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Et in Arcadia Ego

Dividing the alpine peaks of Huascaran National Park are a series of quebradas (ravines) that separate the granite towers of the Cordillera Blanca like avenues in a city.  These valleys are paved with vast marshes and grasslands and populated by all manner of unattended husbandry left free to roam until they are ripe for slaughter or shearing or whatever other purpose intended by their absent Quechua owners.  Trekking through a quebrada is undeniably a pastoral experience, where lumbering cattle, skittish horses, braying donkeys, and herds of tufted sheep wander and graze unmolested among the rocky hillsides and burbling arroyos.  Yet within these edens scattered bones of animals that never made it to the ax or the saddle lie cracked and sun-bleached among the chaparral, providing a constant momento mori to passing climbers seeking glory on the high peaks.  Whole corpses of the recently deceased betray no sign of struggle or stress: no battle between males for mating rights, no violent attack from some apex predator, no indication of disease or distress.  They just seem as if their life force simply evaporated, like a deflated balloon.  Their bones and viscera evacuated across the landscape, leaving only a wooly coat preserved without rot or odor by the thin alpine air, like some ritualistic costume left abandoned on a hillside by a nomadic shaman who found other roles to play elsewhere.


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