If feathers and birds are a sign of love, what then of fire and ashes?
I leave Mariana Aviaries in the good company of Olmeo Duarte Sagastume, once famous Guatemalan soccer player and brother of my good friend and colleague Juan Pablo Duarte Sagastume. We detour up the road, La Reforma, to get an overview of the sugar cane and to see if I can see if any of the amazon roost trees are still standing in Finca Las Ilusiones. We are blocked from driving because of a fallen tree. It fell because the burning of land to plant sugar cane got out of hand and hit the trunk of this elder tree.
Instead we take a detour into the burning fields, adorned by Turkey Vultures eating what lies dead in the fields. We hear a pair of amazons with their fierce territorial calls in a nearby field, shouting in protest perhaps at so much destruction around them, perhaps even their own nest or food trees now gone.
The next morning we visit ARCAS (ASOCIACION DE RESCATE Y CONSERVACION DE VIDA SILVESTRE) headquarters in Guatemala City guests of Colum Muccio, Director. This group is doing an amazing number of projects with a variety of species in many parts of Guatemala. Together we talk of the loss of habitat and the difficulty of the work, and here too I see hope in their work over the years and how much they have contributed to conservation in Guatemala. I knew them when they were but a few people and a few cages of birds in El Peten. Now they have hundreds of volunteers working with them every year and have taken on collaboration to save the Scarlet Macaw, a project I will join in 3 days. Colum says that no matter the situation, we continue to look through “rose-colored” glasses so that we can sustain the work. We talk of many ways Lafeber Conservation might aid their efforts in the future, and in reality, it is ARCAS that supports me and others with their courageous persistence over the years.
Olmeo outside ARCAS
Our next stop is lunch with Dr. Dennis Guerra Centeno, faculty in wildlife management and veterinary medicine at San Carlos University.
We talk with animation of many possible projects together and of what excites them and gives them hope. Multidisciplinary approaches get all our hearts beating fuller and with more joy, the secret that somehow we didn’t realize a few decades back is that it is in the collaboration of all, all beings and all ways of knowing that we might sustain one another and perhaps this beloved planet. One wonderful development is their new program of offering a Masters in wildlife management. We visit their veterinary hospital and the donated birds they use for teaching.
It’s been a full day for us investigating the world of nonhuman animals, and it’s been a full day for the world of humans too in Guatemala. In the capital city, there were attacks on several buses in the capital city placing the city in a panic, for several people died, including a 2 month old baby caught in the fire as the robbers killed the bus driver. Retired General Rios, son of Ex-president Rios Montt who was responsible for much of terror during the years of genocide, was arrested for corruption. The wife of an attorney for the Procuraduria de los Derechos Humanos (PDH), a Human Rights Commission) was kidnapped and tortured, only 11 hours after the commission published a report on how the National Police committed atrocities during the armed conflict of the previous two decades. Other members of this Commission have received death threats. The mayor of El Asintal was assassinated.
I go to bed thinking of the rose colored glasses that Colum mentioned, and if it’s a lie to seek joy, and work as if it mattered in the midst of so much tragedy and suffering. For me the way through is with love. I do not know if love is enough, but it is all that there is when it comes to burning fields, screeching parrots, and crying parents of murdered babies. A song rises up over the din, and I fall asleep thinking of how love is like a flower, and we are its only seeds