Sunday, March 15, 2009
Let's talk about fear. A little fear is good. A little fear keeps us on our toes, keeps us functioning above resting state. A lot of fear can be paralyzing.
We all have our monkeys. Mine are deep ocean water, tornadoes and heights. I mean, those are the major, environmental ones. Then there are clowns. But we won't talk about clowns here.
Pretty much every foreign trip has a moment that feels like Outward Bound for Zick. Maybe it's bargaining a vendor down in a crowded marketplace where nobody speaks English. Maybe it's getting everything I've bought back into my stanky suitcase for the ride home. Maybe it's just trying to make it through a day afield with dysentery. Or maybe it's having to cross narrow, swinging, slippery wet canopy walkways in an evening thunderstorm. Yeah, that's it. Crossing narrow, swinging, slippery wet canopy walkways in an evening thunderstorm.
At Atta Canopy Tower Camp, there is a system of walkways strung through the tops of forest giants, I don't know how many feet above the forest floor. It's way higher than our 42' tall birding tower, high enough to ensure that if you fell you'd be a spot of grease on the forest floor. I'd heard a lot about canopy tower walkways, but had never been on one. I'd never actually wanted to be on one. My time had come. Everybody else was going, so I did, too.
Erica tripped over them like a cat.
Mike was completely laden with optics and (eek!) tripod, but he gamely pressed on. He didn't enjoy it much more than I did, and I know I wouldn't have attempted it with that much luggage.
This is Weedon's I'mnothavingfunrightnow face. Nobody caught mine, thank goodness. Mike, I'm sorry. But I have so many good pictures of you I am shamelessly exploiting you without your consent. Hope that's OK.
Crossing canopy walkways is all in a day's work for Kevin Loughlin. Here he comes, relaxed as rain, and also toting much photographic gear in those giant vest pockets. He's a wonderful cheerleader for the timid. (and taking trips to Guyana with Wildside Nature Tours).
Ron Allicock was unfazed, but then he's a guide. This is what he does.
The guide in the foreground was a major designer and construction engineer of the walkway. He told me about shooting lines up into the trees, hoisting other lines, climbing with spikes and other gear, driving anchors into the trunks, all of it dangling perilously above the unforgiving earth. He walked those swinging paths with the nonchalance of a jaguar. He is made of much stronger stuff than I.
I figured out that the only way to get through it was as fast as I could, just taking one step forward at a time, then stringing those steps together into a journey. photo by Kevin Loughlin
The only way forward is straight ahead. But sometimes it is very difficult.
All told we made two forays to the canopy walkways. I wish I could say we saw loads of amazing birds from there--I understand that often one does--but it rained nearly the whole time we were there and things were comparatively quiet.
There were some very impressive pods, dangling like an interrupted phone call, which we'd never have seen from below.
Ron told me they suddenly pop open when they're ready to shed their seeds, and the seeds go flying in all directions. Ow! Bananas gone wild.
Far below, there were bits of giant exotic tree flowers, I knew not what sort.
There were bullet ants on the tree trunk. The bullet ant's sting is so painful that Makushi Indians use a bullet ant bite as part of a male initiation ceremony.
For painful initiation, crossing five swinging walkways, each one longer than the last, over dizzying dark leafy heights is plenty enough for the Science Chimp. I made it, twice over.
Photo by Kevin Loughlin
Posting from the Apple Store in Columbus, where my friendly geniuses have concluded that I have a major chip issue in my Mac PowerBook. It started in a downpour in Guyana and it hasn't gotten any better. She's been spontaneously shutting down and that, my friends, is a drag on the creative spirit. So I bid her adieu for five to seven days of under-warranty massage, and somehow cope with the old G-5 desktop that smells like burning wires and whines like a lonely hyena. Many thanks to Jaime and Kevin for handholding, cord-replacing (durn macaw!) and general good vibes. It's good to have Geniuses who read yer blog, especially as I descend into LAS (laptop separation anxiety).
If all goes well I will transport the semi-conscious, jetlagged carcass of Bill of the Birds from the airport safely home to Whipple this afternoon. Those of you who travel by air know how much is encoded in the phrase "if all goes well." Let's just say I left the kids with their grandparents. Could be a rough ride.