image of Alvaro Ugalde climbing hill

In Alvaro’s Words

From the March 2005 edition of Nectandra Institute’s newsletter

The Call I Finally Made, 43 Years Late

During the 35 years of my career in conservation, for dozens of times I have been asked, who or what inspired my mission?

And without hesitation, I have always responded: “There is one person that is present in my mind as my first source of inspiration of my love and respect for all manifestations of life…Nidia Abarca, my biology professor in high school.”

And, up until last December, I always added: I have to go and find her, to tell her about my mission and the big role she played in it. Finally, after a talk during which I repeated my unfulfilled intentions, last month I grabbed the phone book, and dialed what I thought might be her number.

Her face is deeply imprinted in my brain, her strong features and the solidity of her personality. Her voice deep, loud and clear, with a certainty unique to those who prepare for every task of their life. She was a formidable teacher and I simply adored her. And, after one year with her as my biology mentor, I had no doubts as to what career I wanted to pursue.

She dedicated her life and personality to her students, whether she was in school or in her home. And, she must have ignited the biology spark within me, because we spent hours discussing biology issues, while I helped in preparing the materials for her biology class. She was a solid science professor and at the same time a sweet person. A great example of a rare kind of human, one with a balanced mixture of great intelligence and lots of wisdom.

“Is this the home of Nidia Abarca, the biology teacher?”

“Yes, it is, I am her daughter”…the voice answered…In few words, I said who I was and how much I appreciated her mother’s inspiration. I also gave her my telephone number, since doña Nidia was not feeling well and was resting.

In the meantime, I went on with my life in Osa, Christmas and New Year, and I even mentioned her a couple times in conversations with my donors and friends. I also wondered a lot as to whether she remembered me and even if she cared about my call.

And then, about 10 days ago, when I checked my phone messages while on vacation, I found the following words: “Don Alvaro, I am Mauriel Soto, the husband of Profesora Nidia Abarca. My wife just passed away. I want to meet you to thank you for your phone call and acknowledgement. It was a shock for me…very unexpected, but at the same time, kind of suspected.”

Today, I sat to write this story, after I had a very nice and interesting conversation with don Mauriel. I said, “I’m so glad I called on time; did she remember me?” “Yes by all means, she was very happy to hear from you and learn a little about how you feel about her role in your career.”

“What a coincidence,” I said. “Not coincidence, don Alvaro. There were several indications, including your call, that her role on this earth was fully fulfilled and that she could now depart. Her colleagues testified as to her legacy during the funeral.”

While don Mauriel and I will soon get together in my renewed encounter with my biology teacher, I am determined to find more about what and who else were impacted and touched by this guardian angel. I might tell you more about her in the future.

But, my mind keeps asking from time to time: Who called whom? Did I look her up? Or did I just simply answer her call? She might still have things in store for me to do!