Baja Wordsmiths ~ February 23, 2017

The back patio at La Estancia Restaurant in Rosarito holds birdsong and sunshade umbrellas, a fountain waterfall telling its stories in waterspeak as it finds the narrow pool below, and seven writers gathered at a table to sharpen their verbs and polish nouns.

Robbie presents the exercise we will undertake which includes four categories (People, Places, Things, Themes). The task of listing four items after/under/within/whatever each of those categories is ours individually. Once we’ve given the initial four their four items, the neighboring writer to the left (without knowing what items we’ve listed in the various categories) chooses two of the categories. Our objective: Find new ways to connect old things.

Ready. Set. Write!

We have ten minutes.

My lists run thusly:

PEOPLE: Maya Angelou, Elsie Ivy, Mama, Friend
PLACES: Todi, Italy; Mira Loma; Pub; Casa
THINGS: Weeds; Books; Clothes; Hearts
THEMES: Angst; Loneliness; Confidence; Strength

Jen, the writer on my left,  chooses Places and Themes as the two categories from which I then select Todi, Italy and Strength as the items I will connect. This is what I wrote:

FOR SIX WEEKS after my return from Italy, I cried. Not all the time; not uncontrollably; and, often, not visibly. The thing is, just because mascara doesn’t run, dancing charcoal rivers down cheeks, doesn’t mean the heart isn’t sick.

I was heartsick for the small hill town with its thick Roman walls and crenelated roofs where I (and six other retired women) had spent four weeks. All liberals, all democrats, we were sorely disappointed and angry when — on Italian TV — President Clinton announced he “did not have sex with that woman.”

Not one among the seven of us gathered wanted to hear our President lie. But this is an aside meant to inform of the era when I was there — in Todi, Italy.

After my return to the states, I was homesick and heartsick because of the ease among people in Todi, the Italian hill town. Every evening people met in the piazza, strolled arm in arm, young with old, men with men, women with women, boys with boys, while children raced around and between them, hid in shadowy alcoves and jumped out to tag another among them.

The Italians of Todi had the strength of thick Roman walls surrounding their town, the strength of centuries of knowing skin-touching-skin meant nothing more than human contact.

At home in rural America, skin touching skin happened infrequently and seldom in public. Boys walking arm in arm or leaned into each other on a bench in a public park would be (or could be) attacked, bullied, vilified.

Writing this, coming to terms with the “then” and the “now,” I am crying. No tears on the outside, but oh the ache, the pinch in my heart, the bruise of knowledge … of how we are.

And, how we could be (what to call it?) a little more Todi-an.

~

I’ve made a few edits to the final two paragraphs above 1.) for clarity’s sake; and 2.) because I couldn’t read my handwriting.

The thing is, I can still hear the birdsong surrounding us on the back patio of La Estancia today; I can still hear the water tumbling hard into the pool near us; I can still hear the words other writers shared at our table, and I want to say Thank you to those who made it happen.

Thank you, each and all!

 

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Whales & Bricks Revisited

December 31, 2015. On this last day of the year, I find an email from WordPress with stats on this site (lynn doiron writes) and follow a link to the most popular post, which, if the WP stats are to be believed, was visited 57 times! Fifty-seven is a grand number for this infrequent blogger. I re-read the entry.

Not bad. Not Pulitzer or Nobel Prize worthy, but acceptable. Whales & Bricks captured a mood, a need to trust, and a resolution (of sorts) to do so.  After all, I’d made right choices before–and wrong ones.

I’d been in the midst of doing one or the other again on the date of that most popular post, of disassembling what I had in favor of reassembling elsewhere. Between here and there, emptying cupboards and closets into cardboard boxes, finding the odd lost sock or misplaced earring during this shake-down of my home, I’d been making choices, depositing unwanted yet still usable items at the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) Thrift Store in Rosarito, removing photos of my family–children and grandchildren–from their magnet-held stations on the refrigerator doors, and assiduously  ignoring my garden: the yucca starts Jennifer had brought me from hers, the palm trees Fernando had planted, the hibiscus Jo Ann gifted my first year in Baja–all the lovely beginnings from these friends and others that had thrived and grown tall. To work among them was somehow the worst of the worst during those days of disassembling. Why? They were rooted. I wasn’t.

In the end, the actual moving of all those boxes from one house to another never took place. I was dissuaded. And remain thankful for the intervention of friends.

On this last day of 2015, looking back on the chaos of March, I was, perhaps, a little bit like the baby whale mentioned in the earlier post. The difference, one difference at any rate, is that the baby, held aloft by its mother to view strangers afloat in a boat, knew enough not to want a home where it couldn’t survive … whereas I, blind-sided by something akin to love, was, for a time, willing to make the leap.

I glance up from these words, survey this room where a few cardboard boxes remain packed with non-essentials from then. One of these days I’ll get to them. One of these days all the “bricks” of 2015 will stack themselves into usable order. For the moment, it’s enough having them here in the room where I write, knowing the garden continues beyond the sliding glass door and will know my trowel and feel the snip of my clippers in the coming new year.

*

p.s. It’s taken the length of this write to realize those “57” views were predominantly mine. Is my little bubble of pride burst? Yes, dammit!

 

750words March 24 2015 ~ Punch Cards and Angels

Earlier today I read a blog post by Ken Decroo (Baja Moto Quest) about a dear friend Ken had lost to cancer and I started thinking about losses and the blanks those who go leave behind, like punched holes in a ticket or those cards stores hand out where there’s maybe twelve numbers and when all twelve are punched you get a free skein of yarn at the knitting store, or a free carton of smokes at the cigarette store, or a big discount on whatever at wherever.

Is my life like one of those cards? A thin, glossy rectangle imprinted with the colors of people who made me (genetically) and teachers who taught me (trained this brain) and friends who have held me and allowed me to hold them (song sharers, happy and sad). Is my life like that? And each time one goes, leaves this world behind … each time one dies, this small flat rectangular card of my life gets a hole punched?

Two years from now I’ll be seventy. The grandmas and grandpas are gone. Mom and dad are gone. Dozens of aunts and uncles are gone. Many cousins. too. And friends. And a husband. Plus teachers. Punched holes in my card have left a whole lot of blanks. There shouldn’t be much glossy space left to apply that hole puncher and squeeze down. Wrong.

Remember that movie from way back when, the 30s or 40s with Loretta Young, David Niven and Cary Grant. Cary was an angel. Loretta was the preacher’s wife. The preacher was Niven. There’s a scene in that movie with a bottle of wine which refills due to the angel’s presence. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not religious. I don’t follow scriptures. I don’t have the gift of “faith”—none of that. Yet, I like the idea of angels. I like to think the punched holes, the blanks, aren’t really blanks at all. I like to think they’re all still here/there—they’ve just gone transparent, see-through—if you know what I mean.

Beyond the idea of transparent angels, there’s the reality of other folks filling the gaps. New friends. New family as grandkids arrive in this world. New people to hold me and allow me to hold them. This punch card, for all the hits it takes, doesn’t get weaker, doesn’t become a tatter of once-shiny cardstock, doesn’t fold, doesn’t tear, doesn’t shred into bits.

To be sure—this life is a little dog-eared at the corners. I wouldn’t want it any other way. If I looked brand new, what would that say? Answer: The holder of this card hasn’t lived, hasn’t been hurt, hasn’t felt the sting of a bee nor watched a swarm of butterflies take over a thistle bush at the creek, hasn’t fallen off a go-cart and ripped a scar to her leg she still rubs with memories every now and again, hasn’t loved hard and been loved tenderly, hasn’t waltzed across Texas and into Arkansas, hasn’t been stepped on, hasn’t stubbed a toe—because she never made a move, never opened a gate or a door to find what might be on the other side. Yep. I’ll take dog-eared any day of the year. And I do.

If I line up my angels—pick them one by one from my brain as if picking up paper dots the hole punch has clipped from life—and interrogate each one as I examine its presence on my fingertip, what will they have to say?

Will Daddy break his shy silence? No. He’ll beam with that ruddy glow–his way of showing pleasure.

Will Mama turn her eyes away? She might. She never quite knew what to make of me, never quite understood what made me tick, yet, she was nonetheless sinfully proud of everything I did from first baby-step right on through to the end.

And Al? What of my late husband?

Each time I try to examine what my fingertip holds, his dot slips away. Honestly, I can’t explain it, can’t say if it’s me causing him to slip—or him—unwilling to be questioned. I could trouble myself about this, throw the blame of whatever it is going on in my thinking (or not going on as the case may be) over my shoulder like a sack of heavy laundry and tote it around throughout the day. Or I can let it go. No need to peel his dot from my finger. He’s already slipped away, silently, not skulking—just slipped away, shoulders straight, head high, what might be a smile about to happen, about to play in his eyes, curl the ends of his moustache, find his lips, change his unreadable face.

750words March 23 2015 ~ Sol y Mar = Sun and Sea

A few days ago I talked a neighbor into going over to the place where I’ll be living in about five weeks. The address is Sol y Mar #3001.

Sol y Mar = Sun and Sea. It’s all that.

The current tenant, floppy curls windblown every once in a while to dance over his eyes, was friendly enough as he answered questions and pushed gray-streaked ringlets away from his line of vision.

I asked about the path to the playa below the house. “You think a woman my age can handle it?”

A middle-aged surfer, he said, “Do this,” and lowered himself to squat, arms extended.

I was down in a heartbeat, arms extended.

“Yeah. You can handle it,” he said, turning toward the arched door separating his place and the neighbors on the south. Lucky for me—his quick turn away from my squatted response to his directive—because some serious wobbles took place as I stood to follow him through the gate. Rather than offering a hand, my neighbor smirked as I wobbled, then seemed a little surprised I made it up without using my hands to push off the flagstone.

“How’s surfing here?” I asked. I’d already mentioned kids and grandkids who surfed.

“For long boarders, it’s a little piece of heaven. K38 is probably better for short boards, guys who really know their stuff.”

Then we were through the gate, passing between the neighbor’s back patio area and the edge of the bluff above the ocean, stopping at a low fence built from wrought iron window-guard scraps and broken plywood. Maybe a bit over two feet tall, and lower on the bluff edge end—the fence was haphazard at best.

“There are two ways to cross. Some of us step over here—were the fence is low,” he said, standing at the edge of the bluff. He demonstrated. On that end the fence was only fourteen or fifteen inches high; between where he stood and a free-fall of a hundred feet or more (probably more) to the playa below—there wasn’t much room for error. A wobble, coupled with a toe tripped up by the fencing, would not be a good thing.

Maybe he noticed the tilt of my head, the doubtful squint of an examining eye, or the smile I wore—one of those smiles that said, “Not a bluebird’s chance in hell.” Whatever the cause, he moved away from the edge toward the opposite end of the fence and said, “Or, you can pull this open here, and wedge through.”

“Here” was nine or twelve feet away from the fence’s low end (and the precipice). “Here” pieces of ironwork and plywood leaned against a post and could be heaved away, allowing sideways (if not frontal) passage. We sidestepped through, walked on barren ground, and approached an outdoor “living” area replete with two easy chairs scavenged from the side of the road or left near a dumpster for anyone who might find them of continued value. Random surfers frequent this spot; one said “Hi, folks” from the open side doors of his van as we passed. He looked as if he’d been napping, sleeping bag hanging loose from the van’s cargo area to kiss the ground. I pictured him kicked back in one of the easy chairs, feet planted on an overturned bucket used as an ottoman, wood blazing in the makeshift fire pit, gazing toward the horizon, watching the sets come in from this high bluff at the edge of the sea.

From there, we stepped sideways down a slopping trail to steeper terrain with shallow steps cut into the earth, curved right and came to a drop where three steps had been chiseled from the shale, dropped to our fannies to reach footing on the highest cut-in step, and continued to the sandy bottom with the next two steps.

The tenant, already several yards ahead, said something along the lines of, “Little piece of heaven,” and I said something like, “Big piece of heaven if you ask me.” Looking north or south, I found nothing but beauty. Beautiful boulders, shimmering water, stretches of clean sand without a single footprint other than those left by the birds.

Cinnamon colored long-legged birds with long needle-like beaks high-stepped through low-tide shallows, seagulls soared air currents overhead, anemones lined the faces of tide pools, and sand-stone formations offered nature-sculpted places to sit and take it all in.

“From here,” the tenant said, “at low tide you can walk as far north as Las Gaviotas or south as far as Puerto Nuevo.”

I looked at my neighbor. “Las Gaviotas? That means I can walk to Rancho Santini by cutting up from the beach there. If low tide’s early enough, I can still walk to Jo’s for morning coffee!” He gave me the smile, the one that says, “Yeah, right. Like that’s gonna happen.”

I’m thinkin’ it will. I’m thinkin’ “Fooled you when I stood up without using my hands. That walk’s gonna happen.” All I have to do is get past those easy chairs up on the bluff before I sit myself down and put my feet up to take it all in …

750words March 14 2015 ~ Tequila and Transplanting Shock

Yesterday I wrote of whales and bricks. Today, while this two-story townhouse casts cooling shade over the backyard, I should be pruning pelagoniums, removing the once broad but now thrashed and wind-shriveled leaves on the banana tree Marcelo planted, soaking the ground to dig up dozens of cana shoots, reducing the spread of red apple—lush succulent that it is—with its fiery pink blooms so loved by the bees. Instead, I’m writing.

Thus far, with the exception of one day, I’ve maneuvered 750 words plus to the page. I blame tequila for the missed day. The thing with tequila is this: It makes a person mis-remember. Or not remember at all. The thing with the missed day is that I know I began my 750 and believed I’d completed them only to find, on the following day, I hadn’t. This lapse may have been age-related, but I choose to blame it on the tequila. Why? Because tequila intake is by choice; aging and memory loss due to aging—is not. By opting for tequila as cause, I avoid the unavoidable proof of a failing brain. Did I, in fact, have tequila on the third of March, the missing day in question? I haven’t a clue …

By May, I will be gone from here, moved to a different place. I will miss my garden: its sandy paths through the red apple groundcover; the palm trees Fernando planted when they were mere pups—barely a foot tall—not even close to the tall dogs they’re meant to become; yucca starts that took hold in this ground after Jennifer brought them to me; creamy white blooms of the calla lilies happily shaded beneath a wall of magenta bougainvillea; mounds and leafy galloping stems of white, purple and pink African daisies; vining tendrils of orange and yellow nasturtium … yes, I will miss all of this. This greening and growing. The chaos of it all. I’ll even miss the weeds.

There are things I can take, dig up and replant at the new place. The double-orange hibiscus must leave Rancho Santini with me just as it left Hacienda Villa de Floresta and the tiny casita where I lived when Jo Ann delivered it into my hands as a house-warming-bienvenidos-welcoming gift. For a time, that hibiscus and I lived at Terraznos in a big party house on the hill across from Calafia; for another spell, the hibiscus in its pot adorned the front porch of the pink house in Rosarito centro before moving with me to Plaza del Mar’s Los Arcos section into Doug and Anna’s charming cabana (which no longer exists). Another move—up the hill from the cabana—the hibiscus occupied an upstairs patio with a view of sea and dolphins at play while I occupied a studio apartment and enjoyed the comforts and friendship of my landlady, Ruth.

So many moves (five) in so few years (three) … it’s a wonder she’s survived. (I think of this particular hibiscus with its double-orange blossoms as female, representational of Judith Hollahan, a precious friend who lost a nasty battle with cancer before a sufficiency of tick-marks decorated her bucket list, a friend who loved “orange” in every possible way—from nail polish to crockery, lipstick to flowers—and is, very likely, the reason I signed the first lease on the tiny casita south of the border. Judith’s death, a few weeks before I traveled south to “visit” a friend, caused me to consider my own “bucket list.” Living in Mexico may not have been on the list when I arrived—but it was once I got here. End of story.)

For three and a half years, I’ve put down roots at Rancho Santini. The double-orange went into the ground here; she’s blossomed as never before, happy beside a deep-pink blooming sister I purchased in early 2014. I’ll take them when I go, dig a hole in new ground, nurture them with food and water, watch them grow, become lovely again after the shock of transplanting. I’ll do the same with the flax, with the blue agave (a gift from Fernando), with the calla lily and new starts of African daisies.

Hmm … all this “missing” business filling the screen … Am I suffering an early onset of the “shock of transplanting”? If so, let it be. Let it come. Bring me a shot of tequila as the sun sets. Let me grieve for what I’m leaving behind. And forget. There’s new ground waiting, a new place to settle into, take root, blossom as, perhaps, I haven’t yet done. I can become lovely again. I will. In time.

750words March 14 2015 ~ Tequila and Transplanting Shock

Yesterday I wrote of whales and bricks. Today, while this two-story townhouse casts cooling shade over the backyard, I should be pruning pelagoniums, removing the once broad but now thrashed and wind-shriveled leaves on the banana tree Marcelo planted, soaking the ground to dig up dozens of cana shoots, reducing the spread of red apple—lush succulent that it is—with its fiery pink blooms so loved by the bees. Instead, I’m writing.

Thus far, with the exception of one day, I’ve maneuvered 750 words plus to the page. I blame tequila for the missed day. The thing with tequila is this: It makes a person mis-remember. Or not remember at all. The thing with the missed day is that I know I began my 750 and believed I’d completed them only to find, on the following day, I hadn’t. This lapse may have been age-related, but I choose to blame it on the tequila. Why? Because tequila intake is by choice; aging and memory loss due to aging—is not. By opting for tequila as cause, I avoid the unavoidable proof of a failing brain. Did I, in fact, have tequila on the third of March, the missing day in question? I haven’t a clue …

By May, I will be gone from here, moved to a different place. I will miss my garden: its sandy paths through the red apple groundcover; the palm trees Fernando planted when they were mere pups—barely a foot tall—not even close to the tall dogs they’re meant to become; yucca starts that took hold in this ground after Jennifer brought them to me; creamy white blooms of the calla lilies happily shaded beneath a wall of magenta bougainvillea; mounds and leafy galloping stems of white, purple and pink African daisies; vining tendrils of orange and yellow nasturtium … yes, I will miss all of this. This greening and growing. The chaos of it all. I’ll even miss the weeds.

There are things I can take, dig up and replant at the new place. The double-orange hibiscus must leave Rancho Santini with me just as it left Hacienda Villa de Floresta and the tiny casita where I lived when Jo Ann delivered it into my hands as a house-warming-bienvenidos-welcoming gift. For a time, that hibiscus and I lived at Terraznos in a big party house on the hill across from Calafia; for another spell, the hibiscus in its pot adorned the front porch of the pink house in Rosarito centro before moving with me to Plaza del Mar’s Los Arcos section into Doug and Anna’s charming cabana (which no longer exists). Another move—up the hill from the cabana—the hibiscus occupied an upstairs patio with a view of sea and dolphins at play while I occupied a studio apartment and enjoyed the comforts and friendship of my landlady, Ruth.

So many moves (five) in so few years (three) … it’s a wonder she’s survived. (I think of this particular hibiscus with its double-orange blossoms as female, representational of Judith Hollahan, a precious friend who lost a nasty battle with cancer before a sufficiency of tick-marks decorated her bucket list, a friend who loved “orange” in every possible way—from nail polish to crockery, lipstick to flowers—and is, very likely, the reason I signed the first lease on the tiny casita south of the border. Judith’s death, a few weeks before I traveled south to “visit” a friend, caused me to consider my own “bucket list.” Living in Mexico may not have been on the list when I arrived—but it was once I got here. End of story.)

For three and a half years, I’ve put down roots at Rancho Santini. The double-orange went into the ground here; she’s blossomed as never before, happy beside a deep-pink blooming sister I purchased in early 2014. I’ll take them when I go, dig a hole in new ground, nurture them with food and water, watch them grow, become lovely again after the shock of transplanting. I’ll do the same with the flax, with the blue agave (a gift from Fernando), with the calla lily and new starts of African daisies.

Hmm … all this “missing” business filling the screen … Am I suffering an early onset of the “shock of transplanting”? If so, let it be. Let it come. Bring me a shot of tequila as the sun sets. Let me grieve for what I’m leaving behind. And forget. There’s new ground waiting, a new place to settle into, take root, blossom as, perhaps, I haven’t yet done. I can become lovely again. I will. In time.

750words March 13, 2015 ~ Whales and Bricks

On May 1, 2015, I will live in a different house with a different view of the ocean. Olga has said the whales cruise close to the shore there as they make their way north from the lagoon at Guerrero Negro, close enough to see the babies jump and play.

Last night I fell asleep thinking of Guerrero Negro and the baby whale who rested above the water on his mother’s back, offering those of us in the panga (boat) his or her gaze from an innocent blue eye, that eye large and unwavering as it scanned us, the mother whale holding place alongside the boat and near enough for our human hands to reach out and stroke her offspring.

I thought about humans, our distrust of our own species, and tried to imagine myself with an infant or toddler or juvenile child, the child cradled or held by the hand as we approached a gathering of people never previously met. I imagined the stance we might take to observe those strangers—perhaps wearing turbans, feathered headdresses, striped muslin gowns, denim pants with the crotch bagged down to the knees, backward ball caps, pink spiked hair, safety pins laced through lips and/or eyebrows, loin cloths, less than loin cloths, etc.—and if I could or would allow them to touch and run hands over my baby/child/loved one.

I wouldn’t. This kind of behavior is not in my DNA.

Then I tried imagining introducing my offspring to a flock of geese, a family of coyotes or orangutans, a colony of ants, a hillside warren of rabbits, bears (any color or size), alligators, ostriches, elephants, yaks, racoons and any number of other terrestrial creatures.

Imagination failed. Although, I must say, not as dramatically as it failed while visualizing sharing (introducing) my young to strangers of my own species.

Eventually, I drifted into sleep. No dreams come to mind as I write this. If they came, they came quietly and left on tiptoe.

Now, I consider the days until I’ll live at the new location. Will the gray whales still be migrating north with their young—those miraculously inquisitive and trusting creatures? Will I take the time to watch for them, plant a chair of adequate height near the balustraded property edge and rest elbows on the top railing, binoculars in hand? Will I need binoculars if they migrate as near the shore as Olga has indicated? Of course, I may miss the migration north. The weather is unseasonably hot and sightings along the coast occur with frequency according to friends with such views.

Movement. Migration. Trust. How we glide through life currents. How different are lives—from whale to woman to child to Monarch butterfly? First steps. First flights. First breach by a youthful gray whale among Guerrero Negro’s calm waters or from the swells of the blue-gray-green Pacific Ocean.

Later steps and glides and slides—tempos at passages ever swifter—until days seemingly pass as if seconds, months as if days.

At 68, recent years are a tumble of formed bricks at my feet, bricks shaped by choices I’ve made and fired by blazing experiences. All recyclable. Nothing is lost. Even the dust of what was once mortar flies off to another horizon, becomes part of another landscape, or sediment, cool under its blanket of water. What does that mean? What am I trying to voice with this misshapen pile of rubble meant to be a metaphor of time (my time) and experience, what I’ve built out of life and what I’ve either (1) allowed to crumble through negligence, (2) intentionally dismantled, or (3) witnessed the forces of nature disassemble.

A line from Sense & Sensibility, a line I won’t quote properly comes to mind: Nothing is lost which cannot be again found.

I think that’s what I’m trying to voice. What is lost, what tumbles down—can be again found, rebuilt. The shape won’t be the same; textures and colors will differ … but maybe, just maybe, new configurations will wear more comfortably, stand stronger against whatever nature may throw their way. Who can say?

Finally, what does all of this have to do with the whales? Let’s say it has to do with their ability to “trust” what’s out there when they breach, break the horizon line with great exhalations, spume rising all but invisibly against a backdrop of blue; it has to do with their great gray-blue inquisitive eyes; with their migratory patterns and timing, their generational runs north and south, south and north.

I’ll be heading farther south shortly (six weeks is a minute these days). Yes, let’s say the whales are the vehicle I’ve opted for to carry the metaphorical bricks of a life I’ve chosen (and continue to choose) to live. May not work for every reader. Doesn’t have to—so long as it works for me. And at the moment, it does.