In case you thought the biggest danger in the tropical rainforest was poisonous snakes, giant ants or jaguars, the real scariest thing is the deadly falling branch. Anything plummeting from thirty meters is going to hit you hard enough to hurt (Mike got struck by a walnut-sized seed and he got a bump on the head from it). A large limb, say a limb off of a giant ceiba tree, one that’s loaded up with epiphytes- now, that’ll squash a bus. A high wind, a monkey troupe crashing through the canopy, a heavy rainfall filling up the tank bromeliads to overload: down the branch comes. I like to picture a hummingbird landing on a branch with one too many epiphytes- crrrack!! Many researchers go into the field wearing hard hats, and don’t laugh if you see someone wearing a pith helmet (and do please look up the word of the day, “pith”; the verb).
I’ve been drawing a variety of thematic subjects for my upcoming show at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History while I’m here. To illustrate the theme, “The Burden of Hugeness”, I chose a substantial branchfall which had effectively created an entire clearing with its destructive force. The limb, about twenty feet long and maybe fifteen inches through, had crashed through palms and trashed saplings on its way down. I spent a good day drawing the twisted mess and the surrounding dead leaves and wreckage. Then I went for a walk in the woods and turned the recorder on to capture bird sounds. Such is the luck of the well-prepared. Listen.