To the Mountains

Ramona explains how she makes the pottery.
Ramona explains how she makes the pottery. She uses a small stone to make a smooth finish.

Yesterday was warm and sunny and the whole fam-dam-ily took a road trip up to the remote ranchos in the mountains to look for pottery. Dad and friend in one car and Burt, Jen, and Robin in another. I bounced back and forth. I’m not sure dad enjoyed himself. He seemed a little subdued. It might have been an upset stomach or just the really rough roads through very remote desert.

Our first stop was to see Ramona. At 70 Ramona doesn’t produce much these days but her pieces are more whimsical than other local artists. There are pigs, cows, turtles, chickens and other local species transformed into jars and bowls and serving vessels. She explained to us that she was hoping for a new oven because her current one was too big for her to fill these days. She wanted to be able to fire smaller loads. Ramona uses pitaya cactus wood as her main fuel. It doesn’t take much time to form a simple cup but the finishing takes a lot of rubbing with a smooth stone over many days. She does a little bit every day until the piece is smooth and dried just right for firing. If she does too much work one day the piece will dry too quickly and crack. Ramona learned how to do this from her great-grandmother.

Next we went to the locally famous guy’s house but he wasn’t home. Marcos makes bigger and more finely crafted casseroles and bowls. You can drop a substantial amount of pesos at his house. I figured it was our lucky day to not be tempted. Our last visit was to our friends at the end of the road. We don’t even know their names but they call us friend and we’ve been many times. The main man in the photo below has never smiled for us. Until now. The ladies were all unpacking a bunch of cups and bowls for us to look over and I wondered why the man of the house wasn’t showing us his wares. This guy embodies strong, silent type. I knew he wove lariats and riatas and horse accoutrements.  Last year I bought a key chain from him. The hand of the car I call it. So this year I gathered my gumption and asked him, “And where is your work?” I got a flicker of a smile for remembering. He quickly tried to conceal it and he headed off to get his stuff for me. This year I bought a bull’s head made of pig teeth. He makes this stuff to sell down in Cabo San Lucas.

The women asked how our walk (recall the death march to Titi Mountain?) went earlier in the spring. I told them how far we made it and that we were looking for birds. I always say we are scientists studying birds because it’s easier to understand. This brought a piece or unsolicited news. The older woman and the youngest kids had seen a new bird in the area. A blue bird with a crest. I showed a picture of the very common California Scrub Jay and they said, “Noooo, not that one. That one doesn’t have a crest.” I searched for jays on my phone app and found a mainland bird, the Stellar’s Jay, dark blue with a prominent crest.  I showed them this picture and they said, “Yes, that one has been here for a couple of years. It’s new here.” Hmmmmm. We could be real scientists after all on the brink of a new discovery.  I have no doubt they know what they see. These people are living straight off the land. They pay attention. Burt and I hope to head back up in a few weeks and see for ourselves.

This is a tied piece of work made to look like a bull's head. The 'horns' are teeth from a hog. I don't remember his name. He never smiles. Except once.
This is a tied piece of work made to look like a bull’s head. The ‘horns’ are teeth from a hog. I don’t remember his name. He never smiles but he let me take this photo.
Gallinas.
Gallinas.
We found a rosy boa on the road.
We found a rosy boa on the road.
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Fun in the Sun

The gang's all here
The gang’s all here

So much happening here. Dad is over in Todos Santos staying with his new friend. Jen and Robin are here in the rumpus room. We have a show to practice for. We’ve been to the beach. We went to the mountains. More later. Photos by Evely Cota and Sara Gay Dammon.

Germani and me check out the horses.
Germani and I check out the horses.
Lucero, Janexi, Frixia, Paola
Lucero, Janexi, Frixia, Paola
Dad and Sara Gay
Dad and Sara Gay
Frixia is a ham
Frixia is a ham
Maria Jose
Maria Jose
My vogue-ing teens.
My vogue-ing teens.
Run run run
Run run run
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Putting on the Bunny

Easter crowd
Easter crowd. Jesus is behind the sheet but pretend we don’t know.

With a little trepidation and much curiosity Burt and I joined Bridge friends to attend the Todos Santos Catholic Easter Service. Our buddies told us it was a very moving community event full of dancing, singing, and fireworks so we decided to give it a go. I’d heard of sunrise services but here we have sunset. Jesus is resurrected early in Mexico. All the better for the fireworks. It’s been a very long time since I attended Easter mass. I remember it all very solemn and sad. Jesus died…he suffered…Mary wept…Cut to Mexico.

The community gathered in the plaza outside the church. The church is too small for everyone and, well, you know, fireworks.  We waited under the palm trees as the sun sank into the Pacific and the sky darkened. First up was the mini-bon fire right behind our seats. A large candle was lit and the folks nearest to the candle lit their individual candles and shared the flame person to person through the crowd of over 1000 people. I teared up. Nothing beats good ritual. Next a group of young people were confirmed into their faith right next to us. The padre was a man I met in yoga. The yoga friendly priest was in charge of the whole event. He made the sign of the cross on the teenager’s foreheads. Then their parents and god parents traced over the cross with their own fingers. I don’t remember this from when I was confirmed. My confirmation name was Vanessa. The flame was carried to the front of the plaza. The procession followed. I recalled my star turn as an altar girl when I took a wrong turn carrying the crucifix and headed down a side aisle on Easter Sunday. Embarrassing. Our kid last night got it right. That wrong turn might have signaled my destiny as one who could not do what is expected.

The service proceeded in Spanish. The first reading was Genesis. Here again I was surprised. Is this faulty memory? I always remembered it as the last supper, Judas, Mary Magdalene. Heavy stuff. The origin story in Spanish was a delight to hear. God liked what he saw and he rested…From there on the readings were all about the natural world and how it sustains us. This was some seriously subversive stuff compared to my memory. The resurrection as metaphor for humanity and our survival on this planet. This yoga doing priest had my attention. For a little while. The I started burning myself with dripping wax. Right when I despaired for my clothes and skin the priest told us we could snuff our candles. There were so many readings. I grew alarmed. When was the homily, when was the communion? Oremos (let us pray) indicated it was time to stand. We sat and stood, sat and stood. This I remembered. After about seven different reading with songs and prayers interspersed the action picked up. Attendants started handing out balloons from large garbage bags and the crowd grew restive. Some people had noodles and others globos. We twittered and waved. The father admonished us to settle down. Hold your balloons still, it’s not time to party. Yet. Another song. We hummed along. The group playing music reminded me of my mother’s stint in a 7 guitar Jesus band in the seventies. Aleluya! That’s how you spell it in Spanish. Another reading. Balloons held quietly.

I have to confess (it’s that time) I missed the big reveal. I was looking at my balloon when the crowd cheered. I looked up and the sheet shrouded Jesus was in full view and lit up and the sign next to him burned bright with a fiery Aleluya! Wave your balloons and sing, sing, sing. Fireworks blasted. People cheered. We danced in our spots. This went on for fifteen minutes. The mass was not over but remembering the early exit from childhood Burt and I headed home.

What a fiesta.

The flame
The flame
The flame was passed candle to candle.
The flame was passed candle to candle.
Fireworks
Fireworks
More balloons. Now we see the balloon inspiration for that Gypsy Carpernter event a couple weeks ago.
More balloons. Now we see the balloon inspiration for that Gypsy Carpenter event a couple weeks ago. The brightly lit thing that resembles a flame in the center of this photo is the Jesus statue.
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Going Pro

Size matters
Size matters

I boldly secured my first professional bird guiding job and immediately came to have second thoughts. Firstly, do I know what I am doing? General anxiety about competence plagues many people. Me? Not so much. I’m usually thinking we’ll figure it out somehow. YouTube videos and the internet can help with almost any scenario. Identifying birds in the field with clients watching is high pressure. This was worse than joining a band and standing on stage for two hours and not knowing a single song. My next major concern was the condition of our vehicle. The Exploder has a skin condition, electric windows that require manual assists and a second helper, passenger doors that don’t open from the inside, and the dirt was two years thick. Last week my dad surmised that dirt might be the only thing holding it together. Thirdly was the mystery of the persons behind the email. Would they be world class amateurs looking to expand their list? Would they be aggressive, fit, sparrow-chasing maniacs? Would they ask what every call meant? Did they want a deep biological interpretation of bird behavior? Were they uptight, unfit, vegans? Blind, deaf, and argumentative? Boring? Turning a hobby into a paying gig…People dream of this but I know it is fraught with problems. Number one is the clients.

I prepared by looking up some troubling species and considering the most interesting birds to see. Swifts, swallows, warblers, flycatchers are all difficult. The verdin, woodpeckers, and yellowthroats are flashy and fun. Many raptors have migrated so that makes it easier. Then there’s shore birds. My client expressed an interest in this area and I truthfully told him we don’t have many in our immediate area. I left out the I suck at them bit. I also went out and birded my local patches to see who was still here and where they were. The pre-trip excursions got my brain and eyes warmed up. They are also fun. I also gave myself pep talks. I imagined Peg and Rose Ann telling me I could do it. I chose not to actually call them because I didn’t want them to have to lie. I figured I could just pretend to have their unmitigated support. It worked.

Then I had my man get the car washed. He was soooooo nice about this. I popped it on him with little warning and he got it done without complaint. Maybe not asking for a clean car once in all my years of marriage netted this result. Mostly I think it was because Burt is usually a wonderful man and likes to see me succeed.

Burt was a bit surprised at my chuzpah. For years he’s been facetiously claiming to be a professional birder and here I was turning into one right before his eyes. At first I had no intention of asking him along but the day arrived and he was free and I knew it would be more fun for everyone with Burt on the team so I hired him. I was right.

At 7:30 yesterday we picked up our Canadian clients and headed out. Right away we knew we’d hit the jackpot with John and Aleitha. They came to Todos Santos from Yellow Knife, in the Northwest Territories. That’s some 30 hours of driving north of Montana. People from those extreme parts of the world are not phased by a shabby car with amenity problems. These particular people were funny and light hearted and very good natured. Our day began with a positive sign. On the highway to bird spot number one we saw a Cara-Cara. Life bird in prominent display. And a huge, charismatic carrion eater to boot. You can’t ask for a better start. Burt pulled a quick u-turn and assisted with the mega lens and I knew it was going to be okay.

We did the bird loop at Las Palmas and hit downtown Pescadero. We ate lunch. Split for a siesta. Laughed a lot. The clients asked us how many trips we did a week. Burt was evasive. I presumed they meant personal trips so I said 2 or 3. Later I realized I might of accidentally lied. Or was it on purpose? The brain and my intentions are mysterious. We regrouped at 5. Birded the dam. Uh oh. Shorebirds. Swallows. A freaking vireo. Things got sorted out with the help of iBirdPro. Darkness came. We called in a handful of elf owls. They even flew near us. If we’d had a flashlight we might have seen them. We always have a solar powered flashlight in our car but guess what? Cleaning the car has its downsides. The flashlight was still on the kitchen table. We forgot to return it to the car.

At our 9:30 PM pizza dinner in a mood of post-birding delight I confessed (after being handed a baggy of bills) to our new friends that they were my first paying clients. John and Aleitha were surprised and delighted. Aleitha even said she was honored. Can you get any luckier than this?

I learned a couple of things. A laser pointer would be nice to have. A flashlight, duh. Some snacks are good. And I do know enough about the birds here to lead a productive and pleasant tour. I am no bird expert but I know my patch. And we made two new friends. And life is always better with Burt.

Don't do this.
Don’t do this.
Bald headed baby doll bird. Best sight of the day.
Bald headed baby doll bird. Best sight of the day.
Bi-pod Burt
Bi-pod Burt
Size can be a problem.
Size can be a problem.
La Presa Santa Ines
La Presa Santa Ines
Elf owling looks like this when you forget the flashlight.
Elf owling looks like this when you forget the flashlight.
Where's the flashlight?
Where’s the flashlight?
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TAXES

A little rant here. Sorry. I know I have it good. This is the second time this year I’ve had to make contact with our government from abroad. For the lowly placed people it’s against the law to communicate with a foreign power so the feds have special restrictions on calls coming in from out of country. My US cell phone can’t complete the call. My Mexican phone can’t complete the call. I’ve tried all the internet work arounds. Last month we used a friend’s US landline (don’t know how that works) to finish Burt’s application for Social Security benefits. This month I’ve been trying to file our tax extension and for the first time ever I am blocked out of the system.  I have done this 5 years in a row with minimum effort. This year I’ve filled out forms with all our vitals and bank account info and four times. The application is accepted and then a day later I get an email saying it’s been rejected. I re-filled the form and no success. Now they tell me I need to call. My friends are gone until next week. We’re shaving it close. I have to accept that I might be a scofflaw and file our taxes late without an extension. At least I have proof of my efforts that I tried four times.

In other news, Til will be back in Mexico next Sunday. The dawning of a new chapter in all our lives. Dad is on the loose. Can you believe he wasn’t going to tell me? Easter is also the same day Burt’s daughter and her boyfriend arrive for a two week vacay. The rumpus room has been booked for them for months. Good thing dad has a friend he can stay with.

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Galapagos with the Gypsy Carpenters

Burt and I are leading a trip to the Galapagos Islands in early February 2018.  We are thrilled to be hosting this fun extravaganza of nature and music for Naturalist Journeys. Are you interested in seeing this exciting, animal filled wonderland and enjoying fresh tunes in the evening? Come sing and dance with us! You can check out similar itineraries at this LINK. Our trip isn’t posted publicly because this particular offering is currently only open to our friends and fans. Let me know if you want the specific details and I will send them to you. Space is limited.

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Olive is disgusting

Olive in the smelly mud.
Olive in the smelly mud. The skull is just in front of her nose.

Swamp water and mud has a mighty aroma.  Smells like love to a dog. Yesterday we took the dogs to Playa Las Palmas and did a bird stroll. I’m prepping to take out a pair of paying clients next week so I thought I’d tour the local bird hot spots and see what I could see. Most of the water is gone from our local oasis and a bunch of deep dark mud remains. Olive and Elvis plunged into the reeds and found some fetid, foul water and happy danced among the green. Swampy water reminds me of the back of a forgotten gym locker or a particular closet in my grandma’s house. Stale, anaerobic, moist, decay. The decay turned out to be actual rather than imaginary when Olive dug up the skull of a raccoon from her wallow. Mmmmmmm, good!

From the swamp we headed to the beach. My dogs took off at a run and left me trying to decided if I was seeing Common or Belding’s Yellowthroats. I counted 8 house finches and decided it was a Common Yellowthroat. When I finally looked up to find the dogs I saw them about 100 yards away rolling in a dead sea lion. Great Googly Woogly. This was a banner day to be a dog. Not such a great day to be a canine companion. Sara Gay and dad had mentioned seeing this poor dreature the day before and I had forgotten. My poor excuse for a nose could not detect the rotting flesh but it was obvious the dogs smelled it from a long way back. I saw the dogs see me and hear me and they got in one last roll when they decided I was too far away to exact a punishment. As I approached they ran off and kept a safe distance from me. They knew the fun was over.  I looked over the carcass and decided it was too disgusting to snatch the skull. The smell was overwhelming up close. The turkey vultures hovered nearby waiting to get back to their feast. I remembered reading vultures don’t like putrefaction and pondered how far along flesh can be before it is too gross for a TuVu. Maybe a sea lion is just too tasty to pass by even with maggots.

You wanted Olive, come and get her.

Maggots: perfect rolling substrate after mud bath.
Maggots: perfect rolling substrate after mud bath.
Maggot home: sea lion carcass
Maggot home: sea lion carcass
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Whirlwind Tour

Tennis Tournament
Tennis Tournament

Dad leaves tomorrow. I think if he stayed any longer Burt and I would die of exhaustion. It has been a non-stop trip full of sports, food, beach, music, and ROMANCE. Burt and I feel like we have been chaperoning a middle schooler on dates. Next time Til visits he needs his own car and a Mexican telephone. I can’t keep up with him. All his resistance about visiting Mexico is gone. The trip has exceeded his wildest expectations.

Where to begin? Til came in Tuesday night with an open mind and a degree of flexibility I have never seen. Kudos to him. We took him to music class that afternoon and he fell in love with all our smiling and energetic pupils. The kids stared at him like the Jolly Green Giant had come to life. After class we dined at one of our favorite restaurants. Next day was pickleball and an evening tennis tournament mixer. A little pinochle to pass the time during the day. Thursday  things started accelerating. More kids, more tennis, more food. A friend joined us for dinner at our favorite restaurant and the sparks were flying. Dad was smoooooooth. Who was this guy? Burt and I did our best to stay out of the way and keep the good times rolling. It’s a delicate balance. I’m not comfortable saying more beyond this: I am glad everyone is having a good time.

Friday the tennis tourney started. More food, more beach, more kids. Saturday was this epic amalgamation of over doing it: Tennis (all over the area), provide music for a party, eat too much, nap, kid’s performance at the Festival del Chile y la Fresa, dinner.  We got up early and drove all over. Played tennis, sang songs, rested and then starting at 5:30 shepherded 13 kids on an evening long odyssey to their first musical performance. Kids, teachers, fans waited 2 hours on a chilly night to be the closing act in an overly long show of local talent. Our kids were stoic. Not a single complaint was heard from the little ones. The adults were cold and hangry but the kids showed us how to be patient. They politely watched all the other acts (folk dancing) and mustered their enthusiasm when our time to shine finally arrived.  Dad and his date smilingly kept us company and provided warm clothes and drinks. At 8:00 we trotted on to the stage in our matching, misspelled t-shirts and gave the huge crowd a show. Break a Leg does not have an equivalent saying in Spanish but we did indeed break our collective legs. The Wheels on the Bus, Five Little Monkeys, Cancion Mixteca, and Love Potion Number 9 were delivered with energy and dynamic balloon accents. The balloons were a last minute addition. Burt and I were puzzled by the props but we figured all ideas were welcome.   Video footage on Facebook confirms that it was a brilliant idea. Seven and a half minutes later it was all done. The kids were each handed twenty pesos by my dad as they exited the stage. Dad wanted to bribe them in advance to sing well and I said it needed to be a post-gig surprise. It worked out well but a few kids were mystified by the money. They ran off to spend it on the rides and junk food before we could take it back. Team Mittelstadt/Zazzali grabbed a late dinner and retired at 10:00.

That night we lost an hour to daylight savings time and had 8:00 AM matches too. Ugh. I did not play well. It was a disaster. Too much driving, too much tennis, too little rest, too many people, too many days in a row. We took dad to the last tennis party and left him with his new friend. Burt and I collapsed in the trailer. That was two days ago. Yesterday was Bridge and more double dating. Right now I am finally alone with Burt. We played pickleball this AM and a round of pinochle after lunch. I might have lost all my tennis matches but I am undefeated in pinochle. Dad’s with his friend. Burt and I have the kids at 4:00. Then it’s one last evening for the new couple and at 4:00 AM we take dad to the airport.

I am so pleased my dad has had an enjoyable trip. Like I told him and his friend: Just have fun. You, too, dear readers.

Art Class arrivals
Art Class arrivals
Drawing pushes the brain
Drawing pushes the brain
Non-dominant hand exercise. Hurts the head.
Non-dominant hand exercise. Hurts the head.
Elvis at the beach
Elvis at the beach. He misses more than he catches now.
Dad, Burt, and Elvis.
Dad, Burt, and Elvis.
Teachers and fans
Teachers and fans

IMG_6716

Elvis and frisbee
Elvis and frisbee
Wheels on the bus plus balloons
Wheels on the bus plus balloons
Burt in the tennis tournament.
Burt in the tennis tournament.
Cabalgata or horse parade.
Cabalgata or horse parade.
Show time
Show time
You've heard of Brangalina? Meet Sarillo.
You’ve heard of Brangalina? Meet Sarillo.
Singing class
Singing class practicing for the show
Beach with the dogs
Beach with the dogs
La Paloma's ice cream
La Paloma’s ice cream
Day 1 Pickle Ball
Day 1 Pickle Ball
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Dad Arrives Tomorrow. Zoinks!

Art Class. I used curved lines.
Costco supplies for Dad

I’m pretty much better. The fever and its aftermath were ugly, very ugly, but yesterday I managed a 4 mile hike to Agua Para Los Cochis with Burt, Tom, and Evely. That’s Water for the Pigs. Agua Para Los Cochis is a palm oasis just a few miles from here. Our budding naturalist Evely had never been there but her nana lived there as a little girl. So we showed her all the ruins and Evely snapped a bunch of photo to show nana. Maybe nana can tell us why the place was abandoned. It looks like a sweet ranch and it’s not nearly as remote as so many we’ve visited.

Dad’s arrival has caused some to say, Is the stress making you sick? Possible. I think it was germs but maybe worry is making it worse. I really, really, really want him to enjoy himself here. He’s got some pretty heavy tennis matched set up during the tournament. Of course I hope he wins (we’re on the same team) but mostly I want them to be fun games. The personalities involved are nice. I’m playing one match with my buddy Anna as my partner. I think our opponents are pretty tough. Funny thing is I am about twice the size of everyone. I Might have to be the net monster. I’ll try to have fun. I get a little too serious out there.

IMG_6622
Art Class, I used curved lines.
Aqueduct and Evely
Aqueduct and Evely
Shade
Shade
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Fever brain

Many years ago Burt and I read a book about a mercy killing. It was hard to figure what it would take to either beg or do the job. Every time I get a fever I think, “oh, here’s one thing…” This is my third memorable feverish illness in that 15 year time span. I’m pretty sure I’ll pull out of this one but as I hit 101.3 and my heart irregularly beats I wonder where the limit is.

Last night’s dreams were closer to hallucinations. I watched a tsunami wipe out every house at Pedrito. They were flying like confetti. Massive waves pushed mountains of sand and redesigned the shoreline. People screaming. Finally I realized we needed to run away. Bequia Martel and Aldo N. Baja and the Montana band were all with us. Run run run. I woke up scarcely able to breath.

Maybe it’s time to try aspirin.

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