According to Maya myth, in the beginning the earth was square, with the celestial realm above and the underworld, Xibalba, below. The World Tree stood at the center of the cosmos. Four other trees, one at each corner, supported the sky.
Each side of the square earth represented a direction and color: east (red, the rising sun), west (black, death), north (white), and south (yellow). The center was green, the color of new growth and life itself. [i]
This World Tree, with its roots in the underworld, its trunk in the earthly world, and its branches in the celestial world, provided a channel for the souls of the dead to travel.
Perhaps this World Tree myth inspired Mexican people to first call Miguel Angel de Quevedo The Apostle of the Tree. Certainly he earned such a title. Although his traditions and era were far removed from the Maya myth, his work might ultimately be the foundation for saving the Maya jungle.
Quevedo's first love echoed a fundamental Maya fascination: astronomy. He studied at Flammarion's Institute of Astronomy and Meteorology after moving to France to live with his uncle (following his parents' deaths). At his Uncle's insistence, Quevedo put the stars aside to become an engineer.
Quevedo's first engineering job involved him with draining the Mexico City lakes in 1889. While supervising the construction of the Grand Canal, he advised against draining all the water from the lakes and against cutting all the forests around the city. Unfortunately, an injury forced him to quit. He later witnessed flooding and health problems resulting from indiscriminate cutting, draining, and building.
For the rest of his life, Quevedo dedicated himself to conservation; his successes are vast, a partial list of which includes:
As a conduit for World Tree thought, Quevedo headed a Mexican delegation in 1935 to first discuss with the U.S. the creation of an International Parks Commission; his earlier work had first alerted Theodore Roosevelt (in 1909) to the Mexican conservation efforts. Quevedo's insights today are directly applicable to denuded mountains in the US west where, in Roosevelt's time, no one anticipated such problems with flooding and climate changes.
It was under the Presidency (1934 1940) of Lázaro Cárdenas, proclaimed conservationist, that Quevedo was most successful. Although much of Quevedo's labor was destroyed or neglected during the industrial development in the latter 1900s, renewed conservation interest has built on many of his programs.
Perhaps it was written in the stars that today his words would whisper through stands of trees in Mexican National and City Parks, echo through national laws and organizations supporting efforts to protect the environment. His name is rooted in past conservation efforts and branches into the green movement today: Miguel Angel Quevedo: The Apostle of the Tree.
[i] The Maya – Life, Myth, and Art by Timothy Laughton
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