This is just a quick post to give you the link to my most recent Scuttlefish piece titled Hope, Heartbreak and Hope. What I Learned from Directing an NGO in Mexico’s Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park. A Scuttlefish Feature. Please click on over and check it out. The videos and photos are pretty amazing thanks to editor, Chris Dixon’s input.
If you read this blog regularly, then you know that I’ve struggled over the last couple of years with living on my own. The loneliness tends to creep in around dinner time and sticks around until I fall asleep or numb it out with one of my three go-to additions (TV, food, booze). I’ve tried to remedy this unpleasant feeling in other, more productive ways – meditation, working and playing hard (basically keeping busy), and working with two wonderful Huichol shamans (more on that soon) – but I remain susceptible to its pangs more often than I care to admit. Nevertheless, I think it’s a basic human necessity to share your life with someone with whom you share a special intimate bond.
However, a recent sojourn into that tricky realm brought to my attention that, more often than not, there is a barrier between me and the rest of you that makes having a healthy relationship difficult, if not impossible. It’s nothing unique. I’m pretty sure there are others who have constructed, knowingly or not, a wall between them and the rest of us too. I picture mine as being constructed of red brick, old clay bricks, crumbling so there is a substantial pile of red rubble lying on the ground near its base. The mortar is failing too, large chunks of it are missing in places and the corners of the wall are uneven and lower than the rest of the wall. It’s old and failing, but it still separates me from you. Sometimes I can’t even see or hear you from the other side.
Your wall might be made of stone, concrete, straw bails, or maybe it’s just a sheet of plastic that you can pull down in one fell swoop, but it’s there, separating us, keeping us from connecting. You say I’m just writing in metaphor, but I say it may as well be real because there is nothing more powerful in keeping you from what you want than FEAR.
Fear keeps me bottled up too often. I don’t write more because I’m paralyzed by fear. I don’t reach out to more people because I’m afraid. And fear keeps me from expressing who I really am, in so many ways, far too often.
The blessing has been that whereas I’ve been oblivious to its influence on my behavior for most of my life, I’m finally starting to see the fear, to recognize it and my attempts at subverting it. I see now how I’ve hurt myself, lost sleep, and a lot of hair trying to outrun the fear. A lot of my actions – like surfing hard, stressing over my body image, and needing to know all the answers – are just me trying to cover up my intense fear that you’ll discover I’m imperfect and therefore unacceptable and unlovable. I’m so afraid of rejection that I do back flips in an attempt to prove to you that I deserve your love and attention.
The funny thing is that it took being rejected to make me see how much I am motivated by trying to avoid that very rejection.
I fell for someone recently, and as is typical for me, I fell hard, fully, unabashedly, and, it turns out, foolhardily. And at first he seemed to be falling too – we were two people falling into the fuzzy abyss of love with big smiles on our faces, holding hands on the way down. We seemed to read each others minds and synchronicities abounded when we were together. For the first couple of weeks I couldn’t walk down the beach without finding heart-shaped rocks. Not just “a” heart-shaped rock, but rock after rock. One of them, about an inch across and pink, was almost perfect! The Universe was obviously telling us our love was divinely orchestrated.
But then he let go and I kept falling.
I fell for a while before I realized that I was on my own in feeling the way I wanted so badly to feel and to be felt about. I was pretty deep down in that hole when I finally had to accept that I was alone down there with a goofy grin on my face and holding on to nothing.
That was hard. It felt a lot like someone kicked me in the stomach with steel-toed boots on. I guess it was the impact of hitting the hard reality that was waiting for me at the bottom of my free-fall into unrequited love that knocked the wind out of me. What really happened was that over the course of several weeks the other person’s actions (like his reaction to me giving him that pink heart-shaped rock) and what those actions said about how he felt sank in, and I had to admit to myself, “He’s just not that into you.” Yeah, no one wants to hear that, even if it’s your very own heart gently sitting you down and telling you like it is for your own good.
I cried a lot that evening. I took a walk down the beach as the sun was setting and felt the hurt and the anger bubbling up to the surface despite my attempts to keep them down. It all came out in a big blubbering, tear- and regret-filled emotional waterfall. I was angry with myself for being such a fool, for jumping into the deep end of a relationship once again, for wanting it to be what I’ve been waiting for so bad that I rushed in without giving things time to cure, without giving either of us time to discern whether this was the path forward or not. As the anger dissipated, it was replaced by sadness as I felt, once again, the hole in my heart where loneliness lives.
“Oh, it’s you again,” I said with resignation. “So, tell me, when are you going to leave for good?”
“As soon as you learn to look for love within.”
“I’m working on it,” I said, looking skyward at a sky filled with so much beauty I knew my thoughts were heard elsewhere.
This experience has taught me something that I’ve been unaware of until now. It turns out I’m scared a lot. I’m running scared shitless of what other people think, afraid of people’s judgment, and especially their rejection. My whole life story has been driven by me trying to avoid being rejected. And I’ve said it before, and someone wiser probably said it long before, fear is a poor motivator. It’s a lot like running from your own shadow. You can never outrun it. And I’m tired of running.
The good news is that somehow during this experience, I realized that this heart of mine is full of love. As I ran over in my mind what happened and how things had fizzled so fast, I considered my actions in both romantic and other relationships and saw that they are more often than not caring, giving, and kind – all demonstrations of love. Gratitude, appreciation, and empathy are all rooted in love as well and these are emotions I experience daily. This made me realize that the fear that has driven me so often is not so much solid like a wall, but merely a smokescreen hiding the love that has always been right here inside me. To transform it and pass to the other side where we can all connect, I just need to turn that love inwards and recognize that I deserve my own loving embrace as much as anyone else does. So far, I mostly know this intellectually, but little by little I’m beginning to feel it in my soul.
And I can feel it right here in my heart, that unconditional love that I keep looking for elsewhere…I’m getting close, so very close.
I’m amazed to discover it’s been three months since I posted anything here. While that doesn’t necessarily mean I haven’t been writing…it does mean I’ve been writing very little – a poem here, a few hundred words in my memoir there, and several lame-duck attempts at writing a blog post that never took off. Recently, however, I was spurred on by both the desire to do something about an environmental disaster-waiting-to-happen and the promise of some coinage in return for my words. Below you’ll find a link to the resulting article about a deep sea phosphate mining operation proposed for just off the coast of Baja California. Like the title says:
Please take the time to sign the petition linked to at the bottom of the article and share it on all your social media links. Thanks and Happy Holidays to you all!
During the second week of September, 2014, a Category 3 hurricane by the name of Odile had the tip of the Baja Peninsula in her sights. On the 14th, at approximately 11:30PM, she moved ashore and wreaked havoc. She was one of the strongest storms ever to make landfall on the peninsula and easily the strongest storm in recorded history ever to make a direct hit on Los Cabos. (The only storm comparable was Hurricane John, which in 2006, hit a much less populous area here in the East Cape where, in comparison, only a small number of people were affected). In her wake, Odile left two cites, Cabo San Lucas and especially San Jose del Cabo and their quarter of a million citizens without power, communications or running water. Because I live off-the-grid, I had power, running water, and even an Internet connection. Between here and town though, power poles and major electrical towers were downed everywhere, making it difficult or impossible to drive the local roads. Most homes had serious damage, especially those on the beachfront, which were inundated by a storm surge created by massive waves unheard of in the region. In the panic after the storm the stores were quickly emptied of any and all of their contents. With no way to resupply – the airport and roads were impassable – people who hadn’t prepared for the storm, or who lost everything, were left completely destitute. To quote six year old Lucas Nobili, Odile was “quite a bitch.”
The good news is that ten days after the storm hit, the citizenry of Los Cabos have restored order, begun a massive cleanup effort, and with the help of the federal electrical commission, power is being reconnected little by little, allowing stores to reopen.
My account of going through the storm, alone, has been published on an online magazine called The Scuttlefish. Check it out by clicking on the link below and let me know what you think.
In my previous life, back before I discovered Baja and surfing, I shared my life with two Rhodesian Ridgebacks (and a husband too, but he’s a whole other story). Their names were Kipling and Fletcher. I got Kipling in 1994 when she was eight weeks old, after visiting the breeder and meeting her “mom” and “dad” and being thoroughly impressed by their quiet strength and nobility. I took raising Kipling seriously – some who knew me then might even say obsessively – because knowing she would become a large and very powerful dog (brushing up against 100 pounds), I didn’t ever want her to get out of control. The result was a dog that was a pleasure to walk on leash, who came to work with me every day and slept quietly under my desk until something was amiss or I pulled out my lunch, who sat nobly beside me in the passenger seat of my truck, buckled in with her special doggie seat belt. And because I socialized her to within an inch of her life, she also loved everyone and greeted them with an adorable full-body wag that caught most people off guard. If she really liked them, she would try to go through their legs while doing the body wag, lifting shorter people up off the ground and giving several woman in skirts an unexpected thrill.
The best thing about Kipling, and I’m told Rhodesian Ridgebacks in general, is how discerning she was. She loved everyone with two exceptions. In both cases, they were strange men who proved to be up to no good. In both instances, she put herself between me and the man and growled so menacingly that it was clear they were not to come near me. A Ridgeback conveys that they mean business like few other breeds. I’ve missed the sense of safety that comes from knowing your best friend has your back.
When I left my husband and moved into my bachelorette apartment, Kipling came with me. But when I made the decision to move to Mexico I was faced with a dilemma – should I bring a large dog on a journey across two countries and on into a third where I didn’t know precisely where or how I would live? I wrestled with that question for some time before deciding that the best thing for Kipling was to return her to the home she’d shared with me, Fletcher and my ex for several years. I’ve always wondered if I did right by her, if we would have done okay down here together. I’ve missed her and every time I think about leaving her and the fact that I’ll never see her again, I tear up.
In the past two years, I’ve lost four dogs to old age, two of them medium to large dogs who were excellent guards, barking what seemed like vicious warnings to those on the outside of the gate. They weren’t vicious dogs, but they did a good job acting the part and I believe took protecting me and this property seriously. Of the remaining three dogs, one is too old and infirm to fend off much more than a pesky fly; Peanut barks a good game when I’m home, but she purportedly stays in the garage if I’m gone; and Millie, while she might bark and nip at strangers when I’m home, like Peanut, does nothing if I’m away. I miss having dogs on the property who defend it consistently.
So about a year ago, I started thinking about my Ridgebacks and how they are such excellent, discerning guards, and just big and scary looking enough to get people’s attention. A couple of months ago I went so far as to contact a RR rescue organization to see if they could help me adopt a Ridgeback that needed a home. No dice, they said, they can’t adopt out of country. I put the word out with friends and on Facebook in the hopes that someone would know someone who knew of a Ridgeback that needed rescuing. I even went so far as to consider the possibility of traveling to Jeffreys Bay at some point in the future to visit my buddy Derek Hynd (more on that later) and find a Ridgeback while getting some epic surf. Where better than the land where they originated to find one?
And then, last Tuesday, I was at the veterinary clinic buying more meds for Doobie, when at the end of the transaction, I said to the vet, Dr. Felipe, “I’m looking for a dog…” Before I could say another word, he replied, “Follow me.” So I did.
He took me to the shaded kennel area behind the clinic and from about 15 feet away pointed at a medium to large red dog in one of the dog runs. When we entered the area, she barked at us three times – a deep, resonate bark that would make anyone sit up and take notice. The cage she was in was under heavy shade, but I could see that she had a black muzzle and black-rimmed dark amber eyes, a large white blaze on her chest and white socks on her front feet. I held my breath a little and listened as Felipe began to tell me about her.
“She has just started to bark when people come back here. She will make a good guard dog.” He said he believed she was part Mastiff. I was dubious because of her size and relatively fine facial features. He said, “and she has some Boxer in her,” and then he said, “And some Rhodesian Ridgeback.” My heart did a little leap.
I tried to remain objective, so I asked him, “What makes you think she is part Ridgeback?”
He took me over to inspect her. “Look, she has a ridge,” he said.
I looked at her back and saw nothing, but he directed me to look at her neck. And there it was – a circular whirl of hair just below the occipital ridge and a length of hair growing at odds to the rest of her coat that runs the length of her neck. While it might not be up to breed standard (the ridge is supposed to start between the shoulder blades and run the length of the back), it most definitely is a ridge.
“Kismet,” I thought.
I had to leave and return for her, so he had his staff bathe her, and when I returned and they brought her out to the waiting area, I was surprised to see how beautiful she was. I gave her some barbecue chicken I’d brought along as a bribe and was impressed at how gently she took it. Her friendly nature reassured me. The fact that she made it all the way home on the bumpy, windy road without any “incidents” further made me think I was doing the right thing by adopting her. To prove me further right, she promptly relieved herself when I let her out of the car.
That night walking with her and the other dogs down the beach, I was astounded at how much she looks and moves like Kipling did. She has the same long, strong, sinuous body, beautiful deep red coat, and graceful gait. While she may be a little long and masculine in muzzle and her ears may not hang in the proper “houndy” fashion, I think there’s more Ridgeback in this baby than either Mastiff or Boxer. The hair on her head is as soft as velvet, just like Kipling’s, a tactile memory I’d long forgotten.
She’s fit into our home almost seamlessly, behaving like this has always been her home. After one night and a morning in the dog run outside (as much to give my dogs a chance to get used to her as the other way around), I quickly gave her run of the property. Her second night here I let her sleep inside because it was clear from the way she stayed so close to me that she wasn’t going to spook and take off. She lies a few feet away on the floor as I write this, legs outstretched, eyes half closed, trying, like the rest of us, to find some cool in the oppressive heat of a tropical summer afternoon.
And I don’t know if she senses it, but to me, she feels like home.
The weather in Baja is gorgeous about 95% of the time. There are more blue-sky days here on average than most places on Earth. We get our fair share of wind in the winter, which is why this is such a great wind and kite surfing locale, but those are nice constant winds of between 15 and 25 miles per hour. Summer winds whipped up by warm tropical disturbances are different – they are meaner, stronger, and can wreak serious havoc when they exceed the 60mph mark. They are typically preceded by skies heavy with grey clouds and sometimes thunder and lightning. Fortunately, thanks to modern weather predicting technologies, we usually know when they are coming and can prepare our homes by putting up window-protecting storm shutters, removing delicate window screens, and packing all the patio furniture and garden decorations away in garages and bodegas for safe keeping.
There is an energy of expectation and suspense that surrounds preparing for a storm. Perhaps that’s what I get off on, same as the adrenaline rush from surfing, that makes me embrace inclement weather. When I was a kid in Ontario, Canada and a big snowstorm blew up, I used to wrap myself in my father’s parka and walk through the streets of my small hometown buffeted by the wind. His coat reached mid-way down my calves and I had to wrap my arms around myself to pull it in and keep the frigid wind out. I think I felt more invincible in his coat than I would in my own snow gear, it was like he was there with me, his arms wrapped about me to fend off the weather. Icy snow flakes bit into the skin of my face and blew into the small space between my neck and the woolen scarf tightly cinched there. The sounds of the storm – the wind whipping along those otherwise quiet streets, through the trees so that their branches clicked and scratched out a dissonant beat, my boots crunching on the gathering snow drifts, the creak of icy power lines swaying overhead – accompanied me on my trek past small houses nestled into deep snow drifts. I relished the cold biting my nose, the sensation of ice crystals growing from the tips of my eyelashes, of cold air rushing into my mouth and down into my lungs. I’d walk the perimeter of our town in the dark of an early winter evening, the streetlights catching the flash of so many snowflakes flying about wildly in blasts of a northeast wind.
I approached rainy days in summer similarly – I would walk the streets of my town or the dirt round that defined the circumference of the lake where we had a cottage, getting soaked to the skin, shoes squishing, my socks falling from the added weight of the water they’d absorbed, gathering around my ankles. If it was windy, those rainy days almost made me feel as alive as a stormy winter night did. I embraced the power of the wind.
Living at the tropical end of the Baja Peninsula could challenge the most ardent lover of wind not to forsake their love for calmer locales. The other day we had an unexpected chubasco (storm) come through in the early, soft lit hours of the morning. Aside from some thunder and lightning that woke me at 4:30am, the storm front hit with little warning at 6:40am. The sound of the wind wailing through window screens and the patter of large rain drops hitting the tiled patio outside my bedroom door roused me out of a sound, dream-filled sleep. In the time it took me to haul my still sleep-drenched body out of bed and wrap myself in a sarong, a howling gale had blown up out of nowhere. As I hurried down the stairs to gather patio furniture cushions, the wind grabbed my sarong, yanking it off with surprising force. I pulled it back around my chest in vain, the wind lashing out and ripping it off once again. I threw it on the dining table and ran naked about the house battening down the hatches.
The dogs, spooked by what were now 60 to 70 mile per hour winds, did their best to trip me up as I went from door to door to window, closing and latching them against the onslaught of wind and rain. The interior of the house looked like a wind tunnel experiment – papers and magazines were flying everywhere, window blinds flapped madly. Relief washed over me when Doobie, the senior member of the dog pack, padded up as quickly as her arthritic legs could carry her while I collected the cushions from the patio furniture. There was no time to get the patio furniture inside. I knew I had to pull the three sliders leading to the ocean-side patio closed NOW. But the largest one refused to latch – the force of the wind bent it so the two sides could not make contact. I left it and ran to close the windows upstairs.
When I returned to the living room, the wind had picked up another notch and ungodly sounds were coming from the unlatched door. It groaned and creaked in protest as I watched it bend and bow in response to the force of the wind. I pictured it exploding in a cloud of dagger-like shards and, in response, retreated to the garage, herding the dogs along with me. From the garage I heard a plaintiff meowing, a distress call from the bushes just outside the leeward side of the house. Responding to my encouragement Mochi the cat shot across the driveway and into the garage, managing somehow to escape getting soaked despite the huge rain drops that now pummeled the driveway. Even Mochi seemed to understand that the living room was a high risk zone and remained in the garage with the rest of us.
The wind slammed and shook the garage doors in a cacophony of metal on metal and the rain began to pour from the gutters in a torrent. Ungodly sounds were emanating from the house – moaning and groaning and howling her protests against the force of the wind.
I’m not sure how long we waited, but the wind soon weakened enough that I felt safe returning to the living room to try to close the slider once again. With a great deal of effort and several tries I managed to latch it, relief washing over me. A large puddle of water had gathered inside the three sliding glass doors – the rain forced through the tiny space between the doors and their tracks. As I mopped up the water, I felt the sting of wind-blown sand hitting my leg and discovered that the wind had also unseated one of the sliders and opened a quarter-inch space between the frame and the door. Amazing! Those doors are heavy!
Fortunately, the storm only lasted a couple of hours, but she managed to wreak some serious havoc all along the coast nevertheless. Here three screens were bent and torn off windows, several others tweaked out of shape, the screens stretched and pulled from their frames. The cover for the barbecue is MIA. It was weighed down with three heavy clay floor tiles, but the wind must have got under it, threw the tiles to one side and launched that heavy cover like it was a plastic grocery bag. It’s out there somewhere in the desert. My neighbors had palapas torn apart or knocked over, roof tiles ripped off, gates and unlatched doors pulled from their hinges. Coconuts and fronds turned to ballistics, felled from palms in a frightening volley. It’s amazing no one was hurt.
In the cleanup afterwards, we found sand everywhere. Sand blew into every crack and crevice, collected in large volumes all over the patios and as high as the second story. It blew so hard, it blasted the paint right off the metal gate to the beach.
In my twelve years living here at the southern tip of Baja, I’ve never before experienced a storm of this magnitude come up so quickly. So while I do love inclement weather, I prefer the kind that comes up slowly, with warning, and time to prepare. And the feelings I have towards hurricanes lie somewhere other than in the “love” spectrum. We’re in the thick of hurricane season now and with sea and air temperatures higher than we’ve experienced in several years, it bodes to be an active one with storms continuing to form well into October. I beseech Mother Nature, keep those Category 4 hurricanes well out to sea this year.
No, that’s not what this blog is about. Get your mind out of the gutter.
I just got back from a surfing/kiting trip that took me North up the Baja peninsula to a special spot that is even more isolated than where I live. Not only is it considerably cooler there than here, it is also arguably one of the best places in the world to surf . But it turns out it is also a great place to kitesurf as favorable winds come up most afternoons. This combination of wind and waves is ideal. The learning curve was steep and a few kites were critically injured along the way, but I finally seem to have figured out how to surf along the face of a wave while connected to a kite without letting it overpower what I want to do on the wave or to fall out of the sky right into the impact zone where the waves get to eat it for lunch. It’s not called the “impact zone” for nothin’.
On this visit to Baja Special Spot #1, the waves were small enough to make most people pack up their gear and head elsewhere. We’re talking ankle slappers here, knee ticklers at best. However, I was fortunate to find myself in the company of master boat builder Dennis Choate. Dennis owns DenCho Marine and tackles difficult and high-tech projects such as the design and construction of large ocean-racing sailboats with gusto. He also loves shaping surfboards – big ones, little ones, single finned, tri-finned and quads. A look around his large three-bay garage and multiple storage rooms revealed that he has a particular penchant for making boards that you might call tankers. His quiver boasts several boards over 10 feet in length. The longest one measures 14 feet and is intended as a tandem board, but on our second day out, Dennis rode it solo all the way to the beach over and over again.
After trying the 9’2” I’d ridden on my previous visit and having it stall out soon after I popped up, I realized I wasn’t going to get very far on that particular board in the tiny surf. One of Dennis’ friends was getting out of the water and asked me if I wanted to try the 12-foot board he’d been riding. It was a board that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the big surf at Makaha in the early 60s – gently pointed nose, pin tail, but wider around the middle than a more modern gun and with very subtle nose and tail rocker. To my delight and great pleasure that board glided me along the faces of the little waves where the shorter board had stalled. Gradually I figured out where to stand to get it to turn, how to stall so the faster section of the wave would catch up with me, and I took some walks towards the nose and back again. Standing there erect, feeling the energy of the wave push me and that massive board forward, the wind in my face, I recalled an image I’d seen of Hawaiians at the turn of the 20th century standing tall while riding their large wooden surfboards straight in to the beach at Waikiki. In that moment I imagined I shared the pure joy of gliding along those small waves with those original surfers across the ages.
My last wave that morning was a good one – a little larger than the rest (maybe thigh high) – and it took me all the way into the beach, a ride of some 400 odd meters. Dennis and his buddy commented later that they’d seen my ride from the restaurant on the beach. “Just like Waikiki, but without the crowds” said Dennis, making the stoke rise in me once again at the memory of that pure feeling.
The next day as Dennis and I sat and waited for a set to appear, he on the 14-foot tandem board and I on yet another board he’d shaped – this time a narrower wine red 12-footer with softer rails, and a blunter nose and tail – I remarked at how much fun it was to surf such tiny waves, and how much I appreciated the boards he’d shaped that made those rides possible.
Dennis smiled knowingly and replied, “Probably 90 percent of surfers have never experienced what you are talking about. They are too caught up with riding short boards and bigger waves. They look at surf like this and think it can’t be ridden, but that’s because they don’t have the right equipment.”
A wave that was barely a ripple on the water’s surface, probably under six inches in height, passed under us.
“You see, you could have caught that wave on the board you’re riding.”
I considered what he said and wondered at how many people missed out on the fun I was having. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up surrounded by surf culture and came to the sport so late in life, but I’m surprised that so many people would turn their noses up at small, but still very fun surf. Admittedly, an 12-foot board is not an inexpensive toy, nor an easy one to haul around. I could barely carry the boards I’d ridden, resorting to an awkward bear-hug technique to get the boards to and from the surf. I tried carrying one on my head, but it was so heavy I could feel my neck straining under the load. Then it occurred to me, what I really needed was a Waikiki beachboy. Joyful glide and muscle rippled beachboys! Super tanker surfboards are sounding better all the time!
How about you? What’s the longest board and smallest surf you’ve ever ridden?