Thursday, December 18, 2008

Keeping myself busy...

Keeping myself busy...Above...a before and after. The after includes my dried flowers and home-made candle.

I've taken to stealing roses, just one or two at a time, as a late-in-life criminal venture. With a rose bush every 20 feet, on every street in Futa, and some bushes taller than houses poking out over rickety fences, I find myself walking up or down a street in my big old corduroy jacket with a thick pair of garden scissors in the pocket. And by the time I end up back at our little cabin, I have another stash of stolen roses to hang and dry. Sometimes I detour from my m.o., and clip pieces of lavender, and when the summer wanes, flowering mint and catnip. I tie them up with pieces of horsehair and hand them above the wood stove and just let them slowly dried and grow slightly brittle. I went on such a criminal enterprise today after spying a yard full of magenta and white rose bushes. My conscience got me this time, and I knocked on the door of the little yellow, wooden house. The man of the house was fine with me having some roses, but not with letting me free to cut them, so he grabbed a kitchen knife and walked across the yard with me to clip some prolific bunches. White, deep red, and a fuchsia color. Back home, my criminal urges not satisfied, I snuck into the back yard and cut copious amounts of anise, oregano and lemon balm from an abandoned garden, tying them up and hanging them on nails under the steps.

Of the things I've gathered to dry, the lilacs surprised me the most...they held together and lost not a bud or flower, and kept their lavender and white colors. Real lavender dries to a lovely grey-green, while the hop vine and catnip tend to curly and grow too bitter.

Nono and Ismael were working in town on their new addition to their house which is already rented for season. As they were clearing out the backyard and old shed, Ismael hauled out an old wooden box they decided to use for firewood. I spied it and told Nono, Cuanto Vale? She tilted her head back and laughed. I said no really, I could make something from it, a bench, or coffee table. She waved it at me and I loaded the chicken-shit, ash-encrusted thing into the bed of the truck and brought it home. Greg has known me for eighteen+ years, and after stopping for dead birds, cow skulls, horse hair and rocks along side roads in three countries, he didn't flinch when I asked him to help me carry the rickety mess to the backyard where I promised I would transform it into "something".

I pounded it apart, brushed off the big chunks, sat with a hatchet head and bent nails and started to put the box bench back together. Chickens pecked around in the mash of ash and new grass, and the clouds rolled in. I dragged the thing under the little back porch and made supper, all the time thinking about what the jumble of old boards would become.

The next day, I went to the hardware store and bought one sheet of sandpaper and a can of clear varnish. After a half-hour of digging through bags and boxes, I located a bag of upholstery tacks, and a pair of kitchen scissors to cut up my pounded copper sheets. Dishes rested in the sink, and clothes re-dried on the clothesline as I walked around and around my blank slate of a box bench. Off came the bottom planks, revealing legs. I sanded. Then I carved and gouged Mapuche symbols into the front and top. the adrenaline is running high! I grabbed my aged copper panel, and clipped some strips and squares, and began to attach them to the bench with upholstery tacks. Then in a frenzy I found my child's tray of water color paints and mixed up a little tray of blue-green, and began to wash it into the carved Mapuche symbols. Dot up the excess and step back. Perfect. Out comes the varnish and in a manic flash, I let the old porous wood soak up a half a pint. While it's drying, I dig my skeins of horsehair out from under the couch and tape the ends, comb it out, and start braiding it for handles on the ends of the table.

Now, a day later, still without the handles, it is essentially done. I rubbed it with a little aromatic wax I made from old candles and lavender oil and a little floor wax mixed in. I LIKE IT. Looks to me like something off an old pirate ship from the 1700's. I set some dried flowers in a jar, and a homemade candle in an old stove top part on top of it, and it's perfect!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Here we go again....

Yesterday, Sunday, December 14, 2008, 4:30 pm. After a wonderful weekend at our house in Azul (on-going project) Greg and I scraped off varnish drippings from our faces and arms, cleaned paint brushes and traipsed up the long path to the main road. As we drove towards Futa, back to our little rental cabin, we noticed a haze which grew steadily thicker, and by the time we reached the Espolon, the surrounding mountains were completely invisible. Since there was no reasonable expectation for a hazy day, my suspicions were that Chaiten blew again. Coming into Futa, the ash cloud held high above the town, some particles filtering down, and the swirling ground ash all of it combined to make the situation almost unbearable. The town was settled in a hot, ominous haze and the water truck continued to make mad dashes spraying the streets.

Not again. Egads, this has been just about enough.

The afternoon in town was tormenting, with temperatures in the high-80's and no way to leave windows or doors open to a breeze. Little sand piles sit in window corners where there are the usual Patagonian construction gaps. A vegetable truck from Puerto Montt criss-crossed the streets announcing their offerings and I dashed out with a t-shirt tied around my face to buy tomatoes, cherries and peaches. As dark fell, the sky clouded and dampness fell, finally I could open the windows. And as if the ash seeded the clouds, sometime during the night a very light rain fell and quashed the swirling ash.

Checking several volcanism blogs I found that Chaiten erupted a huge plum around 1:00 pm on Sunday, sending a cloud of ash southeast towards Argentina. This puts us once again in the path. Disheartening.

So, we've decided to wrap up a few loose ends (which may dangle loosely for many months to come) such as the electric hook-up to the house, and make a final check of our online Christmas present purchases, and head south again. This time however, we plan to float about with the blue ice in Laguna San Rafael. We also plan this put a small mattress in the back of the truck, a tarp, a more complete set of camp cookware, and just land wherever we land, so as to avoid paying 30,000 pesos a night ($60) for what turns out to be a $10 a night youth hostel. It's a lovely trip once you get past the part of driving on a death-wish road, and eating dust the whole way. We intend to just keep going south, maybe Puerto Natales? We want to see the ice fields and maybe find a big hardware store, buy some more materials for finishing the house. Lordy, I'm wondering if -when - we slap the last bit of paint and varnish on - it will be time to look for an Assisted Living Facility. As it is, trudging up and down to the house from the road with a wheelbarrow full of paint and varnish is making me weary. (OK, watching Greg do that is making me weary!)

A Look Back to Seven Months Ago

"One-One Thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand, four-one thousand," no, that's not right. That's for lightening. Try again. "Put masking tape on the windows, or board them up, move patio furniture inside. No, that's night right either, that would be a hurricane. Let's see, "Move to an interior room of the house, a bathroom perhaps, best a cellar or basement though." No, that is for a tornado. Alright, how about, "Seek high ground!" Sunami. Nothing seemed just right. No matter where I searched my middle-aged, girl-scout brain, I could not for the life of me, find a file labeled, "What to do in case of a volcanic eruption!" And so it goes...

May 1st, 2008. Futaleu, Region X, Chile.

It is a beautiful big, blue-sky day here in Futa, the surrounding mountains are lacy with snow, and almost nothing is open today...May Day. The internet is closed so we will have to wait until tomorrow to see when we can meet the electrician and pay him a deposit for running electric down to our almost finished house. I find one little home-front store open and buy some smoked ribs and beer. It is amazing to see the rose bushes continuing to push out fresh buds. Each street is dotted with a bush of them every 20 feet or so, red, yellow, pink, white. It has been cold, and we've had a bit of frost already.

Back at our little rental cabin, down by Lago Espejo, Greg is reading about the 2008 Presidential Campaign on the internet, and Max is curled beside him, content in his psycho little dreams. After dinner, I decide to get all the dishes and things washed up (for a change) and we settle in to watch some documentary online. I promise myself that tomorrow I will upload the photos from the big town fiesta celebrating Futa's 79th anniversary and celebrating the Carabineros 60th anniversary. A wonderful parade under a painfully blue sky, cueca dancing, music, honors, and then a sweet, lazy picnic for all the towns inhabitants down by Rio Espolon. I'll do that tomorrow. We stay up way too late, and I fall asleep on the couch with Max curled behind my legs.

Around midnight the cabin "jumps". It doesn't shake, or sway. It felt like some jolly giant picked it up a few inches and dropped it. Veterans of earthquake countries such as Costa Rica and Panama, we said, "Hmm...earthquake," and went back to sleep. Around 2:30 am, on May 2, Mother Earth jumped a couple more times, a little harder now. And that was it, everything was quiet except some rowdy dogs and screeching roosters. I get on the computer, look up earthquakes on the USGS site and find nothing. I go to and post about this odd happening, and finally sometime in the early morning hours, I fell back to sleep.

May 2, 2008.

I wake up, and it must be early because it's not yet light out, dawn maybe, the sky is slightly glowing. I get up, and peek out the window, and to my delight, it has snowed! The truck, the ground, the roof of our landlord's little house, everything is covered in a silvery dusting of snow. I am so excited for my first snow in my new land, I pull on my rubber boots, and put my jacket on over my pajamas, grab my camera and run outside. I start taking pictures immediately, but something doesn't feel right. It's not that cold. I reach out and trace my finger on the branch of a little cherry tree. Gritty. Odd. Just then, Bosque, the landlord opens his side door, and in his rapid-fire, high-pitched Spanish chatters something to me, the only thing I catch it "volcan"! He grabs my jacket sleeve and pulls me into his house shakes his finger at me, pointing to a make-shift towel mask covering his face. I see his TV in the other room of his house, upon which is a newscast showing the Chaiten Volcano has erupted. And it is 11:00 am. Volcano? Chaiten has a volcano? Huh? Thus began an odd vignette that still does not seem real.

I come back in the cabin and wake Greg. "YOU WON'T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED!" I scream at him as he leans up on one elbow looking at me with a confused and sleepy stare. He's not sure if I might be referring to something I've just done such as helped a neighbor butcher a sheep, caught a strange, wild animal, or set the kitchen on fire. He can never be sure.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Behind the Scenes of a Trip South

The Inside Scoop

Our trip south began as 1.) an escape from the swirling ash in Futa, 2.) just a "get away" to see some more of Patagonia, and 3.) an alternative to waiting weeks, if not years for the local hardware store to order and stock needed items and materials for finishing the house.

We thought of leaving on a Tuesday morning and began to pack the afternoon before. Then, considering the long Patagonia days, we took off around 6:30 p.m. with great hopes and expectations of beautiful scenery. Down from Futa and west towards the quiet little pueblo of Villa Santa Lucia, one of my favorite "sleeper" towns. A major crossroad with not much else right now, I said to Greg (for the umpteenth time), "This town is just waiting to happen! They have everything going for them."

"There's nothing here! Are you crazy?" he said.

"No, look. It's a nice, flat valley land with the rise of Andes mountains all around. A nice river for rafting, kayaking and floating and fishing. Close to Lago Yelcho, some of the best fishing in the world. A big, well built battalion of older military barracks with the infrastructure to support it being turned into lodges, hostels, tourist facilities."

"You're nuts. It's a crappy place. Nothing here.

I KNOW THERE IS NOTHING THERE right now, I said...What I meant is that is has everything right there if they wanted to promote it. Rafting...

He cuts me off, "They DON'T HAVE RAFTING THERE!" His voice is rising, his face is red. I'm thinking, ok, should I let this go? After all I didn't say they HAD rafting, I said they could promote and build a rafting business.

"I didn't say," I start...


My mouth thins into a narrow hard line on my face as we hurdle down the Carretera Austral towards La Junta spewing a large cloud of dust. It gets dark. I am mute, by choice, and with great intention. I'll give him the old silent treatment! Most men like that, but Greg hates it. It gets dark, the air is cool.

"So, do you think we should look for a hardware store in La Junta?"

No response on my part.

"I mean, it's kind of a small town. Maybe Aysen? What do you think?"

Nothing. Silence.

The one-sided conversation continues as the night comes fully on and the stars are electric. Greg grows weary and he pulls over somewhere in the middle of nowhere, a full half-hour from La Junta where we know there is nothing in between an over-priced hostel to an outrageously priced Bed and Breakfast. The motor cools and clicks. We pull the seat levers and recline back. I am still fuming, so I reach around and grab my old, wool Army blanket, a pillow and angrily exit the truck. The ground is dry and the grass is thick, perfect for a road-side snooze. Greg steps out of the truck and tries to convince me I can't sleep on the ground and I assure him I am much better sleeping outside the truck, than inside. He gives up and I pop open a Cristal and light a cigarette and watch Venus and Jupiter and the moon rotate across the night sky.

Sometime in the early morning, before the sky lights up, I wake to hear a cow bellowing and suddenly realize that in Patagonia, where cows regularly roam free along the roads, this might not be a very wise place to lie prostrate in an old, dark green blanket. I roll over up under the side of the truck and ignore the dew that has settled on my pillow. I'LL SHOW HIM! I'll sleep on the side of the road and risk death by cow hoof to show him! Ha!

The sky lights around 6 a.m., and without coffee I am in an even fouler mood. Throwing my damp bedding in the back seat, I slide in and he starts the truck towards La Junta. Chit Chat, Chit Chat from him. Silence from me. I will not fold so easily. In La Junta, the gas station is still closed and we waste an eighth of tank of gas navigating the dirt-clod streets looking for a place to get coffee and breakfast. This makes me even happier. Especially when Greg decides since I won't speak, he will find a place for coffee and breakfast. So, we periodically stop while he asks (he thinks he asks) some poor unsuspecting fellow, "CAFE!? PAN!?" Looks of shock and non-recognition fall over faces as he continues to stop and shout, "CAFE! PAN?". I let him wave his arms and shout louder and then finally I break. But you know, one must not break with consoling, or conciliatory words. It must be sharp, and harsh.

"If we were back in Florida," I quietly and firmly say,"and a Hispanic person stopped in a car and shouted "COFFEE!? BREAD!?" waving his hands at you, what do you think that might look like?" I continue. "An IDIOT??? Perhaps????"

In a small voice he says, "no, I would know what he meant."

Really? Oh good grief. So we succumb to a coffee and food panic and go to the over-priced Bed and Breakfast where we pay $14 US for coffee, bread, jam and cheese. By 9 am, the gas station is open and we fuel up and head on south. Conversation is sparse, but as the day warms up, so do I and I haven't the heart to continue my bitchiness. He's freakin lucky. I am the map girl and navigator. But I choose my responses to his questions, and comments carefully the rest of the way, and shut my mouth when I know he's totally wrong about his observations. Shut up. Not worth the aggravation.

We hit Puyuhuaipi around 11 a.m. and are equally challenged to find a coffee place or restaurant, so we park down by the waterfront and eat some old rolls and cheese and sip on some juice and warm beer. The road south is closed until 2 pm, and we will stop back at the fire station and give a ride to two young ladies from Israel who are going to Queulet to see the Colgante Glacier. Around 1 pm, we drive around and find the Anoikenk Restaurant and Cabanas open and have coffee, chat with Veronica the owner, learn a little about Puyuhuaipi and vow to stop on our way back up through.

The rest of the trip, as most turn out, comprises me clutching the passengers dash in white-knuckel fear as we hurtle over gravel, one-lane roads with cows and sheep and giant road construction vehicles, eating dust the whole way while I try in vain to slow down the truck by stomping the floor on the right side of the vehicle. "CHILL OUT, VICK! I know how to drive," he says as we round a blind curve, the back tires skittering gleefully across the road towards a sheer drop off. My teeth itch... that's how on edge I am.

It is amazing we stay together sometimes with our distinctly different ideas, travel and driving styles. I see no reason to drive fast. He sees no reason he should drive slow. I see no reason to be cheap, and he wants cheap, but with all the amenities of a 4-star hotel.

"It costs WHAT?!?!?!?!?!" Well, we could sleep down the road in a place with a small bed and outdoor toilet for 5,000 pesos... "FORGET IT!" Well, this place with a bathroom and good bed and TV is 30,000 pesos..."We can't keep spending money like this," he says and I throw up my hands and say, "You p(r)ick."

We made it to Puerto Cisnes, to Aisen, to Coihaique, along some of the most spectacular routes, lined with rivers that would hurt your eyes if you didn't know what to expect. Detoured over washed out bridges, and watched workers planting dynamite. Through tunnels and alongside rivers lined with purple flowers and ancient forests.

And we made it back. Back to Futa. With the rose bushes every twenty feet on every street. Hard at work, cleaning up ash, trimming bushes, a Colonos Fiesta in Espolon for the local huasos. It is hot, and there are blue skies in Futa, and the water trucks spray to keep down the remaining ash, and street work continues. Tipsy huasos roam down the street on sweaty horses with no shirt or shoes, and campesino music drifts from little wooden houses as families gather for the beginning of the Christmas season and Greg and I are sweet again.

Ah....the Adventure of it all.

South to Puerto Cisnes

Nearing the southern end of Queulat (National Park) the road forks at a place called Piedra del Gato where you may either continue south taking the slight left curve towards Manihuales and onward towards Puerto Aisen. Manihuales has a few stores and gas station, and I will get to that leg of the trip later. We took the right fork westward to Puerto Cisnes, another small port town backed up by mountains. It was, as always, a lovely drive if it were not for the dry conditions, periodic road work and constant dust kicked up by vehicles.

Closer to Cisnes, the narrow road hugs the coast and winds around a point then into the little town of approximately 500 people. The harbour is larger and deeper than Puyuhuaipi but has the same type of brightly colored wooden boats drifting on anchors. Several comfortable hotels dot the waterfront and the town has a large school, an internet cafe and only a couple of restaurants. Small commercial fishing ventures and new construction appear to be the local employment.

From Puerto Cisnes, Isla Magdalena sits just across the Puyuhuaipi Canal. A National Park since 1983, the entire park consists of 157,600+ hecatares of virgin island forest and fauna including a small wild cat called locally Guina. On the Pacific side you are likely to encounter Penguins and a multitude of Patagonian birds and ducks. The only way to explore the island and it's beaches is by boat or kayak. At the time we visited we were told there were no interior facilities or park officials. Fishing is an option outside of the Park boundaries.

One interesting find...a substantial number of dogs with one blue eye, and one brown eye. I counted four of the friendly critters on my morning walk along the harbour.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Road Trip to Puyuhuaipi

Puyuhuapi and area

Taking the Carretera Austral south from Villa Santa Lucia (coming from either Futaleufu or Chaiten, the graded gravel road might try your patience but, be patient. In La Junta, it is wise to top off the fuel tank before venturing south. Almost immediately the landscape both drops and climbs into the deep forest at the north end of Parque Nacionale Queulat and the road hugs Rio Risopatron, a long, narrow lake. Coigue, Cipres, Araucaria, Manio and Lenga trees shade the morning and afternoon. Rosas Mosqetas (prolific wild roses) loom out into the road beating for space with the Nalca Pengue (those giant-leafed, rhubard-like plants) while snow-capped Andes mountains pour out waterfalls, even in the driest part of the year.
Continuing south towards Puyuhuapi there are no shortages of hiking paths; Lake Rosselot National Reserve Mountain Path, and Sendero Las Pumas to name just two.

The town of Puyuhuapi sits at the end of a long, straight road dipping down to a fjiord. The picturesque tiny town is just now experiencing it's third and fourth generations and if you go to the two-pump Copec gas station, you will be buying gas from direct decendent of one of the town founders: Claus Hopperdietzel's father and uncle came in the early 1930's from the German town of Rossbach, now called Hranice. Many of the old-style houses with barn-shaped roofs remain, and an effort has been made to reintroduce that style in new buildings. Brightly painted wooden boats sway on their anchors in the shallow harbour, outfitted with small gas stoves and provisions for the commercial fisherman. Ask around for directions to the old carpet factory which was closed to the public at the time we visited, but expects to reopen soon. The wonderful hand woven textiles and rich rugs are a style combining German and Chilote skills and patterns. Plans to house a museum there are also in the works.

For a small town, Puyuhuapi has a surpising number of restaurants, Bed and Breakfast lodgings, and small hotels, cabanas and at least one hostel and a camping area. There are several small grocery stores and panadaria. The streets are lined with Rhododendro, Azelea, Chaura and Hortensia bushes. Hummingbirds enjoy the magellanic fuschia the locals call Chilco. It is an easy, quiet and shy town. The kind of place where you might take your lunch and a bottle of wine or cold beer and have lunch by the bay, watching the tide come in. One of the best sources of information on the entire area is *Aonikenk Restaurant and Cabanas located on Hamburgo 16 just off the main square. Veronica Gallardo, the owner has an extensive background in hospitality and a vast knowledge of the area. She books tours, or offers excellent maps and advice for do-it-yourselfers.

Heading out of town, you hug the fjiord around a point passing (if you must) a thermal hot spring and restaurant with a panoramic view. A bit further you will see a salmon farming operation before entering into the heart of Parque National Quelat. Twenty-two kilometers outside of Puyuhuapi, watch for the sign, "Ventisquero Colgante", one of the most spectacular land-locked glaciers in Chile. There is a small fee to enter this part of the park, and you can camp there as well. It is a short drive or hike back to the ranger station. The glacier is what they call a "hanging" glacier, wedged between the peaks of two mountains, brilliant blue and cascading a magnificant waterfall into a lagoon. Well marked trails lead to the lagoon, but even non-hikers are able to enjoy the glacier from the ranger station.

From here, head south or not. Next stop could be a side trip to the small port town of Puerto Cisnes, or further to Aysen and Coihaique. But don't rush, there is so much to do and see in the Puyuhuaipi area that it would be a shame to be in a hurry.

NOTE: The road from La Junta to, and through Puyuhuaipi is under construction and closed from 10:00 am until 2:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. At all times it is wise to drive cautiously, some parts are barely one lane wide; you share the road with cows, sheep, and other drivers.

*Aonikenk is the name of an indigenous nomadic people of southern Patagonia, also known as Tewelche. As a people and culture, they are extinct. Information on Aonikenk was obtained from

Sources, information and websites:

Camara de Turismo y Comercio A.G. Puyuhuaipi

Cuenca de Palena

Aonikenk Restaurant and Cabanas
(56) (67) 325 208

Termas del Ventisquero
Luis Calderon
(56) (67) 325 228

Monday, December 1, 2008

A New Movie - Futalandia.

A New Movie...I'll pitch the screen play...

Picture this! Survivor meets Nights in Rodanthy meets Grapes of Wrath. Kick in a little bit of of 28 Days and you have Futalandia! The short pitch is, we have an exploding volcano, freezing, isolated nights, pickup trucks with no tire chains trying to navigate two feet of snow on gravel roads, the woman is pushing a pickup truck while it slides back - almost over her, a diet of beans and suspect smoked pork ribs. Crawling out of a small wooden cabin to dig a hole in the harsh dim light of a Patagonia winter to take a crap...ground frozen, toilet paper rolls down and over a ledge...Spring six pack of cerveza, chilling in the sparkling river, then gone, tumbling over rocks into a raging cascade, gone. Licking volcanic ash from your teeth when you wake up in the morning from a night of snoring under 20 pounds of blankets. Fingers shaking with hypothermic tremors in an attempt to start a fire with wet, ash-encrusted wood.

Then....THEN! The glorious four weeks of summer arrive and it's 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the river is cold and lined with wild roses and fuchsia. A woman, soon to turn fifty, and having not seen herself in a mirror in years, still imagines herself twenty year old. She sits on her front porch, down along a path that leads to a rushing river. The still, snow-encrusted Andes rise up all around. She lays a notepad on her knees and fishes a felt pen out of the lint-lined pocket of her torn, stained chinos, and writes:

"Sit for awhile in a Patagonia forest, along a river or a stream and as you grow quiet ...There! Something will catch your eye - a movement. But you turn, and there is nothing but the quiet forest. No stirring breeze at all, but the shadows move. The river is humming a G-chord now, but by sundown it will have erupted into harmonies.

"Around the house," she continues to write and sip from her mug, "the morning sun warms the bottles of bar and chain oil and they expand and burp. The fresh sawed lumber bakes in the sun, lazing down in a break between the canopy of cohaique trees. It's too early but I have a coffee cup of wine anyway. I sit here and think of all our adventures in foreign places. Picking up and starting over for the sheer adventure of a new culture. Here...I find I've bitten off more than I can chew.

"And just as we were ready to say "Uncle!", a wise man I don't know told me, "Take Smaller Bites." Ahhhh....Patagonia.

"And so, I'll try. Definitely. Because in leaving Patagonia, I'd leave my soul behind. We thought of returning to Panama. The Devil you know is safer than the Devil you Don't Know! Then...this anonymous person on the internet wrote and essentially said to me, "It's not the Devil - it's just a different animal."

"And so, I need to learn this animal, Patagonia. Learn it's ways and idiosynchracies. Because really, if I made a "plus" and "minus" list, the plus list would be long. And the minus list would only say, "It's Hard."

There are so many things in between this and the end of the film. And THAT is what is so exciting. All the stuff in between. But let me just clue you into the end. It is not a spoiler....

Just before the last celluloid frames of the filmstrip flap over the reel, (thwap, thwap, thwap) and it is placed back in a metal can and laid upon a shelf forever...the woman, not looking too much older than her fifty years long ago, sits on a porch swing with a handsome, equally elderly man. They are both slightly senile and fragile. Dusk slides into night.

Up through the Cohaique trees, the bright stars of the Patagonia night shine and the river is singing. The old woman turns, just slightly towards the old man, raises her long lovely hand toward his gentle old face, and slaps him.

"What the Hell were you thinking, moving us here?!"


Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Humble Thanksgiving in Futa

I began Thanksgiving day planning - the day before. Mistake number one. With no turkeys to be found in Futa, I had the bright idea to buy a live goose. That was mistake number two. As in, cook what you know, don't try something new when preparing a feast for new guests. So, on Wednesday I traipsed around Futa and found the goose guy, then around with him looking for his flock. Once corralled, he snatched one up by it's long, elegant neck and stuffed it in an old grain sack. Money was exchanged and I plopped the bag in the front seat of the truck. Turned out to be another mistake as a bird suddenly stuffed into a sack is likely to expel green, runny excrement in very large amounts. As I am usually the passenger in the truck, this now looks like my accident. I'm thinking, "seat covers".

Mistake number four and five...First, not secluding the old ganso and giving him nothing but water for a day. Then, enlisting Greg's help. His total participation in the premature slaughtering was to stand with the video camera mumbling, "Oh God! Oh, oh, GAWD!" But it was accomplished anyway, and the next couple of hours I spent gutting, cleaning and spitting feathers (which I craftily saved for a commemorative pillow). Finally plucked, cleaned and singed, it rested in a nice brine in the fridge overnight.

Turkey Day...making bread, cooking squash, mixing up stuffing and finally plopping the goose in the oven, we made a table out of our packed boxes, topped with a piece of scrap press board from Bosque's shed. I covered it with a couple of Thanksgiving-colored throws and fretted over the fact that I only have three forks and 10 soup spoons to set the table with. Sweep the floor, throw all miscellaneous clutter under the couch, set the garbage outside the back door (another mistake with the neighborhood dogs slinking around). Crack open a beer and periodically check the goose which is deceptively looking quite nice. But then so does wax fruit in a bowl. Doesn't mean you can actually eat it. The seasoned, roasted squash seeds were more tender than the bird.

But so, and anyway...Nono and Ismael arrive exactly on time and seem to appreciate that I've set a decorative table (complete with a home made basket containing the bread, and some dried fall flowers from last year). Either that, or they thought me daft for putting dead flowers on a table made of cardboard boxes. We cracked open some beers before dinner, and they tried the pickled deviled eggs. "Interesting," they proclaimed. No matter what they really meant, the plate was finished quickly and I popped into the kitchen to take out the goose and mash the potatoes.

Dinner is served! The goose was gamey, and tough. We ate it anyway. They loved the stuffing, which really was good, and finished up the mashed potatoes while rejecting the gravy. Instead, they smeared the home made bread with the potatoes and thought it was "very good". Plates were scraped into a doggy bag, for their dog. We poured wine and watched a Spanish version of Funniest Home Videos on the computer online and laughed. Then a little talk of tomorrow, what everyone might be doing, hugs and kisses good night, and it was over.

So, a Thanksgiving in Futa, and an enjoyable one for me. I'd hoped to catch family members online and say hi - love ya - miss you - but back in the US, football was on, and life is much busier than here. We piled the dishes in the kitchen, and as it got cold, pulled on another pair of socks and a second layer of quilts and slept.

One thing that was not a mistake...spending an evening with good friends over food prepared with the best intentions. And being thankful.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ohio Thanksgiving mid-1960's

Thanksgiving for us growing up was never about the Pilgrims and Indians, though we spent many an hour in school carving feathers for turkeys and Indians with snub-nosed scissors from faded construction paper...remember those nifty paper head dresses put together with edible glue? Back then, if we were lucky, we could still find an arrow head, if only in a treasure box in grandpas desk...dug up from a field on the north side of the farm. The barn would still be warm and dusty though outside it was cold and overcast...Uncle Virgil would sneak in to spit on our new shoes and generally just creep us out. In the farmhouse, filled with coats and relatives, the coal furnace could not be regulated and we would almost die of the heat. Talk was of Grange meetings, government subsidies. In the mid-1960's, the small family farm was an endangered species...we were all on the way to a zoo, of sorts. That farm, that house, those trees and land and pond and black flies and is still there. But nothing works now. It's a museum.

This Thanksgiving, I wonder if the ghosts are mingling around, down the quarter-mile drive from the road to the old, leaning farm house. What will Uncle Virgil do since we aren't there for him to spit on our shoes? No one can knock on our ratty, blonde heads and ask uncaring about our school work. Ghosts. Grandma Briner with her unnaturally young hands red in scalding dishwater, the flaky crusts of pies, the congealing gravy boat, wool coats smelling of mothballs piled in the bedroom. Grandpa Briner sitting in his recliner, grinning some secret grin. Aunts and Uncles, weather, always the weather, and subsidies. Then the younger men, and a few renegade older ones, would head out to hunt, everyone admiring who had grown the best beard, and lightly mocking the sparse growers. Uncle Bob...where DID he come from! Wide, and stocky, a big, thick beard if he tried or not, gun tipped over his shoulder like it grew there. Masculine men, and quiet farmers. My father, tall, young, eyes that laughed and found fun and joy in everything. And back in the house, the silent, demure lesbian aunts, who lived in humbled subservience. Pretend. Don't ask. Don't tell. School Teachers, Nurses, lonely companions pretending to be spinsters. My mother, a city gal, so to speak, with nothing in common but trying to fit in anyway, sneaking out with Aunt Dorothy to have a smoke...the only thing that connected the two. Guffawing at Uncle Virgil. He buried a million dollars in his yard you know. Aunt Donna, no one realized she was a wonderful tapestry artist caught in a hideous marriage to a twisted old man. Maybe it worked for them. No children, thank god!

Thanksgiving, with little rivulets of frozen water in the ditches along down the lane to the country highway. The slamming of a screen door and a sharp reminder to not track mud in. Hand-mashed potatoes with lumpless gravy. Hand cranked ice cream with last years' maple syrup. Too far to drive home tonight. All three of us kids falling to sleep in the middle of a sagging mattress under a mound of quilts. And oatmeal with brown sugar for breakfast. I pee the bed and blame it on Howard. Jeff, the little one wanders over to stand on the iron-grated heat register in his pajamas, damp from pee, oblivious and happy.

Why Not

A compilation video slideshow of our first visits to Patagonia Chile. Why not?


Now, it's Thanksgiving week. There are backpacks and boxes and canvas pouches with bits of our lives in various stages of sorting and packing and unpacking. There are little bags of produce and breads hanging on nails on the wall in the kitchen. I splurged on a small jar of peanut butter, over $4 US for such a treasure treat. I haven't thought if I will make a turkey, or goose this week, probably not. Maybe I'll make some buffalo turkey wings, a compromise. Or maybe like last year I'll get up and forget what day it is and make a pot of beans. I'm thankful everyday anyway. Mostly.

Letter to Diane

November ?, 2008

Dear Diane,

My one and only true friend - who I've neglected over these crazy past seven years. How you still consider me as a friend, I'll never know. I've never felt so isolated, alone, frustrated and tired. I am sitting here in my beautiful but unfinished house by a stunning river. But I'm sitting in a $5 plastic chair with a fruit crate for a table. There is so much undone. I have no joy, and no desire to even start on anything. I look around at my pathetic attempts to make this place a home...baskets I made from Ivy and willow twigs down by the river when it was warm. Punched copper lampshades I made for lightbulbs that have no electricity running to them. The lovely woven wool throws and tapestries with nothing to throw or drape them on...rugs, a cow hide, and a hadn-hooked rug laying on a raw-wood floor. Books with no shelf to put them on. It's a Hobo House with no joy. It's raining, and I have pneumonia. Doesn't that beat all?

This (Patagonia)is probably the worlds MOST BEAUTIFUL place, but it is also the hardest place in the world to live. With the volcano destroying Chaiten and the port, we are even more cut-off and isolated. It is a Twilight Zone of massive proportions. If it were the "end times" of a catostrophic world melt down, here is where I would want to be. But because it is not the end of the world, it feels like it here. It's hard.

I know I'm a whining bag of shit, but I need to whine and piss and moan. And the crazy thing is, I LOVE Patagonia. I didn't even flinch when the volcano blew and a half a foot of ash covered the town and we walked around with masks and ash seeped in through window and door frames and we got our water from water trucks and it was so cold we slept in our coats and hats and I was afraid my ass would freeze to the toilet seat.

I don't know how to do this anymore though. Other people know how to do this. They grew up doing this. They know how to keep warm in the winter, dry in the spring, and grow food and fix water lines, and build chicken coops, and smoke meat and weave and knit wool and trade for milk or sugar and cheese. Their gardens pop up lush and green while my seeds die in the husks. My firewood won't catch but then it does and I burn my eyelashes off again trying to keep it going. I look in a mirror and I think, "My God! How did that happen in just one-years time?" I am an accidental hobo wishing for a white picket fence and a rocking chair and some roses in the yard. I wanted Mayberry and I got the Twilight Zone.

And the really crazy thing is...I'm ruined now. I've tasted the wild winds and pounding rain and lacey mountains and electric blue rivers...the hard meaness and soft days that craddle me in a shit-storm world, and I don't think I can ever go back to life in the U.S. Is this my tipping point? Patagonia drives me crazy. It has stabbed me in the heart and left me standing like a complete dope, yet my heart has healed around it and embraced it and fallen in love. I walked down to the screaming river a while back. The water was so cold it burned. It was a warm day and still snow on the mountains. I sat on the bank and smelled the dirt, and the water and the trees and I had a feeling like my soul was home. And as I sat there the river began to sing. It was voices, three-part harmony, just soft, but definately not my imagination. And for that moment I felt ok. In that crazy moment in time, by the river, in Patagonia, I thought, "I can't ever go back".

Diane, I know you must think I've lost my mind now, but I'm safe because I'm too far away for you to have me committed. And most likely I will not send you this letter. Who knows. I hope my other friend, Nono, will appear on the path down to the house, and in her laughing, mocking sing-song Chilena Spanish, she will pick up a brush and shame me into finishing the varnish work, or she will poke the fire with her calloused hand and it will spring up to life. She might make us come to her house for dinner where we will eat mutton with our fingers and sop up the juices with soda bread and drink chicha in chipped jelly glasses and it will be warm and happy and I will feel alright once again.


October 2008 - Returning home to Patagonia

It was such an overwhelming feeling of joy to reach the frontier of Chile at the Futa crossing yesterday. Nowhere do the Andes seem more majestic. The hard-packed volcanic ash however, still lines the 10-kilometer road leading into town and large transport trucks kick up swirling clouds of it. An omen of the season to come. Cleanup crews, rains and snows have reduced the ash somewhat, but large patches and thin layers coat the countryside. This will be a serious contention when the hot dry winds hit in December.

Futa seemed as lovely as ever when we pulled in late on Monday. The cabin smells of stale woodsmoke and I was appalled with how I left it. It will take me at least a whole day just to organize the mess before I start to clean, and pack for an eventual move to our new home (when?). But most startling was the punch in the heart I felt when it was finally real that Max is not here anymore. Remembering the email from Daniella, the Vet, I imagine Max escaping in his anger and frustration, racing down the road and positioning himself at the door here. Waiting for us to come home, defending the cabin for us. Max, sitting in front of the cabin, waiting for us to come home.

Max went out of his mind. He became a dangerous dog. My Max who slept curled up behind my legs, who had such great joy when Greg woke up and we were all there. He tried to tell us things...he would make sounds with his mouth and poke us with his nose..."I love you! I'm so happy!". He would bound with joy across the river rocks out at our property, sit for hours along side Greg with his nose easy against Greg's leg. "I'm happy as long as I'm with you". He would watch a piece of beef jerky on the counter longingly for hours without touching it, but had no resistance to a box of milk, or slab of butter or cheese. That was too much for him. He hated cats as much as mice, and there was no containing him with other dogs. A frenzy. But as long as he had us, he tried. He only wanted us.

Daniella tried, she explained in an email to us while we were in the U.S.. But when Max cornered her in her house menacingly, then escaped to our rental and tried to attack the neighbor, we had no choice. Heliberto brought Max's cage to the shed out back and lured Max into it. Later, Daneilla brought some good, fresh ground beef laced with a heavy sedative and Max was happy. He drifted into a deep sleep. Then she put in an IV line and Max left us. When he was gone, she wrapped him in a blanket and took him out to bury him at our property. Max is at peace now. I am profoundly sad that we didn't get to touch him one last time and tell him how much I loved him anyway.

This morning I am up early, I think, I don't have a watch, but it seems early, and chilly. I opened the back door to catch some sun and there is Max's crate, and his harness. And the blankets in his crate and his dishes. He only wanted us to come back home. My heart feels like a hot stone in my chest and I sit down in the doorway and put my head against the crate for awhile. I miss you Max. I'm sorry.

Anyway, I have my instant coffee, and a massive project in front of me. And a messed up ankle to confound it all. Today we need to pay the internet bill, get boxes, some bleach and get busy. Wash dishes, hang out blankets and rugs, sort and pack clothes, clean the fridge, sweep, wash walls. Find an electrician, arrange for a truck and three men to haul our furniture out to our house (when?). Organize all our junk. Time to get busy.

Busy? I've been doing this for a year, getting busy but not getting any further along. Later on, out in our unfinished house, by candle light, I write a letter to my best friend back in the U.S.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Futaleufu is Alive

Futaleufu - Open for Business
Vicki Lansen

June 15th. 2008, Father's Day in the United States. In Futaleufu, Chile, so recently buried in ash and snow, fathers this Sunday walk with their children to Lago Espejo, or sit on benches in the Plaza del Armas eating ice cream bars. Fluffy dogs roam and chase cars, and the early winter sun illuminates the snow on the surrounding mountains. The recent volcanic eruption is an odd episode in an almost 80-year old history of this place the locals claim was "painted by God". And God still smiles on Futaleufu.

May 2nd dawned blue, and chilly in th Futa Valley. But by 9:00 am, the world turned dark and uncertain as Volcan Chaiten bellowed and belched horrific amounts of ash. For ten days ash fell, and life was uncertain for domestic and farm animals, people evacuated. The reports were dooming, and gloomy. Then rain fell, then snow. As I plodded through the disaster that faced Futaleufu, I sensed, despite all odds, that somehow, some way, this would pass. Yes, people with small children, elderly folks and others left. Who could blame them? But, many stayed. And they took care of Futa. And the water was restored, and the electric stayed on. And the animals were fed, and the streets were cleared, and they kept life going in Futaleufu. That's what this little-known community is all about.

The Chaiten volcano, located less than ten kilometers from the town of Chaiten did not fare so well. The town was completely and safely evacuated early in May. Ash and debris-swollen rivers flooded the town causing devastating damage; some homes and businesses washing to the sea, meters of mud filling houses and burying automobiles. The volcano continues to be active and no reasonable predictions can be made for people to return to their town, if ever. It is a tragic blow for the incredible people who lived and worked on the slopes and shore of that coastal area for generations.

But here in Futalefu, some 80 kilometers "as the crow flies" from Chaiten, the volcano proved only an annoyance and temporary disruption. It is one and one-half months since the eruption. The rivers are clearing. The ash is being removed. Sector Azul was almost unaffected. Noreste is recovering and doing well. The evergreens are green, sheep graze, still getting fat. The cattle that were not sold, or removed are healthy and content. Rio Azul, is azul, the Rio Futa is awesome in it's almost other-wordly way, the Espolon is lazy and lovely though still carrying significant amounts of ash. There are no massive, or even light fish-kills reported on any river. The roads are graded.

Today I hung laundry outside in a chilly, sunny wind. And as I stood with several damp towels on my shoulder reaching to the line, I spied a Condor drifting on a wind current high above, and watched it for twenty minutes as it hung on the blue dome of sky. Flocks of endangered parrots screeched in the bare apple trees across the street, and an owl menaced in the back yard. Futa is alive.

It would be disappointing if travelers crossed Futa off their list of Chilean destinations because of the volcano erupting. It is far less devastating than most would gather given the reports. The rivers are not harmed for rafting. The ashfall has not been harmful to the fish, so we expect the same awesome fishing this coming season. Hiking, and biking, and the usual hospitality of Futaleufu is not dimished. In fact, the people of Futa would love your visit, and the chance to share with you how they weathered a volcanic eruption.