From Lucie Winterson

09.12.2015 - 08.01.2016

Into the rainforest

The heart of darkness, the great unfurling of deep nature, the ferocious jungle, the unrepressed.    I came with these preconceptions and observed with curiosity as they fell away, waiting to find out what would replace them.  The jungle myths were easily dispelled.  The forest is far more than the site of grim battles to the death, it is not rife with danger.   Those things are a small part of what it contains but mostly the jungle is calm, with noises rising and subsiding.  

Visually it is endlessly interesting because the vegetation is so varied and the real exotic — wonder at the ‘different’ — is pleasurably here.   Trees whose roots start outside of the ground, ‘walking’ trees, trees with buttress roots.    A tree that smells strongly of garlic after the rain.    The two things that most astonished me when I first entered the jungle, were both sounds.   One a bird, the ora pendula, whose call sounds like a pebble being dropped into water with a loud ‘plop’ and the other was the howler monkeys — which don’t howl at all.  They emit a sound like a low but rising wind that spreads through the forest as if from very far away.    The most apparent thing that moves is the light and the changing weather.   Over all the forest is peaceful.

The danger myth is the hardest one to shake off.  I learned last night what to do if I encounter a jaguar.  Don’t run or you become prey.   Make bizarre and unlikely noises to frighten it off.   I was also told that unlike jaguars, pumas will stalk you.  But they are more in the higher areas and the mountains, not here.  In which case why were several of them very evident in the footage from the camera traps presented here the other night?   They are here in fact, very much so, all of them, walking the same paths as us.    But they slip away, dissolving into the jungle at the hint of a human.   As hard as I try, though, I can’t feel fully confident that I won’t get eaten by a jaguar, ocelot or puma.    To ask for a foolproof guarantee is unreasonable, I know, but I can’t help trying.  The best answer I get, really, is that it has never happened.   Well, to anyone with the remotest tendency to paranoia how does that help?  

Initially I take off into the forest and the wonder of it will sweep me up — as I walk it passes rapidly through different phases of light, of rain, of luminous density and intricate shadow.  After some walking, however, when I’m sweating and damp, tired and perhaps with minor sunstroke, my camera has steamed up and I’m a fair way from the lodge; then the jaguar thoughts will come.  The pumas of the mind will stalk me:   ‘It’s never happened…….But it could’.     The forest turns muddy and loses its gleam. I hasten back.

So far there has been only one mote of darkness.   Falling asleep one night I heard a creature I’ve never heard before or since.  A bird? A frog?  Its sound was eerie and mocking.  A malign little goblin laugh feeding into my dreams.

Madre de Dios, Peru Christmas day 2015

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