Thursday, May 25, 2017

Living with Jungle Critters

Kiss. Kiss. Kiss. The strange noise wakes and frightens me. Something has invaded the sleeping area of our large safari tent. A frog? A large beetle? A snake? All kinds of creatures inhabit this Costa Rican jungle. It could be anything. Kiss-kiss-kiss. My husband sleeps peacefully beside me, so it’s not him. I sit up in bed and shine my headlamp over the canvas walls and high ceiling where a large fan revolves. Nothing. But the noise continues. Finally sleep overcomes my fear.

Costa Rica has between 200,000 and 250,000 species of insects. This doesn’t surprise me. At least a third of them must dwell in this forest. As I ascend the trail from our tent, perspiration streaming down my face, the air vibrates with the deafening, incessant buzz of cicadas. Ahead of me two black beetles with yellow stripes scurry under a log. Tiny insects flutter past. I stop to observe a moving trail of green triangles, just the hard-working leaf ants bearing their cargo to their underground nest. Lizards scamper away as I approach. This air, this soil pulsates with activity.

At breakfast in the main tent, I’m taking in the panoramic view of the blue-green water of the Pacific when I hear the kissing noise again.
“Did you hear that?” I say to the others. “That’s what was in our tent last night.”
“It’s a gecko,” says my son, who, along with his girlfriend, is managing this eco-lodge.
What relief. I can live with the tiny salamander-like geckos which creep about on walls and ceilings. They eat insects. So do some birds, like the flycatcher we spot and the colorful squirrel cuckoo which dines on cicadas, wasps and caterpillars. The white-nosed coati that passed by our tent was no doubt foraging for tasty beetles and spiders. Insects are not even safe at night. Sitting at a small bar lit by a string of tiny lights along its base, we discover a nocturnal visitor, a large warty toad whom we name Kermit, or Rana René, as  they say in Costa Rica. I watch his tongue flick out in a flash to devour bugs drawn to the light. He makes quick work of a very large grasshopper. Later we meet several of Kermit’s cousins further along the walkway.
Other jungle inhabitants prefer hanging out in trees, like the howling monkeys pigging out on the mangoes dangling over our heads. The ceibo trees are in full brilliant bloom, their red flowers attracting a multitude of yellow butterflies.
We descend from our hilltop lodgings to an uninhabited white beach. Well, not exactly uninhabited. Hermit crabs hide in tiny shells while the larger ghost crabs speed to their burrows or into the sea as I approach. I follow uniquely patterned prints in the sand to depressions covering the eggs deposited the night before by two sea turtles. How many will survive? Then I notice wiggly prints in the sand. “A snake!” I call to the others. It’s a yellow-bellied sea snake struggling to return to the water.
My son points out a drama unfolding in the shallows – hundreds of tiny fish fleeing over the surface in leaps and bounds to escape a large dark shadow visible just behind them. Fish face danger from overhead as well, where pelicans glide and frigate birds soar watching for a catch.
The word to describe this landscape is intense. Intense heat. Intense rains. Flamboyant oranges, yellows and vibrant greens. Countless varieties of unique species, all working members of a complex, wondrous living network.  I know that I have only glimpsed an infinitesimal part of this jungle world.

Sunday, May 7, 2017


My garden reveals its own names for the seasons. Today it tells me that fall is the time when:
the hummingbirds return to town after their summer get-away.
chrysanthemums perfume the air with their pungent scent.
bougainvillaea petals among the chrysanthemums

the leaves on the snowball bush blush in tones of burgundy.
yellowing leaves of the apricot tree flutter to the ground.
camellia branches bear swelling buds, pregnant with promise
leaves on the tomato plants recoil from the cold.
turtle doves and chincoles discover something of great interest in the dry weeds where a lawn once grew
the scent of wet, dry leaves evokes childhood memories
a hungry thrush feeds on the red berries of the nandina doméstica
sequoia branches sway in greeting to the wily wind

and sister sun follows a more northern path
street sweeper with Chilean rake