Str. 33

Yaxchilan: Stairway to Str. 33 [January 3, 2004]

"The grand stairway, facing the river and moldering under moss and grass, climbed the steep natural slope of the mountain. Above, on one of the mountain's false summits, rose Bird Jaguar's temple and its "roof comb"--a wall of masonry gridwork, typical of classical architecture, extending above the roof and acting as counterweight for the interior arches.

I pictured, as others had, a busy riverfront, with trade, recreation, household, and ceremonial activities going on simultaneously, and canoes hauled on shore, some resembling the low-profile boats common today, and others the cosmic cayuco carved on the bones from Tikal--deep amidships rising to high bow and stern peaks.

At that spot all the divine and mundane significances of rivers and water converged. Mesoamerican plazas, designed to hold water, to flood, created living tokens of the Watery Path. Moises [Morales] remembered Yaxchilan's plaza flooding in heavy rains. On the plaza floor the prostrate sculpture of a crocodile stretched at my feet, as if to emphasize the point. Emblem of creation, of earth, and transformation; of rivers, canoes, and perhaps of Yaxchilan itself, it lay at the exact foot of structure 33, miraculously unlooted, beside a low altar. There it anchored the cosmos, and the entire Maya cultural sphere by extension, high and low conjoined in a masterwork of public art, a shared vision of creation that Tate termed "a cognitive map of reality."

Christopher Shaw, Sacred Monkey River: A Canoe Trip with the Gods, p. 273-4