If you have this world a place for sleep,
Burn it! and pass what merely seems;
You can’t deceive the Truth with sleepy
Let fear persuade you, and the fire is lit;
Burn your bed now if you would rise from
Farid Ud-Din Attar (Conference of the
Birds – A Sufi Text)
My first morning at El Estacion comes
before sunrise, like all the other days to come, and we head east on a road
deeper into the forest over an hour on a 4-wheel drive road. Calling it bumpy would be to under
describe it. We can drive up and park
the truck, and then it is a short walk up to each nest, about a kilometer or so
at the maximum. We have five nests to
climb before Friday at noon, and we’re learning that for our own sake and the
birds’ you better be done long before the day reaches that level of heat.
(Climber up a Macaw Nest Tree - A Cantemo Tree)
(Climber up a Macaw Nest Tree - A Cantemo Tree)
My veterinary role here is clear. I am to
consult with and train the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS Guatemala) ) veterinarian, Melvin Merida, as well as any
other workers on the climbing teams. It
has been nearly 14 years since I did this work and it’s as if not a day has
passed. I know this work, I love it; it
was a gift to me then to be able to do it and it is now a gift I can offer
They seem deeply appreciative and our
climbs are full of awe and wonder, as well as worry and concern as we find some
chicks shining with their rainbow colors in undeniable health, while others are
thin with mites and fly strike, and one is in poor condition and I think it
will not survive.
I also have a few other sombreros I wear
here as well, including that of conducting a pilot ethno-ornithological study
(this is great fun for me try to pronounce this in Spanish, let alone explain
it). I ask a lot of questions as we
ride, hike, and share meals together.
One question stands out in particular because I am surprised with the
consistency of the answer. What do you
make of your work and of the Scarlet Macaw conservation effort, including our
work this year with the parrot chicks? Across
the board at all levels, from technician to administrator, I hear something
like this; I work with the birds because
I love them, or I am encantado (charmed, delighted, bewitched). I ask
where does the love come from and they say it is because they work with them.
Through their work comes their love as they grow in understanding of the lives
of these birds over the long, hard years of front line conservation. For others the love comes instantly as one
tells me that he had always been a reptile and amphibian man, and then he
climbed his first Scarlet Macaw nest and in the moment when he saw the chicks
in the nest he had a conversion experience.
It was love that he says grows stronger every day.
A number of them also answer they have a
love of the birds because it supplies a paying job, and this is important to
them and their families. Some move
their hands in a sign eating food while they tell me this. Indeed, I wonder how one can love anything
when one is in the position of having to destroy it to merely eat each day.
An ever bigger unknown that I hear
throughout the ranks here is why are people who are in the position of abundant
wealth destroying the bosque (forest)? One biologist told me that the survival of the
bosque depends entirely on how much private land owners love the birds and
another said it is difficult for them to save their land from burning it when
they do not live on their ranches and have not grown to love it, to work with
it and the people day in and day out. So
many of these land owners manage from afar, it being too dangerous or too
difficult to live where you work.
It is difficult here, but there is also
glory and joy.
(Melvin getting a climbing lesson)
Some find a way to love what also through their hands has
set this place on fire with human desire.
These desires though are not just for survival or wealth, but for
beauty, awe, wonder, love, and the chance for meaningful work. I see this in Melvin and young Sandra, a Mayan young
girl from the neighboring village of Paso Caballos as she scrambles around the
station barefoot with her three younger siblings.
Shyly she finally comes up to me and we talk
as the sun sets into the smoky haze, made worse this day because a fire from a
milpa in her village has gotten out of control and threatens the reserve. I ask her what she wants to do when she grows
up and she looks confused (there are three languages at work here – English,
Spanish, and her Mayan dialect). So I
rephrase it, “What do you like to do most in the world?” She answers, “I like to walk in the monte (country).”
I fear though that by the time she is my
age there will not be enough country for her children to walk in. For a variety of reasons too many of we
humans have become strangers on this planet and are destroying what we
love. We have made our bed and now must
sleep in it. What though if we don’t
sleep in it? We wake instead from our dreams and greet each day with the wisdom
of reality and then get to work with the birds, with the forest, with the
oceans, and with each other. Then love
may come and this nightmare may end.
(Hazy sunrise from fires nearby)