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?
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.
We had a minor bee problem up here in Pescadero Heights. A small swarm had taken up residence in the palapa next door. The cabinet housing the solar system’s batteries was the perfect place to build a new hive and fill it with honey, if you were a bee. Humans needing to access the cabinet weren’t too excited. Janet asked Burt, resident former apiarist, his advice. Without tools for safe bee handling there was nothing fun Burt could do. He suggested leaving them to live in peace or eradication. With no actual humans living under the palapa there was no rush to make a decision. This was the third bee swarm or hive we’d seen in just a couple of months. Dreams of having a honey producing hive filled my head. Burt was ready to make the commitment. Bees in Mexico, unlike Montana, can survive a long time without care. Burt and I made plans to bring a hive and bee protection for next year. If this hive was still around we hoped to safely remove it next season and start our first honey operation.
Word of the bees got going through the palapa grapevine and the next thing we knew a competent local was on the scene. Ing. Jesus Antonio Geraldo from Elias Calles has been keeping bees for over 15 years. At one point he had 40+ hives (colmenas in spanish). Currently he has 10 active hives. Just at sunset, when the bees are heading to bed, Sr. Geraldo gently and thoroughly removed the hive from its home in the cabinet and placed them in a new hive. The new hive (a wooden box with frames that help the bees build orderly honeycombs) was left in place for a day so the bees would all come home to it and then the new hive was removed to a new location. Bees are very important pollinators for the variety of crops grown in the area. Sr. Geraldo shared his deep satisfaction and love for the work. His work only left me more inspired to bring a hive or two down and start keeping bees up here. If I can’t have chickens at least I’ll have some bees. All photos and most fact finding for this post came from our neighbor Janet. Additional reportage by Burt. I was indisposed during the bee transfer.
The Gypsy Carpenters finally broke out of their ho hum routine and took an excursion. Dreams of jetting to the mainland crumbled in a cloud of overcommitment and fuzzy logic. I never could figure out when to go with all our tennis dates and musical engagements and visitors and menopausal inertia. Finally we just decided to drive over to the other side of the world’s third longest peninsula and see what was happening. Cabo Pulmo is about three hours from here and is a world renowned dive and snorkeling location. You can swim to the coral reef from shore. Magi and Cathie had gone over last week and reported of meeting an 84 year old proprietess still managing a restaurant and cabanas. Nancy is her name. Then we found out another friend knew Nancy and we figure we better get on over and see this Nancy character while we still could. So with the lure of meeting an icon of Baja and the hopes of snorkeling we headed around the mountains to the Golfo de California on Sunday afternoon. Cabo Pulmo is a Mexican National Marine Park. It is the oldest of only three corral reefs in North America and the farthest north.
I don’t know why the following text is mashed together and a different font. I’ve tried to fix it ten times. Sorry.
I was ready to snorkel. Too bad the wind wasn’t going to let us. Cabo Pulmo’s season is in summer when calm seas allow for visibility of 100 or more feet. This week high winds raked the sea into a turbulent chop that muddied the waters. There was no point in going out for a look around. Burt and I lazed about reading and eating in the decrepit glory of Nancy’s cabañas.. Nancy’s place is long past its glory years. While Nancy seems hale and vibrant her vision is suspect. Poor eyesight explains some of the less than ideal esthetic issues of her wabi-sabi habitations. Our cabaña had been unoccupied for a month or more (according to Nancy) and showed the signs of a return to nature. Palapa roofs and torn screens are open doors to insects and rodents and birds (yes, we had one). While our room might have been cleaned just after the last human occupants left it was apparent other organisms had made themselves at home in the interim. Not that this really bothers us. The place was cheap, private and close to the beach. Our own gNash has been invaded by ants and mice and mosquitos. The ants are finally gone. They were lured out by the hummingbird feeders. Nancy has a diverse and extensive exchange library and we picked up a few things to read, too. If you’re looking for cheap, convenient and unconventional Nancy’s is the place to go as long as you aren’t afraid of nature and her inhabitants.
After two nights it was time to head home. We had a heavy agenda for the return trip. Fossil hunting, church finding, pizza eating and cactus sanctuary visiting. First up was prowling for fossils near where the Tropic of Cancer crosses Mexican Highway 1. Burt got into it. I kicked about with my own lack of clear eyesight and walked the dogs. Progressive lenses just don’t cut it when you are peering at the ground looking for tiny anomalies. Burt found a couple of tiny hard to discern shells. I found an actual snail. Next up was the church in San Antonio. Rumors had it that the church was pretty. We found it but it was closed. From the exterior it resembled a bunker with 10′ thick concrete buttresses on the front. If the Soviet’s would have allowed churches to be built they would have looked like this. The insides will have to wait for another time. Next was pizza at the Caffé El Triunfo. This restaurant was our goal a few weeks ago during the El Triunfo Art Festival. There was a three hour wait that day. Today we slid right in and got a serrano ham and arugula pie. We parked the car in the shade and bought a few souvenirs from the adjacent merchant to ensure it’s safety. We usually don’t worry but our dogs and instruments were inside with the windows down so we were more cautious. I got an old cow bell (more cowbell, anyone?) and Burt bought a 5′ whale rib.
Finally it was time to visit the Cactus Sanctuary. This place has been on my list for three years. The name makes me think of refugee cactii fleeing political persecution but that’s just silly. It was closed. We drove the the adjacent town and wondered what to do. By virtue of making or presence known the problem was solved. Untethered gringos wandering the town were reported to the powers that be. As we drove away we were hailed by a man waving a key. He announced he was opening the park for us. We gave him a ride and he gave us a tour. He explained the epiphyte (air plant) cactus growing off the Mesquite trees and pointed to a crop growing out of the palapa roof. The ranger/guide also demonstrated how the Hairbrush Cardon cactus got its name. He showed us how to use its fruit as a comb. When he tried to get me to do it I told him my hair was like a nest and I didn’t want a spiny cactus fruit stuck in it. He understood. Burt and Olvis and I took a self guided walk around the place and enjoyed seeing the super large and crowded cactii. Elvis filed a complaint that the sand path was too hot for him. He did this by convulsing and whinning and gyrating. Olive said it didn’t bother her. To appease he-of-the-hot-paws we hustled from shady spot to shady spot. It reminded me of when we would whine on an excursion as kids and Mom would offer to let us wait in the car. That usually shut us up.
The Bridge to English 2014 Inaugural Concert has come and gone. After two months of weekly singing classes a performance for the ages was presented to friends and family of our music students. The Gypsy Carpenters learned a lot when they participated in the 3 hour holiday extravaganza of kindergarteners back in December. What they learned is 25 minutes is all you need to blow your audience away. If it’s a flop, it’s over quick and if it’s a success, there is nothing wrong with leaving the crowd hungry. We had snacks for the past show party.
Last week’s post-traumatic stress brought on by tough guy teens that failed to sing a single syllable of any songs brought divine inspiration. As directress of this revue I was wondering how best to present the material. I wanted to do a group vocal exercise with all our students and staff and family and friends but then what. Being a ploddingly predictable engineer at times, I was stuck on the idea of putting the kidlets up first and building in age until we had the oldest and most jaded amongst us taking the stage last. If the teens failed to produce we’d just fizzle out and have to skulk home. My other idea was to end it all with a grand Hokey Pokey. Hundreds in concentric circles wagging and shaking and twisting and turning on my command, but how to inspire a grand Hokey Pokey after the silent lip syncing of surly teens? There was my answer! I’d put the teens on first and get them out of their misery and not allow them to stew or conspire while the tweens and niños slayed their parents.
I told Serena my idea and she agreed it was brilliant and she added, merciful. The teens could get up and out and like a terrific vaccination it would be over before they knew what had happened. And that is exactly what happened. Serena introduced us and the Bridge to English program and then we called up the teenagers to do their bit. They never saw it coming. While Serena finished with the business of things I gave them a pep talk. You can see by the crossed arms and grim demeanors that most of them didn’t believe a word I said. Too bad for them. I was right. They were all stars. By going first the audience was warm and kind and gave them big cheers for their whispered renditions of Three Little Birds, There’s a Bad Moon Arising, and Stand By Me. They were wonderful. Wigged out by the twin goloms of peer pressure and an audience they stood up and did their best. It’s hard to breath and make much noise if you don’t want to be seen in public making a mistake. Kudos for the kids that stepped up and tried. A special shout out to Burt that gave them not a beat to rest between songs. He made it move so fast they never had to take their eyes of the lyric sheets and see who was watching.
The tweens and younger set killed us with their smiles and spot on rhythm. On Top of Spaghetti elicited some delirious moans of recognition from gringo parents. Nick Nack Paddy Whack left me gasping for breath. I’ll need to up my aerobic training for next year. Our teapots all poured hot water onto each other since I had never bothered to try and get everyone pouring in the same direction. Choreographer I am not. I could hardly keep my own handle and spout organized. And then it was time. Time for the show stopping Hokey Pokey. I called for body parts. I got eyes, shoulders, feet, legs, hair, fingers….and…cadera. Um…Cadera? We’re practicing English. English, please, and there it was, in a surreptitious, almost naughty tone from the depths of the legion of children surrounding me, Our Holy Grail of the Hokey Pokey…bottom. BOTTOM did you say? Bottom.
And so it was. I did all the parts and repeated (I know not why. Perhaps, menopause?) thee times feet. I kept searching for the missing part (leg) and said feet over and over. Ah well. Repetition is how you learn. The whole show took 25 minutes. Perfect. Snacks awaited.
How lucky are we two to have been part of this? Another facet of our musical life building community wherever we are. Thanks to Burt, Bequia, Tom, Magi and Cathie and all the Bridge to English teachers for helping me out. We couldn’t have done it without you.
Sometimes I feel like the lame old elk facing a pack of wolves when I teach kids. They can sniff your weakness. They have the killer instinct. Yesterday was our last class of music with the Bridge to English program at the Palapa Society. News that next week would be a joint show for family and friends was met with a range of enthusiastic jumping and disgusted eye rolling. The younger kids were predictably excited and ready to sing loud and show off their new skills picking out body parts for the Hokey Pokey, lamenting lost meatballs and playing the claves and tambourine. Teenagers wanted us to go away and sealed their mouths up tight as if they had never sung a line of Three Little Birds in their lives. Stupid Little Birds was the theme. I cajoled, I threatened the Hokey Pokey, I ignored them. Then I remembered I was bigger, older, smarter and a trained martial artist. So I laughed back and plowed on ahead with the program. Damn the eye rolls! Even if 2/3 of the group weren’t singing, 1/3 was and that’s who we were there for.
After 6 weeks Burt and I have learned this: each class is unpredictable from week to week and song to song. The kids you thought adored Bad Moon Arising’ won’t open their mouths if that other kid shows up and makes a face at them. One week nobody will make eye contact and the next week they are asking for hugs and the next week they scowl. I think the kids might be in the ‘change of life’, too. The only constant is the younger kids all want to shake their booty (or watch me shake mine) in the Hokey Pokey and the older kids do not want to do the Hokey Pokey, ever.
If you are in the neighborhood, come on down to the Palapa Society Thursday, 4/3/14, 4:30 for the show. Participation encouraged.
A reasonable night’s sleep and I am feeling better. Now that everyone knows its fuzzy in my head it feels lighter. Becky’s story in the comments below really, really helped. Me and my car seem destined for some similar loopiness. The other day I parked it awkwardly (I knew I did and I just didn’t care. That’s a new sensation: not giving a hoot). I was sitting nearby and could see if the car caused trouble. Right away the police came by (I happened to be blocking their exit from the police station. That I forgot.) and they honked until I showed up. They must have dealt with middle aged women before. They just smiled and let me move it out of the way with no hassle. Anyway, thanks for the kind words and reality check.
After a life of facts and figures and being wicked smart it’s tough to find the brain wobbly. I’ll get used to it.
It’s come to my attention that I really don’t notice clouds without some help. It takes a nudge by my companions to get me looking up. I’ll blame it on my sun hat. Despite my limitations I know clouds make the day and frequently the picture. A pure blue sky is rather bland not to mention hot. Sunset and sunrise need clouds for dramatic color. With three certified cloud aficionados (one a member of the Cloud Appreciation Society) I am casting my eyes heavenwards far more often. There are a lot of interesting things going on over our bit of Baja. First up we have the ocean meeting the mountains. We also have humid meeting desert. Then we also have very few contrails since we are not on the way to anywhere. Trans Baja flights almost always fly over the Bahia de California. Our diversity of cloud formations defies the simple four (or three) types we were taught in school. I just looked them up: Nimbus, Cumulous, Stratus, Cirrus. These four are massive heads of the cloud pyramid. They are more like saying something is an animal, vegetable or mineral. There are so many sub-cloud types and mixtures of clouds it’s no wonder I gave up a long time ago trying to make a cloud fit into one of the four groups. It bewildered me. Today’s search of the internet convinced me it is hopeless to identify without professional help. I am relegating myself to admirer.
Yesterday’s clouds were dynamic and diverse. We spent the day looking for whales and checking out different sea caves. Some whales were spotted spouting from a distance. One sea cave was filled with sand and another had a shrine with food and beverages for a departed loved one. Overhead the clouds wilted and whisped and did their cloud thing. We concluded with a late lunch and mojitos. Bed time came early.
Last year we went deer hunting. It was a day of crawling, climbing and scrambling through thorny forest and loose scree slopes. Our guides/companions were fleet of foot and spoke an indecipherable brand of Spanish. We saw not a single deer. We ended up empty handed and covered in bug bites, bruises and puncture wounds. This year our friends had better luck without us and shared some venison machaca as a belated consolation prize. Machaca is a dried salted meat. It is very similar to jerky but it is harder and saltier. I’ve had some pretty good machaca in Mexico. It’s a little chewy, kind of dry and salty. Wrapped up in a tortilla it makes a nice snack. It’s durable and holds up well under tough storage conditions. Burt asked our gift givers how to turn the cedar shingle like meat into something edible. Use a hammer was their response.
This morning the neighborhood woke to the sound of Burt hammering. Burt hammered a long time. Many pondered what Burt was making. A new table? Some chairs. He hammered for over an hour. It must be something large and grand. No, Burt was hammering meat. After an hour he had a bowl of dried, shredded, salty shavings. It was not very appetizing. He soaked it. It was still very salty so I suggested he soak it again. He fried the significantly softer meat in butter with onions and tomatoes and corn. The result was like a bacon burrito. Maybe one more soak or some beans, eggs, potatoes would have improved it but I liked it well enough. It’s a traditional food preserved in the traditional way. It was fun to enjoy.