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Patagonia

Dreaming in an Empty Land

Photographs by Kevin Carrel Footer

Behind the White Picket Fence

The succulent roses are behind a white picket fence. The fence protects an improbable garden in a hostile world. Outside the white picket fence is the Patagonian steppe, an endless sea of scrub and dust. Only the white picket fence stands between the two states of creation: on one side, human warmth and culture; on the other, the vast emptiness of our undoing.

The picket fence is higher than any I have even seen because the wind here knows no limits. It howls for weeks on end. There is no place you can go and not hear it. Even when it stops, you think you hear it. Some people go crazy. Other people gather their belongings and never come back.

The woman insisted on building this Victorian home in this forbidding place. And because such homes have gardens, she had one planted though no one had ever seen such a thing. But nothing grew; the wind is the bane of all living things here. So wood was added to the fence to make it taller and more forbidding. When still nothing grew she commanded yet another layer of wood. She kept doing this until the fence was taller than the house and at last things grew in its protective shadow.

I idle for hours outside the fence, peering through the lattice-work, desiring the succulent roses. They do not know that they are in Patagonia and they cavort as if they were dancers at the Folies Bergère.

Sometimes I glimpse the lady in her sun room, tending to her indoor plants. Trimming them. Watering them. On the few days when it is warm enough for her to come outside, I watch her stroll about the garden, admiring how her plants have grown from year to year. She pays special attention to the roses.

She wears a heavy black dress and over her shoulder she drapes a light brown shawl which glitters like gold when she wanders through a patch of sun.

It is worth waiting to see such a thing.