The Condition My Condition Is In

For whatever reason, I don’t get a lot of comments on this blog. People read it, but they don’t feel the need to express their opinions afterwards. Maybe they’d like to tell me what they really think, but they’re being polite. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of comments made here and via email in response to my last post, in which I admitted to feeling the negative effects of my isolated lifestyle. Those words of thoughtful advice and encouragement reminded me that loneliness is a common ailment in our increasingly isolated and isolating societies. It became apparent there was a lot of empathy to my plight, a lot of “yeah, I’ve been there.”

The number of comments spoke of how many of us have felt this emotion, but while wandering around Facebook the day after publishing that blog, I stumbled across an article from Slate magazine called Loneliness is Deadly. The Universe tapping me directly on the shoulder? The melodramatic title did its attention-getting job. As I read it, I couldn’t help but notice that much of what the author described as the consequences of loneliness I knew, at least intuitively, to be true. I realized that for months, except for to a couple of close friends, I had avoided communicating how I felt because of the stigma associated with admitting we are lonely. The notion that we are capital “L” Losers if we admit to being lonely is sad, potentially disastrous, and just so much BS. If we avoid talking about it, we’ll never realize that there are a whole bunch of us walking around here not realizing that there are bunch of us out there feeling the same way. Comfort in numbers, my lonely friends!

A few days later I opened my email to be struck by the timeliness of Nathan Bransford’s latest post “Writing and Loneliness.” Then, just to make sure I really got the message, a week later the Daily Good newsletter I receive each day drove home the bottom line, the same message all those comments to my blog were sending: While we may be lonely, “We Have Never Been Alone.” Hannah Brencher distilled my feelings and pointed out an oft forgotten reality:

Loneliness is quite capable of swallowing us whole. And Loneliness will think to do a lot of things, but it will never think to spit us back up until we look around and realize that we have never been Alone.

Alone and Loneliness. They are two different things. One is thick, and the other is a myth. We have never been alone, not a day in our lives. What kind of devil hissed this lie in our ears? Yes, we have felt tender. Yes, we have felt defeated. But no, we have never been alone so much as we have refused to let the others in.

And so I began to examine where I might be keeping people out, whether I was the one who was isolating myself or had circumstances conspired to put me here in Isolationville?

I’d already taken matters into my own hands to actively remedy my situation.

Solution Number One was seeking and applying for jobs that will either give me the financial wherewithal to get out of Dodge more often, or necessitate leaving Dodge altogether.

Solution Number Two was to once again temporarily get out of Dodge. There’s nothing like a two week surf vacation away from your regular surfing life to give you a new lease on life!

The little town where I found myself was itself remote, but it turned out that I was not the only one looking to for a little surf-related R&R. New friendships were made and old ones renewed. And that saying about a change being as good as a rest? Well, it’s a cliché for good reason.

A few days into my surf vacation, I realized I’d never actually taken a surf vacation. By that I mean, I’ve never taken a trip for the express purpose of surfing. Yes, I’ve surfed away from home, but rarely, and I’ve always had another reason for taking the trip. Surfing hasn’t been the primary focus. I’ve even flown all the way to Fiji and Hawaii and not so much as paddled.

I spent two weeks at this very special surf spot and, unlike when I am at home, had no trouble at all getting up well before sunrise to hit the water before the crowds. I was the first one out every morning with only one exception (and yes, the size of the surf probably had something to do with the fact that no one was really chomping at the bit to get out there). I was pleasantly surprised on the first morning to see my favorite winter constellations – Orion and Sirius – shining overhead as I loaded the truck with essentials (lots of drinking water and my buddy Friday). The water’s coolness washed away any lingering drowsiness as I dragged my feet through the shallows (to avoid getting stung by stingrays who might be lurking on the sandy bottom). Sirius blinked in the gradually brightening sky as I paddled out into the bay where two to three footers peeled right to left from the rocky point. I placed myself a few feet inside of where I knew the larger waves would break, hoping to be the recipient of one of the set waves that typically appear just before the sun breaks the horizon. It was pure joy catching that first wave each morning before anyone else was out. The sight of me erect and sailing across the face of a wave was usually enough to get the campers moving though and soon I’d be joined by two, then three or four others.

Friday, traveler extraordinaire.

Friday, tucked in next to the 6’8″ Roger Beal, which sadly didn’t get wet this trip.

Near the end of the first week, more campers appeared along the bluff overlooking the break in response to swell reports that promised better waves, waves that had yet to materialize. By the time the sun had risen there’d be six, sometimes eight of us in the water, chasing knee-high waves. The waves’ size made for a mellow crowd. We shared the little peelers and chatted between inconsistent two-wave sets. The vibe was sweet and it felt good to be part of something so positive. Even the boys from Orange County, used to surfing among the aggro crowd at Trestles, encouraged me to drop in on them, yelling, “Party wave!” more than a little often. My faith in So Cal surfers was renewed along with my conviction that being connected to the larger Human Race is our natural state, our salvation.

Beautiful, but about as close to flat as it gets.

*********************

And speaking of small waves, here’s a beautiful piece about riding the small stuff, Small Waves by Thorpe Moeckel.

Stuck in a Moment?

"Rock, Hard Place" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.I’m feeling that prickly sensation of mild sunburn on my forehead and the backs of my legs. After two weeks out of the water and away from Baja, it’s good to be home. I wasn’t so sure that I’d be feeling this way though. I wasn’t sure I was going to want to come home.

I’ve not only been MIA from this blog for a while, but I’ve been feeling MIA from life a fair bit too. I’ve been struggling, depressed and lonely. I’ve been fighting with the realities of my lifestyle.

I’m pretty sure I can hear you thinking where do I get off feeling this way? Believe me, I’ve been told many times and am usually very aware that I have every reason to be content, that I live a life most people would give a few fingers for. My ex, in his eloquence, is fond of saying I’ve “got it dicked.” And I usually can convince myself that’s true and find a reason to be content, if not outright happy. But there’s something missing and so much of what is obvious from the outside looking in just masks the difficult realities of my lifestyle. To compound the problem, I feel a tremendous amount of guilt any time I feel dissatisfied. Feeling guilty about how I’m feeling does nothing to help the situation.

When I find myself in this place, I do my best not to wallow or let it drag me down into a pit of self-pity. What I do instead is gratefully acknowledge everything I have, eat right, drink less and try to figure out what fundamentally is making me feel like crap so I can fix it. The fix is always one of two things – an attitude adjustment or something external I can change. Typically the former approach is enough to turn things around, but when the depression is the result of too much partying and surfing, and not enough sleep, changing my external circumstances can work wonders. This time though the only cause I could come up with was that I had been living in isolation for eight months and needed to get out. Getting out, however, requires funds, which are in short supply (for now, she optimistically writes), so I turned to my ex who’d been asking me to come help him with a landscaping project on Maui. He’d fly me to Hawaii in exchange for help with his project, some baking and home cooked meals.

The remarkable thing is that as soon as I booked my tickets, I felt better. Instantly. Days before my scheduled departure. I woke up early, enthusiastic for what the day would bring and looking forward to what lay ahead. I thought, “!s that all it takes? Something different to look forward to?”

As the plane took off and banked North in the direction of San Francisco, I felt a elephantine weight lift and my mood shifted skyward with the plane. Less than 24 hours in San Francisco and I started to think, “Maybe I should move to California and get a real job, get involved in some kind of community work…rejoin civilization.” Yeah, I can barely believe it either.

And then, rather than laugh at myself, leave it at that unbelievable thought, and return to my unreal life, I said out loud to three well-connected people, “So if you know anyone who’s looking for someone to house sit, a writer or editor, or anything really, let me know.”

On Maui, I began the process of formulating a plan that would make my new dream come true. I even came up with a way I could have my cake and eat it too. “I’ll get a writing job that only requires that I be in the office periodically.” And there were thoughts of landing a regular house- and animal-sitting gig.

The time on the island went fast. Too fast. I kept thinking up reasons why I should stay longer. “We didn’t accomplish enough on the project.” “I should go to this writing workshop that’s scheduled on the Sunday after I’m supposed leave.” “I didn’t get to have good pizza.” “I really should go see friend X.” But I had responsibilities back home that couldn’t wait and some disturbed weather off the coast of southern Mexico suggested a tropical storm might form sooner rather than later. I kept to the original plan and promised myself I’d return to the City by the Bay this fall or winter.

The flight from Maui to San Francisco, via Portland is not short. I had plenty of time to get caught up on my reading. I’d packed my Kindle in my checked baggage by mistake, so I read the only thing I had handy – Volume 24.3 of The Surfers Journal. And as I read from front to back cover, three quotes in three separate articles resonated with me, revealing a theme that shed light on the source of my dissatisfaction.

It’s easy to feel isolated when you’re no longer part of mainstream life.”

Day after day, no matter how perfect the waves get, there is a feeling of remoteness here, a sense that the rest of the world is moving along, more engaged, more connected, and more interesting.”

I felt a pang of recognition delivered with the pointier end of a stick as I read the last one:

If every day is a holiday, there are no more holidays.”

There they were, hard, sharp, and undeniable on the page – the three main reasons I was feeling down, along with their remedies:

Isolation, remoteness, and monotony versus engaged, connected, and interesting.

I feel, often, like I am on another planet or could be, for all the interaction I have with people. The little bit I have is limited in scope and time. What I’m struggling with, bumping up against, is the need to feel connected, deeply connected, to other members of the human race and to feel engaged in some cause that benefits others. But I’m scared by what that means. Really scared. That ache-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach scared. It’s the changes I’d have to make implied by this realization that scare the living shit out of me. And then I think, “What if this feeling is something that will pass and I end up regretting it for the rest of my life?” After all, we’re talking about walking away from what, for the most part, is a pretty amazing lifestyle. Then I worry that I’m looking in the wrong place for a solution to my dissatisfaction – external conditions. Maybe I just need to “do the work” and everything will turn rosy again. Maybe, just maybe, I’m “stuck in a moment and can’t get out of it.” But the memory of the epiphany I had on that plane tells me that’s just wishful thinking. The prospect of leaving this surfers’ paradise is daunting. But if at the other end I find meaning and fulfillment, the choice seems pretty obvious. Nevertheless, I don’t know. I just don’t know. Do you?

Mystic in Mexico Part II: Meeting Hikuri

bonfireThe following is the second in a series of blogs. To read Part I, go HERE.

In November 2012, I was on the beach packing up to leave after a surf, when my friend Crystal happened by. We chatted briefly, and then, out of the blue, she invited me to participate in a temescal. A temescal is a ceremony that takes place in a small enclosed space with a hole dug in the ground at the center into which burning hot stones are placed. Water is poured over the white hot stones to create lung-searing steam, which causes sweat to pour from every pore in your body such that you are transformed into something resembling a fountain. It purifies your body and, purportedly, your spirit. I imagine if you’re impure enough, you might vaporize entirely, leaving behind just a shell of skin in a pile on the dirt floor.

I’d participated in a temescal with Crystal a couple of years prior and found the intense heat overwhelming, the result more exhausting than invigorating. I’d barely managed to remain in the little enclosure and, desperate to get some cool air into my lungs, had to lie with the side of my face in the dirt near a flap of the tarp covering the lodge’s frame. This time though I was three days into a juice cleanse and thought her invitation rather serendipitous. All that sweating would help me take the cleanse to another level, if I could only withstand the claustrophobia and intense heat.

As I ruminated over whether to accept her invitation, Crystal continued, “If you decide to come be sure to bring a blanket and warm clothing…oh and a candle.”

I looked at her curiously, not understanding.

“The Huichol may be coming too,” she said, almost as an after thought.

Padre! (cool!)” I exclaimed.

With her mention of the Huichol the decision was made easily and If it weren’t for the fact that my meaning would be totally lost in translation, I would have said,  “I’ll be there with bells on.”

IMG_8816The day of the temescal three skinny dogs announced my arrival as I pulled up to  Crystal’s boyfriend’s house on my ATV. Fernando’s property sits perched on a hill overlooking the Sea of Cortez and as the sun set behind the ochre hills, the sky and its reflection in the glassy sea slowly turned shades of soft pink and lavender. Crystal emerged from one of several small buildings on the property to call the dogs off. The atmosphere was positive and inviting. We embraced in greeting and chatted briefly when a car pulled up the driveway. Four people emerged – two men dressed in the characteristic garb of the Huichol, a third man and a woman, both dressed in modern western clothing. Like the man from the gallery years ago, the Huichol wore loose white cotton shirts and pants with brightly colored embroidery around the bottom, across the chest and around the wrists. On their feet they wore huaraches woven from narrow strips of leather. The younger Huichol had a rectangular, red bag embroidered with deep purple flowers slung diagonally across his shoulder. He would keep the bag slung there throughout our time together – only later would I learn its significance.

We made our introductions and I hugged each of them in turn. The shaman, Guadalupe, hugged me stiffly and kept his left hand clenched at his heart. To guard it, I thought and wondered if perhaps hugging a shaman was inappropriate. I turned to the woman named Mio and we chatted while the others got organized. She was attractive with fair skin and brown eyes. I noticed immediately a gentle, loving energy about her. The man, Ajax, with whom she’d come was of small stature with a short, manicured black beard. He quickly disappeared after we’d been introduced, helping with the preparations. I was surprised to learn I was the only foreigner taking part.

As the sky began to darken, we built a pyre of wood and stones from a large pile of driftwood Fernando and Crystal’s sons, Mauricio and Tonatui, had gathered earlier that day. The stones, about the size of a large grapefruit or pomelo were full of small round holes like lava. As we worked, Guadalupe began chanting a blessing over the wood and stones. When the pyre was several feet high and the stones, twelve in total, were carefully nestled within, Fernando lit the fire. We all took several steps back as it grew and the heat intensified.

Mario, Guadalupe’s assistant, laid out a small altar, low to the ground between the fire and the white plastic chairs he and Guadalupe would sit on throughout the ceremony. The altar consisted of a burgundy cloth laid over a platform only a few inches high onto which sacred objects were placed. Guadalupe prayed over them in a low rhythmic chant. I could not understand the words as he spoke in Wixárika (pronounced wee-rá-reeka), the Huichol language. He held a stick with large feathers tied to it, waving it up and down, back and forth, gesturing to the four compass headings as he prayed quietly. Crystal had instructed me to bring two candles and ribbon with me. I placed these on the altar alongside the others with a small box of sandalwood incense. According to Huichol mythology, candles represent the illumination of the human spirit and hold the sacred gift of fire from the sun and fire gods. Along with the ribbon tied around it, the candle served as my offering and payment to the deities for the opportunity to be there that night. Both the candle and ribbon I’d brought were green, which symbolize the Earth, Heaven, healing, the heart, and growth in Huichol mythology.

It seemed understood that Guadalupe shouldn’t be disturbed as he went about his incantations and Crystal’s older son, Mauricio, asked his assistant Mario about something on the alter.

I listened as Mario gestured at several small, round, grayish green cactus buds and explained, “Before eating, first you must remove the small hairs from the skin of Hikuri. This is where some of the bitterness comes from. Then chew it well before swallowing.”

He turned to me and gnashed his teeth together to demonstrate, not realizing I understood Spanish.

Peyote_Cactus“We will eat the cactus?” I inquired of Mario.

“Yes, if you want to,” he confirmed.

I looked at the pile of small buds Mario had removed from the red bag he carried over his shoulder and placed on the altar. Peyote! I felt my pulse quicken. This was completely unexpected. Should I eat it? Was I in the right frame of mind and spirit? But what an opportunity to eat peyote under the supervision of a Huichol shaman!

Looking for clarity, I asked Crystal and she explained that yes, we could eat the peyote if we chose to. No one was required to do anything they did not want to. She explained now why she’d asked us all to bring blankets and dress warmly.

“We will stay up all night, if we can, and watch the fire. It is part of the ceremony. Guadalupe and Mario will stay until after sunrise.”

All night?! I felt my excitement mount along with a hint of trepidation. Where would this adventure lead?

Here is the link to Part III of Mystic in Mexico.

Sneak Peak

The author on the beach in Cabo Pulmo

On the beach in Cabo Pulmo

After I stopped working in science in March 2005, I didn’t think I’d ever publish another academic article. However, when I was asked to contribute an essay to the the November edition of the online journal Anthropologies, despite some misgivings related to the academic nature of much of its content, I agreed. While The Challenges of Community-Based Conservation is a far cry from the peer-reviewed scientific articles I once published, it describes, in very short, somewhat antiseptic form, the complicated and painful story of my experience conducting a community-based conservation project in the village of Cabo Pulmo in Baja California Sur. It is essentially the Cole’s notes version of the memoir I am writing minus the surfing, sex, and adventure. 😉

I hope you’ll take a peek and that the story will pique your interest in reading my memoir. I’d love to hear your impressions of whether this is the basis for a good story.

Crossing Paths: Mickey and Me

A few weeks ago, I heard Mickey Muñoz was going to be at my local surf break for the filming of a documentary about East Coast Surfers. Even though it was the afternoon and I only surf at that time of day if it’s epic, I made a special effort to get my ass down there to talk to him because I hoped he’d agree to let me interview him as part of the project I’m so excited about. [What shall we call the project? Give me suggestions in the comments below will you? “the project I’m so excited about” will undo my already worn out keyboard.]

I was introduced to Mickey a month earlier by Wingnut Weaver, star of The Endless Summer II, and so, as I walked towards where Mickey and a couple of other people stood on the beach checking the surf, I banked on him remembering me. I don’t really think it mattered whether he remembered me or not – the words, “Mickey, we met about a month ago…” were barely out of my mouth and he was giving me a kiss on the cheek and putting his arm around me like we were best friends. Okay, I guess being a sun-kissed blond has its perks. Mickey proceeded to introduce me to the guy standing next to him – none other than Corky Carroll, the man credited with being the first professional surfer.

I listened as Mickey told one of his signature tales to a rapt audience. By the end of what turned out to be quite a yarn about the effect rain has on Baja journeys (turning them from 1 hour to a day or more), I was boiling hot. We were all standing in the hot September sun! I quickly mentioned that I hoped to interview him and then said, “It’s hot! I gotta get wet!” He agreed and said he’d meet me in the water.

Surfing with Mickey Muñoz turned out to be an uncommon pleasure. I was a little freaked out to discover there were a couple of guys with video cameras in the water with us and one on the beach, but Mickey was so relaxed that he quickly put me at ease. We talked and laughed between sets and I did my best to stay out of his way as he wielded his stand-up paddle board like a man half his age (he’s 75 years old!).

Mickey wielding a mean paddle.   Photo by John Charles Jopson

Near the end of our session together, we got onto the topic of localism – people who think they own their home break and who bring a shitty attitude into the water. He was surprised when I told him his is not the only break on the East Cape to suffer from this negative influence. He considered what I said, turned to me and said, smiling, “Those people have forgotten how lucky they are. Look at where we are! We’re in one of the most beautiful places on earth, sharing waves with just the two of us out. How many people can say that?” I will always remember the breadth of his smile as he spoke from the heart. Mickey Muñoz may be the most stoked surfer I’ve ever met. The title of his book No Bad Waves is a perfect reflection of his attitude.

The sun was approaching the horizon and the camera guys had long ago packed up and left, when Mickey turned to me and said, ”Been a pleasure surfing with you,” as he caught the next wave and surfed off. I sat out there and felt the trail of positive ions lingering in the air behind him flood over and into me. I felt blessed.

Several minutes passed and I looked towards the beach where Mickey remained, standing next to his road-weary Isuzu. I figured, like me, he was just soaking in the energy of the fading day, taking in the perfect little waves peeling off the point. As I sat squinting towards him, it occurred to me suddenly that maybe he was taking a leak! Thankfully he was backlit by the setting sun. I caught a few more waves before he left and, perhaps inspired by our talk and his stoke, I danced more than rode my board across their faces. He was gone the next time I looked over as I paddled back out to the take off spot.

The next day I emailed him to establish electronic communications. I expressed what a pleasure it had been to share the waves with him. His reply came quickly and to my delight began thusly, “I enjoyed our surf session also, you’re a good surfer.” Those last four words made me gush to overflowing with pride. I looked around and the only ones there to share the moment with were the dogs. No matter, I pointed at the screen and said, “Do you believe it? Mickey Muñoz, big wave rider and shaper extraordinaire said I’m a good surfer!” They lifted their heads lazily and looked at each other perplexed, as though they were saying “What is she going on about?” But they got into the spirit and thumped their tails against the floor in applause.

Below the text of his email was something even more special and I now knew what he’d been up to while he hung on the beach that evening. He’d been taking photographs of me riding the waves!! Thanks Mickey for making it look so good.

Photo by Mickey Muñoz

Alive and Writing

I know that from where you’re sitting it looks like I haven’t been writing, but I have, I tell you, I have! For now, anyway, you’ll have to take my word for it. Okay, I’ll be honest and admit that there’s been a lot of surfing and procrastination. Even some foot dragging and downright reticence. But since I last posted here and promised you a blog about the second half of my trip to California, what seems like such very long time ago, I have accomplished the following as far as writing is concerned:

I’ve dusted off my memoir, given its structure some serious thought, cut the several of the opening chapters (saving them of course in a file that I’ll probably never be able to find if I decide I need to exhume them) and taken another stab at writing parts of it. I’ll tell you in all honesty that reading 50 Shades of Grey inspired me to write some of the juicier bits, particularly one scene that involves a dive instructor.

I’ve written copious emails (one of my weaknesses and a way in which I waste bucket-loads of time, but I am here to contend that some of those emails are written in the manner of letter-writing that existed in the early 20th century, long before email and when consideration was given to the literariness (wow, that’s actually a word!) of personal communications. In the case of famous authors and poets anyway, it’s as though they knew that years later biographers and their readers would be judging their letters alongside their literary works).

I’ve journalized. [Yes, that is the correct verb for writing in a journal and according to my dictionary “journalled” is not a word, but I use it to describe this action all the time. Perhaps my dictionary needs updating?] I’ve done this to deal with the mounting anguish I’ve felt because I haven’t been posting to my blog, I’ve generally been misbehaving and none of it has involved a MAN. I’ve been writing the classic stuff of existential navel-gazing that any writer worth their mettle is practically required to do. And I’ve pined in my journal. I’ve pined for my lover. Any lover.

Most recently, I’ve been working on an essay I was asked to write for an online journal called Anthropologies. It describes, albeit in extreme shorthand, my experience working on community-based conservation when I first moved here to Mexico.

And lists…I’ve been writing lists – grocery lists and lists of all the things I should be doing, including chores, repairs and writing. After I make my lists, I promptly go surfing even though it’s not on the list.

I’ve also been mind writing, but hardly at all, because I’ve noticed mind writing mostly occurs a lot between actual writing sessions. So if I’m not doing one, I don’t do much of the other.

Aside from writing, I’ve begun conducting research related to an article I’m going to write examining a topic related to the history of surfing. I’ve even conducted two interviews related to said article and set about arranging several others. I don’t want to reveal too much just yet (don’t want to get scooped!), but I will tell you that this project has me more excited than I can say and I’m looking forward to the entire process, particularly the interviews, the people I will get to meet as a result and the knowledge, both specific to the article and about surfing in general, that they may impart to me.

I haven’t just been writing either – I’ve been doing one of the most important things a writer must do – I’ve been reading:

  • Deep in the Wave by Bear Woznick which I will review here at some point in the coming weeks;
  • Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen, which if you haven’t read and think it is anything like the movie, then I will save you the trouble and tell you it is a stretch to say it is even remotely like the movie. There is not even one mention of her romance with Denys Fitch-Haton (played by the lovely Robert Redford in the movie), which clearly was the raison d’être of the movie.
  • Some of the poems in Handwriting by Michael Ondaatje, always worth the time for their beauty and ability to inspire;
  • Several articles in the current and back issues of The Surfer’s Journal (the bible of surfers everywhere);
  • I’ve been picking up and putting down Man Without A Face: The Autobiography of Communism’s Greatest Spymaster by Markus Wolf, but I finally put it down in order to read:
  • Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford.

Millay was an early 20th century Pulitzer Prize winning poet to whom the expression “burning the candle at both ends” is attributed. So far my favorite part of the book (probably because it introduces some much needed levity to what is a depressing story) is when the author describes how Vincent (as she was called) helps her sister Norma, who’s just moved to bohemian Greenwich Village from conservative Camden, Maine, get used to life in the city.

One of the first things Vincent explained to Norma was that there was a
certain freedom of languarge in the Village that mustn’t shock her…”So
we sat darning socks…and practiced the use of profanity as we stitched.
Needle in, shit. Needle out, piss. Needle in, fuck. Needle out, cunt. Until
we were easy with the words.”

I am a third of the way through the book and so far I find Millay to be an unsympathetic character, selfish and manipulative, particularly where men are concerned. I’ll let you know if my opinion is altered by the time she dies.

There is so much I want to share with you! I do hope you’ll check back here in the coming days or better yet why don’t you subscribe and get my posts delivered direct to your email so it’s super easy for you to get the latest on my adventures over the last five or so odd weeks. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Double pinky finger promise!

Tropical Storm Hector: Day 4

View to the point at 8:30am. There’s blue sky up there!

This is the fourth installment of a series of blogs describing my experience of events surrounding the first measurable rainfall we’ve had on the East Cape of Baja in four years.

Last night I fell asleep instantly and was haunted by dreams of unrequited desire after speed reading Chapter Six of 50 Shades of Grey. I woke up at some ungodly hour and upon opening my eyes, was relieved to see stars twinkling outside my window.

This morning there are big grey and white fluffy, not-at-all-foreboding clouds riddling the sky and the sun peaks out every several minutes giving me a sense that we may be over the hump.

I start the kettle for coffee, open all the windows to let the air circulate and check the status of my internet connection. Only two green lights peer back at me, “Damn!” I’d hoped to get the latest on road conditions. Next I check Zee’s leg for infection – so far so good – and I notice she is putting more weight on it, a very good sign. I still have to beg her to come outside with me to do her business though, which tells me she is still in some pain.

I begin the process of assessing the property for rain damage – there are two large and deep erosion channels, both of which threaten to undermine the integrity of expensive infrastructure (a stone wall and a walkway).  I put the caretaker Felipe to work filling the holes with large boulders and rocks, the only sure way to dissipate the destructive energy of running water.

A dark cloud passes overhead sending a fine mist down over us, but it is short lived and the clouds are slowly dissipating. I feel a surge in the humidity as the sun’s rays make passage and strike the moist ground. Cicadas buzz and a cactus wren calls with her harsh, metallic “char, char, char” call seemingly adding to the intensity of the tropical sun. I inhale the moist air, rich with the scent of wet detritus in the sandy soil, which, thanks to the sudden availability of moisture and the sun’s heat, have begun to break down. The air on my skin feels soft and my body drinks the moisture in. The sun feels good on my damp feet.

View to the point at 10:30am

By mid-morning the sea is beginning to clear further out and currents are creating patterns of clean azure blue and green sediment-laden water. I watch on and off throughout the morning as the water circulates and moves creating different swirls of green on blue. I find it fascinating how dynamic the system is.

The internet comes back on long enough for a series of messages related to road conditions to be exchanged between me, my neighbors and people in town. It is possible to get to town with 4-wheel drive, but it is a long, slow process. The drive from here to town that normally takes 50 minutes now takes close to three hours. I still won’t be going anywhere soon. Why risk breaking an axle or getting stuck? And the only vehicle I have with four-wheel drive is an ATV. Thankfully it looks like Zee won’t be needing any veterinary attention.

Blue, green, yellowy beige, white…the sea was a feast of colors.

By late afternoon the clouds have cleared except for a tiny line of white fluffy cumulus sitting along the eastern horizon. The threat of more rain, worse roads and more mopping has finally passed.

Clear skies overhead and a mountain of garbage underfoot: In amongst all that brown driftwood and detritus is a maddening amount of garbage.

This evening I try to take the dogs for a walk on the beach. They are unaccustomed to the rain and have mostly remained indoors for the past three days. In the end due to injuries and perhaps a hangover from the rain only Dakini and Peanut join me. The beach is transformed. It’s been scoured by the storm surge and great swaths removed by the rivers of runoff  leaving a steep shelf of sand scored by large crevasses. Furthermore, it is riddled with the flotsam and jetsam of nature and man – wood, leaves, coconuts, pieces of cactus, pieces of partially decomposed organic matter are mixed in with all manner of plastic – plastic bottles, bottle tops, plastic electrical conduit pipes, plumbing pipe, flip flops, running shoes, children’s toys, candy wrappers, potato chip bags, grocery bags – you name it. I shake my head when find a discarded oil filter.  And there is glass – glass jars, glass bottles, broken glass. These all represent a threat to man and animal alike and need to be collected. Birds and fish alike mistake colorful pieces of plastic for food and after consuming them often die from intestinal blockages.

We certainly have our work cut out for us.

Tropical Storm Hector: Day 3

Upon Rising: Last night I tossed and turned thinking about Zee and whether I’ll be able to get her to town today. My bedtime reading of 50 Shades of Grey also put me to pondering about erotica and how it is prime time for this genre. After imagining and mind-writing some erotica of my own, I finally fell asleep.

This morning I arose thinking the storm would have passed, but that low pressure system is apparently sitting right on top of us and refuses to budge. I check eebmike.com and sure enough, there is the large blob obscuring the tip of the peninsula. I consider my options and decide I’m not flying anywhere tomorrow. I can’t leave the house and Zee in their current condition. They’d both end up with infections (mold in the house’s case).

Midday: I’m losing the battle for territory against the rain. The area of dry floors is shrinking faster than I can mop. The rain is coming down so hard that I can’t clearly see the point, a mere mile away. It’s forcing its way under the doors, seeping like an evil menace into my shelter and making it increasingly like the outdoors. Contributing to this feeling are the leaks that have begun to pop up, here, there and, while not everywhere, they are becoming common enough that moving about the main floor requires a dance around scattered buckets. My feet are now perpetually wet.

After mopping just inside the second story door non-stop for a good 15 minutes, I filled a bucket ¾ full and still the water kept coming. I repeated this process over and over until I mentally cried “Uncle!” acquiesced and went downstairs to the garage.  I pulled a chair as close to the door opening as I could without getting wet (my feet don’t count any more) and sat there watching the rain come down in buckets (I have a greater appreciation now of the origins of that expression). I looked at the sky and wondered if perhaps the rain was going to back off.  Almost immediately, as though she read my mind, Mother Nature responded by cranking it up a notch. The rain began to fall so hard it was impossible to tell where one huge drop ended and another began.

And that was it. Something in me shifted and I started to laugh in spite of everything and realized that the rain was going to come down as long as there was rain to fall and all the mopping in the world wasn’t going to make much of a difference. I laughed out loud. I laughed hard and the more I laughed, the better I felt. As my body relaxed in response to the laughter, it occurred to me how serious I tend to be and how I need to lighten up in general. Then I laughed harder at how, if they could hear me my neighbors would certainly think I was losing my mind to all this rain. The diagnosis would be mopping-induced hysteria the treatment of which would also help me deal with the effects of reading 50 Shades of Grey. But alas, the pounding of the rain and surf kept the men in white coats at bay.

The battle I refuse to lose is the one against infection in Zee’s leg. Today I remembered that there are hair clippers under the sink in one of the bathrooms. Sure enough, they work and I shaved the hair from around each of the wounds in an attempt to keep them cleaner. I note that the lower half of her leg is swollen and decide anti-inflammatory medicine is in order. I give her one of Doobie’s Prednisone tablets, on hand to treat her auto-immune disease, in the hopes that the swelling will back off. She’s a trooper – letting me shave her, put hydrogen peroxide on all her wounds and holding her bladder longer than usual because it took a while for the rain to subside enough so she would to hobble out and do her business. Thankfully she pulled a double header.

Mid-afternoon: The increased rainfull has made the arroyo run hard and the sea is slowly turning from its usual azure blue to the color of milk chocolate. The sediment and debris-laden water slowly oozes out into the sea and gradually makes its way North. The arroyo has not run for six years. There’s a lot of animal and human waste in that brown water. I won’t be surfing any time soon.

The “Server Not Found” message is increasingly present on my Firefox screen. Unlike yesterday, today it seems my connection with the outside world has been suspended. It’s raining too much with too few breaks in between to reestablish a connection. Oh well, there’s plenty of other things to do around here – mopping, baking, reading, writing. Actually, I think my priorities have finally shifted – as of now it’s writing, reading, baking, mopping.

A sound on the other side of the house pulls me out of the office and I discover a section of the ceiling gave way due to the pressure of the water building up behind it. Great. So I returned to my mopping after writing 1500 words and now it’s 3:30 and I feel like I have been mopping for three days straight. I’ve mopped more in these three days than I typically undertake all year.

5:00pm: The rain is finally letting up. I’ve been waiting for a break in the weather so I can drive my ATV a mile down the road to see if my neighbors’ internet is working. I need to cancel my airline ticket to California. There’s no way I can leave tomorrow. I’d also like to see if there are any reports on road conditions and whether there’s any hope of getting to town any time soon. Again, Zee’s leg is pressing on my mind.

The drive to Villa del Faro is over a road that has been transformed. There are big and little washouts, rocks tumbled and exposed and at the base of the hill upon which my house sits, I must ford a small, but rapidly running river. I look to the east and see a huge swath of beach has been blown out to sea by this river that clearly ran big and fast at the height of the rain today. There is one deep gash in the road that has narrowed it to a width possibly too small for a truck to pass. If this one mile stretch of road contains an obstacle of this sort, the 20 miles to town must be a nightmare of washouts and certainly isn’t passable.

At my destination Mary, a soft-spoken, thin blond, greets me. She is sporting a long gash and several stitches on her head. “Oh my God Mary, what happened to you?!” Her sweet smile is tinged with regret as she explains how two nights ago, as the storm began the wind grabbed a shutter out of her hands as she tried to close it against the rain. I notice that the sharp line of the cut lines up perfectly with the side part of her hair.

The first thing Mary asks me is if I’ve heard anything about the roads. I tell her what little I know and why I’m there. That’s when she tells me that the pharmacy screwed up and only gave her enough antibiotics for one day. She’s naturally concerned about her cut getting infected. I tell her the good thing about a head wound is it can’t be very deep, making the chance of infection significantly lower. She kindly invites me to dinner saying, “It’s only spaghetti. We need to get to town for groceries.” Seems I’m not the only one this storm took by surprise.

Online, there are a series of emails related to the weather and road conditions between neighbors living South of us in places with names like Playa Tortuga and Zacatitos. We learn that the Los Cabos municipality is evacuating people who live in two large arroyos where shanty towns have sprung up over the last six, drier-than-normal years. Several years ago many people died when the Santa Rosa arroyo flooded during a storm. It’s clear from the emails that we are not going anywhere. The large arroyos separating us from town are all running and the police are not allowing anyone to cross. Mary’s face falls when I relate the news.

Over dinner I learn that my friends are dealing with a different kind of problem caused by the rain. Their beautiful pool is filling with frogs. Really noisy frogs that are keeping them up at night. Juan, their pool guy, is removing them as fast as he can, but they keep coming back. And they bring their friends. There’s more. Nell relates that the frogs are copulating. So not only are there frogs in the pool, but it is slowly filling with eggs. Juan is concerned that if they don’t get those eggs out of there fast, they’ll turn into tadpoles faster than you can say, “fucking fucking frogs.” We share a good laugh at the bizarre situation and discuss the marvel of how frogs manage to survive a four year drought.

Evening: When I return home the internet is back on. I look at the clock – 8:00pm and still no more rain. Do I dare think this might be the end of it? I mop up what I hope will be the last of the puddles in the house and am pleasantly surprised to discover things have already begun to dry out in the three hours I’ve been gone. But before I can call it a day, the storm deals me a final blow when I strain my left hand wringing out the mop. Like I said, these hands are not used to this kind of hard work. The mopping completed, I pour myself an ice cold shot of Don Julio tequila (it’s medicinal!) and sit down at the computer. I reach over and turn on the fan, let my flip flops drop from my feet and hold them to the drying air.

Oh crap, I think I might be getting trench foot.

Tropical Storm Hector: Day 2

The Vinorama Arroyo began to run on Aug 15th.

August 15, Day 2 of rain compliments of Tropical Storm Hector

Last night the wind picked up tremendously, same hour as last night, 2am, but this time the whole house shook and the windows were flexing and groaning in a way that made me uneasy. No naked patio forays this night. Instead I said a little prayer and tried to go back to sleep. No dice…too much wind, too much noise. It was probably close to 5am by the time I fell back to sleep. At 7am I was groggy, but awake, and discovered it’s still raining with little indication of letting up! I get up, excited to see if it rained enough for water to penetrate the crust that’s been baked solid over the last four years. But first I check the bucket out in the driveway to see how much rain fell – just short of one inch. It’s a good start.

Downstairs I inspect the rooms and discover that some rain has managed to come in under a few doors. I retrieve the mop and return to the North bedroom when suddenly something scuttles behind the door. I let out a small cry as I instinctively jump back. It must be a mouse, so I call Peanut, but expert mouser. She ignores me and so I take a closer look. It turns out to be a sand crab! He’s holding his pincers high in defence and has shoved his large, for a sand crab, body between the doorstop and the door, using the stop as armor I suppose. Apparently I wasn’t the only one unsettled by the storm’s surge last night. I get a bucket and after several attempts to coral him into it, I’ve got him. Back to the beach with him.

Do you suppose he’s going to EAT that cockroach?

I decide to take a drive down to the arroyo and see if it’s flowing. Zee and Lobo follow me down the driveway, so at the gate I tell Zee, “Stay home Zee.” She’s such a sweet and obedient dog, unlike Dakini and Lobo, she never follows me – even when she could still see. At the arroyo, the water is running slowly in a narrow rivulet, making large pools here and there, turning the fine dirt of the arroyo into sticky mud. I drive out to the beach and marvel at the colors of the waves – sandy brown, aquamarine and then deep marine blue closer to the horizon. The sky is light grey closest to me, but there is a dark, grey-blue cloud bank marching towards us from the Northeast and I can just make out the sheets of rain at its leading edge.

That’s my house on the hill off in the distance.

It’s best to get going if I don’t want to get caught in the downpour and turn to see Dakini and Lobo, followed by a caramel colored male Pitbull I’ve never seen, crossing a large pool of water in the middle of the arroyo. Silly dogs, I think.

On my way home I stop to say a quick hello to my neighbor’s Cris and Dave. On my way up the hill to their house, I notice a heavy-set Mexican man with unkempt curly hair in a white t-shirt carrying a heavy chain in his hand with a white and brindle female pitbull. I nod in his direction and figure that the other pitbull is his and he’s going to retrieve him (the chain being his version of a leash).

Cris greets me as I pull into their driveway and before we finish our greetings, David yells something unintelligible from inside the house. We look at each other curiously and then David comes charging out the door and gasps, “There’s a dog fight on the road down in front of the house!” I picture Lobo or Dakini in a pitbull’s vice-grip jaws, jump back on my ATV and tear down the hill to see what’s happened, my heart in my throat.

Curly already has the two pits behind the now closed gate of the property he looks after. There is a third short white dog, not mine, limping and holding his right front paw up, blood trickling from a small wound on the back of it. I ask the caretaker what happened and who attacked who. He points up the road and tells me there is another dog that was attacked. I take off down the road and turning the corner, see Zee zig-zagging into the bushes on the side of the road. She is clearly confused and limping, holding her rear left leg up. I choke on the emotion that tries to bubble to the surface and drive over to her. I give her a quick once over and see that she has several puncture wounds on her leg, but the rest of her appears to be intact. Relief floods through me, but is quickly overtaken by anger, anger that I could be looking at an uglier situation, anger that this is not the first time this has happened. Only two days earlier, Lobo lost a chunk of ear to one of these dogs.  I realize that this is going to be an ongoing issue and decide I’ll have to talk to the owners about letting these vicious animals run loose in our neighborhood. Ugh, village politics, I think.

I put Zee on the ATV and drive her slowly home, one arm around her to keep her from jumping or falling off, one on the throttle. Rather than drive in first the whole way home, I shift into second using the big toe of my left foot – thank goodness for flip flops. At home I do a more thorough review of Zee’s wounds – several are deep punctures, the kind that like to get infected – and douse them in rubbing alcohol, making her cry and bark in pain. I detest causing her pain, but it’s imperative that we get these wounds clean. Who knows if we’ll be able to get to a vet tomorrow? And I’m leaving on Friday. I must prevent infection from setting in. I give her an antibiotic that I have stored in the fridge for just such an emergency. Thankfully, Lobo’s injuries at this point appear to be healing nicely with minimal inflammation.

As I finish with Zee that front finally arrives and the rain finally starts coming down hard. It’s such a unique event that I am filled with gratitude and sense that the whole desert is giving thanks as the large drops fall faster and faster until I can barely see to the other end of the property. This is what we’ve all been waiting for.

Finalmente bastante lluvia!!

It rains on and off for the rest of the afternoon and I alternate between mopping and trying to write a review of a local hotel, but I can’t concentrate on it (probably because I am bored by such things). Instead I decide to research the book 50 Shades of Grey to figure out what all the fuss is about. At this point, all I know is that it is erotica that focuses on a guy that’s into S&M and three of the men in my life are reading it! I thought it was chick lit. Apparently, I was wrong and because it’s captured their interest and the imagination of the entire planet, I figure it’s time I stop resisting the flood. I read what I can online and become frustrated because they have conveniently removed all of the juicy bits.

As night descends, I have to take Zee by the collar to get her to go outside to pee. She’s not putting any weight on her leg and it’s quite inflamed. The worry and anger rises in my chest again. I check the bucket before heading to bed and find we’ve received 3.5 inches of rain throughout the day. That’s more than we’ve had in the last four years. !Que milagro! Puddles of water have reformed inside two of the doors, so I mop before heading upstairs to bed, Zee tagging along as best she can, blind and on three legs.

Check in tomorrow for Day 3 of rain from Tropical Storm Hector.

Tropical Storm Hector: Day 1

Image

The end of Day 1.

August 14, 2012: Tropical Storm Hector draws a low pressure system over the tip of the Baja Peninsula.

I can’t seem to concentrate. There could be all sorts of reasons for that – I live a pretty interesting and stimulating life – but I’m guessing few of you would guess that the reason for my inability to sit still and get some writing done (until now) is that it’s raining out.

I feel the way I felt when I was a little girl and we had the first snow day of the season – school was cancelled and all I wanted to do was either sit by the window and watch the snow fall and swirl or, better yet, get outside and feel the sharpness of the wind on my cheeks, the cold wetness of the snowflakes as they melted on my face and the crunch of the fluffy new snow under my boots.

Here in Baja, I keep looking outside to see if it’s still raining, check the level of water in the bucket I’ve put out on the driveway to act as a pseudo rain gauge and look South to see if the arroyo (riverbed) has begun to run yet. I check to see how saturated the ground is and rejoice as it turns spongy with moisture after so many years of it being so hard baked by the sun that a pick ax is required to dig a hole.

The rain is being brought to us thanks to Tropical Storm Hector, who spins approximately 500 miles Southwest of the tip of the peninsula. As typically happens, last night at 2am a front came tearing through, blowing suddenly and strongly through the open window so that the metallic sculpture hanging over my head began to swing back and forth. I got up and it took it down, lest it fall, as it has once before. I rallied when I imagined the sharp pain it could induce when its rusted jagged edge sliced through my forehead. The hanging – a winged heart – now lies on the dusty floor in the closet. Back in bed, I turned off the now redundant fan and fitfully tried to go back to sleep. That’s when the rain began. Again I jumped out of bed and closed the windows, ran downstairs to do the same. Returning upstairs, I went out onto the patio adjoining my room, opened my arms and felt the rain drops on my naked body. It wasn’t a lot of rain, but after four years of drought, it felt like manna from heaven. I fell asleep to the sound of rain hitting saltillo tile, followed by it gushing from downspouts onto the pine poles of the ramada outside my window.

This morning the rain is light and intermittent, so between the various weather status checks, I manage to get some work done, send emails to my absent neighbors to tell them it’s finally rained and start a loaf of bread. Like snow, the rain makes me want to bake filling, hearty food. Throughout the day I flit about from one task to the next. Ultimately I decide I need to put all the patio furniture up at the casita inside in preparation for my departure four days hence. Plus, who knows? Maybe tonight it will rain and blow hard enough to get the patio truly wet. The starving cows and I hope so.

Check back here tomorrow for Day 2 of Tropical Storm Hector

Is the Kid Really Dead?

Icy surfing in IcelandIt’s the day before Summer Solstice and it’s only 79 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I’m considering whether I need to put a sweater on because there’s a brisk breeze blowing in off the sea that is chilling me as it hits my bare shoulders. A week ago, I had to put a lightweight hooded sweater on over my t-shirt in the middle of the day and resorted to donning full length yoga pants because I was so cold. The mercury didn’t get much higher than 77 degrees that day. Normally at this time of year I’d be sweating in shorts and a tank top. Conclusion? This is possibly the coldest June in the history of Baja’s East Cape. However, before you accuse me of being melodramatic, and in the absence of any definitive long term historical proof, let me say instead that it is definitely the coldest June I’ve personally experienced in this region.

Admittedly, this is only my eleventh June in Baja. Eleven is neither a big number, nor is it small in the context of time passage. But it is more than a handful and a decade plus one. Never before in the month of June have I needed to put a sweater on in the middle of the day. Remove my t-shirt? Definitely. Change my sports bra because it’s soaking with sweat? You bet. Take a shower and lie down under a fan on high in the middle of the day because it’s 105 degrees outside? Several times. But put on more clothes at what is the hottest time of day? Never!

Air temperatures have been uncharacteristically low because they reflect sea water temperatures, which have been near frigid. Since the middle of May, they’ve fluctuated wildly between extremes. From 84 degrees Fahrenheit one day to 62 degrees the very next – that’s a whopping 22 degree drop.

The colder the water, the thicker the wetsuit a surfer needs to wear. Wetsuit thicknesses are measured in millimeters (mm) and water temperatures of 62 degrees mean wearing a full-length wetsuit of at least 2mm thickness or going out for super short sessions in which your muscles tend to seize up. I don’t own a 2mm full suit.  My shorty suit wasn’t up to the job and on more than one occasion I got out of the water with blue lips and legs that were numb from the knees down. By the end of several sessions, I had to blow into my cupped hands between sets in an attempt to warm my frigid digit. It took all my willpower to put my hands back in the biting cold water and keep my arms paddling for the next wave. Back on land again it took almost an hour of sitting in the direct sun to warm up again. While I know that there are many a surfer who experiences this regularly and to an even greater extent, bear in mind that we’re talking about surfing in the normally tepid, turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez.

I have furthermore never seen the sea turn green. Two weeks ago, I thought I’d been teleported and was surfing in South Central California when overnight the water changed from its characteristic turquoise and azure blues to a brilliant emerald green.  Apparently the colder water resulted from an upwelling event that brought nutrients from deep down in the sea to the surface causing a serious algal bloom. Then there were the jelly fish, or, as I like to call them, the Helly fish, feeding on all that phytoplankton. At the risk of being repetitive, I’ve never seen so many large gelatinous jelly fish in the water here. The water was amuck with them and more than once I managed to squeeze their fire-wielding tentacles between my leg and my surfboard to produce the kind of stinging you only wish upon your worst enemies. The resulting welts were impressive and the itching lasted for days.

It’s not just June weather that’s been strange. May was uncharacteristically cool and foggy too. From the middle of May onwards we’ve had the equivalent of what Californians call June Gloom in the East Cape – fog, wind, and shockingly cold water.

So what gives?

At first I thought it was because it’s a La Niña year. La Niña is a period during which sea surface temperatures across the equatorial Eastern Central Pacific Ocean are lower than normal by 3-5 degrees Celsius (6-9 deg F). In the United States, an episode of La Niña is defined as a period of at least five months of these types of conditions. The name La Niña is Spanish for “the girl,” analogous to El Niño meaning “the boy,” the term used for periods when sea surface temperatures are abnormally high. The only trouble is that according to meteorologists the period of La Niña weather conditions that began last year ended in March. In other words, La Niña is dead.

So I’m still scratching my head. If this weather can’t be ascribed to La Niña (abnormally low sea surface temperatures) then what is causing these cool sea breezes the temperature of which seem so abnormally low?

Cold Feet in June

Well, I finally bit the bullet and made the drive down to Nine Palms today despite the conditions appearing to suck from the house. There was a bump on the water and the breeze that had been blowing onshore all night didn’t appear to be about to let up. A large fog bank that sat several miles offshore was making the air fairly brisk. I wondered how cold the water was and, assuming the worst, packed my spring suit. On the drive there, from a distance, I saw what looked like a decent wave breaking at Nine Palms. There weren’t too many people in the water either. Then I saw a good set breaking at Tiburones, the break just before the turn off to Nine Palms. “Hmmmm,” I thought, “looks like perhaps there are some waves.” Apparently that was a teaser set because I didn’t see anything resembling that for the rest of the morning.

Standing on the beach surveying the waves to determine which board to take out (I had my 6’6″ Eclipse egg and my 9′ Stewart noserider), I noticed a commotion a little ways down the beach. A group of adults and children from a large camp nearby were gathered and looking at something lying on the sand. A closer look determined that it was a squid,purplish red in color and about two feet long. It was injured but alive, missing a tentacle and a chunk off his tail. Three little girls were taking turns touching it’s tentacles and then squealing because the suction cups on the tentacles were sucking onto their fingers when they touched it. I’d never touched a squid’s tentacle, so followed suit. What a strange sensation! And powerful grip. I remembered that giant squid are found further up the Sea of Cortez and shivered at the strength they must wield. I returned to my rig to get ready to go out and noticed that a short while later one of the campers put the squid in a cooler. I wondered if they intended to eat it or if they’d use it as fish bait.

I took my longboard out after determining that the waves were weak and it was high tide. Figured I should give myself as much advantage as possible to avoid the frustration of being under-gunned. More frustration I did not need. I dawned the wet suit based on the air temperature, then got out there and discovered the water was pleasingly warm. Even with the foggy mist hanging overhead I was overdressed. I caught a few slow waves and then went in and took the suit off. Paddled back out with my hair still dry after four waves…that’s how small and lackadaisical the waves were. At one point, as the tide switched and the conditions cleaned up, I thought perhaps I was in for a pleasant surprise…it didn’t last though. The wind switched suddenly at 11 o’clock and came hard out of the SSE as this morning’s buoyweather.com report had indicated it would. I caught one more wave to the beach and got out. That SSE wind is cold, pushing air and water up from the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean. It’s cold enough now that my feet feel icy and I am considering putting a sweater on. It’s the 2nd of June in the tropics.  Go figure.

Kitemare Induction

Before the fall.

Along with ample inspiration I returned to Baja from the San Francisco Writers Conference with a horrific, body-wracking cold that made it impossible to get my daily fix of liquid caresses. Nineteen days out of the water.  That’s how long I‘d been out of the water as of last Saturday. I hadn’t surfed or kiteboarded or even dipped a toe in the ocean since the 12th of February. It’s a miracle I didn’t dry up and blow away.

Funny thing though, I didn’t miss it while I was eyeballs deep in the conference, nor when I was bedridden and unable to remember what day it was, but once I started feeling better, I became aware of a mounting physical tension. It was more than just tension, it was a longing, akin to that sexual yearning that sits somewhere between the pit of the stomach and the genitals. It had that same deep down, heaviness about it, that I imagine is the physical equivalent of the sound of a long, slow stroke of a low C note on the cello.

Finally, on Saturday afternoon when the wind was blowing 25 knots out of the North it was more than I could bear. I still wasn’t feeling a 100%, but reasoned that the inevitable salt water nasal lavage would do my sinuses good. A rationalization perhaps.

My parents happen to be visiting from Canada and my father agreed to take some video of me kiting so I could evaluate and improve my technique.

I launched just North of the house. When the sea enveloped my feet, I shivered in response. It was as though I was returning to a safe haven, my home.

I took off flying across the sea, giddy with exhilaration and gradually made my way South towards the house so that my dad could get some good footage. I laughed out loud as I made a couple of jumps, then laughed harder when I got the desired nasal cleanse from a particularly dramatic wipe-out.

And then my kite fell out of the sky.

I looked around me in amazement, wondering what had happened to the wind. Just like that, it had died. And I was a good mile out at sea while my parents stood on the patio and watched, not knowing what was happening or whether I knew how to get back to the beach.

That’s when it occurred to me that I should have let them know that this kind of things happens once in a while and that I have thus far been capable of getting myself back to shore even if the kite isn’t flyable. What’s that they say about hind sight?

I imagined them watching me through the binoculars and went to work trying to relaunch the kite. But it wouldn’t launch. It was being buffeted by what I now realized was a South breeze that was competing with the Northerly. The kite shifted back and forth and then, as the South breeze won out over the North, the kite swung around to the North. Just as I started to relaunch using the slight South wind, the North wind regained ground and pushed the kite towards me. The lines went limp and as I tried to retreat from the kite, the lines crossed and tangled and the kite flipped over. The chance of relaunching it had, like the North wind before it, died.

As time ticked on, a different kind of tension rose in my body as I imagined panic rising in my parents and the conversation they were likely having.  My Mom would be first to give their feeling voice, “What’s taking so long? Why isn’t the kite back up and flying yet? She’s so far out.” And my father, trying to remain calm in the face of my mother’s vociferousness, would tersely instruct her to be patient.  When she said what they both were thinking, “What if she can’t get back? She’s out there all by herself and there’s no one with a boat to go get her!”  He likely felt the panic rise in his chest in the way that only a parent knows. The last straw came when the kite flipped and flopped around as I tried to get it positioned to drag me in to shore, concealing me wholly and at times beneath it. That’s probably when he marched over to my neighbor’s house, whom he knew kites, to ask him for help.

But Walker wasn’t home. What my father didn’t know was that Walker was already paddling out on a longboard to see if I needed help getting back in.

I normally would have insisted on getting back in on my own, but knowing that my parents were up on that hillside patio freaking out, I decided this was no time to assert my pride and independence.

They were on the beach when I finally got back in, the waterlogged kite taking a beating in the shorebreak as I unsuccessfully tried to haul it out gracefully. It was easy to read the degree of relief on their faces as they greeted me. I apologized and told them how terrible I felt for putting them through such anguish.

My mother only recently stopped having a recurring nightmare ten years after I drove her and my father along the windy, narrow section of Mex Highway 1 that traverses the mountain range between Cabo Pulmo and La Paz. I’d made the mistake of driving it like the adrenaline junky that I am, quickly, with her and my dad squeezed onto the narrow bench seat, our elbows knocking and the stick hitting her leg every time I shifted into fourth gear. The nightmares always ended with me driving my truck off one of the many cliffs hugging the edge of the road and plummeting to my death.

I wonder how long the nightmares will last this time?

Extreme Teachings

Working on my form.

The sound of the wind blowing through the palms outside my window tells me it’s another great day out there to play at my newest sport. We’re smack dab in the middle of Winder (my name for the season that falls between November and March here on the East Cape) and after approximately 20 sessions spread out over two seasons, I no longer feel like I must add the caveat “I’m just learning” when I say I kitesurf.

Kitesurfing is definitely an extreme sport. As anyone who’s tried it will tell you, it’s got a very steep learning curve and if you don’t think it deserves to be called “extreme” perhaps you need to read my post Welcome to my Kitemare.

I’ve always shied away from equipment intensive sports because of the associated expense, repairs and technical knowledge required. However, a couple of years ago when I started to spend a lot of time on the North Shore of Maui  – note: there are more windy days on Maui than any other place on Earth with the exception of Antarctica – I decided it was time to reevaluate that stance. I started out with one kite, one board, a harness to connect me to the bar and the necessary safety gear. Having only one kite meant I could only go out when wind speeds were within a specific range before I could head out. This reduced the number of days I could kite, slowing down my progress. Realistically, you need several different kites of differing sizes to cover the range of potential wind speeds you may encounter. Then there is the bar used to steer the kite – there are different sizes and styles depending on the kite you’re flying.  Safety gear includes a helmet, a leash and an impact vest.

I was debating recently whether I needed to keep wearing a helmet because my board had yet to hit me in the head despite some pretty impressive wipe outs, when it did just that. It hit me hard enough that it took a chunk out of my helmet. From there it ricocheted into my right thumb leaving an inch long gash that weeks later is still healing. That relieved me of any doubt regarding the need for a helmet.

Early on I also questioned how badly I needed to wear an impact vest. These are the vests that guys like Laird Hamilton wear when they surf the big waves at Pe’ahi and Mavericks.  Contrary to popular belief, they offer minimal floatation, but act like a flack jacket, protecting the wearer from bruising and breaks that would otherwise result from the force of impact during a high speed crash. I laughed to myself when my kiting instructor recommended I buy one, figuring there was no way I actually needed that kind of protection. “Does he think I’m crazy? I’m not going to go that fast,” went through my mind. Turns out I have gone that fast. More than once.

The first time it happened I was still hanging out at the lower end of the learning curve. I was out with my nine meter kite on a day when I should have taken out the 7.5 meter. This was also before I figured out that conditions tend to be fairly gusty in front of my house (I now head further North where winds are steady).  So it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what ended up happening:

overpowered + gusty = epic wipe out

One moment I was up and running, the next I was lying in the water, dazed and in pain. I felt like I’d been run over.  Like a rag doll that had just been shook by a large dog. I began a mental body scan to assess the damage. My ribs were screaming at me, my left hip bone felt like there was a knife sticking into it, my ears were ringing, my eyes stung from hitting the water so fast I didn’t have time to close them before impact, and my ankles felt like the tendons holding them together had undergone a serious stress test.  My heart was racing and my lungs? Well, they were having trouble re-inflating.  I managed to choke down a few painful gasps of air and lay there trying to figure out what had gone wrong while the kite pulled me steadily and quickly downwind. That’s when I noticed my impact vest – it was lying in the water above my head, attached to me only by my shoulders.  With horror I realized that the force of the impact of my wipeout had exploded the heavy duty zipper and ripped the vest from my body. “That explains why my ribs hurt,” I reasoned, imagining what it might feel like to try to swim the half mile to shore with multiple fractured ribs. It was in that moment of clarity that I realized, “I guess I need this vest after all.” Ever since then when I zip the vest on, my mind flashes to that tiny but significant eureka moment.

I will say that while the learning curve may be steep and the equipment expensive and a pain in the ass to repair, the pleasure payoff is supreme when you are flying across the ocean powered only by the wind. This is the first sport that’s ever made me laugh out loud from the shear joy of it. Last time I was out I caught some air, for on purpose this time, which induced a big laugh of amazement when I landed it successfully and kept gliding. Of course I wiped out seconds later as my mind became distracted with reviewing my success.  Like a Buddhist master  with his bamboo switch, extreme sports have a direct way of letting you know each and every time your attention wavers and you stop being present in the Here and Now.

Rambling Time

I need a vacation.

I’m guessing that comes as a surprise. I’m guessing it probably even sounds self-indulgent and more than a little decadent. I’m guessing the consensus out there in places like Kansas, Indiana, Wisconsin and, dare I say, the entire country of Canada, is that those of us living in paradise are perpetually on vacation. So why the hell do I need to go on vacation?  Well, at the great risk of condemnation and ridicule, I’m here to challenge the notion that life in paradise is always paradisiacal.

In eastern Canada, around mid-March, near the end of a particularly cold and stormy winter, everyone starts itching for spring and can be heard to say with varying degrees of whininess depending on the speaker’s disposition, “It’s been a long Winter. How much longer do you think before the snow melts.” And then the snow melts and there is excited anticipation and we start thinking the warmer days of Spring are right around the corner. The crocuses on the South side of the house are the first to bloom, while the green tips of daffodils begin to rise up through the dark wet earth in fuzzy patches dotting the yard. Tulips are felt, unseen deep below the surface of flower beds, to be bursting forth from their bulbs. Then, almost without fail, there’s one more big snowstorm in the first week of April. It usually falls on or right before my sister’s birthday, April 6th. Overnight the yard is transformed back to a place enshrouded in white where everything looks dead and the snowplow can be heard noisily running up and down the streets removing the unwanted gift from Mother Nature. Suddenly it seems as though Spring will never arrive and everyone shuts themselves up in their houses where I imagine they sit wrapped in woolly sweaters, grimacing while they sip big glasses of scotch in an attempt to dull the sensation of cold air seeping under the doorjam and the pain of the never-ending wait for relief.

There’s a similar phenomenon occurring in the Tropics. Despite the groans and grunts of disapproval I foresee emanating from your mouths, I’ve got to say it: It’s been a long summer.

I’ve been waiting for weather that resembles autumn to arrive for several weeks now. But it seems that, like those early signs of Spring, the early signs I wrote of produced premature declarations of the imminence of cooler weather here in Baja. Normally, autumn arrives by mid-October, providing relief from the energy-sapping, spirit-desiccating heat. But we’re brushing up against November and each and every day the mercury continues to top 90 (thankfully down from the daily high of 95 only a few days ago). The air still feels dry and hot like a furnace as it blows past the moisture-deprived skin of my arms and I sit here sweating in my chair. I have a hot ass. It’s been hot since June, without respite. It makes sitting here while I type uncomfortable to the point of being unbearable at times. I have to get up and walk around and let air flow over my overheated posterior. It makes it necessary to lay a towel over my office chair so it doesn’t become sticky with sweat. Altogether now, it’s “Gross!!”

We’re going on five months of incredibly hot weather. There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Sure, the nights are cooler, more or less, and sea temperatures are slowly falling so that my evening swim is actually refreshing, but the daytime highs are still uncomfortably high and the sun is still stinking strong. I’m tired of having to coat my entire body with sunscreen and of staring into the bright sun while I surf. I’m pretty sure I’m doing irreparable damage to my eyes.

So I’m done with the heat.

I’m done trying to convince myself that this is good for me – that all this sweating is ridding me of toxins or that this is better than the 65 degree weather in Central California.

I’m looking forward to the cold. I want to shiver and relish the thought of wearing long pants and a big heavy sweater while I look west towards the Pacific Ocean without the sun frying my retinas. I want to feel the chill air on my face, air so cold it makes my eyes water. I want to experience surfing in a full wetsuit for the first time in my life (not so much the crowds). I want to tuck into bed at night under thick downy comforters and rise to walk on chilled floors. I want to sip hot tea in the morning to warm myself gently from the inside out, instead of it making the sweat pour down my neck and face to gather in my cleavage, gradually soaking my sports bra. In the evenings I want to sip scotch on the rocks and feel the heat of the alcohol warm the cockles of my soul all the way down to my icy toes.

Clearly, while I do look forward to the change, it’s not that I like the thought of being cold so much as the remedies for it: grasping a mug of steamy hot chocolate with chilled hands, wrapping myself in feather-down comforters, cashmere sweaters, ridiculous looking woolen caps and brightly colored mittens, sipping good California red wine or scotch (take your pick) before a crackling fire in the hearth. Oh and did I mention snuggling? Snuggling is definitely the best thing about cold weather. Hey, a girl’s gotta dream.