Recently in Camarones, I was explaining that Flor and I had left Pedernales for Camarones on a Angel’s truck-taxi.
Is anything striking about that to you? It might have been if you were from Camarones.
Language is often a fascinating meter of values. When people revel in being The Boss they are probably not thinking about the complexity of hierarchical working relationships, but they are nevertheless condoning and, indeed, upholding a culture and ethic that includes such relationships. Similarly, when a car or bedroom or what have you is pimped out, the proprietor of said place or item is doubtful thinking about men violently managing and profiting from the commodification of women’s bodies and sexuality. And yet they are perpetuating the glorification of this offensive reality. Another normative term, the implications of which people seem less conscious of, is gypped as a word for ripped off. (Gypped from Gypsie, which refers to the ethnic group Romany Gypsies.)
Wendell Berry has aided my attentiveness to language, especially to language that gives normative priority to the urban over the rural. Such language is rarely difficult to find, as we seem to be hurtling ever further into the abyss of the urban, which is to say the happily mobile, which is to say the uprooted or maybe just the rootless.
Take, for example, the familiarity of going into town or into the city, or of heading out to the country. The more developed and urban a place, the more accepted it is as a destination: that to which you go and from which you depart. Admittedly, I may be stretching this a little in English: You could probably talk about going into the country without raising any eyebrows. Certainly, going into the forest, or wilderness, falls comfortably on my ears. So it’s not so strong as to be a rule. But it is a tendency, I think, worth noting.
And now I return to the inspiration for my post. Flor and I had stayed in Pedernales last Tuesday, and returned to Camarones on Wednesday. When I explained that we had gone out, que salimos, on Wednesday with Angel, I was met with a confused expression: How had we gone out if we started the day in Pedernales? The mistake was mine. One does not enter and leave Pedernales, but Camarones. Flor and I had, rather, entered with Angel.
And more than Camarones, one continues entering, returning, even after you pass through Camarones and begin hiking up into the forest and mountains. And when people are hiking back down to Camarones after a day of work, you are saliendo, leaving; going out, para afuera. The hills seem to be the root, from which we depart and to which we return.
And indeed they are the root, in a way that is barely alive in the global north. They are the root, I think, because there are still people in Camarones who were born and grew up in the hills. Before the road and the school and electricity arrived and drew families down to the three barrios, themselves named with reference to the hills: lower, middle, and upper.
The hills are the root because old houses are still there, a visible and tangible memory of where families started, although many now function primarily as tool sheds and animal pens – outbuildings that people visit for their work.
The hills are the root because they are the font of life, quite literally. They are the start of the river, which passes through town and from which people take their (often contaminated) water. They are host to the bamboo and lumber trees from which people build their houses. They are the source of bananas and other nourishing vegetation.
This has taken a little getting used to for me, with my internalized prioritization of city over country. But it’s a turn of phrase that I appreciate. A challenge to those internalized values that I will likely return to for inspiration for a long time to come.