Up in the Wild

Old Ranch near Babisal
Old Ranch near Babisal

Babisal Ranch is at the heart of the Norther Jaguar Project’s reserve. The cows are long gone but the original structure is used as a kitchen and two new adobe and stone guest rooms have been added. Burt and I will turn an old water tank into a third guest room. Year round these facilities are used by cowboys and biologists and other visitors. Overflow people stay in tents or hammocks. On this trip Burt and I scored a cabin of our own. The beds are traditional rancho cots made from burlap suspended between two Xs. With a Thermarest pad the bed is pretty comfortable but it moves a lot and the motion made me a little queasy. More Galapagos training I told myself.

Our group consisted of two donors, Mark and Monica, a photographer, Charles, us, and Randy and Turtle, NJP’s staff/guides. After the 12 hours of driving Burt and I headed straight to bed after dinner and didn’t really get a good look at our companions. We were grateful for the warm food and welcome gifts of NJP hats and personal napkins. In the morning we had some more filling and tasty vegan food and then piled in a pickup for a nearby hike.

All seven humans and three dogs rode up the steep mile or so to another defunct ranch. We would hike up the a tight, wet canyon and pass some camera traps and see what some people consider the spiritual heart of the reserve. In fifteen bumpy minutes we reached our starting point. The abandoned ranch buildings were full of wood perfect for our project. It will be fun to deconstruct and reconstruct out in the wilderness. The old wood will look beautiful in a new situation.

Pretty quickly we reached a camera trap. Randy and Turtle removed the data chip and tried to find a camera that could reveal its secrets. There are a few different models of cameras in use at the reserve and they all have their own way of formatting chips. Luckily our third and last try at reading the chip was successful. The chips and batteries are changed out every one to three months. Since this particular trap’s chip had been changed four mountain lions, a few bobcats, and an ocelot had passed by the trap. The ocelot passed just the day before we did. Smiles all around thinking the ocelot was nearby watching us. As Randy says, I haven’t seen a jaguar but I know they’ve seen me. I like that feeling.

Our walk to the canyon wasn’t more than half an hour. We could have gone further but we didn’t feel like swimming and mud crawling so we sat around and enjoyed the scene. I visited the spiders. Snacks and water and getting to know you conversations were had by all. After people were satisfied with the hanging around we had a choice, return home by the trail we had taken in or canyoneer our way down canyon. We chose the adventure route. It was pretty rough going but Randy was a competent guide and very able assistant. Burt and I did fine on our own. We mostly traveled ahead of the group. It took us much longer to reach the truck going down the boulder filled stream bed but it was also more fun. The dogs have a different version. One ran home on the trail. Another was lifted through the worst spot. The third either jumped or fell twenty feet into a pool. She was not happy. Eventually it was just a stream bed and we all dispersed. Burt and Randy went to inventory wood and I wandered downstream alone.

At the truck point we all reunited. Burt and I opted to avoid the truck bed for the downhill jostle and walked back to camp along the stream. It was a tussocky and watery route back. It was noticeable that there were not a lot of birds. When we finally reached camp it was time for lunch and a siesta.

That evening we took a silent sunset walk. We heard an elf owl. Or was it pygmy? I’ve forgotten. Tracks were seen in the creek bed sand. Quail flew up. We thought they were scaled quail but they were Elegant Quail. Similar but not the same. Dinner and bed.

The trap camera showed us an ocelot had passed by the day before.
The trap camera showed us an ocelot had passed by the day before.
Boulder crawl down the canyon.
Boulder crawl down the canyon.
Our room.
Our room.
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Getting There

Farmer is a bonny companion.
Farmer is a bonny companion.

Sunday last Burt and I slipped away from Portal at 5 AM. Mimi. Elvis, and Olive were all at their respective captor’s homes. We’d stayed in Portal to play music for friends getting married. Without the wedding we would have headed to Mexico on Saturday and attended the 10th anniversary of the Northern Jaguar Project reserve celebration in Sahuaripa. Instead we made a mad dash to the border and where we entered the weird Sunday morning amateur hour of la frontera. All the border staff were in their twenties and female and serious about their jobs.

First problem was Burt ad stuffed a tissue over the VIN number on the dash and the the guard couldn’t verify our vehicle registration against the VIN. Except the VIN is also on the door. The youngster didn’t want to look at the door she wanted the tissue covered number plate. I admit it looked kind of odd. I tried to dig out the tissue with a rusty scalpel I’ve been keeping on the dash for just such an occasion. The sun decayed tissue did not budge but produced a lot of dust. While I wheezed and dug, Burt kept trying to get the guard to look at the door. She refused. I decided it was because his grammar was slightly off. She could pretend not to understand him and watch me dig. Exasperated, I politely rephrased Burt’s statement and she suddenly looked at the door, took down the number, and let us pass.

Next we got our 6 month visitor’s visa. This time I had to rouse people from hidden chambers. Nobody crosses at 6 AM on Sunday. Tired eyed youngsters materialized at the windows. Our visa forms filled out we took them across the way to pay the fee. This second window was where we needed to get our TIP, too. Mainland Mexico requires a Temporary Import Permit for all vehicles. Baja does not have this requirement so the step was new for me.  Sadly, I accidentally threw away our original 2017 registration in a fit of organizing a month ago. Luckily, Burt discovered it missing so we had a copy the Jefferson County tax assessor had emailed last week.  More sadly, the Mexican government’s representative would not accept a copy. I showed her last year’s original. I explained sweetly and repeatedly that I lost the original and the US government gave me the copy. I wondered if an older more hardened representative would have let me pay the TIP. I wondered if speaking Spanish was working against me. I wondered what to do. Burt and I decided if they didn’t want our money we didn’t need a TIP. We shrugged our shoulders and hoped one arm of big brother didn’t talk to the other arm of big brother and we headed on our way in violation of the law. Most luckily, nobody ever stopped us and there were no checkpoints between the border and our destination.

At noon we arrived in Sahuaripa. We ran into Randy, the ranch manager, leaving for lunch. We ate, did some errands, shifted gear from our truck to his and finally, around 2 PM, started the trip into the mountains. It was 100 degrees. Cholo rode up front with the menfolk. I held my own with Farmer in the backseat. Six hours of single track gravel road later we arrived well after dark at the camp called Babisal. Rancho Babisal is the heart of the reserve. Fresh vegan food and our companions greeted us. We ate and went to bed.

Cholo de la Cholla, also a fine companion.
Cholo de la Cholla, also a fine companion.
Burt and Randy stretch their legs.
Burt and Randy stretch their legs.
Our Lady is blessing us all they way. Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Our Lady is blessing us all they way. Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
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Northern Jaguar Project Reserve

Jaguar at the Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Jaguar at the Northern Jaguar Project Reserve

I was very surprised to see a jaguar on our trip to Mexico but the proof is indisputable. There it is.

That’s the last fake news for this post. Jaguars live among us in southern Arizona and New Mexico. They are few but they are genetically important. The males in the US have come from just south of the border. They disperse and roam away from the wild lands of Mexico and remain available to spread their DNA when the time arrives. Lucky for them a federal judge just deemed these few individuals worthy of consideration when we (our society) makes land use decisions.

I personally consider these US individuals important whether they get a chance to reproduce or not. Here we have an apex predator the likes of which we hardly compare on a human scale. The claws, the jaws, the speed. My cat Mimi times fifty. Taller than me and so much stronger. So seldom are jaguars seen that we need tight networks of cameras surreptitiously taking photos just to prove their existence.  A several hundred pound cat is walking around near major population areas and we can’t see it. Think about it. Habit, camouflage, and rugged terrain make it invisible. In this era of over-exposed everything this mystery gives me joy.

The jaguar species requires vast tracts of land to survive. Aside from room to wander, Jaguars obviously need game to eat and water for fun and nourishment. The land needs to be healthy and full of other animals. Jaguars like to swim.  Protecting the jaguar protects everything in the web of life it shares. The Northern Jaguar Project has been working to provide jaguars sufficient habitat for their survival. They have a 40 something square mile reserve of land in Mexico they own that is managed for the jaguar. The NJP buys land but also works directly with surrounding land owners to provide critical breeding habitat for the northernmost population in the Americas. Nearby cattle ranchers are educated on the jaguar needs and habits and given trail cameras to document individual animals on their land. Through an incentive program that includes damage loss reimbursement, rewards for photos, rent for access to trail cameras, and other things the NJP are expanding their influence and the area of acreage available to the jaguars. In the last ten years fifty individual jaguars have been captured on the NJP’s cameras. One camera even caught a pair copulating. Scores of mountain lions, ocelots, and bobcats have also been seen on the project’s network or cameras.

All this land and cameras requires a team of people to manage. Land costs money but so do staff. There is a ranch manager (Randy, bilingual/bicultural Jack-of-all-Trades) and Turtle (US money wrangler) and a team of cowboys and biologists. There are roads to maintain, fences to mend, and cameras to check. In the backcountry there are simple accommodations that staff and donors use when visiting the area.

For several years Burt has been trying to coordinate a trip in to the reserve to provide some needed carpentry. The main camp cabins are 41 miles and a 6 hour drive from town.  Seven miles an hour and the drive is bone rattling. This year our schedules all had room for a scoping trip. Turtle, Randy, and some donors were headed in and we were available to join them. Working in the wilderness requires a lot of from a team of people. You have to trust each other and you have to be really good with logistics. We all decided to meet and give the job a looksee and decide if we were willing to commit more time. Could we get along with them and could they get along with us?

After our 5 day scoping trip it all looks good from here. More to come. Enjoy these landscape photos of the protected habitat.

The general vicinity of the reserve.
The general vicinity of the reserve.
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve - Aros River
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve – Aros River
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve

 

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Tripping off to Mexico Mañana

Me on Bob's fiddle
Me on Bob’s fiddle. Mom always said to clean behind your ears. I see why now.

Today is Laura and Barry’s wedding day. We’ve been hanging around Portal waiting for this day since the bridge was finished. An event well worth waiting for but, my, there’s not much going on when we’re not working or super hiking. I practiced some of my new Irish tunes this week. I read a book. Burt and I visited centenarian Bob again. A bear attacked the gNash. I saw a couple more tarantulas. We took a hike. A mouse landed on my shoulder.

Yesterday Mimi was dropped off at Dodie’s for her extended kitty B&B stay. I left Dodie with Mimi’s bed, food, snacks, bowls, litter box, litter, blankie, and more food. Mimi’s luggage weighs more than mine. We also left Dodie with our minds at ease because we know she won’t mind having an elderly stink ball as a companion. Mimi isn’t so sure what to do with all the floor space. When I left she was completing her 53rd circumnavigation of the living area. The gNash is soulless without our feline companion.

Two nights ago was the incident of the bear under the gNash. Just after 11:00 I was woken by two quick Olive barks. Olive has a sophisticated system of barks. These two barks were ‘I hear something’ and ‘GoAwayBear!’ I woke up and, with Ollie ears in tune new we were under assault. Olive was quiet and there was a dragging/grating sound emanating from just outside the window on Burt’s side of the bed. I leaned over and peered out blindly but thought I saw a very large and dark hump moving. I said, “There’s a bear” as I shook Burt. Like all husbands roused from sleep he yelled, “There is NO bear.” Insert murderer, robber, thief, rapist for bear and you have all men waking up to wife saying: There’s a …. Is this in their DNA or are they taught by their fathers or is it learned after millions of false alarms?

Clearly Burt hadn’t fully assessed the situation. Nor was he awake. Still I thought, maybe he’s right. It’s probably a mouse. Suddenly more dragging noises and I hit Burt again and I said, “There’s a bear.” This time he bolted straight up and yelled, “There’s A bear.” This was the first time in history that I feel Burt actually met or exceeded my level of concern for our physical safety. Wide awake he knew instantly what I did not. Burt knew the bear had found a stash of food under our trailer (Hellooo, Hell, no…) and now the bear knew our trailer was a flimsy tin can of filled with delightful food. Burt closed his window and the window over the dinette. I left mine open. Menopause, bear or no bear. Our noise making scared the bear enough so that noises stopped and we couldn’t see it. Not much sleep was had as we both envisioned the bear ripping off our grey water tank or stretching a paw in to find the dog food. The next morning the bear was still on the pile of dry beans (my zombie apocalypse supply) when Burt went out to check the damages. He chased bruno away. Our storage cooler had sustained minor bite damages and the rice and beans were spread all around. I presume that bear got a mean tummy ache from eating dry beans. Burt cleaned up the mess as best he could. We seal up the windows whenever we leave now but if a bear wants into a trailer it can make it happen. Today we are moving to a new location. Hopefully the bear doesn’t follow.

Also this week we played music for Bob. It was a kind of practice session. Whiel visiting Burt asked Bob if he had any of his instruments still. Bob still had his fiddle which he had inherited from his father. He showed it to us. I got it in tune and played some tunes on it that Bob’s dad might have played. Bob practically seized the thing from me and gave it a go himself. Despite his torn rotator cuff, deafness, long finger nails, and lack of practice the phrase of a tune came out. Bob commented that he liked my bow. You can see the video on Facebook. This private session was further rewarded when Bob left his house and came to our concert the next day. He doesn’t get around like he used to. He and his gal friend Gloria were all the audience we needed to make our day special. We made plans to have another jam session between our Mexico and Galapagos trips.

Another recent wildlife encounter happened when I decided to clean out a bird nesting box on the old adobe stage building where we are parked. I lifted the front of the box and it was packed full of bedding. Fearing biting bugs and the mites I’ve found in other nests I grabbed a stick to clean the place out. As I dug in a very alarmed mouse jumped out and landed on my shoulder. I screamed. She screamed. Then she ran down my chest, jumped to my knee, and then the ground. I stopped cleaning for fear of finding babies. The birds will have to battle it out come spring.

Bob on Bob's fiddle. Originally his father's fiddle.
Bob on Bob’s fiddle. Originally his father’s fiddle.
Barfoot view
Barfoot view
View of Barfoot lookout.
View of Barfoot lookout.
Bear destroys but does not eat dried beans.
Bear destroys but does not eat dried beans.
We had almost an inch of rain in under an hour. Bear tracks in the mud.
We had almost an inch of rain in under an hour. Bear tracks in the mud.
Bob and Gloria made it to our show among many notable Portal residents.
Bob and Gloria (front, far left) made it to our show among many notable Portal residents.
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Motored North

Recycled bottle art. This was a gift from Maria Jose.
Recycled bottle art. This was a gift from Maria Jose.

Just three days ago we were leaving Pescadero. Today I was at a two-story Bed Bath and Beyond with only pesos in my pocket. It all happened so fast I forgot to get U.S. dollars. Good thing I carry plastic. The drive was very easy. I slept. Burt drove. Years ago I used to sleep as soon as I got in a car. I traveled all over the south at napping pace. A couple of decades ago I lost the ability. Maybe the beauty and drama of the inter-mountain west was more interesting than the pine trees of the southeast. Now I suddenly can sleep again. It’s a nice way to cover the world. Burt puts in a book on CD. I check out. Every hour or so I have to wake up and change the CD. Sometimes Burt has to fill in the gaps in the story. This trip was Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Instructions. Entertaining science. Stupid plot. Poorly disguised science education. A for effort, Barbie, but if people don’t believe in climate change and the disasters that await this book won’t change any minds. It also irks me that Barbara reads her own work. It’s too precious. Her honeyed southern accent seems to self delight in her own wit. For crying out loud you sound too darn happy with yourself. Remind me to never read my stuff out loud. But maybe I will since this is fact and hers is fiction. I am writing about me after all.

Here’s some gross me stuff. I have been managing a bit of a female infection down there as we travel. A few days ago I was overcome by female troubles. I was gonna try and ignore it and see if it cleared up. Burt dragged me to the pharmacist. He helped me ask the pharmacist for the hongo medicine because I was too shy. The young man was totally professional. Silly me. The hongos were cleared and I realized I might have a UTI. Driving 1200 miles in three days with a UTI might be the definition of discomfort. Not exactly agony but always on my mind. I never peed my pants but I was reduced to climbing in the back seat with a Tupperware while stuck in LA traffic. The lyrics from two songs swapped back and forth in my head… ‘I drove all day and never even left LA’ and ‘if I ever get off of this LA freeway’ as I executed the move. Thank you yoga.

Today I called my BFF as I was waiting for an urgent care to open. I thought we’d catch up while I waited. When I told her where I was she said,”so and so’s here. Talk to him.” So and so happens to be my primary care physician and BFF’s husband. I try not to abuse our relationship but this was the perfect situation. Doctor hubby had me relay my symptoms and agreed with my diagnosis and sent a prescription to Costco saving me an office visit.  Do you have a urinary tract infection? Painful urination and cloudy pee (the Tupperware revealed this) are the hallmarks. I was doubtful because there was none of the urgency I remembered from my last infection some 20 years ago. I can blame this one on menopause and wearing a wet suit and my husband.

Rumpus room ready for the summer.
Rumpus room ready for the summer.
The truck packed and ready to roll.
The truck packed and ready to roll.
Sealed up rumpus room.
Sealed up rumpus room.
Some precious things. Insurance purposes.
Some precious things. Insurance purposes.
Good-bye bridge friends.
Good-bye bridge friends.
The bridge iguana
The bridge iguana
Olive wants to stop driving.
Olive wants to stop driving.
My heart can'ttake the heat. This nearly did me in.
My heart can’t take the heat. This nearly did me in.
Sand dollar.
Sand dollar.
Elvis at Pabellon.
Elvis at Pabellon.
Wind art in the sand at Pabellon.
Wind art in the sand at Pabellon.

 

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Global Big Day

Hiding roadrunner
Hiding roadrunner

Time got away from me again. I ahead no idea it was over a week since I last put fingers to keyboard for a blog post. A week ago today Burt and I were out on our annual Global Big Day bird census. Every year birders around the world get out in the same day and take a snap shot of the birds. It’s a big deal. Burt and I submitted 11 checklists and covered about 40 miles, 6 of them on foot. Baja numbers were way down this year which is what it’s felt like all winter. Burt and I managed to see 41 species, down from 47 last year and far from my goal of 50. The results for Baja California Sur for 2017 were were 30% lower than the census after the Class 4 hurricane (Odile, 2015) and and barely half of what was seen last year. Now three years isn’t a trend and a lot depends on where our birders were able to go but it is still sobering. I conclude more attention is needed in this valuable and unique habitat.

Then Burt had his birthday. Say high to Social Security, Burt! Also up, he’s going to buy the $10 lifetime national park pass before that program goes the way of the Dodo. Not that I’m complaining about raising the pass to $85. $10 is a ridiculous small amount and can’t cover the cost of issuing the darn pass. But we’re going to get in there and get one anyway. Life on Social Security isn’t extravagant. Lucky for us we can still work.

Tuesday is our projected exit date from El Pescadero. Last week we rounded up the kids for one last class with us but it wasn’t really with us. The organization that brings the English teachers to town had a special event that coincided with class time so the kids got to do that instead. It was a science fair like party focused on how the body works. I saw some successful demos that were fun and instructional: Making a fake set of lungs with a plastic cup, straws, and balloons, and the electric stimulation of muscles, and the passage of food through the digestive tract. Building neurons with pipe cleaners, not such a hit. The kids were not really getting the neuron thing. On the upside they seem to like their pipe cleaner sculpture. I was sad we couldn’t have a special class to review all we’ve learned this season but the kids did like the workshop. Meanwhile English classes will continue with Yvonne and Ale. The kids will have to walk to get there. I hope they do.

Yesterday Burt and I went on the proverbial wild goose chase, or maybe it was a snipe hunt. A while back a ranch friend told me she had seen a new bird up at the cemetery of her remote village. She said it was a big blue bird with a crown. I took her report seriously. She is an older woman and has lived in the mountains her entire life. She lives off the land every day. I presume she knows her birds. I showed her some photos from iBird and she picked out a Stellar’s Jay. She was certain the Stellar’s Jay was now living near them. The Stellar’s Jay has never been reported in the Baja so this was exciting news. If we hadn’t been visiting with my dad, Sara Gay, Jen, and Robin, we might have gone out right then to see if we could find the bird. Instead we drove home. As we passed the cemetery I wondered if the story was true.

This week Burt and I tried to figure out what to do with our last free days. I mentioned the report of the big blue bird with a crown. Chances are it was a false report. Even if it was an accurate report birds are hard to find. See the groove-billed ani story of a while back. We decided to give it a go. There’s also reports of a golden eagle flying around the mountains. Maybe we’d see that. So instead of lounging around home and maybe paying some tunes or going for a swim we all piled into the Exploder for a head banging, hip and back aching two hour ride up into the mountains. Short story: no Stellar’s Jay or golden eagle. We did see a lot of nice birds. Several that weren’t on our Global Big Day list. The red-trailed hawks were everywhere. There were some Cassin’s vireos and scrub-jays mercilessly attacking a red-tailed hawk in a tree. The heavy onslaught had rumpled feathers and possibly injured the bird. There was another RTH eating a lizard that must have been twice its length. The tail alone was as long as the bird. Lizards are shoved in head first and eaten whole. The bird kind of gags it all down inch by inch. I couldn’t help wonder what it felt like to go head first into the gullet to meet up with the gizzard full of grinding rocks while still alive, acid burning your tough lizard skin as nose meets the grinder. Bad day.

A good day birding but no new discoveries. Yet. And the lesson was, we should get up high for the census to get some birds nobody else saw.

Sunsetting. Time for owls?
Sunsetting. Time for owls?
This year's sunflower. Creepy smile.
This year’s sunflower. Creepy smile.
Last class with us.
Last class with us.
remote controlled muscles.
remote controlled muscles.
Cemetery gate. Looking for the scrub jay.
Cemetery gate. Looking for the scrub jay.
Blue flowers
Blue flowers
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Puerto Viejo visit

The view east from the Pacific to the Sierra de la Laguna.
The view east from the Pacific Ocean to the Sierra de la Laguna.

Here are a couple of pictures from our hike to Puerto Viejo or Old Port. When this area produced commercial amounts of sugar cane the shipments left via rowboat at this port. Large shipping vessels anchored off shore. There are bits of old infrastructure to admire such as the stone quay and dry set rock fences and roads and even the remnants of a turtle cannery but I am always blinded by the dramatic landscape. Here the last vestiges of the mountains crash into the sea. Sea lions blubber about on the rocks below while verdin, black throated sparrow, and a cactus wren sing courtship songs. Sometimes the wind carries the sea lion’s grunts and groan all the way up to our perch. The cardon cactii stand watch like lighthouses on cliff edges.  The palo verde, nipped by the harsh salt wind, grows close to the ground with octopus like tentacles.

Traditionally visitors approached this area from the north but a recent hotel development has caused confusion (putting it mildly) and animosity about access. Guards and scary looking dogs patrol the area now and a massive amount of vital mangrove habitat was destroyed, threatening the endangered Belding’s Yellowthroat. Best to steer clear even if the road is open. We decided to see what the walk was like from the south and found it to be easy and rather more pleasant because we could avoid all views of the unsightly hotel and its environmental destruction. Yes, our heads are firmly in the sand. From where we parked and walked there was very little evidence of the massive development all around. The area remains a very wild pocket, one of the last, between Todos Santos and Cabo San Lucas. Scat all around and game trails onto sheer cliff faces indicated coyotes and/or bobcats make regular excursions into the deep canyons.  I hope the area stays protected.

Recently I took my rings in to a guy to be resized. Abel works in an 8′ by 8′ space behind a rack of shoes in Todos Santos. I showed him my rings and asked if he could resize them. He wondered why since they appeared to fit fine and I explained that when I exercise my fingers swell and recently they were swelling so much the rings hurt my hands. I was worried he wouldn’t be able to resize them because one is white gold and the other is palladium but it was easy. Right then and there he put them on a thingy and beat them with a hammer. Beat, check, beat, check. Twenty minutes later they were cleaned polished and just a little but bigger. Thank you, Abel.

Burt and Elvis admire the view.
Burt and Elvis admire the view.

The cliffs above Puerto Viejo. The headlands are bwtween las Palmas, San Pedrito, and Cerritos beaches.

Abel the jeweler of Todos Santos.
Abel the jeweler of Todos Santos.
Abel resized my rings.
Abel resized my rings.
Anahomy and her landscape of the rocky end of the Baja Peninsula.
Anahomy and her landscape of the rocky end of the Baja Peninsula.
A change in local politics has us locked out of our classroom. Somebody didn't get the memo.
A change in local politics has us locked out of our classroom. Somebody didn’t get the memo.
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Hula Hooping Around

IMG_7379
Spadefoot backing into a hole as he digs.

Like everyone when it comes to exercise, doing chores, flossing, I sometimes wonder how time gets away from me. I keep meaning to write about something, anything, nothing, but find time is flying by faster than I can keep up. In less than two week we are leaving Mexico. I can’t even think about it. It hurts my head and heart. I don’t want to leave. Last everythings are rolling by. Last art class, last Spanish lesson, last fiddle lesson, last tennis game, last taco. This is a fact of life on the road. We are always saying good bye to people and places we love. On the flip side it is hello to new ideas and experiences and more friends.

This week we hosted our last art class. Burt brilliantly came up with the idea to make hula hoops, or, as they are called here, hula hulas. When we told the kids about the idea a week ago they were not enthused. “Vamos a hacer hula hulas!” I was met with blank stares and half smiles and silence. I figured it was their usual fear of the unknown or, maybe, they didn’t know how to hula hula. The only way to fix that lack of hula skills is to get a hula hula and practice. So Burt and I ignored the tepid reception and plowed ahead. You cannot let the ill-informed or inexperienced stop a great idea.

It’s been very cool here this year. The whole winter has gone by and we still have not had a day break 90 degrees. Friday was more of the same. Sunny weather. Cool shade. Warm sun. Burt and I prepped and waited. And waited. Nobody showed up on time. Maybe making hula hulas was a really bad idea. A few minutes after 3:00 some kids wandered in. Burt explained how to make a hula hula with irrigation tubing and a coupling. Irrigation tubing is widely available in our agricultural town. It’s cheap and easy to find. The kids used the saw with Burt’s help to hand cut the pieces. If you’re thinking of making your own you want a hula hoop that has a diameter of somewhere between your belly button and shoulder. Bigger and heavier is easier. Circumference equals 2 x pi x radius OR pi x diameter. Measure your diameter (the distance between belly button and shoulder) and multiply by 3.14. That’s how long the pipe needs to be for a nice hula hula. The hula hulas were connected by Burt. It takes some strength to force the pie over the coupling. The kids took the circles for a test drive to make sure they worked. Hula hulas made. Now their eyes started to twinkle. Next I showed them how to decorate using pretty electrical tape and sticker.

More kids showed up. Tape was wrapped. Hand eye coordination and color theory developed. Hidden hula hula skills were revealed. Fun was had. Then all of a sudden one kid says, “Do we get to keep these?” and I was aghast. What did they think this was? Slave labor for my personal hula hula sweat shop? That my mini-minions were making toys they couldn’t keep. Was this why they were ambivalent to the idea? Of course you get to keep your hula hula. It’s YOURS!!! I reassured them that they were building their own toys. Suddenly there was much more excitement and a rush of ideas on what could be done the next time we make hula hulas. I felt pretty silly for not explaining to the kids that the hula hulas would be theirs to keep. I also saw a yawning gulf between the culture of entitlement I come from and how a lack of opportunity can keep a person from even imaging something might be given to them. Mind blown.

Any ideas for next year? I want more things we can make and share. Come on people. What did you make as a kid?

Spadefoot. Somebody woke this guy up.
Spadefoot. Somebody woke this guy up. You can see the pink spade right by his wee toe.

 

The figure 8 move.
The figure 8 move.
Guillermo rocking two hoops.
Guillermo rocking two hoops.
Germany is still working on her skills but she made tremendous progress during the hour.
Germany is still working on her skills but she made tremendous progress during the hour.
Guillermo has a dynamic and economic motion. He can make the hoop move.
Guillermo has a dynamic and economic motion. I think he should join the circus.
Decorate your own hula hoop.
Decorate your own hula hoop.
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Team El Rincon with homemade hula hulas.
Irrigation piping for hula hoops.
Irrigation piping for hula hoops.
This year's mega-flower. Fourteen inches and nine feet high.
This year’s mega-flower. Fourteen inches and nine feet high.
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Time Alone

Our newest student
Our newest student

I am wrapping up 48 hours of alone time. After Dad’s visits and a concert and a massive trip to the beach and Jen and Robin it was time. Burt and Jen and Robin went surfing and camping for two days. I was invited but I decided to stay home and do as little as possible. I welcomed the girls back to their music and English classes on Tuesday. I went to my Spanish lesson. I watched TV and I slept. I hardly even ate. Bread and butter. Some cheese.

The big event of my alone time was taking the Olvis to the beach and birding for a few hours alone. Spring migration has emptied our wild spots. While I saw a lot of individual birds, I counted only 13 species. For the same spot the numbers are down from nearly forty in February and more than twenty two weeks ago. Just like the ex-pats that winter here the birds have headed north to more temperate weather. I hear from friends on facebook that they are seeing my orioles, orange-crowned warblers and common yellowthroats at their feeders this week. It makes me happy sad. Soon we will be headed north, too, and maybe we’ll see some of our feathered friends.

Today Burt and Jen and Robin will return from tehir adventure just in time to help me take all our kids to a live performance in Todos Santos. Instead of class we are going to see a play about the ocean performed by kids just like them. My friend Rocío Maceda wrote and produced the play. She has come to many of our Gypsy Carpenter’s shows so I am delighted to bring a huge audience to her event.  Speaking of the Gypsy Carpenters, here are some pics from our house concert. If you look carefully you can see my dad in the audience. House concerts are a great way to share live music. Thanks, Lorna and Donna for having us.

The doo wop gals.
The doo wop gals.
Half the room
Half the room
This baby kept the business end my way.
This baby kept the business end my way. He lives at the beach where I regularly bird.
Getting ready for the show.
Getting ready for the show.
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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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