Saturday, May 16, 2009

Trying to be an Epiphyte


“An epiphyte is a way of life,” explained our naturalist guide, Maria as she pointed out the bromeliads in Costa Rica’s Monteverde Rain Forest. She continued to tell us that an epiphyte lives on a host, usually a tree, and doesn’t take any of the nutrients from the tree but just hangs out together, collecting water and making oxygen. The epiphyte is like the good neighbor, who plans the block parties and always has cookies for the kids.

In contrast, the parasite nibbles away at the host's nutrients, often damaging its existence, more like the nasty noisy pesty neighbor who has loud parties, steals your water to mow his lawn or builds a house that blocks your view. You know the one that you can't stand and want to scratch away.

Walking through the lush rainforest, Maria whistled to different birds. She sounded just like the feather friends (epiphytes?) and they called back to her, hoping she would fly through the air with them. She fooled an exquisite shimmering green and coral red Quetzal bird with its three foot long tail, and we are now amidst the privileged folks who know true beauty.

But as I inhaled the thick oxygen of the rain forest, I started thinking: isn't man more of a parasite rather than epiphyte? Shouldn’t we stop being pesty parasites that destroy our host, the earth? Shouldn’t we hang out and behave more like the epiphytes? In a sense, life on the boat where we produce our own electricity with our solar panels, make water from the ocean and move with the wind is closer to being an epiphyte than a parasite. Maybe that's a good excuse for our adventure in lieu of spending the year as a gas guzzling parasite.

Oh, maybe I have been inhaling too much oxygen. After all I've been living on land for the past few days in the rain forest where forty percent of the world’s oxygen is produced. I've also been whizzing through the thick trees with Poppy, my 79 year old father-in-law, on the canopy ziplines.

Though I wasn't fast enough to photograph the Quetzal, I did photograph the naturalists on board:

Here's naturalist Kai documenting the forest:


Here's Memaw, Tim's mom, and Tim looking at a bird. Notice their expressions -- I think they're on the verge of becoming epiphytes or maybe they see a UFO:



And biologist Maya wanted to see first hand so she crawled into a strangler fig tree that started out as an epiphyte, but eventually took over its host. Is that a message about what happens when someone is too controlling.



All in all, the cool rainy rain forest with its epiphytes and parasites and thick canopy of trees is an amazing place.

Parting Shot: Maya swinging through the jungle with her friends the howler monkeys.

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