Ode to Anihue
I struggle with where to begin.
My question is, how do you begin to speak of what only can be read between the lines of your very being? To do my time in Añihue justice as I share it with you I know I must choose each word carefully. This place is so extraordinary that it seems to me that only a conjurer’s incantation that leaves you spellbound in an ecstatic trance could even come close to communicating the power of this land. Simply put Añihue has a beauty that literally borders on the miraculous.
For me the solitude that can still be found in this pristine piece of wilderness is priceless. I cannot help but remember that feeling of awe and wonder I carried with me all those years I lived in Añihue that came from the acute sensation I had that I was more than just skimming the surface of this incredibly dynamic force called life on Earth. I was at its primordial source, or so I liked to think, since here I dwelled in a place of great vitality and strength.
Of course as is to be expected of a restless young mind mystified by romantic tales of Zen masters and Native American rites of passage in the beginning when I arrived as a boy I was full of questions that I wanted immediate answers for. Eventually as I grew attuned I came to accept that in their totality some things are just beyond comprehension. We might be able to digest them intellectually in compartmentalized bits and piece, the study of this and the science of that. For me the question became how do we go about coalescing our pursuit of “knowledge” into something also akin to reverence?
REVERENCE as in feeling a simple happiness in the knowledge that we exist as part of something larger and infinitely more magnificent than our tiny selves.
For the most part of two decades I called Añihue home. (43 52′ 10.2″ South— 073 01′ 49.1” West) It is here between snow-capped volcanoes and emerald forests of the Andean Patagonia, located in Southern Chile, that I was fortunate enough to grow up and eventually as an adult go on to pursue a happy, healthy, sustainable way of life while homesteading in this rugged wilderness area. Much like throw backs to another era, we were true pioneers. Literally out of the jungle with our hands my family forged a life for ourselves that was very much in sync with the beauty and character of the land. The place you can go to visit today is very much a testament to the love, and perseverance we put day in and day out to this task.
In my opinion it is due to our love and respect for the natural world that Añihue is like no other place in the Patagonia. As the first enduring settlers of this land since the natives vanished at the turn of last century our distinct legacy is that we arrived armed with a world view that wanted above all else to feel close to nature rather than conquerors of it. The intimate nexus that exists here between the human, animal, and natural domains is a direct result of this approach. Most other settled property in the area, even if it is now under conservation, has been intervened to such a degree during government sponsored colonization programs in the past that it will sadly never be the same again.
I think it is fair to say in this day and age that a place as pristine as Añihue is priceless. Especially when it can be inhabited in such guilt free style! For example if you are fortunate enough to one day visit this place and while walking the beach you are visited by a pod of frolicking dolphin know that they are so open and friendly because they have been interacting for generations with fun loving, peaceful people. At this point it would be up to you to decide how far you want to take the experience and help contribute to a long standing tradition of dolphin/human co-habitation. If I was there this is about the time I would be diving in.
I think deep down we all live for exhilarating moments like this, unfortunately sometimes we have become too civilized (maybe inhibited is a better word) for our own good. Añihue is a place where the spirit enthralled by its majestic landscapes can come to decompress from a stressful modern life. A good first lesson is to just stand outside in this paradise and scream at the top of your voice, dance around, be silly!!! For life long city dwellers this is much, much harder than it sounds.
For me as a boy it wasn’t exactly easy coming to my decision of choosing a life in the wilderness (In many ways one of renouncing society, as we know it), even though I so yearned to because it conflicted with everything that I believed was expected of me.
Since a small child I have always been drawn to nature above all else, but growing up I seriously had to ask myself if running away to live in the woods was nothing more than an evasion of my responsibilities. You can probably understand my confusion as I tried to figure out to what degree I should and could integrate a little of both of these choices into my life.
The over-riding question I struggled with was, “How far am I willing to “sell out” from my core beliefs”? ‘ Then to my good fortune his Holiness the Dalai Lama came to speak at my school about environmental issues! His message was pure and simple. To put it roughly, he stated that the environmental crisis facing our generation was due to the fact that mainstream contemporary society has its priorities all wrong. Shift the priorities… and then elusively with out preaching or dictating any concrete solution he left the rest to each of our imaginations. Over the years, I have always remembered what his Holiness the Dalai Lama had come to say, like millions others his presence inspired me.
As I listened to this holy man, I was primed by my entire life to discover a message I am sure I had been carrying for some time… Even more than that, I was ready to ACT. In my mind flashed brilliant images of the pods of wild dolphins I had dived with breathless beneath the cathedral heights of the deep blue Pacific off the coast of Patagonia. And the old growth forests of this land lingered inside my memory infused with meaning and as always beckoned. To me the massive trees with branches extended open armed to the sky are ancient and wise beings covered in long beards of shaggy moss. They sway slightly from side to side to the melodious song of the wind as if in meditation, while the rustling of their leaves seem to show that they have found peace. In their sublime and overpowering presence, the forest housed by earth and sky seems one great hermitage where colossal Bodhisattvas live. Whenever I listen, I cannot help but try to understand, for from their lips I am sure wisdom pours along with the morning dew.
Upon first entering the forest as a boy I was impacted by it all. Then as always it was a memory so steeped in meaning. In a way it was an awakening. To observe life deep within the forest is eye opening to say the least for it comes with the sad realization that today it is so foreign to us. We curse the wind, the cloud cast sky, and the trickling mist of rain. Frozen and shivering, we blame our suffering on the indifferent land and harsh climate that cast its punishment equally over all as if at the first dawn we had been predestined with special favors. As I grew, with time the hardships of wondering the vast mountain ranges of these antediluvian forests purged me of my Old World conceit and brought me to my knees metaphorically and very literally with physical exhaustion. It is at this point when one is humbled at last, ready to revel in its embrace.
Ever since then I have been committed to pursuing my seemingly far-fetched dream of living out of the fold of society in the wild. It was a blessing to have worked on the development of two sustainable living centers located on what was then my family’s ten thousand-hectare private nature reserve in Chile’s Andean Patagonia called Las Toninas Beach and Wilderness Refuge and Añihue “The Cold Jungle” respectively.
As we formulated it the over all Reserve’s purpose was the preservation of this little known area’s as of yet intact bio-diversity and habitat which includes: Thousands of hectares of virgin old growth temperate rain forest ranging from sea level to timberline, large marshes and tidal estuaries, Kilometers of deserted pacific beaches, protected bay, tidal flats, glacial moraine, lakes, and a river fed by glacial run-off that is born and dies within reserve. In addition we aimed to develop intensive organic agriculture adapted to the local area that would permit a high degree of self-sufficiency,
So in a very real way I respect and support the initiatives underlying my generation’s environmental concerns, and the sea changes they aim to promote in people’s daily lives. Clearly it all begins with the steadfast conviction that we, and we alone are the agents of our future. In this light it is clear the success or failure of our goals hinge entirely on how passionately we undergo the process of redefining our life’s guiding principles. The pledge to take responsibility is certainly the beginning. Then for it to be transformed into a heart-felt and intrinsic part of’ our daily life, from something perhaps only initially idealistic and intellectual there most follow an in depth process of self-discovery which eventually results in a whole new way of relating to the world we inhabit.
Is it any wonder that the natural world is completely alien to so many people when it forms essentially no part of their daily experience? In this day and age, I often fear for what the future holds. It is totally unbelievable to me, especially now that it has become such a big and rewarding part of my life, but as a child I was never shown how to coax the land to feed and shelter me. Once upon a time, there was a living tradition, which was passed from one generation to the next. For me this kind of knowledge is a beautiful thing that is so lacking today. I am hopeful that with my experience and knowledge I will be able to begin to reassemble something meaningful of this kind to pass on to my own children.
It is my belief that this void in contemporary society seriously limits how effectively we can interact with the natural world. Some find it perplexing that why after they have gone through the paces and done everything by the book they still reach a point when regardless the questions come. “What is the purpose of life’? How do I find real happiness? Where do I go from here?” Worst of all whom do you turn to ask these kinds of questions” We long surrounded by luxury to be touched by sensations deeper than the skin. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Just as our ancestors once chanted to the deities in the land, we look to society for guidance and direction. In many ways, we are all Adams and Eves exiled from our planet’s garden not by the will of any god but by our own false pretensions.
Technologically speaking man has “progressed” so much from his roots, especially in the last hundred years. Yet, undeniably the same essential questions remain unanswered. We have alienated ourselves from our initial source of creative impetus. The beauty and energies that first inspired our ancestors for the most part have been trodden under foot. We wander lost in a wasteland of our creation not understanding from where we come or where we are headed. We try to reconcile ourselves to the symbols of past civilizations, but in the end, we become lost in their intricacies, never grasping for ourselves their true underlying meanings. Cradle to Cradle being in my opinion one of the most comprehensive and open philosophy of earth care and right livelihood available to contemporary humans, along with Permaculture, has been key in my own process of learning to live off the land. It has helped me not only talk the talk, but also humbly walk the walk. I cannot help but appreciate how much of an anachronism my life in Añihue was in the midst of such pristine ancient woodlands where the planet is still very much alive and thriving. At least for me coming here for the first time was a pivotal and groundbreaking moment in my life, that has changed me forever and propelled me on my adventure that is still unfolding as we speak.
Ode To Añihue
The Sun falls from the face of the Earth. Dying flames are kindled in the sky which glows with shifting auroras of red, growing deep and ripe like beautiful gaseous flowers blooming in the dusk. North to South and West to East the sky flourishes as the sun sets. Bright petals of light span the darkening sky with echoes of color and laughter. Precious pollen of light is dispersed upon the wind to thrive ripe and vigorous were ever it may fall. A lone cloud a lush garden of golden amber.
As the sun sets across a sea slowly divested of day the horizon vanishes still and endless. Our sight is set free to wander for a moment past the ever-binding curve of the earth into what seems to be the wind blown orb of our ancestor’s very distant bonfire. Up above the limits of our terrestrial blue sky fall away in a great boundless blackness that runs down like beads of water to extinguish the remains of the day.
Then, there at last stars become revealed. The great void that expands
above so like our minds’ opening.
The land trembles and sighs to be touched by the night. Aloft ivory constellations condense like hands from heaven extending to receive another day’s death.
To follow the sun across the sky is to wander a great distance. My footprints in the sand behind me now all washed away in pools of pale moonlight. Enshrouded in the pitch-black quietus of my mind I sway to a new found sixth sense.
I am but a shadow in all that I perceive. In echoes filled with joy the land subtly bellows back to me. Roaming ancient woodlands my voice subsides into that of the forest. In Añihue I have come to find a blessed gift. To this land that l love each day I raise a cry filled with happiness beyond belief. By my fireside each evening I ponder this time I am living. Content, I sigh a breath, for each twilight when ivory constellations condense hands from heaven also extend to receive another of my own day’s death.
Bear (December 2009, Southern Patagonia Icefield)