Lindsey sat back, settling into the light and shadow flickering over them as they turn off into an even narrower, rutted dirt road. Then they break out of the dense foliage into a dirt clearing with a wooden hut, a straggle of sheds, and some vegetable patches.
Barking erupts from behind the flowering-vine-festooned hut, and a shirtless man rounds the corner, calling back two scruffy brown mutts bounding toward the parked Jeep. He tilts back his straw cowboy hat and peers toward them, then a white smile flashes. “Señor Zender! Bienvenidos!”
After introductions to a shy wife and children who emerge from the hut, Newman arranges to leave the Jeep here while they take their knapsacks with picnic provisions down the trail behind the house. Newman’s being mysterious again, refusing to reveal their destination.
They pass a tilled field of orange dirt, morning sun starting to bake it, then the dense tropical forest closes over them again in sliding tones of green, sparked by an occasional flash of red or yellow parrot feathers and the hanging clusters of white, purple, and orange blooms. Leading the way, Newman suddenly holds up a hand and makes a hushing gesture.
He steps back, and Lindsey peers around him to see a tapir ambling down the path toward them. The shy creature, like a cross between a giant pig and an elephant with its floppy long snout, pauses to fix a look of gentle curiosity on them. After a moment, it turns into the underbrush, disappearing in a surprisingly silent movement, given its size.
“Almost there.” Newman gestures her ahead of him.
She rounds a curve of the trail, then stops short. The riotous foliage opens before her into a clearing where someone has been at work hacking back the engulfing vines and brush. An upright stela slab of dark stone nearly blocks the path, its carved Mayan face beneath an elaborate plumed headdress staring Lindsey down.
She takes a startled step back. “Wow.”
Newman comes up behind her and lays a hand on her shoulder, squeezes lightly. “Hernando came across it a couple years ago.”
“Incredible.” Lindsey steps forward again and touches the cool stone, pushes aside a trailing vine to trace the lines of the ancient carving.
“There’s a German group that started excavating, but so far they haven’t done much. They don’t want tourists finding out about it yet.” He tugs her forward into the clearing, gestures across at a stone structure barely emerging from the lush greenery. Stepped stone climbs up the near side to a wall that disappears into the forest, a sprawling strangler fig having displaced a tumble of building blocks along its length.
Lindsey hurries across the rough clearing toward the structure.
She climbs up the tall steps, twice the height of an ordinary stairstep, and sits on the rough, lichened stone atop the wall. Slanted light beams ray down through the tree canopy, epiphytes and vines festooning the branches that spread like graceful candelabra toward the morning sun.
Newman climbs up to sit beside her. His voice hushed, he says, “This is a good spot to meditate. How about we sit with some silent mantras? If we keep our eyes open, we’ll see what we invite in.”
Lindsey stiffens, again remembering Nick, the way he’d try to dictate the “right” way to see. But then she lets out a breath and resets. Newman’s offering her the gift of this special place, and he’s obviously got something more up his sleeve. So far, with him, the exhilaration of discovery has outweighed the comfort of linearity.
She takes some deep, quieting breaths, silently reciting one of the mantras he’s taught her as they’ve practiced morning meditation on the trip. Lindsey’s been caught in the paradox of struggling to find the place of no struggle, striving to quiet her “brain whirl” while surrendering striving—more of those Zen-der twists? Now, with Newman beside her, welcoming his core calmness flowing through her as she learns to expand into new levels of perception, she finds herself in that place of peaceful ocean waves even as her eyes stay open, vision blurring to absorb the abundance of green life.
Time warps and bends into an infinite loop. And she somehow steps through it, or that doorway moves over her stillness, and she’s in the presence of… the ineffable. All-encompassing, and she is that larger being. The shimmering contours of an eternal, maternal divinity enclose Lindsey, infuse her, and she’s throbbing with the power of that compassionate connection to everything, everyone. She—Lindsey—all her former definitions melt into that union, and for a moment her ego voice panics into chittering protest.
“Hush,” a deep, calming voice inside her soothes, father/mother love cradling her from without and within.
Suddenly a streak of blood-red flashes through the rich, nourishing green. Lindsey blinks and gasps. Newman’s hand reaches to touch hers where it rests on the warm grainy stone, grounding her back in this place.
Lindsey blinks again, draws in a deep breath as another flash of bright yellow, punctuated with a crimson dot, sweeps through her visual field. She gives herself a shake, focuses, and sees a toucan perched on a branch at eye level across from their own wall perch.
The bird, with its sharp black, red, and yellow clown markings, tilts its head to check them out. Apparently finding nothing alarming, it reaches its oversized beak that looks like a ripe banana, and plucks a round red fruit or nut from the clusters hanging off the branch. It flies past again, the crimson orb vised in its beak.
As if at a signal, the air is alive with a flock of toucans, all swooping back and forth to pluck the red fruits, their sweeps of bold color intoxicating against the green backdrop. Lindsey hardly dares to breathe, for fear of breaking the spell.
A new player enters the clearing. The dark, lithe figure drops from an upper branch, hurtles downwards, then throws out a long, wiry arm to grip a branch and swing, landing on another branch. It leans forward to pluck some leaves and stuff them into its mouth, tilts over the edge of balance and drops, catching itself to swing by a long ropelike tail.
More spider monkeys follow the first, the troop of babies and adults sweeping through the branches they treat with a casual flair as their original jungle gym. The long-limbed acrobats scamper up trunks, leap from branch to branch, swing off by their tails and fly across to another tree, all of them passing and crossing each other in a complex aerial ballet. And all the while they’re grabbing fistfuls of leaves and munching.
The bright toucans are still flying past these black monkeyshines, weaving a tapestry of living color. Newman’s hand grips hers, joy reverberating, fountaining up to spill over them with the warmth of sunlight breaking through the leaves.
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