It was the middle of March, nineteen fifty-four and Juan Carlos pulled the thick animal fleece tightly around his body. Above the tree line in the Peruvian Andes, this time of year presented a hostile place to live. The small tribe of people busied themselves, intent on repairing the ravages of the winter storms. The months of rain, sleet and then heavy snow had taken its toll on the wood and earth baked stone of the small dwellings. These on coming weeks usually brought along laughter and singing amongst the mountainous South American folk but this year was different.
Some of the tribesmen assisted Juan Carlos as he steadied his horse, packing a few small bags of provisions to the sides of the saddle. The thickly wrapped dead body of his two-year-old son lay strewn across the haunches of the animal. The double covering of animal hides would hopefully quell the smell of death as he journeyed down towards the civilisation and province of Los Agrimos, a full days ride.
There was a quiet send off as he guided his horse onto the rough hewn out track, which headed away from his people, passed the newly dug graves which entombed three other young members of his tribe. He would follow the stream eastwards and then head down towards the mosaic small farms and irrigated fields and then through the bog lands of lichens and mosses until descending into the town of El Macello.
Years ago, there would have been no sign of other inhabitants, but since the euphoric stampede of mankind’s search for gold along his plateau, things had changed. This was underlined as he surveyed the small billows of smoke and heard the occasional sound of dynamite which was taking place some six or seven miles to the side of his village. He could remember when some of the men folk travelled upstream to within walking distance of the mining area, only to be chastised and abused as they tried to understand the intrusion upon their sacred grounds. Natural surroundings that were now being eroded, all in the name of greed, took on a menacing mantle.
The horse, surefooted, meandered effortlessly amongst the boulders, some still holding onto remnants of snow. Juan could allow his mind to wander as he put his trust in the steed. Times of when he had left his village and spent four years down in the valley with the oncoming progress of civilisation, times when he had witnessed the bitterness and cajoling of these so called forward thinking people. It had taken these years to realise how he missed the village life, but since returning, things had never been quite as tranquil.
Now, with his newly acquired education, his mission was to find out the reasons for the death of his son and those of his kinfolk. Other tribe members didn’t understand his words of autopsy and remedy, but Juan knew something was seriously wrong in the camp.
He spent six weeks in El Macello, first talking to the only doctor there and then waiting for results from further away. Friends that he had known from the last year had moved on, the pace of life had quickened and the inroads that the automobile had made had been a little frightening. The noise and brisk way of life contrasted sharply with the upper part of the mountain.
Yesterdays meeting with the doctor, now armed with reports from higher echelons were conclusive and worrying. The burial of his son, although he would have preferred to have it done nearer his village, was done with dignity in a small plot outside the town. The child was amongst other unmarked graves.
The ride back would allow Juan to have many thoughts and reflect on life. The trail from town offered no type of condolence, only giving evidence of mans scant thought for Mother Nature as he eyed the scars made in the name of progress, but the next mile gave him hope, and once again he could feel his heart lighten as the winter season lessoned its grip upon him and the countryside.
A village elder had once told him, ‘accept life and accept death. Both are equal to each other and as such both should be worshipped’. It was hard to think like that with the burial of his son. ‘Take in the colour and beauty of the world and you will see less blackness in death.’ Wise words but difficult to appreciate at this time.
As he rode through the sodden slopes of the bog lands he noticed the eucalyptus trees ahead and a couple of Pygmy owls intent on daytime sleep. His movement alerted their slumbers causing a mild trill to be emitted. It reminded him of his childs infectious laugh.
These six weeks had changed the whole scene from his downward trek. Now he could see the snow-white daffodils vying for room amongst the crocuses, each trying to push forward their vivid colouring that this new season had blessed them with.
He allowed the words of the elder to swim around his mind as he watched llama and alpaca herds nervously take cover into the shadows of the quehuna trees and he felt the pale sun warm the sinewy leather of his face. The climb out of the forest took him onto the sparsely vegetated meadows and then shrub land, now allowing tufts of moss to pursue life. The higher he rode the more acute were his senses. He could allow the pure air of the mountains to refill his tortured soul and taste the fragrance of the faint tinted tuberose plants as they gifted their perfume to the world.
This birth of a new season spawned its way into the troubled wanderings of Juans mind, taking away some of the darkness. The village elder had chosen his narrative well.
It was maybe half a mile from the village when he rested at the bridge that crossed the majestic chasm of swirling white water. His thoughts went back to the streams and hot thermal geysers, which ran by his home. The Andean Condors glided high above him as he took the paper from his pocket, which diagnosed his son’s death. He cursed the loud bang of an explosion from the mining camp, the one upstream that emptied its waste into the once fresh waters of the rivulets; the ones that the young folk drank from.
The purple bushy Rima Rima flowers bent slightly with the weight of two Sierrien finches as they twitched tail feathers at each other. Nearby amongst the foliage of pink and white lupins, a long tailed mocking bird warbled for a mate. The beauty and blackness entwined as he thought of the polluted water. Maybe the irony was lost on him when he saw the changing seasons; thoughts of Spring Fever meant only one thing.
Rossi. Words 1,140