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Sublime South

Southernmost Sublime Experience in Cape Horn 

Bridging Humanities and Science with Biosophy: the Wisdom of Life.

Milo Huerta`s Report at University of North Texas, 2007.

An example of encounter between cultures and where they were born.

A sublime experience can be described, but the only way to actually understand it is by living it. This text relates an innovative way to learn about Nature Writing spontaneously and in the outdoors, under the rain, crossing a street or meeting hell face- to-face, which is heaven somehow. The experience of the Sublime involves an encounter between different groups of people, with Nature, our mother who does not distinguish between scientists, humanists, Chileans or North Americans, humans, birds, mosses, big trees, seas or glaciers; but just recognizes sons and daughters…

The experience of the sublime at the Omora Ethnobotanical Park

Bridging cultures by while linking the humanities and science in the woods.

My walks through the Chilean mountains, deserts, rocks, shores, places and time tend to make me think that “real life” is exactly in those moments when my mind stops, when I concentrate, when I dawdle, no matter if there is still lots of work to do . Those walks through spaces and shapes, those days you wake up with the sound of the waves, wind, birds, or sweet smells, those nights taking deep and clear breath are real life (…); falling stars are as real as a “career,” and more important because if you missed one, you missed it forever; work, prestige, and careers can wait, projects can wait, but the present knows no waiting. By giving significance to simple things, I hope to create deep changes, from the hearts of people to their way to live by applying better ethics with other people and beings, even the ones we can not perceive. Being generous makes me happy; I become myself the gift to you.

I introduce myself as one of the luckiest men in the world; I do not have a camera, an I pod, or a bike, and my tent is 32 years old. What I have that is fresh is education, background, knowledge, friends, and that which I appreciate most, I am in love with nature in every way.

Omora is a non-profit organization, which includes governmental and private networking institutions. The main reason for this NGO to exist is to integrate biocultural3 conservation and environmental ethics with social well-being at the southernmost town in the world. In a physical dimension, the OEP represents an opportunity for scientists and students to work together, having the “study object” in situ, which is vital to conserve it; this physical space is the most practical way to guarantee forever the freshwater that everybody drinks in town, taking special care of the Robalo Valley. Taste that water if you go someday to Puerto Williams, I miss it! … In a “conceptual” plane, it is a public space, an outdoor classroom, “and a biocultural reserve, whose functions are incorporated into three broad domains of action: (1) interdisciplinary scientific research; (2) formal and unformal education through school, university, and training courses; and (3) biocultural conservation linked with environmental decision making and local sustainable development.”

This concrete concession area guarantees the conservation of a mosaic sample of the ecosystems that exist around the subantarctic archipelago, mainly differentiated by altitude steps. From down to sea level, and all the way by the forests varieties to the Andean steppe, until the lichens prater who has the same climate and most of the species you would find at the Antarctic Peninsula. It is a biodiversity “Hot Spot” with more than 5% of the world’s non-vascular floral diversity in this ecoregion. The declaration of the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve, one of the world’s last wilderness remaining areas, is without doubt the most successful project I have participated in during my whole life. It was declared on June 28, 2005; I felt so proud because I showed a beautiful mature Nephroma antarticum lichen to the UNESCO representative from Colombia, when we visited the park… at that moment she forgot it was so cold compared to Colombia…Additionally, the social sensibility of the Omora Foundation could be summarized like this: “everybody loves each other, because loving nature is absolute and reciprocal” (Promoting the Conservation of One of the World’s Last Remaining Wilderness Areas: The Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve, Chile”; Kurt Heidinger).

The dating of the Yahgan inhabitation of the CHBR is still underway, and archaeologists have found that 7.000 years ago most of the forests and valleys in the CHBR was covered by glaciers. If we calculate the appearance of the Yahgans at 8.000 years ago, we must recognize a navigable sea, but with huge waves when stormy, many giant glaciers, some brooks with few grasses around, lichens, and maybe very few trees between the ecological successions; and very high in the mountains, rocks which were not covered, shaped, transported and scratched by those active glaciers; just 2.000 feet high, where the glaciers tattooed the cliffs with that line. It is very easy to identify those marks by simple field (re)search. There is no “accepted” theory which explains Yaghan’s ancestral presence, in fact, it contradicts the American population theory and there is no way to be sure how they arrived, the fact is they arrived somehow, and their skills permit them to still navigate Cape Horn, and live from fishing.

Pierre Theillard du Chardin said: “Sciences are the twin soul of the humanity.”5 He meant that humanities and sciences help each other, but I would add the next: “Science is just to prove our intuitive observations.” Because for example a very limited mathematic formula can tell us how old a forest is, but before that scientists decide to research about that because at first they feel that forest must be important for its age. Maybe I am too wild to be a scientist though; but I have found that being wild prepares me perfectly to be an Omora guide.

Those first days working at the trails at the OEP in 2003 and 2004 were so long. We worked a few days with Popi Gonzalez, a Yahgan descendent, and when Popi left to navigate Darwin’s route to research for an Omora book that was published this year, and we kept going with Jim Cadwell. Six hours working at the park means that at least one hour is spent taking a breath, and meditating in the heart of the forest, noticing the differences between many new mosses and lichens species, hearing new bird songs, exploring new mysteries, and asking new questions–and every minute getting recuperated again of living in the city for so long, which means it is by the way the best therapy ever. In fact, from the forest we were getting deep inspirations charged with the loveliest, nice and sweet smell, which—in some way—we understood as a communication. Nature was asking us: “Please, you have to help me: I am the best mother, sister, partner, girlfriend, brother and friend you could ever had; could you take my hand and fly with me?” (Teilhard du Chardin, Human Phenomena; page 252.)

In other words, nature was calling me to be her guardian forever, and she would make me human. Being more human at that time meant to work Sunday to Sunday; 20 hours a day if it was necessary, but having fun anyway: and most important, getting everyday healthier.

Another advantage I had was living with Steven McGhee, who is ornithologist and worked at the park. We became very good friends, and we shared blessed moments at the Christmas bird count up on Cerro Bandera. We found Patagonian Tinamou, a very strange species because it is endemic to Patagonia, but norther Tierra del Fuego. We mist- netted a few times at 5 A.M. as well, because to declare the CHBR it is necessary to document as most rare species as possible. It was fascinating to let birds go after the research, and a hard work though; the net polls were extremely heavy.

Another group I joined in the field was the “lichenologists” and botanists I was mostly learning about the zone, and the species they knew very well from them, and also I took a first aid kit to every collecting with them in case something happened. We discussed every scientist’s thoughts about glaciations and geography, species, genera and families. The best minutes were while we were seated getting our sandwiches and laughing about life, wandering farther into scientific knowledge, or just walking under the rain every few minutes becoming frozen, and contemplating the immensity of the landscape, where the transforming hands of weak humans can not make the wild look “civil.” Also because she (Mother Nature) has her own devotes to protect her chosen and sent to world and time as angels to donate their lives to be her defenders (peaceful and creative activists); the donation is an bloody sublime happiness.

The Omora experience saves people, because every volunteer, scientist, photographer, philosopher or humanist I met were there just because they “had to be.” The most beautiful thing was sharing the celebration of New Year’s Eve, a never-ending crepuscular evening with my Yaghan mother, Julia, at the Mejillones Bay. Mejillones Bay is the last-remaining Yaghan community. 2004 had been the most disappointing year in my life, and being with her those peaceful, eternal days left me so relaxed that I slept for 20 hours, dreaming that I was somehow re-born, because any other dream could not had explained how well rested I felt after that. I loved Julia forever.

Mejillones Bay became one of my sacred places, It was able to calm the stress I brought from central Chile, but I also found that those archaeological sites tell stories by themselves one by one, just as Cladonia lichens do. They tell me: we come from the same essence… our ingredients stay the same, we need each other!

Those archaeological sites relate about those camp sites, which were not permanent, but frequented over and over because it is evidential that those sites were camped along thousands of years in the quantity of shells they had to eat. The scenery of the Darwin’s Range to the west in front of the cemetery is precious. It has together the glaciers, the Beagle Channel, the river, the fishermen places, and the woods. That place permits us to explain in ten minutes the cultural exploitation based in divergent interpretations of the Darwinian thinking that Yaghan community was oppressed by.

After New Year’s we stopped three minutes to visit her parents (quietly, because Julia is quiet). While we were leaving an upland goose was guiding—or more accurately, dancing—with us by the road not further than 5 meter for at least 20 minutes, it was incredible, like a movie. In the Yahgan cosmology, birds are people. I believe that goose was Grandmother Ursula who came to visit us. Julia said: “thanks for the visit mother” and then she (it was a female) flew away, continuing on her way to heaven.

Exactly two years later, the January fist of 2007 I was riding a bike from Puerto Williams to the same holy bay crying tears of gratitude for being able to return again!

I really wanted to return because it is an emotional therapy that only tears can explain, Dr. Ricardo Rozzi, one of the founders and director of the NGO, who works for the “common benefit” between humans and environment helped me to complement the practical experience of my first internship giving me one copy of his book “Fundamentos de Conservación Biológica”, and asked me to make my analysis of the environmental ethics chapter, run on sentence writing that paper was beautiful – reading it two years later makes my mood get better, for I feel again how inspired I was, and how I felt like I was determining my future.

The next experience at the Omora E P involved a class called Tracing Darwin’s Path, and it was different than anything I had done with Omora, because I had a teacher who encouraged us to be free and to create what he called “reality”. I was again a naturalist guide, helping to teach a diverse group “the bios” (or “livingness”) of Omoraland, and a little of Chilean culture, as a teaching assistant (T.A.), translating and practicing what I learned after 4 years studying ecotourism management at Universidad Nacional Andrés Bello. But this group was different from conventional tourists; they were my classmates, and we became good friends! None of them spoke Spanish… so all the better! I had three tests to pass, 1) speaking the English language, 2) learning to write it, and 3) performing well as a T.A.

Speaking and writing in English made my thoughts grow, and sharing with diverse groups of people makes me a more multicultural person, which is wonderful. As I gave my classmates simple tips on how to read and enjoy nature and feel her personality and dynamism, we did found we were an essential part of the complex ecosocial systems, shared a feeling of belonging, like “this where I HAVE to be.” When I started to write in Nature about Nature, this transformed me, for I was building a reality based in my creations, the beauty of the CHBR, and the sublime experiences which were nearly “real ones.” Words that Nature inspires are gentle… nice, sweet, and warm, elegant ones! Nature knows no limits, walls or law; so feeling that nature has nothing bad to express, those gentle feelings express themselves.

Birds are very curious (not a study “object” only). They come to us, we look at each other, he says hi, we respond through our eyes, and good bye! That’s the sublime; it just appears and disappears, without being planned.

The majority of people in this group had never been alone before in the woods. The first day we tried three minutes in silence outside of the trail (not far) close to the Robalo waterfall. We were following Clare Brown, an Omora volunteer who was with us.

The forest ate each one of us, in fact, Jason Moore got absolutely lost and we were very scared looking for him, but after he appeared he said being lost was “sublime”: and after it was over we wrote in our journals with colors, sounds and love. Hiking was new for most of us, so we needed to go slow, touching, exploring, feeling! We met the OEP trail little by little, just like a prince looks at his princess, the next day talks to her, and the third one kisses her hand.

When we hiked Cerro Bandera; Jason told me: “I tried some natural drugs; but none of them felt so good like being at the summit of those mountains, that was the best feeling of my entire life!” At the next rest, Amanda said to me; “for you Emilio, the only thing I can say is wow…” That must had been because a man in love with Nature can not be described easily; indeed, it must be hard to be understood, because love has no possible explanation. Kelly always gave chocolate bars, and she was always happy, while the downhill she was telling me later, “Your house is everywhere” (looking at my house-backpack). Sara just cried looking to the northeast which was full of mountains and cluds, her eyes made me cry too. Clouds told me who I was at that moment…

But this was the course about: we were attempting inhabit the forests for 3 days and ascend to the Dientes. Getting up to the Robalo Camp, times gave me the chance to take care of Natalie in the most extreme situation of my career as an ecotourism leader. We were at the shore of the Robalo Lake, which had trucks and actually it did not look like a trail, She was afraid of feeling a stranger in the wild –crying and desperate to get to the camp “in 15 minutes.” I was carrying some extra weight: the kitchen, two tents and food with a headache and high fever from a cold or something; I had to deal with her crossing a “rational” wall. I just hugged her the strongest way I could, because she sounded afraid to die. I took her sunglasses off, and separated by a minimal distance we looked at each other: I told her, “nothing is going to happen, I am here OK?”; I asked for her to please watch her step; and took her hand for the rest of the hike Róbalo Lake’s shore left to the camp carefully and her sleeping bag on the right hand helped me to balance. I fell one time very dangerously. Fortunately, nothing worse happened. At that time I was not anymore a naturalist guide but a Biosopher, some holy wind blown her mind and focused her back to the trail. At that moment I realized I had a talent for helping people feel safe and comfortable with wilderness, because the learning comes when we apply our knowledge. She had deep rest after that tense situation; finally when we discussed Kant at the Hostal, she realized she won her fear war and had the strongest encounter with that shore, at that time Natalie understood what this course was about and me too.

Next day, after a 4 hour harder walk heading Dientes de Navarino, which means Navarino Teeths, we crossed some hills covered by snow, a few lakes and ponds, and joined many waterfalls. We stepped to the pass of light we baptized in Dientes at 3 PM. Me, Jason, Kurt and Sara. We just got to the end! I confess I doubted if we were going to make it, but we did. After the most beautiful trekking I had done in my life, we arrived were it was possible to look southernmost, at the edge where America ends sinking down the sea, and we could see the Wollaston Archipelago, Windhond Bay and further away. We also saw Drake’s Passage behind, with water so clear that (with a little bit of imagination) I saw Antarctica, fever helped me to imagine it. Coming back home a friend asked me why I went so far for, I responded: “well, I went to see where (our) world ends, look to Antarctica, and came back!”

Coming back from the Dientes hike, Kurt was looking for dog teeth for his family (I still have mine); looking at those rocks I could not think other thing than ask myself if they were sediments, igneous or metamorphic stones. But it was mainly human to think they were teethes too, especially on the Navarino Teethes! Some light illuminated my mind with a hot color, a lightening orange, I realized what we had been doing; it was Biosophy! I explained the word and the next night in Puerto Williams at the Micalvi Yacht Club. We were all celebrating the successful walk we had the way Thoreau would had done (easy and slow), and our reading of Shakespeare’s “As you like it” around the fire, because life is as you like it to be. Bio, as in biology, is life in symphony with the inorganic life, and sophy (sophos it means wisdom), is something like loving to know about. Biologists needed us to get more humanity in their lives, and we need them to discover the bios, a lovely interdependence! The goal of this course, I realized, is to take the risk to get inspired by the sublime experience in communion with the spirits of heaven, because heaven is here!

Heaven is here because our senses in Nature tell us how deeply our beings feel good walking, breathing that “elixir for the lungs”, our bodies get seduced by the environment, as our minds by those sensations, so we acced to another plane: the feeling of happiness. To believe this is magical and creative, but reasonable; to believe heaven is right here, right now, because doing these things means we love ourselves, and we want good things for us, so we go walk to the OEP. The only “god” I can feel, see, expect, love, touch, smell, listen, appreciate, is the eternal nature reality; it is not in words, it is outside… (I agree with Whitman).

I applied my whole career which is my life too being a TA in the field, but the most orgasmic experience was to channel all of my love and happiness that nature gives me and share that universal love with my North American friends. I have now taken a major step in developing a professional career with the best people I could ever imagine, seasoned with and environment’s sounds, colors and movements represents our feelings in a “Biosophical” way. Every minute we learned about the biocultural reality of the CHBR, and those feelings went deeper and deeper in our hearts. When a place starts making us lovely persons (as Nature did for us), it means we are projecting the “Nature Loving” back to nature and or classmates which are part of it; the infinite dimensions of that forest provided to our classes metaphors and simple examples enough to teach forever… By feeling good, this is all I can explain, our tears of gratitude explain the rest

I was close to finishing my Ecotourism degree at guiding this group sometimes, which fortunately worked out, I was being tested many times a day. The main challenge was writing in the field in English, but there were other walls to trespass: group living ones and personal ones like leading some time, this one it means sometime you are going to need to be a “fascist” if the job requires ensuring that everybody survives and returns safely back home… On the other hand, to be a naturalist guide (like I learned to be with Rodney Walker) means I have to be very empathic and seduce my hikers with lots of passion; a directive leader can not be so empathic. The TDP class was nearly the ideal “ecotourism” group, but with the important difference of being students. Their responses were always better than I expected, all of them had lots of thing to share with me and teach each other, for example, if it was necessary to adjust the itineraries to the “Chilean clock” (which means to be late everywere), nobody complained, and they were in their right to do it though. All of our experiences in OEP made our relations more intimate and intense; it was an intercultural exchange learning from Nature and ourselves. The OEP was “who” made the class possible, because of its vast old forests, and because of the blessing of wonderful weather that gave enjoyed. We owe all those inspiring conditions to the classroom…

That classroom needs to get better though, because the Omora NGO needs some infrastructure, and the resources it has are extremely limited.

The last day in Punta Arenas, where the course started and finished, Natalie was the last one I hugged, I said “Maitai roa” (a Polynesian phrase to say very good, or well); she respond: “Thanks Emilio for saving my life; I will never forget you.” Those words for me were the sparks that lighted my fire to keep loving nature in such a consequential way.

No doubt, Cape Horn is an unique place in the world, it is on “the top” of the southern hemisphere, and it is so necessary to keep working to protect those virgin landscapes that if I have to “give myself”, I will. If you are ready to leave everything and never come back (…) you are ready to walk (Thoreau). He meant with that sentence that if we want to deep-succeed we have to work on them hard and give all we have to make them as we expect. If you expect a sublime encounter with a natural area were humans used to live in the past, well; then go far away, and do not expect in Dientes to find an ATM machine or a bar, the comfortable bed, the internet, and maybe the family and lots of people we love and miss are not going to be were America sinks down the Drake Pass.


These experiences are not meant to inspire writing about whatever; for, the main reason to engage in nature writing is just to help nature to communicate her feelings. She has lots of hurt, and if we really want to preserve human species, we should see at first how the planet that gave us life is being transformed at this century for sellfishism…

I heard one day from Ricardo Rozzi, “I believe humans are good animals; and I believe we are good animals too”–whenever we want to be. But no matter how good or bad animals we are being with Earth, the only invitation I can make for those who liked some of my appreciations, is to enjoy, to enjoy music, to get conscientious about the absolute happiness nature can give us every time we are disposed to share it. Because we were made to live in nature, and our feet were made to walk, our minds were made to create, and more important is that our hearts were made to fell things. If we put together feet, earth, mind and hurt (…) see what happens: Take deep breath now, and go outside.

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