• Ron Snell

We're Seeing Things

A seed drifting down in the morning sun.

My wife and I have long dreamed of having our own hiking trail, but making a hiking trail in the mountains through the jungle is a bit of a nightmare.

a) If it’s too steep, in the rain it will be like one of those stair stepper exercise machines – you get a lot of exercise but you don’t go anywhere.

b) You can’t cut down the interesting plants and trees you want to see when the trail is done, so you have to find ways around them. The most interesting plants and trees are always right in the way.

c)  It turns out to be true that you can’t see the forest for the trees, so laying it out is a lot of trial and error. Or trail and error.

I spent days scouting, armed with my snake boots and machete. Once I was somewhat more or less tentatively sure where I was going, we recruited Jose to help me and we got more specific. We turned our trail into a series of switchbacks with a gentle grade, plus one piece that goes very steeply down to a creek so Tammy can get her cardio on the way back up. I get my cardio keeping up with Tammy.  Jose and I trimmed and shoveled and eventually ended up with a mile long path.

For the past two years we’ve been hiking our trail round trip each morning for an hour.  It’s a beautiful route and we love panting our way along its ups and downs. For the first few hikes we pretty much just saw... you know... jungle, and didn’t see roots and little stumps, so we had a lot of trips on our trips.

Then one morning Tammy asked if I’d been cutting something. I hadn't. She was looking at fresh wood chips, so I paused and looked up. Sure enough, a huge pale billed woodpecker was enlarging a hole in the tree high above us, not so much like shhe was gobbling bugs as much as shhe was making a home. We paused to watch hir, shhe paused to watch us. We walked on, shhe went back to beating her head against the tree.

We still don’t know if it was a him or her, but shhe moved in. Each morning as we walked by, shhe stuck a bit of hir head out so we could wave. I like to think shhe was getting a little maternity leave from having to beat hir head against trees all day long and we provided a few moments of social interaction while shhe waited.

Another morning with the sunlight squinting just right through the trees, I saw a raindrop glistening on the end of a leaf. Except that it looked pretty big for a raindrop, and why didn’t it drop as raindrops do? We looked closer, then closer.

Gelatin Drop. Huh.

We did the macro app thing with the iPhone. We became convinced that the raindrop was a gelatin droplet that had something growing in it. We took a better picture. We don’t know what it was, but one morning a few days later it was gone.

Then we saw a little spider on a brightly lit web. The spider looked odd, so we looked more closely. You’d have sworn it was a hermit crab spider – it had a crusty lump of something on it’s back, like a badly built backpack in case the spider web thingy didn’t work out and shhe needed to migrate. More macro pictures.

Tiny ornament? Cocoon?

Yesterday Tammy noticed a tiny bead, like a miniature Christmas tree ornament, hanging by a silk thread from the end of a leaf. More macro photos.

These are little things. Very little. They won’t compete with whale watching tours. A woodpecker, a gelatin droplet, a hermit crab spider, a tiny ornament. Oh, and wild pigs, but those don’t really count because they aren’t that hard to see when they’re running and clacking their teeth.

This may sound a little like we've gone over the edge, but the truth is, we’re elated. We feel like guides pointing out hidden treasures to ourselves. “On your right, look way up in this tree and you will see half of the pale bill of a pale billed woodpecker.” Or, “On your left there is a gelatinous raindrop chrysallis thingy that might be the metamorphosis of something into another thing….” Clearly we don’t really know anything about these things, but at least we’re seeing them.

Which brings me, finally, to my point. Sometimes, it takes a while to start seeing things. Sometimes, the coolest things are really small, and you only see them by accident because they catch the sunlight just right. Sometimes you have to walk past enough times to eventually see the wood chips where the bird is remodeling hir home. All of which makes me wonder what else we’re missing, not just on our jungle trail but also in our interactions with Ticos, our walks on the beach, our trips to the grocery store.

The big stuff is easy to spot, and it's interesting and fun. It's what tourists get to see. But sometimes it takes a long while to start seeing the little stuff, the millions of bitty things that all work together to make our lives rich, whether along a jungle trail or in a local grocery store or in a new friendship.

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