Mother and Man

By Jheri St. James

This scene is likely reminiscent of the area where Estrella Pittman and her mission team in Panama collected their soil from the Embara Village. She says, “I was on a mission trip with YWAM (Youth With a Mission) and we took a two-hour boat trip up a river . . . We were staying two nights in a very rural Embera village. These people lived in small huts, and when it rained the water would stream through the village beneath the huts, which were on stilts. The village was right on the edge of the river so that tourists could reach it easily. This was their main source of income. Every time just a few tourists would come, every person who lived in the village was required to put on the costume that their people had worn 200 years, to give the ‘real experience’ to the tourists of life in that village. People who would not dress had to stay hidden in their huts. I got the soil from just off the river by this village. We spent almost an entire day just playing with the kids in the river, swimming back and forth across the heavy current. Our team even cut a vine from this huge tree on the other side of the river and we swung from it and jumped into the middle of the river. We were in the middle of the jungle. It was hot but the river was cool and refreshing.

“Behind us there were small mountains. These curved with the river until they were slightly submerged by the dam that had been built for the lock needed for the Panama Canal. There were lots of birds, which would start chirping around five in the morning when the women would get up and start cooking. The village also had a monkey, dogs and chickens. One of the men after coming back from work brought a tiny sloth with him and we watched it slowly climb up a tree. We got to know the kids and men and women there really well. And we got to share God’s wonderful love with them. It’s a very tribal village.” Many parts of Panama look like the Garden of Eden.

But does not list anything about verdant Panamanian rainforests. It notes that:

  • The cargo ship Ancon was the first vessel to transit the Canal on August 15, 1949.
  • A boat traveling from New York to San Francisco saves 7,872 miles by using the Panama Canal instead of going around Cape Horn.
  • The highest toll paid for a transit through the Panama Canal until 1995 was paid by the Crown Princess on May 2, 1993: US$141,349.97.
  • The lowest toll paid was US$0.36 paid by Richard Halliburton who crossed the Canal swimming in 1928.
  • The San Juan Prospector was the longest ship to transit the Canal; it was 751 ft. (229 m.) in length with a 107 ft. (32.6 m.) beam.
  • The Hydrofoil Pegasus of the United States Navy did the fastest transit of the Canal by completing it in 2 hours and 41 minutes.
  • Each door of the locks weighs 750 tons.

Panama is justifiably world famous for being the site of the Panama Canal, a crucial navigational and geographical construction that was a dream ever since Vasco Nunez de Balboa discovered the Pacific Ocean in 1513. And he was not the first. Even since 8,000 B.C. the Isthmus of Panama was utilized as a transit route when man wanted to migrate up and down the American continent, because this narrow strip of land forms the connecting link between Central and South America and also separates the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The canal is the most important feature of Panama, and it has played a major role in the creation of the country and in its subsequent development—not the trees and forests.

In 1534, the King of Spain, Charles V, ordered the first studies for the construction of a canal through a section of the Isthmus. Although this idea never materialized, the Spaniards built roads paved with stone that were used to transport, by mules, tons of gold and silver coming from Peru and bound for Spain. Traces of these roads still remain today and can be visited. In 1880, French companies directed by Ferdinand de Lesseps, the builder of the Suez Canal in Egypt (1869), began construction of the Panama Canal. But after seven years of fighting diseases and the indomitable problems of the jungle terrain, de Lesseps was forced to abandon the project; a wrestling match—the builders of the Panama Canal versus Mother Nature—Man surrendering to Her dominion, for now. (Mother Earth 1; Man 0)

In 1903, the province of Panama declared its independence from Colombia and immediately signed the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty, which authorized the United States to start construction of the Canal in 1904, which was completed on August 15, 1914, while World War I was raging in Europe. The Canal was an important part of military preparedness, enabling ships to easily traverse from Atlantic to Pacific. (Mother Earth 1; Man 1.)

Originally the U.S. held sovereignty over the strip of land on either side of the structure, known as the Panama Canal Zone. In 1977, an agreement was signed for the complete transfer of the Canal from the U.S. to Panama by the end of 1999. The entire Panama Canal, the area supporting the Canal, and remaining U.S. military bases were turned over to Panama by or on 31 December 1999.

Consisting of artificially created lakes, channels, and a series of locks, or water-filled chambers, that raise and lower ships through the mountainous terrain of central Panama, the Panama Canal posed major engineering challenges, such as damming a major river and digging a channel through a mountain ridge. It was the largest and most complex project of this kind ever undertaken at that time, employing tens of thousands of workers and costing $350 million. The canal is made up of dredged approaches and three sets of sets of locks at each end—Gatún Lake, one of the largest artificially created bodies of water in the world; and the excavated portion of the crossing called Gaillard Cut. At Gatún, on the Atlantic side, the locks form continuous steps; on the Pacific side, a small lake (Miraflores) separates the middle and upper locks.

The entire trip through the canal takes between 8 and 10 hours plus waiting time. The canal operates 24 hours a day year-round. Each ship that travels through the canal pays a toll based on its capacity.

Panama’s dollarised economy rests primarily on a well-developed services sector that accounts for four-fifths of the GDP. Services include operating the Panama Canal, banking, the Colon Free Zone, insurance, container ports, flagship registry, and tourism. Colon is the city at the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean side of the Canal. A slump in Colon’s Free Zone and agricultural exports, the global slowdown, and the withdrawal of U.S. military forces held back economic growth in 2000-2003. Growth picked up in 2004 led by export-oriented services and a construction boom stimulated by tax incentives. The government has been backing tax reforms, reform of the social security program, new regional trade agreements, and development of tourism. Unemployment remains high.

And what of Mother Nature in all this talk of the activities and creations of Man? When creating a problem of “jungle terrain” or cataclysm, Her power forces Man to acknowledge her, otherwise—not so much. Mother Nature’s cycles are inexorable; Gaia rules. She creates the seasons and climates; holds and grows the agricultural products on her surface, i.e., Panama’s exports of bananas, shrimp, sugar, coffee and clothing. Her wonders in Panama include highlands in the west and east of Panama, wooded hills in the center, and lowland shelves along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The climate is tropical, with little variation from season to season. Rainfall is very heavy on the Atlantic side, less so on the Pacific coast.

* * *

At the Santa Rosa sugar refinery in Aguadulce three shifts of factory workers, comprising a fleet of 4,000 people, usher cane juice through machinery, following a particular recipe of boiling, condensing and crystallizing. The entire process, from cane to sealed bag, takes only 24 hours. The around-the-clock operation yields 1.5 million pounds of sugar a day, every day throughout Aguadulce’s dry season, which lasts a little over three months.

Out of respect for Mother Earth, and unlike many other agricultural industries, the Santa Rosa refinery boasts sustainable agricultural practices—the refinery reuses the same hectares of land to grow cane. The stalky leftovers from the crushing process are burned by the company and used to heat its own steam boilers. Used water is cleaned and recycled. Another byproduct of sugar refining, molasses, is a desirable commodity, both used by farmers to make feed for livestock, as well as by liquor manufacturers to produce Panama’s rum. Raw sugar is exported to the U.S. where refining sugar is one of a shrinking number of industries where the U.S. is active in protecting home-turf jobs instead of outsourcing them. Interesting that even the production of sugar, to some a questionable product, can be done thoughtfully of the earth.

* * *

Producing raw sugar is not the only important form of commerce in Panama. No one is sure exactly when it happened, but once upon a time someone saw the Mother’s sugar white sands and the emerald green waters of Panama City Beach and dubbed the area the home of the “world’s most beautiful beaches.” Development began on Panama City Beach in the roaring twenties. The beach was officially opened to the public in 1936. Shortly after the beach opened, the original Hathaway Bridge was constructed to connect Panama City Beach to the capital of Panama City. As Panama City Beach’s popularity began to grow, amusement parks, mini golf courses, restaurants and souvenir shops grew up to support the tourist trade. It wasn’t long before the area around Panama City Beach became known as the “Miracle Strip.” The 1970’s brought bigger and better attractions, such as water parks, and a greyhound-racing track. Panama City Beach features 27 miles of white sand beaches, meeting crystal green waters and is consistently rated among the top ten beach vacation destinations in the U.S.

How did the Panama City Beach sand get so white? Centuries ago quartz crystals from the Appalachian Mountains washed down into the northern Gulf of Mexico. The surf ground and polished the crystals and deposited them on the shore. The sub-tropical sunshine bleached the crystals to the current sugar-white color. This sounds like more work of our great Mother Earth.

* * *

But all is not shipping through the Canal, raw sugar production and white sugar-sand vacationing in Panama. Once a mountaintop where howler monkeys roamed, the lush island of Barro Colorado in the middle of the Panama Canal is now populated by scientists at work for the Smithsonian Institution's Tropical Research Institute (STRI). The tropical forest on the island is one of the most intensively studied preserves on the planet. The island's 3,700 acres (1,500 hectares) of tropical rainforest are a biological reserve that also includes five surrounding peninsulas on the Panama mainland.

Scientists at Barro Colorado study many aspects of the tropics—from animal mimicry and camouflage; to the exchange of gases between forest canopy and the atmosphere; to threatened coral reef species; to the genetic diversity of species that once lived in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, but are now separated by the Isthmus of Panama. “The air which we breathe is born of the breath of our Earthly Mother. Her breath is azure in the heights of the heavens; soughs in the tops of mountains; whispers in the leaves of the forest; billows over the cornfields; slumbers in the deep valleys; burns hot in the desert.” j

Barro Colorado and other nearby islands were created during canal construction in the early 1900s when engineers dammed Panama's Chagras River to make Gatun Lake. The rising waters isolated a 476-foot (145-meter) peak never cultivated by humans. Since 1923, Barro Colorado has been dedicated exclusively to scientific research. The institute stewards a unique resource in this untouched rainforest, currently providing 40 scientists with a living laboratory in which to test their theories, a worthy paean to Mother Nature.

Some of the most complex research at STRI delves into predicting the future of other tropical areas. STRI scientists model the future of the Amazon by forecasting the impact of development and deforestation. "The goal of our research is to project the condition of Amazonian forests 20 to 25 years into the future," said William F. Laurance, a biologist at STRI who uses a type of geographic mapping computer software known as GIS to analyze complex environmental, demographic, and other related data. "The basic idea of our models is to use the past to predict the future," he said.

In 2001, the institute released research based on two GIS models which incorporated 61 layers of environmental data—everything from forest cover to infrastructure projects like railroads, gas, and power lines. The report underscored the potentially devastating impacts on tropical forests of development projects planned by the Brazilian government at the time. "Our results were very disturbing," said Laurance. "Both the so-called 'optimistic' and 'non-optimistic' models suggested striking increases in forest loss, degradation, and fragmentation over the next two decades." The research sparked a major international controversy over the Brazilian government's plans, and appears to have stalled one program in particular: Avanca Brasil, an ambitious plan for accelerated infrastructure development. The plan received particular scrutiny at the time by the news media and Brazil's congress and debate on its likely impact on the Amazon continues today.

“For your Mother bore you, keeps life within you. She has given you her body, and none but she heals you. Happy is he who loves his Mother and lies quietly in her bosom. For your Mother loves you, even when you turn away from her. And how much more shall she love you, if you turn to her again? I tell you truly, very great is her love, greater than the greatest of mountains, deeper than the deepest seas. And those who love their mother, she never deserts them. As the hen protects her chickens, as the lioness her cubs, as the mother her newborn babe, so does the Earthly Mother protect the son of Man from all danger and from all evils.”

* * *

Are mankind and Mother Nature at cross-purposes? The Panama Canal, while altering Mother Nature’s pristine landscape, has become an indisputable aid in efficient travel both for recreational and defensive purposes. Even sugar, a product controversial topic in health studies, can be produced in a reverent, ecological way. The fine human beings at Barro Colorado Island and their scientific work are wonderful testimony to awareness of Gaia’s importance. Created by the Panama Canal, these scientific research platforms serve to better steward our Great Mother Earth. The pendulum will continue to swing, with first Mother Nature the stronger, as in all the recent cataclysmic events around the globe at the time of this writing (October 2005—Indonesia’s tsunami, Pakistan’s earthquake, New Orleans’ Katrina), and sometimes Man flexing his shocking and awesome powers. But always beneath and below it all: Her fiery core, Common Ground, the place where all oppositions rest in peace. Thank you, Estrella. Hail, Gaia!

“I tell you in very truth, Man is the Son of the Earthly Mother, and from her did the Son of Man receive his whole body, even as the body of the newborn babe is born of the womb of his mother. I tell you truly, you are one with the Earthly Mother; she is in you, and you in her. Of her were you born, in her do you live, and to her shall you return again. Keep, therefore, her laws, for none can live long, neither be happy, but he who honors his Earthly Mother and does her laws. For your breath is her breath; your blood her blood; your bone her bone; your flesh her flesh; your bowels her bowels; your eyes and your ears are her eyes and her ears.”

Szekely, Edmond Bordeaux. The Essene Gospel of Peace. International Biogenic Society, U.S.A. 1981.





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