Article: Biosphere Life by Joel R. Dennstedt

Editor’s note:  This article should be appearing soon in The Yucatan Times, but my loyal blog followers get a sneak preview.  This extraordinary man, Jorge Machado [Castro], has been mentioned in a few of my prior posts, but in this article Joel profiles him in more depth, and provides a real sense of what the encounter was like for the both of us.  Every time I ‘think’ my writing is improving, Joel comes up with something like this that just blows me away—my brother is a wordsmith par excellence – S. Dennstedt    

Biosphere Life


Joel R. Dennstedt

IMG_5379 Sepia

Jorge Machado

Photo Courtesy of Indochine Photography

It’s not just a problem about feelings. The problem is that I’m unhappy with your reality, and you are with mine.

These heartfelt words spoken by Jorge Machado in the award winning film, Alamar, also speak directly to the heart of a matter increasingly dear to me. They may apply distinctly to individuals, but they also reflect my personal and growing antithesis to the corporate/industrial/city-world, as well as to the expatriates who often reflect that abandoned, hollowed-out culture.

Like two gringo women asking: “Do you have family?”

With Jorge’s barely civil response: “Of course I have family.”

When Yucatecans refer to “family,” they include a vast community of souls.

In this case, a family connected to the Zapatista movement, with the tragedy that implies.

Or: “Your son was a bird?”

Nothing civil now in his reply: “I was speaking with the two gentlemen.”

But this is not about cultural conflict, or even the absurd notions of expats.

This is about our meeting with a fascinating man of indigenous roots, and the resulting deep and meaningful conversation between he, my brother, and I.

Jorge Machado is a trained ornithologist who often works at the Sian Ka’an Reserve, a marvelous biosphere near Tulum, Yucatan, Mexico, and he is our guide for the day. Like my brother, he is a professional photographer, and he is alert to the special requirements of this particular trip. Sadly, others on the boat preclude photographic success. They are looking for adventure.

So we turn to conversation.

Jorge is a classic example of what I term: the indigenous academic. By upbringing and experience, he instinctively knows and practices the art of sustainable living. By training, he defends with scientific precision and evidence the necessity for our world to turn in this specific direction. Survival on Earth demands a global embracing of scientific facts and indigenous skills. We are all, by now, familiar with the notions of universal interdependence, sustainability, industrial waste and pollution, world hunger and its relevance to mass consumption by non-producers. Most often, such consumption is maintained through the labor and exploitation of indigenous workers, and by the concurrent destruction of major eco-systems they call home.

We know this.

I do believe, however, that indigenous academics are uniquely equipped to incite necessary change, the desperate need to: turn South, 180 degrees, and walk forward.

But, as my brother says to Jorge: “It’s simple, but simple ain’t easy.”

That is when I see respect shine from Jorge’s eyes. They glisten with a sense of comradeship.

“No sir, it is not.”

And, sadly, he relates the story of the rubber tree plants and gum, the intrusion of the petrochemical industries, the hotels, the tourists … the same old story and litany of ecological impacts … all of which leads us into silence.

That reverent silence that prays for change.

Hopes for change.

Expects none.


Storks – Sian Ka’an Biosphere

Photo Courtesy of Indochine Photography

Our silence speaks of a deep appreciation for the existence of this biosphere reserve and the caretakers that maintain its integrity. And, admittedly, for those members of the old world culture who deem it their responsibility to foster such protective measures for ecological preservation, and yes, for the tourists who help to fund such measures.

Still, in the grand scheme of things, our measures remain too small.

I wish sometimes that I could simply divorce this old world.

I would explain: The problem is that I’m unhappy with your reality, and you are with mine.

Thank you, Jorge, for the words.

And the silence.

And the flicker of hope.

Joel Sepia LR


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