Of course I would make a stand with the men of Villa Verde. The noise of it was deafening. The wind it generated roared though the draw below the house, and whipped past me hot and dry. I stared across the river and watched it serpentine through the canopy. The forest fire grew, exploded, and then retracted as if planning its next move. It consumed all in its path. Through tear clouded eyes I saw Luís approaching from the knot of village men. The patriarch asked me, “¿Va a ayudarnos en la mañana, Omar?” I looked back to the ridgeline. I felt the searing heat pass through me. Suddenly, the fire intensified, as if to challenge me. “Por supuesto, Luís. Estaré listo con el sol,” I responded.
I came to Honduras to perfect my language skills and to gain a more intimate knowledge of its culture. When I attained my Bachelor’s degree, I closed a chapter of my life. I wanted to know the man into whom I had grown. I thought this was going to mean sorting emotions, desires and experience. Never did I dream that it would mean summoning up my courage, facing my fears, and preparing to risk my life for others. The next morning, as sunlight began to bend over Montaña Verde, I stared up Celaque into the haze and destruction and realized that that was exactly what I was to do.
When I was seventeen, life passed like an abandoned raft I once saw on the river by my grandmother’s house. I watched as it floated effortlessly on the current and disappeared around the bend. High school never challenged me and college was being laid out by counselors, teachers and parents. Like the raft, which eventually would be barreling towards the small waterfall a few miles downstream, I was on a collision course with my first “life’s lesson:” that which you attempt without intention, you are attempting to only fail. My first year in University was decidedly more academically rigorous than high school. Rather than responding to the wake up call of reality, I hit the snooze button.
Although my scholastic career had been momentarily derailed, it was hardly an end to my education. Cut off from that world of middle class privilege, I found myself immersed in struggle and toil. Dirty dishes, upset tourists and a tyrannical manager became my professors. Rent became my exams. I worked hard, and I was soon a professional server, an aspiring sommelier, and dependent on no one but myself. The Lower Eastern Shore gave me solid ground to land on my feet, but offered me little room to run. I learned the value of a dollar, but decided that I desired more than just a dollar earned. I made my good byes, said my thanks, and moved west.
It was in Oregon, in terms of old growth forest, that I was able to be part of something that left me feeling fulfilled. Hours in front of a copying machine, a close relationship with a staple gun, and miles walked were my “not romantic, but necessary” experiences as an environmental activist. I learned that to be a part of something, sometimes it is necessary...