Friday, August 19, 2011

Butterflies in Yucatan

And now: a brief intermission while I research several new articles. Here is a story of another time and place in the interim...

Butterflies in Yucatan: 12/84
In Yucatan I chased my soul. I don’t know when it left me. I was touring pyramids on my honeymoon with a man I never knew. I was in agony, wondering if I’d chosen the wrong mate. I wanted to escape more than my vows… I wanted to leave behind all falsehood and find something true.

At Uxmal I broke my restraints to the Tour Group of Bermuda Shorts. They were glad to see me go, we also were unequally yoked. As they walked faster to avoid being paired with me, I began to fall back from them and veer off the Assigned Path. No one noticed or objected; the native tour guide looked right through me and turned his back as though to say ‘I knew you’d go’. My rehearsed litany of complaint went unsung. My ‘husband’ was entranced by a pair of voracious twins from Nooyauk. I hoped they’d take him home with them.

I don’t remember when it began, there seemed a shift in time and place. I was struggling defiantly up the stones toward an opening in the wall that was not solidly repaired; I could see inviting plants and flowers through the opening. There appeared to be a trail, so I followed it down the other side and away from the pyramid. A sense of timelessness fell upon me. Something enveloped me and was so familiar I mistook it for my self. Music began to play softly like my breath and being; I followed it like one entranced. Nothing in this life could have deterred me.

I’d been listening to the music for a while before I heard it. It called and beckoned over here now there. It swelled and receded like wind in the trees, though all was still. It was a lover’s voice: the pipes of Pan, I heard it clearly now and so loud I feared I’d have to share it with the others. It had no single source so I became lost in my wild pursuit of it.

I had left the group, the restored path and public pyramids, the tour, the guide, the civilized side of the ruins and climbed over the top of the sun bleached stones to plunge with abandon into the raw and untamed jungle.

Then I saw the butterflies. At first there were only a few: maize then azure then emerald petals floating lazily above the deep green; blooms I was sure were orchids became butterflies at my touch and joined the others in an erotic dance. I reached for them and they waited till I was about to touch them then danced down a trail and led me on, ever on.

They swirled in a whirlwind of tempo, in time with the rise and fall of sound. I also danced to their tune, stepping forward over fern and fall to reach for blooms that rose and flickered like bright flames through my hands only to flutter and descend a few steps farther in the forest and gather like an unthinkable bouquet of sun drenched blooms at a puddle on the forest floor.

A few became a hundred. I could hear their wings. They pulsed with sound. I thought if I could just touch them and encircle them with my arms when they rose in flight, something wonderful would happen. I followed the butterflies and music into another world. We came to a glen where all the butterflies of the forest seemed to have gathered. They encircled a small pond and vied for positions around the water’s edge. They mated and flew up in waves like confetti. The air was filled with them. The music swelled and increased, until it seemed a crescendo was about to crash down upon us all.

Suddenly the music stopped. The butterflies flew up into the trees and disappeared from view. The sound of silence swelled until it was shattered by an animal scream. It was not mine… Something was watching me through the tree trunks. Fear gripped my heart and I ran for my life.

I was disoriented, I was lost. I had traveled a half mile into the jungle. I ran this way then that and the thing that watched me followed. When I ran it ran; when I stopped it stopped. It never closed in, it paced me on a parallel path then it began driving me back to the pyramid.

When I was in sight of the pyramid I stopped to catch my breath and look for the opening in the stones I had come through. It was gone. I was on the outside, looking in. I was below a rocky rise upon which sits the long building called the Nunnery. Everything on my side was in sharp contrast to the buildings as I had left them. All was in an advanced state of ruin and decay; it felt like I had been gone for centuries.

Looking up at the Nunnery, I could see open doorways at regular intervals in the decaying stone walls. I labored to climb the rise to the nearest one. A few feet from the threshold I rose to look at my goal and, as though I was expected a heavily armed soldier swung into view deliberately blocking my way and in one graceful move swung his rifle from his shoulder to his chest and prepared to cock it. I could not see his eyes behind dark glasses but there was no intellect in his stance. I stumbled back down the rubble and climbed to the next doorway, thinking “damned socialists! They don’t know who I am.”

In perfect syncopation, an identical soldier swung into position in that doorway too. There were two more doors and two more soldiers. I sat at the bottom of the un-restored side of the ruins and stared at these four identical opponents who held their rifles across their chest, stood in blockade form and stared at the horizon over my head. I had no doubt there was a fifth and final one in the last door.

The thing in the jungle began to growl and worry like a dog with a bone, the music was stilled and no other sounds replaced it, a few butterflies were scattered about me on my rocky refuge, they were tattered now and dancing their last; reaching with ruined wings for the remains of life.

I made a mad dash for all I was worth up the rubble, along the berm, past the fifth doorway, without a glance, and around the end of the building to the carefully landscaped and paved parking lot in front of the pyramids. There my tour group was calmly waiting at the bus. I was hot, winded, scratched and bleeding. No one said a word or even thought it. I went to the end of the line.

As we waited for the guide to sign paperwork with the office, I could hear the distant strains of panpipes. No one else noticed.

The tour guide opened the bus door; sunburned tourists filed wearily in, talking colorlessly about the things they’d seen. I was last. (After all, I’d just run there from another place and time, and almost didn’t make it.)

The tour guide stopped me at the door, looked at me a long time then asked “are you married to that man?” I said yes. He had eyes the color of ice in a face burnt black by the sun under a brow like a bird of prey’s. I’d heard he was a mixed breed, unaccepted by Aztec and Mayan alike but able to speak many tongues and a guide for cultures who’d disowned him. I didn’t feel inclined to tell him what happened.

“He never asked where you went” my guide said.

“There were butterflies” I answered foolishly.

“I know.” The sunset was sliding slowly down the triangle of the pyramid, we waited for it to finish its journey; then he said, “He’s not the man for you.”

“I know,” and since I couldn’t bear the look in his eyes I got on the bus.

© Terre Ashmore 2009

Postscript: years later I saw a little Indy film called ‘El Norte’ the music and dancing butterflies are symbolic in that native culture for death and rebirth.

No comments: