Marrow of the Bone

Mason Jennings
Holiday 2009

This is my first time camping. I’m in the tent, in my sleeping bag, and next to me, my friend James Mercer is breathing peacefully. Other than that ... silence like I have never experienced. Yet it’s somehow familiar. I think of home, of leaving home: the four flights, the two 12-hour days in a van down a dust-clouded dirt road with eight guys packed knee-to-knee, the seven-mile hike, fording the icy river in my underwear with my 50-pound pack over my head. Where I am now, in Patagonia, is the other side of the earth and somehow I feel at home. My mind keeps trying to find something to worry about, but no luck ... and then I’m asleep.

Chris and Emmett Malloy had invited James and me to join the 180° South crew, hoping we would be inspired to write some music for the film. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I was excited by the fact that I was so nervous. As a musician I have learned to respect those moments when fear rears up: It’s when you’re uncomfortable or awkward or terrified that you get to the marrow of the bone. When I first arrived in Patagonia and met everyone, I was struck by how many had the same attitude. As a boy I had dropped out of high school and educated myself – in libraries and on the road. Here I was with people, who like me, were unsatisfied with the ways things were – people who wanted change but instead of building castles or rebelling outward had looked inward and challenged themselves. They had learned by venturing to places on earth that were still primal, places where the voice of the land was clear and uninterrupted. Doug and Kris Tompkins, Rick Ridgeway, Timmy O’Neill, the Malloy brothers, Yvon Chouinard – before this trip I hadn’t heard of any of them.

On the seventh day, we hike up a steep mountain pass, and I spend my first night sleeping in a tent. We are here to pull down fences on a former sheep ranch that is being turned into a park. It had never occurred to me that you could buy land to preserve it. When I heard that Doug, Kris and their friends had bought 180,000 acres of ranch lands and made a deal with the Chilean government to add adjacent national lands to create a park that in total will be nearly 700,000 acres, I was amazed. At first, so was the Chilean government: They didn’t trust that someone would buy land just to leave it alone, and assumed there was some secret motive. That part struck me as much as anything – the idea that human beings leaving the planet alone is so alien it calls up suspicion and doubt. Wow.

At this point, every sight and smell is new. I feel so relaxed: I realize that back at home, I have been spending so many of my days driving or on the phone or on my computer or on my Blackberry, and I really am not sure why. My first thought was that I’ve lived like that because I don’t want to be left out. I don’t want to be standing alone on the fringe of society. Well, what I have learned in Chile is that we are never more alone than when we are on our computers or stuck in traffic, and we are never more connected than when we are present where we are. And it is impossible not to be present in a place like Patagonia. I practice daily meditation and yoga, and my teacher Mary always says, “Don’t try to figure it all out and get everything perfect in your head. Just show up.” I’m glad I’m following her advice.

The horses that came with us packed our film gear and guitars and the legs of lamb that are now, on our second night camping, roasting on skewers over the campfire. We tell stories and sing songs, and I play a duet with an accordion-playing gaucho who doesn’t speak English. I do my best to do his song justice, and at the end he tells his fellow gaucho something in Spanish, which is translated back to me: “Tell him he is, well, just beginning to sort of ... kind of ... get it.”

About the Author

Critically acclaimed singer/songwriter Mason Jennings joined the 180° South crew in Patagonia for a firsthand experience of the land. He and The Shins vocalist, James Mercer, are contributing music to the movie soundtrack.