[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
There is no easy way to describe my experience in the Copper Canyon. Whatever I write will inevitably fall a bit short. I only wish you could have been there to experience it with me.
I went for a race but the race wasn't really the reason I needed to go. On the plane from LA to El Paso I sat next to a woman who talked my ear off. Most of what she said was unimportant but she did tell me that her family is from Chihuahua, her grandfather grew up in Urique, which just happens to be in the Copper Canyon. She's been there more than once, "It's magical," she said, "keep your eyes and heart open."
"Sure thing, lady," I thought. But she was right.
I didn't know most of the people who traveled to the canyons with me, but I did. We shared enough of the important stuff to understand each other. Fast and deep friendship can only grow from fertile ground and I guess the best way to grow is to water and feed whatever ground you happen to be planted in.
We traveled by plane and bus and van and landed in a sacred and beautiful place. I felt honored and lucky to be there. I read about the Copper Canyon and the Tarahumara people when I was maybe 15. I was already a runner, already a poet, already intrigued by the people who ran hundreds of miles in sandals, eating Pinole. I never imagined I'd be there, but I did imagine running 100 miles someday. I had other things to do first, so I ran. I ran as fast as I could, as far as I could, as much as I could. I ran through my college years and was sort of successful, then I was injured, and then I was sick with my eating disorder. When I started running again, I transitioned to trails and mountains and felt, finally, like I'd found a pretty solid version of home.
But life has a way of stacking up on a person. Bills, work, relationships, maintaining health, car troubles, financial troubles, blah-blah-blah, can push and pull and stretch us out until we barely recognize ourselves. I needed to let my body and mind and spirit breathe a bit. This race, with these people, in this magical, sacred place was easily one of the best experiences of my life. I witnessed rituals, ate Pinole from an elderly couple who stood near a creek halfway through the race and handed me a metal cup. We didn't speak each other's language but there was so much kindness in their eyes. I hope they found kindness in mine.
We ran along a dirt road with sweeping views of the canyon and Urique. We ran along a creek bed, through Cerocahui, to a mission, past homes and cattle, to a waterfall and up a steep cliff, finishing at the San Isidro lodge. I bought a pair of sandals, the infamous Manuel Luna tying them on my feet. The race was not so much a race as a pilgrimage, an experience, an act of gratitude.
The day before the race, I participated in a temascal, a traditional Mexican ceremony that takes place in a sweat lodge. The shamans chanted and sang, gave us water, brought hot rocks from a fire to make steam. My experience lasted about an hour, but normally a temascal is longer.
We sat leg to leg, looking around and chatting about nothing. I wasn't sure what to expect when I entered the sweat lodge, but the ceremony changed me. I entered a deeply meditative state. I had visions. I sobbed, my body shaking. The point was to be reborn and I suppose I was, in some ways. Afterward, I sat on a rock and looked out at the canyons, trying to make sense of what I'd seen and felt. The best way to describe the temascal is to say that it was a year of therapy wrapped up into an hour. I wrote this poem on a rock somewhere far away from home. It's safe to say I couldn't have written this anywhere else.
I didn't know it
but I was burning from the inside
resentment crawled to my skin
dripped from my fingertips
the God of water was drenching me
wringing me out and holding me
we are here
we are whole again
I didn't know it but I was rotting
from the inside
saw myself running backward through time
running, running, running
to my baby self
anxious and crying
I soothed her, I soothed me
I saw my mother and her mother and hers
lying in hospital beds
I saw blackness eating their feet their legs their torsos their arms their heads
I saw the darkness take my grandmothers
saw the darkness come to my mother
saw it eat her feet and her legs
glide up her torso
grab her arm, but she punched it away
my mother fought the darkness and won
when it came for me, it only got to my feet
when the darkness comes, I run, I run
I saw my father alone
walking down a long road
heard him call his fathers name
but nobody came
saw them dance across time in different directions
the queen went missing
I heard all of them whisper
"I love you" to themselves
to each other
saw a circle of wind carrying leaves
and sweeping them upward
look up girl, stand tall
don't close up your heart like that
breathe, you are free
you are here, we are here, and we are all you
I saw me running forward with joy and with pain
before today, I was running away
but now I run home
P.S. Check out True Messages to learn more about Micah True, races in the Copper Canyon, and ongoing projects to benefit the Raramuri people. Find the race I did here, or donate to Tierra Nativa to help save the canyon from tourism.