31 March 2010

Sacrificing a Rooster

One lunar cycle after the earthquake we sacrificed a rooster, each person present sharing a piece of his heart in the meal he became. It was my first experience being involved in the killing of an animal and participating in the transformation of corpse to food. We had built a ceremonial fire, had boiled water to ease the plucking of feathers, had breathed the vibrations of diggery-doo and guitar into the growing dusk. But no matter the physical and spiritual preparations, death is a difficult act to bestow upon any creature, especially one you have watched grow from egg and chick. I do not want to get over-sentimental, but at least now I understand why I do not normally ingest chicken. Their death throes are particularly shocking and the skin emits a pungent odor once dosed in hot water, the feathers sticking to your fingers as you pluck the body bare. The disemboweling was less dramatic than I had anticipated, possibly made objective by science class conditioning years ago. We separated out the heart and the liver, boiling the rest into a stew for the dogs, and burned the head and the crop in the fire. The meat, cooked with corn, onions, garlic, and green pepper in a disc over the fire, was delicious I am told. I can only attest for one-fifth of his heart and a bite of his liver, both a first for me, with smooth textures and strong flavors.

Oh, young, head-strong Pebbles, I thank you for you life, as short as it was. You were just one of our too many roosters this year with a particularly raucous voice that never quite grasped the concept to morning song and with the obnoxious habits of regularly startling the hens and beating on your more beautifully plumed brother. Your murder was not punishment for your faults, though these traits did guarantee that you were the first. If el gallo de passion wasn’t already too old and so small, he would have taken your place, but breeding gave you strong legs and wings, and after all, this was not a game in choosing favorites.

It was an exercise in doing something completely commonplace and ordinary. Something so basic to our human heritage, an event which occurs daily billions of times over, something that usually deserves no afterthought, never receiving reflection, and yet something that I, in my 30’s, had never before experienced first-hand. How strange this modern age where many millions of the over-fed collectively, willingly forget where their food comes from, how to clean it and prepare it for the table. How stranger still, both sides agree, that one should actively seek to peel back the cloak of naivety and to stare at the gruesome details, raise a creature with the intention of getting blood on one’s hands when processed and plastic-wrapped versions are so readily available. But that is after all, the point: to fully experience our humanity and all that is necessary to sustain us, to shed our ignorance and to remember the forgotten arts.

Thank you, young Pebbles, in teaching us through your dying about the nature of life. I take a piece of your heart into me and hope to transform that energy into creative expression.

18 March 2010

Letters Home from Chihuio

I tell you, friends, good news to tell: the Shire is doing fair and well…

I am much relieved to be on vacation in a quiet cabin in a small valley nestled between two forested ridges lush with Ulmos bursting white among the deep greens. The river rushes clear over rocks and the sound reminds us all of our ocean days. I can not remember the last time the four of us went on holiday together, it seems so long we had been taking shifts in Los Brujos, hosting guests or stealing away as individual couples. Here in Chihuio, bathes overflow day and night with the intoxicating warmth of water pouring from the mountain’s secret hot springs. We lounge into our days bathing and dreaming, and relax through the nights the same. The Shire, my friends, is in excellent health. Sheep fatten on the steep, green slopes, oxen haul out firewood, and berries and hard fruits ripen for the picking. In this modern age of urban apocalyptic fears coming true, I am much relieved to disappear for a long weekend into a different dream where life rises and falls to a rhythm closer in tune with nature’s cycles. Certainly even here modern conveniences and temptations have dotted the landscape with satellite dishes and pick-up trucks, but though rural and urban consciousness mingle daily here, the memory of sustenance and survival also thrive. Should the outside world collapse, this place, these residents could continue without much exclamation, without much drama. And of course, they have their baths: rich, mineral drenched water of deep mountain heat flowing freely into steam, smoothing skin, relaxing muscles. This is true paradise, glowing green with lichens and moss, steamed warm from the mountain’s depths.


On the way home from Chihuio, logging dusty kilometers on foot on gravel, country roads following the river’s windy course past fertile pastures of sheep and cows grazing below the Andean skyline, past ancient forests in late summer splendor and houses with yards filled with flowers, with the shining plumage of strutting roosters and their hens, we arrived too late at the crossing to catch the last bus back. But this had always been a vacation based on blind faith and although we had only seen a handful of vehicles (either passing or even parked) in the whole of the afternoon, we continued on hoping to manifest some miracle to return home. We had luck with two rural school vans, one which took us to Chabranco, the other allowing us to pile in with the bewildered children, hula hoops and driftwood collections pressing against the ceiling and cramped seats, leaving us in el Sector de Las Quemas, still more than a dozen kilometers from the small town of Llifen and on a stretch of valley pastures without a single shade tree or residence along the road which cut straight between the mountains. Facing the prospect of walking all night under a moonless sky as another pick-up truck sped past, four cab seats open and the flat-bed empty, leaving a wave of billowing dust, the driver’s out-stretched palms claiming innocence in our plight, the patience of blind faith finally extended us a miracle: on that late Monday afternoon, a European from Switzerland was out driving a rental car on holiday and something about our pleading faces convinced him to stop. He had seen us on the road earlier in the day when he was driving in the opposite direction exploring the path toward Argentina which had ended in an oxen trail, forcing him to turn back. Hula hoops and road dust piling into our motorized salvation, sharing tales as we sped towards Futrono, Lago Ranco’s shining waters appearing as the roadway slipped into the smooth hum of pavement, and we knew we would make the last bus to Los Brujos.

Bless that funny European who lives in Switzerland, but who never told us where he was actually from or even exchanged names, who likes to pick-up hitch-hikers when he goes travelling to share stories and to better get to know a place. Bless him and all his kind who still believe we can extend a human hand now and again, step outside our boxes, trust positive energy, and share what we have to give. I thank that man for his whimsical kindness, but for more than just the ride and sparring us a sleepless night. I thank him for clearly demonstrating that even in a modern world of billions of selfish souls, in an apocalyptic age of disasters, natural and man-made, when the instinct to only protect one’s self and family is the driving force, that we humans are more than capable of overcoming such woes, in fact, some of us still actively seek to expel them. I went on our mini-family vacation in a moment of philosophical despair, the stories and news from the earthquake’s epicenter shattering my faith in the goodness of human nature as violence and fear plunges millions of people into a state of military curfews to restore order, families attacking one another for food, for water; if this is what happens in a small country like Chile, my mind shuddered, my heart waivered flashing through the list of crowded cities worldwide….

But the curative waters of Chihuio, supposedly one of the favored places poet Pablo Neruda visited before going into exile, had a magical effect and the tranquil landscape of a hobbit’s Shire recast a faith in ancient forests, in crystal, abundant water, in self-sufficient farming and the stories and skills that many in this new generation have willingly not forgotten. To be generously picked up three times on our way home by smiling strangers wishing us well was the final touch to the miracle as if the Universe truly wanted to make the lesson clear: have faith in the goodness of human nature, hold it sacred, and watch it manifest.