The Last Leaves

The Day When Forests
Won’t Have Any Trees

Climate emergency, – a man-made executioner we fear so much that we’ve sent our own children to do battle with – has always had a fierce opponent, even before it needed one: trees. Living beings that ushered us to the present, they’ve got all it takes to save our future.
As long as they’re standing, that is. But stood have many, for millennia. As we see forests, we miss what makes them one. Trees may be downed, but nothing kills their gift for being reborn. The history of the world is told by thousand rings inside their girth.
They tower and endure. They come as big as cathedrals, and as old as a religion. Life travels from roots to high up branches, as they hang on to Earth as its own giant limbs. Trees have been blowing oxygen down our lungs for ages; time to fight fire and scarcity to pay back our dues.
Through their rings, they tell a story of damage humans have inflicted on climate and natural resources, going back centuries. For 300 million years, they’ve been withstanding every era – and unlike with dinosaurs, not even catastrophic asteroid collisions did they in.
But now, our predatory drive is catching up with trees too. That’s why the young is so mad, and the old is none the wise preventing them from grabbing the helm out of our incapable hands and saving the planet already. They were unfairly pushed into this, and are better off not counting on us.

MATHUS, YOU’RE OLDER THAN JESUS
Compared to trees’ estimated appearance on the planet, Mathuselah, the thick twisty Pinus Longaeva that’s been in living in California for 4,850 years, doesn’t seem that impressive. But it is indeed older than the Egyptian pyramids, and yes, Christianity itself.
It certainly predates the biblical figure it’s named after too; that Mathuselah supposedly lived a mere 969 years, but we know how the good book often plays loose with facts and numbers. In any case, the tree is real, even if its exact location is secret to prevent vandalism.
In some ways, it’s even more real than other popular California residents: Joshua trees. That’s because, they’re not trees at all (more)
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The Bug Report

A New Unicorn Praying Mantis
& the Rediscovered Queen Bee

Without fuss, our relationship with insects has been wildly changing lately. First, we considered eating them in case of an apocalyptic scenario. Then came the worldwide alert: bugs are disappearing – led by a bee catastrophic fallout. Whatever happened to our lunch?
Then again, the same science that predicts climate change may cause the extinction of critters and humans alike, keeps finding new species to amaze us all. The latest: a stunning praying mantis, and the reappearance of the giant Wallace bee, not seen since 1981.
Bugs’ otherworldly beauty and, based on what we now know, crucial role in the food chain, reassigns our appreciation of these creatures. So utterly distinct from us, and yet, so essential to life. The poignant note about it all is that we may not get to discover them in time.
It was surprising, for instance, to find out that spiders eat in a year the weight of the entire mankind. Or that beetles, with over 380,000 species, are the most biodiverse, making up to 40% of all insects on Earth. Some would say, no wonder The Beatles are still so dominant.
But even before the troubling notion that we’d need to start eating them – ‘for the protein, they said’ -, they began to vanish. It’s still unclear how they’re being affected by the changing climate, but one thing is for sure: if they go, we all go right after.

A UNICORN IN A BRAZILIAN FOREST
Brazil’s Mata Atlântica, near Rio, is one of the world’s most diverse forests. Older than the Amazon, only 10% is now left from its original size. In this doomed place, however, life thrives, and it’s where a magical creature was discovered, among half a dozen new species.
Science has no place for praying, except for the praying mantis (pardon the poor pun). Their alien appearance is not very popular, though, even when looking like a dead leaf, or an orchid. And then, there’s that business of having their heads eaten while copulating.
Maybe that’s how evolution treated such a mortal threat: by developing horns. The hand-sized Zoolea praying mantis has one, along a pair of imposing metallic-red limbs. Thus, next time you see one, before running, check for the unicorn. And make a wish or something.

THE BEE MISSING FOR 38 YEARS
Over a decade ago, what became known as Colony Collapse Disorder was so serious that scientists feared for our food crops, without bees to pollinate them. Luckily, it wasn’t to be, not because of that, anyway. But bee populations are still declining, and now, other insects too.
That’s why the rediscovery of the Wallace‘s giant bee (Megachile Pluto) in Indonesia is so auspicious. Four times as big as a honeybee, it does not produce honey or live in hives. Also, confirming a trend (more)
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Here Before Us

Earth Natives Have a Day to
Celebrate But Not Much Else

To call ‘indigenous peoples’ those who predate the European rise to global dominance is an insult and a reminder. Their subordination and misery were brutally determined by the so-called civilization. And their very existence is proof that, if it were up to them, the planet wouldn’t be in such dire straits.
Yet they survive. Thus today’s U.N. International Indigenous People’s Day, both a mournful date and a celebration of their endangered wisdom. Since you’re bound to read and hear all about the reasons that there are for grieving over them throughout the day, we’ll rather focus briefly on some of their legacy.
Even ‘packaging’ natives as part of a supposed worldwide collective is an expression of prejudice. Only in North America, there are more tribes and languages than Europe, Asia and Africa combined. And most didn’t even make it to our times. The same about the rest of the world.
A staggering diversity and history, dating back from at least 10,000 BCE, informs their status as the original lords of Earth. With the now nearly impossible virtue of having not spoiled the place, as we did in mere 500 years. All but wasted, though, when they met our truculence.
The fate of the Comanche, Hopi, Cherokee, and Navajo, Maya, Aztecs, Incas, Mapuche and Quechua, the Tupi, Guarani and Kayapó, plus million others, was sealed in 1492, when Christopher Columbus landed on what he called La Española. It’s been downhill ever since.

NOT YET EXTINCT, NOT YET LOST
That’s no reason to dismiss their fight to protect their land, and our own survival, and criminalize their defiance. Indigenous peoples, native tribes, and forest dwellers, equal resilience. Their endurance is a testament to the power that preserved them to our age.
Moken children see 50% better than Europeans; Bolivian Kallawaya healers may speak the language of Incan kings; Sentinelese live on the Andaman Islands for some 55,000 years; Brazilian Awá-Guajá women care for orphaned monkeys by breastfeeding them.
400 years ago, the Incas performed head surgeries with better survival rates than Civil War-era medicine. Ancient cities uncovered under Guatemala City housed millions of Mayans. Aztecs philosophers would advise on matters of moral virtue and (more)
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Rainforest Rundown

The Amazon’s Ancient Wonders,
Current Misery & Its Worst Foes

When Colltales started, seven years ago this Earth Day week, the environmental disaster du jour was BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve survived that, but many species haven’t. Now the still living, breathing, exuberant Amazon Rainforest may be where our next big screwup will take place, as proof that little has changed.
We’re still as likely to discover a Stonehenge-like monument, or 2,000-year old earthworks, or a 3,600-square-mile coral reef where the Amazon meets the Atlantic, as we’re to find that our taste for burgers is killing the jungle, deforestation rates are again on the rise, or that the Brazilian president is actually out to to cash in the forest.
Did we mention the neck-breaking pace of murders of green activists? Or the river of flowing boiling water? Nothing in the Amazon is mild or accommodating; it’s either an explosion of millions of still unknown species, or the soul-crushing wildlife and climate change indifference, shared by many Brazilians.
That’s why scientists fear the worst: not just that we won’t get to learn all that’s there for millennia to be discovered, but that today’s staggering beauty and power of the Rainforest will be reduced to a vast desert of its sandy soil, unprotected by the canopy and terminally exposed to the elements.
It’s ironic, then, that a deranged Brazilian conspiracy theory, dear to xenophobic and fanatics alike, is about some secret society of wealthy individuals, that’s supposedly been working to yank the forest out Brazil’s control and ownership. Suddenly, that prospect seem better than the current reality.

STONEHENGE, GEOGLYPHS & REEFS
Think about indigenous tribes? think again, for it was a cattle ranch foreman who stumbled upon some rocks piled up on a curious position, in what it’s now known as a thousand-year Stonehenge formation, probably built for the same purpose as the one in the U.K. And just as mysterious.
Just like the even older miles of earthworks, geoglyphs as deep as 16 feet and wide as a mile, proving the forest as home to some busybodies centuries before Europeans came to loot it. The discovery opens a new chapter into the history of the Amazon, one that unfortunately we may not get to finish reading.
Nature kept pace with all this human activity, and in unexpected ways too. Where the mighty Amazon reaches the sea, the crash of two powerful forces is long known as the Pororoca. That’s where lies miles of previously undiscovered coral reefs, coated most of the year by the river’s thick mud. Ready for swim?

BURGERS, MINERS & SLAVES
Not so fast. That juicy staple of American cuisine, now massively popular all over the globe, has something else questionable about it, besides being made of slaughtered cows: its smoky, ashy, scorched-earth rainforest sauce. No other way of putting it: cattle in the Amazon was always a bad idea.
But the meat industry is not the only woe helping clearing the forest: mining projects may deliver another blow to the entire region, if environmental regulations are eased as the Brazilian government plans. Even as is, (more)
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Guilty As Charged

World Indicts 2016 For
Crimes Against Humanity

We found it. For a while, it was as if another year would’ve gone by and we’d be still at lost finding the source of the world’s ills. Not this time. 2016 has been universally named the evilest on record. Now we can all go back to our business of turning it all worst that it ever was.
It started deceivingly like any other year, but not for long. Looking back, by March it was clear that there wouldn’t be a contest, but some were still hesitant to make such an early call. Now there’s hardly anyone disagreeing about the choice. Well done everybody.
Here are, in no particular order, the Top 10 Counts brought forth against 2016, whose powerful punch has managed to beat to a pulp some of history’s most notoriously perverse, and blood-thirsty, years:
1. Failure to interrupt and/or reverse rising global temperatures, and resulting increased glacier melting, wildfires, and extreme weather.
2. Neglect to interrupt, minimize, or do away with the harrowing intensity of the era’s ever more numerous wars, carnage, and mayhem.
3. Criminal extermination of countless animal and plant species, some of which we may never have even known they existed.
4. Inability to promote a healthy, all-inclusive, comprehensive worldwide discussion of ways to improve the well being of humankind.
5. Incompetence to prioritize the fight against inequality, boosting instead the prospect of a parasitic minority to grow even wealthier.
6. All-time record for excessive casualties of well known, excellent human beings, whose lives have made the world a better place.
7. Creating conditions that conspired and befell female world leaders from positions of power, replacing them with corrupted males.
8. Relentless persecution of races, social strata, and ethnic groups, with special cruelty towards the poor, blacks, and non-white faiths.
9. Rehabilitation and promotion of hate speech and discriminatory ideologies, charged for past genocides, to the mainstream of society.
10. Shameless persecution of fact-based common truth and reality, and advancement of false theories and fake news for profit.

As we said, for a moment it seemed that we’re making the same mistake we’ve done over and over again: choosing the wrong scapegoat to blame for our disgraceful lot in life. But experts and analysts agree, all evidence does point to this malodorous 2016.
We’re so pleased to finally lift this burden off our shoulders that it’s now almost pointless to reveal the password to access this year: mankind.
Aren’t you glad that 2017’s on deck, ready to pounce? Happy New Year.

The Crying Games

Five Rings Above Misery (Telegraph/Getty)

A Bruised Rio Hosts Its
Low-Expectations Olympics

What a difference 10 years make. A decade ago, when Rio begun its cavalcade to host the Summer Olympics, Brazil was swimming in optimism. Unprecedented economic growth and a hard-earned period of political and social stability suddenly gave Brazilians much-sought global respect and the drive to dream that yes, they could.
In a country suffused with body culture, nothing would’ve marked that spirit as winning the bid for both the games and also the 2014 World Cup. From that point in history, only those two mega-sport events could represent a fitting coronation to what turned out to be an exceptional but miserably elusive moment.
The Olympics and Paralympics competitions that start officially Friday, however, are taking place in a radically different country. Long gone are the joy and effusiveness that fueled the celebrations for being chosen, in October 2009, by the International Olympic Committee, in Copenhagen.
It seems as if Brazil run out of the luck it never really had. Or that was too disappointingly brief. In one moment, it was a model of sustainable growth and the text book for social promotion policies, only to become, in the next, a continental-size pool of resentment and regret.
Not unlike voters for Brexit, Brazilians woke up suddenly and realized they may have thrown away the baby along the dirty bathwater. Two whole years of street protests against corruption, and all they got was a group of lousy politicians with police records who now occupies the government.
Competitors Will Jump in the Guanabara Bay, no Matter What. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)
WAIT, WE MAY STILL WIN THIS
Deeply divided, Brazil is already suffering another global-scale public humiliation, just as it did two years ago, when the then celebrated national soccer team got thrashed by Germany in the World Cup. A look at global headlines about these games has been source of even deeper embarrassment.
Every media outlet, including the country’s own, has reported a corollary of staggering woes brought to light by the magnifying glare of the games. From raw sewage in Guanabara Bay, site of most water competitions, to fears of disease-carrier mosquitoes, it all looks pretty bleak now.
We will return to foes that everyone is hoping against hope won’t tarnish the innate Olympics beauty, but first, as if almost duty-driven, the focus must be on a few good, or fine, or at least, interesting and even inspiration things about the games, even before they start.

SOME SHINING POINTS OF LIGHT
Ok, so we found three, but worth mentioning all the same. Like the 10-people Refugee Olympic Athletes team. Plucked from millions around the world, they will compete in several categories as independents. Since there should be many more, and there aren’t, they will be our own good-for-gold team.
Speaking of athletes, youth bodies, downtime, and a party city like Rio, it all may mean one thing: they’ll get laid. A lot. That’s why nine million ‘Rainforest friendly’ condoms will come in er handy. They’re sustainably-produced, made in Xapuri, the late Chico Mendes‘ hometown, in the Amazon state of Acre, and they’re free. Help yourself.
Finally, like many top world competitors, the third point of light is a cheat. Guilty as charged. But no less meaningful: it’s the (more)
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We’ve Kept You Posted

Yearly Recall Takes
a Blurry 2015 Picture

It was a year of record refugee waves, with boatloads of heartbreaking stories landing en masse on European shores. Greeting them, equal parts of compassion and vile political pettiness, and a stunned world reacting as it usually does: with violence.
As usual too, there were plenty of staggering deaths – massive, laser-focused, or undiscriminated – due to terrorism, war strikes, stampedes, and in the U.S., racism and too many guns. And, of course, a fair share of encouraging news about climate change, for instance.
This post hardly covers them all, though. For these Colltales stories we’ve picked are more of a counterpoint to what was going on then. Rather than rehashing what was on everyone’s devices in 2015, they run a parallel track of commentary, criticism, and even comic relief.
Just as global temperatures kept rising, our pulse on the year’s events was better reflected on the weekly editorial Newsletter/Curtain Raiser. So we were free to report another kind of news, neither Pollyanna nor downright depressing. You know, the Colltalers preferable way. Enjoy.

ELVIS, CATS & RIO IN WINTER
The terrorist attack that killed nine journalists at the Paris offices of the Charlie Hebdo, on Jan. 7, was arguably the biggest news of the first three months of 2015. But the following day, we featured Elvis Presley‘s 80th birthday. And never looked back.
Stories about crows, unemployment, that old fave Voynich Manuscript, and a quirky take on Valentine Day followed. A personal darling was the 450th anniversary of Rio, our city of birth. Bandit Maria Bonita, cats, caturally, and life after death, online, completed the bunch.

A SPRING OF RACE & TIME
By then, the biggest refugee crisis of our era was already creeping in, but within the U.S., an old scourge was robbing the headlines: racism. Our own second quarter, though, was deep into Continue reading