There’s a moment of relative stillness on my callejon at dusk. The crickets are just warming up, reminiscent of an orchestra before curtain call. This brief time, just before drapes of night are drawn, lasts maybe half an hour. The children have all been called in for cena; beans, tortillas, and scrambled eggs, I imagine, since dinner is a smaller meal here in Guatemala. Even the dogs are quiet, and there are at least 7 on my short end of Primera Calle, who chatter all day long and sometimes through the night. Some are pets, others chuchos, but they don’t know the difference and play together anyway. You can tell the chuchos from the count of ribs and the sadness in their eyes.
At this time, around 5:30, I like to sit on the inner balcony of the upper level of the colonial style house that my apartment resides in, and listen to nightfall. In typical Spanish colonial style, the openess is on the inside. Tall, anonymous walls from the street hide the true wealth and beauty of the family inside. The inside is open, with a fountain in the middle of the ground floor, and rooms lining the outer rectangular floor plan. I live on the upper level, and just outside my door I have a large circular, wicker seat with cushions, reminds me of a papasan chair from South East Asia, and a broken antique drum as a side table, with a broken antique ceramic bird to ornament the drum. The leather of the drum has split, so it’s no longer percussive, but it works somewhat as furniture; you just have to be careful not to put your glass of wine near the split.
I’ll sit there, in the semi dark, and listen to the crickets warming up, and notice the lack of noise from daily life, and smell the bougainvillea and jasmine blossoms releasing their perfume on the light breeze. A sliver of moon appears directly in my line of site, because I am facing west. Down and to the left of the moon, I can see the outline of the peak of Volcan de Fuego. When Fuego is irritated, you can see spurts of lava erupting and dripping down the side of the mountain, and feel the tremble of the earth reminding you that she is alive. Not an inanimate rock hurling through space, but a being: dynamic, vibrant, and not to be trifled with.
At 5:42, the sky has changed. From deep aqua at the horizon, it starts fading to sapphire, and then a blackish purple. This is when the stars and planets start popping, like palomitos in a frying pan, putting on a show. It’s not dark enough yet to make out constellations, but the big, bright familiar ones are there. Jupiter and Venus appear, way up high and I know Orion’s belt is just beginning be visible behind me in the eastern sky. The breeze is playing with the fern fronds that belong to the hanging baskets lining the balcony, a lonely bird sends out a call to his mate. I know the darkness is coming, and he knows it too. In this moment of union with my immediate surroundings, I remember an interview with Edgar Mitchell, one of the Apollo astronauts, where he was speaking about his experience in space. He explained how he had studied astronomy and cosmology. He spoke about his understanding that everything he was seeing and experiencing, the earth and himself and his fellow astronauts, all of it, were made up from molecules that originated in primordial stars. “We are all stardust,” he said, with the simple and natural authority that one uses to utter their own name.
Indeed, we are. And the church bells ring for 6 o’clock. My little pueblo marks every hour with a blast from the church tower; a tinny, pre-recorded bell sound blown over loud speakers that passes on the wind, swirling down each alley and cobbled street. I imagine that at one time there used to be actual bronze bells, with a Padre to ring them, but not anymore.