The Same and Not

On an afternoon bird walk in São Miguel das Missões, near the western edge of Rio Grande do Sul, the sky is low and gray. The wind is cool, brooding. It will get dark early today. Everything feels late, somehow – late in the day, late in the season, late in the year, late, later and later, approaching some end. I follow a farm lane along a large, open field. The soybeans have already come off. Here by the lane stand a few dry, brittle plants that dodged the combine.

This could almost be late fall in the Shenandoah Valley, when dull afternoons suddenly turn dark, when the wind promises winter ahead, when the soybeans are off and another year is nearly in the books and the whole world seems to have entered decline.

This could almost be, but it is not. The dirt beneath my feet is Martian, a bright, rusty color that has seeped its way up my shoes and faintly stained the entire landscape. It is the fall season now, indeed, though the calendar reads April. This thought doesn’t present as a nifty quirk of life in the Southern Hemisphere. It seems backwards on a deeper-down level, a disruption to the usual rise and fall of time and perception and emotion.

The houses in the village behind me are boxy and concrete, painted in tropical pastels and covered with corrugated metal or orange ceramic tiles. These are far cries from a Virginia farmhouse. Atop a rise in an adjacent pasture, a statuesque palm tree is black against the sky.

            There is something dreamlike about all of this – this immediate now, this afternoon ramble, and this general now, this indefinite expedition south – so familiar and so foreign at once. As it does from time to time, the thought strikes me: I’m a long way away.