Over 15 years ago, I spent hours every day for months, in the rainforest of Costa Rica, walking with my sister in the Busque Nubosa or cloud forest preserve, learning the important lesson of why environmentalists fight to preserve nature.
I lived with my sister, a botanical artist who was determined to add meaning to my life. She encouraged me to pick up fallen epiphyte flowers, scattered on the path from fifty feet above the canopy. I was her assistant. I ended up in her artwork, sometimes posing, other times unexpectedly, gazing over the edge of the continental divide. There were places where we could stand and visibly see the Pacific Ocean to our left and the Atlantic Ocean to our right. The beauty of places such as that harbor a home in the human soul. My identity is composed of scenes like those: reasons for fighting, for gripping onto nature, grappling with factors that make the environment unhealthy. Everyone who ever has spent a week in Monteverde seems to have seen the Howler Monkeys there. But Anna and I experienced a deeper wilderness. We spent all day wandering paths that Anna navigated like an expert. At one point hundreds of migrating white faced monkeys converged with our path. Anna told me to sit tight, knowing the wild animals could grow defensive if they felt threatened. I sat tight. They swung through the forest for almost an hour. They left me shaking, quaking quite literally, and trembling at their power. This trip changed my life, my world view, and my experience of nature. I walked so much, I spent every waking moment in the woods, spotting flocks of parrots and rare animals, I learned so many plant names, I became so familiar with the wilderness and these things are so distant for me today. One special day Anna and I walked down a different road from our rental house. We walked in silence. Anna, usual set on educating me about biology and rarely quiet, seemed somber. I trailed behind her observing trailers where people lived and farms of cows. We got to a point where the trail met a view. Because of the lay of the land in Costa Rica, views can be stunning beyond words. I remember making a promise to the land in the height of my consciousness. I said I would return to that mountainside overlooking San Luis and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean. I promised to protect that view, to use my American privilege for good, to return for the land. The world is larger than me. It craves justice and liberty. The environment needs respect and attention. I am needed. The mountains from Costa Rica to Appalachia need a voice; they need someone who will sacrifice a lot for them. They need a person devoted and committed to their preservation. The environment needs a steward, a advocate who will fight for the beauty in it. It is important to remember why we give ourselves to stewardship.