Sunday, April 26, 2009

Paradise Lust: An Eco-Friendly Journey Into the Heart of the Amazon - Chapter Four

Chapter Four: The Ten-Year-Old’s Tale

A cat looks down on man, a dog looks up to man, but a pig will look a man right in the eye and see his equal. Winston Churchill said that. If our new pig had looked us in the eye after we’d been stumbling through the rainforest for several days, the pig would have been right on the money. We were a sight! But I, for one, was glad to have him among us. Just looking at him brought a smile to my face.

That might have been due to my unrelenting hunger.

“Why don’t we eat him?” I asked.

Others agreed and we probably would have eaten our little friend, but we didn’t have so much as a knife or a fork or even a pointed stick among us.

“Maybe we could just chew on him a little …” I suggested hopefully.

In the end, we simply gave him a name and accepted him as a junior member of our band. Timmy, our ten-year-old from New Hampshire, christened him “Luau.” I thought that fitting, and vowed silently to make the ironic name come to pass at the earliest opportunity.

We all took our packs and strapped them to the pig’s back with some Bungee cords I had thought to bring. By the time we had our gear stacked high on the hog, he looked like a little pink dromedary all decked out for a long march across the land of the Pharaohs.

Oink-a! he said happily.

“l%k @ him!” Timmy laughed. “w@ a funE lukin :@) hes.”

“What?” asked the Pole Cat.

“I think he said ‘Oil can,’” I said.

“Look at him! What a funny looking pig he is.” Smith-Christie translated for me, sotto voce.

“You can’t talk in pictographs! How can — never mind.”

Kids today spend far too much time on social networking sites and texting each other. I doubt Timmy had had a face-to-face conversation with another person since he learned to type. Even when he spoke, his thumbs moved. Resistance is futile.

At any rate, we all — three Americans, our native guide, Pepe, and a loaded pig — resumed our journey to the heart of the Amazon where we had each saved a few square feet of rainforest with our own (Lil) Green Patches on Facebook. It was slow going at first, but the pig found three truffles before we had gone fifty feet. I would love to have eaten one myself, but I’m allergic to chocolate.


My stomach sounded like a garbage truck emptying a dumpster. Grrrr-rrrr-rrrr … wham-wham-wham … grrrr-rrrr-rrrr. It stopped just short of beeping when it was finished. I was so hungry, I could eat a … a … really, I couldn’t think of anything unpleasant I hadn’t already eaten since I got off the plane in Saint San-Don Pueblo in what seemed like another life.

“Dude! I’m a lil hngry 2,” Timmy said.

A few minutes later, Pepe signaled us to stop.

“Lunch!” he whispered, pointing up ahead.

About ten feet in front of us was an anteater, diligently engaged in evicting ants from their homes and relocating them into his greedy snout.

“We’re going to eat an anteater?” I was incredulous. Then my stomach made a noise like a jailbird rattling a tin cup up and down my rib cage. Anteater it is.

“No, Meester Bob. Not ahnt-eeter! Ahnt-eeter ees too streengy.” He rushed at the anteater and shooed it away with an abrupt shout. “Look! We eat dee ahnts.”

We fell upon the ants with a reckless abandon. If there had been a camera among us, there would have been a video montage of anteating.

We grabbed ants hand over fist, stuffing them in our mouths, then licking them off our fingers like cookie dough, laughing. We grabbed ants and threw them in the air, catching them on our tongues like snowflakes, laughing. We threw handfuls of ants at each other in mock snowball fights, laughing. Occasionally, the video would have cut to Pepe standing to the side of the fracas, laughing.

“Hu wd av thort ants wr so tasty?” Timmy looked right where the camera would have been in what would have been the money shot, laughing.


The thing about ants is that they are not very filling. By the time we were satisfied, it was too dark to continue.

“I can sing! To pass the time, I mean,” said Smith-Christie. “I know both kinds of songs — Woody and Arlo. Did anybody bring a guitar?” We all looked off in different directions silently shouting to one another, “Don’t encourage her!”

“Meester Teemy,” Pepe said to break the silence, “How deed jew come to be here?” He winked at us as we all sat back patting our ant-filled bellies contentedly.

“OK. IL tel yall bout me,” he began, “Uno my parNts wr poor. N deffo nt d sharpest knifs n d drwr.”

He went on in the same incomprehensible manner, but here I relate the story as interpreted by Christy Smith-Christie.

“My family has always been in syrup,” Timmy told us. “My great-grandpa was one of the wealthiest molasses moguls in Boston. His molasses was eaten by the well-to-do and common folk alike. His molasses was praised by President McKinley and the crowned heads of Europe. By the turn of the 20th century, there wasn’t a country biscuit or an upper crust that wasn’t dripping with my great-grandpa’s molasses.”

Wham! My stomach again.

“He was quite prosperous already, but during the War Against the Hun he began producing molasses for munitions. His profits rose ten-fold. After the Armistice was signed and with Prohibition looming on the horizon, he ramped up production again. He was on the verge of becoming the richest man in America. Richer than Carnegie, but not nearly so generous.”

“Then, one afternoon,” he continued, “his fortune was wrenched away in a heartbeat in the Great Molasses Flood of 1919. Twenty-one people were killed and hundreds more were injured as an industrial accident sent an eight-foot wave of molasses running through the streets of Boston in what must have been the slowest disaster in history. Public sentiment turned against molasses overnight. My great-grandpa was forced out of the business, but he still had to make good on the contracts he had with the bootleggers. He lost everything.”

The Pole Cat made a sympathetic tsk-tsk-tsk noise.

“He left Boston for New England where he eked out a living tapping trees for maple syrup, an occupation taken up by my grandfather and my parents in turn.”

He sighed mournfully.

“Unfortunately, neither of my parents had ever studied botany, so they were at a marked disadvantage when compared to their competition. They were as likely to tap a pine as a maple; they’d go after any old tree — without rhyme or resin. I was in second grade before I knew that none of the other kids ate turpentine on their waffles!”

My stomach made a sound like a lone wolf baying at a MoonPie.

“The business looked like it might actually turn a profit one year when some local artists learned that some of my family’s syrup made a pretty decent paint thinner. Then my mother heard someone say that ‘Fir Kills’ and they stopped making it.”

The pig went to Timmy and began to nuzzle him gently.

“I’m next in line. The business goes to me next. But you can’t make any money in maple syrup. Not anymore. Pharmaceuticals. That’s where the money is. And there are plenty of undiscovered trees in the Amazon with medicinal uses. So, I saved 100 square feet of rainforest …”

I knew the kid spent too much time on Facebook.

“… and I’ve come here to see just what kind of medicinal trees are growing there. If fate is kind, I’ll be able to tap a tree for cough syrup and reverse my family’s luck.”

“D Nd,” he finished.

It had been a hard day for all of us. We all turned in, lost in our own thoughts. I drifted off to sleep rubbing the pig briskly, hoping the friction would somehow conjure the smell of bacon.

Poor Timmy. I felt bad for the kid. I hoped everything would work out for him.

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