Hello again from the last frontier!
There are spaces in our life. Some need to be filled, others are best left empty.
The first space we are given is the time between the day we are born and the day we die. Most of us hope that space will be vast and that we will fill it with something meaningful, or at least pleasant. But we really don’t know, do we, how many minutes, hours or years lie ahead. There is a “retirement age”, a time when we are supposed to finally lift our noses from the grindstone and enjoy the ten or twenty relatively healthy years left to us, but that number is artificial, based on an average lifespan. We’ve all heard the horror stories of hardworking men and women who saved and planned then either died or fell seriously ill just before that golden day of promised freedom arrived. And yet we all still believe, most of us anyway, naively, that it will never happen to us.
My mother always wanted to learn how to golf. Golfing was part of her retirement plans. When she died, at the age of fifty-seven, her new, unused golf clubs were still sitting in the closet. She spent the last five years of her life often so ill or crippled she could barely walk. Great retirement huh? I vowed, watching her waste away in front of my eyes, that as long as I can stand, I will walk; as long as I can walk, I will run; and I will not pin my hopes on “someday”. That vow is a big part of the reason I am living the life I am, and why Baja flows so strongly in my blood.
In an effort to help fill our own little spaces between life and death with something wild and beautiful, the Prez and I, along with his sister, Becky, who is visiting for two weeks, and a troupe of fellow adventurers including Mom II & HQ, Jake the Grape & Chef Wendy, returned to Estero Coyote for four days of camping fun. Robyn and Glen, fellow BC’ers, would join us later en route back to snivilization.
Estero Coyote is another kind of space. On one side, the desert, a broad, flat plain, the great nothingness, reaches out for miles and miles halted only by distant mountains and mesas; on the other side the gaping, blue mouth of the Pacific Ocean yawns to infinity. And above (who can forget about that space?), a pale blue sky waits empty, like a painting where the artist forgot to add the clouds. This is a place where my soul gulps in deep breaths; where no obstacles hinder my vision, where I can take my imagination off its leash and let it run with the coyotes and the jack rabbits. This space is limitless.
Prez decided that, because we only had one small boat between nine people, and because there were so many areas we had not yet explored around the estuary, that fishing would be kept to a minimum this trip. This turned out to be an excellent idea as, due to incredibly large tides, the fishing was not very bueno to say the least! So there was a little morning fishing and a little late-morning kayaking, lots of beach walks and book reading. The Lobster Contingent trekked into Punta Abreojos, the closest town, and bought a bushel of bugs for dinner; while the Oyster Collective drove down the beach to secure several pearl-making crustaceans from the local oyster farm. Humans played and feasted and dogs ran free; life as it is meant to be lived.
Unbeknownst to us, this trip would have us all crossing into a space few dare to enter – the distance created by language and by age.
From practically the first minute of our arrival we were adopted by Saul, the five year old son of Campo Rene’s cook. What a childhood this kid is having, tearing around the estuary and the desert, free to explore, meeting people from all over. He and I had many conversations where he’d blabber away in Spanish and I’d blabber away in English, neither of us really understanding the other but having a great time nonetheless.
Then, on Saturday, a busload of kids from the local secondary school arrived for a field trip at the estuary. These kids were incredible, enthusiastic and outgoing. They immediately latched onto the Prez, who, in his best Franglish (English mixed with Spanish as only Fred can do it), shared his passion for protecting the estuary and all the life within it. I couldn’t suppress my giggles as I heard them, unabashedly, teach Prez the Spanish words for things and correct his mispronunciations. They spent most of the day at Campo Rene, interacting with us old fogies, even letting the Prez and Jake the Grape join in a volley ball game. A small group of kids proudly showed us an octopus they had caught. They were a little perplexed when we asked them to return it to the water (Octopus, pulpo, is considered gooood eatin’ here) but happily obliged us crazy gringos. As they pulled away at the end of the day, they stuck their head out the windows, waving and cheering until the bus was a speck. I’ve never been so sad to see teenagers leave! And so I thunk awhile on how different this would have been back home, how ‘cool’ the kids would have behaved, how uninterested they would have to appear to be in such a magnificent place all for the sake of being accepted by their peers, and how they would never, ever, consider hanging out with a bunch of boring, old adults – ick! Here is a space that needs to be filled, I decided, or a bridge built across it at the very least.
Sunday was a long hike along a deserted beach, accessible by boat only. I dubbed this outing the “Day of the Dead”, not because we were all exhausted at the end, but because of the large number of dead things, in various states of decay, that we found along the way. Now before you say “Oooo! Ick! Gross!” let me explain that finding skeletons or carcasses in the desert is like real-life CSI; you don’t always know what you’re looking at, you have a mystery to solve. And the desert cleans and bleaches the bones until even they are a piece of art. Among the cadavers were dolphins, pelicans, a prehistoric-looking fish we’ve yet to identify, several smaller fish, two skulls which may or may not be coyotes, whales, a turtle shell in perfect shape (Robyn won “find of the day” for that one), and a body we are sure belongs to Jimmy Hoffa. OK, we didn’t find that last one; I had a Geraldo Rivera moment, sorry.
One of the highlights of this hike, for me anyway, was the dunes. Glen called them nature’s art and I cannot think of a better description. What absolute masterpieces these ever-changing mountains of sand are! Jake the Grape read me a passage from Edward Abbey’s “Beyond the Wall” about sand dunes and I was surprised to learn that they are as interesting from a scientific standpoint as they are from an artistic one. Abbey is known as the ‘Thoreau of the desert’ and I plan on getting my hands on some of his pages as soon as I get to a place with a library! Did you know that the largest sand dune is seven hundred feet high?! And that the only thing which will stop the forward movement of dunes is a large obstacle, like a mountain range. Dunes are actually a very rare phenomena, there are very few in the U.S. and Canada. And, you can make some really trippy sand art by drawing shapes with your fingers on the leeward side of a steep dune (must be seen to be appreciated, trust me on this!).
Perhaps though, the most perfect aspect of the dunes is that, even after we have walked, run, jumped and rolled all over them, the wind will brush her forgiving hands across and wipe them clean. We will be erased from the desert as if we were never there. And that is good. This is a space that should not be filled.
What was filled, through our entire trip, was my brain. How on earth was I going to put all that we did and all that I felt here into one little Chronicle? The camaraderie of good friends, the smell of the ocean, watching a flock of white egrets zooming right at you, eating the world’s freshest oysters cooked over mesquite, the immense feeling of gratitude for it all, especially being able to share it with Becky who is still mending from surgery and chemotherapy. Impossible. And yet, am I not supposed to be a story teller?
I laid in the tiny bed of the old travel trailer we rented, just awake (yes it was after 8 am) and trying to decide what my topic would be this week when I was soon distracted by the trailer itself. Looking around at the split fake-wood paneling, the peeling linoleum, and stove that may be more rust than metal under the tin foil covering, I tried to imagine how it must have looked to the very first owners, brand new and gleaming on the lot. Did they oooh and aaah over the tiny fridge and the kitchen table which can fold down into a bed? Did they take their two young children to see the redwood forest, or perhaps to the sea with this trailer? When did they sell it and how did it get down here, so far away from its start in California? In about half an hour I’d created an entire life for the dilapidated trailer, down to the argument of the couple who abandoned it by the side of the road near San Ignacio (with a flat – he told her to watch out for that pothole!) and didn’t speak all the way to Loreto where she caught a flight home. Then it hit me, even the best stories, especially the best stories; leave spaces for us to fill in, room for our imagination to create. My story of the trailer may be far more, or far less, interesting than the real story but it is mine, and that is important.
Here is my story of Estero Coyote – the school kids, the dunes, the birds, the skeletons, the wide open ocean, the lonely desert, the friends and the food. The spaces belong to you, enjoy.
Until next week, I hope this finds you healthy, happy & lovin’ life!