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Panama and the Canal in Picture and Prose

Willis J. Abbott

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
Panama. They say the word means “a place of many fishes,” but there is some dissension about the exact derivation of the name of the now severed Isthmus. Indeed dissension, quarrels, wars and massacres have been the prime characteristics of Panama for four hundred years. “A place of many battles” would be a more fitting significance for the name of this tiny spot where man has been doing ceaseless battle with man since history rose to record the conflicts. As deadly as the wars between men of hostile races, has been the unceasing struggle between man and nature. You will get some faint idea of the toll of life taken in this conflict if from Cristobal you will drive out to the picturesque cemetery at Mount Hope and look upon the almost interminable vista of little white headstones. Each marks the last resting place of some poor fellow fallen in the war with fever, malaria and all of tropic nature’s fierce and fatal allies against all conquering man. That war is never ended. The English and the Spaniards have laid down their arms. Cimmaroon and conquistadore, pirate and buccaneer no longer steal stealthily along the narrow jungle trails. But let man forget for a while his vigilance and the rank, lush growth of the jungle creeps over his clearings, his roads, his machinery, enveloping all in morphic arms of vivid green, delicate and beautiful to look upon, but tough, stubborn and fiercely resistant when attacked. Poisoned spines guard the slender tendrils that cling so tenaciously to every vantage point. Insects innumerable are sheltered by the vegetable chevaux-de-frise and in turn protect it from the assaults of any human enemy. Given a few months to reëstablish itself and the jungle, once subdued, presents to man again a defiant and an almost impenetrable front. We boast that we have conquered nature on the Isthmus, but we have merely won a truce along a comparatively narrow strip between the oceans. Eternal vigilance will be the price of safety even there.