I caught myself running my fingers along the ridge-line of the Patagonian logo. I guessed they were traversing, metaphorically speaking, at a few hundred kilometres an hour. The craggy terrain is actually felt in my fingertips, which I suppose could be a pair of legs. Coffee number, whatever- let’s say #8, was doing nothing. I was fading into the twilight, stuffed from a short day of teaching amidst a long day of thinking. Emails had killed me. I stare at myself in the reflective window of my computer screen, and zone out, again.
Being the transactional type, not wanting to loiter in a space where I can hear my brain ticking, I pick up Bruce Chatwin’s Patagonia. Someone, somewhere, had recommended it to me. It had been on my desk for a few weeks mopping up spilt tea. I judge the cover, as we all do, taking in the small photo taken from the rear seat of a canoe, sitting idle in glassy, reedy wetland. Mountains loom over the bow, and in the foreground to starboard is a dead tree with a nailed cross member of milled timber, making a crucifix. Typical of Penguin books, the cover is understated, designed, and in this case haunting. It makes you want more, so I turn and start. My office transforms into a balm of irrelevant space supplying light and heat. Taking on Chatwin’s words, I’m east-south-east over 10,500km of Pacific Ocean in moments. Smell and taste, perhaps the hardest aspects to portray through words, leech from the short provocative sentences. Chatwin’s Patagonia is easy and emotive, maybe even classic, but this is not a book review, and I’ve perhaps wasted our time by setting up a book, read in a time-space funk by an email dead worker. It is really just serendipitous that a copy of Chatwin’s book was on my desk, in eyeshot, as I fondled the fabric badge of my new Trucker hat. Finger-legs running along a styalised mountain range was really sharing a moment with a much bigger idea; a mythical place that has for a long time represented to me human experiences from the ends of the earth.
Arriving in Patagonia is easy for some reason. I’ve never been there, but my mind’s eye becomes a vivid liar at the thought. I see deep creases in the earth that see no light, and middle-earth bogs built from rotting flesh. Cretaceous screams are closed down by fog. It’s forever cold, with driving wind diluting life to a few versions of moss. My human vision is that I’m wounded, almost dead, laying down in a bid to rot, only to crawl out as a hellish character void of feeling and sentiment. Alejandro Inarritu had the same vision when shooting The Revenant, much of which was shot in Patagonia, day after day at 4pm. But I’ve written about this before- swept up in the incredible story of Hugh Glass, and the captivating- Patagonian, visions of Inarritu. Narrated expertly by highly skilled interpreters such as DeCaprio and Hardy, they revealed what it means to be wild. Bruce Chatwin’s famous book does likewise, testament to a deeply symbolic landscape of drama where every moment, step, or breeze seems to represent human thresholds.
As a sea kayaker looking over topographic maps and charts, zoomed out as if taking in the view from the seat of an airliner, I can’t see past the shattered tip of South America. It’s hard not to be smacked by equal measure of inspiration and fear with the dramatic archipelago of blue water and black rock. I can’t shake the idea that at sea level, always looking up, I’d be neck deep in full-blooded battle against giant swell diffusing through a labyrinth of islands. You would percolate, on the verge of shitting yourself the entire time. Unsettled sky is never shown on these maps, but I see it every time I look.
Yet my visions are fake, or at very least they’re not mine, as strangely familiar as they seem. Writing about them now excites me, genuinely (I consider stopping the act of writing and going directly to an airline website to see when, and how much). I think Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, knew this when calling his ad-hoc apparel line after the famously brash, spectacular world of Argentina and Chile. It is to many the very definition of landscape; scale, depth, perception, imagination. Australia, land of old dirt, endless sky and crisp shoreline, makes me feel Australian about the whole thing; that is, intimidated. It scares me, deeply. And because it does, I’m inspired.
On my back, as I write, is a minty fresh, Patagonian tee shirt. Like Patagonia being both place and myth, the tee shirt is not just organic cotton and recycled bottles, it’s a statement. My new films, writing journeys, book ideas, workshops and building projects will be cooked up, done, and simplified whilst wearing Patagonian gear. Whilst a fan of op-shops and staff t-shirts from my beloved summer camp, new Patagonian kit on my back will work back into the ground, wherever I go, from now on. Thanks to the wonderful folks of Patagonia- I think we’re onto something.
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You should take the time to go to Patagonia. The archipelago is a strange place with almost no land animals. The vegetation is too dense. The only land mammals down there are a bunch of mink that were let go when a fur farm went out of business. They proliferated because they can swim. But the water under the kayak is a complete ecosystem. Urchins, and birds, and sea lions, under the water line the world is full of life. The weather can be horrible. But the paddling is pleasant and generally protected. Orcas patrol through there, but you’ll be lucky to see them. There are homesteads down there, as Chile tries to fill the unused space, but again, you’d be lucky to see them, they’re sparse.
Its really worth your time.