The central Sierras of Argentina are dry, naturally dry because it is a semi-arid region (and it is August, the heart of winter), and unnaturally dry because – well, I can’t follow the conversations in Spanish, but my sister says the topic ruins more dinner parties than politics, religion or soccer, so I assume the unnatural reasons include climate change and other forms of human stupidity.
During the day we walk up into the hills, through scrub and thorny bushes, and I realize I am unconsciously listening for trickling water, which I associate with walking in the wild, but there is only the wind in dry branches, and our feet slipping on red rock, and other Waste Landic sounds.
In the city, it is easy to forget the earth. Cities are in fact built on rivers of forgetfulness. Out here, you see how long a vine holds on before it withers, how the husk remains after the roots are dead. How dependent we are on the water that runs beneath the earth.
I am not the only one missing this sound. My sister’s landlord has built a fountain near his studio that endlessly recycles its water, and one of her students shows me a falling rain app on his iPad.
At night, the south wind tries to dismantle the house. It is the loudest wind I have ever heard, and I worry it will pull down the trees. My sister says any tree standing can withstand the wind: its roots are deep in the earth looking for water. I think of a scrap of another poem, copied out in my journal in Bhutan, a translation of Rilke: these days / which seem dry and entirely fruitless to you / have roots between the stones and drink from water everywhere.
Still, I am nervous walking back to my place in the dark, expecting to be struck at any moment by flying roof tiles or logs or the whirling cab of a small truck. But even in my anxiety, I have to stop and gaze at the night sky.
It is the most beautiful sky I have ever seen, first because there is no light pollution, and secondly, because it is glitters with far more stars than the northern sky, in constellations I do not recognize, with the luminous arc of Milky Way stretching all the way across. After several nights of Googling, I can easily find the Southern Cross, and the bright spots of the Magellanic Clouds, but am too dazzled to recognize anything else.
One night I hear the sound of water trickling through the flagstones outside. In the morning, I cannot see any sign of rain. Everything is so parched that water disappears almost instantly into the earth. But then I notice: there is a sharpness around the edges of things, and the dirt path is firmer beneath my feet.