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Turn Towards the Jungle

Updated: Feb 11, 2023

Boat trip up the Coppename River with

Conservation International and Kalabascreek colleagues

Swinging in a hammock, I chatted with my Surinamese colleague, Steve Oldenstam (a.k.a. Steveo), who guides people on nature encounters (you may contact him here: We were with Conservation International on a short trip to the village of Kalabascreek to see if they would be interested in working with us on parrot conservation and tourism projects.

Steveo turning towards the jungle of the Peruvia Reserve

I asked Steveo what conservation means to him, and how it might be a spiritual practice. He told me that it was to “turn towards the jungle.” He continued, “For too long our people have turned their backs on nature, and instead they have gone after money. I was raised to think like that, and I don’t want to live that way anymore. So, I empty my mind of all stories and turn towards the jungle. There is the truth and there is everything you need to know.”

Steveo in the Jungle

As he said this he acted it out, first turning his back on the jungle to one side of our open shelter, and then turning back with arms outstretched to the forest patch. I say patch because this area has long been farmed and we were surrounded by secondary growth, and because I have so many stories about the worth of various levels of wildness and wilderness. So as he turned back and forth I attempted to empty my mind of the stories of loss, of parrot decimation due to the international demand for these species, and of how I might heal this fragile world that echoes my own vulnerability.

Steveo turning towards the jungle in Batavia (a pilgrimage and parrot site near Kalabascreek)

Then I experienced the power and possibility of this moment, and even then I attempted to let that relief fade away. In its place came a smile that shines through both the beauty all around us, and the ever present tragedy.

Steveo turning towards his fellow species to translate ideas of parrot conservation

I don’t know if I can call upon this equanimity whenever I want, but I will remember my guide swaying me towards peace more than even my beloved hammock, and I will also remember to turn, turn.

Steveo turning to another species, the scarlet macaw,

as he demonstrates the great turning we all need to do

Christine Fry also urges us to turn in her poem, “The Great Turning.”

You’ve asked me to tell you of the Great Turning

Of how we saved the world from disaster. The answer is both simple and complex. We turned.

For hundreds of years we had turned away as life on earth grew more precarious We turned away from the homeless men on the streets, the stench from the river, The children orphaned in Iraq, the mothers dying of AIDS in Africa

We turned away because that was what we had been taught. To turn away, from our pain, from the hurt in another’s eyes, From the drunken father, from the friend betrayed.

Always we were told, in actions louder than words, to turn away, turn away. And so we became a lonely people caught up in a world Moving too quickly, too mindlessly toward its own demise.

Until it seemed as if there was no safe space to turn. No place, inside or out, that did not remind us of fear or terror, despair and loss, anger and grief.

Yet, on one of those days, someone did turn. Turned to face the pain. Turned to face the stranger. Turned to look at the smouldering world and the hatred seething in too many eyes. Turned to face himself, herself.

And then another turned. And another. And another. And as they wept, they took each other’s hands.

Until whole groups of people were turning. Young and old, gay and straight. People of all colours, all nations, all religions. Turning not only to the pain and hurt but to beauty, gratitude and love. Turning to one another with forgiveness and a longing for peace in their hearts.

At first, the turning made people dizzy, even silly. There were people standing to the side, gawking, criticizing, trying to knock the turners down. But the people turning kept getting up, kept helping one another to their feet. Their laughter and kindness brought others into the turning circle Until even the nay-sayers began to smile and sway.

As the people turned, they began to spin Reweaving the web of life, mending the shocking tears, Knitting it back together with the colours of the earth, Sewing on tiny mirrors so the beauty of each person, each creature, each plant, each life Might be seen and respected.

And as the people turned, as they spun like the earth through the universe, The web wrapped around them like a soft baby blanket Making it clear all were loved, nothing separate.

As this love reached into every crack and crevice, the people began to wake and wonder, To breathe and give thanks, To celebrate together.

And so the world was saved, but only as long as you, too, sweet one, remember to turn.

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