A Forest Existence

By Tom Sterling
One day, on the upper Cuieiras, I saw a remarkable example of a man totally and successfully adapted to a forest existence. I came on the river-side shack of an old hunter. There are a number of these men living alone in the back tributaries. Usually, they are almost pure Indian, although they are completely detribalized. The few that I saw seemed to have dropped out of the human race altogether, and they were not very unhappy about their choice. They all had dogs, and this one had two. Both these animals had adapted so well to the life of their master that they looked like him; they were lean and hard, and there was something intensely placid about them. They obeyed the hunter’s every word, as more domesticated dogs never learn to do, but they never cringed or whined. Like their master, also, they were somehow neat and orderly, without seeming to be so. They had appointed places to sleep in the sun (or shade, depending on the time of day) and places to stand on the riverbank looking noble and precise positions to take in the hunter’s dugout canoe in order to balance it properly. I have never seen more contented dogs, though they were also highly keyed and immensely eager to hunt.
The man must have been in his middle fifties. He had brown, wrinkled knees and elbows of the aged, but he was tough as mahogany and could obviously have walked the legs off most men half his age. The muscles of his arms and thighs and belly were flat and unobtrusive, shaped for endurance. Quite obviously, his diet was protein, and he drove himself as hard as his pray to get it. We talked for a while; he was full of apologies because he had no coffee, an almost unforgivable sin for a Brazilian host. Aside from coffee, however, he appeared to want nothing. His little house was almost old-maidishly trim; a better word, perhaps, would be ship-shape – sailors can be old-maidish too.
Every few days this happy man would go into the jungle with his dogs to hunt. There he found sufficient food for himself, and for them, and once in a while he took a pelt which he sold (illegally) down river. It was enough. Indeed, as I could see with certain envy, it was more than enough; he was a very rich man with his neat house and his neat dogs and all the time in the world – which, I saw with another twinge of envy, did not weigh on his hands at all. Like the dogs, he was thoroughly enjoying himself, though he could have used some coffee.
I asked the hunter, then, if he had ever been married – clearly he lived alone here now. It seemed another thing that he might be missing even more than coffee, perhaps. No, he said, he had never lived with a woman and did not intend to. Women, he said, were too messy, and made too much noise. Anyway, he added, “I am married to her.” With this he pointed to the great forest behind him. On the surface, it was an ordinary remark, much as a man might say that he was married to his work. But I could see that he took the statement very seriously. That is to say, he took the gender of the forest very seriously. For him, it was a woman and not a virginal woman either. She was the guardian of the creatures he hunted. Indeed, when he spoke of hunting, he had the settled look of a happily married man. His wife was clean, efficient and reliable if treated with proper respect.
As we shoved off in our boat, the hunter stood on a spit of sand with his two proud dogs and waved goodbye. Then with apparent relief, he walked back into what he surely believed was the eternal forest.
Source: Time Life - The Amazon

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