Sunday, April 13, 2014
I recorded at dawn, midday, sunset, and at night using the microphones I had put in trees, and at the bases of giant leafy plants, or dangling in midair from high branches. Each fed a long cable back to the spot I'd return to in the morning. I even put out a stool to sit on.
Before dawn I took position in my piece of forest. I plugged each microphone into a portable mixer and thence to my two stereo recorders. I dropped a soloist Quetzal on one channel, a Curassow on another. I heard Cocks of the Rock preening, shaking their wings. A capybara routed in the dark soil. Cicadas argued at a deafening pitch into one mike. And then came a sound of some creature chewing, I have no idea what it was. Then a ripping sound which I later realized were monkeys tearing the rinds off zapote. There were altercations between members of the troop.
The producer said, "I want the sounds of the jungle. I want to hear birds so close you can feel their feathers!" Then he left for two days sourcing fruits and legumes from markets and fish fresh from the jungle rivers. I captured symphonies set to movements of the sun and moon, insects and birds supplying bars of a fugue, or a solo to prove mastery of the verses of life.
Mastery of love, of craft, is understanding, I immersed in the music, cicadas and singing insects of a thousand species, bird lullabies and their wakeup calls, their soporific statements of the obvious, their cries of alarm. I also heard monkeys, and frogs, and jackals and occasionally at night, from the deep, a jaguar.
The music allowed a break from the set. I entered another world. I became unused to my cables and microphones, instead I pored through my field guides. What bird was that? What insect? Where did that howl come from?
The plunge into darkness changed the key of the symphony. The birds of day defended their sinking sun, with a mad crescendo of plaintive wails. Their light had gone. Somewhere in that transition, one conductor bowed and passed the baton to a darker master. One set of songs was forgotten. a futile silence, and in their lee, the drip of echoes, nightjars, monkeys, cicadas, a thousand singing insects, and owls, each claiming a piece of the cool jungle blanket as their own.
For what is life but the opportunity to attain some sort of mastery?
Late at night I played some of the magic of the jungle to Erica, Titanio's dark haired girlfriend, who had come to visit. It was a joy to hand her the headphones and see her as immersed in the stereo symphony of jungle life.
Erica watched the action as we filmed it, with languid eyes behind tresses of black hair. Titanio kept his eye on her, they didn't talk much. After two days of shooting, the only motorcar on the estate transported her down the hairpin turns to the airstrip by the river.
Days spent by the camera blurred, the cameras filmed so we remembered nothing. Exhausted after the last shot we slept, then the following morning we wrapped cases, put away lenses, coiled cables and lights, and tied the portable generators onto pallets.
The producer returned with a crowd of women and their husbands bearing poles hung with fresh game, sacks of fresh fish wrapped in banana leaves, crates of live chickens, and a pig that was tired and thirsty. He asked Titanio to butcher the pig and all afternoon they roasted it with Acai, and simmered the chickens in a mash of guava and chiles. Tucunaré fish was broiled with Alfavaca leaves, and Chicória, Maniçoba pork sausages were served with Guarana beer to wash it down. Pirarucu soup was enriched with Tacacá prawns and Tamuata. Tapioca with fruits cut open after dinner.
The producer knew how to throw a party.
We smoked. Titanio told stories. The sound man brought marijuana. The producer joked about coming back for his next production. There were laughs from some of the crew who hadn't been paid fully on the last one.
Then we slept in the same grand rooms we had used as our set. A sprawl of naked limbs heaped in piles of damp sheets and mattresses in front of the fireplace. Come morning, somnambulists exiled from the stage of a mesmerizer's paradise, we boarded lorries with the precious cases of footage and equipment, and descended the mountain switchbacks to the airstrip by the river. The DC3 was there, antiquated and empty, the Kid napping in the shade of the fueling shack.
Twelve of us got in, along with cases filled with equipment and lights. The engines coughed to life, then ran almost silently as the Kid checked his systems. Then he shoved both engines into full throttle. The roar in my rear seat was almost deafening.
The strip ran level alongside a still section of the river, and offered us a long lazy mile to get aloft. We lumbered into the air. The Kid shouted something to the assistant director who sat beside him up front. Patches of cloud swirled over the wings. The secret snows of the high peaks came into view. The dull roar of engines, silenced mystical looks that folded us into the roof of the world. The sensation of flight was surfing, where a wave is felt but not seen.
Then, as if according to plan, the right engine stopped. It seemed the Kid had done it on purpose. The emergency felt like an act of kindness. We almost said thank-you, for it was much quieter. We seemed blessed.
The Kid kid revved the throttle for his left engine and threw the plane into a descending bank. Loosing altitude the Kid pushed his one left engine hard, then something inside those cylinders blew noisily, sputtered and all was quiet.
We could hear each other, we could hear our thoughts.
It was all part of a plan. The quiet, peace and stillness, made the air rushing over the wings seem louder than our memory. We passed into a mist, then broke out, and saw the damp deep green of trees. More mist, enveloped by a soft blanket we could not imagine branch tops being a hard place to land.
I don't think anyone was afraid. All hearts were beating. The silent engines were just another interesting detail along the tour of life.
How far would we have to carry gear before we got to a road?
Across a section of forest where before there had been seats occupied by my producer, by Titanio, and the rest of the crew, I saw only ripped pieces of fuselage, sheared gumbo limbo trunks, and torn branches, midst a litter of shredded leaves.
I unfastened my seat belt, a formality amidst all these trees and flowers and raucous calls of toucans. My seat sat alone, by the open end of the tail, which had broken apart.
No part of the airplane was whole or entire.
Titanio a foot away from me, sat strapped into a collapsed seat his head toppled over. That muscular neck, looked slender and weak. He had no pulse.
Some bits of the wing, shreds of luggage, bits of seat.
A section of wing hung from the branch of a copal. Too hard, too dense. Nearby there were lightweight branches that could have slowed our fall, and broken our descent. But then there are the heavy hardwood trunks that stand like giants and won't be moved. Such was our luck.
My daze induced a kind of pragmatic functionality. I had energy, felt strong. Hours I looked for specific things, the director's notes, the producer's briefcase. It was easy to decide what to find, and take back. I imagined search parties would be out looking. I'd arrive at my hotel, "La Preciosa". I'd meet with the La Policia, make calls, stamp letters, package precious items to family members insured. The wreck would be found. I was optimistic.
I thought, "I'll make a list."
I located other sections of the plane. Rene the script woman was in one of the seats that had dropped from the branches. She seemed to be breathing. My hopes rose, suddenly I felt like weeping. She might live. She had lost a huge amount of blood from a nearly severed arm. But her breathing stopped. Her eyes glazed like a fish taken from water. My elation fell earthward, my heart went leaden.
I found the Nagra, undamaged. The producer's briefcase had his list of crew. I saw my own name and telephone number in his hand, in blue ink.
I wasn't seeing anymore. My eyes glossed over views of the jungle. I couldn’t tell a tree from a bit of wrecked seat. I saw machine parts, but no friends. The jungle reeked of engine oil and fuel. The leaves dripped gasoline. Was it gasoline or blood? A dozen yards on another engine lay mired. The tip of a propeller was painted red and pointed skyward.
I borrowed cash from my boss's pocket. It made me nervous to take his money. I'd use it to send belongings to parents, brothers and sisters. There was a notebook in Polish belonging to Titanio, a necklace from Rene, a ring, from the Second Assistant. There were wallets and purses and wedding rings. I made notes. I had no interest in any of it.
Fully loaded I set off but wondered if I'd be able to make it all the way to the capital.
October 9, 2010
Have you ever looked down at a sparkling city from a nearby mountain, and wondered, 'What alien landed here?'
How briefly has Earth hosted human life. We're such a rapid force of change on this planet that anyone intelligent viewing Earth from a distance would think an alien life form had taken over.
The alien invasion has begun. Human aliens have landed on the moon!
Semantic similarities between humans and non-resident aliens aside, there is no chance that there is not an alien life form already out and about, exploring our galactic neighborhood, Moreover it is highly probable that they will contact this planet fairly soon, as the ever increasing sphere of our radio signature races away from Earth - the edge of it is now some 100 light years away. Our transmissions have already reached a huge possible number of planetary systems. The earth is no longer quiet . . . our electromagnetic communications could easily have given us away to an interested race of extraterrestrials.
Aliens will come here, and we will most likely go elsewhere. Either advanced life forms like ourselves, or spores from fungi that we've liberated through a convenient set of thermonuclear explosions, will float about the galaxy, as representatives of Earth, little time capsules of highly adaptable DNA, that can survive extreme environments.
It matters not whether a spore, or a human being is the vector that carries the message. The key evolution of life on this planet is DNA. The main text of what we have to offer is in DNA, and it matters not whether it moves abroad as a plant, a person, or a mushroom.
Human evolution may only serve to carry a Noah's ark of DNA to another world. Once transported, our mission might be finished.
The spores could do it alone with just a single strand of DNA in a hardy protein coat, humans might do it in complex engineered environment similar to the International Space Station, only much larger, and self-sustainable.
What spores lack in technology they make up for with sophistication and numbers. In fact if the earth were to explode, or we humans were to cause it to explode, or if a massive comet or another planetary body collided with the earth, the only surviving life might be fungal spores (cf. Terrence McKenna on this). And indeed they would survive by the quadrillions, floating about deep space, impervious to vacuum, high heat, and near absolute zero temperatures.
A snippet of DNA is all that is necessary to populate a receptive medium, or change the genes of an already existing species. Modern agricultural 'gene therapy' snips and adds genes almost at will. Commercially grown roses, for years interbred for their color, size and appearance, have lost their sense of smell. Why? Well they no longer needed to produce an odor to attract insects to move their pollen around - they had humans doing the job for them. But now science has found an easy way to restore the scent of a rose to domesticated roses.
Now that I've gotten you to admit that Earthlings, whether human sized or spore sized, will possibly pollinate, colonize, infect, other planets, how can we know when this has happened to us?
A spore, of sorts, from another galaxy, could easily have landed here on earth, changing the fate of its inhabitants. You and I might already be infected!
Alien means 'strange' and once we get over our view of ourselves as 'normal' we will then admit that we are strange, not as highly evolved as we think we are, and probably overdue for a lesson on the existence of more advanced galactic brothers and sisters!
Mammals were probably viewed as alien by intelligent dinosaurs. Cro magnon was certainly seen as alien by Neanderthal (and vice-versa). Homo erectus in Europe and Asia, (the oldest skeletons are only tens of thousands of years old) were called elves, fairies, demons by our ancestors - these 'people' must have been thought of as alien indeed!
The most probable source of alien life on this planet will probably be ourselves. A giant shift in human DNA, will lead to the evolution of a new species, more advanced than we are, and one that the rest of us may view as alien.
By the time that population is recognized, described, and feared, it will be too late to stop it. Homo sapiens will go the way of the dinosaurs, eventually. Yet we may leave 'children'. Evolution continues!
Oh the planet will most likely last long enough . . . and we will most definitely experience a collapse in population at some point or another - that will historically be perceived as dramatic, but which might even take dozens of lifetimes. Out of that crippling environment might come our successor(s). Genetics favors it. We have the numbers to create a new species. The only scenario I think that would make this impossible would be all out nuclear war, or an extra-terrestrial body colliding with and destroying our planet, not likely but possible.
And it is always possible that the species that takes us out never came from here at all. This is the one scary scenario, but one we have to consider particularly if we live on, peaceably increasing our technological abilities, and, our ability to refine raw materials, as well as our ability to live amongst ourselves.
I should refine these points . . that is if a species does evolve from us, and survive, it is likely that many different variants will spring from us as well. We've populated the planet unlike any other large mammal. Looking back at evolutionary history, there are many other species that became numerous at different points in time. This is true of human ancestry as well. Many of those were not evolutionary dead-ends, but some like Homo erectus, were. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Humanevolutionchart.png )
A classic adaptive situation might be as follows: a nuclear winter descends on the planet, but one not so fierce as to eliminate all life. This creates a number of possible pathways to survival. Being able to live with less food is one, able to survive radioactive food is another (that might mean being able to procreate more rapidly and at a younger age), yet a third might involve being able to manipulate technology in a world of spare parts left by broken economies, and technological waste.
Similarly if no major crisis event hits us, we are certainly likely to continue to evolve physically, emotionally, and intellectually.
a) towards vegetarianism,
b) we'll become smaller physically, and use less energy.
c) we will continue to learn to exploit the sun's energy more efficiently and
d) we will probably learn to self-govern as a planet.
The alternative to 'c' is that we don't, and we already know the outcome of not learning to get along!
Assuming we do these things well, our lease on Planet Earth could be extended on for quite a long time! But in that event our piles of refined metals, may become too attractive for alien life forms to pass up.
Big towers when they fall, fall hardest. Same with stars. The big ones explode like flashbulbs in middles of their galaxies. . lighting everything around them. A star 27% larger than the sun can perish in a few weeks through a supernova collapse, and explosion. Little stars, such as our own, and smaller. . . live on, shriveling as they grow old. . . giving off less and less energy. White dwarfs are the old folk of galactic time, rocking away for billions of years, while the young hotshots grow big, wealthy, and then self destruct.
If a major crisis occurs, caused by man, or an outside force, cannibalism and vampires may indeed become a norm of survival for certain groups.
But think for a moment - vampirism has already started! Many of us give blood to others to restore their strength! Some of us fertilize 'in vitro' in to order to bear young. Our hospitals are labs for extracting bodily fluids and moving them along to those that need them more. These mechanisms might prove key to our future survival! Fluids and body parts are very share-able these days!
Paranoia's aside, if the cataclysmic scenario does play out what might an individual life witness of such a catastrophe?
Let's put it in perspective by asking how many people today remember Hiroshima? Not many.
How many are alive today that lived through the event? Even less. Most were elsewhere and barely noticed the clouds move. Those that were having their tea in Hiroshima's center went to their maker in a blinding translation of light and energy. Others suffered terribly no doubt, as they have from every war, and every catastrophe. No matter what the crisis, or how large the conflagration it might cause, an individual's trauma is limited in scope, and is essentially similar to living through an airplane crash or getting hit while crossing the street, or losing a close relation through a freak accident.
We spend a lot of time writing stories and worrying about future frightening events, but fail to realize that we are very limited in our individual abilities to experience them once and when they occur.
We have mythologized negative change, decrease, catastrophe and collapse, by envisaging these things as a rapid events, when in reality most are not, Environments, populations, systems, economies, and governments often take as long to come apart as they did to come together originally.
The decline of the Roman empire was not immediate. Czarist Russia is still at work through Putin! England still has a Queen and future heir, Communism lives on (in China and North Korea. The Catholic Church is losing its grip but is still very potent.
Myths, those bedrocks of beliefs that we hold to our chest like the fabric of creation itself, die very slowly.We hold projections of the future before ourselves like prayers, that we don't have to shift or change our myths, come what may.
We pray that love remains a potent force. We hope that democracy lives. We hope that good triumphs over evil.
Crisis on large social scale, is much slower than on an individual one, inexorably slow, just as the death of a star takes longer than the death of a tree. This means we often fail to notice the crises that are already well in progress.