Saturday, February 25, 2012

Valle Pintado Collage

There must be a time warp in the Río Azul valley. Time forges ahead like water through a mill wheel. Breakfast slips into working slips into lunch slips into belly-full conversing slips into washing up slips into siesta, which, despite being four hours long, immediately disappears back into working. Moments in themselves are full and long: I look up from weeding around a fruit tree and take in the mountainside textured by pointy fir trees. I breathe deeply. But they move from one to another so quickly that time on the farm often feels like a collage of self-contained experiences.

Now I'm pulling rich orange carrots from the earth. It's early morning; on harvest day we get all the veggies inside before the sun hits the garden. It was a cold night, and clear. The Southern Cross bid me good night from above the mountain to the southeast. Now the dew is thick on the clover that covers the paths between garden beds, soaking my shoes. Each carrot I pull is a surprise. This one is long and fat. The next has two points. Ah! These two twisted around each other! And this tiny one, why did it produce such luscious leaves? I think of Peter Rabbit and Mr. MacGregor as I appreciate the soft pop of a carrot relinquishing its hold on the earth. Miserly Mr. MacGregor would have had ears tuned to that subtle sound. A Pavlovian pop eliciting instant rage. In the thieving Peter Rabbit I'm sure that sound produced delight and dread in equal measure. As for me, it sounds like a little kiss; just as lips releasing each other make a sound, so does the earth releasing its bounty.

Now I'm washing onions at the outdoor sink. I hear a four-wheeler vrooming along the path on the other side of the river. The neighbors have been joyriding more often lately. Now there's a big crash and the sound of the engine stops. Two beats and..."help!!" Thiago and I look at each other for another beat, then take off running toward the river. Into the community kitchen: "There's been an accident! Tell Alex to phone for help!" (moments like this make us grateful for the cell service that reaches up the Río Azul valley). Out of breath at the river, Thiago and I clamber into the disused cable car and pull ourselves across, careful not to let our fingers stray into the maws of the heavy pulleys. This rusty old contraption is hard to pull with cold fingers on a cold wet cable, but we make it to the steep, heavily forested bank on the other side. "Where are you?" "Over here!" We gain the trail and shout again, but there's no response this time, which worries me. The precipice to the left side of the trail could be host to a really bad accident. Alex arrives, having run in high rubber boots all the way down to the footbridge and back up on this side of the river. We keep looking and shouting, still with no response, and finally spot a red four-wheeler upended thirty feet straight down from the trail. Above it is a boy clinging to the earth, looking up with a pallid face. He is okay, but scared silent. His father and others arrive, frantic. Thiago, his father, and I climb down to him. He collapses into his father's arms and finally begins to wail. "It's okay, son, just cry, you're okay." We get a harness on him and haul him up the cliff. A tiny scratch on his face is the only injury he received from tumbling thirty feet straight down on a four-wheeler. A miracle. He tells us that the young man who'd been on the vehicle with him had gone for help before we arrived. That man broke collarbone. Another miracle. A policeman arrives. As the situation calms down Alex, Thiago, and I realize that there are still onions to be washed, chard to be bundled, and orders for beer, cheese, and chutney from the CSA members to fill. Sebastian will arrive at noon and all the boxes should be ready to load into his van. We tell the neighbors to call if they need help hauling the four-wheeler up to the trail, and we stroll back for a mate to calm the adrenaline before resuming our tasks.

Now it's four in the afternoon on a sunny day. Spencer, Andy, and I are in the meadow on the other side of the yurt, a lovely spot that the horses and Rosita keep munched down to a nice lawn. We wrap up the threads of a conversation about Noam Chomsky, Adam Smith, and Levon Helm as we swing our arms, limbering up for some yoga. The sun is harsh in Patagonia, but it feels good to us; we're anticipating jumping in the cold cold Río Azul after Andy leads us through a series of asanas.

Now I'm sitting at the dinner table facing a pot of barley and another of steaming eggplant-squash-tomato sauce. Alex cooked, so he will give thanks. We quiet down and wait for his words, expecting some variation of the customary "We give thanks for all the energies that made it possible for this food to come before us. May it nourish us and convert itself into consciousness." Instead, he bursts into song at high volume:
Thank you for this food oh Lord!
Thank you for this food!
Thank you for this food oh Lo-ord!
Thank you for this food!
This healing, this healing, this healing food!
In full-on gospel style Alex bends the notes into gleeful shouts. Then he passes it on to Spencer and we all join in now that we know the song:
Thank you for this earth oh Lord!
...and we thank the earth for a verse, then the sun, the river, the bees, passing the lead around the table. When everyone has chosen something to sing our thanks to we fall into silence, the building still vibrating with our wild chorus. Then, buen provecho, we dig in.

Now I'm crouched on the bare rafters of the seed bank, or as Alex prefers to call it, the seed library. Or, even better, the semilioteca, a portmanteau of the Spanish words for seed and library, a neologism Alex proudly explains to most new visitors to the farm. It's almost lunchtime and it's just starting to drizzle, but we still have one more batch of cob to apply. It's simple work: grab a handful of cob, slap it on, shape it a little, and grab another handful. We're making a bond beam to lock in the lower roof's rafters and to support the beams of the higher roof. The first mix was a little wet, but this one is perfect, a pleasure to work with. We're all hungry though, and someone made the mistake of saying the word "sushi," so we're impatient to get back down the hill to where someone will have cooked something delicious.

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