I’m just not sleeping well.
My pillow feels lumpy. The wind roars and gusts loudly, incessantly. A dog barks every night. Is the dog okay? Where is he? Why is he barking?
Lack of sleep is not helping my emotional fragility at all.
And then the alarm clock goes off at 4:50 AM, just as I’m finally, blessedly, drifting off into an exhausted sleep. Too bad, time to get up.
We were meeting Andres, birder and naturalist extraordinaire, for an early-morning birding extravaganza. We pulled into the parking lot in the dark, and as the light grew and the birds came alive, the adventure began. With enthusiasm and sharp eyes, Andres would call, “Friends! Friends! Come take a look!”– and then show us breathtaking sights like a color-splashed Emerald Toucanet hanging out in a fig tree, or a brilliant Blue-crowned Mot-mot with its jaw-dropping dinglebob tail.
Wow! He could identify birds by their call; he could track them down by sound; he could spot them through impossibly dense foliage.
He guided us through various habitats to maximize the number of bird sightings: Up a road with a dense shrubby border. Into a wide open field. Down into tangled trees. Past a feeder overrun with hummingbirds. Everywhere, he would call out bird after bird: “Friends! Look, look! It’s a (fill in a wonderful tropical bird here).” And then, moments later: “Friends! Over here, quick! It’s a (something else amazing).”
Martin and Dakota worked frantically, juggling bird books, pencils, binoculars, cameras, and smartphones as they feverishly located and logged each new bird. They scribbled the sightings into their bird book or hastily entered it into their phone before dashing off towards Andres again, fearful of missing the next life-lister, fearful of falling behind in the bird count.
Me? I don’t care if I’ve seen ’em before or not. I don’t even really care what their names are. I just want to see all these outlandishly colorful birds. I had a much more relaxing time. Martin and Dakota were looking a little peaked from the effort of keeping track of it all.
Andres completed the bird tour by taking us into a restaurant which had raw bananas set up on feeders. Mot-Mots and Yellow-throated Euphonias and Blue-gray Tanagers mobbed the feeders as we sat eating our own breakfasts, thrilling over the gorgeous birds, sometimes raising our binoculars to get an extremely-close-up view of an avian eyebrow or delicate feather.
It was very wonderful, for those few early-morning hours.
The day turned harder from there.
We ventured into the Monteverde Cloud Forest in search of monkeys, sloths and, of course, the magnificent and elusive Quetzal… and once again I found myself in a gloriously beautiful setting feeling hurt, jealous, and left out as Martin and Dakota enthusiastically birded and bantered. They were having a great time.
I couldn’t spot one damn bird.
I was convinced that I could vanish from the forest, vanish from this entire vacation– poof, gone! – and it would take hours, if not days, for anyone to look around and ask, “Hey, where’s Carol?”
It was bewildering. I am always even-tempered and cheerful, yet here I was, an emotional wreck – jealous, angry, fragile. What was wrong with me?
I was premenstrual and perimenopausal and sleep deprived. It is an emotionally catastrophic combination. Do not try this at home!
So I fought tears again today, all day. And utterly hated myself.
These feelings were totally absurd, totally unfounded! STOP! How can I stop these feelings? Of course, Martin was acutely aware of my uncharacteristic jealousy and fragility. It distressed him, which in turn further distressed me. Not only was I ruining my own vacation, I was ruining his as well. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right! He did not deserve this.
Me, screaming silently into my own face: STOP BEING A STUPID FUCKING BITCH!
It was the day’s mantra.
Don’t say it. I know it’s not a good mantra. I couldn’t help it. I could form no other clear thought; I knew no other truth.
My chest grew ever tighter, and a lump rose ever higher in my throat. Stumbling along the trail behind Martin and Dakota, fighting tears, I felt wounded at every turn, I wrecked every happy moment.
Stupid fucking bitch!
I just wanted to go home. It would be better for everyone. Who wants to spend any time with a stupid bitch, anyway? No one!
I wanted to go home, throw my arms around my sweet Golden Retrievers, and cry and cry.
I was lost, alone in the wilderness.
In the end, it was a bird that saved me.
It was late afternoon and we were pressed for time, as usual, hurrying along so as not to be trapped in the park after nightfall. Dakota was anxiously leading the way, muttering now and then about eyes glittering in the darkness and strange creatures emerging from the jungle to slither menacingly and silently towards us.
Dakota can always be counted on to provide excellent entertainment around nightfall.
Martin and I were following him, hand in hand, when I spotted a blob of dazzling green that didn’t quite match the surrounding green foliage. I knew it was an eye-popping tropical bird that needed admiring (might this be a Toucan?), so I yanked Martin’s hand and pointed.
His reaction was electric. He hissed Dakota’s name, then started recklessly throwing down backpacks, lens caps, tripods, and photo equipment. Digging frantically through his bag, scattering gear, he set up his camera with shaking hands. Dakota came streaking back.
I peered up at the bird with interest. Huh, this must be a good one!
And it was, the first of our Holy Grail birds: the Resplendent Quetzal. Cloaked in bedazzling emerald green and sporting a spiky mohawk and an impossibly long, elegant tail, it sat in a tree right in front of us while we took photos and videos and stared and gasped. It posed on the branch for a long time, then eventually flew off in a glorious flutter of scarlet red.
We all stood there for a moment in awed silence, staring wistfully at the empty branch, and then Martin and Dakota simultaneously rounded on me. They congratulated me, gave me high-fives. They picked me up, spun me around, squeezed me tightly. They danced around me. They peppered me with questions: How did I spot it? Did I immediately know what it was? At what point did I realize it was the Quetzal? Had I been actively searching for it when I saw it? Tell the story again, how in the world did I spot that green bird among all that green foliage?
And then they hoisted me high up onto their shoulders and triumphantly marched me out of the cloud forest, singing my praises for all to hear.
Okay, not that last part, but it sure felt like it. I certainly wasn’t forgotten or unheard or neglected now!
I was their shining hero.
And just like that, poof! My funk was gone.