Book Review: The Lost City of the Monkey God

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By Sharon St Joan

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston (2017) is not a happy-happy book. In fact it’s rather grim. However, it moves along quickly, and it is profoundly fascinating, with the potential to transform your worldview and your perceptions of the past, present, and future. For a long time there have been many legends about a lost culture, known as the “white city,” in the jungles of Honduras. With the advent of lidar, which is a technology that makes it possible to see through the jungle and to be able to see the outlines of structures that are hidden from view by the thick foliage of plants, it is now possible to view the presence of ancient temples and other buildings long obscured by the jungle.

This doesn’t mean this expedition was easy. Douglas Preston, who took part in the excursion to discover the lost ruins this ancient city, describes a fascinating, but painful, adventure into the thick jungles of Honduras. The old legends turned out to be true. There is indeed a long-lost, absolutely immense, ancient city hidden and previously undiscovered under the cover of the jungles of Honduras.

Putting their lives at risk, the expedition cut their way through impenetrable jungle, plagued by venomous snakes, hordes of insects, horrifying parasites, and intolerable weather to discover enchanting, mysterious, untouched forests and – underneath the jungle – the spell-binding remains of an ancient culture over a truly vast area — along with hundreds of profoundly beautiful artifacts and an unknown ancient writing. This was a civilization older than that of the Maya and as yet completely unknown.

This account is eye-opening from another perspective. With the coming of Europeans to the Americas, it is now generally well understood that the native population suffered profound and irreversible consequences, losing as much as 90 percent of their population in both North and South America. Undeniably, the history of the impact of Europeans on the Americas is a long story of brutality and profound injustice, for which there can be no excuse or justification.

What is perhaps less well understood though is the extent to which the depopulation of native peoples in the Americas may also have been due to the importing of disease itself. Douglas Preston paints a vivid description of the lack of immunity to diseases brought by the Europeans.

That lies in the past. However, he does not stop there – he continues with a jarring description of parasitic disease that is present today and that can only, in fact, be expected to become calamitous in the future, aided by global warming.

This is a book that disturbs our European-centric view of civilization from all points of view. It opens a vista on to a continent filled with a long history that is pretty much as yet unknown to us — especially if we can put — alongside our awareness of this newly found civilization in Honduras — a newly brought to light history of thousands of years of archeological discoveries throughout all of South America (not to mention Asia, as well).

We just cannot continue to sit still, content with our old, minimalist history that is largely focused on Europe — going back to the Romans and Greeks – with Europe having the top billing first, second, and always.

There is so much more to our world that we must now include — especially all the history, still being discovered, of South America.

On top of that discovery, there is more in this book – a rather startling view of the ominous possibilities that may lie in our near future — of horrifying plagues that may await us in a warming world.

If we’re not too afraid of unsettling our worldview, this is a fascinating book! It will introduce us to a vastly different view of history, very real and as yet little imagined. (Tip: If all this is depressing, you might turn to reading about the eternal cycling of the world ages – the yugas.)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Nature Poetry — Naturalist Weekly

“This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks” – H.W. Longfellow. Born on February 27, 1807, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a poet, educator, translator, and environmentalist. In a three-part series titled “Longfellow’s Nature Poetry”, the National Park Service explores Longfellow’s connection to the land and how it influenced his writing.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Nature Poetry — Naturalist Weekly

Do you see the wind?

eagle in flight
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The sage brush nods her head

In deference to the sun —

Quite —

Juniper branches wave,

Exultant.

Tiny, brave

Plants rustle in delight.

Did the flock

Of goats startle at the ringing

Of the bells of dawn?

The bald eagle,

With downbent beak,

The first of the season

To return,

Sails — her white head held

High,

Sky queen,

Jubilant,

The stars all gone.

Ravens call

Sparkling black in the air

At the spare

Skeleton

Of an eon past – or maybe yet to be.

An urn

Cools in the quick-running stream.

While, off the coast below,

The gill

Of the fish, finned,

Shines in the magic of the rolling sea

Waves fall

And gleam,

Snow-

Tipped in the path of the fierce wind dragon

While Meenakshi looks on

From the shore,

Sea-shelled.

Fish-eyed Meenakshi

Who danced long ago in the sea

With blue dolphins —

She came ashore

Then from the wandering sea

By the coconut palms, in the wind-deep roar,

Whose fronds bend and bow.

No.

No one sees the wind now.

No one has ever seen

The wind,

Yet the wind is there,

All around, everywhere

The living spirit who enlivens

The earth, who brings a confidant

Day; Vayu – God of the wind,

Just as the Holy One,

Who is never seen at all

Anywhere,

Nor ever heard to speak,

Except in the echoing thunder,

Yet, with nothing said,

Gives

Breath to all that lives,

Including the tall

Red

Rock –

Ancient pillars standing,

Mountains,

The strong frame of the earth, awake

By the lake

Of wonder,

Of bumblebees and lilies,

Under the moon

And the sun,

And the eagle’s wing,

In the wind,

In the wind

That runs soon

Through the open door

In the rain-blown rock.

***

By Sharon St Joan, November 2021

© Copyright, Sharon St Joan, 2021

If you like this poem, you might also like this website, Forest Voices of India https://forestvoicesofindia.com

No

animal big fur zoo
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No space,

Nor time,

No distance,

No night, nor day,

Nowhere,

Only the bobcat who strays

Across the high slanted

Bridge

Of rock, buried in snow,

Overlooking the deep fog lake

Below.

No dance

In the white air,

Lingering, a single chime

Of the Tibetan bell.

Why

Not take

Time

To stay

A while,

Footsteps of grace,

Glimmering eyes

That do not smile.

The moon calling from far across the haunted ridge,

Enchanted

Spell,

Cast in the window,

Through the wise

Year of fire-glow,

Of softly growing snow.

© Sharon St Joan, 2021

Evening

clouds during sunset
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Did you think to thank the evening?

I am the evening,

I have a soul, old and real,

A being – an essence from another age –

The flowering sage,

Spilling gold,

The half-moon watching,

The glimmering petals of time

That bloom

Between the echoes

Of lost places,

The ravens recounting

Tales untold

Of yesteryear,

The wheel

Running on and on,

While the tadpole curls up into sleep.

Did you thank the One

Who made the evening?

Or did you assume that all came together

Just entirely by chance?

A lovely accident

With no intent?

Nothing to see,

An idle dance?

Yet the evening is a petal

On the deepening rose of time

By the haunting cliff, steep,

Blown in the owl-awakened wind,

Gently, as the clouds

Fold up into stars

And the clear sky sings

Her song with crowds

Of hummingbirds that chime,

Recalling the embers

Of lilting Septembers

From far, far away,

Traces of rain remembered,

The wall of China

Winds around the rolling hills,

From lands long ago

In the swirling snow.

© Sharon St Joan, 2021

Written September 14, 2021

Where now is the mist-ringed bell

green trees on mountain
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Where now is the mist-ringed bell

That tolls over the wandering wave

Of the gray

River?

The moon a sliver

In the sky?

Who can tell?

Where now the branches of the nagalingam tree that sway

And brush along the cool earthen banks,

Home of shy,

Determined snails,

Before the dawn of being,

Long before the chaos

Of disrepair

Grumbled through the dark hall

Of the subterranean cave.

Where now is the brave, ascending song

Of the gold-eyed buffalo burr,

Who clung to the canyon wall,

In the fierce, railing wind,

Her petals beaming in the sun,

The one

Proclaiming victory for the day,

Where now the call

Of the giant whales

Who dive beneath

The cliff rising from

The moving waters of infinity

In the indigo

Deeps

Of joy – whales who play

With their children, ocean games

In the seaweed-flowing mystery

Of their sparkling blue sea –

Where now the curious

Goat who leaps

Among the white patches of winter snow

Along the steep

Hill of the cedarbreak?

Where now the songs

From the ranks

Of all the charming, twisted juniper trees,

Their bark that curls around like smoke,

Whose wisdom

Belongs

To the light,

The moonrise,

And the night,

Who spoke

In the ever-whistling wind,

But then were felled by a cold-axed blow

Of barbarity and lies.

All their songs are fled away

To the far, far mountains of freedom

Where they echo,

Echo,

Gone

To the long

Hills,

Where God always sings

In the wandering dawn,

Waiting for the tumult and the chaos

To have ceased

On the ending day

When flames

That have hissed high

At long last fade,

Scattered away

On the winds,

Lost in the trills

Of birdsong

And the swarm

Of the bumblebee.

Then, in a world that has glided out of the gray mist,

The heart of the wild geese

Will sound once again,

Free,

As the flight

Of the numinous

Rose-winged beauty

Of the dragonflies

Along the lilting, frog-enchanted lake,

Humming.

Hear now the wings,

The presence

Of all the beings,

Released –

Watched over by the bright,

Night-shimmering form

Of Hamsa, the swan who flies

Over the green forest

Of yore,

Reawakened by her

All-knowing essence,

Beginning anew,

In a magic country,

The land of evermore,

Eternal, true

And ever-now,

In the mystical hour of the gray dawn.

© Sharon St Joan, 2021

After a while

rock formation
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Tall,

To the sun

And the moon they rise,

Pillars

That hold up the land

Of the stars,

In the early morning

Of time.

Where the chime

Of butterflies

Rings in the mist

Of clouds,

Where the horses of the wind climb

Archaic hills, peace settles,

Free from the shrouds

Of thought bewildered.

When the grinding wheels

Of the rattling cars,

The careening cart,

Of the manic race of beings that never stops

Have stopped, unspinned,

And fallen down

From the lofty wall,

Their memory lies

Quiet,

Dimming,

In the cheerful company

Of ghosts,

In the sooted

Shambles of empires

Cast

Under the snapping heels

Of fate.

Then

The coyotes

And the ever-knowing raven

Will run again

In gladness,

Across the red rock sand.

The wild hills, free now,

As the lilies

Of eternity

Who bow

In the wandering wind

By the bright

And undiscovered

Sea.

After the horns

Of many winters

Have fallen silent,

The husk

Of time

Discarded,

The aspiring rose will lift

Her head again

Among the rocks, resilient,

In the ice-enchanted

Spring.

The wind will sing.

Stones

Will shine, blessed in the twinkling

Emptiness

Of night.

The crow

Hops

In black

Clouds that inhabit

A sky of joy;

Coyotes laugh last

In the dance of the dusk,

And the ancient,

Earlier folk

Walk

To take back

The sacred mountain

Stolen

So long ago,

Now that the age of the unholy

Will be ended and done,

Gone

On the smoke

Of the fleeing mist.

Under a delicate crown

Of forest

Leaves, mice play

Among their catch,

The silver

Trinkets of the dead,

And talk

A while of feats of yore.

Herons glimmer,

One-footed,

On the green, tree-

Shouldered river.

Such an ill wind

That blew

Into the bones

Of the soul

Of men,

And stayed, corroding

The core

Of history,

Such a grim, unseemly game,

Like thorns

Lodged in the heart,

But when the scales fall

Away,

One by one by one,

Then

In the end there are only

The plain, rain-lit,

And the rose that flowers anew,

The innocent petals

Of nevermore,

And the farmer’s boy

Who whistles

In the strawberry patch,

By the lop-sided shack,

Where the corn stalks grow,

His blue

Hat adrift

On his head,

In the town

With no name,

Where the raven rules, with the snow-

Winged geese.

The sun holds the empty bowl,

Blessed be his ashen fires.

Agni, the one

Who returns

All

Back to the beginning.

Set the burning

Lanterns

Out and wait

In peace,

From within the rock and mist

To hear a killdeer call,

To sail away

To a far and luminous shore,

Known so well from long before,

On the flaming ships of dawn.

© Sharon St Joan, 2021

Within the snow

Within the snow,

Eternity.

Within the tree-topped circles,

Flocks

Of red-winged blackbirds

Singing silver reeds of song.

Beyond the words,

The clear

Bright

Voice of the moon speaks,

The voice of all that is and might

Have been.

Above the long

Waves of the ever-turning, white-pounding sea,

Seagulls

Seek

Peace.

Rains

Run by the crease

In the page

Of the dusted year.

Beyond the clouds of storms, of bursting rifts of light,

The bitter winds of jagged rocks.

Beyond the thought forms, tumbled, broken,

Remains

The peace of the One

Who is only

There in the deepest mist

Of the great forest

Beyond the many worlds that come and go,

Within the heart of basalt rocks,

Within the soul

Of the jaguar and the tadpole,

The lily and the dandelion,

Within the black night

Of wonder

And the snow

Falling on the juniper

Branches and the flowering gold sage

Of eternity.

© Sharon St Joan, 2021