by Melissa Forney
Rainforest waterfalls provide the best swimming holes for kids, ever. The country of Panama has many mountains. Nine months of the year it showers rain every afternoon for several hours. That’s a lot of water!
The rainfall collects in streams and runs down the mountains. Sometimes these streams form long, beautiful
waterfalls. Other times they form short, powerful waterfalls with deep pools beneath them. These pools were our
favorite place to swim when I was a kid exploring the rainforest with my father.
The water coming down the mountains follows the same path it has for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. Most of the dirt has long been washed away. The water flows over rocks that are round and smooth and slick.
As girls, we would slide over those rocks right into the falls, landing in the deep pools below. What fun! It is even possible to get behind the waterfalls and hide from your friends. The pool is deep enough to dive into from some of the higher rocks. If there was a rope swing up high, we took turns swinging out and dropping into the clear, cool water. What a blast! Rainforest waterfalls: I highly recommend them.
Monkeys Monkeys Everywhere
by Melissa Forney
Who doesn’t love a monkey? The country of Panama has many, many varieties of monkeys, and they’re all fun to watch. In the jungle and rainforests, the trees are often filled with Grey-bellied Night Monkeys, Tamarin Monkeys, White-faced Capuchin Monkeys, and the big-daddy of them all, Howler Monkeys.
Howler Monkeys are the largest of all the New World primates. They have a long, strong tail they use as an extra arm to help them climb and pick leaves. During the evening and early morning, Howler monkeys split the air with howls so loud they can be heard three miles away. These ear-piercing hoots are meant to tell other
monkeys, “This is our territory. Find your own!” Sleeping in the jungle is no fun, not if you want to get a good night’s sleep.
In Panama’s Gatun Lake, the second largest man-made lake in the world, there is a small jungle island called Monkey Island. As you can imagine, Monkey Island is overrun with hundreds of monkeys. My sister and I enjoyed feeding the monkeys bananas and other tropical fruits. Our father taught us to put the fruit on long, stiff branches to offer the fruit to the monkeys. As much as we wanted to pet them and play with them, it’s not a good idea. Rainforest monkeys bite!
Each Life Has Value
by Melissa Forney
One of the things my father taught my sister and me on our rainforest treks is to respect every life. “Each life has a purpose,” he would say. “Don’t destroy nature just for the fun of it.” He valued each life, even snakes, plants, and huge ants on the rainforest floor.
My father would spread apart a giant fern and ask us to get down close. We searched with flashlights and magnifying glasses and were amazed to find an entire world of life hiding under a single plant. We found bugs and insects we’d never seen before. Once we were examining a giant rhinoceros beetle, and it decided to crawl up my sister’s long hair. The beetle got hopelessly tangled and hissed loudly until we could free him.
Our father taught us how to identify poisonous snakes and nonpoisonous snakes and to leave them alone. When we were in the rainforest, he kept us close to him and watched the path carefully. Poisonous snakes can hide in plain sight—they’re there, but you can’t see them. Animal lives have value, but ours did, too.
Mysteries of the Rainforest
by Melissa Forney
My sister and I loved nature, and we paid attention to all the unusual and mysterious things our father taught us in the jungles and rainforest of Panama.
The Blue Morpho butterfly—nearly six inches across—is the largest butterfly in the rainforest. It’s bright, blue, iridescent wings are easy to spot as it flies through the canopy. The Blue Morpho feasts on the juices and nectars of flowers and fruit. If the fruit has begun to ferment, these brilliant blue butterflies can actually become drunk. They become slow and wobbly as they try to fly.
Another mystery to us are the trees that have square tree trunks that grow only in Panama. Even their inside “rings” are square. The Panamanian Golden Tree Frog is also only found in the rainforests of Panama. This frog is actually from the toad family and communicates with usual frog sounds but also waves and makes hand
gestures. One of our favorite mysteries were tiny plants our father called “Shame Briars” but are actually called Mimosa pudica. When you touch them, the Shame Briar plants immediately close their hundreds of leaves.
But the winner of all the rainforest mysteries is the leaf-cutter ant. These fascinating ants have colonies of millions of workers, each with specific jobs. Some worker ants climb trees, cut large leaves into smaller pieces, then pass them off to marcher ants who carry them through the rainforest. They hold the leaf pieces over their heads. As a kid I would sit and watch them for an hour or more, dazzled by the thousands of ants passing me by holding little green umbrellas over their heads.
Down, Down Deep
by Melissa Forney
Down by the sea, the sea that is the same color as the light green crayon in my color box, my daddy and I walk to the lagoon. It is at the end of the beach by the big rocks. I want to walk fast, so we can get there sooner. I pull Daddy’s hand. He walks faster to keep up with me. Seagulls flutter over my head, crying for part of a sandwich
or a chip. People wade and swim. A grandpa and two children build a sandcastle.
We walk and walk. The sand is warm and crunchy between my toes. Bits of shells prickle the bottoms of my feet. Daddy holds my hand. His hand is twice as big as mine.
“Here we are,” He says.
“My favorite place,” I say.
The waves of the sea roll and crash, but the water in the lagoon is calm. Tiny crabs skitter across the rocks. They remind me of spiders.
In the shallow part, I sit on the sandy bottom. The water is warm from the sun. I open my eyes. Sunbeams flicker all around. I open my mouth. The water tastes salty.
I find a sand dollar next to my big toe. It tickles my hand as I hold it close. I know it is a living thing, so
I put it back. I swim in the pale green water. I am a turtle, gliding through the sea. I roll on my back and hold my breath. I am a ship, riding the waves. I swim and swim and swim.
Daddy dives down in the deeper water. It is turquoise, like another crayon in my color box, my favorite.
I want to dive deeper, too, so I flip under and kick my legs. Instead of sinking, I float. I kick harder, but my legs flop in the air. I pull with my arms, but I bob on top of the water. It looks easy when Daddy does it.
“Hey,” I call, when he comes up for air. “I want to dive deeper.”
“Hold on,” he says. I hook my hands over his shoulders and wrap my legs around his body.
“Big breath,” Daddy says. “One, two, three!”
We flip under. Daddy’s strong arms and legs pull us down. Woosh. Woosh. Water rushes past my ears.
My hair swirls. Bubbles swim out of my nose.
Daddy points to a seahorse. I reach out to touch his curly tail, but before I can touch it, he is gone.
I squint my eyes so I can see other things. It is hard to see underwater.
When I need a breath, I tap Daddy’s shoulder. He pushes off the bottom with his feet. We shoot to the top like a rocket. Our wet breath sprays high into the air.
Daddy says, “Did you see the seahorse?”
We roll under and go down again. This time Daddy swims along the bottom like a shark. I let my legs trail behind. I laugh, and bubbles burst out of my nose. I tap Daddy’s back and we zip to the top.
“I want to see things,” I say. I wipe salty water from my eyes. “But my eyes burn.”
“Let’s get the mask,” he says. I fit the yellow mask to my face. I straighten the strap behind my head.
The mask is tight.
“Big breath. One, two, three,” Daddy says. We roll under, and this time he pushes my back. I kick my legs and arms. It is hard, but I keep going. When I am at the bottom, I give him a thumbs up sign. He gives me one back.
The mask makes everything clear. I see crusty shells growing on rocks. I see a hermit crab. His feelers twitch and twist. I rake my fingers across the bottom, and the sand swirls. Purple periwinkles wiggle back into the sand.
I need a breath! I kick off the bottom and keep my hands flat by my sides. Daddy follows me to the top.
“You did great,” he says, shaking water from his ear.
This makes me smile inside. “Again?”
Daddy squints at the sun. “One more.”
This time Daddy pushes me only part way down. I scissor-kick like a frog chasing a bug. I make it to the
bottom on my own. My heart pounds. My ears pop. I hold on to the rocks to keep from floating up.
The water is quiet and cool. I pretend I am the queen of the sea. The fish and the shells and the periwinkles belong to me.
I look up, up to the top, and see the shimmery shape of my daddy. He is waiting. I wave at the fish and the hermit crab. I wave at the fluttering seahorse, wherever he is. I tuck my legs and push against the bottom.
I zoom to the top, as fast as a rocket. I gulp in air, breath after breath.
Daddy helps me pull off the yellow mask so that it doesn’t pull my hair. I hate to leave my favorite place.
We walk back down the beach, by the water that slides in and out with every wave. Daddy slows down a little so I can keep up with him. We walk and walk.
The sand is cooler now and the seagulls have flown away. The sandcastle has melted into the sea. The sun is dark orange, like the sun I painted in my picture at home.
Daddy holds my hand. His fingers must be twice as big as mine. No, three times as big. Four.
Tonight, when my stepmom Lucy tucks me in, I will remember to tell her that I can dive deep, even by
myself, and that I am the queen of the sea.
My bedroom is my sanctuary. Its open doors beckon me to come in for a rest, and I can’t resist. In a world of overwhelming stress and responsibilities, I look forward to time in my bedroom where I can get away from it all.
The main attraction in my bedroom is my king size bed, with a lacy wrought-iron headboard and foot board, so high I have to almost jump to get in it. I love the softness of bamboo sheets, so even though they are expensive, I buy them. Across from the bed is a large television and a small refrigerator where I keep cold sodas and bottles of water. At the foot of the bed is a bright red love seat, where my husband loves to sit and read, surrounded by four dogs and sometimes two cats.
We have a lovely home, and lots of people come and go here. My children like to come in and stretch out on the bed and talk with me about their lives. My grandchildren like to snuggle with me and watch movies. I love them all, but I really enjoy getting away by myself to my bedroom for relaxing time alone.
So, if you can’t find me, check the bedroom, where I’m probably propped up watching Netflix, sipping a cold cream soda.