Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Blessings and Prayers

We're sending out many prayers for my father-in-law Ron Merchant. If you're reading this, we want you to know we love you and hope you are well. We appreciate who you are to us and all you do. We wish a thousand blessings upon you.


Beyond What

We reach for destinies beyond
what we have come to know
and in the romantic hush
of promises
perceive each
the other's life
as known mystery.
Shared. But inviolate.
No melting. No squeezing
into One.
We swing our eyes around
as well as side to side
to see the world.

To choose, renounce,
this, or that --
call it a council between equals
call it love.

Alice Walker


Many blessings to Tim for dedicating this poem to me on his blog. These words capture some small piece of the conflict I often experience in a life filled with no small measure of contradiction. And yet beyond the hazy skies of my limited vision, I do perceive some grander purpose to all my wanderings, if nothing else than to know I do not walk this road alone, but with fellow soul-travelers who await my every arrival.

Four Generations

Grandma Great Alice, Grandma Shelly, Barry, Whitney, McKenna, and Dakota.

After looking back, I thought this photograph deserved an entry of its own. We were celebrating my daughter's 10th birthday when I looked around the room and realized we had 4 generations of our family assembled in one place. I thought why not take the opportunity to create a memory of this moment in time? I hope someday my children will learn to love our family history the way I do. If that happens, I want them to know I did my best to preserve their heritage for future generations.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

McKenna's Birthday

McKenna on her 10th birthday.

The cake...

McKenna celebrated her 10th birthday with dinner, cake, and presents. We invited her cousins, grandmas, her Grandma Great Alice, and yes, her aunt 'Chelle Belle. She had already celebrated her birthday with friends, so this was a simple family gathering. These are the memories I will cherish.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

'Chelle Belle

Happy Birthday to my sister Michelle! Hope it's a great one!

Leaving Mexico

A small town cemetery.

A roaside store selling statues of La Santisima Muerte.

Rhonda loved seeing the chickens and turkey wandering the streets.

The Virgin of Guadalupe and Coca Cola; a perfect combination.

A roadside dentist office.

"Here Meets the Church of Christ"

A "public" restroom on the road back to Cancun.

We left Valladolid and somehow missed the turn to the toll highway leading back directly and quickly to Cancun International Airport. Instead, we ended up taking the free highway passing through more than a dozen small towns. Actually, I was glad for the experience of seeing some of the more mundane places within the Mexican countryside.

These are some of the sights we saw, but two of these photographs deserve some telling.

We photographed the dentist office because the previous night I accidentally pulled the wire out from my braces. I had nightmare visions of having to visit some back alley dentist, and so I ran upstairs and pounded on my mother's hotel room door. "Wake up mom, you have to help me!" I shouted.

When she saw the problem, she objected, "I'm a nurse, not an orthodontist."

"I don't care!" I answered, "I'd rather you fix the problem than some scary dentist in a jungle hut." So she pulled out a pair of dirty tweezers and somehow managed to re-string the wire into the brace. Amazingly, she did the job right and when I returned to the States, I needed no additional treatment. In hindsight, our methods were probably no more clean or safe than a real dentist in Mexico, but at the time, the thought terrified me.

The second story is related to the last photograph. Rhonda had to visit a bathroom with some urgency, but unlike the States, we didn't expect to find public restrooms or rest stops. We finally had to stop and ask around. A woman pointed us in the direction of a flower shop with a "public" restroom out back. It was Rhonda's first experience with a "scary" bathroom in Mexico. It was simply a little detached toilet and shower room, with a blanket hanging over the door. She really hated that bathroom, but circumstances didn't allow for many options. I just laughed; I know, no sympathy here.

Then the funniest part was that after we left the bathroom, a horde of little little boys chased us out demanding payment for use of the facilities. I gave them $10 pesos and went on my way.

From there, we rushed back to the airport to catch our return flight. Such an interesting end to a fabulous trip. Ultimately, I was sad to leave, but I know we will return someday.


The main church in Valladolid.

Me and Nate in the central park.

A street scene in Valladolid.

A woman begging on the street.

Dakota, mom, and McKenna walking down the street.

Another street scene.

Rhonda met some LDS missionaries in the park.

A final view of the central park.

Valladolid is a charming colonial town about 50 kilometers from the ruins at Chichen Itza. We spent the afternoon having lunch downtown and strolling through the central park. All the while, we entertained fantasies of returning to live a few months in that town. I would love it. I'm especially happy Rhonda would seriously consider the possibility. It would be a wonderful experience for all of us.

Cenote X'keken

Cenote X'keken, more commonly known as Dzitnup.

Sunlight enters through a small hole in the ceiling.

Dakota looks like an evil sea creature from the underworld.

Me, Dakota, and Nate enjoying a swim in the cenote.

On the way to bring Nate to Valladolid, we stopped at Cenote X'keken, also known as Cenote Dzitnup. This natural wonder deserves some explanation. I quote the following from Yucatan Today:

The natural wonders of the state of Yucatan are innumerable and some of the most important and unusual are the cenotes (say-NOH-tays) or sink holes. In the Yucatan there are over 3000 cenotes, with only 1400 actually studied and registered.

The Maya called them dzonot (ZO-note), which the conquering Spaniards translated as cenote (say– NO–tay.) Giraldo Diaz Alpuche, was a military commander in the 16th Century who was greatly impressed with these underground caverns and pools, and he tried to explain the meaning of the word cenote in the Spanish language as meaning "deep thing". The Motul dictionary, a dictionary of Mayan hieroglyphics, defines dzonot as "abysmal and deep".

Cenotes are magical, enigmatic and unique in the world and were once the only resource for fresh, sweet water in the local Yucatecan jungle. They were the sacred places of the Maya for that reason, but also because they represented the entrance to the underworld.

The Yucatan Peninsula is a porous limestone shelf with no visible rivers; all the fresh water rivers are underground. Being porous, caverns and caves formed where the fresh water collects – hence the cenotes or water sink holes. The water that gathers in these subterranean cenotes is a crystal clear turquoise color with a very pleasant temperature of 78°.

When we arrived on site, at least a dozen young children immediately approached us and demanded we purchase guides, post cards, or commemorative handkerchiefs. We negotiated a path through the sea of vendors as tactfully as possible, and then descended into the earth through a narrow passage. A single rope provided our only guide down the steep, winding stairs cut into the stone.

Quite suddenly, we emerged into a large cavern illuminated by electric lights. A small hole in the ceiling also allowed a column of natural sunlight to pierce the darkness, causing the water to glow bright blue. Bats flew overhead, screeching occasionally as they passed. Stalactites and long tree roots hung like ropes from the cavernous roof.

Once inside, I became intoxicated by the beauty and mystery of that place. Nate, Dakota, and I stripped down to our shorts and dove into the cool dark water. Black fish swam nearby, but I really didn't mind. The experience was magical!

Only once I swam toward the back side of the pool where the bottom suddenly dropped off into complete blackness. I'm not sure how to explain what I felt, but I started to get panicky. Water rarely frightens me, but maybe not knowing the depth scared me on some level; or maybe I had subconscious visions of the Mayan underworld and sacrificial victims thrown into the depths. Whatever the reason, I felt myself suddenly struggling to return to the shallows. When I returned all out of breath, Nate laughed and said he felt the same thing while swimming over that spot.

As we left, I thought swimming in the cenote was actually one of the greatest highlights of our trip. I'm especially proud of Dakota for braving the dark water to enjoy this experience with me. He'll remember this for many years to come.

Chichen Itza #10

Our last night at Chichen Itza, the sun set over the jungle and cast a warm glow over the Caracol Observatory. I'm sad to leave, but in my heart, I know I will return someday. This place has not yet fulfilled its purpose in my life path.

Chichen Itza #9

Last photographs of some of my family at the ruins of Chichen Itza; my daughters McKenna and Whitney above, and my mother Shelly Marie.

Chichen Itza #8

I love the detail visible in these buildings. I wish we could have stayed longer to just take it all in. As I said before, it was amazing.

Nate Garvey

In a bizarre turn of events, we met up with my friend Nate Garvey. Nate is originally from Indiana, but we spent some time together at the sweat lodge in Wellpinit, and just hanging out in Spokane. He and I have had some great conversations about dreams and mystical interests. As a matter of fact, I would say he has one of the most remarkabvle gift of dreams of At the moment, he is traveling through Mexico on his way to Guatemala. He stayed one night with us at the Mayaland Hotel, and we later dropped him off at a hostel in Valladolid.

I envy his freedom to just see the world as fate directs, though I wish him the best of luck on his continued journeys.


The Mayaland Hotel is visible from the platform of the Caracol Observatory.

Chichen Itza #7

The Caracol Observatory was the only building we could actually climb, so we ascended the stairs, and there I left a small offering to the spirits of that place.

Chichen Itza #6

Most of the ruins are cordoned off, preventing us from climbing the temples and pyramids. We were very disappointed, but fortunately, they still allow visitors to climb the Caracol Observatory. My children were thrilled to climb the stairs, and paused only a second to pose for this picture.

Chichen Itza #5

Images of snakes and skulls adorn many buildings throughout the city. It would seem the Mayans were focused on death, and though the cultural forms changed after the arrival of the Spanish, images of death still play a large role in their ideology. La Santisima Muerte is just one example of this current phenomenon. However, it would be unfair to suggest their fascination with death existed simply to satisfy morbid human tendencies. Death brings life. They believed the blood of the deceased nourished the earth, and the serpent, though portrayed in a sinister light by Christian thinkers, was often a symbol of regeneration and renewal.

Chichen Itza #4

People standing below the wall give an indication of its true height.

Players had to hit the ball through this stone hoop.

The ancient ball court.

We were amazed to see the enormity of the ancient ball court, especially when we saw how high above the ground they placed the hoops. And to think they had to get the ball through the hoop without using their hands or feet. Incredible!

Chichen Itza #3

We visited the ruins at Chichen Itza. I don't care to recount the history of each pyramid or temple in this blog, but rather I wish to speak something of our experience there.

For many years I have told my wife we should visit the ruins at Chichen Itza, Tikal, or one of the other major sites. She happily agreed, but I'm not sure she expected what she saw. When we arrived and began to observe not just one of two buildings, but an entire city, she was amazed. I think she expected something much smaller.

Even my children were impressed. My daughter McKenna is generally unmoved by anything outside her sphere of interest, and yet she ran between buildings saying over and over again, "This is so cool!" Even after the trip, my 8 year old daughter says Chichen Itza was one of her favorite memories of Mexico.

Who can blame them for their reaction? It still amazes me every time to think an entire civilization once dedicated themselves to building such magnificent structures and cultural achievements.


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