Nightfall comes early in the Amazon rainforest to those of us who are accustomed to daylight savings time and extended daylight hours. Light fades as the sun sinks below the canopy of trees and the darkness is absolute. There is no glow from the lights of a city, traffic lights, street lights, or house lights.
A velvet blackness swallows shadows in the rainforest. The darkness was a bit startling the first night until the moon rose above the trees. The familiar glow was appreciated as it softened and reduced the depth of the darkness.
We humans don’t like the dark. We strive to illuminate the night and eliminate the shadows. Our cautionary tales through the centuries typically take place at night or in dark and forbidding forests. We use terms like ‘shadow’ or ‘shadow-self’ to refer to the unknown, dark side of our personality.
In the rainforest I migrated to my mosquito-netted pallet soon after dinner each night. I wanted to indulge in the sense of envelopment by the dark. I also craved the silence.
Although the rainforest is anything but silent.
The basso profundo of frogs, the sounds of animals moving through the dense forest and the occasional crash of a tree limb falling to the ground (or that’s what I told myself it was) were common.
I would sleep deeply and awaken slightly on and off throughout the night, aware of complex dreams full of colors, action, and quickly shifting scenarios. I typically remember my dreams but not with the intricate detail that I experienced in the rainforest.
One night I dreamt that an Achuar grandmother came to the side of our hut. She stood below my pallet and woke me from a deep sleep. She was standing in the darkness, yet I could see her clearly, the colors of her clothing, her painted face, and the rich chocolate color of her skin.
She spoke to me emphatically, her face and hands expressive with a sense of urgency. But I couldn’t understand her. She was speaking Achuar. I tried to communicate through hand and face signals that I needed to find someone to translate. I turned to my sleeping husband to ask him to go get our guide.
She poked me again and when I turned to look at her, she shook her head no, emphatically. I tried to express my confusion and a desire to help, and that I didn’t know what she wanted/needed.
She directed my focus to her face. I gazed into her eyes and was drawn into the depth of eyes. My anxiety about not understanding drifted away, and I began to relax. She nodded slightly and after a few minutes smiled, turned and walked away into the forest.
I still wasn’t sure what she was trying to communicate, but I somehow understood that I had received the message that she would be back to see me again. I later asked an Achuar wise man the meaning of my dream. He said the spirit of the forest came to me. That I had connected with the spirit of the rainforest.
I thought about that dream for days (and the interpretation). Now that I am back home, I realize that the spirit did visit me multiple times, just not in my dreams. I was enamored with the lushness of the forest. The trees, plants, fungi, flowers, vines that swallow the sunlight. The proliferation of and varied sizes and colors of butterflies, moths, cockroaches, spiders, grasshoppers, larva, ants, snakes, fireflies and more.
The creatures I saw and the creatures I heard but never saw spoke to me. The brown eyes of a baby sloth that looked up at me as I held it. The sound of the river as it brushed the shore and the sunlight reflecting on the surface spoke to me.
The sounds, shapes, sizes, and colors of all the life in the rainforest are unique and varied, but their message was clear to me. “We are here; we live; and we breathe. Honor us and you honor yourself.”