We went to the beach. It was wet and sandy. The dogs chased clumps of sand and tennis balls. Burt swam. I took pictures. I’m not allowed in the water. I can blame menopause for more irritating things. Trust me you don’t want the details. Tomorrow I plan to go back in the water.
I had my last Spanish class today with Ivonne. We read a funny piece she had written about one of her first experiences in Baja. Just like English, Spanish is full of idoimatic expressions and these words and phrases vary depending on where you are. Ivonne grew up on the mainland of Mexico in Guanajuato. Choyeros (residents of southern Baja, so named because of the ever present cholla cactus) have a different way of speaking. And one might say they are a little more ‘red neck’ than citizens of the mainland. After this story you too might agree things are a little rough and tumble around here.
Over in Mexico (in Baja we call the mainland Mexico) you can buy a large bottle of beer. This large bottle of beer is about 2 1/2 regular beers. In Mexico they call it a caguama. A caguama is a sea turtle. In Baja they call the large bottle of beer a ballena or ‘whale.’ One fine day about six years ago Ivonne and her friends were picnicking on a remote beach in Baja when they realized they had forgotten the beer. Ivonne and a friend offered to drive off and find some beer. I think it might have been Ivonne who had forgotten to load the beer in the car. Six years ago roads around here were very rough and a five mile drive to the store could take an hour to get there and back but off they went.
After a short bit Ivonne saw two guys and a truck parked by the side of the road. They decided to stop and ask where they could by beer. After making the usual polite greetings Ivonne asked, “Where can I buy a caguama?” The guy looked funny and said, “A caguama?” “Sí, queremos dos o tres caguamas.” We want two or three turtles. The guy told her he’d call a friend and let her know. Ivonne thought it kind of weird that the guy didn’t know where to by beer, but okay. She watched the guy talk on his cell to a friend. The guy hung up and said I can get you two caguamas in about three hours. Now, Ivonne was wondering why would she wait three hours when she could drive to town and back in one. The guy was wondering why she thought she could get two turtles so quickly from some random guy on the side of the road. More words and no understanding. These turtles would come with their shells. Shells? What shells? Why do they have shells? Is that some Baja thing? They continued on in a “Who’s on first?” manner for a while. Eventually Ivonne asked how much the caguamas were going to cost. The answer shocked her. A caguama was $800 pesos or about $75 US. Now Ivonne realized something was really wrong and she asked him why she had to pay $800 pesos for a bottle of beer. The guy told her she asked for turtles and he was getting her turtles. “But we want beer!” Another phone call was made cancelling the turtle order and the men offered to sell Ivonne and her friend some beer they happened to have in a cooler. And Ivonne learned that a big bottle of beer was a whale and not a turtle.
Selling turtles is illegal in Mexico but apparently to little effect. According to our sources if you have the money you can dine on turtle soup any time you wish. I did not like learning this but the story was funny. It also is reassuring to remember that communication is difficult even when we think we are speaking the same language.
Here are some pictures from yesterday’s drive.
Happy Easter, everyone. The Easter bunny does not cross the border to deliver eggs and candy in Mexico. Easter here retains its strong ties to the traditions of Spain and the Roman Catholic Church. So there are bloody pageant plays in the streets and church services and family gatherings. But in Mexico it is also a time of massive family outings to the beach. Hordes of humanity flee their everyday life and pitch tents on beaches all over the country. Not much work gets done during Semana Santa.
In the Easter spirit I have posted a picture of the bird of peace. The common ground dove. This dove species makes daily excursions in our yard. The dogs ignore it entirely as it wanders around grazing on ants and seeds. The doves also ignore the dogs and amble quite closely to both Olive and Elvis. Meanwhile I cannot be in the yard at the same time as these birds. The doves do not tolerate humans. These pictures were taken from the gNash using a telephoto lens. So there’s peace on earth between doves and dogs but not between humans and doves. Smart doves.
The cactus flower shot was captured from ground level looking up at a 20′ high cardon. This was also with telephoto. That’s why there is a very shallow depth of field. These flowers attract bats and bugs and birds but the activity is hard to see because it’s far overhead. There is not actual flower in the picture here. There are buds about to open and flowers turning into the fruit. I’ve got my eyes peeled and my telephoto on and I hope to capture some blooms soon.
The call of the bees reached us again. I think they are communicating with us. Last year we told ourselves we were bringing bee veils back to Mexico so we could help neighbors with bees and maybe start our own bee factory. Did we get our act together and get the veils? No. Death, hospitals, cross-country trips and work got in the way. Dreams of bee keeping trickled away while we dealt with the daily grind.
Since we are only a week from departure I was thinking, “Well I guess we didn’t need the veils after all.” Not one swarm our misguided hive crossed our paths this winter. All previous seasons in Mexico we’ve had bees to manage and none had been found this year. Last week Burt heard a swarm fly by but he didn’t see it. I was sad about this and wondered if we should get bee gear for next year. Sunday I bumped into friends at a local farmer’s market. The first words out of their mouths were: There’s bees in our outhouse. Not a typical Sunday morning greeting but I was happy to hear the words. The bees must be directing our thoughts. Nora and Peter had no idea Burt was a bee keeper but I filled them in and said we’d try to help them save the bees and clean up their poop station. They camp on property near here as a retreat from their jobs in La Paz. While they were away working a swarm of bees found their quiet outhouse and started building. A nearby vender overheard the three of talking about the bees and my lamentations of why oh why didn’t we buy veils and offered to loan his bee veil. The bees were really in charge.
This hive turned out to be very amiable and had built its home on the lid of the latrine. The combs all hung off the crapper lid. All we needed was a new box to hold the old lid and a new lid for the old box. Burt used some scrap wood and built a tidy box with a front porch (the gap the bees use to go in and out of the hive) and we headed over at dusk to make the move.
Some smoke was applied to calm or confuse the bees but these bees were so mild mannered I stood in their midst and took photos freely. Burt gently lifted the old lid and put it on the new box. He then reached into the latrine and scooped out handfuls of bees and placed them on the box’s front porch. The bees went into their new home. You could see them crawl in. It was over in a few minutes. Happy faces all around. Woohoo. We made plans to pick up the hive in a few days and locate it in our yard. Pizza and beers were shared around the camp fire.
This morning the bees were gone. They swarmed away. They weren’t in the new box or the old latrine. We’re mildly sad and pretty happy. We guess the new hive decided didn’t like the new spot and set out as a group (a swarm) to find something better. We’re sad because we have no bees but we’re happy because these bees are alive living in the wild and there is not risk of stings on personal equipment when using the facilities. So we’re calling this a success. And the bees are in charge.
Last year my friends Jaimie and Ricardo gave us a bag of sunflower seeds to eat. They had grown the flowers and cooked the seeds themselves. Burt and I ate those seeds the entire way up the peninsula. Since the seeds were still hulled it was a way to distract ourselves from the drive with a hard to manage snack. When we crossed the border and got to the US the almost but not quite empty bag was lost in the detritus of the road trip. Months later I found the bag while driving cross-country to South Carolina. We finished them then. I was never a fan of the hulled sunflower seed before but now I am starting to see the attraction. I still can’t pop a seed in my mouth and crack it open and spit out the hull. I have a lot more studying to do.
This year I might be able to practice eating hulled seeds with my own homegrown sunflowers. Jaimie gave me a packet of seeds last year. These luminous beauties have grown in the spot where our shower water drains. I am not sure they will be ready for harvest in 3 weeks. They just opened. Time will tell. Meanwhile I can enjoy waking up to Burt’s happy proclamations about how much he loves the flowers. His appreciation makes my enjoyment sweeter.
The Spanish word for sunflower is girasol. It means revolve with the sun. Speaking of Spanish, I taught yoga in Spanish today. Weird. Matching prepositions to the body parts was the hardest part. All Spanish nouns have an assigned gender (They are more rigid that Facebook). Male or female. The chair is feminine. The floor is masculine….El brazo derecho. La pierna izquierda. La frente al piso. Las manos hacia atras. Telling left from right in English is trouble. Add to the general directional confusion gender and new words and somebody might get hurt. I stumbled a bit over the word derecha without a body part. DerechO means straight ahead. DerechA means to the right. But a right arm is brazo derecho. And a right leg is pierna derecha. I think. Someone tell me if I’m mistaken. I guess I did a good job because the students teased me that I was a very bad teacher for making them work too hard and nobody made a malformed pretzel of themselves. On the walk home I spotted two iguanas.
Our aloe are attracting more birds everyday. Yesterday the gilded flickers stopped by for a sample. I found the flickers entertaining because they use the fence to walk from plant to plant rather than fly. I saw my first flicker in Montana. It happened to be injured and stuck on the ground. We carried it off to the bird therapist and never heard from it again. Some birds are like that. That was not a gilded flicker but a northern flicker. They differ in the under wing color and habitat.
Here in Baja these birds carve nest cavities in the ginormous cardon cactus. The cactus could seep out water and meet its demise from these holes but instead they secret sap and the sap hardens and makes a little room for the birds. How sweet is that? Maybe our possibly preening bird below is cleaning wet sap off its feathers?
Here we have what Mark Twain called “the most delicious fruit known to men.” I’d never even heard of the chirimoya until two days ago and now it is blooming into a minor obsession. Priscila gave us one Thursday. When she handed me the heavy and hard thing she said wait a day or two before you eat it. It did not resemble food. I forgot the name immediately and wondered if we would like it. I worried we wouldn’t enjoy eating the chirmoya because we are not fans of many fruits and we both really hate unripe or over ripe fruit. Here was a perfect storm of mysterious fruit and social pressure to enjoy. Two days passed and I thought we better eat the fruit. How to address the thing? I would have googled but I forgot the name. Its outer packaging is tough and nubby. It looks like a giant raspberry. I was intimidated. What if it wasn’t ripe? What if I ruined it? I picked a bit at the outer lobes but they did not give way so I decided to slice it open. My knife slid through with no resistance. The insides were a revelation. I found a creamy white flesh dotted with giant glossy black seeds. I ate it like a watermelon and spit out the seeds. Good thing, too. I found out later the seeds are poisonous. It was so tasty I found myself conflicted about saving some for Burt. I’d be hard pressed to name a fruit I prefer. It was sweet and mellow and creamy. Two forks up for the chirimoya.
Today Priscila (she was a teacher) texted me to remind me to eat the chirimoya before it went soft. Hah! I’d already eaten it and I now had the name spelled out and my research could begin. This fruit is very old and has a long legacy amongst the native people of South and Central America. The chirimoya is depicted in pottery and art from thousands of years ago. The fruit is borne by a shrubby tree or tree-y shrub that is a deciduous semi-evergreen. It likes elevation and cool weather but not frost. The indigenous people say the tree likes to see snow but not touch it. Sounds like me. Because of the smooth flesh the chirimoya is also called the custard apple. Some people east it chilled with a spoon and call it the ice cream fruit. And I can’t disagree with Mark Twain except to say women like it, too.
Cardons are the signature wild west cactus of lower Baja. They are very similar to the saguaro cactus of the Sonoran desert of the the southwestern United States. Cardons are bigger and more rugged looking than saguaro but both are long lived and very large with massive arms. Hurricane Odile took down many cardons in our neighborhood. A favorite up on the hill is gone and many in Janet’s yard tipped over. Many desert plants can be tipped right back up but cardons weigh hundreds of pounds. Even without all the spines it would be a risky endeavor. Our own cardon snapped in half just above the ground. There was no saving it. Or so we thought.
As I wander through town and spring is upon us I am discovering many plants that appeared hopelessly maimed are in fact alive. We had a few days of gentle rain this winter and the desert is waking up. One of the terrote trees (elephant tree) in our own yard is making its own miracle recovery. This particular tree did not break in the storm but topped over. Shallow but wide reaching roots are how desert plants find water. Shallow roots allow a plant to fall without breaking. I adored this tree. It has a lovely curve to its trunk and the branches spread in an artistically pleasing way. It’s only about 8′ tall and 6″ around. The tree had been out of the ground for several months when we arrived and we gave it up for dead. We hauled it to a pile of debris across the street. I was so sad. The loss of this tree was harder for me than the loss of our palapa. I stopped thinking about it. I planted some new things but the special tree’s hole remained empty.
The days are longer and the dewy spring has arrived. A few weeks ago Burt gave the tree a second look. Things were waking up all around us so he wondered if the tree was really dead. Burt broke off the tip of a branch and found a bright green and wet inner core. He decided right then to put the tree back in the ground. Today, just 3 weeks later, every branch on that tree has new leaves. Tears filled my eyes this morning when I saw them. It’s our very own Lazarus tree.
Yesterday I visited the chiropractor. My mid-back was feeling stuck and a yoga wasn’t helping. Too much fiddle, too much yoga, or too much life, I’ll never know which. There are a number of practicing chiropractors in our area and just like in the the U.S. they have a range of styles and sensibilities. Burt finds real relief from getting an adjustment and so he suggested I give it a try. Things were pretty much okay at first. Dr. Back (his name is changed) didn’t make any crazy healing claims and he was clean and tidy. His price was reasonable and his office was nearby. He did the usual shaking and twisting and a lot of crackling came out of my spine and neck. Dr. Back even did a nice release of my diaphragm, which I have to admit was a big relief. I’d been finding it difficult to breathe freely ever since my heart procedure. But while this was going on the Doc made inquiries about my bowels and claimed that I should be pooping 3x a day. Hmmm. Even if that is true it sounds damn inconvenient. I started to wonder what else he would tell me is wrong with me. In stead he handed me a health questionnaire to take home and fill out. He said it would help him access what needed to be done to help me with my passage through menopause and, I presume, get me pooping after every meal.
Now Burt did not get this list of questions and both he and I came to the same conclusion independently. This guy saw me as a mark. Not that he doesn’t believe in what he is doing but ask any 49 year old woman if she feels tired, eats too much and has gained weight and 98% are going to say yes. The questions were of this nature. It was not a family or medical history. The questions were: do you pee too often? Do you pee infrequently? Do you stare? are you hot? There were a lot of questions for which on any given day I could say yes or no. I filled it out for fun to see if I could make my own diagnosis. Then I came to this question: Do you have any masculine tendencies? Pardon the implied cuss word but, WTF does that mean? WTF s a masculine tendency? If this question makes me mad is that a masculine or feminine tendency? I have well beyond average math skills. I can wield a hammer and I can kick someone’s ass. I am big. I also have an ample backside and mammary glands and am lacking a penis. I do not self identify as a man. I am not gay. This despite the fact that a dermatologist once suggested I might as well be gay since I didn’t want children. What the F@#k is a masculine tendency? What is wrong with people? Gender(like sexuality) is a continuum. Many of us are lucky to be clearly one or the other. But I personally know people that are neither. Their DNA confirms this. To attribute any kind of skill or tendency or inclination to one sex or the other is stupid and limits the bounds of what is possible for all of us. Pisses me off.
In celebration of my own personhood here are flower and bug pictures for your enjoyment. This rush milkweed is a gorgeous succulent with a complicated and attractive flower bundle. The flowers are a favorite of the scarier than science fiction Tarantula Hawk. In case you’ve not been keeping up with my blog here’s a refresher. The Tarantula Hawk is a wasp with a potent sting used to paralyze tarantulas. If the wasp manages to sting a tarantula the victim tarantula is paralyzed and becomes a living food source for the wasp’s larvae. The larvae slowly eat the still living tarantula bit by bit saving the vital organs for last. I can’t get the picture of a half eaten but still alive tarantula out of my head. Burt gave me a tarantula hawk for my birthday this past year. Talk about masculine tendencies. Who’s more masculine in that scenario? Burt for the odd gift or me for appreciating the odd, poisonous present?
The aloe is in full bloom all around and the orioles are here having a grand time hooking up and eating to their fill. I have an oriole specific feeder full of sugar water but so far only ants, bees, hummingbirds and butterflies have used it. The orioles prefer their native food source. In this part of Baja both Bullock’s Oriole and the Hooded Oriole can be found. Orioles are part of the blackbird family and like most blackbirds they have a rich song. A friend recently saw a yellow headed blackbird kill another yellow headed blackbird in a mating dispute. We’ve seen some fights around here but nothing close to lethal. Perhaps the yellow heads are the hot heads of the blackbird family.
Spanish class is calling. Gotta go.