Who Can? Toucan.

I arrived home late last night exhausted and slightly giddy. It seems appropriate, given the latter point, that I thought (for the first time in a solid five years) about the toucan. I was in Brasil, and my group had an exploration day of sorts, which we spent hiking and exploring around a nature preserve outside of Brasilia. Mostly when I think about that day, I remember the waterfalls. They were quite beautiful, and the one was especially high--the daredevil in our midst quickly found an elevation from which to jump down into the pool below, and for those who had tired of the jump, we were able to swim under the torrent into the caverns behind (but dared not put our feet down, lest the razor sharp rocks below the surface should slice them to ribbons).

If I pause to tug at the memory a bit, other things come forward. One of the first pools we came to had leeches in it, much to the chagrin of the individuals who decided to wade into it. And there were these blood red carnivorous plants. I think I still have a picture of them somewhere (I could check, but I like the way uncertainty tastes). They were the most oddly sinister things you've ever seen, like an evolutionary mirror of a praying mantis, which looks like a plant but is an insect, while these behaved like insects, but were plants. Obviously their prey were nothing human-sized, but I still had the uncomfortable sensation that if they just grew a little bigger and spread out a bit to cover a greater ground area, they would probably not hesitate to digest larger things. And, appropriately, they would probably look rather like a pool of blood. Let us just say that if one were to poop in the woods, they would not be the best lining for your makeshift toilet. (I'm well aware that they're unlikely to do any injury whatsoever to a person, but the role of imagination is, among other things, to appreciate the absurdity of what is real.)

And then there was the toucan. Toucans really are strange looking. That kind of beak to body ratio could hardly fail to render them absurd. This particular toucan was probably part of the rehabilitation program that occurred at the preserve, since I never saw it fly, but then, I know very little about the habits of toucans as a species, having only met the one. He was a relatively social creature, waddling up to join us before we embarked on our hike, but if he liked us, he had an oddly aggressive way of showing it. A few of us had paused and were standing in a circle, and in his incredibly small brain the toucan generated the notion that he should go from person to person attempting to bite their feet.

I hope you can appreciate just how silly this looked. Just imagine a 6' tall person assiduously avoiding a spider, and you have the right idea. Of course, a toucan's beak is enormous (obviously--remember that beak to body ratio), so you probably don't want one to chomp down on your toes, assuming that it has any amount of jaw strength (It might not. I'm quite vague on the anatomy here.). And having once been nipped on the shoulder by an ostrich at Lake Tobias, I have a healthy disinclination to anger large, beaky birds. But it was still amusing to watch otherwise fearless individuals avoiding a stumpy, waddling bird.

Experiences are rarely memorable for the bare content of what occurred. I can tell you in a sincerely bored tone of voice that I have been to Peru, Guatemala, Switzerland, and so on. Where I have been is not terribly important to me, except perhaps in a game of Never Have I Ever. This is not to say that I found any of my travels boring. It is simply an observation about the nature of memory and of stories: that the things that create interest, that make those experiences valuable to us, are often in the things that we, as necessarily selective rememberers, are most prone to forget.

I remember walking along the River Cam through the Grantchester Meadows to the Orchard on a chilly afternoon in early spring, watching in utter disbelief as a group of doughty adventurers made the upriver swim. Or on another afternoon jaunt with Leah, we passed by the skating field and listened to the rusty gate squawk of pheasants, for whom Leah expressed a deep distaste. In the seemingly enormous scope of the six months that I spent in Cambridge, those moments become vanishingly small and difficult to see, and yet they are the justification lying in the dusty corner of my mind for the typically unsubstantiated statement that I had a life-changing, wonderful time there. Of course I did. Nobody ever asks why. Well, that's why.

Being fully present in the moment has left me open to remembering those devilish details. It is a becoming soft: like wax or clay, open to the impression of a million tiny perceptions pricking painfully at your senses to produce a joyful chorus: "You are alive! You are alive!"

As usual, I have no idea how to conclude this. So I offer only a parting thought:

Efficiency says that if you can make one journey instead of two, then you should only make the one to conserve time and energy. Adventure says that if you can make two journeys instead of one, you should make two, because the world and you in that world will have changed in the time between the first and the second.

No comments:

Post a Comment