Where the Condors Fly

I should be in Peru right now, visiting with the traditional weavers in my broken Spanish, dotted with poorly pronounced Quechua words, smiling at Elena, petting her lamb, telling her about the ewes we used to have in Wyoming, about the lambs my children used to raise. Our laughter would embarrass her, but her eyes would twinkle and suddenly we would be just two women standing on a mountainside.

I harbor a secret dream that rises up whenever I visit Peru. In the highlands of Peru, progress seems to stand still but time travels on, swirling among the ancient Apus where the condors fly, sifting through fields of ripening corn, floating down the Urubamba River, rising as mist that floats across the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu.

Time travels through the fingers of the Quechua weavers, too. Ancient patterns appear like magic in wool freshly dyed with crushed leaves that only a few days ago fluttered in the breeze.

"When you speak Quechua," I am told, "you convey emotion." When Quechua children take animals to the pasture, they count them by their names. They do not count one by one, as individual animals, for to do so would separate each animal from the whole, from their community.

In Spanish, the Quechua child is taught that one duck plus one duck equals two ducks. But in Quechua, a duck is a thing alive, not an abstract concept. The Quechua child, for whom the ways of nature are not unknown, knows that one duck, plus one duck, will make many baby ducks! In nature, one plus one does not make two.

Here in Colorado, I sit at my desk and read that large poulty producers, because of Covid-19, are being forced to "depopulate" their chicken flocks, killing millions. I read that over 700,000 pigs a week might have to be killed by the large producers. How would you explain this to a Quechua child who understands the contours of a hillside by the ways the llamas travel across it? To a child who

understands that following the two-toed track of the alpaca will help him find his big sister, or to a child who knows the name of the alpaca whose wool he wears on his back? 

I wish that I had a time machine that could take me away from the news stories and would fly me over mountains and continents, across rivers and creeks, away from the ocean and to the peaks of the Andes. 

Here is my dream.

I dream of a resurgence of backyard gardens, with chicken coops and fresh eggs and clucking hens. I dream that city councils will ease restrictions on animals in backyards, maybe allow a milk cow, or a goat or two. Would that be such a bad thing? I dream that animals will once again become members of the family, napping beneath our laundry drying in the sun, eating scraps from our meals, growing fibers for our clothes. I dream of animals that will know the touch of our hand, the sound of our voice.

In Peru, in the fertile valley fields, animals instead of tractors till many of the fields and help to plant the Inca corn, the amaranth and quinoa. The earth is churned into furrows in the spring by plows pulled by the bulls that graze the fields in the fall. The bulls require no petroleum, no tires, no oil changes, no idling on cold mornings. In the fall, when the fields lie fallow, the bulls rest two or three to a field, grazing among the stubbles. And when they die? These same bulls - the ones resting in the fields - when they lie down to die they do so on an earth that holds them as it held their brethren. Even after they are gone, they remain part of the family, farmers sit in chairs made from their leather, kneel on rugs made from their hides, sip soup made from their hollow and gracious bones.

In rural Peru, in the early mornings, shepherds—men and women, young boys and girls—trail cattle and sheep, even pigs, down the roads along the grassy edges where they are tethered to graze during the day. Grass is not sprayed with pesticides, nor mowed or trimmed. Rather, it feeds the animals that feed the people. At night, the animals follow the shepherds peacefully home, the bulls trailing behind with their lead ropes wrapped safely around their horns, soft rain falling upon man and beast, field and peak.

Perhaps this dream is only nostalgia, reminiscent of my own Wyoming days spent with the animals that fed us. Much poverty exists in the rural areas of Peru. There is suffering - lung cancer from the coal burned to keep warm, lack of clean water, alcoholism. But there are markets where people come together. Where oranges are traded for potatoes, bananas for corn, where the people who carry their wares down from the mountain haven't forgotten that we are all beasts of burden, where food is sustenance and the earth is still sacred.

Yesterday, on Facebook, I reached out to a friend who guided us in Peru in 2012. Dario and his wife live in Pisac. I asked if they were safe. If the pandemic was bad there. He wrote that he and his family were well, and that in Pisac there were 19 covid cases, and in all cusco only 200 cases. "But everything is controlled," he wrote,"with the energy and the spirit of the Pachamama.

I found this photo of him from 2012 and posted it on his Facebook feed. "AƱaychayki," he wrote back, "I send blessings from the Apus, from the mountains that are alive." 

And so, as I dream of Peru, and of the great eternal spiral, of the origins we share with the animals, with the sun and moon, the earth and rivers, I send you spring blessings from these Rocky Mountains, where eagles fly and dreams are born.

My thanks to Kathie Nitz for two of the photos.


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