The Encounter

“Guit…!” The boy’s name sucked in with the man’s breath. But the boy, Guito1, heard and eased his hand from the cavity beneath the tree trunk. Moments later the coiled tercipelo was in two pieces and his father jabbed the machete at the dozen or so babies birthing from the eggs she had deposited minutes before. Terciopelos – Fer de lance to the non-Spanish world – incubate for only minutes which accounts for their numbers. The boy looked on as the machete methodically eliminated the threat.

Guito had held many snakes in his seven years, even a terciopelo that his father did not know about. He was fearless with animals in an almost absolute sense, but the most noticeable was his way with dogs. Country people are inclined to fear dogs, but the boy was easy with them. He would approach, whispering to those that were known to be brava, and they would snarl, their top lips curled thin, canines showing and pop their teeth, then within moments become calm and affectionate. More than one neighbor agreed that the little boy could be a reincarnation of St. Francis, and had it been up to them, he might have been sainted before age 10.

Guito spent many days in his early years in the quebrada that bordered his father’s property to the south. It was a noisy stream with a series of waterfalls that stimulated the full range of a young boy’s imaginary games. He would climb the steep and rocky stream bed with his dogs, stopping to play in the pools, or throw rocks or to use them to make small dams and changes in the course of one rivulet or another.  In time he could navigate the streambed with closed eyes. Using only the sounds of the stream and the feel of rock beneath his feet or the one he was touching with his hands, he knew where he was in every minute and even the direction he was facing. He memorized each rock and each scene on all sides and he knew what his dogs were doing by their sounds.

In the early afternoon a few weeks after his father’s fright, he found himself resting on a rock in the quebrada and gazing at another snake, a ranera, curled on a nearby log. The snake’s head and the first inches of its body were rigid, raised off the log, staring directly at Guito. They gazed at each other as the stream riffled and purled by them. As the rapture extended, the boy began to sense the presence of someone else, that he was being watched. He broke the gaze and looked on all sides; there was no one. He looked up into the trees above him. Still, he saw no one. But the forest had changed. The rocks and trees in the quebrada were crisp, focused, as though each were its own vivid photograph. Every nuance of color and fissure in each leaf and twig stood in high relief. Each small swirl in the water became a detailed object of his attention. The sound of the stream had changed from gurgles and splashes and the roar of the larger cataratas into a hummm, one syllable, a mere vibration, in background of his consciousness. The feeling of another’s presence remained strong although he felt nothing sinister in it; he was peaceful, aware of a calm joy. His gaze returned to the log but the ranera had disappeared. He remained on his rock for some time, sensing, without forming thoughts, a connection to everything he could see. The feeling faded after a while but wisps lingered with him for days. He remembered dinner and began the long trek back to the house. His favorite dog, Rosa, was still with him; the others had gone back to the house hours before. Guito wondered if Rosa knew the same feeling.


Days later he was helping his mother while his father ran errands in the city. “Will Papi be back for dinner Ma?”

“Si Dios quiere, mi amor.”

He looked at her, “Does everything God wants, happen, Ma?”

“Why, Guito…what a question mi amor…I guess so…yes…. Yes, if He wants it to happen, it does.”

“Where does God live Ma? Does he ever come here?”

His mother stopped mopping, raised up, holding the mop handle with both hands, she leaned on it and gazed at him. “Well, mi Amor, God lives in heaven…but there is a little bit of God in every person, I think. God is always with us but we don’t see him.” She stood there staring down at her son. He seemed satisfied with this answer. He went back to his chores and she to hers.


Copyright 2013


[1] Pronounced “Gēto” in English