As the blood red cherry jam pours into the glass jar still boiling hot and wafting the most heavenly of sticky-sweet aromas into the air, I am thrown back in time two days to an unexpected adventure…
I step out of the broken doorway and chills run down my spine causing the hair on the back of my neck to rise in caution. Up until this moment exploring the abandoned Patagonian ranch has been fairy-tale like. We happened upon the crumbling buildings during our “Plan B” adventure when “Plan A”s hitchhiking efforts left us miles from where we had hoped to be. We have found old wine bottles in the farmhouse, whose broken windows look out at the gorgeous valley surrounded by snowcapped mountains and green horse-spotted fields. The hand-hewn wooden frame sticks out into the cobalt blue sky as wind whistles in the ancient stone chimney and the bright sun lights the walls with wandering-wondering minds. Who lived here? How did they live? In the second house I imagine the kitchen bustling with preparation even as the paint peels off the shutters and I see a grand meal during a bitter winter in the big long room even though the floor is littered with broken things and animal bones. Pictures of happy times flash across my consciousness. However, now, after finding a skeleton hanging in the washroom I’ve stepped outside and the wind hits me full blast. There are darks clouds cumulating in the west and the sun seems less bright. Mica says that a Puma probably brought the large bones here and…I wonder if there might be ghosts. I remind myself of the yellow flowers I left in the small whitewashed alter in the yard—a gift to the spirits in hindsight—but still feel uneasy. Where do these chills up my back come from?
Then, as I turn to tell Mica we should head back towards town a glint of red in the grass catchs my eye and I find treasure. It takes me a moment to recognize the small globes of nuanced shades of red until I look up into the branches of the trees: cherries! Sour cherries! The kind for making pies and cobblers and jams and preserves! The kind I picked back home with my younger siblings, eating them until I felt sick and then watching my mother stir a huge pot of bubbling sweetness turning to jelly. When Mica walks out the door thirty seconds later I’m already harvesting. The chills dissipate as the tart juice hits my tongue and I smile insanely.
From there I lead the charge into a wonderful cherry-picking frenzy. Standing on tiptoe and climbing up into the trees we fill our empanada-lunch-bags full of the delicious ruby fruit. I believe just as many cherries end up in my mouth as in the bag as I fall into the innate pattern of food gathering. Such a grounding connection to the earth comes from using your hands to collect nutrients in nature.
Now back in the tiny trailer in El Chalten after two days of extraordinary mountain adventures, we’ve pitted the cherries over breakfast and boiled them down with sugar while chatting about our next trip. I’ve felt the lack of Internet as I chamuyar (“make it up” or “bullshit”) instead of depending on Google or messaging my mother for a recipe. However, if the preserve turns out it will definitely be filled with memories of mountain sunshine and discovering laughter as well as a reminder of the unexpected treasures Patagonian has to offer.