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.
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.”
While most thoughts of Mexico in the winter are of sunshine filled days lazing or frolicking on the beach, there are still those that sneak in – like this morning – cloud filled and gorgeous – and yes, chilly.
The beach walkers bundled up in sweatshirts and even down jackets. Ugg boots, or at least fat socks and tennis shoes, instead of flops and beach shorts. Their pace is a little quicker to fend off the cold.
Winter in Baja.
A place where pelicans, boobies and arctic terns dive for bait fish in the shallow waters close to shore. Where egrets and herons patiently hunt on the shoreline or in the estuaries, side by side with sandpipers, godwits and occasional killdeer. Where offshore, orcas, fin whales, dolphin, and dancing mobula entertain guests and locals, while we wait for the arrival of the blue whales.
A place and time for contemplation. The hunkering down that winter begs of the body and the mind. A hibernation of such, so that when spring unleashes her torrent of renewed growth, we are fresh from rest and ready to press forward again.
Hurricane Odile set to make landfall / Cat 3 Storm
With Odile just miles from Cabo San Lucas, winds and rain blast their way across the region. 22 airlines canceled flights in and out of city. Evacuations of up to 30,000 people are possible. Forecast is for up to 18″ of rain – okay – that’s a LOT OF RAIN!!! And sustained winds at around 135 mph. The imagery looks as if the storm is swallowing the Baja.
“Odile” is the latest in a string of late-season hurricanes with similar paths – off the west coast of Baja. But each one seems to have been moving slightly closer to land – and Odile looks as he he’ll skim the coastline, wreaking havoc with winds and rain. On Sunday morning, the storm has already intensified to a Category 4 – a “major and dangerous hurricane” – with sustained winds at 135mph and gusts up to 160mph. Batten the hatches. Put up the storm shutters and bring all the patio furniture inside.
Even in their fury, the storms seen from satellite are mesmerizing.
I admit it .. I’m a storm junkie. Something about the drop in barometric pressure and the wildness in the skies. I became edgy. Can’t sit still or focus. Pace the perimeter. Waiting. Watching the sky. Watching satellite photos and charts. Norbert was to be small .. A category 1 storm for a short time and then a tropical depression. He fooled us all by building to a Category 3 – but all of it off the west coast of Baja – and with no serious impact. We had 3″ of rain in Loreto and an amazing 49mph gust. I was awakened at 3am by what sounded like a bucket of water thrown at the window. Palm fronds bent agains the weight of the wind. The normally placid Sea of Cortez whipped to a wind-chopped frenzy. A wild alertness that accompanies a storm. Yes, a junkie – particularly when they have some punch but no destruction.
The storm sent clouds north from south and west of Cabo San Lucas on the afternoon of the 4th. By dawn (okay it was dark with no real sunrise) the storm had moved up the peninsula and after the 3am slam, rain and winds began to affect Loreto. By 3pm, the skies had opened, the wind had laid low the palm trees and ‘game on’ – the storm raged through and into the dark of night. Morning, the 6th, still dark skies, but by afternoon – clearing skies. Then sunset, an arm of the storm – now directly west of Loreto – laid a thick band of grey which intermittently spit water. Seas calm. Storm now a memory. We wait for the next circular disturbance.
“This is an invitation to go swimming,” my friend Al Jordan said when he phoned in the early afternoon.
I began to laugh so hard I could hardly speak.
“If the waves are too small for you,” he continued, “we could wait until after 5PM when the storm should be stronger… or even after dark!” I kept laughing, looking out my window at the frothy waters and the hurricane driven waves in our usually tranquil Sea of Cortez.
Al had swum the Picazone-Isla Coronado Race three days ago while I had SUP’d the distance. While we’d both thought those conditions were ridiculous, the turbulent sea outside framed our earlier experience in a different light. Now, while the wind blasted at 37 mph, gusts above 40, and the trees bent low to the ground, his idea was such a delightful counterpoint to the storm, I had to thank him over and over for the invitation.
Good morning Paul : woke to change in plans – or at least change in track. Paul’s now headed directly to my treasured surf spot – San Juanico – and then across to pay a visit to the east coast. Batten down the hatches, Dorothy. We’re not quite ready to head to Kansas.
How can I ever forget the beauty of Loreto? After a four week sojourn, I sit again, next to the sea and her fragrance hypnotises me. Gentle breezes caress the surface and small wavelets kiss the shoreline, turning beach stones over and over as if in a dance.
A blue monarch butterfly, and then a gold, flit among the flowers and the fat limes ripening on the trees that have exploded with growth. A hummingbird whizzes past my face toward the ruby colored stamens in the planter.
Recent rains have turned the dry lanky peninsula into a carpet of green, so verdant that from the sky, one could be fooled into thinking this was an oversized island of the Hawaiian chain. The sand in my yard has become a palm nursery. Hundreds of sprouted seedlings reach their first and second leaves toward the sunlight.
All it takes is water to change everything in the desert.