Superpower / Duty

I’ve been thinking about humans, as a species.

We seem to be undergoing a species-wide crisis while all the other things on the planet are doing fine. Better, in fact, since our carbon footprint suddenly shrank several shoe sizes.

Some people say this is Mother Earth putting us back in our place. I don’t know. Maybe. Nature does this to all of her species once in a while–I don’t assume it’s anything personal. We’d like to think we get special treatment, but we don’t really.

I go to the beach to breathe in the sky and search for my sanity, and I find myself wondering: what does the planet even need us for? Besides building glass and concrete cities to cover the land and sucking fossil fuels out of the earth only to dump them into the sky, what can we do that other species can’t? Even an elephant can paint a picture.

So?

I know what the earth needs buffalo for: to trim and fertilize the plains. It needs birds and monkeys to spread seeds that keep the jungles growing. Wolves cull the smaller mammals in the mountains. Hawks and foxes keep the mice population down. But people? Would there be too much of anything without us?

I don’t know. Not that I can think of. So what is our thing? We must have one.

And then I thought of one thing–one thing humans can do that other species can’t–not dogs, crocodiles, guanacaste trees, blue whales, daffodils, kitty-cats, boa constrictors, or bougainvillea.

We can appreciate aesthetic beauty.

Plants and animals are capable of appreciation–I have no doubt about that–but I don’t think they appreciate the beauty of a sunset or a brilliant rainbow. My cat laying under the hibiscus bush appreciates the shade and the cool ground, but he doesn’t care about the flowers. The dogs playing with coconuts on the beach love the game but they aren’t sighing over the colors in the clouds. A rose bush likes bees I’m sure, but it doesn’t appreciate how beautiful a butterfly is.

People can do that. It might be our superpower. It might be our duty.

I feel compelled to state these observations as I watch our species struggle in an identity crisis brought on by something so small as to be invisible. Other species can love. Other species can help each other. Other species can build and create. But are we the only ones who can give value to something simply for its aesthetic beauty? I think we are.

And?

And, I don’t know. Is appreciating beauty going to save my life or yours if it comes down to that? I don’t see how. But there are a lot of things I don’t know, a lot of things I cannot conceive of in my little mind. I’ve got no health claims to make (unless we’re talking about mental health?); I just think this would be a great time to find something beautiful and appreciate the heck out of it. Go ahead: a cloud, a flower, a person, an animal, music, a work of art…

I’m joining you. It can’t hurt. Never underestimate the power of things you don’t understand and don’t even necessarily believe.

Feed the Good Wolf

I feel the need to weigh in on the political situation in US of A. I do not believe that I have anything new to say, but when I think that I will therefore not say anything, that feels wrong.  So this, today, is my statement.  Followed by a story that gives me a way forward.

I am not happy with our new president.  I was not happy with him as a candidate, and I am not happy with him now.  I don’t like what he says or has done regarding issues of immigration.  I don’t like his arrogant, self-absorbed demeanor.  I read things that disturb me regarding how he is placing white supremacists in powerful positions around him.  I am told that hate crimes and hateful actions are on the rise.

I know good people who like him, who brush off what I find intolerable with a shrug of the shoulders and say this is the liberal media, not the truth.  All I can say is, I hope you are right.

I still don’t like him.  I feel betrayed by a country that I thought I understood a little, but clearly I don’t.

In the face of discrimination, hate and fear, I feel compelled to wage love.  Wage kindness.  Wield it like a sword.  No one, no matter how hateful, can take away your ability to be compassionate.  Do it expansively.

Here is a small Native American story for us to keep close to our hearts, to give us a way forward, personally.  It doesn’t speak directly to politics, but to individuals–to me.

A grandfather tells a young child that inside each person, there is a good wolf and a bad wolf.  The bad wolf is hate, anger, and arrogance.  The good wolf is love, compassion, and kindness.  The good wolf and the bad wolf are locked in a fight.

The child thinks about the wolves and, as children do, asks, “Which one wins?”

The grandfather replies, “The one you feed.”

Feed the good wolf.

 

 

Albertina Talking to Jaguars

a poem for a girl who isn’t born yet about a woman who has passed on

Your bis bis abuela
Albertina
knew about the danger of
jaguars at the quebrada.
She remembered when the
mapmakers came to town and
tried to change its name to
something holy like
Santa Barbara down the road, or
San Lazaro further on.
She said she told them no.

Your mamá was
too little to listen to stories back
when Albertina’s mind
was clear, and then Albertina
started seeing angels.
She walked
barefoot to Santa Cruz with
comales on her head and
sold them each for one colon
to buy sugar and
coffee–
things she couldn’t grow or grind herself.
Then she walked home.

She knew the old stories
the old ways.
She had seven sons and
no husband to obey.
Me decía “mi nieta”
because she knew I belonged to her
even after she forgot my name, and
sat on the porch talking
to jaguars until
she turned one hundred.

Acronyms Meet to Discuss Crocodiles in Tamarindo

These are my gleanings from the meeting held at the Barceló with ADI (Association de Desarollo Integral), SINAC (Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservacion), CATURGUA (Camera de Turismo Guanacasteca), and MINAE (Ministerio de Ambiente y Energia). The purpose of the meeting was to discuss The Crocodile/s . I mostly went to listen, because that’s always a good start, and I got to ask a few questions. What follows is what I took away from the meeting. This is not intended to be a complete summary—I’m sure ADI will provide that. It is a subjective gleaning and contains editorial commentary and a concerted effort to minimize sarcasm.

 

MINAE says:

–They carefully observed the crocodiles in the estuary after the July attack. They removed the very big one that exhibited dangerous/unusual behavior, explaining that there was only one exhibiting this behavior and it is certainly the one guilty of the attack. It was taken to Puerto Humo. (I looked it up. It’s where the Tempisque River is born. ) They are still monitoring crocodiles in the Playa Grande/Tamarindo/Langosta area and analyzing their behavior. In the five kilometer marine stretch that they monitor, it is normal for there to be 12-14 crocodiles moving around at any given time.

Laura The Crocodile Expert says:

–It is not true that crocodiles were “seeded” here.

–Salt water crocs are completely natural in the estuaries and oceans of Guanacaste. She says they were depleted in the 40-60s, but that now their populations are becoming “healthy” again.

–It is not true that there is an overpopulation of crocodiles in Tamarindo. Overpopulation occurs when there are so many of a species that there is not enough food for them, and they begin to kill each other. Since crocodiles are not doing this, there is no overpopulation. Lucky for us, crocodiles are of a species that control their own population—as in, crocodiles never have overpopulation because they kill each other first and solve their own problem.

–Swimming in the ocean is normal crocodile behavior. Eating dogs is normal crocodile behavior. (I wanted to ask if eating human preschoolers would be considered normal crocodile behavior, but I was afraid of the answer.)

–Attacking/eating (presumably adult) people is not normal behavior for this species of crocodile. Nile crocodiles, she explained, eat people, but not this kind. She made a big deal about how crocodiles do not hunt people, do not want to eat people and are normally afraid of people.

–The (only) problem in Tamarindo is that crocodiles have been, for so long, fed by humans.

The SINAC guy talked too, but he didn’t say anything that stuck with me. He did take a moment to praise the fact that we have such a wonderful government system that allows us all to participate in decisions, as demonstrated by this meeting.

The meeting, by and large, revolved around how dreadful it is that we have created this dangerous situation for ourselves by feeding the crocodiles. (Which I acknowledge. Our Tamarindo crocs have twisted minds and there’s no one to blame except us.)

But ok. So we’ve corrupted the crocodile population. While we right our wrong, what’s the plan for our safety?
Signs. Signs warning people not to feed crocodiles, and not to swim in the ocean/estuary. (How about a sign asking crocodiles not to eat the people? I didn’t say that, but I thought it.) And crocodile “monitoring.”

That’s when I raised my hand. First, I said why I was there—because I happened to be a first-hand witness of the trauma caused by the attack, and I DO NOT EVER want to see anything like that again. And I don’t want you to, either. The room became very quiet. Then I asked the guy from MINAE: How are you monitoring the crocodiles? And what does a crocodile have to do in order for you to identify it as “malportado? “

They said they are monitoring the crocodiles by observing them. I was imagining chips and tracking devices, but no. That’s way too Animal Planet. “Monitoring” means that MINAE has people watching over the crocodiles. (I haven’t seen these monitors. Maybe you have?) Later in the meeting MINAE stated that they have 7 people in charge of “monitoring” 26,000 hectares. Or maybe I misunderstood that? I hope so. And a naughty crocodile, one who could get itself on the bad-boy list for possible deportation to Puerto Humo, is one that shows abnormal interest in people. Swimming near people. Looking at people. Not humbly slinking away.

MINAE wants us to report to them—that’s the most useful thing I learned at the meeting. If you see a human feeding a crocodile, make a denuncia. If you see a crocodile showing interest in humans, make a denuncia! (I’m not sure it’s called a denuncia if it’s against an animal, but you get what I mean.) MINAE says that for all of the videos on social media and for all the fussing and fuming there is about people feeding crocs, there has not ever been ONE SINGLE denuncia filed against anyone with MINAE. Which is silly. A few denuncias, a long time ago, would have enabled them to act before things turned out the way they did. Or anyway, that’s the story in retrospect. Point being: if you see any funny stuff between people and crocodiles—regardless of which species is the perpetrator—call MINAE. They’ll be right over after they finish observing the other 25,000 hectares they’re in charge of.

Other people asked questions, but I don’t really remember what they were. (I don’t advertise this a lot, but I’m actually quite selfish.) We spent A LOT of time reviewing the evils of people who feed crocs and the wonderful power of signs. Signs in red, to be specific. Red was praised. I’m not kidding. (And all sarcasm aside, red is better than the brown-and-yellow ones originally posted behind the high tide mark.)

I asked my other question to Laura The Crocodile Expert. Because I wanted someone at that table of “experts” to say it to my face. I said, “You’re the crocodile expert. You know these animals better than anyone else in this room. So tell me. Now that the big bad crocodile is gone, but knowing that there are others nearby who were certainly fed by humans, would you , if you were a surfer like I am, put your board in the water and surf in the mouth of the estuary?” Everybody laughed nervously. And Laura said, “No.” Not in the mouth of the estuary, she wouldn’t. No matter how good the waves were. That’s like chilling out on their buffet table.

People surf in the river mouth every day, and so far all of us have been safe. I didn’t say that, because she gave me her honest opinion, which is what I asked for. And she confirmed that my persisting fears are not an irrational.

Now, looking back on it, I feel a small (but futile) twinge of victory. I didn’t mean to set a trap, but if you think about it, I guess the panel of experts admitted that even though they’ve “done something” about the crocodile “problem” in Tamarindo, it still isn’t “safe.” Babies, dogs and surfers, beware: MINAE is working to protect us within the bounds of the law, but the crocodile expert wouldn’t go for a swim.

I took this photo in April 2016, of a crocodile exhibiting "abnormal" behavior--chilling there staring me down. If it ever happens again, I will call MINAE.

I took this photo in April 2016, of a crocodile exhibiting “abnormal” behavior–chilling there staring me down.  If it ever happens again, I will call MINAE.