Stephanie Fong, Zachary Fazio, Landis Masnor, and Renee Meschi are Shimer students participating in the Shimer Summer Internship Program. They regularly post updates about their internship experiences.
This post is from Renee Meschi, who is studying entomology and international business at the Montezuma Bed & Breakfast and Butterfly Garden in Costa Rica.
The first thing I notice now that I am back in an urban setting is the constancy of the pace at which life moves. I adjusted so quickly and so thoroughly to life in Costa Rica, and I am finding the transition back to life in Chicago challenging, to say the least. The best way I can describe the difference is to liken it between songs by minimalist composers Steve Reich and Arvo Pärt. Steve Reich’s compositions tend to take on a sort of ‘face-melt’ rhythm, with constant beats and sounds that tend to melt together and are conducive to daydreaming or an otherwise absent minded state; it has been described as meditative, but in the way a trance might be, which invariably alienates one from the body.
In contrast, Pärt’s music snakes around one central theme, offering reoccurring respites of silence and stillness in which the listener can reflect on what was just heard. Fratres is a great example; the song is divided into 9 sections, each padded at both the beginning and the end with a melodically still drone.
In this analogy, Reich is Chicago and Pärt is Costa Rica. Interestingly, where Reich might use a wide range of notes in a piece, Pärt’s tend to oscillate around one triad, exploring harmonic possiblities but still remaining within the simplicity of those three notes. I find that this directly relates to the sun and its course in both countries; in Chicago, the days have different lengths at different times of year, whereas the Costa Rican sun is so close to the equator, many locals will look at the sky when you ask them what time it is, and are confident in their answer. It remains fixed and constant in its path across the sky.
What struck me at once when I began my internship was that Costa Rican life seems to rest on the rhythms of days and seasons. Life, at times, seemed to move rather slow, each event or moment encapsulated in silence with ample time for reflection. There were no street lights, and when it got dark every night at 6pm, the day was over, and a deep, dark silence entered the wilderness around the town. At sunrise the next morning, people would awaken and begin their day; alarm clocks were not necessary, as when the sun rose, so did I.
Almost everything seems to move seasonally in Costa Rica. There’s the rainy season and the dry season, further divided by multiple little seasons in which some sort of wildlife takes the center stage. When I arrived it was, as Josh called it, “ridiculously huge spider season.” The next month was “monkey season,” where we had to keep close watch of the breakfast veranda lest a capuchin monkey were to steal the table’s butter and sugar packets. A little after that began “snake season.”
What this points to is rhythm; the rhythm of the day, the rhythm of the seasons, the rhythm of the moon in the form of the tide; all of these work as the metronome of daily life in Montezuma. That is when I realized that even at our most still and most silent, there is still rhythm beneath it all. We still breathe, our hearts beat, we are born, and we die. These cycles are the stillest we can ever be.
On the plane on the way back to Chicago, I read about an artificial heart that scientists had recently successfully recreated. The scientists felt triumphant, saying that it was even more efficient than the biological heart, and had no reason to ever break down. The new heart works by by unceasingly spinning blood through its chambers, so that the heart’s owner had not a pulse, but a constant whir.
I feel as if humanity feels similarly triumphant over nighttime due to the advent of electricity. As soon as the sun goes down in Chicago, the lights turn on. As soon as the temperature becomes cold, buildings are heated. As soon as it becomes too hot, air is “conditioned.” People can (and do!) work 24 hours a day; life no longer has a set rhythm, it is just a constant whir. This is why it is always important to know what time it is in the city: we’ve removed all other indicators. In Costa Rica, 6:30pm has a flavor. It just feels like 6:30pm; the air becomes softer, the temperature breaks, and the sun starts to settle behind the mountains. In Chicago, when I’m sitting inside a fluorescently lit building with piped-in air, it could be any time. I have no concept, no feeling for it; because of this, it is important for me to assign alienated numbers to hours and to remain vigilant of the way in which they move. I can’t rely on my internal sense for these things because all sensory input has been removed and replaced with artificial constancy. The number matters here; time itself matters in Montezuma.
Needless to say, I’ve been having trouble getting readjusted to life in the whir. It is not entirely bad; just different...a different way of approaching life. The most important skill I hope to keep from my experiences in Costa Rica is the skill of reflection, metabolizing what happens in life and honoring my need for negative space to contrast the busyness.