National Geographic : 2010 Feb
• Where his estancia lay there is now a glacial lake with icebergs oating in it. e glacier, today called Pío XI, relented for a time, then went on the march again. Nowadays it is li ing a forest by its roots, inging it ever so slowly aside. Along the capsizing tree line, Guaitecas cypresses, some hundreds of years old, seem to have paused even as they were toppling. Roots have been upturned, crowns snapped o , trunks set akimbo. Elephan- tine boulders of ice have been driven under moss and carnivorous bog plants. The woodland Pío XI is shoving aside is Magellanic rain forest---not the dark, canopy- rich rain forest of the tropics, but the kind of matted, windblown bonsai you see at tree line in the mountains. And no wonder. e ords and islands of Chilean Patagonia take the brunt of the prevailing westerlies that wail across the southern seas. Here in the heart of the roaring forties, the wind can blow with almost constant ferocity. Rain and snow can fall all year round. No place on the planet is fully at rest. Only time---unimaginable stretches of time that con- ceal from human eyes the dynamic natural forces shaping the Earth---creates the illusion of stasis. But sometimes, if you're lucky, you come upon a place where time seems compressed, where you can feel in your bones how kinetic even geol- ogy really is. The glacier-carved coast of Chile is such a place. Here the Earth's energy seems almost palpable. Tectonic plates are spreading and then diving under this fringe of the continent, li ing the Andes and creating a geologically volatile zone. From the interior ice elds, glaciers such as Pío XI---short, brutal rivers of ice---descend swiftly to the sea. Offshore, the upwelling of the Peru Current is a fountain of aquatic life. e shoreline, divided by a labyrinth of waters, stretches more than 50,000 miles. is Patagonia di ers utterly from the one that name usually conjures---a land of broad pampas. is Patago- nia belongs to sea and ice. At the heart of this wild region lies Bernardo O'Higgins National Park. More than 200 miles from end to end, the park encompasses Patago- nia's Southern Ice Field, which with its northern counterpart forms one of the largest expanses of glacial ice outside the polar regions. There is no coming overland to Bernardo O'Higgins, and no ying in either. e only way in is by water, intricately, through a maze of deepwater fjords that ultimately leads to the snout of Pío XI. ere glacial thunder lls the air---cracking, resonant reports from deep in the ice eld as well as duller but more profound detonations caused by the calving of bergs from Pío's snout. ose explosions end with the hiss of new waterfalls and spilling ice shards. At the ragged seam where glacier meets rain forest, Pío lls the sky, a mountain of ice tower- ing toward the midday sun. Nearby, the glacier is almost cormorant black, then petrel gray. Far- ther o , higher up, the ice turns white and then a hundred impossible species of blue. In this distant and extreme terrain, the fun- damental story of our time is being told afresh. Here it is possible to see, with a clarifying stark- ness, how tightly woven our new world really is. As isolated as Chilean Patagonia is, it is also on the brink of abrupt transformation. On land the few homesteads look as though they were carved out of the 19th century. But there are plans to dam the wild rivers north of Bernardo O'Higgins. And clinging to the water's edge, there is the steady southward movement of At the head of a remote fjord in southern Chile, a determined Norwegian named Samsing settled down in 1925 to a life of pasturing sheep in what was then a grass-filled valley. A year later he was literally chased out of his homestead by an advancing glacier.