The Mayan ruins of Quiriquá inspire and humble you at the same time.
When I first visited this UNESCO World Heritage site in 1969 the United Fruit Company controlled it.
They are the folk that supply us with most of the bananas that we eat here in the Yukon.
Back then you got there by walking along a railway line they built that passed by the road accessible village of Los Amantes, Guatemala, a few kilometres to the west of the archeological park.
If you were lucky, as I was, you could flag down a banana train servicing the surrounding plantations and hitch a ride in.
Now a road directly links Quiriquá to the highway heading on to Puerto Barrios on the coast. Some of the sense of remoteness is lost, but none of the grandeur.
The leafy canopy of great trees filters out some of the tropical sunlight as you walk through the Great Plaza. Ornately carved fine grain brown sandstone stelae witness to the passing of this great civilization.
Once mute, the glyphs that decorate the stone pillars like the large Stelae E, which stands over 10 metres high, have largely been translated.
Most mark the ascendancy of Quirquá over other Mayan peoples in the Montagua River valley. One tells of the subjugation of the leader of the spectacular city-state of Copán, some 50 kilometres to the southwest, in 737 A.D.
Another marks the beginning of the 5th Mayan era on August 13, 3114 B.C., by our reckoning. Some experts on the remarkably accurate Mayan calendar peg its projected final day at December 21, 2012.
Most of the site still remains hidden by the rainforest that began reclaiming Quirquá soon after all construction halted around 850.
An earthquake, ecological collapse, warfare or a combination of these have all been suggested reasons for the rapid collapse of this Classic Era Mayan city-state.
From on top of a partially reclaimed grassy mound that marks the site known as the Acropolis, you can only imagine the temples, ball courts and palaces once surrounding it and that are now sheltered under the roots of the forest.
Aldous Huxley recorded his visit to eastern Guatemala in the early 1930s in his book Beyond Mexique Bay.
For him, Quiriguá’s stelae and monuments marked the “Human triumph over time and matter and the triumph of time and matter over man.”
One can wonder what reminders will be left from our civilization?
A new book The World without Us, by Alan Weisman, a science writer and associate professor of journalism at the University of Arizona, explores just that question.
If all human activity stopped tomorrow, after 1,000 years or so, not much more than forest covered mounds of rubble will be left of our less-durable great cities.
Alien archeologists would only have the odd contaminated site from atomic reactors or refineries to muse over.
Actually Weisman notes that much of our unique legacy would be a billion tons of plastic. But he posits that eventually a polymer-eating bacteria will evolve to rid the planet of these as well.
Eventually the Earth would revert to a primordial Eden-like state.
The remarkable healing power of our planet “turns out to be so fascinating that it kind of disarms people’s fears or the terrible wave of depression that can engulf us when we read about the environmental problems that we have created and the possible disasters we may be facing in the future,” argued author Alan Weisman in a Scientific America interview in July.
Are the willow reclaiming the pavement on the Millennium Trail here in Whitehorse telling us just how tenuous our civilization’s hold is?
Maybe it would be good to figure out how we can extend our own stay a little longer.
A workshop to explore possible Pro-Life service alternatives to assist women facing unwanted pregnancies will be held on Saturday, September 22nd from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Maryhouse, 506 Cook Street in Whitehorse.
A supper will follow at CYO Hall at 6 p.m. All are welcome. For more information call Edna at 667-6681 or Miriam at 456-4824.