Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Last Ice Merchant

I have been thinking a lot recently about "home." It seems that home is less rooted to a place than to a set of practices which are carried out by your hands and the hands of those you love. And while this flowery description of home appeases me on some intellectual level, it does nothing for me on an instinctual level when I look around at a physical place and ask myself "is this home?"

Yesterday I saw a short documentary that really made me think more about the question of home and how it is affected by the work of human hands and hearts.

The Last Ice Merchant
Above is a photograph of Baltazar Ushca. He is the only man in Ecuador who continues to harvest ice from the glacial top of Mount Chimborazo (which happens to be the closest place to the sun on Earth). He has been hiking up this mountain with several donkeys Thursdays and Fridays for over half a century, continuing the work of his father and his father's fathers.
Ice in grass bundles is brought down from the mountain
Chimborazo was historically the sole source for ice, and people developed a way of "mining" this ice and bringing it back to their towns. The grasses that you see in the above picture are used to make a mat in which to carry the ice and rope with which to tie the ice to the donkey.
Dangerous, yet beautiful work
Baltazar is a one-man link to a tradition that has lasted for centuries in his community- he is the only living vestige of an earlier world; he has vowed to continue bringing Chimborazo ice to his community as long as he has breath left in his body. The work he does is full of risk, but as discussed in a previous post on risk, this risk seems to be an important and noble one with far-reaching implications.

 If you haven't seen the film, "The Last Ice Merchant," which premiered in 2012, I highly recommend taking 13 minutes to watch it in its entirety. This is a very short film, and full of rich light, blue and white ice, and wind in tall grasses (definitely watch this "full screen"!!).

 One of the things I like best about this film is the part where Juan, Baltazar's youngest brother, talks about how change is very much a good thing, but that change should not be synonymous with losing cultural traditions. I couldn't agree more.
Eating ice-cream made with Chimborazo ice
The delicate and fragile mission that Baltazar stays true to every week maintains a cultural tradition which, if lost, would forever rob his children and grandchildren (and everyone anywhere) of the taste and touch of the beautiful and blue ice of Chimborazo. It is very much akin to the delicate and fragile way in which Mount Chimborazo itself stretches up into the sky and is the closest of any point on earth to the incredibly hot sun, while remaining covered with snow and ice. 

When I think about this balance, I think ultimately about the interaction between ritual and place and how these two in harmony make physical space into a home. ...And I am responsible for making the two harmonize. Home is where I decide I can successfully do that. 

Where is your home? What makes it truly your home? Or do you find your home wandering?? ...Until next time, fair petticoat rustlers, keep rustling! 

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