Dispatch From The Island

I’m here in the Panama rainforest with no way to upload a photo or sketch, so I’ll just have to make a word picture until I have all that ironed out. They only just got the internet back up and running yesterday. It, along with telephone connection, was completely down from Friday to Tuesday so you imagine how the science folks here were coping: hair pulling and general dismal muttering was the rule. Science marches on nonetheless and when you can’t communicate you must collect. Mike and his crew have been out in the forest gathering leaf litter and soil samples by the acre, it seems. A sweatier, dirtier job is hard to imagine. I’ve been out there myself, collecting drawings and photos as my sampling system. Not quite as dirty and bless their hearts, not quite as sweaty.

Things change here over the seasons and over time, and I’ve noticed a few things are different out in the woods. This is a big year for giant spiders called Nephila (Great picture at this link, and more on nephila later, when I get to put my own photos up!), which build huge webs like rubber bands across the trails right at face level- I’ve put my head into two of them already. Some changes are gradual, like the avifauna thinning out species-wise due to biogeography. There is something called the “island effect“, and since BCI is only about 80 years in existence, the biodiversity it started with is not the biodiversity it has today. There are far more species of birds on the mainland. On the other hand, certain birds that are hunted to rarity off-island, such as Crested guans are protected and are common here. In fact, I was drawing a guan this morning right outside our room. “G’wan”, you say.

Stupid puns aside, this is a nice place to look at vegetation. Mostly I’ve been drawing trees, trees, trees. There’s a gargantuan Ceiba tree on the island that’s got it’s own spot on the map. It looks like a Saturn V rocket on the launchpad, with colossal fins of buttressed roots supporting the massive trunk and broccoli-crown of branches, each of which is bigger than any tree around it. A couple of years ago a windstorm came up and broke off a few of these huge limbs, which dropped hard (no one, happily, was underneath) and damaged a couple of buttresses. I was visiting not long after and got a chance to look at it. The ‘wounds’ were bleeding a thick red gel that flowed over and covered the injuries. The tree looks fine now, and I’ve been doing a series of drawings of it from different angles. There is no way to get far enough back to draw the entire Ceiba because of the lesser trees that surround and hide it, but when the light dramatically highlights the roots, any angle is interesting. I’ve been sitting within the holy circle of buttressed roots. It’s like drawing in a Gothic cathedral, a sanctified place that’s perfect for communing with the gods of nature. I’ll post those drawings as soon as I can, but they might have to wait a bit. In the meantime, try to picture it for yourself.

2 thoughts on “Dispatch From The Island

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