From Katherine Holden report:
I flew to Brazil to climb a bouquet of trees, to practice for my new, multi-year project CLIMBING TREES AT SEVENTY: One Woman’s Quest to Save Wild Trees. I’d never climbed a wild tree (one that hasn’t been climbed before), I’d never climbed trees in the tropics, I’d never been to Brazil, and I’d never met Leonide Principe, my tree climbing assistant and photographer. In truth, I haven’t climbed many trees since taking tree-climbing lessons a year ago, in Oregon. I live in Joshua Tree, California, in the Mojave Desert. Tree climbing trees don’t grow here. We have sand and boulders and rattle snakes!
Everything in Brazil delighted me, except the mosquito bites. Leo and his wife, Vanessa, and their three children, immediately took me into their family life and hearts. They live on 270 hectares of wild forest, about an hour and a half outside of Manaus, Brazil. Over the two weeks, Leo and I climbed five trees, two of them twice. Three were in full bloom, and all of them were tall. We scouted another huge tree for “next time” because we need to get permission from the property owner. Many epiphytes grow on those high branches so we must be careful not to disturb anything in this privately held forest. The kapok (“ceiba”) tree there has the largest trunk and root system I’ve ever seen. Nestled inside, I felt as though I were in a Forest Cathedral. I sensed the immense power of that tree, from her crown above all the way down, deep into the earth, where her roots hold communion with the riches of the dark.
Getting to the various trees involved walking, either on forest trails or using a machete to cut a rough path through thick scrub growth. I was in Brazil at nearly the hottest time of year. Of course the humidity was everywhere, and even a short walk through the forests made me sweat so much that all my clothing was quickly drenched. With water dripping off my face and through my hair, I needed to be put on a clothesline to dry out!
This was part of the task for me to learn. Can I walk/hike in the tropics and still have enough strength to climb? Can I climb up tall trees on my own using the rope and knot techniques I’d learned in Oregon? Since tree climbing with all the safety gear is new to me, and since I’m 70 years old, I had a lot to learn about what I can and cannot accomplish in the heat in the tropics in tall trees.
With Leo’s assistance, and with the added help of his forest guide, Francisco, I accomplished more than I thought I could do. Yes I got tired. Yes I had to rest. And yet, up up up I went high into the trees. The tree I called Sky Lotus painted the blue heaven with her pink blossoms. The tree I called Fingers of the Moon filled each branch and twig with clusters of moon-colored tendrils that reminded me of delicate, long fingers. The tree I called Golden Rain sent her blossoms spinning to earth as soon as the rain showers began. I noticed how the raindrops fell as raindrops do, but the yellow blossoms actually spun like golden tops on their trip from the tree’s crown to the moist earth below.
Leo and I slept one night 200 feet up in Angeline. We each had a tree boat to sleep in and a fat sandwich for supper, made by Vanessa. Vanessa also packed a small pillow for my head. What a tender touch, and I still smile at her kindness. At sunset that night, a cluster of bees swirled in front of their home’s opening in the tree trunk, close to us but not so close to put us in danger. They spun so fast in the golden light that I thought they must be spinning golden threads. I’d never seen anything like it before. We heard frogs and various birds calling throughout the night. The haunting calls of the owl known as The Mother of the Moon made me feel alive in the darkness in a whole new way. As soon as the sun disappeared, some wild flower opened, sending her thick, sweet, jasmine-like scent out into the forest. There is a night-blooming flower there called The Lady of the Night. Perhaps it was she who perfumed me high in the tree. The next morning, I planted an orchid in Angeline—adding to Leo’s on-going project to bring more flowers to this huge tree. Standing up in her crown, her massive branches twist and undulate out in every direction, as if each leaf wants to touch yet another part of the wide open sky. Leo says she could be 500 years old. Maybe older. Angeline truly does embrace the sky. Being held by her, and having slept in her arms, the experience holds me in its own embrace, and will forever.
The last tree we climbed was another ceiba tree. I’m proud to say that I managed to climb up about 140 feet in only an hour. That’s a long way in a short time for someone my age. Leo and I sat on the thick branches and also walked along the branch. Since my moniker is WildTreeWalker, I had to walk on high. Close by was a huge bromeliad in bloom. It must have been eight feet across and twelve feet high, and inside its leaves, more than a dozen pink blossoms with hues of blue opened out into its sky-high world. A falcon with white stripes under its wings circled that tree three times. I almost felt as though I could reach up and tickle a feather. Monkeys crashed through other canopies close by, and wild parrots stitched the sky with their raucous calls and green wings. Doves in every direction sang to the day.
In each tree we climbed, the golden afternoon light landed on us like melted butter. Because he’s a superb photographer, Leo knows how to dance with the light. Being high up in trees is an adventure and blessing all on its own. Being there in the golden light of the afternoon and, sometimes, the early light of the new day, made me feel more like a part of the mystery of life of each tree. Touching the branches lit up by the sun, feeling the lichen that grows on them, sometimes a soft green, sometimes a gentle brown, sometimes almost pink, the “magic hours” of light on the branches and leaves added a rich dimension, taking me deeper into the experience.
As much as I accomplished in Brazil, what stays with me the deepest, with its own rhythm and richness, is the way Brazil entered into me. It’s as if I Brazil took me into her embrace, sending her wild tendrils into my being, and in return, asked me to leave something of my own fragrance with her.
More informations about the Katherine Holden project: click here!