I recently had the honor of meeting Don Patterson at his home in San Miguel. When I read his book it brought back memories of the years I spent traveling to many of the same Pre-Columbian sites since the 1970's. But for me, it was Frost's, "The Path not Taken" and I missed many opportunities to pursue my journey on a professional level because of family and career demands at the time. Although I have no regrets, I feel a strong sense of admiration for Mr. Patterson and the life he chose. In our meeting he said, "you don't become a field archaeologist for money or fame." Don's journey began in 1973 when workmen discovered ancient pottery shards in a pit behind the instituto Allende. Without any previous experience, but with a fine intelligence, a skilled hand at detailed pen & ink drawings and most of all, a "stubbborn nature" he obtained permission to do an excavation and thus began a life long relationship with the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico (INAH).
More than 35 years later, I sit in a beautiful garden in the home he and his wife and partner, Marisela built overlooking the heart of San Miguel. I listen to him describe his love of archaeology, recounting the challenges, the achievements and the disappointments with the bureaucracy that often stifled creativity and productivity. His voice became stronger and more animated as he recalled the excitement of excavating a hidden temple, photographing and drawing the bas relief sculptures deep in the jungles of Yucatan, Chiapas or Tikal. What also resonated in our conversation as the sun went down and the garden became cooler, were his feelings for the personal and professional friendships he has made over the years. I think that equaled or even surpassed his achievments as an archaeologist.
His book is a series of letters to his daughter and the Maya Book of the Dead, the Popol Vuh, which describes the Otherworld, Xibalba provide the guideposts for his journey through a life of archaeology. How many of us take the opportunity to share our life experiences in a series of letters to our children? His letters to his daughter Jessica are sweet and full of wisdom at a time when she was at a cross road in her life.
As we sat in the garden he talked fondly and proudly of his new grandson. "Where do the years go?" As Don approaches his 70's, is he sitting on his laurels? Not likely! He's still fighting the "bureaucratic" battle, finishing his responsibilities as Municipal Director of Environment and Ecology at San Miguel in October 2009. He is also writing a new book about his rare experience as a "gringo" working at a high level in Mexican government. That should be an interesting read! Don is also planning trip to El Mirador (Calacmol), an archaeological site in Peten, Guatemala. We all make the journey to Xibalba sooner or later. Read his book and enjoy the journey of the man and the archaeologist. It will be time well spent!