Slightly to the Northwest of San Ramón, Alajuela, Costa Rica, the La Paz River is nestled.  A handful of crystal clear waters emerge from the very heart of the montane forests and  start their journey to the Pacific Ocean. Its heavenly valley is home to a great number of species, all struggling for their survival among the remaining fragments of the luxuriant forests which once covered these slopes of the Tilarán Range. This little piece of country is normally warm and humid, but with dramatic change,  is abruptly bathed in  thick mists and fog, chilly and driven drizzle,  and  the relentless trade winds.  These natural forces nurture  an incomparable display of hundreds of shades of green.  And yet, amid such changeable seasons, the wild hibiscus trees (Werklea insignis)show off their pink, trumpet-like blossoms,  the Azahares (Clusia odorata) perfume the air,  the Resplendent Quetzals take off in quest of the little wild avocados, and the audacious and intrepid hummingbirds build their nests in the moss-laden branches which seem to float over the river.

This valley has a fascinating history.  It was once settled by our grandparents, who in view of harsh circumstances, saw the surrounding and extensive forests as an enemy to overcome.  These were definitely different times, and other alternatives for making a living were completely lacking. Thus, all assaults to this pristine natural world seemed fair and  justified.  Such struggle there was for those who were simply trying to ensure their survival, that in the process they stripped this rugged topography of a big part of its invaluable forest coverage, the mantle that wraps and protects.  Later on, this land was acquired by the government and handed over to the National Agrarian Institute, which in time subdivided the area in small parcels to give to some of the poorest families.  Even though this can be seen as something rather honorable, in reality, the farmers´ attempts to produce were poor and unfruitful.  Very wise was the decision of preserving the upper portions of the valley as a forest and water reserve.  It is quite hard to imagine this area without these surrounding forests.  Only in the last few years, and rather  betting on  the tranquility and scenic beauty for its potential for ecotourism,  can we feel far more confident of the possibility for a new-born balance between  human activities and the natural environment.  It is this new concept, which we have only just begun to assume, which may soon allow us a way to ensure environmental sustainability and harmony.

My first visit to this mystical place, now more than 30 years ago, was a life-changing event.  Just a curious young man, I was accompanying a close friend who needed to round up his cattle.  I still have clear memories of the rushing creeks spread all over the road and how my senses were  assaulted;  tree trunks covered in twisting mosses hanging like beards; bowl-shaped bromeliads; giant tree ferns seeming to reach for the sky; the softness of the scent of orchids tinged in deep shades of yellows, whites and fuchsias. The birds, those magnificent winged creatures flying fast overhead and displaying such agility, and in their song announcing that this is their world, their niche. But among all of them there is a hummingbird, small and suspended like a ghost in the air, with a tiny copper-colored head, emerald green cape, and a snowy belly; that now you see and then you don´t; that gives and takes from the flowers. I stare at it and it seems so very fragile, then it disappears over the river that like a crystalline avenue plays and teases in front of my eyes.

It was this first moment in which a great part of me chose to dwell in this mosaic of form and color. My visits became frequent  to this sacred corner during the following years; either to walk along the river; bird watch; or camp out. I always found an excuse to reunite myself with this place.

Now, I remember that one night, after awaking and not being able to go back to sleep, I discovered a deep inner need to try to acquire one of the small parcels for sale, one where I could put down roots, and so affirm my spiritual connection with this place.

The next morning I took the first bus to the end of the paved road, and from there retraced my steps  on the old road of river-rock.  I explored several of the parcels which I already knew were for sale and found a little bit of land crisscrossed by the river and that called out to be restored.  Soon we began a reforestation project with native trees, and Mother Nature was generous in quickly propelling our seeds toward the skies.

It did not take long for me to figure out that I couldn´t, and shouldn´t, buy all the land requiring protection. On the contrary, it would be far more meaningful and realistic if other people joined me in this vision.  It was at that moment that the idea of creating an organization capable of playing a very dynamic role in conservation and restoration, at once biological and cultural, as well as environmental education and community outreach.

Coincidently, the recent arrival of new neighbors to the valley who brought with them a philosophy of life in communion with nature, had inspired our desire to consolidate a  movement to safeguard our green heritage. Finally, after presenting and discussing our concerns and ideas with a local group of neighbors and community leaders,  we created the Foundation for Conservation and Bio-Cultural Restoration of Finca La Paz.  The Elvira Foundation, our nick-name, comes from one of the smallest and most emblematic birds in our valley, the Coppery-headed Emerald (Elvira Cupreiceps). This delicate but vital bird is one of our main sources of inspiration and represents the hope and tenacity that should prevail in each and every one of us who struggle for a harmonious existence with Mother Earth.

By the way, the Coppery-headed Emerald is endemic to Costa Rica and the La Paz River Valley is a very important part of its center of abundance.  Like Elvira, many more other species will benefit from  constant conservation and urgent restoration of the cloud forests of the area.

We send you our warmest greetings and a genuine invitation to be part of this effort to ensure the miracle of life on the planet.

Edwin Ramírez A.