24 Students Experienced Rainforest Ecology Firsthand in Costa Rica

A Fenwick junior from Oak Park offers up a web log on how a nine-day ‘fieldtrip’ to Central America was life changing.

By Ben Groll ’21

It was Tuesday, July 30, 2019. Our flight to Costa Rica landed late the night before, and after three hours of sleep, my roommate Vince’s alarm woke us up. Three hours of sleep is not great, so my three other roommates and I were understandably exhausted. The previous day’s traveling had drained us, and as we all start to get packed, Vince moved the blinds, and we looked out the window. I did not take a picture, but I see it as clearly now as I see this paper: The sight of a massive mountain towering in the sky as the sun rose behind it. I saw the bright rays of pink and red from the rising sun blasting through the dark blues of night, mixing to create a beautiful sight that is unlike any I had ever seen. The “Ecology of the Rainforest” trip was just that: unforgettable, breathtaking and incredible.

The ever-changing rainforest of Costa Rica acted as an excellent background to our ever-changing trip, as our experiences each day were different from the last. Our first day was spent traveling to Tortuguero, and even the several hour bus ride was fun. All around us, we witnessed the breathtaking sights of the country, from banana trees to mountains and everything in between. We even saw a sloth during breakfast. What followed was a unique ride to our hotel, and our form of transportation did not involve wheels. We spent an hour on a boat that took us to our secluded hotel, and we spent the next three days exploring the surrounding wildlife. We were able to live inside the magnificent rainforest for multiple days and experience its wonders first-hand. On one of our boat rides, however, the first-hand nature of our trip backfired. While on our boat, gentlemen’s volleyball coach and English teacher Mrs. Whitman had an unfortunate encounter with a caiman; an experience which she remembers as fondly as one would remember an encounter with a caiman. The lurking caiman rushed through the waters and tapped her side of the boat with a relatively small amount of force. We were all surprised by it, and thankfully, nobody was hurt. Even our tour guides were surprised by this encounter.

The trip was very busy but in a good way. One of the mornings, we were awoken around 4 a.m. by the sound of howler monkeys as they were just waking up. The ambient sounds of the rainforest had woken us on plenty of the mornings, and this was no exception. The busy-ness of the trip left little to be desired in terms of time spent sleeping. Still, the incredible coffee and excitement of our time there kept me energized the entire way.

The sheer awe and amazement of the sights around us is a theme of this trip. Arguably, the most incredible sight I witnessed was when we saw turtles come from the ocean and lay their eggs on the beach. This incredible process only occurs at night, and we were fortunate enough to see multiple, one-meter-long turtles emerge from the ocean, climb onto the beach, dig patches for their eggs, lay their eggs, cover up the eggs to protect them, and crawl back into the sea as elegantly as they came from it. The lengths at which these turtles go to protect their eggs, and their growing young, is remarkable and heartwarming. As we were waiting for our time to view the turtles, we waited on the side of the beach, and there I witnessed another one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen in my life: the clearest night sky filled with a seemingly infinite amount of stars.

On the trip, we took part in ecotourism, which is the process in which tourists experience nature first hand, but in a way that supports the environment and leaves little to no footprint on it. The country of Costa Rica does an incredible job of lowering its reliance on fossil fuels and relying on renewable energy, and its impact is clear. Their commitment to sustaining the environment was awesome to learn about, and it helped me see the efforts required to sustain this world of ours. While it seems complicated, it’s quite simple, and the impact is huge. We witnessed this impact while on the beach before we saw the turtles. Mr. Menich, my classmates and I sat on the beach and witnessed the sheer beauty of the night sky. The stars dotted the dark sky and gave it a blue hue; all while shooting stars temporary lit up the dark blue sky. The untainted atmosphere here sharply contrasts that of Chicago, and this is a testament to Costa Rica’s incredible ability to reduce emissions and help the environment. And the results are breathtaking.

Online Eco-courses

The Costa Rica trip was all part of the Ecology of the Rainforest course offered during the second semester at Fenwick. Each week, we were to complete modules online. The only time I spent in a classroom for this course was when I took tests and did the final presentation. While on the trip, we were split into groups and researched a specific aspect of the ecology of the rainforest. My group was assigned to research gene flow in plant populations. During our trip, we were able to see this gene flow through the symbiotic relationship between plants and animals. Both work together and benefit each other, and an example of this was with hummingbirds and Heliconias. On multiple hikes, we saw the curved Heliconias flower, which is specially adapted for the long beaks of hummingbirds. The hummingbirds’ beaks go into the heliconia flower, and the pollen is sneakily put onto the hummingbird’s forehead by the heliconia. Once the hummingbird reaches another heliconia, the pollen on its forehead pollinates that plant, and the cycle repeats. This incredible symbiotic relationship showcases the harmony in the rainforest, which I would not have been able to fully grasp had I not taken this course and gone on this trip.

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Friars’ Student Preacher for October

A Fenwick junior urges her classmates to learn from sisters Martha and Mary in the Bible — and be more diligent with their prayer lives.

By Grace McGann ’21

Grace McGann, a junior, commutes to Fenwick from Western Springs, Illinois.

In today’s Gospel, we learn about two sisters named Martha and Mary. When welcoming Jesus into their home, Martha scrambles to clean and organize the house while Mary simply sits at Jesus’ feet to listen to his wisdom and prayer. Eventually, fed up and exhausted, Martha complains to Jesus about the actions of her sister. Jesus simply explains to Martha that her own anxieties and worries have gotten the best of her, and that Mary has made the better decision by choosing to pray alongside Jesus.

It’s easy, especially as Fenwick students, to see ourselves in Martha’s position. From what seems to be endless hours of homework, maintaining grades and also maintaining meaningful relationships, high school does come with a lot of things to be worried about. So many of us have gotten to a point where it feels like these worries consume us. It’s at moments like these where we must remember the Gospel. Jesus told Martha that she was too focused on worrisome things and that she should focus more on the thing that truly matters: prayer. We are all individuals with very busy schedules, but as Jesus said to Martha, we cannot let our worries take priority over our faith. In the long run, your grade in geometry is not going to have a significant impact on your life. Your faith, however, can set your soul on fire for the rest of your life, and that all starts with our prayer habits.

Yes, we do pray before every class and some of us might pray before every meal. But it is easy to find ourselves stuck in the rabbit hole where we are just going through the motions. We stand up, say a “Hail Mary” or even an “Our Father” and sit down. But how often do you think about what you just did? An easy step to take to improve your prayer habits is being aware of what you are saying. We pray before class, for example, because we are asking God to help us with our struggles, not to just focus on our struggles and completely and ignore Him in the process. There are thousands of ways to engage in meaningful prayer. For me, its praying before I go to bed.

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