I went out for a walk with my husband on Monday. After dropping our son at school, we taxied up to one of our favorite settings- el Charco del Ingenio, the botanical garden where we were married. The Dalai Lama has designated this place a ‘Zona de Paz’ (Zone of Peace), one of five in all of Mexico.
We crossed over the presa to the side of the preserve that was charred by fire last spring, and which is now quite dry. There is extraordinary beauty in the contrast of blackened mesquite trees against the golden fronds of dried grasses. The light here in San Miguel- whether it’s coming in through the early morning fog, or arcing across the wintry sky- is enchanting. It has a way of making everything look lit from within.
Turning left, we start a leisurely stroll along the ridge of the canyon, walking well back from the sheer edge. I tend towards a fear of heights and my legs go all wonky if I get too close. There is a big pipe that runs along the interior wall of the canyon. It used to carry water from the presa to the fabric mill below. The mill is long closed, and has been converted into artist’s studios. The pipe has gone to rust, and the ground below it is littered with small white crosses marking the spots where the foolhardy, the unsteady, or the drunk fell to their deaths. That wonky feeling in my legs is not wholly unfounded…
We come to a spot that requires a decision: loop around and away from the canyon, or hike down into it? Hubby wants to see if we can find a good spot to watch the swifts emerge from the caves where they overnight, so we elect to head down. The first part is easy; a slender trail snakes through the grass, and we have a good view ahead. As we descend, the canyon walls spread open to the right, sloping down to meet the town. As we look up to the left, there is a kind of dark, erotic sense to the way the canyon walls rise up and close in, like the inner thighs of some great goddess lying on her back. We begin to enter her where small pools of water appear. There is a stream here, and some deeper pools too, which fill during the rainy season and are fed throughout the year by an artesian spring.
It is a sensual place, this place of the genies.
The streambed is bound by boulders. We tie our sweaters around our waists, and begin to reach up for handholds and grope with our toes for footholds. I am soon aware of my navel, of working the action of each limb from my deep belly center. When we crest the top of a rock, others lie tumbled below and around. We begin to hop and jump and straddle, limbs akimbo, like giant bugs. On the way in, the air is slightly damp, the cloud cover has not burned off, and a couple of ravens watch us, commenting occasionally with gravelly squawks. Soon, trees branches form a canopy overhead and we find ourselves becoming more intimate with this space.
We spy the long vertical opening to the swallows’ main cave. The mounds of bird droppings signal us to enjoy the view from a distance. Lying on the ground, hubby is soon covered with the stickers coming off the grasses. I perch on a rock behind him, sharing my seat with fox scat and some tiny cacti that have sent optimistic roots into the cracks. We hear the constant chatter of the swifts in their caves; it reminds me of the sounds of school mornings at our house. Turning my ears away from the birds, I hear someone coming up the same way we did. He’s huffing loudly and seems mostly unaware of us. The solitary man keeps stopping to look at the opposite canyon wall, as we are right across the way from the cave that is said to house the spirit (‘el Chan’) who inhabits this place. Some say el Chan is a malevolent spirit, but I tend to agree with those who say it is a powerful one. If you seek to enter his cave and your intentions are less than honorable, chances are good you’ll encounter his darker side.
Tired feet and hunger pangs move us to retrace our steps out of the canyon before we have seen the birds emerge. As we get to the place where we have to start ascending again, hubby turns and sees bands of the swifts being swept up and out of the canyon like leaves caught in an updraft. It is getting close to noon, and today the birds did not emerge until the sun had sufficiently warmed the rock face.
Leaving the canyon is slow going, as we hike up, across, over and out. Exiting the park, we walk down steep cobblestone streets to the mercado, where freshly made corn tortillas and fragrant mole await us. We still have to walk home, and by this time we’re groaning because our feet especially have had it. Lunch is a couple of quickly assembled quesadillas then it’s hot showers, foot massages and a nap.
Something about spending all these many hours walking and sitting in this place- and others- in the high desert of central Mexico has altered me. I notice a need to be more internal and contemplative. Hubby and I seem to be re-forging our relationship with ‘time’. Becoming still enough that a snake glides by without altering its path, we notice that life goes on around us regardless of us making note of it or not.
Invariably, some seed is planted on these walks that inspires a theme for my next yoga class or home practice or writing. Hubby confesses he is getting closer to ‘happiness’. My well, depleted and drained almost dry, is filling steadily and the practice for me then becomes to abide in the place of ‘not-doing’. Sitting on the rock of not-doing, feet dangling, I feel the waters rising about me slowly. These waters soothe my hot, tired feet. These waters bring a soft blanket of seedling-green to my arid places. I am challenged to cultivate reciprocity; to not take so much water for my own needs that I drain the spring from which it flows.
I suppose any place in nature can feel sacred or inspiring or soul nurturing. Committing to a relationship with One Place brings out its nuances and secrets, and prompts the same in us, too. The last time I felt a relationship to one specific place was at my father’s house on the coast of Maine.
‘Fortune’s Rocks’ is a tiny spot and you won’t find it on every map. From the front deck of the old house, one could feel the salt spray flung from the fingers of waves, like Mother Nature tossing off bon mots, non-sequitors, and tiny pearls of infinite wisdom. I grew to know the messages contained in every shift of the wind and tide. I knew when it was good to go kayaking and when it was courting danger to point my boat into the open ocean. That place fed my soul, and when it was no longer an option to be there, some part of my soul became hollow, like a cave for hibernation, cold for lack of a slumbering bear.
These days, I feel blessed to have el Charco, and to have the land and her spirits opening to me. The moving meditation of my asana practice, long the thing that most centered me, is now enhanced, enlivened and informed by the moving meditation of these walks into nature, into her open spaces and her dark spaces; out to her edges and in to her folds. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti, OM.