Mother Nature and Chinese Wisdom

“May you live in interesting times! “

When I heard it for the first time it had the ring of a very cool, suave, perhaps even sage comment; it was, after all, attributed to Confucius, Lao Tze or some other mystic philosopher of ancient China.
At that time, in late September of 2001, it also had an ominous edge, given the event it referred to then: the terror attack on the Twin Towers, or rather the first round of wild speculations about its origin and ramifications.

I probably wouldn’t have used it for that particular occasion myself but at its core it resonated with me. To live in interesting times would greatly enhance the chance to live an interesting life – and isn’t that what it is all about?

Now “interesting” can mean a lot of different things to different people. Alligator rodeo might not be on the short list of the most interesting activities for a lot of folks, neither would be the arcane science of dowsing.

And what is mildly interesting/enticing for some could be cause for a severe heart attack for others.
Lots of room for interpretation, lots of ways to live in interesting times and every now and then an understandable preference for times a little less interesting…

This point was driven home recently, when I told my friend Jeff in Hawaii the latest news of Northern Patagonia.

For all in the know – and he is one of them as he has lived here for a couple of years and we Skype regularly – the first question these days is always: ” And how is your volcano doing?”

Hardly any of my friends in the northern hemisphere has ever heard about the eruption of the Puyehue, only 50 miles WSW of San Martin de los Andes. Unless, that is, he/she was planning a trip to Down Under, to Aussie- or Kiwi-land. All of the ashes which didn’t land around here – about half an inch in San Martin, almost 10 inches 60 miles south – kept circulating in the jet streams above the southern skies and shut down temporarily the airports and traffic routes to and from Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Auckland,….
Well, yeah, the traffic there is ‘sporadic’ compared to the bumper to bumper traffic in the flight levels above the North Atlantic. And that means, that a volcano in Iceland has to spit ashes only for a couple of days to become a gazillion times more popular than ‘our’ Puyehue which has been puking its guts out for almost 8 weeks now.

ashes on roses
ashes everywhere

The effects of the eruption? Dust and sand – volcanic ash is basically sand – everywhere! In the air, on the roads, between my teeth, in keyboards and probably in the hard disks, as well! Yikes!!

Particularly inconvenient, however, is the volcanic deposit in the buffer tanks of the water treatment plants! They are ‘topless’, as are, of course, all lakes, rivers, arroyos which supply 100% of our drinking water.

As soon as this fact sank into public conscience the shelves with bottled water in all supermercados were cleared out – hours before the Cooperativa Agua Potable managed to issue a first statement addressing obvious questions: “..despite less output due to frequent cleaning of filter systems the demand at “reasonable” levels of consumption is going to be met. ” (supposedly…)

“Reasonable” being the crucial term here, of course, leaving a lot of room for interpretation – or worry.
For some people it meant business as usual, or “No pasa nada, no te preocupes!!” (everything cool, don’t worry) and they went about hosing down their car or the sidewalk in front of their shop to get rid of the ashes.

For others it was like the imminent visit of the in-laws: nothing but to run away helter skelter from the impending catastrophe.

Except that running wasn’t a viable option, neither was driving, nor flying. The “dusty” component of the ashes takes to the air whenever the slightest breeze kicks up: heavy breathing ill advised, wearing a face mask highly recommended.
And that doesn’t go for humans only, aspirating engines of all types are affected the same way, of course. But that’s only part of the story: the flying dust reduces visibility to an extent which makes driving at more than 20mph a dangerous proposition. Consequently, the transport authorities closed temporarily large sections of roads and highways in all parts of northern Patagonia and most of the airports in the region were shut down and remain closed at least until end of July.

face protection
walking in the dust

And what happened to that strikingly deep blue sky which I have never seen anywhere else?
Gone! For weeks, anyway. Whenever we had supposedly beautiful weather, the sky was covered by a pale, hazy blueish grey. Rarely these days (fortunately!) from new “cenizas” falling from a dark cloud, most often by stuff stirred up by winds and traffic.

lacar blue sky
haze over lacar

During the last two weeks the situation here in San Martin de los Andes has improved somewhat, partly because the activity of the volcano has diminished, partly because the winds pushed the ‘evil cloud’ away from us. On a calm day at altitude, like around 4000ft, I finally get to see some blue again.

On a dry day down low in the pueblo, however, the haze is still there, as is a fine layer of grey powder on all surfaces, outdoors and indoors.
And that will probably be with us for some time to come as this stuff is not readily absorbed into the soil but rather blown about.

It will be interesting to watch what the growing vegetation this coming spring will do to or with it..
It will be interesting to watch how a “tourism-only”-economy is going to deal with the double blow of too much ‘grey’ and not enough ‘white’ stuff (snow is what I’m talking about…).
It will be interesting to watch if (how long?) the hard disks survive this insidious attack of Mother Nature.

Well, to be honest, that last remark was pure euphemism.
As a matter of fact, I’d prefer very much if that particular aspect was a lot less “interesting” !

Which brings me back to Jeff’s question, or rather to his response when I finished my tale about volcanic stuff with the tongue in cheek quote of Chinese wisdom.
“Listening to your stories I guess I’d rather live in slightly less interesting times” he concluded.

He had a point there.

PS: A couple of days later I read about the devastating effect of the eruption in communities less than 60 miles away and couldn’t resist to dig a little deeper on Confucius’ wisdom: I found out that he had nothing to do with that quote. Nor did any other sage from the Far East.
To the best of present knowledge (wikipedia (?), Yale Book of Quotations,..) there is no known origin of this in Chinese philosophy.
There is, however, apparently a Chinese curse using exactly those words…


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