A revival of Argentina's Thoreau
The rediscovery of the work and influence of William Henry Hudson fans the flame of romantic naturalism.
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The museum house blazes with white-washed brilliance as we approach through a forest. Only two 400-year-old ombus remain. "Hudson predicted it would disappear," Ravera said of the species which is actually a giant herb, "because it has no use for man." But it won't, if the park staff has its way: in the past two decades they've planted 25 ombus and thousands of other indigenous trees.Skip to next paragraph
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Hudson artifacts are displayed in the three-room house: his watch; a sketch for the William Rothenstein portrait of Hudson that hangs in London's National Portrait Gallery; and rustic touches that recall his naturalist activities: ostrich eggs, a puma skull, the skeleton of an armadillo, the clay nest of the peculiar oven bird.
A painting of a bird, donated by the Japanese city of Yokohama, recalls Hudson's link to Japan, established by the marriage of his grandniece, Laura Denholm Hudson, to Yoshi Shinya, the first Japanese immigrant to Buenos Aires. Their child, Violeta Shinya, became the first director of the museum, in 1964. Hudson's books reached Japan late in the 19th century, and were included in the curriculum when the study of English was instituted in the schools.
"The Japanese," a local historian wrote, "found in Hudson a defender of nature, an attitude close to the pantheistic spiritualism of Shinto, the traditional veneration of the natural world."
Japan's conservation-oriented Suntory Foundation donated the money to purchase 120 acres to establish the park, which shelters 144 species of birds, 25 species of trees, and animals such as the avestruz (Argentine ostrich) and the nutria. There are paths through the forest beneath the surging ombus, the weird palo boracho (drunkard tree), and the hackberry. There are meadows spotted with shafts of pampas grass, and the Arroyo de las Conchitas, the stream and stopover for migrating birds where, Hudson wrote, they'd gather by the thousands. Bird-watchers frequent the place; others seek its tranquility.
While I walked with Ravera, a large, blue butterfly arrived suddenly on the periphery of my vision. Then as if annoyed at my indifference, it flew directly in front of my face and seized my full attention. Surely in those millions of words he wrote, Hudson must have said something about these shimmering creatures that dance in the air. I would find it.
Violeta Shinya died in 1993, two years before Ravera, my guide, chauffeur, and fellow admirer of Hudson, took over. Ravera hopes for an "awakening of interest" in Hudson's books: "His writing is relevant now, owing to the preoccupation with the environment." He hopes to connect with the tourist industry in Buenos Aires, which these days is crowded with visitors from five continents and the interior. He wants to arrange transit out to the museum, only about 30-odd miles away. A taxi now will get you there and back for about $20.
Ravera is a bearded, bearish man who studied engineering before landing his job at the museum and whose principal qualities may be patience and the ability to make do with less. Though the house was officially declared a historic monument by the Province of Buenos Aires in 1970, and is visited by 20,000 people a year, he and his staff are hardly flush with government money. Seven employees earn between $270 and $600 a month, and there is little left for maintenance of the house, plantation, and three outbuildings, including a small library full of books by and about Hudson and correspondence among Hudson and his siblings.
While poring over this material I found something that alluded to the pain often imposed by the separation of loved ones back when continents were connected only by slow-moving ships. It was Hudson's dedication of his new book, "Long Ago and Far Away," to his favorite sister: "To my dear sister, Maria Elena, love and best wishes. From W.H. Hudson, New Year's Day, 1919."
He could not have known that she would never see his book, that she'd died even before he picked up his pen in London, leaving him as the last of the six children of Daniel and Caroline Hudson.