The Shadows of the Amazon Forest
We walk through the valleys of the shadows of….the Amazon! Standing beneath the trees, ankles pressed together, and hands interlocked, we take our first steps into the Rainforest. We are exhilarated and terrified, curious and intimidated. We have been warned at least twenty times, not to touch anything!
This is a tough enough feat for Carlos and Me, who are naturally curious about everything. Not to mention the littles, they are just 3 and 5 years old! And the dog, Dante, don’t even get me started. I still haven’t figured out if he listens to commands in English or Spanish, or neither, and he is seven years old.
It is something like walking through a china shop. Stepping delicately, elbows tucked the sides, eyes darting to and fro for any quick movements. Only we are not afraid of breaking the stuff on the shelves, but rather of the delicacies breaking us.
In the first five minutes I can’t look more than 12 inches past my feet and shoulders. In that time, our guide has already pointed out poisonous delicious looking berries, a spectacular pink flower, and a suspiciously beautiful spider. All of them capable of devastating an adult, and likely lethal for a child.
After a good half hour into the woods, I relax a little, realizing there is no way in tarnation that our kids are touching anything. They jump ten feet into the air if a branch brushes against their skin. We have already successfully scared the living hockey sticks out of them.
The trail we are walking is narrow and thin, covered in leaves and natural debris. The forest is silent except for the trickle of sound as big, finished leaves make their way to the ground. The movements encourage me to look away from the safety zone and up towards the sky. I scan the treetops looking for the blue that is hiding somewhere up there. But, all I can see are fragments of light that sparkle as they pass through the web of canopy leaves.
Then suddenly a silent commotion from beyond the trail and I dare to look beyond the maze of trees that are out of my reach. I squint to focus in on the wide, blue swirls drifting through the forest. More grace than a bird but greater breadth than a butterfly. Fairies grabbing onto the vines and leaping from tree to tree in an elegant dance. Teasing my eyes as they float in and out of the mid-morning shadows.
But, they are butterflies! Too quick to dream of catching on film, I quickly retract my camera and just enjoy the scene with my family. The Blue Morpho Butterfly is like the keeper of the trees, soothing our nerves and luring out our curiosity. We stand still in those moments and realize that we are safe in the forest.
And then we start searching and seeking, exploring and discovering. Birds, bugs, and plants in more abundance than is imaginable. Trees and vines, strange and mostly unnamable. I find myself trying to identify a single species. There is no knowledge of this, so instead I focus on trying to translate the Spanish and Kickwa identifications offered by our guide.
In a place so vast and full of un-nameable things, I find myself engulfed by a strange sense of familiarity. Here, in the Amazon Rainforest, a continent away, I feel the presence of my father walking next to me just as he did when I was my daughter’s age. I can’t wait to tell him about it. I realize that the Amazon is nothing more than a massive, overgrown forest. A super-sized version of the forests I have explored in Iowa. Maybe it was just a coping strategy, but little by little, nature wrapped her arms around me and coaxed me out of my fears and anxieties.
We came across an impressive tree with a straight, thick vine dangling straight from the clouds. Its tail-end curiously twisting and beckoning to us right smack in the middle of the trail. As a smile stretched across my face, I saw the same expression reflected in our children. There was no doubt about it what was coming next.
Oh, how they squealed as they soared through the air, little booted feet dangling high above my head. Mabelle with sheer delight and wonder, with her ponytail flipping through the leaves in the trees. And then, Nico. Knuckles white and eyebrows raised, a crooked smile from that nauseating mix of fear and fun. Pure pleasure with himself for not chickening out. Then my husband, as nimble as if he were my third child, hopped onto the vine and flew through the air like Tarzan.
I stood below them, our dog Dante panting at my feet, so engaged with their adventure I nearly forgot it was my turn. There is nothing more freeing of the spirit, than to allow yourself to let go. To live in the moment, forget anyone is watching, and to just claim these spectacular experiences as something of your own. And for a couple of memorable swings through the forest, I was just me and nothing else. Just me, exhilarated by a swinging rope in the Amazon Rainforest.
We continued our walk, chatting and pointing, not even trying to be silent as we ought to be. Just enjoying, absorbing, and living in the moment. Mostly lots of butterflies and bugs, interesting flowers and fascinating leaves, glowing mushrooms and vibrant everything. It was just a walk in the forest, an extra special forest of course.
Until we came to understand the majesty that is the Sable tree. From over two steep hills, and sloshy, slippery decents, we landed ourselves on top of the biggest tree I have ever seen. From the cliff above, we stood about one third of its height. Our son asked me if what we were looking at was real or if somebody had built it. Our daughter asked me if fairies and elves live within it.
We climbed down the embankment, clinging onto roots like railings, with trouble focusing on our feet. The tree was so alive that we could not peel our eyes away from it. It was as if we were waiting for her to raise a branch and wave hello, or for a face to appear in her trunk. But, even if that didn’t happen, it was still like she was whispering to us.
Carlos decided to climb, but not me, I was still worried about snakes and tarantulas. Yet, he didn’t climb the tree, he climbed the roots! He got about ten feet above his own head before he reached the top of them. From there, there was nowhere to go! How do you wrap your arms around a tree as big as a house?!
We spent a long time beneath this Queen of the forest. The kids climbed through the puzzling caves of her roots, pulling her vines like long, dangling braids, and standing gaping at the sky in awe. We listened to stories of her life and imagined that there is much more than we know. She is estimated to be 200 years old, and is a favorite place for the shamans to bring the disabled, crazy, and ill. Oh, the secrets she must hold!
On the final stretch of our hike, I giggled at the red streaked faces of the kids. Apparently, the native markings they had painted on their face, had suffered a fate worse than hunting. Our guide had delighted them with a pre-hike activity that included these face paintings from achiote seeds. But, they were worn and smeared, destructed by little hands and forest fun.
Even though we were tired, we all stalled a little bit, taking one last look to find special bugs and butterflies. But, unlike other hikes, we finished our trek through the rainforest reserve with excitement and stamina. We had just taken a walk through the Amazon Rainforest!