Essays


North Star Down, Again


 

 

Seems when I head into rain forest country anymore, I am always reading something on Darwin. I have no explanation. Perhaps I read too much by and about Darwin. I am not sure he ever went to Panama in his five year explorations in South America, so this was certainly not the spark for my reading. Chance maybe. But in past years my friends and wife and I in various combinations have been going to Central America in multiple countries to see how the world is fairing there. And to chase birds and insects. This year: Panama. The canal zone area and Panama City specifically. And the skyline from the airplane is remarkable. Costa Rica’s main cities being shy of elevation, its buildings neutered from altitude by the (appropriate) fear of earthquakes. The quakings and subsequent tumblings are a constant in Costa Rica. In Panama City however, these events are rare to nonexistent I guess. And the towering condos stretch along the whole coastal inlet of Panama City. It looks like a competition with special prizes for slimness and glitter. I get the feeling these things are being built for Americans. Americans looking for a tax free existence, in a land of constant summer. I hear that if you make a purchase in Panama that is greater than 300 thousand, you are an instant citizen. I cannot prove this at the moment.

 

On the ground, traffic in Panama is much the same as in San Jose, Costa Rica and Belize City. Aggressive driving is the theme. You don’t wait for someone to let you blend into a lane in Central America. You go in hard, you use your horn. You zip, you rip, you apparently emasculate your blinker electronics at the time of vehicle’s purchase because no one is blinking any intentions in any directions whatsoever. If you are a passenger in this melee, you periodically throw up your hands towards the windows, towards the driver. You can pray if you like. At least they drive on the right side of the road. Or, I should say, this appears to be the assigned pattern. Our van driver has no less than fifteen icons and sparkling danglets and stickers evoking Christ and Mary strategically placed in the front of his van. Like a system of force field emitters. I think that God, however, is far too busy for traffic management requests in Panama or anywhere else frankly. All the known angels would be doing ground-traffic control. (This sounds more like one of the rooms in Hell.) Gazing in at other dash arrays and other windows moving by, I believe all the cars are sending out their own Christian force fields. The effect being lost somehow. There may in fact, be some sort of attraction set up instead. The evidence in the doors and bumpers of all the visible automobiles, they are marred and crumpled, scraped and sheered. Our driver also has more Christmas-tree-shaped car air fresheners suspended from his mirror than I have ever seen in one location. They smack and shuffle with our wild dodges between lanes. At one traffic jam, in which I once again consider abandoning the vehicle completely for a breather, I see a vendor outside the window selling more tree-shaped air fresheners. He has a monstrous rack of them which he carries on his shoulder. I begin to think it is a subtle method of drug exchange, or a communication system I am not privy to. It certainly does not smell minty or pine needle fresh in the car. I am tempted to reach and snap one of these cutouts off when the driver isn’t looking, to run it under my nose as a test. And I think that the man who starts selling air fresheners shaped like Christ is the next Panamanian Donald Trump waiting to happen. But before I accomplish my theft or proof we arrive at our destination. Unharmed. I make a note to get some Christ pyramids and stickers of the Holy Virgin when I get home.

 

Ancon Hill is fairly famous for, well, just being a hill really at the astounding height of 654 feet amid the coastal area that is now Panama City. 654 feet is enough to tower over the flat surrounding cityscape. Apparently the Welsh pirate Henry Morgan used it to assess the areas defenses when he arrived. The US military owned the hill for twenty years or more and this basically saved it. Saved it as it is now which is an island of native forest in the midst of development. Our hotel is perched on the rocky hillside to the west side of the hill. There are some houses nearby and then the road up the hill becomes wooded and undeveloped, now protected as a preserved sanctuary for whatever may come there. The hill was famously the base of military malarial operations (on its lower slopes). Back when the canal was being built. Before we knew mosquitoes carried malaria. We thought then that the disease just came from bad water and filthiness. The mosquitoes and their little parasites slaughtered many workers, administrators, and nurses and almost led to the abandonment of the canal project altogether. We are malaria free atop our hill now. Air conditioned, fanned, the patios look out onto trees. A view that is a hint of the tower stay to come. Birds move in the trees and we are staring at them. It is what we do. It is balm. Bananas hang from ropes behind the hotel and hummingbird feeders dangle from the rooflines. My wife thinks the bananas are growing there. She is embarrassed later to note they are dangling from a rope.

 

The first birds we note are coming to the trees behind us. And the first stunning thing we see is a Crimson-backed Tanager. A male. And these may be the commonest birds in the wooded cityscape. Later one of our guides at the tower tells us that his father worked for the forest service and though his father was not a birder he gave his son a copy of the Birds of Panama in Spanish. Before this, Jose said, he thought Panama had only three birds. And this lovely tanager was one of them. It is the color of blood with an electric blue beak—a combination to admire. They perch on the bananas and eat from the openings that other birds make in the fruit skin. We see later that when fresh bananas go up these birds must wait for the ones that can peel a banana to come first: the woodpeckers, the Orange-chinned Parakeets. The parakeets take the front edge of the lower beak and just rake it forward, lifting the banana skin with a skill that perhaps their own parakeet mother’s taught them.

 

The road up from the hotel passes some lovely home gardens. Dogs bark. Heliconians dangle. I imagine living on a hillside in Panama. The odd silhouettes of toucans pass over in pairs. Distantly, Yellow-lored Parrots call out and flutter over like great green bats. Now and then the odd rabbit-rat form of an Agouti steps out on the road and stares at us and then vanishes. We are not in Kansas anymore Toto. At the guard shack, the guard is so tilted back, asleep with his mouth agape, it appears he has been shot, assassinated in his boredom. His neck must ache on his way home in the evenings. We hear wren duets. A striking poison dart frog comes out in the roadway and we all stare. Many noises come out of the woods that are uninterpretable. Frogs or insects? Birds or monkeys? We are amateur ears in the jungle hills. Amateur eyes. It is what we live for isn’t it? To be in stangeness? To be baffled by our own senses?

 

The gaps in the hillside trees show city skyline. And in Panama, without the mentioned fear of earthquakes, this skyline can be impressively vertical. In Costa Rica they did not go above about 20 stories. A few banks there were brave enough. Here the towers rake at the dark clouds of the early rainy season. Condos for foreigners mostly, I presume. The rich seeking tax free places to stir their drinks, a view to the oceans and the rolling hills. Joggers come by jogging upward. Fit men and women go up and down. We, the pudgy birders, step aside. We pass a small well which is marked as the first water source for Panama City. We are appropriately amazed. It is decorated with tadpoles and oozes only a hint of water. Atop the hill a giant flag. And views to make you catch your breath. Now and then a tour van comes up, dumps some semi-interested people on the top. They seem to stay about five minutes and move on somewhere else.

 

On the way down from the hill we have our first encounter with monkeys. Apparently a troop (or maybe two) of Geoffroy’s Tamarins still deigns to travel over this island of jungle. One of them rattles the trees ahead of us and then the group passes one by one over this tree bridge just above the road. These are strongly marked monkeys. With animated faces and a chestnut collar, they are larger than big fox squirrel’s but barely. Black faces, red-brown eyes, the back is faintly striped gray and black down the whole length of the spine. The long Tamarin tail, as with all the Tamarin group is not prehensile, but they swing it and cock it for balance when they run and jump through the trees. Monkeys are highly alert and the older members of the troops always stop to give you a stare. Through the binoculars, the range of emotional expression in these faces with such mobile eyebrows and cheek muscles can be extraordinary. These Tamarins are in the big Saguinus genus of new world monkeys of about 17 species. The only one that makes it into the Central American region now is the Geoffroy’s. It has apparently learned some tolerance for man and his homes, his possessiveness, his innate distaste for great expanses of trees. The Cottontop Tamarin, S. oedipus, is closely related but has a large white shock of hair on the top of the same black face. It once roamed as far north as Costa Rica, but has now retreated to its last stand forests in Columbia.

 

We spend a day in the city, trying to get some slight feel for our southwest side of town anyway. Mostly we hide atop our hill but we do venture down the causeway southward that links several of the small islands in the bay. It has been developed on its island stops for tourists with shops and restaurants. The open water expanses are fairly rich with Brown Pelicans, more than I have ever seen in the total of my prior life in Florida or the Gulf coast. Pelicans are constantly in sight. As well as Neotropic Cormorants and swirls here and there of the beautiful Magnificent Frigatebird. Male and female and juvenile frigatebirds soar like no other birds soar. They nest on offshore islands that are farther out than we are. In the trees, Tropical Kingbirds and Social Flycatchers call and scrabble. Laughing Gulls move between assignments and far out we can see Gull-billed Terns feeding. Great-tailed Grackles, the birds that take the place of jays and crows along these shorelines, bully themselves everywhere, taking snacks and leftovers from restaurant tables. Occasionally during our meals, one will sneak in close and cry out, making you lift out of your chair, threatening to spill beer. I enjoy them anyway. At one point a storm comes quickly from the city straight south to us. And, grackles and all, we shelter in the restaurant’s rain shadow.

 

The surprising bird that seems to lurk everywhere at the hotel and in the city is the Black Vulture. Surely one of the commonest birds in Panama from our perspective. And fearlessly blended in with man, living on rooftops and coming to patios and streetsides. Flapping down at your feet, surprising you with that dinosaurian face and beak. The locals do not appreciate them. And I could see how my deck would not be quite the same with some Black Vultures attending it at home. I would trade a little bit of vulture trouble though for parrots and Tamarins coming to visit my own patio.

 

The road north from the city is traffic filled initially and then thins as we enter greenery. We track near the canal itself which cuts NW from the city and the causeway, passing a suspension bridge over the canal of uncommon spiderweb-like beauty. The road is sparsely inhabited. And we come to the sign for the canopy tower much sooner than expected. The curving road up the hill to the tower is a wonder unto itself: vines and epiphytes, secretive bird motion out the window. A road that makes you itch to jump out of the car and walk. The canopy tower has a fairly well known history. It is approaching its 45th birthday. It was a USAF constructed radar tower for watching over the important canal. It became a communications tower as well. The military lost its use for canal protection and it was used for many years for monitoring drug traffic. Which tends, I guess, even now, to involve low flying small aircraft trying to reach Columbia. The tower was totally vacant after June 1995 and then was written over to the Panamanian government who amazingly signed it over on a lease to the Ecological group that manages it now, solely for the purpose of showing off the rain forest and its inhabitants. It still has its fences and warning signs. It is no longer a military faded green but now bright green-blue and yellow over the big radar bulb on top. The people that come now are not eyeballing blips on a screen. Everyone comes for the birds and monkeys.

 

When one arrives at the canopy tower, of course, what one wants to do is run up the stairs to the roof. It is the pirate soul in all of us, I suppose—the same impulse that drives High School students to the top of water towers. Let’s check out the defenses, see what we can see. There is no elevator. What you would expect for a military construction. Nice sturdy metal stairs, about a hundred of them up to the fifth level roof about fifty feet up. I lied abut the elevator to my wife of 25 years (minus five days then). She came up anyway, immediately, like the rest of us. So we could look out at the expanses of jungle that slope away in a 360 degree Panamanian panorama (so to speak). The canal was to the south-southwest with the great Galliard cut plainly visible with trundling, smaller water traffic working its way along. It was several miles away. Nearby the beautiful new leaves of the Cecropia trees came up just below us. The fruits and new leaves are apparently tasty for just about anything that wanders through treetops. And on cue, a pair of Mantled Howler Monkeys grappled casually out into the Cecropia branches and started ripping them off and stuffing them in their mouths.

 

Howlers are the most widespread Central American monkey. They are completely arboreal and have an amazingly dexterous prehensile tail. The undersurface of the tail even has a undersurface like a long finger with a very long fingerprint. Their prehensile abilities are surpassed only by the Central American Spider Monkeys which are not present in the tower area. We have seen the Howlers now in Costa Rica, Belize and Panama. They make themselves well known with the territorial howling they are named for. It is more a cross between a grunt and a scream than an actual howl and it can be impressive when witnessed and heard up close. They call in early morning and dusk and whenever the thunder fires up in a nice passing stormcloud. We catch them talking to storms several times while we are in the area. Their morning sound becomes a soothing sort of alarm clock before sunrise along with the dawn chatter of the parrot pairs in the valleys to the south and east. These first two monkeys we see are quietly eating. Howlers are in the genus Alouatta. We saw the other Central American species, the Mexican Black in Belize. I am not sure I can separate the howls of the two. There are eight other species down into South America. Many of them are in trouble in Amazonia. The Mexican and Yucatan area species are in trouble as well but apparently have shown some signs of improvement and some human tolerance in the past 15 years or more. There is one thing I know for sure, if you are a mammal, and you cannot adopt some tolerance for man and his encroaching thingamajigs, if you cannot make it in fragmented or residual islands of your favorite habitat, then you have no future here on the big blue ball. The male we look at atop the tower is certainly the Mantled dominant for this troop. He is large and displays the shockingly white scrotum of this species, A. palliata. He is all black otherwise. And you would think this white flag might be used in sexual foreplay or signaling but it seems they use their tongues and faces to signal ‘go time’ between males and females. This fine male does not look all that large but I assess him overall and I think he can take me. Arm wrestling, blinking contest, whatever, I think I would lose. Anyway, they are animals to make you forget birds for a bit.

 

 

At dawn I am on the tower top each morning. We eat breakfast in the room below the top deck but it is on the schedule to go up top each day and admire the dawn noises, the mist, and the sunlight falling so excellently on chattering parrots. The guides come up early as well. To help us learn the sounds. To point in the direction of birds we can hear everyday but cannot quite see. I bring my own scope to Panama, something I generally don’t take the time to do. But this view from the top I suspected would be striking and worth all the difficulties involved. They also bring coffee up on the roof in the early morning. A thing I consider civil excellence. And they don’t want you trying to maneuver up the last narrow catwalk stairs with a coffee cup in your hand and people coming up below you I suppose. The top of the tower is soaking wet each day as though it rained every night. But I am told it is just the humidity condensing on the roof and chairs. Mist rises and makes ropey and shifting shapes in the air every morning. The birds call. Most mornings a Bat Falcon appears and sits on one of the high spires in the early sun. It is a lovely Kestrel-sized falcon that flies more like a mini-peregrine. I watch it take dragonflies effortlessly on several days. Whipping through flocks of swifts, seemingly uninterested in birdmeat, it snaps at invisible dragons from the air and eats them on the wing. The Red-lored Parrots travel in mated pairs, talking to one another, perching and preening together south and east. Mealy Amazons are there as well. Even noisier. And rarely the Blue-headed Parrots make an appearance. As always, I have trouble communicating how much I enjoy wild parrots. I put them in the scope whenever they are up and invade their space, watching. I am a parrot voyeur over and over.

 

On excursions with the guides away from the tower, we take the open-backed trucks that allow the bird-crazed to sit facing out toward the jungles as we roll towards our next walk or stop. Staring into passing greenery you can imagine anything showing up: apes, unicorns. Neither likely. We do screech to a halt for a Coati. It is the long-legged, gangly, somewhat exorbitantly tailed raccoon equivalent for the jungle: a raccoon with the face of a German shepherd. This one looks a little taken aback by a rack of mobile humans with glassy elongate eyes, who chatter among themselves. There are several raccoon family members in Panama. They even have the Northern Raccoon, the same species that runs around my night woods at home. The woods of Chiriqui, Panama just to our NW are the farthest south that our raccoon reaches. They have also been introduced in Europe for chasing and shooting purposes. Raccoons weigh about 8 or 9 pounds in Central America, smaller than ours. Coatis get up to about 11 pounds and can get very habituated to people. They are likely the commonest larger mammal encountered in the central tropics. They can climb but we see all of ours on the ground. They have the strange social order wherein females and young band together and males are isolated and must travel alone. We likely see only males.

 

The guide is named Jose Soto. And he is a fine and gentle human who knows all the bird noises in the Panamanian jungle. He attended college in Oregon where birds bit him hard after his father had given him that Birds of Panama book in Spanish back at home. He has been a guide here for many years now, nine or more. And yet, like each of the guides we meet, they act like each bird find was the first time they had ever seen it. On one marshy area, I am not paying attention and I think that Jose is just talking about an American Pygmy Kingfisher. I am admiring some fine noises coming from Greater Anis on the other side of the road. “You are not going to look at an American Pygmy Kingfisher?” Jose is berating me, appropriately, really. I laugh and step across the road where a male of the smallest kingfisher in Central America is regally perched. A ditch of clear water, a small branch just ten feet away holds the little kingfisher jewel. I searched and searched lovely streams in northeastern Costa Rica for this bird and now here it was near a gravel road and another sleepy guard monitoring an Ammo dump just a stone’s throw from the busy Panama Canal itself. It is five inches long, and a third of that is black beak. Rufus orange underneath and gleaming jade green, really shining green above. Jose is correct. No one should ever ignore this animal. I try not to let Jose down after that.

 

In the evening, atop the tower, the stars come out in patches sometimes. One is lucky, even in the earliest part of the rainy season to see a full sky of stars I bet. I don’t see a sky full in five nights. But I can piece together the heavens from the shifting map. And it is only the view of the stars that reminds me how far I have drifted down the side of the planet, with the north star fallen off into dark jungle and the Big Dipper pointing off into Cecropias and bat flutter. I long to see some stars peaking up from the south horizon that I have never seen. But the manmade lights shine brightly from that direction. So they will have to wait until I fly to Ecuador or Peru. (Did I mention Bats wing through the lights?) The upper deck chairs look out on shifting night sky. The towers of Panama City glow to the southeast. And the spidery bridge across the canal flashes intense warnings to all aircraft in the region. Some lucky researcher got to spend quite a bit of night time here recording the bats in the tower area. The sounds from which are mostly inaudible to our ears (with a few exceptions). And Central and South America is a bat wonderland, the heart of batworld really. In the US we have about 45 species in our 48 state area. Costa Rica has about 110 species. And as you move towards Ecuador you have over 130 species. They become the dominant mammal group in South America. There are bats that catch fish on the surface of the water, bats that home in on the calls of frogs so expertly that the frogs have evolved to have songs that make it more difficult for the bats to home in on them. Of course the bats have evolved even further to more expertly snatch the frogs that try to avoid the bats that…well, you get what I mean. As Darwin noted, time has had a stretch that is difficult for us to imagine, in which to play one stitch against another. And there is this one bat in particular, with a two and half foot wingspan, the Spectral Vampire Bat, a false vampire, false because it does not drain blood. There is this one bat in Central America that every visitor wants to see. It snatches Motmots and toucans from their night roost and eats them beak to toenails.

 

Eric and I, on the first dark evening, romp up the stairs to the top of the tower in the darkness and we flash our lights on the Cecropia trees hoping to see a night animal, any night animal really. We have been to Central America several times now and we would drain some blood to see a Night Monkey, or one of the arboreal possums, a Boa Constrictor on the hunt, a Spectral Freaking Vampire. We run to the wire railing, above the Panamanian darkness and immediately something rattles the leaves. We flash over and a Kinkajou is right on top of us. We are immediately like five year olds at the parade route. (Granted, according to my wife, I am never above about an eleven year old anyway.) It is sleek and brownish golden colored. Its other name, like mine, is the honey bear. (Okay, I have never been called honey bear.) It is a raccoon relative again that only eats fruit. It is in Carnivora but does not partake of meat. It is strictly nocturnal and has a prehensile tail like a Spider Monkey. One of only two Carnivora in the world with such a tail. Cecropia fruits are on its favorite diet list and here it is partaking of them with gusto. They also eat flowers and nectar in the ones that were studied in Panama. A raccoon that eats flowers at night. Damn. They can bark and scream, hiss and hiccup. Ours is silent but for the rattling of the leaves. It looks at us with those great nocturnal eyeballs. And we look back. What are we to it, atop our tower with the wire fencing and all that flashing light? At that moment we have no purpose but seeing, seeing, seeing.

 

On the other side of the tower a sloth. And with it: a baby sloth. The creamy hairbeasts that move glacially. Timesludgers. Immobilants. Zen animals that go only when the going is theirs. In all the world, one of the very few unhurried. Across the face of this animal, the Three-toed Sloth, a slash of black, like mascara on the cheeks, the outfielders mark. This mark is accented in the young one, who looks to be about ten yards from mother sloth. A full week away, in sloth-going, we think. Too far, too late to save it from what? The Leopards, that are no longer? The Harpies that sleep somewhere south, where real forest still hides in the dark? No, the sloth is safe. Unless someone with arrows comes to the tower. We hear a noise; a repeated soft single note of mewling that we swear comes from the sloths in some soft maternal communication. For days we think this. Until we hear the same noise from a frog in a wet ditch. And Cheryl never lets us forget. We of the ignorant baby sloth noise.

 

Darwin never went back to the rainforests after he returned home. He did spend, you know, five years or more on that boat and in his wanderings. So how much time did he actually get in the woods? Well, I think far more than I can ever accrue, even going every year for the rest of my life. Darwin preferred to stay home on his property later on, to walk the circuit of his personal British landscape. He studied orchids and worms. After he burned himself nearly out studying the barnacles of the world, mostly under microscopic light. I can see pulling back some. But never going back? Some regret there I suspect. And he was ill a great deal. Ships and jungles are for the young. When are we not anymore? Young, I mean. I guess when we can no longer make it one hundred steps to the top of the tower, stars or no stars, carnivorous bats or not.

 

Eric and I on one afternoon, with Jose the guide, make our way to the Discovery center and the tall tower they have constructed there. We requested a side trip over. It is a narrow and spiraling climb to the top and it is over a hundred feet in the air as opposed to our 50 foot Canopy tower. The view is staggering: a sweep of forest near a river. Marianna, the young girl who runs the shop and takes care of the hummer feeders the day we were there (and possibly every day I suppose) walks up all the stairs with us. It seems she walks up every time anyone wants to go up. Ah, youth, is all I can say. I just try not to look cardiac and deathly during the walk up. This tower is much taller and narrower. The top of it rocks in the wind like the mast of some great forest ship. You can see the purpled patches of treetop Orchids blooming here and there. Marianna starts looking intensely through the scope she has hauled up for a Blue Cotinga. Apparently, whenever we foreign born wheezers make the climb up we all want to see a Blue Cotinga. I’m for it, but I don’t want to put the poor girl under any pressure. The view is enough and the pair of Song Wrens that were right next to us on the walk over to the tower. We become distracted and look at everything around us: trees, orchids, the wide green world. It is a pleasure. And I am about to tell Marianna that, really, she should save her eyes, we are not that kind of birdnut, when she pops up and says, “Blue Continga.” We look in the scope at a bird so amazing, I wonder what the feathers must look like at close range. The thing seems to illuminate from its tree perch, the undersides of the nearby leaves brushed with some ungodly aquamarine reflections.

 

“Good Lord,” I say.

 

She beams a big smile, “It is beautiful, no?”

 

At the actual center itself we walk up on the deck and we are in some sort of dangerous paradise. The hummingbird feeders are lined around the deck railing with chairs sitting nearby at each station. There are no less than 100 hummingbirds ripping around us immediately. I am trying to recognize species and guard my corneas at the same time. Marianna smiles. Eric and I are smiling too but also dodging and jumping like men plagued with ants. Some of these hummers, like the Jacobins and Hermits are five or six inches long. And they move from feeder to feeder or dive bomb each other with no seeming care of humans, who are just standing obstacles. The noise and the brushes of wingflash and the microbursts of air as they come rapidly at you and then by you are astonishing and unnerving at the same time. Marianna takes one look at our gyrations and without laughing out loud says flatly, “hummingbirds are very dangerous.” That look she gives us is one that is impish, playful and understanding at the same time. We know she is messing with us. And we laugh at ourselves.

 

On our final night we go back up for the stars. Or I do. Atop my radar tower, they do their patchwork magic on me. I find an inexplicable light in the trees far off in the region that should be totally wild. I still don’t know what it was. We have an extra beer or two, below and up in the darkness above the woods. We stretch out the last of our time before we must surrender to the sleeping rooms. And then after dark, post-surrender some commotion in the tower. Eric crying out, in curses, serially, creatively. I don’t like leaving but…really. I will not recreate the words exactly for you here. And then Eric is out suddenly in the central hallway, shaking somewhat and chasing something with his camera that turns out to be the largest cockroach any of us has ever seen. Apparently it flew up and landed on him in his room: the jungle coming in. We had moths inside the tower all week, and once a bat flying circuits through the dining hall and back out the windows. But this is a serious insect to have touch down on your shoulder. And we all have that long laugh that comes with the sense of relief that it was not you serving as the landing spot for such a thing.

 

For weeks after a trip southward I have a hangover effect. I hear birds in the Arkansas trees that cannot be. I see the movement of monkeys shaking in the leaves. I fasten an arm on a squirrel or make something simian in the breezes and the hickory branches. In the headlights: a Coati taking to cover. I’m convinced. Hallucinations. It takes weeks. (God, what a hangover Darwin must have had after five years?) But then soon enough I am back to seeing the Indigo Buntings and Yellow-billed Cuckoos unmorphed and pristine. The calls resolve themselves into normal bird song for the eastern US. I do still think the Green Shrike Vireo sounds amazingly like a persistent titmouse however. And after the lingering effect is gone, completely gone, the questions. Am I living in the right place? Parrots and Toucans are romantically devised to test one’s staying power. Doubt and reinforcement, doubt and reinforcement, it becomes the power of one’s home to quell this cycle or at least to moderate it. The system could fail. You must be one for seasonality. You must be accepting of the cold retreat of everything. Ducks on ice, caterpillars on antifreeze out of sight. I cannot decide on my true makeup. Some mornings on the porch with Mississippi Kites flying overhead, I am okay. And other times, in February, I stare into starkness atop that sine wave of doubt. As always, one wants for a house in both places. But then isn’t that what is eating at the rainforests themselves? The doubters surrendering and blasting out a landing zone next to all those other doubters? I am beleaguered with the knowing. I want countries of refuge. I want great landscapes of refuge with monkeys. I am not convinced that is happening. I have not convinced myself in the going and the seeing. But I love the going and the seeing. I truly do. Despite the bugaboo voice in the back of my head telling me I am there because “I need to see them before they are gone.”

 

I came back again is all I know. Congratulate me on my strength.  

 

        HR

 

 

Thanks to Norm Lavers, Cheryl Lavers, Eric Haley, and my 25 year companion Vicki Stancil for braving the tropics once again with a man on the edge. Not many wives would spend their 25th in a tower with Navy showers, no elevator and no air conditioning. And please, everyone, go spend some money in the tropics on the people and places who are trying to save pieces of it. And thank you Jose, Jose, Carlos and Marianna.

LINK TO THE TOWER SITE

 

       

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