I hear dogs barking in the village of Vilcabamba — the yaps are startling the birds who are already arguing over seeds scattering in the breeze.
Somewhere down the valley, a chainsaw is revving up to send trees crashing to the forest floor scattering another fallout of seeds, fruit, and berries. Among these, a few will take root to one day grow into a size that will include them in a harvest certain to arrive long after I am gone.
Clouds are gathered in waves cresting above the mountains, wrapping the thin blue skin of sky in crocheted cloud stretched thin. In anticipation of the approaching storm, the air turns momentarily tranquil, abandoning the fluttering birds, rustling leaves, and swaying tree limbs — all will return with furvor before the day is done.
A choir of flowers continues to desperately outdo one another. The entire congregation, swelling with nectar, advertises in garish ways almost imaginable; scarlet reds, canary yellows, star bright white and the softest hues of lavender, all in outlandish attire and assuming yoga-like poses few of us will ever attain. The underbrush is plowed by critters of no importance other than it is they who are setting the groundwork in motion to provide rations for the vegetation above. The matted floor is a weave of green and yellow flecked brown.
I am here on a writing assignment to report on local news of interest in the Valley of Longevity. However, and is often the case, my original intention turned, revealing a far different story.
I spoke with, Peter, the founder of Izcayluma resort, about his long journey from the brittle demands of life in the German army to the supple grace that is the tempo of southern Ecuador. What began for him as a trek through South America became a quest to reconfigure a cow pasture into a magnificent garden overlooking the village of Vilcabamba. The change in the environment and its lasting effect on tourism in the community is extraordinarily complex. The evolution of Peter’s life is no less so.
His change is evidenced by the once flowing dreadlocks of his hair recently shorn after 15 years.
Dreads have deep meaning. For some, uncut hair is a spiritual representation of the main of the lion, a tradition held by ancient African warriors known as locksmen. For others, it is a sign of respect for God exhibited by emulating a custom of Nazarite holymen, “They shall not make baldness upon their head” (Leviticus 21:5); and yet another branch holds that long hair honors the God Shiva as practiced by Hindu priests who adhere to the school of religious thought that became the Ramakrishna Order.
Unfortunately, the spiritual underpinning of these practiconers is occasionally eclipsed by the moneyed influence of Madison Avenue style fashion, a condition Peter was no longer willing to endure. He said that his ego was unduly inflated by the perceptions of passersby and guests at the resort and therefore became a distraction. The guy with the really cool dreads became too much of a symbol of his life.
All of that is no longer of any concern. His dreadlocks lie in a box. It will be offered up in a ceremonial bonfire when the time is right and his mate returns home.
Peter will be leaving for Mexico in a couple of months. He plans on living in an ashram for as long as it takes, a matter of days, or perhaps a few months, to build a pathway designed to eliminate toxins from his body through a regime of fasting, a strict diet, and the daily practice of yoga. He anonymized his persona to join an unheralded community committed to personal growth.
Many people may no longer recognize the Peter they thought him to be, and he is relieved to be free of the trappings of their assumptions. He knows there is much more important work to be done. Trees need to be planted and spiritual matters tended to. He knows he remains an integral member of the community and will continue to participate in the many good works projects, astute planning, and calm guidance he has offered Vilcabamba over the years. Many will record the generosity he bestowed on his home village, although some may no longer be able to confidently pick him out in a crowd.
Peter is happy with his decision and recognizes the importance of maintaining his quest without unnecessary interruptions.
It is my hope that the time will come a time when we all will be recognized more for our deeds, desires, and commitment to public service, rather than a misguided reliance on the cut of our hair, or how we dress in the morning.