Juicy, prime cuts of Garik Cruise Sadovy
Midst confusion and mass panic that I am not writing about what I’m doing right now, I want to step in and say that my blog has again changed for your convenience. I made gariksadovy.com the primary blog now and Of the Orchard will continue to exist as an archive. Go to gariksadovy.com for stories from the Philippines!
I just got back from Belize on a two week long service trip that I hope will become a recurring trip for the Park Scholarships program, and between the bouts of nakedness, Electric Feel, Jaguar kissing, mud shoveling, croc skulls, soccer games, settlers of catan, sunburn on the roofs, turtles and eagle rays, getting harpy feathers, and general badassery of everyone we met on the way, I did some writing that will probably end up becoming, with quite a bit of editing, a NY bestseller. I’m kind of writing in scattered chapters, non sequitur, and I’m going to post to the blog a chapter every couple days over the next three weeks as I get ready to go to the Philippines as a Boren and Udall Scholar (yep, that’s right; all of that suffrage paid off).They will be partly out of order, and I’ll refer to things that I haven’t referenced yet, but that should only encourage you to buy the book when it eventually comes out. If there was one thing that I learned in Belize, it was becoming unapologetic for eccentricity, because in the end, that might be all that keeps life interesting. That and river otters.
I will be referring to the characters in the story, at least the six Park Scholars on the trip, by the animals that we described each other as during a group reflection on the last day of the trip, which happened to be Eagle’s birthday. In fact, it’s best if you just think about us in terms of the animals and not as actual people that you know. The characters are:
A hint; I’m shark.
Chapter 3 - Dry and Dangerous
“Yeah, we got two Emmy nominations and an Emmy for one of the films we shot. It was a trade Emmy; for lighting. But still, you have to remember to thank everyone. It can be a bit scary, all of those people. Still good though.” Jeb turned to him and asked him if he still had the Emmy. In response, Richard pointed to the mantle above the old fullscreen on which we had just watched his documentary of a Amazonian biologist who wandered around the open wetlands barefoot, attempting to find anacondas in the muck by feeling them out with his toes and then hoisting the sometimes 1000 lb snakes from the waters, trying desperately to avoid being hooked by the anaconda’s powerful jaws or crushed to death by muscles strong enough to stop the circulation of your blood. I didn’t really know what was crazier: the nonchalance with which Richard referred to the filming he had done for the documentary, including one scene where the audience sees a direct strike from the anaconda that in real life was a direct attack on Richard’s face, or the fact that here, out in the middle of nowhere in Belize, sitting in a beautiful house that he had built, was an Emmy winning independent contractor who had shot and scripted more Nat Geo films then I had probably watched in my life, and I watch a fair amount.
We first met him when he drove up in front of the zoo in his relatively unsullied truck. Someone yelled out to me as I was circling the zoo’s skeleton of a West Indian Manatee that our ride was here, and I went back to the freezer room to grab the massive jug of water that I knew even as we bought it, was only going to be enough to stave off dehydration for a couple of hours at the rate we went through water while working in the sun. As I stepped out into the sun, Richard strolled around his car with an exquisitely tanned face that reminded me of a weather beaten rock and the kind of grin that says, “I’m the coolest guy you’ll ever meet.” Just kind of a peaceful expression that I sometimes see on the faces of people who work hard in the sun and work on things that they want to. I like to imagine that I sometimes have that kind of grin.
The British accent caught me off guard, but by the time I had handed him my bag to chuck in the back of the truck, it was the only accent that he ever could have had. I still didn’t know what to think; thick glasses, tall, strong legs, a slight paunch, and the kind of stately graying hair that one would expect from a British wildlife filmmaker, along with being a bit hard of hearing, well, I had never really encountered someone like him before. But when we got back to the house, where I along with the two others who had sat on the tailgate of the truck for the ride neglected to close the safety glass screen after we had gotten out and Richard had started to back up, I got a pretty good idea of the kind of person we had found in the middle of the tropical savannah.
Richard began to back the car into the drive of the house, and just as he repositioned the car to fit right next to the outer foyer, where a hammock was calling me to lay down and claim it as my bed before anyone else realized it was there, there was the sound of exploding safety glass as the raised back window smashed into a low hanging branch. Tapir and I looked at each other with a bit of dread; we had only been here for about an hour, and already, the people who were taking care of us probably wished they had never seen our faces. I was surprised that Richard didn’t jump out of his car yelling, but instead had this almost surprised look on his face as he walked to the back of the car, and said in a kind of matter of fact voice, “Well, shit; that’s a $1000 repair right there” as if someone had broken a beer bottle or something a lot less expensive than a plate of safety glass. I could tell he was frustrated, but as we all got on our knees and started to pick up the pieces, he began making self depreciating jokes, saying that it was kind of hard to see the humor, even as he was containing laughter. God, these crazy expats; I could live with them forever.
I think that Richard is probably the kind of person who is unfazed due to the nature of his life experiences, something that I partly identify with, though, his story is far more developed than mine, as one might imagine for the course of a 67 year existence amongst the wild parts of the world. We invited him over for dinner a couple of nights after watching his documentary, a decision that I made on the second day of living in Cockscomb when he told me that he had recently returned from filming documentaries on whale sharks in southern Belize and the lionfish infestation in the northern islands, near where we had been, all while in my mind I was screaming, “Dammit; why the hell didn’t I get here earlier!?” We pulled out all the stops for this evening, which had narrowly avoided becoming a night watching the sunset from the top of a Mayan ruin, but at the request of Otter, turned into the kind of feast that would befit the pilgrims if they had accidentally landed much further down the coast of the Americas. Tapir made some mango salsa and chips out of the pounds of corn tortillas that Blad had gotten earlier in the week, and I put a couple of chicken in the oven to go with my Croatian Scampi sauce. I was a bit apprehensive about this, because so many are tuned off by the extreme alcohol content of the sauce, and Richard had told us that he didn’t drink (Ironically, right after he saw the four giant bottles of rum that Blad had bought mistakenly, thinking that the wine we requested for cooking could be easily replaced by more rum), but I knew that at least eagle, bear, and fox would enjoy it.
But Richard took some of the sauce anyway, and then sat back to our persistent questions, about his filming, his life in Belize, his relationship with Carol, his wife and partner in wildlife media, and about some of the things he had mentioned to us earlier in the trip, including the jaguar that he had kept on the property until Hurricane Richard struck. The first day that we had been there, Eagle asked about the empty jaguar walk, which looks like a long, elevated tunnel with wire fence to keep an animal from jumping down, and Richard had told us in brief that he had kept a jaguar there until it escaped during the hurricane, killed a man who lived just down the road, and was then had to be put down. As the question came up again over our Belizean Thanksgiving, Richard sat back in his chair and let his fork find loose purchase in his hand, a subtle signal that a good storyteller was about to give us something heavy.
As it turned out, they had had a jaguar on the property for some time, and were using it for film purposes, much like the other species that Richard was training, but that when Richard struck, so many of the enclosures were just completely destroyed, and, without the concrete bunkers that we had seen at the zoo to keep animals safe in during hurricanes, the jaguar’s enclosure just went down and the cat was out. There was a man who had lived down the road for several years, an adrenaline junkie that had grown up with juvenile diabetes, racing cars and bikes, living life fast, and, in Richard’s opinion, in denial of his condition. He said that he would have to constantly go to this man’s house when his blood sugar was compromised and put a coke in his mouth until he stopped screaming. All this was not so much of a problem until the man had an accident, smashing his head, and then lying until Richard found him 2 days later. The man was changed in his mental capacity; things that he could do before with relative ease now becamse serious challenges. His mental processing took much longer, the diabetic mishaps became more frequent and worse, and he eventually realized that he could not live by himself. After scheduling and cancelling several flights out of Belize back to the states to live with his parents, he came to the night of the hurricane, the day he was again supposed to leave, and he cancelled his flight, knowing that there would be no way he could get out of the country that day.
By this time, the enclosures were wrecked, and Richard called the man warning him about the escaped jaguar and telling him that under no circumstances should he leave his house. Richard had been all about his property by that point, searching for the jaguar with his handy fire extinguisher (At this point in the story, fox looked incredulously around the table as Richard described how he planned to fend off the killer cat with the extinguisher. Between the ridiculousness of that statement and the sudden, horrified expression on Fox’s face, it was hard to stifle laughter), but had failed to find it. Meanwhile, this man had become drunk and walked out of his house into the carport where his dogs were fighting off the jaguar. The dogs had been making a fair amount of noise, and Richard had missed the cat probably because it was laying in wait watching it’s prey; jaguars love dogs. Richard speculated that it must have surprised him, walking right into the situation, trying to separate the big cat from his dogs. This is something that you simply don’t do. Regardless of anything. The jaguar killed him.
Richard and another helper drove down to his property later to check up on the man and as they drove up to the property, he caught a glimpse of one of the man’s dogs, slinking away through the brush. The dog was injured and covered in blood, and at that point, Richard felt his heart drop; something had happened. He walked back to the house, and coming out of the port, he saw a giant drag mark, which he followed back into the forest. There, just inside the trees, in the middle of the drag, lay the man’s body, ripped to bits.
The jaguar was captured and eventually had to be put down. With a stoic face, Richard told us that there had been no prosecution, which was a combination of the good name and respect that he had garnered for himself in Belize, and the general understanding that, in Belize during a hurricane, anything can happen. It had shaken both him and his wife, as it would have shaken anyone, but they had, in their way gotten over the disaster, and were waiting out the self imposed grace period before they were considering asking for another cat.
It’s strange to think about really; here we were, six undergraduate students, unsatisfied with our education and a little rebellious in our natures, out in the middle of the Belizean wilderness with a man who had us all dumbfounded on all counts. In front of us sat a man who was extremely successful at what he did, even though he had never gone to school, and had made himself all that it seemed he needed in life; at this point in my life, I couldn’t imagine ever being able to fit all of the things that Richard knows into my head. He had probably one of the most unique and powerful relationships with his wife that we had come across during our travels and discussions, and his life consisted of being around large, dangerous animals in the middle of the jungle, every now and then winning an award for his work and entertaining scientists whose behavioral studies probably paled to the work that Richard did when training basilisks to run across a pond and eat a butterfly on a mango at the opposite end or margays to jump 15 feet to catch a chick. And, out of all of this, he took the terrible tragedy of what had happened in stride; I could see in his eyes that he had an understanding of life and death that so few have. The question that permeated our group, and the question that I know still plagues the minds of Eagle and myself in particular, is how does one come across this kind of life, because whenever we hinted at this in front of Richard, he couldn’t give us any kind of direction.
And perhaps there is no direction that he could give; he didn’t really have any to begin with. He just hopped on a voyage to the Galapagos and over the course of a life, everything that we had witnessed fell into place piece by piece. I suppose that the most important thing for those of us who yearn for the kind of life that exists out in the tropical savannah of Belize is that, while there are steps that can get you closer to living your dreams (Meeting someone like Richard for instance, and then requesting to intern with him for a semester), in the end, it’s going to come down to your will to make it happen. How ready are you to step on to a boat? To ask someone if you can wash dishes while they teach you film editing in the evenings? To buy a one way ticket? To risk the security of a degree for a venture that could mean wonderful success or terrible failure, but always epic adventure? How ready are you to give up what you have for what you want? They say that we young people don’t know what we want, or that we want too much, or that what we want is not reasonable. I think we are conflicted in what we want because what we were told we should want is nothing like the dreams we had as little kids. I don’t think you can ever want too much. And I think that when you want something that is reasonable and in ready supply, you’re greedy. This life in the jungle is rare. It’s one of a kind. And it’s entirely unreasonable that any of us would ever be able to live it.
But none of us are going to forgo the chance to find ourselves in Richard’s shoes, sitting around a table talking to the next generation of young world changers while padding softly in the darkness outside, with jagged jaws agape, is the true meaning of life.
And the fact that, when we brought Giovanna and Hannah back to the house, Richard just laughed to himself, well, I don’t know if you can be cooler than that.