There is a phrase in Spanish to express fondness for something, me encanta. In a language class, you’d learn the meaning as “I like…” but the literal translation is “it enchants me.” For me, these words describe my feelings towards Cuericí much better than any in English. The forest is truly enchanting.
There is something in the fresh mountain wind that fills me with excitement and peace at the same time. At an altitude of 2600 m, the air is cool and thin. It ascends along the Cordillera Talamanca, twirling its way across the páramo, and invites all plants it touches to dance along with it. It frolics, carrying along gusts of mist in an erratic, playful manner. The wind surprised me with its strength, when first I gazed across the entrance of the Rio Macho forest reserve. It inhabited my lungs in a refreshing embrace, and swept up my hair all around my face. You’re somewhere new, it whispered, come explore.
And then I met the flora of Cuericí. The plants are unique; many are even endemic species that exist nowhere else in the world except amongst these beautiful mountains. The Costa Rican black oak, for example, Quercus costaricensis, is a tall, majestic creature that reaches towards the sky with intertwining branches and delicate round acorns the color of dark-roasted café. I didn’t expect oak trees, a hardwood genus so familiar to the northeastern US where I’ve done most of my research. But these trees in Cuericí do not stand alone. They are home to a multitude of other organisms; lichens and mushrooms and epiphytes all use the strong branches and small bark crevices of the trees as substrates to grow. Some bromeliads glow red in the canopies, perched like colorful birds amidst the overflowing layers of greenery.
When I gaze up at these beautiful layers, so proliferous and dense and rich, I feel profoundly overwhelmed with awe. Awe of being one meager species amongst thousands of cohabitating, light-absorbing, oxygen-creating, life-giving producers. Awe of the sheer diversity, the variety in color and texture and size and form. Awe of being intimately connected to such a complex, dynamic, and longstanding system. Awe of the mystery that still resides within. This mystery is what sets aflame my passion to study these forests, to ask them why they are so complex and how they are changing and what we can do to make sure they still exist in the future.
I am undeniably connected to the forests of Cuericí. Something deep and inexplicable grounds me there, and I know I must return to unfurl the mysteries that lie within. Truly, me encanta el bosque Cuericí.