Have you ever seen an angel or, for that matter, a diatom? Well, there are angels all along the Laja—artfully carved in cantera decorating the facades and bell towers of the capillas and painted angels flying across the interior frescos of these capillas.
As for diatoms….a recent study, Epilithic diatoms in the Upper Laja River Basin, Guanajuato, Mexico (2015) found 173 different species of epilithic (grows on rocks) diatoms in the Laja and one of its tributaries. Several were new species not found before in Mexico and one a new genus.
Consider the decorative angels and colorful diatoms as our holiday card to you…wishing you the best of the season and a joyous new year.
You all know about angels so I’ll start with the diatoms. Diatoms are algae with distinctive, transparent walls that produce 20 to 40% of the earth’s oxygen. That fact alone should get your attention and answer the question “Why should I care?”.
You probably haven’t seen a diatom because nearly all diatoms are microscopic with cells that range in size from about 2 microns to about 500 microns–the largest, the width of a human hair. The cell walls are made of silicon dioxide hydrated with a small amount of water and are, thus, more opal-like than glass-like when viewed under a scanning electron microscope. Scientists estimate there are 20,000 to 2 million species worldwide with each species having a different identifying pattern.
The Rio Laja is a home to many creatures—diatoms being one of the smallest but a vitally important one–remember they produce 20 to 40% of the earth’s oxygen. Because diatoms have ranges of tolerances for environmental variables as well as types of human disturbance, they are used extensively in environmental assessment and monitoring. The silica cell walls do not decompose, so fossil diatoms in marine and lake sediments can be used to interpret conditions in the past. Check out Dr. J. Patrick Kociolek’s Diatom website for more information.
Cool, “nerdy” fact about how to collect diatoms–scientists used a toothbrush to scrub the river rocks.
The angels, ah, yes….Linda and I have, for the last six months, been referring to one of the capillas as the “Angel Capilla” because of the remarkable carved angels above the door. There have been many reasons not to paint it….the gate to the atrium is locked, high walls limit views, no shade…., but today we squeezed side by side and painted through the locked gate in the sun. Field conditions for plein air are not always ideal but committed artists will persist.
The “Angel Capilla” is one of three abandoned capillas in the small community of Montecillo de la Milpa (mound of the corn or cornfield) in English. At first, one of the neighbors said he didn’t know the name of the capilla but returned later and told us that his sister said it was known as La Capilla de San Teresa de Montecillo de la Milpa. A charming capilla…above the door are two angels (one missing a leg) placing a crown on the head of San Teresa or Jesus and, yes, the cross on top is tilted. Lots of colorful cantera used in the construction which can be admired on the sides but the facade has been whitewashed covering much of the colorful stone.
The community, founded in 1811, recognizes itself as an indigenous community because of its traditions and because Otomí was once spoken there. With the passage of time, the language has disappeared but the community still retains the customs of their ancestors.
© 2016 Lorie Topinka