“I have seen from my window the fiesta of sunset in the distant mountain tops.” – Pablo Neruda
“On the last long road, when I fall and fail to rise, I’ll bed with flowers.” – Sora
The town of Isla Negra lies on the coast of Chile about 60 miles west of Santiago. It is where Pablo Neruda built his seaside home and wrote some of his great poetry. I have come here for the final five days of my journey hoping to spend enough time to divine out just what vein he tapped to create such uniquely rich poetry. His home lies on a rocky part of the ocean and is fairly humble considering his fame and has been made into a museum. The Chilean people revere their great poets and children are taught about their lives and poetry from an early age. The two great ones for them are Gabriela Mistral (I visited her hometown in January) and Pablo Neruda. Both are Nobel Prize winners, Gabriela being the first Latin American author to win the award (in 1945). It is acknowledged in Chile that both were deeply inspired by the land that surrounded them and I feel fortunate to be here to search this place for the inspiration that Pablo spoke so highly of.
I find a cabin in the woods about a ten minute walk from Pablo’s home and make a deal with the owner for a five day stay and make friends with the dogs and roosters that love to bark and crow all night. This staying in one place for five days is hard for me because I’ve been a wandering vagabond for the past two months but I know I need it, I need time to follow the mental trail of bread crumbs that I left behind to find my way home.
I stand next to Neruda’s writing desk in his study and look out at the dancing, churning waves and think I have it figured out, as much as is possible. He let the Sea tell the story. He let the mountains and rivers and forests and stars and sun and earth and the pulsing, throbbing heart of humanity tell it. He just wrote it down. Like Gabriela Mistral, he was able to put the experiences and feelings of the people of Chile and around the world on paper in a way that made it through the labyrinth of thoughts that we spend the day tending and into hearts and souls. Both poets were humanitarians. Gabriela was dedicated to children’s and women’s rights around the world. Neruda was a poet of the people. At the end of the spanish civil war he arranged to have a ship (the SS Winnipeg) bring 2,000 Spanish refugees from France to Chile. I remind myself as I walk through his home that he is a hero.
I spend the rest of my time in Isla Negra walking and sitting on the beach, looking out to sea with nothing in particular on my mind, feeling kind of lost, kind of shipwrecked. Every so often I try to reel in my odyssey as one big fish and I never succeed in bringing it to the shores of my mind, it gets away from me every time. I’m glad that I don’t catch it, I really do want it to swim free for as long as it can. An occasional glimpse of its shining, colorful beauty, like a rainbow, is enough for me now.
Two thousand miles by bus and two hundred fifty miles on foot. One pair of shoes and three pairs of socks. Two tents. Countless mountains, streams and dreams. Two full moons and billions of stars being led in a silent, cosmic, circular dance around the pole by the Southern Cross. Too many dogs to count trying to follow me out of town, yipping and howling as I blew a sad tune on my harmonica. Dust in the wind. That persistent, honest, sometimes hard blowing Patagonian wind that loved to sneak up under my rain cover and into my tent just to see me wake up shivering in the dark of night and then listen to it howl and whinny and moan as I lay awake after putting on my down jacket and zipping up my sleeping bag as far as it would go. Friends sharing stories of the road and the trail, the highs and lows and in-betweens, loves found and lost and sometimes found again, passion, compassion, walking into pain and away from pain, and the heart, always the big heart. Time on the road will open your heart like a flower opens to the morning sun and the beautiful people that I met along the way nurtured that opening in each other. Hundreds of women, on the road and free, carrying backpacks and living fearlessly. Sisters, moms, daughters so naturally in their power it made me weep for joy…
And now I sit at the airport in Santiago waiting for my flight home. I’m excited, I miss my loved ones. The people that I met on the road are safe in my heart. Sadness and gratitude combine in me and calm me. Most important of all, you were there, on the road and in my heart.
– Dedicated to my Nephew Juan. You are never alone, you are always in my heart.