Last Monday in Mérida, dealing with visa matters, I wandered for miles along little one-lane streets away from the main boulevards, and on the buses coming and going I looked closely at the little towns we passed through: Yokdzenot, Libre Unión, Holca, Kantunil, Hoctún, Tahmek...

One striking cultural difference between small-town Yucatán and small-town USA is that in Yucatán's villages small, locally based businesses still flourish. It's amazing how many tiny grocery stores, eateries, animal-food stores, hardware stores, barbershops, mechanics shops, etc. not only exist but seem to be doing a fair business. The Yucatán's villages buzz with activity day and night. Today small-town Yucatán is much the way I remember small- town Kentucky being back in the 50s and early 60s -- before anyone dreamed of bypassing local services by driving twenty or more miles to the nearest Wal-Mart for general shopping.

Riding the big, rumbling, orange and white Oriente bus on a hot Monday afternoon, the seats filled with sunburned old men wearing straw hats, women in white, floral-embroidered huipiles, young people chatting or listening through earplugs to misic, I asked myself this:

Did the vibrant, colorful, small-town America I knew as a child lose something of value when it changed to what it is today? If it did, was anything it got in return as valuable as what it lost?

After lots of miles of thinking I decided that the question was too complex to answer. After all, those changes were evolutionary for our society, the evolution is ongoing, and it's always hard to guess what the outcome of evolution will be.

For example, about 65 million years ago something from outer space struck Earth near the Yucatán's northwestern coast (Google "CHICXULUB impact") possibly causing the extinction of about half the planet's marine genera, and nearly all the dinosaurs. Yet, some would describe that event as a blessing, for it may have set the stage for mammalian evolution, which lead to us humans. Without that collision and its awful aftermath, Earth's dominant, big-brained life form today might well be covered with scales, not hairs.

Thinking about all this while gazing through the window at all the interesting, friendly little towns and the endless scrub with a surprising number of flowering trees, by the time our bus was approaching its next-to-last stop, the Chichén Itzá stop, where the most exotic looking foreigners sometimes come aboard to continue on to Cancún, my question about whether small-town USA had lost something had morphed into two somewhat mellower observations:

First, long ago I was a farmboy in Kentucky but on this particular day I'd been on a bus traveling across the Yucatán. Those were features of my own evolution, and there was no way of knowing what it all meant, or where it was all leading, yet, that day, I'd had a pretty nice day.

Second, even if this or that strand of evolving reality sinks into oblivion or extinction, the Universal Creative Impulse behind all the evolving loses nothing, keeps on going, keeps coming up with new and beautiful things.

Two observations, two happy endings, not a bad bus trip...