Events in the Park
February 10, 2014
By Cameron Nevin (University of Vermont ’15)
Cameron here, checking in for the Spring 2014 Patagonia Semester. I should say it’s the summer semester, seeing as the weather here is more of the type. Rain comes in short squalls, and the sun beats down most days with an unusual intensity. It’s wonderful!
Let me catch everyone up on the past week of events. We left for our second field site after a few days of lectures and readings at our former base camp at Los West Winds. I say former because since returning from our field site we’ve relocated to a new home base, but more on that later. We spent three days at our second field camp, located in a remote corner of the future park. The drive out there was rugged, consisting of rutted road with chilling unevenness. We bounced around until arriving at an old sheep rancher’s house, complete with a few backcountry outhouses and even a teepee-like structure, which provided us with some shelter from the sporadic rainfall. El puesto era magnifico (the place was wonderful). We spent the first night hanging out and preparing for our wildlife surveys the following morning.
I cannot recount all of the experiences of everyone’s surveys, so I will just share mine. We broke into groups of two and three for our vizcacha surveys in order to cover more area. I must confess, the greatest part of scrambling around rocks searching for sign of vizcacha is the unexpected discoveries that occur along the way. For instance, when I set out with Tyler and Chloe the first morning, we hiked straight up for an hour to reach the base of some massive cliffs (vizcacha live in cliff habitats with high crevice densities so this is where most of our surveying takes place). As we approached, Tyler spotted an Andean Condor perched on a rock halfway up the rock face. We approached slowly, keeping the bird in sight. As we drew nearer, the bird took off, and another we hadn’t seen before took off as well. The male/female pair swooped and swayed above our heads getting closer and closer to us. It became clear they were protecting a nest. I’ve never been afraid of a bird before this moment. As the condors flew about us they came startlingly close, too close for comfort. We were awed by this spectacle but also a bit frightened. So after our incredulous encounter, we decided to move on and allow the Condors peace of mind. We did end up finding sign of the vizcacha at the base of the cliff, but that was secondary to the experience of being flown over by Condors!
The next day something else amazing happened. A few of us were driving around in the afternoon searching for new sites to survey for vizcacha. We didn’t find any, but on our way back to the field site we spotted the endangered huemel deer on a hillside. We quickly stopped the truck and set out on foot, determined to learn more about this rare creature of the park. The huemel is an emblem for conservation efforts in the area, and any information gathered on their presence is a rare and wonderful treat. So we set off, up the hill, and what did we find? Four of them! Two females and two males. We didn’t see them all at once, but we watched for over an hour as the deer went about their business. After twenty minutes or so, two of them sat down! They were so relaxed with our presence it was an incredible experience. We watched them feed, move about, and some of our group even witnessed them mating! Incredible…
So our surveys were a success. Not only because we spotted the vizcacha lurking about the cliffs, but because our time spent out in the field led to amazing wildlife encounters. Even so, we did find sign of the vizcacha and recorded this data appropriately.
I am so grateful to be out here in Patagonia.
We returned from our field site yesterday to our new base camp, a stone shelter next to Rio Cochrane. We’re right outside of town now, which allows us to interact more with the culture. For instance, last night we went into town for a festival. It was the celebration of the town’s founding. The whole town seemed to be out for the event. We ate the local food as a magnificent sunset lit up the surrounding mountains. The night then turned party-style as we danced around with the locals to the sound of accordion. It was a tremendously fun scene to take part in, and we all returned to our new home happy and singing along the way. Que bueno!
That’s all I have to report for now. I could ramble on and on about the many other experiences we’re having, but I want to end in another way. There’s a feeling associated with experiences of this magnitude. I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but perhaps there’s similarity, too. Words won’t come close to describing it, but I might as well try…
The mountains, the landscape, and the wildlife are all incredible backdrops for the mind to interact with itself and others. One thing I’ve realized out here (and we’ve only been here for three weeks), is that no amount of incredible scenery can erase the general sufferings of the mind. But they can help. Because in standing atop these mountains, witnessing the movements of the guanaco, and breathing in the fresh air, can be found a peace. I think it’s the peaceful feeling of gratitude, that I’m so fortunate to be having this experience. This kind of peace indeed does begin to ease the mind. It nullifies judgments, and creates a group harmony. This kind of peace is enduring.
So I look forward to the rest of this trip, but know in my heart that nothing exists but this here moment. This moment is powerful. And for the next? Who knows…