Saturday, April 14, 2012

Finally, To the Mountains!

Myra and Bryan, old friends from Swarthmore, visited this week and were the occasion to finally take a hike. During the summer I was content to leave the mountains and their scattered refuges to the hordes of globetrotters. Weekends on the farm were a chance to walk to a swimming hole or just lounge in the sun. But now the hordes are gone and the crisp fall weather begged for a trip to the mountains. We went with Jeramy, Myra's brother who more or less lives here, on a three-day circuit. Above Jeramy contemplates a giant coihue tree in a lovely grove we encountered on our first day.
 The first day's trail ascended westward up the Río Azul valley, passing a couple of refuges before arriving at Retamal (pictured above). The caretaker of this refuge, Adrian, is a friend. We sipped mates and chatted as the mountain chill descended and the last alpenglow left the mountain of Dedo Gordo. Myra had fun guessing what our conversation in Spanish was about, and did a great job, although false cognates from Greek occasionally got in the way. As night fell the refuge looked cozier and cozier, but we had resolved to camp out (avoiding the steep refuge fee). Half of our group stayed warm for the whole night, including me, my lightweight sleeping bag stuffed inside a heavier one with a broken zipper that I found on the farm.
 The next day we got off to an Argentine Start--the opposite of an Alpine Start. Even so, the first hour an a half of hiking was in chilly shade on a north slope. By midafternoon we gained open ground and sunshine, with a view up the Río Azul canyon to the west-south-west.
 At the foot of Dedo Gordo was the valley pictured below, a graceful arc of lenga forest at the height of its color. These beech-like trees dealt with the thin alpine soil by spreading their roots out wide and growing in a boomerang shape, part of their trunk resting on the ground. Apparently lengas grow well in Scotland, but they made me think of another place I've never been: Korea. Lovely.

 To get over the ridge to our next refuge we had to climb straight up a dry stream bed out of the lengas and onto a high scree slope. The wind picked up, small rocks tumbled down and away, and we felt like real mountaineers for a while before gaining the ridge and eating avocado sandwiches.
 Down the other side, another gorgeous valley of lengas curved down to the Dedo Gordo refuge. Just after we arrived a couple from Buenos Aires showed up. They were taking their new/old VW camper bus out for a test drive in preparation for taking it up to Mexico. Sweet folks. No caretakers around, we were left to our own devices. No chance we were going to get cold on this night, sleeping on cotton yo mats upstairs with a fire going in the woodstove below. Myra and Jeramy, brother and sister, swapped songs each had written since the last time they saw each other, playing them on Jeramy's backpacking guitar.
 Below is the view down into Mallín Ahogado and El Bolsón--our last day's hike down. My knees and my senses were just starting to warm up to the rhythm of the mountains, leaving me with hunger for another outing. Hopefully that will be this coming weekend with Jeramy and Alex--one last autum trek before returning to the northern hemisphere springtime.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Few Snaps from the Farm

By this point in the season frosts are a regular occurrence at night. We've established the big masonry heater's cycle: one or two firings a day distribute heat through its several tons of stone, brick, and plaster. The heat then slowly radiates out over the next twelve or twenty-four hours. I'm now sleeping in the loft above the kitchen, the warmest place on the farm. Sacks of grain and piles of winter squash surround me: my bedroom is made of food. On the chilly, gray days a spittle of rain makes it feel like potato country--the highlands of Ecuador, or Ireland. The sunny days reveal an atmosphere completely clear of haze, dust, or anything but light. These days are our last chance to jump in the river and dry off on a warm rock during siesta.

The shots below are from many weeks ago, when we were deep into the rye harvest. The machine Alex is working with is the steampunk thresher I mentioned in a previous post. I used it to thresh and winnow all the buckwheat and some random grains left over from last season: wheat, oats, and Austrian field peas.
On Alex's birthday (March 6th) we had an asado (barbecue), the default format for any Patagonian get-together. On the grill were chorizo and local lamb, but the real star was in the barrel oven inside: one of our own geese. At one point a visitor called our five geese "the nuns of the farm" because they totter around from here to there with their heads held erect and their wings folded properly. But they are really the hooligans of the farm. The geese find any opportunity to hinchar las pelotas (literally, "swell the balls"): they ate half the wheat, a bunch of the corn, and they regularly attack chickens, tearing out their feathers. So Alex had been looking forward to diminishing their numbers. The goose was delicious, thanks, perhaps, to all the wheat it ate in its lifetime.
Below are some of the many ferments to be found on the farm at any one time: sauerkraut, sourdough starter, and juice kefir (which we flavor with whatever fruit we have around; some flavors have been blackberry, lemon, apple, elderberry, rosehip, peach, and raisin). We also made a killer batch of kimchee at one point. A couple of meads are getting started, and we're trying to drink a dry rosehip wine that's been sitting around for a year or so. Alex also recently shared a special ferment on the occasion of an herbal meadmaking workshop we held at the farm: a four-year-old mead fermented with the whole hive, angry bees and all. It was intense and delicious.