Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wanderings: Magic Places

Shrine at los manantiales of San Pablo

As time passes, I travel far less and yet gain more from each experience. I log fewer miles, and do them more slowly. I often explore closer to home. I take fewer pictures as I go, preferring to use all my senses to gather impressions and memories of a place.

In addition, now when I visit a place I spend more time there. What I find as a result of this simplification is that I see, feel, hear and sense more about the places I do visit, and take much more home with me from the experience than I used to.

Anyone sensitive enough to the surrounding environment occasionally stumbles across special places where there is an atmosphere, a presence, a spirit, perhaps an aura, that lends them a magic quality.

Conseulo and son Marco
During my July visit to Querétaro, I took an afternoon hike in the hills above the tiny pueblo of San Pablo, Amealco, located near where I teach summer school.

I went with a small group of other teachers, led by San Pablo resident Consuelo, who is an indigenous Otomí woman, a local teacher and our co-worker. Also walking with us and helping us gather firewood along the way were her young sons Carlos and Marco Antonio.

Our goal was los manantiales, or the springs, which supply water to the pueblo. The flow is divided. Part of the water runs in its natural course. The rest is confined by pipe and in a narrow, old rock and concrete channel from the source, at the top of a valley, down past fields where small sluice gates allow its diversion for irrigation, and then into the pueblo itself.

We climbed above San Pablo on a rocky, sometimes muddy path, which follows the channel up through tall old trees that cast a deep shade on this cloudy afternoon. Along the trail and in clearings, large spiky maguey plants and clumps of yellow, pink and blue wildflowers occasionally relieved the gloom. Under the dense forest canopy the ground is covered by a thick matte of brown leaves which makes the place seem soft despite the presence of rocky outcroppings.

As we climbed, a sudden chill and dark clouds threatened an imminent downpour, but beyond a few errant drops, the enveloping walls of the small valley held the storm just far enough away to keep us dry. The shelter of our valley notwithstanding, the deep bass rumble of distant thunder was powerful enough to vibrate our insides from time to time.

As we approached the spring, there was no mistaking that we had arrived. In the clearing around the water source, the people have constructed a tiny shrine, painted sky blue and adorned with crosses and strings of starlike decorations which extend into the surrounding trees that arch overhead. It is a protected, intimate and refuge-like place.

It is wonderful after the climb to kneel down next to the shrine where clear, cool water burbles from the ground, and drink from this ancient water source. Countless beings have done this before me. Ruins of earlier civilizations in the vicinity date back close to 2000 years. From the presence of the small, fertile cornfields and pueblo of San Pablo directly below los manantiales, I suspect that this spring has been a special place and a source of life since ancient times, perhaps for thousands of years.

When I travel, I still enjoy the occasional experience of a city, a show, or a noisy night on the town. However now I mostly concentrate on quieter, more contemplative visits to places like los manantiales. These places don't shout out at you, don't demand your attention, and are not always easy to find. Some people do not notice them at all. But those who do sense the meaning of these places definitely experience something that surpasses human-made attractions.

Above all, places like los manantiales possess a strong sense of self. They resonate with life, the passing of time, the seasons, the spirits of people, animals, plants and venerable trees long ago dissolved and reincarnated in the cycles of life. The reverberations of past events still linger in these locations because it is so evident in them that although everything over time changes in form, it all is still here.


  1. Is that the water under the little blue rock structure?


  2. What beautiful photographs with this post, Marc. And what a treat to follow that path to the shrine with you, feel that chill, experience the disappearing sun when the clouds appear. I've got traveling on my mind of late (a lot), so this vicarious experience was most welcome.

    BTW, is that Salvia guaranitica in that photo? Gorgeous blue flower, just growing wild?

  3. We are sure in accord here, Marc. I may be even worse (or better, depending upon one's perspective). Just after I read your entry, I went to the back of the house, and discovered the most beautifully glistening spider-web, with the probable creator dead center. (If only I'd mastered my Nikon, I'd have a good shot. My Flip, well, maybe….) I actually felt sad in having to destroy the art-work, but I don't need to bump into it at night.

    There is so much beauty so close to home. I doubt that you are ever bored.

    There is so much beauty right here. Some of us are wired internally to see that, and some prefer a totally new exposure. It's probably not something over which we have much control.

  4. Kevin, the actual source can be seen in the lower right corner of the top picture. It has been partially covered by a square concrete lid, which is just visible.

    Lynette, I am glad you enjoyed the post. It's always nice to receive your comments. I am sorry I do not know the identity of the plant. Maybe another reader can help us.

    Alinde, you're right, I rarely feel bored, and I often don't understand people who complain about being bored. I think that it is a gift to be able to perceive the beauty in the many ordinary things around us. It's something that "civilized" people often have lost; maybe you and I are throwbacks. I think that getting people back to appreciating the small beauties of nature and everyday things would be a huge step toward solving some of the huge problems of consumption and environmental destruction the world faces.

  5. I agree with Alinde's last paragraph. I delight in finding those small visual treasures that so many others flit right past. It's puzzling, to me, how people can look at things without really seeing them.

  6. I look forward to seeing many of these special places when we are settled here. I've found similar places of peace, beauty, and a spiritual feel in places around the Hudson Valley, such as The Omega Institute, a holistic retreat center. It has become very commercialized, with hefty fees for their retreats, but when you are there you know that it is a special place. It's much better to discover a special place that others might have overlooked.

  7. John and Alan: Due to the danger of commercialization, there are special places I know that I will not write about in any detail or whose location I will not give. "Discovery" of these places sometimes ruins them. I think that this one is in little danger of exploitation beyond the needs of the local people it supplies water to, so I didn't think it would make any difference.

  8. Beautiful. Thanks for bringing us along on your adventure.

  9. Another very nice post Marc. I would add that as we age, often we prefer to re-visit places we've been before... and loved. I like to go back and see more deeply, get a better sense of the place and "settle in". Jorge and I leave on a BIG trip today, and while some of it will definitely be new territory, there will be substantial "deja-vu".

  10. Ahh, Marc thanks for reposting. People think I'm weird (I relish that) that when I go places I want to go to the out of the way places where others might not be. The place that I go to the beach comes to mind. The greatest pleasure there is getting up in the middle of the night to look out and see the fishermen in their boats with their lights dancing on the waves. It chokes me up every time I see such a sight. Thanks for sharing.......


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