Blydig Gryyfth had black hair and eyes dark as rotting plums. As he grew older, his limbs bunched with muscle though he did not grow taller. He hated the forest, hated the trees and the sky itself. His chief amusement was staring, which could do forever. He never smiled, never laughed. In fact, he barely spoke at all.
His parents were not like him. They were fair and merry, tall and well-made. Try as they might, they could not love him.
They began to suspect he was a Bendith y Mamau, their own golden son stolen from the cradle by the Tylwyth Teg. They sometimes stayed wakeful far into the night, puzzling in whispers over what they should do.
A passing traveler confirmed their worst suspicions, for he had seen such changelings before.
There was but one thing to do. They must take him to the priests at Pentre Ifan.
Pentre Ifan is an ancient dolman of seven giant stones placed on the site around 3500 BC by the ancient people of Wales. At one time all the stones were standing, but only a handful remain upright today.
The standing stones have been the object of archaeological intrigue for hundreds of years. Archaeologists believe the site may have been built during two separate time periods with the ancient burial chambers being installed first.
They may have been a ritual purpose to the site such as Druidical sacrifice, but this is mere speculation since few artifacts have been discovered at the site.
I heard Jazad come in around 4:30, a full hour before usual. I got out of bed and found him sitting in our tiny kitchen, head in his hands. In the stark glare of the hanging lamp his hair was almost pure white.
“I can’t do it, Fatima.” His voice was almost a whisper. “Three of us share the medallion. For us to make rent I need to clear at least a hundred a night. Guess what I make tonight? Thirty-five dollars for ten hours of driving my cab.”
Stephens set down his cup and squinted at his pocket watch. He sighed and went out of the tent. Insects droned around his face and neck despite his upturned collar. The jungle birds had begun their dusk cacophony. He walked across the new clearing toward the massive pyramid.
There sat Catherwood at his easel, madly sketching. A withered Indian held out an umbrella to protect the artist from a sun no longer in the sky.
“I say, Catherwood!” called Stephens. “That’s enough for one day, what? Be a good chap and come in and have a gin with me.”
Catherwood sketched on, seeming not to have heard. Ever since they’d proved it was indeed native Mayans who constructed these ruins, Catherwood been fanatical about painting them despite the malarial fever that wracked his body.
When the book Incidents of Travel in Yucatan is mentioned, the author John L. Stephens is usually recalled, but the name of the artist Frederick Catherwood is frequently overlooked. Aldous Huxley wrote:
From dawn ’til dusk, day after day and for weeks at a stretch, this martyr to archaeology had exposed himself to all the winged and crawling malice of tropical nature. Ticks, ants, wasps, flies, mosquitoes: they had all bitten him, stung him, drunk his blood, infected him with malaria. But the man had grimly gone on drawing. Itching, swollen, burning or shuddering with fever, he had filled whole portfolios with the measured plans and elevations of temples, with studies of Mayan sculpture so scientifically accurate that modern experts on pre-Columbian history can spell out a date of a stele from Catherwood’s representation of its, to him, incomprehensible hieroglyphics.
The old man wasn’t dead twenty-four hours when they started staking the land. The son had spent some years getting ready for the day, cutting deals with developers, drawing up maps of the various parcels, filling out the paperwork.
Development. That’s their word for when they down whatever was here and build some godawful boxes to sell. Ryerson’s woods, the last piece of natural land in this county, 90+ acres of pristine wilderness and one ancient house.
They say they’re building a nature center. Great. Kids will be able to look at pictures of the tress and animals and wonder why.
“We will discuss a lot of things. We will discuss their role in the Pacific and our role in the Pacific. We will disagree on a lot of things. But the most important thing about that visit is that it occurs and that the Chinese and the United States will have begun a
process of, shall we say, getting to know each other. Now, this is not said in any sense of sentimentality. There are many people who have looked at the China visit and interpreted it exactly the wrong way. They say ‘oh, this is great-the- now the United States and China, really never had any differences, that everything’s going to be settled.’ It’s not that. No one in this world knows how great the gulf is between their philosophy and ours, their interests and ours. But also no one in this world knows better than I do how imperative it is to see that great nations that have enormous differences where you’ve got the nuclear thing hanging in the balance have got to find ways to, you know, talk. Get along. “
–Richard Nixon to Alexander Haig, just prior to his historic 1972 visit to Communist China
Mary tightened the last screw on the wall joist and set down the screwdriver. She was done.
She stepped outside the tiny cabin and sat on a rock. She rolled herself a cigarette and smoked and gazed over the valley at Baboquivari, whom the Yaqui called the Navel of the Universe. The valley was all reservation land except for this, her tiny parcel.
She’d found the claim by poring over thousands of county records, buried deep in a mining dispute. It was a quarter acre and cost her 500.00. She’d built the cabin and dragged the sections up piece by piece.
I grew up in the shadow this mountain range, the Santa Catalinas. The Tohono people called it Frog Mountain. The north side was rumored to contain a gold mine, but its real treasure was the sixty-degree drop in temperature you experienced on hot summer days by driving an hour.
This story is about a friend of my dad’s, Mary DelVillar Porter, and a different mountain. She bought a sliver of land and built a cabin of plywood, getting friends to help her pack it up the two miles of rugged mountain to her spot. It took weeks of hard work. Mary was an American original who wrote one of the best travel memoirs I ever read. She spent weeks at a time in her mountain retreat.