My garbage doesn’t stink. It’s entirely dry and doesn’t attract flies or other critters. Now don’t get me wrong, this is not analogous to saying that my shit doesn’t stink – it does. And it would surely draw flies were it to lie around like our garbage does. It takes a long time to fill a bag of garbage when its devoid of organic waste.

You see I’ve been composting ever since I moved to the big house on the beach in Vinorama. All our kitchen waste goes into a little bowl on the counter and, once it is filled or the fruit flies get out of control because the lid is broken, I take it outside to a five gallon bucket where it continues to rot and ferment into a stinky, slimy, maggot-ridden mess. From there it goes to the pile of esterico (manure in Spanish) to continue putrefying and eventually turn into black gold – beautiful, nutrient-rich soil from which healthy green leaves on my garden plants are born.

The desert soil in this area is a virtual nutrient wasteland. Being so close to the beach, the soil on our property is sandy with little organic matter in it, which means it doesn’t hold moisture very well either. So it’s important to amend the soil with compost and esterico, adding what’s missing. In its absence, many native plants have come up with ways to deal with the lack of nitrogen. There are a lot of legumes sporting bean pods just like the sugar snap peas in your garden. Trees like the Palo Verde bear big pods filled with seeds reflecting their family ties to the legume family.

Legumes have the ability to “fix” atmospheric nitrogen. The atmosphere is 78 percent nitrogen, so some plants carry little bacteria in their roots that help them grab the nitrogen out of the air spaces in the soil around them, providing their host-plant with a readily available source. As a biology student I had to dissect the root nodules containing the bacteria to look at them and appreciate the importance of their role in plant biology and adaptation. The inside of the nodules is deep red, the color of wine, because of the iron they contain and you can see little individual rosy cells of the bacteria under a microscope. It’s pretty amazing in a geeky-biology-kinda-way.

I’ve been doing another kind of composting here in Vinorama too. I didn’t realize this was what was going on, but Natalie Goldberg made me understand this process in her book Writing Down the Bones.

I’ve been composting the story I want to write.

Ruminating on it, remembering details and subtleties of my experiences. Trying to figure out a beginning and an end, themes and why it’s important to write it all down. I always liked the term ruminating for what I’ve been doing because of its connection to large gentle animals – ruminants – like cows and deer, who have multiple stomachs and chew their food more than once. Using this methaphor, I’d been chewing the cud of my story…until Natalie came along. Then I realized where I’d been going wrong – composting, as a metaphor for the thinking that accompanies the writing process, produces the better end result – black gold. Writers who ruminate, well…they just end up with shit.


Six is Enough

Mexico is not an ideal location for animal lovers. Compared to the US, Canada and particularly Europe, where dogs join their owners in restaurants, Mexican dogs, cats, birds, horses, donkeys, cows, rabbits and iguanas have a pretty tough life. Perhaps this is why we have had as many as eight dogs at one time.

Doobie and Ruby were dumped off on the road above the property. Zee was brought to the house by a friend who found her in an arroyo the only surviving (barely) member of her dumped litter. Lobo was abandoned as an adult when his owner went into rehab for a bad cocaine and crack habit and his wife took the kids to the mainland. Peanut was found on the side of the road near the dump after a tropical storm. Dakini is the only one here who was adopted as an eight week old puppy.

There have been many others:

Brown puppy under the big tree by the Santa Cruz arroyo
Perla & Una
The mom with five pups at the dump
Eight puppies in a box on the side of the road

There is an endless supply of abandoned and abused dogs that need to be taken care of. Driving through town it is unusual not to see at least one neglected or abandoned animal. And people like to drive out here to the middle of nowhere and dump off their unwanted dogs.

We are currently holding steady at six dogs. At least we were until a week ago. That is when a short little beige dog was seen lurking around the property near the road. He was discouraged from hanging out, but nevertheless he continued to appear. Soon he was seen trotting after Lobo, our lone male. A Jeff to his Mutt.

Lobo is a big dog, with what appears to be some German Shepherd and a little Husky in him. His thick double coat insulates him well in winter and in spring he goes through a molt like none of our other dogs. I can fill bags and bags with his hair when I brush him. He has penetrating and expressive eyes.

This new dog is short coated and short-legged, so they make a funny pair as they trot around the property and down the beach. Wherever Lobo is, there is Chapo. Ya, he’s got a name now. I know. That’s probably not the smartest move, but Felipe is convinced that’s his name.

Lobo and his little buddy

Chapo is for “chaparito,” which means short in Spanish. And he is a Chapo. He knows his name. Felipe speculates that it must have been his name for him to respond so instantly to it. He is quick and smart and likes to be pet. It took a few hotdogs to win him over, but now he’ll run over for some love if I get real low and call him. He won’t come near me if I’m standing up tall.

Chapo is also sporting a pair of balls. At least for a few more hours. He’s going to the vet today to be “fixed.” I’m sure if he were given all the details he’d argue about the appropriateness of the term. “Sounds more like broken if you ask me Señora,” he’d say sounding a bit too much like the Taco Bell chihuahua.

Despite the fact that he is slowly pawing his way into my heart with his adorable short-legged trot, spunky nature and soft coat, he is not staying. There is a humane society celebrity golf tournament planned for the second weekend in April and Chapo is going – with none other than the former Governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura and his lovely wife. Where we hope he will be adopted by one of the lovely attendees. So in the meantime, we’re taking care of business and getting him ready for the big event.

I’m pretty sure Lobo will be crushed.

The Revolution

Never before has my self-imposed isolation been an issue for me. I have reveled in my out-post living, the silence, the not-seeing-anyone-for-days-at-a-time-edness of it. But now that I am getting serious about writing, I have become all too aware of the things that are readily available to those living in large city centers that are, at first glance, not available here.

Take writers groups for example. The people in the know say if you’re a writer you need to be part of one so you can get regular feedback, bounce ideas off one another, help get over blocks, provide and receive inspiration. City dwellers need only to look up “writer’s group INSERT CITY NAME” and a list of resources so long it’s hard to take it all in appears out of the ether. Especially if you replace INSERT CITY NAME with a city full of artists like San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Then there is the conference and workshop thing – they cost a lot of money to travel to and there are no conferences or workshops being held within driving distance of my home (if you know differently, please speak up!!). Ever the optimist, I didn’t let that detail stop me, but after approaching one “expert” to see what they would charge to come and run a workshop for a tiny group of writers willing to make the trek here to participate, that isn’t going to happen any time soon. (That is, they want too much damn money despite the offer of a week’s worth of free accommodation in a highly desirable tropical vacation destination).

But I have come up with two solutions to the limitations presented by my current circumstances. Following the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, a small group (three in total) of us have begun to create the closest thing to a writers group that can be conducted over the internet. We are sharing our work and our opinions and giving much needed encouragement and support.

And then there is this internet thing itself.

There is a revolution occurring. It may come as little surprise to you the readers of a blog, that the nature of publishing, reading, writing and the research that informs it has changed dramatically over the past several years. The internet has changed the way we communicate, shop, determine the meaning of a word (when was the last time you used a printed-word dictionary?) and interact with our fellow human beings. Never before have we had such easy access to the worlds of complete strangers.

Recognizing this revolutionary shift in popular media, publishers of newspapers and magazines began many years ago to provide their content online, much of it for free. The days of paying for subscriptions that gather unread by the front door is long gone. Online magazines are an incredible source of information and inspiration, provide content unimaginable and inexhaustible – all of it available NOW. No more looking in the closet for that edition you never read, or the one you did and want to revisit. And search engines point you in the right direction, to the correct source or to something completely new.

Escape Into Life is one such online journal that I recently stumbled upon while surfing through the blogosphere. It is full of incredible visual arts, poetry, fiction and non-fiction writing. It is the best quality art I have found on line, ever. It’s like going to a excellent gallery and an ivy league English department all from my little chair here in the middle of nowhere in Mexico. A little writers workshop, university of the ether, that inspires and pushes one to ponder the craft of writing. At no cost to me. My world just expanded several fold and my excuses are dwindling.


Can You Hear Me?

When you read do you hear the voice inside your head? Are you conscious of your own voice saying each word or do you absorb each sentence as a concept rather than reading each word as though reading it aloud?

A friend of mine has multiple names depending on whom he is interacting with: to the Mexicans he has one name, to Americans and Canadians another and to his countrymen he has a third. This is a common phenomenon in a land filled with foreigners who’s names are not always easily pronounced by the native tongue. In my friend’s case, he has a common name easily translated into the usage common for the language spoken.

I make a habit of rereading an email before I send it. I do this mainly to ensure that my meaning is clear, knowing through ample experience that email is a notoriously poor medium for communication. [Never before have I had so many misunderstandings as I have since email’s explosion as a form of communication.] So I take the time to reread and edit what I write in emails in an often-unsuccessful attempt to avoid pissing off my family, friends and acquaintances.

Rereading the email I noticed that although I used the “native” spelling of his name, the spelling that he uses, I still “said” it using my Canadianized version of his name. I did not read what was written, I said what I have come to call him. And it struck me: How often, when we read something, does our interpretation suffer from the effect of our biases, cultural and otherwise? (I realize this is not exactly a groundbreaking concept, but it became very glaringly apparent and tangible for the case in point.)

Using email again as an example, it is clear that often times if someone is in a pissy mood or you’ve had disagreements with them previously, they approach your messages with a certain bias that leads them to read them with certain expectations and, well, at times a real chip on their shoulder. The chances of them misinterpreting your message in this case is, I would venture, incredibly high – higher yet if it addresses a topic for which a certain disagreement already exists.

Similarly, in the case of a novel or essay, the subject matter may trigger memories or belief-systems that are loaded with emotions, positive or otherwise. Is it even conceivable to read something from a purely objective standpoint? How do our biases affect our ability to understand and, perhaps more importantly to the author, appreciate what the author is trying to share?

I once picked up Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid and could not get into it, did not like it and was mystified by the hype surrounding it expressed by my fellow university students (many of whom were in the Fine Arts). I therefore attributed my distaste for it to a scientifically stunted brain, to some lack or artistic handicap I surely possessed. A year or so later, under different circumstances, I picked the book up again, curious to see if I might find some shimmer of the beauty it was attributed that years earlier I could not see.

Low and behold, I could not put it back down. It spoke to me like nothing I’d read before. It was hauntingly beautiful, the most unique literature I’d ever read. I devoured it, read it non-stop, my head buried as I bumped into people in hallways moving from one room to the next, and then leaning against the counter in the lab where I pretended to be “working.”

In Boot Hill there are over 400 graves. It takes
the space of 7 acres. There is an elaborate gate
but the path keeps to no main route for it tangles
like branches of a tree among the gravestones.

300 of the dead in Boot Hill died violently
200 by guns, over 50 by knives
some were pushed under trains —a popular
and overlooked form of murder in the west.
Some from brain haemorrhages resulting from bar fights
at least 10 killed in barbed wire.

In Boot Hill there are only 2 graves that belong to women
and they are the only known suicides in that graveyard.

What had happened in the intervening months to change my ability to be touched by this work of literature is still beyond my comprehension. But there is a divinity in it, something mystical and other-worldly, something to do with voices we can only hear when the time is right. And I believe similarly that my previous inability to appreciate it must have something to do with a bias, or perhaps closedness is the better word (made up or not). A writer’s work is informed, we presume, by their experiences and their interpretations of these. Our work as reader is similarly enlightened (my choice of word is not at all accidental), lending a inherent bias to our interpretation of everything we read, but may further be influenced or, dare I say, stunted by the degree to which we can remain open to the message contained therein.


Dens of Inequity

Hope is perpetuated by the same people who want to take all of your hard earned money and give it to…who? They gave your money to the banks. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” and now the money lies in high interest rate T-bill accounts while young couples look at houses they can’t afford, can’t buy because there are no mortgages to be found ever since the credit is all locked up in money-making investments. In Mexico, people are going without food, eating one paltry meal a day: white rice -they may as well eat toilet paper- and pinto beans, tasteless pinto beans because they haven’t the money for lard or salt. Parents send their children to sell chiclets in the filthy streets of tourist towns, but the tourists aren’t coming any more because the drug lords run the welcome wagon and the banks own the farm. Drug-trade king pins don’t give a fuck if you need to get out of your frigid Canadian winter to get some much needed Vitamin D. “Eat some fucking fish! you selfish pricks!” they scream, sealing the deal with their spit on the ground. Big gobs of putrified, snot-filled, tabacco-stained spittle marking the place where they stand in black cowboy boots. Their eyes hidden behind aviator sunglasses, hair slicked back with that greasy shit that everyone uses in this God-forsaken country. A country defined by God, yet for which God forsakes even the most innocent. The chiclet kids and the babies born every day to mothers unable to read or write, living in dirt-floored, cardboard shacks in flood zones. No one cares. And they know it. Where is your hope now? When you know in your heart that no one else gives a damn, why care about them? Why not just take what you need, what you want? Look at how fat they are, filled to their eyeballs with tortillas and carne asada. You can’t remember the last time you had a piece of meat, but these bastards, they are drunk with food, falling over from the weight of their extended, over-ripe bellies full of sweet sustenance. You have three mouths to feed back in that little tarpaper shack with the stinking fetid river of all your neighbors’ shit flowing by so close that you can smell if two shacks over José had coffee with his beans at breakfast or not. If there were just some work. Where did it all go? Where did all those filthy stinking rich gringos go. Things were fat when you arrived and now the work has all dried up. There are fifty or more guys all begging for three spots digging ditches for some super cheap American guy building his dream home. “100 pesos a day,” he says. And you’ll be lucky if you get that. He knows there are more where you came from. They’d give your right arm for the chance at a hard day’s labor. Slack off nursing a fever and you’re fired, show up late and your fired, and so on the story goes. We walk into the pantry and try to decide what to eat because there is so much there to choose from we can’t possibly make up our minds. Surf and turf, lobster and scallops and shrimp and ham with turkey on the side. Enough food to kill us. With a side of pork and a case of the finest red wine. Let them eat cake!


This morning at 12:06am Eastern Time, while many of us slept, a dear friend living many thousands of miles away gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Meanwhile, I am making preparations to attend a baby shower this morning and then another one tomorrow. All around me young women, many of them my friends, are having children, creating families, following the natural course of their lives and molding the next generation.

While this is the path taken by most women, it is not to be for this one.

The Family is still an important cultural icon in Mexico. I am often regarded curiously or with pity by my Mexican neighbors when they discover I have no children of my own. I jokingly tell them I have six dogs and that is enough. I imagine they think “the joke is on you Señora.”

I often wonder if I will regret this turn of fate. I use the word fate because the decision has been made for me really. Circumstances have determined my current status as a woman in her 40s without children.

There is a sense however that it was never meant to be. I’ve never had that natural maternal instinct so many women have. I’ve never been drawn to babies or had the need to hold them and coo at them like my friends do. Quite the opposite actually. Typically I’m repelled by newborns, uncomfortable around them, let alone in the act of holding one. It is not until they are well into the toddler stage that they begin to catch my interest. I suppose I need for the interaction to go both ways. Perhaps it’s the lessened chance of ending up covered in bodily fluids that influences me.

For most of my life I thought my repulsion towards babies to be very unnatural and wondered if there wasn’t something wrong with me. But the feeling was clearly mutual. Babies have always gone into meltdown when they come into contact with me. Gradually, with each passing year and the realization that it isn’t in the cards, a feeling of acceptance has descended upon me.

A friend said once “It is not your path to be a parent. You are destined for something different, to share your gifts with the world in another way.” A truly beautiful thing to say – beautiful and hopeful.

And so, as I continue on the path through my 40s and ponder the world around me, I realize that my role in life is to be a good friend, a caring partner and lover, daughter, sister, a compassionate employer and thoughtful neighbor. Because it is the relationships we nurture in this life that matter. These are the things that will be remembered when we are gone.

A few more wrinkles with each passing year, reflecting wisdom in turn gained. Time marches on.



Saturday, the 27th of February, began like any other day. I sat down in front of the computer sipping my tea, a halo of sleepy haze slowly lifting from my brain. The radio chirped in the background as my eyes began to focus more clearly on the screen in front of me.

Cutting into my morning reverie like a serrated knife, I heard the urgent voice of a reporter say “8.8 magnitude earthquake”…and then “tsunami warnings are being issued…” Any remnants of brain fog were blasted out of the grey matter as I focused on the voice. “I repeat. There has been an earthquake in Chile. The seventh strongest earthquake ever recorded…fatalities are being reported. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center is issuing a tsunami warning for the greater Pacific Ocean…”

My heart began to race and images of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami flashed across my memory. I turned up the radio and searched the internet for specifics. Then I noticed I had a voicemail. It was my parents calling, worried that we were in danger. Two time zones ahead of us, they’d heard the news before we’d even crawled out of bed. I tried to return their call, but couldn’t get through.

Finding information on the internet proved to be difficult. Then emails started coming through from concerned friends and neighbors who were out of the country. One pointed to the Weather Channel web site as a source of information. The radio was repeating the same report over and over and only discussed the Hawaii Islands in terms of who was at risk. The reporters even admitted they focused on Hawaii because it was a US state. I still hadn’t heard anthing about Mexico. “Damn xenophobic American News stations!!” The same was true of the Weather Channel web site. The lower half of the peninsula was completely cut off on the map they posted of the North American west coast illustrating areas at risk. I finally found the American National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center web site: the warning level meter at the top of the page indicated that the severity of the tsunami was predicted to be HIGH.

My heart beat faster. I clicked on a link to the detailed written warning.




And then among a long list of geographical locations and times that the tsunami could be expected, I found what I had been looking for, but hoped not to find –


My heart amped it up a notch. And then I thought “1749? Is that Zulu time? What?!” I mean, WHEN exactly is that?

It was 9:35 as I hurriedly looked up the conversion, but in my panicked state of mind I screwed up the calculation. Initially I thought it would be bearing down on us in minutes. “Shit!!” Then I redid the calculation and estimated a 12:49pm arrival. That gave us three hours to prepare. Immediately, I thought of all our friends and neighbors, the ranchers living on and near the beaches all around the peninsula. And there were several surfers and construction workers camped four miles down the road at Santa Elena on the beach. They probably didn’t have radios and I knew they didn’t have access to the internet. Did they know this was coming? Someone had to let them know.

My heart began to beat at a rate that I figured must be unsustainable and I started to feel a little light-headed. I quickly threw together a warning email including the text from the PTWC and sent it to everyone I knew living in the area. Then I started scurrying around the house like a mouse putting up stores for winter in the middle of a snowstorm. It was taking all my powers of concentration to keep my emotions in check and I wasn’t sure what I should be doing. After all, it was my very first tsunami warning. And all the while, in the back of my head, there was a battle raging on – a duel between two voices that said I needed to prepare for the worst, on the one hand, and a sense, call it intuition, that it was nothing and I needed to relax lest I have a heart attack.

Like the calm intuitive voice in the stormy space between my ears, Tony was unmoved, unfazed, completely unconcerned. And that just made me more frantic, feeling the need to move him into action. Now it was a duel of two against one, them against the voice that said it was better to be safe than sorry, better to take precautions than to be dead wrong. I tried these platitudes out on Tony. If they moved him, I couldn’t tell. I restrained myself from grabbing him by the shoulders and screaming in his face, “DON’T YOU CARE IF WE LIVE OR DIE?!! DO SOMETHING!!”

I decided I needed to do something productive and announced I was going to Santa Elena to warn the ranchers, workers and surfers. Trying hard to conceal his eyes as they rolled into the upper recesses of his skull, Tony handed me a radio as I jumped on the ATV. I finally felt like I had somewhere to put this energy that was overwhelming all my faculties with a sense of impending doom. A few hundred meters down the road it occurred to me to stop to check that I had enough gas to get there and back. Phew! The tank was full.

The first ranch I stopped at sits in an arroyo (dry river bed) right next to the sea, totally exposed. The women I spoke to probably thought I was out of my gourd. As I explained what could happen, they gradually came around. I left before confirming that they were able to convince their husbands that they needed to move to higher ground because some gringa loca said so.

Closer to Santa Elena, Fernando, the local surfing rancher, had heard something from the guys camping on the beach. I found them gathered on a rise by the roadside, all their belongings packed into their vehicles. They wanted to know if I thought they were safe on the small hillock they were standing on just above and about 50 meters from the sea. “They are telling people to get 100 feet above sea level,” I reported. When they pressed me if I thought that was necessary, I told them I was out of my league (I’m from Ontario, Canada for God’s sake!), but that I thought it was probably safer to be higher up. A couple of them nodded agreement, but they stayed right where they were.

I continued south down the coast. Explaining the situation to Felix the foreman, I began to notice the sea level in the bay behind him drop. It was 10:45. In a matter of minutes, the bay emptied of water. Rocks and reefs were exposed that in eight years of surfing this spot I’d never seen before. It was like somewhere some godhead pulled a plug in the bottom of the Sea of Cortez, as though it were a gargantuan bathtub. And then, before I could mouth the word “tsunami,” it turned and started rushing back in. Like the tide in fast-forward. That really got my heart beating. The words:


flashed through my head. I told Felix and made haste to my next stop. Returning Northward up the coast, the surfers stopped me to ask if I’d seen it. They were excited and amazed, giddy. Again I repeated the warning about the possibility of the next wave being larger. But as we stood there it started again. We watched as the sea level dropped, and again, it turned and came back in, all in a matter of minutes. I’d seen enough and wanted to get home. I still wasn’t convinced that this was the least of what we would see that day.

Back at home by 12:30pm, unsure, amped up, I convinced Tony to humor me and we made plans to go up the hill to the guest house to have lunch. All our preparations made, I was about to head up the hill when the voice on the radio reported “the threat is past for the area around Cabo San Lucas where open ocean buoys registered a tsunami wave of 1.1 foot.”

Only 1.1 foot??? I pondered the reality that a tiny wave generated by a powerful earthquake off of Chile had produced the dramatic changes in sea level we’d all witnessed that morning. While it may not have been life threatening, it was nevertheless a dramatic display of the power of nature to change the course of our lives. I considered how things might have been different had conditions and circumstances been altered.

The difference in magnitude of the Indian Ocean earthquake and this one were not all that great. According to Wikipedia, seismologists estimate that the earthquake was so powerful that it shortened the length of the day by 1.26 microseconds and moved the earth’s axis of rotation by 3 inches. Had the earthquake occurred in shallower water or had the tremor been sustained longer, the power of the tsunami generated would have been substantially greater.

At 2pm, as I felt the adrenalin begin to wear off, a massage therapist arrived for the appointment I’d scheduled earlier in the week and had forgotten in the midst of the morning’s melee. I lay down on her table and did my best to relax. As she began working out one of several knots that had taken up residence in my shoulder, oblivious, she pronounced, “you’re unusually tense today.”

For detailed information on the 2010 Chile Earthquake and its Tsunami CLICK HERE.