We drove down here with a 5 pound bag of bird food. Burt was feeling tolerant of my whims. Usually he says, “Too much. Buy it there.” I only bought it because I was afraid I would forget to buy some here. As soon as we were situated I put out some seed. It was a cheap bag of food and nobody came. I tried a couple of locations. Nothing. All the other bird features were busy but sugar water only attracts a subset of feeder birds and I wanted to see more varieties. I despaired. Maybe my food was spoiled or just not to their tastes?
Last week our friend Bobbi asked us to come to her place and help her identify her birds. It was on our way to her house that we spotted the pair of cara-caras sitting in the dead palm. As we sat there on her porch and watched a veritable flock of birds dining ten feet away I realized my mistake. It wasn’t the food. It was the location and type of feeder. The bowls were too exposed and the table was too close to our trailer. I made one small change. I placed the food in a piece of driftwood and hung the driftwood on the fence. The feeding station is two feet further away from our trailer and higher off the ground. The next day there was a seed eater on it. A very shy cardinal flitted in and out taking a seed at a time. The day after that four new species of birds were in the yard: Black headed grosbeak, house finch, phainopepla, pyrrhuloxia. Yippee skippy!
Moral of this story, same as all the rest: Don’t give up.
Yesterday our friend and guide Esteban took us up to his sister’s ranch. The rustic farm is about an hour from El Pescadero and located on the edge of an arroyo. This trip materialized the way so many things happen here. Esteban stopped by to say hi. Burt said let’s take a trip to the mountains. We think Esteban said, “Do you want to see my sister’s ranch?” I think we said yes. We are not entirely sure if he asked or if we asked or how we wound up agreeing. Turkeys were mentioned. We made a date for an excursion.
Yesterday we arrived at Esteban’s house a few minutes late. He was surprised. We were very punctual according to him. This was after we called to say we would arrive an hour late and we arrived an hour and ten minutes later than originally agreed. Oops. We try so hard not to be prompt and we always fail. We are continuously arriving before our hosts expect us all over the world. This fashionably late thing is beyond our skill set. We couldn’t even start our show fifteen minutes late as all musicians are expected to do.
The journey to the rancho was full of words for trees and birds we happened to pass. Esteban used to be the forest ranger in the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve. He knows all the local beings. What we could not understand was where we were going. Eventually we wound up at a very nice, brand new country getaway. There were two workers watering the plants. The yard was nicely landscaped. I pondered how a walk in the woods brought us to some rich person’s cabin in the mountains. I have no idea what transpired but the conclusion was that we were free to visit this spot and camp anytime we liked. I conclude Esteban was introducing us to the locals. I could be wrong. It was a very nice spot. Elvis peed on everything. When I said is Spanish that he had to mark everywhere we go the men all laughed. We piled back into the Exploder and headed back out to the highway. WTF. Are we going home already? Was that our trip? During all our visits Esteban and Burt and I have a three way dialogue that meanders and is very amorphous. I am never certain if we are going or coming, leaving or staying. His manner of guiding is similar. He takes us to a trail and says, “I’ll see you later.” We walk away wondering where we are going. We always get there, turn around and walk back. Esteban is where he left us. Everybody is happy.
At the highway we headed away from town and took another ranch road towards the mountains. At the end of this road we arrived at a ranch filled with animals. Cows, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys…The local lady of the house was working her butt of making cheese and doing laundry. The men were sitting and talking. I headed to the kitchen and chatted with another visiting female while we watched Lupita do her chores. Burt hung with us. There were wild birds in cages singing in the kitchen. I could hardly stand to look at the starling, grosbeak, sparrow and orioles but they are well loved by this quiet woman with few visitors. The woman was Esteban’s sister. She is also very comfortable in the wilderness and trapped all the birds herself. Now I know the whole family shares our love of birds.
Eventually Esteban takes us to a trail and say, “I’ll see you later. There’s water up there.” Burt and I and the Olvis walked until we found water. It was 4:00 PM. I could have spent the night there on the sandy bank with palm trees swaying and water trickling by. There were heaps of birds but we forgot our binoculars. Both of us. We returned to the ranch. There was Esteban waiting. I asked if we could buy a turkey. How much? $400 pesos. Muy caro, I thought but worth it to reward Lupita for all her hard work, so we agreed. They asked if we want it alive or dead. I envisioned carrying a live turkey back to town with Elvis and Olive and decided dead is best. One of the men caught the turkey while Esteban filled an enormous pot with water to boil. The unlucky dinner is caught, its feet bound, and it is hung upside down. Burt cut its throat. The bird was then plunged into boiling water and plucked and gutted. Both Burt and I have done this many times but it made us nervous doing it with a cross cultural audience but some things are the same no matter what language you use. Lupita gave me some much less expensive eggs. Finally we headed home.
So it comes to my attention this morning that there are some lurkers reading these daily writings and liking it. I never would have guessed but here’s what I heard from Al, my Irish emigree to Canada and Mexico friend, “So you’re 17/31 of the way through this project. How long are you going to keep writing everyday?” I expressed a stunned surprise that Al, a man I see about twice a year, was up to the minute up to date on my blog and a slight need for a break. He responded with, “Oh no! It makes getting up easier in the morning.” Or something to that effect. Wow, what a compliment. And perhaps a slightly Irish backhanded one but I’m gonna take it at face value. I said,”If you want me to keep writing you should make a comment.” My faithful readers motivate me (thanks Pat, Melissa, Becky, Burt…). So here I am trying to get Al out in the open, too. Even if he stays in the shadows I now have him in mind as I write into the ether. I miss seeing him more regularly on the tennis court. Once we beat Burt and Leslie. Those were the day.
So today’s assignment is to consider the source of your creativity. Harumph. There’s some loaded stuff for me. I do not see myself as creative. I see myself as a doer, observer, recorder. The vocabulary of science and engineering populate my mind. I do not write songs. I do not create art. I can’t even arrange a song. I don’t even cook anymore. I play music in a trained monkey sort of way. Other people are ‘real’ musicians and artists. So if I can’t see myself as creative how do I address the creative force? I have to leave the box of what art is and focus on creation. If I look at the totality of my life I see it, my life, as a work of terrible and beautiful art. I have used that drive to create to build a life that is far outside the norms of what society dictates for the likes of me. My inspiration has been to leave behind known and secure. Secure and safe have always let me down in the long run. The sketchy choices have lead to more interesting places physically and emotionally. I see my power in the ability to solve problems. I can find resources and determine limits and comply with the laws of natures and work within all that to create a life that is uniquely mine. This is how I left behind two marriages that were suffocating, a job with no joy but lots of money, a house I loved, and a community of nice enough folks that were too judgemental of me. In return I got to live a life where I work when I need to but mostly want to and to live in places I love surrounded by people from all walks of life that take me as I am. And just like any art it takes constant effort and practice to figure it all out.
There. That should motivate you, Al. I would like to admit I have a keen eye for proportion and color. I use it when working as a carpenter or taking photos.
Tuesday morning I received an email from the family and friends in San Juancio telling me to come on up. Burt, Jen, Robin, Aldo, and Jessie had left town two days earlier to try and find so surf. I did not want to spend five days in San Juancio. Our last trip there two years ago was a festival of wind and sand and personal irritation. I could not surf, there was no wi-fi, and it was too windy for playing music or cards. We were camping in our trailer and it just wasn’t fun. For me. Everyone else surfed and had fun. I tried not to be a downer.
This year’s trip I tried to beg out. I must not have been as big a downer on the previous outing as I thought because everyone wanted me to come again. We negotiated. I insisted on staying for music class and offered to make the 7 hour drive solo two days later on one condition. I have a hotel with wi-fi to stay in. The gang was renting a house ($16 a night) but I was not interested in the frat house life. Call me old, call me cranky. I say personal knowledge equals personal happiness. I wanted a quiet space by myself after a day of group activity. So the email arrived. The email was the seal on the deal. It meant waves were good and a hotel had been found and that team Pescadero was planning stay at least two more days.
San Juanico and I appear to be cursed. First off I had a social obligation to try and manage. A women that I find irritating (talker) had found out (inadvertently by me) that I was going to San Juanico for a few days. She wanted to catch a ride. I wanted to go alone and brave the highways of Baja and Mexico in silence. Our Exploder doesn’t have a radio. I was geared up for the adventure. Group pressure (i.e. Jessie) indicated that the woman would be a fun companion. I felt obligated to let the woman know I was going. When I got the email from the crew saying come on up I hemmed and hawed and then decided to send a text to the woman saying if she was ready I could give her a ride to San Juanico. Social obligations are not my strong suit. My gut said Noooooo. My desire to not look like a complete ass-hat and say, “oops I forgot she wanted to go OR oops, she irritates me and I can’t face 7 hours on the road with her so I left her behind” won. I also wondered if I had been to hasty in assessing this person. Maybe she would make a fine new friend.
For the record I will state this woman was prompt, had her stuff packed, paid for gas up front, made me brownies, and fed me lunch. For 40 minutes I found her entertaining. She told me how she was looking for property to build a home and her process was thorough and very self-directed. I found her business sense notable. For the next 6 1/2 hours I wished I had a radio I could turn up loud. In summation: I as a thrice married, childless by choice fifty-something cannot profer advice or even understanding to a never married forty-something hoping to still form a nuclear family with the right Man. Man is capitalized because said Man must have certain qualifications to be eligible. I will not share those qualifications here. There is a two year timetable for achieving this goal. I err. I did offer advice. I suggested that living in Pescadero was not the place to achieve said goal. Single, desirable, husbandly types do not exist here without wives or walkers attached. If she was interested in the Mexican population she would have a chance, but given some of her required qualifications Mexicans were out (according to her). Anyone remember that story in the 80’s about an unmarried woman in her 30s having a higher chance of dying in a terrorist attack than finding a husband? I always want to add that tidbit to the conversation as an antagonistic footnote even though I know it is patently untrue and misogynistic.
When never married women that hope to be married of this age group find out I am on husband number three they invariably choke on one or two thoughts: How did she get married three times and I not once? or She’s ruining all the men for the rest of us. I did not make this up. I have had these thoughts expressed to me. It makes for awkwardness. In this instance my passenger did not seem to hold my marital exploits against me. We discussed the contractual fiscal obligations of marriage and how investing in ‘infrastructure’ without the bonds of matrimony can leave a person with no assets. She went on to detail her relationship history and then basically hit replay on her conversation machine.
We reached San Juanico just as my social niceties were consumed. Burt took me to our hotel. There was wi-fi advertised but non-functioning. Not Burt’s fault so no foul. It was a lovely room with a king sized bed for $30. I decompressed. The group absorbed the talker. One by one they filled up with her words. I could not discern if Jessie was glad or irritated by her presence. Within 12 hours of arrival I was sick but did not know it. I thought it was the group-activity flu or too much swimming. I had a headache, my joints hurt, and I had lost my appetite. Here’s how my day went: tried to stand-up surf, wind knocked me over, tried to surf, couldn’t surf, went swimming. I swam so far out I scared Burt when I popped up in front of him surfing. He fell of the wave of the day. The waves were so small you only got one or two rides in an hour and I had just startled Burt off his ride. He didn’t care. I sat in a chair and watched the team look for waves. I saw Jessie ride a wave. We all gave up and went home for lunch. I ate lunch. We retired for naps. We regrouped for cards. Oh Hell was the game of the day. I won a game. At 8 PM I was feeling like I had been run over. I begged off dinner because I was not hungry. Burt took me to our room. Burt left and ate dinner with the group. Burt returned at 9:30. We watched one episode of The Big Bang Theory. Lights out. I pooped the bed.
Yes, you read that correctly. I was so sick that poop came out of my butt without warning. I had to make toilet paper diapers to get through the night. I was on the commode 15 times with actual water exiting my orifice. Immodium the next day saved my life and allowed me to make the drive home with Burt. Here’s the summary: wind and no waves, poop in the bed, and blah, blah, blah. My best trip to San Juanico so far. It really was. The cards were fun and I enjoyed my swim and I felt better when I saw I was not alone in my irritation.
Burt is off to San Juanico today. While he and the family and a few others try to catch some waves I am here holding down the goat pen. San Juanico is about 5 hours north of here. It’s a small, dusty town known for horrendous winds and long, long waves. If the waves hold and the wind isn’t too bad I’ll drive up on my own Wednesday to meet them. Meanwhile I am responsible for feeding the dogs and Mimi and myself. Tonight a wrangled a dinner invitation from April (she’s gotten over being falsely accused of dogknapping). Today flew by in a miasma of bridge. Every hand seemed disastrous but in the end Roxy and I tied for second place out of 6 teams. Roxy pretty much carried us and I pretty much didn’t make epic mistakes. In 25 hands we only landed at the bottom 4 times. I’m not sure how. Of course this is only adding to the pressure to keep playing. I was feeling ambivalent about the game after a last place finish Saturday and then this happened. Time to eat. Ciao.
Critical time and mass are being achieved in our sweet music class. Day one was full of shy smiling kids. Most were too timid to ‘abre la boca.’ I begged them to open their mouths and let out some noise. Hardly a proverbial peep. Five weeks later they are singing strong and we’ve moved off the strictly kids songs into some more serious material. Once again I am reminded about the concept of ‘just showing up’ as a tenet of a successful life. Some one once asked me how I got my black belt in karate and I responded, without thinking, I just showed up. Meaning most success is derived from being present and participating, not from super powers or talent. So here are my singing kids. I am very proud of them. They are requesting songs and selecting dances and pounding on their instruments. And they are still smiling.
Of course this isn’t just about singing. The ability to overcome shyness and take the stage translates into success all through life. My goal is to inspire confidence and build bridges between the two cultures. I want these girls to know how to speak up for themselves and not fear big, strange gringos. We’ll keep showing up for them.
Our symptoms remain unabated. Throbbing heads, laryngitis, mucous, coughing, body aches, fever. It’s the flu. We are just miserable. To pass the time we spent $1000 pesos on a bunch of TV shows on DVD. Game of Thrones, Network…I can’t remember and I’m too drained to look. Instead of dwelling on our discomfort I present you with some pictures of a trip from a couple of days ago.
As part of our effort to bird the heck out of the area we visited a spot behind the dunes that sometimes holds water. I presume it’s brackish given the puddles proximity to the ocean but it fulls with mostly rainwater. I tried to count sand pipers and plovers but my dog and my binoculars failed me. Olive was too tempted by the shallow water and gooey mud. She tore the place up. Meanwhile my binoculars are broken. The center part that hold the two optical tubes together partially detached. The lenses are cockeyed. Looking through is instant vertigo. The only way I can use my formerly fantastic binoculars is if I close one eye and use them like a telescope. Spotting the birds is much more difficult with one eye. Just a big bummer. In summary: I counted a couple of birds with one eye and then Olive chased them away.
Meanwhile Burt was on the beach having a drastically bad time with Elvis. A poor sea lion had beached herself and appeared to be grievously injured and dying. Of course Elvis was onto the situation before Burt. With Burt screaming himself hoarse Elvis chased the weakened animal into the ocean. Elvis went into the waves with it and made some kind of effort to herd the thing back onto the sand. Burt said Elvis took quite a beating in the shore break before he heeded Burt’s commands to leave it. With Elvis back under control the sea lion crawled back onto shore. It was moving poorly. A sad scene indeed. The only thing that could of cheered us up was if a great white shark came out and gave the lobo marino instant death. But then what fun would swimming be after seeing something like that?
Baja is full of endemic plant species. Endemic is when something is not found anywhere else on earth. Baja has a high degree of endemism. It’s because this landmass is like a large island long separated from the mainland. The peninsula is also full of diverse microclimates and has substantial tracts of mountains and deserts that keep populations of plants and animals isolated. As I recently write we have a subspecies of elf owl here. The owl is evolving separately from its mainland brothers and sisters because it cannot fly across the Sea of Cortez nor cross the great mid-penninsula expanse of desert. The midsection of this 1000 mile long spit of land has been known to go 8 years without measurable precipitation. Conditions are too harsh for a few ounces of owl to migrate.
Plant life follows the same rules of evolution as animals but plants are even more restricted in their movements. Pollinators, wind, and animals all play a role in their reproduction and movement. In Baja it is estimated that over 30% of all plats are endemic. It bears repeating: Over 30% of all plants found here are found no where else on earth. Even now more plants are being discovered. The rugged mountain ranges have not given over all their secrets yet. As new plants are discovered there’s a cascade of new information about the ecology of the region. What role do the plants play in the environment? How does it propagate? What pollinates it? What eats it? There have been recent discoveries here of parasitic plants entirely enclosed within the body of another plant. There are cacti with male and/or female flowers. There are cacti with both. There are cacti with neither (this is a trait that eventually is weeded out by evolution).
We learned all this and more at a recent lecture by Dr. John Rebman. He wrote the Baja California Plant Field Guide. Dr. Rebman is an entertaining speaker and really inspired us to learn more about what is happening in our surrounding desert. The photo above is of ants getting nectar for a cholla cactus. They are not dining on flowers but at supplemental nectaries. The supplemental nectaries are tiny orifices that seep nectar. These were only recently discovered. It is not known why the plants give up nutrients this way. Flowers have nectar to attract pollinators. Just giving away free food with no underlying advantage does not make sense. PhD topic, anyone?
Stay tunes as I do further work to learn about more things on this subject.
Meanwhile, check out the bridge accouterments in the photo below. There are a lot of devices to make playing the game more organized and to prevent tipping off while bidding. This set of toys has bidding cards. Partners silently show cards to make bids thereby eliminating verbal cues. The calculator device records the winning bid and calculates scores. Cards are pre-dealt and housed in the yellow devices in the center of the table. In this photo you can see the hand of the woman who won the bid. Her partner (across the table) is laying down the dummy hand. I presume spades are trump. If the organizational devices fail and human nature takes over and there is a dispute there is an official ‘official’ to referee. After the hand is played the cards are returned to their original slots in the same hands. The club rotates through each table and every pair plays every hand. In the end the scores are tallied and you get a good feel for who made the best out of what they were dealt. Burt and I have been studying. Tomorrow is our first hands on lesson. wish us luck.