Sunday, December 23, 2007

Bug Eyes

Maybe people see like bugs.

Light comes into the human eye through a single lens. But like the compound eye of a bug which receives information from multiple points of view, the human brain understands that single shaft of light by sending it through innumerable, interpretive lenses, each ground into a unique shape by genes and polished by experience.

Living in the rain forest of Ecuador for two months was physically uncomfortable. From moment to moment I felt my body probed for weakness so that it could be reabsorbed into the biomass at the first opportunity. Pricked and irritated by heat and dampness, I began to see the life in land as exploitive and grotesque.

At night lightning illuminated the forest like a horror movie on a television playing in an empty room.

In the light of day, parasitism paraded as lushness and…

a poisonous nature was flaunted through a display of brilliant color.

Blossoms took the shape of spears and fists and sported petals as thick as lips.

And the trees, competing for light, grew into odd shapes that were a record of their striving. But now that I have left, the distress of the body no longer dictates the story and other lenses in the compound eye of the brain can focus the image of the forest into a wider angle.

I remember the grotesquerie, but I also think about the vitality. The weather, for example, is as capricious as a teenager. Although the light and heat and humidity are constant throughout the year, the rhythm of each day is unique. Clear skies rapidly mushroom with fat white clouds that darken and hurl drops that sound like a carpenter’s rasp as they tear through the leaves. Sometimes the rain passes like an express bus, but sometimes it is as fixed as a waterfall at full flood, roaring for hours.

The greenery is so dense that it can induce a panic attack. But the light offers relief. Like Matisse with a pair or scissors, the sun cuts sharply through the canopy creating melon slices and asterisks of light which spread across the sky in a jumpy rhythm. The visual jazz is accompanied by birdsong that is in turn as sad a Mahler, as sweet as Satie and as rude as a whoopee cushion.

The agents of decomposition thrive here and consume every helpless scrap with a speed that is unnerving. As a result the occasional, drifting thought on mortality which lands in this over-ripe place is fertilized beyond reason and bursts into sex and …

other creative adventures, like painting pictures in the rainforest with the eyes of a bug.

Monday, December 3, 2007

7 paintings in Progress

The following 7 works were created out of doors in the very rainy Oriente of Ecuador near the primary forests of the Jatun Sacha Foundation. Arranged chronologically, the paintings are mostly complete, although touch up may be necessary when I see them in the studio. The title of each painting includes the date that the work was begun, the temperature of the moment, the latitude and longitude of the place, and a verbal description of the subject that motivated the painting.

October 27, 2007, 92° F, S 01° 02, W 77° 36, Ceyba tree, rainforest

October 28, 2007, 90° F, S 01° 02, W 77° 36, rainforest

November 7, 2007, 80° F, S 01° 02, W 77° 36, bananas and rain

November 10, 2007, 87° F, S 01° 02, W 77° 36, canopy and ant nest

November 11, 2007, 80° F, S 01° 02, W 77° 36, banana, light and wind

November 16, 2007, 83° F, S 01° 02, W 77° 36, leaves

November 21, 2007, 80° F, S 01° 02, W 77° 36, canopy

Friday, November 30, 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007

Casa y Jardin

Very naturally, as if I was one of her babies, Juanita patiently repeats simple Spanish words and phrases to me. Juanita Cerda is the cook where I am staying and we have become friends through simple exchanges. “Como esta?” is her morning call and “Muy bien” is my proud response.

Juanita lives with her husband, Anibal Torres, and their four children in the San Cudo Community, which is a mile away at the end of the path by the river. San Cudo is named after a type of mosquito, not an obscure saint.

The night before my visit to Juanita’s home, the rain fell, heavy and drenching for 8 hours without a pause. The Rio Napo breached its banks and the canoes were pulled up near the path for safety. We set out for her house after lunch, but the track to her house was still flooded and fish were swimming among our feet. With a leap and cry of, “Pescado!”, Juanita lanced one with the tip of her umbrella and wrapped it, still flopping, in a foot-long leaf to carry home.

The Torres-Cerda family lives in a five room house. The ground-floor room is mostly for storage. The stair to the second story leads into the kitchen, which has a large window, without glass or screens. Off the kitchen are two bedrooms and a family room with TV and VCR and a couple of beds for lounging. There is electricity but no running water, so rainwater is collected in the cistern for cooking and washing. The bathroom is in a small separate shed behind the house.

At home were three of Juanita’s four children, Edison, Andrea and…

baby, Natalie, who enjoyed chicken for lunch. Couples tend to have large families in this region and are proud of the fact. In a place were income is small, perhaps many children and...

many chickens are satisfying sources of wealth. After the kids and fowl were fed, Juanita and I followed the line of laundry into the garden.

The laundry, like family flags, hangs on a rope that stretches from the house deep into the garden. Sheets and towels and shirts and shorts hang flat, until they catch a little breeze and inflate into the shape of people whose sweat and stain is bleached and sweetened by the sun. It’s better than confession to watch laundry on a line.

The clothes line ends at a quiet stream, which catches the light of the sky and tucks it beneath the lemon trees.

Unlike gardens in the North which are sown and harvested on a timetable set by the seasons, this garden grows and dies everyday. Lines and grids are suitable for gardens on a schedule, but a garden with no beginning or end forever evolves and the shape it takes is irregular and temporary.

When the banana tree flowers, fruits and falls, the trunk quickly rots adding nutrients to the soil, which is so quickly rinsed to depletion by the constant rain.

The space left by the old banana tree is used for a new crop of yuca, a ubiquitous plant whose tuber is a staple of the Amazonian diet.

Besides yuca and bananas, the garden produces plantain, corn, rice, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, sugar cane, papaya, cacao, grapefruit, lemons, limes, and a variety of medicinal plants like, Sinviyo, (pictured above) which is a natural insect repellent.

Juanita also grows Cuyamuyo, a fruit whose hard shell is used for bowls. Like fancy china, this tableware can be monogrammed.

The stream feeds a fish pond which is stocked with Tilapia and ringed with beans and bananas, and …

another lemon tree loaded with the drooping nests of the Oropendola.

Hidcote and Longwood are glorious but this little equatorial garden is just as lovely and more poignant for feeding the family of Juanita Cerda.