Thursday, October 1, 2009



Every other day or so, our Shipibo friends rake the clearing and burn all the dried leaves. This is a curious tidiness to me. Aren’t the leaves beneficial to the soil? Maybe they’re protecting us from lurking jaguars... snakes... well, probably insects.

In the city we see signs of this same tidiness. Yard care is a matter of heading out with your machete and hacking down everything that grows. One can only imagine what happens to this bare dirt in the rainy season. Not speaking Spanish well enough, I cannot ask the reason for this curious yard care, but can only speculate. Maybe a lush green lawn means something different here. I can’t help remembering the morning I sat in the grass by the river bank washing laundry in a bucket, and returned to camp with my legs covered in chigger-like bites.

Signs of insect life abound in our jungle clearing. Here is an ant tunnel, plastered over by the ants for use when the jungle is several feet deep in water so they can go back and forth between the ground and their tree.

Decomposition happens fast in the jungle. Ever curious to know what dung beetles do? (Excrement 5 minutes old.)

A spider has been hiding in my stuff. Somehow he got inside my mosquito netting and here he is, facing me down, three inches from my pillow. I am frozen in indecision. In my growing reverence for all life, I don’t want to kill him. But every spider I’ve pointed out to our Shipibo friends has been pronounced “venomoso”. Is this one poisonous too? There is no one around to ask. And I can read his mind. He is about to make a break for cover and hide in my stuff again. He’s too quick, and I won’t be able to catch him. And I can’t read his mind and find out if he would bite me. He had all night and didn’t bite me, but would he bite me later out of fear? I act out of fear, and swat him down, feeling sad and guilty for a couple of hours.

Rick takes me for a short walk along a path where he has found a surprise. “Watch out for snakes,” he says, so I keep my eyes glued on the path. So of course, I miss the surprise, which is a tree covered in butterflies. I have scared them away, so we wait until they come back. There must be something special in the sap of this tree. There is a butterfly every few inches. The lovely aquamarine butterflies are here, along with some zebra-striped ones. I took photos, but they aren’t much good.

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