Monday, April 20, 2009

Bearing Fire in Love

For the last 5 days we have been at several areas climbing nests, El Peru, El
Burral, and La Corona.  These are the
same three areas that the Prensa Libre newspaper states on April 14th
have out-of-control forest fires threatening. 
Indeed air around the nests is getting increasingly hazy and one cannot
escape the smell of smoke in the air.  
There are biological stations (rustic camp sites) at all three areas
which serve as staging points for biologists, the army, CONAP (those in charge
of protected areas in Guatemala), and us.


(El Peru Station)

La Corona is the farthest, a 6-hour drive from Flores. 
It is also possibly my favorite because it seems that the deeper we go
into the forest, we enter not the heart of darkness, but the heart of light and
love.  Flora and fauna abound, and this
permeates into our own beings.  With
every gut wrenching jolt in the road it seems clearer and clearer to me that I
am not separate from jaguar, macaw, tree, monkey, and ape (that would be we

If I am one both with forest and fire
starter, then it seems that I too am on fire, and am killing what I love.  This is not an easy truth to hold but the
beauty and tragedy call to my soul to be a chalice that can hold fire and
light, and forest and darkness together. 
Every tree climbed may show us sick or dying chicks, nests emptied from
predators both human and nonhuman, or bright rainbow splashes of bird being that
are displayed as the chicks grow into their feathers for their first flight.


Challo Chick

 (Scarlet Macaw chick in nest - photo by Marcial Cordova Alvarez, WCS)

We never know what the news will be, or
what each day will hold for us.  On
Saturday, April 18 we got up at 3:30 a.m. to leave at  5 a.m. for El Burral, a
two-hour drive into the forest with 4 macaw nests along the way.  We don’t get very far before the air changes
with a sense of warmth too early for the sun’s position, and then around the
next curve, fire erupts along the side of the road.  We get out to calm the flames down and ride
on, only to find the fire and burned areas becoming increasingly more abundant
on both sides of the road.  We grow
concerned because the fire is close to macaw nest trees. 


 Soon we find the road blocked with burning
trees, but we are four with two machetes and we clear the way.  With us this day are Melvin Merida
(veterinarian WCS), Alejandro Morales (veterinarian ARCAS) and Kender -tut Rodriguez, climber
and tortilla maker par excellence. 
Further on there are more downed trees and if we can’t cut up the trees
and pass on the road, we make a path through the forest and go around. 

Kender Fire Fight
(Kender fighting forest fire with machete)

Atop a hill we find telephone reception and
call WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) headquarters to let them know of the
threat and they send their biologists to the field for the next several days to
clear out brush around the nest trees so they won’t burn.  Over the weekend it seems that WCS personnel
are alone in fighting the fire and saving what life they can.  There is a tremendous shortage of resources,
and perhaps coordination and will as well. 
We leave the last nest unclimbed because it would mean we would be
driving at night and this could be dangerous if we encounter more fires and
blocks in the road, which we in fact do. It’s a long drive out from the fire
area as every kilometer or so we disembark with machetes to find a way forward.


Burral tree blocking road

 (Burning tree blocking road)


(Melvin and Kender glad to get truck around block in road)

What is the way forward?  How do we look at a dying bird and see a
smile shining through it, feel the glory? (see previous post "Preying and Praying for Life") How do we
determine what is killing our planet and what is ours to do?  

Dead Tityra

(A female Masked Tityra found on side of road as we come out of the fire. She has just died and we cannot fathom why)

How do we have faith that our attempts will
be enough?  That love is enough?  How do we go on knowing that our work or our
love may never be enough to build the world we wish to live in?

Melvin Fire

(Melvin fighting fire with our drinking water)

I leave these questions unanswered for now
for I leave tonight for Guatemala City on an overnight bus, to catch a flight
on Tuesday, April 21.  Suggestions for
which bus to take are abundant, and part of this discussion includes which ones
are most likely to get robbed.  This is
mentioned as casually as the other considerations such as likelihood that the
air conditioner will work, that the bus will be late, and that I will be able
to get any sleep. I experience confusion as well as gratitude that I have
privileges and can afford safe transportation, when others ride in terror.  Since January 1, 2009, 43 drivers and driver
assistants have been murdered in Guatemala. 
This happens during robberies and when a particular driver refuses to
pay the extortion fees to the gangs that roam the streets. It is perplexing to
me that we live in a world where violence and harm are taken for granted, where
we allow forests to burn with little intervention and people to be murdered in
the streets. 


Not everyone is passive. Every week in the
paper there are reports of towns that hunt down those committing violence or
robbery, and hang them, burn them, or both. 
My path does not lie in that direction, of using more violence to end
violence.  The world and my heart have
experienced enough of that.  Instead I
look to the work of WCS and ARCAS.  They
yield machetes, hammers, syringes, binoculars, cameras, and computers as they
fight, sweat, and toil for what they love, with their love.  Their hearts lead the way through the
darkness as shing chalices of hope.  In
the forest my eyes burn from the smoke, my tears mix with the ashes of the
beloved forest, and I lend what moisture I can to a world on fire as my heart
fills with joy for knowing these people and their land.


 (ARCAS Veterinarians Fernandez Martinez and Alejandro Morales, WCS Volunteer Merlina Barnes, and me at ARCAS)

Around the year 500 CE “Fire is Born” came
from Tenochuacan (current Mexico City) conquering Mayan cities, including
Tikal.  The first evidence of him
entering the Mundo Maya (the Mayan World) is on a stella in El Peru, where I
spend my last night in the forest.

El Peru Stella 

(Stella at El Peru)

I go
to sleep, my dreams dancing with moon and stars and wonder what shall be born
from this experience of fire.  My dear people,
what sparks in you that we might turn to one another with the hope of love, and
a prayer of forgiveness and peace in our hearts?

Flag PC 2 

(Flag placed atop hill of town Paso Caballos right outside the Mayan Biosphere Reserve.  It indicates that today is dangerous to use fire to clear land)


  1. Tikal was the capital of a conquest state that became one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya. Though monumental architecture at the site dates back as far as the 4th century BC, Tikal reached its apogee during the Classic Period, ca. 200 to 900 AD. During this time, the city dominated much of the Maya region politically, economically, and militarily, while interacting with areas throughout Mesoamerica such as the great metropolis of Teotihuacan in the distant Valley of Mexico.

  2. I go to sleep, my dreams dancing with moon and stars and wonder what shall be born from this experience of fire. My dear people, what sparks in you that we might turn to one another with the hope of love, and a prayer of forgiveness and peace in our hearts?

  3. from these pictures on your blog,it must be a nice travel,i hope i also have such chance to to such great place with friends.