When you go to a national park in Costa Rica, the world’s leader in biodiversity, you know that it is going to be a wonderful sensory experience. However, one never knows exactly what they will find. Every aspect of the jungle whispers a different story, audible to those who listen.“Are there any mammals we can see here in the Cloud Forest?” a boy named Ben in our group inquired before the start of our hike in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Our informative and jocose guide, Chino, gave a halfway smirk and teased, “Us.”
Whereas there are capuchins and howlers hidden in the nooks and crannies of the forest, it is relatively rare to see them on a marked trail frequented by humans. Primates may be reclusive, but the rest of the forest is overflowing. Just as the spectrum of a rainbow hung over our heads in the sky, the spectrum of life hung over every corridor of the jungle.
Some of this life is easier to ignore than others. Toward the beginning of our trek, Chino pointed out a miniscule White Elephant Ear mushroom- a fungi that we would’ve likely passed over without a thought. Its exterior was clouded by the subtle mist that appeared to be dissolving its papery cap.
“This mushroom, along with many other species here, only has a lifespan of four days,” Chino noted.
Four days? I couldn’t wrap my head around the point of existing if it was only for a mere ninety-six hours. Why would God bother crafting organisms that seem, to be frank, pointless?
My musings about the modest mushroom were halted mid-thought by a monstrous form that demanded recognition. It was more than a tree, this living being’s sheer size could not possibly be confined to the terse four letter word.
The totality of the tree’s beauty had to first be captured from a faraway distance. Our initial reaction was to run up towards it.
This impulse was probably due to the maternal quality it radiated. As I wrapped my arms around its circumference, I felt like a toddler going up to embrace a grandparent. Arms stretching, not touching, full of love. From a distance, the tree felt alien. Up close, it felt like home.
It was freckled with fungi, scarred with the claw marks of monkeys, wrinkled with the cascading of vines, and pregnant with burrows, webs, nests, and hives. In result, the tree has good karma. Its caring and generous spirit is rewarded with the celebration of many birthdays.
Unlike North American trees, you cannot tell a Costa Rican tree’s age by its roots. It is a speculative game. Botanists making hypotheses based on its width and height- in essence, how successful it was in reaching the light.
This one cradled the sun in its limbs.
One of her roots poked above the service about a quarter mile from the base of the trunk. Chino described the root system as a labyrinth. In the underground maze, it is difficult to discern where one tree ends and the other begins.
The same is true for above. The rainy season causes the individual branches of the forest to melt together into a watercolor canopy. Brush strokes fade the treetops into a green wallpaper.
Just as the silhouette of individual trees aren’t definitively outlined, neither are the lines of time. Everything is blurred together, in an essence of mystery and unity.
Mushrooms to Humans. Humans to Trees.
It is hard to accept that a human existence relative to a tree’s existence is as fleeting as a mushroom’s.
Our hike ended. Or did it?
The universe observes itself. We are the mammals in the forest.
Photo and blog post by Hannah Echols, UGA Art, Astronomy, and Journalism Maymester student