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.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Good Morning - Pt. 2

It was an early morning. We headed back down the trail towards CM1, (the other research station) and met Marco waiting for us by the boats. He yanked the modified lawn mower engine to life, and a moment later we were lurching upstream in the river. We squinted into the sun as we looked around the river banks and into the clear blue skies for animals.
Bright white egrets stalked around wooden debris jutting into the river, plucking unwary minnows from the current, while most of the large Cucoi herons perched stoicly upon the tree trunks speckled around us in the river. Their wings slumped away from their sides, and their beaks hung agape as their throats undulated, panting air like a dog.
Once in awhile some of them would become a little too uncomfortable as we passed in the vibrating peki-peki, and with a lazy, fluid motion they would crouch and turn away from us, them jump into the air like a puppet, as if they had just been lifted by invisible strings. A few feet into the air they opened their wings, casting a wide shadow across the water a foot or two below them. With slow, labored wingbeats they float away through the air, craning their neck momentarily to be sure they are not being pursued. Through my binoculars I follow their wingtips as they pass barely an inch above the water with each stroke. I smile, catching a few swirls in the water where their wings come closest to the surface. They are such a large bird, yet they master such delicate and graceful flight.
Up ahead I see an odd, black, lanky form sticking up from the water’s edge. What at first appears to be an animal, then an odd tree stump, turns out to be a spider monkey wading in the water up to its chest. I point it out to every one else just as it spots us coming up river. It turns to run back across shore, stopping momentarily on the long river bank to stare us down, then turns and continues running the fifty meters of so across the large gravel bank until it disappears into the safety grass close to the trees. It appeared as though it was about to swim across the fiver, but perhaps it was just seeking to cool off and have a drink on this very hot day.
Waves of heat rippled over the sandbar like mirages in the desert. Above us, a cloud of kites, vultures, falcons, and storks swirled around in the thermal, quickly rising into the sky. With the river being so low recently, these exposed riverbanks create perfect islands of heat, which these birds take advantage of to navigate long distances, sometimes only flapping several times an hour.
As we leave the sand bar behind us, I look ahead upriver to see the storks cruising out ahead of us now. Wings slightly curved, I could see the feathers close to their body rippling in the wind as they accelerated past us. Just as they were getting low enough for me to see the black and white of their wings again, they broke out of the descent, banking back into the lazy swirl of another thermal rising above the next sandbar perhaps a half mile upstream. In the two or three minutes it took for us to get directly beneath them again, they had become specks in the sky once more. Looking over my shoulder, they dropped out of the thermal and descended rapidly towards the horizon, disappearing over the jungle canopy to the next unseen thermal lying just upstream around the river bend.
Amidst one of these clouds of climbing birds, I watched several falcons and kites stoop down out of the sky upon some unseen prey below. Dropping several hundred feet in only a few seconds, I can rarely help but gasp or yell to draw the spectacle to other’s attention. I watched one Plumbeous kite drop towards the sandbar, grappling with some smaller creature the size of a huge dragonfly or a hummingbird for a few seconds before pulling out of the stoop to avoid hitting the ground. I watched the prey streak away in the other direction inches off the ground, still unsure as to whether it was a hummingbird or a dragonfly. Down here, they are of very similar sizes.
While the air may feel fresh as the peki-peki labours upstream, once we land back at CICRA, the air sits heavily upon us again. By the time we have arrived at the top of the staircase some 240 steps later, sweat drips from my face, but at least it is lunch time, which means some cool, sweet refresco awaits my parched lips.

A Good Morning - Pt.1

We went down to CM1 this morning in attempts to finish collecting data for the final birds we need to finish collecting at one of our three field sites. Today, we were simply attempting to record the songs of four birds that we had already caught in mist nets during the previous weeks. While we sat in wait for the birds to show up in response to the speakers sitting along the trail shouting their song into the forest, the sun rose through the trees, and sweat quickly began to dampen my shirt. A family of howler monkeys moved through the trees high in the canopy above us, stopping momentarily to gaze at us as we stared through out binoculars. A moment later I could hear the sounds of their urine showering down through down the leaves. Excremental bombs slapped upon the forest floor with a smack – a howlers attempt to help potential threats keep their distance. Luckily this morning the air was moving away from us through the forest, wafting the dank smell of zoo away from where Claire and I sat. We took a few photos of some interesting green, blue, red, and black grasshoppers that glide through the air on bright white wings after shooting themselves into the air. Walking down the trail some days, we encounter a pocket of fifteen or twenty of these hoppers, and they explode around us like a mini fireworks display surrounding us beneath the shade of the forest canopy.
Finally, we hear the call of one of our subject species calling back to us from up the trail. Without a word, Claire and I pace quickly towards the singing bird. She hands me the speakers as she pulls the microphone from a leather holster and untangles the chord from the recorder. Crouching at the trail’s edge once we get close enough to the bird, she begins recording the bird as it sings in defense of its territory. The screen of the recorder jumps erratically as it records the song, along with the toucans and cicadas screaming in the canopy above. As long as we can get close enough to the bird while it sings, it should be loud enough to differentiate the notes of the bird we want from the ambient noise of the forest, which can become deafening some days. With the last month’s dry heat, the katydids and cicadas have come out in full force, mastering the sound waves of the mid-day heat. After 830 or 9 in the morning, some places in the forest are overcome with a cacophony of this insect chorus. A few days previous, Claire and I sat waiting almost an hour for the insects to quiet down so that the birds could actually hear the speakers playing their song over the noise of the forest. Claire and I sat and talked, laughing as we had to nearly yell at each other to be heard.
Once Claire recorded enough songs for later computer analysis, she gives me a knod, and I step off the trail into the forest to search for the singing bird. In order for our recorded songs to be useful, we have to be 100% sure that each bird we record is the individual we think it is since their song is being analyzed in conjunction with blood samples we have already taken during previous visits. Sometimes it is simple. If we are lucky, the birds are drawn in close enough by the phantom intruder that we can see their identifying color bands from the trail. However, more often than not, these birds seem to have some recollection of what happened the last time they laid chase to an intruder in their territory. So, while they will sing in defense of their territory, the more often we visit their territory, the less likely they are to come close enough for us to see their leg bands.
Today, we are lucky. After changing position in the forest three times, I got back out onto the trail and ran ahead of the birds as they worked their way farther from us. I sat waiting, and each minute, their call got closer and closer, until they came hopping and flitting past me. While trying to track them through dense foliage about 2 feet off of the ground, I desperately attempted to keep them in focus and spot the color bands around their legs. At each perch these birds spend about three seconds or less standing still. So, once they move, I have just that amount of time to try and follow them, focus, see the colors on their legs, attempt to tell whether it is male of female, decide on which legs the color bands are and, if I can see really well, attempt to decide what combination the bands occur on each leg. Sometimes there are up to four bands on each bird, two per leg. It is often as simple as just spotting one or two of these bands, and knowing whether it was on the female or male. Then, I can go to the data book, and check the combination with the individual we think it is to be sure of its identity. However, once in awhile we have birds living close to each other, and while we attempt to not let it occur, every once in awhile neighbours may end up with similar color combinations, making it very important to see exactly what is on each bird’s leg. Today, I was able to see a yellow band on the right leg of the male as he perched sideways two inches off the ground for about two seconds, and about two minutes later I got the female’s combination-red on the left leg, white and silver on the right-as she perched just barely within view sideways on a sapling two feet off the ground. Thus it only took about thirty minutes of following them around in the woods today before we realized some success. This part of the research is by far the most challenging and my favorite part of this work, and it allows me to put to use skills I have been attuning since I was a child. It is not very dissimilar from the way I grew up hunting. For I must be somewhat quiet as I stalk the bird, I must get close to it and, just as I need to be accurate enough to shoot something to kill it, I have to be skilled, quick, and accurate with my binoculars to spot the bird and read the color bands on its leg. Even better, in the end I walk away successful, yet still having killed nothing.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Blog Problems

I am sorry for the silence on my blog. I have been away on and off at another research station where I do not have internet access. It has been nice to get away from it here and there.

However, I returned after this last trip to find the lower row of my keyboard is not functioning anymore,thus I cannot sign into my computer. So, this will no doubt limit my blogging until I am able to hopefully have a new keyboard sent to Cusco, where I pick it up the end of september, and hopefully everything will be ok. Until then, I hope to update when possible, and keep in touch via e-mail if you would like to get in touch with me.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Mi Cabana

The majority of the land that the research station (CICRA) I am living at rests on is a large clearing, perhaps roughly five football fields in total area. There are four main large buildings that are perhaps the size of an average American house. These buildings are framed in concrete; the rest is made of wooden framing, and thatched roof. There is no wood paneling really to make walls, so the building is pretty much a wooden frame closed in screen mesh.
This lends the feeling of being outside at all times, and thus being indoors only really means respite from the bugs,
and the rain, but the roofs leak a little bit. While I am sure some families have air conditioning somewhere in Peru, I have only heard of air conditioning in banks, and that was in Lima. Around the rest of the station are a meager smattering of nice cabins, and a football (soccer) field where we play a few times a week.
Behind the station, a sand trail leads back to the water tower. Water is pumped from an adjoining spring into large plastic drums lifted high in the concrete tower. This height provides enough pressure to push the water through several hundred feet of pipes to the main buildings and surrounding cabins, some of which have bathrooms. On the way to the water tower, a few small paths jut off from the main sand path.
These small paths lead to about five other small cabins peppered through the jungle. These are also wooden frame cabins with thatch roofs, screened in with mesh. These cabins are set up in size and layout like a double college dorm room, but usually only one person sleeps in them.
In the oppressive mid-day heat, I find my cabin quite relieving. Even as I write this, hanging in my hammock wearing only mesh shorts, I am still sweating. As soon as we return from our fieldwork for the day, I retreat to the cold showers close to my cabin, and relish in the frigid water as it pours over my head and chest delightfully.
I often look out the screen to watch some capuchins or tamarins moving past in the trees just outside, and imagine myself standing in some mountain waterfall. I spend the afternoon writing, playing my guitar, or reading, but it usually ends with me waking up an hour or two before dinner to squirrel monkeys and brown capuchins crashing through the trees around my cabin.
Many nights I return to my cabin shortly after dinner. Laying my bag next to my nightstand, I grab a lighter, and light a few candles that I have stuck into some old spirit bottles. Each candle burns for several hours, so the twenty four candles I bought almost two months ago now are just starting two dwindle. I hang my hammock up, pull my bed stand over to my side, and spend the rest of the evening usually just like the afternoon. I read, write, or play my guitar until it is late enough to go to bed, or I just fall asleep by candlelight.
Large moths and other insects ping loudly against the screen closest to the candlelight. I feel bad for the damage I must be causing to these large beautiful moths as they slam against my cabin, but then figure there is little difference between these large moths and all the minute flies that fall beside the candle with a sizzle and pop every few minutes - no difference besides my valuing a charismatic moth over a biting fly. Inevitably, I let the thought fade out of my mind, for I am thankful to have the light of these candles over electric running into the cabin.
Soon after I hear the generator cut out around 930, I decide it is time to sleep. Brushing my teeth on my porch, I dodge some moths bombing at my headlamp while simultaneously whale spouting my mouthful of water and toothpaste into the dark. I stand around for a minute or two scratching my chest as I look around, to be sure there is nothing else I am forgetting to do before bed. I then blow out the candles, half the nights playing karate kid, punching or kicking the candles out with a puff of supreme prowess any eight year old would be jealous of. I slide under the small space where my mosquito net is not tucked under the mattress, and then shake the sand off my feet as I sit on the edge of the bed. In the few minutes it usually takes to fall asleep, I lay on my back wide-eyed, looking into the night. Sooner or later they are usually met with a ghostly green glow. I sit up and look around, to find a small firefly swirling around outside my cabin. Some nights I can hear wings sputtering in the air like some oversized beetle treading through the air. This is another, much larger firefly. A pale green light glows when it lands on the overhang of the roof, but as soon as it takes off, it is replaced by a halo of bright orange light shining from its abdomen.
Some nights, a large gecko softly scampers across the screening close to my head, but most nights it is a mouse-like marsupial. Loudly and relentlessly they scamper back and forth, up over my roof, and eventually down the inside of my wall. Before moving into the cabin, I used to wake up to nice little marsupial gifts in the form of excrement on my floor or on some hanging clothing, but in this cabin, they don’t bother me that much. So, whereas I used to get out of bed and smack them with a sock, I only do that here if they don’t leave after awhile.
I dream the night away, half of the time waking up thrashing my foot or arms in the midst of some crazy dream. One night I woke up throwing my pillow as I sat up abruptly in bed. My pillow and headlamp bounced off the mosquito net and landed on my legs. I laughed out loud. I don’t know exactly why, I but I have very intense dreams here. Luckily, they are almost all good now. Luckily, despite all this restless dreaming, I feel rather rested when it is time to get up. Three or four days a week I find myself with enough energy to get up early to do yoga. I had been teaching Frances while she was here, but now since she has left to return to college, I get up at 4am to do yoga by candlelight before heading off to work at 530. My mind slowly lets go of the night, and I feel the tension leave my neck and back as I move through sun salutations. Cockroaches often shoot from the dancing shadows across my hands or stomach when I am lying on my back doing crunches. However, they are rather common here, and don’t have as much of a disgusting connotation as they do back home. The mornings are nicest when a calm breeze rustles through the trees, refreshing the air in my cabin, bringing a slight coolness to the sweat forming across my back. The rest of the mornings I get up around 450am, and head up to the comedor for a quick breakfast before we head out on the trail a bit before sunrise.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Thoughts about Expectations


Early one morning I was dreaming about two random people I have never seen having a discussion after a high school English class. The teacher was a young, frumpy lady wearing an amorphous green muumuu-like dress. The student was essentially the same, but younger. The girl was having trouble finishing any writing assignments in class. After some prodding from the teacher, the girl shared that she wasn’t allowed to write about what she wanted because people wouldn’t like it, and they would make fun of her.
The teacher sighed and sloughed down into a chair next to the girl. Then she shared a similar story how she has wanted to write a book her whole life, but she felt that no one wanted to read a book written by a woman like her.
As I watched this scene unfold, a quote materialized, and as if I was watching television, a torn strip of old parchment scrolled through my vision like a marquee screen. Written fluidly with a quill, I read the following words in black ink,

“Society isn’t stopping us from doing anything. Only our perception of what society expects us to do keeps us from accepting the possibility of our dreams as reality.”

As I read this quote, the scene behind it dissolved into a deep green curtain, and the quote echoed in my mind. I slowly realized I was waking up from a dream, and listened as a voice resounded the quote again. I sat up in my bed, checking my clock to see it was 359am, one minute before my alarm was to go off. I slinked beneath my mosquito net, grabbed my journal laying on my bed stand, and quickly scribbled down the quote as my dream faded.

A few years ago, I was sharing some thoughts about life with a close friend. While we were chatting, I remember writing to him a thought of mine stating expectations are poison. I feel that the emergence of this quote in my dreams brings about an evolution of this original view regarding the potential negative effect of expectations.
Expectations about the way we want events in our life to unfold poison the potential of enjoying the reality of each moment before us. Rather, perhaps it is our connection to our expectations that bring about pain. It is ok to expect a certain outcome of an event, but to become attached to this outcome, something that isn’t even real yet, what use is that? Perhaps only once we have ceased to expect desirable (expected) outcomes can we accept each moment as it comes. Void of such expectations we begin to live in the reality of each moment, and I feel only then do we truly begin to live.
This quote suggests that the expectations with which society weighs us down impose a sense of self-denial on our daily life. Our perspective of society poisons our mind into believing that while we have freedom of choice in our life, we still have guidelines that society expects us to follow. These pervasive expectations of our society can easily make us forget that dreams are the impetus for change in this world. Unhappiness comes from the faulty belief that we cannot turn our dreams into reality. Do not let your perception of what society expects of you keep you from bringing change about in this world.