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jueves, 20 de septiembre de 2012

Zen and the Art of Trail Maintenance - A blog entry for PLT by Rosemary Gamsa (part 2)

Here is the essence of The Zen of Trail-Clearance / Maintenance (using the term Zen very loosely, as I know little about it) and its most obvious effects: One experiences a sort of time-dilation in the physical action; the upswing, the core torsion, as the body twists, coiled and ready to unleash the optimum amount of force, at the optimum angle. There is beauty in this moment of stillness and balance as the machete reaches its zenith, and the trained eye judges precisely the thickness, solidity and elasticity of the target material. Will the blade deftly slice, scythe seamlessly, exert a blunt force trauma, bludgeon, smash, land like a professional executioner’s sword, or recoil sending a spray of red soil up into the eyes? The judgment is made in a split-second, the body shifts a degree this way or that, and the cutting edge arcs downward, whistling. The result is a satisfyingly severed root, a neatly spliced and knotted vine, or a stubborn thud as the unrelenting tangle of underbrush springs back, having moved but one millimeter. It is an art to not take the results personally, sometimes the easiest section of pre-cut path is the nastiest to clear. Neither can one rest on one’s laurels after a series of elegant and rapid-fire slashes. The fresh, leafy forest soon gives way to dry, head-high grasses; to bouncy and treacherous bamboo, full of rotten tubular beetle hotels and crawling with gentlemanly spiders, making off discreetly on their long legs. Myself, I like to picture them in tails and top hats, bumbling along to fetch the morning paper, it helps dispel any residual fear. All too frequently a devastatingly large ants’ nest is revealed, and one must scarper, leaping and hopping crudely from the scuttling legions, abandoning the persona of the intrepid explorer. As the weeks have gone by I have experimented with siphoning emotion into the clearing action, seeing if a particular image or thought process alters my effectiveness with the machete? So far, it seems that the most balletic work comes from a silent mind, or at least that unencumbered by words. Having no internal dialogue is a blessed state, and many of us will have been advised to practice this through mindfulness and meditation. Macheteing is an active form of meditation on some days (or it is until a situation arises, usually involving ants to break the calm) but on other days it is a sort of dance; partnered to a steel edge and a gracefully long wooden handle. A dance which the machete and the wielding party can move together, alternating tenderness and wild abandon, in an utterly secure grip. Visualize each debonair swing left and right; the bold advancing together into the tunnel of twisted branches and huge wet leaves; edging backwards from the falling of a suspended bamboo log, then swishing through the gentle confetti of dead leaves and caterpillars. Sidestep in a series of genteel foot and blade-tip taps to the ground; kick leaf litter aside joyously, recklessly; trample and jig on the loosened earth; launch a swaggering fling of kinetic energy up, up into the canopy; and finally repair to a quiet spot to ‘sharpen up’ on a rusty but stylish file. And all the while, be it a session of dancing, a cathartic smashing, or mindful contemplation, the soundtrack is provided by a plethora of tropical birds and insects, which are unpredictable, funny and eerie by turn. Then there is the difference in the debris concerned; if it is freshly cut, or old and gnarly. Like any psychological obstacle, the older and well-ignored ones are the real buggers to deal with. A newly sliced path gives way pleasingly, and fast, the soil underfoot is revealed bright red and silky. On the more neglected trails (or those too daunting to take on immediately) the hardening piles of dead matter seem to lock together like some form of torturous twining Tetris. It taunts and teases as the machete blade pings off, ricocheting at alarming angles. In and around the fallen trees, that must be crawled beneath, or hurdled over, a dense matting of mossy crust develops. This in turn attracts peculiar assemblages of fungi, caches of invertebrate eggs, alien larvae and ghostly, crystalline spiders. Glutinous slug-like caterpillars, equipped with toxic spines, wander aimlessly through the litter; clouds of butterflies descend to feed on sweat whilst gigantic crickets munch away at the nylon of one’s rucksack or ‘bug-proof’ clothing. More than once an hemipteran of disturbing appearance has crashed into my face and taken up residence in my hair. The very fabric of the forest is moves and seethes; look closely enough and lose all sense of time and scale. It feels sacrilegious to chop through such a wealth of organic, bustling strata, given that most of it is (to the layman) un-named and unknown… Please, botanists, entomologists and all experts in small wriggling indecipherable things, come here to Para La Tierra and tell us what they are! Of course, all this is all very well when the weather is fine; cool enough to be vigorous, and bothered not too much by mosquitos. When it is really baking and humid, the ability to slash and clear takes on a new level of dedication, and I admire those who function well in the heat. I am a temperate beast, and when most of the other volunteers are out sunbathing and volleyballing, I am usually hiding under a shrub, mumbling fondly about how nice and chilly the UK is at this time of year. However, on the torrentially rainy days, when thunder rolls in and the lake lights up with sheets of milky-blue lightning, we all sit under the porch and look longingly at our machetes. Or write long mellifluous monologues about the Zen of neo-tropical scrub-bashing. Everything here at Para La Tierra has the potential to be a valuable lesson; be it the replacing of irrational fears with realistic ones, the acceptance of proximity to ants, or the grass (and vegetables available for dinner) being markedly greener on the other side. I could happily wax lyrical about the challenges of moth-cataloguing, beetle-wrangling, or the gentle art of acquiring bedtime spider-tolerance, (or, and there’s a paper in here somewhere, ‘what drives the volunteers here to develop an unquenchable, passionate dependency on Game of Thrones?’) but it is all for another time. To sum up; come and try it for yourself; this adventure has done me a power of good. When I am back in Britain, plodding through tarmacked streets of dog poo and dog ends, under a washed-out, skyscraped horizon, I will yearn for the hum of mosquitos, the cool tongues of butterflies on my skin, and the singing of glittering machete steel at dawn. Rosemary Gamsa Para La Tierra Volunteer 2012

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