"For them it is," McDivitt said.
"How'd the walk go?" he asked.
"We tried to show them something about the trees. We talked about the alerces. But, I don't know, they weren't really into it. Luis said his feet hurt."
Tompkins was incredulous. "His feet hurt?"
McDivitt eyed him evenly. "His feet hurt. And the other kids just wanted to play."
She was admirably American, I thought, in the flatness of her delivery, in her pragmatism, in the way she stood her ground. Tompkins seemed to think so too. He looked her over. "Anyway, they're just kids," he said, as if he had not forgotten. I thought, Whether he loves this woman by choice or by intuition, he must know that she is in some ways what he needs to be.
The conversation drifted to McDivitt's earlier career in California, and to her business partner Yvon Chouinard, who even after becoming very rich continued to drive a ratty old car. In Los Angeles this was considered to be eccentric behavior. But Tompkins called it a natural progression. He said, "First comes the display of wealth—that's a Cadillac. Then comes the display of style—that's the BMW. Then comes the mockery of style—that's Yvon Chouinard. In Chile there's a lot of display of wealth, and a bit of display of style, but you can forget about the mockery." I thought he was about to acknowledge the gulf between Americans and Chileans. But instead he merely said that Chouinard had visited Parque Pumalín and had liked it very much.
McDivitt went off to put the children to bed. The air turned cool, and a group of vacationing Chilean college kids wandered over from the campground and appeared in the fading firelight. One of them added wood to the embers, and with studied nonchalance they watched the little flames that erupted, and stood warming themselves shoulder to shoulder with Tompkins. There were about twenty of them, transient students of the determinedly concerned kind—sincere, idealistic, and a bit rebellious, but also, ultimately, perhaps too well behaved. They were still awkward with their adulthood, and had to strain to maintain the pretense of informality with Tompkins, a man whom—however temporarily—they seemed to adore.
I had seen adoration for him before—perhaps more enduring—in the distant city of Puerto Montt, among the barefoot young women who worked in the preserve's front office. They were serious, dignified, and a little standoffish, but they glowed when they talked about Tompkins. Their office was a sunlit refuge from the strivings of the city—a remodeled mansion behind high garden walls. It had blond wood floors and an immaculate atrium with a sign that read, in English,
We are the first generation in 100,000 generations of human evolution to have our lives shaped—not by nature—but by an electronic mass media environment of our own making.
Like caged animals, we have lost our bearings. Our attention spans are flickering near zero, our imaginations are giving out, and we are unable to remember the past.
The students at the campfire now expected to hear just these sorts of ideas. Tompkins stood among them like a penitent priest, slightly stooped, with his head tilted forward and his hands dangling loosely at his sides. Someone asked him a casual question, and he answered it briefly in his sloppy Spanish; after a silence someone asked another question, and this time his answer took longer. This went on until only Tompkins still stood and spoke, and the students had arranged themselves on the ground and sat listening to him in silence. He had just finished telling me that he never preached. But now he held forth for two hours, expounding on the need for a "new Copernican revolution" in which nature is no longer seen to turn around man, and arguing that capitalism has failed as surely as communism, but that there is a third way, and it is green. The students never once disagreed or asked for practical detail, though Tompkins was the rare man who could have provided it to them. Some nodded their heads in understanding or agreement, and seemed to grow sleepy. Tompkins continued to talk: the gross national product is a measure of the conversion of nature to culture; the techno-industrial juggernaut is a bulldozer unleashed on the world; The New York Times is the mouthpiece of transnational corporations; Santiago is an octopus reaching out and devouring the Chilean land.