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Expat Life

En El Comienzo

Editor’s note: A photography exhibition by Brian Buckner, titled Momento Decisivo, Joyas Ocultas de los Andes, opens Thursday, June 28 at 7 p.m. at the Museo de la Ciudad, corner of Gran Colombia and Benigno Malo, in El Centro. The exhibit continues to July 31.

How did it happen? What got things started? Did anyone see it? Was it really a Big Bang? Did someone hear it?

On and on the questions go and diverse is the discourse concerning the way the world we live in came to be. It’s certainly an interesting topic for study but perhaps less inviting for conversations with other folks. Many people have strong convictions concerning the subject. Often, hackles come up and feathers become ruffled amid such topics. But, the fact is, this world did indeed have a start and there probably weren’t any humans around when it happened.

I really enjoy exploring the Andes because of the many different sights I encounter. The conditions change minute by minute and I never know what I’ll cross paths with. I laugh easily to myself when I indulge in thoughts that I’ve seen a lot of what can come to pass high in the mountains. A moment later, all of my previous experience and current expectations are undone in an instant. It is such a unique, diverse and ever-changing environment once you pass 12,000-feet of elevation mark.

Another thing I like about the Andes is that there are very few people who actually live in the extreme elevations and the more rugged environments. As you probably know by now, I often travel into these remote places alone. I rest by myself, far out on the paramo lying high on a craggy outcropping of basalt. With mild interest I might occasionally give consideration to the opening questions of this story. I allow my imagination to wander as I simply relax. By choice, the soughing wind is my sole companion.

On one such occasion, I had chosen the paramo as a springy cushion on which to rest after finishing one of my mile-laden jaunts across a big valley. I respected the small pieces of designer chocolate lovingly cared for in an interior pocket of my Ark’Teryx by allowing each to slowly melt in my mouth. The cacao created an exquisite wash across my palate providing a reward for my efforts. I considered a nap but not seriously since I’m not much of a napper. The waving grasses of the paramo gently caressed my cheek as the inevitability of sleep arrived. I slid into the world of dreams, carried away by my thoughts and the never ending sounds of the winds of the high Andes.

Something was chasing me. I hurried and hid myself, seeking shelter among some house-sized boulders. My pursuer roared with the volume of a dozen 747’s warming up to taxi on an imaginary runway somewhere. I clutched a stout staff of quinhua tight to my side as I wedged myself into the protective crevasse of basalt. Lashed firmly to the end of my wooden staff was a sharp piece of stone. I lay still feeling my bladder give way as another piercing shriek cut the air. The multi-ton stones were being rocked by my pursuer and I knew I would be crushed or devoured in an instant. The foot-long slashing claws explored my shelter with a vengeance likely born by hunger. I parried my simple spear as if it was the fine rapier of a fencer. The putrid breath of the beast entered my hideaway. Laden with the odor of carrion, it was thick with its own dampness.

I awoke to the evening sky. In the distance, I heard the shrill cry of a Caracara. Twin columns of violet-tinged clouds danced eerily by, propelled by a diminished breeze. A distant range of mountains rose from the grassy hills that spoke of steeper slopes ahead. The breeze, now just an occasional weak gust, rustled the tawny grasses of the high paramo. On the horizon mauve clouds, now devoid of their burden of waters, scudded by headed for an unknown destination. The sun had completed its dive for the horizon minutes earlier. The entire scene was as surreal as the dream that had awoken me. Not even realizing I had removed my camera from my pack, I noticed it was in my hands so I raised it, composed, and depressed the shutter button recording the scene that you see here today.

You can decide whether you like, “En El Comienzo” or “The Land That Time Forgot,” to best describe the photograph at hand. There are nuances of both in the imagery. I made it that way on purpose. While you ponder, I’ll be on my way to my own destinations unknown. The clouds beckon me, they still themselves in anticipation of my arrival. Shortly, I’ll be joining them. Who knows where they will speed me away to next?