Ajusco: Close to the City, Nearer to God
Everyone in México City, especially those who drive south on the Periférico or look west from a tower in Lomas, is familiar with the silhouette - like a crooked bracket lain sideways - of the Ajusco.
Story of a Volcano
Once a volcano with a host of craters, long since fallen in on themselves, and nearly 4000 meters high at the tip of the "Eagle's Beak" - aim of mountain climbers, including those in training for Anapurna - this stolid sentinel guards the gateway out of the Valley of Mexico toward Tianguistengo, La Marquesa and Toluca.
The looming guardian is really part of a transversal seismic system originating 20 million years ago, that stretches from Colima to Veracruz but actually encircles the earth, hence related volcanic activity in Hawaii, Indonesia and Montserrat in the Caribbean - itself a long-ago Caldera. But one point along that vertical cleft, which stretches from Alaska to the Antarctic and is called the San Andreas Fault, lies Tlalpan's coveted recreational area. The area is a blend of pine and scrub-oak forests and a final refuge for unique species of wildlife, like the Teporingo and Zacatuche rabbit, on the very edge of extinction. Once our family surprised a grey owl, just awakening on a fallen fence. To the owl's and our dog's amazement, daylight saving time had sent us out an hour earlier than usual.
This is really a gentle farmland, where oats and corn still grow in fields, some ripe and others sparse, around little volcano cones or deep inside the extinct craters.The landscape is sweet and unique: black sand, ancient ash, tezontle and lava. But there are also goats, sheep and cows, the dusty children who shepherd them, bright birds with beguiling hoots and whistles in the thick brush, bees, bugs, butterflies, fields of prickly pear, vivid roses and maguey, even a set of abandoned railroad tracks where trains tooted through Santo Tomas Ajusco on their way to Cuernavaca and Cuautla. And on the lip of the Cuatzontle crater, a grave, to someone in whose memory a grove of pines was planted: "He caused no harm, nor stripped nor wounded this land."
History of Ajusco
Cuatzontle is a lateral vent of the celebrated Xitle volcano, whose deep and foreboding crater - 200 meters above ground, 3100 meters above sea level - lies just a couple of kilometers off the Ajusco highway. There are those who claim that 150 B.C. was the year of the great "consternation" but actually "Xitle: He with the navel," according to scribe Alva Ixtlilxochitl, "opened the earth and swept everything in its path, on the day Ahui-Quiahuitl, in the year 8-Tecpatl,"(April 24 of 76 A.D). "The rivers of lava ran for several years, and thus was formed Tetetlan, "Place of Stones" and Texcallan, "Home of the Rock" - the Pedregal areas of San Angel, Coyoacan, Santa Ursula and Tlalpan, as well as the lava fields and calderas, chimneys and craters throughout the Ajusco range. Every morning I can make out the closest ones: Maninol, Magdalena and Xicalco, as well as Xitle and its secondary vents, but the volcanic landscape - crystal clear or shrouded in mist, like scenes from the paintings of Dr. Atl, Velasco, Raymundo Martinez, and Carlos Orozco Romero - stretch across the valley, right to the feet of the still-smoking Popocatepetl and the inert, snow-covered Iztaccihuatl, "The Sleeping Lady."
For city-dwellers however, weekends and holidays are the best of times. Then the cyclists in training take over the highway, and children wander through the fields on rented ponies. Squadrons of fun-seekers appear on cuadrimotos, the golf driving range, the hikers, the bikers, the soccer teams, the bungee jumpers, and patrons of the cabanas along the road who dine al fresco on pine slabs that are decorated with oilcloth and bouquets of parsley. They feast on rabbit stew, barbecue, quesadillas of seasonal wild mushrooms from the nearby woods and the pies of local berries. The improvised restaurants, some of them quite ambitious, have names like "El Abrevadero," "Sajonia," "Subidita a la Ajusco" and "La Guarida del Conejo." The people raise their own rabbits by the way, to spare the last of the wildlife.
Close to God
This is a world tinged with magic, aromatic and cool, dusty in the dry season, muddy with the rains when dry river suddenly swirl and elusive torrents tears whole trees out by the roots and then vanish. Clouds pass overhead on the breath of the cold wind that runs down from the peak. This is a kinetic world, on the edge of the largest city on earth yet nearer to God than anyplace.
By Carol Miller
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