Copyright © 2012 by Outside the Box Ink. Image from fatpaddler.com
INDIGNATION + INDISCRETION
Through the slurry haze of rain that pelts the windows of the GEOforce van, I can see the river has overtaken the road. Creamy whitewater laps at the bases of the trees, wearing one down until its roots give out and it crashes into the water to introduce a constant 3-foot wave that breaks violently in three directions.
Agent27 maneuvers the van, foolishly thinking she can make it to the other side. She does not expect the gnarly mass of underwater debris would snag the car’s chassis, only to anchor the van to be filled with water. And she does not see the immense log coming down the line until it hits the van with such force that it kills her and the Soldier in the front seat.
The noise is raw and overwhelming, like a washing machine that has broken a pipe yet still keeps churning. I turn to my handcuffed companion in the backseat who has panic in her eyes and is shivering uncontrollably in the climbing water that has reached her pelvis. I calmly wink at her then reach down to retrieve a large knife from my boot, which I use to slice through the side panel of the door. I pry open the locking mechanism and the door opens as the water reaches our shoulders.
I reach for the woman’s hand and we scramble through the opening with our heads momentarily submerged. We drape our linked arms over a log bobbing past us and lift our knees to allow the river to take us downstream into a tangle of branches. Mustering the strength to somehow operate my frozen limbs, I lead the woman ashore, branch by branch.
We fall to our knees, coughing and sputtering out water from the river that almost killed us and the woman falls face first into the dirt and passes out.
* * *
The snap and pop of the humble fire triggers her to come to. Her eyes dance wildly around a small cave that is dimly illuminated and the rain is still thundering to the ground outside the narrow entrance. Their sopping wet clothes are laid out on a rock outcropping where they drip into the fire to a tune not unlike sizzling bacon.
She is surely warm at her core, not from the fire but from the fact that she’s nestled in the earth under a layer of dirt and pine branches up to her shoulders. She turns her head to find me in a similar nest, shaving the end of an arm’s length stick into a spearhead point. I look up and smile.
“We are hypothermic. Best to dry out and warm up before we move on,” I say, testing the spear with my fingertip before placing it on the ground with the knife. I stand up and feed some branches to the fire then hunker on my haunches to warm my hands which I briskly rub over my naked body.
The woman exhales slowly and she wiggles her limbs then sighs with the satisfaction that feeling has returned.
“Do you always carry that big knife in your boot?” she asks, provoking a hearty chuckle from me as I return to my nest.
“I’m Peruvian. I’ve been carrying a knife since I was old enough to lift one.” I arrange the evergreen branches up to my shoulders like an animal rooting into the ground. “Funny, with all the GEOforce protocols they never bothered to check my boots for a weapon. Clearly they’ve never worked security at an airport.” I lay down and turn my head to the woman. “I’m Dr. Rosa Villalobos; Amazon woman.”
“I’m Lulu; very impressed,” she responds with a grin. “So what were they bringing you in for?”
“One act of indignation. You?”
“Thirteen acts of indiscretion.”
“Wow, lucky thirteen. I sure hope you’re lucky, Lulu. We’re going to need it,” I reply with a sly smile. “I wish I knew this area better so I can figure out where we should head next.”
“I know this area. I’ve skied these mountains for years. There’s a good backcountry trail that leads to a ski resort only a few miles away. There will likely be food and there will definitely be warm beds at the Lodge. Perhaps we should head there?”
“Bueno.” I pause, deep in thought, then turn my eyes to the fire. “You know, this reminds me of my childhood in Peru. In areas where it’s always raining there are quite a few caves. One time when I was 12, I was out collecting plants with my cousin, Lupita. Her mother was a healer and we had been searching for plants to surprise her. We weren’t paying attention to the clouds and we got lost just before dark. We found refuge in a small cave until dawn broke. It poured throughout the night and as it was dark inside the cave all we could do was talk.
“Lupita was following in her mother’s footsteps and she told me all about what she was learning. That was the night that I became inspired to study ethnobotany when I later attended university.”
“How is it that you came to be in Washington?” Lulu asks as she rolls to her side to face me.
“I had a scholarship to do undergrad at the Evergreen State College, then I went on for my doctorate at New Mexico University. I came back here to do field work for “Medicos para la Veridad.”
“La Veridad is a big topic. What kind of truth are you looking for, exactly?”
“Truth in healing. We study the traditional methods of indigenous populations because they do not participate in Western medicine yet they are still healthy and thriving. The United States is peculiar in their reliance on pharmaceutical drugs to address health issues. We seek an alternative to medicine. Cures, if you will.”
“I’ll bet that makes you very popular in the medical community,” Lulu comments with sarcasm.
“Quite right,” I chuckle. “They’re not in business to cure anything, just to treat symptoms and mask underlying issues. Their actions against our research just show how much they are threatened by what we are doing. In fact, for the last five years we have been in litigation with the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization over our cure for the common cold.”
“You have a cure to the common cold? I thought that was impossible.”
“That’s what they want you to think. Remember, health is big business. If no one needs a drug for every sniffle and cough then they’re out of business. Better to suppress illness and create bigger illnesses that require more intense treatment that comes at a higher cost. If a condition requires surgery and long-term drugs, then they have hit the jackpot. In the Western way, healing has less to do with the doctors holding the scalpel than it has to do with creating a long-term reliance upon the medical industry.
“This is such a foreign perspective to non-industrialized people, who have flourished for centuries without hospitals and pharmaceuticals. For years I believed that there was no way that the medical industry would purposely hurt people in their care. When we discovered a cure to the common cold it was a revelation that would eliminate the suffering of countless people all over the world. At first they tried to buy us out. Then they tried making their own synthetic concoctions. These bio-pirates even tried to sue us on grounds of patent infringement. They literally own the rights to certain plants through intellectual property protection.”
“I’m confused. Why would you patent a plant?”
“Let’s say I hold a patent to the rose. In theory, I own every rose on the planet that I can find, whether it grows on private property or not, to use for whatever purpose I choose. I can sell them to make bouquets, medicines, confetti, perfume; the uses are endless. I can clear out entire hillsides to grow roses if I wanted, because that plant is mine. All the money goes into my pocket and anyone who tries to use my roses for any purpose beyond my approval and profit then they can be fined or even imprisoned. Sounds extreme, right?”
“Commercial monopolization is not a new concept. This is becoming the reality of every healing plant on this planet. We are traditional healers sharing cures that have been fought every step of the way, with litigation, threats and, more recently, actual violence. For years we have been wading through an abyss of paperwork, but when the power went out with it went our accountability to commercial interests. Or so we thought. Apparently the GEOforce has people to spare during this war on global warming who actively seek and arrest people for patent infringement. And therein lies the act of indignation that put me in handcuffs. So, how about you, Lulu? What did you do wrong?”
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