Who inspire me? Who is my hero? Important questions that I could not easily answer. I was hung up on the hero as a larger than life example that is doing great deeds for humankind. I was thinking the notorious RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsberg). Or Oprah. Or Eleanor Roosevelt. I went down that road for a while but I realized I never think about these people. I never look to them for inspiration. Of course I admire them and all they have accomplished but I don’t want to be like them. Frankly it’s my everyday peeps that keep me motivated. Burt, Abril, Ivonne, Peg. Business owners, teachers, mothers, caretakers. People making the best life they can with what they have. The kids I work with motivate me but really, deeply, the person I feel most inspired by is Vikki. Vikki is an example we can all look to for inspiration.
I’v eknown Vikki five years. Here is what I know of the facts of her life: Vikki is 26 years old. She’s married to German and has a 5 year old daughter Germani. German works 6 days a week. Vikki is a mother but also works. She manages our yard and she caretakes for other people. Vikki cleans houses. She takes care of Germani. Their home blew away in hurricane Odile 3 years ago. They move in and out with family here in Pescadero and house sit for people. They have a trailer on their rancho but it is inconvenient for school and work. They have had the same 30 year old Forerunner as long as I have known them. Her mother and father used to live nearby, too, but they returned to the mainland to take care of her grandmother. She has brothers in the US.
Vikki is always eager to work. She is always ready with a smile. She is never embarrassed to take the bags of clothes I bring every year. She spreads the stuff I collect among family and friends. I trust her to get the shoes, purses, and clothing to whomever can use it.
What most impresses me though is not her smile or work ethic or generosity. It’s her leadership. She comes to all our classes and gets down to work. If we are painting she paints. If we dance she dances. If we make hula hoops she makes hula hoops. She leads the girls by example. Vikki is all in. She is 100% committed. If there’s a disruption she helps me settle down the kids. She is unafraid of the unknown. Any idea is a good idea. Want to run a 5k? Sure? Want to learn ‘The Wheels on the Bus?” Yes. Want to sing in public. Yes. Want to learn English. Want to learn guitar. Yes. Yes. Yes. I’m not sure if I’m teaching English for the girls or because I know Vikki wants to learn. She is hungry for the chance to grow and learn. I want to show her everything I know how to do. That’s inspiring. I wish I could speak better Spanish and know her better as a friend. She is always calm and ready. She is my motivation. She is my inspiration.
Today’s prompt was to reflect on the growing lessons of 2017. My inner critic lit up. She said, “Where’s the love? Lessons? Lessons means you fucked up…” The old adage of experience comes from bad decisions also rolled on by. The character building of mistake making. The endless list of ‘why did I say that?’ And I was all ugh…don’t wanna go there. I believe I have stopped learning from that negative critic. I still hear her but take what she says with more skepticism. I do have a sense I might be on the cusp of learning to forgive myself and others more readily when these blurts of mouth of micro-misjudgements cause pain. I am starting (not quite there) to feel an ability to let it go when someone says something harsh. The pain eases quicker and I know these kind of things they and I do are usually, almost always, unintentional. Recently I said something so stupid to a casual friend that I hoped she thought I was drunk. I finally confessed to Burt and he had me in stitches over how embarrassed I was over a silly, stupid utterance. But I could see the light of awareness. We all say really stupid shit. The mouth moves faster than the brain.
Then I sat with the idea of learning as a positive thing. After all, I study Spanish and am always proud of learning new words.I like to learn. Of course learning lead me to the kids here that Burt and I work with. And then I saw the love I had learned this year. What had I learned in 2017? What had I sought out and actually accomplished? My area of most important growth was obvious. It’s all over this blog. The kids that surround us in our neighborhood and my husband as enabler had shown me a way to have meaning in this wandering lifestyle.
I am proud of us (and Jolyn and Tom and April and all our adult helpers) and I am proud of the kids. Over the course of three seasons we’ve developed trust and friendship. In the past I disliked working with children. I taught many a kid their first roundhouse kick and kata in karate for over a decade. It was draining and uncomfortable for me. I rarely found joy. Now I realize why. Some might say American kids blah blah blah…I say it is free agency. No parental coercion. Our kids show up because they want to show up. And they have little else competing for their attention. Like when I was a kid. They are free range. The kids play in the streets. Their parents don’t always know who’s house they are visiting. Tuesday and Thursday are Burt and Susan days. Friday is art with Jolyn. They come, they go.
Kids need guidance and support to achieve skills like piano playing or black belts. Higher skills require consistency and practice. Adults usually have to push. Most of our neighbors don’t have wi-fi, laptops, computer games, or TVs. Many are bored. For some of them we are the only show in town. So we’re trying to be the best show we can be. Consistency is the key. We must be consistent. The kids can learn to rely on us. Classes are regular and repetitive. Success is built in.
This was a new lesson in showing up. I long ago learned showing up meant I could learn a skill. Now I have learned its a way of finding love and meaning.
Many thanks to Burt for being both the sandpaper that smooths me and the blackboard to create with.
I’m always thinking like my Girl Scout leader Marilyn Nardoza. What can I do to show these kids a little bit more of the world? Mrs. Nardoza (she’s alive and well and following along on Facebook) took us camping, put on plays, crafted us from here to Mars and back, lead cake baking contests, drug us to area historical sights. She always had a team of mothers to help. My mom was one. You’ve already previously heard previously how I won the cake contest one year after my mom baked my cake when I screwed up the first one. I wonder if mom ever confessed.
One year we did some enormous walk-a-thon thing. The Battle of Monmouth was the theme. My memories are fuzzy but I’m sure we raised money for every mile we walked. I think Mrs. Nardoza added a kind of scavenger hunt activity challenge to keep it interesting. The scouts had to find certain things by following clues. We were obsessed with colonial America. That ‘we’ means society at large to a 12 year old. School, scouts, news media, even our home were all colonial style. It was the age of the bicentennial and it seemed as though everything that didn’t happen in Boston happened in New Jersey. So we walked some lengthy distance collecting leaves and measuring flagpoles in a clump of pre-adolescence wearing our sashes and passing by battlefields and Washington-slept-here homes. My most distinct memory is measuring the flagpole. Someone had provided the basic math and we needed a 5′ volunteer to stand at the base and the rest of the group would back off and see how many time the 5′ kid ‘fit’ in the length of the flagpole. I was exactly 5′ at the time. I felt very special in my starring role as human yard stick.
Yesterday we took on our kids to a 5K race through a neighboring town. This idea to take the kids to run a 5k must have been rooted in the deep sub-conscious of girl scout walk-a-thons. Or maybe it was the former ultra-marathoner in me. As soon as I hatched the plan I started to doubt myself. This kids loose in town scenario is way scarier than kids loose at the beach. Also, I wondered could the kids even cover a 5k? Would they want to? I presented the idea and it was met with frowns and silence. Seeing them like that made me think it was going to be a bust but I said, think about it. A few days went by. I asked, “Who wants to go run the race?” All hands went up. Apparently upon thinking about it they realized it was a ride to the big town and maybe food would be involved.
At 7:15 AM yesterday we picked up 10 kids (9 girls and the stoic Guillermo) and one mother, Vikki. Vikki is always ready to go. She is our guardian angel. So 13 of us piled into two cars and we motored over to Todos Santos in the cloudy dawn light. We had a 3 1/3 kids to adult ratio working to our advantage. We parked a block away from the race start. Remembering my Girl Scout bag of organizational skills I gathered everyone around and gave them a rule and a quiz: No throwing trash. Where is the car? What is my name? What color is my shirt?
Our kids are litterbugs. That 70s era anti-littering campaign that I grew up under is only just now reaching our community. We are constantly reinforcing the No Tire Basura rule. Change of habit happens slowly. Reassured that they knew where the car was and who they were traveling with we headed into the Todos Santos plaza to register for the race. Burt negotiated a group discount of about 30%. This race was a fund raiser for the local organization the Palapa Society. We were happy to contribute nearly $100. Next ensued some brief mayhem as I filled out entry forms with names and ages. The kids dictated and I wrote. A few of the oldest did it themselves. I did Burt’s. Then we pinned race numbers onto everyone’s front. The race number has a metallic bar code that tracks everyone over the course and records their finishing time. This is serious business.
For the next hour we took photos and warmed-up. After we had already done an excellent warm-up some random dude, Orlando, gave us an impromptu warm up of his own. My stranger danger alarms went off like crazy so I just watched. I am a natural paranoiac. Finally it was time to line up. The kids all got into the scrum of it with Vikki and Burt. I knew I was going to walk and also was carrying a bag of hold my-sweater, my-water, my-camera, my-hat, my-phone for the kids I took a spot in the back. And we were off.
It felt a little sad and lonely in the back by myself. After all the business of hatching the plan and getting everybody to town I was suddenly on the dusty streets of Todos Santos walking in silence. But it was also nice knowing they were all up ahead. Somewhere. So I walked in peace. Then an ambulance flew past and I was no longer calm. I was what you might call freaked out. Of course my mind went to all the worst places. It was an ugly time. I started telling myself this: Everything is fine. Everything is fine. Everything is fine. I chatted with some other walkers. I walked as fast as I could. About halfway into it all and a half hour after the start I spotted Burt with three stragglers. I told myself, “Ok, three are alive.” I caught up to them and Burt told me he had seen all of our group intact and moving since the ambulance had passed. For the next half hour we cajoled and sang our three kids towards town. As we passed a water station the staff encouraged us to just throw our cups in the dirt when we finished drinking. We were walking through a mat of discarded cups. Despite this, my three girls all ran over to a garbage can and threw their cups away. Hope rises.
Our group of stragglers was really only one slacker and two groupies. The younger kids had fallen into the abyss of the older kid. They were whining but walking so we just kept moving. The eldest told me it was her first and last race. I told her to never say never (nunca digas nunca). My smartaleck use of Spanish drew a smile. As town drew near we all dug deep and got to the finish line in style. The slacker ran in. I did a cartwheel as my waiting team cheered. Burt crossed hand in hand with the only child to truly be struggling. She was beaming. Burt was ecstatic. It was his first road race, too.
Everybody finished healthy and happy enough. We watched the award ceremony. There were some very fast runners. Afterwards we took everyone out to fish tacos. Burt and I collapsed for an hour and then headed out to play Bridge.
Today is Christmas Day. Merry Christmas to you all. Burt and I did the two party thing last night despite me having the itchy throat start of a cold. Today it’s official. I am sick. I wonder how many people I infected? There were 40 or more at the first gig and another 20 at the second. We flung our saliva around by kissing and singing. I feel a little guilty but there were expectations upon us to play music and show our faces. I assuaged my guilt by telling myself this is the cold all these people had when we arrived and I am just catching up.
Before I succumbed we were keeping up with most of our social demands. I taught two English classes. We played tennis, bridge, and music. We birded a new spot and got two new lifers, a western snipe and a sora. Pretty cool birds. My cousin Kelly came by to visit with her husband Felipe and their son Tommy. Tommy has Angelman’s syndrome. Angelman’s is a genetic disease. Tommy is non-verbal and has intellectual disabilities. He’s also an energetic, curious kid with a lot of love in his heart. We had a great visit. He loved my hair. Kelly’s parents own a time-share home in Cabo so we may be seeing them again.
Today Burt and I planned to stay low key and recover from the last week’s crush of humanity. This hostile viral takeover of my corpus is sending the message loud and clear. I think we’ll drive over to that lovely bird spot and I’ll set up a chair and watch. Just last night a neighbor invited us to join her family for a mid-day meal but I think I’ll cancel. I’m done spreading germs. It’s sad too. Invitations into Mexican homes are a sign of great respect and on a holiday like this it’s a shame to miss out. Priscila wanted to sing for her mother. I don’t want to give her 90ish year old mother my cold. Ugh.
As I sit here at the El Centro Walmart parking lot as I have for the last three years I am filled with gratitude and relief to find us ready to cross into Mexico for another winter. The year has been hectic and the last week was filled with non-stop activity. A flat tire, broken furnace, Mimi transfer, and pre-Mexico provisioning has consumed our minds and bodies. Burt and I exited the Northern Jaguar Project reserve to find it 26F in Portal. That means it’s time to head south without delay.
All the details of crossing are the same every year but the means of accomplishing our tasks vary. Vehicle insurance – check, health insurance – check (Thanks, Obama), clothes for Vikki – check, visas – check, special foods (chocolate, parmesan cheese)- check. This year we purchased our insurance and visas early due to the NJP reserve excursion. We’ve also learned to do this without joining the Baja traveler’s group that demands a pretty surcharge for the supposed convenience of them getting us our visa. We do self-service at the border. Saves us a trip to San Diego or chasing mail. It’s very easy. If you’re thinking of coming down by car let me know and I’ll tell you how to do it.
I have a nice pile of clothes from my neighbors that were donated by a variety of friends. Thanks, Pat, Jack, Jack’s wife, Eskild, Susan, and Peg. Today I supplemented these hand-me-downs with a spree at the dollar store and Target. Last spring we had a benefit concert and the proceeds of that go to my girls. With the money I bought hair ties, nail polish, socks, tees, tights, markers, and note pads for 14. The Target cashier got a little misty when she heard why I was buying such a volume of children’s clothes in a wide variety of sizes. I am so grateful to my dad and our fans for generously helping us make these gifts.
After all our preparatory work was done we found ourselves with time to spare in a not so attractive town. We did a short bird walk in a city park. The new eBird phone app uses GPS to map and time each bird sighting. I wanted to play with it before we got to Mexico. That worked so add another check to the list of to-dos. On the technology front I also managed to add WhatsApp? to my iPhone. This is a texting app favored by all our Latin American friends from Mexico to Ecuador. I finally got on board and started texting our buddies in their preferred manner. Another check on the to-do list.
The bird walk was quick so then we headed over to the bowling alley. Normally when were siting about in a towny area we’d go to the movies but nothing showing appealed to us and the bowling alley was shiny and new. Burt and I last bowled in Helena, Montana in 2007 when my parents came to visit. It was a cool and rainy day. Bowling seemed like a good idea. It was fun for a few minutes but mom couldn’t really remember how to hold the ball. She was in the midst of her Alzheimer’s. Mom was still active but the activity had to be something she was hardwired for. Bowling wasn’t high on the list of her hobbies. Golfing was okay. So we bailed after one set of ten frames.
Today Burt and I showed signs of untapped bowling talent. Our first ten frames were a disaster. The score was 90 to 38. The next set saw such dramatic improvements you’d think we had been trying to lure in some marks the first round. That was 238 to 141. We quit mid-way through the third round because my wrist was too tired. I started dropping the ball instead of rolling it. Burt thought we could go pro by next week if we applied ourselves. I figure I’d have a psychological breakdown and should get out now.
Now we are snuggled in the gNash and ready to drive. Mimi is already back into her old routines of begging food and walking on me all night long.
How could I forget to post these snapshots of the gang of coatis? I lost track of my files between two cameras is how. Burt and I are pointed towards Baja. The gNash is parked in a rest area on I-8 just outside of Yuma. Tomorrow we will shop for supplies and Christmas presents for our gang of girls. I have to spend that money from the fundraiser concert we did at the end of last season. Ooooh the pressure. What should I get? What do they want? Ack ack ack.
Two weeks away from phones, computers, and social obligations can be a time of productivity and room to try new things and time to just be. The first week went by easily. I never looked to my phone to see what was happening. I cooked. I laundered. I drew. I birded. I walked. I practiced my fiddle. There are new tunes in my fingers and sketches on my pad to prove I was productive. Time passed easily and I got a lot done. Around day ten I noticed I was having a hard time getting things done. I was staying in bed later. I was sitting and staring longer. I hadn’t drawn a plant. I hadn’t practiced my fiddle. The boys were cooking more. I had walked all the roads I could reach from our base camp.
What was going on? My mood was sour. I wanted to accomplish more but nothing was happening. I was in a malaise. One things was clear: I was reading. Reading has gone by the wayside for writing, birding, and social media-ing. I read three books in the back country. Most notably I read a sweet and moving novel called The Little Paris Bookshop. Nina George wrote this stunner. The book is superficially a fluffy chick-lt piece. It reflects on life and lost love. I was sucked in and my mood became melancholy. There were some painful and insightful parts about living in fear or living in love. I finished it and moved on to some manly Jim Harrison as a head clearer.
I couldn’t shake my sadness. I walked and sat and read. The boys worked on the casita and fed me. Then I remembered it was the one year anniversary of my mother’s death from Alzheimer’s disease. Her birthday was at the start of our trip and then I dreamt of her and finally I realized we’d reached the date of her death. I was extra sad that I couldn’t quite recall the exact date. I knew it was between the second, third, or fourth. I was sad because even though I had called my father in advance of leaving and reflected on the upcoming time, I wished I could call him again. I was surprised at the intensity of the loss and the yearning to be comforted and provide comfort to those people feeling the same loss.I’m saying this was good for me. I think I would have been able to push this sadness away if I had more to occupy my mind.
The day after I recognized what was bothering me my mood lifted. Consciously saying I miss my mom made it easier. And a day or two later it was time to head back into the world at large. And here I am.
Here’s my daily diary from our work trip into the Northern Jaguar Project reserve. I way ‘our’ work but mostly Burt worked with Randy. I helped here and there. My mind kind of started feeding on itself after 8 days without contact beyond the two very male companions and the dogs. At that point my journal stops. I’ll write a separate post soon on where my mind went.
11/24/17: Black Friday: We arrived in Sahuaripa late Tuesday afternoon. It was a late start because the truck batteries were dead. No idea why. Our goal was to meet Randy the manager of the Northern Jaguar Project (NJP) Reserve on Tuesday and drive in on Wednesday to start our work. Despite an array of logistical difficulties from surveyors and cowboys and trucks and concerned staff and the 41 mile 6 hour drive we made it in the day after our original goal. One cowboy was too shy to ride with us. The surveyors hadn’t planned to take a whole day just to arrive at their surveying location. The original truck didn’t have room for the dogs. All problems were solved by the very able Randy while Burt and I explored Sahuaripa and read books. Sahuaripa takes twenty minutes to explore so we read a lot. Only one person yelled at us to go home. Twenty-four hours and a bunch of work related phone calls for Randy and into the wilds we headed.
Last night we arrived with a truck laden with tools, food, dogs, and humans. On the way we passed two raccoons, a bunch jack rabbits, and a black tail disappearing into the bush. The owner of the black tail to forever remain a mystery. Could it have been a cat? A smallish cat to be sure. Maybe it was a thinly furred skunk? Or a road runner on steroids. All six of us (Randy, Burt, Cholo, Elvis, Olive, and me) were road weary. We unloaded our bedding and headed straight to our cots.
Today is Black Friday. We celebrated by shopping for building supplies at an abandoned ranch house. Nobody drove a harder drive to get a better bargain than the six of us. An hour later the truck was full of lumber.
11/25/17: Rancho Babisal: It’s our second full day in the reserve. The three of us are sharing chores. There’s food to cook, water to heat for our showers, general tidying. I try not to fall into the traditional woman’s role but it’s impossible to avoid it. The men are both manly. They have a lot of hard labor and the best way I can help is to cook and clean. I have by no means done all the cooking just more than usual. Today I made homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Randy’s favorite. Ours, too.
Yesterday the boys collected lumber from the old ranch house while I hiked a side canyon. Just a short ways up the canyon I sat at a puddle of water and watched the butterflies with Elvis and Olive. Cholo, Randy’s dog, prefers to help the boys. He is obsessed with tools. Cholo grabs shovels and barks at wheelbarrows and throws his 6 pound around wherever he can meanwhile Olive and Elvis prefer to wander and find stuff to eat. So Cholo helped load lumber onto the truck and we gazed at a quiet pool. Later on it was a bunch of site work. Some tree limbs came down and the weeds around the tank were cut back. I made tunafish sandwiches.
Today the door was cut and beaten through the old water tank we are converting into a casita. The pile is a reinforced concrete frame filled with concrete block and coated in mortar. It’s a tough SOB. Randy took a grinder and impact drill to the outline on both sides of the wall and then each of us took turns with the sledge hammer. I rotated in for five swings for every thirty taken by Randy and Burt. Poco a poco. When we cleared out enough concrete we cut the rebar with a battery-powered SawzAll. Next we cleaned up the escombro (debris). I found a desiccated lizard and a desiccated frog and scores of dried grasshoppers in the detritus accumulated in the bottom of the tank over the years. Yesterday we rescued a six-legged tarantula from the inside. No telling how long he’d been in there or who he was fighting with. Maybe he fell in with tree limb. You might imagine he was sporting three and three legs per side but he was four and two. His missing legs will grow back if he lives long enough to molt again. While Randy was grinding Burt built some shelves for our casita. The ranch has two bedroom-style casitas with three cots each. There are no hooks or shelves in either place. It’s a nuisance to be here for an extended stay with no place to store personal items. Burt, of course, set about solving that problem as soon as we arrived.
When there’s no room for me to help with the building I’ve been practicing my fiddle, taking short walks, and keeping up on writing this account. The Galapagos got away from me. It took over a week to relay our European trip and I simply had no time to do an accounting of the Galapagos to my satisfaction. Besides, I’m heading back there in February. As part of my host duties I’ll have to write a trip report. I think the laptop will be with me to make it easier to get the job done. Yesterday I saw to trogons in the late afternoon just a quarter mile from here. They flew right in and gave me a lookey-loo.
The days have been warm and cloudless. Night cool rapidly and drive us to our bunks early.
11/26/17: Trogons: It’s day three. Last night I was reflecting on the news that a long time acquaintance had recently taken her life. I started counting up the number of suicides I knew. Too many. Then I started thinking of the dead from all causes. I recently finished reading The Hunger Games. I imagined dead people’s faces lit up in the sky as I though of them just like in the book. It wasn’t sad. I was just thinking of people. I figured they would be glad I was taking stock of them and keeping track.
Vivid dreams seep in every night. My mother’s birthday was a couple of days ago and last night I dreamt of her for the first time since her death nearly a year ago. She came to me in a Cat In The Hat scenario. When I was a child the Cat in The Hat story filled me with angst. Misbehaving children and a mother off running errands. If you read this you know the cat was instigator and also cleaned everything up in the nick of time. It was all too familiar to reality. Mom would leave me with my brothers and go to work. All she wanted was a clean house when she returned. It was not possible. Mom was always irritated by our mess. So in last night’s dream I was somewhere and it was a mess. I felt anxiety. Dread filled me as I thought, she’s coming, she’s coming. The disarray was so overwhelming I didn’t even try to clean. I also remember thinking clearly, not my mess anyway, why should I clean it? Then boom mom showed up. She sparkled with joy like Glinda the Good Witch. She didn’t see the mess, she only saw me. Mom radiated maternal love and said, I’m so happy to see you. I woke up.
Mom really liked cats and nature. Think she came by for a visit? I’m optimistic. Maybe it’s just the extended removal from the distractions of everyday life that allows these thing stop happen. There’s no phone, no texting, no Facebook, no Instagram, no socializing. I work, I clean, I cook, I write, I draw, I sleep. The nights are long and quiet. I wonder who else will come in my Dreams as the nights lengthen.
Burt and I are developing a routine. I cook dinner early and we go for an evening walk knowing that dinner is ready whenever we return. We leave the dogs in our cabaña so we have a better chance of seeing wildlife. They get enough time roaming all day. The sun sets early in the canyon walls at Babisal but darkness takes a long time to arrive. Last night we heard a pair of trogons calling from a grove of mesquite trees about a mile from camp. I used my phone to try and lure them in but had no luck. Trogons are large birds with long tails and bright red bellies. Males are sparkling green and females are gray with a white tear drop on their faces. They sound like frogs when they call. Darkness finally came and we headed home by the light of the half moon along the stream bed that passes for a road out here.
The weather continues unchanged. It feels like we are in suspended animation. Every day warm and cloudless. Every night clear and cool. Only the perceptible change of the moon tells us time is passing. Today I did laundry in a bucket and made a lunch of chicken salad wraps dressed with jalapeño/apricot jam and pecans. The house wifey chores are chapping my hands. I always tell Burt this is why I hate washing dishes and it’s true. The boys continued beating out the concrete for windows in the casita under construction. I made time-lapse videos of the sledge hammering. The boys move really fast in time-lapse.
11/27/17: Coatimundi: Yesterday afternoon we celebrated the victory over reinforced concrete with a quick trip to the Aros River. Aros means hoop in Spanish and the river is named for it’s looping bends. There is a small intermittent stream near camp. I presume its called Babisal Creek or something similar. This creek has substantially diminished since we were here a month ago . Despite its small size it still attracts a lot of birds and insects but we wanted to see the NJP reserve’s main artery. The Aros is a permanent river that grows to a formidable size with winter rains and the summer monsoons. There are fish and freshwater otters among the jaguars and puma. Of course, most all the area’s wildlife prefer the shady banks of the free flowing river. It’s only ten miles away from our camp but those ten miles take an hour and a half to drive. An neck straining, head banging hour and a half. An hour and a half of Olive and Elvis walking all over me while I try to avoid head injury and vomiting in the sorry excuse for a back seat of the extended cab.
All five of us arrived intact to find a generator at the government gaging station running. Ambiance was lacking. We can’t complain since we run a generator to provide power for our tools but it was a disappointing moment in our brief visit to the river. We all walked upstream and away from the noise. Randy fished. Burt swam. I scanned the opposite bank for life with my binoculars. Soon German from the gaging station saw us and turned off his generator and came down for a visit. The station is fully digital now but there is still a full time employee. The staff work three week stretches away from home. I guess German was ready for some company. He invited us for coffee. We didn’t go but it was because of confusion about who did or did not leave gates to the reserve open. On our drive to the river we found cattle on the reserve because one of the station operators left open gates. I didn’t want to get in between Randy and his work so we decided to decline coffee. Oops. It wasn’t German. It was the other guy. Oh well. German’s used to his solitude.
Not much else happened. We returned to camp and ate dinner.
This morning Randy taught us how to use the emergency communication device and then headed back to town. Burt and I can send an SMS message to Randy (or anyone’s) cell phone if we we need help. Or carrots. Or coffee. The messages are pretty pricey so I think we’ll try to focus on emergencies. Like chocolate. Randy is organizing his workers and gathering more materials for the casita. Our load was too heavy to bring it all in the first trip.
Burt and I took a four hour, four mile walk down our creek. The birding was markedly better. There’s been a slightly perceptible cooling and an increase in humidity. Maybe more birds are out enjoying the refreshing air. Maybe it was a coincidence. It could also be we are getting more familiar with the terrain and can see more things in the thorny canopy. While we were fussing over flycatchers and vireos I heard a crunching from a long way off. There was a loud thing heading our way. Who would dare be so loud. A cow? A human? A pig? It came closer and closer. I was almost scared. Burt and I whispered back and forth. Did you hear that? What is it? It’s so loud! This thing had no caution. It was breaking branches and rustling palm leaves and headed right for us. Burt figured it out before we saw it. He said, “I’ll bet it’s a coatimundi.” He was right it was a pack, flock, pile of coatimundi. We saw them before they say us. Then we made eye contact and they scurried up a tree or four across the creek bed from us. We got in as close as we could and watched the show.
Coati appear to be a cross between monkeys and raccoons. They climb up and down trees and use their tails to gain further purchase as they maneuver from tree top to tree top. I had only seen one in the wild and it was a human-habituated old loner that let me hand feed it a fig newton. This group was a tribe of females and juveniles. I counted seven at one time but suspect half as many more were hidden from view as they scurried up and down trees trying to get a bead on us. I snapped a lot of photos. Eventually one stood guard and the rest came down and ran in the opposite direction of us. There was much chitter chatter as they planned the escape. I did not know coatimundi climb up and down trees facing the direction of motion. They look funny headed face first down a palm trunk. Not the way a cat would do it. Or me.
We ate leftover chicken salad for lunch in the shade of a mesquite. I sat on a rock far from vegetation and kind of sunny. Burt sat on a comfy stone in deep shade and picked up a bunch of stickers. I told him my previous solo hikes had taught me to avoid all vegetation. Stickers and bugs like the shade, too.
11/28/17: Great Horned Owl Eats Bat: The day almost slipped away without writing. After a breakfast of fried spaghetti Burt carried two chairs down to the creek crossing about a ¼ mile from camp. We left the dogs in our casita. I sat for an hour and a half and counted birds. Burt went back to work after a half an hour. It was pretty good birding from about 10:00 to 11:00. The clear skies are gone. Mare’s in the morning were followed by mackerel skies in the afternoon. We can only wonder if a cold front or rain might be on the way.
After lunch I helped clean demolition debris. Burt and I set the first rafter yesterday afternoon. Now Burt was working on window frames and cleaning up the rough openings. We also practiced cutting glass. Neither of us had ever cut glass. It proved pretty easy with a glass cutter. Now we know. Burt will be building windows from scratch for the new casita.
After three days of concentrated effort on some Irish fiddle tunes I learned at this year’s Portal Irish Music Week I was finally ready to invite Burt to play along with me. It’s always difficult to incorporate new material. There’s a number of factors in play. I have to like it and play it well enough. Burt has to like it. It has to hold our interest for more than a few days. Our of the three tunes I played Burt was keen on two. That’s a pretty good ratio. I’ll keep working them over and see how they develop. It’s been years since I added three tune sin one week. Lots of free time is bearing results.
This evening we returned to the chairs on the creek. Dinner was made and ready when we were. We sat at dusk watching bats and listening to birds. I thought I saw a pipit land in the sand a few yards away. I’ve never had a confirmed a pipit sighting so I played the pipit call. Just then a great horned owl landed on the leafless palm trunk thirty feet away. We watched the owl as it scanned up and down the creek from its perch. Bats flew back and forth. The pipit recording was quietly peep peep peeping. Just as I wondered if great horned owls eat bats the owl launched off its perch and flew straight at us. Immediately over our heads, not four feet away, the owl intercepted a bat. We heard the impact. In one instant there were two things flying over us and in the next just one figure flying away. A few minutes later another bat resumed hunting insects. Gobsmacked we walked back to camp to wear our Thai peanut veggies on brown rice.
11/29/17 Just another day in the wilderness: I sat by the creek and counted more birds today. Burt and I were by ourselves again except for a brief visit by a pair of the NJP reserve cowboys. The cowboys came by for water for their horses. They and some surveyors are working a couple of hours from here. We played music and worked. Not much else happened.
11/30/17: Last Day of November: November was full of a disorienting array of destinations. I’ve awoken up in 15 different places this month. Burt and I are at over fifty spots for 2017. This year will be our most mobile in all eight years of calling ourselves the Gypsy Carpenters. The travel was both work and pleasure related. In some ways it was the perfect representation of what we imagined our lives as gypsies would be. Our more normal year of a work destination in summer and Mexico in winter is far more sedantary.
The stay in the reserve has been a goal of Burt’s for four years. Now that it is happening I asked him if he had a new five year or ten year plan. It’s annual appraisal time in camp. At first there was no clear next but then he said, “We could drive to Ecuador.” I’m all for a drive of South America. It’s ambitious and requires a complete reconfiguration of our traveling outfit. We’d need a stout camper van. We’d also need to wait for Mimi and Elvis to graduate to the next level. Olive alone is a manageable traveling companion. She fits nearly anywhere. So no rush. Lots of time to make plans.
12/1/17: Randy Back: The night before last Randy returned. I thought I heard his truck through my earplugs but the Olivis and the Burt didn’t wake up so I figured it was my imagination or not worth worrying about. Morning came and there was Cholo de la Cholla and Randy in camp and ready to go. Burt whipped up a breakfast of sweet potato fries and eggs and they set to work. I sat by the creek and sketched.
The weather is ,such the same. Warm days, cool nights. For several days there have been wispy clouds in the upper atmosphere. Rarely a breeze. Word came in over the emergency texting device that the surveyors were lost. Not lost lost. Lost in the sense that they couldn’t find the place they were hired to survey. This gave us all a good and slightly bitter laugh. If the surveyors didn’t know where they were supposed to be how could anyone? Maybe it’s the Bermuda Triangle of the NJP Reserve? In classic wilderness style Randy decided to ignore the text and hope the problem went away.
After lunch Burt and I took a hike up to the Babisal box canyon. Last month when we came in to scope out the job Turtle and Randy took our group up to a waterfall and hidden spot of lush vegetation. They call this spot the spiritual heart of the reserve. It’s possible to climb up the waterfall and further explore the canyon but last time I chose to stay dry and not see the rumored banana tree above. This time the water was much lower and I was ready to be wet. Burt and I took off our shoes. I rolled up my cuffs to over my knees and Burt want naked below. We waded into the sandy bottomed pool to the base of the waterfall. Last time we were here I saw leeches in the water. Once upon a time the thought of leeches would have made me nauseous. Yesterday I laughed. Burt’s parts must have looked more desirable than my lower legs. We reached the other side and sat down to put our shoes back on. My pants were not rolled high enough. Burt said he and Howard had discussed this phenomenon in the Galapagos. It seems whenever you roll up your pants they just get wet anyway, so why bother?
I climbed up the dry face of the waterfall to the next level. From here I could see the banana tree. This tree had become a minor obsession for me since I had heard about its nearly ripe bananas a month ago. Those wild bananas must be the best bananas in the world. To get to the tree required a stemming move across a slimy dihedral with running water in the crack. Stymied again I watched as Burt made the move. I couldn’t risk it with my slow moving brain and body. It was a twenty foot fall if I slipped. So Burt disappeared over the edge and I got comfortable. The move taunted me. I almost went for but I kept remembering I was now a mile and a half from camp, halfway up a slot canyon, and a further six hour drive from help. It was not the place to do something silly.
Burt returned with the news that the reserve’s cowboys must have gotten to the tree first. The bananas of last month were gone and all that remained was a very small bunch of unripe fruit. The routinely cowboys climb up the canyon to maintain the water supply for Babisal Camp. Or so they say. I think it’s because they want the world’s best bananas.
With my heavy cotton pants soaked to the thigh we headed back to the abandoned upper Babisal ranch and made our way up the next drainage. This is a large creek bed immediately adjacent to the one we just hiked. Where the main creek still had water and large leafy plants this one was completely dry. The plant life was different and there was no sign of recent animal activity. In the span of a few hundred yards we had entered a different world. We hiked until we reached a stretch of massive boulders. My pants were dry within twenty minutes. Like Burt and Howard said, “Why bother?” In two spots over the course of a half mile we found small, fetid puddles under gigantic rocks. Burt and I threaded our way over the boulder choke until we grew weary. It was a lot of rock climbing moves to find only more rocks and late in the day. Randy was on dinner duty. It was time to head home and hope dinner was ready when we arrived.
Dinner was ready and tasty. We rewarded Randy with some songs and headed to bed at 6:45. A word about our beds. Burt and I are sleeping on twin burlap cots. The cots are standard ranch beds in rural Mexico. A length of burlap is suspended between two lengths of lumber. Moveable X-braces at each end serve as legs. The cots are foldable and sturdy. They are easy to move out of the way if you have only one room. There is no room for two in these beds, if you get what I mean. Conjugal visits have certain limitations. There’s not much room. They there’s the burlap. Add to the ambiance a rickety feel when a kind of ‘motion’ occurs. Yesterday there were audible creaks. And I don’t mean creaks from me or Burt. I thought the whole bed sought to collapse. I was not on top. Funny but not rewarding. Again, I presume you get what I mean. Laughing your way through the act of love can fuel your lover’s fire or diminish their enthusiasm. I thought my man would never wrap up even as he joined the giggling. Some might suggest we take the party to nature. I say, “Have you seen the thorns and stickers out there? Or the ants?” Not inviting.
Babisal Ranch is at the heart of the Norther Jaguar Project’s reserve. The cows are long gone but the original structure is used as a kitchen and two new adobe and stone guest rooms have been added. Burt and I will turn an old water tank into a third guest room. Year round these facilities are used by cowboys and biologists and other visitors. Overflow people stay in tents or hammocks. On this trip Burt and I scored a cabin of our own. The beds are traditional rancho cots made from burlap suspended between two Xs. With a Thermarest pad the bed is pretty comfortable but it moves a lot and the motion made me a little queasy. More Galapagos training I told myself.
Our group consisted of two donors, Mark and Monica, a photographer, Charles, us, and Randy and Turtle, NJP’s staff/guides. After the 12 hours of driving Burt and I headed straight to bed after dinner and didn’t really get a good look at our companions. We were grateful for the warm food and welcome gifts of NJP hats and personal napkins. In the morning we had some more filling and tasty vegan food and then piled in a pickup for a nearby hike.
All seven humans and three dogs rode up the steep mile or so to another defunct ranch. We would hike up the a tight, wet canyon and pass some camera traps and see what some people consider the spiritual heart of the reserve. In fifteen bumpy minutes we reached our starting point. The abandoned ranch buildings were full of wood perfect for our project. It will be fun to deconstruct and reconstruct out in the wilderness. The old wood will look beautiful in a new situation.
Pretty quickly we reached a camera trap. Randy and Turtle removed the data chip and tried to find a camera that could reveal its secrets. There are a few different models of cameras in use at the reserve and they all have their own way of formatting chips. Luckily our third and last try at reading the chip was successful. The chips and batteries are changed out every one to three months. Since this particular trap’s chip had been changed four mountain lions, a few bobcats, and an ocelot had passed by the trap. The ocelot passed just the day before we did. Smiles all around thinking the ocelot was nearby watching us. As Randy says, I haven’t seen a jaguar but I know they’ve seen me. I like that feeling.
Our walk to the canyon wasn’t more than half an hour. We could have gone further but we didn’t feel like swimming and mud crawling so we sat around and enjoyed the scene. I visited the spiders. Snacks and water and getting to know you conversations were had by all. After people were satisfied with the hanging around we had a choice, return home by the trail we had taken in or canyoneer our way down canyon. We chose the adventure route. It was pretty rough going but Randy was a competent guide and very able assistant. Burt and I did fine on our own. We mostly traveled ahead of the group. It took us much longer to reach the truck going down the boulder filled stream bed but it was also more fun. The dogs have a different version. One ran home on the trail. Another was lifted through the worst spot. The third either jumped or fell twenty feet into a pool. She was not happy. Eventually it was just a stream bed and we all dispersed. Burt and Randy went to inventory wood and I wandered downstream alone.
At the truck point we all reunited. Burt and I opted to avoid the truck bed for the downhill jostle and walked back to camp along the stream. It was a tussocky and watery route back. It was noticeable that there were not a lot of birds. When we finally reached camp it was time for lunch and a siesta.
That evening we took a silent sunset walk. We heard an elf owl. Or was it pygmy? I’ve forgotten. Tracks were seen in the creek bed sand. Quail flew up. We thought they were scaled quail but they were Elegant Quail. Similar but not the same. Dinner and bed.