"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Monday, November 30, 2009

Navigating, with Crumbs

A friend recently wrote that she was frustrated with her computer because a crumb of biscotti landed on her keyboard and wedged itself under the down key, making navigation with the arrow keys difficult. Then she asked about the crumbs that fall into our lives and jam up the works.

Each day I walk along the narrow park just outside the rear gate of the El Cid resort complex in Mazatlan, and pause to watch tiny black ants at work. Grain by grain they haul out crumbs of hard-packed dirt, climb the ever-growing bulwarks around their excavation, and place their burdens on the outer slope of the mound. Then they scurry back to the opening, bypass the ants coming out, and fetch another grain. Each grain is placed on the outer slope, never on the inner one, so they don't have to carry that particular one again.

I was thinking about life today as I watched the ants, about the way each failure, heartache, disappointment, and rejection drops crumbs in our paths, crumbs that become ill-compacted slopes of ever-increasing danger. I recalled when I was in my early twenties, surrounded and suffocated by crumbs. While they were mostly of my own making, I could not see a way around them or over them or through them, and so I continued to let them pile up around me, like a mason walling himself in brick by brick, until I was secure in my fortress of failures and disappointments. Secure, where neither I nor anyone else could hurt me ever again.

Years came and went, and I remained steadfast and safe in my fortification. One day, when I wasn’t looking, I found a man who intrigued me, and I stuck my head above my defense works long enough to marry him. Twenty-five years passed, years during which I pushed away some of my grains of seclusion.

Then a disease called Alzheimer’s arrived in a dump truck of behemoth proportions. For five and half years, it dumped lead-weighted crumbs and rocks and boulders. Late one night it all caved in upon me. I found myself slipping over the precipice from which all my life’s sorrows had been excavated. It looked bottomless to me, its vertical walls plunging into a darkness with such an absence of light, I thought I had lost my sight.

Farther and farther I slipped into the nothingness. Crying and shaking, I dredged up every crumb that once had been a part of my ramparts, and placed them on my shoulders, thus increasing my speed into the void. Quite near the bottom, I reached at random into a shoe box of forty-year-old letters and began to read.

Suddenly my descent jerked to a stop. I read another letter, and another and another and another. Some I read more than once, more than twice. One, the first one, I read again and again until I almost had memorized it. Finally, by 7 a.m., I had read all five dozen letters. These were my letters, letters I had written when I was twenty-three and mailed to a friend in another state, who many years later returned them to me. I avoided reading them once I saw the postmarked dates. I didn’t want to revisit those times, yet I was unable to dispose of them.

I set the first letter down. Its import was of a size and weight so extreme it filled the black hole beneath me, and I climbed upon it. A second letter became a second step and so on, and I made my way towards the light above. When I ran out of letters, I began to use the crumbs and rocks and boulders, discovering that rather than stumbling blocks and barricades, I could turn them into stairs.

When I reached the top and stepped onto the level, I set about cutting those crumbs and rocks and boulders down to a manageable size. I reconsidered, forgave, made amends, and reconnected. I put some into previously unconsidered perspectives. I cried, I laughed, I thought, I talked. I hugged a lot, too. Mostly though, I wrote. I wrote for hours and days and weeks and months. I wrote to make up for the forty years I hadn’t written. I wrote to learn and explore. I wrote for catharsis and for the pure joy if it.

With each word, each sentence, each paragraph, I was cutting, shaping, sanding, and polishing those crumbs and rocks and boulders. I carried many of them up the ramparts and tossed them into the hinterlands on the other side, where I never need worry about them again. Some I used as foundations for my words to build upon. And others? Well, it’s a work in progress, as they say.

Which brings me back to the friend with the biscotti crumb stuck under her down key.

“That’s good,” I said. “Now you have nowhere to go but up.”

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Drama Stalks the Greens

It could have been April. It could have been Georgia. It could have been The Masters. The drama that stalked the golf course greens near the water hazard could have been from a lean, mean golfing machine needing a birdie to win.

But this was far away from Georgia, far from the perfectly landscaped greens of Magnolia Corner, far from the galleries and telelvision cameras, far from the PGA tour. This was Mazatlan, the El Cid resort golf course. This was where the two-lane paved road crossed behind one flagged hole and the tee for the next.

Blue water, scalloped by a slight breeze, on each side. Across the larger of the two ponds, exclusive villas fronted the greens, backs to the water and the silent, unfolding danger. A silhouette of a tall, slender wading bird broke the blue above the edge of the pond. Ten feet or less away, another silhouette, low to the ground, motionless but spiked with danger.

I stood off a ways, camera in hand. No, I thought. Not the heron. You're an herbivore, You don't eat birds.

The spiny, prehistoric iguana didn't care a whit about what I thought. It was stalking the blue heron.

With incredible swiftness, the iguana flowed towards the heron. At the same time, the heron lifted into the air, huge wings grabbing air, long legs trailing beneath.

The iguana moved into the sunlight and watched its prey escape.

A few yards along the bank, another silhouette--a great egret cooling itself in the shade. Unbelieveably, another five foot long iguana was stalking it, creeping closer and closer.

The egret watched carefully--flee the lizard or flee the human?

The dinosaur inched closer. At the base of a tree, a turtle sunned itself on the warm trunk.

The egret took flight and landed in the upper branches of the tree.

Quickly the iguana shot into the tree, climbing over the turtle and knocking it into the lake.

Watching all this from the tree top where their nests clung to tiny branches, were black anhinga birds.

Four feet below the egret, the iguana froze. Motionless, dangerous, almost invisible but for the tan spot where the sun had pierced the thick canopy of branches and leaves. Close by, in the same tree and only a couple feet above the iguana, an anhinga hung out its wet wings to dry.

Danger and drama hung in the air, but neither reptile nor avian moved. The human moved away after a time.
Across the lake stood the great blue heron.

On the other side of the street, just yards from the traffic moving through the resort grounds, birds and turtles lined the concrete bank of the pond, oblivious to the danger unfolding across the way.

This was better, much better, than a lean, mean golfing machine needing to birdie the 18th for another win.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Year of Living Dangerously?

I turned sixty-eight a few days ago. I was pretty stoked about it, too. It seemed like a cool age to be. Not like sixty-seven, which is a pretty out there number. Kind of like a middle child that has trouble defining its own identity.

Sixty-seven is only a couple years past sixty-five, a couple years into Medicare, and that’s pretty much all sixty-seven has going for it. Sixty-eight, now, there’s an age with some depth to it. Sixty-eight is close enough to seventy to hang in its aura, and seventy means it’s official, you know, like you are officially an old survivor.And I’m really looking forward to seventy.

But, I might have been too optimistic about the benefits of sixty-eight, might have expected a wee bit too much from it. Here’s what’s happened in the few days I’ve been hanging around sixty-eight:

I missed a sidewalk transition in the dark and twisted my ankle. It isn’t sprained or anything like that, and doesn’t hurt all the time. But, when I sit for any length of time, it stiffens up and then takes a while to get it loose again when I try to walk.

Then I slipped climbing down the ladder into the pool, and my other leg ended up behind the ladder. I don’t mind the red two-inch scrape on my shin, or the welt and big green bruise behind my calf. The thing I don’t like at all is the stubbed, bruised, and very sore toe. That does hurt.

El Faro lighthouse, the world's tallest natural lighthouse, which means it's up on a 500 ft.-plus hill.

Yesterday I went for a walk with Kathy and Ellen, a gal from California who lives full time here in Mazatlan. Our goal was the Mazatlan lighthouse, the highest functioning lighthouse in the world. From a distance I could see the switch-back trail leading to the summit. No problem. I was wearing my Teva walking shoes with the good soles.

Other than perspiring prolifically on the upward climb, all went well. The lower half of the trail is a dirt/rock trail that at one time might have been a jeep trail. Now, since the lighthouse is all automatic and not manned, the trail has eroded into gullies and such. The upper half of the trail is a series of switch-back concrete stairs.

Frigate bird soaring overhead.

Once at the top, I bought a bottle of cold water from a vendor there, and walked out to the overlook for a bird’s eye view of Mazatlan. Above, dozens of frigate birds whirled on the air currents, huge birds with wing spans of up to six feet. I had just reached the overlook when I realized I wasn't wearing my glasses. My new, hard-to-see rimless glasses, my very expensive trifocal lens glasses. We retraced out steps around the lighthouse, again and again. I thought I had set them down once on the rock wall alongside the dreaded stairs, set them down to rinse my sweaty face with water.

After we assured ourselves the glasses were nowhere at the top, we started down the concrete stairs, which were even more difficult to walk down. That’s when the twisted ankle and the stubbed toe reminded me that I was sixty-eight and suddenly clumsy. When we reached the end of the stairs, I went back up by myself. Again I searched for the glasses, but couldn’t find them.

I worked my way back down the miserable stairs to where Kathy and Ellen waited. As we walked down the rocky, dirt and pebble-strewn trail, dozens of young people passed us on their way up. A cyclist with a single speed bike raced by, climbing the dirt part of the trail three times that we knew of. Two young men stopped at the concrete stairs and did push-ups.

Rock in the way of the sidewalk? No problemo. Just pour the concrete around it.

We stopped at a spot with a good view and talked about the cyclist and his strength and stamina. We were standing still. All of a sudden I was on my butt. “That’s exactly what I did a few years ago,” said Kathy. “My feet just went out from under me and I fell.”

I looked down at the trail. It was mostly hard rock, but had rock pebbles on it that acted like ball-bearings. No harm done, but I was a bit more careful about where I stopped to talk. Which means I was talking when my feet went out from under me again. This time, though, I scraped up my left knee, and blood trickled down my shin, intermingling nicely with the previously-scraped shin.

All in all, I’m beginning to think about sixty-eight a bit differently. Is this an omen? The Year of Falling Dangerously? Add all my scrapes and bruises and abrasions to the dozen or so red and swollen mosquito bites, and my legs from the knees down look like they’re adorned with red stripes and polka dots.

The Malecon of Mazatlan, a thirteen mile long concrete walkway, intersperesed with statuary and monuments, follows the coastline of Mazatlan and connects the Old Town with the tourist area.

Oh, what the heck. I’ve also been lucky enough to have carne asada twice this week.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Tryptophan Day

Ahem, ahem, Do, ra, me, fa, so, la, ti, do.... on three... one, two, three...

Over the river and through the woods,
to Grandmother's house we go...

Huh? Oh...

Put the horse away, as well as the sleigh--
Cuz Grandma's in Mexico!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And my personal thanks to each of you for being my friend.

Love and hugs,

Quoth the raven, "Farewell"

There was no public announcement, no obituaries in the newspaper, yet somehow they knew. They began arriving almost immediately, from north and south, east and west.

Within a couple minutes, two hundred or more ravens, already dressed in funerary black , arrived at the site where two of their kindred had fallen. From all over the city they came, their obsidian eyes missing nothing, not even the smallest morsel, but they would not be distracted.

One of their kind lay on the frozen ground, the other snagged high up on the power pole where the devious electricity had jolted the spark from its brain and the beat from its heart.

Around and around and around, an eddy of coal-black mourners circled the place where the two lay forever still. Some perched somberly in trees. Nearby, the two-legged types that discard fried potatoes and ice cream wrappers and half-eaten sandwiches watched the spectacle, and began to think of ravens in a different way.

Then, their farewells concluded, the dozens of raven departed, back to their hard-scrabble life of searching for sustenance on the city streets and parking lots, the snow-covered tundra, and the frozen taiga of Fairbanks, Alaska.

(Note: basis for this story was an item in the Anchorage Daily News, Nov. 23, 2009: “Ravens form a wake-like gathering after 2 electrocuted” by Tim Mowry, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner via Associated Press)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall...

There's that dad-ratted tourist again, the one who keeps getting into all the pictures.

Talk about a camera hog! Oops. We aren't talking weight here, people. We're talking about someone who crowds into every photo.

Oh, and did you notice the fashionable footwear on the dad-ratted tourist? Don't they look like light blue Mickey Mouse shoes? Well, they aren't. They are slip-on booties that all the tourists were required to wear over their street shoes. Here are my buds bootin' up:

That's Norman, Katy, and Kathy top left. Missy top right. And my own booted shoe on the bottom. Did you notice the twins are wearing identical striped shirts? Thank goodness they're in different colors.
Any why, you might ask, were we required to wear such protective booties? Because we were visiting this place:

Gasp. Ooooooooooooo.............Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

"This place" is the Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg, Russia. And the booties were to protect the exquisite parquet floors, some of which looked like this:

But back to camera hogs. I am reminded of a time I was at the Erickson Gold Mine in Girdwood, waiting around for my friends to wander back to the car. I started taking pix of this and that. A little girl saw me taking a photo of her stomping in mud puddles..........so she posed. I have no idea who she is, but I know for certain her mommy took lots of pictures of her. She was well-trained.

Oh, and by the

Ahem, ahem...

Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday, dear Gullible,
Happy birthday to you.

So I ask you, if a gal can't post her picture on her blog on her birthday, taken in the Catherine Palace while wearing light blue Mickey Mouse booties, without feeling conceited, well, when can she?

If you're wondering, I'm either 48 or 68. Take your pick.

The 48 comes from how many years it's been since I decided to write Gullible's Travels and acquired the nom de plume, or nom de keyboard or whatever it's called these days.
The 68 comes from the year I caused my mother to miss Sunday evening chicken dinner at the hospital in Detroit.

Well, I hope this posts on the date I scheduled it for. I wrote it in late October while I was in Halibut Cove. If all goes well, I hope to be drinking a big Margarita and eating carne asada when you're reading it.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Flying with Egrets

Late each afternoon, as the earth turns and brings respite from the blue-white heat of day, the egrets abandon their daily pursuits and take to the wing. A band of lemon yellow suffuses the horizon as dozens, nay, tens of dozens, of slender white birds fly in waves over the casas and condos, haciendas and houses of Mazatlan.

Above the small convenience stores called “super markets,” past the Montana papeleria that sells single sheets of paper or single Band-Aids, still in business despite the behemoth office supply store a half block away around the corner, over the vendor with his two-wheeled cart of tejuinos and large bottles of hot sauce, the egrets fly west into the setting sun. Drafting off each other in “vee” formations, they fly between the Norfolk pines and the coconut palms, all in the same direction, hurrying before deep lilac and mauve push tangerine to the horizon and chase darkening lemon in pursuit of the vanishing sun.

They fly silently, leading with long beaks and trailing equally long legs, their long tapered wings carrying them swiftly to a nighttime destination known only to them. I sit in the twilight courtyard with the residents and guests at Burgos condos and watch the daily migration. Often my first glimpse of the birds is a reflection in the shaded windows of the complex. I look up and see them flying low over the two-story buildings.

When I first saw them and learned they were egrets, I wondered what they did with their long necks while in flight. Each evening I watched them, looking for the necks. Then, finally, I saw a fleet at a propitious angle, and could discern those necks folded back on themselves into a snowy white “ess.”
No one in this group knows where the egrets go at night. I considered various options to learn the secret whereabouts of their evening sanctuary. I pondered how to follow the flock before the indigo blanket of nightfall covered the land. The birds fly too low and too swiftly to track. They abide by their own compasses, and do not follow the streets of cobblestones, coarse pavers, and yellow-striped asphalt that delineate pathways for earthbound men.

I spent long minutes at Starbucks while Google Chrome downloaded Google Earth. Perhaps an aerial view, a “bird’s eye” view, will reveal some water sanctuary of which I was not aware. Google Earth showed me man-made canals for the exclusive use of palatial haciendas with private boats, and beyond that, the great and ever-rolling Pacific Ocean.

Then I explored closer to home: why do I want to know? Surely by the time the birds arrive there, wherever there is, the light would be too dark to photograph what must be a mind-boggling number of sleek white birds standing upright, long graceful necks posting their whereabouts.

And then I decided I don’t need to know, don’t want to know.

All we creatures, all the creatures of the earth, need our private sanctuaries, the places we go to rest, regroup, recover, and recharge. Like the egrets flying to their place of refuge, we all need that secret destination, even if--perhaps especially if--it’s only a quiet place in our minds.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

This and that in Mazatlan

You'd think that 24 hours a day with no chores or responsibilities, I'd have plenty of time to think up scintillating posts for you. Wouldn't you?

Nada. So, here's a typical day's schedule:

I get up between 7 and 9. That's A.M.

I eat breakfast--either a couple eggs scrambled with salsa and folded into fresh flour tortillas, or some of the wonderful yogurt they sell here. It's a well-known brand, but has granola and fruit and nuts in it, already mixed up.

Here's the yogurt counter at a local grocery store. That's ALL yogurt. Other dairy products offered could fit in my suitcase. I have no idea what the deal is with yogurt.

After breakfast, I grab my shoulder bag and head for Starbucks, about a mile away. I don't drink coffee. Quit in 1965. It's not the coffee, baby. It's the wireless!

Along the way, I stop at a creek and feed four slices of Wonder bread ("turtle bread") to the turtles.

Every day along the way, something new catches my eye. One day it's the shape of the trees.

Another, it's a pickup bed filled with corn husks.

Or the fountains in people's front yards.

Or, this vendor selling I don't know what. I never see him with customers. All I see is a giant, economy sized bottle of hot sauce.

I stop at a "supermarket" which is about the size of a small 7/11, and get a bottle of Coke Zero for ocho pesos, or about 75 cents. I pay $1.69 in Anchorage, and about $3 million in airports.

Back at the condo, I lounge around the pool all afternoon, reading books on my new Kindle, and snorkeling. I snorkel instead of swim because I can't multi-task when it comes to water, and I'm really fond of breathing. I snorkel a lot, figuring 25 laps around the pool is a half-mile.

Sometimes, we go out to dinner.

Pre-prandials at El Mamin, a seafood restaurant.

You like that word, "pre-prandial?" You won't believe where I learned it: in a construction camp so close to the end of the earth, you could see it from there.

Coconut shrimp and cole slaw with pineapple and chopped pecans....

To-die-for shrimp and sweet chilies tacos. With the Pacifico, $7 U.S. I could live there.

Then, back to the condo and the Kindle.

Sometimes I write. In fact, I have lots of stories saved up, but I need to get back home to the photos to illustrate them. One has to do with the day I found my mother in bed with a strange man. Another regards the time I found the plug that keeps the demons of hell from escaping their underground warren. Yet another is about the Glow in the Dark Boys.

It's a trilogy so far, but I'm considering a fourth chapter. What is that called? A saga? An epic?

And last (so far) is a treatise on the liability laws of Mexico.

Ah, well. Time to leave Starbucks and head back to the pool. Except, Julie London is singing "Cry Me a River." Maybe I'll hang around for a few more minutes, finish up my medium iced passion fruit tea.

I'm trying to figure out a dream I had last night. I won't go into the gory details, but it involved a stage production, a murder, me pushing myself in a wheelchair with a short stick through the snowy streets of Anchorage, running for an attorney love of mine for help.

I mean, really! Maybe I should have skipped the guacamole and chips last night.

On the other hand, I AM totally entertained all night.