19 November 2007

Leaves in a Rainforest

In the forest:

“The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances, -- master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

We spent this past weekend in the Rio Palenque Science Center. My wife is shooting a promotional video for the foundation that owns this forest so I took the kids to enjoy it in the meanwhile.

We hiked several of the trails that criss-cross the area, leading up hills, through streams, over decaying trunks and over animal dens and tracks. I was especially amazed by the leaves. You can stand in any place and just watch the leaves fall, hundreds of them. Most of them don’t reach the ground immediately as they get caught in the vines and overly lush underbrush. Some of the leaves were literally bigger than me and all of the trees are covered with vines whose leaves get bigger the higher up they go.

One of the biggest trees I have ever seen had recently broken in half because of the weight of the vines. 30 meters had broken off, leaving a whopping 45 meters of massive tree.

This is on the coast of Ecuador, not on the Amazon Basin side of the Andes. There are very few primary forests still standing in this part of the country, so exploring this was a real treat. As you can imagine, there is an amazing wealth of diversity there, both flora and fauna. According to their literature, there are 1,216 species of plants, 360 species of birds, and 350 unique species of butterflies, among others.

Only scientists or people doing scientific tourism can stay at the lodge, although many school children visit the area for field trips. We saw a party of such tourists there and they were birdwatching. There, you can see the Harpy Eagle, Gray-backed Hawk, Rose-faced Parrot, Ecuadorian Trogon, Chocó Toucan, Scarlet-backed and Lita woodpeckers, and Scarlet-browed and Scarlet-and-white tanagers, Gray Hawk, Laughing falcon, Rufous-headed Chachalaca, Ecuadorian Ground dove, Maroon-tailed Parakeet, blue headed parrot, Bronzy, Stripe-throated, and Baron's hermits, Guira tanagers.

Although we didn’t get to see one, several types of “glass frogs” live in the Science Center. This picture gives you a good idea of what they look like. Wouldn’t it be fun if we were “glass people”?

All of the surrounding area is used for plantations such as this one. They plant palm trees, pineapple or papaya but either way, it is all monoculture, heavily dependent on fertilizers and pesticides. The river is quite contaminated from runoff. I couldn’t help but imagine how this area must have looked 50 years ago, completely covered with lush tropical forest.

Walking through a rain forest is one of the most moving experiences a person can have. It is life in its fullest. Life explodes and comes and goes and the noise made by the bugs and birds will deafen anybody. I felt like an outsider, an intruder and at the same time I felt at home like I had been there before and needed to stay there.

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