I was never one for the birds.
But here I am. Its 5:30 in the morning (yes, you read that correctly). I am dragging myself out my bed, sleepy eyed and bedraggled for a bird walk.
Pura Vida, I tell myself. That’s a catch-all greeting in Costa Rica where I am studying at the former UGA campus in Monteverde.
We are in the cloud forest and I am getting ready to join or rather not disappoint the resident naturalist Jon who has invited me out this morning for the official “bird-count” for the month of May.
How did I get in this mess you ask?
It’s that dang hummingbirds’ fault. Or to be more precise, it’s the fault of the hummingbird necklace that I had bought on a whim from a tienda. Jon, thinking the necklace was a clear sign of a “birder” went ahead and invited me for the morning walk.
And here he was at the patio, wide-eyed and alert, already peering through Nikon binoculars to catch a glimpse of his winged friends enjoying the beginnings of morning. Joined by Jackie, the Creative Writing professor, and fellow students Vito and Sophia, we began our hike.
The forest floor was moist, the air filled with the cacophonies, of those damned critters. Jon stops to listen to one persistent horrific squeak near us, listening attentively, “You hear that? That, is the rufous and white wren.” Do I care? Nope. But what the heck, he then proceeds to hand me the Nikon.
Feigning interest, I look through the binoculars and then something unexpected happens.
I am face to face with a small, tawny, freckled little bird. The clarity of the binoculars shocks me; the bird takes on a computer-generated crispness, but it is all too real.
I am now interested. Not enamored, just interested.
We continue our journey into the woods, feet crunching against the gravel. We stop periodically, to listen to the call of the birds—some percussive, some whistling, some singing. On one of these stops, I see a blue-and-white Tanager a powder blue creature perched atop its nest, presumably guarding its chicks. It was a beautiful, gorgeous bird, much like the hydrangeas near the pathway.
I felt something more than interest now stirring within me—let’s call it intrigue. Jon and I talked on the way back to the campus, feet sloshing against the rocky hills, my heart soaring (yes, terrible pun I know) with my newfound appreciation for birds.
A few days later my group visited the Monteverde’s Cloud Forest, where, amongst the bromeliads-pineapple looking plants that engage in a symbiosis with trees- I found myself searching for birds. When our tour guide, C.J. heard the coos of the Quetzal, he immediately suggested we backtrack into the forest where we had come from in order to glimpse the creature.
We trudged back reluctantly.
And it was then that I had my epiphany.
Nothing that I had seen so far could hold a candle to the bird that I saw perched in the tree. Red and Blue framed its visage. It was luminous. It was resplendent. A vision in the shafts of sunlight. Simply put, I was stunned.
As if in a daze, I heard the details of the Quetzal story in Monteverde. Monteverde was settled by pacifist Quakers, who left the United States in opposition of the Korean War. Ornithologists amongst the Quaker advocated for the protection of the Monteverde forest and its signature species, the Quetzal. I was immensely thankful to them in that moment for championing the protection of the forest.
At a different point on this hike, our guide showed us the location of a quetzal nest where the park had tried to protect the two eggs from predators, but failed. “We almost cried,” he said. “But that is nature, so what are you going to do? This was such a poignant moment for the group to reflect on the work of nature—and its disregard for human ideas about fairness.
I realized in this moment that humans can try all their might to control nature, and dictate its outcomes, but that ultimately, nature will prevail. There is no use mourning that which is tragic. In fact, tragedy is a human construct but to everything else, that is the way of our world, and it cannot be changed.
All we can do—is to witness nature in all its beauty and completeness.
Much like the Quetzal that I saw on this day.
Much like the birds that I will now see on future birding trips.
Even if the start at 5:30 in the morning !