P e r s p i r a t i o n   A n d   I n f o r m a t i o n

In the forest, somewhere north of Manaus. Somewhere on that leaf there are ants. I take my eye away from the steamed-up viewfinder and I can see them. But the sweat which has turned my khaki shirt dark pours down my brow, salty and stinging, and I can’t focus. Exasperated, I huff and puff, wish I’d memorized how to turn on macro-focus, wish it was about 20 degrees cooler, wish for a cool plunge in a pool at the end of this sticky day, and know there’s just a hammock in a simple forest camp ahead. So I record Susan’s comments in my mind and not on tape, about how this particular plant provides houses for its own peculiar army of ant guards—I can see the tiny rounded shelters into and out of which the soldiers are scurrying. Even in my physical discomfort, I’m amazed by another compelling example of how life in the rainforest is a story of coexistence and co-dependence. Susan had earlier shown me a dry, rolled-up cone of a leaf, and told me of birds who only eat insects found in such “kitchens”, as she called them. She told me of others whose beaks have grown so specialized they only fit in flowers of a particular shape—orchids, I think. The flowers, in turn, have over aeons come to depend on just those creatures to pollinate them and perpetuate their existence. It’s Darwin come to life—evolution, adaptation, environment and existence—all vibrant and right before your eyes, in examples as small as ants, as colorful as the red and green macaws we saw in the trees along that bumpy track, as raw as the monkeys who barged their noisy way through the treetops, leaving behind a snow of falling leaves to mark their messy mealtime.

And the scientific focus of the Smithsonian-INPA research project is just as clear: the forest fragments, left behind as carefully-controlled test cases of 1, 10 and 100 hectares after the forest around them was cleared for cattle in the go-go days of the late 1970’s, look, feel and sound different from the virgin forest. The fragments are cluttered with scrubby growth on the ground, vines and ferns and spiky plants, the classic jungle of movies. But the untouched rainforest is surprisingly clear and clean. You can see quite far back into the forest, for here the greatest fertility is up in the canopy, not on the ground.

Geoff’s Journals Perspiration And Information     1     2