I did something I’ve never done before. I took a kid in the woods. A real kid. By myself. Sure I’ve been in the woods with bunches of children and their parents. I’ve skied and boated and hiked with kids but there was always a real caretaker nearby. Then there’s the twenty-somethings. I’ve been out with a few of them.
Evely is one of our regular students in the art and music and English classes. She has always been kind and polite. She helps the younger kids. She never acts bored or too cool to participate. In last year’s class we had another girl her age and she was disruptive because she thought she was too old for the activities. Evely understands the younger girls follow her lead and she is all in and eager to learn. Watching 13 year old Evely show up and work hard, always with a smile on her face, gave me the idea that maybe she was ready for a side trip all her own. I decided to invite her birding with Burt and me. I told her we’d look at nature and look for birds. She said she’d like to go. I told her to get permission from her parents. It was all arranged.
Today was the day. Burt woke up sick. Enter massive anxiety for me. I have to take a child on a trip by myself? What if she gets hurt or hates it or can’t carry the stuff? Who was going to take care of us? Who would drive? Burt wouldn’t listen. He insisted I was ready. Ack ack ack. So I went alone. Me and my anxiety.
I’ll admit there wasn’t much small talk. Evely is a quiet girl and me, well, you know, I don’t have much to say most days. The car ride was very quiet. Evely texted. I fretted. Maybe she just wanted to get away from her parents and play with her phone? Once we arrived at Las Palmas I realized I had picked the right kid. I showed her how to use the binoculars. We found some lesser goldfinches and practiced looking for them as they flitted in and out of a bush. Evely described the birds to me. We found a lizard. We focised on things near and far. The phone was gone and the binos were glued to her eyes. It was time to explore.
Right away we spotted a sweet Verdin. These yellow faced birds are the definition of darling. With binos to eyes Evely exclaimed, “Que hermoso pajaro!” I asked if she wanted to take a picture and gave her complete control of my telephoto equipped real life camera. And that was the end of my worrying about entertaining my companion. The next two hours she took photos while we found birds and horses and a dead raccoon. The dead raccoon sealed the deal. Without saying a word she started photographing while I put its head back together. As is typical, the lower jam was found apart from the head. She was not disgusted one bit as I ripped away the tattered mass of fur. My kinda girl!
After it was all over I thanked her for her fine companionship and told her we’d head out again soon. I believe, almost as much as I believe anything, that if people don’t appreciate the natural world our planet is doomed. I have hope.
We went for a late afternoon walk in the hills with our Montana buddies Aldo and Bequia yesterday. Huge discovery of two burrowing owls on the road as we drove home. The owls were very patient and allowed us all a good look through the binoculars while Burt shined a flashlight. Burrowing owls live underground and prefer to stay close to the ground. They have long legs for walking. Here in baja this species is easy to identify because the other owls are either much bigger or much smaller or have long ears. The squatty head is also a clue to who it is. I played the iBird call but didn’t receive a response. I guess they weren’t fooled.
Burt heads into the mountains on a guided hike Wednesday AM. I’ll be holding down the fort around here alone. I just landed a paying gig as a backup singer so I’ll also be doing that while he’s gone. Side work is a good thing.
The dude continues to eat despite yesterday’s attempts to ‘help’. After much reading and consulting with various experienced persons we decided to sling the kestrel’s broken wing. First step was a sock on the head. That is instantly calming or, perhaps, so terrifying that the bird is catatonic. With a sock on the head Bad Hombre freezes and curls up his toes. If he happens to be gripping your finger at the time of cloaking you might need help removing him from your finger. I know I did. Burt had to peel BH’s mighty talons from my thumb. I was uninjured but only because his claws hadn’t pinched loose skin. I can now sympathize with how helpless a lizard or bird must feel if caught in this deadly grip. Here I was a mere 1,000 times larger and I needed help to get free.
Once calm and unattached to me we explored the bird’s wing. Sadly, we found an open wound. The wound was healing but there was a little pus. I would guess another bird of prey got a shot at this guy. I cleaned the wound and applied antibiotic ointment. Before treating him I used my iPhone to quickly see if bids were allergic to antibiotic ointment. Some antibiotics kill birds of prey. I knew this because a cow medicine is killing vultures. The internet said ointment is okay. I gooshed a bunch in the hole. Then we wrapped an X-bandage of self sticking tape around the wing and then wrapped another bandage around the wing and the bird’s body to stabilize things. One of the more alarming aspects of caring for the bird is if he freaks out and tried to fly he gets his bad wing all tangled and it is a horrifying sight. I cannot imagine it feels good. The bandages we used are the stuff that sticks to itself but not the skin or, in this case, feathers.
Withing seconds BH was tangled in the bandage around his body. Those crazy strong talons got up inside and tried to pull it off even with the hood on. I re-attached it with more determination and slightly tighter. Same problem. I gave up on it after a second fiasco of wings, bandage, and talon knot. This was looking dangerous for all of us. So we put BH back in the kennel and he slumped over in his post-human contact coma. The X-bandage was in place, the wound was treated, and he was still breathing. Burt and I left for Bridge.
Big surprise. We played horribly at Bridge. I was in a funk. The wound. The bandage failure. Long term care issues. Crazy cards. Really good players. Bleh. We came home and found BH roosting, ready for dinner, bandage off. I told him he was on his own. I was not going to try again. We fed his some grouse heart and other yummy bits and said good night. I feel my funk lifting as I share all this drama with you.
I started cooking this morning. I have a new recipe. It’s called Kestrel’s Favorite Soup. Canned cat food, chicken puree baby food, electrolyte drink, and sugar water are all mixed in equal parts. Heat it up until warm and take it with a dropper. Burt found this injured male Kestrel last night while we were birding. It was dragging a wing and ran itself into a dead end where Burt was able to capture him. Now we have a bird of prey living with us. He’s staying in the dog kennel. So far he hates us. He’s paralyzed with fear. The prognosis is unknown. On the plus side: he survived the night. On the negative side: he is a wild creature and all systems are pegged at red, he is injured, he is susceptible to infection. We now he would have died if left alone. Kestrels are estimated to die at a rate of 65% per year. How’s that for a short life? With us he has one last chance to heal and fly away. If he heals and can’t fly we know a guy that will care for him. Burt and I will try to get this ferocious bird and insect eating dude back on his wings. Since these birds are commonly used in falconry there is a lot of information on the internet on how to care for them. Several people have already told me how they succeeded in rehabbing other individuals. If there were a raptor center nearby I would take him there but as far as I know the closest one is in Tucson.
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.
Burt pulled out the map and said, “There’s gotta be an easier place to hike in the mountains.” Well we got lost but found what he was looking for anyway. Burt’s original goal was the end of the road about 8 miles south of where we landed but we can’t complain. Rancho Santo Domingo is at the end of a different road and on a trail head into the Sierra de la Laguna. Chito is the current occupant and resident guide. He sent us on our way and we did a short exploratory walk. His dog, I called it bones, followed us. Bones’s love for Olive was unrequited. I guess she prefers men with more meat on their frame. Up the hill from the very old and well shaded ranch house we found a mature orchard with ripe toronjas (grapefruits) and flowering mango trees. The trail followed the arroyo up into the mountains. Birds were sparse because of the heat but this water hole was fantastic.
We turned back early. I am still tired from Sunday’s expedition and we had a music date with Tom. We can visit this place again when we have more time and energy. On our way back down Burt spotted the Cape Robin! I missed it but I can trust Burt knows a robin when he sees one.
Burt’s finally had enough of our annual slog on the skirts of Titi Mountain. I think. We’ve made an annual trek up there every year for the last four year. This year I cried. Between losing the way, the heat, hunger, and the darn beta-blockers I had my work cut out for me. I knew I would be miserable on an uphill hike through the thorn forest and I tried to take it like a big person but the first 40 minutes were really discouraging. I almost quit.
The start of this marathon is a very poor ranch deep in the desert at the edge of an arroyo. In the past the house has been vacant but this year the owners were there with their three skeletal dogs. The burro that rubbed his head on our car all night long last year was not seen. The owners speak a version of Baja Spanish that I find impenetrable. We exchanged pleasantries where every other word was Mande? or Como? What? Hi? What? How are you? Say that again? Great? You? What? Painful. Then the man says, “You play violin.” I heard that. We played music once here 4 years ago and everyone within 10 square miles remembers. Does this make us famous. In a word, yes. At the time it seemed like we were torturing them. Maybe we were. Today he seemed to remember it fondly. He asked if I had brought my violin and seemed disappointed when I said no. Maybe he was just being polite.
This route is located in a spot our friends the deer hunters showed us four years ago. Angel and Ramon agreed to let us tag along while they hunted. That day we covered twice as much ground in the same amount of time. We were faster then but we also had a guide dragging us over and under and through vegetation. On our own we wallow a bit trying to figure out where to go. The area is very wild but also heavily grazed by cattle. There are microtrails everywhere created by cows stomping their way to every green shoot or puddle of water. Cows make trails that are too short for the average gringo. Tree limbs, vines and cactus hang about at the four foot level. Constantly we find ourselves trying to decide if we should climb over a log, pass under that nasty vine, or through the chest high weeds. All this obstacle course like maneuvering while headed uphill. It’s not an enjoyable walk; it is more like an expedition. About an hour in there is a native palm oasis. Things get more enjoyable there.
The thing that keeps us going, besides the annual grudge match, is that we hope to find some of Baja’s endemic birds that live at the higher elevations. Today we had our eyes and ears peeled for the cape robin, the Baird’s junco, and the isolated population of acorn woodpeckers. All of these birds are subspecies of birds found elsewhere but the ones here in Baja have been left isolated by the ocean and the desert. They don’t migrate. They all look slightly different from tehir more mobile colleagues.
At 2:30 and after 4 hours of trudging with ample and lengthy breaks we turned for home. My phone said we’d walked 3 miles. I believe it was closer to 2 but it felt more like 5. So three is a nice compromise. At the turnaround point we had not seen any of our birds. We did find a nice persimmon tree on the edge of the palm oasis and it was full of butter butts (yellow rumped warblers) and orange crowned warblers. The fruit tree is a relic of the sugar processing days. At the ridge there was a sugar cane processing plant. Local people hiked 6 miles every day to work it back in the late 1800s. The workers planted fruit trees on their route. On our way back down, just before the persimmons, Burt spotted a woodpecker. I got my binoculars on it just as it flew and I was 90% certain it was our clown faced acorn woodpecker. Then Burt spotted another one and this next one held still and we both confirmed it was the bird we were looking for. Yippee. All tears were worth it.
Personal Manifesto: After yesterday there is so much hurt and pain in me that I do not want to manifest. Our goal for today was to write about our personal manifesto. I want peace. I want community. I want enough. I don’t know where it is. I told Burt I am so angry I could harm the human that did this to my dog. If I can’t get over this how can a person get over a bomb that killed their child or any of the horrible things we intentionally do to one another? I will get over it. I am already getting over it but I hurt.
I believe the dog was a used as a tool to intimidate us, the community. Once, twenty years ago I was working on a big, local enforcement action. My dog was poisoned. It’s not the dog. It’s the dog as our guardian, representative, friend, soul mate. That dog survived and so did Olive. Here a large condo complex owner doesn’t want locals and dogs on his beach. It’s illegal to kill people and it’s illegal to keep us off the beach. Kill a dog and a lot of locals will stay away. It was even implied that I was to blame for walking my dog there. Heavy sigh. I cannot manifest why that is the wrong thing to say to a person. Gross alert…I can only manifest the desire to go back and take a dump in full view on their beach. I’ll get over it.
Ollie-belle is recovering. She’s eating, peeing, sleeping. It remains to be seen if she has permanent eye damage. Today her pupils won’t contract. She cannot see outside. It’s too bright. It’s likely just a residual of the muscle relaxants in her body. The drugs can take several days to clear.
On the getting over it side of life the Gypsy Carpenters were asked to play some songs at a women’s rally in Todos Santos this morning. Our patron wanted Spanish and English songs that the crowd could sing and that were apolitical. Tourists and foreign nationals cannot have political events in Mexico. Due to their history of colonialism and occupation Mexico frowns upon outsiders telling it what to do. No problem for me. We are guests here. This event was bicultiral and bilingual. I tried for two weeks to find a native born singer to join our band for the event. I had no luck until I got a text at 9:30 PM last night from Mireya. We met Mireya a few weeks ago at the Hablando Mexicano school where I take Spanish lessons. She can sing. So last night I texted her the names of the songs and she learned them on her own and then showed up at 8:30 AM this morning ready to join the band. This was a gratifying moment in my effort to work in community and I hope it is the start of a new collaboration.
If I have to manifest today it is I want to manifest community music as a way to build bridges and work with my neighbors. There’s a Facebook video circulating of us doing Cielito Lindo. Check it out.
Today’s writing task: tune in to nature. That’s nearly a full time habit around these parts. The Monday Bridge game precluded a jaunt into the wilds but did offer the usual mysterious peak into the human condition. I’ll save thoughts about Bridge induced psychosis for another day. There is a lot of human nature on display in games we play for ‘fun’.
This morning I put out some new orange slices in a our yard bird feeding station. Within ten minutes there were four species of birds on the slices, all at the same time. Since this same group was here yesterday and then later today, I am guessing they are a mixed species flock. Some birds gang up and do not adhere to the ‘birds of a feather flock together’ motto. Meanwhile the hummers were in attendance, too. This morning it was very nice to see the size varieties from the hummingbird to verdin to warbler to mockingbird and oriole. Getting a feel for a bird’s general size and shape is critical to making ID’s with only a quick peek. They call this general feeling of a bird its jizz.
Today Burt had a volcanic spontaneous utterance lamenting all the things we are trying to learn: Bridge, tennis, birding, music, language. All the rules, rules, rules. It’s terrifically terrifying how incompetent we remain at all these things we want to master. We suck. It’s wonderful.