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.

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.

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