The Treehouse You Always Wanted

A walk in the air with your head in the clouds and the forest beneath your feet.
A walk in the air with your head in the clouds and the forest beneath your feet.

The view from the roof of the Amazon is a stunner and from above it’s plain how provincial is life at ground-level. The view extends at most a few meters into the jungle and it’s a screen of unfocused greenery, beautiful and claustrophobic in a funhouse way. But climb into the treetops for a rewarding glimpse of infinity and you see the unbroken rolling Amazon carpet, its tree crowns stretching to the horizon and way beyond. At the point where the moist edge of the earth rolls under , the forest blends upward and joins the sky. It feels like the forest primeval; Eden at your feet.

bright epiphytes, flowering plants, orange fruit and a million brilliant butterflies.
The color's all up here: bright epiphytes, flowering plants, orange fruit and a million brilliant butterflies.

The biggest attraction for a visitor to the ACTS field station is their first-class canopy walkway network. Fourteen major trees have been linked by long bridges of rope, cable, mesh and wood, with platforms- some double-decker- where one can dawdle and birdwatch. It’s a wonderful thing to have glittering honeycreepers and tanagers foraging below you with their contrasting patterns revealed through perspective. It’s the view evolved by the birds themselves, most suitable for displaying color and pattern to the airborne avian eye. It’s a great place to study life at the top, where resources are abundant: sunlight, free-moving air and first dibs on rain.

An arboreal lizard that ate ants and small insects from the branches of the canopy. At one point I looked up from my sketchbook to see I was surrounded by half a dozen of these; they wanted to eat my sweat bees.
An arboreal lizard ate ants and small insects from the branches of the canopy. At one point I looked up from my sketchbook to see I was surrounded by half a dozen of them; they wanted to eat my sweat bees.

Opal-crowned and opal-rumped tanagers seen from above, foraging together in the canopy
Opal-crowned and opal-rumped tanagers foraging together in the canopy, with eye-catching patterns for optimum visibility. You'd never see them this way from below, plus you'd break the hell out of your neck trying.

Trees are the ultimate solar-collectors. From above you can see the way they arrange their leaves for most efficient exposure to sunlight.
Trees are the ultimate solar-collectors. From overhead you can see how perfectly they arrange their leaves for exposure to sunlight, and what a snazzy pattern it makes, oh-by-the-way.

Up here in the Overview, you are very small and the forest is very big. In an infinite sea of green, how do you call attention to yourself? How do you attract a mate, let pollinators know you’re open for business, tell the fruit-eaters and seed dispersers to Come and Get It? With color. With scent. By being flavorful and nutritious. With eye-catching movement. With song. Like this one:

(update on the bird in the recording and a very big thank-you to Gunnar Engblom, an expert bird guide in Peru and owner of Kolibri Expeditions, who has kindly identified it. He says:

“If you refer to the long series that goes whop-whop-whop in the end – it is not a canopy bird. You’d be working all day if you try to get it up to the treetops with playback. It is a Noble Anthrush.”

I wish I’d seen it- it’s a beauty and it’s rare, according to the Field Guide to Birds of Peru, but I should have been looking down!)

If you don't mind all the swaying, the walkways offer some killer viewing opportunities.
If you don't mind all the swaying, the walkways offer some killer viewing- and sketching-opportunities.

8 thoughts on “The Treehouse You Always Wanted

  1. 100swallows says:

    Debby: I look and look at the photos and those great drawings, and I read and re-read all your posts. Nobody shows the jungle like that. Other travellers aren’t artists or writers and they can’t tell you what they saw, what it was like. I would read a thousand of your posts. Going to the desert soon–or the Antarctic?

  2. zeladoniac says:

    I would SO like to go to the Antarctic, just for something completely different! Drawing penguins and ice floes would be just the ticket…and no sweat bees.

  3. Julie Zickefoose says:

    Oh, my goodness, this is a beautiful post. And your whiz-bang sound effects are the best. I can tell you, the swaying doesn’t work for me. I was the most unhappy of campers while traversing the walkways at Iwokrama Canopy Tower in Guyana. Fine on the platforms, but the walkways didn’t get any easier for this ground-loving Science chimp. Brrrr! I shudder in remembering it. It didn’t help that I was on them in a gusty thunderstorm at dusk–try swaying AND slick AND dark…they gave me a nice shot of rum when I made it to land. The guide had a big flask–I suspect he knew somebody would need it!

  4. zeladoniac says:

    No frickin’ way you could have gotten me up on those things in a thunderstorm! What was that all about? I would have been seriously unhappy, too. But in nice weather, it was heavenly.

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