So in my last post I discussed the tendency I have to notice less and less of my surroundings the more familiar they are to me. Where I live back home there are birds. There are trees and there are bugs and there are mosses and fungi and flowers. But for most of us, seeing the same bugs and trees and flowers everyday of our entire life means we sort of overlook them. Pine trees? Robins? Azaleas? Whatevs.
A friend of mine just sent me an email recently containing the very first issue of his new one-page newsletter “The Plant Parade.” The goal of this “guerilla botanical promotional campaign” is to educate people about local plants. You know that bush on the corner of your street that you go past everyday? I bet you don’t even know its name! I mean, really, it’s kind of rude. That bush thinks you are a total jerk, you know.
The first time I was at all motivated to learn a bit more about my natural surroundings was when I was living in a small, rural community in the middle of nowhere in Paraguay. All the people there (including little kids) knew the trees and flowers and bugs like the backs of their neighbor’s hands. I’d say like the backs of their own hands, but they actually know their neighbors’ better. In such a small town gossip is pretty much the only form of entertainment and half of the gossip is made up. You end up knowing everybody else’s business better than your own.
These neighbors of mine not only knew who was stealing who’s chickens and who’s brother was courting who’s sister and who’s cousin’s boyfriend got drunk last night – they also knew which tree stump in the middle of the woods had a bee hive living in it and which birds made which sounds and which weeds growing in your front yard could cure a stomach ache. Little kids, and I mean little, knew the names of all the birds and the trees. Realizing a three year old knows more than you do about the world around you is, well, humbling.
Here in the cloudforest of Costa Rica, however, trying to learn the names of everything around you is pretty much impossible. There are more types of trees in the Montverde area than in all of the US and Canada combined. Try starting a “guerilla botanical promotional campaign” about THAT my friends. But everything here is also so new and exciting that it’s hard not to at least try.
Here, in the form of a top 10 list, is my Costa Rican Cloudforest promotional Campaign:
(*disclaimer – I have no idea what I am talking about. Please refer to other sources for more detailed information about these species.)
10. DRAGON’S BLOOD TREE: It’s a tree that literally bleeds red if you cut into it. The sap is used medicinally to treat bug bites and intestinal issues and probably some more stuff I don’t know about.
9. STRANGLING FIG: Another tree. This one grows around the outside of another tree until the first one dies from lack of nutrients leaving this super crazy looking hollow form behind.
8. BROMELIADS: They are everywhere here. Related to the pineapple, they live up in the trees and survive from the little bit of dirt they can find there and the water that they collect when it rains. They have all kinds of bugs and frogs and things that live inside them. They’re like entire little ecosystems and they’re really pretty.
7. AERIAL ROOTS: This place is so damn fertile that trees start growing on top of trees. When they realize they aren’t in the dirt they just say whoops! and send some roots down through the canopy, sometimes for really long distances, down to the ground. It can take years for their roots to actually reach the forest floor. In the meantime they make me want to swing like Tarzan while beating my chest and hollering like a monkey.
6. MONKEYS! : We’ve seen several groups of White faced capuchin monkeys around. I saw one with a baby on her back!
5. ORCHIDS: Are amazing. There are over 500 types of orchids just in the Monteverde area! Which is crazy. There is one that blooms for only one day. One day! And I got to see a few! There is one that is super, super tiny – like half the size of a pea. I got to see that one too, but only because our guide knew where it was. I would never have noticed it on my own.
4. PARAKEETS: There is a tree down the hill from my ‘cabina’ that fills with parakeets several times a day. Parakeets apparently mate for life and this tree is like a regular pay-by-the-hour motel. There are probably about 20 pairs of parakeets, each occupying its own branch, snuggling and nuzzling and cooing and squawking. It’s super romantic.
3. COYOTES: The other morning I was walking through the woods alone on my way to breakfast and I heard a rustle in the bushes. I crept up on the sound and all of a sudden out jumped a fairly large, four-legged animal. It landed about a foot from my face and needless to say we were both scared shitless. He froze for a fraction of a second and then took off running impressively fast, so fast it was hard to tell what he looked like. I went to breakfast and told everyone about the stray dog that scared me silly. A few days later I found out that a coyote was spotted around campus the same day. So, good thing it didn’t eat me.
2. AGOUTI: There are all these crazy rodents running around campus. They are kind of cute and I think I want one as a pet. I want to take it for walks and give it hugs.
1. QUETZAL: We went on a hike in the Monteverde Reserve and were lucky enough to spot a male quetzal. Otherwise known as the resplendent quetzal. And it is. Resplendent. It is blue and green and every color in between. It has a tail like Rapunzel’s hair. (It inspires poetry.) When our guide spotted it he and everyone else got so excited that I got teary eyed. I had to turn my back so no one would see that the quetzal made me cry.
And there you have it folks. It's a beautiful place. Who wants to come visit?!?