Breakwater News : Time passages
Our columnist has begun his return from his home in Chile where people were still recovering from the eruption of Chaiten volcano in May. Over 7,000 people fled their homes, and a layer of ash up to 15 inches thick covered an area of 60 square miles.
In the present tense, time in Patagonia passed like honey through a straw. It seemed rich and fulfilling and could not possibly pass at any other rate. But it does pass. So I found myself once again at the end of a passage of time with much feeling of accomplishment. Yet there's always more to do and the anticipation of other directions to follow.
I engaged in a negotiation to have a large excavator work its way up to the top of Rio Chico, where, in a high mountain valley, a friend's water powered rotary sawmill was incapacitated by the millpond full of ash. As the process proceeded, it became clear that the ash in the mountains had caused the year-round snow pack to disappear for the first time in local memory.
"Maybe next year," everyone said.
As is always the case here, every summer is different. This year we had more wind than anyone could remember. This in itself would not be so noticeable, but the wind picked up the ash and created huge clouds hundreds of meters high that in extremes can cause whiteouts of sorts. At the end of the day we are worn out just from exposure to the ash. It gets in everything. Pores, eyes, nose, and throat are clogged and crusty. Clothes are saturated. Pockets, socks, and hair need to be shaken out. With doors and windows closed the house was left with a thin layer of fine ash over everything.
Laura has been dealing admirably with the challenges of life without electricity, cooking on a woodstove, living by lantern and candlelight. She has become a very good cook and baker, producing inventive cookies and delicious fresh bread. We built a fire in the hot water heater for a luxurious shower in the new bathhouse at the end of the day. Before, we would bathe in the river, but the river was still turbid light blue with the ash and uninviting. In her new enforced indoor regimen, Laura has been hand sewing curtains for the windows, studying Spanish, creating small comfortable spaces to sit and read, practicing yoga and, of course, constantly cleaning. I did my best to be of some help, but her tolerance was much lower than mine and it all gets to her long before me.
This is not to say I had not been busy. There was still a constant need of firewood, truck maintenance, fresh food procurement (we still have no refrigeration), and an unending list of house and land improvement projects. Throughout the summer I was working at building the two entry doors and windows for the house my friend Hugo is building for Rachel and Wyatt Garfield at the other end of the ranch. It is his best work yet and even he allows that they have done a good job. I have been working steadily and just now have everything ready to install.
Hugo, of course, is always at the center of a whirlwind of activity. But there is no wasted motion; he moves slowly and deliberately in a composed and thoughtful manner. People around him listen and interact and produce. In his wake lies accomplishment, be it fields mowed, trees cut, rocks piled, animals cared for or butchered, or in the case of the past year, houses built.
When Hugo finally abandoned the ranch after the animals had been sold or moved following the volcano, he joined his family on the island of Chiloe. In the two months he was there, literally waiting for the dust to settle, he built a house for Israel, his daughter Monica, and their new baby. It has been a constant struggle, and with the occasional tremors and specter of more eruptions there is an underlying trepidation. But Hugo shows no concern as he goes about his life with a chuckle, hands un-stayed by hesitation or uncertainty.
So we turned once again to the north. The truck, which has suffered worst of all from the ash, went into the barn. The tools were put away, the house cleaned, everything packed, and the water turned off. We celebrated our first wedding anniversary with neighbors and a few friends from town who participated here last year. Then we climbed aboard a bus for 12 hours to Puerto Montt, the first leg of the long road that will see us aboard our beloved Crowflite, and in Woods Hole in about two weeks.
Hope to see you all soon.