During my second week of twenty in México, I visited Chichén Itzá. The ancient lowland Maya constructed El Castillo, the principal pyramid, in today’s Yucatán. There are no natural mountains to call the people in the area; they simply supplied their own centuries ago. Like a true mountain, Chichén Itzá’s stones draw their power and magic from within. Staring up at the monument, I half-expected the Chaac carving to spew wisdom from its decidedly rocky and un-kissable lips.
A needle on a compass wobbles and spins, constantly redirecting itself toward the arctic north. When I was born I came out spinning, as my umbilical cord had wrapped itself around my neck three times. They twisted me and twisted me so that I turned rosy pink and cried instead of icy blue and silent like the northern tundra. I nearly died, but soon grew into a happy baby who seemed to be going everywhere at once.
As a child, I realized my hair is perfectly straight, save for wispy curls around my ears. My right shoulder is higher than my left. I always have bruises mapping my travels and tumbles upon my legs because I am so clumsy. Never quite balanced or perfectly symmetrical; always slightly skewed and vaguely off-kilter.
Like the compass’s needle, I require constant readjustment, rethinking, and reevaluation. Those tiring wobbles and spins are just pulling me upward in life, toward my north. I fear the day when I feel perfectly balanced and still–how will I find my direction in life?
Blegen Hall houses various classes for the social sciences and humanities, though I will always associate it with Anthropology, my intellectual awakening and principal course of study. The artifact and bone labs occupy the uppermost levels, which leave a lingering scent of sawdust and a greasiness that only comes from thousands, or maybe even millions (particularly after a hard-won grant), of years of age. It smells like academia. It smells like golden youth. It smells like home.
Before departing for my first year of college, my parents gave me the book Turn Right at Machu Picchu, which traced the Inca Trail paved by Hiram Bingham to “discover” the famed archaeological site (not unlike another recent high school graduate receiving Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go!). This selection led to other pedantic choices, revealing other explorations. I particularly enjoyed The Lost City of Z, which chronicled an English troupe’s quest for El Dorado in the Amazon. In particular I remember a scene about slashing through the Amazon without indigenous knowledge–catching and consuming poisonous fish safely, avoiding hungry felines, harvesting plants that wouldn’t turn one’s stomach–the unforgiving jungle would surely swallow one whole. This was the ultimate and unfortunate case for those rouge explorers, and they essentially delivered themselves into a “green hell” because they did not seek local knowledge.