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, September 09, 2006

Good company

This evening as I walked across the suspension bridge to dinner, the rose-like scent of Zygia blossoms filled the air. The first few stars came out between clouds, and up ahead the full moon was rising out of the jungle, yellow and enormous. Harvest moon, or is that the next one? I feel unmoored from the seasons here. In the middle of the bridge I stopped for a few minutes and turned off my headlamp. The sky overhead was a deep backlit ultramarine, reflected in the water, and I was suddenly transported to a night almost ten years ago when I stood on a very different bridge: an old stone arch over a slow river in St. Cloud, at the edge of Paris. There, too, sky and water were the same indescribable shade.

“It’s l’heure bleu,” my sister Lucy said. “The blue hour.”

Lucy is my oldest friend. She was the one who translated my wants and needs to our parents when I was a baby, so effectively that I really didn’t start speaking until I was almost two. She’s been my companion on adventures ever since I could walk. We’ve had some good ones. One winter night when I was six and she was nine, we decided to run away from home. I think the motivation was a new, draconian put-away-your-toys-when-you’re-done-with-them policy. We packed a sled with cookies and our favorite stuffed animals, and we took off for the hills under the guise of a routine trip to the outhouse.

About halfway across the yard, I said, “Lucy, I’m going to miss Mommy.”

She said, “we can always come back and visit.”

At the far side of the yard, where the cedar branches hung thickly at the edge of the woods, I said, “Lucy, what if a bear decides to sit on us to stay warm?”

I’m still not sure where that idea came from. In any case, that settled the matter; we went back to the warm kitchen and sat by the woodstove, planning other escapes. For the most part, they’ve turned out much more successful. We survived a high school exchange trip to Ecuador, a seat-of-the-pants adventure in Peru, and more recently, hiking the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia and back again (the book’s in proof and will be available soon—stay tuned!) Our latest adventure: she spent two weeks with me here in Costa Rica.

Lucy got to see some of my favorite things at La Selva: blue morpho butterflies flickering between the trees like cut-out pieces of sky; the way the afternoon thunderstorms roll down like freight trains out of the mountains; the machacas in the river (cousins to piranhas) making the water boil for scraps of fruit. The best wildlife sighting was a crowned basilisk demonstrating how the species got the nickname “Jesus Christ lizards.” It fell out of a tree over the river, landed on its feet, and ran at least five meters along the surface of the water to shore. Aside from the natural world, we also enjoyed a night of drinking and dancing at La Y Griega, and a rip-roaring farewell party for a few researchers. Lucy helped me out in the field, writing ID tags for tree seedlings while I measured heights and identified the species. She’s an ideal field assistant—she never once complained about the heat, the bugs, the mud, or even the LOC. And she’s lots of fun to be around. She laughs at even my lamest jokes.

Having my sister here was a great excuse to take a vacation. For the last five days of her visit, we went down to Cahuita, a little beach town on the Carribean coast. It’s right next to a national park with some lovely coral reefs. The snorkeling is phenomenal. We saw live corals surrounded by halos of brightly colored fish. Little wrasses and damselfish swarmed as thickly as mosquitoes around the head of a researcher in the rainforest, and larger surgeonfish and parrotfish darted about. Occasionally we saw moray eels poking out of crevices, and once a mottled brown sculpin-like fish that, when startled, unfolded giant rippling fan-shaped fins with iridescent blue spots. The most impressive denizens of the reef were the nurse sharks. They’re pretty small, perhaps a meter and a half at the largest, and a local explained to us that they’re harmless; their mouths are tucked away on the underside and they go around the reef sucking up crustaceans. (“Como aspiradora,” he said. Like a vacuum cleaner.) Still, my heart gave a little jump each time one turned towards me. Something about the way they move just screams predator.

Lucy was here for two whole weeks, but the time seemed much shorter. It’s difficult to think that the time we spend together will only become more limited as the years go by. Thank goodness for Skype! I’m hoping that our little sister Alice will visit here someday. I’m not sure it’s her kind of place, though. She’s not fond of spiders. The large fuzzy gray one that came running out of the toilet paper dispenser this morning would probably have freaked her out. (In all fairness, I must admit that I myself let out a small shriek.)


At 8:22 PM, Blogger avocadoinparadise said...

It sounds like a great adventure and a lovely place. If only grad school in psychology could be that exciting!


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