My parents christened me Ronald Georges Keller, Ronald for Ronald Reagan and Georges after Uncle George, adding an s in remembrance of some French ancestors. As soon as I was old enough to understand, I objected that they hadnít asked me whether I wanted to be Ronald or George with or without an s. A few years later, I told them I was going to be R. G. from then on, a decision that met with their resistance, but I showed them just how stubborn I could be. Reaching my teens, I discovered that the Ronald they had named me after didnít deserve that honor. Testy relations with Uncle George also revealed, as my parents noticed, a "personality conflict" between us. He was born a lawyer, which "The Law School" merely confirmed. The injustice of "the law", the "awe" of which he drawled, revolted me. As for the s, I relegated it to the attic of oblivion. As you have probably guessed by now, I wasnít making friends with my contemporaries or good impressions on my teachers, much to my parentsí chagrin. My contempt for sports and stars started many a fight and, though usually outnumbered, I gave as much as I got. I infuriated my teachers by questioning the questions they asked us. Yet there was an exception. Isnít there always? Mr. Glick, a little man with a vaulted back and a wheezy voice who taught us General Science. He watched us with gleaming eyes as he revealed the wonders of this subject. Nothing troubled him, nothing could, not even the worst sarcasm of rebellious youth. He listened carefully and replied calmly, exploiting an opportunity to teach us something, something always interesting.
About butterflies, for instance. He was using them as an example to show how greatly reproduction cycles and processes vary among living things. Suzy Shackelheimer, who sat in back near the door, interrupted him as rudely as usual. Her mascara targeted her eyes, her lipstick blackened her lips and her polish blackened her dagger finger- and toe nails. She wore a leopard-skin mini-skirt over a black leotard clinging to her so low on
her hips that the top of the cleft between her buttocks appeared. Guess what she had for a hairdo! Despite her determination to uglify herself, she was a pretty girl, the prettiest in that class and maybe even in that junior high school.
"Yes!" replied Mr. Glick enthusiastically. "Seasonal adjustment in the reproductive cycle assures the continuity of the genus."
"No, but our ability to control our reproduction exposes us to abuses that jeopardize our survival as a species. Perhaps butterflies risk extinction less than we do."
Mr. Glick smiled. "No, they probably donít. Instinct determines it. They donít have the option of ignoring it as we do."
Mr. Glick laughed even before we did. Sincerely! "No, but, if I were teaching you sex education, I would urge you to have both."
Suzy fascinated me with that fluttering that she so prettily imitated. From time to time, I asked her to repeat this ballet, which provoked raucous laughter by her aspirants, incapable of understanding my admiration. Instead of "R. G.", they were calling me "Butter Flutter." I was calling them "stooltoads", hence many a shoving fight and even a few fist fights with kicks by my more primitive adversaries. Dad complained that I was chasing butterflies instead of playing ball with the other kids. The baseball glove he gave me for Christmas instead of the net I had asked for only reinforced my determination. I "lent" it to a schoolmate more friendly than the others and mowed a
neighborís lawn so I could buy the net. The books about butterflies I was borrowing from the library troubled Mom, so she gave me a Harry Potter for Christmas. The few pages I read and the others I skimmed struck me as "unscientific", a concept I had learned from Mr. Glick. I "lent" it to a "nice girl" across the street. Yet the books on butterflies I was borrowing from the library no longer seemed scientific enough, so I resorted to interlibrary loans, which raised the librariansí eyebrows. I was an egghead to adults and an oddball to contemporaries, except Suzy.
Invited to participate in a competition, our junior high band traveled to Mammoth in three school buses. I wangled an unoccupied seat in the rear of the third one. While the band strutted, boomed and honked around the field of Mega Stadium, I was concentrating on the butterfly collection in the Museum of Natural Science. The forms and colors of the specimens fascinated me, but the cruelty of pinning such pretty and lively creatures to a board for exhibition horrified me. Losing track of time, I suddenly realized that I no longer had enough to reach the stadium by a city bus in time for the departure. I spent nearly all the money I had left on a taxi. My school bus was pulling away from the curb when I ran up waving my arms, which exposed me to noisy sarcasm as I came down the aisle. Rather than the waste of money, my oblivious fascination with natural frivolity shook my parentsí heads.
They continued to shake as I chased butterflies with my net. Since our yard didnít attract very many, I was taking buses to the end of the line, so I could hunt them in the country. My horror of sacrificing them diminished as my ability to kill, preserve and display them increased. Soon I had a collection more impressive by quality of presentation than rarity of species. I was also learning to photograph and draw them, skills that complemented each other. Yet even a rapid sequence of still photos didnít yield enough data to allow analysis of butterfly flight. I began to mow three lawns so I could earn enough money to buy a video camera. I needed one with a shutter speed fast enough to shoot clips for slow-motion projection. Once I had bought one, I shot fluttering butterflies and analyzed the results on my computer. I studied flight patterns,
speed and speed variations, wing flapping and flexibility. I admired the butterflyís ability to derive thrust from the up-and-down beating of the wings by flexing them to manipulate the air. Likewise the strength and lightness of their wings, which I examined under a microscope, and the tiny muscles that powered them, which I measured with a micro-voltmeter. Comparing my data with that of reputable lepidopterists, I sent them e-mail admiring their work, asking questions and even wondering why, in some cases, my data differed from theirs. I was making a name for myself either as an adolescent meddler or a future candidate for recruitment as a student. When the cold season drove butterflies out of sight, I propped my net up in the corner of my room and concentrated on the four stages of butterfly development: eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises and butterflies.
Maybe they didnít know what they were doing, but they sure did it better than we could. I explained that to Suzy at a party and she listened with genuine interest. Although our conversation was boring her current boyfriend, she let him stew. I told her she was my favorite butterfly, which got the laugh I expected, much to the boyfriendís irritation. He was just another flower. Suzy and I have always been best friends even though we never had any fun together. I had my fun with Lori Spivak, a fellow student at Zenia University. She discovered me in an introductory course for entomology majors. When I asked the professor if a millimeter tear in wing scales would heal, I could feel her eyes focusing on me. She began to sit beside me, not only in class, but also in the laboratory, the library, the cafeteria and everywhere else. Though less attractive than Suzy, she had a pleasant face, an attractive body, a cordial voice and a friendly disposition. An intelligent, dedicated and conscientious student, she neither envied others who got higher grades nor despised those who got lower ones. Since no girl had ever taken an interest in me, hers surprised me, but I welcomed it. Eager to learn my opinion on every topic raised by our studies, she listened so carefully that I expressed it at length. Saying it facilitated writing it when I needed to express it in a paper or on an exam. My appreciation of her companionship encouraged her to accompany me
everywhere we both had to go. We were crossing the campus one day when she took my hand, squeezed and held it. Though surprised, I enjoyed her soft, warm grasp without feeling more than friendly affection for her. Soon she was approaching me whenever the circumstances encouraged her, such as when I opened a door for her or we found ourselves alone in a stairwell. My arm reached around her as if it had a will of its own and, the first thing I knew, we were arm in arm. A few days later, we began to kiss and hug without any conscious decision by me. Although she was engineering our intimacy, I was yielding to a temptation for which I could hardly blame her. Good night in the hall outside her room lasted longer and longer, until a weekend when her roommate was absent. Someone started down the hall, so, without a whisper or even a tug, we entered, closed the door and continued inside. Before long, we undressed each other, got in bed and had fun as if we had been doing it all along. Her passion startled me. So fervently did she sigh in my ear, so vigorously did she massage me that excitement drove me to an orgasm that made me shout and left me panting. That night awakened in us a craving for more. As soon as we could find a suitable apartment, we moved into it. How many nights did it take me to realize that I had made a permanent commitment?
Despite my objections, Lori insisted on doing everything that would interrupt my studies: shopping, cooking, serving and cleaning up; dusting, running the vacuum and doing the laundry; defragging my hard disk, buying a cartridge for my printer and checking books out of the library; etc. When I caught a cold, she nursed me, informed my professors and kept me in bed until I stopped coughing. She briefed me on the classes I had missed, even in the two courses she wasnít taking herself. How did she manage to keep up with her studies and average B+? It would have been A- without me. Reminded of womenís liberation, she laughed me to scorn. After five years together, she finished a masters and I began a PhD with the intention of doing a dissertation on rare butterfly species in Amazonia. I was worried about our future together. Because of her self-sacrifice, we had never had a serious quarrel, a
disadvantage perhaps, but we did like each other. We had never mentioned "love", I definitely wasnít in love and I doubt that she was either. Yet our fellow graduate students were calling us "Dr. Holmes and Mrs. Watson."
"Maybe... get married."
"... The trouble with kids is that you have to bring them up. How am I going to help you if Iím in Amazonia chasing butterflies?"
"And our kids?"
"... Well, we can always try it and see."
"I didnít mean the kids. Look: Iím not sure I want to embark on a university career. All Iím sure of is that I want to keep on studying butterflies." What I really wasnít sure of was whether I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Lori.
"You have always treated me generously and I have always felt indebted to you. But I wonder if generosity and gratitude are the right emotions to found a marriage on."
Once I had overcome my surprise, I nodded.
She was even more generous than I had assumed.
We got married and, having completed my coursework, I passed my PhD examination. Once my dissertation committee had approved my project, I got a grant to fund an expedition to Amazonia, where Lori accompanied me. We hiked, camped and chased butterflies for a month despite the heat, the rain, the mosquitoes, the snakes, everything disagreeable and dangerous in a rain forest. The sex we had on the ground was just as lusty as on our bed in Concordia. We were happy together, I was happy discovering new species and she shared that happiness more than vicariously. I began to wonder what I have been wondering ever since: how could Holmes solve mysteries without Watson? Back in Concordia, we reviewed the data we had compiled, examined the video and the photos we had taken, the drawings I had made. Then I began to write my dissertation, assigning the minor problems to Lori and tackling the major ones myself. Since she had resumed her household chores, I wondered and still wonder how she could find the time. Her support enabled me to complete my dissertation in six months. It challenged my director and the other members of my committee to make the customary objections at my defense. I refuted them by referring to the massive data in my annex. Rather than the intended examination, the exercise resembled a paper presented to fellow entomologists. The chairlady of the department took their advice to hire me before Stanford or Harvard made me an offer ZU couldnít afford. To sweeten the
deal, she offered Lori a position as my research assistant. My former professors and new colleagues began to call us Holmes and Watson too.
Lori helped me revise and publish my dissertation, the first of many lepidopterological studies, articles and books that initiated and expanded my reputation. More invitations than I could accept competed for papers and lectures in meetings at Stanford, Harvard and other prestigious venues. Yet Holmes could never have accomplished half of what he achieved without Watson. We also collaborated on books and films about butterflies for the general public, including several for children, fascinated as they were by the colors, forms and flutterings. The earnings from this activity necessitated the services of a tax accountant and a financial advisor to manage our earnings and investments. Lori assumed the responsibility for our finances so I could concentrate on teaching and research. Our most spectacular achievement was the Butterfly Vivarium, a greenhouse containing a tropical garden where butterflies were fluttering around. A glass-enclosed passageway through the middle allowed visitors to observe them and the vegetation on which they fed. An adjoining structure housed the equipment, powered by solar collectors on the roof, that regulated the atmosphere and the lighting. It also contained a laboratory for breeding and research. Popular success and scientific prestige attracted many visitors, who paid a nominal entrance fee. When we needed additional funding, the university and enthusiastic alumni provided it.
Lori and I also had our kids, two boys whom she took care of during my summer expeditions to Amazonia. I stayed in touch by satellite radio. Rob, the younger one, wanted to accompany me.
"As soon as you and Max are old enough, I will take the whole family. You donít want me to leave him and Mom behind, do you?"
Mom and I laughed. Two years at least. I have been neglecting the stumbles and tumbles of our predominantly happy family in anticipation of the adventure that isolated me from them. Concentrating on the most remote region of the Amazon, I continued to discover species unknown to my fellow lepidopterists. Although I had learned some Brazilian Portuguese to communicate with my guide and porters, they spoke a native dialect of this language. I assimilated it by conversation with a guide named Peppi Chikkikoppa, who shared my enthusiasm for butterflies. His voice, which echoes in my mind, sounded like a catís meow. Short, bow-legged and muscled like a wrestler, he walked and ran with a jerky gait. His broad face assumed every expression from a gap-toothed grin to a squinting scowl. What impressed me most, however, was his fast and penetrating intelligence. As I acknowledge in everything I said and wrote, I owe him a wealth of ideas that never would have occurred to me without him. The best and the worst I learned from him was a tradition inherited from one of his ancestors. This man had seen a butterfly the wingspan of which equalled the breadth of his widespread hands touching at the thumbtips. Its wings had gleamed a brilliant green splashed with pink at the roots. Also pink, an eye decoy appeared on each hind wing tail and three eyespots on the outer edge of each forewing. Despite the beating of its continuously flexible wings, it was struggling against a powerful wind. It had apparently been blown out of Serra Boca, an unexplored and forbidding cirque in the Andes. According to this ancestor, it had gazed at him dolefully as if pleading for help. Although Peppi shrugged to excuse me from the courtesy of taking this claim seriously, I couldnít entirely dismiss it. How often had I noticed that a butterflyís black eye, which is really a cluster of six eyes, seems to express a sad congeniality with me?
I had already dedicated the current expedition to another research project, so I decided to postpone the preliminary necessity of studying the geography of Serra Boca to the coming academic year. Once we had finished that expedition, I engaged Peppi as usual for the next summer and told him that we would search for Lepidoptera Chikkikoppa. His
namesake inspired a huge smile, which amused me all the way back to Mammoth, three flights on three airlines. Although Lori met me with the boys as usual at Mammoth International, my fascination with the giant butterfly distracted me from enthusiasm over our reunion. My lukewarm affection disappointed all three of them, hence a feeling of guilt I tried to explain away. I could tell that Lori was worried. As soon as she and I were alone, she complained that every time I returned from Amazonia, she found me more remote. Every time, I conceded, I needed more time to reaccustom myself to my role as husband and father.
The danger of depriving our children of their mother as well as their father gave me pause. I told her about the giant butterfly and the opportunity that justified a dangerous expedition from which I might not return. "With Peppi taking care of me, though, my chances of survival must be nine out of ten."
"... The summer after next, Lori, I promise. If I neglected an opportunity like this... "
Although I needed two weeks to reintegrate myself in my family, I became as genuinely affectionate a husband and father as ever. In fact, the risk I would be running the next summer reinforced my affection.
Turning to a geographical study of Serra Boca, I encountered an astonishing initial difficulty. I couldnít find it on any map, photo or video of the northern Andes. While examining satellite images one day, however, I discovered a deep cirque surrounded by spikelike mountains with gaps east and west closed by sharp rock walls. Despite my relative ignorance of mountain geography, I found this apparently ancient volcanic formation unique in the Andes. A strong wind blowing through the gaps could have
driven the giant butterfly out of the valley. That close to the Equator, the sun shines on the valley all year long. Green in winter as well as summer, the terrain surrounding the lake evidenced continuous growth. The consistent warmth of the sun and the relatively high altitude of the valley floor assured a temperate climate. I could expect to find plant and animal life entirely different from that of the jungle in the east and the mountains in the west. I decided that an aerial search for access to the valley and survey of its five square miles should precede the expedition. After much trouble in raising enough money, I took advantage of spring vacation to do it. Since the cost of a helicopter exceeded my budget, I sought a bush pilot with a plane big enough to fly me, Peppi, and a photographer with his equipment over the site. At first, all I could find refused. As one replied, there had never been a crash in the area because no pilot was foolish enough to run the risk. Using his fingers to imitate tentacles, he compared Serra Boca to an insect-eating plant. I objected that the spikes were immobile, to which he replied that the air currents circulating around them would have the same effect. I asked him if an extra thousand dollars would encourage him to overcome the difficulty. His face lit up. He said he would do what he could without wrecking his plane and killing us all, but we wouldnít be able to fly as low and slow as I and my friends would probably like. I guessed that he wanted to demonstrate his skill, charge other customers the price I had offered and attract more of them by the publicity resulting from our observations.
Although height and flight donít usually scare me -- waves and deep water do -- it was the scariest flight I have ever taken. The wind varied constantly in direction and force buffeting the plane, which dropped, yawed or slowed almost to a stall. The pilot, who was struggling with the controls, had to gun the engine several times. Seated beside him, I saw sweat beading his brow and anxiety twisting his face. Would his DeHaviland Beaver withstand the punishment? Suddenly, vomit sprayed the cabin and Peppi yelled. The turbulence had sickened the photographer. I was afraid the stink would make me sick too. While Peppi was trying to clean up the mess with a rag and a bottle of drinking
water, the photographer kept taking pictures and video. My glimpses of the valley revealed a tall, thick forest covering most of the floor and conifers climbing the lower, milder slopes. None of us were able to sight any animals or evidence of human beings. Satisfied that we had explored the valley as thoroughly as possible, I asked the pilot to fly us over the mountains surrounding it. Climbing above the worst of the turbulence, to our relief, we passed over the spikes on either side and the walls at either end. None of us could see any feature that suggested access to the valley. Yet I asked the photographer to shoot the topography thoroughly, not only directly under us but also on a slant. All of us were exhausted when we finally landed at the airport. I invited the others for a drink at the outdoor bar, but the photographer politely shook his head. He borrowed cleaning fluid, rags and water to clean up his mess. I paid him a bonus too. I had to draw these extra funds from our bank account, which worried Lori. She was afraid I might spend too much another time.
The film and the video revealed much more than we had observed. I discovered vapor which must have been rising from volcanic springs. Likewise thin strands of smoke twisted by air currents above the trees. They couldnít have been coming from lava. The tall trees resembled redwoods and I found one lying on the ground in a position that suggested that it had been cut down. Some red llamas, which resembled no breed I could identify, were grazing on the foliage of shorter trees growing in rows. A few yellow herons were fishing around the lake. Magnification revealed a canoe drawn up on the shore and, after much scrutiny, some oblong dwellings under the trees covered with thatch. Here and there were tall, naked humans, whose skin resembled a sun-tanned white, women near the huts and men elsewhere. Two men were sawing the fallen tree into sections while a third watched. Although we could find no butterflies, big or small, blue areas indicated a flower that thrived in the valley. A thorough search for ground access finally revealed an S-shaped passage between the western wall and the nearest spike. Reaching it from the valley would necessitate a dangerous traverse along the top of the wall and passing through the mountains on the other side would expose travelers
to extremes of altitude, cold, wind and especially rugged terrain. Water that cascaded from snow and ice melting on the steep upper slopes accumulated in the lake. A small river drained the lake to fissures in the eastern wall. A variety of cascades splashed down the other side, accumulating in another small river, a source and perhaps the primary one of the Amazon.
I resisted advice from Lori and the few colleagues I had consulted to take other natives and scientists with me to ensure greater safety and success. The surest way to spoil a pristine remnant of our contaminated planet, I told them, was to expose it to other people. Not only would they degrade the site and the artifacts, but also advertise their existence. Adventurers and prospectors would soon flock to Serra Boca seeking fame and riches. How long would it take them to plunder the botanical, ichthyological, ornithological, zoological, anthropological and entomological treasures of Serra Boca? Every butterfly nut would crave a Lepidoptera Chikkikoppa for his collection, every flower nut, the blue flower for his garden. Every zoo would covet a red llama; every aviary, a yellow heron; every aquarium... Lord knows what kind of fish the herons were plucking out of the lake! What if they were good to eat? The heronsí yellow feathers might introduce another era of ladiesí hats and the llamasí red fur, one of fur coats. Timber pirates would raze the trees and sell the lumber to furniture manufacturers who would furnish dining rooms all over the world with tables and chairs made of exotic wood. Think what would happen to a community spared the devastation suffered by the rest of their fellow humans! Christian and Muslim missionaries would compete to convert them; interlopers and colonists, to enslave them; agricultural and industrial agents, to exploit them. No!
But how were Peppi and I going to enter the Boca? And without publicizing our intentions and destination? It was impossible for any kind of airplane to land and take off. Expensive and dangerous for a helicopter. We could parachute into the valley and
parachute our equipment from a small cargo plane flying just above stalling speed when the wind was down. But I foresaw two problems with this approach. In the first place, we might have to wait a long time for favorable wind conditions and, the longer we had to keep the airplane ready, the more it would cost. In the second, we would have to leave the valley on foot by the hazardous western exit. Once we had reached the other side, we would have to radio for a helicopter to come and get us on a nearby mountain slope. Provided we still had a radio and power to operate it, otherwise the trek over the mountains would be dangerous and exhausting. Thus the only option within my reach was fraught with difficulty and danger. Yet discovery of the giant butterfly and, incidentally, a rare if not unique phenomenon in our day: an unknown and unspoiled land and people. I naturally decided to try. Would I have ever forgiven myself for avoiding the challenge? I couldnít take a chance on the regrets that would burden the rest of my career and no doubt my life as well. Furthermore, the temptation to try what I hadnít would tempt the experts in whom I had confided to plan my expedition. As long as I controlled access to Boca, I could forestall the inevitable aggression of civilization.
The highest hurdle I had to clear was persuading Lori. Had I ever seen her cry? I was trying to explain the necessity of meeting the challenge I faced when, suddenly, tears came pouring down her cheeks and she ran to the nearest bathroom, slamming the door behind her. I felt a void swelling in my body. The threat to our life and family hammered my determination without smashing it. When Lori reemerged, she had washed her tears away, but her countenance suggested that she had already lost me. Disconcerted, the boys turned to me for an explanation, which I found almost impossible to articulate. After a few tense days, however, we found the hardback of Robinson Crusoe I had given Max for Christmas on the dining room table when Lori called us for supper. Despite Maxís polite thanks, he hadnít found the courage to read more than a few pages of so thick a volume.
All her men had big eyes but none of us dared to object, not even Rob, who was addicted to the few DVDs "for kids" that Lori and I allowed him. Our readings of Robinson Crusoe and the discussions they inspired cured him of this addiction and his reading skill made an impression at his kindergarten. As soon as we cut the lights out that first night, I expressed my gratitude, admiration and humility to Lori. She hugged me and, for once, sex came in second. Maybe we had finally fallen in love.
The second hurdle I had to clear was funding. Persuading donors to contribute necessitated revelations that tended to compromise the secrecy protecting Boca from predators. I had no choice. All I could do was plead with them to keep the information secret. A painting of Lepidoptera Chikkikoppa as I imagined it from Peppiís inherited description helped to convince them. Lori photographed it, drew up an attractive brochure and negotiated with the ZU Press to publish it. Brisk sales earned additional funds to support my expedition. I had already begun to purchase equipment and learn to parachute from an instructor who flew out of Concordia Airport. Unfortunately, an awkward landing gave me an ankle sprain, so I had to ice the swelling and hobble around on crutches for a few weeks. Friends and colleagues were calling me St. Ex the Second. I had also arranged for Peppi to take parachute lessons and he learned more quickly than I did. His instructor added a P.S. praising him in a letter Peppi wrote me in his handwriting and language, which fascinated the sole professor of Brazilian Portuguese at ZU. Further proof of Peppiís athletic ability which, fortunately, hadnít attracted the greed of the soccer mafia.
My bush pilot helped me find and negotiate with an airline which flew two small Antonovs to strips in the Amazon to supply the predators who were plundering the rain forest. Another chink in my armor! The airline charged me for a few practice runs over Serra Boca before agreeing to fly us and our equipment for a drop. I also paid the bush pilot to sit in the cockpit and advise the pilot and copilot. A few weeks after
commencement at ZU, Peppi and I had our equipment and supplies packed and ready in a hangar. Lori had insisted on coming with me and bringing the boys along for the flight and the drop. The wind calmed sooner than we had expected. Five minutes before we jumped, I hugged my wife and sons. To everybodyís surprise and delight, Peppi did likewise.
Out the door I went, felt the slap of the slipstream, the upward heave of my insides and the downward jerk of my opening chute. I saw the valley rising towards me and the peaks around me spiking the sky above me. The other three parachutes were following me in an upward line. Peppi and I waved to each other and I could see his great grin. The Antonov circled back over us and I saw Lori at the exit door waving, so I waved to her too. As the distance between us increased, I suddenly felt more lonely than ever before.
The ground was approaching, so I concentrated on landing safely. Another sprain would be fatal. We and the cargo packs all came down within a fifty yard radius on the grass beside the lake. What a successful drop! It seemed to augur well for our expedition. Peppi and I climbed out of our harnesses, folded the chutes and shouldered our backpacks so we could move our equipment and supplies to a campsite we had chosen. As we headed for it, we saw yellow herons along the edges of the lake and red llamas grazing on tree foliage in the distance, but no fellow humans. Then we saw giant emerald butterflies some fifty yards away and soon one was hovering over us curiously. The emerald flushed with pink was even more exquisite than I had imagined. The flexible forewings caressed the air so that it could hover or move in any direction. It waved its long, graceful antennae over us. Otherwise except for minor details, my guesswork proved accurate. The eyes that focused on us mirrored our fascination.
Running feet approached and we saw a dozen naked, tall, slender, muscular men coming with wooden clubs. Surrounding us, they faced us with their feet spread and
their clubs at their sides. They had tan skin, a mop of brown hair, hazel eyes, no facial hair and not one stitch of clothing. Peppi and I guessed that they were guarding us until their chief arrived to examine us and decide how they should treat us. As we spoke to each other, they listened curiously, for we seemed as strange to them as they did to us. Now many giant butterflies were hovering overhead, apparently attracted by the assembly. Our interest in them pleased the guards, who smiled and spoke to each other in a chanting language. Curious men, women and children, all of them completely naked too, began to approach from both sides of the lake. The men resembled the guards except for the variety of age. The women had the same skin, hair, eyes and the feminine equivalent of their bodies. In neither sex did we see any of the usual deformity of self-indulgence or aging. No obesity, for instance, not even any evidence of infirmity or disability. I began to worry.
I noticed that several adolescent girls were staring at me and giggling to each other. I wondered why since, except for Lori, women had never paid me much attention. One of the girls pushed her way through between two guards and approached inspecting me from head to foot. Soon two more followed her. The guards and the crowd were smiling their approval of this curiosity. Then the first girl touched my fly as if to confirm what was behind it, but I slapped her hand away. She made a little scream and pouted at me, while the other girls, the guards and the crowd grumbled their disapproval. The guards told the girls to leave the circle and they did so.
Why hadnít I thought of that? "Then we better show them."
We unzipped our coveralls to show them our chests and our all-too-hairy legs, which disgusted them. Yet our partial strip reassured them. We guessed that, if they didnít kill us, they would make us strip.
The crowd separated to let an older couple come through. Though gray-haired and wrinkled, they had aged handsomely. The chief lady gave me a friendly look and the chief man, a suspicious one, but they ignored Peppi. I waved at the butterflies overhead; pointed at Peppi, myself, our baggage and our parachutes; tried to indicate our intentions. The woman laughed and the man grumbled, while some of the others imitated her and others, him. The chief couple spoke to each other, then each spoke to the others who had imitated her and him. Further inspection of us, suggested approval of me and disapproval of Peppi.
Pointing at Peppi, I protested in English: "Whatís wrong with him?"
Looking at him, they burst out laughing. They were behaving as if I had tried a ridiculous diversion. The uniformity of their physique and the absence of invalids suggested eugenics. There were a few hundred of them, a number that the resources of Serra Boca could support.
The chief woman or "Djoop Stosi" pointed at our baggage and chanted an apparent request to see what was in it. Spreading our tent on the ground, we arranged our equipment and supplies on it. Curious, the crowd peered and murmured, while those in back stood on tiptoes. The camera and the video recorder caught their immediate attention, so I took the recorder, shot a clip sweeping around the circle and showed it to them. Surprise and delight! Approaching, Djoop Stosi discovered a drawing of the giant butterfly that I had made according to Peppiís testimony. Enthusiastic, she showed it to the chief man or "Ptash Stosi" and then to the crowd while moving around the circle. More surprise and delight! Encouraged, I put my arm around Peppi and gestured to the crowd to show that he shared my interest in the giant butterfly. Though diverse, the reaction was not encouraging.
Ptash Stosi pointed inquisitively at the radio and the crank-operated generator to power it.
"Letís demonstrate it," I told Peppi. "We could talk to our families."
I cranked while he told his wife that we had landed safely and he cranked while I did likewise. Both wives sounded relieved.
The voices coming from the loudspeaker astonished our listeners, who approached and examined it to see if somebody were hiding in it. We kept our communications brief to avoid trying our captorsí patience. Once we had stopped cranking and turned the radio off, I did a pantomime to show that the women who had spoken were a long way away. The first to understand, a middle-aged woman named Noo, explained that no tiny women were hiding in the loudspeaker. The outsiders had found a way to transmit these voices from afar. The amazement caused by this revelation inspired a debate between those who, as we guessed, admired it, such as Noo, and those who feared it, such as Zooft, the high priest or Ruca Ji-Jaw. Wouldnít such communication with the outside, I guessed, breach the isolation that preserved Boca from contamination and degradation? If the disapprovers had their way, we feared, they would destroy our radio. A gaunt old man with a mop of silvery hair; fierce eyes; thin, straight lips and a kettle-drum voice; Zooft apparently preached against this evil. Yet Noo answered all of his objections, hence a stalemate. Djoop Stosi proposed a temporary compromise: lock our radio, generator and other equipment up until I had demonstrated that I could be trusted. Ptash Stosi agreed.
They indicated that they wanted us to repack our equipment. Once we had done so, two guards carried it in our backpacks to a village on the north side of the lake, followed by two more with our parachutes, while the others escorted us to another on the south side. Both villages consisted mostly of long houses with walls of woven plant-fiber and thatched roofs, but our guards took us to a smaller, round hut. Inside, we found a floor of ceramic tiles and plant-fiber walls reinforced by a wooden framework. Our guards indicated that they wanted us to undress and saw that we did so completely. Imagine how we felt when they took us to an outdoor fireplace where women were preparing a meal! As naked as we were, however, they paid us no attention. The aroma of the cooking seemed as strange to us as the taste of the food, which one of them served on a large ceramic platter. She put it in the middle of a woven mat, invited us to sit down on either side and gave each of us a ceramic spoon. I was impressed by the exotic
colors, the unusual design and flawless finish of these ceramics as well as the decorations depicting exotic flora, fauna and naked Bocans. We had to force ourselves to eat at first, but soon our hunger took over and we began to enjoy the nourishment if not the taste. Only then did the woman bring us ceramic goblets of milk, which tasted so sour that we nearly vomited. Determined to make a good impression, however, we drank it down. We guessed, correctly as I later discovered, that it was llama milk.
The guards wanted to take us somewhere else, so we thanked the women, who interpreted our English and Brazilian by our smiles. Although we were nodding, they were raising their chins, so we realized that Bocans indicate agreement that way. Nodding meant disagreement. The guards escorted us to a long house with an entrance in the middle. As we entered, we saw a yellow heron in ceramic standing on a small table against the opposite wall. The eyes were so vivid that I would have taken it for a living heron if I had seen it standing in shallow water. Noo greeted us by smiling and extending her hands towards us with upright fingers. Peppi guessed that she intended for us to do the same and touch fingers with her, which he did and I imitated him. Pointing at herself, she said "Go Noo" and then at the heron: "Go". She waved her hand to indicate the dwelling: "Unh Go." A lesson in Bocan, a language unknown to linguists, had begun. Noo led us to one end of the hut, where an old man, a little girl and a smaller boy were waiting. As she introduced them, each smiled, raised his chin and touched hands with us, which Noo called "kah-tee." She spread a mat across the tile floor, placed leather cushions in a circle and invited us to sit down. She would say a word or phrase and the old man, the little girl or little boy would illustrate them. For instance, the old man smiled and frowned, the little girl stood up and sat down, the little boy walked and ran around us. Although Peppi was learning faster than I was, we both learned twenty-five words and phrases in about an hour. I prompted one of them by imitating the flight of the giant butterfly with my hand.
"Ji-jaw," said Noo.
Intrigued by the lack of writing, I stopped at the door as we were leaving, stooped, wrote "Unh Noo" in the sand and said it while looking inquisitively at Noo.
She accompanied us under escort by the guards to a long house in the north village. Opposite the entrance, we saw a life-size ceramic statue of a ji-jaw. The eyes seemed to focus on us. Once we had admired it, Noo led us to an assembly waiting at the end of the dwelling: Stosi Ji-Jaw and Rgoorch, their council, most of whom we had seen that morning. Zooft was on the Ptash Stosiís side and Noo joined the delegates on Djoop Stosiís side. Djoop Stosi and those on her side were smiling, while Ptash Stosi and those on his side were frowning. I approached and kah-teed with Stosi Ji-Jaw but, when Peppi extended his palms, Djoop Stosi merely up-nodded while Ptash Stosi down-nodded. I wondered whether they considered him a subordinate or a degenerate. He ignored the snub. Our courtesy increased the sympathy of Djoop Stosi and her side, decreased the antipathy of Ptash Stosi and his except for Zooft. This authoritarian symmetry both intrigued and alarmed me. A subtle shift in the relations between the two sides might decide our fate. Although our interest in ji-jaw favored us, our intrusion counted against us, while Peppiís racial dissimilarity endangered him.
Turning around and separating, the chief couple revealed our folded parachutes on the floor behind them. Pointing at them, Ptash Stosi looked at me inquisitively. Anxious to demonstrate Peppiís intelligence and competence, I asked him to explain the purpose of our expedition. He exploited the opportunity eagerly enough to indicate that he recognized the danger he faced. I admired his skill with sign language, which far exceeded mine. Somehow he managed to inform his listeners that his ancestor had discovered ji-jaw five generations ago. Watching their faces, however, I saw two reactions, a favorable one by Djoop Stosi and her side, and an unfavorable one by Ptash
Stosi and his. Zooft looked downright hostile. On Djoop Stosiís side, Peppiís ancestral association with ji-jaw tended to excuse his racial dissimilarity, but, on Ptash Stosiís, this inherited fascination threatened to breach the isolation of the Bocan community.
Once Peppi had finished, I pointed inquisitively at my backpack, which I had noticed next to one of the parachutes. Stosi Ji-Jaw up-nodded, so I took a pad and a crayon out. I sketched the giant butterfly as seen from above, wrote "Ji-Jah" under it and "Lepidoptera Chikkikoppa" under that. Showing it to Stosi Ji-Jah, I pointed at the first name, read it and pointed at them. Then I showed them the second one, read it and pointed at Peppi. Puzzled, the couple hesitated, which prompted his side to insist on "ji-jah" and hers, to concede "Lepidoptera Chikkikoppa" with an astonishingly correct pronunciation. Once they had said it, Zooft repeated the second expression contemptuously.
Pointing at the pad and the crayon, Ptash Stosi said "zik?", a word I had heard several times and understood to mean "please." I handed them to him and he up-nodded. Djoop Stosi examined my drawing and writing curiously, then she took the crayon, showed it to me and asked "zik?" I started to down-nod, but, realizing my mistake, up-nodded and, reassured, she smiled. At least smiles and frowns meant the same to them as to us. Taking the pad, she flipped to the next page and sketched a horizontal view of a giant butterfly with its wings raised in flight at a 45į angle. I admired the foreshortening. Pstash Stosi and both sides up-nodded, cheered "tee!" and stamped their feet, so we did likewise. Pointing at her drawing, Ptash Stosi made an embracing gesture, then at mine, and repeated it. Pointing at my writing, however, he scribbled disdainfully in the air and did a breast stroke as if to push it away. Zooft pointed at his head and his lips, made the embracing gesture, then scribbled with his hand and jerked his arm up as if to throw the writing over his shoulder. The others on his side applauded, but Ptash Stosi merely up-nodded, likewise Djoop Stosi and her side. So they agreed on the rejection of writing, a detour that degraded ideas flowing from thought to speech. They suspected our importation of indulging the mind and memory.
But would Stosi Ji-Jaw deprive us of writing or, worse, eliminate us as a threat to the intelligence of the community? Pointing at Noo, I named her. Pointing at Zooft, who didnít like it, I named him. Then pointing at Peppi, I said: "Peppi Chikkikoppa!"
Asking for the pad and the crayon, I drew Peppiís wife, nine kids and father-in-law with his cane in front of their house with smoke curling up from the chimney. Since I had never seen that or any of them, Peppi chuckled. The drawing excited much curiosity, questioning and puzzled glances at him, which we answered by persistent up-nodding. Taking the pad and crayon, Djoop Stosi flipped to a new page -- how quickly she had learned that! -- and, with frequent glances at Peppi, drew a likeness that strikingly resembled him. It not only showed his bow legs, his bulging muscles and his broad face, but it also suggested his energy. We all admired the sketch because it resembled Peppi, but they also laughed because it reproduced a likeness that seemed ridiculous and contemptible to them. Rather than let me sketch my family as I expected, Ptash Stosi called the guards in to take us away. Before we left, they kah-teed with me but not with Peppi. Although I pointed him out to them, they turned away.
"Racist snobs!" I shouted in English. "Heís a fellow human being of yours!"
Shocked, all of them turned and stared. Zooft glared at me. Ptash Stosi up-nodded to the guards, two of whom grabbed my arms and pulled me away, followed by others with Peppi.
They took us on a tour of Boca, showing us the two villages; the shops, the offices, the schools and the hospital; the fields, the orchards and the pastures where red llamas approached so we could stroke them; natural resources such as redwood timber, clay and iron ore deposits; volcanic fire, geysers and cascades. They paid no attention to the
rocky cliffs at either end of the valley or the slopes on either side where spiked peaks rose above them. Yet high on the south slope, I saw a herd of wild goats with a white and brown coat. I pointed them out to a guard, who shrugged as if they didnít matter. Instead, he recommended the cloud of ji-jaws that followed us everywhere. After this tour, the guards took us back to our hut, ready by then for us to sleep in. We found two wood-frame beds with flexible slats supporting llama-leather mattresses stuffed with llama wool. Our sleeping bags lay on top of them and our personal effects, such as razors and tooth brushes, were on a table between them. The absence of our pens, paper and documents didnít surprise us, but we worried about our radio and generator. I turned to one of the guards who was apparently waiting for questions or requests. Pretending to crank the generator, I looked at him questioningly. He nodded, said "bidge" and, to make sure I understood, he cranked a few turns and did a few breast strokes. We sought consolation in his failure to throw the generator over his shoulder.
Once he had left, bolting the door from the outside, Peppi and I looked at each other with the same idea in mind: how could we break out of this jail? Vents at the top of the walls and under the eaves admitted light, but a wooden lattice isolated them from us. The framework inside the walls would keep us from breaching them. The vertical timbers were anchored in a layer of volcanic mortar underlying the tile flooring. The wood of a horizontal timber snapped Peppiís razor when he tried to cut into it. Nor did we find a flint lighter like those we had seen elsewhere, so we couldnít burn our way out of the hut. A slab of the same wood, the door swung on three iron hinges and two well-spaced bolts slid through rings. All of these iron fixtures were nailed to the wood on the outside. During our tour, we had seen the head blacksmith forge such implements over volcanic fire.
Our tour, we agreed, suggested that the chief couple might admit us to the community. Neither of us mentioned the difference between their treatment of me and him. I was worried about that and I suspect that he was too. We still wanted to study the giant butterfly and leave with as much evidence as we could carry, including live specimens. The two or three months we needed to do that would give us enough time to plan our escape. Climbing a slope, finding a way to the exit and crossing the mountains would require clothing and equipment such as that taken from us. Either we had to recuperate it or replace it somehow and hide it where we could take it when we left. Hardly could we solve those problems without the complete confidence of the community. We guessed that Zooft would do everything in his power to substantiate his suspicion of us. Our relations with Noo, on the other hand, and her support during our hearing before the chief couple persuaded us that we could count on her to defend us.
No sooner had we agreed on all of that than we heard a knock on the door, which one of the guards unbolted and opened. They escorted us to the same dining area, where the same woman served us an evening meal. A salad of red cereal, rainbow tomatoes and little chunks of green cheese came on another ceramic platter with a dressing that had an odd aroma. Our hunger and thirst overcame our reluctance and especially because, instead of sour milk, she served us a delicious fruit drink. The more we drank, however, the more light-headed we felt. When the guards escorted us back to our hut, we were dragging our feet. As soon as the door closed behind us, we flopped on our beds and fell asleep in the dark. In what seemed like a minute later, a pounding headache woke me up in daylight. Peppi had disappeared along with his bed and his belongings.