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Satisfaction highlighted our first day planting as we gazed upon the empty trailer bed that earlier had carried just under a hundred trees to our planting site: a beautiful hillside hidden in the verdant slopes of Monteverde, lush with vegetation and perfect for our reforestation work in Costa Rica. A combination of flat and sloped sections of forest offered an opportunity to study how incline affects the survivorship of Ocotea Monteverdensis, one of the species that is vital to the work of Instituto Monteverde.

A member of the avocado family, this tree produces the preferred fruit of the three-waddle bellbird, a keystone species that has become a figurehead for conservation here on the Pacific side of Costa Rica and has earned the name of an entire biological corridor. One of our goals as DukeEngage-Costa Rica is to determine the ideal planting conditions for O. Monteverdensis so that we can facilitate the growth of a better living environment for the three-waddle bellbird.

On that day, we planted approximately one hundred O. Monteverdensis divided between each sample of slope. Spirits were high and complaints were minimal as our first opportunity to literally get our hands dirty had finally come to pass. We had started digging around 8am and had placed the final tree in the ground within just a couple of hours. It was a beautiful morning in Monteverde: sunlight trickled through the crisscrossed branches and a cool breeze sent whispers through the trees around us. It was a perfect beginning to our two-month visit to the land of “Pura Vida.”

At high elevations in tropical environments, dense foliage often grows past the cloud-line up to the peak of mountains. Such areas are fittingly named “cloud forests,” and Monteverde is a stunning example of one of these beautiful locations. One of the phenomena of cloud forests is that, when weather patterns would cause clouds to move toward the mountains, the clouds envelop the woods and towns in their way. As a result, nearly every day consists of a thick fog crawling up the mountainside until it spills over the peak. That first day of planting also happened to be the first day that I truly experienced this magical occurrence.

I had paused for a drink from my water bottle on one of the sloped portions of forest. My back to the slope, I reclined against the soft wall of plants and dirt. Other members of the group were busy planting the last few trees in the ground while I took a moment to appreciate the beauty of woods around me.

Entranced by a particularly interesting fig tree, it took me a while to notice the movement in the background. Tendrils of cloud twisted their way through the hollow trunk of the tree, and I suddenly realized that a wall of fog was working its way up the slope. It traveled faster than I expected, and I looked to the sun briefly before it disappeared due to a cloud overhead.

Within less than a minute, the forest had transformed.

The illuminated, lively mountainside had taken on an entirely mysterious guise. It was now draped in a foggy shroud, presenting a mystical world that seemed foreign to that which had existed just moments before.

I was stunned for a moment by the new world in which I found myself. Faint calls of “Arbol!” carrying through the woods were nothing more than memories of the rest of my group. The forest was now a truly magical place, and I was the sole occupant. I hope that a mythical creature of some sort to emerge out of the shadows, and, while that wish of mine remained unheard, a new feeling had surpassed the satisfaction of planting those trees that day. It was a feeling of utter amazement, and I remember that moment every time I spot the fingers of a cloud drifting around a bend in the path, foreshadowing another sojourn to the wonderland of cloud forests.


By Tim Skapek