Cosmic Thoughts – Strange Worlds

Looking out over the vast expand of flat flood-plain, you’d be forgiven for thinking that someone had turned the colours off.

Grey, stretching in all directions like spilled ashes. The ground is a vast expanse of charcoal, permeated by a fine dusting of frost that just occasionally catches in the light as it tries to squeeze through the fog. The fog. It’s like a sodden, cool face cloth, you can walk towards it, through it, around it, you can feel it, but you can’t quite figure out where it starts or ends. Maybe the air here is just permanently moist.

Among the haunting silence, it’s almost amazing to believe that an entire landscape can be this still. It feels like daylight could last forever, but you know that all too soon, the clouds will grow denser, the earth will spin on its axis and pull the southern hemisphere back into the grip of the long winter night. The most beautiful of star-studded skies: everything dances, everything flickers, and every night, the earth shrugs off the clouds and reveals one of the clearest skies I’ve ever seen.

What’s more amazing to me than the half-dead, half-frozen trees, the deafening silence enveloping my ears, or indeed just the cold stillness, is that this could just as easily be the surface of another planet. Frozen Mars, stripped of its atmosphere and no longer kept warm by it’s own existence. Whereas on Mars, the landscape is scarred red, here, it’s all just grey.

In the near-far-near distance, the Grey Lake shimmers like broken bits of glass casually throw into the wilderness. Even the lake doesn’t move. The pearly blue icebergs seem stuck in place, but come back tomorrow, and they’ll have moved. There will be new shapes, new neighbours in the lake.

Has space-time slowed down here? Is it even here at all? I can feel gravity; I’m still on the ground. I can feel the wind, but it doesn’t seem to be touching anything but me. There’s a lonely grey goose, loitering at the water’s edge. I pull out my zoom lens and take a few photographs, watching this most poignant, yet humble of moments: a grey goose, on a Grey Lake.

But then, it happens so slowly, it’s barely happening at all. The sky seems to brighten, changing from charcoal grey to the palest of blues. In the farthest corner of the sky, one of the distant mountains grows in front of a pink glow. The sun is coming. The fog is being stripped from the land, still so slowly, so silently, but you can see it now.

It’s all over in about ten minutes. That most comforting, haunting of greys is gone. The sky has broken through the clouds to reveal that most wonderful of blues you wondered if you’d ever see again. And there’s the sun, aching just the tiniest bit of warmth onto the frozen ground.

The Grey Lake is still there, grinding its way down from the highlands until it meanders in all directions onto the floodplain. It still glimmers like glass, it’s still the Grey Lake.

This painting was a year in the making. One that has gone on and off the easel and been painted over several times. This view over the Grey Lake in Patagonia’s Torres Del Paine is the scene from my honeymoon that I find the most awe-inspiring. That scene, setting foot there for the first time and reliving it a hundred times through memories and photographs, was so impressionable and powerful. It’s very difficult to sum it up in words, and so I desperately wanted to capture the feeling in paint, but I just wasn’t getting what I wanted. Well finally, I did.

Stunning Patagonia, where everything is so still, so silent, so grey and haunting yet so utterly beautiful.

“You dig deeper and it gets more and more complicated, and you get confused, and it’s tricky and it’s hard, but… It is beautiful.”
– Professor Brian Cox

More Patagonia-Inspired Blogs:
Back to Patagonia
Photo Blog: Wildlife of Chile and Patagonia
Surviving Winter in Patagonia
Plein Air Painting in Patagonia
Couples Travel: The Artist and the Writer
Art Diaries: Chilean Wildlife
Finding Darwin

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