We didn’t realize, when planning our trip to Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, that we would be carrying extra baggage. Or rather, that I would be, in the form of a stowaway, just 12 weeks shy of his birth on the day of our flight. So while Jacob, our 11-year-old, and Sasha, 9, discussed the activities—kayaking! surfing! hiking!—they were most excited about, and my husband, Paul, flipped through his guidebook, pointing out all the creatures—lizards! sloths! toads!—we’d soon encounter, I stared out the oval window, wondering how I would navigate not only the jungle beneath me but the rest of my life with the little being kicking inside. Paul was thrilled about the new baby. Me?Let’s just say I was more tired, scared, and worried about finances than thrilled. My 40th birthday lay just ahead. The novel I’d spent nearly three years writing had yet to be sold. "You booked us into a tree house!" I snapped at Paul the night before our flight from New York to Costa Rica’s capital, San José. "You have completely unrealistic expectations of what I’m—what we’re—capable of handling."
The tree house—which my husband had found on the Web and reserved for the first four of our eight nights on the Osa—had become a joke between us, a metaphor for the dissonance between Paul’s rosy view of the world and mine. He imagined a magical fortress, surrounded by bountiful flora and fauna. I pictured a splinter-covered platform, high above the ground, with a rickety ladder I’d have to descend three times a night, flashlight clenched between my teeth, en route to the outhouse.
But as our taxi pulled up to the Black Turtle Lodge, we were greeted by an ocean breeze and a smiling, barefoot Nico Zimmerman, the eco-lodge’s owner, who led us through a thicket of tropical plants to a tree house, replete with a polished floor made from fallen manglillo trees, screened walls, separate quarters for the children(!), Egyptian-cotton sheets, and its very own staircase. Over the next four days, we would swim and kayak in the warm waters of the Golfo Dulce, learn about wart-healing plants and the monogamous mating habits of scarlet macaws from Josh, "The Kayak Guy," and loll about in the colorful hammocks slung throughout the Black Turtle’s grounds. At night, Nico, formerly a chef in Berkeley, would cook us freshly caught snapper, pasta dishes, and homemade breads and desserts, all served around a refectory table, where we’d be joined by the six other guests at the lodge, as well as Nico’s friends, a gaggle of local expats, one of whom regaled us with tales of building a house tall enough for his kayak to stand up straight.
We ourselves moved into a 2,000-square-foot house at our next stop, Bosque del Cabo, a cliff-top eco-lodge at the tip of the Osa where the Golfo Dulce meets the Pacific. The resort’s two naturalists led us on a nighttime trek and showed us how to hold a flashlight flush with our cheekbone to spot the eyes of bats in the dark. Our kids took surfing lessons, and we all took refuge from the noonday sun in Bosque’s kidney-shaped pool under a thatched roof. One day my husband accompanied Jacob and Sasha on a zipline through the treetops, while I hung out in a hammock. Swaying in the breeze, trying to nap, I felt the baby moving and again began to fret. How would we make room for an infant in our lives, which felt so crowded already?
Just then, a dozen or so capuchin monkeys appeared. Two of the smallest were chasing each other from branch to branch. A baby clung to his mother’s fur. I watched them giddily, wishing the kids were there with me. Then I stared out at the greenery, at the ever-multiplying leaves, the millions of plants and organisms struggling to maintain hegemony over tiny plots of earth and bark. I suddenly, and quite ferociously, felt a part of it all, in tune with nature, and at peace with my procreative self.
As I write this, Leo Copaken Kogan, now two months old, lies beside me, his heart-shaped lips pursed to nurse an invisible dream nipple. He was born with two slight eccentricities: two of his toes are partially webbed, like a lizard’s, and the edges of his ears curl in, as a monkey’s do. I like to think our time in the Osa played a part in shaping these enchanting quirks.
Deborah Copaken Kogan is the author of the bestselling memoir Shutterbabe. Suicide Wood, her first novel, is coming out next year.