I MET SA LVADOR the day the dead jaguar rolled into town. The enormous cat lies in the hatch of the bus that passes weekly through this Amazonian village in northeast Bolivia. It’s seven a.m., and the sun has just cracked the tips of the jungle canopy. Leaning over some children gathered around the bus, I reach out to stroke the jaguar but immediately recoil from its sleek, spotted coat. It feels alive, as if just dozing. A moment passes without a twitch, and I squeeze in among the children and take hold of a paw that overwhelms my palm. I part the cat’s lips and slide my finger over its teeth. A scent rises up from the jaguar that’s nothing like death; it exhales a fertile wildness, something like a decomposing log reborn as fern and fungus, grubs and grass.
This hamlet, no more than a hundred thatched houses surrounding a jungle clearing, takes the name Porvenir: the Future. The Chiquitano Indians who live here begin to gather in a second half-moon around the small children and me, and the grumbling begins. The jaguar should stay here in Porvenir.