We rolled in on a beautiful misty morning the following day and notified the manager’s wife of our presence, as requested, and set off to an edge to work. Enamored with my new camera and the interesting and beautiful sites, I took photos and videos as we passed infrastructure and travelled through the landscape. As we stopped at a suitable edge, the manager caught up to us on his motorcycle. Standing at my truck window, he asked, “Are you hear to take photos or do research? Let me see that camera!”. I explained that we’re here for research, and the photos are simply for personal interest and site documentation. He wasn’t in the mood for discussion, and kept asking for my camera, I’m certain to either smash it or keep it. Then he told us we’ll do no research here and we’d better leave now! We did as he asked.
I don’t know why he was so sensitive about this. It turns out that our collaborating research organizations here have a good, long term relationship with the owner of the farm, so this shouldn’t become a bigger issue. I’ll follow up with the owner to make sure. Much research has been done on that farm before, and this manager is new so he may not know this.
So we continued the search! It seemed to me that the best place for my ideal edge must be where a forest was protected, and later a farm was put in up to its boundary. This would ensure that the forest hadn’t ever been cleared beyond the boundary (in theory). A road bisecting the national forest on its way to the river and lined by farms looked like a good place to start.
Santarem (marked at top) and the Tapajos National Forest research site. Santarem is at the junction of the Tapajos River (middle) and Amazon River (top). The national forest is the forested area between the BR163 highway and the Tapajos River. The base camp of our research site circled in red (zoomed in below). Notice the typical “fishbone” effect of deforestation along the highways. Link to Google Maps: http://maps.google.com/maps?q=Santar%C3%A9m+-+Par%C3%A1,+Brazil&hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=-3.343438,-54.805298&spn=2.17695,3.532104&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=27.699934,56.513672&t=h&z=8
Close view of the research base camp location and my forest transect using the edge of a family farm in Tauari. The road to Tauari cuts through the middle of the national forest, so it seemed like a great place to search for my primary forest edge.
Two locals and I set out in the pickup with music blaring from a cell phone and explorers hats on, ready for an adventure. We stopped first by a friend’s house, where freshly harvested black pepper corns were spread out on tarps to dry. Fifteen or so people were lounging beneath a rustic roof in hammocks and plastic chairs. They advised us that this area had been occupied for too long, so we wouldn’t find our primary forest edge here, but about 15km down the road we should find what we’re looking for.
Black pepper laid out to dry beneath the satellite dish (for tv or internet?). Apparently, black pepper is very expensive here, I think because of low production due to the short fruiting season, though at this time, nearly every house displays black pepper drying on tarps.
We followed a single-lane, rough clay and sand track around blind corners and between farms and pastures, ogling the forest all the way, trying to discern primary from secondary growth. We arrived at a set of pastures that appeared to abut against tall-statured forest. I thought, what the hell, we’ve just got to ask right?
We parked and descended a rutted clay track to a small house, a couple of roofs covering equipment for manioc processing, and a thatched roof over a pool table. Binha clapped his hands several times—apparently the customary signal of our presence. We followed a trail between fruit trees and over planks across a beautiful stream shaded by palms. Atop the hill on the other side was a yellow house, boarded shut. There was no response to our claps and whistles. On our way out, I felt exhilarated—I was out under the Amazonian sun, going where no way was paved, walking brazenly up to houses of rural farmers, prepared to give them my best Portuguese, all in order to examine the behavior of the mysterious beast that is the Amazon forest. The air was sweet with that tropical forest scent of fruit and flower, and I felt like I was exactly where I wanted to be.
Crossing the bathing stream to the yellow farm house on the hill. “Hey, I’d love to study your forest edges as indicators of the future Amazon under climate change, would that be cool?” (I never really mentioned climate change, just that I was studying the differences between forest edges and interior.)
We descended past more pastures and into the community of Tauari, where a few women were lounging in the shade outside of a building. We parked the truck in the shade of a fruit tree and asked them if they knew who owned those pastures. “Umm, lets see, Paulo? Paulo owns those, he’s in Manaus. But his brother Luis lives at that house as well. He’s playing soccer in the field down the road”. We asked for Luis at the field. It seemed most of the community was at the sidelines for the game. A group hollered for Luis, “e a policia!” they taunted him. The five-foot, fit man in his thirties saw no problem with our plan, and directed us back to his house to speak with his family, who should be there now.
We arrived at the yellow house on the hill again, where chickens were running in the yard, and a scarlet macaw chattered in the branches of a fruit tree. Smoke rose from the barbecue and a couple of kids ran around bringing twigs. We introduced ourselves to a beautiful young woman, Luis’s sister. Needing more authority, she guided her blind old grandmother from the house, who stared at nothing in particular while Binha formally begged permission. After some discussion, they all accepted our proposal to work the forest edges on their land. We left in the highest spirits. I had found my edge and made some interesting new friends!