The Gypsy Carpenters have been on the job less than a week and almost all demolition has been completed and major style decisions are made. The cabinets and counters are measured and ordered and paid. Tile and bath and faucets and flooring have been selected. Now we just need to find an electrician. Hopefully that will become clear tomorrow.
Besides intensely working (we’re sore and tired) we have managed to fit in some fun, too. I had my first fiddle lesson with Mike on Friday. Mike was my first music teacher nearly twenty years ago. It’s a little weird to be back sitting in his studio after a ten year hiatus. We learned a hornpipe and worked on some tunes I already knew. We’ve also played music for fun with our former WMD band mates Todd and Barb. Todd and his wife Gretchen left Helena right after we hit the road and they returned to stay a couple of weeks ago. Fortuitous timing for all of us.
Today we are celebrating Burt’s birthday with a trip to see some live local theater. The Full Monty is on at Helena’s Grandstreet Theater. I am embarrassed to admit this is my first visit to our local theater institution. As they say better late than never. It took a while for me to figure out my husband is a fan of live theater. I grew up in Drama Club and drifted away. We’re both looking forward to this hilarious and bawdy show.
This beautiful kitchen is already a thing of the past. Twenty-two years ago Burt and his partner Ralph built this house for our clients. Twenty-two years ago Burt said the kitchen and dining room were a bad design. Burt thought the dividing wall should be removed. Twenty-two years later Burt is getting what he wants. This morning we started demolition. Every nail I pull I think, “Why did he build this so well. Couldn’t he have skipped a few of these nails?”
If your worried about these beautiful cabinets, have no fear of waste. These old cabinets have a new home. Next year you might see us reinstalling them somewhere else. This year’s job includes the kitchen remodel, a master bath and laundry room remodel and new flooring throughout the main floor. After three hours I’m already sore. It’s going to be a long summer as I get into carpentry condition.
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.
These photos are a flashback to work in Oregon for a special family. This six person group wanted a bigger dining room table. Burt can’t make fine furniture with the tools we carry so he suggested Craig’s List or eBay. Burt even found a few second hand tables for sale in the area and the family insisted they wanted a table by Burt no matter how primitive. So Burt built a picnic table and it is large. There’s plenty of room for six people and their school work, crafts, meals, etc. The new table even allows the eldest boy to lock his personal chair to the table for safe keeping. You’ll have to ask him why. I didn’t dare stir up family drama and inquire as to who might be a chair thief.
Today we are parked at a friend’s/client’s place in Templeton, California. We are in wine and olive country. The ocean is nearby. Bridge, too. Barry and Laura are people we met in Portal. They’re engaged and we’ll be playing music for their wedding next month back in Portal. You’ll be hearing more as we get to work. First impression is good. There are a lot of turkeys and Barry offered me $5 for each gopher I kill.
Helena friends, Rosemary and Ed, took a day off from their campground hosting duties and Carl Washburn State Park to visit us on the sunny side of the mountains. Ed alternately blames us and credits us for inspiring their semi-nomadic lifestyle. He and Rosemary spend a few months spring and fall back in Helena, Montana and the rest of the time they are volunteering in Death Valley of other parks or they are simply wandering the world. They visited Baja this past winter and are joining us in the Galapagos soon. Take it from them, it’s fun to travel with the GCs. Food is plentiful and tasty and the dogs play. Sometimes there’s songs to sing. If you’re really lucky Rosemary will dance. Our visit was a good treatment for the eclipse hangover I’m suffering.
Everybody has vacated our current site and we are (or Burt is) back at work. It’s very quiet around here. We played some Bridge and some music and have done on-line shopping to prepare for our next season of wandering. Both of us need new footwear for the Galapagos. Yesterday another wandering duo, Rolf and Bonnie of Portal, AZ, stopped by. Rolf and Bonnie had just visited the Galapagos so they had useful ideas on what to think about as we try to get ready. They even offered us the use of a rolling duffle bag that can be carried backpack style. Our trip to Europe showed us we have left duffle bag days behind and yet the gNash has no room for real luggage. We hardly ever have to pack and this year we are taking three international trips. One person in our party, and I know you’re thinking it was me but it wasn’t, over packed and over shopped for Europe. Some items purchased remain unused. But he is ready for a nice night out. I am pleased he has some stylish pants and shoes for the next time somebody invites us someplace stylish. The islands on the equator are not that place.
Below are two screen shots I took while exploring the interwebz. The NYTimes had a funny article on how the government classifies and describes jobs. Here is the LINK. I think the USA government must have last talked to a carpenter in 1883. He was probably some immigrant from Eastern Europe building a robber baron’s house on Long Island. According to the database here are some skills required by carpenters: Analyzing limb speed. Torso strength. Here are some unneeded attributes: Do not have to speak. No active listening. No knowledge of theology or philosophy. Penguins on toast (my new patented expletive). What world is this? In 2017 we have power tools and clients requiring massive therapeutic talks. You cannot be a successful carpenter without an ability to speak clearly, design, and measure accurately. You must be extremely familiar with gravity. In fact you must be very careful with gravity. I always joke that you have to practically have a degree in marriage counseling.
By using the tool you can find the opposite job to one you currently have. I put in carpenter and came up with physicist. This is a major data fail. And funny, too. I’d say carpenters are applied physicists. Both groups measure and build and understand the laws of nature. Carpenters are the original physicist. If civilization falls down around us I’d rather have a carpenter nearby than a physicist but I think both would be handy for putting up shelters and bridges. Carpenters are just easier to talk to than physicists.
It is a very entertaining game. I put in environmental engineer (me) and came up with an opposite of meat packer. I will happily say I am repulsed by meat plants and meat packing. This analysis was spot on both in the details of the job description and the philosophy behind the jobs. Industrialized meat packing is an environmental scourge.
Play the game and report back here with your jobs.