Shades of Green
By Tom Larsen
T. S. Eliot said: “The journey not the arrival matters.”
Most of us, I think, would agree. I’ve certainly taken it to heart—backpacking through Europe in the Seventies, hitching from Fairbanks to Anchorage on the old Richardson Highway, flying in a small cargo plane over the jungle to reach the San Blas Islands off the East Coast of Panama.
None of these trips had much to do with the destination. They all had to do with the journey, and escaping the triviality, the daily tedium that makes up the majority of our lives.
But, our new home—Cuenca, Ecuador—it’s just different. In this case, it is the destination that matters.
Cuenca is a cosmopolitan city with a population of 450,000. Perhaps 500,000. More? Less? It’s hard to get solid information here, two hundred-fifty miles south of the equator.
The capitol of Azuay province, Cuenca lies at an elevation of 8,300 feet. The Cajas, a craggy fog-shrouded appendage to the Andes with peaks that reach to 14,000 feet, surround it like the sides of a bowl. In fact, Cuenca is the Spanish word for basin.
“What do you do down there?” is the most common question we hear from the folks back home.
“Uhm, well …” I say. “We like to go to the mercados—lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Lots of museums. We walk a lot; through the Old Town, or down by the river. Practice our Spanish with the locals. Oh, and the buses. Riding the buses; that’s an adventure.”
“Oh,” they’ll say, secretly disappointed I think, that we aren’t living in thatched hut in the Amazon.
I don’t tell them about my newfound fascination with the color green.We’re from Portland, Oregon, after all, where green was invented. Or, so we used to think.
How many shades of green can there be? Sixty-three according to Wikipedia. An infinite number, say the scientists.
I try to concentrate on this article, struggling to define the profound sense of peace that we’ve found here, but mostly I stare out the window, trying to identify all the different shades of green.
From the vantage point of our apartment on the western edge of town, I can see the Dark green eucalyptus trees that line the banks of the river. Stands of field corn—Pakistan green (who knew that was even a color?)—cling stubbornly to the steep flank of the mountain. The small plots of cabbage and potatoes have a sort of purple cast to them—Asparagus green according to the chart. The pasture lands are as perfect a shade of India green as any well-tended suburban lawn.
Higher up, the dark Hunter green of the dwarf pine and quinua (paper) trees provide a stark contrast and higher still, above the treeline, the native grasses are just slightly more green than brown. A light Olive green?
Of course, there is more to Cuenca than the colors of the mountainside. Stunning Colonial architecture; the four rivers that flow through town, threatening to overflow their banks within minutes of every cloudburst. Beautiful murals painted on the sides of buildings and highway underpasses. Wonderful people.
But with all of that, I find myself drawn back to the shades of green. Are those potato plants really Asparagus green? Maybe Artichoke? No, I decide. Too much purple. Asparagus it is.
But, then the clouds move, casting a different type of shadow across the landscape, and the shades of green change.
We’ve been here a year, and we’ve yet to make it to the Galápagos. We haven’t experienced a shamanic healing ceremony in the Amazon either; but we will.
Or, we might not. Who knows? Will we make it to all of the 100 PLACES YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO SEE BEFORE YOU DIE? Probably not. But, that’s okay.
Our traveling days are far from over, but the sense of urgency is gone—the need to see, and do, and experience; which can be as addictive in itself as any quest for fame or fortune.
Here in Cuenca, we’ve found a place where it’s okay to just be.
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