The human mind is an incredible thing. It has the capacity to render the most extreme things into something mundane. Just look out of your window, isn’t it marvellous? Maybe you think a few buildings, maybe some plants, are dull, but just think about everything behind them. The years of trial and error, of development and time that took us from a crude hut to the sophisticated living structures we live in with heating, water, toilets, everything we could possibly need under one roof. And the plants? The mind-boggling process that starts with a tiny seed, and with the addition of just water, light and soil, something unique flourishes, perhaps producing fruit or flowers, that then attracts animals that not only pollinate and spread the seeds of that same plant but also are part of entire ecosystems that ultimately provide the delicate balance of atmosphere and climate necessary for life on this ball of rock spinning through space. Pretty impressive.
Of course, I doubt you think that when you look out of your window. Which is probably a good thing. If we all took time to consider how amazing the world is around us then no-one would get anything done. We’d just walk around going ‘ooh’ a lot and smiling.
Don’t want to miss out on seeing another one of these!
While travelling, of course, the things you see are new and different. At the moment, I’m finding it hard to stop from staring up at the trees while walking about in case I see a monkey, a sloth, or a hummingbird. Not good for your neck muscles, or your ability to dodge oncoming traffic.
Yet even these things get filed into the ‘yeah, whatever’ file in your brain after repeated exposure. In Australia, the first time we saw a kangaroo (that wasn’t the briefest of glimpses from the highway) we stopped the van. We reversed, got out, took careful steps even though it was raining, to get as close as possible to these amazing creatures. They are so strange. The disproportionate bulge of the back legs, the impossible distance and height they get with a simple hop. How the front paws hang there when the rest of them is in motion. When we saw some close up, we realised that they use their tails as a lever when moving more slowly, resting their whole weight on it while they hop their legs forward. Utterly breathtaking. But by the time we left it was just another skippy next to the road, and we moaned about the fact that we hadn’t seen a koala in the wild.
Our first encounter with kangaroos
Everywhere we’ve visited has been the same. When I first saw a hummingbird here in Costa Rica, its emerald feathers skipping around a flower, I couldn’t move. The buzz of the wings is so fast it produces a light breeze, yet the rest of their body stays immobile. Such elegance and precision in something so tiny you could cover it with your hand. It got even better at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, where we were able to hold out little flowers with sweet liquid in so they came and perched and sipped – those colours up close were so vibrant.
You can see how excited I am
Even these beautiful birds have become everyday, as we’re looking out for toucans or other more exotic and elusive birds that we haven’t managed to spot yet. I barely acknowledge the wheeling vultures overhead because they’ve become so commonplace.nWhy is this happening? All of these beautiful animals we’re seeing, the views and sights, why doesn’t each one produce the same involuntary gasp as when we first saw them?
Apparently it’s the fault of opioids in our brains that only get set off the first time they see something. Not only that, but our modern overstimulated world is actually making us more, not less bored. I wonder also if this is exacerbated by the experience of travelling over a much longer period of time. Usually, you know that the time you spend away from home will be limited. A week or two, and then it will be back to the familiar things in your life. If you take that away, and make the end point so far away it becomes impossible to see, it changes the way you see your experiences. Sighting an interesting animal, trying a new experience, they become one in a long list of things that have already happened, and you can look ahead and still see weeks and weeks of time in which you’ll be doing other exciting things. No wonder you start to dumb it down a little.
Another volcano? Yeah, we’ve seen loads.
This might be only the second time in my life I’ve actually really been looking forward to coming home after a trip. Usually, there’s that tug that makes you wish you had just a few hours, days or weeks more to see things. While I’ve definitely had that about individual countries or places, the same can’t be said for being away in general. Perhaps that’s why the exotic wildlife is being relegated to the less exciting part of my brain, as some of it is already looking forward to being back in the familiar.
There’ve been times since we’ve been travelling that I’ve got really annoyed about trivial things. Fed up that we’ve got to spend time looking for the next place to stay, we just realised we lost Sophie the giraffe (ok, that one is more serious), it’s started to rain and we have to leave the beach early. The last one happened today. Yesterday, we were in Manuel Antonio park, a beautiful place that not only is teeming with wildlife but also has gorgeous beaches. We trekked around and saw orange-clawed crabs, squirrel monkeys, capuchin monkeys, sloths, agoutis, racoons, iguanas and the occasional lizard. We swam in water that was just cool enough to take the edge off the heat and I spent some time soaking up the sun. Quite a day.
Sloth peering down from the trees
Tiny squirrel monkey
Cute capuchin monkey
Yet twenty-four later, I was feeling hard done by because the baby refused to take a nap on the beach and it started to rain. When she (finally) went to sleep later, I took a dip in the pool by our apartment (harsh, right?) and took stock. I’m still on holiday. After four months. I’m swimming in a pool in an exotic location, watching howler monkeys swing in the trees. How can I possibly be annoyed?
I suppose it’s impossible to be in a state of wonder all of the time. It’s also unreasonable to expect that, just because you’re having exciting experiences, you’re not going to get annoyed/tired/stressed or any of the other negative emotions that might assail you on a day-to-day basis. They just feel out of place because I am.
How can you get bored with views like this?
Perhaps in a few months I will laugh at how I found these things difficult or stressful, or maybe I’ll just be amazed I managed to do it at all while figuring out how to be a parent. Either way, I hope my mind will retain its ability to notice and marvel at the wonderful things around me for the last month or so we have left.
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