• Alice Whaley

Know and Love

Updated: Apr 15


It’s a funny feeling; missing things I used to call ‘strange’. I’ve been in Uruguay long enough for the unfamiliar to become familiar, long enough to watch the curious new flowers grow from bud to bloom, and die in the long yellow heat of the summer.



The red flowers of the ceibo tree are no more, and the cactus flowers have begun to lose their petals. But, all is not lost. Seemily overnight, hundreds of little yellow and white blooms have appeared in amongst the flat grey rocks that spread across the plains. The fields are still prickled with tall caraguatà. The stalks wave gently in the wind, revealing the dark, rounded shapes of grazing horses. The horses pick their way carefully to find spaces for their hooves. The long, stiff lower leaves of the individual caraguatà overlap and push against each other, and from each spiny base grows a single towering stem, topped with greenish blackberries. Some of the tops have turned purple; most dried out before they had the chance.



Familiarity hasn’t bred contempt. It’s breeding a slow-burning fascination with a landscape that’s striking first in its magnitude, then in its hostility, and, much later, in its diversity. The country doesn’t give itself up all at once. Only after the mburucuyá fruit had begun to languish did the trees begin to bear white, pink-tasselled flowers. The fireflies blink in the thousands at the start of the summer, when it’s cooler, but only on the hottest days will you hear the cry of the chicharra bug. Today I heard its screech for the very first time. Last night, there wasn’t a firefly to be seen in the darkness of the waning moon.



A few things, though, are constant. The cactus candelabro and the espina de la cruz are both indestructible; ‘candelabro’ for the cactus’ tall, vertically-ridged boles, and ‘de la cruz’ for the fact that each pair of triangular thorns grows perpendicular to the last, making for a greyish-green structure of mathematical precision and architectural equipoise. My fingers, my skin, and my feet have suffered endless prickles as a result of my curiosity about these plants. The heron that overlooks the river comes and goes as he pleases, but it seems as if the tero (southern lapwing) will always call at sunset, squawking their distinctive two-syllable song: téro téro téro. At El Rincon Polo Club, a tero had three eggs in a nest by the pond. I wonder if they’ve hatched yet.


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