Thursday, June 27, 2013

Poetry; the need for, in excess(es).

At the end of April, while our Aussie guests were here, we all flew together down to the far south of Chile.  We were heading into the pampas – the thousands on thousands of rolling kilometers of open southern grasslands, going to Puerto Natales and the Torres del Paine.
We were going tower hunting.

Sometimes it’s all about poetry. At the end of April, while our Aussie guests were here, we all flew together down to the to the city of Punta Arenas (lit. Sandy Point) in Patagonia in the south of Chile. Punta Arenas is situated right on the Strait of Magallenes -  a stout little town with neoclassical houses wrapped around a tidy Plaza de Armas, a university, the Chilean Antarctic Institute, and rather a lot of military. 

(I rather like the Antarctic Institute. The sign on their front door is refrigerated, so that the continent in their logo can have a polar icecap.)

The military protects Chile’s southern flank: the strait, the Drake Passage and the southern ocean generally (or at least as far as Argentina lets them.)  We weren’t going that way. We were heading away from the sea into the pampas – the thousands on thousands of rolling kilometers of open southern grasslands.  We were going north to Puerto Natales and the Torres del Paine, where the spine of the Andes mountains breaks the plains and makes a border with Argentina. We were going tower hunting.
            I have been here once before.  Nine years ago, on Boxing Day (December 26), I flew down here with my parents and my sister for a mid-summer week in Patagonia. These southern pampas are grazing country – on maps the rolling lands is broken into estancias (ranches, or stations) for sheep and cattle.  At that point in the year, the spring weather was tuned to maximum, and we drove out across endless, undulating plains of waving grass. Thunderheads moved across the sky at a rolling gallop, faster than the wind that came in waves and shook the grass from green to russet to gold and back to green again.            
            This time around, at the end of April, the short summer was done, and we were heading at that same rolling gallop headfirst into winter.  The grass was brown and silver, short and broken, and the line between the sky and the horizon was so sharp you could have marked it out with a pencil and carried away with you.

Poetry would come in handy here. Puerto Natales is a small town sitting on the shore of the Ultima Esperanza (lit. Last Hope) Sound, two hundred and fifty kilometers Punta Arenas. Puerto Natales serves as a base camp for the great National Park of Torres del Paine – lying another hundred-odd kilometers to the north.  The views from the town across the fjord are tremendous – the hills on the far side show as thick patches of bruised blue and purple and the air is so thick with oxygen that the sky lays down layers of color, one on top of the other, until the hills and sky all run together like watercolor paints –
And when the sun comes down-  here descriptions fail, and you have to turn to poetry – the wrong sort of poetry, poetry that has nothing to do with it, that shouldn’t ever suit -
            Do you know the poem about the Assyrians?   
            “The Assyrian came all down like the wolf on the fold/ And his cohorts were gleaming, in purple and gold-” 
            and goes on to Angels of Death and wailing widows and forests scattered on autumn winds and sprays of surf on bloody rocks?
            Just like that.  The sunsets were exactly like that.

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