21 February 2008


hello out there. it's that time again...i'm heading out into the world in search of more old things.


before heading to south america, i'm heading as far south as the city of brotherly love to attend the closing reception for "IN THE BEGINING: exploring origins in contemporary art," an exhibition created by the graduate humanities department at the university of pennsylvania. a 44 x 54" print of one of my 2,000-year-old welwitchias will be on view. feel free to swing by if you're in town...fox art gallery, feb 29th (leap day!), 5 pm - 7 pm.


i'm getting to chile however my frequent flier ticket dictates, and if that means going to toronto and retracing airspace back towards sanitago so be it. heck, it'll give me a chance to stock up on maple products on the way home. but i digress...

it's the tail end of summer down in chile. once there i'll be popping in an out of santiago several times as i make my way to the atacama desert of the very north and down to the valdivian temperate rain forest of the south. according to the internet, chile is anywhere between 2500 and 7833 miles long. (it really is amazing how difficult it is for people to keep even the driest of facts straight.) but i get the point: as much as a 20- or 30-hour bus trips have their own special charms, i'll be taking some intra-chile flights. chile is lucky to boast both of the oldest living things in south america: the ALERCE and the LLARETA. i want to spend as much time as much quality time with them as possible.


the llareta might give the welwitchia a run for its money in terms of strange and interesting lifeforms thriving in inhospitable climates. first of all, it calls the atacama desert home. the atacama is the most arid place on earth, referred to as "ABSOLUTE DESERT" at its center. (philosophers: any possible relations to "absolute elsewhere?") some parts have not seen a single drop of rain since record keeping began. but lest we get too philosphical, the absurd comes to the rescue: the llareta is a member of the umbelliferae family making it a cousin of parsley.

so i'm going to find some 3,000-year-old parsley in the absolute desert.

the llareta actually looks more like mounds of moss, growing no more than a centemeter a year. because it is dry and dense, it burns well (like peat.) its function as fuel is actually endangering its survival, as even park rangers charged with protecting it have been know to burn it to keep warm on cold nights. i will find the oldest specimins with the help of botanist eliana belmonte. (eliana is a good friend of my friend tonia steed's step mother. tonia, who lives in seattle, agreed to meet me at the home of her step brother javier brstilo & his wife, artist bruna truffa in santiago which lead to the connection with eliana...but more on that story later.)

so from santiago it's up to arica, which is a stone's throw from the peruvian border. who knows, i may in fact throw a stone over, or perhaps just, uh, go for a visit. (whenever i think of borders now, the bone-dry riverbed separating south africa from zimbabwe in the kruger comes to mind. there is no fence, but there are lions. they tend to be indiscriminate in refusing entry.)

at any rate, more on the llareta from the field. after the desert it's off to the temperate rain forest...


the alerce (fitzroya cupressoides to be more precise) is a conifer in the cypress family, related to the giant sequoia found in north america. i'm in search of the "alerce millinarian", thought to be 3622 years old. i'll be meeting with the alerce's foremost expert, dr. antonio lara at the universidad austral de chile to get my facts straight. (many thanks to nate stephenson at the sequoia national park for helping to make that connection -- it's no coincidence that the alerce and sequoia experts are personally acquainted.)

the alerce millianiarn lives in REGION X. (i love the mysterioso, bermuda triangle quality, though i've since learned that the roman numeral has been repaced with the more descriptive "rivers region.") i'll be flying down to puerto montt (gateway to patagonia) and driving back up to the valdivia area before heading out to the national monument where it lives. (i have *got* to learn how to drive a manual transmission. it can be pretty hard to find an automatic 4x4 in certain far-flung places.) after that it's south of puerto montt to the ALERCE ANDINO NATIONAL PARK. the park is home to many old growth alerce, and the stump of what would have been the oldest known specimen.

stay tuned. more on all of this as it happens....