The missed moment #2 – Brazil Nut Tree in the Moonlight


Among the approximately 16 thousand species of trees in the Amazon rainforest, the Brazil nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa) is one of the most iconic and long-lived, often surpassing 500 years of age. Its towering stature, reaching up to 50 meters in height, and its distinctive canopy, allow it to be recognized from afar, both in open areas cleared for pasture and within the forest itself with a relatively closed canopy. After the decline of the rubber boom in the Amazon, the extraction of its seed, known as Brazil nuts, was essential for the economic livelihood of many families, especially in the states of Amazonas and Pará. Even today, Brazil nut extraction is important for many Amazonian families, with the state of Acre being one of the largest producers in Brazil.


Its extensive pan-Amazonian distribution suggests that the Brazil nut tree may have been managed by indigenous peoples for hundreds of years, along with other important fruit-bearing plants of the forest. However, the opening of pastures for cattle ranching, encouraged in the mid-20th century, has led to continuous deforestation to this day, which is the main reason why the Brazil nut tree is on the list of endangered plant species. Since 1994, however, the cutting of Brazil nut trees, as well as rubber trees, has been prohibited by law.


Because they are protected by law, Brazil nut trees stand out in degraded and deforested landscapes, dominated by open areas used for cattle pasture, as in the photo below. And it was in such a landscape that I missed a photo I would have loved to take, during fieldwork in the state of Acre – where I still am.



We were in two teams within the forest. One team was collecting soil samples to understand the effect of wildfires on carbon storage, while the other was opening a trail to find precise points for measuring forest structure collected by satellite with high-precision GPS systems. Early in the afternoon, when heavy rain threatened, the soil team retreated. We, in the second group, finished our work under a typical Amazonian downpour. This rain turned the dirt roads into pure mud. Our car got stuck several times until we managed to get help from a local tractor to tow us for several kilometers. To assist in the unsticking maneuvers, I got out of the car and walked through the mud – sometimes even faster than the car and the tractor.


It took us over 4 hours to walk about eight kilometers in the mud. By then it was nightfall, and the full moon rose on the horizon. When the tractor was towing the car further ahead and I no longer needed to assist in the maneuvers, I walked through a slightly more open area and saw the moon still low in the sky amidst the clouds. Walking in the dark, the silhouette of a Brazil nut tree formed in front of the moonlight. I sighed. I looked at the car being towed by the tractor, which was already far away… And my camera was inside the car, safe from the mud and rain. So close, but at that moment, so far. I stored the scene in my mind and thought: this is my next “missed moment“.


This happened two days ago, and in describing it still so fresh, I’m not sure if I managed to capture the scene. I’ll have other expeditions to the same location in the coming months, and I’ll try to turn this failed photo into a “photo of the month“.

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