Early in the morning on a swollen Rio Sambu in Panama, we drifted across a black water lagoon-like intersection, with a tree marking the beginning of an unnamed tributary. Our boatsman Juancito laughed with Michael our host, Jenna and I stared in wonder, and the Embera bowman navigated us through snags and shallow water, brushing aside overhanging trees with his oar at the mouth of the tributary. The small river felt like the river Styx, a boundary between two different worlds pulling us towards an ancient forest of “giant trees”, 100 foot colossuses with roots that reach endlessly across the jungle floor.
This is one of my favorite pictures, Juancito had guided us into a vast otherworldly grove of monumental trees and proceeded directly to his favorite. Nestling himself in its embrace he shared his love for the tree and his land. The scene reminds me why Jenna and I love nature and other cultures —it is our connection to all life and its connection to us, it is looking beyond ourselves in order to see ourselves.
“Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.”
For most of my life I have been around animals and birds, wild and domestic. As a young boy I rescued and sometimes rehabilitated birds and animals that I found injured near my house. For me there is a connection between the earth and all living creatures. We are enriched by our environment and its inhabitants. The value of these relationships is seen in the successful addition of animals and birds for the treatment of PTSD and Alzheimers, as companions and helpers for the elderly and the blind, and with children suffering from autism. The comfort of our pets alone speaks to the interwoven connection of living creatures. We have created an artificial lifestyle that clouds us from seeing this symbiotic balance. We are part of this balance, and our effects on our surroundings are considered unnatural, but our effects are part of the worlds evolution. Our destruction of the environment and the new consciousness about this are our evolution as to our connection.
Extinction and environmental destruction are not new to the earth. Long before man, many species, climates, and continents came and went. Environments were flooded, then drought plagued, then torn apart by volcanic and tectonic upheaval. Species disappeared, or adapted, or fled to other climates, only to face the same circumstances again. Mankind’s effects over a short period of time have had avoidable consequences, but once we occupy an environment, the care and responsibility for all of its creatures falls into our laps.
My wife Jenna and I are involved with parrot and raptor rescue, preservation, and rehabilitation organizations, trying to contribute as we can to several NPOs. Our love and connection is also extended to many other species, and when we travel we seek out preservation programs and research facilities in order to support their work. This reinforces our bonds with the natural world, and reminds us of our roots to the natural landscape. Jenna and I are not crusaders, we are simply trying to help with the balance of nature and care for the creatures we are responsible for.
Juancito delicately navigated the boat back out through the tributary away from the “giant trees”, skillfully evading submerged logs and tangles. As we neared the Rio Sambu, the Embera bowman delicately pushed aside the overgrowth with his oar and dislodged a small nest of angry wasps into my lap –nature also has a sense of humor.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”