26 March 2008

Our Boots

Hank and I returned home on Monday from our respective schools. Monday and Wednesday are our long days. I teach my folklore class on the other side of Santiago and, thus, Hank spends the entire day at Montessori. It works out fine though we're both pretty tired by the time we return home. Well, at least I am.

On this particular Monday I wandered upstairs, as I always do, to change clothes, catch my breath, and start the unwinding process. Hank, as he always does, wanted to play and called out to me to follow him somewhere or other and do something or other with him. "Ok, Hank," I responded while walking upstairs. "Just let me change clothes and I'll be right down."

"Ok. I will," he called back.

I sat on the edge of the bed, took my boots off, and walked to the bathroom to splash some water on my face. While there I heard Hank's little feet scamper up the stairs and then a short series of grunts and knocks that told me he, as usual, was up to something. "What's going on, Hank," I asked him from the bathroom. I was suspicious and weary.

"Nufing," he said. "I just need to take my shoes off and put them in the room like you." Normally Hank's shoes are thrown in a massive pile downstairs in an area between the kitchen and the laundry room. That day, however, he saw it fit to do otherwise. I saw his shoes when I returned to my room to change shirts. I sat back down on the bed. I smiled. The difficulties of the day vanished and I walked downstairs to play with Hank.

There have been at least two other times when an event like that has made me as happy as it did. The very first time happened just about a year after Hank was born. We took our first long nap together. It was also the third sunday of June, Father's Day. The second time is a recurring phenomenon but it never ceases to amaze me. Almost every time I pick him up from school, no matter what he is busy doing, he sees me, yells out "Dad!," and runs to give me a big, smiling hug.

It's all pretty nice and though it makes me realize that I still have some big boots to fill I feel like the combination of these all-too-brief moments are the only reason this world continues to spin its course. Somehow, someway, the energy produced in these seemingly simple and, yet, simply innate actions spark enough momentum in this planet that it has no other choice to keep moving forward forever. And it's good.

Some shoe songs!

Gram Parsons: The New Soft Shoe.mp3
Hem: (The Angels Wanna Wear) My Red Shoes.mp3 (An Elivs Costello cover)

23 March 2008

Another Weeklong

Still sick (now a sinus infection). More computer problems. Another week of uploading, downloading, replacing, and spending an inordinate amount of time on the phone talking to specialists in El Salvador (now a new hard drive). More extended summer heat (mid-eighties, everyday). No exercise. Exhaustion. Same dirty car. Shit.

Music for the times:

Peggy Lee: Fever.mp3
Squirrel Nut Zippers: La Grippe.mp3
Paul Burch: Polio.mp3
Johnny Bond: Sick, Sober, And Sorry.mp3
Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard: TB Blues.mp3
Neil Young: Tired Eyes.mp3
The Pogues: The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn.mp3
The Smiths: Still Ill.mp3

Then there's this one that, I swear, the computer was humming to me in its state of self-confident derision as I bumbled and fumbled my way back to a working condition; I am decidedly not computer savvy. Sweating, pulling my hair out, sighing in defeat, I felt like I was dealing with Hal 9000.

Well, there is always next week. Keep on the sunny side.

15 March 2008


There are those weeks. Weeks with a smacked-upside-the-head cold. Weeks with returning students and an unprepared class to teach. Weeks with a disintegrating hard drive and the bane of technology. Birthday weeks. Weeks of looming taxes and paperwork to sift through. Weeks of a long lawn and a dirty car.

Then there is Chilco.

The wild and abundant Chilco (fuschia magellanica) grows especially well in Chile's Lake District and, most importantly, on the river banks and hill sides around Pucón and Villarrica--the places where I certainly would have rather been this week, waist deep in cold water, staring at the flowers dangling softly above clear streams.

But then there are also our eight-foot tomato plants and the hundreds of green and red fruits that we will pick from them well into autumn. And the fig trees that even in their first year here are producing their crop. And the morning air is quite cool and, seemingly, fresh. And the morning light is long and pale.

And so returns the issue of a birthday and with that the impromptu "Happy Birthday Paper" Hank insisted on drawing before we left for school. And with that most things were made right, even an uncut lawn and a dirty car.

I'm standing under the 'H' with an appropriate half-smile, my beard reduced to a goatee, my hair now represented by a single tuft on the top of my head. Hank is in front of me with his full head of beautiful hair. Wendy stands to my left, taller than me and with a strip of birthday paper wrapping in front of her face as it flies in the air. Hank's best friend, Amerie, who now lives in Mexico City, stands on my right. Though she looks a little puzzled as to why she was invited to this party her blond curls and big blue eyes are well-represented. The letters 'H' above my head, 'E' (yes an E), and, obviously, 'O' are simply part of the gift. The other squiggle is more wrapping paper floating in the air. I think we're all dancing. And wearing cool pants. Thanks Hank.

Seven flowers for seven days:

The Carter Family: Wildwood Flower.mp3 (from Anchored in Love: Their Complete Victor Recordings 1927-1928)
Jolie Holland: Alley Flowers.mp3 (from Catalpa)
Granfaloon Bus: Daisy.mp3 (from Rocket Noon, RIP)
Ralph Stanley featuring Ralph Stanley II: The Water Lily.mp3 (from Real: The Tom T. Hall Project
Lynn Anderson: Rose Garden.mp3 (from
Rose Garden)
Merle Haggard: I Threw Away The Rose.mp3 (from Down Every Road)
Galaxie 500: Flowers.mp3 (from Today)

04 March 2008

The (Not So) Summertime Blues

It's over! No more vacation! Back to school(s)! Though I love hanging out with Hank I will admit, without shame, that there were some seriously long weeks tucked into January and February. Beyond that, though, the end of summer theoretically means we're moving closer to autumn and, finally, winter. Though we're still epochs away from setting boards to snow there was a certain ting to this morning's air. That plus the summertime snows are sticking around for more than a 24-hour period in the high country above the ski resorts. Yes, change is slowly and steadily afoot.

And could there have been a better way to end the summer than spending long lazy days in Chile's Lake District? I think not.

We left Santiago well before dawn. Our first stop was
Chillán, about four hours away, for a longaniza breakfast sandwich. Our second stop was about an hour after that on a deserted country road so that the pooches could stretch a bit and we could brush our teeth.

Our rented cabana was not quite what we expected but it was cheap, had direct access to the lake, provided us with a (horribly uncomfortable) nights sleep, and afforded me the opportunity to take some fantastically depressing photos:

As was mentioned earlier, the Villarrica/Pucón area is big and beautiful with Lago Villarrica the centerpiece. The town of Villarrica sits on one end of the lake and, as it seems, houses pretty much all the people who service those who stay in Pucón or the surrounding area for the one or two weeks a year. Pucón, though pleasant enough, is hardly distinguishable apart from most any other high-end lake resort town in the western US. Well, other than the abundance of spoken German (punchline! hi-hat!).

We were never too far from a major water source. The lake is the obvious attraction as it's very big, very clear, and very clean. Not unlike Lake Tahoe. Most days ended there and provided nice relief from the late day heat.

Hank's swimming improved, too. In fact, it wasn't so easy taking him from the water.

Among the zillion other attractions are the waterfalls. Water heaves out of the ground and many of the rivers are entirely spring fed. There are streams and rivers everywhere. It's quite nice and makes for some easy three-year old exploring.

These falls, called Ojos del Caburga, and the springs that create them are fed by a lake. Lago Caburga is at a slightly higher elevation and only a couple miles aways. There is no natural, superficial outlet for the lake. The water from the lake submerges into the soil and lava rock caverns from above and percolates back up at these springs, a little lower in the valley.

What makes these things so impressive is the force at which they barrel out of the earth. And the constant volume of water. And the ten-meter deep or so pool beneath the falls. And then there is the temperature of the water: ice cold. And the crystalline blue purity of it.

The water then forms the Rio Caburga before it merges with the Rio Liucura, Palguin, Maichin, and the cloudy waters of the Trancura. This combined force eventually flushes into the Lago Villarrica, swishes around for about twenty miles before exiting as the green, slow, murky waters of the Río Toltén.

And it was the rivers that diverted my attention. And the prospect of all the silver things that live beneath their surfaces.

And they do. Though this isn't Chilean Patagonia, or Alaska, or much of the Western United States, there are plenty of respectable fish that live beneath the surfaces. Anyway, how could there not be? With rivers as clear and clean and rocky and perfect, it would be a damn shame.

The fish are small but sly. Apparently there is not much over twelve-inches. I don't know exactly the reason but it probably has something to do with over-fishing. That said, I fished entirely alone. I think I saw two other fisherman the whole week.

The waters are cold and they run swift all year long. Even wading up to my waist was difficult. I caught rainbows and browns and though not large their colors seemed to radiate from the chilly waters. In calmer conditions you could see them spring from the rocks below at depths of four or five feet. They were luminescent.

It was a great trip. For many reasons. Fish for one, but also the time to spend time in a place where time doesn't matter much. You eat; you fish; you swim; you stare at volcanoes; you listen to birds. You smell the pine pitch in the dry, hot air. You feel the cold, cold water on your feet slowly turn warm. You catch a fish, throw it back, and do it all over again. The slower the better.