Saturday, March 28, 2009

In Search of Q

In Search of Q

(Part One: On pursuing the Resplendent Quetzal and not finding it)

I went to the place where I thought you would be,
I got up early, before the sun rose,
and went to the quiet place
at the foot of the rock, where it is said that you often visit
in the early morning hours.

I sat there, in the early morning hours at the base of the rock,
and waited for you to come.

From the farthest reaches of the earth come tourists
wanting a glimpse of your iridescent splendor,
Your red, green, and teal feathers,
Your spiky crown and rainbow plumage.

From Europe, Canada, the United States, and all parts of the world,
Come tourists with fishing hats, khaki vests,
And cameras with lenses longer than my arm,
To catch a glimpse of your resplendent grandeur.

I don't come from far off,
I don't have huge cameras,
And I'm not spending hundreds of dollars a night,
to stay in the big fancy places.

Yet they return with stories of sightings,
with photos of you and stories about the
elusive displays they witnessed.

I just came here this morning,
simple and plainly,
to see you.

And you didn't show up.

Is it because I don't know what I'm looking for?
Did I pass you several times but fail to recognize your call
Or see your colors through the dense jungle growth?

Is it because I'm here at the wrong time?
 Am I wearing the wrong color?
Am I making too much noise?

I have read that this is your sanctuary...
It is here you make your glory shine.
The guides have pointed me in this direction...
“Here is where you are bound to see them,”
they assured me.
Others have confirmed your presence in this area,
with photographs and stories and bright-eyed stories of
The Experience.
Yet you have not made yourself known to me.

I came here intentionally,
with the hope and desire to see you.
But as is often the case,
For reasons I cannot explain,
You never showed up.

This is not the first time, my elusive Q.
I have written this story again, and again,
in constant search for you.
I begin to fear people might think I've given up searching,
but this is not the case; I show up faithfully
every morning in hopes of seeing you.

I went. I waited. But you never showed up.

Part 2: On considering the possibility that the quetzal appears and yet I tell no one

And after so long writing these poems about how I strove
to meet with you,
but you never showed up,
It occurs to me that there are likely scores of others
who have gone in search of the resplendent quetzal
and returned without the sparkling-eyed stories
of colorful plumage and extravagant displays.
They likely sit quietly and listen to others tell their stories
filled with a mixture of hope, expectation, wonder,
and emptiness, yearning, and the only question in this world more powerful than “Why do these things happen to me?”
“Why DON'T these things happen to me?”

I think to myself,
even if I did see the elusive quetzal,
Would I tell anyone about it?
Would I keep it a secret between me and him?
And for myself: Would I remain in ardent pursuit, showing up every morning in hope of seeing him, if I had seen him with my own eyes, taken a photo, and in a sense captured his beauty?

What would I do if I actually SAW this brilliant creature before my very eyes this morning?

I know the story I want to tell.
I want to say that I went out that morning to the quiet place at the foot of the rock.
I wrote the poem about longing and searching,
Hoping, praying, and believing he would show up.
And after patient waiting, praying, full of faith and assurance,
He showed up.

That is story I want to tell. That is the story people's itching ears want to hear.

But something inside me stops short, thinking...
If he WERE to show up,
why tell the story with such certainty and conviction
as so many have done before?
That is not what I felt. That is not what happened.

And if he WERE to show up,
what if I were to tell the story as it so often happens in real life?
Wherein I put the lens on my camera,
Put away my binoculars,
and walk out of the jungle dejected and discouraged,
That I was there waiting,
and he never showed up?

What IF I were to keep the sighting to myself and never tell anyone whether the wondrous quetzal showed up, or not?

Would I dishonor him? Or glorify him perhaps, offering hope and renewed passion in those who have showed up so often at the foot of the rock to see the elusive quetzal, but have not. And yet, with a stubborn determination and blind resilience only love can give, return to the rock again,
and again,
and again,
in hopes of seeing the desire of their heart
flashing and swooping and beaming with color.

On the other hand,
I would angrily condemn the one who had never spotted the quetzal,
yet proclaimed his story as if he had,
and besides, his pretentiousness would be evident,
as he attempted to contrive an experience he never had.

In the same way, having then seen the quetzal,
perhaps I would not even be able to pretend,
in good faith or full transparency,
that I had never seen it.
Such an experience, as it cannot be faked,
neither can it be denied once it has taken place.

Part 3: Q sighting
(Describing the glorious moment in which the quetzal is seen, it having happened or not, and the thoughts therewith)

O glorious flashes of green and red!
Reflecting golden sunlight off your rapidly beating wings!
As I imagined but so much more beautiful!
So much quicker, and elusive than I imagined,
tantalizing glimpses as you flit from branch to branch,
never stopping for longer than a few short moments!

Oh the beauty, to which my eyes were fixed solidly,
not just drawn by the beauty
but because I feared that if I took my eyes off you for a single split second,
I would not see where you moved,
where you showed up next.

Ay it was difficult enough to find you the first time,
and from that second on I refused to let my eyes break from your beauty,
afraid that you would fly away and I would return to searching the trees in vain.

But praises be! That you made yourself known to me, soaring above my head in the clear blue sky,
Not just “showing up” but swooping and dancing in a glorious ballet of light and motion!

I came. I waited. And you showed up.

Having seen the quetzal dozens of times since then, but still always feeling the thrill and surging excitement of that first encounter.


When I left that day I made a promise.
Whether I did or didn't see the quetzal, I'd be back there again, and I keep going back, looking for him every day until I found him or died believing he was there.

And I promised my self that even if I DID see the quetzal, I WOULDN'T tell some amazing story about seeing it, but leave it up to doubt. Instead, I'd LIVE as if I saw it, that is, without anyone knowing whether I saw it that first day or not, I'd be back every morning just to try and get a glimpse of him.

I wouldn't TELL the story, but I'd SHOW it. And if anyone asks... I wouldn't tell them... not because I want to keep it a secret but I want to be back there every morning, pursuing and searching for the quetzal as if I'd never seen him the first time.

The joy is certainly in seeing the quetzal, but perhaps for whom the sighting is a rarity or has not yet happened, the joy is moreso in realizing that if one searches for him, he will show up – maybe not this time, maybe not the next time, but there is value in coming back, again and again to search for him, even if no other time has resulted in a sighting.

Costa Rica: Part Visitors

I wish everyone could join me down here for a few days, as several of my friends have done in the past 4 weeks.

I'm currently writing this at a research station located at the end of a remote dirt road off the Inter-American highway, partway between San José (the capital of Costa Rica where I'm attending language school) and Panama. I'm sitting outside on the porch watching the sun set over yonder mountain ridge, a mountain ridge which divides this privately owned eco-tourism community from the Quetzal National Park, the most recently designated national park land in Costa Rica. I'm looking out at a rushing brook cutting through the cloud forest jungle habitat outside our rooms, seriously considering the possibility of helping this research center set up an improved website to post student research and news about the center.

And why am I here this weekend? Nathanael and Laura, two of my best friends from NNU, chiseled out some spring break time to come visit me and see some of the beauty of Costa Rica. I took this opportunity to take up a friend's offer to visit him at the Quetzal Education and Research Center, where he's been working for the past year hosting research groups that come down from Nazarene colleges in the U.S. And so, en route to Manuel Antonio beach, Nathanael, Laura, and I have spent the day hiking through the cloud forest in search of the elusive Quetzal bird, arguably the most beautiful bird in the world, possibly a close tie to the Bird of Paradise.

We hit several cool spots during their time here - the Quetzal research Center at San Gerardo de Dota, where we saw 3 quetzals, summer tanagers and flame-colored tanagers, yellow-bellied siscanes, collared red starts, and listened to the melodic call of the black-faced soltaire. In Manuel Antonio we saw 6 sloths, over a dozen white-faced capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys (very few of these are left), two Jesus Christ lizards (named as such because they can walk on water), and an agouti. We sat watching what could have been a segment for the Discovery Channel as a family of about a dozen white-faced capuchins came literally within arm's reach of us, and began wrestling, fighting over water, and scared off an invading raccoon from their drinking spot. A little momma capuchin carried her baby on her back and came right up to a fellow hiker to steal food from him.

The week before I hit some of the same spots with Mark, Sarah, Josh, and Klara - including the Arenal Volcano, Cartago, and the ruins in the Orosi Valley. We visited "el Avión" in Manuel Antonio, an abandoned C125 cargo plane that's been remodeled into a restaurant and bar. More than just an old cargo plane, this huge thing is a piece of history. It was one of two planes purchased by the U.S. during the Iran-Contra affair to supply Nicaraguan rebels with weapons. The other plane was shot down, and this one was transported to Manuel Antonio to lure interested travelers. Like us.

Mark, Sarah, and I visited La Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles in Cartago, which has such a fascinating history and description than I'll describe it in more detail elsewhere. Suffice to say it's a Catholic cathedral with the reputation (and aura) of a theme park - except, somber and hallowed. People come from everywhere to wash wounds in the healing waters or fill up small bottles with the holy waters. You can buy all sorts of small charms to remind you of your religious pilgrimage to this location where a magical statue of the Virgin Mary appeared several centuries ago and refuses to leave. I'll describe it in more detail elsewhere - I ended up writing a paper on it as part of my Spanish class.

I forced my friends to experience some of my "normal life," not just galavant around the country :) Mark and Sarah joined me one day for a language class, as I had to carefully balance my time between traveling with friends and trying to keep up with classes. Nathanael and Laura got to come watch a presentation by a group of dancers composed of language students learning traditional Costa Rican dances, led by my grammar teacher Graziella. Within an hour of arriving, Nathanael and Laura went straight to La Carpio with the kids-group we work with there.

Props to both groups of friends who ventured out on their own to travel around by bus and take themselves to different parts of the city. Mark and Sarah visited more museums and places than I've even been to downtown, and Nathanael and Laura made it out to a coffee tour. Josh had already lived here for several months during college, so getting around was no problem for him.

So, such was Costa Rica, Part Visitors. There's so much I didn't even mention: canopy zip-lining, volcano hikes, ancient ruins. Like I said, I wish so many of you could join me here for a short time to experience in person the beauty of Costa Rica, to wind through the cloud forests, to scour the trees for a glimpse of the quetzal, to watch a nature-channel documentary take place before your eyes. I wish everyone could come meet the people who I'm so privilaged to learn from, to work with, and to serve. There's really no substitute for seeing it for yourself. However, time with friends in Costa Rica helped me look through my time here through a different lens, making it fresh and new and exciting all over again. Their time here enriched my experience, and I know they enjoyed it as well.