Friday, September 6, 2013

The Beginning of the End

Walking the Road to Paradise, Atlangatepec, Tlaxcala 2008 
Beauty, like happiness, occurs frequently.
Not a day passes by in which we don't, for an instant, live in paradise. Jorge Luis Borges

2007-2008 was a year of travel for us. I was beginning my retirement and we had the upcoming nine months laid out nicely in front of us. We had found some very good renters for our home in Corvallis and everything seemed to be falling into place perfectly.  Marie had a full calendar of sketching workshops, Brittany and Provence in the summer, and Michoacan, Mexico in the fall. Wedged in between them was our arrival in Tlaxcala to set up our new home in Atlangatepec.
Aug 07 tractor and landscape sketches

We left for France in early June 2007 for the sketching workshop in Brittany, my first opportunity to participate in one of Marie’s workshops. As it turned out, I was living proof that Marie’s approach worked! My day one sketch made a first grader look like a professional. One month later I sketched another tractor and another landscape. The results were more to my liking, and Marie loved the progression. I became her new workshop example of “don’t try to learn to do it, just do it!” From that time onward, Marie and I sketched together. Her passion for sketching was contagious and her approach to sharing it was gentle and humane. I was hooked!
Oct 2007 Landscape
Oct 2007 Tractor
 We returned to Oregon in late July to prepare for our move to Mexico.
The previous winter, we had visited our friends, Paco and Alejandra, in Tlaxcala. They had a center for sustainable resources and alternative construction in Tlaxco, and also a house they were interested in renting in Atlangatepec (aka Atlanga), where they were currently living. It was an old granary that had been converted into an eco-home by Alejandra, an architect who was devoted to environmental education and alternative building techniques. Beside the main living area, there was a studio space on the roof and a cob and hay bale bedroom with a dry, composting toilet a few meters behind the house. There was also a nice greenhouse area with a good garden space as well as some gigantic manzano chile trees that were in full production.
Unlike most other houses in the area, it had a wood stove, something quite desirable, as Atlanga was at an altitude of over 8000 feet. But it had a real charm to it, and since Marie and I were seriously considering living outside the US for a while, it was a very tempting possibility. I was ready to jump at the opportunity, but Marie hesitated. She was tired and preparing the house for renters seemed overwhelming to her. It was my recent retirement and enthusiasm to “hit the road” again that made her agree to the move. In retrospect, it was the wrong decision. Little did we know when we left for Tlaxcala in late 2007, that it was the beginning of the end. Upon our return to the States after our nine-month stay in Mexico, we discovered that Marie’s cancer had returned, this time into her bones.

Ink Strokes on Paper

Beauty, like happiness, occurs frequently.
Not a day passes by in which we don't, for an instant, live in paradise. Jorge Luis Borges

Framed in weathered wood,
El Popo spews ash and plumes of billowy smoke
into the azure blue bitterness of the January morning.
Huddled around the radiant crackling
of an old wood stove
we sip steaming cups of Cordoba coffee
warming our innards with bowls of avena
as the frost melts off the high desert landscape.
The stark beauty gives her respite
from the angoisee that is stalking her,
A reason for being
in the Tlaxcala highlands
when she wonders why
she is there.
Ink strokes on paper are the best medicine
for the darkness and pain
that have crept into her spirit
And her bones
without our knowing.
Beauty, like happiness, occurs frequently,
Ink strokes on paper are moments in paradise.

But that time in Tlaxcala was a very productive period for Marie. It was full of ups and downs, highs and lows. There were unexplainable moments when Marie could not understand why she was not happy in Mexico, why she felt this suffocating grip on her that blocked out the light. Throughout her sketchbooks of this period, her pages are an emotional roller-coaster. There appeared to be a constant struggle between the natural beauty that surrounded us, and the inner struggle that weighed so heavily on Marie the entire time that we were there. 
In the sketch to the right she wrote: “Am I going to write anything on this page? Yes, I have something to say, without altering the grandeur of the landscape! Coming back from Muñoz by the dirt road. I get off of my bike to better appreciate the beauty of the countryside. A warm breeze, a golden prairie, and off in the distance, a shepherd on horseback. To the south, el Popo and his lover have now disappeared, to the right the Malinche, superb and grandiose. I’m having a wonderful time!” She goes on the write: Today is another proof that I know how good I can feel here.” 
We were constantly captivated by the stark beauty of the altiplano. How many times did Marie sketch el Popo, each time as if the first? Our breakfast each morning was highlighted by el Popo, framed in our window as we sat huddled around the woodstove sipping coffee. On clear days there was magic in the air, the nippy crispness of winter frosting el Popo in whiteness while steam rose from our morning cups of warmth and the bowels of Mother Earth in the distance.
El Popo from our window
It was ever present, majestic, and grandiose, something we never took for granted. Legend has it that the brave warrior, Popocatépetl, died of grief at the death of his lover, Iztaccíhuatl, and the gods turned them both into mountains so that they could finally be together. It is said that Popcatépetl still spews smoke and ashes to show that he remains at the side of his beloved Itza.  It all seems very possible as you see the two of them side by side on the horizon; love has no bounds and nature no limits.

(To be continued) 


Quena said...

As usual- beautifully written!

Gregg Kleiner said...

Bravo, Dick. A fine entry about such a hard story. Keep going!

Sara said...

The tears come at the beauty and the grief.

Debra Ramsdell said...

This was a beautiful and heart-wrenching portrayal of your time in Atlangatepec. It vividly brought to life our trip to visit you two there, where we shared your lovely life and your journaling work with the children. Thank you for the memories, the photos and your recollections.
Debra Ramsdell (Michael Lang)