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.
The dude continues to eat despite yesterday’s attempts to ‘help’. After much reading and consulting with various experienced persons we decided to sling the kestrel’s broken wing. First step was a sock on the head. That is instantly calming or, perhaps, so terrifying that the bird is catatonic. With a sock on the head Bad Hombre freezes and curls up his toes. If he happens to be gripping your finger at the time of cloaking you might need help removing him from your finger. I know I did. Burt had to peel BH’s mighty talons from my thumb. I was uninjured but only because his claws hadn’t pinched loose skin. I can now sympathize with how helpless a lizard or bird must feel if caught in this deadly grip. Here I was a mere 1,000 times larger and I needed help to get free.
Once calm and unattached to me we explored the bird’s wing. Sadly, we found an open wound. The wound was healing but there was a little pus. I would guess another bird of prey got a shot at this guy. I cleaned the wound and applied antibiotic ointment. Before treating him I used my iPhone to quickly see if bids were allergic to antibiotic ointment. Some antibiotics kill birds of prey. I knew this because a cow medicine is killing vultures. The internet said ointment is okay. I gooshed a bunch in the hole. Then we wrapped an X-bandage of self sticking tape around the wing and then wrapped another bandage around the wing and the bird’s body to stabilize things. One of the more alarming aspects of caring for the bird is if he freaks out and tried to fly he gets his bad wing all tangled and it is a horrifying sight. I cannot imagine it feels good. The bandages we used are the stuff that sticks to itself but not the skin or, in this case, feathers.
Withing seconds BH was tangled in the bandage around his body. Those crazy strong talons got up inside and tried to pull it off even with the hood on. I re-attached it with more determination and slightly tighter. Same problem. I gave up on it after a second fiasco of wings, bandage, and talon knot. This was looking dangerous for all of us. So we put BH back in the kennel and he slumped over in his post-human contact coma. The X-bandage was in place, the wound was treated, and he was still breathing. Burt and I left for Bridge.
Big surprise. We played horribly at Bridge. I was in a funk. The wound. The bandage failure. Long term care issues. Crazy cards. Really good players. Bleh. We came home and found BH roosting, ready for dinner, bandage off. I told him he was on his own. I was not going to try again. We fed his some grouse heart and other yummy bits and said good night. I feel my funk lifting as I share all this drama with you.
So our dude is still eating well. Yesterday we gave him the head and a foot and a wing from Lorna’s white-winged dove. He made short work of it but would not make a move if we watched. Eyes on the bird equals the bird not doing anything. He isn’t fainting nor is he completely still but he will not give us the satisfaction of seeing him eat. Yet. So we sat there out of eye sight and listened. There were strange noises. We heard a rhythmic thumping sound that I postulate was the removal of feathers. There was scratching. Perhaps he was dragging the parts around the kennel. And (I’m imagining this) there was a contented sigh. So the scene was: noises, peek from human, nothing happening, human moves away, noises, human tries an even quieter, sneakier peek, nothing happening but there are feathers everywhere, some even stuck to Bad Hombre’s face, human moves away, more noises, another pathetic try at peeking, nothing happening. Eventually I gave up and Burt played guitar. More noises emanated from the kennel and I pondered the excellent hearing and will to live of our new buddy. I shot a video of dude defending his food when I intentionally approached and I shot another video of dude enjoying the music post meal. You can see them on Facebook.
I was saying to Burt that Bird’s are stereotyped as being, shall we say, not very smart and I wondered if our guy actually is thinking things like, “Man that was a great bird I caught!” or “This sure is the life, I can’t remember how these meals keep showing up but I sure like them.” Regardless of the avian deep thoughts BH really like eating the feathered friend. There wasn’t a mote of meat left on the head.
In the photo above Olive is trying to decide what to do. Elvis had rolled in poop at a previous stop and needed to be spun in the Pacific-rinse-omatic for a while to get clean. Normally Olive would relish a run on the beach. I’m not sure if she knew Elvis was in for some disciplinary swimming or she was worn out from the walk. Perhaps she didn’t want to take the chances that she would be required to clean up, too. Maybe she just wanted to hang out with me while I waited. I was too pooped to walk more myself. Two weeks after her poisoning Olive seems her normal self but with less endurance.
New follower Kevin suggested a recounting of how we wound up wintering in Pescadero. I sent him deep into the archives for a full accounting but I can summarize here. The long and short of it is it is too expensive and cold to winter comfortably in the United States as full time RVers. We can afford to work part-time and live near the beach in Mexico. This spot is the least populated but not primitive location on the Baja with good surf. You can easily drive from the U.S. People are filling the place in rapidly since the road was widened from Cabo San Lucas but we’re still happy here. The food scene is fantastic. The scenery breath taking. Burt had been to El Pescadero in the early 80s. He and his family have always visited Mexico and being a surfer he was naturally drawn to this spot. Meanwhile a woman he knew from Helena, Montana, Janet, had settled here.
Seven years ago we hit the road and had no idea if we would last a week or a year or forever. We still don’t know how long we’ll go living nomadically but it suits us. The first winter we spent in the US and suffered snow in Pensacola and 40 degress and raining in Key West for $100 a night. Not comfortable economically or climatologically. The next winter we decided to visit Janet and see how we liked Mexico. It was a fit. The funniest part of the arrival story is how as we were pulling into town Burt turns to me and say, “I forgot what a shit hole this place is.” I replied I’d been paying attention since we left the US 1200 miles back and the place was just as I expected. Yeah, there’s garbage and bad roads and no cell service or wi-fi but it’s pretty and interesting. Six years later there’s a lot less garbage, phone work great, and we’re still pretty happy here.
I was scheduled to play tennis with Lurker Al today but I cancelled. Yesterday I woke up with a very stiff neck. I went to my tennis lesson because I thought it would loosen up with activity. After a miserable night last night I am worse today and have to conclude tennis did not help. No tennis today.
The night before last was when the stiff neck developed. There’s this thing I sometimes get where I suddenly develop an intense stabbing pain between my ribs and the sternum. Not a heart attack but a connective tissue thing. I can feel it very localized in the joint. It started up when I would overdo it rock climbing decades ago. The weird thing is the pain only comes at rest, usually after too much upper body activity. It also only happens to me on very rare occasions but when it does it is fully disabling for a few minutes. It sounds to me (based on internet research) it’s costochondritis. Recently there’s been an uptick in yoga, music, and tennis activity. So two nights ago I was trying to turn over in my sleep and got trapped in the covers. As I struggled to free myself I was stuck by a breath robbing pain in my sternum. I was stuck. My whole body froze as I tried to stay calm and let the spasm pass. I could only take shallow breaths. It resembles a calf cramp of the ribs. My neck must have been propping me in my mid-turn position. A few minutes passed, the pain subsided and I rolled over and went to sleep. I had fierce dreams of war and bomber planes and aliens. The next morning the stiff neck.
So today no yoga, no tennis, ice packs and aspirin. I still have the kids at 4:00. Tomorrow we planned for an epic mountain hike. I might not be up for the drive. Head bobbing for two hours on mountainous, washboard roads will not help. If we do make it, it’s likely the blog continuity will be broken.
Yesterday we went to our neighbor Priscila’s and reviewed some Mexican folk standards and worked on a new tune called La Flor de Capomo. Give it a listen. I’m currently using this brain worm as our 6 AM alarm every morning. It should make it into our repertoire soon. During our visit we learned Priscila’s family had just purchased three new goats and Prissy was making fresh cheese. She gave us a plate of requesón and crackers to enjoy. We took home some queso fresco, too. Yummy. Nothing better than your neighbor having too much homemade cheese.
I had two writing assignments today. The journal project asked us to photodocument our day and write about the mundane and special. My Spanish teacher wanted a discussion of my time outside of Mexico in the past tense. I woke up crabby. Mimi glared. Ants crawled. I had writing to do. Before eating I did my Spanish homework. I made a passable job of describing how we took a job near my family and my mom’s death. Cranky me. I wonder why?
Next I turned my attention to the ants. I’m spraying them with white vinegar and soap. They disappear for a while and then the next generation shows up. How many must I kill before they are satisfied with the hummingbird feeders? Must they come inside, too? Irritable me. Burt fed me. We went to the beach. Elvis and Olive gamboled. I started to perk up. We came home. I killed more ants. I (delusional) thought I made some head way. I ate lunch. I panicked over a potluck dish for tomorrow’s Bridge game. I developed an idea for a salad.
I went to Spanish class. I love our 1991 Ford Exploder. Before I left the neighborhood I stopped at Rafa and April’s and April helped me decide which clothes to give to which kids. I had bought a bunch of girl’s clothes in the states of various sizes but I had no idea what would fit whom. On the way to Spanish I passed Federal Police stopping oncoming traffic. There’s been some mild agitation in the area over skyrocketing fuel prices. The police seemed to want to remind people they are here. The blockade was gone by the time I returned home.
At Spanish I read my essay. I didn’t make too many gross errors. Writing in Spanish is very hard for me. Writing requires grammar and spelling. Sentence structure matters. Conversations are much more forgiving. Communication can happen despite faulty pronunciation or disagreement between nouns and verbs. You can see the corrections below. I love my Spanish teacher Yvonne and my fellow student Alexina. They are both decades younger than me. Alexina is also a civil engineer. What are the chances?
After class I stopped for groceries. Agricole has a diverse selection of locally grown and made organic products. I spent $10. Then I went to Fidel’s highway fruit stand. I spent 0.25 cents. I was equally happy with both places. I arrived home to find Burt tuning up my mother’s guitar. This guitar had spent 7 years hanging outside as a yard ornament and after minor repairs was playable again. Weird. That’s a tough guitar. I killed some more ants.
Next Burt and I practiced. It was rocky for me. I couldn’t quite get the bow under control. Burt and I are contemplating where to play music this winter. We have ideas. The Gypsy Carpenters may have a pizzeria revival. After practicing I collapsed for an hour or two. I got an email from friends that were planning to visit saying they had cancelled their trip. The civil unrest north of here has closed gas stations and parts of the highway. We are sad but also glad not to have to worry about our friends on the road. I called my dad. He said to stop bothering him.
This evening we went back to my Spanish school for a Rosca de Reyes party. Today is when the wise men finally made it to Jerusalem bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. In Mexico it’s a nice holiday. They have a wreath like cake. Inside the cake is a baby. If you get the piece of cake with the baby you have to host a tamale party in February. Nobody at the party found the baby. There were only three pieces of cake uneaten when we left. Speculation was that the cake was defective. There were at least 20 relieved people that did not have to host a party in February. Burt and I played music and got some of the other students to sing. We inspired one woman to ask for guitar lessons. We’re meeting up next week to learn some Mexican folk songs and teach guitar. That is the biggest news of the day. Possibly the week.
On the way home we stopped at Luciano’s Pizza. Luciano’s is what was known as Napoli 6 years ago. We started gigging in Mexico at Napoli and met many of our friend’s while playing there. Napoli sort of fell apart, then moved and got there act together in a new inconvenient for us location. Now this place is at the old spot and using the same pizza oven. Tonight’s pizza was great. We are in negotiations to start all over again where it all started. Stay tuned. We’ll let you know if we’re going to do a show there.
That’s it. Time for bed. Birding at 6 AM tomorrow.
I did learn all their names but like a mother with many kids I didn’t always apply them to the correct kid. Yesterday was our last class of this season in Mexico. we are packing and making arrangements to vacate the premises. My guy is going to watch the property and occasionally water. Tools and toys moved out of the truck and trailer in January are moving back into the truck and trailer in June. It was a completely different season than previous stays. The surf was down. We weren’t inspired to perform. We did learn to play bridge and birded the heck out of the neighboring areas. And we got involved in the lives of our neighborhood kids. Next year I hope we add more music and more surfing.
I am already thinking about six months from now because I still have lots of ideas. My desire to teach music has blossomed into teaching other things. Arty things, exercise things, English things. I’m thinking along the lines of start small. Help a couple of kids but help them deeply. Take them places, show them things.
As part of our packing we assessed and purged a bunch of clothes and bedding. Stuff left behind by Jen and Robin and other visitors went into 4 big bags. I had some dresses I no longer wore, too. The bags were in our car when we picked up the kids and they spotted it. Some of these kids come from very, very stressed economic situations. They live in shacks. They don’t have reliable vehicles. Their clothes don’t fit. They are surrounded by wealthy gringos. Extreme poverty has given these particular kids eagle eyes. They saw the bags of clothes in the car and just straight up asked if they could have them. I had planned to find a way to give them to them without making them uncomfortable. I need not have worried. We went through them together so I could help split them between the two main families and each individual girl. Everybody was happy. Blankets and towels and hand bags and dresses and shoes. Yippee.
One of these families has a granny that is 102 years old. April and I joke that we are afraid to even look at her because our glance could turn her to dust. Granny used to sit on the street and catch the rays every day two years ago. I thought she had died because I had not seen her this winter. I guess she was hibernating. Recently she’s been out. I’m hoping she got one of the new blankets.
This could be the last post for a while. I presume we’ll have intermittent access until we reach the states. xoxoxo
Spring has sprung. My mom used to say that. Flowers are blooming. Lizards are doing pushups. Baby birds are cheeping in our palapa column. Burt’s daughter and her boyfriend (Jen and Robin) are here catching rays and waves. I thought I had something to write about but I’m tapped out for the moment. Ideas welcome. Let us know if you have any questions.
It was standing room only at the Pescadero music class yesterday. There are no chairs unless we bring them so it’s always standing room only. We actually have no room or bathroom, either. Despite our lack of facilities we have a great time. The wall makes it easy for me to trap the kids. Eleven chamacos showed up to stretch their vocal chords yesterday. They range in age from 3 to 13. Mostly girls. My rough Spanish and general hugeness (physical and metaphysical) seems to keep them all slightly intimidated and that’s a good thing.
To give you an example of what we’re up against culturally here are the kids names:
There are no typos. How am I supposed to remember these names? I have them in my phone and I study them every day but it’s like learning latin names for plants. It will not stick. I can’t remember people’s names when they are names I’m familiar with. I might not win this particular battle. Meanwhile Burt and I are somewhat famous. Our names are on posters around town advertising the kid’s music classes. One kid called me by name from across the way yesterday. It’s shocking to hear my own name yelled out. The caller was Elvier, student numero uno. He was the first kid to show up at the very first class. I can remember him because he’s one of the rare boys and I remember Elvis-notElvis-Elvier.
Every class I try to sneak in little lessons on self esteem and working together. My motto is if you can’t use your voice you can’t succeed. So we make funny noises and dance around and get loud and not so musical. Confidence, cooperation…Fun. The Hokey Pokey is what it is all about.
I’ve been philosophizing on Aloe Vera with Burt. Aloe is not a native plant in the Americas. This shocking news was brought to us by the plant expert we listened to a few weeks ago, Jon Rebman. Shocking because aloe is growing wild and looking lovely all over the Baja. Aloe was imported from Africa into China and Europe a long time ago. Those pesky Europeans then took tomatoes from the Americas and left some aloe here. Both Burt and I are are sensitized to the damage done to the environment by what are called noxious weeds. So called noxious weeds cause actual harm to the environment by displacing native plants and usually having no beneficial properties, i.e. nothing wants to eat them. Noxious weeds have an actual U.S. Government definition and there is a list of noxious weeds for each state. Southerners are familiar with their classic noxious weed kudzu. Kudzu was brought in from Japan. It now covers anything that doesn’t move in the southeastern US. Watch The Walking Dead TV show and you see it everywhere. It’s even been a plot device. Nothing eats kudzu. It grows like kudzu and causes immense amounts of property damage and makes a geat hiding place for zombies.
But then there’s a concept of escaped cultivars. Escaped cultivars are free ranging stands of garden plants. Plants that made it out into the wild on the wind. Some noxious weeds are escaped cultivars. I am not sure all escaped cultivars are noxious weeds. Aloe is a prime example. In the U.S., at least, aloe is not on the Federal noxious weed list. It is on the noxious weed list for Australia. Poor Australia, everything seems to run amok there. Rabbit, aloe…Meanwhile here in Baja their are vast stands of aloe growing wild not to mention that it is a staple plant in every xeriscaped garden. Aloe is lovely, blooms for a lengthy time, requires scanty water, and attracts gorgeous birds. A wide variety of hummingbirds and two species of Orioles regularly dine on aloe’s abundant nectar. The bees love it, too.
So here we are surrounded by a lush aloe garden on our spot in Mexico. Many birds and insects visit our aloe providing us great pleasure. We cannot unknow the new information. Our attempts to cultivate a bit of a natural spot have failed. Argh the agony of taking the good and the bad. But we will continue on. The aloe-cat is out of the bag. It might not be native but it is not wholly noxious. Other species thrive on it. Meanwhile we are renewing our focus to bring in native plants and nurture the ones that show up naturally.
Below is a picture of rush milkweed. I love this leafless, prehistoric plant. It has a complicated flower structure that requires the assistance of a specific insect for successful pollination, the tarantula hawk. The pollen packets are lifted from the flower as the tarantula hawk sips nectar. As the hawk travels from plant to plant the pollen is distributed and genetic information is shared. These pollen packets cannot make it from plant to plant on the wind. They need the spiny legs of the tarantula hawk. Talk about co-dependent. Then the tarantula hawk has it’s own odd problems of procreation. The tarantula hawk must find a tarantula spider, paralyze it, and lay its eggs on the spider to successfully reproduce. You’ve read it here before but it’s too cool not to repeat. The paralyzed (and alive) tarantula is eaten piece by piece by the tarantula hawk hatchlings. The least vital organs first so that the spider remains alive until the bitter end. I always hope the paralytic drug used by the tarantula hawk has some kind of sedative or hallucinogenic effect, too.