During their Maymester class, students from Dr. Andy Kavoori’s Environmental Journalism class recorded and reflected on experiences such as seeing strangler figs and eating local food. We welcome their voices to our blog and hope their words and photos provide a window into the learning experience and daily life at UGA Costa Rica. In addition to these blog posts, the students’ have created a short documentary on the culture of food on campus, which will be featured in the coming weeks.
A Costa Rican Forest — through all my senses
With each step I hear the leaves crunch beneath my shoes. I happily kick the small branches and even smaller twigs that rest on the forest ground. A strong intermittent breeze kicks up. My hair tosses in a new direction with each gust cooling my skin from the bright sun that seeps between the slatted roof of the rain forest, shaped in a sea of different shades of green.
I look around feeling astonished at the thousands of species that live together. There is a highway of leaf-cutter ants lined up one after another as they carry their cargo back to their colony. I see Monstera deliciosa Swiss Cheese leaves waiting, it seems, to be served on a sandwich. A Blue Morpho butterfly flies above my head into the tops of the trees.
I realize moving farther up the trail, the air is getting thicker. It’s as if I could stick my tongue out and taste the humidity. The terrain turns the corner and I with it. It’s as if this trail is creating a trail just for me, designating a path for me to travel. I slide my hands along the rocks to my left and the trees to my right. I think as if my finger tips are moving through years of history—dry seasons, wet seasons , storm. A history that I would never know.
I suddenly stop—and look up. Growing at an angle, there stands a magical tree. Its huge base creates an awning over the trail. It is like the tree is calling me in and asking me to come and play. It resembles a jumble gym like one found in the neighborhood parks of my childhood. It has little crevasses for feet to squeeze into and for hands to grasp on. I reach up grabbing the rough surface while sliding my left foot perfectly into a little hole. Reaching with the other hand, I pull myself up along this tree that has so much it could teach me. With each movement up the trunk, I take in the smell of moss that lines the bark that I’m holding onto. Clambering up to a ledge-like branch, I stand up.
I spread my arms out wide.
I try and catch the wind as it whistles between my fingers.
I listen to the harmony of bird calls echoing through this forest.
I experience the life that is this tree.
A Time Since Lost
The door opened and I burst through, running out into the yard that I knew so well. I looked around, wide-eyed, taking it all in.
The creek, full of numerous critters I had come to call my friends. I knew where the turtles hid, I knew where the toads lingered, and I knew where the crawfish roamed. It was my own little neighborhood.
The tree, strong and tall, with leaves that never fell, even through the coldest winters. Each branch was just in reach of the one before, creating a stairwell to the perfect view.
The hill, taking on the shape of an exponential curve rather than parabolic. I would sprint to the top, grabbing hold of the massive root jutting from the side in order to fight gravity from pulling me back to my starting point. This was my favorite spot — a spot to hide, a spot to explore, a spot to call my own.
Years later, a bump in the road jolts me awake. I wake up groggy and confused, as I often do, but this time I feel the added weariness of traveling. As my body continues to jostle with the movement of the van, I am slowly awakened. My gaze drifts toward the window, and I begin to take in the foreign landscape of Costa Rica. I am bewildered by the view.
The mountains, protruding from the earth around me. Each grassy bald calls my name. I want to run to the top; just imagining the view takes my breath away.
The trees, each one we pass is unique. A forest no longer brings to mind a cookie cutter image of the same gum tree. I see banana trees, palm leaves, flowers of magnificent purples and reds, vines, guava trees, and so many more.
The wind, creating a symphony of complimenting and powerful hums. It shakes every tree in the dense rainforest. I feel it on my skin, in my hair, and through my clothes.
For a moment, I forget where I am. I find myself gazing into the past, to a time since lost. To a time when the earth brought nothing to mind but beauty and opportunity. It belonged to me, and I belonged to it. Since this time, I had grown older, but not necessarily wiser. I had drifted from this relationship. Gazing out the window, it is as if a flame reignites. I remember what it is like to see, to explore, and to revel in the magnificence of the Earth.
The door opens and I burst through, walking out into the fresh morning breeze. I look around, wide-eyed, taking it all in.
A Day’s Work on the Farm
Marlon Martinez is in his mid-thirties, and is an agriculture specialist for the University of Georgia Costa Rica campus. He has practiced farming since he was a young boy in Costa Rica, learning from his parents how to run and manage a sustainable farm and garden. Marlon has worked for UGA Costa Rica for seven years now, starting as a part-time worker and through his experience and work ethic becoming the manager of the entire sustainable agriculture enterprise on campus.
An average day for Marlon begins at the crack of dawn at the stables, where he milks cows and chooses livestock, mostly pigs, to be later slaughtered. He only slaughters animals about every two weeks, because this is usually the time it takes the campus kitchen to need more meat to feed the staff, faculty and students.
After he leaves the stables, Marlon heads to the organic farm on campus by riding his motorcycle, his favorite form of travel. When he arrives he has a multitude of tasks awaiting him. Most of the time he begins by growing new seedlings to be planted into freshly dug soil. Then he starts harvesting fresh fruits and vegetables to be prepared by the University of Georgia Costa Rica kitchen staff. They are typically eaten later that day (for lunch or dinner) by the students.
Composting is a big part of Marlon’s job. During the harvest season, compost helps to sustain the integrity of the soil. Each day, compost is collected and broken down at a warehouse near the garden.
After his duties at the farm, Marlon delivers vegetables and fruits to many of the homestay families (in addition to the UGACR kitchen).
After his eight hour shifts at work, Marlon returns to his home and family close to the UGA Costa Rica campus. He is the sole provider for the Martinez family of four. He has a wife and two children, a twelve-year-old son named Yuriel and an eleven-year-old daughter named Melony.
Of Birds & Moths: A story of Introspection
It’s early morning. Someone is singing in harmony.
The melody penetrates the wooden walls of my bungalow. I remember. I am in Costa Rica.
I feel the chill of the morning air. I hear the cries of the wind. Although I am far from home, these things are familiar to me. I am reminded of restful and carefree mornings at Grandma’s. I miss those days.
I believe Mother Nature is constantly trying to teach us something. So I’ve been attentive – or have tried to be.
One morning hike, our red-cheeked Resident Naturalist Sandy puts it politely: “Quiet down a bit, remember this is not your space alone.” Besides her gentle voice, occasional questions, mumbles, and the click of our cameras, we have remained (for the most part) discreet.
We are beginning to observe—and really listen.
Having life all around me, I have begun to reflect on what it means to live. We humans like to feel understood. You know? And here I feel a sort of connectedness with the environment that is, in a word– soothing.
This is approximately the number of moth and butterfly species that call Costa Rica home.
I could not get a good look at her. This large winged moth was larger than both the palms of my hands. She was a beauty. She flapped her wings hastily as if in immediate danger. But she didn’t travel far. She hadn’t been trapped, nothing was stopping her, but she stayed there. She stayed there so frantic, never still.
I was scared for her. I was scared for her because she reminded me a lot of myself.
They say they—the moths and butterflies—are free, fluttering and happy. Instead I have begun to think of them as anxious, panicked, scared.
They may rest for a second, but before the click of the camera they are off again, flapping in a burst of haste.
I thought of my Grandmother and felt that something had changed.
That young free-spirited girl who spent mornings at Grandma’s had become something … different. Something like this moth. Anxious, panicked, scared…
With a life full of exams, papers, school, finances, career aspirations, and social life, I feel weighed down by stress. Strung to these “superficial” matters of living and succeeding, no longer do I live in the moment. No longer am I free and this awareness scares me—and living in Costa Rica makes me so much more aware of where my life is—and perhaps should be.
But for now, for this morning, just like every other that I have spent here, I am awakened by the cries of the wind and the harmony outside my window. Life doesn’t alarm me. I lay there.
It’s the birds.
The moths can wait.