The following is an excerpt of a new book recently released by Larson Publications.
Someone had broken the ceremonial gourd.
"It has many years," Don Alfredo explained, turning it over and over, inspecting the crack that ran halfway down one side of the weathered gourd. "It belongs to my wife's father and belonged to his father before him."
He dipped the gourd in a pail of water and held it out at eye level. It bled like a mortal wound.
Don Alfredo shook his head sadly. "The tesguineria will never be the same without it."
I had an inkling of what he meant--I'd made many a toast, and been toasted by many, with that gourd. "Are you going to have to make a new one?"
He wagged a hand noncommittally. "First, we have to try to save this one." He stood and stepped indoors for tools.
I stood and stretched. The pine rounds we used for seats offered shortlived comfort. Turning to take in the mountains rising behind the house, I was struck once again by the timelessness of the scene. Don Alfredo's
field of corn, beans, and chili butted up against the volcanic mountains that seemed to touch the sky. Winding out of the pine forests above, an arroyo cut the bottomland on its way to the Rio Batopilas that formed the
other boundary of his ranchito. Standing there beneath the thatched roof outside the rock-and-adobe house, I inhaled one deep breath of tranquility after another.
It was the rainy season and it smelled green.
The afternoon storm had passed, trailing humidity out of the canyon lands below toward the continental divide above. The land had missed the rain, as Don Alfredo liked to say.
He returned with a small hammer, a very thin nail and a spool of fine copper "thread." By setting a piece of firewood vertically between his legs, he had a surface about the right size to hold the gourd. He started by delicately tapping a series of tiny holes all along both sides of the crack.
It required painstaking attention to make sure he didn't create new cracks or split the existing one sideways. Once he had the holes in place--there were about twenty on each side of the crack--he began "sewing" with the copper thread. Beginning at the bottom, he ran the thread through the two holes on either side of the crack, tightening and knotting each pair with his teeth before going on to the next. From beginning to end, the whole operation took a couple hours--but the time seemed to pass in an eye blink, so immersed in concentration were we.
With the last knot wound tight, Don Alfredo dipped the gourd into the pail of water and held it out at eye level for a long moment. Not a drop leaked. Absolutely watertight.
He lifted it in a mock toast to me, took a long drink and passed it to me. I returned the toast and took a drink, mindful to examine the stitching carefully. I was aware that the value, the meaning, of the gourd had
suddenly increased in a way difficult to put into words. Salvaging it from ruin, somehow, had made its sacredness more apparent. I raised the gourd to the sky as I'd seen him do ceremoniously and he nodded affectionately.
"There are no small things," I said, repeating one of the lessons he'd been drilling into me the past year.
His eyes darted over my shoulder and I turned to see his wife's brother, Melesio, running up to the house, grinning broadly. "Flash flood! Flash flood!" he called out excitedly, turning to race off to the arroyo before the surge could arrive from the runoff above.
I had seen Melesio, one of the great runners of the Tarahumara, run before but always in long distance races. I had never seen him sprint before. He took five or six rapid steps, so short as to almost be running in place,
and then, without an instant of time passed, he was about thirty yards away, sprinting toward the arroyo. Abruptly, he pulled up to a complete stop and looked back at Don Alfredo with a look of utter horror and guilt that was easy to read. I'd been adopted by the family, he'd forgotten I was from outside, he'd made a mistake, he'd revealed a secret. A big secret.
He must have received some signal from Don Alfredo behind me because he regained his composure, turned, and trotted off to the arroyo. I stood like a doe in the headlights. A single thought slammed into the
inside of my forehead, demanding attention: He disappeared in front of me and reappeared instantly a hundred feet away! But this was not the time to be sharp-eyed or sharp-witted. I needed to react wisely. There is much to be said for playing possum, sometimes.
I cast my eyes downwards, fixing my attention on the seam in the ceremonial gourd. Donning my most impassive demeanor, I turned back to Don Alfredo, giving every indication that I'd been completely absorbed
studying the results of his labor the whole time.
He scanned my face without seeming to, glancing over its colors and contours the way he would of a patient coming for a remedy to some illness.
He did not seem to find any sign for alarm there.
I held out the gourd with both hands, saying, "I am very afraid of breaking it."
He took it in his hands, running a thumb up and down the knots of copper wire, and, shaking his head decisively, replied, "I believe it is safe in your hands."
In the Oneness of Time: The Education of a Diviner is available from Amazon.com as either a print or Kindle book. It is also available directly from Larson Publications.
William Douglas Horden is co-author of The Toltec I Ching as well as numerous other books on divination, spirituality and enlightenment. Visit his website at williamdouglashorden.com.