Thank you, Carole Baldock, for including “City of Tulum” in Orbis: International Literary Journal, #191, Spring 2020.
My visit to the Maya ruins of Tulum came about as a wonderful bit of travel serendipity during a sailing sojourn to Isla Mujeras. My friend and I took a ferry from the island to the mainland and rented a car to drive down the Maya peninsula to the archeological site. Rain pelted and the streets flooded as we crossed Cancun and made our way southward. Harrowing — as Tulum once was for sailors approaching from the sea.
Tulum is unique among Maya sites: it is the only one of the ruins on the water. That day, after the rain softened to mist, we ventured along winding paths past stepped-structures reaching into the sky. We could hear waves breaking before we came to the precipice overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The poem describes one of the historic edifices, as well as the use the people made of the treacherous shallows. I hope that you enjoy reading “City of Tulum.”
City of Tulum
A veil of constant rain cloaked Tulum
perched high on a cliff above this ancient Mayan port
where ships with hulls of treasures were guided into shallows onto reefs
where once Mayan priests
ritualistic keepers and writers of knowledge astrology and cultic rites
climbed wearing long robes their heads drooping plumage
climbed close to their gods in the sky
where a still beating heart pulled from a chest fed the gods’ hunger
where shadows cast ominous stains on an altar.
I search the ruins of Tulum
for what lingers ghostlike in the mist.
At the precipice above fishermen casting nets from small boats
my feet cling to the edge high above the sea.
Travel memories: Winter in Canada has kept me reading and sketching, hence the book reviews and now this ink and watercolour sketch.
Without travels, I’ve been kept inside reading-like-a-writer (my creative writing muse seems to be on vacation) and sketching. These moccasins, purchased from the Beaver People in northern British Columbia Canada, now have holes in the soles. I still treasure them and the memories of that visit in the 1990s. Here they’re rendered in ink and watercolour.
Water fowl – Canada Geese, Great Blue Heron, an immature Little Blue Heron, and Mute Swans – all put on spectacular shows for me over a couple of afternoons and two misty mornings last weekend.
We left the marina aboard Magic Badger (a 38-foot sailing sloop) on Friday morning and took our time (about five lazy hours) to travel across the Bay of Quinte down through Long Reach and across the northern end of Adolphus Reach to Picton Harbour where we arranged a mooring near the harbour’s entrance. It was a weekend of reading and photography – two of my passions – and the water fowl put on quite a show.
Cormorants are my least favourite water fowl. They tend to flock to a single area and their guano kills the trees in which they perch. Seldom do you see one or two; they are very social. They’re easily recognized flying low over the water across distances with black, rough feathers and yellow-orange bill; quite big with up to a 33-inch wing span. Swimming they lift their beak in the air looking very snobbish. They rest atop rocks, holding their wings out to dry like Anhinga. This photo was taken near a tree the cormorants are defoliating. The reeds in the background provide protection from predators for the swans, and I managed to capture three of them along with the cormorants.
Saturday morning I woke early and crawled out of my sleeping bag and the forward cabin. Quickly I put espresso on to brew and climbed above into a spectacular morning. On Sunday I set the alarm and rose at 6:30, climbed above to enter what felt like a cloud. I could barely see anything. With coffee brewing I took a seat at Magic Badger’s stern, camera in hand. (She’s a 38-foot, 2-cabin and 2-head Beneteau sailing sloop with a fully-equipped galley and large salon; her cockpit is canvas enclosed and I think she’s beautiful. The camera is a Nikon Coolpix P610 that works very well when the situation doesn’t lend itself to a tripod and various lenses).
Watching the Canada Geese in early mornings made me laugh aloud. They swam across the channel from a place hidden behind a point of land over to a weedy shore across the way. I had a good view from Magic Badger’s stern. They honk and honk and honk, calling to each other until finally the last one must say okay in honk language because they all begin flapping and lifting up from the water like a chorus line that can’t get it together.
Once in the air, Canada geese are graceful as they push the air with their huge 45-inch wing span. I snapped photo after photo as they emerged from early-morning mist.
On Saturday afternoon I dawdled away the hours keeping my eye on a small white heron (the guide says 27 inches) but I was some distance away stranded on the sailboat. It was feeding along the grassy shore and frequently hidden by a row of posts driven into the waters’ edge. Then one of the posts seemed to move ever so slightly; not a post at all but a Great Blue Heron (50 inches) in dark morph. It resumed a hunch stance with its head almost hidden. So it isn’t a great photo of the two, but the best I could do with the limitations of the camera I had aboard.
Later, at dusk, I managed to catch the Great Blue Heron flying low across to the east side of channel.
But the crème de la crème is the Mute Swan…and I saw a few, more than ever before as Magic Badger has journeyed back and forth through the passages leading out to Lake Ontario. They surpass the Canada Geese by 10 inches and are far more graceful with their S-curved necks. The adults carry themselves with extreme dignity, hovering and turning quietly toward their young, constantly checking like protective parents.
As we made our way up Long Reach toward Deseronto and our home port at Crate Marine, Belleville, I looked up to see three swans flying. Fortunately I had the camera slung around my neck.
In a short while – where Long Reach flows out of the bay – a large family swam across in front of us. They were moving toward to place where the first photo (with the cormorants) was taken.
Days and nights off the dock and away from the marina are always treats, but this September weekend has outdone them all. It looks as if it will be the last time out this season before the boat goes up on the hard for the winter (like Scrooge, I echo “bah humbug”). But what memories captured in early morning mist and in the dusk of ever-earlier evenings.
Reference: Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region