the mornings why

26 February 2012 § Leave a comment

The river rolled over high round stones; murky brown water perfect for a solid class III run in a small raft. It was the first time rain had come in weeks; yesterday a local rafting guide had assured him that months would pass before a good flow came from the mountains again.

The water reached into the grassy eddy shores where boulders had not nestled. Perhaps they had been there once, and moved on some year when the rain rolled them farther down the river. Consistent, soaking rain came down in waves, succinct with the north wind, which pushed hard from the Panamanian hills much faster than the waterway below it.

It was the sort of rain that made an adventurer thank himself for bringing along the just-in-case jacket, for having the gift of experience to look up before heading out, stop on the suspension bridge and read the river to draw a line between the boulders that he would have floated down, had he not sold his raft to get here.

He took in the elements, one sense at a time. Words filled the holes where water dipped after gliding over rocks, mixing with oxygen to bubblywhite, and he read lines of poetry in the carbonated V’s that ushered down water that tried to linger a moment too long.

Now and again he looked up toward the misted valley; on every side of him, dense jungle with soil whose nutrients had been long consumed by lush plant life reached its delicate and parasitic fingers for the earth, and who knows what it would find when it got there – water, stone, another plant to wring life from, a machete.

The wind brought from the mountains scents of burning pine and coffee plants. Villages of the Ngobe Bugle, comprised mostly of cinderblocks and barbed wire, burned wood stoves near the coffee plantations. The scents wafted toward the town of Boquete, downstream. A few workers carried sacks of red and green coffee pods toward the processing buildings not far away – giant concrete structures painted one or two colors, decades ago. Others might have been cooking a rice breakfast in a cauldron, perhaps with meat on the side, or trying to stay warm on a wet and docile Sunday.

He recognized the faint smell of belladonna, a flower that must have hung in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, what with their elusive, sometimes deadly, euphoria, and it passed, as most things do in the less populated tropics, slowly and with grace. Other smells went with the moving air which he did not know, and had resigned to never knowing, at least in his own language, so they could remind him later only of this place, as it was now.

Birds, for the jungle was full of them, whistled and howled and screeched, some sweet sopranos; others, less elegant, scraped rough metal against itself in small reverberant cathedrals. He could single out the resplendent quetzal with its tenor song that attracted ears and eyes straight to the bold blues, reds, and green feathers the birds primed for potential mates.

Like a woman, he thought. Beauty for anyone who might take pleasure in looking.

That their feathers matched the prolific greens of the leaves around them hardly camouflaged their elegance; the sheer delight in glimpsing the namesake of  Mayan gods did not fade, even in those who would never know any place but this valley.

At the peak of the moment, he realized that the rain had soaked through his borrowed jacket and straight to his core, which pumped with adrenalin and blood to the thoughtrhythm that he was here. He had found, finally, the mystery of the travelers he’d admired, the ones who had spoken of far-off lands they’d explored and lived with glints in their eyes that said they might return one day. The return was never far from now, they thought, because all it would take to break from their monologue was a backpack (always packed, in the closet but ready to Go) and a ticket. Off they could be, like he was now, learning to use their senses again, as the rest of the world cooked rice and dressed up for their version of church.

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