Thursday, April 9, 2009

Quest for Fire



Gymnostinops montezuma. Melvin Mérida WCS1

(Monteczuma Orependala)

The fire surrounds you, and with every breath

The scorching flames reach out and threaten death;

But they are quenched when we achieve our goal,

And look – there waits asylum for your soul.

                                   Farid Ud-Din Attar (Conference of the Birds – A Sufi Poem)

   In order to look, to see, to witness, I continue my journey north to Isla de Flores (Flower Island) on Sunday night, March 30 and I notice what everyone notices when they get off the plane from Guatemala, it’s hot.  Of course, I don’t know what hot is until several days later when we hit about 105 or so degrees at the Estacion Biologico Guacamaya (Macaw Biology Station) in the Laguna Tigre National Park.  There we only get electricity from about 6 p.m. – 9 p.m., and no air conditioning.  The amenities there are quite lovely though.  Mot-mot birds come to bathe me in beauty as I sweat over a pre-sunrise bowl of cereal, howler monkeys constantly gracing the trees above with their pure demonstrations of nature’s power and triumph, and Red-lored Amazons tittering excitedly about the thrills of forest life and the mysteries of darkly shadowed nest cavities.




Another thing I notice in Flores and later at the Station is what exists everywhere in Guatemala, or near abouts; the smell of smoke.  Except here it seems stronger, which is hard to believe after breathing in the destruction of the south coast with the fires of sugar cane.  The front page of the paper, the Prensa Libre, in fact speaks to the fires that are threatening the national parks of Guatemala and the Reserva Biosfera Maya (Maya Biosphere Reserve). 


These fires rise up for many reasons, the major one of which are the invasores (invaders) that come to the Reserve to set up infrastructure for the narcotraficantes (drug traffickers).  The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) office this Monday morning is all a buzz with the article because it highlights the areas they study and protect.  In fact, it shows pictures of a clandestine airstrip near where we will be working and the threatened river San Pedro over which the Station perches. 



The publicity is working because the army arrives in the Reserve promptly to protect this bountiful forest.  In other ways, the publicity is not working because the WCS conservationists are concerned that names were included in the article, making these people a target for assessinations and kidnapping.  A couple of years ago some WCS personnel were kidnapped and help for ransom and Yiri Melini, a conservationist mentioned in this article, received death threats in the past, as has the WCS office, and Melini was fired upon.  The forest too is fired upon; smokes colors up each sunset that rises from the burning of milpas, cattle grasslands, African Palm farms, air strips, and illegal fincas (ranches). 


(Out of control fire from burning milpas that threatens the forest near the Station where we are staying - photo by Melvin Merida, WCS)

There is so much going against the birds and beings of this treasured forest, but I am to learn that a treasure buried deep in the realm of humanity colors the struggle against extinction, and that is the hearts, hopes, passion, and commitment of the conservationists working for a different future than the one the Prensa Libre forecasts.  It is with these people that I am to spend the next three weeks, and who bless this world with their vision of the beloved community of all species.  They risk their lives for the sake of love.

So many errors throng the world – they why

Should we not risk this quest?  To suffer blame

For love is better than a life of shame.

            Farid Un-Din Attar

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