I have found that you do have only to take that one step toward the gods and they will then take ten steps toward you. That step, the heroic first step of the journey, is out of, or over the edge of, your boundaries, and it often must be taken before you know that you will be supported. The hero's journey has been compared to a birth; it starts out warm and snug in a safe place; then comes a signal, growing more insistent, that it is time to leave. To stay beyond your time is to putrefy. Without the blood and tearing and pain, there is no new life.
-Diane Osborn, A Joseph Campbell Companion
I feel more expansive since my trip to Patagonia these last few weeks. It could be because of the way travel affects me in general -- but I think it has to do with the landscape in Patagonia. It's big, unlike anything I've experienced before. And that's coming from a girl who grew up in Texas and calls Wyoming home.
Traveling in Patagonia brings a whole new meaning to "the middle of nowhere." There is less than one person per square kilometer. There are many places where the horizon goes on and on, without roads, power lines, fences, or any other mark of human kind. One day we drove the equivalent distance of Lander to Cheyenne, all on dirt roads and only saw a handful of other vehicles.
I have a great job. I work for The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming and was asked by our associate state director to tag along for this trip. Our goal is to help with conservation easements in Patagonia. Why Wyoming? In part because we have tons of experience with easements in Wyoming and our issues and landscapes are similar to those in Patagonia. I feel very honored to be able to help. With landscapes so vast and ranches that are so big, we can conserve an entire watershed with one project. The opportunity for conservation is inspiring and exciting. And the people in Argentina are amazing, ready to make it all happen.
Since this type of conservation work has only been done once before in the country, I wasn't sure how to go about preparing for the trip. I had a lot of anxiety as I wondered about what would work and what wouldn't, what to bring, how to ask the right questions, etc. Then there's the Spanish, which I've been trying to learn for 10 years. But as I do with so many things in my life, I took that first stumbling step and found my footing.
My personal goal of the trip was to see an Andean condor. I unexpectedly saw an endangered California condor in Zion this fall when on a trip with friends. I was hoping to see a condor in Patagonia - the Andean condor is also listed as a threatened and endangered species and one of the largest of all flying birds. It's wingspan of 10 feet is surpassed only by the wandering albatross's. On the first day in country I went to a park near our hostel in Bariloche. Leaving winter behind in Wyoming I lay on the warm green grass with kids playing around me and lovers kissing in the shade. I could smell roses. And above me, way above me but unmistakeably huge and magnificent, soared a condor. Later on the trip, I was able to get a better look at a condor, soaring next to cliffs, thanks to one of our great colleagues who always kept his eye out for me.
|At work at a ranch with a wonderful landowner in the Rio Negro province of Patagonia. The ranches there are big, this one is 99,000 acres. I fell in love with the front porch on this 100 year old house. |
|Much of Patgonia looks just like Wyoming, which is probably why I felt so at home.|
|Sheep shearing shed at one of the estancias (ranches).|
|The bane of my workday, at home and abroad - the ranch gate.|
|Many places were affected by the eruption of a volcano in Chile, ash still exists across large regions of Patagonia.|
|Lamb for lunch - delicious!|
|Beautiful wide open spaces - just like home. Flying over the Limay River in Patagonia near the foothills of the Andes. The horizon is not clear on this day because winds from the east were kicking ash into the air.|
|Guanco are, funny enough, the same color as our pronghorn. It's weird to be driving across a landscape that looks like Wyoming and see guanaco (a camelid species) and rhea (an ostrich like bird).|
And this random shot is of me, in 1971, at Patagonia Lake in Arizona. My mom serendipitously came across the picture and sent it to me about a month before my trip to Patagonia, Argentina.