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Re: H. 'Parasol'

  • Subject: Re: H. 'Parasol'
  • From: gw1944@vermontel.net (Glen Williams)
  • Date: Mon, 3 Mar 2003 12:45:42 -0500

>Glen, I have Parasol as a gold centered sport with a blue green edge of Blue
>Umbrellas, not Big Daddy. From the Benedicts.
>Hope that helps.
>Lu;  Thanks Lu
> Lucky you and Dan...I just sent in this weeks column to our local paper
>so you get this copy  for your amusement I hope. g

                        Going Down the Amazon Part II

It's taken me 3 columns, 30 years, and 8,000 miles to return to the Amazon
River. I had wanted an escape from this unending winter, and I have
certainly found one. These last few columns represent  getting away  from
Springfield, the ice, the snow, the world situation, and my current set of
perceptions.  I don't like what I see in any direction....which includes
the mirror. Doing "something" is as great a need as it was in the 1960's.
The "something" remains unclear. The reasons for doing "it"  are  manifest
and legion.

 I realize that my original  desire to join the Peace Corps, as well as the
trip to the Amazon a few years later,  were fueled by some of the same
fire. The Peace Corps allowed me the opportunity to THINK I was
contributing to an answer to the problems of the world as I saw them at 22.
I stress the phrase " to think I was contributing". It allowed me  the
chance to see things firsthand... or the illusion of doing so.  The return
trip 6 years later  was a chance to see South America through the eyes of
uninitiated  friends,  as well as a chance to revisit  South America from
the vantage point of having a serious job I loved. I was now a mature and
employed adult. This time I would see what I had missed before. I could
contribute  through mature understanding. I could show off my Spanish.
Wisdom would be mine (AND A GOOD TIME). HAH! Wrong on all four counts.

Thirty-five years later, I know that I took far more from the Peace Corps
experience than I was able to return.  I will have to label those years as
"good intentions". Relative maturity, and the rounded corners of experience
and age, may not even allow the pretense of good intentions these days.
Good seems to have become a relative term; moral ambiguity is running
rampant, and truth is busy migrating* in all directions at once.

The spirit in the the first three paragraphs of this column  is at odds
with the rest of my Amazon saga. But that very juxtaposition of experience,
perception,  and interpretation,  allows me another type of laughter from
my conflicting memories: IRONY.  The scale of these experiences is
miniscule, but then much of life is.  Going to the store, getting a loaf of
bread, and saying hello to a neighbor on the way home is the pattern to be
found in the fabric of many of our days in Springfiled, Vermont. Still,
it's cumulative. Most of us are not defined by a single giant  event , an
overwhelming thought, or rife with profound purpose derived from a stroll
on the road to Damascus.  Those events are the exceptions in our lives,
and have little to do with the  ordinary clutter. So please, let me
continue to add my clutter to yours.

                        G.D.T.A. Part II  con't from  3/5/03

We loaded ourselves and our luggage into the horse powered wagons and
slowly bumped out way through the black Amazon night to the river. As I
recall, the journey was about 2 miles.  The PBT (the Peoria Bowling Team)
with their monogramed bowling  balls(:-)), once again began to sing. On the
plane trip they had sung "Up, Up, and Away in Your Beautiful Balloon".
They now (always up to a thematic challenge) sang "Swing Low Sweet
Chariot". Loudly...very loudly. What they had in talent was quickly stifled
by their enthusiasm. My friends and I (Mary-teacher, Carol-teacher and
Jim-lawyer ), openly wondered what level of Hell  was specified for
community sing-alongs in the Amazonian jungle. Mean comments about Mitch
Miller and his bouncing bowling ball were made.

It took eight verses of the song to reach our destination. As we approached
the river, the rich smell of sweet decay and  and other strange scents
filled the night air. We had expected to be taken to the berth of the yacht
on which we  would be traveling down river . The yacht, as pictured in the
alluring brochure was described as the former royal yacht to the Shah of
Iran. The photos had been wonderful. There was no yacht to be seen when we
reached the river. There was no river to be seen. It was completely black
and gray.  One could hear the river and smell it, but  couldn't see it in
the night and fog.

 The two young native boys (probably 9 or 10 years old) who had been
driving the  horse-drawn wagons with the crazy Americans,  spoke very
little English but were at home in some combination of Portuguese and
Spanish.  I was able to understand about half of what they said. It had
been hard to hear them because of all of the singing.

We approached  a pier of logs. They were tied together with ropes and
actually floated on the river. This pier  (really much more like a raft)
extended out into the night and fog. My friends and I were out of the wagon
first, and gingerly made our way out onto the  "pier". The logs were often
separated by 6 or 8 inches. These spaces offered direct access to the
Amazon. We made our way very slowly. Out of the mist emerged a boat. Not a
yacht by any measure, but a sadly dilapidated  long wooden boat with
benches  and a thatched canopy which covered much of it. It looked like a
floating hut. There was an elderly 10 HP Evenrude outboard motor  on the
stern. By then, a few of the intrepid PBT singers (now mercifully silent)
had made their way out onto the logs. We  then had a SHARED MOMENT....after
all we  were apparently all going to be IN THE SAME BOAT (a clichi come to
life is always a thing of joy).  I began to whistle the theme from "Love
Boat"  and Carol, Mary, and Jim all tried to shove me into the river. I
have since forgiven them. A few hours later I was sorry that they hadn't.
At least I could have swum to shore before being eaten by alligators and
piranha. Probably.

Our young  wagon drivers  came out onto the pier ; they were carrying
suitcases. Through words and lots of motions they indicated that we needed
to load the boat. Our PBT balancing on wet logs ( with spaces in between)
carrying suitcases and bowling ball bags (:-)), were a sight to behold.
Thank God it was dark. Their were small yelps of fear, and broad gestures
designed to keep people from falling between the logs and becoming chum for
the river's denizens.  There was fear in the air. I hummed "Amazing Grace"
under my breath. There were threats.

The young boys explained/gestured to us that we too needed to get aboard
(with  the luggage...AND THE BOWLING BOWLS) . After a half hour of careful
packing we were all on board, and considerably lower in the water. In fact
I was glad that waves were not to be part of our future on the river. That
last sentence should tell you a little about what we WERE going to
experience.  I had translated the  the boys communication  and it appeared
we were going to take our small boat and travel to THE YACHT ITSELF:
SALVATION.  This statement should be another clue about unrealistic
expectations and the kind of fruit they bear. Out into the mist and night
we slowly went with the putt- putting of the Evenrude breaking the silence
of the night like flatulent geese.  In a burst of boyish enthusiasm  our
young guide in the stern of the boat, spoke about seeing the red eyes of
alligators along the banks of the river. Compassion took over and I offered
no translation.

My friends and I sat in the back of the boat  near the motor. The boy,
steering his way on the river, was trying to pay attention to his
(brother?)  at the bow of the boat, who kept banging on one side of the
boat and then the other. The PBT were strewn in between  tucked into piles
of luggage. At least Carol, Jim, Mary and I had traveled light. We already
knew by now that we would be discarding all the clothes that we had brought
with us, although it was dubious if the clothing would survive intact to be
thrown out.** Our meager  wardrobes had been washed numerous times, and had
begun to take on the look of 4 th generation hand-me-downs.

As we continued into the mist and dark of the jungle night, the PBT decided
that they had been without music long enough. The thumping on the side of
the boat had probably stimulated their natural sense of rhythm.  In
absolute unison, out of the black of the night,  they raised their voices
in song. This time  we were treated to a rousing  (foot stomping , hand
clapping) version of "Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore".  Who knew the song
had that many  verses?  They stomped, clapped  and sang with a sense of joy
that can not be described. Nor should it. The fast flowing water  seemed to
be developing a wake; in fact there were now, what I would have called
waves. I couldn't imagine where they were coming from.


Then, we were suddenly stopped in mid-river as it were. We had run into a
giant tree which was floating very rapidly down river with other flotsam
and jetsam from various tributaries spewing into  the headwaters of the
Amazon. The mountains, with their rains and mighty streams , were also
sending debris down river. It was now clear that the thumping on the side
of the boat had been a directional communication from one boy to the other,
as to where to steer the boat to avoid tragedy.


Tragedy then struck when the Peoria Bowling team all ran forward to see
what we had hit. This shift in  weight (several of them had taken the time
to sort out their balls and carry them with them to the bow :-)) thoroughly
impaled us on a branch. The motor,  on which our survival depended ,
immediately went under the water. At least the the PBT had ceased singing.
I was left unsure if Michael ever got the the shore that he was so
repetitively rowing towards. I was left wondering what swimming at night in
the Amazon with alligators and piranha would be like. I wondered if we
would make it to shore. I wondered in which direction the shore was.  I
wondered if the piranha and alligators would eat the PBT first? I sincerely
hoped so.  I wanted justice for them, and mercy for me. And of course my
friends. My lawyer friend Jim, went slowly to the front of the boat as
Carol, Mary and I started to take off our boots.

"River Jordan is chilly and wide...Hall...e...lu.....jah."

Hasta la proxima vez.   Part III next week(unless spring happens)

* The migration of truth is a theme that I keep coming back to in my
columns. Apparently TRUTH was last sighted in  Springfield, Vermont when a
local resident gave the correct directions to an out-of-stater trying to
find his way to the Massachusetts border.

** I have kept a tattered green sweater which I treasure. I have willed it
to the Smithsonian. You will eventually understand the "why" of this

" When you come to a fork in the road, take it." Yogi Berra
Glen Williams
20 Dewey St.
Springfield , Vermont
Tel: 802-885-2839 

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