By Natalie Helms
GUACIMAL, Costa Rica – A brave 12-year-old looked up at the unfamiliar faces that towered over him. His dark eyes curiously studied the foreigners as they prepared for a hike to La Rancha Del Rio.
He bustled around the kitchen and, with his dad’s help, prepared a dirty backpack and weathered rain boots for the trek. Stewart Sheehan was familiar with this hike.
Stewart’s mother, also the group’s tour guide, sent her son to the front of the pack to begin the journey. With a camera and binoculars around his neck, the skinny boy fearlessly led the newcomers through the Costa Rican forest. He quickly spotted several monkeys in the trees that the students had to strain their eyes to notice.
He bounded down the trail and answered questions in both English and Spanish for the group trudging along behind him. Despite his age and size, Stewart knew more about this forest than the students could ever discover.
The group was challenged when they came upon a river. They removed their shoes and staggered across with extreme difficulty. The current was strong and the rocks were slippery, but not for Stewart. The water rose almost to his waist, so he pulled up his pants and shirt as high as they could go.
He directed the college students where to place their feet and held some hands to steady the swaying bodies. Although he was genuinely concerned for the group’s wellbeing, I believe he was secretly laughing at the strong possibility of a student toppling over and into the water.
It astounded me how comfortable Stewart was in this environment. He had grown up with it just beyond his doorstep. That lifestyle starkly contrasts with that of millions of North American children and others around the world who may never get to see a river clean enough to touch.
He may not realize it, but Stewart is lucky to be connected with nature. I can only hope that Stewart appreciates the land on which he was raised. I hope he never loses his natural curiosity to explore and that he will use his knowledge of and familiarity with the Costa Rican landscape to improve the lives and perspectives of others.