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Photo by Tom Pablo, South America Semester.

River Reflections

Getting up early in the rainforest feels different than it does at home. 5 am and the sky is already lightening, golden columns filtering through lush, damp leaves to glisten on the ground. The jungle is alive. I can hear the rusty screech of the howler monkeys a few trees off, and the busy scrape of cicada wings. The oropendola’s rounded call sounds so loud I could swear it were balanced on my bedpost.

I only wish that it didn’t remind me mostly of an iPhone ringtone. The forest is so unfamiliar to me, and yet I see home everywhere. The bright scent of the naranja tree tickles the back of my throat with the taste of Froot Loops, and the manakins, with their little red heads bound up in Chris’s bird nets, make me wish I had access to a computer so I could write home to my bird-loving grandma. Holding the manakin in bander’s grip, with its pulse beating between my fingers, I am thinking of writing an email, and of the video of manakins dancing that I watched in biology class my freshman year of high school. Projected onto the classroom wall, they shimmied back and forth along mahogany branches, snapping their beaks like maracas. And I wonder if I am recalling things from home because I miss home, or because I miss things.

The jungle is stunning. Everything here is huge, and so vivid—lapis lazuli butterflies the size of human hands and moths as big as birds; even the flies seem almost enchanted when the sun glints off of their metallic bodies at the right angle and they shimmer like sportscars—the deep reds, blues, greens, and silvers that I associate with the I-405.

Driving down the Amazon River of California in the passenger seat of my dad’s car, I feel safe and warm. He puts on Joni Mitchell, and her lilt fills the leather seats with feeling, and she croons, I wish I had a river I could skate away on… I wish I had a river so long, I would teach my feet to fly. I wish I had a river I could skate away on. And the highway flows just like the water flows through Madre De Dios, just like my veins flow through my body, and I wonder whether nature looks like consumer products to me because materialism is all I know, or if consumer products mimic nature because we feel a need to recreate the beauty of Pachamama even as we destroy her.

Chris says that humans are drawn to water, not just to drink but to feel a sense of closeness to the rushing current of the Earth, and I hope that instinct is why I like driving in the car, windows down so I can hear the rush of sleek metal bodies rumble past like a river, Joni Mitchell’s piano recalling the song of the forest, ocelot paws rustling across the damp ground like the light timbre of a cymbal, and the whirring of termite wings her breath in the mic.