Breakwater News : World away
Directly due south and the same distance from the equator as Gay Head is north, Laura and I are once again in our little house surrounded by the Andes Mountains. Our neighbor Rosita picked us up in Futaleufu after 12 hours in the air and 26 hours in several buses interspersed between visiting friends and shopping necessities for this year's projects.
In Puerto Montt, the central coastal shipping town that connects Patagonia with the rest of the world, we were once again struck by the imminent and constant influx of outside interests. Once a small secluded harbor albeit busy with waterborne commerce and fishing fleets, Puerto Montt has become a hub of international banking and business concerns. High rise modern glass and steel buildings and hotels are springing up among the blocks of old rickety wooden structures lining the waterfront. A mall like you might find in Newark, N.J., has been planted on the far eastern end of the seawall.
At the western end of town where just a decade ago there was a marvelous hodgepodge of quayside shanties and small clusters of fish-stalls, restaurants, and local businesses, there is now an organized colony of local fish purveyors and restaurants. There is a new and long wooden building built right out over the water with small attractive seafood kitchens all vying for the tourist dollars that are passing through en route to their Patagonian adventure.
It is still very charming, but the contrast is inescapable. The chill in the long shadows cast by the strange tall structures is a portent of things to come. This tiny isolated waterfront, so rich in history and culture, is perched beneath the descending heel of global encroachment.
The town of Futaleufu has grown significantly in the last year. The volcano that buried the coastal town of Chaiten sent families and residents scurrying for high ground. Towns like Palena, Santa Lucia, and Futa absorbed those refugees and with government subsidies and housing projects there is work in construction and money for the dispossessed. Chaiten had been the capital of the region, and quite naturally, the bureaucracies and officiates that filled them moved into any and all available spaces in town. Without much ado, Futa became the capital of the Province. For the first time, there is regular air service from the north.
What a difference a year has made in the campo as well. Rosita, our neighbor, retrieved us from town after the long bus ride through Argentina and was her usual happy solicitous self. The ride out the gravel road through our agricultural community was enrichment to our expectations. Gone were the drifts of volcanic ash swirling in our wake. The river, which a year ago was gray, choked with ash, and appeared dead for eternity, was clear and vibrant once again. I could see bug hatches and birds, kingfishers and oh yes, fish.
Rosita told us it had been a perfectly rainy spring interspersed with days of sun. As we passed the neighboring farms there were verdant gardens with pastures of sheep and cows knee deep in rich grass. There were corrals with healthy horses and barnyards with chickens, ducks, and geese. As we drew up to our own gate, I could see smoke coming from our chimney. I felt a thrill as we crunched over the gravel road that Hugo, our good friend and neighbor, brought in over the winter to cover the ash.
As we pulled up I noticed that he had fenced in about four acres around the house to keep the sheep and cows off our porch and out of the dooryard. All around the backyard were trees that Rosita told us she had planted last fall. The new young cherry, apple, and pear trees were situated perfectly for a future orchard. There were also Coyhues, the giant hardwood trees that were burned in conflagrations over a hundred-year period coast to coast throughout Patagonia, set intentionally to make pasture and farm land for the first to settle the area. There was a thicket of the fast growing Alamos along the fence line that will make a wind break to the west in about 15 years.
On entering the house, there was Hugo, from whose mother I bought this property years ago. He and Victor Hugo, their strapping 13-year-old son, were tending a cordero, a tender young lamb, cooking in the fireplace. He handed me a glass of wine and we stepped out onto the back porch as Laurita and Rosita moved off up into the backyard to inspect the new planting. The long last light of day can be followed as the sunlight moves up and out of the valley, up the ridges of the Andes around us, until there is just the brilliant scarlet glow of last rays on the snowfields high up on the peaks. And there's the snow: the snow that just a year ago evaporated in a cloud of volcanic ash for the first time in perhaps thousands of years. The snow, that would sustain the life of all who subsist below and would never take it for granted again.
Bienvenidos a casa, amigo.
Have a Merry Christmas and a safe and happy new year.