The Quetzal was, of course, the sacred bird of the Maya peoples who once inhabited these parts, and attained this status for obvious reasons: it is a truly spectacular being, with its bright green plumage, coronet, brilliant red chest, white abdomen and long, glistening green tail feathers...a bird that calls to mind the wonderful contemplative poem by Wallace Stevens:
Of Mere Being
The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze decor,
A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.
You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.
The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird's fire-fangled feathers dangle down.
The Quetzal was, of course, only one of the marvelous beings we saw in the cloud forests and coastal rainforests of Costa Rica--a magnificent, sensuous country where magnificent flowers, trees, birds, and animals were everywhere. Others included the rainbow-brilliant red, squawking Macaws, the Trogon with its brilliant brick-red belly and ivory beak, the Toucan with its huge, almost comical beak, and myriad other brilliantly colored birds, along with monkeys (four different species: howler, capuchin, spider, and squirrel) clambering through the upper branches, coatis, caymans, crocodiles, geckos, iguanas (including one huge lizard aptly called the Ctenosaur), hummingbirds galore in incredible variety, magnificent blue Morpho butterflies, and even extraordinary insects, such as huge beetles, army ants and leaf-cutter ants, marching in formation down their own highways, carrying their cut leaves like banners in a parade...one miracle after another.
But the Quetzal remains, firmly engraved upon my consciousness, for sheer splendor. After I saw it, I had the feeling that if I had died at that instant, I would have seen all the wonders that any mortal could reasonably hope to see.
And yet, when our eyes are open, when we let go of all our mental baggage, our preoccupations, our self-stuff, and simply return to our breath, to Alaya, such wonders are everywhere, all the time: the Beethoven trio now playing on the radio, the sparkling pearls of dew on Allen's collard greens and broccoli plants during yesterday's chilly Walking Meditation around his garden...miracles everywhere.
But the other thing that has stayed with me from Costa Rica (besides their delicious staple food, Gallo Pinto, consisting merely of stir-fried black beans and rice with onions and peppers) is the word that was on every Costa Rican's lips: "Puravida." It is a word, like "Aloha" for Hawaiians, or "Shalom" for the Hebrews, "Salaam" for the Arabs, or "Namaste" for Indians, that somehow captures the distilled essence of their culture and its wisdom and grace. They say it in response to a simple "Gracias," as a greeting, as a farewell, or as just an expression to celebrate being alive together. Moreover, it captures the essence of the truly Gaian culture that the Costa Ricans--the "Ticos" as they call themselves, are creating there: a culture of celebration that fully embraces, honors, and cares for their own magnificent natural heritage.
May the spirit of "Puravida" spread across all of Gaia, sustaining us all...