"You could have knocked me over with a feather!" exclaims Diego, before bursting into a hearty laugh. It's a terrible joke, considering the circumstances, but with Diego, you let it slide. It wouldn't matter if you didn't - he laughs so loudly at his own humor he hardly notices if anyone else is joining him.
I had asked Diego how he'd felt when he came home to find his house crushed by - wouldn't you guess - the feathers of the legendary Quetzalcoatl. Though his humor his sub par, his story is legendary among the local people. He is the man who lives with the snakes.
For fifty three years Diego walked the shiftless path of a drifter, living on the fringe, a harried existence between pride and poverty. He built a shambled house deep in the woods and called it his kingdom. He lived off the land when he could, and slunk to the village to beg and barter when he couldn't. He was proud but poor, free but chained, so assured of his superiority he would answer to no one. One day Diego barred the doors of his cardboard castle and ambled to the village for another round of scrounging. After a luckless day, he returned to find his house in ruins - a single massive feather lay on top of the rubble. Diego fumed. His kingdom was crushed by a silly lilting, feather. In a brazen fury, Diego took to the trees. He climbed, bare-handed up and up and up. Into the canopy, where no-one dared to go. He did not consider that the beast whose feathers could crush houses might be worth fearing. He was angry and would have his revenge.
But something strange happened when he came face to face with the feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl. I should say two strange things happened. The first being that he was not immediately eaten. To shout at a beast a thousand times your size is not wise. But the stranger thing that happened was this: Diego did not fume. He did not stamp his feet. He did not claim his revenge. He stood transfixed. Transfixed by the light caught in the jewel-toned feathers. At the depth of the emerald eyes that stared back at him through the leaves. His anger withered and was replaced by awe.
For four months the village saw neither hide nor hair of Diego - the discovery of his broken house seemed to confirm that the village deadbeat was dead. Crushed by the beasts he so brazenly mocked by building his house under the shadow of their canopy.
But then Diego returned. Or someone returned: a man that looked very much like Diego, but had a heart very different. A man carrying a armful of the most beautiful feathers anyone had ever seen. He came into the village and laid them in the market square and sold them for a fair price. He took the money and bought good building supplies and thanked the merchants very much. Then he returned to the woods.
Diego climbed back into the canopy and began to build a new home for himself, right amongst the creatures that had cost him his old one. He began to care for the serpents - tending to their eggs and preening them of their loose feathers. The feathers he sold to grateful craftsmen down below.
"I climbed into that canopy to rage about what was taken from me," says Diego, "but I didn't realize that I had already been given something better. The feather that crushed my house was a gift, the first of many. It brought me to the canopy to see a beauty much larger than myself. It gave me the idea of selling these feathers. Now I have a job - imagine that!"