Land cloaked in lingering green, a gift from the last summer storm. The monsoons give this region water, and now that season yields to dryer fall and winter months. I ponder how much the jagged cliffs of the Sierras remind me of areas in northern Arizona, and how the current verdant carpet, like Maui.
A few cows nibbling on roadside grasses. Small families of darting goats. Horses set free to graze.
Cara-cara feast on road kill, competing with vultures. Crows glide amongst them.
Morning sunrise on the Sea of Cortez begins the day. The chatter of terns one to the other echoing across a glass-like sea surface. Raucous gulls join the symphony, and behind them, the platoon of pelicans, diving in formation to capture sardines.
Evening sunset on the Pacific. The shifting of coasts, of colors. Sunrise salmons and pinks. Sunset glowing oranges. Still waters to small waves. Course sand to rocky coast.
After the rains, after the cleanup and the repairs, after the bulldozers push rocks and dirt into breaks in the roadways, after everyone sighs and takes a breath, after Hurricane Kay moves off of the Baja Peninsula – the greening begins.
Almost overnight, or at least it seems as so. The crackle-bone-dry desert landscape of a 5-year drought springs into life. Grasses push up from the crispy earth. Cireos naked spines flesh out in coverlets of tiny leaves. Barrel and other cactus burst forth in flower. Arroyos raging waters diminish to a trickle, and up-canyon, narrow rocky slots carry mountain waters through granite channels laid bare by the earlier rushing waters. Yellow and orange butterflies flutter on light breezes. Dragon flies chase the oh-so-not-loved mosquitos born in standing water. Range cattle, horses and loose goats chomp on grasses sprouted on the edge of the road. The world alive again. The brown desert carpeted in green.
Water water everywhere. That’s Kay’s swan song, with arroyos washing out roads along the entire peninsula. She wasn’t even a strong hurricane – a category 2 in her heaviest moment – but she was grand – huge arms nearly 600 miles across. Her winds ran as high as 72mph in various locations, but her water. The rain. The desperately needed rain came all at once, the ground crusty dry. No way to absorb, but rush and run down the mountain faces and arroyos.
Multiple towns took hard hits. The Mulege river once again breached its banks, flooding everyone and thing in proximity. San Felipe, usually a dry sandy desert, found itself with streets of rivers, more suited to kayaks or canoes.
The major effect of Kay was on MEX 1 the transpeninsular highway that transits between Tijuana and Cabo San Lucas. The road cut in so many places that traffic and commerce were actually halted for three days. Today, the 13th of September, most roads have some measure of passage, and the large double tractor trailers could be seen heading south. Below, some photographs, borrowed from various posts and publications, communicate what my words lack.
Close to home, or the home I cannot yet reach, the highway between Insurgentes and San Juanico washed out first in Insurgentes, and then the bridge was obliterated over the wash a few miles outside of town.
The townspeople came together, and with shovels and arms full of rock and mud, began the process of crafting a crossing. It’s this spirit of ‘can-do’ which continues to fuel my love for Baja.
Figures they’d name the late season hurricane after my mother, Kay. Although to be honest, my mother was nothing like a hurricane. More like an ebb and flow tropical storm, most of the time delightful, oftentimes windy and unpredictable. Always Mom, gone too soon for me, and now, as the storm edges up the Baja peninsula and bends the palms toward the ground, her memories churn inside my head like the uprooted branches flowing down the arroyo.
It wasn’t easy being her daughter. She was vivacious, charming, a sparkling light in whatever room she occupied. She inhaled the air in a room in the same way, decades ago, she inhaled the swirling grey smoke of a Pall Mall cigarette, or the condensation laden glass of her icy evening scotch. She was Girl Scout President, PTA President, Community Chest President. She was always in front of the train. Dressed impeccably. Coral colored lipstick smudge-free. A full-mouthed smile, even though she hated a front crooked eye-tooth that looked like a ragged cat.
I could never quite measure up, and yet she was my greatest cheerleader. In the belongings she left behind, a folder of clippings, all my newspaper columns for ten years. She was always there, even in the middle of my life when her drinking shadowed the woman I loved and make our relationship so damned difficult. Our own stormy decades.
Hurricane Kay, not quite her alter-ego, is only 12 hours old. Much much to come, with the bulk of the winds due to hit Loreto sometime around 3am tomorrow, the 8th.
Last weekend, the cone predictions (area of effect) lined straight up the middle of the Baja. by the end of the weekend, the trajectory had moved westward, and by yesterday, even more so. The predicted landfall of lower Baja shifted, and now only the tip of Guerrero Negro is in the sights of the spinning ball of wind and rain. A wet storm, rain has fallen in Loreto since yesterday. Light and then downpour, back to light and downpour. And we are only at the beginning of the storm.
Yesterday I drove from the Pacific west coast back to the east coast and the Sea of Cortez. A number of reasons, but shelter and power were the primaries. The drive was rather harrowing, with moments when the water pouring from the sky was so heavy it required lowering speeds to 15mph, or simply stopping. The road between San Juanico and Insurgentes has been under renovation/reconstruction, and the day before, a large swath was as yet unpaved. I was extremely grateful that the workers had pushed forward and laid the asphalt on the last stretch. Otherwise, the deep mud on both sides would likely have found my truck up to the axles. The photo below shows Highway One between Insurgentes and Loreto with river-like lakes on both sides. An idea for you, of the amount of water falling.
Mom didn’t much like inclement weather, which another area in which we were quite different, odd on it’s own, since we shared a birthday 22 years apart. She was a sunshine and blue sky kind of gal. While I am quite happy in sunny beach weather, I get a thrill out of storms. As long as there is no loss of life or widespread damage, when the heavens let loose and the winds whip up the sea, it’s as if some wild child has been unleashed. An aliveness that is tamped down when weather is too calm or normal.
Anyway, this storm, this storm called Kay, has me racing from childhood, to young adulthood, to motherhood (her grandmother-hood) and into her senior years, now chased by my own.
My mother was always optimistic, and that trait I did inherit. She suffered her own dark days and losses, as have I. But always, her words still ring in my head. “It’s going to work out fine,” she said. Even when it’s tough to see through a storm to the potential rainbow on the other side, I hear her. “Everything will be alright.”
At the edge of the Pacific, I am washed in my own personal solace. The heaviness of the larger world slips away and I am able to breathe. Loki, my silly sweet Australian Cobberdog, seems to be getting a taste. Or maybe he’s simply looking for lizards, or whales, or another dog passing that might be a playmate. His long legs balanced atop the wall, I love watching the search all that spreads before him.
My passion for the Pacific originated in my teens, when the beach became a refuge, bearing both a sandy towel or game of hearts, and a canvas mat or surfboard on a wave. When friends piled up in long summer days, the air perfumed with coconut oil and tuna fish sandwiches with lemonade and potato chips. When the long pause in and/or near the water could quell disquieted thoughts. Where family troubles or teen angst vanished.
Something in the persistence of the horizon. That deep cerulean blue line.
I laughingly say that my skin gets itchy if I’m more than 20 miles from the ocean, and when I get within 10, I can scent the pungent seaweeds and tossed shell fragments, as if carried on a particular air current designed for me. I climb back into my skin, my watery alter-self contented with the proximity.
When I’m immersed in the water, my body feels as if it is 12 years old. The aging muscles and bones suddenly young again. The exquisite weightlessness, the dolphin-like quality. The freedom. The fluidity.
Wallace J Nichols writes about the positive impact of the ocean on the human species. His award winning book, Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do explores exactly what the title promises. Decades ago, a scientist friend said that ocean air bathes the body in negative ions, which in contrast to their name, have been shown to have a beneficial effect on the human psyche.
I no longer understand cities or their draw, and am sure that Loki has caught my ‘crowd allergy’ as he stares out and searches. Ah .. there .. an osprey with a fish. Ah .. there .. a pelican diving. Ah .. there … the chatter of a cactus wren, the slither of a lizard, the float of a cloud. Free from high-rises, traffic jams with road rage, sniper shootings …. We are out here on the edge, Loki and I, building a space where our thoughts are not boxed and our creativity flourishes.
“On the way into San Basilio on Saturday, Martin Castro and I were informed of a very late turtle nest hatch after 72 days of incubation (normally they hatch from 45 to 60 days). We hustled over to the nest site, where we have installed protectors that were designed by Martin to protect the nests from coyotes and raccoons, who can smell the buried eggs and will dig them up and eat them.
For the next three hours or so, We watched as Martin, who is the Director of the Sea Turtle Sanctuary at San Basilio expertly helped them through the hatch and to get into the sea successfully. His knowledge and care is really impressive! Over 60 hatchlings made the transition to their new environment.Since the late season hatches are almost exclusively males, this is the last time they will ever be back on land during their lives.
Under Martin’s leadership, this effort has seen over 500 hatchlings survive this year, up from only 88 the first year. I have seen this before, but never watched so many actually hatch, breathe for the first time, have their bodies expand into their normal shape as they take in breaths, and then launch out into the world, where only a few will survive to adulthood.”
Dogs seem as much a fabric of Baja life as the sand and the sea.
When I first purchased a home in Loreto, I was surprised that it ‘came’ with two dogs, Negrita, a black short legged German shepard mix, and Medici, a tall typical Mexican kind of gal. I had never had dogs. That was my sister’s gig. I was a cat person, a long story about dogs not liking me, but no matter, the dogs had been left behind by their owner, and stared at me expectantly.
I did exactly what any new home owner would do: moved them outside, along with their sandy paws, dusty dog hairs and food bowl.
That lasted? Well, not too long before I realized that I had bought ‘their’ house, and simply opened the door to the house, my heart, and all the dog-love they were ready to share.
Over the years, more dogs were added to the pack, as puppies and strays were tossed into the ‘gringo’ neighborhood. At one point, seven pups in various sizes, shapes, colors and attitudes wandered my property and the beach front. Yes, they guarded the property, and yes, they all became my best friends.
The last two who joined the pack were some kind of poodle mix, a blonde and a grey, who surprised us by delivering five puppies. “NO MORE DOGS!” rang out my war cry, and I quickly had them placed two with locals and found homes for three of them in the states.
But there was this one pup, the one male, the brown faced puppy who from the first began ‘mind-melding’ me with a kind of Doctor Spock energy. “I am your dog,” I kept hearing. “You are my person.” The seven other dogs could have cared less. They were fed daily, had a beach to run and a house to protect. But the puppy? He wiggled his way into my heart, and because he was little and could not fend for himself, became bi-coastal and somewhat bi-lingual. Buster gained residency in the USA, but kept his roots in Loreto, Baja California Sur.
Sweet Buster, aka Bubby, Buster Brown, Sugar Pop, etc., owned my heart for the next 13.10 years. He was my constant companion, a certified ESA traveler, and when he left me in February, 2021, my heart was in pieces.
Over the years, the other dogs had passed, and I said to no more to dogs. The heartbreak so deep, so emotionally disabling. And then there was this dream.
This might sound airy-fairy, but the dream was so real as to sit me straight up in bed. It was Buster, telling me that i had to get another dog. That he could not see me so sad, and he knew I was against, it, but he had found the next dog. Here he is, he said in the dream (in dog language of course), and showed me exactly the dog i was supposed to find. I searched shelters as far east as Arizona and far north as Oregon, and none of the pictures matched the image in the dream.
Finally, I did a google image search, and found the dog – in Australia! Which of course, due to COVID, was in lockdown and not shipping puppies. They suggested I try a breeder in Colorado, and in June, 2021, Loki the Lokster was born. He came home in September, and quickly became a challenge, a joy, a giggle, a smile and filled up that heart. He’s not Buster in temperament or in size – YIKES he got big!
But the Australian Cobberdog has come to roost, in both his Laguna home and his digs in Loreto.
“If it were lush and rich, one could understand the pull, but it is fierce and hostile and sullen. The stone mountains pile up to the sky and there is little fresh water. But we know we must go back if we live, and we don’t know why.”