My cats and I and Lolita Roja, trusty red Jetta, loyal companion, were heading south on the highway that runs along the western coast of mainland Mexico, sporadic snatches of blue off to our right, the Sea of Cortez. We’d arrived the night before on the ferry from La Paz in Baja California Sur. As the light grew, I remember feeling like I had returned to civilization after nine months in uncharted desert wilderness. I drove through the first highway toll booth and stopped just on the other side to buy ice from the small tienda there. I remember it as though we’d moved from black and white to technicolor, my first sensory experience of the mainland, Dorothy and Toto in that first glimpse of Munchkinland. I remember colors, painted concrete, a kind of careful tendedness, and a sea of bird sounds. Rows of trees–cypresses, I think–lined both sides of the road, filled with big black birds greeting the day. It was madness. They were all talking at once, wild, animated, exotic. I didn’t know then they were grackles, but I was awed by them, and I remember a deep sense of having stepped into another world, not in Kansas anymore. I loved those noisy birds, trees that talked, alive with loud, squawking black fruit.
I left those sheer numbers behind a few days later in San Blas, for the most part, though we had our share of grackles along Lake Chapala, too. I’ve met them three times here since I’ve been back in the States–once when I was trespassing on a golf course in south Palm Springs, once in 29 Palms and once at dusk in the big trees in the parking lot of my neighborhood Ralph’s. But always only a handful, and mostly they’ve been absent. I’ve missed them. They were comforting, somehow, a familiar thread of sound embedded in my life in Jalisco. Last week I walked through Algodones in the state of Baja California. I wanted to find the Colorado River there. I walked alone on dirt roads, wary at first, the U.S.-trained fear of Mexico having seeped into me in recent years without my knowing. I shrugged it off, began to relish my return to this foreign land I’ve come to love. I passed homes part ruins and part unfinished construction, fresh laundry flapping in las brisas, dogs and children watching me from the fronts of houses, bougainvillea and cactus tended along the fence lines. The colors and textures, the richness that is Mexico saturated my starved estadounidense self. Just before the river, I came to a grove of trees alive in grackles. I stopped in the middle of the road and listened to their wild vocalizations, a mad delight rising in my belly, my chest. I felt like I was coming home.