Ashen

I once asked
how close to the earth must I sway,
sweeping in the wind
like a broken tree?

But I have grown a bit
since that time.

That question was centered all around
me;
my struggle; my need.
As if the world
should work for
me.

A better question may be–
how close to another person can I get,
to know love
in every breath?

The world has riven
me, and will continue breaking
waves against any stance I assume.
But I can bend, and learn, and grow.

In the end,
I want there to be found nothing
but gratitude in my heart.

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The Trip to Santa Marta

el CamionAlright, so I am now in Santa Marta, sweating my balls off and trying desperately not to itch my ankles. We just spent a long, very long 31 hours in and around the truck. And while I may have garnered some backpacker street cred by having been driven from Armenia to Santa Marta in a truck delivering oranges, it is not something that I would recommend. It was slow—slow—and the truck broke down at one point and had to be fixed in the mid-day heat. It also wasn’t the most comfortable of journeys in the world either, as I sat most of the way in the middle with the stick shaft between my legs. However, what can be said of the journey is that it was cheap.

It was nice sometimes to be able to take in the countryside at a slow pace, because the countryside here is gorgeous. It is literally green everywhere. Which isn’t surprising given that we’re in the tropics. But still.

We got on the camion at 6 in the evening on Monday. Franky, our chofer, loaded our luggage up into the back with the oranges, and off we went up the windy roads in the Cordillera Central. It’s interesting to think off all the runaway truck ramps they have in California whenever there is a steep downgrade, and then to compare that with the road out of Armenia. It is steep, windy, narrow, and there ain’t no runaway truck ramps, and about 90% of the car traffic on the highways here is trucks. Massive trucks, small trucks, trucks hauling pipes the size of a monument, trucks hauling fruit, trucks with military stuff. . . And the trucks will be passing each other right and left on these two-lane mountain windy roads in the heavy rain in the night, somehow slipping in right as another truck comes barrelling down the other way.

We stopped at midnight and Franky slept in the back for 5 hours while we attempted to somehow sleep in the cab as some insect made an annoying continuous chirping sound nearby, and the gas station blared reggaeton, and the dogs endlessly barked at each other across the town.

There are military and police (cerdos=pigs) everywhere along the roads, and you will see them searching trucks, buses, and cars everytime you pass one of their stops. Everytime we came up to one of these waystations, Franky would yell to us to put on our seatbelts, as he frantically grabbed at his, and we would grab it and hold it while passing by the police, and then promptly let it go afterwards. One time the police stopped us, and as one of the cops walked up to the driver side, Franky slipped him a quick bill, and we were allowed to drive off.

Another time, when we came up to a weigh station, Franky pulled off some spare tires he had in the back and loaded them into the car of someone he’d commissioned (friend? who knows), and we jumped in the car and waited for him on the other side while Franky got the truck weighed.

At 2:30 in the afternoon, something went wrong with one of the front wheels, and we waited in the shade of a nearby restaurant while Frank drove off on a motorcycle to get a new part. Even in the shade we were sweating profusely and eaten mercilessly by some unseen and unheard insect. Finally, at 5:30, the wheel was fixed, and Franky, covered in oil and sweat, cleaned himself off and ate before taking off for the final, long last leg of the journey. Apparently, when you are a truck driver in Colombia, you must not only be a good driver, but also nimble in dealing with the cerdos, as well as a mechanic, able to fix problems as they arise.

The road to Santa Marta was terrible—bumpy, potholed, incomplete—and loaded with trucks. I got whiplash a number of times throughout the night because I was so tired that my head would swing back without any headrest, and then snap back as I came to over a bump. At 3:00 in the morning, we arrived in Santa Marta. I washed my face, and a thick film of black exhaust came off, along with the accumulated oils and sweat.

I’m just happy to be here and not sitting in the cab of a truck.

On Trees

tree.JPGThe root fungi intercede with water, soil, and atmosphere to manufacture cell nutrients for the tree, while myriad insects carry out summer pruning, decompose the surplus leaves, and activate essential soil bacteria for the tree to use for nutrient flow. The rain of insect faeces may be crucial to forest and prarie health.

What part of this assembly is the tree? Which is the body or entity of the system, and which the part? . . .[Such] separation is for simple minds; the tree can be understood only as its total entity–which, like ours, reaches out into all things . . . Life depends upon life. All forces, all elements, all life forms are the biomass of the tree.”

I finished the chapter on trees in my Permaculture book, and have picked up some new understanding. I had never really quite known just how powerful and affecting trees are on all living things around them. They create precipitation, they recycle water, they protect and nurture the soil, they break and redirect the wind–they harness the light–they cool the heat–they warm the cool–they take life into themselves with the least amount of destruction–they give back more than they take.

This brings my memory back to a time when I visited Sequoia National Park and went on a hike in its forest, and in the midst of this density of trees, far from the road where tourists would drive past the Sherman tree and eat candy bars and take pictures with their kids, stood the most immense living thing I had ever seen–an ancient grandaddy giant Sequoia tree, rising like a god above the surrounding forest. I fought an irresistable urge to prostrate myself before the tree and worship it. Because such trees deserve respect, bearing wisdom far beyond the scope of mankind’s feeble attempts at playing god. All trees are wise, and they can teach you things just by looking at them–where the most light is gathered, from where the hardest wind blows.

Studying this book on Permaculture brings me back to the wonder and mysterious pleasure I felt as a child when I would play in the wild, dense trees and bushes that I was privileged to have growing in my yard. I would lay on the branch of an oak tree directly outside of my bedroom. I would hollow out secret headquarters in thickets that still bear the shape of my childhood to this day. There is a mystery and power and beauty in growing things that is easy to forget in the midst of a city designed for convenience; this can be remembered when you venture back out into the wilderness, when you climb up mountains, walk on swaths of boulders through green trees, listen to a silence punctuated only by animals and wind and an occasional airliner. This sounds like a Sierra Club advertisement, but it is surely criminal to cut down any old growth forests. I don’t believe in religion, but I think if there is such a thing as sin, then it would be to cut down a tree needlessly. You go to the movies and watch dramas that turn morality into black and white, dioramas of good and bad. But there is no simpler and more direct drama of good and evil being played out than the real-life story of the Amazon jungle, and of how every day it’s thriving, truly wild, mysterious, beautiful life is being destroyed by gold diggers, oil drillers, drug traffickers, and short gain agriculture. Here is a story of the wickedness of shortsighted men raping and pillaging something far beyond their understanding–something powerful and wild and dangerous and so full of life in its density that you can’t hear silence, you can’t see the sun, you can’t find your way where you are going or from where you came except by sound and pattern–maps or GPS systems are rendered useless.

Human life is so interdependent on trees as to make our destinies indistinguishable. Disease, drought, and famine follow naturally from deforestation. The promise of replanting trees by loggers is useless in consideration that the trees they are cutting down are irreplaceable–for old growth forest can not simply be “replaced.” The soil will be changed. The climate will be changed. Trees are sacred, and we don’t need to revert to animism to recognize this. The evidence is there, before your eyes, in the science, in the mystery, in the living entity that breathes and dances in the wind, that fosters all creation, beauty, and life.