I know I promised to write about current conservation issues in Cabo Pulmo at the end of my last blog. Something more (or just as) pressing has come up however.
While doing my daily clicks for charity yesterday morning, my eye was drawn to the left hand side of the page, where a video graphic was changing from white to red. The text at the top reads “If only whales could scream…then the world might listen.” The image is of a whale with a ship in the background and as the images progress the ship gets closer and a harpoon appears and then the entire image turns deep, blood red. Effective. I clicked on it.
My click took me to a petition created by the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The petition was addressed to the President of the United States.
Dear President Obama,
America has led the international fight to stop the cruel, unnecessary commercial slaughter of whales for decades.Since championing passage of the international ban on commercial whaling in 1986, every American President has reasserted our nation’s strong leadership role in the fight to save whales already threatened as never before by pollution, ship strikes, entanglement, climate change and other perils.Today, disturbing reports indicate that your administration may support an international agreement permitting Japan and others to resume commercial whaling. We respectfully ask that you act immediately to stop this sellout, and instruct U.S. representatives to the International Whaling Commission to instead act to end all
commercial whaling worldwide. Honor your promise.
As a candidate you said:
“As President, I will ensure the U.S. provides leadership in enforcing international wildlife protection agreements, including strengthening the international moratorium on commercial whaling. Allowing Japan to continue commercial whaling is unacceptable.” (3/16/08)
Over 75% of the American public agrees and opposes commercial whaling. Scientists and environmental groups worldwide object to this unseemly, back-room deal to reward Japan for decades of illegal whaling under the guise of scientific research. Surely, Mr. President, these gentle, intelligent creatures deserve better from us than a long and painful death just to show up on the menu in some overpriced restaurant? Please President Obama, honor your promise: Stop the sellout. Save the Whales.
As some of you know, I am writing my own tale – the story of how and why it is that I came to be in Mexico, of working in the tiny community of Cabo Pulmo on the conservation of a national marine park that was being neglected by local and federal authorities, and, possibly of more universal significance, the story of a recently divorced woman finding her way through the maze that is life lived in a foreign land. While undertaking the mental gymnastics necessary to outline this memoir, I came to the realization that what I thought was the ending was actually just an intermission.
It struck me that I’d ended the story too soon. And the Truth contained in the quote attributed to Socrates about The Unexamined Life was driven home in a most tangible way. I realized that there was still work to be done, people still trying to do it and regardless of my personal experiences, good, bad and ugly, they could probably use some support. Because I am uniquely suited to help in some way. We all are. We each have a different set of skills, talents and characteristics that lend themselves to helping out a cause in different ways. My way may not be as successful as his way or her way, but it is my way, my contribution and that’s as good as it gets.
Cabo Pulmo sits only 21 miles North along the bone-jarring, washboard coastal road in the East Cape region of Baja California Sur. Despite its proximity the flow of news South to where I live has been suffering a drought of many years. So I started contacting people I knew from back in the day in an attempt to discover what the status of the project was and who was currently involved. The internet and Facebook provided clues and contacts – a snippet of information here, a name there, like bread crumbs dropped surreptitiously on a forest floor. Many emails later, I was catapulted into a clearing and there we all were, back on the beach in Cabo Pulmo, hashing out strategies as though five years hadn’t passed.
The Universe works in mysterious ways.
Yesterday I got an email from a member of the non-profit conservation group WildCoast, who got my address from a fellow conservationist unaware of my recently renewed vigor for the cause.
All the WildCoaster related was that they were looking for accommodations in my neighborhood and hoped I could point them in the right direction. In the electronic conversation that ensued I realized “they” included the director of WildCoast, Serge Dedina, one of the first significant contacts in the Mexican conservation world that I made on my journey here in 2002. Also very probably the most encouraging among many supporters that would follow in great part because he too had plied the trade of conservation in Cabo Pulmo and understood better than most what a challenge it represents. When I discovered that he and his crew were coming to work with the team in Cabo Pulmo, the same people I’d recently renewed a working relationship with, I recognized the synchronicity and the message it contained – the decision to pick up where I’d left off five years ago was the right one.
Our caretaker Felipe bought a rooster a while back. I first saw the animal tied by one leg to Felipe’s outdoor table. I asked him what he intended to do with it and he replied that he was going to make a caldo (Spanish for soup). The next day, I found Felipe sitting on the stoop outside his house, the rooster cradled gently in his arms. He was stroking it. I asked him when he was going to make his soup and in reply he said something about someone named “Enrique.” Felipe is shy and mumbles a lot. Even my Mexican friends have trouble understanding his garbled speech. So I asked, “Enrique? Enrique who?” He looked at me like I was daft. “The rooster!” he shot back, holding the bird out with both hands in emphasis. I shook my head and pronounced, “I doubt you’ll eat him now that you’ve named him!”
Later the same day, I heard Felipe talking to the rooster, cooing to him in a high-pitched voice, as though the rooster were a small child.
The following day as I passed by Felipe’s house I asked when he was having rooster caldo. He looked at me like I was crazy. “Oh no…no caldo. I’m going to keep him.” No surprise there. I suggested that if he was going to keep Enrique alive he needed to keep a close eye on him – a couple of the dogs have a shady past, back when we lived in Cabo Pulmo, related to my neighbor Clotilde’s chickens.
As the days wore on, I often observed Enrique perched in a tall spiny bush near Felipe’s house. Tony, who detests the vicious spines borne by the Vinorama plant, kills any growing on the property, but this one, the largest of them all, had been given a stay of execution, much like Enrique. I suspect Tony’s reasons were two-fold: the size of the bush was considerable meaning taking it down would result in plenty of swearing and bleeding; but standing at the main entrance to the property, the plant also provides a screen from the trash-laden exterior of Felipe’s house.
One day I noticed that Enrique was tied to the leg of Felipe’s table again. Felipe was working off the property that day. In his stead, I noticed Ruby watching Enrique intently. Ruby bears a striking resemblance to an Arctic fox. I told her sternly to leave the rooster alone and left, figuring the rooster would teach her a lesson if she dared to follow through on her foxy machinations. I’d seen the damage a rooster can do with his talons.
Later the same day I heard odd noises coming from near Felipe’s house. Listening intently, I realized it was Enrique. It sounded was like he was choking.
I ran up to Felipe’s and found Ruby with Enrique in her mouth. She had a firm hold of his back. When I yelled and screamed at her, she spat him out and cowered away. The poor bird flopped and fluttered into the safety of the spiny Vinorama tree. With delicate maneuvering around huge pointy spines and the aid of a towel, I managed to retrieve him.
Once I had him firmly in hand so he couldn’t peck me, I pulled back the towel to assess the damage. To my dismay his back was a mess of raw flesh – he had been plucked and skinned alive. I didn’t give his chance of survival much hope and considered whether I should put him out of his misery. I couldn’t help but think, “Felipe may have his caldo after all.”
But no, I couldn’t kill Felipe’s little friend. That was the last resort. So I placed him in a dog crate (minus the dog) with some chicken feed and water and left him to recover or perish. When Felipe returned from work, I brought Enrique to him. Felipe was surprisingly nonplussed by Enrique’s condition. I explained again how clearly he must not, under any circumstances, leave his rooster tied up where the dogs could get at him.
Enrique lived. Miraculously, the skin on his back grew back and, when I checked on him several weeks into his incarceration, I noted small white pin feathers starting to poke through the new soft skin. Felipe and I agreed it was time to let the prisoner free.
It turned out that doing time under the closer supervision of his master left Enrique a changed and quite docile rooster. Each morning I watched as Enrique trotted along behind Felipe as he went about his morning chores, Felipe cooing and chatting to him sweetly, Enrique making the odd cluck or throaty coo. If someone unsuspecting were to arrive at breakfast time, the sounds coming from Felipe’s kitchen would suggest he was entertaining much more human company.
Several weeks later, I looked out the kitchen window towards Felipe’s house and saw him lying on the ground outside his door. Reticently I walked the 100 odd meters up to his house to see if my eyes were deceiving me. No, he was, indeed, very, very drunk. The curious thing was Enrique was there, strutting around Felipe, clucking and eying me, in a manner that could only be labeled “suspicious.” As I approached, he jumped onto Felipe’s chest, flapped his wings and made a noise that I interpreted to mean he would disembowel me if I were stupid enough to come any closer. I laughed out loud. Enrique was guarding him!
A couple of days later I went to check on a work crew that Felipe was part of. Felipe paused from his work to ask me for some money. “What for?” I asked, giving him the it -better-not-be-for-beer look.
“Enrique’s getting married,” he said casually, as though roosters getting married was an every day thing. “I need to get him a woman.”
“A woman? You’re going to get a woman to marry your rooster?” I paused and looked at him. “Don’t you mean a hen, Felipe?”
The distinction was unimportant to Felipe. “Yes, yes! A hen!” he said impatiently, “He’s getting married to a hen, but I need to buy her first.”
Antonio, the mason, laughed and remarked that the rooster would be married before Felipe. Felipe, unhappily single and with few prospects, always asks me the marital status of the women who come to visit. On occasion he gets all dolled up and declares that he’s going to town to find himself a mora (a berry, or in this context a woman). Antonio, his assistant Juan, and I couldn’t help ourselves and stood around joking about the rooster’s impending nuptials.
The hen arrived a few days later – a gift from Ismael Gonzalez, the son of a local rancher who as a hobby raises fighting cocks. She was the ugliest hen I’d ever seen. I pointed out to Felipe, “I think there’s something wrong with her. She’s lost all the feathers on her neck and bottom.”
I thought surely she had mange or some other horrible disease. Felipe gave no notice to her appearance and was, I believe, glowing with anticipation. He smiled broadly and, when questioned, explained that now that they were “married,” Enrique and his bride (she didn’t seem to warrant a name) could make babies. He would have a whole flock of chickens and could sell the eggs. Tony agreed with me, but being a man of few words, the extent of his commentary was “That’s one ugly chicken.“
When I ran into Ismael, the provider of the ugly hen, a couple of days later, I thanked him for his generosity and casually mentioned my concerns regarding the hen’s health. He laughed and assured me, “No, no. She’s fine. That’ss what the hens that make fighting cocks look like.” I thought, “Oh great, Felipe’s going to raise a bunch of fighting cocks and hideous hens. This should be interesting.”
In fact, I didn’t have to wait long before things got interesting.
First Felipe informed me that the hen didn’t want to have anything to do with Enrique. Based on what I’d seen of the hen, I imagined the feeling was mutual. Felipe assured me that Enrique was doing his best to woo his bride. A day or two later, however, Felipe turned up at my door, grasping his forearm. A trickle of blood escaped from under his hand. “What happened?” I asked him as I cleaned the deep wound and bandaged his arm. “Enrique attacked me,” he said, a note of disbelief and hurt in his voice.
A few days later, Felipe was back at my door again. It was his hand that needed bandaging this time, but the cause was the same. As I cleaned his wound, Felipe wondered out loud what had gotten into Enrique. I thought for a moment. “Felipe,” I said, “I think the hen is your problem. Enrique is jealous.” His eyes grew round, but he said not a word.
Felipe didn’t appear at my door again seeking medical attention, so I figured he’d adapted to his rooster’s increasing aggression and learned to stay clear of him when the hen was about. In time, however, I noticed something amiss, or rather, missing – the hen was gone. Enrique got a divorce and Felipe finally had his caldo.