Grackles Bring Me Home (4)

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.

A Writer Stretches and Maybe Obesses (3)

They gave me a deck of playing cards at the casino the other day when I signed up for my rewards card so I could get $15 off day use at the spa. The cards had been used at one of the tables, had a small circle punched out of one side, scribbled information across the label. Walking home, I caught sight of the big red “Mexico” on the side of the box where it poked out of my canvas bag. They were made in Mexico, nothing out of the ordinary in that, but catching that one word in my unthinking downward glance surprised me, had me hesitating in the crosswalk, some secret message, a reminder of this new focus for my blog. It made me see how obsessive I may become about this. I notice all the things that remind me of Mexico, my neighbor’s white wall two doors down with the bougainvillea that could be the one in the photo of my first post here, “I Begin,” except for the lovely curve of that other wall and the sweet gated window. The white hotel downtown with the bougainvillea spilling over balconies on the second and third floor is much more tamed but still reminds me of my three-story bougainvillea beast behind La Casa Azul in Todos Santos.

But even if this chosen theme makes me obsess, so be it. I was already missing Mexico, have never stopped comparing my two worlds since I left California or returned to it. The fact I have now made this an official pastime, a required occupation, is not something I regret for a moment. (“Bring it on!” my corny self wants to say, something my stepfather would have appreciated, I think, had he lived long enough to hear the expression.) This choice is sharpening my writer self, helping me move into feeling like I really am a writer more than ever before. It’s teaching me to tune into the concrete world in a way I may have never done. Before, I’ve taken in the world around me, but I’ve been present with the whole, I think, more than with the details. For example, I remember stopping beside the fountain each time I entered the Villa Bordeaux, my favorite mineral springs hotel in San Juan Cosolá. I remember standing there, taking in the walkway, the fountain, the small pond, the charming little building behind it, the grassy area and the trees beckoning beyond toward the lake just out of sight. I remember the way the stone and brick and water and growing things made me feel when I stood there, relishing the quiet, luxurious, pretty peace of the place. But I couldn’t tell you if the walkway was old red brick or painted stone or how the water spilled into the pond or what it was I found so charming about that little building nearby. Did it have clerestory windows? A small cross on the rooftop? An open doorway, slanting sunlight inviting me inside? I can only tell you I knew I would be content to go live in that little room beside the lake.

fountain and charming little building at the Villa Bordeaux

I’ve always known as a writer I need to pay more attention to these details, and I’ve begun to do so more over the years. But now I see how this new endeavor might teach me to carve these details in my mind, so they can be there when I’m writing a story that needs that Aztec sculpture sitting beside the large mineral pool with the lake and the mountains behind it, or the silent, mottled turtles sunning themselves on the rocks below the fountain. And this excites me, to watch how choosing to write about what I love, choosing to make each of these 54 posts touch on Mexico in some way, is gifting me with this chance to become more fully a writer, to have it weave stronger threads throughout my days and nights. This morning on my walk, heading home down Palo Fierro, I heard a raven making those rounded softer calls I love so much. I looked up to see a mockingbird chasing him across the sky. I stopped to watch their airy waltz, and as they moved off toward the east I watched the waning half moon hanging in the air where they had been, poised above the mountains, thin white luminescence in a pale blue sky. I heard a breeze chasing dried bougainvillea blossoms across the driveway near where I’d stopped in the middle of the street, the papery blooms scratchy, skittering across the cement. It all happened at once, a sweeping arc of overlapping time, the raven’s call, the swooping sky dance, the moon, the mountains, the scrittering of sound. And at the center of it when I saw the moon behind the birds as they crossed the sky I thought, oh, this is one of those moments. And I came home to write about it, grateful for the fullness of things, glad and hoping to be able to gift that moment back into the world.

[This photograph is not mine. It is a promotional photo for the Hotel Spa Villa Bordeaux. I couldn’t find a website for them, but you can find more images and information here:]

Agradecimiento (2)

“I always like to end our practice by embracing our gratitude,” Janet says. We are seated on our yoga mats, hands pressed together before our hearts, elbows out. We are in the park on a Saturday morning in April, ringed by a circle of desert acacia. Big tufts of yellow lie spent in the grass around us, and the San Jacintos tower in the west, close enough to touch.

desert acacia with San Jacinto mountains behind them

Gratitude, I think. Agradecimiento. I am crouched in shallow water in the motel pool, just below a tiny bridge seeking shade. I am grateful I am not driving, my two miserable cats unwilling passengers, my heart in my throat every time we pass an oncoming semi, no shoulders on the mountain highway, a mere six inches of margin, no room for error. I breathe for the first time in three days. The July air in Loreto is muggy and hot, the water warm but wet, life-giving. I am crouched beside a Mexican woman in her early forties. I talk to her in my excruciating Spanish, and she is patient, kind. “Mi corazon es muy lleno,” I say. My heart is very full. I feel connected to her, fellow travelers escaping the sun in Baja California Sur, scrunched together in the same small patch of shade. Her son is playing nearby. “Tengo muchas gracias para todos,” I say. I have much thank you in order for everything. She smiles, nods, doesn’t laugh at me.

picture of the Loreto motel pool, the little bridge circled

“Agradecimiento,” she says, teaching me the word for gratitude, from the verb agradecer, to thank or to be grateful for. She tells me more, examples of how to use various forms of the word in sentences, but this is what I walk away with. I try it out, happy to have been fed a word that holds so much meaning for me, happy to be having my first Mexican conversation that has depth, speaking in Spanish.

“Tengo mucho agradecimiento,” I say. I have much gratitude. I grin at her, a big, proud, childlike grin, and she grins back.

“Take a moment to be thankful for the people around you,” Janet says, “for sharing this practice today.” The sound of the woman’s son splashing in the warm water under that little bridge recedes. I hear a plane flying south, a car driving past on Miraleste. A raven caws from the north, and a mockingbird begins to sing from his perch in one of the acacias. My heart is full, lleno, quiet. We all bow forward, hands to our hearts. “Namaste.”

[Editor’s note: This second photo that shows the little bridge we were under is not mine. It is a promotional photo from the motel, La Pinta Desert Inn Hotel in Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico.]

I Begin (1)

Dusk nears on the second day of my spring holiday, my first in ten years of teaching. I sit on the patio and move my pen across the page of my notebook to begin my first post for this new year of mine, 54 at 54–All Things Mexico. The task I have set for myself terrifies me, but I push the pen across the page anyway. My mind has been wandering paths as steep and twisting as the narrow callejones of Guanajuato, playing out possible topics for my blog, trying them out in my head. Why didn’t I document my time there, take vivid notes, photograph everything I loved? My fear about the course I have set for myself here makes the question come out harsh, anguished. Why didn’t I take pictures of the horses on the cobblestone streets in Ajijic? I would run to the balcony when I heard one passing by below. Why didn’t I record the sound their hooves made dancing on stone? I don’t have any pictures of the Wednesday market or the cemetery or the grackles roosting in the trees at twilight in the plaza. Why, I wonder, didn’t I photograph every doorway, every windowsill, every wall spilling bougainvillea on the street? Why didn’t I photograph every face I came to love, and all the textures and colors that layered themselves inside me, that have me missing Mexico like a river running through my California days?

white wall with window and bougainvillea

Why didn’t I take more photographs, learn more words, record the stories and the history and the rumors that came my way? Is it because I was not yet a writer in the same way I am today? In part, I know that’s true. And I didn’t know one day I’d want to write a blog about this big love of mine. I was busy taking it all in, absorbing the way it felt inside me, this foreign country where I found such sweetness, such welcome, yet where I was still so much “the other,” my white americana self a sore thumb, standing out amidst the dark hair, the dark skin of the other people in the villages. I think in my usual way I paid more attention to emotions and interactions, to the nuances of finding my way in a culture so different from the one I grew up in. I didn’t document the details, not outer or inner, only let them pile up inside me. Now I am afraid I have set myself an impossible task, but it’s one I want very much to meet. And so, as the light wanes on my California evening, I take a deep breath and reach for trust. I will find ways to write about what I love. I have already begun. A bird I don’t know in the pine tree repeats one long sliding note. I take another breath, the pen loose now between my fingers, and I know dusk settles in Mexico in just this way.

Old Site, New Blog

Hi everyone.

It has been a bit of a convoluted process, but I now have a new URL for my ongoing blog, and all my followers have remained intact in the process.

Yay! :)

However, the new blog is now emptied of content (I had trouble with the images disappearing when I changed the theme), so if you’d ever like to revisit this last year’s posts, you’ll need to go to that site directly. (Note, this link is on the “My Other Work” page in this site, as well, for future reference.)

In case you want to bookmark the new URL, here it is:

I’ll be posting my first of this year’s 54 posts any day now. :)

Thanks for being interested. Talk soon.