South America

Patagonia, the high Andes and the Chilean archipelago

In the saddle, it is Heriberto who spots the puma first and I am impressed by his quick eye, but learn, too, that whereas I am searching the entire country for the animal, he restricts his looking to the shadow. It is in the shadow that the puma moves.

It is one of the secrets to secrecy and watching it I become enthralled by its natural sense of the land. It keeps to the lowest parts of the valleys, gullies and depressions, never breaking a horizon, except briefly to cross a hill, and, then, always where its form is disguised by rock or bush. In a particularly narrow cleft, between two steep, bare-sided hills, where the scree slopes provide little cover, the puma climbs the side to a point above us.

Heriberto motions for us to wait as it comes into view and thirty metres from where we stand, the puma – seeing us – stops, sits and then lies down, peering occasionally from around the black basalt edge of its shadowed lookout. I keep shaking my head, astounded at its behaviour, and Heriberto sensing my incredulous disbelief smilingly acknowledges, ‘Moi, tranquilo eh!’

 Whatever evaluation we finally make of a stretch of land, however, no mater how profound or accurate, we will find it inadequate. The land retains an identity of its own, still deeper and more subtle than we can know. Our obligation toward it then becomes simple; to approach with an uncalculating mind, with an attitude of regard. To try to sense the range and variety of its expression – its weather and colors and animals. To intend from the beginning to preserve some of the mystery within it as a kind of wisdom to be experienced, not questioned. 

Barry Lopez



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