Temporality

This cloud forest seems eternal- the trees tower, the quiet is rarely broken by anything other than small birds, and the leaves and ferns look prehistoric in their hugeness. I always feel this way in a forest, like nothing has changed for thousands of years and nothing soon will. My presence is irrelevant to the living organism that is the forest, or the watershed, or the globe. But then suddenly, here in the jungle with the thick vines hanging from the trees and the ever-rushing streams pouring down and down the mountain, a huge bough laden with bromeliads and mosses will crash to the ground, bringing down leaves and trapped water from above and opening a gap of light in the canopy. The lives of the epiphytes are probably over, but the light gap leaves room for tens of new plants to spring up and compete for the sun. 

The thing is that if you sit still in this forest for an hour, you’re likely to see something fall out of the canopy, or some earth tumble down the hill, or the leaf of a heliconia slowly unfurl from a cone into its full wide span. We’ve been in Monteverde for 5 days now, and I am still getting lost on the trails directly below the field station because half of my landmarks are different every day.  The tree that had a branch of red leaves yesterday is fully green today; the fallen branch that blocked half of the path has fallen to pieces already; the tree trunk covered with lianas has now fallen into the stream, taking a bit of the tree next to it as well, and they all look like they’ve been there forever, so the only answer is to head uphill and hope to meet something familiar that hasn’t changed drastically in the past 24 hours.

The clouds stream by overhead as if they are in fast-forward, always in the same place but always changing, just like the mosaic pattern of this forest. Light gaps open and close, trees and vines replace each other slowly on the scale of animals but rapidly on any plant scale I’m used to, and decomposition takes hold of anything that has landed on the ground, sucking precious resources out of every scrap and turning it right back into fruit or leaf matter.

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Among all this life and death, it seemed too cruel to unnecessarily kill this river crab that we caught, just to put him in our sample. We’d counted him, and brought him back to the station to attempt to identify him (he was male, in fact, but we didn’t get much further than that). I felt that if I could save his life and didn’t just because of laziness, I’d be disrupting the cycle and the flow for no good reason, so I trucked him back down to the stream and watched him scoot away, rejoining the flow of resources in and out of the stream and down and down the mountain. 

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Simultaneously, all our various groups are working full-tilt to finish papers and projects before this third of our trip ends. We’ve been here forever and we’ve only been here for minutes, but we’ve done and seen so much and yet experienced so little of the full extent of the ecosystems here. There is so much left to see and so many questions to answer. I certainly don’t have time for naps… but this coati doesn’t move with the rush of FSP and can afford a little time for himself.

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2 comments on “Temporality

  1. Leaf skeletons…memories of what was and will probably be again.
    Is the “coati” lying there on the fallen log….a sort of dog?

  2. A coati (coatimundi) is sort of like a tropical raccoon. They are omnivorous, agile climbers but mostly terrestrial, and often hang out in packs, but this one we’ve seen alone a fair number of times. Pretty much a pointy raccoon.

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