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Stared at the Pacific
7 December 04
We have come here on the way to being far away together, and cheerfully confused, and beyond the reach of our usual things, including perhaps ourselves. We have come hoping that our honeymoon, like our wedding, will tell us another story of ourselves beginning. The guide books tell you to get out of this city, but there's a difference between seeing what you thought you came to see and seeing what you actually saw while you were looking.
This is a place, and stories collect anywhere we stand still long enough.
We are in a valley Coronado walked through, in a country on whose Atlantic coast Columbus landed, not yet knowing where he wasn't. It is fair to say that we don't yet know where we aren't, either.
But in the end people have come here like they have come most places.
We are conspicuously foreign, but hardly alone.
Half the world dreams of what could be built,
half dreams of what we can keep from falling apart,
and half of the stories are sold from one to the other.
But in part we are here to be allowed to see the same things differently,
to be apart from what we would otherwise implicate ourselves in,
and framed where we wouldn't otherwise appear.
The night of our arrival the country is bounced around for almost a minute by the largest earthquake here in more than a decade. We are torn between being chastened for our complacency, and feeling smug that on the first night of our honeymoon the earth literally moved.
In the morning, though, not much appears to have been lost or revised, and in a foreign language it's hard to tell the difference between the new stories and the retellings of the ones you already know.
But there are scattered tokens of distance
amidst what we have brought with us, now or ago,
and if we have paid to be here, we are hardly the only ones for whom shopping can be prayer.
Gold is always easy, but you do what you have to to preserve frankincense and myrrh in other climates.
We have tracked Darwin into the tropics, though, not Balboa or Cortez. We are here to see monsters and angels,
and to be enclosed in life.
We are here to see a country that coffee and tourism have saved, and coffee and tourism and tectonics would destroy,
in the brief, still-ripening moments between.
We have come prepared,
as you must be,
to stand where monumental wonder would be,
admiring its absence. There is a volcano in this cloud, supposedly.
But we find something else to see,
or each other.
This cloud has a volcano in it, too, we have been assured. On the good days, the difference between absence and awe
is only patience.
There are holes in the world,
and some of our air and earth are its blood escaping,
and we usually feel safer, but rarely are.
But cities and buses and volcanos are only the margins of this adventure. We are really here because there are still a few gaps in the forests that you can slip through,
and so be away,
and away,
and away.
There is still space to stand and see what light touches first,
and releases last.
We think we have come to see animals, of course, and we are not entirely wrong. But everybody thinks they want to see animals, and the animals have their own rules for being seen. Never mind the versions in brochures and nature magazines, this is what a three-toed sloth actually looks like in person: some fur, stuck in a tree. Eventually one of its arms might move. Or your camera might run out of batteries.
Coati are somewhat easier,
and toucans are practically friendly, but after a while you will realize that taking pictures of them
is less satisfying than just watching.
No matter how cleverly you conceal yourself,
they know you're there, and maybe a longer zoom lens could change that, but maybe it shouldn't.
This is not at all a picture of what it was like to have a capuchin monkey eating bananas twenty feet from our porch.
This is not a picture of what angels look like flitting in and out of our mortal world.
And so we learn to point the cameras at things they see better than we do,
creatures that may be revealed in flashes
or moments,
breathing in water
or furling in air.
The journey that is new to you, they have made times upon times,
and if you are deserving, they will beckon you,
and point the ways.
Theirs are different forests,
and other industries,
and other histories of cultivation and conquest,
and their monsters may be merciless,
but at least they aren't insincere.
They live infinite lives of incomprehensible beauty beneath every surface that surrounds us,
and then one day have gone.
We have ways to follow them
into empty spaces
and emptying light,
but there's never any mistaking where we've been.
Paradise awaits, but does not attend.
At most, where we walk gently,
we are tolerated,
and allowed to witness.
Clumsily, we poke lights into darkness,
and carve gardens out of jungles,
and make a few astonishing places for pretending to be where we aren't, hoping that they are worth more to us in renewal than they bleed from the forest with metal and hum.
If our stories always end up being about ourselves,
let's hope there is at least some small humility in worship and retreat.
And as we return to the sky,
and leave what's left of another place we were lucky ever to sort of see,
we count on our fingers the ones that remain. We have told ourselves stories of ending, and of survival against ending, maybe, not so much of beginning. We have stared at the Pacific, and looked at each other silent, but I'm not sure what we've surmised. These places were here long before we came.
But then, we didn't seek to be reborn, or to presume to discover, only to be alive together in some way that changes us. We aspire to survive with more grace, or deeper awareness, or maybe just less encumbrance or delusion. We have come to experience something, together, that neither of us have apart. And whatever we can't be sure we've gained or lost,
at least we know that it hurts to leave.
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