WIth one slow glide of his forefinger, our guide Mauricio traces the spiral carved deep in the rock thousands of years ago, even before the Aztecs. He carries a straw hat festooned in feathers of the shaman who taught him the stories of these sacred pools in the coastal jungle of Nayarit, Mexico.
Mauricio wears a blue T-shirt that he designed with the white outline of the corn man, one of the elaborate petroglyphs here in a small, protected preserve by Alta Vista. He might be in his 60s; his steps are spry and light, and his eyes are bright beneath wire-rimmed glasses. Speaking to us in excellent English, his sentences also cascade with perspective-changing translations, like “downstairs” referring to all that is below or underground.
Mauricio’s message is of reverence for the earth, kinship with nature, knowing and applying the healing properties of native plants, and an abiding respect for the ancient peoples who carved the crocodile, jaguar, and bee. We watch him daub his face with the golden dye of achiote from a fruit he breaks open in his hands. “I will wash this off later with water from the stream,” he tells us with a smile.
Winding along the forest path, Mauricio hugs the biggest tree, and then sits and swings on a twisted vine suspended between the great tree and a smaller one. Later, he would climb up on a carved boulder to lie on his back, and gaze up at the layers of palms, figs, and other trees shading the place of spirits. The four of us take turns lying on the bed of stone to watch the patterns of leaves spiraling up and away into the warm, humid air. Before we reach the four pools, Mauricio shows us the special boulder by the path where we must place one hand to the rock and then to our heart. On the way out, we do the same.
Once at the pools surrounded by carvings, we close our eyes to the trickle of flowing freshwater and open them to the offerings of the local Huichol people–of purple, blue, and pink Ojo de Dios (God’s eyes) hanging in branches. From his pack, Mauricio pulls out copal–resin from the Copal tree–and lights the smoky incense, one of several offerings he makes that day.
Of all the petroglyphs, the spiral is the one I carry with me, this universal symbol with many meanings. Always, there’s a flowing outward and inward, from the immensity of the galaxy to the strands of life-giving DNA. Back in Chacala, the village where I spent a week with creative friends, I witness the spiral of magnificent frigatebirds and black vultures, gliding upwards on thermals of salty, heated air.
Now at home in Oregon, my pen keeps sketching the spiral of centering and connection as I hum the chorus of the gospel song we sang there in Chacala as two of our musician friends strummed their guitars…”I’ll fly away, Oh Glory, I’ll fly away (in the morning)….”