Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Patagonia’

Sunday Repost: Five Islands

In Travel on February 17, 2013 at 6:00 am
Portland, Maine. Home, Sweet Home

Portland, Maine. Home, Sweet Home

Gulls wake early. And they sound hungry, very hungry, screeching complaints of empty belly. Our bedroom is on a wharf overlooking a working lobster dock and the lobstermen head out early, between 4 and 5 am, and in doing so, they get the gulls riled up and being riled up, being scavengers, they set out screaming like a small rodent being crushed under heel; all the more violent it seems at 4am. But really, one should not complain about waking up on the water in Maine.
I walked into town early this morning to get the Sunday Times and coffee. I poked around the fish market though no one sets up on Sunday; but found a man pushing a grocery basket down Commercial Street. It was a third high with collected cans and bottles, residue of a Friday night downtown. There is a 5 cent bottle return in Maine.

“Can you spare me any change,” he asked.

His face was tan. He was short and wore a clean white tee-shirt. I had a dollar or so in change I gave him. I asked if he was from Portland. “Massachusetts,” he replied. “But I worked with the Coast Guard here. He motioned to the harbor. “Fifteen years and see where it got me. How this country takes care of its own. It’s a crime.” I thanked him for his service to the country and noted that the bottle return was a sound environmental policy. He said he makes up to five dollars a day returning cans and bottles.

House on Peak’s Island, Casco Bay, Maine

“I saw my girlfriend back there,” he offered, nodding down the street. “She won’t stay with him long.”
“Your ex?” I asked.
He nodded. I asked when they broke up.
“Yesterday. But she’ll come back. I’ve got a fifteen hundred dollar check coming. It’s overdue now…”


It was suggested to me two or three years ago to visit Five Islands if I wanted a true taste of Maine. The suggestion came from my friend, Franz Hanson. I met Franz in 2000 while fishing in Chile where he guides Patagonia rivers during the North American winters and Maine rivers during South American winters. We’ve fished together in both hemispheres. He said Five Islands was the real deal. So yesterday we headed out in search of true Maine, south on Route 127.

It was not until we got into the village of Five Islands that the cars started to back up, drivers searching for places to park. Two portly women were leaving the gravel lot, wearing large sun-shielding hats, brims bending back from the ocean breeze; their peddle-pushers, as my mother calls them, creaping up with each advance of their ample thighs. Across the way a carload of kids from Pennsylvania spilled out of an SUV. When I saw all this I thought that perhaps Five Islands is no longer the secret it once was–or maybe living in the wilds of Patagonia poor Franz’s perception of unspoiled civilization was twisted. Nonetheless, asphalt is for me the rubicon of touristy interest. If a venue is paved all is lost. The parking lot at Five Islands is gravel. On we marched.

The lobstermen were oblivious to the tourists. The lobster boats were dirty and smelled of fish. The woman behind the window taking orders was pleasant and sun tanned and had the thick working forearms of a farmer or a gymnast or an oyster shucker. Good signs all. We ordered, sat at picnic tables and ate. The claims were large with sweet bellies and the onion rings were world-class. Visit Five Islands if you get a chance. Turn back if they’ve paved the parking lot.

Yvon Chouinard

In Adventure, Life, Philosophy, The Examined Life, Wisdom on July 7, 2012 at 6:00 am

If you’re a regular reader of “…the house…” you know of my obsession with the examined life. How to live is the question, and the study of “lives” is one fashion by which I attempt to find answers. That is, how have others answered the question and what does the examined life look like?

Typically this pursuit turns to history, literature, philosophy, and biography. But there are contemporaneous lives I study as well, vibrant lives not yet covered with the dust of history. First among them is Yvon Chouinard.

Chouinard is best known as the founder and CEO of the Patagonia company. He is widely recognized for his unique corporate style and philosophy, and his visionary environmental leadership. As a younger man, he was a world-class rock climber and adventurer. For a quick primer on the man and his philosophy, I recommend the current documentary, 180 Degrees South. (Available as streaming video on Netflix.) When pressed, I cannot think of a life that better wrestles with the question of how to live than Yvon Chouinard.

I leave you a Saturday quote from Chouinard.

“I had always tried to live my life fairly simply and by 1991, knowing what I knew about the state of the environment, I had begun to eat lower on the food chain and reduce my consumption of material goods. Doing risk sports had taught me another important lesson: never exceed your limits. You push the envelope and you live for those moments when you’re right on the edge, but you don’t go over. You have to be true to yourself; you have to know your strengths and limitations and live within your means. The same is true for a business. The sooner a company tries to be what it is not, the sooner it tries to ‘have it all,’ the sooner it will die.”

Thanks for reading and have a good weekend.

The False Cross (Part III)

In Adventure, Writing on June 3, 2012 at 6:00 am

The Southern Cross

Below is the ending to my story, The False Cross. Here is a link to part one. Here, part two.

All day it rained. The sky was a shade of concrete. Anne napped, cleaned the lodge, then napped again. As a child she had liked rain. It instilled in her a comforting calm, a forced relaxation. But as everything was other than before, so too the rain, which no longer relaxed her. Rather, it depressed her.

When Franz returned he was cold and, despite his rain gear, soaked through. He excused himself from dinner and crawled into bed shivering. He could not afford to get sick. His clients had come from far away and had spent significant money to fish the legendary rivers of Patagonia. One of his new arrivals, from South Africa, was a man named Reefer. Anne found his accent provocative and at dinner that night she joined the clients in Franz’s absence, sitting next to him. She was entertaining and laughing and full of life. Even to herself she appeared happy.

When she got into bed, Franz’s teeth were chattering, but his fever broke by morning.

The night sky of the southern hemisphere was familiar to Reffer and one clear night he pointed out the Southern Cross. Anne, for all her years in Patagonia, had never seen it and she hung on Reffer’s words as he explained that the Southern Cross is sometimes confused with the False Cross which is close by, less bright, and with stars more widely spaced. She relaxed her eyes and peered into the infinity. At one point she rested her hand on his shoulder. A week later he was gone and Anne wondered, if she’d asked, would he have taken her away with him?

* * *

The end of the Patagonian season is singularly dreary. Anne thought of Indiana where it was spring, remembering her youth on a street lined with oaks and a neighborhood brimming with kids on bikes. She pulled on a fleece and her rain-gear against the weather and left the lodge.

Bear sniffed the ground next to her. Franz had gone to Porto Monte to pick up the last clients of the season. He would also bring the supplies ordered on his trip two weeks previous. He would bring the mail and magazines and news of the world. From her bench on the island summit Anne watched his returning boat, its wake, a speeding V pointed at her heart. She tugged at her fleece and interlaced her gloved fingers. The south face precipice was sheer and she wondered were she to jump would she fall direct or possibly hit a crag? “There are a lot of ways of killing a woman,” she said to no one. Bear was tired and despite the cold and wind was curled up asleep under a sheltering tree.

She’d lost track of the seasons in Patagonia. Is this five, six? Each season had further isolated and diminished her, as if pulling her out of light and into deepening shades of grey. She used to be confident in her strength, but every day she grew weaker and feared a reckless sprint to the end. Yet, she was not lost entirely. Such was the nature of her condition: monitored.

Daily, sometimes twice, she fired up the satellite phone and watched the searching screen. Every day it failed to find a connection and she would turn it off and dutifully return it to the cradle. She slept during the day and at night she would lie awake fearing the return of the black diesel. Franz slept heavily and the dogs slept on the floor at their feet.

* * *

She rose. Bear turned and watched her as she slipped out of bed, then followed her out the door. In the morning, Franz found the dog at the end of the dock, looking to the water.

Two panic-stricken days followed until he realized that one of the seven boats was missing. Two years later he received a card, postmarked Paris. He recognized her handwriting. It simply read, Fish are our friends.

– the end –

The False Cross (Part II)

In Adventure, Writing on June 2, 2012 at 6:00 am


The second installment (of three) below. (If you’re just coming to this post, you should first read part one here.)

From the island summit the view was a magnificent three hundred and sixty degrees, bordered on the south by a 1500-foot granite cliff. Franz built Anne a bench at this spot and she often spent her afternoon here, sitting aimlessly. She tried to read but lacked concentration. Clients gave her books, perhaps sensing a need, and she would politely accept, but she was no longer a reader and the books accumulated on her shelf. This was a personal loss, for reading had once been a passion. The library reflected the corners of the earth from which a traveler will come to catch fish. She could read French and Italian, as well as converse in German and Spanish. As a child, she exhibited what her parents called a gift for language. But that was a long time ago.

Stone-like she sat on the bench and stared at the horizon. Frequently, an Andean condor would draft from below and linger suspended eye to eye. She wished at times that she was a photographer and could capture such things, but she’d grown used to being less than she wished, such that the notion never so much as settled on her, as hovered, like the bird, quiet and unflapping and with piercing vision. She started a journal two seasons ago, but it depressed her to read past entries, so she stopped.

* * *

When she greeted Franz at the dock he handed her a brown trout, a fish maybe seven or eight pounds, a large fish by any standard but not unusual for these parts. “Swallowed the fly,” he said. “Got it out and released him but he floated to the top.” Ironically, Franz hated to kill a fish. He said that fish where his friends. Anne thought this humorous and the only honest fight they ever had was upon hearing this the first time when she laughed at him. Anne said she would prepare a fish stew. He nodded.

The stew arrived at the client table in a large earthen pot, painted round with a mountain scene. Franz stood among the hungry clients with a ladle. He dipped but came short against the fish curled on the bottom, whole and intact. He lifted it from the stew, examined it, and removed the pot from the table to the kitchen. Maria caught his eye and nodded quietly toward Anne who was standing at the back door looking to the horizon. The night was overcast and the silhouette of the mountains was lost against the sky.

“Can you tell where the mountains stop and the sky begins?” she asked.

* * *

The next morning Anne realized that the phone no longer connectted to the satellite. She told Franz as he was loading the boat, holding the phone at arm’s length. “Dead,” she declared. He pursed his mouth and nodded. His clients sat fast and they soon were off across the water to the Land Rover waiting to transport them to the McKenzie boats. Anne watched them leave, petting Bear, the dog. The island was profoundly quiet and she imagined a mute satellite spinning far above.

– end, part two –

The False Cross (Part I)

In Adventure, Writing on June 1, 2012 at 6:00 am

In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin

I am going to do something different. I am going to tell you a story, in three parts.

Part one:

It was after discovering Chatwin that Anne decided on Chile. That landscape is littered with young people accordingly influenced, the naïve and the idealistic. It goes like this: They read In Patagonia, fancy themselves full-throated adventurers, ready a rucksack–as Chatwin called it–and head south. “Gone to Patagonia,” Chatwin wrote his boss. Anne was in New York, studying the culinary arts. She loved the city honestly for all the right reasons. Yet, her studies complete, she set out, full of cloudless spirit. That she met Franz, a fishing guide, and married and came to live in Patagonia is worth mentioning. Of greater interest, though, is how she unraveled on the isolated island they called home.

* * *

“We have a problem,” Anne said.

Franz looked up from the boat. He was burdened with gear. His client, Gino, stepped to the dock. “Boungiorno, Anne,” said Gino.

“Boungiorno, Gino,” she said. “And how was your day?”

“Buono. Extraordinary.” Gino smiled broadly. He had had a good day on the Rio Plano. He caught many fish, including a brown trout that was possibly the largest trout he had ever caught, including his record fish in New Zealand.

Anne said she was delighted for him. She patted his shoulder as he walked past, his waders chaffing. He waved to Giovanni who, having returned earlier, sat in front of the lodge smoking a black cigarette. Franz looked at Anne.

“We have a problem,” she repeated. He glanced at his client, now out of earshot. “Yes?” he asked. “Are the dogs okay?”

“The dogs are fine. I don’t think it is a serious problem, but it’s a problem, nonetheless.”

Franz handed her the fly rods and stepped onto the dock. It was an hour before sunset. The mountains were in shadow and the lake was calm, the sky a royal purple. The last boat was heading across the water to the lodge. The engine whined. The other boats were in.

“I got an email. Iridium is going out of business. We’re going to lose our connection.”

Anne and Franz had only a satellite phone with which to connect with the world beyond the mountains, to family, to the travel company that booked the fishing clients and arranged their arrival and departure, to the store in Porto Monte that filled their monthly orders for food and supplies. It was a link upon which Anne grew increasingly dependent as the weeks and months of fishing season stretched out.

“Like I said, it’s not a big problem.” She was calmer now that Franz was home. He studied her. Her companions during the day, the dogs, came over the hill to greet him. She slipped her arm through his and they walked toward the lodge. Franz looked at the sky. “No clouds,” he said. “Should be a good day tomorrow.”

* * *

One night Anne grew troubled in her sleep and fell from the bed, hitting her head on the table. Franz slept soundly through the incident, worn out from his struggles against the wild currents and eddies of his guided rivers. She told him she had rolled over in her sleep and fallen off the bed. But in truth she had had a bad dream in which a train came at her out of a night horizon, quiet until upon her, then rushing at her like a hungry thing alive, loud and earth-heavy. She threw herself to the side, out of its path. She did so just in time, the hot engine lurching past. But she fell from the bed and hit her head. She was embarrassed by the dream and did not tell Franz. Her bruise was noticeable in the morning, and she remained in the kitchen while Marie waited on the clients.

– end, part one-

“…largely ignored…”

In Death, Travel, Writers on October 20, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Full quote: “It is good to live in a place largely ignored by the rest of the world.”

The quote is from my favorite living American author, Jim Harrison. It’s from his new novel, The Great Leader. (My review can be found here.)

I was deep in the lake region of Patagonia, maybe five, six years ago, I don’t remember. (Time and space, especially time, escapes me.) I met George, from France, the village of Joan, of the Arc fame. He’d come, as had I, to chase the brown trout that were big deep in the ice rivers of the Andes, the Futalafu and other rivers. Huge trout, weighed, not measured. (Not fifteen inches but six pounds. And more.) Blue green rivers, fresh out of the mountains. One thing leading to another and I discover George is a reader. “Who is your favorite writer,” I ask. “Jim Harrison,” he responds. I jump–yes, jump–“Mine too,” I exclaim. “He is,” George says, “the only writer who combines the life of the mind and the life of action.” Leave it to the French.

But, the point being the quote: What is it that makes a man (me)  what to go further and farther away to the place people largely ignore? Is there a place where a person can hide? Escape? Evaporate? It will happen soon enough, given a few years, or less, and a person, all of us, will be extinct. Gone. Vanished. Dead.  And we will be so very dead as to not even know it. So why rush to the place that is largely ignored, either specifically or, in a more surreptitious manner, figuratively? Can’t answer that. There comes a time, as Hemingway observed, when we (might)  decide to sprint to the finish line. He did. Don’t think I want to sprint. I’m more of an endurance guy, taking my time. But the destination is the same, all together the same.

They say a society is not a civilization until the poets arrive. I believe that. I hold my lantern to the darkness, at the foot of the citadel, outside the drawn gate, alone, peering into the darkness, looking, waiting. Where are the poets? Where is the civilization? Will they arrive before the extinction?