Friday, April 22, 2016

Recipe for Disaster

Mud. And more mud. That’s the scenario that the city’s inhabitants will wake to tomorrow. Though it’s stopped raining for the moment – after 48 hours of relentless downpour, the meteorologists and Yahoo Weather predict the rain will continue through the night and tomorrow.
The Mapocho River wanted to follow its true course, its ancient familiar bed of rock and gravel and sediment. But major works of engineering placed obstacles in its way – tunnels, holes, temporary retaining walls, subterranean underpasses – to facilitate the movement of masses of motorists rushing to destinations throughout the city. After all, we all fume when stuck in the ever-increasing traffic jams, grouching why don’t they do something?
 Roaring down the slopes of the Andes, gathering force and speed, the river waters suddenly confronted foreign obstacles in their path. Rivers are not patient with obstructions. They stubbornly forge onward. With its natural flow blocked, what does the river do?  Detour through the paths of least resistance: underground parking garages, subterranean malls, underpasses, basements, cracks, crevasses, mouse holes, potholes, perforations and fissures. Because forward it will go, downhill, seaward, obeying the laws of physics.
As the water surges down drought-ridden slopes, it sucks up loose soil, rocks, and assorted plastic bottles, depositing them in the flatter areas. A recipe for a muddy mess. Though the water moves on, like an undisciplined child, it doesn’t clean up what it dropped along its wild way.
Thus, out roar man’s machines: pumps, bulldozers, hoses and trucks to undo what nature has done. With furious urgency, they’ll reestablish the obstacles and barriers, move earth, pump water, drill holes, erect stronger retention walls, widen the river bed.
Not for the first time. Repeated interventions have paralleled the growth of the city of Santiago, immediate gain being the top priority. Walls, buildings, houses, stores and highways line the banks of the man-handled River.
There’s no one around now who remembers the river when it flowed freely along its natural course through fields and valleys. Contemplating today’s mud soup, I grieve for the River and its valley, once a bucolic landscape as portrayed by artists in the early days of settlement.


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