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“My soul is full of longing for the secret of the sea and the heart of the great ocean sends a thrilling pulse through me.” – Henry Longfellow

I too was mesmerized by the rhythmic natural symphony of the sea, the moon, and the clouds as I arrived late at night at my first place to stay at Arenas Del Mar. In a sentence, the resort has delectable cuisine, exceptional levels of service and exemplary eco credentials. It’s where buggies go up and down the steep slopes and one took me to my tropical fruit breakfast on a table on the sand of Playitas Beach in toe-touching reach of the ocean.

I found an elemental joy in picking up an almond nut from its tree and, as if from heaven, a leaf descends dancing, entertaining and poetically falling while pelicans swooped alongside into the water as all my senses were engaged demonstrating the beauty that nature can provide. Iguanas hang out by the pool, Halloween crabs scuttle through the gardens, sloths slumber in the treetops.

Very close by, down a discreet gravel lane, is a one-of-a-kind Villa Punto de Vista where I was next to stay. This astonishing six-story construction is the courageous and ambitious creation of David Konwiser, one of the family owners and the architect who was born in Costa Rican and educated in America.

The design makes optimum use of the dream views with angular windows jutting out like ships’ prows over the ocean beyond. I looked out over the rocks and islands that speckled the sea like the scales on an iguana’s back, adding perfectly to this ultimate jigsaw picture of a setting. The villa likes to quote “Costa Rica. Lots of Monkeys. No Hurricanes” and it’s fun to get one’s own back on the monkeys by teasing, but not feeding, them with bananas as they approach on their rope through the jungle canopy put up like a zip line in the very country where the sport was invented.

Beside these fast monkeys are slow-moving sloths who feed on ‘cecropia’, liking the alkaline in the high leaves of this hollow tree. They only come down once a week to do their business which they bury to stop predators and to fertilize the tree. They sleep for 18 hours a day and live for 30 to 50 years. And they’re even excellent swimmers I was to learn.

I took a boat with Tres Ninas Tours. It was a full day trip as I got to look up at the houses in the hills and the varieties of the green landscape beyond the beach all competing for light. As the day went on so the light changed affording different hues in the color of the sea from teal to lime green from aquamarine to emerald green. Though Uvita was at high tide when I got there I was intrigued to learn that right above the whale-shaped beach was the favored spot for whales to come and mate.

As for her human inhabitants, Costa Rica is one of the longest-running democracies in Latin America and is safe and peaceful. It’s had no wars for over a hundred years, and there is no standing army. And possessed with this openhearted spirit, some locals are amazed to see guns when they go abroad.

“Pura Vida” is the local expression of their life force. Several countries have an all-purpose word to cover our basic daily forms of interaction. In Hawaii there’s “aloha,” in Fiji there’s “bula’ and in Costa Rica there’s “pura vida.&rsdquo; Literally translating as “pure life” it spans the entire spectrum of greeting and parting incorporating: “no worries,” “enjoy life,” “take it easy” “good luck” and “have a good day.”

I came next further up the Pacific coast to Guanacaste and to the Papagayo peninsula. It’s all beautifully landscaped as a semicircle of large palm trees welcomed me along with a sculpture by Jorge Jiménez Deredia who uses organic shapes that reflect the country’s pre-Columbian heritage. These Diquis stone spheres in particular act as a timeless metaphor of Costa Rica’s deep-rooted egalitarianism: seamless and edgeless and possessing a notion of wholeness.

Papagayo has a number of exquisite beaches. Playa Nacascolo, which was once an area of commerce in pre-Colombian times, is the longest while Playa Jicaro is the most remote on the southern side. In the north, there’s Prieta Beach Club, a perfect day out with its Olas Lounge an ideal spot for lunch in front of waves strong enough for me to body surf.

It is very much an American conceit with its buggies the most common form of transport for visitors. The 18 hole golf course, designed by Arnold Palmer and with Ernie Els as its ambassador, has games played out on ‘paspalum’ the sumptuous carpet-like grass. Near the main entrance, there’s a marina to dock 355 slips where boats for cruising, yachting and sport fishing, particularly for both the black and blue marlin.

I stayed next at Vista Hermosa, Papagayo Luxury. Bang in the middle of the peninsula, this ten-year-old condo is part of the Las Terrazas complex of 16 homes whose owners leave their properties wild around them to grant the animals free movement and whose architect uses terracotta walls both inside and outside to blend in with the natural surroundings and display a contemporary clean aesthetic.

I enjoyed a wonderfully calm boat trip across the bay with Elvision Adventure Tours. My charming and uninvasive skipper guided me with great serenity across the flat water towards the magical beaches of Playa Panama, Playa Hermosa, and the renowned Playa del Coco.

The landscape of Costa Rica and her biodiversity is simply magical: thick lush rainforests, with their dense foliage, uncrowded pristine beaches, steep mountains and majestic volcanoes and waterfalls, the perfect backdrop for the sheer wonder of the colorful birds and animals.

I even looked through the index of the definitive book on Costa Rican birds to find exquisite and exotic names like the chestnut-mandibled toucan, buffy tuftedcheek, long-tailed tyrant, bare-necked umbrellabird, whip-poor-will, double-striped thick-knee, the oilbird, ovenbird and white-fronted nunbird. As for animals, I saw in another book the misfit leaf frog, the bullet ant, the trumpetfish, the beaubrummel (a fish) and the Jesus Christ lizard, so-called as it walks on water.

My final place to stay Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica. The bay side (Playa Blanca) and ocean side (Playa Virador) have a different feel and, I allowed myself to believe, almost a different climate. Eco-friendly electric buggies went at a relaxing speed and it was such an important first scene as the rounded shape of the foyer was truly receptive and embraced me with its open arms, luring me into its golden mosaic fold.

The colors are consistent throughout and blend organically with their natural surroundings. The earth-toned stucco exteriors were computer-generated from actual dirt samples to replicate the deep browns, oranges and reds of the soil and the roots of the land.

How resourceful, cunning and wondrous are the forces of nature: the annona fruit changes from green to a darkish reddish-brown as it ripens, the Indian tree sheds its bark every three days while one local species of grass contracts with human touch. Whales mate above a beach shaped like a whale’s tail. Not to mention all the tricks of camouflage. I have finally learned that sloths are very good swimmers, how hummingbirds manage to stay in mid-air by flapping their wings at a rate of 50 to 80 beats per second and how howler monkeys make so much noise by releasing their voluminous, plangent magic using the wind.

I couldn’t get enough of this delightful country. I have to go back. Whenever but soon.

Adam had further support from www.gatwickexpress.com and www.holidayextras.co.uk (who offer airport lounges at all major UK airports and many international destinations).

All images provided by the author and edited by Barbara Chernyavsky.

Adam Jacot de Boinod worked on the first series of the television panel game QI. After leaving he began to investigate other languages, examining 280 dictionaries and 140 websites. This led to the creation of his first book of three in 2005, The Meaning of Tingo, featuring words that have no equivalent in the English language.

He is now a regular international travel writer and luxury hotel reviewer, having written for the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday, The Daily Telegraph, and numerous travel print and website publications.

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The following is an excerpt from Birdmania, the latest book by author Bernd Brunner, translated by Jane Billinghurst.

The science of eggs is called “oology” (from the Greek “oion”) and not, as one might have guessed, “ovology.” Is interest in the outer covering of an egg an expression of the joy the observer feels as they anticipate the new life forming, unseen, inside? That is doubtful, because the act of collecting blown eggshells and storing them in boxes, drawers, and cupboards — taking them out from time to time to dust them off — pretty much shoots that theory down. Is there any connection at all between marveling at the object and appreciating the bird? It hardly seems possible that the urges to collect eggs and to delight in birdwatching could coexist in the mind of one person. Perhaps it is only the egg in all its flawless perfection that fascinates, and what the observer experiences is an appreciation for the object in and of itself?
More… “The Allure of the Egg”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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The other day I was working at the kitchen table. It was a sunny afternoon, the autumn air cool and crisp. As I often do when the weather is so agreeable, I raised a couple of the kitchen windows and delighted in the fresh air, and the sounds of the breeze whistling through the trees in my backyard. More… “Oh, Give Me a Home . . .”

John Gifford is a writer and naturalist from Oklahoma.

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If you haven’t seen the photos of Pluto, go look at them. If you have, go look again. The NYT has packaged them beautifully.

Also: how Pluto changed how we saw the solar system, and why we’ve never lost our enthusiasm for space travel.

Collector’s Weekly on the existential conundrum (and history) of the American waste-paper basket.

Gonzo illustrator Ralph Steadman’s portraits of birds on the verge of extinction.

Nabokov said there is no reading, only rereading. Tim Parks doesn’t quite agree, but thinks he’s found the key to an illuminating reread, practicing with The Waste Land and Mrs. Dalloway. •

Diane Pizzuto is the art director and managing editor of The Smart Set.

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In the last years of her life, Martha began to lose her feathers. Sol Stephan, General Manager of the Cincinnati Zoo, where Martha spent most of her years, began collecting the feathers in a cigar box without much idea of what he would do with them. Martha lived a sedentary life at the zoo. Her cage was 18 feet by 20 feet — she had never known what it was to fly free. When Martha’s last friend George (who was also named for a Washington) died in 1910, Martha became a celebrity. She watched the people passing by, alone in her enclosure, and they watched her. Martha ate her cooked liver and eggs, and her cracked corn, and sat. On the outside of her cage, Stephan placed a sign announcing Martha as the Last of the Passenger Pigeons. Visitors couldn’t believe that Martha really was the last. They would throw… More…

Some hummingbirds are no larger than a thumb, and the smallest among them are the very smallest birds in existence. Yet it’s hard to avoid superlatives when talking about these tiny creatures. With their often magnificent jewel-like colors, they glimmer like finely wrought works of art. In fact, they are miracles of nature: extremely agile, fast-moving animals that take the characteristics of birds to their utmost limit. Combining dynamism, fragility, and a surprising degree of fearlessness, hummingbirds can be found in the most diverse environments: in tiny front yards in North, Central, and South American cities; on the high plateau of the Andes; and in the dense Amazon forests.

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS,… More…

The pigeons scuttle into a corner when Conrad Mullins enters his backyard loft. He lunges for a bird and they fling themselves up, battering around. His arm snaps out and he grabs one right out of the air. He quickly secures its feet between his fingers and cups its tail with his palm, and then presses it against his stomach to prevent it from flailing and hurting itself. He turns it over in his hands. “Beautiful, beautiful,” he murmurs. “I’ve got a good feeling about this guy.”

 

Two days from now, nearly 500 pigeons like this will race across the Nevada desert, back to the lofts like this, to which they have been trained to home.

The bird in Conrad’s hand seems resigned if not calm. “Here, hold it,” Conrad says. I take the bird’s feet, then its… More…

Unlike Thoreau, I could not be removed from the ruckus of civilization. No, I could escape for an hour or two at the most, taking advantage of an unexpected return of warm weather to spend some time in a tidal salt marsh. I write this to return to a place where the most regular sounds are the rustle and whisper of the dry reeds and grasses in the late afternoon breeze.

 

And then birds. Circling, the gulls cry. In this slant of light their white sides glow golden before they plunge out of sight to settle in a hidden channel of water flowing through the high grass of the meadows. Unseen, a sparrow chips at the afternoon.  A loud croak announces the presence of a nearby great blue heron, disturbed. Snow geese will winter here and add their… More…

I’ve been living in Antwerp for the last six months with my wife, the incorrigible Shuffy. One of the things to do if you’re in Antwerp is think about Peter Paul Rubens, the great 17th-century painter who spent much of his life in this city.

 

Antwerpenaars (people from Antwerp) aren’t always so enthusiastic about Rubens. But what city doesn’t have mixed emotions about its most famous sons and daughters, about the clichés, about the touristical kitsch that surrounds and suffocates the great ones? More than twice I’ve enthusiastically related my interest in Rubens to an Antwerpenaar, only to be met with a rolling of the eyes, followed by an audible sigh. The message is clear: Only an asshole would come to Antwerp to expend time and energy on the most obvious of subjects, the most boring of all… More…

 

Give a bird a seed, you feed it for a day. Give a bird a bird feeder, and you start driving its evolution. Who knew?

Scientists didn’t, at least not until they started studying the migratory patterns of Central European blackcaps in southern Germany and Austria. The small gray birds that summer there traditionally winter on the Iberian Peninsula, fleeing the nutritionally sparse region for the lush olives and fruits of sunny Spain every year. But in the 1950s, a small part of the population began overwintering on the British isles instead of Spain. It seemed like a case of different strokes for different songbirds, until German scientists discovered in 1992 that a genetic basis for the behavior had developed. The light cues that send the birds back to Germany each year come earlier in… More…