Posted by: Hours Per Mile | March 17, 2010

Chapter 1 – Tierra del Fuego

December 14, 2006

Such strange things here. The way the trees grow, stunted and leaning. How random meadows of the shortest grass intermingled with tiny ferns will appear next to the grandest of waters or amidst the most gnarled of trees. The stillness, the silence. As fierce as they could possibly be, the woods here do not seem menacing, but rather, hospitable. We took a hike through soft meadows, their grass spongy and rolling with the dips and hills of the land. The lure of the ocean drew us alongside craggy and unsure cliff edges, down sharp, slippery boulders to reach the shore. We followed the shoreline, jumping from rock to rock as the ocean pressed in towards us.

I looked up at the sound of boyish hee-hawing only to find Graham and Gordo waving around huge, bleached out bones, acting like cavemen. After some deliberation as to whose poor soul they belonged, we all concluded some poor cow had met its lonely demise. Naturally, nature didn’t seem so hospitable anymore.

Evening fell and dinner was those same delicious salami sandwiches. Another steady torture of light rain fell as we ran to the creek to wash our knives and faces, the water stinging our fingers with needles of cold. On our way, we passed a weathered and timeless looking man with his son, both on horseback, real gauchos. They seemed to pass by like vapors, sensed but not really felt. We seemed like the only living creatures in a world vast and unexplored to us.

Graham is reading In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin, a book written years ago but much remains the same. He read us this excerpt: …“From Ushuaia it was a 35 mile walk along the Beagle Channel to the Bridge’s estancia at Harberton. For the first few miles the forest came down to the shore and you looked down through branches at the dark green water and the purple streamers of kelp rising up and wavering with the tide. Further on, the hills drew back and there were pastures of springy grass, dotted with daisies and mushrooms.

I feel elated, this author has been here, seen what we see, has made a connection between many years past and the present all with a few sentences…and here we sit around the campfire feeling significant and as if we’ve been let in on his secret.

We went for another hike in the national park, Tierra del Fuego, with no real objective other than to see what’s out here. Land of Fire. Hardly, it’s cold instead. Distant mountains drizzled with snow frame the metallic lake and its muted ripples. Wild horses graze in cropped, green meadows as they try to fatten themselves up for the approaching brutality of winter. I imagine that I am God and look down at what I have made with such pride and a sense of accomplishment… “You’re welcome,” I would say if I was God, except I think God does say that.

At first, as we hiked along the shoreline, there were a few rabbits nibbling and going about their chores. We said, “Cool, rabbits,” and kept going but then their numbers became so large and their holes so prolific that I was that peaceful human walking through the warren in Watership Down. Suddenly, they were no longer just rabbits and those holes in the ground were no longer just places they burrowed—this was their home, their neighborhood. Each one was born with a personality and each one has a routine to which they like to adhere. I loved walking through their world thinking I was in theirs—not that they were in mine.

The day wore on and we headed back into town. Ushuaia is a grey place, full of battered buildings and battered people. They are a strange lot. Then there are the tourists, the ones with money who walk around in their high tech gear and who are headed to Antarctica. And even then there we are…four strange looking Americans who stumbled out of the woods for a social reprieve.

Our clothes are just as drab as Ushuaia is gray. Considering we’ll be throwing, or hopefully giving, away our winter clothes in a few months we do not hold much value in them, and for good reason, too. I have a wind jacket with holes covered over with duct tape, one pair of pants with a saggy bottom and that same gray, tattered sweatshirt with stained cuffs. Graham and Gordo quickly realized they would need a warm hat and promptly scoured the town in search of one, and only one kind they found so now they both walk around wearing matching hats.  Emma is the only somewhat cute one in our bunch with a colorful scarf usually tied neatly around her neck.

Our hair is worthy of mentioning as well. Graham wears his blond, ever-growing hair in a bun perched on the crown of his head and all the hair that won’t reach the rubber band ends up frizzing into an uncontrollable mess. Gordo, on the other hand, has dark, shining hair long enough to be my own…except a few days before the trip began all of my hair got chopped off at a dinner party gone awry,  so now it looks like we are a group of three boys and one girl, one girl whose cute scarf can’t hide her long, feminine hair usually thrown into a pony tail. So, thus outfitted and shamelessly sporting our different do’s, we walk about town, and through the woods, enjoying things.

Town has its positive qualities. After our long day of wandering around Tierra del Fuego, we ordered a hot pizza and drank cold beers and watched as the windows fogged as the wind whipped around outside. Our eyelids began to droop and bedtime began to beckon. The nerve to go back into the elements and walk through the black woods to our cold sleeping bags needed some encouragement as it mustered us to hail yet another taxi.

No matter how much I tell myself where I am and what I’m doing there’s still a sense of futility. I feel this at times, even when I’m not in a beauty-laden, awe-inspiring place. Life sometimes feels like all it is made of are memories pooled together but the jar has a slow leak in the bottom and all of a sudden I realize whole years of my life are gone, not even remembered. How long before I won’t remember what these trees look like, their bark glistening with dew, their leaves exploding with green? I must use art to depict these trees, this trip, my life, otherwise all of this will eventually fall through the sieve of time into the swirling cauldron of forgotten memories, forgotten lives.

I must learn the art of living. We are alive only a second at a time and I must not think of what’s to come, or what came, but capture what’s happening now because that’s all I have. That, and eternity. Eternity pulls the rug out from under futility. Everything does matter after all, even if I don’t remember it.


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