Web of Life and beginning to see: birds, tree sloths and the community of life

Maryknoll Sr. Melinda Roper looks through a telescope to see a three-toed sloth in a cuipo tree at the Maryknoll sisters' pastoral center. (Tracy L. Barnett)

Darién, Panama — The Earth is a living, conscious being. In company with cultures of many different times and places, we name these things as sacred: air, fire, water, and earth. ...

All people, all living things, are part of the earth life, and so are sacred. No one of us stands higher or lower than any other. Only justice can assure balance; only ecological balance can sustain freedom.

Only in freedom can that fifth sacred thing we call Spirit flourish in its full diversity.

- Starhawk, The Fifth Sacred Thing

Long before the human denizens of the forest are awake, it hums with life. Howler monkeys grouse above our heads, holding back from the full roar that emerged earlier in the night. Crickets, tree frogs, night birds and strange, unidentified creatures all hold court under cover of darkness.

It's now 5 a.m., and the Maryknoll Sisters are waking up and beginning their day. I wake with them to do my work, listening to theirs from a respectful distance. Candlelight, coffee, quiet laughter, the sharing of plans and visions and dreams.

I'm excited because at 6:30 a.m., we're going birding with Rosabel Miró, executive director of the Panama Audubon Society. By the time the appointed hour arrives, all has gone silent.

The group gathers around Miró and her magic telescope with great expectations. Nothing happens. Finally, Claretian Fr. José Maria Vigil spots something in the giant cuipo tree. Could it be the elusive harpy eagle?  

No, but it was something that could hold still long enough for everyone in our group to see. It was a three-toed sloth — furry and endearing, like a creature from a Disney movie.

Maryknoll Sr. Melinda Roper was hesitant to try — she doesn't usually have much luck seeing things with telescopes and binoculars, she said. She tried and saw nothing. But others went ahead and spotted the slow-moving creature, figured out the trick, and convinced her to give it another try.

Suddenly, her face brightened.

"It's a sloth," she confirmed.

Soon, a flash of wings in a nearby tree called Miró's attention, and she was off, spotting a black-chested jay. Then a ruddy ground dove, followed by a red-rumped woodpecker, a variable seedeater, a blue-gray tanager, a straight-billed woodcreeper: A veritable menagerie flitted among the trees, and tuning into it just required patience, stillness and a little bit of time.

Read the full story at Global Sisters Report


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