I rolled the seedpod around in my hand while Hugo positioned his frame to make for the best human trebuchet. Though I didn’t understand much Portuguese, the message that I “jogar como uma garota,” throw like a girl, came across clear. While he demonstrated how you must use your whole body to throw, I kept gesturing for him to show me again so I could watch the seeds launch into the dense forest and wonder at where they would grow. On our daily walks through the rainforest I had become infatuated with century plants. It wasn’t only their twelve-foot span of spiny succulent leaves growing out of sandy Brazilian coast soil that fascinated me, but their name that sparked the allure.
The century plant is a monocarpic species, meaning it produces flowers and seeds once before dying soon after, and its name is derived from the myth that it only flowers once every hundred years, although they usually live to about thirty. Now, tossing sacred seedpods shaped like badminton birdies into the tangle of tropical vegetation, I contemplated the years and resources invested into each pitch. I yearned to feel the weight of this with every calculated throw, as if every release of my hand determined the fate of the species itself, as if my being in this foreign land to do research had some significance in the tangle of life here at all. Hugo laughed at my concentration and continued down the tunnel of a trail.
To me the rainforest was a mystery that had to be solved: so many species still unidentified, unclassified, uncategorized. But Hugo didn’t see it that way. To him the rainforest was inexplicably magic and every living thing understood regardless of whether it could be called by an italicized Latin name. He whispered and listened in a language that no schooling, only time spent becoming acquainted with land, could teach. He sensed the slow motions of moss-camouflaged sloths, knew where to find the best fruits Golden Lion Tamarinds fed on, and danced through vines and vegetation to chase bird songs. He could read disturbances in the underbrush to determine which of his animal neighbors had passed through that morning and knew which conditions were best for Pao Brasil tree growth before any of us researchers ever could, despite all our tools, our training, our preparation.
One thing Hugo could not understand about Americans is why we spend all our time worrying how to live life right instead of just living it. He pointed to a pair of fully-grown century plants suspended in the air, somehow growing without soil on the branches of a tree. Knowing I would want the feasibility of it explained, Hugo smirked as he catapulted another fallen seedpod into shades of green. “We are like these plants, we grow where we land or we don’t.” The beauty of being human is that we are century plants who don’t flower just once, we can choose how much we grow and how often we bloom.
About the Author: Dominique Edgerly is a 25 year old middle school science teacher and outdoor educator/wilderness trip leader who has been fortune to be able to travel through five different continents in the past five years. She is passionate about meeting people with different perspectives, writing, photography, and outdoor activities of all forms. She is in the process of assembling a family narrative that has left pieces all around the globe.
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