On a pitch-black February night, Bruce Means stood alone, deep in the Pakaraima Mountains in northwestern Guyana. Scanning the cloud forest with his headlamp, he peered through his foggy glasses at a sea of ancient trees cloaked in beards of verdant moss. The humid air, ripe with the smell of decaying plants and wood, trilled with a melodious symphony of frogs, drawing him like a siren song so deep into the jungle that he wondered if he would ever make it back out.
Grasping a sapling in one hand for balance, Bruce took a shaky step forward. His legs quivered as they sank into the boggy leaf litter, and he cursed his 79-year-old body. At the beginning of this expedition, Bruce had told me that he planned to start slowly but would grow stronger each day as he acclimated to life in the bush.
After all, during his career as a conservation biologist, he’d made 32 previous expeditions to this region. I’d seen a photo of him in his younger days—a six-foot-four, broad-shouldered backwoodsman, with his long hair pulled into a ponytail and a huge snake draped over his neck.