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.
Do you have a favorite quote? I don’t. I couldn’t even bring a quote to mind when asked to consider a favorite quote for today’s writing work. Hmmm. When I was a worker-bee I sometimes had quotes on my cube. Things from Dilbert. For twenty years I had the fortune paper out of a cookie. It read, “You are thoughtful and analytical by nature.” I wasn’t so sure about thoughtful but the analytical part couldn’t be denied. Baxk in the day my favorite thing to say on boating trips as we approached rapids was, “I need data” meaning can my companions tell me what I need to know for safe navigation or do I need to get out of my boat and scout the rapid? I still think, “I need data” on the rare occasion when I can’t make a decision.
So here I am on a very cool and sunny day trapped in my trailer by a bout of tourista considering inspirational words. We were going to go hiking but since I can’t walk mor ethan twenty yards without an urge that’s off. The day started with a short but ugly fight with my husband. He presented a decision he’d made to me while I still wore earplugs and had yet to agree to engage with the conscious world. A decision on something that was previously agreed upon by much back and forth. Short version. He changed his mind on something and decided to tell me he had made a new decision, without warm up or words of this nature, “I’m having second thoughts on blah blah blah. Can we talk about it?” I did not respond thoughtfully with, “Sounds like we should talk about this after I have a cup of tea.” I was agitated AND wearing ear plugs. I might have screamed a little too loudly and said some not so nice things. There’s was a cease fire. I apologized. Burt fed me. He apologized. We negotiated a mutually satisfactory middle ground that was actually better than either decision. Satisfied. I wish there was a way to skip the first part.
So that happened and I’m pondering my quote assignment. I recall all the meme generating sites I have blocked out of my Facebook feed. I want real experience and original content. Quotes over seascapes leave me alienated. I wander over to Instagram. I see someone complimenting my friend Kay Scorah for a kind deed she did for a stranger. In a bout of self flagellation Kay brilliantly says, “Street kind, home mean” and I instantly see this reflected in me and almost all I know about family. Ouch. There it is. I consciously try to be kinder at home than on the street but at my most weak and tired, my most vulnerable that’s where the greatest failures are. I realize if I drank coffee I would have a rule that said no talking until after my first cup. I need some kind of boundary to save myself and my dear husband from the fracases. He’s almost always had two cups of coffee and an hour head start on me. We talked about this issue independently of the other. Burt feels sympathy for me and really tries to hold back. Most days he does. It’s always apparent when he doesn’t. I’ll try to be nicer. He’ll try to refrain from bold morning announcements.
On our trailer wall is a pin Burt found on the drive down the Baja last month. It says: SHIT’S ABOUT TO GET REAL. Flip but true for today. I have them and we worked through it. Meanwhile, since I’m stuck here, I’m birding the yard. Today of all days the oranges were finally found and by no less than four species. Proof the birds are talking amongst themselves.
Freaking rules are everywhere. I’m gonna lay it out for you. Gravity, entropy, momentum…The laws of nature. Physics regulates every aspect of the physical world. Yesterday we took the neighborhood kids to a science fair in Pescadero. The rules of science were on display. There were light, weight, sound experiments of all sorts for the kids to try. This fit nicely with today’s writing idea: rules. Consider rules and how we choose to comply or not. Break some rules in your writing. Change it up. What does considering rules bring up for you?
I spent twenty years as a federal regulator. I made my living interpreting and enforcing rules on behalf of big brother. These rules were designed to protect public health and the environment. I haven’t time today to tell you how my philosophy of law enforcement and public health came to change. I will summarize: no corporation will do what’s best to protect human health if there are dollars to be made. The government is owned by corporations.
Now, as a free wheeling independent contractor there are still plenty of rules. We try to comply with the rules of civility, the tax rules, building codes, clients desires…and of course the laws of science. The rules that get under my skin more and more as I get older are the rules governing societal expectations of gender roles. My mother always resented being put second behind her brother and the ramifications were she couldn’t go to college or play sports. She pushed me out of the nest and into the wide world to make it on my own and I believed I could. I was always bucking the gender bias and I was hardly aware of it. I was so stupid. I had no idea what I was pushing up against. Whether it was male professors telling me I didn’t have what it took to be an engineer or men dissing each other because they couldn’t rock climb as well as a girl or coworkers making lewd comments or inappropriate advances. Ack. I don’t have time today.
Rules are everywhere. Break them or follow them but most importantly KNOW them. As I always say to Burt I want to know the rules before I decide which to break and which to follow. Knowledge is power.
My style choice of black on charcoal paid off under the disco lights at New Year’s Eve. We had some fun making moves to the funky music. Our host’s tastes runs to the mid 80s so we share a lot of common musical history. Despite the fun vibe we only last 2 hours. Six to eight. The long drive from California and we are just plain old party-poopers. Go ahead, you can call us that. We’re not embarrassed.
Landing at our property is always preceded by worry about what we will find. Two years ago we arrived post-Odile’s the Cat 5 hurricane. That was a mess and a disaster and troubling. It took weeks of dirty effort by us and helpers to make the place livable. Since then we’ve had our neighborhood weeders come in before we arrive and it has made parking the trailer and getting down to real work of setting up house keeping easier. Day 1 was filled with Burt opening the rumpus room, bodega, and bathroom. Plywood covers all the windows and doors while we are away. Six months is a long time for a home to be empty. Nature moves in. We had quite a cop of roaches living in the bathroom. I did not know roach frass could accumulate to such a degree. In the arena of shit cleaning it’s much harder to clean the gecko droppings. Score one for roaches in the bathroom. Meanwhile, the rumpus room was full of gecko droppings. I think I see the pattern. Water in bathroom makes great habitat for roaches. Geckos visit the roach buffet and return to the dry and airy rumpus room to digest. Spiders were everywhere.
The next day I tool a broom to the rumpus room and got it presentable. Then I took a cloth and water and started on the bathroom. I have to develop a new plan and attitude to really get it clean. The roach poop will not come off. It’s sticky. Here’s to hoping white vinegar does the job.
Today’s big goal is Olive. The poor pooch is a walking sticker remover. She is wall to wall spines. Today I will give her a close cropped hairdo. It’s all the rage for the terrier set. This afternoon it’s bridge. This evening some fine dining.
Burt and I busted free of Portal and all its charms on Friday a week ago. Our new transmission was installed in under three hours. Since we are in Mexico we can conclude the job was well done. We got a new clutch, too. We were glad we got out when we did despite missing Christmas with our many friends because the temperature dropped and snow arrived. In slab City it was cool and dry. We set to eradicating the two months of window sill mold we’d grown since heading east in October. Burt and I spent Christmas day with a spray bottle of white vinegar and a roll of paper towels. It was beyond time. We were passing time waiting for Rosemary and Ed to get to us so we could travel the Baja together. RR and Ed were up in Death Valley finishing volunteer duties and managing their vehicle logistics. More on them later. In summary: we are safe in El Pescadero on our homey lot. All appears well. Some termites and cockroaches have had a good time in our absence.
Meanwhile enjoy some Slab City art. This is from a neighborhood called East Jesus. West Satan is next door. Slab City seems to be revitalized since the last time we visited this free, anarchist haven for snow birders, runaways, junkies, and artists. The library is reinhabited and restored. There are competing live music venues and a new hostel. You can rent an RV in Slab City and pretend you are one of the free for $25 a night. If you want to read about our previous visits and see more of the cool art just put ‘Slab City’ in the gypsycarpenters.com search bar. Brings them right up.
Happy New Year, Everyone. Stay kind. Stay connected.