Today I left the comfort of the trail and headed into no-man’s land, tiptoeing through rows of bareback trees until I was waist-deep in wild flowers. It was harder to navigate, but I felt immersed in nature. The soil was soft under my feet. Oaks were covered in moss and mushrooms, and one had a rectangular hole in it like a mailbox. Ants scaled the skinny trees, which, to them, must have looked like skyscrapers. After sitting for a while, I became part of the environment, and a little bird paid me no mind as she perched on a branch nearby. A lightness expanded in my fingertips as I bathed in the magic of the forest.
Throughout my life, I never felt at home where I was supposed to. There was a lot of movement: changing schools, dashing between the houses of my separated parents, and flying across the Atlantic to start a new life in California. Change was my only constant. When things were stable, I waited for them to topple like a house of cards. Good relationships were sabotaged, because I preferred to end them myself than let fate do it for me. Returning from California, I felt trapped under the grey skies of the UK, and reminisced on the past. My house was not where I belonged.
So, in the absence of a home, I went looking for one. I started visiting nature reserves. They were abundant in Oxford, green sanctuaries with placid lakes and colourful animals, like kingfishers and dragonflies. I spent hours alone in the forest. It wasn’t just a hobby, it was a chance to reconnect with myself. I grew fond of a reserve called the Trap Grounds, where I looked for legless lizards under sun-heated mats, and watched the skies for a mother sparrow hawk collecting food for her child.
But as winter crept in, and temperatures dropped, the forest was a less enticing place to be. Most of the animals were hibernating, and it was hard to feel the magic of nature through my shivers. Robin and squirrel sightings became mundane, and the deafening roar of passing trains stole me from my natural immersion. I longed for ‘real nature’, some kind of primordial land free from human influence, with booming biodiversity. My true home.
The quest to find my wild homeland led me to Costa Rica, a tropical haven teeming with weird and wonderful creatures. The clouds were bold and the land rugged, composed of rainforest-rich mountains that undulated from coast to coast. After exploring the country a little, I went into the heart of the rainforest: Tortuguero.
Tortuguero National Park
Soft light entered through the window, gently waking me at five-thirty. Knowing there were no tasks for a few hours, I lay in bed, listening to the jungle come to life. The howler monkeys were first, rumbling the ground with guttural roars. It is a noise both thrilling and dreadful, like a horde of zombies. Then the birds chimed in, serenading the air with tropical songs, songs that sounded like love but meant war. Cicadas filled the final piece of the silence, completing the natural chorus with an all-encompassing buzz.
I was volunteering at a biological station in Tortuguero national park, one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Our job was to survey the local wildlife- actively looking for rare animals five hours a day. We searched for snakes in the forest at night, scoured the skies for great macaws, and kayaked down canals in hope of seeing otters. The station was nestled on the edge of the rainforest, and in many ways was a part of it. While brushing my teeth, I saw toucans, and on my way to the shower, spider monkeys danced in the treetops above.
The rainforest has a mystical quality to it. Full of life, yet all of it hiding, the air is poised in an anxious stillness. This is Jaguar territory, so to be seen or heard is to be eaten. The creatures move silent as the leaves, leaving tracks in the mud but never a rustle. Once you stay for a while, though, life begins to unveil itself. Tiny strawberry frogs hop across the muck, their bright red colour warning of deadly poison. Mosquitoes saunter over in your direction, landing on any exposed skin you provide them. Owl butterflies chase the wind. The forest is at its best when it is raining; this is how it is meant to be. Soothing downpours cause the leaves to droop, and polish them with a fresh green coat. The white noise of the rain washes away your thoughts. After some time, the sun drags itself out of the clouds, and dappled light sneaks its way through the canopy. Nature here, at its richest, nourishes the soul.
It was a place I could just be, solely exist, with no checklist to complete. No need to listen to music, or read, just taking in the environment. Breathing the freshest air of my life, and noting delicate floral aromas that came with it. Watching ripples on the canal, and keeping eyes peeled for a cresting turtle, or the shimmering colours of a fish. Feeling the sun on my skin. Fully content with the moment at hand, no longer bargaining with the future, or longing for the past.
Despite little sleep and a hectic schedule, I never felt stressed in Tortuguero. From the moment I arrived until I left, there lived a deep calm within me. Happiness is too shallow of a word to describe it, because happiness comes and goes. Like all emotions, it is transient. This feeling however, is deep as the oceans, eternal as the universe. It cannot be shaken or stolen. It is the true essence of being, the thing that buddhists meditate for. Ambition, hope, passion, romance, friendship or even family- it all fades away. In the forest the ego collapses, and what is left is simple and pure. It is where I truly belong.
Big Thanks to Lucas and Theo for the pictures, I could not have made this post without them.
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