Ones Journey and Jungle Song by Linda O’Doherty: A contribution to Phoenix Mythology. Engage the Power of Myth and share a Phoenix Myth of your own creation with us and the world.
There once was One in a far away land who was the rightful creator and owner of all to see and far beyond. But this One was not One without its magical gifts, and these were lost on Ones journey throughout the lands of far away. Firstly, Ones Wand; a glowing stick of abstract matter for abstract purpose was buried in the mud of mundane matter. One’s shiny coin I’m sad to say, was misted and fogged by the gloomy weathers of confusion and delusion. The sharp-edged sword that once could cut a steady path, was blunted upon the rocks of Gullible the Great, and finally the gem-encrusted goblet, once filled with sweet elixir, was drained and carelessly discarded.
And so our One, with gifts so blithely scattered, paused and reconnoitred. What could a One without ones gifts become? And so, despondent but determined, One went upon a backward trip to see if it could find the priceless artefacts discarded.
And deep within the woods of far away, our One encountered ones that could assist. A babeling first appeared and was afraid. ‘What do you One in these deep woods; to venture forth without your tools, for surely you must know of monstrous fear out here and far?’ and so our One replied, ‘Indeed I am aware and not, for I need thou upon my quest and we together seek what’s lost.’ And the babeling did agree that it should offer what it could, and did procure a simple branch to wave at shadows and the like.
And so they journeyed on and found a youngling by and by. This one was full of questions, and also was afraid. ‘Do you not see the spectres spooking darkly yonder hill? Where be your destination, when thou art so unprepared?’ And our One replied, ‘I seek the tools I lost that I may venture unencumbered, and would that you would help me on my quest.’ And the youngling did agree that it should offer what it could, and thus delivered forth a shiny rock to spook the spooks that spooked them.
And further down the way our three did meet a youthling. This one was fearful also, and yet as well quite bold. ‘What do you in the place of Dragons, so sorely unadorned with shining armour?’
And our One did thus reply, ‘I seek the gifts I left behind and pray that thee may join me on my quest.’ And the youthling did agree to join the treck, and brought along a sharpened stick to ward away such Dragons as may-haps they encounter.
And such by chance they came across a flowing stream, and dipped them all a hollowed wood into the crystal waters, thereby to quench their thirst. And magic is as magic be, as pass’d they ‘round the wooden bowl there was a sacred light ensued that touched them One and all. Each humble implement ‘twas brought was turned into a sacred gift; of branch to wand and stone to coin and stick to sword. And in Ones very hands did form a priceless cup of jewels and gold, that as One drank in measured gulps a glorious nectar did transform in ways ‘twas most profound.
And suddenly and endlessly One was at once alone. And All was One.
I gaze idly at a darkening vista. Waiting. Early evening stars have been flung haphazardly above us and a full moon has just begun to rise. It casts off a pale yellow cloak in the warmth of the jungle sky. Kerosene lanterns are spaced regularly along the path. We follow them now as they guide our passage down a rickety walk-way to the pontoon. There our canoe waits, bobbing in the murky Amazon waters. The dugout will hold seventeen if we sit close.
Our anticipation is tangible. It wafts around between us, animates our little group and makes us fidget and giggle. Our little group… a motley assortment of characters with not much more in common than the keen sense of adventure and the journey that lured us all here.
Christine and I step into the boat first and Victor stands on the pontoon, ready to hand us in. Christine’s from Darwin. Tall and lanky with cropped dark hair and a crazy raucous laugh like a galah. Infectious. I stumble in the shadows cast by the lanterns, and she grabs my sleeve and cackles.
“Hey watch it, Charlie. You’re a bit over-dressed for a swim, eh?”
I just grin.
The canoe rocks precariously as we step aboard and Victor steadies us. His grip is strong and firm. Victor is our tour-guide, short and stocky with a broad, smooth olive-skinned face – serious, until we tickle him with our foreigner’s antics. Then he smiles, his big white teeth freed suddenly in an open-mouthed grin. His eyes flash and laugh at us, mischievous and wry. We’ve made it an unspoken challenge between us to elicit that smile as often as possible. I think he knows. He teases us - holds out deliberately until he can’t resist it anymore and his grin bursts forth, delighting us.
Now we’re all loaded in the dugout our oarsman sets off. His paddle dips rhythmically, silently into the muddy water. He journeys upstream. We are quiet for a while. Absorbed in our own thoughts. Melissa breaks the silence then, offering her bottle of red to Oran who sits opposite. The celebratory wine is passed around the boat. We sip or swig according to our preference and the bottle is soon drained. She doesn’t seem to mind. Melissa seems pretty easy-going. An army girl from Oz. Wasn’t sure if she should’ve brought her gun along, she’d told us. I’d laughed. I’d imagined her shooting at tarantulas and snakes, and anything that moved a bit too quickly, for that matter. Scary thought. I’m glad she’d left the gun at home.
Tristan has brought along a bottle of the local brew, which he also passes around. Seven Roots - a medicinal beverage, mildly alcoholic, supposedly aphrodisiac and faintly licorice, reminiscent of a vile-tasting cough mixture my mother once plied me with in childhood. Our sampling is cautionary and the bottle is returned to Tristan without its level changing much. Several members of our party have already experienced the unpleasant gastrointestinal consequences of over-indulgence.
“Hey Tristan, tryin’ t’ pawn the stuff off mate?” Melissa gibes at him from the other end of the boat.
“yep!” He screws up his face, then places the bottle at his feet without taking a swig himself.
Tristan’s another Australian. A man of few words. He entertains us some evenings, strumming on his guitar and singing.
Erin asks if anyone minds if she has a swim. I fumble for her meaning until I realize she intends to swim naked. No-one complains. She strips off her light cotton dress in one fluid movement and dives gracefully over the edge of the canoe, rocking us lightly. She floats around for a while, her pale beaming face lit up by the moon - an elfin, watery goddess. I silently salute her ethereal beauty. I’m also impressed by her blithe disregard for the piranhas she swims with.
“No Problem,” Victor tells us. “Forget about Hollywood movies with piranhas. They don’t bother you. But better not swim if you have a cut or something. And crocodiles. Well, we have a species here. They are called Caiman. Do you know them?”
“What about the Caimans, Victor. Don’t they bite?”
“You don’t have to worry about the Caimans.” Victor grins, flashing his big white teeth. He is baiting me, I know. He doesn’t elaborate, so I take the hook…
“Why not, Victor?” I grin back at him, enjoying myself immensely.
“Because we’ve eaten them all! Well, most of them. They taste really good. Piranha, too!” His smile is devilish.
Erin is ready to climb aboard from the stern. The oars-man moves forward in the boat so that Sidney and Richard can hoist her in. She does her best not to drip on anyone as she finds her seat.
“How was the water?” Melissa leans forward, looking over at Erin.
“It was magnificent!” Erin stands slightly as she tries to wriggle her wet body into her dress. Melissa helps her, giving a few deft tugs.
The oarsman resumes our journey. Victor sits at the helm gazing out to the far bank, always alert to point out to us some new feature of his domain. His warm casual tone at these times betrays his feelings. He loves the Amazon and revels in sharing it with us. That’s what impresses me about Victor, his quiet generosity. Like his people. Victor is the Grandson of the Bora people’s Shaman-Chief. We visited their village last week. They sang and danced to the primal pounding of drums. Then they pulled us all up to dance with them, hand in hand in long trailing lines. The Chief’s first-wife danced on my right. When we’d finished she released my hand then turned and hugged me. Her weathered old face was brown and roundly segmented like a walnut. She grinned, warm and toothless.
“They don’t live in the traditional way anymore,” Victor told us.
No. Now they sell necklaces and other trinkets to tourists like us. I wonder how Victor makes sense of life, standing with each foot in a different world. Does he judge us? Does he judge his people? Does he just take it all for granted? I wonder.
The full moon has risen now, hovering brightly amongst a scattering of blinking stars. I wonder about the mystique such scenes of nature inspire in people’s imaginations.
“Tell us a story, Victor. Is there a legend about the moon?” I look up at him expectantly as he stands at the helm of our canoe. He glances in my direction briefly then shifts his gaze to the moon. He murmurs several times in the back of his throat as if questioning and answering, formulating a response. Finally, he reaches some conclusion and he turns back to me.
“A story about the moon… Yeah. No problem. Do you see those dark patches? I will tell you about it.” Victor rubs his chin in a comic pose of thoughtfulness. He gazes upwards again then raises his right hand dramatically in a cupping gesture, as if he could hold the bright disk in his palm.
“The village people believe…” Victor lowers his arm and pauses while he looks around our little group. He satisfies himself that everyone is attentive and then continues: “When a girl turns fifteen, it is a very special time for her. The village has a big celebration. They prepare for many weeks, gathering food for the fiesta and many, many cocoa leaves. When the people chew these leaves, it gives them energy and power. They hold a certain type of stone in their mouths, and this creates a chemical reaction. It releases enzymes from the leaves and produces this special effect. A man can journey many, many days with no food or drink and he won’t get tired. This is very useful. The villagers will chew cocoa leaves and will celebrate for several days and nights, dancing and singing without tiring. This is a very special time. An important fiesta.”
Victor weaves his spell and we are hooked. He is a natural story-teller. He clears his throat and continues: “The young girl – the Chief’s daughter, told her mother and father about her problem. In the night a man would always visit her… in her bed.” Victor peers intently at us, enquiringly. We nod, assuring him that we understand his meaning. Satisfied, he continues: “After hearing her problem, the girl’s father advised her: ‘Next evening before he visits you, take the juice of this special fruit (the junipus-americana) and squeeze it into your hands. When he comes to you again, touch his face. The juice of this fruit will stain his face black, and then we will know who it is that visits you.’ And the young girl did as her father advised.”
Victor’s knowledge of the flora and fauna of the area is impressive and he appears to know all the botanical names. He’s wearing a UCLA tee-shirt and I wonder if it is this university he attended. It’s not the time to ask him. Victor pauses as Tristan asks a question: “How long will the stains last?”
“It will last for about two weeks. The young girl did as her father advised and afterwards the man did not come to her again. But also, her brother did not show up anywhere, either. Nor the next day or the next. The brother was very ashamed to show his face, and was ashamed of what he had done. He decided to leave the village. He walked away – his journey far, far away. He walked for days and days and he kept walking. The people believe that he just kept walking and that he turned into the moon. And this is his face. You can see the marks of shame on his face.” Victor raises his arm again, waving at the moon shining down upon us, its face all blotched with pale shadows. We clap and thank Victor for his story. He grins and bows his head in mock-coyness. I’m tickled by his gestures – what a ham!
Our oarsman guides the boat left into a narrow sacarita, a temporary tributary created seasonally by the floods. These are ‘short-cuts’ through the jungle Victor tells us. In the dry season the locals must use the main river. It’s a surreal feeling, floating through the jungle. There are tangled masses of trees and vines on either side of us and we can hardly see the sky through the overhanging foliage. The flora seems oblivious to the fact that it’s waist-deep in water. Whatever hasn’t drowned is evidently thriving. Delicate ferns and razor-sharp grasses brush the sides of our canoe as we glide along. My lungs draw in the steamy-rich air. Thick and fragrant and green; I can taste its sweet mustiness. I inhale deeply like a smoker drawing on a cigarette. I’m addicted.
Our oars-man halts the boat with a few deft back-paddles and Victor urges us to silence. He stands and raises a finger to his lips.
“Be quiet now and listen. You can hear nature’s symphony.” Victor bows his head in an unconsciously reverent gesture. We struggle to still our chatter and begin to tune in to the sounds around us. An orchestra is indeed playing to our little audience. The deep, steady ‘plonk plonk’ of frogs creates the base beat, cicadas thrum a staccato rhythm, and the high, tinkling bell of another species of frog pings steadily in sets of three. The vibrating hum of some unidentifiable insect fades in and out, and even the annoying whine of mosquitoes adds a piquant flavour to this smorgasbord of sound. Somewhere in the distance I can hear the faint pounding of drums.
I listen enraptured , lost in the soporific song of the jungle.
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