Eduardo Duenas Reflects on Caravans and Life in Honduras

By Mike Weilbacher

While the Federal government remains mired in the longest shutdown ever (I am writing this on Sunday, so the fluid situation may change dramatically by the time you read this), a new caravan was scheduled to leave Honduras this week, thousands more beginning the long trek north to Mexico and the U.S.

This sad, hard, complex situation brought me to Eduardo Duenas, the Schuylkill Center’s Manager of School Programs, an educator on our staff who oversees a cadre of educators that help him teach school children on their visits here. A native Honduran, Eduardo has been in America for most of the last four years, the Schuylkill Center for the last two, and has permanent resident status with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He’s married to an American citizen, and they are raising twin infant sons.

And  he’s easily the biggest– or at least the most vocal– Eagles fan on our staff, bleeding Eagles green.

Eduardo Duenas

Of the caravans, Eduardo, who knows some of the people assembling in the current caravan, says, “I feel sad. These people don’t want to leave. They don’t want a car or a pool– they just want to eat, they just want their kids to eat. Seven out of 10 Hondurans,” he continued, “are eating only once a day, and foreign aid from countries like the U.S. is not getting to the people. They rather die trying to get into the U.S. than watch their kids starve. If they had most of the basic things they need, they would not come.” Joining a caravan, he says, for many is “pure necessity.”

He visited Honduras with his family over the Christmas break, some of his kin meeting his sons for the first time, and came back devastated– his home city of La Ceiba on the Caribbean coast “has never been so dirty,” and was surprisingly empty, almost a ghost town, as many of the Hondurans once there have left for elsewhere.

Like Eduardo himself. Born in Honduras’ capital and largest city, Tegucigalpa, he was mostly raised by his grandmother in a region called Valle del Aguán, literally, the valley of the Aguán River, a river Eduardo knew intimately. “I was happy there,” as a child, he told me. “I’d run to the river almost every day; I loved to fish, loved to swim. I caught snakes, I caught butterflies.” Like so many youngsters his age, he learned  how to make slingshots, spending endless hours aiming at poor unsuspecting lizards, an activity he now rues a little. Above him were the mountains, so between river and mountains were “animals of all shapes and sizes, birds of all kinds. I always knew I loved nature study down there.” (Today, as an adult on our staff, he has a great nose for finding turtles, snakes, toads and more on group walks.)

Eduardo Duenas

Valle del Aguán is also one of the most fertile regions in Honduras, its rich soil growing coffee, bananas, mangos, pineapples, and more. “But we made deals, stupid deals, with foreign companies for like 100 years for one dollar,” one of the reasons the economy is bankrupt– people don’t control land or agriculture.

He left Valle del Aguán after high school, moving to the larger coastal city of La Ceiba so he could attend university. After an ill-fated stint in law school, he finished a degree in ecotourism, where he could be closer to the animals he loves. He tried making a life in Honduras– he has been a tour guide for ecotourism companies, a fisherman (snorkeling with a spear to catch fish), a landscaper pulling weeds and planting trees, even a street musician and artist; he has tried many things. But after he was pulled over by the police and detained in jail for a full day for no reason, he decided to leave Honduras. “I had to explain to my mother in 2012 that I didn’t have any opportunities in Honduras,” he said.

He went to Costa Rica, where he enrolled in a La Salle University program that led to dual  degrees in environmental management and sustainable development. There, he met his wife, a native of Villanova who worked for a company that had offices in Costa Rica. They married in Honduras in 2013, and she soon pushed to live in the U.S., as she thought their chances of making a life were better here.

“But I don’t want to go to a place that doesn’t like me,” he said about his first reaction to America, but ultimately agreed. “I applied for a visa,” he remembered, “but it took more than two years to get an answer.” To his great relief, he has only received support for his being in the United States.

In 2015, he and he wife spotted a pair of baby owls in the middle of a road. Using cell phones, they discovered that the Schuylkill Center ran a wildlife clinic, and were able to rescue one– the second was sadly struck by a passing vehicle as they were getting out of their car. He volunteered for the Toad Detour program, became a Trail Steward, and is now a full-time educator.

So while his journey is uniquely his own, it echoes the tragedy of the current situation in Central America, that thousands of people from Honduras feel their best chance for survival is a dangerous trek north. As the latest caravan starts its long walk north, my thoughts are with Eduardo, his family, his friends, and all Hondurans.

 

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Upper Roxborough, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

Terry Willard_5

Photographing faces in the forest

When I go for a nature walk in a local forest, I see trees, birds, flowers, deer.

Not photographer Willard Terry.

When he goes for a walk — which he does a lot — he sees faces, lots of faces, incredible faces. Gnomes, ghosts, demons, animals, dinosaurs, people, aliens, all staring at him from tree trunks, tree roots, broken branches, gnarly bark, rock walls, even fence posts and barn siding.

Amazingly, once you start looking for them, there are faces everywhere.

And Terry has been photographing them.

He just published a book, “Pareidolia: Spirits and Faces of the Wissahickon and Schuylkill Valleys,” which will soon be available in the Schuylkill Center’s gift shop (and on Terry’s website as soon as he sets one up). The book’s title, pronounced parr-i-DOH-li-ah, while a mouthful, is the phenomenon in psychology whereby people see patterns in inanimate objects — like trees — and turn them into things they are not. The Man in the Moon is perhaps the best known example of pareidolia.

I visited Terry in his Port Royal Avenue home just before the winter solstice, where the retired school teacher — he taught at Germantown Friends for 30 years — was preparing for his annual solstice party. His wife, Holly, also a retired school teacher, also a veteran of Quaker schools (she at Plymouth Meeting Friends), were preparing for a celebration with their three sons, all of whom work in the arts.

They’ve lived in their 1840s-era home for more than 30 years and have been careful and conscious stewards of their historic home and barn. But they’ve brought that home into a greener future, their front porch including a portable hoop garden bed where the couple is growing salad greens — in December — and their wood stove reduces their reliance on fossil fuels, which is admirable.

Terry walks “seven or eight miles a day, consistently over 50 miles a week,” he told me, much of it at the Schuylkill Center’s sprawling property across the street and along the Wissahickon.

“Years before I retired, I used to run,” he said, but after an injury forced him to reconsider that activity, “now I walk a lot, and walking has made me more observant.”

He took me and his dog, Lily, to visit a maple tree at the Schuylkill Center just off Port Royal, where he had his “aha moment.” He had walked past this tree many times, but one day, the wizened face of a gnome frowning at him “just popped out at me,” as the bark’s bumps and gnarls formed a cranky face. He’s since photographed the maple many times and in the book includes a photo of the tree in winter, a dusting of snow giving his gnome a bad case of dandruff. The book’s bio page features an action shot his son took of Terry photographing the gnome.

Photographer Terry Willard pauses on his walk next to the maple tree that started it all, the one with the gnarly gnomish face

Photographer Willard Terry pauses on his walk next to the maple tree that started it all, the one with the gnarly gnomish face

Willard Terry sees an anteater in this branch

Willard Terry sees an anteater in this branch

Where Terry sees a unicorn, the author sees a camel. What do you see?

Where Terry sees a unicorn, the author sees a camel. What do you see?

 

 

“Once I started photographing faces,” he reflected, “I became more aware of them. You’re sort of half looking, but then they jump out at you like a guy is suddenly staring at you.”

For example, he points to a Tyrannosaurus-shaped branch he’s walked by hundreds of times on the opposite side of Port Royal from his gnome tree — and suddenly he saw it, T. rex in profile.

When I asked him about the Freudian nature of seeing faces where none existed, he laughed.

“I looked this up on the internet,” he offered, always a dangerous thing to do, “and saw that while some people see this as a sign of instability, others see a more creative mind at work.”

(For the record, I’m going with the latter.)

He also noted it’s a bit of a Rorschach, like a photo he calls “Duck Dinner,” where two mallards on a pond look to me like they’re about to be eaten by a plesiosaur, an extinct reptile, but others see the branch emerging ominously from the water as just another duck. Not sure what this says about me … a sign of my own instability?

His photography embraces more than pareidolia.

“I’m interested in portraits and landscapes,” he said, “where I like to look for patterns,” like a photo he showed me of sycamore bark, its jigsaw puzzle-patterned bark always a favorite of mine.

He also loves to add a sense of humor to his work, like a framed color landscape photo in his home of a Mail Pouch tobacco ad painted on the side of a Pennsylvania barn, smoke rising from the barn as if it were a giant chimney — which it clearly is not. But hidden behind the barn is the cooling tower of the Limerick nuclear power plant, steam rising from it creating the optical illusion of the barn as a chimney.

While he first taught a sixth-grade class and then seventh-grade English, in retirement, he’s teaching a black-and-white film photography course back at Germantown Friends.

“The kids have never seen film before,” he chuckled. “They have no idea what it is.”

His pareidolia photographs have been displayed before and will appear in the Schuylkill Center’s upcoming “Community” exhibition later this winter. We hope you come see them then.

Meanwhile, Willard Terry will continue walking 50 miles a week in natural areas, finding faces where less creative people like me simply see bark and branches.

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Upper Roxborough, tweets@SCEEMike and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.