Julián (pronounced Hoo-lee-AWN) is a Peruvian housebuilder from the town of Puerto Maldonado on the Tambopata River. He is building a traditional cabin at the ecolodge where Michelle is staying during her harpy eagle study. Michelle barely speaks Spanish and Julián doesn’t speak English, so there is a language barrier between them. Nevertheless, they build a friendship based on a mutual love of nature, and Julián awakens parts of Michelle that have lain dormant and unexpressed during her twenty-five-year marriage to Derek.
Derek is Michelle’s rock and her anchor to all that is normal and safe. Julián, on the other hand, makes Michelle aware of her own, inner wildness and her love of animals and nature. As Julián shows Michelle the beauty of the rainforest, she gradually becomes attracted to him in a way that threatens her marriage.
The manner in which these feelings play out becomes the central theme of the story, and I won’t disclose any spoilers. However, here are two excerpts from the novel that provide a glimpse into Julián’s character.
She raised her eyes from the cart to the man. Fate had concocted an exquisite blend of indigenous and Hispanic features to create a face of unquestionable charm. He was older than she had originally thought—perhaps in his mid-forties. As before, he wore a long-sleeved shirt of an indeterminate tan-turned-gray color with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. The lean muscles in his forearms twisted under his skin as he explained that crisneja was made from the leaves of the palmiche palm, woven onto special sticks like so, and tied with strips of bark…. She scarcely understood a word of his Spanish, but she could hear the lilt in his voice, feel the warmth and humor in his eyes, and see the motion of his slender hands as he demonstrated the process of weaving thatch. He raised his eyebrows as if to ask, “do you understand?” and his smile brought forth appealing cheekbones and the flit of a dimple in his left cheek, seductive and alluring. Michelle thought of the fleeting yet flashy display of feathers that brightly colored birds called manakins use to attract females.
She stared at Julián, wondering how an apparently typical construction worker would happen to know the voice of a cryptic bird that lived below knee level in the Amazon rainforest. “How did you learn this, Julián?” she asked in Spanish.
He grinned, shrugged his shoulders and began to explain, but once again she became lost in a string of incomprehensible Spanish and felt like a two-year-old child. With patience he tried again, simply and slowly, until at last, she picked up the main threads of his story. His father had taught him about animals when they harvested Brazil nuts each rainy season. He had shown Julián tracks in the mud and explained which animals had passed that way. For birds, he taught Julián to recognize over one hundred vocalizations. Interestingly, Julián had mastered the identification of tracks and calls long before he had seen most of the animals that made them. Eventually, over the course of his life, he accumulated sightings that linked the tracks and calls to the visual appearance of their makers.
Intrigued, Michelle began to redefine this person called Julián. Before this moment, he had been a house builder, and nothing more. Before this moment, she had assumed that nothing in his universe could have overlapped hers. Now, as she listened to him, it was as though she had opened a hand-hewn box filled with treasures, one that she couldn’t wait to explore.
Such is the allure of this Peruvian man!
Eventually, Michelle meets Julián’s family and accompanies them on their annual harvest of Brazil nuts. Read about Michelle’s nut-harvesting experience in my next blog.