Observing the life of a Peacock

​I found a peacock last year, as I walked around Hacienda Collpa near Cajamarca, Peru. He was wandering around the garden outside a small chapel, which seemed mostly for decoration. The tour guide, who walked us around the Hacienda or ranch the entire afternoon, eventually let us roam free after leading us to a chapel. There were two rows of manicured lawns with cactus, small statues and plants bordering the edges as if to restrict them from anyone ruining the garden.

We were surrounded by mountains, forested areas, and an artificial lake decorated by small bridges and tiny houses.

At the ranch they mostly raised cows for the production of milk, cheese, condescend milk and other derivatives. They are also famous for its named cows that are able to answer to their names. (There was a demonstration where the ranchers were calling the cows by name, one by one, as they walked to their stables, but I was sad to see that if they did not respond they were whipped.) There was one named Esperanza who was my sister’s favorite. It looked the saddest out of the bunch. “She is much older and has seen a lot,” my sister said. I was angered that one of the ranchers was wearing a “Red Skin” jacket. He himself was indigenous, which I found paradoxical. It’s possible that no one told him that Red Skin is considered a racial slur often used to show contempt for Native Americans.

People always get excited about old churches and chapels, but that day I decided not to peek inside. There was a clock a top the door, which seemed painted on, but upon close inspection, I realized it was a real clock with numbers, though it appeared not to be telling the time, since the hands weren’t moving. Below there was an inscription: “ORA ET LABORA,” which is Latin for “pray and work.” The tour guide had mentioned that many of the workers were Christians. By now, I could hear comments from people exiting the chapel about what they had seen inside.

On the side of the chapel there was a shaggy, neglected area near a dry fountain where a peacock pranced around without much direction until I saw it. He seemed to be ignoring the commotion around until he realized he was being watched. He became anxious and walked a little quicker. It didn’t help that some lady said, “It’s a pavo real,” meaning peacock.

I was waiting for the peacock’s tail to spring up, but it never did. I figured with no peahens or females around he wouldn’t want to. The tail wasn’t lengthy enough to drag on the floor, so I assumed it was hidden under the outer wings. It’s normal for younger peacocks not to have fully developed ornamental tails. It’s elongated neck was a vibrant blue, fading into a sea green, whereas the females have neutral, subtle colors, and don’t have the ornamental feathers that spreads out like a fan.

Peacocks don’t have to be killed for their feathers. They shed them regularly and they can be used to make earrings.

Indian Peafowl, which this peacock closely resembled, are native to South Asia, but over the centuries humans have introduced these birds to different parts of the world, including South American where it seems they can easily adjust to the conditions of the Peruvian countryside. While peafowl exist in the wild, it’s an old custom to keep peacocks in gardens as ornaments, as it was usually done in castles and large estates.

I always wonder how peacocks manage to survive. Carrying a giant tail makes them an easy target for larger predators, but I also think it’s unlikely anyone is tempted to eat a bird mostly made up of 60% feathers. Peahens on the other hand can easily become pray. But it helps that they hang out in groups more frequently than the males who are loners; there’s usually one male with a harem of peahens.

Surprisingly, peahens and peacocks can fly to the safety of low branches. They may not be able to fly far, but at least they can escape. They also mostly eat ground animals and some crops. In older societies peacocks sometimes served the functional purpose of keeping gardens free of snakes.

Peacocks evolved in such a way that males use their ornate trains in courtship display, raising the feathers into a fan and making them quiver to catch a female’s attention. A well maintained tail is an indicator of a suitable body condition, which points to mating success. Scientists argue that this trait can be accurately explained through natural selection and not simply sexual selection, since females don’t just select males based on their plumage. The selection may also be influenced by other factors. The peacock’s feisty behavior, loud call and its ornamental train have been formed by natural selection. Its plumage serves as a warning coloration to intimidate predators and rivals. This characteristic is often seen in frogs and snakes.

There is a magic quality to peacocks with their vibrant plumage and ornamental fan display, like rare gems with emerald greens, dark blues and shimmery browns. It’s no surprise peacocks are symbolic to many cultures. As the national bird of India, it has been depicted in art, poetry, mythology, and folk music. It’s also a symbol of royalty, often found in throne engravings. The Buddha Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light has peacocks adorning his throne. Peacocks have also been used in early Christian paintings and mosaics. In Buddhism the peacock represents wisdom, and the feathers are used in many rituals and ornamentations. When I was little, I remember hearing that peacocks drank poison so others wouldn’t have to get sick, and as a result had such magical and vibrant plumage.

Thoughts on womanhood

Yesterday it was women’s international day and #daywithoutawoman, and I chose to celebrate the women in my family on Facebook. Earlier in the year I travelled to Peru, and I was fortunate enough to see my aunts, uncles, and cousins. Much of the time I spent surrounded by women, since the majority of my family is made up of women whom I admire and feel close to. It was nice being surrounded by my aunts and cousins, hearing their stories, ambitions, where they are in life, their worries, as well as their triumphs. While traveling, I observed the role that Peruvian women play at home, at work, in society. I would walk, and see the women vendors, mothers taking their kids to school, or shopping in the market, well-dressed women going to work with their heels and handbags over their shoulder, teenage girls at a punk concert throwing their hands up. They seemed to have found a place that was truly their own. As an observer I don’t know the burdens they carry everyday, the people they have to deal with, the men who shut them down, the laws that don’t defend their rights, or if they feel a sense of guilt for not being the “ideal woman” carved out by society. Gathered below are some photos of the women I saw during my time in the city of Lima and Cajamarca. There is no one definition for femininity or beauty; there is just the search for a life that is truly yours, one where you are respected and not taken for granted.

Punk rock, cumbia concert in Lima. It was super loud; I’m not sure how anyone had their hearing left.


I captured a mom and her daughters as they were leaving the spot where they sold accessories in Barranco, Lima.


A girl selling ice-cream in Cajamarca, while she walked through traffic pushing the cart.


A group of women making wool purses and earrings out of fallen bird feathers in Cajamarca.


Her job is to care for the bulls. She took this one out to greet the visitors entering the Granja Porcon in Cajamarca.



Black Creek Trail

On the last full day in the woods, we hiked back to the beginning of the trail, knowing we would have to find a spot to sleep before dark, something preferably a half-hour before sundown, since we needed time to set up our tent. We passed wide paths, sprinkled with fallen or crooked trees on the sides, staying alert for a chance to see birds; we could hear them, but we couldn’t see them. The trail blended in with the wide forest and the undulating hills, at times going upward or downward. I wondered if sundown would be upon us soon, too lazy to check my phone, which was buried in my backpack.

The tree trunk bridge.

I grew bored watching the trail, which had turned narrow again with lengthy trees on both sides, producing a type of tunnel vision. Sometimes one of us would trip on a cleverly hidden hole, covered by dry twigs. What followed were steep hills (though not so steep in retrospect), and since I had two sticks, I didn’t tumble down like a fat rock, considering I was carrying a heavy backpack, weighing 30 pounds. The walking sticks I found were surprisingly the right size, and sturdy enough for my weight. We walked quickly, set on finding a camping spot. We passed a decent area, but since we still have enough time, we decided to hike a little more. If we made up the distance there would be less walking the next day, which I was hoping for. Back at the tree trunk bridge I saw a flat, elevated spot just next to a small creek. The first time I walked over the tree trunk sitting above a creek with mostly pointy rocks, I thought how dangerous that people had to cross a makeshift bridge, though firmly in place, it did not give much confidence, since there was only a rope to hold onto. We settled our stuff and set up our tent on a flat area was surrounded by tall trees that didn’t overcrowd us, so we could still walk around and we had enough open space to peek at the sky. Further down there was a sandy spot, closer to the creek.

One of the casualties of this hike was a lost sock.

It was building up to be a cold night under the stars. Not even the canister’s fire kept us warm. There was a fire ban in De Soto National Forest because of the recent wildfires in nearby states so we couldn’t build a campfire. After much preparation my lentil soup was warm enough to eat. I could finally hide inside my sleeping bag. After dinner we walked through twigs, ducking under the trees, using our flashlights to illuminate the way. Finally we arrived at a spot where a tree trunk lay across the ground, allowing us to sit down and stare at the dark blue sky. I felt cold despite my gloves and sweater. I had lost all my winter resilience thanks to the warm days in New Orleans.

The sky was dotted with an unending number of stars. I tried to connect the dots in my mind to imagine a constellation of my own. I thought about the Pleiades or Seven Sister star cluster I had learned about recently. To the Incan and Andean people of Peru, the rising of the star cluster signaled the beginning of the Incan Year, but also the dimness of the stars hinted at the amount of rainfall in the next months following the month of June, which would let farmers know when to plant crops. When the thickness of the clouds obscured the Pleiades, it informed the farmers a dry season would follow, forcing them to wait. Scientists have correlated the weather pattern to El Niño. I wondered where Pleiades was now, during our fall season. Somehow with these observations of nature and Astronomy, I felt more grounded and lucid. Something as simple as sleeping in the woods under a tent allowed for a feeling of meaning and place.

The smallest place.