Monday, February 9, 2009

jungle living




For the past two weeks I have been living at a science research station located in the middle of a nature preserve deep in the rain forest. The jungle is rich with inspiration for my ceramics, from the voluptuous trees to the exotic insects and flowers. This is the only place in the Amazon where our little camp and the sister camp a few miles away are the only human dwellings as far as the eye can see. We are the intruders here, nature is quick to disassemble anything we erect. It is truly a humbling experience. I can't even bring myself to squash a cockroach, knowing that I am in his house.

The Inselberg and Pararé camps are well stocked with food and alcohol. A nightly ritual is to enjoy a small cocktail: rum, sugar, and lemon right off the tree. Everyone takes turns cooking dinner, and both Alec and I agree that the French do not eat healthier than Americans. Meals have been buttery, and yummy.

For the past five days Alec and I have been disassembling a canopy walkway suspended between four enormous trees. It was built in 1987 and has since fallen into disrepair, becoming dangerous. The walkway hung on thick steel cables which attached by thinner steel cables to a horizontal metal ladder covered by chicken wire. Alec had the difficult job of cutting a million little attachments while hanging by a harness close to 100 feet in the air. My job was to pick up everything he dropped on the forest floor, some of which was along a very steep incline. I got quite a workout going up and down fully loaded up with metal. The rain made the ground slippery and the slope difficult to navigate. I was also working on buns of steel.

Sleeping in an open carbet (four posts and a plastic roof, no walls) in the jungle is quite the experience: it is never quiet, filled with frog, cricket, bird and cicada calls. The howler monkeys are probably the most startling. They sound like a soundtrack to a haunted house, a howling growling spooky wind. Last night their call sounded so close, as if they were perched on a tree above our carbet. They were incredibly loud. This afternoon they hung out in the trees eating leaves very near camp. The howlers' gentle ways are in stark contrast to their ferocious call. They make Alec jealous with their ease of tree climbing.



Surrounded by scientists from all over the world gathering specimens for their Masters degrees and PhDs, the conversations are spectacular. I have learned so much about the insect and mammal world. I will spend months digesting this trip, and exploring it through my ceramic work.