The meaning of success.
Updated: Jan 9
Excerpt from field notebook, 20/5/16.
Tiger Fern Trail campsite, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize.
There are two types of success in this world. The mahogany desk, and the mahogany tree.
The desk is what you’ve been told success is all your life. Money, power, respect, control over your surroundings. It's measured by how much those around you believe you have succeeded and how easily you can convince them of it. At the top of that long ladder, you can look down at those below who are still climbing.
"Look at me, look how far I've come! You're next, you can do it too, come on."
[ Tubing through the reserve. Floating down a river alone in high-density jaguar country probably isn't the wisest idea, but I'm not prone to those anyway. ]
The tree is what hardly anyone will ever see as success. Most might not even notice it's there; it just kind of fades into the background.
In the early eighties, biologists Alan Rabinowitz and Ben Nottingham worked in some of the most lost and forsaken reaches of the Belizean jungle for two years studying jaguars.
[Exploring the area near the site of the plane crash.]
During an aerial radiotracking survey, Rabinowitz's airplane pilot lost control of the plane and crashed in an unfamiliar location in the jungle. The two survived the crash, and after regaining consciousness, he staunched the bleeding, patched up their injuries and hiked to the nearest farm.
[The crash site.]
The data Rabinowitz and his collaborators collected was enough to convince the government of Belize to set the land aside as the world's first jaguar preserve, and halt extractive logging operations chewing away at what was left of the forest, particularly mahogany.
A few years later the president of the World Wildlife Fund, Prince Philip, came to Cockscomb to present an award to one of the native wardens and plant a mahogany tree.
The desks of Cockscomb's people are far from mahogany. As the forest creeps up towards the sky, slowly rejuvenating itself, few will think to thank or praise them. But if you stand atop Ben's Bluff or Tiger Fern Ridge and look out onto the Cockscomb Basin, you can see their success.
[ One of many quiet spots in the reserve I had to myself. ]
When you sit back and look upon what you've wrought in your life, what will you see? Shining hardwoods, brass door handles, designer cufflinks, a cowering subordinate, and a trim secretary in a tight dress?
Or will you sit in the dirt atop a mountain and see a hundred thousand acres of rolling hills, valleys and jungle you have saved from the chainsaw?
I don’t seek to control my environment, or to bend it to my will any more than I need to survive. I seek to protect it from my own species. If every man valued the green of a leaf between his fingers as much as the green paper of a dollar bill, the world would be a much richer place.
[ The view out over Cockscomb Basin from atop Ben's Bluff. ]