Cognition science tells us that we remember three things about experiences- how they began, the climaxes (whether they be positive or negative), and how they end. As I sit here thinking about the end of the OTS course I am looking back on my time in Costa Rica and thinking about climaxes. What sticks out in my mind as those things worth remembering?
For the most part, I remember important experiences with nature. I think about the extreme diversity that nature generates- unfathomable variation on structure, behavior, and life strategies. I think about differences in scale, from the enormous pilon to the habitat that exists within every square inch below our feet. I think about mating stick bugs, giant butterflies, huge beetles, fuzzy catterpillars, quetzals, pygmy owls, macaws, bell birds, currasows, three species of monkeys that I saw and one species that remains elusive, weasels, coatis, agoutis, bats, crocodiles, anoles, iguanas, and basilisks. I think about intimate experiences that I have had with ancient fig trees. Trees that kill giants of the forest. Destructive beings. But also beings that create strength, microhabitats, and a home for bats. Beings that provide awe and recreation to people. Out of destruction comes life as one existence is replaced by another.
And then my thoughts transition from ones of amazement to ones of trepidation. I worry about the dangers that I know this miraculous world faces from external forces. In a country where it is almost impossible to cut down a tree, how easy is it to cover much of the country’s paramo in antenna towers? How easy is it to replace pasture and coffee not with forest, but with pesticide and herbicide demanding pineapples and bananas. I fear that Dan Janzen is right when he says that Costa Ricans have lost their passion for conservation. I fear that this incredible place is losing its position as one of global role model. But I also fear my own judgments and what they mean. A brilliant man once told me that when travelling, I should observe quickly and judge slowly. I fear that as an outsider who comes to this country for a few weeks, uses its enormous natural resources to my benefit, and then disappears, I have no right to criticize anyone. I fear that my materialism and consumerism at home stands in stark contrast to my stated conservation preferences. I fear that I am a hypocrite. I fear that I’m more a part of the problem than I am the solution. I fear that my interest in preservation is a selfish one. An interest in my sustained ability to tour here as a foreigner, in a country where many of those who live here want to develop their land so that they can live the same materialist life that I do.
But then my fears of judgment and my first world guilt give rise to thoughts of those that I have met here who care so much about protecting the land for the future. Don Carlos de La Rosa, who works to understand and protect the rain forest before it is permanently destroyed. Don Victor Acosta, who criticizes pineapples at every opportunity and who exposes everyone he encounters to the wonder of nature around us. Don Carlos Solano, who seeks to repopulate his mountain with palms, whose conservation has cost him relationships with neighbors and friends, who cared so deeply about a puma injured by a human machete that he carried it down a mountain on his shoulders to give it aid. These men are the pilones of conservation, and they inspire as much awe as the pilones of the forest. They can speak with the conviction and authority that I, as an outside, cannot. They inspire me. They give me hope. I may have no authority to tell anyone in this country how to treat their environment, but I deeply hope that those who have that right succeed in protecting and conserving their world for generations to come. So as I sit here on my final night in the field, I raise my glass to you all in the same way that you all raise my spirits and my hopes. Buena suerte. Pura Vida.