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reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

In Patagonia Day 32

March 21st, 2018

In Patagonia Day 32
Puerto Varas —Mt Osorno—Puerto Varas

In November of 1832 Darwin was on Chiloé, but he could see off to the northeast a sight: “26th.—The day rose splendidly clear. The volcano of Orsono was spouting out volumes of smoke. This most beautiful mountain, formed like a perfect cone, and white with snow, stands out in front of the Cordillera.” He was not witnessing an eruption from that perfect cone, but instead a heavy gas vent on the mountain’s shoulder. Walking up from the ski area (closed now as it is the first day of fall) the trail drifts to the east and soon the red crater appears. Not large, but clearly recent (in geological time) this semi-circular hole spewed gas and steam 186 years ago, a plume visible all the way to Chiloé— not surprising as today I could see the Pacific while standing near the crater. Volcanos on the Pacific coast were a particular attraction to both Darwin and Humboldt, the latter climbing a number of them. They do tend to form almost comically perfect cones in this part of the world.

Not long before I landed in New Zealand at the new year, Wellington had an earthquake. Today, wandering an area covered in ash from the recent eruption of Calbuco (2015) and still with ash bits and pumice grains in my beard even after a long shower, I think of the regular violence of the natural world. In a recent book, Bruno Latour, in typical Latourian overstatement, dramatizes humanity’s newfound confrontation with a very active nature, and our need to confront the anthropocenic moment. Buffeted by the winds on Osorno, wiping Calbuco’s ash from my eyes, I was without doubt “facing Gaia.”


T. Hugh Crawford