It can take a long time to feel at home.
I moved house again recently and it has thrown me off my stride. The smooth edges of familiar living have been roughed up, and the pieces have all been shuffled. This being my 10th house in as many years, means this is not too strange a feeling though, and I have some practised ways for starting to patch it back together again.
Like a dog eager to inspect new territory, I got out for more of a look around this week. Drawing in my new surroundings and appreciating where I live, seems to be an integral part of the creation of my own happiness. Learning how a new house sits in relation to the curves and the undulations of the landscape, helps reestablish a sense of self in an unfamiliar place.
At dusk on Tuesday, I made my way onto the quickly greying flanks of Cerro Pochoco. In the previous weeks I had been teasing open the rabbit runs a bit more on this side of the mountain, and trying to open a passable route through the cactus and fledging eucalyptus to the summit – a vertical km above. The plants I had found knotted across my path had now died back. The passing of my feet and the hot summer sun pushing them into retreat. Facing away from the city, and with the gradient steep, concentration soon turned exclusively to drawing regular lungfuls of breath; my feet moving with increasing familiarity over the warm rocks and loose dirt.
My new route follows a strong line up a defined ridge, but I had left small piles of rocks to guide me in the less obvious places, and it pleased me now to turn a corner, and see one, and know that I had passed there before. Higher on the mountain, where the sun had not yet set, my shadow caught up with me for a short time and ran ahead through the boulders and loose scree and dry grass, before tiring and falling back once again.
On the summit plateau, even the serious mountains had settled down into the obscurity of night. The last gasps of day dissolved into their snowy flanks. I stood there for a while, in the dark, marking the end of it. The moon was not yet up and the ground that rolled away on all sides, shortly disappeared too. Then came the cool air pouring down from the Andes, and infront of me, on the earth, an inverted skyscape of city lights from Santiago.
By Thursday, that urge to reel in new knowledge and anchor myself securely in new surroundings had returned. Crossing the Mapocho river, I passed the established entrance to a previously explored trail, and tracked along a dirt road looking for a different access point. If there is an alternative way to go somewhere, I always try to tease it out; even if it only a very minor deviation; even if is longer and less convenient. A suitably unlikely boulder choked canyon presented itself, and I pressed eagerly into it.
Wild dogs soon hounded me from the canyon’s rim; tripping over themselves in fevered excitement at the imposter amongst their rocks. I bridged out like a rock climber to scale a deep polished slot where a waterfall must have once cascaded, and drew the snarls and the howls to eye level. The canyon was still not really runnable in an uphill direction – too steep and technical – but the dogs softened and decided to let me pass at my own pace.
I made it up to the intended trail eventually and stood there, looking along it in the direction of the familiar loop home. The temperature was well into the 90s and the dust kicked up from the canyon hanged around in suspension. My water bottles were nearly dry, and made a weak gasping sound as they adjusted themselves to the new thinner air.
The canyon continued however, disappearing into some mysterious folds of the mountain above me. The golden rock underfoot banked steeply into the walls like a speedway, and the heat hammered down it without escape. Curiosity got the better of me, and abandoning the trail, I struck out, to explore further.
At 5,000’the canyon opened again and there was a whispering noise coming from an invisible line stretched out in front of me, close to the ground. Here I found an ancient man-made water channel, that seems to skirt the entire flank of El Naranjo Mountain. Mature quillaja trees grow along its length and small mammals retreat into this shade during the heat of the day. Prickly pears hang voluptuously from straining cactus and small birds feast a short distance from sheltered nests.
The closeness to this moving body of water, in the midst of that thick, hard scorched day, immediately made me feel light again, and tread easily. I turned to run along it, quenching my thirst at the waterway in the mountains that encloses my new home.
Call for comments
Do you like to get out and explore when you find yourself somewhere new?
Does running help connect you to your environment or give you structure in your day to day life?