Somehow I Don’t Think This Is the Ozarks Anymore


             The white apartmented skyline of the city of Goiania is visible from this ridge in central Brazil.  There are a million and a half people on the horizon; but below us the Valley of the Rio Caldas is empty of humans.  It took about forty minutes to get here and is, as such, Gustavo’s river of canoeing convenience.  In lots of ways the Rio Caldas reminds me of an Ozark spring-flooded-brown river, rolling through farmland hedged with forest, in this case jungle. Swap the "Samaumeiras” for sycamores and factor out the palms and I would be back on the Big Piney, my own river of convenience. "Caldas" means "hot spring" and the water today is rich as hot minestrone from the regular afternoon rains of this epoch.

             Once on the sinuous stream, sharp maneuvers are needed to elude disasters and I am a bit confused by the litany of directions from my pal in the stern: "Frente!" "Lemme!" "Forte!" as we crash through a veil of low hanging branches. Swept and drubbed. A familiar enough experience. But the reliance on the bowman for navigation is contrary to my lifelong experience and for a minute I wonder if it is because we are on the other side of the equator that this inversion is the norm. I find out later that a clever and strong paddler in the front is standard white water procedure, but we are on a river flooded fat over the rocks. The Ozark custom that the moron in the bow is there to gawk and the moron in the stern is there to steer should work here too. Gustavo and I try another protocol and he experiments with the demanding discipline of doing nothing in the bow as I take the stern and guide us, practicing principles formulated a full hemisphere north of here. There is an occasional spate of quick paddling; but our progress is swift and smooth, mainly, despite the occasional soft drubbing. Gustavo, a man of courage, sat low and centered when I pulled the old Ozark maneuver of "leaping the limb"-- clearing the felled tree across our course with only, uh, light lurch.

             I feel quite at home and hope my continual comparisons to the Ozarks do not bore my companion; but really I am pleased with the similarities of current and flora.  “Martin Pescador,” the kingfisher’s cousin, chatters by and there are groves of bamboo to found on the Eleven Point River in Missouri. But then:

             A neon blue butterfly big as a baseball cap flops by...

             A red monkey, the size of a five year old, leaps like a squirrel from treetop to treetop...

             And that was not a turtle splashing out of sight, but an alligator....  As in see you later...



             And here is another one I NEVER saw in the Ozarks:

             We are working our way up a "corrego," a narrow, hair pinned, creeklet veiled in vines. The source of the clear water is some kind of spring and the sound of that invisible waterfall draws us turn by acute turn into this labyrinth that is happily without bugs.

             Gustavo exclaims, "Oi! Olha aqui! Meu Deus! Para!" ("Hello! Looky here! Oh, my God! Stop!") Suspended eyeball high across the passage is a gray bat, his foot-long wings stretched out and hooked in a formidable spider web. We contemplate this weird apparition, hanging motionless but alive.... Gustavo even wonders if he is resting. I am looking around for the spider, when the trapped creature compacts into a fur ball and as quickly expands into a bat and flits off into the green jungle... Well I was dumbfounded with strange delight. In thirty years of Ozark meandering I never saw THAT before. “Nunca.”

             Only later does Gustavo admit that in his twenty years of extensive river ventures in Brazil, that HE has never seen the like. “Nunca.”


             A year and a day after my experience on the Rio Caldas I was canoeing on my own river of convenience, the Big Piney, on a 70-degree day in winter with a 30 mph wind at my back—mainly.  I saw the following: a three foot limb vertical out of the water with a cobra-like hood at the top, that resolves to…. to… a sun-dried turtle the size of my hand, clinging to the top of the stob. Is he dead? Certainly motionless. And he is apparently caught up in a spider web with strands that stretch to the next branch! He had climbed straight up to get the best of the sun in winter and is not eager to forsake his hard-won perch. Yellow, green, and subdued red striations of color line his long neck. A dark eye glints as he does a back flip into the river, yellow-plate belly to the sun for a moment, then a dive for the deep where he disappears under a submerged boulder. An owl called from the wood in the middle of the day. What IS going on here???