The peaceful, benevolent skies we encountered ten days ago in the wide open Patagonian pampa of grazing sheep and guanacos turned dark and turbulent this past week, releasing a two-day torrential deluge, isolating ranchers, engorging rivers and washing away hundreds of sheep. Having recently explored that landscape heightens the distress.
Though we know that this is a land of extremes, it continues to shock and surprise. Last month, the news carried scenes of massive mudslides in the northern desert region and raging fires in southern forests. This week, without any warning, the Calbuco volcano, inactive for forty-five years, spewed columns of red hot lava and gigantic, lightning-pierced clouds of ash and stone skyward. The ash and gravel settled in thick layers on nearby villages, farms, roads and fields. Locals were evacuated until it was deemed safe to return their homes. We city dwellers watch in shock televised scenes of horses searching in vain for food under the rubble and people shoveling gravel off their roofs to prevent their collapse before the announced rains. Beehives are being trucked to uncontaminated countryside.
Weathermen check the direction of the winds which carried ash again into Argentina. Plane flights were cancelled. All this just a few weeks after Villarrica Volcano erupted. News anchors interview volcanologists and geologists to cultivate public understanding of these processes and dispel incorrect theories. (The volcanoes are all connected underground. Wrong. Old wives’ tales die hard. Many here swear that unusual weather signals the advent of an earthquake. Easy to understand the origins of this belief as the Chilean earth is continuously trembling somewhere up and down this long, thin country.)
The political ground is shaking as well. Scandals and corruption unveiled on both ends of the political spectrum undermine public confidence. Whatsapp buzzes with jokes and cartoons. A familiar story – illegal sources of campaign money at election time.
I feel the earth move under my feet,
I feel the sky tumbling down…