More stories than I can share. Some for the book, a few for you, many no more than to feed my soul. Which here and now is full and rich and on fire. Alive with rushing wind and water.
This morning I am horseback with Bob to our “kiss and ride,” a mile up river along our side of the bank. He crosses and heads to work at the Ranquilco, helping with their current hydro power project. Gunnar and I and my little mare run home to get the bread rising. Many a morning, we make it back in half the time it took us to get there. This morning it takes longer. Teaching the neighbor’s dog, Charlie, the routine. His short little legs must move four times as fast as Gunnar’s to get him half as far. We can wait.
Now I sit out between the house and the river, soaking in the first sun I felt in days. The river sings softly behind me. My mare in the shade to one side of me, the two dogs snapping at meat bees on the other.
Now I can be still, quiet, focus. Sit down to write. That’s where I am now. Taking a break from The Book work. Coming up for air. And such air there is. Much more than at the altitude from where I came. Much more of everything here. Or everything I’ve been looking for. Which is more of less, at times.
Starting with the horses. Here not as a hobby but as an essential. Transportation. The only way in. Learning the local tack, new straps and knots, saddle blankets piled high like the princess and the pea. Bridles and reins of silky soft and skinny tanned leather we spoil ourselves with and are quick to buy anew with the slightest signs of wear and tear, here replaced with rawhide. A lamb carried to camp horse back, slaughtered and hung in the shade tree, and cooked over an open fire to feed the hungry crew. Salad passed around in one big bowl with one fork and one napkin to wipe up the sweet sauce that drips from the carrots and onions down a greasy chin. Beer in big bottles passed person to person, as wine from the bota and mate from the gourd.
I learned to cook in France and for years we all figured I’d continue a career as a chef. I chose cooking for my family instead. Now I have a whole new techniques to learn. Like rules to abide to. Someone told me “Gaucho’s are picky about what they eat.” I think of the other places I have lived and travelled. The French countryside. The Greek Islands. Homesteading with the California bounty. New York chic and New Mexico green and red. Are they more demanding here? No, just more limiting, not wanting new, change, innovation, a different way. And oddly enough, I can accept that. Not that I want to close my mind and not try new, for this simpler way is new for me. But I can understand and even appreciate the simple cooking. Goat, stew, squash, potatoes. Peel the potatoes but not the beets. Whatever. When in Rome. If you don’t like the soup, get your hands out of the pot. I would like to keep mine in. The more I stir, the more I love the aroma.
I hear people longing for things they miss. I don’t know what. More ease. More comfort. More accessibility, communications, distractions, conveniences. Probably more variety. I’m here thinking it’s a great challenge. How long can I make a little last, and how easy to know what is for dinner. Likewise, I remember taking tourists on pack trips. Five days out, that’s it, and they’d be itching for a Coke, a bath, a bed. Sure they would miss the sound of wind and water, but they weren’t ready to live with it.
I know I’m not living like a gaucho. I’m still living it up. Fancy windows, European antiques, and even with one room blocked off, still more space than we can spread out into, sweep up and keep warm. This house in which we’re staying is truly the lap of luxury, lacking little but things I’d rather live without anyway, like phone service, electric lights and a gas stove. Maybe a few simple additions I might be wanting for, if I was to stay here forever. Like a spatula would be nice. But Bob fashioned me one with a disposable metal lid and a stick from a nearby tree. It’s not the first time we’ve resorted to such innovations. For those who have been with me a while, you might recall the time at camp the boys had to whittle me my utensils before I could flip an egg. I swear breakfast tasted better that way.
And yet what I thought was simple back in the States seems still like so much more than here. Excess. Waste. Too much. I’m trying to learn. Keeping an open mind, even if the minds I try to understand at first appear so closed. Perhaps it is this closing off, accepting what you have, and learning to not look beyond which allows for contentment. Tradition holds greater power here still than change. I both respect and admire that, and know it is nothing I was born with, being raised in a culture of change. But can I learn to live in it? Can I change – in this case, change my ways of constantly evolving and wanting to see, have, know and do more, and learn to accept this here and now that has so captivated me?
I will never be of this land, and may never quite fit in. Do I anywhere? And who really “is” the land but someone who is maybe nothing else and clings to a title instead of a sense of self?
But maybe I can live here. Be accepted for who I am, here and now. Where I was and what I did don’t matter. I don’t want to lose myself, and try to be what I am not. Yet somehow I think maybe I can find more of me here. Finding more with less.
Do you really need to see so far beyond the mountains in which you live? Will you be content if you already have? How will we know if we do not try. Farewell and good riddance to the isle of sugared cereals and more options of wines that you’ll try in a lifetime. Isn’t red and white enough? Here, there are but a few spices. Oregano, cumin, chili and sweet pepper. Here, there is no refrigeration. Meat slaughtered weekly and hung in a screen box under the pear tree. Take only what you can eat before the flies lay their eggs and the meat spoils.
This takes longer now. The air is cooler. Even now mid day in the full sun. A tingle of autumn in the first of yellowing grass and fading hillsides and teasers of golden leaves on the regal Lombardi poplar trees defining the edges of the occasional homesteads, perfect rows, little green lines in the otherwise arid mountains.
You can feel the first of the change of season. The river may never be warm enough for me to bath in again this year. In the earlier mornings, I’m wearing my wool hat and still my fingers are slow to dance on the keyboard when they are this cold. My thoughts turn to the wood we split and stacked earlier in the week. I’m holding out. I worry about getting soft. Think how cold it would be if I were back “home.” Still snowed in.
Now I’m sitting here warming up with the dogs and a mate and today’s big blue and thinking of yesterday’s heavy layered grey. Hopes of rain and sound of wind through the willows and river rushing over the rapids. Bundled under a borrowed shawl of Ginny’s, almost like having her hands wrapped around me. Encouraging me. Write, sister, write… Let’s get this story out there. So much to share!
I suppose if there were but one story to share with you today, you’d ask to hear the one about the branding in the high country. Though I am certain I have already taken up too much of your time. So once again, I’ll let the photos tell the story instead of my words.
And now I return to writing, what I came here for. Only to find the words, and so much more.