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Bridge Over Trouble Waters

Updated: Feb 11, 2023

Scarlet macaw nests should be dry like this - a safe haven for vulnerable day-old chicks.

It has been a rainy year so far in La Moskitia, Honduras. I heard frequently how the rain never really stopped this year and there wasn’t a clear dry season. The Indigenous people with whom I work are having a hard time harvesting their beans because the fields need to be dry. They are also worried that they can’t burn their fields, which they need to do before they plant rice. The heavy rainfall also has taken an early toll on scarlet macaw chicks who normally experience dry nests when they are small. After each rain we need to check vulnerable nests with chicks, drilling them if needed to allow water to escape. Climate change is causing so much loss and instability.

This is a flooded scarlet macaw nest where a chick died

The rain did have some advantages because it kept the days and nights cool while I was working there in April 2022. Instead of sweating all night in bed, it was a comfort to snuggle into sheets and even blankets as the moon and stars passed by my window of the Conservation Center.

Though not a realistic picture, this is what it feels like to stay at

the Conservation Center in Mabita, Honduras

The rain caused some unforeseen difficulties, such as higher water levels for water crossings, and rotting bridges. On the way back one night we were coming over the final bridge, which spanned a small creek. About halfway across the truck lurched, and a tremendous noise of splintering wood ensued. The wheels spun upon the slippery bridge (and indeed, upon empty air as they were poking through the holes under the tires). I looked out the front passenger seat so I could exit quickly, now knowing the shape the bridge was in. But there was no bridge to be seen! This meant that the car tires were on the edge of the bridge and it also meant that I was even more highly motivated to get out of the truck as soon as possible.

The project truck on a broken bridge

“Santiago, we have to get out of the truck,” I said over and over. Not able to get out on my side, I scrambled into the back seat and popped out the other side. Someone remarked that they had never seen me move so quickly and with such agility. One of tree climbers said, “That is what fear will do to you, and it’s a good thing. It’s how I feel when I am up in a tree checking on macaw nests and the wind picks up and I hear the wood telling me urgently, 'get down, get down, move quickly'."

We climb the trees and cross bridges that put us at risk, but that is because

the parrots and biodiversity in this region is at risk

Thank goodness we have never lost a tree climber and we were able to get over the bridge after about an hour of rebuilding it and placing planks under the tires after raising the wheels of the car with a jack. Now whenever we go over a bridge we do all we can to inspect it first, rebuild it before going over, and then affirming that no matter what happens, it happens to us all.

Inspecting and repairing a bridge, truly necessary in the heavy rains of 2022

We’ll miss that bridge because it provided a shorter route to leave the village and inspect nests. So now we take the longer and safer way around.

This bridge tells me, like the trees tell the climbers, that we should be afraid of the collapse of earth’s systems. The splintering of life is echoing all around, and what is happening now is happening to us all. We must move quickly to save life, as well as plan diligently for the long haul, rethinking and rebuilding how societies in general have functioned. There are no lasting shortcuts in life.

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