Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sunset

"The true purpose of education is to teach a man to carry himself triumphant to the sunset." - Liberty Hyde Bailey

As I return from my twelve day voyage of exploration, I have begun to understand what many voyagers have said before me.  Travel is indeed an opportunity to explore new places and meet new people, but it is even more an opportunity for inner exploration and growth.
The sunset metaphore is appropriate, I think.  The return home is indeed a sunset, an ending to a chapter.  There is time now for rest and reflection, and as with every sunset the promise of a bright sunrise and the dawn of a new day.

Serenity

"Journey with me to the serenity of leaving to our children a planet in equilibrium." - Paul Tongass

Manuel Antonio park is a nugget of Pacific coastal paradise, wisely protected from hotel developers by and for the Costa Rican people. Its sandy beaches and warm surf attract masses of sun-thirsty tourists. Hidden behind this "attraction" is the real attraction, many kilometers of little-explored, narrow, muddy trails.
It was on one of these trails that I was given the gift of serenity. Abandoning the glazed masses in their blind march to the beach, I climbed for a kilometer along a clear, gurgling stream. At a clearing in the dense forest, I stopped to enjoy for a moment the dappled sunlight. The moment became ten minutes, then an hour, then more as I simply sat motionless and watched the life of the forest around me.
Tiny iridescent flies fanned their wings on the leaves. Lizards curiously scurried between my feet and up nearby twigs, craning their necks curiously to have a look at me. As I watched a butterfly flit between the flowers, a beautiful brassy-gold hummingbird buzzed past my ear to drink nectar from a crimson chalice an arm's length away. Somewhere nearby, a troupe of monkeys crashed noisily through the canopy. As I looked up toward them, I noticed as if for the first time the rainbow palate of birds sitting in the trees all around me.
I thought for a moment of the eco-tourists below me on the trail, who had hired human guides to lead them down the busy trail and peer through telescopes at tiny specks hiding in the canopy, and was grateful for the privilege of having Gaia as my guide and teacher in serenity.
Perhaps this clearing and forest collects well the lessons I have learned here: the gift of appreciation of nature, of joy in being connected, of peace and patience and serenity. May these lessons be with me always.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas

"They said there'll be snow at Christmas. They said there'll be peace on Earth. Hallelujah, Noel, be it heaven or hell, the Christmas you get you deserve."
- Emerson, Lake, and Palmer

In this week leading up to Christmas, I have reflected upon this most peculiar holiday. Automated emails frantically implore me to buy now, while there is still time to ship for Christmas.
Here the frenetic, nightmarish rush does not exist. In La Fortuna there is a parade, with xylophone and drum marching bands playing mixed medleys of popular, Christmas, and Hanukkah music. Small towns and small boys feature fireworks displays commensurate to their stature. A few lights, smiles, and general bonhomie mark this relaxed, peaceful day and its lead up.
I had wondered how I would withstand rejection this year of the commercial heaven-and-hell metaphor, "Miracle on 34th St," and Scrooge. Questioning commercial Christmas seemed almost more blasphemous than questioning religious Christmas. And yet, far from feeling guilty, I spent the Christmas holiday relaxed and in communication with the beauty and peace of nature.
For, after all, this holiday - through whatever religious or secular lens it is viewed - is really about the return of light and reversal of darkness. It is not something to be confined to a day or corrupted by corporate interest. The solstice is a return of physical light, and as well a metaphor for the return of inner light and peace, balance and harmony, in our relationship with ourself, our friends and family, and our fellow travelers both human and non aboard this beautiful tilted blue gem.

Traveling

"All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it." - Samuel Johnson

With the arrogant confidence of the naive, I planned a bicycle journey through Costa Rica. As with so many other things, in this pursuit Costa Rica gently and patiently educated me. Following the advice of my hosts, I rode the bus first to La Fortuna, then on to Monteverde. When the time came for the trip to Quepos, I briefly reconsidered inter-city biking, but seeing the roads I am now happy that I have once again chosen the bus ($8 for the 400 km trip.)
I am accustomed to cruising over smooth, wide roads with good shoulders on my touring bike. Costa Rica's roads are mountainous, narrow, and rough, giving up each hard-won kilometer grudgingly. I quickly learned that inter-city cycling would consume all of my time with travel, leaving little time for exploration.  Furthermore, safety on foggy switchback roads traversed by trucks and buses is a concern. Costa Ricans travel on the extensive bus system; this is now my inter-city travel choice. Bus fare between cities is consistently between $5 and $10, and the buses are clean, efficient, and punctual. Bicycle travel is unusual, though, and frequently requires creativity on the part of both the driver and me to accommodate the bike. With this new arrangement transportation here has become a symbiosis of bus and bike travel; the two complement each other very well. I now have the time to explore each area I visit at leisure. The bus augments my ability to experience nature and communities from the saddle of my bicycle, and provides for me an opportunity to interact with my gracious Costa Rican hosts.
This idea of commonplace bus transportation, local and intercity, has a lot of appeal. With high patronage, fares are low - encouraging even more ridership. Private companies compete for routes, maintaining those low prices and encouraging good service. Buses are convenient enough that it is not necessary to rely upon an expensive, environmentally destructive automobile. As with their conservation initiatives, Costa Rica's public transportation initiatives are a model from which other nations would do well to learn.

Gift from the Children

"A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children." - John James Audubon

Hiking the Bosque Eterno de los Ninos (Children's Eternal Rain Forest) in Monte Verde, I understood just how our children value this fragile biosphere we hold in trust for them. The Forest, comprised of multiple parcels in the mountains surrounding the Monte Verde and Santa Elena national park reserves, is a huge tract of land preserved by the donations of children around the world to save the rain forest. It is a gift back from the children of the world, and demonstrates their commitment to a sustainable world.
Before hiking the preserve, I sat mesmerized at the Monte Verde hummingbird garden, enchanted by more than a dozen species of hummingbirds flashing iridescent purple,mgreen, red, and gold in the morning sun and misty rain. The Garden is sponsored by a collective of local coffee farmers, whose mission is to teach about sustainable, living wage direct trade coffee production. ("Fair trade", it turns out, is in reality simply a price floor "insurance" program intended to prevent farmers' price for coffee from falling too low.)
In contrast to the park preserves, Bosque Eterno de los Ninos is a private, primitive, not promoted, and hence lightly visited preserve. The trails cover a wide spread of elevations and hence a variety of ecosystems, and provide a wonderful venue for seeing birds and animals which shy away from the much more heavily visited park trails.
Children of the world, thank you!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Power of the Rain

"Nature is so powerful, so strong. Capturing its essence is not easy - your work becomes a dance with light and the weather. It takes you to a place within yourself." - Annie Leibovitz.

Today's gift was a lesson in the colossal forces of wind, rain, and sunlight which bring life to this marvelous ecosystem. The mighty winds of the Caribbean and Pacific collided all around me, bringing the precious gift of fresh water to all life here. Rain enveloped me and my world from above, below, and seemingly every point of the compass simultaneously. Far from being the rote meteorological phenomenon to which I am accustomed, this rainfall was a visceral, saturating presence.
I awoke to a churning fog of tiny droplets swirling around me and my tent. Surrendering to saturation, I walked through the glistening, dripping rain forest as it soaked up the precious ocean moisture. A steady drizzle from above was punctuated by rivulets from the canopy above and the gurgling of runoff beneath my feet. The forest was resplendent in dark greens in the near twilight; drops of water nestled in the mosses and clung to every leaf and shoot. From the vantage of the rare break in trees and clouds, I looked out across the valley toward the misty opposite hill. Rampaging gusts of wind drove successive torrents of rain in twisted sheets up the ravine even as the sun dappled the wet leaves around me.
At the top of the forest mountain, 1700 meters above sea level, I climbed an observation tower through the canopy, and emerged into a churning battleground of clouds. Gale force winds hurled volleys of rain in every direction, instantly soaking me, my camera, and my backpack despite my heavy poncho. I gasped and stared with amazement at this elemental fury, so common here that it has sculpted even the rain forest canopy to the shape of its whim.
As the day ended, the storm retreated up the mountain and I down it. The sun broke through, and beneath the cloud enshrouded mountaintop, with a backdrop of yet more torrents of rain, a glorious rainbow pulsed back and forth, farther and nearer.
Yes, today brought another gift from Gaia, a lesson in her power to cleanse and renew and refresh with her mighty and yet fragile rains.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Monteverde cloud forest

"... this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is ..."
- e e cummings

Once again, words cannot describe the beauty of the Monteverde cloud forest. The mountain rises into the swirling clouds where Pacific and Carribean air masses dance. The fine, cool mist envelops all, from every diection, bringing joyous life to the rain forest and all of its creatures.
Look at a single tree, and there is a timeless behemoth before you. Look again, a platform hosting an explosion of verdant bromiliads. Again, a garden of moss and tiny orchids. Once more, a city of insects and tiny creatures. Birds of every description flit past, calling and chattering. And this for just a single tree. The senses are overwhelmed here. There is a sense of awe instilled here, a feeling of oneness with the power of Gaia which cannot be denied.