Excerpts from Searching for Pekpek

Getting to Work

pilot"We flew over several valleys, each one looking more like the previous. The pilot must come here often, I told myself, bewildered. Nothing stood out as a landmark, and this was long before the days of GPS. This pilot was flying by memory.

At this point in the flight to Haia, I’d learn on later trips, pilots new to the region would unfold a map on their knee and then alternate between consulting the map and craning over the window, trying to tell which valley was which.

Usually I was not 100 percent certain where I was, even after dozens of flights over the same endless repetitions of valleys and ridges. There’s something a bit disconcerting about sitting next to a pilot who is circling over the terrain, trying to figure out how it corresponds to his map. These guys never stop to ask directions.

At such times I sometimes developed an unhealthy fixation on the fuel gauges. One had a typewritten note taped to the instrument panel that read "no more than 85 lbs at 1/4 tank," which meant the gauge didn't actually indicate the amount of fuel in the tank. I wondered which pilot was the first to discover the tank would go empty well before the gauge hit "E."

Now and then the pilot would tap the gauge with his finger and, often, it would drop markedly when he did this. In a matter of a couple of seconds we’d go from half a tank to a quarter tank. Better not to think about these matters: You either put your trust in the pilots and their ground crews, or you go back to America."


Another Day at the Office

"Eventually I found a female Aglaia with a flowering branch reaching out to within a dozen feet of a smaller tree, maybe twenty inches in diameter. We had a set of climbing spurs I sometimes used to collect voucher specimens. With these and a belt I could climb trees. It sounds easier than it was. Getting around the lianas and climbers on many trees and moving past branches took time and a lot of muscle. Reaching the tips of twigs to obtain fruits or flowers was often impossible. Using the extended pruning pole needed to reach those far flowers took even more muscle. Try holding an eighteen-foot pole horizontally with one hand and pulling the rope that closes the clipper jaw with the other hand. Now try it fifteen meters up in a tree, held up by two spurs and leaning back in a belt encircling the trunk. Pray there aren’t bees."


mackIs this any way to do conservation?

"Imagine an organization from Morocco sending experts to your town who then rent the biggest houses, drive the best cars, exhibit wealth far above that of 99 percent of the town’s people, and then sit down in your town hall meetings and tell you how to run your county parks. Imagine those foreigners going into your governor’s office and indicating the parts of your state that should be in parkland. Imagine them acquiring positions in the EPA or Department of Interior to act as "advisors" and tell the staff how to do their jobs better. That’s how Big Conservation operated in countries like PNG."

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