“Spotlights swayed yellow and green over the Loomis intersections, like air plants, the mainlanders’ epiphytes…” (Swamplandia!, 265).
The open landscape of the valley allows for sounds to travel a long distance. I was woken each morning by the animation of the landscape: the howler monkeys’ eerie lyricism, like instruments in the music of an ancient pastoral. Returning to the city from the valley felt like returning to sleep after waking from a dream; there is a sense of ease and comfort, the consolation of normality. But this contentment is challenged by the overwhelming sense that the vitality and magnetism of the valley is preferable to the familiarity of the urban landscape. The valley is dense and entrancing as any dream; it is verdant yet crackling: a simultaneity of heat and lushness. Apart from the insistent buzz of insects and the looming threat of snakes and spiders, it is a remarkable place to wander – a place that contextualizes time in a humbling way. In the valley, we must translate our versions of linear time and our senses of control and of nature’s obedience into more modest, pliable understandings.
I hope that my work as a biology intern can contribute to an ongoing consideration of how development – in many of its potential permutations – can affect specific parts of the valley ecosystem. To try to affix my attention on the entire ecosystem is of course casting my net too wide, so, I hope to identify a specific species on which rests the weight of the complex structure– a ‘keystone’ species. I will be utilizing the resources of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Library (right here in Panama City!), as well as observation in the valley and the guidance of fellow biology intern, Terra Filmer, and program director, Max Cooper.
Specificity is going to be my main challenge – understanding the impacts an individual population has on its neighboring species is like trying to distinguish the functions of particular genes: the complexity is infinite, altered by the smallest measures of external change, and barely readable to our most sensitive probes. My M.O. is something close to ‘aiming low,’ as biology proves time and time again how much delicate infrastructure exists in the most modest of mechanisms.
I also hope to bring an interdisciplinary focus to my work; as a recent graduate of a liberal arts college (and a huge proponent of this model of higher education), I don’t want to siphon my research off into what-is and what-isn’t ‘biology.’ In order for my research to be useful outside of its field, I plan to work with other interns to understand building models, specifically conservation development, and to make my research accessible to a variety of readers. The interconnectedness of the Kalu Yala project is what first attracted me to the organization, and I hope to carry on this virtue, in all of our efforts to build a culture of mindfulness and holistic learning.