In mid-May, my partner and I traveled to Oaxaca City in Mexico with no more of a plan than a $14/night reservation for an Airbnb room to call home. We had a short, yet wide open week to fill with spur-of-the-moment adventures, authentic food and drink including, but not limited to tlayudas, chapulines, tejate, mezcal and pulque, and stuffing our carry-ons with enough gifts and memories to take a piece of Oaxaca home with us to Oregon.
I grew up visiting my mother’s family in Mexico nearly every year. As a result, in just a few hours, the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, language, mannerisms, and cultural cues begin to feel familiar. I find this reassuring, that a part of me has not been lost, just hibernating. Often though, there comes a point when I begin perceiving this more collectivist, social culture and the continuous stimulation of urban spaces as chaotic or overwhelming. Being in the bustling Oaxaca City was no exception. I began looking out at the mountain ranges straddling the city, daydreaming of the stillness and of that feeling of humility, where you realize you are just a speck in relation to your surroundings. Even within the confines of my mind, nature has a calming effect on me. It gives me a thought, or a feeling to reach for. I knew it was time to get out of the city.
We hailed down a collective taxi, cramming five people into three seats to share the cost of the drive, and set out to a small town nestled in the mountains called Santa María del Tule. An elderly couple lodged into the back seat, weathered with age and experiences, began striking up a conversation with us. In just a few minutes, we discovered that the bountiful Willamette Valley was a shared character in our stories. Like many other people from Oaxaca, the elderly man had traversed the Willamette Valley for decades of his life, picking the fruits and vegetables that often make their way to our dinner table. His wife would take care of the home and children as he was away, picking for their livelihood, for months on end. His days working in the Oregon fields are now over, he resides with his family in a small town in the outskirts of Oaxaca city, tending his own land. At their stop, we exchanged blessings for a beautiful day and as quick as we connected, the sweet couple disappeared.
A few minutes later and we were getting off at our stop in the picturesque Santa María del Tule, welcomed by a much calmer environment. We made a beeline to the main attraction of the town, El Árbol del Tule, towering well over the cathedral and plaza forming the nucleus of the town. At over 2000 years old and requiring 30 people with locked hands to circle its massive trunk, El Tule’s presence is nothing short of majestic. Its limbs like trunks caress you into its shade. Underneath its sanctuary, the air breathes cleaner and hundreds of birds hypnotize with their song.
It’s easy to get wrapped up into yourself, to believe that your thoughts, feelings, desires and struggles always take precedence. Under this Ahuehete tree, the Nahuatl word for “old man of the water”, I felt myself a speck in time. My trivial concerns evaporating in their irrelevance, filtered by the supple leaves and crevices in the bark. A tree that had seen war, conquest, unity, and love, lived through drought, rain, thunder and lightning, said to have been planted by the Aztec god of wind, Ehecatl and grown magnificently to its strong, peaceful, and beautiful state. Who was I to dwell on an upset stomach, a sour conversation with my mother or needing to raise my credit score? So many teachings offered without expectation: humility, selflessness, the significance of opposites, light and dark, movement and stillness, life and death.
Under the old, wise beard of El Tule, I think to myself La Madre Tierra es increíble.
About the author: Antonia Decker
Antonia was raised in Salem, Oregon by a family of educators. Since an early age, she was instilled with an eagerness to learn from and connect to her surrounding diverse communities and natural environments. Antonia brought this sense of commitment and service to Seattle, Washington, where she graduated magna cum laude from Seattle University with a BA in Communication Studies and Spanish.
During her undergraduate career, Antonia set up strong ties to organizations working to make change in the greater Seattle area. She spent two years working for an AmeriCorps early education program, preparing preschool children from an under-resourced community for academic success. In addition, given her Mexican background and Spanish fluency, Antonia worked for two organizations committed to connecting Seattle’s Latino/a community with educational and employment opportunities, Casa Latina and El Centro de la Raza. During her free time, Antonia enjoyed teaching yoga classes to university students, faculty, staff and alumni and tried to get outside as much as possible.
Now in her hometown of Salem, Antonia is continuing to form connections and foster positive change within her local community. As the Straub Environmental Center’s (SEC) Outreach and Engagement Coordinator, she coordinates the Naturaleza Ahora! Initiative, Latino Engagement Team, and leads Diversity, Equity and Inclusion trainings for staff, board and advisers. She also manages SEC's communications and media and helps coordinate their outreach events.