[I wrote this back in 2013, when I first moved to Houston to begin my Master’s program at UH.]
It’s been seven long months now since I moved into the jungle, at least I think it’s been that long. I don’t know. I’ve lost track of the time. I wasn’t left here, or sent here, I came by choice and now that I am here, I feel abandoned in many ways. Sometimes I wish I’d taken the opportunity in the city of alabaster and glass, but here I am and I have to make the best of it. I thought that by coming here I would get closer to my roots, but I have done nothing more than learn about the man who stares at me through the mirror. It’s a good thing, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that sometimes I wish it wasn’t just me in the mirror. The jungle is a frightening place for a man among beasts.
Surviving in the jungle hasn’t been easy. In less than 24 hours, I went from being among 40 people constantly, to having myself as my only companion. I went from having meals prepared daily, to having to hunt for my own game. It was easy before, you know, having the option to segregate from society at will and then having the option to reintegrate whenever it was convenient. But the jungle takes all that away. It’s not you and them any longer; it’s you and it.
The jungle is vast and overwhelming. The temperatures vary in extremes that range anywhere from the gates of Hell to the ninth circle. There are no people, but myself, and I’m surrounded by organisms of every kind – plants and insects and animals and fish. I find myself unable to communicate effectively with these life forms. Over time, I’ve picked up some of the unique mannerisms – things that will keep me from going under – but nothing sustainable for long conversation or periods of time. I’ve learned how to mark my territory and keep the predators from discovering me while I sleep. I’ve learned how to hunt and gather food for myself. I’ve even picked up several recipes via experimentation with various local foods.
I haven’t, of course, picked up any of the mating rituals and calls of the animals and beasts in this jungle. Often, when I consider the reality that I may never leave this place, I wonder if I should learn the conventions of mating in the jungle. However, a rational part of me remains uneasy about the prospect of a human mating with a jaguar. What would become of me? How would I ever re-enter the world after that? Maybe I’m destined to stay here.
Within the jungle, I’ve become adept at maneuvering myself through the thick forests and deep rivers to my hunting grounds. I’ve found two. The large one which lured me from the North city and into this vast land is rich with the succulent fruits of knowledge and ripe with seeds of the most delectable vegetables and game. I’ve taken to cultivate a garden of my own several miles northwest of the hunting ground, across two rivers. There, I’ve taken very happily to planting seeds of my own and herding farm animals in which I hope to domesticate so that they may be useful and profitable to the greater society. They may be my ticket out of this land. I should be heading there at sunrise tomorrow to check on my crops. I do not suspect that any other beast threatens my crops at this time, but I must always be vigilant.
I hear a hawk flying above me. They’re majestic, large birds Legend has it that they can carry the weight of an elephant and fly it away to a distant land. I hope to catch one and ride on its back to a place of love and joy and comfort. This is not my comfort zone, but oddly, it’s what I’ve always wished for – solitude, quietness, rest. I just never imagined that it would feel so lonely and sad. The hawk is gone. I’ll try to catch one another time when I’ve assembled a large enough piece of bait.
This jungle is rich because of its mighty rivers. The four largest rivers dissect the jungle and converge beautifully in the most dense area of the entire forest where the trees reach thousands of feet into the air. The trees rise to the heavens like Mother Nature’s own metropolis. I’ve had ample time to observe the fish life in the jungle. They’re very predictable. They travel in enormous schools – millions of them at a time – to their feeding patches early in the morning, around sunrise. Then they return to their mating patches around sunset to tend to their younglings. But these fish are not without danger. There are wolves who travel in packs daily seeking to snatch the fish from the rivers. There are predator fish patrolling the waters, disguised at fish themselves, waiting on the right opportunity to take one out and ignite a frenzy in the rivers. I observe this each morning.
The land is not free of its own dangers. Snakes slither on the ground while wasps buzz in the sky, looking to pounce on their unsuspecting prey. Their hour is just before dusk when they seek to mate with those unlike their own. They are deceptive and seductive killers, using very persuasively their venom to ensnare their prey night after night. And once they finish, there is bound to be a vulture who swoops in and picks up the carcass.
But for some reason, I’ve never been in danger. It’s as if I’m immune to the poison, to the corruption, to the way of life in the jungle. I’m nonexistent here. Even when I swim the rivers en route to my hunting grounds, I go unnoticed in plain sight. I am alone. Sometimes, I just feel like climbing up to the peak of one of the trees towering above the jungle and shouting my name for all to hear, but I can’t. No of these organisms would understand me. They can’t understand me as I can’t understand them. As much as I grunt and growl and snort, I will never be like them and they will never be like me. They’re animals and I am a man.
I did find a culture of people. They gather each week around a wooden cross to worship their deity called God and his Son called Christ. I’ve taken quite strongly to their traditions and values, and have begun to find myself in the image of God. I feel more like a human as I grow closer to God. In this jungle, God is the only thing that makes me feel like a human being. I attend the gatherings frequently as they meet near my hunting grounds. When I go, sometimes, I hope to meet another like myself – another human. But no one sees me even when I join in and sing the songs and dance and shout to the Heavens. It’s not an unfamiliar culture for me, but I feel more attached to this group gathering than any other thing in this jungle. But when I step back from the spectacle and the music and the chants and the shouts, I see that the gathering, like everywhere else in the jungle is made up of the same animals and insects who I cannot communicate with, though they are not of the dangerous type.
So constantly I’m reminded that I’m indeed alone, the sole human among beasts. Sometimes it scares me to think about it. I’ve built myself a small treehouse out of some materials I found. It’s a pretty sturdy place, I think, and I try to keep it up, as if someone was coming to visit – someone like me. Then reality starts to set in, as it has. I realize that no one’s coming. Nothing in this jungle even knows I’m here. I’m safe from danger. But what if something happens to me? What if the treehouse collapses on me while I sleep? What if I don’t wake up from my sleep? What if the forest catches fire and I burn up alive? No one will know, not for weeks anyway. I’ll be long gone before anyone back in the city even realizes that I’m gone, that I’ve been eaten up by the jungle, that I’ve been reclaimed by Nature.
That’s the tragedy of living alone in the jungle. No one can hear you scream – no one but the animals, and they can’t hear your cry. Maybe I’m the unsophisticated one in this land. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. I haven’t been abiding by that sacred law. I never thought of myself as better than the animals in the jungle. Clearly, I’m the outsider here, so I’m just different and lost. I need a guide and a friend – a physical one. Maybe if I begin to behave like the animals and the insects and the fish and the birds, then I will be able to communicate. Maybe then I will get over my fear of mating with the jaguars and the panthers. They’re probably not as bad as I think. Maybe I’ll be able to fight off the snakes and the wasps and set out to cause a frenzy in the river. Maybe we could learn from one another and make each other better. No one should have to live alone. Not even in a jungle. Maybe I’ll learn to love it here. Maybe then I won’t feel alone and won’t want to leave. Just maybe…