Summer in Costa Rica: Las Alturas

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By Zoe Wood, Bowdoin College ’18

COSTA RICA: Tropical Biology, Summer 2016

There are several ways to encounter and experience nature, but most of the time we just glaze over the surface. I have always been inclined to hiking, camping, and spending time outdoors. But this past month, I’ve learned that some of the most valuable lessons we learn from nature can come not from rushing to a peak, but from taking it slow and observing.

las-alturas-picLas Alturas Biological Station in Costa Rica is not much more than a remote cabin and series of trails up in the montane cloud forest. When we pulled up to the station the air was cool and quiet; I was immediately reminded of home and felt relaxed. Tell your friends and family that you wont be reachable for a few days, the OTS staff reminded us.

Being without internet connection, as it turned out, was the biggest blessing we didn´t ask for. It demanded our creativity when we ventured into the woods looking for inspiration for research questions (What´s the deal with leafblotch mining moths?), it demanded critical thinking as we analyzed our results and statistics, and it demanded presence and cooperation from every member of our group. Without online resources to consult, our research was limited to the most genuine of resources at our fingertips: books, guides, and the knowledgeable staff. We laughed in the present over hearty rice and beans prepared by the wonderful kitchen staff (oh, the food!), went to bed and rose with the rising and falling of the sun, and watched the clouds tiptoe in every afternoon.

Without the background noise of internet connectivity we spent most of our minutes discovering the marvels of evolution, from gigantic caterpillars to cordyceps fungus to leafblotch miners, galls, and moths of captivating patterns and colors. I stood in a patch of sunlight in the forest alone and quickly realized I wasn’t alone, but among those that fly: an elusive hummingbird, an iridescent morpho butterfly, and those that don’t: mushrooms, trees competing for sunlight, spiders.

We conducted research projects: mine focused on leafblotch-mining moths, which leave behind evidence of hervibory and pupation on leaves.This white path doubles as both a snapshot of the moth’s entire life history as well as a stunning pattern that I spent an entire morning collecting and an afternoon measuring and analyzing in Las Alturas. leaf

I’ve learned that learning is most enjoyable when unplugged, by observing and asking questions, by taking your time and sharing stories. Nature will always surprise you, but without Google as a crutch you might also surprise yourself.

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