Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Break trip renews college memories, reveals Mayan wisdom

by Kim Evans for the Herald-Times

I’m writing this column fresh from my spring break trip to Mexico. My family and I went on a cruise through the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula where we visited the Mayan archaeological site of Chichen Itza and the beautiful island of Cozumel.

This was my third trip to the Yucatan. I think it’s my favorite place in the world, and it made me reflect back over my previous trips there.

When I was a psychology student at IU, part of my degree requirement was a “culture study” component in which I took a block of courses related to a specific culture of my choosing. The culture I chose was Mesoamerica, which included study of the Olmec, Maya and Aztec civilizations of Mexico. This is how my fascination with these cultures began.

My favorite class was in Fine Arts, a study of Pre-Columbian art. I was captivated by the symbolism of these people. We studied stone carvings of the jaguar, feathered serpent and human forms ranging in size from colossal heads to tiny figurines carved from jade. The architecture of these civilizations was amazing as well. The 90-foot tall pyramid of Kukulkan in Chichen Itza was designed so that twice a year, on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the shadows and light play down the side of the pyramid to give the appearance of a serpent descending into the ground.

Immediately after graduating, I was compelled to take a trip to Mexico to visit some of these mystic places. At age 23, it was quite a journey to take on my own. I made my home base in Cozumel. From there, I booked excursions to the ancient sites of Tulum and Chichen Itza. I recommend a trip like this to any young woman after graduating from college. It was a rite of passage for me into life after college.

The next time I visited Cozumel was on another cruise with my parents, husband and 5-year-old daughter. We swam with the dolphins at a marine park.

And this time our trip was more educational. Our daughter had just finished studying the Maya and Aztec cultures in her sixth grade class at University Elementary, so we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to bring her classroom learning to life.

On the bus ride to Chichen Itza, our tour guide told us about the Mayan calendar. Of Mayan ancestory himself, he mentioned the prophecy of 2012 that Hollywood and others have depicted as a doomsday event. His take on 2012 was much different. To the extent I can recall the lesson he gave us on the Mayan number system and the sophistication with which they measured time, he simply said Dec. 21, 2012, is the date when the Mayan long count calendar ends. No fear. No freak-out. Simply the end of a cycle.

My take on it is this: What humanity does with this transformative time is up to them. It is an ending, but it is also a beginning.

And so I’m back home in Bloomington. The first thing I checked was my daffodil garden. They had thick buds ready to pop, but none had opened yet. Two days later, they bloomed. I was happy they waited for me to get home.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring comes to Bloomington — not a moment too soon

by Kim Evans for the Herald-Times

Last night the geese came back,

slanting fast
from the blossom of the rising moon down
to the black pond. A muskrat
swimming in the twilight saw them and hurried
to the secret lodges to tell everyone
spring had come.
And so it had.
By morning when I went out
the last of the ice had disappeared, blackbirds
sang on the shores. Every year
the geese, returning,
do this, I don’t
know how.

(excerpt from “Two Kinds of Deliverance” by Mary Oliver)

This is a challenging time for a columnist. Let me rephrase that — this is a challenging time for this columnist. Why, you ask? A simple, one-word reply sums it up nicely:


This week the sun, warmer temperatures and birdsong have made it tough to concentrate on anything but the outdoors. V-formations of warbling Sandhill cranes have been flying overhead in their northerly migration. I recall seeing and hearing the cranes flying south on the day after Thanksgiving. And now they’re coming back. Those few months went fast.

But then again, they went oh-so-slowly. It’s been a long winter.

Like the muskrat in Mary Oliver’s poem, people are in motion, shaking off the winter dust. Driving in Bloomington has been erratic recently. In some ways, we are newborn colts eager to balance on our legs so we can run free. Traffic signals and lane markers are less important in times like this. Extra vigilance is called for when traveling through town.

So this column isn’t about the Waldron or education cuts. My mind cannot find words about these topics, as important as they are, when my heart is enamored with the daffodils sprouting out of the ground.

It’s simply time for a break.

Many of us who are traveling for spring break will be thrust into a drastic change of scenery. My family of three will be traveling opposite the migration patterns, southward to a warmer climate and ocean waters. We decided a blast of summer would help us get through the last few weeks of winter.

Those who stay home will witness more subtle changes. Trees and flowers are budding; the Earth is waking up. Not wanting to miss a minute of this transition, a part of me wishes we were staying home to watch spring come to Bloomington.

After break, we begin to eye the end of the school year. We begin making plans for graduations, reunions, summer vacations, camps, and home improvement projects. My husband and I will begin planting our garden. I’ll plot to repaint the chairs on our front porch. We’ll rake the flower beds and seed the lawn. The birds we have been neglecting all winter will have seed in their feeders again.

But first, we rest. We soak up the sun, visit new places. We find time to slow down and catch our breath before the rush into summer begins.

And the daffodils will still be here when I return. I wonder if they will bloom while I’m gone.