Confessions: Tracking Diaries #7

Confessions: Tracking Diaries #7

I stare at the low chair in my living room, which I would swear on anything you like contained an orange backpack full of specialized sloth tracking equipment the last time I saw it. It is now empty.

I’m dead. I think. Or fired, or going crazy. I’ve only just transitioned out of volunteer status with SloCo into a full-time team member, and now that I’ve lost the tracking equipment I’m likely going to be demoted so fast I’ll probably have to give back all of my t-shirts with the nice logo on them.

It might just be easier to fall on my sword, only I don’t have a sword, so I sit down in the other chair instead. Okay, let’s think about this.

If a thief had broken into my house and stolen the backpack, it seems pretty unlikely that they left my laptop alone and nicely locked the door again after they left, so perhaps the equipment isn’t stolen. This is good for my sense of security, but unfortunately, it leaves me with only one other conclusion, which is that I did something with the equipment, and I have no idea what that might have been. Also, it’s getting late and I REALLY have to track some sloths today.

Part of the problem is that I have a confession to make: I have done almost no actual sloth tracking this month. I’ve been editing and proofreading and writing instead. How that happened went something like this:

Ceci: “We have a ton of mailings and content going out this month, and I need some help cleaning them up for an English-speaking audience.”

Dr. Becky: “Have Ames do it.
Doesn’t he have a degree in writing or something?”
*Distant maniacal laughter from my high school English teacher*

Me: “Actually I never went to—”

Ceci: “Great! Hey Amelia, can I borrow Ames this month?”

Amelia: “Sure, just give him back in January. Our other tracker is leaving to go be a skydiving instructor in Norway or some such.”

Dr. Becky: “Done.”

Ceci: “Thanks.”

Me: “Do I get a say—”
Ceci, Dr. Becky, and Amelia: “Nope. To the computer with you!”

Distant high school English teacher: “Oh, this is rich. Do you want to know what grades he got in school?”

Me: “Shut up, you.”

And so I spent most of December parked in front of a screen. I also taught myself how to make a latte and chased off vacationing trucks who kept wanting to turn the little jungle restoration area in front of my house into a parking lot, but I saw very few sloths.

I did escape my house long enough to make an excursion to the US embassy to renew my passport, during which time I only got lost in San Jose twice, missed my appointment once, and narrowly avoided sleeping on the streets of the port city of Limon on my way back home.

Instead, I shared an overcrowded taxi with five other guys (and sat on the laps of three of them: don’t ask) while we all ducked our heads and hid every time we passed a police checkpoint.

I was at the post office arranging the delivery of my hard-earned passport when the orange backpack went missing from my house. Think think think. After a bit, I start knocking on my neighbor’s doors and asking if they’ve seen anyone come or go from the property.

Me: “Buenas Linda! Has visto a alguien entrar en mi casa?”

Linda: “Ahh, no. ¿Quieres ravioles?”

Me: “Hey Dave, has anyone been by the house today?”

Dave: “Not that I’ve seen. Is something missing? Maybe we should look for clues!”

Me: “I think the jungle ate the clues. Oh, and by the way, Linda is making ravioli…”

Me: “Hey Kev,” I ask my ex (who is also my neighbor. Really don’t ask. It’s a small town.) “You haven’t seen an invisible thief run off with an orange backpack, have you?”

Kevin: “No, but Amanda came by and said she would track sloths today for you. I still have your spare key so I let her in.”

Me: “Oh thank God!”
Kevin: “Is that a problem?”

Me: “Nope, not at all. Don’t mind me while I just sag down here and lay on the floor.”

Kevin: “You look a little pale. Have you tried these ravioli? They’re really good.”

It turns out I did not need to doubt my sanity after all. I just had to open up and talk to people, because most of them mean you well.

They guard your spare keys, they track sloths for you, they make you food. Sometimes, all you need to do is ask.

-Ames Reeder

Tracking Diaries #6: Dear Santa

Tracking Diaries #6: Dear Santa


“Dear Santa,

This year I have been extremely very mostly good, and for Christmas, I would really like for a sloth to go poop.”

I am typing my Christmas list into my phone as a way to pass the time while I sloth-sit. Sloth sitting is like sloth tracking, except we have already found the sloths and we don’t need any data on them, so I’m just watching them to see if they do anything interesting. It’s way less exciting than it sounds.

Today I have been pulled off my usual tracking duties to assist a film crew that has come to try and get some footage of a sloth going to the bathroom, which happens very briefly, once a week, and is highly unlikely to happen on my shift. But, I don’t make the rules, I just watch sloths.

“I know sloth poop is a pretty unusual request, Santa, and you probably don’t have much of it at the North Pole. That’s why I am thinking you could use your magic powers to see if these sloths right here need to go to the toilet, perhaps on camera. This would gain me a bunch of kudos from my co-workers.”

There are five sloths in the area I am watching. Two of them are two-fingered, which we don’t need footage of, one of them is a three-fingered mama with a baby, which we don’t need footage of, and two more are a couple of three-fingered males in a low tree right across from me. This would be perfect if they decided to do something besides sleep. I pull out the old pair of binoculars I have borrowed from a friend. They have gone blurry, and in them, the sloths look like small brown fuzzy spots that could be anything from sloths to bunches of wet leaves.

I continue typing on my phone.

“If sloth feces is outside of your jurisdiction, I understand. I would also be very happy with a new pair of binoculars.”

I have just looked up on the internet how expensive good binoculars are, and I figure a supernatural elf is probably the only way I’m going to see a pair in the next decade.

“I realize I probably haven’t been quite saint-like enough this year for the binoculars, but perhaps you could overlook that incident with my landlord. She was being quite unreasonable, and it’s not like I made the hole in my roof myself. Also, I did try to warn everybody about the tiles BEFORE the neighbor’s cat came crashing through the ceiling. At least it wasn’t an opossum this time.”

I glance back up at the sloths, who have not moved. To keep myself amused, I have given the two I am interested in names: the one on the left is–very appropriately–named “Lefty”. The one on the right is—very appropriately—named “Pancho Villa”. At least, I think it’s amusing… my coworkers were not nearly as impressed, but then, they apparently aren’t into legendary heroes or the outlaw songs written about them.

“Also, Santa, on the subject of me being good, I think we need to factor in the mitigating circumstances of extraordinary temptation. I haven’t used the company car to run over ANY illegal loggers lately, or the jerk-wads cutting down trees in Luna’s territory. I figure this should be good for at least a new hat, or another t-shirt. (Men’s medium, with a SloCo logo, and made of all-natural, sustainable materials, please. In case you’re taking notes.)”

The sky is threatening rain, and the sloths are threatening to sleep forever. I do a few jumping jacks to keep myself awake, and then pace around and look for any other sloths that might have snuck up on me while I was waiting. There’s something dark in the tree by Pancho and Lefty, but I figure it’s just a howler monkey.

“Finally, Santa, I would like to add to my Christmas list a few things for the sloths. I don’t think they write you many letters, but they have been very good all year. They are really hard to shop for, being ultra-minimalists and all, but I have noticed that they do like trees, so maybe you could swing something and plant a few for them.”

The threatened rain begins to pour in earnest. It’s time to go. I put my phone away and look back up at the sloths, which (surprise) continue to sleep—but for my efforts, I see the dark shape in the tree with them uncoiling! It’s not a howler monkey, but a tayra (Eira barbara): a large, black, omnivorous tree-weasel, and rare to see around here. I start jumping up and down in excitement, and the tayra, just as curious about me, also begins jumping around, leaping from branch to branch like it forgot that gravity is a non-negotiable law.

Just at that moment, my co-workers come around the corner in the truck, splashing mud everywhere. “Ames! Jump in! It’s time to get back to HQ.”

I look back up but the tayra is gone, and the sloths have slept through the whole thing. Soaking wet, I hop in the car, and pull out my phone again as we speed off.

“On second thought, Santa, all I want for Christmas this year is trees. Lots of them. Enough for the sloths and the tayra and everyone else. I probably haven’t been THAT good, but don’t worry about it, because SloCo has a reforestation program, and I’ve got a pair of hands. We will plant the trees ourselves.

Until next year—



The meaning of volunteering. Tracking Diaries #2

The meaning of Volunteering. Tracking Diaries #2

I cling to a chain-link fence, the strap of the radio receiver clenched between my teeth as I climb sideways over an open ditch. It is clear from the smell that the local neighborhood has not gotten on board with the whole septic system plan.

“After we get around the sewage pipe, make a jump for the mud bank. You have boots, right? I think it’s only about ankle-deep,” Sarah tells me as she maneuvers around the chest-height pipe. “But watch out for the live electrical wire. And the bees.”

I grunt acknowledgment, trying not to breathe through my nose, and failing. I am well aware that if I drop this radio reviver, I have to go into the ditch after it, and I am also well aware that it is more valuable than I am.

I am not getting paid enough for this.

This is an easy calculation to make, as I am not getting paid at all.

The word “volunteer” first enters the English language around the year 1330; at the time it translated more like “puppet” or “mind-slave”. I muse on the appropriateness of that—surely you have to be a bit funny in the head to do this job.

The job today is to find a sloth by the name of Baguette, who is neighbor to the elusive Croissant. She’s a big, beautiful three-fingered Bradypus variegatus with a preference for large trees and advanced stealth technology, vs. our knee-high rubber boots, two large radio receivers, and the most advanced prefrontal cortexes in the mammal kingdom.

So far Baguette is winning.

Winning what, though, is hard to say. She isn’t getting paid for this either. We use words for sloths like “economy of motion” or “energy budget” because we humans are obsessed with the cost of things. There is an unceasing cash register in the back of our heads, always running, always tallying up the bill: How much for this? How much for that? Will I make rent this month, can I afford cheese? Hurry, hurry, hurry, time is money!

There is something counter-intuitive about the serenity of sloths; the way they sail through the canopy as if they have all the time in the world as if the forest is full of abundance. As if these scurrying, stressing humans below them are really being very silly.

It’s a helpful perspective to contemplate as I lift my eyes from the mud underfoot and look up into the ancient behemoth that is Baguette’s current home: emerald leaves and little yellow flowers, jeweled hummingbirds, crimson and black tanagers, draping lianas and velvet mosses. There is a majesty to trees that connects the earth below to the heavens above. Baguette’s home is a view worth the hike, and a good reminder that the most valuable things in the world don’t come with a price tag.

“Volunteer” from the Latin “voluntas”, meaning will, desire, choice, or wish. It’s a very appropriate word after all because there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.