Nothing Gold Can Stay: On Peru, the Jungle, and Life

These past few nothings have been nothing short of extraordinary. Alianza Arkana, the nonprofit in which I am interning for, organized a youth cultural exchange between two Shipibo communities: Paoyhan and Saposoa. The goal of this was so that youth could better understand their culture and heritage. In addition, Paoyhan is more greatly affected by globalization and deforestation, so it is truly an exchange of cultures from many facets. The trip consisted of a six-hour boat ride through the Amazon Rainforest along the Ucayali River, which is the main headway of the Amazon River. The sights were absolutely breathtaking of the wildlife, water, and jungle. I could not help but think of Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”

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It’s a poem that has stayed with me since fourth grade when I read The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (would highly recommend if you haven't already), and I read it so much that I had it memorized. This poem sprung from the tip of my tongue, and I savored it there the entire trip. I was also thrown back to last semester when I was with Nancy* talking about poems. I recited that poem to her, and she told me that she loved it - even asking me to repeat it.


The last line that “nothing gold can stay” is one that, ironically, stays with me. All good things come to an end but there is so much beauty at the same time. My time in Peru is ending in less than a month. Now, it seems like the time will never come; however, I know that it will be upon me so soon. When the mosquitos are biting me or when I’m trying to do laundry in the heat, I am not missing Peru, but I know that a month from now I will.

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As I sat on the boat to look out into the jungle, I couldn’t help but think about what couldn’t stay. This image and thought remains in my mind as I reflect on the words from the workshop. The community leaders talked about how their culture was fading and capitalism and global warming was deeply impacting their way of life. One of the greatest tragedies is that the big corporate countries are polluting the world, yet we are not the ones who suffer the most. There is suffering and harm, but the Shipibo people suffer much more. Their way of life is being destroyed - a fact that does not make headlines. The jungle is not often gold, but rather green. However, I wonder how long it will stay? I ask the question even though I know there is no answer - if there were I’m not sure I’d want to know it.

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In that same vein, another uncomfortable topic to talk about is death. The goldeness of life is perhaps the richest of all. The idea of death is one what I had to think a lot about when my first buddy passed away. Now, as I continue in the program, I think back to both the poem and the mission of Alzheimer’s Buddies - to build relationships and value dementia patients for who they are rather than who they were. So, in this case, while the gold may not stay it doesn’t mean that the aftermath is any less beautiful. It’s different and maybe tinged with sadness, but it’s also a part of life. This is a idea that I strive to carry forth as I enter into my last year of Alzheimer’s Buddies as a volunteer, and I will strive to pass on this lesson to new volunteers.

“Nothing Gold Can Stay” is a poem that I carry with me close and always. It’s the poem I can easily recite to Nancy. A poem that emerges easily when I spend my time in Peru. A poem that allows me to find tranquility even amidst any challenges I face. It is the same poem I am so glad to share here and hope you enjoy.

- Ellen Zhang

*Name changed for privacy