Thursday, April 03, 2008

into the forest, kinda

It’s an earlyish morning habit at the weekends to collect cacao shells and trim the trees. It has to be at the right time, after the daylight comes but before it gets too hot, around 8ish seems best. The timing has to be right because one doesn’t want to disturb any snakes on their way out or home. And the mosquitoes are worse at dawn and dusk, though in the forest they are a constant. I wear a sweatshirt, hood up and sleeves drawn over my hands, long trousers and my boots, so I need to go before it gets too hot: the smell of sweat draws even more mosquitoes. I go armed with my bucket and machete. It is always disorientating in the forest – getting in is easy, coming out is often a job as one giant tree or cacao is much like another and the light changes quite rapidly. Also walking in the forest is an exercise in consciousness – one has to be aware of where one is stepping and on what one is stepping and I am looking at trees and trimming and chopping or picking up old cacao as I go. And of course my direction changes like a butterfly’s as I see something interesting over there, or want to look at that tree, or inspect the cacao that was flowering last time . . . and so on until I fill my bucket, can’t take any more mosquitoes and head for home. Now what way did I come? It’s a lesson in careful observation while treading with equal care and usually combating a feeling of being lost in the jungle forever. The spiders I collect with the cacao are usually on their way up my arm at this point too, but they are only those stilt-walkers with the rust bobbin body and the long wobbly black legs and are harmless. Often the dogs will come to find me and look at me as if to say, just use your nose, it’s this way.
It’s not the real forest, it’s been transformed and farmed and then abandoned and slowly it’s reverting, there are no pumas, no wild pigs. But when you’re in there, surrounded by green and the wind doesn’t blow through and all you can hear is insect and bird noise and underfoot are ants and millipedes, frogs, spiders and scorpions and overhead are toucans, hawks and monkeys, it feels like the forest.
When I was a kid we would go into the highlands most weekends. We had a place beside one of the last forests, of pine and some birch. I spent many many hours in there enjoying its eery quiet, its darkness and stillness with sudden magical spots of bright sunlight where a tree had fallen. I lived by a redwood forest for several years, spending time with those giants who daunt you with their age and size and bring everything around them to their knees. The forest here is very different, it has none of the somber atmosphere, the mature trees are so high that you can’t tell what they are, looking up one sees only vines and creepers. Below is the shade loving cacao, twisted with age and transformed by the vines into great shaggy heaps with far too many shoots. Below this are the ferns, mosses and wild heliconias and the few saplings from the giants that have survived thus far. And below that the leaf litter which is the source of life in the forest. Layers of green life. I found a little hill and climbing it into the sunlight. On top I found myself in the lower canopy, how different the jungle looks from there, suddenly one is lifted into the active life, noise and bustle and movement.