After the Galapagos excursion we spent some time on the Ecuador mainland. Before visiting our long time friends in Peguche we spent a couple days at an Ecolodge in the Amazon basin. This was a friend of a friend kind of thing where we visited a place hoping to check it out as an option for other people. It worked out okay but staffing was weird and people seemed distracted and we didn’t get consistent service so rather than provide a review I will leave out the details of where we went. It was a kind of place where when the boss was around everything was okay but when the boss was gone we were treated like intruders. Here, for once, I am applying the adage of it’s better to say nothing if you don’t have good to say.
At the jungle local we did stumble across a handful of exotic birds. There was a sunbittern. Check out this link for an eyeful of this spectacular and hard to find bird. The sunbittern’s open wings resemble two giant red eyes. This defensive tactic seems to prove dragons once roamed the earth. I can’t think of any currently alive animal with eyes so big or so red. Then I saw the flying penis of the south: Cock of the rock. It might seem hard to miss a parrot sized, flame-orange, flying penis, but these birds can also be hard to see. They are shy and keep to dense foliage. In fact, Burt missed the one that flew over my head. It was a lucky and brief but easily made identification for me. Kudos to whoever named this bird.
There was also a shimmer or bouquet of hummingbirds. Ecuador is home to over 100 species of hummingbirds. So many hummingbirds live in the South America that they aren’t even called hummingbirds. They have names like train-bearer, sylph, woodstar, thornbill and sun angel. These names, while lovely, made it hard to identify the birds using the guide book. I had no idea if I what I was trying to find. Here’s one to check out: the booted racket tail. That’s a little bird with a lot of gadgets. We saw this raquet-dragging wee thingy flying around in its Uggs. It sure was cute.
After the ecolodge we drove up and over the Andean divide and north to Peguche. On our way we tried to spot some Andean condors but had no luck. The back road through the national park required permission to use and we didn’t have permission. This was a spur of the moment idea. Sometimes you win sometimes you lose. This day we lost. If you plan on visiting the national parks of Ecuador check them out on line first. Some of them require permits to enter. Others are open and free.
The Lema family was right where we left them in November but this time we were arriving at the end of a week of festival. School was out and there was time for everyone to play together. Burt and I rented a car just so we could carry everyone around and that’s what we did. After a long stint as a successful business man selling Ecuadorna crafts in the US and Europe Fabian’s economic trends are in a down turn. He was evicted from the US a while ago for selling sweaters and playing music when his visa only allowed him to play music. He and other members of his family were regulars at the Helena Christmas fair in the Capitol Hill Mall for many years. Because of this loss of his way of life Fabian’s family only has a pickup truck. Since 6 people cannot get around safely in a small pickup we brought a car to the party.
With our car we were able to drive an hour and a half away to a hot spring with everyone. We spent a morning soaking and swimming because it was Shadé’s birthday and that’s what she wanted to do. We also drove over to the raptor center and watched the free fling raptor show and we spent a morning driving north to a pretty lake for a lakeside tilapia lunch.
On another day we spent some time with Elsi at the Poncho Plaza watching her work her sales magic on the locals. She sold three parkas while we watched. It was an arduous process of back and forth but every person that expressed an interest left with a coat. The negotiations were all done in the local kichwa language, except the pricing. The prices were back and forth in Spanish. Nobody would tell me why but they laughed when I noticed.
Trip report from the singing and swinging group on the Letty. Susan and Burt, Susan and Bill, Amy and Edwin, Sue and Clay, Brian, and Fiona, and Robert. From this point on: Susan is Susan Mittelstadt. Susana is Susan Roth, Sue is Sue. There’s a full list of birds seen at the end.
2/4/18: The very first moments of our very first day looked like we might have a long week ahead of us. It all begin well enough with a fish dinner followed by Amy’s birthday cake at Puembo Birding Gardens. Then things went bad. Susan woke up with an intense version of tourista at 2 AM. With only 5 hours to go before the bus to the airport arrived some tough calls needed to be made. Pondering the hospital or disturbing a guest, Susan and Burt chose the guest. Edwin has been Susan’s intermittent primary care provider of 35 years and the two share a long tradition of medical care in remote locales. Susan swallowed her pride and gratefully accepted a shot of anti-nausea drug. She also despaired over the idea of dragging some noro-virus like disease onto airplanes and a ship with a group ready to enjoy the Galapagos Islands. Edwin assured her that if she kept her hands clean she would not infect the group. So she made up her mind to get herself to the Galapagos and recover en route. At seven she was able to leave the room and found the group rallied and taking over leadership roles. Burt was managing Susan. Susana was gathering people, luggage and keeping track of time. The bus was late. Twenty minutes after the scheduled pick up time the bus was spotted passing by a block away. Our hostess was excitedly trying to direct the driver by phone but it was not working. Ultimately Bill saved the day and ran down the bus on foot. Run, Bill, run! We arrived at the airport with only a little time to spare but EcoVenturas was ready and swept us though all the preliminaries with alacrity. Susan was wheeled about in a wheelchair. Sue and Clay joined us at the airport. We all made the flight. Way to go team. Roberto joined the group at the stopover in Guayaquil.
We arrived in San Cristobal on schedule and were ferried to the boat. The Naturalist Journey’s group met 6 new friends and we seamlessly merged into one group of friendly and excited participants. Susan passed out the species checklists and shared the extras with the other couples. We had our boarding briefing and then enjoyed the first of a continuous string of fine meals. After lunch there was a practice emergency drill. Susan slept through it but reports were it went well. We are all pleased there was no need to find out who or who not might have been paying attention.
The afternoon was the first snorkeling of the trip. Burt helped the newbies figure out the mask and snorkel and generally relax in the water. Fiona saw her first sea turtle. Highlights of the outing were the Pacific Green Sea Turtle, the blue-footed Booby, sea lions, great and magnificent frigate birds. That night an exhausted group headed to bed early. No music was played.
2/5/18: By the first morning aboard we were all under the Galapagos’ magic spell and the bad omens of the day before were forgotten. We started with a wet landing at Cerro Brujo and a beach walk. Our Ecoventura guides Cecibel and Giancarlo set us free to explore a lovely stretch of soft sandy shoreline. We walked in sight of Leon Dormido (or Kicker Rock). There we saw our first marine iguanas and lava lizards. The San Cristobal mockingbird, a warbler finch, and the velvety gray lava gull were also spotted. Elliot’s storm petrels danced on the water behind the Letty, too.
The late morning was spent snorkeling nearby. Words fail, mainly because I have no idea what we saw. The snorkeling never failed to impress.
After lunch we did a hike at Punta Pitt. Begging blue-footed booby babies. Dancing blue-footed boobies. Egg sitting blue-footed boobies. Blue-footed boobies are looking good at Punta Pitt. A marine iguana took a run at Susan and she leapt and screamed to the delight of everyone in her group. Susan swears she was not scared only startled by the love stuck reptile.
Highlights of the day: All three species of boobies (red-footed, blue-footed, and Nazca) were seen. We also enjoyed close up swoops of the nocturnal swallowtail gull and the red-billed tropic bird. Fiona is bitten by the bird listing craze and it is revealed that her SO is an eBird administrator. Fiona spots a pair of American Oystercatchers.
2/6/18: Day three found us walking at Punta Suarez on Espaniola and sea kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking along Gardener Bay. It was a jam packed day. On our hike we saw our only waved albatross. It was dead but nobody seemed to mind. Giancarlo explained that the largely unfilled niche of carrion eaters in the Islands was why skeletons and mummified remains were so plentiful. On the live side we saw more Nazca boobies, a snake, and sea lions and marine iguanas. The marine iguanas are especially colorful and active this time of year. Our boating expedition was a delight. Calm seas, clear water, balmy temperatures. What else could you ask for? Susan and Fiona went out together while Burt boated with Brian. Roberto did the SUP and all the other couples were paired with their mates. Nobody was thrown overboard.
During the snorkel we saw a massive ball of creole fish. A shimmering blue delight.
That night Susan ate her first solid food and the instruments and singers came together and got the trip groove going. Brian, Burt, Susan, Fiona, and Roberto got down. The Capitan danced with Sue to Love Potion #9 while Claudia drove the ship. Edwin wins the award for knowing all the words to all the songs.
The day’s highlights: Galapagos mockingbird, Espaniola warbler finch, wandering tattler, a yellow-crowned night heron, creole fish, marine iguanas.
2/7/18: On our fourth day we were getting the hang of this expedition. Our ship was anchored just off Floreana. Cecibel had us getting up early to avoid the heat. The early wake up call had the added benefit of avoiding other groups. We’ve hardly crossed paths with other visitors on any day. Despite our good natured grumbles about the 6 AM alarms we are happy. That Cecibel is a smart one. On this day we visited Post Office bay and learned the history of the area. Following a centuries old tradition we took the time to sort through the mail and find some post cards to hand deliver. We left our own cards behind with the hope someone would bring them to us someday.
Before the visit to the post office, we took a walk to the turtle beach and saw fresh tracks of a Pacific green sea turtle. She was swimming away from her nest as we arrived. On our return walk we stopped and watched American flamingos in the pond just behind the dunes. Joining the flamingoes were a whimbrel, a sanderling, some lava herons, white-cheeked pintails, and a black-necked stilt. The day’s bird list was very long and varied.
That afternoon there was more snorkeling and in the evening lots of fun music with Fiona singing Crazy and Danny Boy. The requests started pouring in and the whole group was singing along now. Brian wowed us with some Sligo solos and joined in on the pop tunes, too.
2/8/18: On this day we left the wilderness behind and visited the inhabited island of Santa Cruz. First up was a stop at Los Gemelos, the twin giant sink holes in the lava on the side of the highway. At this volcanic formation half our group saw the elusive woodpecker finch. The rest of us enjoyed hearing about seeing the woodpecker finch. Afterwards we bussed up to El Chayote Farm to see the giant Galapagos tortoises. The seasonal rains were late this year and so the vegetation wasn’t very deep or thick. While a dry wet season isn’t good news for all creatures it makes for prime tortoise viewing. We saw many fine creatures and they were in the mood for love. Tortoise humping is not as sexy as it sounds nor is it a high action event but it is very fun to see. We saw many Galapagos finches here and started checking off some of Darwin’s famous species. We walked through a beautiful and long lava tunnel. There were common gallinules, smooth billed-anis, a whimbrel and some cattle egrets in the ranch surroundings.
That afternoon we took a tour of the Darwin Center. Giancarlo and Cecibel explained the captive breeding program and the accidental finds of George in the wild and Diego in a zoo. We saw Diego, father of hundreds, in his compound with several lovely ladies. We also saw the remains of George, father of none, hermetically sealed in a glass case. George was the last of his kind so it’s appropriate he has a place where we can forever contemplate the loss of a species.
Afterwards we had free time in town. There was shopping to do and Ecuavoli to watch. That Ecuavoli is a high stakes game. Three on three for several hundred dollars a match. The Carnival parade with a band and the local beauty queens came by just as we headed back to the Letty for the evening.
2/9/18: On this day we visited one of the most spectacular scenes in the world, Bartolome. We took a boardwalk across a lava landscape to a view of Pinnacle rock. It was a stout hike but we all made it without distress. Again we were grateful to Cecibel for an early start. We had the island to ourselves and the dark lava was already heating up at 7:30. Our guides explained the geology of the area while we walked. Tuff was discussed at length. We saw some lovely lava cactus starting the process of vegetating the islet. At the viewing deck you can see the isle nipped in with bays on opposing shores and Pinnacle rock in the center of it all. Afterwards some of us snorkeled. Again, the snorkeling was worth the effort of donning all that gear. White tipped sharks lurked in shallow crevasse just below us. The lava landscape continued into the seascape. On our way back from the swim we passed the base of Pinnacle rock and spotted a Galapagos penguin. Fiona, on board, was watching the pangas and took note of our stop and saw the penguin from the Letty with her binoculars. Impressive skills of observation.
That afternoon we took a panga ride into the Black Turtle Mangroves on Isla Santa Cruz. Right away we happened upon a multi-species feeding frenzy. Sardines were running and everything else was chasing them. Frigates slid down in lazy arcs to just dip the tip of their bills in and flick out a fish. Pelicans and blue-footed boobies plunged deep from up high. Herons lined the shore and stabbed at passersby. Meanwhile bigger fish swam behind the schools and created vortexes of disturbed water.
We traveled deeper into the mangroves and found a hawksbill sea turtle and both white and black tipped sharks. Then we found one of the most delightful creatures to see from a boat, juvenile hammerhead sharks. We had stumbled into the recently discovered hammerhead shark nursery. There were clumps of five or more in several locations. Our guide, Giancarlo, had never seen so many baby hammerheads in one location. Hammerheads at this size look like a fun pet. This is such a recent discovery that it only made the news the week we returned.
More music and more singers let lose in public that night. Roberto slayed Dylan’s Another Cup of Coffee. Brian showed he’s got the chops to improvise on anything we throw at him.
2/10/18: The penultimate day. The previous day was one boggling scene or creature after another. On our last full day in the islands we had the time to look around and think about all the beauty we had taken in. First we took a long walk at South Plaza. We saw a hybrid of a land/sea iguana at the entry to the island. This streak faced animal is neither one nor the other. It isn’t even known if it can propagate. We also observed courtship between swallowtail gulls, a nursing sea lion and pup, some wrestling lava lizards, and some interspecies interactions between land and sea iguanas. I guess they have to interact if they occasionally produce hybrids.
We watched the shearwaters and swallowtail gulls soaring off the cliffs. A hatchling in a cliff side nest below us was fed by a parent. Half the group watched sharks eat a seal. It was reported to be a gory slow death.
That afternoon we snorkeled and hiked at North Seymour. Our hike was full of frigates in all stages of reproduction from courtship to eggs to hatchlings to juveniles. There were shrub climbing land lizards, too. There were also many blue-footed boobies. We saw two male boobies vying for the attention of a lone female. All that foot wagging and sky pointing and she seemed unimpressed. We enjoyed the show.
Our last night of tunes was full of group singing. The crew joined us for some well known numbers in both English and Spanish. Cielito Lindo, Besame Mucho, Quizas…
2/11/18: We spent our morning hanging in internet cafes and passing the time before our flight back to reality. Here’s the complete bird list.
Burt’s been battening down the hatches around here as we make ready to fly off to the Galapagos. Yesterday we made a run to our local dump. I went along because birding is always interesting and, well, it’s the dump. When I was young a run to the garbage heap of our area was an adventure. My brothers and I always wanted to take home enormous globs of glass we would find there. Bowling ball sized hunks of glass in shades of pale blue and green or clear. I still don’t know where that glass came from. When I moved to Montana in 1992 you could still prowl our local landfill for discarded treasures. Burt knows a guy that found a 150 year old Irish flute made of rosewood and silver. In the garbage. That all ended when the transfer station was built. I shudder to think of the many things I have discarded that I could put to use now.
The area dump is located between the towns of Pescadero and Todos Santos. The ‘relleno sanitario’ services ten thousand or so people and no industries. This is home garbage. Pretty regularly the place catches fire. I wish I knew why. In the US our dumps would burn regularly too, before strict regulations. In Montana we still fielded burning dump complaints after the turn of the millennium. Sometimes incompatible items spontaneously ignite. Other times heavy equipment throws a spark. Most often though people light them on fire under misguided ideas of fun or trash management. When this dump catches fire the wind almost always takes the noxious and unhealthy smoke towards populated areas. We live upwind. There’s a lot of yelling on social media on burning dump days. I’m sure I’d get up in arms if the smoke headed my way but it doesn’t so I don’t spend too much time wondering about it. I did that enough for a living.
Yesterday was two days after the dump burned and sent billowing smoke into Todos Santos. Burt and I figured the fire was out because we couldn’t see any smoke. On the drive in we passed a flock of over 100 lark sparrows with a bunch of butter butts and other warblers mixed in. Birds love the free garbage meals. It was so exciting Burt parked the car and we walked around counting birds. There are a few homestead places near the dump. These are places where people make a residence out of things they’ve gleaned from the garbage. Our walk took us to an abandoned camp where we found some high end goods. I made a thorough perusal of the camp to be certain we weren’t stealing instead of up-cycling. There was no sign of occupancy. No food, no clothes, no bedding, no water. Burt and I gleaned 4 chairs and a long and heavy workbench/saw horse from the place. It was a kind of high grading of the high grading experience.
After forty-five minutes of birding and scavenging we finally delivered our own garbage to the spot where you throw it out. During past visits to the dump we’ve been met by several men and a pack of dogs looking for tips and handouts. These men recycle and glean for a living. Yesterday there was only one guy and no dogs. There were scores of yellow-rumped warblers flitting about in the still smoldering ashes. I presume the fire drove off the usual residents and attracted the warblers. Even birds disagree on the treasure versus junk question.
The guests are gone and we’re back to our regularly scheduled week here in Pescadero. Until Friday. Friday upheaval awaits. Mimi is off to Dad and SG’s house. Olive and Elvis will join a pack where the human leader is named Pickle. Burt and I will board an overnight flight to Ecuador. The neighborhood kids will have to run amok without us.
I cut Burt’s hair today. A few too short shaves with the electric clipper and now he always asks for a scissor cut. Annoying. I like the shaver but I gave him a good clip despite wishing I had the magic buzzer. Afterwards Burt held Olive and I hand trimmed her face and secret spots. Olive is growing her hair out and sincerely hopes it is never cut again. Like a mother of a kid with long hair I tell her she has to do a better job managing it but she likes it matted and riddled with stickers. How she gets on with a woowoo full of spines I do not understand. This spot cleanup was a kind of winter detente. When we get back from Ecuador she’s going in to see the professional trimmer at Doctor David’s house of anxiety.
In other news we had a special guest teacher in yoga these last three days and today I can barely muster the energy to get out of bed. It started out easily enough on Monday that I hardly noticed we were doing more and deeper work. Yesterday I thought well that was a nice pushy workout. Today I thought why am I here? It was like boiling a lobster slowly. By the time I realized what was happening I was already dead. In short: excellent yoga week.
My dad is still here hanging with his girlfriend SG. I generally will refrain from reporting on this fun love affair. It’s there’s to blog about. But here’s a brief story of caution. Two weeks ago SG swallowed a fish bone. It felt like it was caught in her throat so the day after the meal she visited an ENT (ear, nose, and throat doctor). The ENT did not see a bone but noticed a small cut. He thought the bone might have cut her esophagus on the way down. He advised her to take it easy. About 4 days later SG noticed a swelling. Right away she got in to another doctor and this new doctor sent her to the hospital in San Jose del Cabo. The hospital is an hour away. Long story short here: the next day SG had surgery to remove an abscess from her esophagus. She was in the hospital for 5 days. The surgery was 2 1/2 hours long and left an 8″ scar. My grandma was right. Swallowing a fish bone can kill you. The surgeon thinks the bone punctured her esophagus and left behind some bacteria. The puncture closed up and an abscess of ucky stuff developed. I’ve had some cats with these types of infections. SG was wearing a drain just like my brawling kitties. Mimi used to regularly give and get nasty infections. She was quite a pugilistic feline when she was younger.
Today SG got a clean bill of health. We are all relieved to hear the good news. The love birds can get back to their regular activities. Yay, SG.
It’s been non-stop action around here until this morning. All was going well for my cousin and her hubby on their first vacation to Baja. Hikes, food, music, sightseeing, whale sharks, whales. And then a sneaky organism found its way into Burt’s digestive tract. Super-host Burt was struck down by a microbe. I’ve never heard him in such agony. I’ll spare you the details. Today we are sleeping it off. Tennis and Bridge canceled.
Cara and Bobby arrived on Tuesday. Since then they saw a packed Gypsy Carpenter show, gone to yoga, hiked, boated and snorkeled with the whale sharks, and eaten a lot of fine food. The weather has been the usual 78 and sunny. Cara’s blog link is on the left. You can see her pictures and read her impressions there soon. I’m happy she and the big guy are here and having a great time. Until today.
When Cara and Bobby arranged their trip they asked if they could see whale sharks. Cara said it was on her ‘bucket list’. My previous experience with the whale sharks was less than interesting. It was a small, loud boat with loud companions. There weren’t many whale sharks and I only spent a quick moment in the water. After seeing actual whales I was underwhelmed by the vacant stare of the plankton eating mega-fish. And I was seasick. But since I love my Cara-pooh I tried to be upbeat and I made arrangements to see the world’s largest fish. I am glad I did. This second trip was far more interesting and exciting than the first visit to the Bay of La Paz.
Neza and Zorro were our guides. We met up with them at 9:00 AM in front of the Burger King on the Malecon in La Paz. It took some firm evasive maneuvers to actually find Neza. We had a date with Neza but several other boat guides tried to poach us as we walked the twenty yards from our car to our meeting place. These other guides all said there was no guy named Neza. Neza? Neza who? Then Neza showed up and they were all like, “ohhhh, Neza. Yeah, we know him.” All’s fair in love and the eco-tourism industry. Despite having an appointment with Neza we didn’t actually have a slot to visit the whale sharks. There was some explaining about the restrictions on the number of boats and swimmers. Neza offered to take us on a longer tour and we could explore more areas (for more money of course). We said, nah, we’re good. We just want to see the whale sharks. I had no problem with this idea but I hate motor boats and all day in an open boat is sun and salt blasted and tiring. No biggy, we’d just go out and wait our turn.
It’s a form of kidnapping. A pleasant kidnapping where you wind up loving your kidnapper. Stockholm syndrome. The guides don’t want to loose a client when they don’t actually have a slot for their visit so they get you on the boat and have you in the bank so to speak while they wait for a slot to open. Since we had to wait over an hour for a space for our tour we just wandered around and looked at things. I think if you didn’t speak Spanish you might not even notice the guide negotiating over the radio to try and get in. It would be easy to think everything was moving along as planned. A pod of dolphins swam by so we followed them from a respectful distance. We saw a few magnificent frigates and brown pelicans. We enjoyed a lecture on all the names of the whale shark from around the world. Whale shark is a really extreme misnomer. This fish is neither whale nor shark. It’s its own thing. It needs a new name. Ginormo. Mr. Mouth. Godfisha. I learned that the fish are all in a database and can be identified by their unique spot patterns. The same technology on a smart phone that identifies constellations of stars can identify the whale sharks in photos.
After about two hours of wandering we finally were cleared to enter the whale shark area. It was a hoot. We immediately found some fishes and jumped in and swam with them. Quite literally. They swim and feed and you swim along side. It’s a terrific workout. Kicking like mad and breathing through a small tube while a 25′ fish with a mouth as large as a refrigerator cruises along. We were able to follow several and really see them in action. They were much more entertaining this time around. Cara has her own personal story that I’ll let you read from her blog. I’ll just say Zorro earned a large tip for his superb work.
In summary, I highly recommend visiting the whale sharks with Neza and Zorro. They kept us entertained and safe and we saw what we wanted to see.
I fell off the journaling and drawing wagon. First, I ran out of paper in my journal. Second, I ran out of drive. Third, I’ve been very busy. Add that all up and you get nada.
This week some kid drama finally got the writerly juices flowing. We have one group of kids formed by two distinct factions. Some kids come from an extended family group where they are loved and generally accompanied to all classes by an adult. Other kids are free roamers that live nearby. These free range kids are less well supervised and rougher around the edges but they have their own cohesiveness. They look after each other. All of the kids are kids and prone to testing limits. All of them are mixtures of devils and angels. They are each unique individuals.
My neighbor April and I consult regularly on the topics I teach and the group dynamics. April knows all the children and is fully fluent in the language and the culture. She’s a mother and wife. I could not succeed without April guarding my back and propping me up. She’s never in class but always knows what’s happening. It’s nice that she’s neutral. Kind of like the school principal.
This week a spat between factions may or may not have happened. One member of one group texted me to complain about treatment by the other group. According to the texter faces were made and bad names were tossed around. This all happened in a bit of a melee when my attention was in one place and the kids had swarmed around the yard. Vikki (my usual enforcer) was absent this day. The kids were pushing the limits. Sawdust was thrown. There was yelling. There was running. Mostly everyone was smiling. I stopped the sawdust throwing when I wouldn’t let them in the bathroom to clean up. They complained of being itchy and I said, not my problem. You want to roll in the dirt you’ve got to like being dirty. Anyway, that all passed. The kids were only mildly chagrined. We ate cake and fruit and everyone went home.
The next say I got the text saying the more well off group had started the fight and that they were teasing the other kids because they never brought food to share. Now the texter is a known manipulator. She conned me into taking her cousin to the beach and then tried to develop a successful cover story for the cousin when they returned. The cover was blown. Perhaps the suntan, sand, and dampness were giveaways? Ten year old kids can be quite inventive but hiding widespread evidence is hard. Everyone (but me) got in deep doodoo over that one. Despite this I was concerned with the underlying element of truth that was obvious. The ‘richer’ kids were lording their slightly better circumstances over the poorer kids. I had seen it myself in the condescension in class. One group always has pencils and paper. They leave home with supplies because someone is taking care of them. The other group I provide with pencils and paper. Nobody reminds them to bring their supplies. Having grown up under this type of kid on kid oppression it made my stomach churn.
Rather than dig deeply into the he said/she said I assured the complainant that I heard her and told her not to worry. I told her the food wasn’t important or her responsibility. Meanwhile I forwarded the texts to April to confirm that I had read them correctly. Burt and I discussed the situation. We agreed to set some actual rules of behavior and debated the food issue. Burt was for banning food from the kids and I was ambivalent. We also agree only one activity at a time. Chaos had ensue when some kids did origami, some threw sawdust, others went sightseeing on the roof. Everyone would do whatever the activity was together. No more wandering off to amuse themselves.
April and I met up and we were in agreement. One group was lording over the other but we could handle it by teaching and insisting on respect and tolerance. No name calling, no faces, blah, blah, blah, the whole you don’t have to like each other but you have to respect each other speech. Meanwhile April would help the other kids gather together some fruit to bring so they could participate in the very important cultural ritual of sharing food. That issue was quickly put aside when I mentioned that I was teaching ‘I am…’ and I said the kids said. Soy morena, and I said I am latina, and the kids said we are not latinas and I was in the linguistic racial quagmire of identity politics. What was the right thing to do? In that instant it was nice that my pupils are children. They quickly dropped the subject of skin color. So I asked white April and her brown friend. What is the English translation of I am brown. The guy said to use brown. It’s how Mexicans describe themselves. So that’s decided, I think, and head off to teach the next class.
Boom. Yo soy gorda. First sentence of the day at the next class. I am fat. The girl saying this is indeed overweight. The word fat in English has become so laden with political and social implications that I was again, stunned. How to traverse the nuanced world of body image? Even in Mexico, where a zaftig figure is appreciated, there is a point where a person is simply fat. But where is that point? Where is it on a 11 year old girl? A girl that is noticeably less fat than the year before? In the moment I decided to simply translate and be nonchalant. After all, there’s nothing wrong with being overweight. It’s a state of being for most of the US and Mexico. So we moved on. Then I got what’s the difference between being big and being fat? Ahhh…euphemisms for obesity are in the works here too, I thought. I failed to adequately explain this and obfuscated. Feigning a loss of language is helpful in many circumstances. Meanwhile we will continue to encourage an active lifestyle and healthy snacks.
I am grateful. I really am but at 5:30 AM when I read the prompt I thought “Ugh.” Ugh especially for the what are you grateful for about yourself. On the inside. The idea was to draw and write in our journals about our gratitude. It’s good for you they say. I wish I was grateful for waking up at 5:30. I wish I was grateful to wake up at all. Why do I hate waking up to a life I love? What is that about? I hate waking up. The night demons come in after dark I guess.
An hour and a half later I am still in bed. I drew a disintegrating picture of Elvis that I happened to enjoy while still under the covers. Sharpening my pencils in bed is messy. But what’s a few pencil shavings when you have nightly ants? Mimi stepped on my face a few times. I drew and put that gratitude on a side burner.
Burt is cooking breakfast while I write this. Yesterday I translated at art class and worked as Germani’s personal art facilitator. Germani and VIkki and I walked to class together. Gemrani wanted me to hold her hand on the walk and to help her accomplish her artistic goals. We have an unspoken arrangement. I draw in the major lines and she does the painting. I help with color mixing and general studio management. Germani is five. Her age, genius, or both require a free form approach to paint, water, palettes, paper. Things fly, spill, roll away. Some might say it’s a lack of fine motor skills. I think it’s boundless energy. She benefits from a full time assistant.
It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. I get lots of drawing practice. She paints. I have little interest in painting. My rusting drawing skills get worked hard. I have to be quick, decisive, and effective. My drawings need to look like the subject but have space for my master’s style of massive and heavy handed paint. I have made some pencil line masterpieces in this practice. Every one has been subsumed into monochromatic paint exercises. My study of La vaca Lola (a ceramic cow) will never be seen again. It’s great ego workout. Or an exercise in non-attachment. I am very grateful for the opportunity to draw for Germani.
Above is the redo of a redo from this morning. In color below is the original. In black and gray tones is the redo from last year. In my mind this morning I was contemplating this project. I remembered the redo from last year and thought, “Oh I’ll draw it. That will be fun.” I found a blank page in my nearly full journal. This piece is mixed in with our trip to Europe in June. Then I scrolled through my phone’s photo album and found the original. Hmmm. This was a lot more complicated than I remembered. Color pencils are not an easy tool to capture delicate color lies. My cartoon style technique would be hard to use in a small space. Simplify is rule one. The upper left square was drawn from the photo. I tried to capture the major forms. The subsequent squares were drawn from square one. Like a game of telephone the information I was using to make the piece degraded the further I got from the original. That was my favorite experience of this drawing. I enjoyed the feeling of losing contact with reality. It felt like embellishing an oral accounting of some event. An event everyone is talking about but nobody was there.
Who inspire me? Who is my hero? Important questions that I could not easily answer. I was hung up on the hero as a larger than life example that is doing great deeds for humankind. I was thinking the notorious RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsberg). Or Oprah. Or Eleanor Roosevelt. I went down that road for a while but I realized I never think about these people. I never look to them for inspiration. Of course I admire them and all they have accomplished but I don’t want to be like them. Frankly it’s my everyday peeps that keep me motivated. Burt, Abril, Ivonne, Peg. Business owners, teachers, mothers, caretakers. People making the best life they can with what they have. The kids I work with motivate me but really, deeply, the person I feel most inspired by is Vikki. Vikki is an example we can all look to for inspiration.
I’v eknown Vikki five years. Here is what I know of the facts of her life: Vikki is 26 years old. She’s married to German and has a 5 year old daughter Germani. German works 6 days a week. Vikki is a mother but also works. She manages our yard and she caretakes for other people. Vikki cleans houses. She takes care of Germani. Their home blew away in hurricane Odile 3 years ago. They move in and out with family here in Pescadero and house sit for people. They have a trailer on their rancho but it is inconvenient for school and work. They have had the same 30 year old Forerunner as long as I have known them. Her mother and father used to live nearby, too, but they returned to the mainland to take care of her grandmother. She has brothers in the US.
Vikki is always eager to work. She is always ready with a smile. She is never embarrassed to take the bags of clothes I bring every year. She spreads the stuff I collect among family and friends. I trust her to get the shoes, purses, and clothing to whomever can use it.
What most impresses me though is not her smile or work ethic or generosity. It’s her leadership. She comes to all our classes and gets down to work. If we are painting she paints. If we dance she dances. If we make hula hoops she makes hula hoops. She leads the girls by example. Vikki is all in. She is 100% committed. If there’s a disruption she helps me settle down the kids. She is unafraid of the unknown. Any idea is a good idea. Want to run a 5k? Sure? Want to learn ‘The Wheels on the Bus?” Yes. Want to sing in public. Yes. Want to learn English. Want to learn guitar. Yes. Yes. Yes. I’m not sure if I’m teaching English for the girls or because I know Vikki wants to learn. She is hungry for the chance to grow and learn. I want to show her everything I know how to do. That’s inspiring. I wish I could speak better Spanish and know her better as a friend. She is always calm and ready. She is my motivation. She is my inspiration.
When we talk about past lives or spirit animals, do you ever think who was that guy that was crushed under a stone block while building the pyramids? Or who’s spirit guide is an earwig? I’m always hearing about the Cleopatras and panthers, never Marie Antoinette’s chamber maid or the ant she stepped on. When the subject goes there that’s what I always think about. The lowlier and less famous. The you and mes of history or the animal kingdom. Yesterday’s prompt about nature even lead me that way because I was contemplating the nature of humanity versus nature nature. This morning I woke up and was thinking of my inner slug. Maybe it’s my inner sloth. Moving is hard some days. If we’re kind we could say it’s my hibernating grizzly bear. The day’s prompt hadn’t arrived. I’d been in and out of consciousness since my 5:30 AM hot flash. It’s become a regular thing. I fall asleep at 8:00 PM now because I am pretty much up a few hours before dawn riding the hormone train. I am grateful that (so far) I get a solid night of sleep in before I throw off the covers.
So there I was actually thinking of my inner slug. Reveling in my gooiness. The slackness of a formerly firm physique slumping all over the bed. Actually thinking: I am a slug and I like being a slug. I had my phone in my hand. While lying there in my puddle of adipose tissue the prompt came in to think on our inner nature. The universe was talking.
My Chinese astrological sign is the snake. A Facebook quiz once said I was a great white shark. I do not deny these aspects of my personality. The old philosophy about human nature that says you’re either a lamb, a shepherd, or a wolf rings true to me. I’ve been told I’m a shepherd. Shepherds mostly tend their flock and protect them from wolves but shepherds also kill the lambs when it’s time to kill. Sometimes I wonder if I’m a wolf. These days a retired wolf.
If I could choose, I would opt to be a grizzly bear or a blue whale. I like the grizzly bear because they sleep half the year, eat as much as they like and still look good, and they only procreate when there are sufficient resources for survival. I like the blue whale because it’s the biggest thing in the history of the world. Imagine that. Bigger than anything else alive in the history of ever. What is your inner animal?