The nurture in nature: A photographer’s lessons from Chile

Lonquimay volcano, Chile | Photo by Ron Long

Nature Vancouver’s upcoming talk, Plants of the High Andes and Other Stories from Chile and Argentina, will be held on Thursday, Nov. 15 from 7–9:30 p.m. at Unitarian Centre (Hewett Hall) located at 949 West 49th Avenue in Vancouver.

Hosted by Ron Long, past president of the Native Plant Society of BC and a photographer at SFU for 36 years, the illustrative lecture will feature Long’s photography, as well as botanical, geological and human stories Long learned during his recent trip to Chile.

“I want to show people what a fantastic world we have and what’s at stake,” says Long.

Connecting history with nature

Accompanied by two Spanish-speaking members of the Alpine Garden Club, Long rented a vehicle and spent three weeks exploring Chile in January 2016. The three of them looked for ways to get as high in the mountains and on the volcanoes as possible, such as by entering ski areas. According to Long, they reached altitudes of 10,000–12,000 ft in some places, where the air was thin and they had to proceed slowly.

Long explains the unique and spectacular beauty of the landscape at those high elevations.

“You not only have snow-capped peaks, but Chile has got quite a number of active volcanoes,” says Long. “There’s been eruptions one after the other and you can see in places layers of lava from different eruptions that might have been thousands of years apart. Some of these eruptions, they spew out very colourful materials, so you’ve got purples and yellows across the landscape. And in some places, the landscape is just grey. It’s beautiful in its own right.”

Antuco volcano was one such place Long and his companions came across on one of their drives.

“It’s a very dark volcano,” remembers Long. “When you first see it, it looks forbidding. It’s not beautiful and snow-covered like most volcanoes.”

On the road leading to the base of Antuco, Long and his companions were puzzled by a series of markers, each of which featured a name and inscription in Spanish. A memorial entitled “Tragedy of Antuco” told the story of the 474 conscripts of the 17th Regiment of Los Angeles who were hit by a devastating winter storm during a routine training mission on May 18, 2005. Forty-four of them, many of whom were teenagers, died of exposure.

“I realized that those markers we had seen along the road were the sites of each one of those 44 soldiers who had died on the road,” Long recalls. “That was quite a moving event to read about, and then you’re there standing under this black-looking volcano. It was quite an experience.”

Connecting youth with nature

Ron Long, a Vancouver-based nature photographer. | Photo courtesy of Ron Long

As someone who has traveled extensively to botanical destinations across the globe, Long emphasizes the need to appreciate the power of nature and all that it has to offer.

“My greatest frustration is the lack of interest in nature and the environment that I see all around,” says Long.

Nature Vancouver members comprise typical lecture attendees. As Long points out, these individuals are already concerned about the environment.

“It’s the situation of preaching to the choir,” says Long. “Many people outside of Nature Vancouver don’t know anything about nature, have no interest in trying to preserve it, and aren’t even particularly concerned about the deteriorating environment. Everybody’s concerned with jobs and making money.”

Long states that he is willing to give a talk to any group that is interested enough to invite him.

“The primary purpose of my talks is to make people aware of just how fascinating nature really is. I don’t get on any sort of a high horse about protecting the environment, but in a lower-key way try to make them aware that nature is pretty special and they’re missing a lot by not learning about it,” says Long.

According to Long, members of Nature Vancouver have traditionally found a physical connection to the land by hiking, but many are now too old for this activity. Instead, they attend the society’s weekly lectures, where most attendees are well over 30 years old.

“Our biggest concern is the almost total lack of young people that are coming to Nature Vancouver. My wish is that young people in the city come to the meetings and learn about what is going on, and hopefully do some reading on their own,” says Long. “It’s a pretty special place out there, and we should all pay attention to it.”

For more information about this Nature Vancouver event, please visit www.naturevancouver.ca.

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