West of the Fields

A tropical ecologist reporting from the field. Musings on life and art, botfly extractions, tropical plant identification, beer, parrots, machetes. Etc.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Drippy Halloween

Halloween in the jungle. What could be better? Halloween in the jungle with homemade brownies and mixed drinks, that's what. Since the actual holiday fell on a Monday, nominally a work day for most of us, we celebrated on Saturday night. Maike and Bess (armed with the world's ugliest cocktail dress) decided to go as the British post-punk sensations Bauhaus. I think the bat ornament had something to do with their decision (see the guy on the far right, or Maike's duct-tape rendition thereof). Maike is a research assistant for a German professor who's studying bat behavior.

As for me—well, it was five minutes before the party was supposed to start, and I still had no idea how to put a costume together. As I walked from the dining hall back to my cabina, I mulled over my usual costumes of the past: from age six to ten, a cat, in a black leotard, a headband with ears, and a tail my mother made out of yarn. No leotard, no ears, no tail. Thereafter, when I felt like dressing up, a gypsy, in layers of multi-colored skirts and lots of costume jewelry. On one memorable occasion, Darth Maul. OK, I have to admit, Star Wars has been kind of a theme. Last year, in another desperation costume, I went as Pricess Leia—my hair was long enough to do the earmuff style, so all I needed was some clunky jewelry and a little white dress. (When I was very young, five or so, and all the neighborhood kids played Star Wars, I always wanted to be the princess. But that role went to my older sister Lucy, much prettier and better suited to being a princess, while I was relegated to the part of R2-D2. I probably did a decent job at it, trundling around after all the older kids and complaining.) But this Halloween—a new haircut precluded the Princess Leia fallback plan…

Three minutes before the party was supposed to get going, as I walked up the path to my cabina, several interesting things caught my eye. The first was a newly unfolded leaf of Carludovica sulcata (Cyclanthaceae, for the plant geeks among my readers; check it out at the La Selva Digital Flora page). Its four-part leaf was folded with tiny ridges like a fan, and it made a striking design in the light of my headlamp. The second thing that caught my eye was a giant leaf of Philodendron radiatum (Araceae) that had been chewed by leaf cutter ants (Atta sp.; last Latin name for a while, I promise), leaving only the veins. The wheels in my head began turning. In about ten minutes, using nothing more than a sarong, several hair ties, my headlamp, and two leaves, I transformed myself into Queen Amidala. It would have been better with a bit of face paint, but for a last-minute costume it really wasn't bad. The only unfortunate thing is that the philodendron leaf dripped its sap all over the back of my neck, and a slight rash is developing. (At first I thought it was the dreaded Reverse Freckle Fungus, some kind of skin fungus which has struck several of my compatriots as the rainy season kicks into high gear, producing pale spots on the neck and shoulders. But this rash seems to be going away on its own.)

On Halloween proper, Bess and I celebrated in true La Selva style—lugging all our gear into the field, getting poured on for hours, and sliding back down the muddy trail towards rice and beans, showers, and bed.


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