Watercolor of the Three-wattled bellbird, a key bird species in Costa Rica’s rainforest.
Over the past weeks spent here in Costa Rica, I’ve come to appreciate reforestation as an art. While leading a watercolor painting session at the Monteverde Institute and getting my first taste of field research, I began to find parallels between the act of reforestation and painting. When planting trees, you must first decide where to start, gather your materials, and plan the composition (which trees go where, what distance is needed between). Though tedious at times, each hole dug and tree placed in the ground brings you closer to the finished masterpiece, a new forest. With each action you envision a healthy forest waiting to be brought to life, waiting to provide the basis for variety of life. Eventually, with careful attention and patience, each small action cumulates to form a new and beautiful ecosystem.
Measuring trees planted by previous groups during our first day of field research, I came across dozens of baby trees that didn’t live through their first few years. Finding stakes marking trees no longer standing was the hardest part of our field work. It made me question the real impact of our time here. I had to accept that with reforestation efforts, like artwork, not every line or mark is kept. Some trees perish and some progress is erased as you move forward. The key is that you are constantly learning, reworking, and engaging with the landscape. Disheartening as finding dead trees was, seeing young trees growing resiliently even in harsh, sloped soil gave me hope.
Tree by tree, we reforest barren landscapes and farmland. Measurement by measurement, we record reforestation progress. Brushstroke by brushstroke, we fill empty pages with color. Both painting and planting fill an empty space, both are processes of patience and improvement. Whether we are painting together as rain patters on the roof of a peaceful classroom surrounded by forest, planting in deforested fields, creating murals on waste receptacles in the local community, or measuring tree heights along rocky slopes, we are all artists here — our hands capable of both creation and restoration.