Saturday, 16 March 2013

Piedra Solitaire

A day that has detoured and contorted, where the map has lied and the wind has been hot and head-on, then has insulted by not providing a room. The distance is mounting, the sun dropping towards an oceanic horizon; time to accept that we’ll have to camp in a tent rather than in a room. Only the possibilities for a stealth site are minute. The desert stretches forward into a blue vanishing point, out to an ocular infinity, these wayward undulations of soft dunes swaying west into the sea. A sandscape devoid of vegetation, a rockscape devoid of any apparel. Still the kilometres accumulate and it’s looking like we will have to wait for dusk and the hundred metre dash off the road, the dark time pitch and a pre-dawn departure, when serendipity steps in. Our guardian angel, who comes in many guises, offers up a series of small volcanic vents, a string of denticulated intrusions that sweep back from the road, a perfect shroud for a camp. Our own private hermitage. The wind packed grit has swept in flowing waves that curl around each protrusion, an interlocking successions of Fujiyamas. Minimised volcanoes with angles of repose. Outlines that please and calm the eye, a solemnity for the mind. It feels sacreligous to even walk, to footprint in this pristine space; and yet I have to desecrate, to dismantle the jigsaw of a shattered plutonic, plundering for guy rope weights to tether our bunkered tent. This humbling knowledge that no human has ever moved, nor ever touched one of these stones. A dispeopled space so devoid of human hospitality, yet offering so much imaginative stimulus.

These soothing sweeps have just one distort, a solitaire, one small insignificant granite stone, set in a monoculture of ground grit. A recluse that has forsaken, a 'deserere' that has left the mother lode, a true deserter. Round, pitted, worn down not by faith or water but by an aeon of flagellation. I
pick it up; it’s leaden heavy, rough pocked and perfectly balled. Special. Cherishable. I want to own it. Another keepsake. Yet, too many of these windstones have been collected. They now lie, dysfunctional, in the air-conditioned reception courts and on the clipped irrigated lawns of the multi-starred hotels of the coast, in much the same way that the Inca era, immaculately cut, polished granites can be found in ordinary back gardens all around the Sacred Lake.

It belongs only here. I put it back in the place of no water, the northern Atacama.