Until our footsteps
broke the trance, the old man’s heavy and weathered
hands busied themselves on his lap. Looking up from his
work, he flashed us a glance and a trickster grin as we
strolled past his small porch. We nodded in return. His
tired, worn hands and ropey arms told of nearly 80 years
of hardship. But his eyes and smile spoke of past pleasure
and genuine wisdom.
A look at the lines of his face and his home’s
sagging roofline indicated that he and the house had been
holed up here since the beginning, hanging on and squeaking
out an existence on the edge of heavy jungle.
After the brief greeting, his eyes and hands returned
to his work. The edge seemed to suit him fine. But we
had come for a look inside the jungle, which seemed to
be steadily creeping over a fence, into his yard, up tired
lumber and toward that old man’s stoop.
Upon first glance, the rope and wood of the swinging
bridge looked solid enough. A tentative step onto one
of the planks sent a shudder through the span, but the
expected crack and break never sounded. Step by gentle
step, the rope bridge ferried us across the small jungle
With this first crossing, the old man, our car, the office
and the world outside vanished and another door opened.
Heavy vines, unusual blooms in pinks, oranges and blues,
and a small stream bubbling over rounded black stones
took the place of asphalt, street lights and shopping
plazas. Dense jungle cover spread its reach over everything.
It clothed tree trunks, covered giant boulders and began
to exert an irresistible presence.
In the heart of this tangle, we stumbled upon the one
feature that had eluded the jungle’s grasp. Crafted
by Chinese hands more than a century earlier, water gently
rolled through a stone aqueduct, gravity easing its passage
downstream. The flume had been delicately carved by artisan’s
hands into the jungle to ship water to downstream sugar
cane fields. A testament to the hand of inspired men,
it was still functioning true to the task.
Likely as old as the aqueduct, the trail paralleled the
ancient waterway. The tunnels and twists of that flume
became our constant companions as the jungle swallowed
us. Strangely, this man-made structure helped ease the
intensity of our surroundings as it pointed upstream.
Soon, the gurgle of the flume was the only remotely human
sound in a scene where the buzz and chirp of insects and
birds dominated. Wind rustling through leaves and stalks
began to bring on the trance.
Following a third, rickety bridge crossing, we took a
sudden and surprising step into the dark. My companion’s
tense face and wide eyes revealed that she also sensed
something. The jungle had shifted, and an end had come
to this chance courtship. We no longer felt welcome. Turning
back was easy.
Our second trip by the porch and those weathered hands
went beyond casual nods. This time, the old man’s
trickster grin was joined by a hand beckoning us to join
Stepping onto the porch, we looked upon the product of
the man’s toils. He was carefully stringing Job’s
Tears, a native seed, into rosaries. Noticing our curiosity,
he immediately dispelled assumptions. The rosaries were
an easy path to dollars. He told us his belief was rooted
in something more immediate and then glanced over his
shoulder and into the jungle.
In a muddled dialect, the old man then told us of his
birth in this very house, hard years spent in the cane
fields, the passing of his wife and the never-ending circle
of change. His eyes turning back to the green depths,
he asked, “So, what did you find?”
We briefly told him of our crossing and the trip up the
aqueduct. We eventually explained the end of our trip
up the canyon and the decision to turn back. His face
grew grim, and he nodded a couple times. As if sensing
the unspoken, he remarked, “People have disrupted
He mentioned that his people have worshipped in the gorge
for generations. They gave praise, tasted the essence
of their surroundings and returned their dead to the earth
in that jungle. All in all, it had been a peaceable arrangement
until men with plunder on their minds crossed that bridge,
robbed the tombs and defiled the jungle.
“That spot is forever confused,” he told
us. “But the jungle is setting things straight.”
The man gave us a final grin before sitting back down,
gently stringing Job’s Tears, humming to himself
and dropping back into the light trance.
And I would guess that he’s stringing and humming
at this moment, feeling the slow creep of vines, tuning
into the trickle of the stream and patiently sitting in
that rocker. And as he strings those seeds, I would guess
that the jungle is busy, slowly setting things straight.