Monday, August 15, 2005

Bridges of a Rainforest Friendship

I rushed down the hardwood stairs, pulled on my mud-caked hiking boots, and walked briskly into the depths of the forest. Although the break was only fifteen minutes long, I had enough time. Upon entering this newfound refuge, I felt the day’s meddlesome anxieties trickle away from my body with each successive step. This forest would soon prove to be a catalyst for change and learning in my life and my friendships.

Its misty, foggy depths intrigued me. I sat in the forest for long periods of time trying to assemble the big picture, picture large enough to remain in my memory that would capture all that I saw. Impossible. Sitting in the forest focusing on a plant or a rock, the intricacies of the forest could never be condensed into a simple rendering.

For when the veil is lifted,

love the void as the treasure

and know that it is worth

as much.

Nature’s empty coalescence

and its beautiful

meaningless therein. (“Null”)

I was boarding at La Estación Biológica Monteverde nestled in the beloved cloud forest of Monteverde, Costa Rica—my adopted home for the next six weeks. Built in 1989, the station’s chief objectives were further investigation of its mysterious natural surroundings and the creation of a connection between biology students and the forest. Its large private reserve was a center developed for conservation of the unique tropical cloud forest of the area (“Estación”).

The forest was always accessible, always conducive to the possibilities of discovery and exploration. The vibrant green unknown was a release, a way of escaping the inanities of life. Its mysterious chaos captivated a biology student like me.

The tropical rainforest, situated only two meters from my bedroom, was unlike any other place I had ever been in my entire life. Prior to this trip, I had never spent a considerable amount of time in any forest. Throughout my life, I had preferred to stay inside and read a book, choosing to experience the world through my friends glued into the binding. I was in a car watching the scenery rush by at fifty miles per hour. These intangible glimpses of my surroundings never affected me due to the confines of that metal and glass prison in which I remained. I needed to open the car door and experience the world.

During my freshman year of college, I realized that I had somehow worked my way into this hole of comfort, a hideaway where I could escape bitter reality at any given moment. I was guarding against a nonexistent, contrived danger. I resolved to branch out—dig a few connecting tunnels out into the real world

Therefore, after visiting the campus International Programs and Services office with piles of catalogs in hand, I “burrowed” my way home. Though programs at a Spanish university had been my aim, I came across a program that trekked through the forests of Costa Rica in the catalog for the Council on International Educational Exchange. I had never dreamed of doing something of the sort. It was perfect. With an unfaltering mind, I embark on a journey into the mysteries of the rainforest.

I walked slowly through the forest, not wanting to miss a thing. I marveled at the vines seemingly floating along the side of a tree, attached to neither the branches nor the ground. Glass-wing butterflies parked on the flowers of the passing understory, totally reliant on their unique form of invisibility. I picked one up to ponder upon its distinctive transparency and replaced it on its leaf. Seemingly not troubled by this alien form of displacement, the butterfly remained perched on the leaf in apparent contemplation. A vine curled around itself and fell into the trail in front of me. Although predominantly green, the plant had chosen to color its tendrils red, a color that contrasted the green of the forest. Looking into the center of the spiral, I was astonished to see a tiny oblong egg, placed so carefully inside by a mother butterfly scattering her young. These presumably minute details of the forest drew me in and kept me coming back.

The ground was muddy with large flat rocks as structural support. The leaves and fruits that spread along the human-cleared trail hinted at the large trees overhead. A palm-shaped leaf of five lobes lay on the ground. It fingers were curling due to desiccation. I picked it up and carried it to my destination.

I stopped at the metal green bridge. It was not far into the forest—maybe only thirty meters. Sitting on the bridge with my feet dangling over the edge, I hung my arms over the railings with my head resting on my shoulder. Closing my eyes, I breathed. It was a breath of a final release, of utter calm, and of quietude.

I fell in love with the bridge. It is a partition between two worlds. As I looked over the edge, a stream of fresh ground water rushed below me. A natural trench of rock, barren save patches of moss, had been carved by this natural spring of water. Along the edges of the stream, life has flourished. The sound of the rushing water overcame me, and I lay down along the cool rungs of the bridge. Although they rubbed against my back, I stayed there as my problems were vindicated by the sheer tranquility of this sanctuary.

Above me were light-spotted Cecropia leaves. The leaf palms faded and swayed through the gaps of light created by the rock trench below. These beautiful trees are opportunists, grabbing any little moment to grow in the rays of the sun. Biologically known as gap-dependent, these trees wait for years even to grow from a small seed placed by another lucky seed from years before.

These trees reminded me of who I am and who I want to be. I want to seize all the chances I get. I want to always be ready to do so, sitting on the edge of my seat instead slumped back in an armchair. Gap-dependent trees, when the chance finally arises, grow at tremendous speeds, not willing to take any chance that this opportunity will wane.

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give[s] value to survival.” C.S. Lewis. Friendship is not essential to the sustenance of a person’s life, rather a person’s happiness. A friendship must be fostered and treasured because it is one of the greatest values in life. It is an opportunity to assimilate in a world where isolation seems to be a driving force. A friendship must be quickly appreciated because new friendships, though quick to form, can rapidly be lost in the breeze.

My friend Megan Smith and I wandered into the forest to have private talks of sorts, but instead we discussed life and what it meant to us. We lay on the bridge. We discussed our beliefs. We laughed, we sighed, and we looked over the edge.

Megan goes to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and originally from a suburb of Detroit. She is you quintessential modern-day protester of the things that she believes in (primarily conservation of the environment). With platinum blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes, and a face-filling contagious smile, she is assertion in one tiny-framed package. In many ways, our home lives have been similar with conservative parents whereas we are quite liberal and ready to burst out of our forced suburban bubble lives.

I knew that our friendship was not based in the fluctuating phases of our lives. Friendship is an unselfish commitment to one another to always be there for the other regardless of convenience or distance. We valued our friendship and the bond that we had found despite the countries we had covered to find each other.

The camaraderie between Megan and me was different than most of the friendships I had maintained in the past. Many of my friendships were based upon common interests or similar lifestyles. The inherent flaw in this arrangement was that a person’s interests or lifestyle were not permanent.

A friendship that is susceptible to fluctuations serves as a poor base for a social growth, much like thin roots on a canopy tree. It just wouldn’t work. The trees must increase their roots in the ground as they continue to branch out. As a person branches out in life, it must have its main support system to keep it grounded.

In order for me to grow, I knew that I had to treat my friendships differently. They will not survive as give-take relationships, where one friend is only ready reciprocate a favor rather than give for the sake of giving. A friendship is not something that can vary as the direction of a person’s interests transform. It is a nonjudgmental relationship between two people who are there for each other as they grow and change in the world It is a stationery object to help them up to their next stair, much like a walking stick.

My friend Megan wrote,

What is the point in living

in this physical realm,

if you don’t feel it,

don’t let it move you? (“Pura”)

During my time in Costa Rica, I became more accommodating to change. I had embarked on the trip with the purpose of expanding my life, and additionally, I had expanded my definition of friendship as well. I became open to relying on my new friend and thus allowed her to depend on me as well. Used to a culture of independence and self-sufficiency, this was a decisive moment for the social relationships in my life.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest is famous for its huge species variety of epiphytes—plants that grow upon on other plants without extracting any nutrients from the plant. A common cloud forest epiphyte is the bromeliad. Bromeliads, by growing in a rosette form, create a tank where rainfall can collect. These small tanks form small ecosystems where various organisms live, from tadpoles to microscopic protozoans. In many ways these small communities are self-sustaining much like a relationship between friends. Although an isolated bond within the larger world, the interworkings of the connection are integral to the survival of both friends. They do not exploit the forest in their growth; instead, their growth creates an enhanced environment to many of the rainforests other gems. These bromeliad relationships are prevalent throughout the forest, but they are hidden among the leaves of the trees and vines. Only those who know where to look will find the cherished treasure.

I discovered immeasurable lessons from the flora and fauna sitting on that bridge during my time in Monteverde. It was an imprint on the sidewalk of my life—much like the handprint of a child on the front walkway of his first home. Although he will forget that innocent age, that little instance of his life will stay cemented in time. A handprinted depression would remain a reminder of what was and the possibilities of what could be.

I dropped the desiccated Cecropia leaf over the edge of the bridge and watched it float away into the depths of the forest. Who knows where it would go or where it would stop? All I knew was that it was floating on an unplanned path. At least, I would have my friends there to watch me.

Aloft in the branches, I find
a different kind of sanctuary,
one which blooms between
you and I, one in which
I know I am safe and feel so,
because you are too.
And I honestly don’t know
what I’d do without you
and these afternoons spent
weaving our lives together
with common conversational threads.

I have the feeling it will
keep my heart warm
after we must finally part. (“Treehouse”)

1 comment:

michelle said...

wow, this is cool. you're such a good writer, i thought i was reading a novel!! and I like your friends... "What is the point in living in this physical realm, if you don’t feel it..." it moved me :) lol