From caterpillars to butterflies: Mayan dreams for 2012

Pinnacles

The last golden rays of 2011 slipped away gloriously yesterday, lingering across the chalky face of the Pinnacles, an ancient towering limestone formation in the north of Boone County, Missouri – one of the places on this planet I will always call home.

The unseasonable warmth had us removing layers as we scrambled up to catch a glimpse of the world from on high. Another climatic oddity in a year that was full of them. Change is in the air, for those with eyes to see: We are closing the book on a year that saw vast swaths of the American Southwest go up in smoke, millions of dollars of hurricane damage in Vermont, a monster tornado that erased big chunks of Joplin, massive flooding in Australia, the Phillippines and Southeast Asia and record-breaking heat waves in Europe and much of the United States.

My mother’s garden in the Missouri countryside was cooked before it could be harvested. Where I live, in Mexico, widespread crop failure due to extended drought pushed more subsistence farmers to leave the land for the traffic-choked cities or for a desperate, life-threatening dash for El Norte, the forbidden promise of employment across the northern border. But today, on this balmy December day, global warming seems a welcome respite from the bone-chilling cold that usually accompanies us at this time of year. So I won’t complain.

Much has been written about this turning of the ages; no place on Earth is more excited about the Mayan prophecies than Mexico, birthplace of the Mayan calendar that ends this year. To me, it’s impossible not to link this prophecy with the profound changes we are facing. I’m not speaking of Armageddon – rather, a time of reckoning as we end a cycle of industrial excess. The Mayan people I have spoken with are laughing at the notion that the end of the calendar means the end of the world. It’s simply the end of a cycle, and the beginning of a new one, they reassure anyone who asks. But in more serious conversations, they shared with me their hope, as fervent as my own, that a long-awaited shift is pending, and in fact has already begun.

“After five centuries of oppression, we’re ready for a change,” Rony, a Mayan friend from Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, told me. “It’s the only hope we have.”
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Hacienda Petac: “A little piece of Eden”

noche-en-merida-yucatanMERIDA, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico – Finally, I can relax.

The sound of running spring water and the night noises of the jungle surround me, the toil and trouble of the city far behind.

This long-anticipated journey with my parents – their first to Mexico, and the first stamp on their brand-new passports – had gotten off to an admittedly bumpy start, what with a raucus all-night party in our hotel on the first night, getting lost in the chaos of the city’s Centro Historico, a virulent case of bronchitis for their driver and guide – yours truly – and too many other complications to mention. Had I made a mistake? My ailing father was exhausted – and this trip had been planned as a healing retreat for him.

IMG_4873But as we passed through the colorful towns on the outskirts of Merida and entered the ornate iron gate into the shady front courtyard of Hacienda Petac, I felt the tension dissolve. Marlene, one of more than a dozen Mayan women who attended to our every need during our stay, materialized from one of the three graceful arches of the hacienda with a traditionally embroidered dress, a beautiful smile and a tray of tempting red drinks.

My heart sank – I was sure they coudn’t be on my father’s diet. They almost certainly had sugar in them, and would be another disappointment. But there was Colleen, greeting us with a hug and a rundown of the ingredients: hibiscus tea and orange juice. Pure, simple and delicious. Dad reached for it and downed it, delighted.
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The Butterfly Effect: Julia Butterfly Hill in Magis

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By Tracy L. Barnett
Magis Magazine
October 2011

“Fierce winds ripped huge branches off the thousand-year-old redwood, sending them crashing to the ground two hundred feet below. The upper platform, where I lived, rested in branches about 180 feet in the air … As the tree branches whipped around, they shredded the tarp that served as my shelter. Sleet and hail sliced through the tattered pieces of what used to be my roof and walls. Every new gust flipped the platform up into the air, threatening to hurl me over the edge.”
— Julia “Butterfly” Hill, The Legacy of Luna

It’s hard to say what was the most dramatic moment in that 738 days that Julia “Butterfly” Hill spent atop that platform in a redwood tree named Luna. Perhaps it was the day of that bitter storm and many others that ensued. Perhaps it was the day that a massive helicopter buzzed her tree and nearly blew her to her death with the 300 mph winds created by its updrafts. Perhaps it was the day that a fellow tree sitter had the rope he was standing on cut out from under him by “Climber Dan,” a logger hired by the timber companies to antagonize and remove intransigent activists from the trees they were trying to save from the loggers’ blades.
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Meet Anna and Dave, the Permacyclists

Permacyclists

Meet Dave and Anna, the Permacyclists.

She was a corporate lawyer from Brussels; he was a sociologist from New York. Neither of them was happy with their chosen profession, and after a great deal of soul searching, they decided to do what many dream of but few actually do: They quit their jobs, studied permaculture, bought bicycles and headed off across Africa, pedaling and working their way through 12 countries, 12,000 kilometers and 16 months from organic farm to organic farm, sharing what they’d learned along the way.

Now they’ve landed in Mexico and are launching a Phase 2 of their journey, but with a difference. This time they’re bringing a video camera and sound equipment, and documenting the stories of people working on solutions to the many environmental problems they have learned about in their travels. Their goal is to make it to the Earth Summit in Rio in June 2012. And this time they’re going by bus, instead of bike, to give them time to do reporting, writing and producing for their blog.

I was inspired by their story and by their plan, since in some ways it parallels my own – so we got together and shared stories. Here’s a little bit of theirs.


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Women’s Planting Day at the Kalpulli

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The planning had taken a long time, and the date had been postponed three days in a row – rain, problems with the tractor, but Friday night, the word went out: The next morning would be the Siembra de Mujeres.

There had been collective plantings before, but it was the first time at Teopantli Kalpulli that the women joined to plant their own milpa, the traditional planting of corn, beans and squash. I have never planted a milpa before, and I was excited to join them. At 7:30 I was waiting in front of the temple, my brand new coa in hand (the coa, I had learned from these women, is a beautiful and ancient agricultural tool that opens the ground easily and smoothly for the insertion of a few seeds, without the planter needing to bend down).

The morning was fresh and bright, with a veil of clouds draped around the crowns of the mountains in the distance. The sun shone on an aromatic earth abundant with the rains of the previous week, but dry enough to crumble easily in the hands. It was indeed a good day to plant.
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Tourists and Turtles

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Story and photos by Melissa Gaskill

This blog frequently covers travel that makes a difference – trips that incorporate volunteering, are culturally sensitive, support local businesses, and respect the human and natural environment – or all of the above. I wrote a guest post about such a trip about a year ago, Turtle Rescue on the Eco Side of Baja. More and more places, particularly in developing countries, see this kind of tourism as a sustainable way to protect sea turtles. At the 31st Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation, held in San Diego April 12-16, several presentations reported on programs that have seen success, so I thought I’d share them here.

SEE Turtles, a US based non-profit, promotes travel that supports conservation, organizing its own trips to Baja California, Costa Rica and Trinidad.

“We know tourism can be bad for people and animals, especially when done in an unplanned and uncontrolled way,” director Brad Nahill told symposium attendees. “Or it can have positive impacts, including direct financing of conservation and research, reduced dependency on direct use of resources (such as eating sea turtle eggs), increased monitoring, and an increased local constituency. We use local businesses, share commissions, and do additional fundraising, education, volunteer recruiting, and advocacy.”
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Rains of sadness, rains of joy

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A beautiful and proud, but probably very guilty, neighborhood rooster

TEOPANTLI KALPULLI – I was watering my wilted sunflower seedlings when the first rains came. First one fat drop, and then two, and then a whole scattering. I laughed and ran to shut off the faucet, delighted that I had been wrong. I’d listened to the rolling thunder in the distance with wry skepticism. Better water those seedlings, I said to myself, the scant handful that had survived this week’s scorching sun. Maybe that will make it rain. And then it did.
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The first rains in six months – I relished the exhilaration, the feel of the delicious drops falling on my face, pearly orange sky, rolling thunder in the distance. And then I remembered. Shades of Hiroshima, thousands dead, millions exposed to the assassin molecules that hover in the air in the wake of a nuclear disaster. I recalled what Marisol, the little girl next door, had said about the first rain: “When the rains come, they will be radioactive, and anybody who eats the fruit from the trees will get cancer,” she reported. I stopped smiling and ran for cover.

Official government reports on the fallout from the nuclear disaster in Japan are reassuring; the only hard data I am finding online, however, confirm that the rains reaching our side of the Earth are testing for radiation at levels higher than what the EPA considers safe. So, what to do?
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Esperanza Means Hope