Night Music

Net jacket, mosquito repellent, headlamp. I’m ready. Ten of us follow Juan, our native Amazonian guide, over the stone path, past the tool shed, through the orchid greenhouse, into the night. Leaves crunch beneath our feet as we hit the forest trail. Though the rain has not yet come, the air is hot and moist. Beyond our bobbing headlamps, utter darkness.

I should tell you that I am not in love with creepy, crawly, or flying creatures smaller than birds. Yet, I’m curious. What are those noises we hear while tucked into our cozy cabins after dark? Do I have the courage to face the deep, dark woods that all the fairy tales I read as a child taught me to fear?

It doesn’t take long to find out. As I switch on my headlamp, insects swarm to the light. Ack! Something large flies at my face. I duck my head and wave my hands. Juan reaches out, grabs the creature, and holds it in his cupped hands. “Owl-eyed moth,” he says. He gently unfolds the wings to reveal two large black dots, a faux owl’s face scary enough to deter any predator. Further along the trail, my companions huddle beside a plant taller than our heads. A pale stick-like insect as long as my hand munches on the corner of a thick, green leaf. A few steps away, Christian, Juan’s young apprentice, holds something in his closed fist. When he opens his hand, a dark object flits out and lands on Juan’s shirt. “Harlequin beetle,” says Juan. Two long forelegs stretch out on either side of its head, orange joints on each of its six segmented legs. On its back a yellow and black design intricate enough to grace any fine art tapestry or vase. The beetle flies off to continue his night hunting. Everywhere we shine our lights, more surprises. Finally, I notice the sounds—beeps, peeps, squeaks, hums, drums, and croaks, and above it all, a high-pitched bzzzzzzzzz. Frogs, insects, even the barely audible low notes of an owl provide rhythm, syncopation, variation—a night jungle symphony. In a shiny, succulent leaf we find a yellow frog, no bigger than half the length of my pinky finger, no doubt a member of the chorus. Nearby, someone discovers a crimson dragonfly, wings shimmering in our lights. Then, Juan calls out, “look at this beauty.” It’s a hairy fist-sized tarantula grasping a fat wriggling grub. Admiration yes, beauty no, I think.

An hour later, we loop back to the lodge, past the pond where the symphony intensifies in range and volume, past the thatched roof where the bats slept all day. I’m hot, sticky, and scratching places where something found sustenance in my flesh and blood. 

I wouldn’t say that this short jungle walk erased my childhood fears of things in the dark night, but those fears have been tempered by a sense of wonder at a world bigger and beyond us. A world of life and death, love, conquest, and survival. The life of the Amazon, the life and breath of our planet.

Blog: Night Music
Yarina Lodge, Napo River, Ecuadorian Amazon