Sunday, June 3, 2012

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch

June 3, 2012 – Meanwhile Back at the Ranch

I go sit out by the pool, turning the chair to face south. To the right, my old starry friend Orion tracks his way downward into the welcoming western horizon. I search the sky for any other familiar constellations and planets. The Southern Cross is easy for me to spot now. The brilliant star off to the west is most likely Venus. The red tinted dot above me might be Mars. There’s a snakelike line that I decide must be Scorpio or Draco. I don’t really know. I wish I’d brought my star chart. I make up my own myth stories and as a reward I see a shooting star. After a while Rodney comes out to join me. He brings two glasses and a bottle of wine. Under the perfect expanse of night we talk about stars, myths, writing, words, bones, death, life, travel and Woodstock.

“I went to Woodstock,” Rodney says.

“You did?!” I exclaim. “My dad would be so jealous.”

“I went by accident. My friend and I were driving across country and we picked up this kid who was hitchhiking. He was heading to Woodstock. That was the first we’d heard of it and since we didn’t really have anything specific we were doing we took him all the way and then stayed.”

“And how was it?”

“I don’t remember. I woke up to find three days had passed. I had most of my clothes and not much to remember. I went and found my friend and we left.”

“Wow.” I crank my head back a little more and trace the Southern Cross’s path, using a tree to mark how far it’s gone. I’ve missed the stars. Lima’s sky is seldom clear and I’ve had few chances to admire the heavens. A flutter of homesickness passes over me like a butterfly; I’m ready to cross hemispheres and see all the star shapes I know and love. Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Orion in his proper place, The Big Dipper, The Little Dipper, Polaris, The Pleiades. But I wish I could take the Southern Cross back with me.

The air chills and our wine is gone. I bid the remaining stars goodnight and call it a day.

In the morning, Vito comes to collect us again. We drive into Nazca to a tiny hostel and pick up Markus. He’s young, hatted, and speaks English better than I do. He’s been exploring South America, teaching English to get by and visiting archeological sites, before going back home to Nuremburg, Germany and college. I bite my tongue to keep from asking him if he’s single or how old he is. Oh god, South American habits are rubbing off on me. I don’t tell him the only German I (probably incorrectly) know is, “You are a silly goose.” I am a silly goose.

Vito drives us down the Pan American Highway and pulls over into a dirt parking area leading up to a gravelly hill.
“Come here,” he says. He motions us all together and points at the mountain across the highway from us. “You can the line from here all the way to the mountain? The Nazca people made this line to point to the water source. You see how straight it is?”

It’s incredibly straight.

“The Nazca people just moved the small rocks off the surface of the ground with their hands to make these lines. They’re a little different from the other forms which were made a little deeper. The Nazca people set up sticks every thirty meters and that way were able to make these perfectly straight lines.”

All across the ground, from where I stand to the mountains on the distant horizon, there are intersecting lines. Some form into geometric shapes, some mark their own unwavering paths, others make figures. They’re strange, beautiful, bewildering.

“Amanda,” Vito calls out at me, “Come here.” I comply and he positions me to see the Line that stretches from my feet to disappear off to the west. “This line was a marker for the Winter Solstice. On that day the sun sets directly in line with this marking line.”

I have a sudden wish to be here on this spot on June 20th when the Winter Solstice occurs. But I won’t be. I’ll be far away. Turning thirty-four years old in the Northern Hemisphere on the longest day of the year instead of the shortest.

I’ve lagged behind, as usual, and I scramble after the others to the top of the lookout. Crisscrossing lines cover the land. I love this desert with all my heart.

We don’t stay forever. Vito packs us back into the car and drives us off to the Mirador (the lookout tower). He parks us across the way and we wait for a safe moment before darting across the highway. We pay two soles each and get a ticket stub that allows us to climb the rickety, metal steps to the top of the tower. The construction of the tower was sponsored by German born archeologist Maria Reiche who helped bring the importance of the lines to the attention of the Peruvian government and the world. After one of the figures, the Lizard, was cut in two by the Pan American highway Reiche was quick to raise money and support and hired guards to keep the other figures from being destroyed. I stop at each landing to gaze at the Hands and the Tree.
I’d seen them from the air, but this close, they’re just as amazing as I’d imagined, as I’d seen them to be.

Here, different from the lines marking celestial happenings or water sources or ceremonial sites, the figures are etched deeper into the ground. The gravelly stones have been removed like they’d been for those other lines, but then the Nazca people used other instruments besides their hands to imprint these figures even further into the dirt. Vito tells us how the unique weather of the desert creates just the right environment to preserve these lines. In the morning a sly dew covers the ground, moistening things just enough so that when the early afternoon winds brush over the land, the dirt is wet and weighty so as not to be blown away. When the hot sun bakes the ground hard, this also works as part of the magic.

I look out. I look up. I bet the stars would be even more brilliant from out here.

I’m the last one down from the tower. 

With our lives in our hands, we bustle back across the Highway and tuck ourselves into the car. Our last stop is the Maria Reiche museum.

Formerly Reiche’s home and research base, the place has been converted into a beautiful museum that showcases her life and work and serves as a tribute to her love of Peru and its wonders. I wander around taking pictures of the flowers and the VW van she used to get around.
When Rodney, Markus and I have had our museum fill, Vito takes us back home.

We thank him, pay him and bid him farewell. “Adios, amigo.”
Back at The Oasis, Rodney and I have just enough time to get our things together and take a taxi to the Cruz del Sur bus station.
The time comes to board and I settle into my seat and prepare for the three hour trip to Ica.

I lean my head against the window and whisper: Goodbye desert. Goodbye Lines. Goodbye mystery. Goodbye Nazca.

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