I am drinking the mountain: Encounters with the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, Fitz Roy Range, Argentina, Dec 23-29 and Torres del Paine, Chile, Dec 9-15

  After the river there is no sound left. The stove doesn't hiss, and birds flit unsingingly. For once the wind is outroared. It is easy to be alone by the river, because everyone, suddenly, is alone.

I meet Laguna Torre in the long evening, when the day hikers have gone home and the campers are all crouched in the woods eating noodles and mouthing silenced river words. After crossing a rocky, moon-like crest, the glacier has me pause, and relieves me, upon meeting, of the burdensome 'why am I here?' I care not, says the glacier, as the gentlest wind pushes each iceburg slowly across the grey-green lake. The movement is so still that I may in fact be the one drifting. 

  What concerns me now is this- how the iceburgs seem alive, as they clink, plop, or roll on their bellies, how their reflection is doubled atop the cloudy rock flour water which at once obscures their entireties. How my chest is tight against icy vastness, but when I breathe deep with a hand on my thigh, the air is there. How behind the shrouded peaks, the mountains thunder in unwitnessed avalanches of snow and ice.  

They say that these peaks are guardians of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, but I feel they are truly guarding my own imagination, ordering it into details, ledges, cascades, spires, hard things and watery things, lightness and dark.

 

In the nearer distance, a hunk of snow pack falls in total silence, and seconds later, the trailing boom of routine calamity. What vast change has taken place this evening. What constant, impossible attention. 

//

   Torres del Paine is days of travel away and still its peaks are stroked and grated by the stretching fingers of the southern ice field. We are the first to cross Paso John Garner, trudging through knee-deep snow with an ever-heightening view of a dark morning valley behind us. Halfway up the most exposed incline, I crouch behind a boulder from the whipping wind, rising black tips surrounding me and pulling away from their shelves of hanging ice. I feel myself to be in a place- in a delicate, hazardous, significant place, but nonetheless, just in a place- on a pass- on my own fortunate planet.   

We had spent five days approaching this pass, and had heard tales of a snow storm and extreme winds from hikers turned back. Our wild anticipation was completed, though, in screams, as Glaciar Grey unfolded before us. This is the thing about crossing passes- when you cross a pass, a whole world opens that was completely inaccessible before. For a brief moment, you can behold both worlds at once, before the old one quickly falls away behind a high horizon. Everything changes. Now the more difficult and dangerous route is to go back from where you came. 

  This crossing reveals to me that the world as I have dreamt of it is real, and somehow easily so. This land is more real than anything- its object is fact, its existence beyond meaning or essence. Its madness and blues and sharpness and ongoingness- rolling or brokenness- without any intent. 

But at once, timidly lording over the glacier from this height, inaugurating tracks in fresh, calf- deep snow, I feel its knownness is tiny, its mass fragile. A certain sureness comes over me, that all of this lost is worth nothing. That if I could know how my resource use led directly to the diminishment of what I beheld, I would sooner lie down and rot among the snowy precipices. 

Descending into wet forest, the trail follows the glacier all day long, and between the trees its looming presence is easily forgotten and, with awe, rediscovered. Its deep fissures are a habitat of blues and shadows. By the time we cross Campamento Paso, I am sick with the magnitude. I pause and cry, not wanting to let my eyes fall over the vasting below and extending beyond me, yet unable to look away. I want someone to speak simple things of who I am, I am so transluscent. 

Like evenings everywhere, at the end of the day the glacier drops into its lake in a factual and majestic way. At this hinge, the glacier makes its way into our world and bodies, and in gentlerness, allows itself to be contained by the mountains. In turn, the melt too contains- ground rock flour glinting sunlight towards unnamable earthly colors.

At first I thought the glacial lakes announced themselves as verses places, of breakings and spaces. But this I want to say with a sense of all oneness. When I say I am drinking the mountain, I mean it. I am really drinking the mountain.