Dreams are powerful tools that can help guide anyone to success and happiness. They represent some cherished aspiration, an ultimate ideal of achievement.

The word sylvan refers most directly to a setting associated with the woods. Reflecting on the vigorous life that abounds in sylvan settings is a very powerful force in my life. For me, this word evokes feelings of transcendence, clarity, and unity.

A Sylvan Dream is a dynamic compilation of my life dream. It is an attempt to seek out and document the truth, beauty, and clarity that exists in this world.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Of Dreams and Delusions


Several years ago while still studying at Bucknell, one day I checked a science news website to read “New Bird Species Found!” Following the link, I learned how a previously known species had just been discovered in Belize, where it had never been seen before. As a picture of the bird popped up next to the article everything else melted away for a few moments, as I stared motionlessly at an electric blue bird with a deep purple throat and a doll-like yellow eye that seemed to stare vacuously at me from the webpage. Learning that discoveries like this were still occurring in the world began to revive my childhood dreams of visiting South America to behold such exuberant examples of beauty for myself. I showed this photo to many people, and eventually the image crept into the deeper folds of my mind. I found myself taking leave from my class conversations to daydream about trudging through a dense and steamy jungle someday, to hopefully look up one day and see this bird standing before me.
Since receiving the newest field guide on the birds of Peru for Christmas, I often flipped to the page where this cotinga stood staring back at me. I would stare at the bird for long periods of time, lost in its beauty, as if just to stare at it might give me some premonition, some calling as to where I could find it waiting in the forest.
Searching for birds is not much different than the pursuit of some coveted love affair. If I was a woman, I would be forever skeptical of a ‘birder’. One needs only to sit around them for a few minutes before their painfully obvious obsession with beauty becomes apparent. While the type of man undoubtedly varies across many spectrums of creepiness, pretentious-ness, and other similar adjectives, all of these men have this weak obsession for beauty in common. For many of these men, I believe this obsession for birds is a reaction, as well as a coping mechanism, to horribly failed relationships in which love was mistaken for obsession and acquisition of beauty.
While I find myself falling somewhere in the midst of this category, I feel in the end it is how you appreciate an object for what it is, not what status it holds in your mind. Beneath a dress, they may seem like the most beautiful breasts, but when the dress is finally slumped against the wall in a pile on the floor, you are still just looking at breasts. The same holds true for birds. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That is all.
However, despite this realization, I unwittingly felt such youthful aspirations seeping back into my mind, and I was awash in my teenage self. As I let the promise of this bird’s beauty lull me into obsession, I was once again balancing on the line separating reality and covetous delusion.
While out on a walk looking for birds today by myself, I stopped in a sunny clearing where a bamboo-like plant called carrizo grows tall. Amidst this field of carrizo, a few old trees stand alone beneath the blazing sun. Hearing a woodpecker tapping away, I began to randomly scan one of these trees in search of it. I followed the trunk of the tree up to its shady canopy, and suddenly there was a burst of electric blue in my binoculars. My mouth dropped wide open. Sitting motionlessly, its bright yellow eye shining back at me eerily; there was the Plum-Throated Cotinga.
And so, there it was, a bird I have been dreaming about seeing for three years. I looked around, as if someone should suddenly have appeared for me to high five. Clinging to the projected meaning of this moment, I let out a little yell, did a little booty dance on the trail, seriously I did, and then looked through my binoculars again. In doing this, I was reminded of what it now meant for me to check off a dream on the list.
Seeing this bird doesn’t necessarily make this day or this six-month trip any more special than it would have been without it, but it symbolizes the culmination of a dream that has lived in me for a long time. When dreams become reality, it is easy fool yourself into sentimentally clinging to the moment, as if you can remain crystallized in its revelry, but from such sentimentality often comes a skewed and painful understanding of reality. The challenge in realizing a dream come true is in treating it as you would any other moment of your life. Each moment has its clear meaning, which does not vary from one to the next.
In this way, I feel I am learning how to navigate my life through a matrix of dreams. While each dream I find shining in the night sky may tell me I am on the right path, the night would be rather dark and lonely without all the other stars in the sky. So, while realizing my dreams gives me bearing on which to set course for future dreams, I try to seek out and enjoy the light that each moment shines on me. And with some time and diligent, concerted effort, I may slowly learn how to perceive the reality of each moment as a dream come true. Until then, I at least know I am on the right path.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

El Aguajal

note: If any of these photos aren't uploading properly, please make a comment or e-mail so I can correct the issue. Uploading and posting photos is difficult at times from a remote satellite link in the Amazon.


Hoping to find an area where the researchers and hunters don’t frequent, Frances and I chose to visit some rather neglected trails here at CICRA for our Sunday hike. After another wonderfully lazy breakfast of pancakes with strawberry jam and queso and a bowl of papaya, we headed out onto the trail.
Thirty minutes later we turned onto a little known trail, Mauritia, named named for one of the most abundant species of palms we would soon find ahead. After navigating around several downed trees, the trail plunged down into the aguajal, or palm swamp, after only a few hundred meters. What in a forest is a simple trail of dirt, becomes a matrix of miniature islands in the aguajal. Rootwads of various swamp plants create unsteady stepping-stones amidst a sea of murky swamp water and mud. At first, we spent much time attempting to avoid getting wet, but it only took about fifteen minutes before we both had fallen in up to our thighs, filling our boots with murky, tepid swamp water.

photo by: Frances Buerkens

Around the edges of the swamp, the palm trees grow densely enough to form a shady canopy. In such shade, vines creep along palm trunks, and multicolored lichens blotch the bark like an abstract artist’s canvas.

photo by: William Minehart

Small clumps of saplings and other brush fill in the spaces between the larger palms, otherwise we Frances and I would be not be able to manage this wading hike at all. Surrounded by bright silver columns of the palm trunks that shine with various shades of green disorients you with a beautiful monotony. While managing one stretch of particularly wobbly islands, I paused for a moment straddling the muck we had still been avoiding, I looked over to see this odd creature that seemed more like it should be in Alice in Wonderland than here in a palm swamp. I giggled a little bit, calling it to Frances' attention so she could take a picture of it.
photo by: Frances Buerkens

As we work our way farther into the center of the swamp, the trees spread out, giving way to thick meadows of aquatic grasses and sedges, sometimes thick enough to walk over, but often not. Having abandoned hopping from island to island of sparse vegetation awhile ago, we took to wading through the swamp with abandon, each of us gasping as we unexpectedly slumped into holes up to our thighs or hips. We periodically stopped to pour the chocolate water out of our boots and to wring out our socks, but the pointlessness of this quickly became apparent.
Thick stalks of vanilla orchids become numerous towards the center of the swamp; sometimes obscuring almost all the palm trunk they grow on. Fed by an endless supply of water below, thick waxy leaves the size of basset hound ears glow an illuminant lime green, contrasting sharply with the yellow haze bearing down on everything beneath the mid-day sun.
Small tufts of waxy white bristly leaves stick out from small crevices on surrounding saplings and palm bark. Some of these minute bromeliads are scarcely greater than the old growth communities of hair growing from a grandfather’s useless ears, while some others resemble large pineapples. Long red spikes extend from this prickly plant when flowering times arrive. Blossoming, they unfurl trumpeting tongues of some the most stunningly contrasting electric yellows, oranges, reds, and purples. These flowers offer a surprising vibrance from a plant that is otherwise dull and seemingly perpetually on the verge of death.
Small periwinkle pedals glinting in the bright sun caught my eyes as we waded through the swamp. These petite blossoms reminded me of snapdragons back home, yet they hung from the tips of the grass stalks.
Ahead a small inflorescence of white and yellow flowers coming from a terrestrial orchid bobbed in the breeze just above the surrounding vegetation. A few of the nearby plants had mature seed pods that were beginning to split open to spread their powdery seeds into the wind as they dried out. I picked a few off the stalk, broke them in my hands, threw them into the air, and with my most god-like voice said, “I am the disperser, go forth and reproduce!” A modest cloud of white powder spilled out of the airborne ovaries, and quickly dissipated like a puff of smoke into the breeze. Frances and I chuckled for a moment, and then waded on.
photo by: Frances Buerkens

Pausing under the shade of some larger palms along the way, we scanned our surroundings as we shared some water and cookies. Only occasionally breaking the relative silence, we commented on the animal paths of varying sizes zigzagging across our so-called trail, or stopped to watch a spider move around its web. The spider webs here prove to be quite strong. We traced one long guy line from a web almost ten feet to a nearby palm tree after it got caught on my earring as I tried to pass. We avoided breaking any webs when possible, but some were inevitably covering the easiest way for us to pass through this rather strenuous path. One line snapped as loudly as loudly as the tip of a 6x fly-line as Frances pulled it from our path. At another spot we stopped to take a few photos of a large spider perched in the center of its illuminated web. As we jockeyed for perfect photo position, we noticed it was suddenly spinning an unfortunate fly in a coffin of silk.
photo by: William Minehart
As we worked our way back out of the swamp, the palms closed back in around us, and we often found ourselves following more of a tapir path than anything man-made. We jumped from time to time, as flat sticks protruding from the mud immediately resembled the head of a snake. Frances let out a shriek as we came around one corner, but she began laughing in mid air as she jumped back. I looked down to see the black and yellow head of a tortuga peaking around at us uneasily from its shell.
photo by: William Minehart
For many people, I suppose continually sinking up to your thighs every few steps may not be the ideal six hour Sunday hike, but Frances and I both commented on the pleasant pace of travel a swamp demands. Over four and a half hours, we covered a meager 3.5 km of swamp. Sometimes one hundred meters would take five to ten minutes. At this pace, your eyes have much more time to see the little things they are designed to filter out when one is hiking much faster on a well-traveled dirt trail. Here’s to slowing down. What are not allowing your senses time to perceive?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

La Dia de las Garrapatas


I hit the snooze alarm more times this morning than I care to admit. I finally woke up lying on my back with one arm draped over my face. Slowly coming to consciousness, I realized the sounds outside did not match me lying in bed. The first birds were beginning to sing, and the howlers were growling to life, but usually Claire and I were on the trail already when I heard these noises. I rolled over to reach for my alarm, but knocked it to the floor. Wrestling with my mosquito net, I climbed halfway beneath my bed before finally finding that I had ten minutes to be ready for work. No Good.
I was surprised by how much my damp pants had dried during the night as I slid them on. Pulling a damp shirt from the musty armoire, I felt what I thought to be ants begin to crawl all over my hands. Dropping the shirt to the floor, I looked into the armoire. My headlamp illuminated a mass of brown termites building a tunnel system beneath my clothing. Shaking my head in mild disgust, I shuffled the remaining clothes around my armoire to disturb their construction with small hope that it would perhaps encourage their departure by the time I returned in the afternoon. Leaving my usual shirt on the ground with the termites, I slid my last semi-clean cotton shirt on, and headed out the door.
Luckily Don Pasqual already had some breakfast ready for a group of students who were departing early. So, I bolted a plain fried egg sandwich with some stale bread, slid on my rubber boots, and headed out with Claire.
While we often run into a few groups of monkeys beginning their morning commute between feeding spots, or see several interesting species of birds during the nearly hour-long walk to our sites each morning, many days are rather uneventful. Some mornings, I look up to see we have arrived to our work site with surprise. Despite this, I am finding these mornings equally cathartic. While I am not present in the moment before me, giving my mind time to churn through distracting thoughts of challenging memories and future choices get me closer to focusing on the present.

The first pair of birds proved to be unresponsive to our speakers today. So, we moved down the trail to our second pair, which we weren’t even sure to be a new pair or not since we were so close to the first territory. We set up the net; continually removing snagged bamboo brush from it. We returned to the shadows after turning on the playback speakers to lure the birds into the net, hopefully.
As soon as we sat down, we noticed two Bullet Ants locked in battle atop a bamboo stem (These ants are named so because their sting apparently feels like being shot). This must have been serious, for these usually solitary creatures aren’t seen together very often, which is odd for the majority of ant species that usually thrive only within the shelter of a highly social hierarchy. One individual stood stoically atop the cut bamboo stem while below him, half inside the stem, another ant, which I presumed to be another male, clutched one of the first ant’s legs in his jaws. Curling his abdomen while upside down, he continually reached for the other male attempting to deliver one of their legendary stings. They stayed relatively motionless like this until we looked up a few minutes later to find two birds hanging in the net. These would be the first of this species (Hypocnemis subflava) Claire and I had caught.
After making our way carefully along the nets to the birds, I placed the male into a cotton bag and pulled the draw string after removing him from the net, and then helped Claire remove a difficult tangle where the net had become looped around the female’s head with two separate strands of netting.
Claire pulled the male out of the bag after sitting down, and I hung the bag with the female in it on one of the bamboo spurs next to our work spot on the trail, then slid on a long sleeved shirt to keep the insects off while we worked with the birds. A dark spot on the right cuff of the shirt caught my attention. Lifting it closer to my eyes, they widened in slight terror to see a crawling mass of minute ticks. They had already begun to spread out over the shirt, and as I traced their path up my arm, it quickly became evident that I was covered in them. After I showed Claire, she scanned her clothing, and found they were crawling all over her too.
With bird already in hand, and another one waiting to be processed, we decided it would be hopeless to even attempt removing the hundreds of ticks that we could already feel climbing up our necks and under the sleeves of our shirts. So, we took all the measurements, feathers, and blood of both birds, trying not to notice the hundreds of pen point sized ticks. Simple.
I don’t even remember at what point this happened anymore, but amongst all of this, I was moving to close the net up after catching the two birds, and I noticed something black crawling across my shoulder. I look over to see a new Bullet Ant crawling toward my neck. I tried to swat it off a few times quickly before abandoning my shirt. Yanking it off as quickly as possible, I left it on the ground for a few minutes until I saw the ant crawl away. Claire and I smirked at each other, rolling our eyes as if to ask “What Next!”
We pack up the net to move on with no added problems, and despite all the bad jungle omens, we were in good spirits with hopes to catch a few more birds before lunch.
After waiting some twenty minutes at the next site, Claire and I begin to chuckle at how much we now resemble our smaller relatives of the jungle who spend so much time grooming. We sat there the whole time without sharing a word, just plucking ticks off of ourselves. Moving from site to site, we continued picking more and more ticks, but they seemed endless. By the time we stepped back out onto the main trail from our tick-infested trail from hell, we emerged with no more birds in the book, but at least the ticks were not obviously crawling all over us anymore.

Anxious to begin my afternoon, which now entailed removing the plenitude of parasites embedded in my body and clothing, I asked Claire if she was comfortable walking back alone, and then took off at a slow jog after putting the machete in my backpack.
It felt good to shuffle down the trail. Sweat quickly began to trickle down over my eyebrows as I found my running breath. After two especially thick cobwebs wrapped around my face, I knelt down and snagged one of the long stems of a cecropia leaf from the trail to wave in front of me as I ran. Hiking on these trails always reminds me of ‘mountain biking’ on the trails around Pinchot Park back in Pennsylvania with Silas when we were young. Amidst failing breaks, flat tires, and breaking bike seats, we always loathed being the unlucky one to go first down the trail in the early morning. Every hill, every corner, virtually all the trail offered an endless slew of cobwebs. We spit and wiped them from our faces as we sped down the trail, trying to avoid all the rocks and oncoming trees. Who knows how many of our countless wrecks were due to the distraction of disgusting cobwebs wet with morning dew. Despite this, we still headed out each morning on our bikes, until one day Silas threw his bike into the woods with a scream after a particularly unpleasant crash. The next morning we became fishermen, or boys who fished…
Fifteen minutes later I shed my wet boots and socks on the porch outside the comedor, and headed in for lunch. Small pools of sweat gathered where my forearms rested against the bench table as I gulped my food. We went around the table sharing stories and sightings from the morning, and I showed everyone a few of the ticks on the inside of my bicep while sharing the details of our interesting morning.
After a deliciously chilling shower, I cracked open an unpleasantly warm drink back in my cabin, lit a candle on the stand next to my bed, and sat down with some tweezers. Over the next forty minutes I counted eighty-two or eighty-three puffs of smoke exhale from the tip of the candle flame, each one of them a tick pulled from my body. Later, Frances graciously removed the remaining ticks from the areas I could not manage. We too shared a chuckle over how similar we had become to our distant relatives as she rummaged through the hair on my face and neck, plucking another one with a delightful, “Oh, there’s another one!”
After all this, cleaning the termite mess from my armoire seemed trivial. As the setting sun shined through the trees, I shook off my clothing, swept the termites and all the tracked-in sand out the door, off my porch, and walked to dinner.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Good Morning

7/13/08 - Happy Birthday Sara. I am thinking of you.

The early morning sun shot through the trees on the horizon as we ate a fine breakfast of pancakes with strawberry jam and queso, along with freshly cut papaya. A refreshing breeze wafted through the comedor, but the clear blue skies above the station spoke clearly of the ensuing heat. After breakfast we sat around, deciding what to do with our lazy Sunday morning. I opened my mac to check in on some e-mails before planning to head out into the woods.
Never underestimate the power of some good ole rock from the good days. Some CCR songs can always pick me up and inspire an active day any time, especially after a rough morning when some cold hair of the dog would be nice. Proud Mary had me rollin’ and ready to go look for some birds.
Striding across the soccer field to the trail some time before nine, the direct sunlight immediately coaxed a sticky sweat to form beneath my shirt. The shade of the forest was immediately relieving, but we continued to sweat as we hurried to catch up with the group of birders ahead of us. A few hundred yards up the trail, animals were crashing through the leaves, the tell tale sound of monkeys. We looked up to find some squirrel monkeys crossing the trail over our heads. They hurriedly worked through the understory in search of insects disturbed by the larger capuchins they follow through the jungle all day, every day. We snapped some shots as they moved away from us, but the dim light was not encouraging and we still had a group to catch up with.
Peeping noises came from the forest around us as we walked, and we eventually spotted one of the traps a few meters off of the trail where small wire mesh cages held young chickens. These were set here early in the morning by the researchers we were headed out to find. While they arrived just last night, they had already headed out onto the trail in hopes to quickly catch a new bird to this area that has been sited several times recently by some of us here at CICRA. It is a rare black-faced hawk, supposed to only reside in the North of Peru, far from here. Catching this bird to collect genetic information will shed light as to whether this species has a range much greater than originally suspected, whether it is perhaps a different morph of another species, or perhaps even a new species all together. It is most likely the same known species, and we are just now getting a better glimpse into this bird’s range as more knowledgeable people frequent this area. Nonetheless, it is very rare, and only one has been sited here.

Loops of fishing line glint in the tendrils of sun slicing through the dim forest as we pass. These loops will snare an unsuspecting hawk as it swoops down to land on the peep placed safely inside the wire mesh cage. We pass about ten of these traps along the trail until we find the researchers around the next bend, relaxing supine atop a poncho spread out across the trail. I smirk at first, but after my last week’s experience with various insects (story to come), I don’t blame them at all. I have even begun to carry a collapsible tripod seat with me over the last two weeks.
Diego, Frances, and I mill around for the next thirty minutes looking for birds until it is time to pass back by the traps to check for the hawk. We stop to look at some spider webs glinting in the sun around the trail, and especially remark over one orb web. This inverted hemisphere of densely woven silk seemed unlikely to catch anything other than attention as it conspicuously sparkled silvery white like a disco ball, yet several minutes later as we passed by again to go check the traps, the light had shifted and although it was only a foot off the trail at eye level, it had become invisible again. A few subtle notes of a flycatcher song drew our attention to the glowing leaves overhead. Diego found it quickly, but it took me ten minutes or more of searching until the petite gray and white bird flitted from its shadowy perch beneath the leaves, betraying its camouflage as it snatched an insect in mid air. This family of birds is well known for its astounding diversity, yet notorious for the fact that many species appear virtually identical to even the trained ornithological eyes crawling through these forests.
To accurately identify and learn field identification for these birds, one must not only know the possible plumages one may encounter in specific habitats, but one must also be able to pick out minute differences in their vocalizations. Take a minute, and say these next few ‘words’ out loud in your highest pitch possible.



“turp~ip~ip~ip ip ip ip”

If you think you could pick the differences in these songs out of the forest air, then perhaps you should fly to Peru tomorrow. And just in case you weren’t sure, the way each is written above is based on a complete ‘language’ birders use to learn these songs, and yes there is definitely a difference in the way the apostrophes, hyphens, and tildes are pronounced.
After thirty minutes had passed, we headed back down the trail, stopping momentarily to inspect each trap for a hawk or signs of a predator’s presence, but there were none. Since the researchers were planning on bringing the hawk back to the station for photographs should they have caught it, we decided to head back to the station. Along the way, I decided I wanted to stop at a spot where I have been seeing an especially bright manakin in hopes of photographing him. We dipped off onto a side trail we’ve been using to net a few of our antbirds, and sat in the foliage for a while, looking around. The first time I saw this bird we were waiting for a pair of our subject species to fly into our nets when suddenly the bright flaming orange head of this male caught my attention from where he stood, blazing in the sunlight. I nearly yelled as I watched each feather glisten a waxy brilliance through my binoculars. White emotionless eyes stared blankenly at me for a few minutes as the male stood motionlessly before me. Finally, after perhaps a minute, I looked away for a moment, and when I looked back only a bobbing Carrizo branch met my eyes.

We sat for perhaps ten minutes inside the dense foliage of the understory, perched just above a steep drop to a small densely covered spring below, but soon my interest in exploring overcame my distaste for sitting still. While the stream was only forty feet below, our want to see this bird kept us moving as slowly and quietly as we could until we were standing in the deep mud of the spring thirty minutes later.
We gazed around us, inspecting the clear water trickling over the deep in which mud we stood. A tall tree fern towered over us, casting a lacey drapery of long reaching fronds over the blue skies. We waited silently for a long time, shrugging to each other every few minutes, acknowledging the obvious. A deep sucking sound gasped from each hole as I moved another step forward every few minutes to keep the mud from climbing up over my sinking boots.
Finally a short murmur of a birdcall came from above. It was a single note with a melancholic minor pitch that rose at the end. I called back into the void until a dark green puff of feathers appeared above us flickering its wings excitedly as it searched the understory for the intruder. I wasn’t sure, but it appeared to be a female manakin, possibly the same species as the male we were in search of. She circled around us for ten minutes as I continued calling to keep its irritated attention while Frances tried to get a good glimpse of her through my binos. Then suddenly she disappeared, as most birds seem to do after a certain period of time. They seem to just lose interest or decide it must not be the intruder they thought.
We ascended the embankment on the other side of the stream, and came across a clearwing butterfly on our way back out to the sand path leading around our cabins. This individual stayed still enough for me to snap a picture before it popped off the leaf, and fluttered away like a red blotch of paint come to life.

Frances and I shared interest in lunch as we turned onto the sand path headed in the direction of the station. Another high pitch call coming from just off the side of the trail barely caught our attention. We looked over to see several titi monkeys looking back at us from some branches.

Frances mentioned how often she awakes from hot afternoon siestas to this group hanging in the trees outside her cabin. We watched them feed on some bamboo shoots for a few minutes as they hopped from tree to tree before running up into the top of a cecropia tree in search of fresh seeds.

This individual ate with comical exuberance. What a little gremlin. Look at those pirhanna teeth!

Friday, July 4, 2008

For the Love of Early Mornings

With each change in my lifestyle, I tend to experience large changes in my sleeping habits, but a few things generally remain constant: I rarely sleep much, other people think my sleeping habits are rather crazy, and my internal clock appears to not run in accordance with a common schedule.

A sharp pain in my crotch shocked me to life. As I squeezed the epicenter of this quaking pain, hoping to kill whatever was biting this very important appendage, I reached over my head with my other hand, frantically fumbling through the dark for my headlamp. The pain subsided as my numb fingers felt for the switch of my headlamp, and I hoped I had killed the intruder. Even in a cabin covered in window screening, in a bed beneath a fine layer of mosquito netting, and beneath several sheets, insects are as pervasive as the oppressive the humidity here. They find their way to my body during the night, and while I am able to almost completely avoid itching all day long, I awake well before sunrise, scratching at these blemishes with abandon.
Lifting up my sheets, I slid my shorts down to inspect the damage, to see three reddish brown dots glinting in the light. When I was in Australia for a semester, we had a Tropical Disaster Game, in which students were given points for the intensity and frequency with which they encountered such tropical disasters as malaria, denge fever, box-jelly stings, ticks, leeches, stinging trees, snakes, etc. As I stared down my pants at these three ticks happily anchored in my ‘man-parts’ I was again reminded of winning this game several years ago. The amount of ticks and leeches that found their way to my genitals over a semester is what put me on the podium.
“You gotta be kidding me,” I half chuckled through an incredulous grimace as I sat up in my bed. I contemplated getting up for a few minutes to go get my tweezers at my desk in the lab until another shot of penetrating pain shocked me even more awake, and I decided to get up. After throwing on my damp field clothing, I slid my shoes on, shoved a rum bottle cap and candle into my pocket, and headed out of my cabin. Stumbling up the sandy path towards the lab at 230 am, mosquitoes and other insects buzzed before my headlamp, periodically landing on my face. Just after blowing one of these mosquitoes away from my lips, something flashed in front of my face and I felt a faint puff of air against my lips. Before I could realize what happened, again the bat flitted through the light, snatching another insect from the air, inches from my face.

I have been waking up early a lot lately. The amount of sleep I get here is rather ridiculous compared to what I am used to. While it is getting light around 430 or 5 back home, it gets light here around 6 all year, which means it also gets dark about the same time since we are in the tropics - the land of constantly unchanging sun. The lights cut out here when the electricity cuts out, which cuts out when Marco shuts off the generator, at about 930 in the evening. At this time, everyone usually filters off to his or her room to prepare for bed. Some read or write for a while under the light of their headlamp or candle, but most people are asleep very early.
The last two weeks I have been finding myself waking up around 230 am, after a solid 5-6 hours of sleep, which is what I have been used to for about 7 years now. I lay there for thirty minutes or so, waiting to fall back asleep, and suddenly wake back up at 430 to my alarm telling me it is time to get ready for work, and I feel completely groggy and confused. In college I had developed a method to get myself out of bed and out of my room as soon as I awoke in the morning any time after 5am, whether with my alarm or not. This worked rather well for me. My productivity in college went way up, I often woke up before my alarm, and I found myself rarely getting tired or grumpy during the days. So, I have decided to embrace this lifestyle again while I am here in the Peru, even if it means getting up at 230am. I figured what better morning to resume this practice than when I woke up to the shocking pain of three insects sinking into the softest flesh on my body.
Within the grasp of my tweezers, all of the ticks came out completely painlessly in less than a minute. I then dug a fingernail into each one, cutting them in half, and flicked their pieces into the darkness around me. I find it odd that ticks down here sincerely hurt when they bite, while most of their North American counterparts can sink well into our flesh without detection for days.

Down in the comedor, I found some matches in the kitchen next to the gas stove, lit a match, and held it to the bottom of my candle momentarily, then pressed it to the inside of the rum cap until it held fast. My nose wrinkled involuntarily and I exhaled sharply as a tendril of sulphury smoke invaded my nostrils. As I sat and read, little explosions puffed from the flame. Mosquitoes fell onto the table next to the candle, stiff legs in the air, no wings left; all of them a minute Icarus in their own right, having flown too close to the sun illuminating the paper and pen before me.