I want to tell you all the story of how little Maverick got his name. (OK, it’s really his middle name, but still.) It has no relation to a pro basketball team or characters played on film and TV by James Garner, Mel Gibson or Tom Cruise, and certainly nothing whatsoever to do with politicians from Arizona or Alaska. No, in choosing Maverick I drew on its original meaning, signifying someone who is independently minded, named after Samuel Maverick, a 19th century Texas lawyer and rancher.
Because the cattle ranged over a wide area of open land, ranchers branded each cattle with an identifying mark, usually a symbol or letters signifying the name of the ranch. But Samuel Maverick did not brand his cattle. So whenever cattle strayed into adjacent ranches, the cowboys would say, that one there has no brand on its hide, it must be a Maverick. Thus in time his name became synonymous with one who refused to be branded– bucking the rules, going one’s own way, not part of the regular herd.
When I first met Maverick’s mother, we dated for a couple of months and then had a series of conversations about what it might be like to have a child. She and I were the same age, both in our mid-thirties at the time, which is a highly unusual profile for Iquitos, in which I would guess the average difference in age between male gringos and local charapa girls is at least twenty five years. And that is being generous. I’ve seen May-December romances here that are an embarrassment to both spring and winter.
Also, Corrina had consciously chosen to delay having children, in stark contrast to the culture here, in which girls commonly get pregnant as teenagers and are often grandmothers by the time they hit their mid-thirties.
No, Corrina waited so long that, at thirty five, the clock was ticking. I remember that when we started dating, she had a white rabbit named Harvey who lived in the backyard. Corrina fed him lettuce and carrots like you would feed a baby from a bottle. In fact her mother and friends teased her about how she was treating this rabbit like a baby, for lack of a baby of her own. Harvey, you may recall, is also the name of the invisible, two-meter-tall rabbit from the Jimmy Stewart film of the same name. (A coincidence.)
One day in early December, Harvey died. I had some vague associations of the term bouncing around in my brain, like with Elmer Fudd, kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit. It was Chillum who pointed out that killing the rabbit was a 19th century colloquialism, a slang way of suggesting a woman was pregnant. Before there were pregnancy tests available in drugstores, a woman could test herself by injecting her urine into a female rabbit and then cutting the rabbit open a day later. If the rabbit’s ovaries were swollen, it was because certain hormones in the woman’s urine caused the reaction and was a sure sign that she was pregnant.
So the rabbit died. It was a sign, as much as such auguries exist at all, though I did not see it until later. Not long after Harvey passed on, we went to Cusco for a vacation. I had joined Chillum and his girlfriend as the guest of a friend who lives in a magical ensconced garden on a plateau above the city, on the route of the old Inca Trail. It’s hard to say enough good things about our host, who in addition to being a successful business owner was also a highly accomplished San Pedro shaman. We were all having a great time hanging out and exploring the city, so I called Corrina, who was in Lima visiting family, and bought a flight for her to jump across the Andes and join me.
One day not long after her arrival, our host gave us San Pedro, and we spent a memorable afternoon at a spot called the Temple of the Moon. It is a place of somewhat uncertain origins, though I have heard some say it was and is associated with fertility. A rocky outcropping obscures a cave beneath, which contains a stone altar around which can be found carvings of snakes, condors and other animals etched right into the rock. There’s a palpable feeling of awe you get in places like this, where so many sacred ritual have taken place across the centuries; the entire area exudes mystery and magic.
We also did a circuit of the Sacred Valley travelling with Chillum and Yoli, going the back way into Machu Picchu which entailed gut-wrenching, altitude-puking bus rides over the Andes, and even a classic, death-defying Peruvian minibus ride, which you’ll never want to do again once you find yourself barreling and sliding along mud-choked roads carved into sheer cliffsides, with thousand-foot drops to the river below. After the stress of that misadventure, we found ourselves being refused passge by the conductor of the tourist train leaving from Santa Maria into Aguas Calientes, simply because the train was full and we did not have proper tickets in hand–one of only a very few times in Peru in which I have witnessed the outright rejection of a reasonable bribe.
So the train departed without us, leaving us to walk the four miles into the dark to reach the town of Aguas Calientes, a fetid little hole designed to extract tourist dollars with maximum efficiency. But we did get to see Machu Picchu, and that was more than worth all the trouble we’d gone through to get there. (Years before, a friend of mine actually found an original Incan trinket all but buried in the soil, submerged there for unknown years and having eluded both archaeologists and tourists and for a century . . . and he’d had it made into a necklace pendant, and wore it around Cusco, never telling anyone its true origins.)
I relate this Cusco trip because it all seems intimately tied to what happened next . . . ten days after leaving Cusco’s galvanizing influences, Corrina got pregnant. I remember the night well. It was at the apex of her window for the one month we agreed to roll the dice and see what happened. No sooner did we ask than we were rewarded. I will always remember this, in contrast to many friends of mine who have struggled for months or years to conceive into a family environment where any child would be lucky to be born. The instant response of the Universe, to provide me with a child as soon as I asked for one, lent a certain cast of clarity to Maverick’s entrance into the world.
He was to be the first child for both parents. Being the last of my family line in namesake, the fate of the surname itself hung in the balance, until a male heir was produced to keep the name alive. Everything about his circumstances, from conception to birth, had this strange kind of iconoclastic quality that I can’t quite describe. None of it happened in a conventional way. Seeing that he was a child of two worlds, who would have to learn to navigate cultural and linguistic divides without any precedent to show him the way, I named him as I did to recognize and encourage the unconventional path he had been on ever since the moment of his conception, and even before that.
Now, at twenty six months, the kid is a force to be reckoned with. He is charapa and gringo blended to a fine consistency. Although he is only two, I can already see that he has passion and precision in equal measure, and both seem to come naturally to him. I am secretly proud of shaking up our bloodline with such unexpected panache. He is a delightful fusion of contrasts, and he looks like no other child in Iquitos or Asheville, both of which he will be able to call home. He is in many ways the first of his line as well as the last . . . a true original, a Maverick.