El Yunque

June 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

La Mina waterfall in El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico

On Charles’ birthday, we went to the rain forest, in the El Yunque national reserve. We hiked on a winding, steep path through lush forest a mile or so to a huge waterfall, where a dozen people lounged on the rocks and floated in the green pools. I was tired from the climb, but not too tired to crabwalk under the bridge and sit among the tall, slanting rocks. They were more difficult to navigate than the rocks of my childhood—each one was coated with slime—and I am far less nimble, but I wasn’t afraid. Careful, but not afraid. I found a little half moon shaped stone that had power in it; when I grasped it tightly, all the gods were listening for one instant. What I said to them I don’t exactly know: all I had in my heart: and then it was over.

The woman who runs the guest house we stayed in explained the Taino (indigenous Puerto Rican) belief that when people die, their souls go to heaven but their bodies turn to dirt and then rocks. Rocks have power because they’re our ancestors. She had asked us over the phone to bring her a rock from the waterfall, and we did, and then she had us each hold it while she waved her hands around us, and asked if we could feel the heat. We said we could. I almost did. Charles told her I was very spiritual with rocks and I muttered, “in my youth,” and she told me it was always there, the connection with the earth. She’s right, of course, whatever that connection means. It means I need to be in nature more.

Charles wanted to tell her about the old alkie we talked to in Charlottlesville one night, 30 years ago. He lived behind the grocery store and conversed with rocks—he told us how it went, the back and forth with the rocks, in one long, lovely, drunken monologue. “But I realized she might have been offended by the comparison,” he said. Perhaps. But we’ve never forgotten Alonzo.

After dinner, we swam in the pool with the grandchildren of the house, then took a walk in the twilight. The countryside was fragrant and beautiful, dense with life, both familiar and unfamiliar. It was like walking the roads around our old house in upstate New York on the first wave of good LSD. I slept ten hours.

In the morning we drove into the mountains on a road that narrowed and narrowed, colonized by moss, the deep rainforest endlessly below. The frequent potholes leading off the cliff were kindly marked by sawhorses—the woman at the rental office said the insurance covered everything but pothole tire destruction. We soaked up more beauty, then headed (hours early) toward the airport. We stopped for lunch at a local cafe and had the best food of our trip, then went to the wrong car drop off place. Once we figured that out, it was too late; we were sucked into the massive Obama traffic jam (the old guy in the wheelchair holding an American flag was traveling much faster than we were) and barely made our planes.

Home to the sadness of my other relationship destructing, and the paralysis about writing. Fitzroy woke me several times the first night, demanding reassurance, which I gave him. Nobody likes being abandoned.

One of the first poems I ever memorized

A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal

A slumber did my spirit seal;
I had no human fears:
She seemed a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years.

No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course,
With rocks, and stones, and trees.

William Wordsworth

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