It’s funny how much I love high places, from the canopy walkway in the Amazon to the Canopy Tower Lodge in Gamboa (more on that terrific place in my next post) to the wondrous canopy tower of BCI’s Lutz ravine, where I spent most of yesterday improbably clinging to a 157 foot tall swaying scaffold structure and trying to draw and paint in the air. It was my last brilliant day here and I loved every minute of it.
I’ve come up this tower at least once or twice every BCI trip and have done a bunch of drawings here. Usually my trip down is hurried because of sudden storms or spider monkeys, both being good reasons to clamber down as soon as possible. One does not wish to be in a tall metal tower in a lightning storm, and one should be wary of aggressive territorial primates whoever they may be, and spider monkeys don’t like to share or play nice. Howlers are another story. I once spent an hour up in this tower sketching a lone male who climbed onto a branch just feet away, looked me over, shrugged, and went to sleep. It’s a measure of confidence when a wild animal accepts you well enough to curl up and snooze in your presence. I was flattered beyond belief.
When I’d had enough searing up top from the tropical sun and the clouds overhead were taking on a deeper gray tone than I liked, I began slowly heading down. Climbing up or down, you have to be slow and deliberate. Consider every move, every hand and foothold before placing your weight. Make sure you have all four limbs in contact with the metal when you shift your weight. Move like a sloth, not like a monkey. Which is not to say that you can’t relax and enjoy the view. Halfway down, I decided to try a big drawing. It would be possible to set one up and complete it within an hour or two. It involved bungee cords and I brought along a lot of bungee cords. The easel I left on the ground. The scaffold itself would be my easel.
As I began drawing the thought did cross my mind that I was possibly doing something dumb and risky, one of those “hey, look what I can do!” last-words-of-a-crazy-artist-before-they-hit-the-ground things. I drew fast but kept my mind on my position in space; no sense actually falling for art.
I really hate to leave BCI, which is what I’m packed and ready to do, but at 3:40pm me and my luggage will be on the afternoon boat to Gamboa, where a taxi will take me to a hotel near the Tocumen airport. Tomorrow I’ll be home in Oklahoma, sorting through all the drawings and paintings and photographs and sound files I’m bringing back with me. And playing with my cat. And thinking about my next trip to the tropical paradise of Panama’s Barro Colorado Island, home of science, beauty and art.
Postscript: this was a silly and risky thing to do, folks, and please please don’t follow my horrid example. I realize that I should have been wearing a climbing harness to do this little sketching stunt, and in the future, I promise I will! And if you’d like to see how this drawing turned out, please see the new page, Panama Plein Air: The Large Drawings.
12 thoughts on “Farewell, My Lovely Island”
great drawings. beautiful place. thanks for posting!
Beautifully, and scarily, written. That’s an incredible effort to get a drawing. I’m still trying to get myself to do ‘pleine air’ drawing let alone ‘extreme pleine air’! It does give a wonderful sense of what it must have been like to be there.
Hi, I am a panamanian biologist, and I have been many times on Barro Colorado.
I felt you got the life and beauty of the green leaf, and plants. It is really beautiful
thansk for share that with us.
Oh my! It is indeed a fortunate thing that you are such a tiny little girl — bungee cords at 75 feet? We need to talk! And you are afraid of flying? Hats off to you, my friend. I would double the price on the drawing you did at that altitude! One more gorgeous drawing. Thanks so much for posting!
I’m speechless. I keep typing words and deleting them as they just aren’t hitting the mark. Bravo for braving heights and being ale to function at the same time, not to mention the beautiful work produced! Bungee cords for safety. Mine would have had to be bridge jumping quality. Please, talk to Becky 🙂
Its been a real joy to enjoy your trip through your blog, Debbie. Your drawings are wonderful but the scaffolding looks insane, however many cords you had tied on!
I just heaved my entire dinner thinking about dangling on that tower. I am always certain there is an unseen force pushing me toward the edge.
Once again I’m grateful to visit the tropics vicariously through you. The Pachycondyla ant, are those the ants known commonly as “bullet” or “24 hour” ants? And I’d really like to know more about Spider Monkeys, and the behaviour that would chase someone our size away. The natural thought would be that they would be afraid of a primate the size of a human.
I have visited your site every day since you have been on this trip. I can hardly wait to see what you have posted each time. Thank you for sharing with all of us. Much the inspiration.
That ant kind of freaked me out, and I like ants.
I love seeing your sketchbook against the scene you painted. Fun to see what you selected in that beautiful and vast view. Amazing, the courage that excitement and passion bring along. Your sketches are all the more inspiring knowing they were made from scaffolding! Don’t bring any of those food tote-ing critters home with you!
You have such a lovely blog. Your travels and art are so exciting.
I was in Barro Colorado Island some 35 years ago when I was a kid. The wildlife and vegetation were amazing. I wish I had clearer memories but I was just a kid.