Peru, nature, climate change, political violence, war, flooding, glacier

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Those who live among nature say time is cyclical. The sun trudges an endless track—or perhaps it's the moon that sets the path—and as they walk, these keepers of time, the dry season rolls into the wet and then again into the dry. As the world spins, fixed events return. Dionisio, eighty-five, remembers the death of the great glacier that once lived in these arid hills, the highest of Quispillaccta. "All this bad time, all these extreme changes," he said one night from his home in Tuco, "start with the melting of the ice of the glacier."

The natural world is alive. It watches. It listens. It speaks to those willing to hear it. One bright day in August, my fixer, a local journalist, and I accompanied two sisters and their nephew, who live in Quispillaccta, up a long hill whose tall yellow grass shivered in the wind like the flank of some great blond bear. As we hiked, Marcela said she did not know the personality of this particular mountain, just its duty, to guard the state reservoir shimmering below, flowing water to cities with dishwashers and flushing toilets and irrigated grass. Before we had walked far up the flank of this deity, on a dusty road, Lidia, her sister, showed us how to kneel and touch a finger to the dark dry soil, bring it to your brow, and draw a tiny cross, then touch your tongue to the taste of ash. In this way you say hello, she said. We hushed our voices as we neared a cluster of boulders close to the top littered with gifts: a yellow plastic wine bottle, chocolate candies, a mechanical pencil, coca leaves. Lidia pulled a plastic bag from the swaddle across her chest and removed for us each a handful of coca leaves. We spent some time in the lee of a boulder pairing the most round and intact leaves because a gift to a friend should be thoughtful. Wind gusted. Grass rustled. Marcela raised a bundle to her mouth and blew on it three times and lowered it, gently, into a hole in the boulder where water had pooled. [End Page 15]

Dan Schwartz
Quispillaccta, Peru
Dan Schwartz

Dan Schwartz is an independent journalist living in northern Vermont. His work has appeared in VICE magazine, Type Investigations, and the Pulitzer Center, among other publications.

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