I am a bit of a forest sprite. That is to say, I feel completely at home in a lush, dark forest. As our bus wound its way up the mountain passes and switchbacks to climb the Western Ghats, forest is exactly what I saw.
Rainforest is renown for making its own weather. Large, plentiful trees suck up incredible quantities of water and transpire moist gasses into the atmosphere. A great concentration of vegetative biomass together creates a convergence of this moisture around particulate matter generate by the living things of the forest, and in tropical regions where temperatures are high the atmosphere becomes unstable, creating rainfall that bathes the forests below the clouds, starting the cycle anew. The sheer quantity of rainfall in some forests is enough to soak you through within moments, but often, beneath the tree canopy, you only suffer a pattering of rain. It reminds me of a saying my mother used to chirp at me as a child, “run between the raindrops!” Somehow this seems possible in rainforest.
The first time our group walked through rainforest was in the Kudawale sacred grove. A place revered by the local community for its relationship with the deities honored at its temple complex, the sacred grove was also a place of value for its capacity to provide numerous medicinal plant species of use to the local people. Communally governed and generally respected by all who lived nearby, the religious and cultural significance of the grove had largely buffered the forest from encroachment by pressures to develop the area.
The added bonus, of course, is that the forest remained as habitat for numerous species of plant and animal, including hornbills, who are instrumental in seed dispersal that keeps the forest healthy and regenerating. Banyan, mango, and fishtail palm dotted the grove. Butterflies flitted between speckles of sunlight, and lichen, moss and mushroom grew along the path we walked as we explored the forest. This sprite was content to soak it all up.
But it’s a bit hard to feel in your zone when hiking your happy place with 25 new friends. Students, mentors, educators… we were a gaggle of people from many walks of life. And most of this first rainforest experience was punctuated by chatter about lives left behind: boyfriends, jobs, even the airlines and hotels folks had used to get to this place. The magic of the rainforest seemed not to penetrate all of us in the same way. And this sprite was feeling like something was missing. I craved solitude in the forest. In days to come, I would need to find a way to achieve that.