12. Panama – A Cloud Forest Illuminated

Think back to a day where you collapsed at its end.
Consider the weight that your mental and physical frame felt.
I remember one of those days.

We were exhausted; the labor of the day lingering on our bodies like the cigarette smoke from our French host’s lips. Gathered around some scattered lanterns, we sat on the floor eating our dinner in what could best be described as the skeleton of, what would soon become, a house.
2015. A few friends and I were traveling through Panama. We’d gotten connected with a French couple our age who were running a farm in the mountains of Boquete. They hosted vagabonds; we volunteered our efforts in exchange. After dawn broke each day we would ride in the back of a pickup truck amid lush greens, past coffee plantations and scurrying chickens, until we broke above the foggy mist.


The farm was located in a “cloud forest.”
Occasionally it rained, but because we were tucked in a valley higher in altitude than the passing showers, the air merely glistened like diamonds. An ordinary day was spent gleaning fresh produce from the tiered garden beds, sampling the various berries and veggies, and weeding the soil from pests that would damage the plants.

This day in particular, we watched as a local man and his son unloaded bricks at the place where the road ended and the farm property began. Summoned together at the pristine sandstone pyramid, we formed an assembly line a dozen people long.

Each brick was gritty.
Great in weight and size.
Our hosts gave us thick, durable gloves to cover our hands, and from one person to the next, we began to move the red mountain further up the garden green hill.

Toss… turn… catch… Toss. Turn. Catch. Toss, turn, catch…
What started as tentative, foreign motions soon became a rhythm. We twelve spoke three or four different languages between us all, but with what we knew of the person before and after us in line, each of us communicated comfortably, efficiently, and safely. Watching the first mound diminish and the new pile grow, we bent into each catch, and hoisted to throw.

After two rounds of moving the bricks next to the frame of the halfway done home, the sun had begun to disappear over the mountain ridge west of the one where we stood. We gathered our food from the staircase of fields and fell into a peace of reflection and rest. Hours later, the only difference in the two tones of the horizon were solid black mountains, and static- like sky. Some stars had come out when the most remarkable thing appeared. The diamonds of water that had shone in the day, miraculously caught the glimmer of the moon as it began to rise behind us. A rainbow appeared. Miraculously, a faint rainbow filled the darkened sky; against the stark black night, cloud forest air was illuminated by the brightness of the moon. I can only hope my words have painted a picture for you that neither my hands could put to canvas nor a camera could ever have captured.

I like to believe that there is hope and color and light in all things. Even the darkness cannot overcome it. We can find rewards in the most challenging work and the most exhausting days. This memory is a testament to that.

Read more about Thirty by Thirty here

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