The jungle will humble you. Not two hundred yards from the mosquito net-covered bed where I lay my head is the entrance to, “La selva,” the rainforest. The morning begins around 5am with a concert of creatures making their presence known to the world. Birds, frogs, monkeys, and insects large enough to make a grown man shout (not that I speak from experience) are the Amazon’s alarm clock.
The family we stayed with that knows this forest as their home instructed us to enter the forest only after asking for permission. Take a leaf, blow on it or kiss it, ask for the forest’s blessing for your journey, and then enter. Wearing a bandana draped unfashionably over my ears and enough bug spray on to kill a small rodent, I took those first few steps with equal parts trepidation and awe.
This virgin rainforest (which is to say it’s never been cut down) is incredibly dense. So dense, in fact, that that I quickly had to adapt to the experience of hearing something but not being able to see it. The rustling of tree branches at first made me freeze and grip my machete. Jaguar? Puma? Tiger? Walk confidently… they can sense your fear…I can hear a voice in my head say. If that’s true, then I might be on the brunch menu today. As instructed, I tap my machete against the trunk of a tree every so often, just to let the many creatures that call this place home know I’m here. There’s only so much bravado I can put on as I step farther and farther into a foreign land full of suspicious sounds, but still, I continue on.
I point out the potential dangers of walking alone in “la selva” for a reason. The instant you enter the forest, it’s very clear you are in no position to think you are more important than or somehow “above” the laws of nature here. This is why a walk in the wild remote rainforest is so humbling.
But do we need to walk through virgin rainforest in order for us to see that we are very much a PART of nature and certainly not above it? Take the current level of human consciousness around trash that we create, for instance. Throwing an empty bottle or food wrapper on the ground may seem innocuous for much of the world, but to me it seems completely foreign. If we relate to the planet as our home, and recognize that the earth provides us with everything we need to live and more, how can we in our right minds trash that same land?
I believe this is a matter of education… of consciousness. Of a willingness to think about the bigger picture, about a world that is much larger than our individual selves. A willingness to contemplate the future for our kids and grandkids.
Almost a month here in Peru has shown me the full spectrum of consciousness on this issue. From watching a man finish a drink and simply just drop his empty bottle on the ground to a little girl that finished a juice box and walked over to throw it in my trash bag on Clean Planet Day, it’s clear that each person has their own level of awareness.
When we actually pause and consider the perspective that we are in a shared space here on this planet, our collective consciousness can begin to shift. The ancient Peruvian Quechua people revered mother earth, “Pachamama,” inclusive of all its creatures, and treated the land with reverence and respect. I believe it's possible to reach this next level of consciousness here in the 21st century. We're ready.
Personally, it’s not hard for me to relate to a jaguar with awe. The same goes for a frog with a “hoot” so deep and booming in the dark of night that it sounds like an owl. Every creature, from the tiniest ants that scamper up and down a tree to the hawk that soars overhead, is a being with its own awareness just like us.
No matter what we are or where we came from, take away some minor differences in the genetic DNA structure and we’re all cut from the same cloth. As astrophysicist Carl Sagan said, we are all “star stuff.” Here together on this pale blue dot for a short period time. May we live and respect the creatures here with us as the miracles of life they are, just like us.
Actions to Consider: We invite you to look where you are inspired to participate:
· Join a local cleanup
· Learn about a particular animal or place that fascinates you
· Stop patronizing companies whose actions you don’t approve of
· Take a walk in a quiet nature space without distractions and look for life. Allow yourself to explore as if you were a kid again
· Research your state’s politicians’ stances and voting records on the environment
· Write a letter
· Support CleanPlanet or any other organization with a donation (For Clean Planet donations, please visit our Donate page)
· Reflect on where in your life you may be able to consume less; how can you use your ingenuity to get creative with your consumption?