Erotic Notion Interlude: Behavioral Adaptations in the Chapada
By Hapax Legomenon

99 Erotic Notions Index
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After reading Erotic Notion #23, Lisa dropped me a line.

"My first thought after reading this, "Lisa said, "is that the protagonist is a fool. While the man pines away for his beloved, his girlfriend is probably flirting with dozens of South American men or even having a fling. A love letter provides one point of view, leaving no way for the reader to know if this outpouring of emotions is justified or genuinely felt. Often it is an exercise in self-delusion or futility. Love letters are a manifestation of a feeling better expressed in other ways. If the world had no love letters, the world would be a happier place.

"In Ovid's Heroides , a woman's responses to a man's love letters shed light on the man's romantic delusions. Helen's cheeky replies to Paris' love letter revealed her dislike of his sense of entitlement and lack of decorum...even as she admitted her mutual desire. So here's my rewrite of the same letter-story, told from Mary's perspective. Enjoy.


Thank you for your recent letters. They were sweet. I am sorry I haven't written recently.

Seven months ago I left for the Chapada expecting to return to Ohio State and continue my studies (and our relationship). But something happened in Brazil. My perspective changed.

Entomologists and ecologists from all over the world are here. Everyone is working on a research project; the place is bursting with grant money. All the projects needs research assistants, so I'll have no problem finding work. Everyone is treated equally here, whether you are a leading scientist or a first year graduate student. People tell me I'd have no difficulty receiving a Fulbright or USAID grant to continue my field research. A local agricultural school even offered me a part time teaching position. It's great!

But that is not all. I met somebody – a Peruvian ecologist named Mario. It happened gradually. I met Mario on one of my first expeditions to Chapada dos Veadeiros. He was away from home too, so we immediately connected for reasons I won't go into. I resisted my initial attraction out of loyalty to you. But as time went by and Mario and I became better acquainted, I began to reflect on what kind of relationship you and I were trying to grow.

Things were fine in Ohio, but now I'm living in a different habitat surrounded by different kinds of people. I've had no problems adapting. If you remember, I said I'd be travelling a lot for my academic career. Back then it didn't seem like a big obstacle. But everyone here warns me about how hard it is to work in the forests and keep a family back in the States. Everyone struggles with it. I'll probably need to do that for five or ten years before I can even think about settling down. Perhaps I could eke out a career as an entomologist in Ohio. But if I left Brazil, I'd never be able to realize my potential. This land offers a lifetime of subjects to study and enormous freedom to do so; I couldn't just make occasional trips like a tourist. The land needs me.

By the way, I collect lots of insect specimens during my outings. Two of them haven't been identified yet. I may have discovered a new species ...maybe several ! (See my drawing). The one on the bottom is a dark walking stick with a fork-like tail who lives on the bark of a mangrove tree. I came across this little critter the day I first met Mario. The leaf beetle on the top is pale yellow with black spots, plus a circular gray ribbon around it; he fell on my lap while I was eating lunch. Can you believe that?

Ohla Pryymak,  2008

I told Mario about you from the beginning, and he respected our relationship. It took two tense months before I finally decided that Mario was the man I needed to be with. Even when we started, I wasn't sure; the main reason I extended my trip by three months was to test out my feelings for Mario. These last few months have been a whirlwind to me...but I have come to realize that Mario and I are meant to be together. It's funny; I was also happy with you as well, and a part of me still wonders if I am making the wrong decision.

Originally I wanted to tell you in person, but after I decided to extend my stay again, it seemed unfair to keep you in the dark any longer. (That is why I asked Elizabeth to hand deliver this letter – to make sure it would not be lost in the mail). I will call during my next visit to Brasilia, but I wanted you to know the situation first.

Truly, Teddy, I am sorry. I have spent the last few months in turmoil, wondering how to break the news. A part of me cares about you. I don't deny it. There are times when I reminisce about our happy times and warm embraces. I wish distances were not such obstacles – if we tried to stay together, we would always have to deal with letters that take forever to arrive, and all the expensive telephone bills and airline tickets. I did a lot of soul-searching. What is best for us? What is best for you? What is best for me? What is best for Mario? Even if I went back and we resumed our relationship as before, I would still have to leave you many times. Maybe we could have arrived at a compromise; maybe you could have accompanied me on a few trips, or moved overseas. Would it have worked? Could you have adapted? I'd prefer dealing with the problem now before it starts hurting us.

Maybe you think I will change my mind or that Mario will. I assure you: that will not happen. Mario is a kind, honest man. I love him very much, and I know he loves me too.

You are focused on understanding human psychology and the complexity of human interactions. I am a scientist and explorer. My world is filled with new species and habitats. In fact, these habitats are disappearing at an alarming rate. Mario already understands this. I do not need to explain to him why these things matter so much to me. Together, Mario and I could make such a difference here.

Intellectually I know you can deal with this. You are strong and emotionally mature. You are a realist. Your profession will allow you to meet all kinds of women. My hope is that years later you will look back at my decision and see the wisdom of it.

Not to make light of the situation, but when I read your last letter (about backrubs with Tanya), I almost laughed. If only you had succumbed to Tanya's charms, my task now would be so much easier! I suppose Tanya wasn't right for you, but sometimes comfort can come from unlikely places. Sometimes, reveling in the moment is more important than deferring future joys. Maybe you view yourself as the wronged party, but I didn't wrong anyone. I chose a path, and I have no idea whether it will confer the greatest advantage. I can only do what my heart thinks is best.

Perhaps this decision will free new romantic possibilities and help you to meet someone more compatible. In retrospect, maybe we were too eager to commit to something we weren't ready for. Perhaps we were clinging to the safety of the past and blind to the future. But we all adapt.

Please write back, but first, take a day or so to forget about me. Go out with friends – don't keep it inside. When you love someone so far away, you are left with nothing but cold lonely summers; it feels like an enormous weight pressing against your chest. Eventually you grow acclimated. Later, when the burden is removed, you won't be happier, but the air will be easier to breathe.

Written July 2008

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"Love consists not of gazing at each other but looking outward together in the same direction."
Antoine de Saint-Exupery Le Petit Prince.
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Drawing by Ohla Pryymak , Brazilian entomologist, 2008