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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
I did something I’ve never done before. I took a kid in the woods. A real kid. By myself. Sure I’ve been in the woods with bunches of children and their parents. I’ve skied and boated and hiked with kids but there was always a real caretaker nearby. Then there’s the twenty-somethings. I’ve been out with a few of them.
Evely is one of our regular students in the art and music and English classes. She has always been kind and polite. She helps the younger kids. She never acts bored or too cool to participate. In last year’s class we had another girl her age and she was disruptive because she thought she was too old for the activities. Evely understands the younger girls follow her lead and she is all in and eager to learn. Watching 13 year old Evely show up and work hard, always with a smile on her face, gave me the idea that maybe she was ready for a side trip all her own. I decided to invite her birding with Burt and me. I told her we’d look at nature and look for birds. She said she’d like to go. I told her to get permission from her parents. It was all arranged.
Today was the day. Burt woke up sick. Enter massive anxiety for me. I have to take a child on a trip by myself? What if she gets hurt or hates it or can’t carry the stuff? Who was going to take care of us? Who would drive? Burt wouldn’t listen. He insisted I was ready. Ack ack ack. So I went alone. Me and my anxiety.
I’ll admit there wasn’t much small talk. Evely is a quiet girl and me, well, you know, I don’t have much to say most days. The car ride was very quiet. Evely texted. I fretted. Maybe she just wanted to get away from her parents and play with her phone? Once we arrived at Las Palmas I realized I had picked the right kid. I showed her how to use the binoculars. We found some lesser goldfinches and practiced looking for them as they flitted in and out of a bush. Evely described the birds to me. We found a lizard. We focised on things near and far. The phone was gone and the binos were glued to her eyes. It was time to explore.
Right away we spotted a sweet Verdin. These yellow faced birds are the definition of darling. With binos to eyes Evely exclaimed, “Que hermoso pajaro!” I asked if she wanted to take a picture and gave her complete control of my telephoto equipped real life camera. And that was the end of my worrying about entertaining my companion. The next two hours she took photos while we found birds and horses and a dead raccoon. The dead raccoon sealed the deal. Without saying a word she started photographing while I put its head back together. As is typical, the lower jam was found apart from the head. She was not disgusted one bit as I ripped away the tattered mass of fur. My kinda girl!
After it was all over I thanked her for her fine companionship and told her we’d head out again soon. I believe, almost as much as I believe anything, that if people don’t appreciate the natural world our planet is doomed. I have hope.
Jolyn is continuing to teach these kids how to paint. It is not just a kid’s art class with random crafts and silly drawings. Jolyn is working on the elements of design, light, color, and technique. Translating is a challenge for me but the results show the older kids are getting it. This week they did an exercise where they had to draw a still life with only straight lines (no curves for that banana, chamaco!) and then paint it with only one color. Jolyn demonstrated and I explained as best I could that it was an exercise with artificial limits that helped the brain to see the world in a different way. That we were stretching the way our eyes and brains and fingers work. The youngest kids were stymied but didn’t lose patience. A lot of curved lines and flat drawings from the youngest ones but the older kids were impressive. I saw depth of field and proportion and balanced drawings. One frustrated kid asked if we could do origami again but she kept painting. I remember feeling the same way when I was a kid in art class. I never got the abstract stuff. Now I do. I wonder when my brain caught up?
I wonder if we are helping or enriching their lives and I realize that sitting quietly and trying something new is a great exercise. They are exposing themselves to a new experience. They may never paint but they are learning that it’s not magic. That painting is a skill with techniques requiring work and practice. After class we have hula hooping and cookies and song. Sometimes I think they take the class so they can eat cookies and play with the hula hoop.
Burt came home delighted with his adventure but sick. He and Esteban went up and down, up and down, and up and down. They had fun and ate well. No photos. No direct account. Burt needs his own blog. The day I lost contact with you went like this:
3. Practice for gig
4. Kids music class
I ran into people with food and so had nourishment. The gig was odd. I knew none of the songs. I could not play. I sang back up on tunes I’d never sung before. I tried to look involved and not extraneous. I have no idea why they did not let me go at practice when I demonstrated I knew none of their material and couldn’t even fake it. I offered to stay home. They insisted I come. I was paid a handsome fee for my incompetence. This is the second time I have been better paid for failing to play properly than I typically get paid for doing the music I can do well. The universe is sending mixed signals. This band was so good and had their material down. I was asked to sit in when they thought their guy couldn’t sing. The lead singer’s voice returned and he carried the show brilliantly. They were too nice to fire me. I guess.
Now I am tired, sick, but not as sick as Burt, and wondering why I even play music. There. I have nothing good to say so I must depart.
Burt has left for a trip to the mountains. I am happy sad. Happy because he’s out doing something he loves. Sad because I can no longer keep up. Next time we’ll rent a horse and I’ll ride in. It’s just 7 miles but straight up. I could do a flat seven miles with mule support but the intense up hill makes me miserable. So he’s off in the wood for a few days and I am here alone with Mimi and the Olvis. Burt was wondering if I could manage to feed myself and the pets without incident. I’m not sure. This morning I made myself a cheese quesadilla. Lunch remains a mystery.
Tomorrow is action packed. Yoga, tennis, band practice(!), and a gig. Yup I am solo in more sense than just living alone. I will be performing in a band on Thursday night without Burt at my side. Freaky. I wonder if I know how to play music without him. Eating is easier. Burt and I were both asked to sit in and I was kind of surprised they still wanted me without Burt. I will report back later with how it goes.