View from the Pier
Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom.
If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.
- Charlie Parker, 1920-1955
This photograph was taken at the Lodge at Chaa Creek in the Belizean jungle of Central America. This trip was a departure for me in more ways than one. While travel had long been a passion, my explorations had been confined to locales within a certain comfort zone. That zone encompassed foreign languages, exotic cuisine, and unfamiliar customs, but it had not yet been broadened to include a rainforest ecosystem. The introduction was long overdue. I am not sure that I have ever been anywhere so lush, alive and vibrant-and at the same time, so peaceful and humbling.
This hand-carved figure was one of the first images I captured after we arrived at the resort. Ravenous, we immediately headed for the dining room for sustenance to power our afternoon of exploration. Under the open-air restaurant’s vaulted ceiling of thatched palm, we sat at a cozy table laid in white linen, with this enchanting angel looking down on us. We viewed her presence as an auspicious sign-and were proved more than right. Our only complaint was that we had not allowed ourselves enough time in this heavenly jungle.
Over the course of the next couple of days we counted one new adventure after another. We witnessed each stage of a “Belizean Blue” butterfly’s life-from egg, to caterpillar, then pupa, before spreading its wings. Far from simply viewing a sterile science exhibit documenting this marvel of nature, our education was experiential. In a large, screened-in space, we held a delicate pale green pupa and stood amidst widespread fluttering of translucent azure wings, as scores of the species wafted through the air, unpredictably darting here and then there. Who knew insects could be so fun?
We paid respects at several Maya ruin sites, including nearby Xunantunich, or Stone Woman, which is reached by crossing the Mopan River on a small ferry. We saw a woman with coiled braids up to her waist in the flowing current. Her horse patiently grazed on the grassy banks while she washed brightly-colored clothes on river rocks. Reaching the other side, we were greeted by a small boy who offered us a piece of slate carved with an elaborate depiction of a kneeling woman, identified in the inscription as the moon goddess Ixchel.
A heavy mist shrouded the Classic Period site, so we were unable to appreciate what we were told is an impressive view of the entire river valley from “El Castillo.” A pyramid that rises 130 feet above plaza level, El Castillo is one of the tallest buildings in Belize. We could, however, examine its frieze, a band of stucco decoration that had at one time extended around the entire temple, believed to have been carved between 300 – 900 A.D. Since 1892, tales have circulated of appearances by a ghost of a white-garbed woman with fire-red eyes ascending its stairs. In the still, humid air, it was just as easy for me to imagine an entire humming community at work and play and prayer here, all those lifetimes ago.
We meandered along the Lodge’s rain forest medicine trail on the Macal River, shielding our eyes from slits of sunlight seeping through the profusion of verdant vegetation. Our Mestizo guide pointed out the healing-and poisonous-plants proliferating, among which were species that store drinking water, treat diabetes and serve as birth control. Our excursion was set to a symphony of calls and songs by some of the more than 300 species of birds that make this jungle home, such as the Keel-billed Toucan, Blue-crowned Mot-Mot and Black-headed Trogon as well as numerous kinds of parrots.
Influential jazz saxophonist and Beat generation icon Charlie Parker, quoted above, acquired the nickname “Yardbird” early in his career. The shortened “Bird” remained his sobriquet, inspiring titles of a number of his compositions, such as “Birdfeathers,” “Yardbird Suite” and “Ornithology.” He was a pioneer of the bebop style of playing and the epitome of jazz musician as an uncompromising artist. Shortly after Parker died, graffiti began appearing around New York with the words “Bird Lives.”
Chaa Creek’s owners Mick and Lucy Fleming are icons in their own realm, as eco-tourism pioneers. The two went to Belize in the late 1970s, meeting the owner of what is now their 140-acre preserve in a Belize City bar room. They moved to the remote “back-a-bush” site and began growing vegetables, which they carted by dugout canoe to the market in San Ignacio Town, much as the Maya had done 1,000 years before. In a September “Peer to Pier” interview on this site (http://www.viewfromthepier.com/peertopier/lucyfleming/), Lucy sings the praises of those early days, saying “Our machetes cut paths in unaccustomed hands to hilltop vistas that could see the winding river Macal. New discoveries followed every twisting trail and the birds welcomed us with the curious chatter of new neighbors.”
And with my journey to Chaa Creek, my repertoire had been expanded, and I too can now sing a jungle song, through my instruments of camera and keyboard.