Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

In Patagonia Day 33

March 22nd, 2018

In Patagonia Day 33
Puerto Varas (rain)

Today, as promised by the folks who predict such matters, the skies dumped rain a constant heavy rate. In the hostel where I am staying, there are people of many nationalities, and each has a different relationship to time. One, a Canadian who works as a police officer, is taking the only extended vacation (two weeks) he will be allowed in the next few years. Another, an American (one of the few I’ve bumped into) was recently laid off and is spending her six months severance pay by spending six months traveling South America. A young couple from Johannesburg both quit their jobs and are embarking on a multi-month fly-fishing tour of this continent. My Dutch friend Jakob is retired from UNESCO and travels outside most time, focusing instead on space— visiting UNESCO sites. I fall somewhere in the middle, wandering a bit to delay returning to Trump’s America, but, more important, to find the space and time to actually think, which generally is discouraged for people working in today’s neoliberal university system. Rainy days of the Patagonian variety highlight everyone’s differing relationships to industrial time. Anxiety by those looking for a complete experience, recalibration for those needing a planning day, and of course action for those who dive in regardless of the circumstances (something required of long-distance trekkers for example). I also think of Victor, the farmer back on Chiloé, sipping maté in an overheated kitchen watching the skies for a break in the rain before starting his daily and interminable chores. It’s days like this that the very idea of time shows its complexity, revealing its materiality, abstraction, and multiplicity.

One way to begin to think about this (only to begin) is how time is given in (lived) experience. In The Adventure of Ideas, Alfred North Whitehead insists that experience must be understood through affect: “The basis of experience is emotional. Stated more generally, the basic fact is the rise of an affective tone originally from things whose relevance is given.” Immediately following this assertion, he invokes what he calls a “Quaker” sense of “concern.” The occasion of experience is never merely a passive (or even semi-active) perception, but instead a full bodied sense of what and how something counts, how something matters. Concern brings with it both a sense that there is something vital, truly at stake in any experience, and at the same time introduces temporality. His “Quaker” sense of concern brings with it not just a passive sense of care (as in feeling sympathy for) but also an obligation to action. In other words, concern is fundamental to any occasion of experience, it is affective, and, perhaps most important, it opens out toward the future that must be made.

In a neoliberal world, that future is necessarily experienced through a sense of belatedness. Time is never well-spent as the future will always bring opportunity loss. In measured performance, participants always miss the mark. This is where Whitehead’s focus on experience, affect, and what he calls “the peculiar status of the human body” helps salvage time and begin to make a future that could be an adventure instead of a loss. Concern is not about belatedness, but instead actually produces time—that is the occasion of experience. To walk up Osorno requires concern—the ash and gravel path is only relatively stable, the wind makes walking difficult and at times even dangerous, but the peculiar status of walking is always an opening out onto the future, a marking/making of time step by step, each with concern for the next. Such an assertion seems trivial (according to people who worry over “the big picture”) but time is trivial—it is a granular experience made not by accomplishment or performance, but through a knowing and understanding body.

T. Hugh Crawford

In Patagonia Day 30

March 20th, 2018

In Patagonia Day 30
Cucao—Castro

Ramshackle—without design, out of square, loosely connected, out of kilter. Buildings in Chiloé, particularly out in the country, ramble with a certain insouciance. Additions jut at angles making impossible rooflines. The Hospedaje Paloma in Cucao is one such establishment. I ended up with a newly added small (unheated) room all to myself—real luxury after weeks of bunk rooms or the divine privacy of a tent. Even though his rooms meander over the lot behind the old church and community soccer field, they are well built. I’m fairly certain Victor, the proprietor, is also the carpenter and a careful craftsman, even though he must of necessity (transportation costs for materials must be high on this side of the island) make do with what comes to hand. In other words, the hospedaje is bricolage.

Rain poured on the corrugated steel roof all night, but the morning was briefly clear. I packed, ready for my trek up to Colé Colé, a beach and some highlands about 16 km up the coast. I would be following more or less the same path as Darwin— down the road for a while, then on the beach before plunging into the bush for the last, most difficult part. Victor invited me into the kitchen for coffee , bread and butter. Most houses (and restaurants for that matter) heat with wood, and even though we are technically still in summer, the weather is cold and damp, so people spend a great deal of time sitting near wood stoves. Victor and Elena’s kitchen is a place to savor. The walls and ceiling were carefully joined and vanished pine. Along one wall are wide benches that could double as bunks near a large black and chrome wood cookstove. A fire burned brightly, heating a kettle for the coffee, but also a little one for Victor’s maté which he sipped constantly through the standard metal straw. A large cylindrical water tank encircled the stovepipe, both heating water and providing thermal mass to stabilize the room temperature.

In hostels and small places in the country, the coffee is usually instant Nescafé, and is always served with very hot water—it takes a long time to finish a cup— which this morning was good as the skies opened up while I sat, a serious downpour. No one else in the room spoke any English and their rural accents made it impossible for me to even begin to follow their talk. Victor asked if I was going to Castro and I replied that I was heading to Colé Colé. At that, his friend (a bus driver) said no—no one would go to Colé Colé today. I decided I’d see how the day would unfold, and unfold it did. Starting north I could see the clouds moving off to the east, and a huge blue sky open before me. With a good spring in my step, assisted by masses of ripe blackberries growing on the roadside, I soon covered the road/bridge section of the hike to Colé Colé. The first bridge, which I had seen yesterday on my churchyard wandering, is most peculiar. A single lane, woodtimbered bridge is common, but this one has a curving bulge in the middle, looking every bit like it was made from an old wooden ship. The curved decking and bulkhead in the middle even has portholes. I couldn’t decide if it was all functional—to enable fishing from the bridge—or pure whimsy. Crossing the next low bridge, I found myself on a wide, hardpacked beach, with the waves crashing several hundred meters from the dune line. The sun still shone bright where I was, but over the water clouds gathered. I set off at a brisk pace, hoping to cover the 6 km before the weather turned. With the first drop, I dropped pack and geared up. No sooner did I zip in my rain pants than the skies opened like a small explosion. Were I on a long-distance trek, there would have been no question but to continue right into the teeth of it, but this was just a pleasure outing, almost a day hike, so, measuring the distance between the far exit point and my nearby entry, I did a rapid about-face and headed back.

Normally such a move would have brought disappointment, even a sense of failure, but the trekking/adventure gods were properly propitiated because soon, appearing out of the storm and honking a horn, was a four-wheel drive pickup—small Toyota club cab—full of local farmers. This area is populated by the descendants of those same native dwellers Darwin derided on his boat ride. They motioned for me to hop in the back, so I wasn’t out of the rain, but I also wasn’t walking in it. Clearly experienced driving on the beach, the driver maneuvered through several small streams, then abruptly turned left, heading straight to the river flowing at the base of the hills. Right before splashdown, he spun hard right, crossed some outflow watercourses and drove with the left wheels in the river straight at the dune protecting the low bridge just past. We bounced, pitched, yawed, but didn’t roll and soon were on the road, retracing in minutes what had taken me a good part of the morning to cross on foot. They deposited me at the gate to National Park in front of the bus stop, which I took as both a sign and a judgment—time it head back to Castro. They shook hands, waved, and spun off to their chores, and I warmed up with a cup of coffee and soon found myself on the return route to Castro, disappointment tempered by a twenty minute thrill ride in the wild dunes of Chiloé.

T. Hugh Crawford

In Patagonia Day 28

March 18th, 2018

In Patagonia Day 28
Castro—Nercón—Castro

Castro has real charm but only after some wandering. Yesterday, while hurrying down a sidewalk in the rain while the street venders pulled their wares under the buildings’ overhangs, I passed a round, pudgy boy no more than two, perched on a ledge eating sushi with clear gusto. Later, when I bought a container of mussels and pulpo at the fish market, the woman laughed heartily after I accepted all the offered toppings which included cilantro, onions, and a good dose of fresh lemon juice. Near that market are decrepit stuccoed Deco buildings which makes me wonder if there was a time when the waterfront sparkled rather than moldered. What has struck me most is how grim people seem to be on the street, but how they come alive when I speak to them. Quick to smile and ready to laugh, they are interesting folks.

The morning was sunny so I walked up the harbor into the upper reaches of the Castro bay to perform my tourist duties by photographing the Costanera, a tidal basin where the houses are up on pilings. Much of the walk out was by houses similarly situated though you can’t really tell from the street unless you catch a glimpse between. The area is littered with boats in various stages of repair or decomposition, usually beached but floated by the tide. The deco influence here is interesting, with curved building edges but instead of masonry or stucco they are tabbed wood shingles, also in various stages of repair or decomposition. I stopped for coffee and was given a slice of pound cake and a folder of historical photographs to pass the time—the narrow gauge train when it was still running, buildings in the 30s, and the effects of a 1960s flood. Stuck in the sheaf was a picture of a fox. How is it that I could be over 60 years old and only now realize that a the name for fox is Zorro? Later I stopped to watch two men fishing in the bay, one young, the other very old and wearing a straw fedora. Each had a line with weight and a few baited hooks coiled in an old coffee can. They would cast by spinning the weight and line in a circle over their heads (as I imagine one would throw a bolo). The younger man cast and pulled in rapidly; the old man would cast and hold the line in a gnarled hand, fingering it lightly and with patience. Soon he had a small fat fish, which he let flop on the shingle beach while baiting and casting his line again.

My father, who grew up on the Chesapeake Bay, would have liked today as my walk took me past boats of all types—wooden rowboats, fishing boats of various sizes, and several double-ended wooden sailboats. In the afternoon I decided to walk to Nercón, a village about 5 km down the coast which has one of the UNESCO Jesuit churches. The path took me past more stilted tidal houses, but also by the fairly new Enjoy Casino and a small airport. The best parts besides the church were two wooden boat yards. The first had a very large hull mostly finished, but at the second all I could see from the road was a few ribs laid out on a template. What was exciting there was to see their sawtimbers—several logs from trees grown at a particular angle which they were sawing out as ribs. Using naturally bent timbers preserves grain continuity throughout the rib (no cuts across the grain) which multiplies overall strength to weight. Dad would have been fascinated to see old-style wood working in current practice.

The Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Gracia de Nercón was built in 1887-1888 by those shipbuilders’ ancestors. A stunning structure not just because of its proportions but also its joinery. The columns outside use the same barrel construction as the Castro Cathedral, while the flying buttresses are simple exterior diagonal bracing with heavy wooden beams. The most important feature though is the wooden barrel vaulted ceiling, running the length of the chapel. The light, sound, and the air itself are reflected, focused, concentrated onto the pews below creating an aura throughout the space. You feel your heart rate change as you enter the nave. Restored in 2012, there are ladders up to the bell tower which lets you see the joinery—adze shaped knee braces, heavy mortise and tenon joints, and, above the barrel vaulting, ribbed bracing looking very much like an inverted ship. Suspended on strings from the ceiling into the chapel are three small model fishing boats.

On my way back, I had a late lunch in a shed near a boatyard which had two large old-fashioned wood-fired ovens where they baked the small round flat bread most commonly served. I had coffee and two buns stuffed with local cheese, playing peek-a-boo with a small Chilean child unused to foreigners. In the evening after a wander about the harbor where I talked with two different couples with whom I had crossed paths earlier on the trip, I found myself back at my current favorite place—Barra Cerveceria—an unassuming craft beer pub with a long list of Chiloe brews, a laughing staff, and a balcony out back looking out over the fish market and the bay. Good ending to a fascinating day.

T. Hugh Crawford

In Patagonia Day 20

March 11th, 2018

In Patagonia Day 20
El Chaltén—Lago del Desierto—El Chaltén

Today was about borders—national, hydrological, botanical, and geological. My last day in Argentina’s Glacier National Park was a shuttle ride up a rough gravel road with many one-lane wooden bridges to Lago del Desierto, a long narrow lake 37 kilometers from El Chaltén. The plan was simple: visit the lake, climb up to Huemul glacier, then mountain bike back to town, so maybe the first border I should mention is the one between me and the bicycle seat—wish I had packed the spandex riding shorts. The primary border that framed today, what has defined this area in the last 50+ years, is the watershed, the continental divide which, after much contention, settles national borders. A drop of rain falling on the mountains just past Lago del Desierto either flows to the Pacific and therefore is Chilean water, or it ends up Argentinian Atlantic water. It has not always been so simple (and probably still isn’t) but here in the 1960s, the two Patagonian countries argued about who governed a nearly empty (of humans) and generally unstudied region. In 1965, following a dispute about which country a farmer owed allegiance, there was an incident between Chilean and Argentinian forces near the lake. A Chilean, Lieutenant Hernán Merino Correa, was killed and now is considered a hero, buried in a special cemetery in Santiago. Both governments were in some internal political turmoil in that era, and the argument was not really settled until 1994, but now the area is officially part of Argentina, though from the base of the lake you can see Chilean mountains. It had occupied a place long ignored by both Argentina and Chile, so it was a marginal zone crowded in by mountains, glaciers, and impenetrable ice fields.

The story of El Chaltén itself helps explain the complexities of stabilizing borders. The Rio de Los Vueltas valley had been partly settled by Scandinavian farmers setting up estancias. Perhaps most famous was Andreas Madsen, a Dane who wrote Hunting Pumas in Patagonia and Tales of the Old Patagonia (books I have not been able to find). Still, the upper reaches had been largely ignored, and Argentina’s response after the 1965 skirmish was to push a road up to the lake and a rough path further on to the border. Today that point is occupied by the military and is a checkpoint for intrepid souls hiking through to O’Higgins township on the Chilean side. The real political move though was establishing El Chaltén itself. The youngest town in all of Argentina, it was founded in 1985 in order to open the land around Fitz Roy and Torres to tourism, and essentially to occupy a place that had previously been scarcely experienced by large groups of humans. The native Tehuelche who did not settle that particular site and who were pretty much exterminated in 19th century by General Roca, called Fitz Roy “Chaltén” which means “the mountain that smokes.” It doesn’t have the feel of a planned community. The bus station is at the entrance to the town and a wide boulevard leads to the first major intersection, continuing on after a dogleg to the left until it meets a terrace with grid steel walkways to go up to the next level. If you take a right back at the first major intersection followed by an immediate left, you are on the main road heading out toward Lago del Desierto and the Chilean border. It is initially lined with restaurants (with their competing happy hours), hostels, and outdoor adventure storefronts. Unlike El Calatafe, El Chaltén is much more relaxed. They aren’t hustling tourists to the Perito Moreno glacier but instead simply let everyone wander off on spectacular day hikes or multi-day treks. Although I have no idea what life is like there in the off-season, it does seem a vital community. Across from my hostel was a school full of boisterous children. Roberta, the hostel owner, has a daughter who attends. And isolated as Chaltén might be, that small population was out marching on International Women’s Day. It is hard to comprehend that 35 years ago, this was a windswept plain. Had Bruce Chatwin’s peregrinations taken him here, he would had to seek shelter from one of a few widely spaced estancia houses. I was enchanted by this outpost at the end of the road and near the end of the world.

Those estancias stretching up the Rio de Los Vueltas valley and in the plains to the east bring a different border awareness— the thin soil horizon, often absent, that gives ground to tufts of some tough grasses and provides grazing land for sheep, horses, and cattle. It is difficult not to be struck by the miles of fencing even in the most isolate desolate areas. At the end of summer with plenty of rain the plants are still brown and crisp. Often there are simply large open patches of granite gravel— river wash—which forms the foundation for the thin soils. It’s some hard living for plants, animals and humans. The farmhouses are easy to pick out at a distance as they are planted up with Lombardy Poplar windbreaks (similar to the high hedges on windswept farms in New Zealand). You can imagine the calm refuge they must provide and the shock of stepping out of the lee to head off into the lea for daily chores. The poplars are not indigenous but seem to thrive. The surrounding mountains are generally bare, so it is easy to see their geological architecture, but in sections sheltered from the more brutal winds, two varieties of nothofagus live. Indigenous to the area, the larger are the celebrated Lenga (Nothofagus pumilio, the best restaurant on Puerto Natales is called Lenga). A nearly identical appearing but smaller variety is the Ñire. By observing their clusters, you can understand other sorts of borders—soil horizons and microclimates. Early 20th century ranchers burned off sections of hillside to stimulate the growth of grass, but since much of the area is now National Park (the Glacier National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site) and the surrounding private land has some use restrictions, the nothafagus forests are regenerating. In the marshy and heavily disturbed areas, the Ñire do their work, and in the more stable (though still thin soiled) areas the Lenga go about transforming the barren and windswept into calm peace.

One last border—the Pacific Ocean, not as an end point but as a new barrier separating lands that had once been cheek by jowl. Recently scientists using flora and fauna similarities have agued that New Zealand was once nestled against the Patagonian coast. Apart from marked similarities in geological activity, those two places are one of the few places where nothafagus exist indigenously, though instead of Ñira and Lenga, the Kiwis have red, hard, mountain, and black. As Joan Maloof and Peter Wohlleben each observe, the beech is a tree with special qualities, as anyone who has wandered through an old growth beech forest can attest. Technically the nothofagus are not actual beeches, hence the appellation “false beech.” The Patagonian/New Zealand versions are different from their European and North American counterparts, but as someone who has had the opportunity to wander through groves of each, they are every bit as magical.

T. Hugh Crawford

In Patagonia Day 18

March 8th, 2018

In Patagonia Day 18
Poincenot Campground—D’Agostini Campground

Woke to a cloudy windy morning but the rain had stopped. Took my time leaving as the wind soon dried my wet hiking clothes (which meant I still have dry clothes in my bag—always a good idea). Today I walked the trail that connects the Fitzroy loop with the Torres loop. This is not a common route, so I had it to myself, hiking beside two long lakes, and then winding through a magnificent grove of Lenga trees before finally descending into another river valley, fed by the Torres cluster of glaciers. The path went up that river which was nearly out of its banks. For some reason it is the Fitzroy River even though it has no connection to the peak. The Beagle’s (and Darwin’s) captain sure got around. Arrived at the campsite around lunchtime again, so followed the same drill—set up tent (glad I did as the camp became very crowded later in the day), ate some lunch, packed gear in daypack and headed up to Laguna Torre. What a difference a day makes. An easy walk half a click from the campground, the skies clear, windy but tolerable. The path led to the base of a round lake surrounded by three peaks. The sun baked down on the rocks so I was soon reclining and basking. Earlier in the day I had to cross a flooded stream, so took off my soaked shoes and let the wind and sun have at it. A parade of day hikers continued to pass, and I got to see them right when they crested the ridge and the scene opened up to them. They always said “beautiful” but in their own (many) languages. I think the greatest pleasure was in being able to linger at the mirador. I’ve arrived at so many places where the view is breathtaking, but so is the wind limiting the chance to take it all in.

Back on day 4 of this trip, I described how I like to go into a cathedral and, rather than wander, just sit in a pew waiting to see where my eyes take me. Today’s mirador was like a church, and that pile of rocks was my pew. Directly in front was the lake, almost perfectly round. I could see across the lower part of the glacier where the meltwater flowed in, and off to my left, the roar of the Fitzroy river leaving. But in the middle, opaque milky brownish water with the wind whipping up big waves, driving them toward where I sat. In the apse on my left, there were at the top the now familiar sharp granite crags, the pure upthrust of molten rock, but part way down was a band of lighter, almost yellow stone (the rounded fragments of which mix with the granite stones that make up the round-rock and sand landscape of my end of the lake). Down the middle of that mountain trails a wild swirl of a waterfall. To my right is another peak of similar height but much different appearance. It has its share of granite crags, but just beneath them are layer upon layer of slightly tilted strata. This entire mountain was uplifted with those layers nearly intact. Perhaps because of that, huge piles of rocky scree slope down to the water’s edge, as if this mountain is in a hurry to slide down to the lake below. Like all my views of Mt. Fitzroy, Torres was also encased in clouds, only offering shadowy glimpses of the true heights. Its base was crowded with glaciers of very shade of blue and every shade of white.

T. Hugh Crawford

In Patagonia Day 17

March 8th, 2018

In Patagonia Day 17
El Chaltén —Poincenot Campground

As is often the case with full day trekking, it was a day with a split personality. None of these sections involve any real distance, so I caught the 9:30 shuttle to the trailhead, accompanied by a number of folks including two American couples with a baby packing in steaks and eggs. The first part of the day felt like any number of Te Araroa days. The bus was more of a truck with a compartment on the back— you entered from the rear by climbing a pullout ladder. The road was gravel and followed a fast moving braided river. The bus turned at the opening of a smaller river valley and dropped us off. I made haste to get distance from the crowd. Just like so many days on the South Island of NZ, the path followed along a fast moving glacial stream, slowly gaining elevation, then after a bit turning uphill and gradually climbing to a saddle which is usually crossed around midday. This was not a a hard climb but it was beautiful, passing a high mountain glacier feeding a nearly as high lake which of course emptied via a high waterfall. The wind was strong and occasionally there were sprinkles but the morning was mostly in the sun. I arrived at the campsite midday. It which was in a grove of very old growth Lenga trees. Previous campers had piled large logs and branches upwind on the camping clearings, signaling the weather to expect. I set up my trusty Zpack solo, ate some cheese and crackers, put my foul weather gear in a daypack and took off for Laguna de Los Tres, which was only a few kilometers up from camp. In these mountains, the glaciers crowd the peaks, with their meltwater converging in high mountain lakes which spill out to form the milky torrents cascading to the valley. Laguna de Los Tres is one such lake, catching the water from glaciers coming off the Mount Fitzroy cluster. At first the climb was easy and still sunny, but soon it was incredibly steep and the rain started to settle in. I pushed on, wishing I had my trekking poles (I had left them holding up my tent). By the time I was 3/4s up, visibility was near zero, the wind was strong enough to blow off my glasses, and I was soaked completely through. Yes a schizoid day. Made it to the top, the clouds held back long enough to take in a view (barely got pictures as it was too wet to get my phone to open), then proceeded to the long slow climb down, arriving back after a long hour’s descent. Quickly made some pasta and climbed into my tent just as the rain really hit. It poured and howled all night, soaking many fellow campers, but, as usual, my Zpacks solo (which is the merest wisp of a tent weighing in at 1 lb.) held firm and kept me dry. What a brutal evening.

T. Hugh Crawford

In Patagonia Day 15

March 5th, 2018

In Patagonia Day 15
El Calatafe—El Chaltén

I started reading Jason Moore’s Capitalism in the Web of Life the other day. In the opening chapters he lays out an argument familiar in 21st century environmental philosophy criticizing the notion that humans are actors—agents of history— acting on a mute and stable Nature. Societies have history, Nature does not (ironically, what we today call science was once referred to as natural history). Of course people have long recognized that nature is always in some flux—earthquakes, eruptions, floods are all transformative—but the science that emerged in the Modern era was a description of underlying stabilities, uniformities, laws, and it rests on familiar binaries: subject/object, society/Nature, what in a slightly different form Alfred North Whitehead called the “bifurcation of nature.” But Moore’s is not a science studies book; rather he wants to understand how capitalism(s) use (and indeed are constituted by) the capital “N”Nature of modern science.

Reading is a material practice. Words can’t be abstracted from their substrate, but instead participate in specific material economies. It matters where and how words are produced and consumed. People often comment on how different a book is on re-reading, but such a claim depends on abstracting that text from the point of its consumption. From a materialist perspective, there is no such thing as re-reading as all readings necessarily involve a different configuration, setting, and materiality. That is all just to say I was reading and thinking about Moore while moving about in southern Patagonia. The question that nagged was why modern science—depending on atemporal, universal objects—emerges in Europe. It is, of course, a tired question, one chewed over by philosophers and historians for centuries, and probably not one to even ask in a hastily written blog about walking, so I’ll limit myself to walking speculation.

The Pennine Way runs up the backbone of England 200+ miles from Edale (near Manchester) to Kirk Yetholm just across the Scottish border. Days walking this path usually involve loitering in pubs in the Yorkshire Dales, strolling from picturesque village to picturesque village, occasionally up and over a ridge in high wind and blustery weather—the heights truly do wuther. Generally it is a peaceful, intimate environment though there are moments when, for example, entering Malham Cove or gazing out from High Cup Nick you feel something momentous and non-human has happened there, some environmental upheaval. But by and large, the walk is one through human history, one deeply felt. An early center of Modern Science was the English Royal Society, where the fellows defined the principles and practices necessary to articulate truth claims about the objective world. Much has been written about the complex politics of these emerging protocols (in particular Shapin and Schaffer’s magisterial Leviathan and the Air Pump). Later, in the 19th century Lyell and Darwin were able to bring long-scale earth history into the discourse, but remained magisterial. Still, I just want to make one small observation. Walking across England produces a sense of an environmentally stable world —Nature—written all over by Human history.

Walking in Patagonia is imbued with a hyperawareness of environmental conditions. It is raw, elemental. The wind flays you, the temperature swings cause constant adjustment, and its sheer vastness makes you feel insignificant. It is a land in flux—the actual land. Early European explorers derided the people they found living in this part of the world, criticizing their hygiene, clothing, housing, food, and social practices (even as late as the 19th century, Darwin was particularly vicious in his appraisal of the Tierra del Fuegeans). They were also condemned for their non-modernity, their failure to see the earth as object and instead finding all manner of spirits, animisms, and active agents in their Nature. They lived in a world full of what Jane Bennett would call in the 21st century “Vibrant Matter.” Most people who travel to southern Patagonia try to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier. It is an amazing sight (see “Day 14” below). Glaciers bring geological time into awareness, enabling us to see ice-age conditions and the massive disruption caused by the slow movement of active matter. Something visitors tend to miss, though, are the peaks that loom over the glacial valley. From the lake you can see four, each heavily eroded revealing clear strata marking upheaval and slow erosion. What struck me was how the first two showed perfect horizons of strata, level lines marking out the ticking of a long slow clock, while the the next two, made from what appears the same temporal and material strata but thrust up by different forces, were a twisted curving, almost writhing mass of flux. Looking at those peaks doesn’t give the sense of long past environmental transformation. You too are caught up in the geological maelstrom. I can imagine an emerging scientific practice here that does not start with a subject/object distinction, but instead begins with a world tangled up, erasing human/nonhuman binaries, and vastly complicating any sense of time’s arrow.

T. Hugh Crawford

In Patagonia Day 14

March 3rd, 2018

In Patagonia Day 14
El Calafate—Perito Moreno Glacier—El Calafate

Yesterday evening I had a good IPA Esquél at the Wanaco bar looking out the window onto the main street of the old section of El Calatafe. It is lined with tour agencies, souvenir shops, restaurants, and hiking equipment stores. Divided by a green median with an alley of tall trees, its cars pass sporadically, chased by mongrel hounds. Trekkers with large packs march past on their way to some hostel, while couples young and old peruse the restaurant menus, and kids eat ice cream dashing madly up and down the sidewalk. A young woman walking arm in arm with an elderly lady passed the window several times. In profile, it was clear they were related, pretty sure a granddaughter out with her grandmother. Unlike nearly everyone else on the street (who tend to wear some variation of Patagonia or Northface gear), the granddaughter wore a long blue wool coat, one you would see in a large city, while her grandmother had a long quilted coat with (probably fake) fur on the cuffs and collar. Her hair was up in an old fashioned style, and she carried a wooden cane with a shiny brass handle. What initially drew my attention was how solicitous the younger one was—they walked with such care. What then became clear was a deep affection between them, bordering on conspiracy. Much more than familial obligation, it was obvious these two genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. They were good friends. I was touched, and grateful for a rare glimpse of deep human connection and compassion.

Apart from people watching and souvenir shopping, the reason everyone comes to El Calatafe is the Perito Moreno glacier in a park 70km west of the city. It is possible to take a bus there, but with a little bit of a splurge, you can go on a small tour bus and also spend an hour on a boat cruising the face of the glacier. I splurged, and you can imagine my pleasure when I boarded the tour bus and there seated in the front row were last night’s strollers, complete with cane, coats, with the addition of big knit wool hats. Erica, the guide couldn’t quite suppress a frown on learning that my Spanish was too weak to follow her discursus on all things glacial during the day-long excursion. Everyone else spoke Spanish or Portuguese (the two women were from Buenos Aires), so Erica would talk a long while, complete with visual aids, then glance down at me and deliver the condensed version in English. I did learn a lot, and she sure put on a show, all but rolling a drum as we rounded the bend for our first sight of the glacier. It was drumroll-worthy. From that point on, words were unnecessary. The boat was a large catamaran with glassed-in seating surrounded by a catwalk. The morning had started off cold and pouring rain, but by the time we were onboard, the skies were clear and the sun was shining, though it was still fairly cold—those were many square miles of ice we sailed next to. The hour on the boat was spent slack jawed staring at a wall of ice fissured with blue. The rest was moving around the catwalk taking photos, selfies, and snapping portraits for those leaning on nearby rails.

Recovering terra semi-firma, we bused up to the balconies— a vast complex of wood, stone, and steel walkways winding about a point of land affording views of both faces of the glacier (I only saw one face from the boat). We all spent several hours taking in every angle possible. The grandmother was only able to walk out to the first high balcony, but on my leaving, I witnessed yet another scene of true tenderness between the two when, because of the wind, the young woman lit her grandmother’s cigarette for her.

T. Hugh Crawford

In Patagonia Day 13

March 3rd, 2018

In Patagonia Day 13
Puerto Natales—El Calafate

Today was uneventful except for a border crossing—actually two as leaving Chile required an exit queuing in a dusty gravel wide spot in a narrow dusty gravel road. Then a couple clicks further, entrance queue to Argentina. Such processes remind me of many border crossings, always with a bit of tension and the absurdity of how meaningful an arbitrary line is. I’ll be in Argentina for a while, and since nothing else of note occurred today, I’ll just list some quick observations about my time in Chile.

Puerto Natales has many accommodations on all levels of luxury— my nights at the We Are Patagonia Hostal were as good as anyone could expect—clean place with wonderful staff who bent over backwards to make things smooth, but I’m curious about a group of Bucky Ball tents around the corner. I remain intrigued how Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic design functions as canvas sleeping quarters.

Surfer and rock climbing videos: sadly many bars/restaurants have hung TV screens on their walls, but rather than streaming live sports or maybe the news, they alternate films of surfers and rock climbers (I’m waiting for the sociological study of race, class, and gender when it comes to rock climbing).

Music: in Santiago music by local artists filled the air, in the deep south moving from cafe to cafe the “Eye of the Tiger” follows me around, along with many 80s power ballads, but then they play Sinatra. I took great pleasure listening to old blue eyes in La Lenka, an amazing restaurant in Puerto Natales, but was jarred a bit by the Aerosmith followup. And I still can’t quite embrace reggae versions of Pink Floyd.

Receipts: Chile is a country awash in bits of paper with a personal touch. Every transaction brings a handwritten receipt, often on plain white note paper. At first it seemed odd and probably inefficient, but it structures the time of the transaction, slowing it down, and making it very personal.

Dogs: Also already talked about this, but I remain struck by how loose dogs are simply part of the fabric of the city, in the same way as trees, streets, and sidewalks. They sleep on the stoops, greet you when you pass, control the speed of traffic as it moves through the towns. Last night I sat in a cafe overlooking a park and watched two dogs fight. At first I was concerned that this would be bloody, but they seem to recognize and understand limits. I couldn’t help comparing the fight with the current American political scene (i had made the mistake of reading the news). The difference is the dogs did understand limits and actually showed dignity.

I saw a condor near Lago Sofia. I’ve always wanted to see one fly, but all I got was the image of a big-ass buzzard huddled on a ledge.

Speaking of strange animals, on leaving the park at Torres Del Paine, I saw herds of guanacos grazing in the draws just above the waterfront. Beautiful animals with generally white and light brown fur looking like wild llamas, which is pretty much what they are. With some trepidation I ordered guanaco last night as a specialty of the restaurant (which was Puerto Natales’s primary locavore establishment). Have to admit it was tasty though I felt strange eating them. It was odd being in a town founded as a meatpacking center in a culture that has long been defiantly carnivorous.

El Calafate is a tourist town, crowded with travel agents and outdoor equipment stores. Everyone who walks by is dressed to withstand a Siberian blizzard . I’m enjoying a Esquél IPA (local brew) while REM echoes in the the bar. I did make the mistake of turning to see their TV screens are tuned to golf (Nobody needs to do the race/class/gender study of that one, it’s self evident). Tomorrow I set off with all the other tourists to see the Perito Moreno glacier. Will get that blue ice thing figured out.

T. Hugh Crawford

In Patagonia Day 12

March 1st, 2018

In Patagonia Day 12
Puerto Natales—Mylodon Cave—Puerto Natales

In a glass case at the Salesian Museum in Punta Arenas are two pieces of mylodon hide. Although extinct for at least 10,000 years, the fur looks fresh as if the animal were killed this year. Bruce Chatwin begins his book In Patagonia describing a piece of the same hide, but his was in a glass case at his grandmother’s house in England (and was later lost in a move). His obsession with the hide—first he thought it was brontosaurus, then mylodon (giant ground sloth)—is the ficelle for his book (see Day 4 below for more on that).

Chatwin begins his adventures in northern Patagonia, works his way south to Tierra del Fuego, then up the Chilean coast, first Punta Arenas, then a bit further north to Puerto Natales (then Puerto Consuelo), to the story’s origin and the culmination of his quest. On his arrival in 1974, Chatwin had to seek out Herman Eberhard’s grandson for directions and access to an isolated cave carved by ancient seas in a conglomerate hump, barely a mountain, rising out of the flat plain beside the Devil’s Seat rock formation. Today the mountain and its caves are part of a small national park complete with a visitors center (selling mylodon tchotchkes) and a network of trails doubling as mountain bike paths. Rather than an example of crass commercialization, there is something endearing about the whole place. The larger region caters to tourists ready to spend a lot of money to be shown mountains, fjords, and glaciers, but my trip to the cave was a morning drive in a plain passenger van complete with a mylodon decal on the side accompanied by a driver and four Americans looking to spend a morning away from high stress tourism. On one level the caves are underwhelming, so they serve exactly that function. The primary cave is grand with a high arching ceiling and a flat fine grained dirt floor. Apart from some very simple explanatory plaques and a life-sized model of a mylodon, there is little else to see. But of course there is much more.

Chatwin’s arrival at more or less the end of his journey and more or less the end of his book was also underwhelming. He enters the cave unhampered by today’s sidewalk and boundary ropes, digs around in the dirt, finds some “leathery turds”of extinct sloth (all I saw on the dirt were old footprints and many round stones that had fallen from the ceiling. If you squint a bit, they could be turds). He looks into some of the holes his grand uncle helped dynamite in order to make off with bones and fur, and comes up with a few familiar reddish hairs which will happily serve as substitute for the lost hide, but what he does not see is a past: “I tried to picture the cave with sloths in it, but I could not erase the fanged monster I associate with a blacked-out bedroom in wartime England.” He could not reconcile his childhood image of the hide’s source with science’s depiction. Given the numerous mylodon images in and around Puerto Natales, it is perhaps a disappointing monster. But more to the point, In Patagonia is a book of stories—the stories of people. The mylodon is connected to the story of his relative, Charlie Milward. The actual sloth is never more than prompt and a bit of extinct flesh. This morning I had the advantage of seeing a cave without the lens of human history. The conglomerate erratic “Devil’s Seat” has a story, one of ancient lakes, eroding mountains, underwater debris and pressure. It is also the story of upthrust and the receding of Lake Sofia, and finally the story of how it came to be where it now rests. Clearly it travelled, a wandering rock, from a place closer to the cave or perhaps from an even more distant formation. Darwin speculates that many large erratics in this region arrived on icebergs.

The twisted strata of the surrounding hills tell tales of slow sedimentation and violent disruption. On closer timescales, the cave tells of inhabitation by extinct horses, sabre-tooth tigers, ground sloths, and early humans. Their lives—sleeping, eating (or being eaten), living, dying—still reverberate in that place. Of course Chatwin saw and heard; his ability to listen was incomparable. He simply had another story to tell, and at this point in the narrative, it is his own. The recovery of the fur sample takes him back to childhood memories, and his wild things, which at least in part keeps him from seeing the wild things in the actual cave, ones that “roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.”

T. Hugh Crawford

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