusual winds in May but there it was. The staff at the hotel all speak Spanish and partial English. They know the important stuff and at the bar you can just point or say pineapple or orange and whatever firewater you would like with it. They use fresh fruits to make their fruity drinks and their Pina Coladas with freshly ground pineapple are just delicious. The local Mangos are still amazing. And the avocados taste sugared they are so sweet. You can also just say ‘Imperial’, which is the local beer and a frosted one is handed over and it is repeatedly delicious. One of the rotating girls at the bar (they all live down the hill in town) always asks ‘so, have you been watching beerds?’ It made me laugh everytime when I nodded that, yes, indeed, I had. We also introduced Eric to the local cane sugar alcohol called Cacique and that is a whole story unto itself.
On the NW side of town is another patch of forest preserved. It requires a good ride across town and up a rough road to access. But they have their own visitor center and trails carved out into the wet woods as well. It is raining for the morning so things drip more than they usually drip. And one of the guides has rescued a Kite from the nearby road. He has it sitting quietly in a bathroom and we go to gaze at it. This is a bird that in flight is another one of those fliers that makes the act look effortless. Scissor streamer tails and offset blacks and whites, it is an aerodynamic wonder. When there are fifty known worlds in the universe, one will still want to come as a tourist to this one for this Kite. It is sitting on the edge of a box, looking perhaps slightly dejected, and a bit soggy. Still, it suggests speed anyway, suggests the sheering edges of treetop slashings. The talons make small punctures in the cardboard. It turns slightly to look at us, making us feel even more like groundlings than we already are. And then we leave it to its rest. We never heard what became of it.
On the last day there, I walk into a trail to the waterfall alone. There seems to be only one waterfall locally, or perhaps only one accessible to the casual walker, the man who is sans machete. The rest perhaps the locals save for themselves. I would. But I like to soak up the sounds of a place before I leave and so I head there: to the singular waterfall offering. It is my effort to try and get these far off places deep in the ear, so they have a chance of staying, mapped out somewhere on what headspace I have left. I am thinking lately I may need a defrag. I worry sometimes my hard drive is too cluttered with the noises of my normal life. Though who can specify what is erased? I will risk it for Quetzal chatter or the new gurgle of falling water. One must take risks. I touch at the ferns and the flora that play tactile memory games with the fingers. The little Three-striped Warblers flit fearlessly along the trail near me. I think with some patience, they would sit on my fingers. I splay out my fingers hopefully. Several times they almost feather my earlobes going by. At one stop, the otherworldly sound of a Prong-billed Barbet pair rings out up the trail. These male and female birds sit very close bird-on-bird, the pair I saw seemed to lean towards each other and press slightly in the leaning before they made the sound that rang out as if from one bird. It is a thing to know, a thing to hear. It is another thing unlikely to leave me. Somewhere in the circuitries, the barbets are looped into some kind of permanence. Or the only kind of permanence I can know. Which, indeed, is none at all.
I make a low curve around the next slope and a large flat area stretches to my left before dropping towards the stream. A good place for something to walk, I think, and as I think it, there is a roar and a squeal and the plants part like some movie set trick suggesting the beast on the run. The form of a Peccary zips off into silence. The woods have no echo. Everything is now or nothing. I guess this is always true, but it seems more defined here. My trail, just after this, ends at the falling water. It is clear, as expected. The pool is rimmed with signs of past deluge though. Occasionally, the rainforest runoff must raise hell, breaking like Armageddon through this one stream bed. It is all fifty feet below me. So never has it risen to take the ferns up here in a rush. We are at safety level. If there is such a thing. I passed no one on the way in. And I can hear nothing back towards the trailheads and the center of all the rainforest visitation activities. It is the ambient jungle in morning.
On the way back, I watch for Peccary motion again. Nothing seems to hide now where everything hid before. The warblers have wandered. Birds can leave you behind or they can award you a visitation. Either way, you are different in the event. Coming at me down the trail, though, I see a great bounciness that seems to weave through the light drizzle that has started to fall. It loops and zips up to stop right beside me on the mosses. It is one of the great Owl Butterflies. Wingspreads like bats, the last time I came to Costa Rica, one flew up and landed next to me in a driving rain and I casually reached over and took its folded wings between my fingers. I reach over this time and take this one as well. I can feel the muscular wings trying to separate enough to part my fingertips. They almost do it too. The large body then seems to surrender while the wings try so hard to keep on going. The huge eyespots stare at me. It seems unfair and cumbersome to try and take its picture. It seems better to just stare at it and release it which is exactly what I do. If butterfly brains could think, how complex its feelings: doomed and then saved? But no, unlikely. I imagine it is just flap flap flap, nectar nectar nectar, sex sex sex, eggs eggs eggs and then darkness without all the pondering of consequences and time. Butterflies do not have melancholy. Their lives are strictly determined on making or not making more and more butterflies. It is the age old separation: flight without the burden of melancholy, or grounded with the honed skill of regret.
In Costa Rica, my hat blows off on the road back from the forest. The last time; the first time, it made me laugh again. At my own foolishness or the vagaries of memory, I am not sure. But it is laughter none-the-less. And it got me back up the hill, once more, to the rest of my life.
While I try to finish this piece, Hawking suddenly says there is no God. He just puts it out there from his wheelchair. He says we don’t need one. And I waver with him. Everything arose in its perfect rules; gravity is the central God he says. And when I watch the hummers clinging to purple flower stalks outside my window in Costa Rica, outside my window in Arkansas, well, I waver. Rain and wind blows them like they have no weight. They cling and feed on anyway. Who does have weight really against the best winds? NASA also reports they have found 700 more stars with planets around them. These whirling systems, apparently, are as thick as thieves. The non-God chaos-tamer’s book throws out planetary systems like it was sowing hope. But then that would not be the rulebook doing that would it? I myself hope that many or, really, just one more world, makes Motmots. Don’t you know? Maybe Motmots that do fashion their own tails for the dance? Dash-dot-dash flourishes for the distant lady Motmots. Give me the Golden-crowned Motmots some hundred light years off or the Zebra-bellied Motmot on star MG567509. Did gravity, perhaps, make one place without a hand that tears things down? Surely out there are more continents banging out mountains into someone else’s sky? With or without eyes to see them? Which way to wish? I cannot know. But I am thankful in the choosing. The indecisive life is far better than, well, the self-assured one. Give me the friends whose hats blow off now and then while they walk towards birds. Give me the ones that stand on swinging bridges staring into leaves, like it is very, very important. I will take them to the end, wherever that is. We could use another great world out there that is damn far away. A world that, if nothing else, says definitively: we are not the perfect ones.
Don’t you think?