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.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Llega la lluvia

Station fees—the cost of living, eating, and working here—are highly reduced in the months of September, October, and November. Oddly enough, so is the number of people on the station. Well, in the past few weeks I’ve had an opportunity to find out why. It’s the rainy season. It is one thing to have an intellectual grasp of that statement— yes, this is the rainforest, it rains here—and it is quite another thing to wake up to the sound of rain beating on a metal roof and fall asleep to the same sound; to work in the rain, day in and day out, seeing your skin go colorless and pruned from so much water; to watch the river turn from a placid green stream to a raging mud-colored torrent carrying small trees and the occasional dead cow. (OK, I didn’t actually see the dead cow, but I have it on good authority that there was one!) The past two days, Bess and I couldn’t even go to the field because the river was threatening to overflow its banks. The site where we work is pretty far uphill, so it wouldn’t have been underwater, but the STR runs very close to the river in places and we easily could have been stranded out at the back of the station by floodwaters. Not to mention that sketchy little creek crossing at the back of the LEP, which was well over our boots the last time we did it, and is probably a river crossing by now…

Among the various unpleasantnesses of the rainy season, there’s the propensity of fungus to sprout everywhere. I noticed that the varnish on the walls of my cabina is not nearly as glossy as it once was. I had thought it was a trick of the washed-out, rainy light, but a few nights ago I realized that parts of the walls looked fuzzy by the light if my headlamp. Through a handlens (which, like any good botany geek, I keep handy at all times), the fuzz revealed itself to be composed of cute little fungal fruiting bodies. I never knew that fungus could subsist on varnish. You learn something every day, I guess! And the walls are not the only thing that molds— I have already mentioned the Reverse Freckle Fungus. One friend has also contracted the Freckle Fungus as well; unfortunately they are not canceling each other out.

Despite the rain, the small and hardy group of researchers still at the station manages to find ways to stay entertained. As we came back from dinner last night, huddled under our umbrellas, we paused at the end of the bridge to check the water level in the river. There are three depth gauges on the bank: one graduated in meters (now underwater), one in feet (a relic from the non-metric days, also underwater), and one, further up the bank, that’s merely painted green, yellow, and then red.

“Oh dear,” Ellen said—Ellen, the diminutive, soft-spoken, unfailingly polite German bat researcher. “Now the water is on the Shit Stick!”

Indeed, the river was about a meter below the yellow zone on the pole that most of us call the “oh-shit stick” (though I think I might start using Ellen’s appelation). The flood crested somewhere in the middle of the yellow, late last night. People staying in the River Station were roused from their beds a few minutes before midnight and relocated to the tourist cabins on the far side of the river.

This morning dawned like a small miracle, almost sunny. Apparently the tropical depression that has hung around the lower part of Central America this week like a drippy white scarf is finally beginning to dissipate. Of course, today Bess is out of town, meeting her boyfriend at the airport. So here I am, entering data and doing office work on the first decent day in weeks. On Monday, when Bess is due back, another low-grade storm system is also expected. C’est la vie.

I wrote to Matt to complain about the rain. “Demasiada lluvia!” I told him. “Lluvia too,” he wrote back.

A small postscript to the fleidermausscheißegesammelnung: with some trepidation, I told Maike about the growl in the bushes. She laughed long and hard. “Oh, that! That scared me too, a few times. You know what it is? Traffic!”

I was skeptical, but sure enough, the bat house is right across the river from a curve in the highway and a reduced speed zone. In the daytime, it was perfectly obvious that the “growl” was the jake brakes of occasional banana trucks. Had I but known!


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