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Rainforest Quest

The Call of the Bellbird

COSTA RICA | Thursday, 15 May 2014 | Views [305] | Scholarship Entry

Looking out over the rainforest of Costa Rica, the canopy forms a vast shifting expanse rolling on until it pours over mountains crowned in cloud. All around me it bursts from the ground in a mad profusion of violent green. Beneath me in a broad arc lies the river valley. The air is rich with the smell of sweet decay bursting into vibrant growth. Here in the sun soaked rainforest everything is accelerated. Everything stretches out for the sun, pushing aside its brethren.
Above vultures ride the hot air on massive pinions. One last look and I am plunging down into the hot, wet woods. There is no path neatly laid before me, no signs to follow. Only instinct draws me, further and further into the wild green. Coming to the river I find no bridges, no fallen trees, nothing that would grant me safe passage to the other side of the valley. But I have not come to this moment to falter or turn back. To ford the river I balance and leap from rock to rock, some only above the water for moments as the current shifts.
Inside the forest the roots from trees form buttresses that snake outward from vast trunks. Running my hands along the sheer heights of roots my eyes are drawn upwards. From the crooks of limbs bromeliads sprout in shades of yellowed green and the red of fall back home. Branches sport marching lines of smaller plants, their leaves arrayed to catch the droplets that fall from the dense canopy. From tree to tree, vines and woody lianas as thick as my arm heap in coils and drooping arcs.
Suddenly there it is. The unmistakable call of the Bellbird, clear and bright. So I follow it, follow the tug of it, my feet gathering speed. I emerge into a clearing. In the center is a dead tree, splintered at its vertex, a single jagged limb thrust straight out. There, against the backdrop of forest drenched mountains, stands a solitary Bellbird. Black tendrils hang from the corners of its mouth and the top of its beak. Its eyes are tightly ringed in black feathers against the paper white of its head. And then it opens its beak, wattles swaying, and emits its sound. A single chord struck on a metal chime, a bell without reverberation, the first cry of an alarm; it is all these things and none. A sound so singular it is imprinted in my memory forever. Again and again it unleashes this single, impossible note. And then it is in flight, winging out over the forest canopy toward those distant emerald mountains.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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