Encountering a forest spirit in Chile - Maarten Schäfer
I’m traveling from Santiago de Chile to the South… I’m on my way to Patagonia. This morning I arrived in Chile’s lake region, which is famous for its spectacular scenery. Deep-blue mountain lakes, snow-capped volcanoes and dense forests. I decided to make a stop at a biological reserve called Huilo-Huilo, which consists of 600 km2 of native rainforest and many waterfalls. My goal for today is to reach and admire the Huilo-Huilo waterfall.
I park my car at the start of the Puma trail, which leads to the ‘salto’, which means waterfall in Spanish. While I climb the rocky trail, it begins to rain softly. “Not a good beginning,” I say to myself, thinking about the poncho I left in the car. The trail gets steeper and the rocks slippery. Century-old trees are blocking the scarce sunlight. “This is the Patagonian rainforest,” I say to myself, “no wonder it rains.” After 20 minutes the path stops climbing and I continue the trail through the dense forest.
All of a sudden I see the silhouette of an animal, 10 meters in front of me. I stop and look around to see if I can find a branch or stick to defend myself.
“Or maybe there’s no need to defend myself,” I think to myself, when I realize the threatening silhouette is a friendly-looking dog.
I approach the animal slowly. “Hey boy, what’s your name?” I ask. He doesn’t answer.
He looks at me as if he is saying, “I’m a dog… dogs don’t speak, remember?”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I reply, “I will call you ‘Salto’ if that’s okay.”
I offer Salto half of my cereal bar, which he accepts with a certain reserve.
“I’m on my way to the waterfall,” I continue, “do you know if this is the right way?”
Without answering my question, Salto starts walking, continuing the trail.
I pick up my bag and follow him into the forest.
“Do you live in the neighborhood?” I ask to continue the conversation.
Salto turns his head, looks at me and continues walking without answering.
“Of course you do,” I say. “I’m from Europe. We don’t have huge forests in Europe. Not anymore.”
My k9 guide stops and looks at me as if he wants to say “that’s your own fault.”
“I know,” I reply, “I know trees produce oxygen and take CO2 out of the atmosphere. We know but we act as if we don’t.”
We pass an ancient ‘alerce tree’ which looks like a giant sequoia and actually is its rival in longevity. Some have growth rings recording 3,625 years of local weather cycles.
I step towards the giant tree and stretch my arms onto the bark.“This is called tree-hugging,” I say to Salto, who is looking at me in a strange way. “It’s connecting with the earth. It is supposed to increase my level of oxytocin. This hormone is responsible for feeling calm and emotional bonding.”
Salto rolls his eyes, sighs and continues to walk the trail.
After a minute of ‘tree-hugging’ I continue my way, but there is no sign of my canine friend. The trail meanders through the forest and I start hearing the soft roaring sound of the waterfall. The sound of the falling water gets louder, the sunlight breaks through the canopy, and I exit the forest at the river. On my left is a wooden platform with an impregnable view of the waterfall.
In the middle of the platform I see Salto sitting. He looks at me as if he’s saying, “you’re a bit slow, aren’t you?”
“I only have 2 legs,” I defend myself. “But look at this view, isn’t this great?’”
“It’s important to protect this,” I hear Salto think. “Why do humans have such a hard time understanding this. You’re cutting trees and pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. I’m telling you… this is not going to end well.”
“I know, I know,” I say, while overlooking the waterfall, “nature conservation should be high on everyone’s agenda. Long-term planning should replace our short-term, limited vision of the planet.”
I turn around to compliment Salto on his sustainable world view, but he’s no longer there. I look around but he has disappeared completely.
As I walk the trail back to the car, Salto’s words echo in my mind. “He was right, you know,” I say to a random tree, “forest conservation and combatting pollution should be high on the agenda.”
Then the thought of Salto being a forest spirit crosses my mind. I stand still and look into the woods. Still no sign of the dog. “Thanks Salto, I will share your message,” I shout and continue my way.