“Naty. I’m not trying to scare you, there’s just something I want you to see.” I knew it would be a spider when my host brother, Antony, said that, but I looked anyway. “A tarantula lives here,” Toño pointed the beam from the flashlight toward a large leaf, where a giant spider perched. Ew. “Another one here.” He shone the beam on a huge spiderweb woven between some crisscrossing branches. “And another one here.” He pointed the flashlight directly at my foot. Haha, NOT FUNNY. We were walking together in the night with another friend to look for animals, seeing what there was to see.
On this night we saw a tiny snake weaving itself through leaves on the ground, along with toads that blended in so well that they were almost impossible to see. It was hard to spot them in the light from the flashlights while also maneuvering through the branches hanging in the path, and being careful not to trip over rocks. The best part was that next to a creek, where plants grew thick around the bridge, we saw tiny pale green frogs called ranas de vidrio—glass frogs. Their thick toes gripped the big leaves, and their eyes were watery and intelligent. They sat next to eggs that they’d laid on the undersides of the huge, smooth leaves. When Toño shone the light on the eggs, we could see the tiny babies wriggling around inside them. It was amazing and fascinating. My new brothers talk to me often about the different animals that live here. They know a vast amount about the plants, the birds, the snakes, and everything that lives here. They are passionate about protecting every part of it, and I am fortunate to be able to walk with them and see their world.
As for the garden, things are moving steadily forward. After our first harvest and sale last week, we have two more products that will be available this week: radishes and culantro. Both crops are healthy and strong, and also delicious (we have been sampling). This week we’ve been working hard to extend drainage channels and clear more earth for sowing. We have peppers, cucumbers, and lettuce to transplant, and just today finished putting in a crop of broccoli. The weeds grow rapidly with the abundant sun and rain that exist here, so it’s been a battle to clear them off the earth we haven’t sown yet. People are in and out every day to ask us questions about sales and what crops we’re growing. It’s encouraging to have the interest of a tight-knit community. Elders offer their input and youngsters learn what radishes look like when they’re still in the ground. I learn the Spanish names of my favorite vegetables, and work among great friends who bring good music.
We went to Costa Rica’s EARTH University on Saturday. Each Saturday, the students do the practical part of their studies and are involved with research about cultivation, compost, hydroponics, aquaponics, urban ag, organic production, integrated animal systems…so many things. It was inspiring to see such a diverse student body all involved in these important projects. My favorite part was the organic production area, where they have a round garden with curving beds in the form of a mandala. It is built around the Hindu ideal that an energy source is at the center of an entity that radiates outward, so there was a pond with geese and tilapia in the middle. The water is enriched with tilapia feces and can provide water and nourishment to the plants, along with geese that fertilize the beds. They apply compost when they plant to protect the soil and rotate the crops to ensure plant and soil health. They talked about the same principles I learn about at Cornell: soil health, plant health, sustainability. Seeing their dedication, hard work, and optimism made it even easier to go to the garden and dig for hours to make more drainage. I feel newly inspired to keep working hard! The harvests have been rewarding because of the excitement and satisfaction that they bring. I’m so grateful to be learning and working here in Aquiares