Where Weather is Born and Renewed

Many people who know me, know that I am a weather dork. I long entertained the idea of becoming a meteorologist until I took Astronomy in college and realized it’s a lot of math and a lot of sitting outside at night in the cold.

When the Weather Channel debuted in the early 80s, I spent hundreds of hours watching the around-the-clock-news coverage of natural disasters. Now, thanks to technology, I can track incoming storms on my cell phone, watch breaking news of nature’s fury or documentaries on storm chasing, or run outside with my camera to capture photos of different weather extremes.

In 2003, we were so lucky to visit Puerto Rico and visit the El Yunque national forest, the only tropical rainforest in North America. The rainforest is the place where weather renews itself, with over 200 inches of rainfall per year. It’s the birthplace of every drop of rain or snowflake and every puff of cloud, the source of the most abundant but the most scarce resource on this earth – water. Nothing can live without water for very long, and it’s the Weather that brings it to us from the depths of the rainforests, to the skies above us, back to the earth where it nourishes every living thing.

I remember doing a project about the life cycle of water, in my college geography class long ago. I had no idea about the intricacies and delicate nature of the water system, which grew my curiosity and love for all things “weather”.

You Have to See and Hear, and Smell, and Feel, it to Believe It

The experience was a feast for the senses. From far away, everything seems encased in dense green…

An example of the protection provided from below. Vines, leaves and branches form a natural umbrella.

An example of the protection provided from below. Vines, leaves and branches form a natural umbrella.

…but as we got closer, we noticed hundreds of different plant varieties, some carrying berries, others serving as resting spots or protection for the smaller wildlife species we encountered.

Some sort of slug or snail...so little but so important to the ecosystem.

Some sort of slug or snail…so little but so important to the ecosystem.

Sounds that at first filled our ears as a cacophony slowly morphed into members of a glorious symphony. We recognized the chirp of he Coqui tree frog, who is ever-present in the city and surrounding areas of San Juan. We heard the calls of mighty birds above the cover of vines and leaves. All around us, we heard the sound of rushing water, falling from the mountaintop, feeding every living organism below.

Little nooks and crannies often hid wonderful surprises!

Little nooks and crannies often hid wonderful surprises!

The heavy humidity lent a typical “foresty” fragrance to the low areas. Like the sounds, it’s tough to distinguish individual sources until you take time to break things down and peek behind the curtain. I distinctly remember the smell of earth and plants; it was richer than any I had experienced thus far in my life.

These berries were surely a food source for some creature! If they could just get past the spikes, that is!

These berries (look closely) were surely a food source for some creature! If they could just get past the spikes, that is!

It was impossible for any human being to exit El Yunque without a sense of how small we are, even as a species, and how important it is to protect these sacred places of renewal.

I could have wrapped this leaf around my entire body!

I could have wrapped this leaf around my entire body!

We could have easily spent a week in the forest and not filled our senses with enough of the rainforest. Every corner revealed a new discovery – flowers we’ve never seen, glistening waterfalls, the call of some hidden-in-plain-sight creature. Because of the delicate state of many areas, however, we had to keep to designated hiking areas.

I find waterfalls so magical!

Every person who has visited El Yunque has probably taken a similar photo!

We also climbed the 3,088-ft high  Mt. Britton Tower that sits on a small peak in El Yunque. The way up was exciting, as we peeked out at the greenery from windows placed at different vantage points. Each window faced a different direction:  north, west, east and south.

Breathtaking from every angle.

Breathtaking from every angle.

The view from the top:

On a clear day, you can see quite far, but we experienced early-morning fog.

On a clear day, you can see quite far, but we experienced early morning fog.

We were sad when the tour was over, and boarded the bus for the two-hour ride back to town.We spent the entire time reliving our experience, and vowed to come back again.

From Paradise to Everyday Life Again

Our journey, though over too soon, brought us back to our hotel with a new appreciation for the Earth, While standing on the balcony of our hotel room, we watched storm clouds approaching us from the ocean. Our hotel faced the south – the open Atlantic Ocean – and it was amazing to see the rain bands coming in from the wild waves.

We basked in the glory and majesty of weather, no matter where we stood.

We basked in the glory and majesty of weather, no matter where we stood.

It was so exciting to experience the place where weather is literally (yes, I used that word correctly!!) born and renewed. Some facts I’ve gathered (thank you, Wikipedia):

  • Around 40% to 75% of all biotic species are indigenous to the rainforests.

  • More than 1/4 of natural medicines have been discovered in rainforests.

  • Rainforests are responsible for 28% of the world’s oxygen turnover.

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From then on, every time I look up at the sky or experience weather changes, I remember where it all comes from. National Geographic refers to Rainforests as “Incubators of Life” – such an eloquent way to describe something so precious to every cell and organism on Earth.

I hope we can return one day, so that we can further experience and perhaps document discoveries we’d never have found in books. Until then, I will continue to take photos of weather that inspires me. Watch for a future post about weather sometime soon!

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