Forest Gnosis Part I

Photo: Michael Eric Nickel

What does it mean to live and work day to day in a tropical rainforest? Obviously if you’ve lived in urban contexts your whole life there will be a tremendous amount of new knowledge to acquire. Much of this knowledge would pertain to day-to-day “mundane” activities like preparing food, taking a bath, sleeping well, washing clothes, etc. However, to me, I choose not to distinguish between the mundane and non-mundane. We are beings living in a very mysterious i.e. spiritual context, having a “human experience.”  In other words, all activity in my mind IS “spiritual” activity.

Hence, the phrase “forest gnosis.” Living in the wild forest is like living in a whole other world-an enigmatic matrix of zillions of interconnected multi-dimensional beings in the air, vegetation, water, soils, my body! Sure, I have access to many modern amenities like a motorcycle, clothing, sunhat, boots, backpack, machete, plastic bottles + bags, etc. However, it is possible to do away with most of these things and learn to live in the forest on its terms. Here at Isulawasi that would mean, for example, identifying and learning the habits of dozens of animal species, hunting-gathering-growing food, learning how to make use of dozens of useful plants-trees-vines-fungi, learning to make simple dwellings out of found material, and make fire with dry wood for starters. Ok, we wouldn’t have to go that far, but it certainly makes for an interesting “stoic” experiment. Anyhow, there are still many things one who lives and works in the forest ought to know.

Photo: Michael Eric Nickel

One thing for folks that do any kind of wild forest gardening or horticulture in the Amazon is learning about the habits of 5 or 6 common wasp species. There are some wasps like “shiri shiri” that love to nest on the rafters and beams of wood dwellings and are moderately aggressive when molested. Then there are two species of “carachupa” that like to nest in trees including cacao and are very aggressive. I have learned to distinguish between the different wasp species by nest type, aggression level, habitat, and potency of sting. This “gnosis” definitely comes in handy to avoid pissing them off and, in turn, getting badly stung. Then again, the locals consider wasp stings and the like medicinal!  So, at this level, it is essential to get to know who you are living amongst and the habits of these beings.