About Dawn Pier

In 2002, I packed the remains of a life I no longer wanted into the bed of my Nissan pickup and drove west across Canada, South down the Pacific Coast Highway and on into Mexico. Stopping just short of the tip of the Baja Peninsula, I settled in the tiny village of Cabo Pulmo where I learned the ins and outs of off-grid living and community-based conservation. While following my dream to learn to surf, I'd stumbled across a unique coral reef in the Sea of Cortez that needed more protection. The resulting adventures I had with waves, sea turtles and men are the focus of a memoir I'm writing. Today, I still live on an isolated beach, just a little further south on the peninsula, with a posse of dogs and an illiterate, sometimes savant caretaker who often speaks in a tongue that even the locals don't understand. In 2011, when I left yet another relationship, I had to return to work. I chose real estate this time around because it allows me more flexibility than a traditional 9-5. I surf as often as I can, kiteboard infrequently (it takes too much time and my equipment is always breaking down) and try to make time to write, do yoga and contemplate life. I'm working on a memoir that examines the events that spurred me to make the move to Mexico and what happened thereafter. It's tentatively titled Wavestruck. In addition to the memoir and this personal blog, I write poetry and have written for Baja.com and the Scuttlefish, an online environmental journal. At one point I was also a reader for The Rumpus, an online literary magazine. I am addicted to books - the way they feel in my hand, the smell of them, and mostly their contents and how they allow me a view into someone else's imagination or life. Proof of this addiction was evident in that pickup truck I drove down - it was loaded to gunnels with practical items and the few possessions I could not part with - big plastic bins full of books.

The Pandemic Choking Us All

Whilst men are linked together, they easily and speedily communicate the alarm of any evil design. They are enabled to fathom it with common counsel, and to oppose it with united strength. Whereas, when they lie dispersed, without concert, order, or discipline, communication is uncertain, counsel difficult, and resistance impracticable. Where men are not acquainted with each other’s principles, nor experienced in each other’s talents, nor at all practised in their mutual habitudes and dispositions by joint efforts in business; no personal confidence, no friendship, no common interest, subsisting among them; it is evidently impossible that they can act a public part with uniformity, perseverance, or efficacy. In a connection, the most inconsiderable man, by adding to the weight of the whole, has his value, and his use; out of [connection], the greatest talents are wholly unserviceable to the public. No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours, are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle. -Edmund Burke, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents 82-83 (1770) in: Select Works of Edmund Burke, vol. 1, p. 146 (Liberty Fund ed. 1999).

So far, 2020 has been a heavy year. I know that we all feel that collectively. CoVid-19 and the lockdown were just the beginning. On April 6th my mother had a stroke. With no way to fly home I said my last goodbye on April 18th by FaceTime. She died the next day while I sat alone thousands of miles away. Mourning your parent from afar is hard. Being isolated from friends and family as you try to process their passing is harder. But you know what’s been even more difficult? Witnessing the senseless murders of Ahmaud Aubrey and George Floyd. Add to these the killings of Breonna Taylor and Dave McAtee and these are the deaths that make me cry all the time because they were avoidable and unnecessary. My mother was 82 years old, suffering from dementia and a terrible case of osteoporosis. The last time I went home she didn’t know who I was more than 50% of the time. In reality, I mourned losing the woman who was my mother years ago. But these young lives with so much future before them were taken tragically and maddeningly too soon.

Something’s got to change.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.”

You may recognize this version of Edmund Burke’s quote better than his full unedited 1770’s epistle in italics at the top. I read his original words today and was struck by their wisdom, words that speak to the need for each of us with a conscience to speak up when others commit acts or use words that are inherently violent because of the results they elicit. In today’s hashtag world, Burke would have been the one to write #silence=violence into his electronic device. I’m writing this today because it’s increasingly obvious that silence is no longer an option and, in the words of Burke, even “the most inconsiderable” person, by “adding their weight to the whole” adds value to a cause. In other words, my silence amid fears that I have nothing to add is equivalent to being complicit with the violence wrought upon Black people and other People of Color the world over. Every single one of us who recognizes that the systems that evolved from racist motivations like the American system of law enforcement/mass incarceration that grew out of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution need to be part of the movement to break them down so they can be rebuilt in a manner designed to elevate people rather than to control or destroy them. This is the path to freedom and peace for all.

No one is free until we are all free.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m not an American. I’m not Black. But racism has never been a uniquely American phenomenon nor will it be overcome if White people remain silent. I am heartened by the number of White people marching in the protests happening around the world. Perhaps it’s because we’re still in “CoVid Red” status in Baja California Sur, but there haven’t been any physical protests in this region yet. So I’m doing the only thing I know to do from my isolated location on Baja’s East Cape – I’m lending my voice to the cause from where I sit, brokenhearted by the pain I see all over the news, in the hopes that I might contribute in some small way to the extermination of the real pandemic the world has suffered from for far too long, the Racism Pandemic.

I hope that by sharing what is perhaps a bit of a ramble, I might inspire others to do the same, to share their views, to ask for help, to share their knowledge and compassion to those who read our words. And look, I’m the first one to admit, I don’t know much about this topic. I’m a white, blue-eyed and fair-haired Canadian woman who has benefited from white privilege my whole life. If I say something racist, call me out on it. I WANT to learn. I NEED to learn. The discrimination I’ve experienced in life pales by comparison to anything a Black, Brown, Asian, or First Nations Person experiences on a daily basis. When a cop pulls me over, I know that if I smile and talk sweetly or with humor, I can charm the officer into submission because in my experience it has almost always worked.

I grew up in eastern Canada in a village of 500 people and all of them were White. My first exposure to people with skin color unlike my own was almost certainly on television – shows like The Jeffersons, Fast Times, Chico and the Man. CBC’s The Beachcombers introduced me to our First Nations People long before I knew about the atrocities committed by the Residential School System or The Indian Act. The people portrayed in these shows could not have been more different from me, but I still recognized their humanity, the places where our needs and desires intersected. In my grade school, out of the 500 kids, two were Black. I remember wondering what it was like to stand out in such contrast against a vast sea of whiteness.

When I was about ten years old, an East Indian family moved into a house a few blocks away from my own. Their colorful saris stood in stark contrast to the jeans and t-shirts most commonly worn in my town. A few months after their arrival, I noticed they’d moved away.

I asked my father, as we walked by the house, “Why did they come for such a short time?”

His answer contained a rueful note, “I don’t think they felt very welcome here.”

In my memory the conversation halted there, steeping us in an awkward silence that left what is now obvious unsaid. I’ve often wondered if the racism they experienced was overt or the more subtle kind that takes the form of a lack of or too much attention in stores, looks both curious and aggressive, whispers passive-aggressively “intended” to be unheard.

While my family may have been progressive in their selection of TV shows, things weren’t quite so liberal when I fell for a handsome young Black man playing in a basketball tournament at my high school. He and a teammate stayed at our house for the weekend, so when I shared my excitement with my father that Dayan had asked me on a date, I thought he’d be happy such a nice young man was interested in his daughter. Instead he frowned and said, “I guess that’s okay. Dating is okay… just don’t get any ideas about marrying him.”

A sickening feeling I’d never felt before formed in my gut. When my father may a distinction between this young man and every other boy I’d ever fancied, I was shocked. It was the first time I was confronted by my father’s fallibility and the pedestal I’d placed him on shrank in size and stature. I knew what he’d said was wrong, at its core, steeped in ignorance and racism, but this version of my father didn’t compute with the man I knew him to be – kind, fair-minded, generous. His reaction left me confused and filled me with a teenaged indignation that fizzled along with our relationship. I can’t help but wonder – did it die because Montreal was a 45 minute drive away or on a subconscious level did we detect a moral distance too great for a couple of teenagers to traverse?

Despite this experience, the topic of racism and interracial marriage was never discussed in any meaningful way in my family, which is curious considering its make up. When I was ten, my parents took me on vacation to the Bahamas to meet, for the first time, my Great Aunt Queenie and her husband, Edmund. Great Uncle Edmund was a Black Bahamian. To this day I don’t know the story of how my Aunt Queenie, the daughter of Scottish-Irish Canadians met and married my Uncle Edmund. I have only a vague notion that they met when he was in the country as an Ambassador to Canada. Their story just wasn’t discussed and my attempts more recently to uncover it has generated nothing but silence. Maybe nobody knows. But regardless, what can one surmise from that? Why don’t they? Was it such a taboo subject that it was never discussed? For several years I’ve thought about how hard it must have been for my aunt and uncle – a biracial couple who met in the 1940s. It should come as no surprise that they didn’t stay in Canada. What’s surprising is that I didn’t know I had an Aunt Queenie or Uncle Edmund until we made that trip in 1978.

Does Silence = Violence?

It’s been nine days since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. Nine days of worldwide protests and riots, nine days of horrifying behavior by police and politicians, and, for me personally, it’s been nine days of deep grief for our humanity and contemplation about where I fit in the ensuing conversation. Sharing posts on social media that say what I cannot because the Black Experience is not my experience has been my only contribution until today when the message from Black leaders everywhere became increasingly clear that indeed SILENCE does equal VIOLENCE, that if we don’t speak up to say we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, we’ll stay stuck where we are. The act of writing this blog is my contribution, my expression of a desire to be part of the solution, to say,

I see you,

I hear you,

I support you.

And perhaps most importantly,

How can I be of service to help you realize our goal?

And, finally I offer the prayer that every single person ever killed in racially-motivated hate, one day be able to rest in peace knowing that George Floyd’s death was the catalyst to true and lasting change.

Symbicort and COVID-19: A Dangerous Combination?

Symbicort and COVID-19. Symbicort is being used to treat COVID-19, but is it safe?

Here is the latest in the ongoing saga of health issues I’ve had this month. Thank you to Jennifer Margulis for providing a forum to share these stories so that they get wider dissemination than I could accomplish on my little blog here on WordPress.

Chasing the effects of Symbicort and COVID-19 as my illness moves into its third week

By Dawn Pier
Special to JenniferMargulis.net

Nineteen days ago, I got sick with what was probably COVID-19. You can read that story here. I’ve been quarantined, alone out in the countryside, living in a solar-powered beach house off-the-grid for twelve days now. I’ve also been taking Symbicort, which has created a combustible mix of other problems. Between Symbicort and COVID-19, I’m not sure what’s causing what.

Self-quarantine worked out reasonably well for me. I have internet, so I can keep working. Friends have dropped essentials off at the gate or outside the house, like green apples, bone broth, and vegetables, taking care not to come too close.

Four days ago I really felt like I was on the mend. The hacking cough I had when I first got sick was gone, which I attributed in part to the inhaler of Symbicort my doctor prescribed at double the dose (two puffs two times daily).

I did notice though that my tongue didn’t feel normal and my sense of taste was “off.” 

Nothing tasted good, not even the homemade organic whole wheat bread I’d made or the red wine a friend gave me. 

I poured myself a small glass as a treat to go with the bread. It tasted so bad that I was pretty sure it had gone off. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 or something else?

Friends told me that loss of taste was another COVID-19 symptom. 

I was having other symptoms: nerve twitches, cramps in my feet, and general muscle weakness and fatigue. I attributed all of this to the virus. I didn’t even consider Symbicort and COVID-19, or one and not the other could be at work within my system.

But as the days rolled by, I started to wonder when I was going to feel truly “well” again. 

Continue reading here… https://jennifermargulis.net/symbicort-and-covid-19-mix/

I Am Baja’s First Covid-19 Case…or Am I?

This is the Secretary of Health flyer I received from a client. It reads “As of today, Baja California Sur is free of the Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and we want to keep it that way!” Below the list of symptoms is says “If you have any of these symptoms and traveled to China or were in contact with a person with this illness, report it immediately…” China?? Really? We are way beyond that!

Two weeks ago I got sick. Really sick. I explain my journey HERE in an article the science journalist Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D. asked me to write about my experience trying to get tested for the virus. Jennifer is an investigative journalist, author, and a Fulbright scholar. She’s also very humble and doesn’t mention on her bio that she comes by her investigative tenacity and brilliance honestly – her mother was Lynn Margulis, Ph.D., recipient of the National Medal of Science, among many other accolades and a true rebel among women scientists in her day. In her work, Jennifer advocates for safer medicine, in particular for children and families. She’s authored several books and writes for major publications. I’m honored to be included among the authors she’s invited to write for her website.

I’m on Day 5 of doctor-ordered quarantine, out in the country well away from San Jose del Cabo where I’ve been living since November (so I can do my work as a real estate advisor more effectively, plus the house on the East Cape is in escrow, so my days of living there are numbered). I’m getting work done and trying to rest (I’m not very good at that it turns out) and also taking advantage of this alone time to work on my memoir. Yes, it’s still in progress, slow though that may be. Perhaps this is the opportunity I need to get a chunk of it DONE!!

Stay well everyone. Keep practicing that social distancing thing and know that if you are young and relatively healthy, you have nothing to fear, but let’s be vigilant in avoiding transmission for those who are immune-compromised or elderly. I’ll be back here again soon with more updates.

Peace out.

Here’s the link to my article on Jennifer’s website, in case you missed it up top. https://jennifermargulis.net/bajas-first-covid-19-case/

Time and Distance

40                                                                      50

The distance between 40 and 50 is more than a decade more than the number 10, more than

                      1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

It’s more than 5+5 or 5×2. It’s more than 3650 days.

It’s the distance between having a healthy father and having no father at all. It’s the distance between sharing life with a loving partner and being single. It’s the unimportant stuff like more grey hair and deeper wrinkles, hair growing places it isn’t supposed to and skin that’s starting to look like crepe.

It’s giving a shit about this upcoming birthday, when 40 came and went like it was no big deal.

40 was a cake walk, so I didn’t think I’d experience this existential stuff as I look down the barrel of the “Big 5-0.” I’ve always told myself, “Age is just a number. What matters is how you feel inside.” Well, that’s the difference between 40 and 50 too – this time I do feel different. Maybe it’s because I’m half an orphan now or maybe it’s something else. It feels kinda like it’s a genetic thing – that a switch has flipped and my genes have decided that I’m supposed to start feeling my age now. My mortality is more tangible in a very unsettling and heavy way that I’ve never felt before.

As dictated by the law of attraction, every time I turn around there’s another reference to death, dying, and grief. The other day I turned on CBC Radio and learned about a smartphone application called “WeCroak.” The developer of the app was inspired by the Bhutanese belief that “contemplating death five times a day brings happiness.” I downloaded it before the show was half over. The first friend I told about it looked at me like I was crazy. “That’s morbid,” he said, a tinge of disgust and mild curiosity in his voice.

WeCroak pings me randomly, five times a day with the message, “Don’t forget, you’re going to die.“ If you click on the reminder, a quote comes up related to death and dying.

Here’s the one I got just a few minutes ago:

But every moment of life is the last;
every poem is a death poem.
Why then should I write one at this time.
In my last hours, I have no poem.

                                                              Matsuo Basho

Some of the quotes, like the one above, strike me as rather fatalistic – they are more of a downer than inspiring. Yet others are effective in lighting a fire under me and give me the desire to get things done before it’s too late. It’s too early to say whether these five daily reminders will actually make me happier, but I’m willing to give it a try.

30                                                                        50

30 and 50? Well yeah, they’re even further apart.

                            20

years that led me to divorce, Costa Rica and the end of a scientific career so I could move to Mexico…almost 20 years following my dream to learn to surf.

It’s

                                            33

The age of my friend and colleague who was killed in an avalanche in April 1998. His death shook me hard out of a deep sleep of complacency because I mistakenly believed I had all the time in the world to do the things that I dreamed of doing. I realized that it was NOW or NEVER or life would pass me by, or worse get cut short before I had the chance to take those trips to see the world, be in a loving supportive relationship…with myself (and maybe one day with a man).

I’m not sure why, but I used to regard the “Bucket List” phenomenon with some disdain. Contemplating turning 50 has given rise to some serious contemplation about what I have and haven’t accomplished yet in this life. I mean, I still haven’t been to France, Italy or Spain! Seriously? I shake my head and consider why that is. Life, I suppose…life getting in the way of living. I never seem to have the money or freedom to make those big trips. That’s going to change. It must change.

Perhaps that’s what these big decadal birthdays are for – to induce the kind of consideration about where we are at in life in comparison with where we want to be. I wonder what I’ll write about in the coming 10 years. Will I finally get my book done? Will it be published? Will I ride a bigger wave? Rent a little house in the country in France where I’ll write poetry and edit my book? Maybe I’ll finally learn the secret to happiness…five contemplations of death at a time.

The Legacy of Childhood Trauma

Emotional-Freedom-Quote-1.jpgThis morning I read a piece in “The New Yorker” by Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz called “The Silence: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma” and found that his words, his experiences, resonated eerily with my own regarding relationships. This came as somewhat of a shock considering that the trauma he describes was his repeated rape, at the age of eight, by a grown man whom he trusted.

Now before you click on the link and read what he wrote, which you pretty much have to do in order to appreciate the rest of this blog, let me be clear about the differences between his and my experiences: I was not raped as a child (note the caveat: “as a child”) and I have never tried to take my own life (unless driving recklessly, drinking enough tequila to induce a five-day hangover at the age of 16, or any number of reckless behaviors count). In other words, I’ve never consciously, in the overdosing, gun-to-head, or standing-on-a-cliff-considering-jumping kind of way tried to end my own life. I’ve never tried and I’ve never thought about it. Nevertheless, there were things about Diaz’s piece that spoke to me and that therefore gave me pause to think, “Was there enough “trauma” in my childhood to create the behaviors that he describes that I am also guilty of?”

I know. You want me to tell you in detail what those behaviors were. I’ve alluded to at least one above – the drinking. Yes, there is a lot of excessive consumption of alcohol in my past. And a lot of morally questionable behaviors wrought of that drinking. Another trait we share(d)[1] is the inability to stay in a relationship past a certain point, usually the point where it looked like it might actually go somewhere good, and especially if the man exhibited behaviors that suggested he might actually be willing to remain in a monotonous, I mean, committed monogamous relationship.

Then there is his reference to cheating. Many would quickly label cheating as classic self-sabotage behavior. For me it was a bit more complex. My first bout of cheating gave me the confidence to leave a not-so-healthy marriage (I discovered that I was, contrary to my insecure belief at the time, desirable to other men) and subsequently over a decade later cheating gave me the excuse to end the next and only other long term relationship I’ve had. At the time I rationalized, “I clearly don’t love him enough if I can sleep with another man.” Next I did the morally righteous thing – I called him up, told him we had a problem and very soon thereafter left him. Because leaving was penance for bad behavior and, I rationalized, released me from moving forward in life as a liar and a cheat to the person who’s opinion mattered most to me.

Diaz’s references to drinking, to bouts of depression, to not being able to look at himself in a mirror, the deep-seated self-hatred are all things I saw reflections of in my own experience.

Given the relatively mild nature of the traumas I experienced as a child, when I finished the essay, I wide-eye wondered how many of us walk around with these wounds, oblivious to how much they shape who we are and what we do.

When I would get into my navel-gazing, self-examination mode, the man I had my second and last long-term relationship with – seven-years to be precise – and whom I still refer to as my second husband despite our never having married[2] used to assert, “You had a roof over your head, food in your stomach. You were not abused!” He was a lot older than me – twenty-six years – with attitudes borne of a time when those were the only measures of abuse, when “spare the rod, spoil the child” was an oft-used phrase. And yet, with the exception of one particularly memorable spanking that employed a plastic brush,[3] my parents didn’t hit us and we did have three squares a day. Was the fact that my mother repeatedly sent me to school with tomato sandwiches that by lunch hour had morphed into a disgusting mess of soggy pink bread enough to call her abusive? Abusive, no. Uninspired-where-school-lunches-were-concerned, yes.

The abuses that many of us suffered as children I would suggest were often much more subtle than those experienced by the Junot Diaz’s of the World.[3] So subtle as to make them unutterable for completely different reasons than those that made Diaz silent, so non-violent that by sharing them we feel embarrassment or guilt knowing that others have experienced so much worse. But that’s what I am most struck by, what made me sit up and take notice – it’s the recognition that even the mildest forms of abuse induce in children and the adults they become symptoms of full-blown trauma the likes of which Diaz experienced. I was struck hard in my consciousness by the reality that as children we are fragile, vulnerable, and sensitive beyond belief. We have a belief in a kind and loving world until we are proven wrong and whatever it is that teaches us that the world is a far more cruel place than we had ever imagined is what creates the pervasive psychological “hang ups” that dominate so many of our adult stories. The point I guess I’m trying to make is that I’m not convinced that enough of us recognize the degree to which even the “milder” forms of trauma[4] experienced in our childhoods are the source of our adult so-called “hang ups.” That in the absence of loving affirmation that we are okay, lovable, perfect even, just the way we are, too many of us try to hide what we perceive as short-comings, to dawn our masks of self-protection against the pain and suffering that is unfortunately a part of life, and thereby subsume the beautiful creature we are meant to be.

I dunno…I’m not a psychologist. I’m just thinking out loud and over-sharing, as I tend to do. But what do you think? I have to wonder, are the vast majority of us damaged and the only difference is a matter of degrees? And what are you doing to undo the damage? See below for one technique.

Lisa Nichols with a way to GET OUT of the pain of trauma that we all carry within us.

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] The jury’s out on whether this is in the past or not.

[2] I liked to say that he was a better “husband” than the man I actually married a decade earlier.

[3] Don’t get me wrong. I acknowledge and am humbled and saddened by how many children experience abuse on a par with or greater than what Diaz described in his essay.

[4] Emotional trauma comes first to mind.

Emily’s story needs to be written

Effin Artist is a project that I’m involved with and it was through that organization that I met Mike Green, Emily’s husband. We hope you’ll read her story as it unfolds and get involved by contributing to her or another cancer patient’s care and needs.

EFFinArtist

Effin Artist exists for a single reason: To elevate great stories that inspire change.

Emily Green has such a story. And we’re committed to helping her tell it for a simple reason: Her unique approach to surviving cancer represents a serious shift in healthy recovery. Her story represents a sea change in treatment paths chosen by the millions stricken with this disease. This is inspired change at the root, right where it can do the most good for the most people.

Emily is the mother of three, ages 16, 5, and 4. She is the hearbeat of a family that has endured its share of challenges and trials over the years before she learned that she had late-stage breast cancer.  Her story may sound too familiar in an age when cancer plagues so many of us, but it is utterly unique in its message of hope for those afflicted.

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Wonders of Baja Weather

LA Bay Rainbow 8Mar2016

Rainbow over Bahia de Los Angeles thanks to crazy storm system. Photo credit: Octavio Pinto

It’s 5pm. I pause from writing this, reach up and cup the tip of my nose between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand. It’s cold and my fingers warm it slightly before I return to the task before me.

I know I’ve been away a long time. I had some personal things going on, health and whatnot, and haven’t been writing much in general as a result and when I do write I’ve focused on getting my book written because I want to, no I need to get it done. It’s been too long coming. But that’s another story.

What’s got me writing today is the weather. It’s funny that I should write about the weather after being absent from this blog for so long. It’s a source of mild amusement that “How’s your weather?” is the question I can always count on my mother to ask during our increasingly brief telephone exchanges.

Well Mom, it’s been another cold day today. Yeah, not cold by eastern Canada standards, but darn cold for here in Baja. Cold and windy. Yesterday we had what I consider to be the strangest weather I’ve witnessed in my fourteen years living in Baja. At the end of a winter season during which temperatures remained well above normal, a system blasted the peninsula with a cold air that made temperatures plummet twenty degrees and brought with it all manner of precipitation.

I rose just before dawn and took a look outside. The waves were uncharacteristically large and feathered by strong offshore winds. I went outside to investigate more closely and greeted my neighbor as he stood watering some new fan palm trees near the wall separating our properties.

He asked me in a somewhat bewildered tone, “Is this what it’s like in summer? Are the waves often like this? What’s up with this wind?”

I looked around and wondered if the pending solar eclipse had anything to do with the strange weather. I’ve also been seriously “under the weather” of late thanks to one of Baja’s many “side-benefits” – a parasitic infection – that’s made surfing a challenge due to desperately low energy levels. It pained me to look at the waves and not be able to partake. To lessen the sting, I turned my back to sea and returned to the house to get some work done. (Unfortunately, under the influence of these parasites I’ve been living in a near perpetual brain fog. My productivity has suffered almost as much as my intestinal tract.)

By 8:30 the winds switched to the North, then East, then South and East again. I looked out the west-facing kitchen window and I didn’t quite believe my eyes. The sky had been clear blue only an hour earlier, but now ominous black clouds loomed, expanding high to reach into the sky.  I went outside to investigate and discovered the wind had turned downright chilly. It was right then that big COLD raindrops began to fall. I double-timed it up to the guest house to close the windows. On my return to the main house the rain drops fell quicker, inducing me to run or get wet enough to require a wardrobe change. The wind seemed to be coming from several directions all at the same time. It swirled and switched back and forth, came in wild gusts up to twenty-odd miles an hour. Once I had the windows in the main house closed, I returned to the garage where one of the doors is wide open during the day and watched as the pavers on the driveway got soaked and water began to drip from the downspouts. Yeah, it wasn’t a heavy rain by tropical storm standards, but it was rain in March in the Baja desert. Sit up and take notice kinda weather.

Back inside I noticed my feet were cold. What the heck? I normally have to wear Uggs here in the winter, but this year’s winter has been so warm I’ve only put them on a few times at night.

I scratched my head and did a few searches on Google about the current weather. Nada. Later I would learn that the winds turned offshore again around 1PM. Surf in San Jose was unreal.

“Like Hawaii” one friend said, “and barreling. But I had to put on my full wetsuit! I froze! I’m in Uggs, longjohns, and my ski jacket now.”

“Damn! I missed it again,” I lamented. “Frickin’ parasites!”

I called my friend Mario, the Huichol shaman, and he reported he’d had to run home early from the gallery where he sells indigenous art to deal with an emergency. The wind, gusting up to 45 miles an hour in Cabo San Lucas, had toppled the large Tamarind tree in his yard, which landed on his bedroom, destroying the roof and two walls.

“Was anyone hurt?” I asked, picturing the kids and his sister-in-law Rosa scrambling to avoid the falling tree.

“No. Gracias a Dios.”

The solar eclipse occurred at 4:30 our time. We were not in the window to see it, but it was total and visible further west from Hawaii to Indonesia. I continued to wonder if it wasn’t the cause of the weird weather.

At sunset I walked the dogs on the beach like I do most nights and froze. I didn’t consider I might need a scarf and a beanie. And the sweater I had on was too thin. The sand stung, icy cold on my feet. I looked warily at the low hanging black and grey clouds recognizing them as typical of lightning producers. I’m not a big fan of lightning, having had it pass through my body when I became a ground for an Airstream trailer. I picked up my pace.

By the end of the walk, large cold rain drops began to fall and land squarely on my head and shoulders, threatening to make me colder still. Back in the house I had to blast my feet with hot water to dispel the cold before I wrapped them in heavy wool socks and Uggs. Later, as I lay in bed I could see from behind my eyelids the intermittent flashing of lightning to the east.

Today I woke and didn’t want to get out of bed it was so cold in my bedroom. I snuggled in and felt a small lump next to me. The cat, ensconced under the duvet, did his best to ignore me as I pulled the covers up under my chin and looked out at a sea made tumultuous by the still raging wind.

Later, when the sun was up and the bedroom felt a little less frigid, I rose and searched for information on yesterday’s weather. On the Baja Facebook page I found photos of the desert floor just north of here in the village of El Centenario covered in hail. On the Weather Underground website it showed that in the wee hours of the morning, the mercury at the San Jose del Cabo airport had dropped to 48 degrees Farenheit (9 deg Celcius), ten degrees colder than the previous night’s low.

The greater surprise was when I found these photos on the Facebook group Talk Baja taken in El Centenario just North of here.

Hail2 El Cent 8Mar2016

Photos courtesy of Jay Curtis

Hail El Centenario 8Mar2016

Hail in Baja!

The only thing missing is the locusts.

Crazy Weather Update: I just saw on Facebook that it SNOWED in Guadalajara yesterday! According to @SkyAlertStorm the last time they saw snow there was in 1997.

 

 

The Messenger

And here’s another one that is a personal favorite. I still tear up when I think about Zee and reading this was bitter sweet. She was such a good dog.

Dawn Revealed

Our dog Zee is going blind. The vet informed me that she has glaucoma and an auto-immune disease that’s making her body attack itself. Yes, not one, but two diseases affecting her eyes. One at a time, her eyes swelled up into big, bulbous, blood shot orbs with milky irises at their centers. The first to swell then shrank to a fraction of its size, sank back into its orbit, where it now sits wrinkled like a raisin and useless as the tit on a boar. Then the left eye followed suit and blew up to twice its normal size. We’d already taken her to the vet for the right eye, so when the left started expanding I squeezed in the same drops and shuttled her off to the vet with great trepidation  – I knew that the news would not be good. He kept her for observation for three…

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Fowl Play

I hope that in the absence of new material, you’ll enjoy this post I wrote back in 2010.

Dawn Revealed

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…

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Who knew three minutes took so long?

Here is the man with the vision that gave birth to Effin Artist, Scot Bolsinger’s view on the day that three minutes took so effin long.

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Several years ago, Effin Artist started with a little voice in my head that I’d say to myself time and again. I’d do something creative that would make me feel good.

I’d say to myself, “I’m an Effin Artist, man!”

Then it became a newsletter to family, which then grew into a lark of a website I built only to learn how to build websites. Then it became a blog and a real website that I called my writer’s platform.

It turns out the Great Divine had much more in mind. Effin Artist continues its evolution into something I couldn’t have dreamed up had I wanted to, which is saying something because I do some serious dreaming when I get on a roll.

What is it? That’s coming soon. But with that next evolutionary phase in mind, we gathered to capture the essence of Effin Artist in a three-minute video.

I…

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Litquake and Video Takes

IMG_0040San Francisco has long been known for its ability to draw and inspire writers, from Mark Twain and Jack London to the Beats like Ginsberg and Kerouac, to contemporary authors Isabelle Allende and Dave Eggers. I love this city – it’s beauty, its proximity to the ocean, but mostly because it’s effing vibrant, pregnant with possibility, overflowing with the kind of creative energy that always inspires me to write. Every time I come here it’s a shot in the arm with a creative juice potent enough to rival Red Bull. This past weekend was no exception.

It’s only natural that “The Literary City” should give birth to Litquake’s Litcrawl, the literary equivalent bastard spawn of Woodstock and a pub crawl held annually in the city’s Mission district. It’s 82 sessions crammed into three hours in venues as diverse as laundry mats, hair salons, galleries, restaurants, co-op work spaces, cafes, dark alleyways, and bars. It’s anything and everything that you can dream up related to writing.

My buddy and fellow writer Scot Bolsinger and his long time friend Paul, joined me this past Saturday night to check it out. We met at the Mission Laundromat where an older Latina woman struggled to maintain dominion over the counter where she folded clothes while a crowd amassed and women in pretty dresses read poetry, Twitter-based flash fiction, and non-fiction short stories as part of “Dirty Laundry: Loads of Prose presents Sex, Lies, and Lost Socks.” We headed next to a salon where a large crowd had gathered to witness a literary relay race sponsored by the Castro’s Literary Cooperative. What is a literary relay race? I cannot say for sure, but it appeared to involve the cooperative creation of an original story written by ten writers solely for and during the hour-long session. IMG_0028The vibe in Fellow Barber, where the event was held, was upbeat and filled with the buzz of excited chatter. The authors, each wearing a big number taped to the front of their shirts, had gathered at the center of the salon where they slapped one another on the back and bore faces filled with the kind of calm that comes after the storm of a live performance.

We checked in to hear kids reading their stories at 826 Valencia, Dave Egger’s non-profit organization dedicated to helping children and young adults develop writing skills and teachers inspire their students to write. At The Chapel we discovered a contest was about to begin. We high-tailed it outta there fast lest the other, far more qualified and willing participants discover we were literary trivia posers and beat us to death with their notebooks and pens. On our way out we were intrigued by this sign and stopped to check it out.

IMG_0042Turns out the sign advertised the Hook-Up Truck, a “modern dating solution for safe sexual adventuring” that can be dispatched immediately to any location in the city. Private, secure, and temperature controlled, rental of the room includes complimentary birth control and STD preventatives and optional use of the installed camera. Seeing as Scot is a happily married man and Paul’s a gay pastor, our discovery of the Hook-Up Truck signaled it was time for this lady to head on home. Scot and I had to be up early the next morning.IMG_0046

5AM Sunday morning came too soon. By the time I got my shit together and drove to the Embarcadero (getting lost along the way) it was almost 6:30 and the sky was growing bright with the impending dawn. Scot and a production crew of five were gathered on the roof of Scot’s apartment building when I arrived, Scot lit up like a billboard, balanced atop a bar stool with the Bay Bridge for a backdrop. He smiled with relief when I appeared. Focused and with his back to me, Dave Moutray of Crux Jinx Productions directed one of the crew to repoint the lights. I might have felt a wave of nervousness flood through my gut, but I was too damned tired.

Bruno, the sound man, wired me up, instructing me to run the mic wire he connected to my scarf down through my sweater, same as the actors playing anchormen and politicians I’d seen on TV. I took a seat and watched as they shot. Soon the sun rose, prompting the parrots of Telegraph Hill to leave their overnight perches to fly in wide circles chattering and generally making a lot of noise along the way. The parrots overwhelmed the sound every time they flew nearby slowing progress. I noticed Dave getting antsy and before long he announced the sun was too high. The crew relocated to the shaded deck off Scot’s apartment and I continued to wait my turn in the adjacent living room.

Scot Effin VideoI drank a couple of lattes, read a few emails in an attempt to distract myself from thinking about what was to come, and then it was my turn.

Dave turned the bright lights, two cameras, and his full attention on me where I sat on the soft black leather couch willing it to swallow me. Tired or not, I felt my head begin to buzz, my stomach clamp down on itself, and my blood pressure rise. In an attempt to channel that awful feeling, I rung my hands until my fingers hurt. I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t have skipped one or both of the lattes.

Dawn Effin VideoAs he had done with Scot before me, Dave began, “So Dawn, why don’t we start with you telling me, what is Effin Artist?”

I did my best to answer the “what” and “why” of Effin Artist so Dave and crew could pull together the necessary sound bites to create a three minute video that will reflect the vision that Scot first shared with me last June. But in describing what is now our shared vision, the challenge we are faced with is that the what of Effin Artist is still a moving target. It’s like trying to determine the sex of a one-month fetus – it’s just too early – the naughty bits have yet to emerge. And we’re a little like expectant parents, reticent to share too much before things have developed sufficiently and the idea demonstrates clearly it’s got ten fingers and ten toes.

I’ve never felt like such a complete and utter amateur. Trying to come up with the right words was intense and the sense that “this really matters so I have to get it right” threatened to overwhelm me. By the time we broke for lunch I felt weak and a little nauseous.

For the last shot, Dave sat Scot and I tight up next to one another on that same mushy couch and prompted us to deliver the our call to action – what people will need to do to help make Effin Artist a reality. Sitting on that couch alone under the bright lights was hot enough, now there was a big burly Italian American sitting and sweating alongside me. I felt my pits and the back of my legs getting damp with sweat and hoped that my deodorant was working.

“Sit up straight,” Dave reminded us every time the couch sucked us back down to slouching.

I was so tired I couldn’t get my lines right. I’d managed to pull off the “why” without too many takes, but this was demanding more from me. Finally I nailed it and sank back into the couch in relief.

Then Bruno the Sound Man, so quiet I’d almost forgotten he was there, spoke up, “Someone was tapping.”

Everyone followed his gaze, which rose from his sound monitor and landed on me, “I think you were tapping the couch or your leg with your hand.”

I felt beads of sweat break out on my forehead as my blood pressure rose to make my cheeks flush and my ears burn. I did not want to have to try to get those same words out again. I think I might have yelled at myself. I felt like an idiot. The crew had been shooting for over eight hours and my nervous tapping meant they had to keep working. Nevertheless their mood was surprisingly upbeat. They joked and encouraged, cajoled and did everything in their power to extract the right words with the right tone and feeling of purpose from our mouths.

I felt a little better when Scot blew his part on our next try.

Take Seven was the charm. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty effing good. Good enough for horseshoes, hand grenades, and a couple of writers doing their effing best to get their message across. I can’t wait to share the results, the what and the why of Effin Artist and my exciting role within it.

Long odds pay off with release of ‘Fixed’

Doug Piotter is a writer I respect and work with in a writers group. I encourage you to pick up a copy of Doug’s book, edited by another great writer/editor and friend A. Scot Bolsinger, founder of our writers group. Doug’s book is funny and honest, just like him!

EFFinArtist

Doug Piotter beat long odds in life. He continues to do so, as the release of his comedic memoir attests. A guy who lived the life that my friend Doug has, shouldn’t be breathing, let alone publishing books. But here he is, as of today, a published author.

I’m honored to introduce to you, Fixed: Dope sacks, dye packs, and the long welcome back, by Doug Piotter.

Doug’s story is compelling. The Seattle native’s unique perspective and gratitude for the life he has helps also make it funny. Very funny, which comes through in his quirky writing style.

doug2

It’s staggering to think Doug came out the other side of harsh addiction, a bottom-feeding, crime-riddled youth and a decade in prison. It’s literally miraculous that he came out the person he is, enthusiastic, positive, driven, successful and still, after more than a 22 years of sobriety, giving back in service…

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Güera in Wirikuta: Meeting Don Juan

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The path to Don Juan’s Ranch

The road began to narrow and the dirt changed from beige to the rusty hue of ocher. We hadn’t seen a house for over an hour when we arrived at a crossroads where a cluster of some six or seven buildings sat. I figured we must be getting close to our destination because two of the buildings were decorated with colorful murals of Huichol imagery. One was a portrait of a shaman next to a blue deer, on top of which many smaller images of peyote and other plants were painted. The shaman was recognizable from his characteristic sombrero adorned with eagle feathers and tassels along the outside edge. A second smaller building bore images of the ocean and the Huichol name for the ocean spirit “Tatei Haramara,” meaning Grandmother Ocean, in bright red.

IMG_20150307_083141At our shaman Lupe’s request we stopped and Victor, Joel, and I got out to stretch our legs while Lupe went to look for someone. I quickly surveyed the area for a bathroom just in case. To my great consternation there was none that I could see. We took the obligatory tourist shots of one another in front of the larger mural before we were herded back into the van by Lupe.

From here we turned left onto a side road that shot straight up the side of the mountain. The road narrowed and the terrain became more severe: cliffs rose steeply on our left and fell away dramatically to the right, the tops of trees growing below just barely reaching the road’s surface. In places small waterfalls cascaded down the dark grey cliff faces and gathered in small pools on the side of the road.

Before long the terrain flattened out and we were surrounded by stands of tall pines, whereas previously the forests were dominated by deciduous trees. Massive walls of beige and grey rock jutted proudly out of the surrounding terrain. Next thing I knew the van bounced and creaked into the diminutive village of San Jose Escuela. True to it’s name, a school (escuela) sits at the center of this gathering of ten or so homes and public buildings constructed of low-fire red brick. We parked next to one of the small single-story homes. A couple of wooden benches flanked the short central doorway. Behind the house several small pigs snorted and tousled in a rough dirt area fenced by gnarled wooden posts. Next to the house sat a smaller one-room building the size of some Americans’ walk-in closets. This was the general store.

Don Lupe, his son Memo, and Victor disembarked from the van while the rest of us waited. I assumed it was Mario they sought, the other shaman who was already in the sierra having arrived several days before. The men returned and loaded back into the van. Some words were exchanged in Wiratika and Victor fired up the van. I normally would have asked what was happening and where we were going, but between being up all night and my intestinal woes, I was uncharacteristically passive and decided to just go with the flow. We continued heading northeast on what resembled a rough track more than a road. Uneven and littered with large sharp rocks, it was only wide enough for one vehicle. I wondered what we’d do if we met someone coming the other way as there was no shoulder to speak of and in many areas where the side of the road ended the land dropped off precipitously. It wasn’t long before we met a couple of locals utilizing the preferred mode of transportation – burrows (donkeys). It occurred to me that this was the ideal way get around in the region and as our van creaked and swayed over the uneven, rock-strewn road I became convinced we’d either get a flat tire or a break an axle before long. As concern gathered as stress in my body, I felt my shoulders creep towards my ears, while held tight to the molded door handle. When I finally voiced my concerns about the van’s ability to sustain the abuse, they were dismissed offhand.

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The rough track of a road and the surrounding mountain landscape.

“You worry too much, Güera,” was Victor’s patronizing response. This became his mantra any time I expressed misgivings about something.

The countryside surrounding San Jose Escuela is dotted with small ranches where the Huichol grow corn, squash, and tomatoes, raise pigs, chickens, a few cows, and horses, mules, or burrows for transportation and plowing. The small clusters of buildings comprising each ranch, with their grey thatched roofs and stone walls, were hard to make out against the identically colored rock-strewn landscape. But at that time of year a gentle haze of purple and pink flowers adorning peach and apple trees planted along bordering stone fences helped to define their boundaries. I wondered how they were able to grow anything in such a rock strewn landscape.

IMG_0924Eventually we ran out of road and when that didn’t stop our progress, a stand of trees finally did. It wasn’t quite noon, but the sun had gathered appreciable strength by the time we all tumbled out of the van and began hiking down a narrow foot path.

My sandals turned out not to be the best footwear for the hike, so when we reached a particularly steep section in the descent, I took them off and walked in my bare feet.

“Careful Güera,” warned Lupe’s daughter Angela. “There are spines and stickers on many of the plants here.”

In response to her warning, I increased the care with which I picked my way over the rocks. Nevertheless, soon a sharp sticker impaled the ball of my foot and made me cry out. I pulled up short to remove the offending spine. It turned out to be a very reticent seed head covered in so many spines that I couldn’t grab it with my fingers. I tried to use one of my sandals to flick it off, but after several painful attempts, I gave up and decided on another approach. Meanwhile Angela, her mother Olivia and Marianna looked on with concern.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll get it out.”

I looked around for a stick or a rock with a sharp edge. A thin piece of rock did the trick and I was soon on my way, choosing my path with even greater care.

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Don Juan’s ranch sits among the bright green trees in the valley below.

As we reached the bottom of the valley, the terrain turned to sparse grass and sedge meadows dotted with low spiny trees, bushes, and the occasional nopal cactus. In the distance I could see the bright green canopy of a Mesquite tree and the deep green tops of a couple other tall trees. I stopped to put my sandals back on and take a few photographs. As I did Don Lupe, his son Memo, Angela, and Victor all passed me and continued on ahead.

Rancho Ciudad Juarez is where Olivia, Lupe’s wife grew up. Her parents, Don Juan and Leocadia, and her younger brother Juanito were there to greet our party. By the time I got there, however, everyone but Olivia had scattered, busying themselves with one thing or another and Victor was deep in conversation with Juanito.

Juanito exuded strength and confidence. He was dressed in traditional Huichol clothing – white cotton smock-shirt and pants with colorful piping along the edges. He wore an especially ornate shamans sombrero covered thickly in eagle feathers with a red fringe and blue tassels. Olivia sat on the ground with Jonathan, Marianna and Mario’s 18 month-old son in her arms. The others were off greeting their cousins, aunts, and uncles or making themselves busy with I knew not what.

The ranch consisted of two main structures – one larger than the other. The larger was a round-walled building with a stone foundation and grey low-fired brick walls with a roof that consisted of wood poles crossed with finer sticks and thatched over that with thick layers of long grasses greyed by the passage of time. The second building just beyond the first was a smaller rectangular affair made of the same type of grey bricks, but with a simpler pitched roof of large wood shingles. In the middle of the clearing that seemed to define the center of the ranch was a patch of earth grey with the ashes of many fires. Next to this were several flat rocks on which pots and pans sat. The soil next to these was stained burgundy, I presumed from the blood of an animal recently sacrificed.

IMG_0949Aroused from their temporary slumber by the hike down the mountain, my intestines began once again to communicate an urgent need that I had no choice but to heed. I walked off into the desertscape, looking for a little privacy, ever watchful for snakes.

I returned feeling weaker yet and looked for somewhere to sit near Olivia under the wide-branched Mesquite tree. But before I could find a place to rest, Angela was at my side inviting me to join everyone in a circle around the now lit fire. This would be the first of many cleansing ceremonies to prepare us for our journey to Wirikuta.

Each of us was handed a small stick from one of the nearby trees. One at a time the shamans, Juanito, Lupe, and Don Juan, went from person to person and with chants and their muvieris (their power arrows to which eagle feathers are affixed) blessed us. But as Don Juan moved on to the next person after conducting his blessing of me, my stick seemed to jump out and grabbed onto his shirt. He pulled up, looked me sternly in the eye, and backing up slightly, unhooked himself before moving on again. I was mortified and wondered just what had happened. It seemed as though my stick acted of its own accord. Granted I was not feeling well and my stick was covered in little barbed hook-like projections, but I couldn’t help but think, as I knew the Huichol would, that this was not an insignificant occurrence. I couldn’t fathom what it could possibly mean though and wondered if anyone else who might be able to tell me had witnessed it.

The blessings completed we each rubbed our sticks over our bodies to cleanse ourselves of negative energy and then offered it to Tatewari, Grandfather Fire, who would purify it and us. Once we’d all put our sticks in the fire, the circle of people broke up and everyone returned to their business. My head spun slightly with weakness and confusion and I turned to find somewhere to sit down.

Before I could sit down though, Angela approached me once again.

“How are you feeling Güera?” she asked, genuinely concerned.

“A bit weak,” I admitted, “but I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

“You know, my grandfather is a highly respected shaman. Would you like him to do a healing for you?”

From my previous experience with her father Lupe, I had an idea of what a healing consisted of and figured that anything that might help rid me of the demon that was tearing at my insides was worth a try.

“Yes, please,” I responded, “that sounds like a good idea.”

Momentarily, Angela returned with her grandfather and introduced me as “La Güera.” In response to Don Juan’s curious expression, she laughed and admitted she didn’t know my real name.

“My Mexican friends call me Alba,” I said, holding out my hand in greeting.

Don Juan is a man I estimated to be in his mid to late fifties. Like the rest of the men, he was dressed in traditional Huichol clothing. On his head he wore a relatively plain, but new-looking straw sombrero with three colorful pompoms affixed along the upper portion of the brim where they were barely visible. I was surprised by the simplicity of his sombrero, that it featured neither eagle feathers nor the tassels that adorn most shamans’ hats. Similarly, on his feet, in contrast to the heavy-soled, woven leather sandals (called huaraches) that most Huichol wear, he wore beige construction boots. His physical appearance was one of contrasts as well – I detected both a softness exemplified by his light brown skin and an edgy sharpness expressed in his intense dark eyes and long hawkish nose. Among the Huichol, shamans are considered to be the embodiment of the eagle spirit, able to sore high with vision that extends around the world. Interesting then that in many ways Don Juan resembles an eagle.

The incident with the stick, while I knew was not forgotten, neither was it acknowledged nor did it stop him from his task. In short order, he invited me to lay down on a blanket that Angela placed on the ground under the Mesquite tree and told me to relax and breath normally. I lay back, the dark branches of Mesquite spread out above me, and closed my eyes.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Güera in Wirikuta.

Güera in Wirikuta: Cathartic Purgation*

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The following post is the second in a multi-part series. To begin reading at the beginning click on THIS LINK.

The basic difference between an ordinary [person] and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, whereas an ordinary [person] takes everything as a blessing or a curse.                           Don Juan, Tales of Power by Carlos Casteneda

Gradually the roads we traveled became narrower and more isolated, the way was dotted by checkpoints manned by state and municipal police. When we began the climb into the most isolated part of the mountains our progress was halted by a band of rifle-touting men in plain clothes. My pulse quickened as I wondered if they were banditos after our valuables, but then I saw among them a woman in traditional Huichol clothing. I relaxed, knowing they meant us no harm. Each time as the van rolled to a stop and I lowered the window to answer their questions, “Where are you going?” and “Where have you come from?” the inquisitioner’s expression changed from one of seriousness to surprise when they saw who was behind the wheel.

As the clock ticked past 3AM, my eyes began to strain and the road to wind up and down in steep hairpin turns.

On cue, Lupe’s voice cut through the low rumble of the van’s engine, “Are you hungry Güera?”

“Hungry?” I asked. “Well, no, uh, I’m not hungry…maybe a bit tired.”

He laughed good-naturedly at my misunderstanding.

“No,” he said, “not that kind of hunger…”

There was a pause after which he continued, “Here, give me your hand.”

I reached my right arm back, palm facing upwards into which he placed a small soft object. I wrapped my fingers around it and bringing it forward felt with my fingers the slightly moist texture of a small piece of peyote cactus. I smiled and wondered, did he read my mind just then? I placed it in my mouth and chewed it down to a pulp, knowing it would provide the stimulation to let me drive on deeper into the night, same as a cup of coffee, but without the jitters. The subtle effects of the small wedge of cactus came on about twenty minutes or so after I’d swallowed it and I realized an additional benefit of peyote over coffee was that it sharpened my night vision.

Slowly but surely we drove higher into the sierras of Narayit. The route reminded me of many drives I’d made in the Laurentian mountains of Quebec where my family has a summer cottage and led me to consider, once again, how in hind sight often our lives turn out to be a series of lessons and experiences that lead up to and support some higher purpose, like how in John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany Owen insists that he and his buddy practice the basketball shot over and over again, we know not why…until the book’s zenith.

Night still cloaked the surrounding countryside in darkness when the rumbling in my intestines began to compete with the narrow strip of winding road for my attention. Before long I winced and gripped the steering wheel tighter with fingers already cramped with fatigue as sharp cramps joined the rumbling. I wondered if the peyote and quesadillas were having a disagreement. But no, I reminded myself, Hikuri and blue corn quesadillas get along just fine. It’s only when you eat non-Mexican food that it protests. I pulled over when my discomfort made it nearly impossible to concentrate on the road and Victor took took my place. Our extreme isolation meant I no longer worried about him driving without a license, but road conditions and my discomfort made resting in any significant way an impossibility.

The sky had brightened with impending dawn when the cramping in my gut became too much to bear.

“Pull over,” I said, my teeth and anal spincter correspondingly clenched.

“Huh?” Victor replied, his focus on driving and oblivious to the seriousness of my condition. “What do you…?”

I didn’t let him finish. “Just pull over Victor! Pull over now! I need to go to the…” A cramp seized me, rendering me temporarily speechless until the last two words came out in a gasp, “…bathROOM NOW!”

He quickly located a wide area of graded dirt off the edge of a wide curve in the road and pulled off. I jumped out of the van before it came to a full stop and scoured the surroundings for somewhere I could squat out of sight of the 12 or so bleary-eyed people who came tumbling out of the van behind me. We were perched on the side of a mountain, the land dropping steeply away from the patch of dirt the van sat on. Spectacular, yes. Forgiving of someone looking for a quiet spot to take a crap, no. Thankfully, the grader left a pile of dirt at the far end of where we parked that I decided might just be large and high enough to provide the necessary cover. Once I got over there I realized it was not as high as I’d hoped, but my anus told me I would have to make due.

I squatted for so long that soon I heard the telltale murmurrings of impatience. Another minute and I decided I’d done all I could do. I stood up, knees shaking, and surveyed the results. Astounding. Bovine in proportion even. I said a little prayer that I’d purged whatever it was that ailed me and joined the restless crew who’d already loaded back into the van. We needed to make time. Lupe was expected at a ceremony begun the previous night and we still had a long way to go.

Less than half an hour later, where the pavement ended and the ocher-tinged dirt and scattered sharp rocks began, I begged Victor to stop again. This time there was no pile of dirt to hide behind and I found myself choosing my footholds carefully as I traversed the steep hillside looking for somewhere to squat. In places I prayed as I grabbed the branches of low-lying bushes to swing from one section of the path I was on to the next. I imagine the path I was on was cut by the hooves of agile goats and I was not feeling particularly fleet footed at that particular moment in time. I found a slightly wider section of worn dirt and, grabbing onto the branches of another small shrub, squatted.

From where I crouched the steep mountain plunged vertically, the bottom invisible. I thought again how this could be the end of me and pictured myself tumbling backwards, ass over tea kettle with my dress up over my head, underwear like hobbles around my ankles, full moon exposed to the first hawks and song birds of early dawn. I was startled out of my nightmare vision by Victor yelling at me to hurry up. Later he would tell me he thought I’d been taking my time “sightseeing.”

“If only,” I replied, torn between amusement and annoyance at his utter cluelessness about the suffering I’d endured.

When I finally arrived back at the van, a fine layer of sweat had gathered on my upper lip and a glance in the sideview mirror at my pallor proved I’d left most of my color back on that mountainside along with the remaining contents of my intestines. I said another prayer that I’d passed whatever evil presence possessed me.

~~~~

*Author’s Note:  The title “Cathartic Purgation” comes from a botanical description of an arctic plant in a book I stored away before moving to Mexico. I don’t recall the name of the plant, but its description included a warning that the result of eating a specific part of the plant would be “cathartic purgation.” I had to look the meaning up and was tickled to discover that purgation is the act of purging or purifying, and shares the same Latin root as the word Purgatory. Addition of “cathartic” as a an adjective describing the kind of purgation is all about the degree of purification you’re likely to experience.

Güera in Wirikuta: The Pilgrimage Begins

IMG_20150307_083544You may recall the series of blogs I published here about my first peyote ceremony. Two years and several ceremonies later, I found myself taking the next step on a spiritual pilgrimage that began with that ceremony. This is the first in another series of posts describing that journey.

Every year in March the Huichol begin the process that takes them to the most sacred sites in their spiritual cosmology. It’s the annual pilgrimage that leads ultimately to Wirikuta, the sacred land where peyote grows. Every year they travel thousands of miles to fulfill their spiritual commitment and to collect peyote for ceremonies in the year that follows. The pilgrimage period encompasses four full months beginning in March with preparations that include cleanses and sacrifices and culminating in late June with a closing ceremony.

This year I joined the shamans Lupe and Mario, and their families on the pilgrimage. During the 10 day period I shared with them we traveled first to their home in the mountains (la sierra) for the intial cleansing period, to the Virgin of Guadalupe Basilica in Mexico City to leave offerings and ask for safe passage on our voyage, and then on to the five sacred sites visited annually, including Wirikuta.

Our journey started in Guadalajara where my follow journeyer Victor and I rented a large passenger van. Our first stop was to pick up Joel, another “mestizo” (Mexican of mixed race), who carried with him large bags of pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and chia from his family’s ranch. For both Joel and Victor, this was the second time they would join the Huichol on the annual pilgrimage. From Guadalajara we drove North to Tepic, Narayit, where Guadalupe, our shaman, lives with his family – Olivia his wife and their two children, Angela, 18, and Guillermo, 13. Angela and Memo both speak Spanish fluently, unlike their parents and Mario’s wife, and proved to be excellent guides and interpreters, as well as positive upbeat companions, throughout the journey.

In Tepic, while we waited for Lupe to return from Puerto Vallarta where he’d gone to sell some artwork, Olivia, Angela, Memo, Victor, Joel and I walked across the street to Tepic’s annual Easter fair, one of the largest in Mexico. The Huichol have their own area there where they set up booths to sell their artwork and a kitchen area with several wood-fired barbecues on which the women turn blue corn flour and cheese into quesadillas. The Huichol consider blue corn the most sacred of the five possible colors of maize. In their colorful traditional clothing surrounded by vast collections of beaded and embroidered artwork, the Huichol created a festive feast for the eyes. In preparation for the pilgrimage, I’d begun to fast that day, but seeing and smelling the blue corn tortillas cooking over the open fires, I could not resist and ate several – two with squash flowers embedded in the fresh cheese, two with nopal (rabbit-ear) cactus.

While we enjoyed the quesadillas, several Huichol ladies and their children bellied up to the table to join us. One of the women in particular made an indelible impression on me – she wore a deep purple shirt with matching skirt with white, blue and black piping. Her straight raven-colored hair was pulled back in a pony tail that emphasized her long neck, decorated with a beaded choker necklace. Her face, with its flawless skin, high cheekbones, large almond-shaped eyes, and thin straight nose combined with her erect, proud bearing gave her a royal air. Her name was Rosa. Leaning against her mother, seven-year old Imelda was a carbon copy down to her garb in the same intense hue of purple, the choker necklace. From what I could tell, the only difference between them was that more often than not Imelda’s face was adorned with an unabashed smile and she would join us on the pilgrimage, whereas her mother would not.

After the quesadillas, we took the children, six in all, on the merry-go-round and a mini Ferris wheel. As we walked about the crowded fair grounds the two little girls each took one of my hands. I was struck by their comfort with me, La Güera [pronounced “wera,” with a soft “e” like “where.” It means “the white woman” or “whitey.”]

Before long though Olivia, Lupe’s wife, signaled to us that it was time to go. Lupe had called and it was time to prepare for our journey to the sierras. Our first stop on the journey to Wirikuta would be the tiny village of San Jose Escuela and on to the ranch where Lupe grew up.

When we arrived at Lupe’s house, he and his family hurriedly packed what they would need for the trip. It was almost midnight and I wondered, when they’d known for days that we were coming, why they didn’t have their things packed and ready to go. On further consideration I realized that this is one of the many cultural differences between this white Anglo Saxon protestant Canadian and the Huichol. I told myself that I would need to go with the flow on this trip. I lay down on one of the van’s long bench seats and rested to the sound of scurrying and chatter in their native tongue, Wiratika. It was just after 1:00AM I pulled the van out of the small yard next to Lupe’s house, listening carefully as soft-spoken Lupe issued directions on how to get back to the highway that would take us to the mountains. Lupe’s son Memo facilitated the process by repeating each of his father’s instructions more vociferously.

I try not to drive at night in Mexico. Roads and obstacles are poorly marked and other drivers’ condition uncertain. There’s a lot of drinking and driving in this country, which makes Sundays an especially treacherous day to be on the road. I was comforted that we were traveling on a Thursday. I insisted on driving because I was the only one insured to drive the rented vehicle and I suspect may have also been the only one with a valid drivers license.

The only other vehicles on the highway at that time of night were transport trucks trying to make time. They drove fast and didn’t let up for anything. In contrast, Victor admonished me that we’d never get there at that rate I was driving. Against my better judgement I pressed the gas pedal further to the floor, picking up considerable speed on the good quality two-lane highway.

It was only an hour or so into our drive when we came over a hill and faced a transport truck coming straight at us as it passed another rig. The older highways in Baja rarely have anything resembling a shoulder and there is often a drop of several feet from the edge of the pavement to the ground below. So my first thought was that we probably had nowhere to go. Confronted with the transport truck bearing down on us and the knowledge that if I were to leave the lane we’d likely fly off into a rough landscape and likely roll the van, I could have frozen with panic. Instead, time slowed to a crawl and I had time to consider whether this would be the end of our journey, only just begun. I didn’t want to believe it. I looked right and discovered there was in fact a shoulder there. I purposefully angled the van towards the white line that defined our lane from the shoulder, at the very same instant that the transport swerved back into his proper lane, missing us by, I believe, mere inches.

From the seat behind me, Lupe’s voice came quiet and reassuring, “You handled that well Güera.” I breathed a sigh of relief and gave thanks that we were all still alive. I couldn’t help but think Lupe had as much if not more to do with us still being in one piece and the weight of the great responsibility I’d taken on by agreeing to chauffeur such precious cargo about the Mexican countryside became more tangible and heavy on my shoulders.