I begin this hymn to the regeneration of life in night vigil amid relentless tropical lightning, reclining in a hammock on the Conquista, a river boat to Manaus, in consummation of a long series of journeys along many rivers from the very source of the Amazon in sedge swamps in the high altiplano, through the alto-Urubamba, past the precipitous peaks surrounding Machu Picchu, the white-water rapids of the Pongo de Manique, the last wild portal of the Andes, to that anaconda, the muddy, log-strewn Ucayali, winding its way relentlessly north for many days, to become at first the Peruvian Amazon at the junction of the Maranon, amid the lagoons and meanders of the Pacaya and Samiria, only to become deposed again to the Brazilian Solimões, now ever-larger, sweeping steadily under the hull of the river boat as it cuts its way towards Manaus and the final confluence with the clearer, darker Rio Negro, where the mighty Amazon will finally and unambiguously wind it's way unchallenged to the Atlantic Ocean.
Of course all the tributaries, from the Mamoré to the Madre de Dios, Mother of God, from the Negro to the Napo, are Amazonas in the integral whole, just as la selva, the forest and its ecological diversity of plants, fungi and animals is the verdant Amazonas - the largest tropical forest on Earth, literally the lungs of our living planet, fashioned from over 250 million years ago, as the Andes began to push upward, reversing the westward river flow of the original continental valley that had from time immemorial flowed to the Pacific, to form the world's hugest river basin, as the giant shallow lake spanning almost the whole of the South American continent finally broke through to the Atlantic in the East.
Yet the Amazon is unique neither in its diversity nor in the destruction taking place. Diversity is threatened todo mundo - the world over - by a mass extinction which will haunt human civilization throughout the rest of our fragile history, unless we can take the steps now to plant the seeds of renewal. Hence this hymn to life.
The rivers we traverse form an endlessly flowing highway, bordered by thatched villages with their attendant gardens and small plantations, mingling natural harmony with forest destruction, sometimes living closely in cooperation with the natural world, but nevertheless on a vast scale taming and forever changing the face of the forest along every river bank, because of the mass movement of population into the jungle, diminishing or eliminating many keystone species, from the seed-eating fish such as the great paiche to the the tall hardwoods, such as the stately mahogany, and with them the many other dimensions of climax forest diversity, as the secondary growth of a few dominant species lays claim to areas cleared of virgin forest too extensive to regenerate in full diversity.
Many indigenous peoples have learned how to live in close proximity with nature over countless centuries, without causing massive wholesale destruction, although it is true that the first waves of migration of 'primitive' humankind did cause the demise of many of the America's great land animals. Many village societies today do demonstrate how it is possible to live in cooperation with natural diversity and reap, through nurturing it, the benefits of abundant food, diverse medicines and many natural products which enhance the quality of life both at home and in far-flung urban societies. It is from such village culture that a more compassionate relationship with the natural world already made by many indigenous peoples and can be engaged and celebrated by an enlightened eco-society. It is also possible to have a productive world with genuine abundance for all without wholesale destruction of the world's great wilderness areas, given a fairness of distribution of resources to those in genuine need. Currently, for example, there is up to 50% more food produced world-wide than required to feed every man woman and child, so the real problem is fair distribution, clouded by ownership and property rights and who pays the distribution costs..
However, unrestrained developmental forces are encroaching upon the landscape from all directions with an ever accelerating pace of wholesale devastation, which could see the great forest resources of living diversity reduced to a few national parks, comprising only a tenth of their former area, before the end of next century. If this happens, as current rates of felling and burning indicate, two thirds of the living diversity of planet Earth could become extinct by 2100. Much of this drive for extinction is abetted by international financial pressures, but it is also comes from a deep misunderstanding of humanity's relationship with nature, fuelled by personal greed.