Fire along road as we head into forest
It is the time of incendios. Fires in Guatemala and indeed throughout the Maya Selva (forest) are everywhere. What causes these fires you ask? Perhaps the root is human desire. Current human practices means too many people encroaching into the forest without balanced and sustainable methods. We might also blame climate change, along with the disconnecting denial that breeds carelessness.
Map of current fires in Maya Selva 2013
The forest though is not just afire, it is alive, and it is a life. Through sight, touch, smell, hearing, taste, and a subconscious resonance, one senses that one is inside a living, breathing being. Driving along the roads into and out of the study area for our target species, the scarlet macaw, we humans are just one cell among many traveling along the circulatory pathways. Just last week we saw a Great Curassow female and a Tayra cross in front of us in a flurry, and the night hawks and oceloted turkeys just don’t seem to give up the right of way before us. Then there’s the monkeys and parrots in the tops of the trees who are outlandish in both sight and sound.
Spider monkey in forest
The odor of the forest and low lying haze reminds us that the air we breathe and the lives we lead aren’t empty. Sure there is smoke and ash in the air, but there is also the heavy aroma of flowering trees, everywhere. At some bends in the road the smell is so strong it as if there is the spirit of the forest has taken form and holds us, or perhaps shake us, asking us to wake up, pay attention.
Flowers rain down on forest path
As one looks around, one not only smells, but sees the presence of flower everywhere. In some places their petals carpet the ground. Like a grand parade, life decorates the paths before us. Even at night the ground is adorned. At the research camp in Corona and Peru, spider eyes sparkle in the grass like perfect jewels.
Flowering tree in Guatemala
I ask the name of one of the flowering trees as we bump along theforest road, and the reply is “Flor de Sol” (Flower of the Sun). Isn’t that the answer to everything, at last? Why do bad things happen? Flowers of the sun bloom and decay, giving fruit to the future. Why do we work so hard to save endangered species? Because in the end, aren’t all species flowers of the sun? What do we do when we are in despair and in pain? Remember that we are flowers of the sun entangled and interconnected to one another with over powering beauty.
Mural by Diego Rivera showing the burning of Maya literature by the catholic church
There is nothing namby pamby about being a flower. Life is not a walk in the park – death and decay is ready to eat the heart of the forest, your heart too. The evidence of such truth is all around, For instance, in between jaunts to the field, we station in Flores, Guatemala. The conquistadores took this the final flower from the Maya, then known as Noipeten. It was the last stronghold of the Maya before being entirely conquered by both missionaries and then by an assault by the Spanish in 1697. While we work in the field and pass through ancient ruins on our way to parrot nests, we can’t but wonder, “Why did we lose so much in this area – the Maya, their culture, the parrots?” The answer echoes, “Remember, we all are flowers of the sun. Do not repeat the mistakes of the past”.
Sunset from Flores, Guatemala
I am not keen on romanticizing those of the past, but I am struck by how the Maya revered the scarlet macaw. For the Maya, the scarlet macaw’s colors heralded the vision of a fiery sun rising in the East. For them, the bird was the day time sun, powerful for what it symbolized. This power transferred to those who associated themselves with the bird. Unfortunately, like today, revering an animal isn’t always in the best interest of the individual. In pre-Columbian times, macaws were captured, traded, raised in captivity probably without ever a chance to fly, and sacrificed.
Captured white-fronted amazon kept as pet at a Flores Restaurant (notice the missing tail – a negative condition of captivity)
I am not sure all that much has changed, alas. One hears the chatter of parrots, illegally kept in households, as one walks around the island of Flores. One also hears the clatter and chatter of the local radio station, Guacamaya (macaw) Having the macaw as its symbol, their slogan is “The sound that flies.”
Radio station sign – “The Sound That Flies”
Nice, except there are not that many of these birds left to fly free. Perhaps because of their relative rarity, or maybe even if there were thousands as before, the human heart expands so as to take in that flying sound which connects one below the tree canopy, where it is so hard to see, to beauty above that sees clearly for miles.
Wild scarlet macaw high in canopy looking at tree climber at her nest and us below examining her chick (photo by Chalo Córdova)
When will we humans see, truly see, and come to our senses so that we may know that all are flowers of the sun?
Oh dear Maya Selva, so full of life where sound flies as song and flowers rain abundantly, will you be able to quench the fire of human desire?
They who bind themselves to a desire
Do the winged life destroy
They who kiss the joy as flies,
Live in eternity’s sunrise
- William Blake (adapted)