Monday, March 30, 2009

Trees of Life, Trees of Death

From the heights of tierra alta I ride down
through the volcano pass to
Costa Sur00 in (south coast). 
I am in the good company of Marco Centeno and Dr. Juan Pablo Duarte
Sagastume.  In the early nineties I
worked with them in Proyecto de Loros (Guatemala Psittacine Project).  Marco was a student biologist that worked
with us, and in those years, Juan Pablo was a student at San Carlos University
studying veterinary medicine.  We reunite
to count the Yellow-naped Amazon (loro) in their roost site in our study area
and to purvey the changes over the last time we were here in 1995.  The loros roosted in a group of trees near
the corals of Finca Ilusiones, some
100 thebreeding season in which we are now,
and over 200 in
the nonbreeding season.  In that breeding
season of 1995 the three fincas we worked with started converting from cattle
ranching to sugar cane, and we lost half of our nest trees that season.  We fear the worse of what the fires of desire
might have wrought to these birds, their remaining nest trees, and the roost


(Cain, Marco, Juan Pablo)

Using Google Earth I believed I could see
that some of the trees were still standing, but not the tallest two, one of
which could be seen from miles away, named
La Chinga Ceiba becauseit was so difficult to climb and we lost much gear learning to climb up to the
loro nest over 30 meters
above us.  As we approach the finca I
cannot see
and only hope that there are some trees there left.  Outside of the finca we meet up with Don
Ernesto, administrator of the finca.  We
worked with him years ago in the time when the previous administrator had been
killed by the guerillas in the sugar cane fields to which we travel now.  When asked about the changes that sugar cane
has brought and he says it is “doloroso” (painful) to see the changes in the 37
years he has lived here.  Cain Hernandez
drives up in a rusty truck with his family to join us.  He was a main stay and foundation for our
project all those years ago. The kidding begins immediately, the introductions
end, and we drive down the dusty road to the corals, every 100 meters asking, “Is
life still there?  Do the trees still


Indeed they do, and Google Earth was
correct, the two tallest Ceibas are gone, one still with a burned remnant of a
trunk pointing towards the sky, like an exclamation mark.  I walk around the remaining trees and see
that there is little burn damage and they, with care, might just make it
another decade or so.  But will there be
any parrots to perch in their branches?



As the sun sets and darkness comes, we
settle down in the burned sugar cane fields whispering our awe when we see our
first lone parrot flying over the roost trees, likely headed off to a nest
somewhere.  Then a pair comes in and we
grow excited.  They are still here!  Though by dark’s final approach, we count
only 12 among us – down to about 15 % of what once was.  They all came in pairs, no visible juvenile
flocks gather that once were the predominant demographic in the nonbreeding
season.  With the approximate 95%
poaching rate of our times, it is no wonder that there are no young birds to
replace their dwindling elders.



Usually at this time the loud conversations
and squabbles of the parrots settle down into a peaceful gratitude for the
stars above, but in this moment, all we hear is the clamor of the constant
movement of sugar cane trucks in every direction.  There are no stars to see, obscured by the
haze of fire and dust from the dirt roads. The only lights we see are the
headlights of sugar cane trucks.


There is death in these fields and we all
carry the mark of responsibility.  Who
here does not consume food with sugar from Guatemala, the 3rd
largest producer of sugar in the world? 
I leave the field with ashes from the burned Ceiba smeared on my
forehead in this season of Lent, reminding me of the sacrifice of the land for
our human desires and how if not hope, then love may be resurrected.  In fact, it never leaves us though the birds
and trees do.  This is the cross we all
carry, loss and dolor (pain) which shines the mirror of our heart to reflect
ever more the beauty within and without.


We drive down the dusty road in silence,
with beauty behind us, before us, above us, and below us. In us.  Amen.


No comments:

Post a Comment