Being in South America allows me to finally visit many places that have lingered in my minds' wild imagination for years. Probably the city most visualized in my head, and most talked about, as well as most well known in this part of the world, is Buenos Aires. Argentina's capital and once all powerful center of the country's domination of the South American economy. Unlike Chile and other South American countries, Argentina was built upon the great wealth of that country in the late 19th and early 20th century, it's Belle Epoque, and its city center retains a grand elegance. Although it lingers under the cloud of the country's deep economic troubles of recent times, the grand city still exhumes a classic beauty and the people retain their elegance and pride. After all those years about hearing about brass Argentinians who look more towards Europe than South America, with a dialect and flair all their own that many seem to take as snobbish, I now have a deeper understanding and respect for the country and its people. They truly do live in a unique place in a unique way, and when one walks around the city one thinks more of Madrid than Santiago.
I had just under a week to roam around the city as well get out to the edge and take a one day excursion by train to Tigre where we took the typical boat along tour along the river and vast delta. The river tour proved extremely valuable in understanding the geography and the water world of Buenos Aires. A city on the mouth of a vast delta emptying into the sea, with Uruguay and Montevideo just a short ferry ride away. Back in the city I knew that I had lots of art to see, being that BA is home to one of the best museums in Latin America, Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, or simply MALBA. I made sure to make a full day of visiting the institution and fortunately I hit the museum at a pertinent time for a student of all things Latin America. The main exposition being shown was Latin American Art 1900-1970. The show, still up today, highlights the work of prominent LA artists during a time of monumental works from some of the biggest, such as Rivera, Khalo, Siqueros and many more. On display is also one of Brazil's most treasured works, Abaporu by Tarsila do Amaral, the work of the Brazilian modernist that seems to exemplify a sense of that country in such a powerful and yet understated way. I had wanted to see this one especially, after learning that it is a bit of a thorn in the side of Brazil, the fact that Argentina owns this treasured piece. The show also made clear that the reason for an end to the era of this time in art in Latin America (1970) was marked clearly by the rise of the dictatorships in South America. The same dictatorships that aimed to snuff out any art that even hinted at anything revolutionary or counter to the dominant military culture.
I spent a good deal of the time walking around the city and there are many parks and open spaces that made the place easy to like and move around in. Great large parks are spread about all across parts of the city, at least where I was staying in Recoleta. As well kept and easy as it was to appreciate that part of the city, with all the parks and museums and good restaurants, I couldn't not think about all the news of the declining economy, and I couldn't help but to think of a documentary film I saw in Downtown Los Angeles one night at a non-profits' center whose name I cannot recall at the moment. The film titled, The Take and created by none other than Naomi Klein and her husband, showed how working class Argentinians were loosing their jobs due to government mismanagement, corruption, and globalization, but also how resilient groups of workers were fighting back and bringing to life shuttered factories. A powerful documentary film and a poignant story of a time that seems to drag on for many in that country. An Uber driver told us that his water and electric bills jumped up to 10x of what they were in the past.
A classic city going through some rough modern times, I hope that somehow the Argentinians find a way to regain some of their economic power and that the rest of the world sees to it that these types of things don't continue to happen and make things even more difficult on the working folks.
And in Northern California the destruction is pretty much unspeakable. There are no words that can even describe what happened there, I can only offer condolences to the community of Paradise where dozens of lives were lost and thousands of structures were lost.
The plants will grow back, the animals will find a way to survive, but the people will need a strong community and cooperation among neighbors, politicians, land management agencies, and many more to recover.
The images above demonstrate just some of what was lost.
Being away from California and the Sierra this past summer I did not make it up to the Western Sierra, where I have been going every year since 2010 when I first got my seasonal park ranger gig there in Kings Canyon National Park.
I had never been to the west side of the Sierra before I found that job in Kings Canyon, even though I grew up and lived just 3-4 hours away from the Giant Sequoia groves and the famous national parks that protect them. Like many of my friends I was lucky to be able to visit the east side of the Sierras often over the years, but I never knew what I was missing over on the other side. Of course many people prefer the east side due to its scenic and dramatic beauty, as well as the easy access into the high country it allows. On the west side however, one finds rolling savanna like hills eventually leading to some of the most beautiful groves of large Valley Oaks before the hills get steeper and the oaks start to mix with pines. And eventually as you go up the mountain roads and above 6,000 feet, you reach the mixed conifer forest, the finest forest in the West. Made up of Ponderosa and Geoffrey pines, interspersed with White Firs, Incense Cedars, Black Oaks, Junipers, and in some places, Giant Sequoias. This is where I worked, in the Grant Grove district of Kings Canyon NP. And it was there during that first summer in 2010 when I would go on my first backpacking trip.
I had car camped all over California and Baja up until then, and I had hiked plenty too, but I knew nothing about this other world beyond the day-hike. I was fortunate that first summer to fall into a group and meet a whole new cast of characters and friends, whom I would listen closely to as they spoke of the lore of the "backcountry." Their were magic places up there they assured me, tucked between mountain passes, away from the summer crowds. I yearned to know, heck, I was a ranger working the main visitor center there, I had to know. It is not always easy to get into the backcountry while working a seasonal NPS gig. Contrary to popular belief, we did not get paid to go roam around the trails all day, just part of the day.
Eventually, I was ready to get out there and I found my chance. I was told that every ranger was allotted 2 personal development days to work outside of their district, or to go out into the backcountry, on official reconnaissance of course. I decided to take my two days and link them back to back with my two day weekend to come up with four days. I had four days now to test out my new backpack and lightweight tent that I had just bought down in Fresno at the REI. I had my gear, I was feeling good, and I was more than ready to find out what all my friends had been talking about. As luck would have it, when things work, sometimes they really work, and there's no better feeling when things start to click into place before a trip. It just so happened that a backcountry ranger, Ranger Cindy, was going back out to her station at Roaring River the same day I was heading out. So she offered to give me a ride to the station on one of her horses. Ranger Cindy was one of only a couple of wilderness rangers that still used 'stock' or horses and mules. I was excited to have the chance to work with a wilderness ranger and to get a lift on a horse part of the way.
I met up with Cindy and her horses and mules over off of a long dirt road at the trailhead. She loaded me up on a fairly young horse that would be leading the stock train. I had not been on any kind of horse or four legged animal in quite some time, and I was a little curious to see how things would go as we rode into the afternoon. At one point we were descending one particularly steep pass as a full moon rose over Deadman Canyon. I was able to pull out my old Nikon N90s and take a shot on horseback. After making it to the station in the dark I found a spot in the station to sleep and rest. The next day I would head out alone over Elizabeth Pass and into the Kings Canyon and Sequoia NP Wilderness. When I woke up, Ranger Cindy was making scrambled eggs. This is a lady who took her young son into the backcountry since he was a little baby, and at that time in 2010 she split her time between her home in Utah and the park, and her son was now a teen and still joining her often into the wilderness each summer. After the eggs, I grabbed my pack and headed out to find my first camp.
Not long after leaving Roaring River station I came upon this view (shown above) of Ranger Meadow. Everything around me and the meadow was literally just glowing green. I was alone, I saw a coyote off in the distance, and I felt like I now knew what my new mountain friends had been talking about. There were places out there where one could feel the vibrations of the earth, under the bright sun, with the granite pass ahead, and only you and what you have in your pack to survive. My first night backpacking I found a campsite above a large lake and had to set me tent up next to some recent bear scat, but due to the rocky terrain there we're not many other options. And the scat appeared to be at least a couple of days old, so I summoned that the bear was probably long gone. I spent that first night there, above a glacial blue lake surrounded by steep granite walls, like some wild ancient amphitheater.
The next day I repacked my gear and started up towards Elizabeth Pass. The pass that Cindy had been telling me about, not so bad to hike she said, but to get over and back down with stock was another story. Horse wrecks were not uncommon in the Sierra, and they can cause some serious damage to gear, people, and horses. Having no horses to worry about this day, and having the entire day to myself, it was good to know that it was my own two legs that would carry me and my pack over the pass. Elizabeth Pass is officially where the boundary lines of Kings Canyon and Sequoia meet, and sits at just about 12,000 feet. After hoofing it up and over the granite steps in the full sun I was thirsty and hot as I hobbled down into the Sequoia side of the barren and rocky pass. And again the universe was smiling down upon me. Not long after coming down I found a clear full creek running into a slot like pool. I quickly filled up my nalgene and drank, and then took off all my gear and jumped in their naked, feeling the ice cold water surround my body, out there on that mountain pass I was again feeling the magic that I had hoped existed.
That was the beginning of a relationship with the Sierra that I still can't get over. The day after my season ended that same year, my friend Jason and I got a ride out to the Florence Lake trailhead from a coworker. From there we would go on a 7-day backpacking trip down the John Muir Trail and through the heart of the Kings Canyon Wilderness. It was truly epic. I was able to work in Kings Canyon for only one more season after that, the following year in 2011. I would not go back to work there again because had I reluctantly took a permanent job with the Santa Monica Mountains NRA, meaning that I would not be able to work at Sequoia and Kings the next summer. However, I would find adventure, great work, and so many amazing and adventurous friends at the SMMNRA too. I would also be able to go back and visit my old friends and my favorite places every year after, except this past one. Just two years ago on one of those trips I got engaged to Magdalena, and that moment has set me on the track that I am now following, far away from California. There are still so many places I would like to explore in Sequoia and Kings Canyon and the Sierra, there are so many adventures to dream up and too many sun filled days out there ahead in time when one can imagine doing nothing better than just wondering around the colossal granite wilderness all day. It can drive one crazy thinking about all that space, all that time. All that being said, South America holds a whole new world for us both to discover together. And those rocks in the Sierra, they're not going any where any time soon.
Although, Ferlinghetti and the Beats were famous for their poetry and brand of stream of consciousness writing, the non-fiction section is what caught my attention. The world to me is always fascinating, and things these days are truly stranger than fiction, so I spent a considerable amount of time perusing this section while I was up in the Bay Area recently. I wanted to dig into to many of the titles but I could only carry so many books back with me on the plane. Above are a few of the books I did not walk away with, but hope to get into one day soon.
I did however leave with a little poetry, Peter Green's new translation of Homer's The Odyssey was one fancy title I grabbed. You could say that I'm trying to elevate my style and class at this point in life. Writing has also been more and more on my mind as I have some new free time and to help jump start that process a bit I also left with Draft No. 4 On the Writing Process by the legendary natural history author John McPhee.
That being said, there will be plenty of time to discover that coast and more here in Chile in the future, but for now our energies are starting to turn towards the Tropic of Capricorn and that massive country along the Atlantic. A landscape and country that holds the origins of so many wild and exotic stories of discovery and natural and cultural history I'm still wondering where I should start. But, like any place, I'll probably start with the streets, the Metro, the people, the language, and go out from there.
Another blog and series of projects may be in the works, so please stay tuned.