L e s s o n s   F r o m   T h e   R a i n f o r e s t - D e c e m b e r   6 - 8 ,   1 9 9 7

Back from the Amazon. After flying visits to Manaus itself (the ornate Opera House dates from days when this was one of the richest cities in the world, the result of a short-lived rubber boom before some Englishman stole seeds and started the East Asian plantations), Belem (the fish market was amazing, full of the Amazon river’s rich harvest) and Brasilia (more days of meetings amid an architecure reminscent of New York’s capital at Albany, but much grander) and back to Rio, this is what stays with me, and what makes me want to go back and—this time—take teachers and students with me via TV, the Internet and hands-on activities: the rainforest is just so amazingly full of Life (yep, this time, no matter what any editor might say, the word deserves its initial capitalization) ...Life in the raw, nature evolved over millenia to take advantage of whatever opportunity time and death and evolution afforded it, to jump into a niche and survive.

A tiny tree, just as old in years as its mid-sized neighbor, waits for age or a lighting strike to fell an emergent tree close by, re-arrange the pattern of light trickling in miserly flecks down through the canopy, altering the supply of energy available, and letting the new plant gobble up the sun’s energy through photosynthesis, and sprint for the sky, to enjoy its epoch in the light.

As Susan spoke about plants in this way, they seemed more alive and understandable than I’d ever realized before. Heraldo Vaconscelos, the charismatic Brazilian expert on leaf-cutter ants, had spoken of the communities of creatures he studies in similar, very anthropomorphic and comprehensible terms: in many ways, the ants’ society sounded just as organized as our own, perhaps even better tuned for survival in a world of constant change and challenge. Face to face with the rainforest, the abstract principles which power all life on Earth seem much closer than in any book or article.

Geoff’s Journals Lessons From The Rainforest