Friday, May 7, 2010

Yucatecan Still Lifes: Small Things




This is a praying mantis little bigger than my thumbnail, found scurrying up a plant stem one day alongside a road near the pueblo of Kantunil. Its dull green body was the color of the new leaves; its golden eyes sparkled in the sun. These insects know no fear. It sat confidently in my hand. When I neared it with a finger, it held its ground. When I moved my finger away, it rapidly chased as if in pursuit of prey.

I love to find beauty in small and unobtrusive things, and end up with interesting photos that don't really fit into a topic for this blog. So, this week, I'd like to share images of some small things, details that do not call attention to themselves, scenes unknown or easily missed by someone passing quickly or without paying careful attention.



Huayalceh is a hacienda south of Mèrida, where massive ruins of old colonial buildings dominate the scenery. However off on a side path exists a grotto whose well-worn stones indicate that people were likely coming here to dip cool water from a pool in its depths long before the Spanish came along, divided the land up and build these structures. You don't really notice the place unless you walk up close. The huge, gnarled trees and roots hanging over the cavern's entrance give it an ancient, mysterious feel. This looks like a good place to see aluxes (a-LOOSHes), the Mayan mythological equivalent of elves or little people who live out in the woods and possess supernatural powers. This might be an interesting place to visit under a full moon.



Later the same morning on which I passed through Huayalceh, I was looking for a store where I could buy a cold drink and stumbled upon the preschool in Junku, another hacienda a bit south of Mèrida. Junku is small, and there is likely only a single teacher in this one-room schoolhouse. I wrote recently about my love of the simple and elegant traditional Mayan house. Here is a beautiful one, curved white walls as perfect as a fresh chicken egg, constructed of plastered and whitewashed stone, with the traditional guano (palm frond) roof.

One day when I was looking at property near Izamal, the agent asked me if I wanted to see an old hacienda nearby. She knows the owner, and said it would be OK to take a look. There's a caretaker and the owner has slowly been restoring the main house so it's in pretty good shape, but still has an abandoned feel to it. The house was wide open and no one was around, so we walked through. It is a nice old place, with only a few rooms, but spacious, and apparently a true colonial, judging from the architecture. Among the interesting details are these original window openings, the design delicately molded into the plaster around the frames.

Where this orchid grows is a secret. I will say no more than that it grows somewhere in the state of Yucatàn, because I promised the friend who showed me the place that the location would remain protected. This bloom is one of more than one hundred similar blooms on a single plant. The stem on which the flowers grow reaches to above my waist; some examples are even larger. There are not just a few of these plants growing here. This is a colony of rare orchids, largely unappreciated by local residents, and therefore the plants remain unmolested.

Unfortunately here, as in places all over the world, publicity and popularity often destroy such wonders. If crowds come, there will be paths, trash, damage to the ecosystem, and flowers will be plucked and plants stolen. Many of the native orchids in Yucatàn are in danger of extinction due to agriculture, burning, and harvest of firewood, which destroys habitat. The other danger to the plants is that they are valuable. Orchids are pilfered from the wild by traffickers who sell them to collectors. I am glad that this place remains unknown, unappreciated, and in its natural state. I'll visit it to enjoy the spectacle and to take pictures, but I will not spread the word.

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