The three-foot packhorse that Dafne brought us back from her swim barely fit in the cannibal pot on the stove. It came out as red as the Milky Way came on white, outside. All the other colors were waiting in our dreams.
As remote as it seemed on any map of the Pacific, the island we awoke to was downtown Southern Sea history and myth and wonder. Robyn and I found the first reason for this in the village cemetery, on a brass plaque with an Iron Cross centre, and a verdigris border.
‘In treuer Pflichterfüllung für das Deutsche Vaterland starben den
Heldentod: Ing. Asp. Lerche Ober- Matr. Hunger Heizer Reuter...
S.M.S. Dresden 14 Marz 1945’
In faithful performance of duty for the German Fatherland, died a hero. In 1915, the only German ship to escape the Battle of the Falkland Islands scuttled herself in Cumberland Bay, both a white flag and her war ensign flying in the wind. A third of her crew decided to stay in Chile after the war, and their descendents, and those of an original Swiss San Juan Bautista settler, constitute the predominant human invasive species. Above our heads, in the face of the overhanging cliff, were numerous large British cruiser shell holes, as well as the back of a solitary unexploded eight-incher, still in place.
We continued up a grassy slope, through glades of cypress, conifers and eucalyptus, into a tall lowland forest of unique white-flowered peppery canelos and orange-fruited myrtles. Ferns lined the steep mountain path, small at first, but growing taller and into giant Dicksonia and Thyrsopteris tree ferns, as our trail became steeper, our footing more difficult on the slippery volcanic rock. Our pace was unhurried, slowed further by the peace inside the upper montane rainforest. Robyn and I floated in an exotic landscape of luma, muchay and narajillo, pushing up from the dark, moist forest floor, seeking sunlight. We felt cleansed, decontaminated. There came a sudden loud raspy staccato doppler drone, rising and falling in pitch, motoring by at the speed of sound, a bright red bumblebee on steroids.
“There are less than two hundred left in the world.” I said. “And they’re all here.” It came around for another supersonic pass, five inches long, cinammon-red with slate gray wings, and an iridescent crown of emeralds and rubies and gold.
“He’s beautiful.” Robyn said. And he was. Sephanoides fernandensis. The Juan Fernández Firecrown, the world’s largest hummingbird. The Spanish call them picaflores. Flower pokers.
“He’s also doomed.” I said. “They eat endangered cabbage tree nectar, and nest in myrtles that are disappearing because of habitat loss from human destruction, blackberry invasion, and rabbits and goats. Domestic and feral cats are taking the last of them.” And the red bomber went by one last time.
“From scarlet to powdered gold,
to blazing yellow,
to the rare
to the orange and black velvet
of your shimmering corselet,
out to the tip
an amber thorn begins you,
small, superlative being,
you are a miracle,
and you blaze.”
Pablo Neruda, Ode to the Hummingbird