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Neologísimo

“All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.”
― Ernest Hemingway

A few years ago, while I was in Denver on a girls’ trip, I invented a new word.  We had just settled into the hotel room when I announced “Let’s put on our night-liner and go out!”

And that was it.  That was the birth of one of many slang terms that I’ve coined over the years.  You see, I love words.  I love using them in new and clever ways.  Granted “night-liner” isn’t going to win any Pulitzer Prizes, and it’s not going to be listed in Webster’s any time soon, but it still holds up.  As a matter of fact, as of Sunday, it even made it into a dictionary!

***

As many of you know, I have a “bucket list.”  (Yes, I still hate the term “bucket list,” but it’s so well-accepted now, it probably is in Webster’s!)  My list has lofty goals in it like “act with patience” and adventurous goals such as “hike a 14’er.”   Others simply display the quirks in my personality.  “Learn to wolf whistle” probably falls under that category, but so did this one:  “Start a slang term.”

Several years ago, I was using my husband’s netbook to start a Facebook group page.  I clicked on the F-icon and there it was—his Facebook profile.  I leered at it, and I swear, it flirtatiously winked at me back.  It was like a little lamb all alone in a meadow.   I couldn’t help myself; I pounced.  Tap, tap, tap, “post” and it was done.

“I love my wife so much; I just can’t decide where to take her so she can use her passport.”  I had hacker-jacked his profile.  He got plenty responses, a huge hint that resulted in a trip to Monaco a few months later, and…  a term I continue to use and promote on Facebook.

Hacker-Jacker (noun) or hacker-jack (verb) seemed like the ideal way to describe someone who breaks into your virtual profile (hacker) and then steals your identity or status (jacked).  I thought it was so perfect of a word, I sent it to Urbandictionary.com immediately.  “This is it!” I said to myself while pressing the submission button, “I am finally going to start a new slang term!”  I waited patiently for a response   and one day in my email inbox, I saw it—the rejection notice.

Like Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison and Michael Jordan before me, I did not give up at the first sign of failure.    I resubmitted my suggestion plus a new one for “night-liner” last May.   I didn’t hear anything and both forgot about it and assumed it was not accepted.  Again.

Checking my email Sunday, I noticed the following message into my mailbox:

Thanks for your definition of Night-liner!

Editors reviewed your entry and have decided to publish it on urbandictionary.com.

It should appear on this page in the next few days:
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Night-liner

Urban Dictionary

I have to admit, while I was excited to see my idea posted on Urban Dictionary, I was disappointed my firstborn, “Hacker Jacker” had been rejected again.   Just as this thought crossed my mind, “ding” sounded another message:

Thanks for your definition of Hacker Jacker!

Editors reviewed your entry and have decided to publish it on urbandictionary.com.

It should appear on this page in the next few days:
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Hacker%20Jacker

Urban Dictionary

Now, I need to pull out my leather-bound journal and turn to “the list,” so I can date and check off another goal.  Yep!  I have not just one, but two (!) new terms listed in this collection of colloquialisms.

“But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling, like dew, upon a thought produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions think.”
― George Gordon Byron

ne·ol·o·gism noun \nē-ˈä-lə-ˌji-zəm\

1 a new word, usage, or expression
2:  a meaningless word coined by a psychotic

–Merriam-Webster (the authority on definitions!)

Los últimos mil (The Final 1000)

I haven’t seen daylight in at least two weeks.  The last thing I want to do right now is write one more sentence, and yet, here it is.  I feel compelled to preserve my last moments of Argentina.  This year, I was able go to South America as part of the Distinguished Fulbright Awards in Teaching program.  I wanted to share my enthusiasm for educational technology with Argentina’s teachers.  Through my action-research project, I had hoped to enhance their ability to increase student engagement, collaboration and creativity using digital tools.  Acting as a “coach,” my goal was to assist teachers with incorporating technology, information and communication (TIC) into their curricular plans and model teaching with technology in the classroom.  I had hoped to share a set of “best practices” to increase student learning in Argentina.  In the end, I had wanted to develop a cadre of teacher-leaders who would continue to teach with technology, sharing their experiences and knowledge with their fellow educators.

I have never been so proud of my efforts.  I was extremely fortunate to work with the best teachers in the world, who were willing to give their own time to improve their practices and educational offerings for their students.  As I reflect back on my journey, I realize that with their assistance, I was able to accomplish every one of my project’s goals.  I worked with individual teachers on technology lessons.  Before I left for Argentina, I thought it would be impossible to teach in a school.  Yet, I met fantastic students as I co-taught technology-filled lessons in their classrooms.  I shared my best practices with large groups of teachers, eventually “touring” the country with my seminar.  I hope the work carries on through my project website designed to encourage fellow educators to try or share their successful technology lessons (http://tiny.cc/teachingwithtic).

I just turned in my final report to the Fulbright folks.  I am officially done with my “experience of a lifetime.”

It’s over.

I got a little teary-eyed making the following video, but I hope it gives you an idea how important the teachers, the students, their enthusiasm, their warmth and their country has been to me over the last half-year.   ¡Te quiero, Argentina!


 

Yerba Herba

Teachers have one week of eating out the entire school year, and we relish it.  Yesterday was the last day of “grown up” lunches before the students start back to school and regulate us to “the lounge” to eat nine months of frozen Lean Cuisines.  I choose to spend mine with a good friend and long-time colleague, Susan.

I am always excited to see Susan, but frankly, I tend to overwhelm her with my friendship.  I know I should be a better communicator: listen more, talk less and notice subtle social cues.  I just can’t seem to do it.  I am too eager to talk to her, tell her everything on my mind.  It’s been half a year since I last saw Susan, and Ihitherwithmyusualnonstoptalk.

She asked me how I liked Argentina, and I was off! I started to explain how I notice its nuances more now that it’s not a daily part of my life.  The little things are stand out in my memory.  I began to attempt to explain how much I miss sharing mate with friends in the afternoon.

“Open it!” I eagerly suggested.  In the gift bag adorned with a sky blue and white ribbon was a small token of my friendship. The red-leather, handmade mate cup was no match having to endure two years of me constantly questioning and doubting my grant application. However, it was the least I could do to thank her for always answering, “Yes, you can!” and “Yes, you are!” to those self-doubts.

If you’re from Argentina, you know that you can’t just give someone a mate cup!  I don’t know if Susan will ever drink yerba mate, but  I wanted her to have that option.  If she was going to properly condition it, she’d need a cup full of the loose tea.  If she wanted to try it, another cup would be necessary.  Finally, if she liked it, she would probably want another cup.  Her gift included a mate cup, a bombilla strainer/straw, and a plastic bag full of Tragüi.

Enthusiastically describing the custom, information began to spew from my mouth, “It’s like a loose leaf tea…. Misiones… You’ve seen The Mission with Robert De Niro?…Fill it half-way up…. Let it sit for a day or two… no, this is a straw and a strainer…”

“Lori?”  an authoritative and deep voice called to me.

“You don’t want to burn the mate… don’t get the water too hot… carry thermoses with them everywhere they go…”

“Lori!  What is in the bag?”

“Huh?” I stopped talking and Susan looked frozen, not sure if she should smile or panic. I looked at her gift: a red mate cup, a bombilla, and a plastic bag full of dried, green…

What is that in the bag?” repeated Nebraska State Patrol Officer Veal.

It was yerba mate.  I knew it was yerba mate; I poured it myself that morning.  I had seen yerba mate every day for the last five months. I looked down at the half-filled Zip-Lock bag, looked at the three fully uniformed, questioning State Patrol officers, and then I looked back at the bag.  Everyone knows what yerba mate looks like—if you’re from Argentina! Up until a week ago, it was perfectly normal to carry around a container of what looked like dried herbs or “herb,” if you know what I mean (wink, wink).

“No, no, no…. it’s yerba mate,” I stammered out the full name of the tea. “It’s from Argentina.  They drink it all the time.  It’s grown in the north.  Really, it’s mate tea.  I actually ordered this off of Amazon. (ha ha ha) See?! Here’s the cup that it goes in….”

“Sssuuure it is!” the other office chided me with a smile on his face.  I looked back at my gift.  It did look like I was giving my friend marijuana in the middle of the restaurant.

The curse of living in a small town is also the beauty; everyone knows your business.

“How was your trip, Lori?” Officer Veal asked me, this time in much friendlier tones.

I answered and began telling them about Argentina and mate.

I am excited to share my love of Argentina and its customs with my friends, both uniformed and not.  Nothing says  “Argentina” more than a mate cup and bombilla.  I still think that you can’t give a cup without some yerba mate to go with it.  I’ll just have to start handing out these souvenirs in dark alleys.

 

 

Facts about Yerba Mate:

  • Yerba Mate is grown in Misiones, Argentina.
  • There is currently a shortage and many stores prevent customers from buying more than one bag of mate at a time.
  • It has more antioxidants than green tea.
  • Drinking mate can help fatigue, is a diet suppressant,  and may prevent many types of cancer.

What’s in the Heart Comes Out Through the Hands

I’m often stricken by the beauty of a place.  It doesn’t matter if I’m in the middle of the ocean, on top of a mountain or at the base of the Lincoln Monument; awe-inspiring places bring me to a halt and make me appreciate the beauty that my life has to offer.

A few days ago, I stopped again.  This time it wasn’t a vista I saw, but someone’s spirit.

You’d like the food in Argentina.  It has all of the warmth of comfort-food; it’s not too spicy, but it’s not bland either.  The first item I ever tried here was an empanada.  Now an empanada can easily be argued as “South American” food, rather than particular to this country, but I like Argentina’s version.  A lot.  If you’re wondering what an empanada is, think gourmet-tasting Hot Pocket.  You can find empanadas on every menu in every town.  They are quick to eat, cheap, and come in a variety of flavors ranging from beef to tuna.  Cooking is a hobby of mine, and I have asked everyone I’ve met to teach me how to make this re-cultural cuisine.  I always get the same answer:  “They’re so easy!”  The problem was, that’s as far as it ever went.  As of last Sunday, I had lived in Argentina for nearly half-a-year and had yet to learn to make its iconic dish.

“Baaaa… Baaaa….” the loud apartment buzzer sounded, alerting me of a visitor.  It was Silvia, a fellow teacher from the next province over.  With only one week left in the country, she decided to drive three-hours to pay me a visit.  The idea honored me.

On a last-ditch whim, I had emailed her, asking her if she could teach me to make empanadas.  I expected the answer to be the same as I had received all along.  Instead, when I met her at the door, her hands were full with pots, butter, meat, sliced onions and everything else a person needs to make the stuffed pastry.  She even had a bottle of wine, Malbec, natch!  We were having a homemade lunch made at my place!

As I watched Silvia assemble the ingredients, explaining each step as she went, I noted down the amounts and the order.  When the filling was ready, she showed me how to pinch the pastry together in a repulgue so the edges look like the ruffle of a skirt.  Like all great teachers, she had allowed me to try the technique.  By the end of the meat mixture, I was pushing and pulling the dough into little packages with a sense of pride, thinking, “I can’t wait to make these back home!”

However, this post isn’t really about cooking.

I have a mantra.  I believe “What’s in the heart comes out through the hands.”  Cooking is my way of silently demonstrating and thanking those whom I love.  If I’ve invited you to my house for dinner, know what it really means to me.   Last Sunday, Silvia did not just give me a new recipe; she nourished my soul because while we cooked, we talked.  And I needed someone to talk to!  When she asked me how I was feeling about returning to The States in a week, my emotional flood-gates opened.  I talked for hours about my fears of returning to (now) foreign routines, strained friendships, and cultural differences.  I told her I was worried about feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere, but maybe more so there than here.   Silvia listened to me.  She offered me advice. She shared her own similar experiences.  By the time the empanadas were being pulled from the oven, I felt renewed.

When people ask me what it is I like best about Argentina, my answer is always the same: the people.  Silvia is a perfect example, but by far, not the only one.  María José spent a week with me, taking me around the north of the country.  Susy and Cacho somehow seem to know my loneliest days and inevitably invite me over for asado.  The two Nachos have given me hours upon hours of their free-time listening to me butcher, stumble and trample over their language in an effort to tutor me in Spanish.  Rocío was the first to invite me to teach with her, and Analía’s enthusiasm for technology inspired me to be a better teacher.  This list is not complete; I could go on and on and on with the names of everyone whose shown me incredible kindness.  It’s not that people are unfriendly in other countries, mine especially; it’s just that it stands out here.    Argentine’s or Río Cuartenses are practiced in the art of conversation and nurturing friendship.   In addition to everything I’m worried about encountering back home, I’m also worried about losing touch with these new friends.  I have faith though; I think their skills will outshine mine.  They’ll be friends for life.

Empanadas de Silva

  • Ground or finely minced sirloin (1 pound)
  • Onions, julienned (double the weight of the meat.  ½ pound of meat, 1 pound of onions)
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • Pimentón (paprika)
  • Oregano
  • Crushed red pepper
  • Salt
  • Empanada discs
  • Egg

Optional:

  • Diced hard-boiled eggs (2)
  • Raisins (like in San Luis)
  • Olives (like in Mendoza)
  • Potatoes (like in Salta)

Varieties:

  • Tuna
  • Ham and cheese
  • Vegetable
  • Onion and cheese
  • Humita (corn mash)

Directions:

  1.  Soak julienned onions in boiling salt water to weaken.  Rinse after a few minutes.
  2. Saute onions in butter and olive oil until translucent.
  3. Add meat.  Mix and thoroughly cook.
  4. When the meat is cooked, add about 2 Tablespoons of oregano, about 1 ½ teaspoon of pimentón (paprika), a pinch or more of crushed red pepper (to taste), and then adjust for salt.
  5. Cool mixture in refrigerator overnight.
  6. The next day, add chopped eggs to the mixture.
  7. Spoon the mixture onto rough empanada discs (made from pastry dough), fold and seal with water.  Pinch with a repulgue technique.
  8. Poke a fork into the top and then paint the top with a raw, beaten egg.
  9. Cook on a greased cookie sheet o medium low heat in the oven until the pastry has browned.

Note for Yankees (learned the hard way)… this is finger food.  You don’t cut these with a knife because it’s a sin to let the juices escape.

This is Argentina

I have a “bucket list,” and I’ve had a bucket list long before there was a movie named “The Bucket List.”  It didn’t start off so much as a to-do list before I die, as it was a way to keep from forgetting everything I wanted to someday try.  The list is fluid.  Things get added.  Things get crossed off.  It has become a treasured piece of paper.  People are curious about my list, but it’s a little private.  It’s not a bragging list, and I’m the only one I want to be accountable to for accomplishing (or not achieving) my goals.  Some of the things are big; get a master’s degree was on there and has a line through it now.  Some of them are dorky.  A whole day in front of my computer and YouTube helped me cross off “learn to wolf whistle.”  On that note, I will share one goal that I put down.  The Black-eyed Peas and Oprah Winfrey inspired me to write “dance in a flash mob.” 

A flash mob.  Seriously. You know, the “impromptu” dance that people do in an unusual public place.  Oprah had about 20,000 people dancing for her.  I’ve seen videos of flash mobs in the London Tube and shopping malls.  I think it would be so cool to be in a crowded place and then break out in dance because the spirit moved me (in a we-practiced-for-days-so-it-looks-impromptu-like-the-spirit-just-moved-us way).  

Down here in Argentina, flash mobs seem really “janqui” (Yankee)-like… doing something just for the attention.  You see, the people in Argentina have no problem dancing in public.  In the last few months here, I’ve watched couples twirl around the town square’s fountain to tango music, and I’ve watched them move tables in a bar to quickly fashion a dance floor while the local band plays la música folklorica.  It always makes me stop and appreciate the vitality of life here.

Last week, as I was trying to squeeze everything out of my limited remaining time in Argentina, I was told,  “You can’t miss Cafayate.”  Cafayate is northern Argentina’s wine country.  Before you can see one vineyard, you must travel miles and miles through a desolate, time-forgotten, winding canyon.  If only film could capture the contrasts between the blue sky and the red earth. 

I was just reading today how science has proven that witnessing awe-inspiring things makes time stand still.  I only had one day, but time was lingering as I watched the landscape pass me by.  There are a few interesting land formations along the way to Cafayate, and one of them is a natural amphitheater. 

I stood in the middle of the anfiteatro surrounded by hundreds of feet of layered earth painted in reds and pinks.  It was beautiful and despite a handful of other tourists, quiet.  Just then, the sounds of a charango filled the space, echoing off of the walls.  Panpipes followed, playing a melancholic melody that spiraled around me.  Filled me.  Moved me.

 

“Lori, look! Look! Look,” my friend commanded me to turn around.

It was happening again.  As natural as the surroundings themselves, a man and a woman began waving a handkerchief in the air and moving seductively to the rhythm of a zamba.  Most foreigners think all Argentines dance the tango, the sexy dance that involves intertwined legs and skimpy dresses.  In truth, most people dance folklorica and it’s much more seductive.  If the tango is passion, the zamba is sensuality. 

 

The melancholic melody of “Alfonsina y el Mar” echoed off the walls, swirling around the dancers like candle smoke.  The two stepped close to each other, but not too close, and then away again.  The man stomped his feet and waved a handkerchief.  I was awestruck by the beauty.  All I could think was, This. is. Argentina,” and I am in love with it.  

 

I return to The States in a week. There are many things I know I will miss, but this kind of dancing is high on the list.  I will miss how people are unafraid to show affection to those they love, appreciate beauty, and, if moved, share a dance no matter the location.  I don’t know if I’ll keep “dance in a flash mob” on my list.  I think I’d rather be authentically spontaneous and simply dance wherever and with whomever if the music moves me… just like they do in Argentina.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

I couldn’t put it off any longer. My hair was getting too long. When it’s like this, it defaults to a “butt cut” part down the middle of my head. It’s very 1780s and not that pretty. It was time. Armed with just-downloaded photos of Reece Witherspoon, Sandra Bullock and some other rock-star dressed in scarves, leather and a tough-looking guitar, I took a deep breath and entered Soledad Briña’s peluquería.

“Yo soy Lori Brouillette; I would like my fur cut.” Yes, I did ask for my fur to be cut. (Pelo is the word for hair, but in this part of Argentina, it’s more commonly used to describe an animal’s fur.) Slightly confused, Sole asked, “Cabello?” She looked as blind-date nervous as I did.

I am very particular about my hair. Back home, in the place where my words come easily and without thought, I would have simply said, “Make it cute” or “Clean it up,” and it would have been done.

Why was I so worried? It’s not heart surgery, after all? I am very meticulous with my hair. My normal hairdresser might prefer to describe me as “high maintenance” or “bossy.” I do tell her to “Make it cute,” and then proceed to micromanage every snip. The problem is, with my excellent command of Spanish, it’s tough to micromanage a haircut. How can I oversee the work by telling her to “texturize” my roots at the crown? How can I explain that I want my layers “choppy?” I used sign-language to explain that I wanted it in a V-shape in the back, but that weak attempt was my best shot at bossiness. Instead, I had to rely on internet pictures of Reece’s bangs (flec…something or other…eeshos) and say “un poco más corte.” I made a karate-chop hand signal for layered hair like Sanda’s. Soledad nodded understandingly. It was on.

I sat. I watched. I endured that same feeling in my chest that you get when you’re having a hold-your-breath-underwater contest: constriction.

The whole procedure took about 15 minutes. As she began to dry my hair, the layers fell into place perfectly. It looked just like the six photos I had shown her. Despite the piles of hair on the floor, it didn’t seem much shorter. And I could see! There was no more curtain of fringe blocking my view. It looked great.

I survived my first haircut in a foreign country. Maybe this means that I’ll have to fly to Argentina every seven weeks, just so Soledad can “Make it cute!”

You Never Forget Your First Time…

“Thump, thump, thump, thump…”

Aghast, I asked myself, “Ohmygawd! Is that what I think it is?!” It was the middle of the night, and I was aroused by the sounds of rhythmic banging on the wall of my apartment bedroom.  The noise was coming from the other side of my headboard.

Now, I’ve seen this scene played out in loads of movies.  You know what I’m talking about: the individual is in his or her bed, trying to sleep, while wild, passionate sex is taking place on the other side of the wall.  However, I have never actually experienced it!  My sluggish mind was trying to sort out what was what.  I asked myself, “What time is?  Where am I?  Why am I awake now?  Is that what I think it is!?”  And I cast opinions too, “Good God, they’re really going at it.”  I would snicker when the rhythm sped up and tilt my head like a questioning dog when it would slow down.  I didn’t bother to open my eyes.  Why? This was an auditory show; there was nothing to see.

I’ve not met my next door neighbors in my Argentine apartment building.  I know a family lives on my floor because I often hear a baby crying.  “Maybe this is the baby-making couple?” I considered.  With this thought, the passion really kicked in!  Not only were they banging the wall, but my sliding closet doors were also rattling against each other.  “Thump thump thumpity thumpity thumptity thump.  Thump.  Thump. Thumpity thumpity…”  You get the idea.  It was as if Sting was next door, and he wasn’t quitting anytime soon.

As I came out of my slumber, it dawned on me (while I was snickering like the mental 13-year-old that I am), that my bed was also moving.  I don’t sleep in a waterbed, yet that’s exactly what it felt like.  There were waves radiating from the headboard to the foot of the spring mattress.  “Now, that’s some major action,” I noted to myself again.

And then it was done.  They were finished, and I drifted off back to my dreams.

Except…

You know that one last thought you have, the one that hits right before you fall asleep?  I had one of those.  My walls are stone.  How could someone bang (ha ha, I said, “bang.”) on the wall with so much force it would shake my closet doors?  And make ripples through my own mattress?  Is that even possib…zzzzzz.

It was an earthquake.  My first one.

The earthquake struck Río Cuarto around 1 a.m. early this morning.  What I actually heard and felt was the ripple effect of a 6.7 Chilean trembler.  It felt like it rolled for about five minutes, but I do not know how long it truly lasted.  Being a virgin to earthquakes, I did not brace myself in a doorway or leave the sixth floor in which I live.  I thought about sex and stayed in bed.

Stay. Gray.

Thunder is rolling across the sky.  It’s not the thunder I am used to, ominous and dangerous; this is ambient.  I like it though.  The rain has been falling since daybreak, and even six floors up, I can hear the splash of water from the cars on the street.  “Gray day.  Everything is gray.  I watch. But nothing moves today.”   Despite the worn blue towel mopping up the wet floor, I refuse to close the window.  I want  to take in all of the sensuality of this day; the damp, cool breeze, the muted city traffic, the birds “showering” in the rain, and the feel of the rogue raindrop on my arm as I type this.  Enjoying a slow, sweet storm is a luxury.  It’s the side-effect of a relaxed lifestyle.

I just made a salad and am ready to put down the words that have been ricocheting around in my head all morning.  I drenched it with too much olive oil, and the excess is coating my lips like an
expensive lip gloss.  I can’t help it though.  It’s, I fear, the last of the season’s tomatoes, and the oil is some local, label-less kind that was pressed in Mendoza.  It’s all delicious and begs to be lingered over as well.

When I consider what it is that I will miss most about Argentina, I think it’s this—these moments of tranquility. I live slowly right now.  I can’t begin to explain how different my life feels.  I only bother about myself.  It’s not the strange food, language and customs that I find foreign; it’s this idea that I don’t have to think about a million things all at once. Do you know how long it’s been since I did not have to worry about the schedules and lives and whereabouts and safety and laundry and friendships and finances and food and grades and business relationships and dishes and reputations and… and… and…?!  I don’t know either because it’s all I can remember for as long as there is something to remember.

* * *

The quote is by Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.  It’s from his posthumously published book, My Many Colored Days.  I read it often to my kids when they were younger, and gray was my favorite page.  We don’t live near art museums, so I forced a lot of books with exceptional art on to them.  This was one of them; I liked the vivid colors and the phrasing.

What’s Black and White and Screams Like Thunder?

“Beep.”

“Beep.”

“Beep.”

“Beep.”

Panicking as I looked through the viewfinder of my camera, I saw the countdown in oversized digital numbers, “10.  9.  8.  7…”

I bought a new camera before my trip to Argentina.  While I did look for zoom capabilities and shutter speed, my purchasing criteria focused on independent travel.  I wanted a camera that would be useful for a half-year’s worth of self-portraits.  My Canon has a rotating viewfinder LED screen, so I can see myself in my own pictures (think iPhone), and it has the ubiquitous self-timer.

“Beep.  Beep.  Beep.  Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep”—Flash!  I had just taken a shot of myself in front of one of world’s rarest glaciers.  It was then that Nature called our attention. The 50 or so tourists were taking pictures, talking to each other, and listening to guides explain how the dark, volcanic soil is pushed into the glacier as it cuts across the face of Patagonia’s Mount Tronador.

You can hear glaciers before you see them in action.  Like any deadly force of nature, they have a warning call.  When the weight of tons of ice sliding and clawing its way from the summit forces a chunk the size of an iceberg off of the edge of a cliff, it lets you know what’s gonna happen.  A rumble began to echo off the Andes, and I began searching for lightning in the cloudy sky.

¡Mira! ¡Mira! ¡Mira!” a girl shouted, and a hush fell over the lookout point. Every single person turned to face the glacier and then froze in anticipation.  If ancient rocks were to moan in pain, it would sound like the cracking of this white ice as it crashed hundreds of feet to the black glacier below.  Amazed, I grabbed my camera from the “self-portrait” fence-post perch and focused the spot on the mountainside where the ice seemed to be slowly exploding, shattering into so many shards it looked like snow falling. Like the National Geographic photographer I imagined myself, capturing nature’s rare moments, my fingertip quickly pressed the shutter.

“Beep!”

“Beep!”

“Beep!”

“Beep!”

“Beep!”

“NO!!” I thought as the self-timer slowly counted backwards before the moment could be preserved.  I wanted to share this moment with someone back home. I wanted to talk about watching stone being carved and crashed into by ice right before my eyes.  Large chunks of ice, the size of a car or more, were free-falling, and I still had seven slow seconds before anyone would be able to believe me.

Quickly, I turned off my camera and turned it back on.  I didn’t depress the shutter button; I hit video.  Somehow I was able to capture the last two, fading seconds of this phenomenon.

I’d like to tell you all about why this glacier is black when all of the other ones around the world are bluish-white.  I would love to explain how sediment is pushed and packed into its dense ice or how Mount Tronador is really a volcano.  I’d like to be able to tell you why some of the ice floes in the glacial lake are white and some of them are black, but I can’t.  I cannot tell you any of these interesting facts because for the rest of my time there, I stayed perched along the edge of the cliff, eye glued to my camera’s viewfinder, finger on the shutter, waiting to capture another serac toppling over.  I would hear the growl of Nature, turn, and only see a little bit of ice break off the top.

I was able to witness this spectacle about three more times before I had to return.  As I walked back to the tour bus, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed.  I was not saddened because I hadn’t captured the “perfect shot.”  I didn’t!  It was because I was so in awe of watching the raw force of nature at work.  I cannot tell you with words, or photos, what it is like to hear the crushing echo of jagged volcanic rock being carved and split by something as cool and calm as ice.  Ice.  I think we often overlook the slow and subtle, like ice, writing it off as being insignificant.  Standing at the foot of this black, glob of frozen glacier grinding its way down the face of Mount Tronador, I was reminded that it is we who are the insignificant ones.

Notes:

  • Tronador means “thundering” in Spanish.
  • It also shares an international border with Chile.  Its tallest peak belongs to both Argentina and Chile.
  • Scientists expect the black glacier to disappear within 15-30 years due to global warming.

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,900 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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