furia furialog · Every Noise at Once · New Particles · The War Against Silence · Aedliga (songs) · photography · other things
I trust this finds you all well, and I'm flattered and humbled that so many of you were so quick to not respond when I asked if anybody wanted to not know how the trip went. I like to think that in essence we are ambassadors and scientists at once, and you are our patrons in everything but the monetary and emotional and canonical senses.  

I hope none of you will be offended by this format, but as you well know if you've traveled abroad in the past few years, the cost of importing envelopes has become simply prohibitive. I set my camera to its highest optimization before we left, so hopefully even with so many pictures the page will only be a little bit slow to load, and I truly believe you'll agree that it's worth a few minutes of modem squawk to get a direct secondhand glimpse of what most of us have only ever read about seeing in book reviews excerpted on radio programmes.  

This, obviously, is what we have traveled so far to see, and we are dumbfounded by our great luck in spotting such an archetypal example on our very first day of searching, almost within the first hour. Clearly this is not as large as they come (for scale, the penguin visible in the upper left is about four inches tall, and 250 yards upwind), but the thrill of encountering one in person, in the wild, is obviously qualitative, not quantitative. We wished all of you could have been there, although there would only have been room for one more on the way out, and two on the way back.  

We tracked it for almost an eighth of an hour, but eventually we were driven back into the helicopter by the mosquitos and locusts and bears. Locusts smell terrible. They don't tell you that in the guide books. I guess if they did, nobody would come. Anyway, here Enrico and Ivanzo are comparing scalp wounds. They all look appalling at this altitude, of course, but in the end the only one that even required prayer is the sort of Datsun-shaped one on Enrico's left arm. His left arm, I mean, which you can just see below us on the ground as we hover trying to hear what he's yelling up to us. It's hard enough to understand their language without the bears.  

The ecological situation in the entire basin is dire almost beyond ellipsis. When Perry and Walters were here just two weeks ago, we would not have been able to see the delta at all from this angle. Today it lies almost half a mile below sea level. It's hard to stay silent, much less unscented. Confronted with this much depreciation it's almost impossible to believe that geotaxic problems are really caused by anthropedogogical errors of scale. This is a failure of culture, not of infraculture, and you can't just come here and presume to fix what is broken. We tried that in the Vanjj and the Oyulta and Costa Azulpelo, and this time we've promised not to repeat our mistakes twice. So we still write the letters, as our conscience demands, but we mail them only to ourselves, at a rural post office so small that three of them fit into a building that used to be mosque, and then a Fotomat, and then the National Museum of Ministries.  

How fittingly ironic, then, that the defining moment of the trip would hardly be about zoography at all. After all the miles, and all the hours with tweezers and echinacea, it's not until we are back on the mainland sitting comfortably in a local theme-pub, surrounded by gleaming lucite and lavender thrushes, that the true significance of what we've seen begins to rise back up my throat. Like only an elite few before us, we have gone on a journey to the edge of despair and we have brought it back with us alive. Surely any of you would have done the same in our place, and yet just as surely, sometimes when it's amazing a thing is done at all, you have to do it yourself.  

All too soon, though, it is time to go. We've made lifelong friends, some of them our lives and some of them theirs, and one or the other of us will never forget. This enchanted country has touched us, somewhere deep inside, possibly our RNA, although we won't know for certain until we can get home and have the tests done. But as so many members of the government take a moment from checking their parachutes to smile at us and wish us well just before the plane reaches international airspace, I feel like we have accomplished something after all. Our therapists didn't believe us then, and they probably won't take us on again now, but I think we've had the last word. I write it on a scrap of inflight magazine, and let the thin, sighing wind carry it out the door and away.
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