It was late August, hot and steamy and they'd been hanging at La
Gringa for almost two weeks, fishing every morning early and
hiding every afternoon in the shadows of their motor homes and
makeshift housing, hoping for a breeze. It was as hot as they'd
ever felt the air and the white light reflected off water, sand
and stony beach with a savage intensity, tearing through tarps
until they felt they couldn't get away for even partial shade.
Prisoners in paradise at the wrong time of year.
When the sun angled low, well below its zenith, they moved sand
chairs into water, just trying to shake some heat but even the
water was hot and not at all soothing. The volcano was ringed
with a steamy halo that told them the humidity was over 90
percent and climbing. There was no relief even in evening.
They fixed a simple dinner, ceviche and such, chilled over the
little ice that remained. Later, as sun sloped below horizon,
too hot for beer or liquor, they threw back bottles of cooling,
sweet water and pulled camp chairs together for starwatch.
"Let's climb the volcano tomorrow." The grown son said. So
began the simple excursion.
At dawn, before the heat of the day had struck, they shoved off
the stony beach, filled the tin boat with as many adventurers
from the camp as wanted, fired the small outboard and headed out
of the calm waters of the bay and into the open gulf. They
headed northward toward the base of the volcano, on the inland
side where the waters were quieter, for landing.
Burdened by the number of folks aboard, they lugged heavily past
the saddle of Smiths with the sun just peering through drop in
crestline there and arrived at the base of the volcano while she
was still heavily in shadow. The travelers debarked, pulled the
boat onto the stones and set about finding a trail. The
western, northern and eastern slopes they had seen from the sea
many times. These were too steep to climb safely, too covered
with decomposing granite, falling into weathered channels carved
by constantly buffeting winds and occasional rains. The
southern approach was the gentlest.
The explorers cut an arc across the most likely trailhead and
eventually stumbled onto the beginning of a small path that
seemed to head upward in the general direction of the summit.
They broke from the coast: the son and others continued upward
on the path; the father returned to the boat. He could wait for
them there. It would be about an hour's hike, maybe two, he
In the stillnesses of air and water there between the island and
the peninsula he could hear the voices of the climbers as they
pressed upward into the growing heat and humidity. They cleared
the shadeline of the volcano and placed foot in front of foot,
working up the steep mountain path in full if early sun. While
he couldn't see them, he was carried forward by their voices in
the calmness of morning, their climbing, huffing laughter and
humor, their observations of cacti and horned toads, voices as
trebled and clear as though they were there beside him.
They crossed to the eastern side of the ridge on the volcano.
They were climbing and were out of sight for a time and he,
situated on the beach below, started the motor to move the boat.
He worked north through the narrow channel that cuts deeply
between Coronado and Coronadito, and swung east, working into
the building breeze of early morning and tide of the moment.
The weather was in his face. He passed through darkened waters
he knew from fishing there and beaches he had named from his
visions of the steep slopes of the volcano and the types of fish
they caught. As he rounded the northeastern point of the island
the wind and tide shifted, growing rougher. He slowed and drew
closer to the rugged shoreline, water thrashing against the
jagged lava of the towering volcano where it met, merging with
the sea, becoming one and rougher on edge.
Around the point, he faced an angry sea, an influx of currents
passing over mean and unforgiving rocks that spoke for the
submerged world there, aggressive and swirling in their masses,
flowing over the crags and catches of lava thrown by eons from
towering cliffs of Smith's steep slopes and into the edges of
From his small tin boat he looked above occasionally, knowing
that from his current angle he'd lose sight of his son and
others. He pushed the outboard from east to south, rounding the
point. Here the currents more dramatically reflected the tides
that were thrown across the gulf, stirred the floor of the sea,
the surface into life and replenishment with the nutrients from
the oceans floor. The midriff was filled with life everywhere.
He pushed forward sluggishly through the roiling water and into
the small bay on the northeast side of the island. He could see
the bait working the surface, driven by larger fish from below.
He found his best guess place, shut down and cast into the calm
water. He worked his reel upon itself and brought in nothing,
no bite, no tease and cast it out again. Again his retrieve.
Nothing. He laid his rod along the length of boat and sat in
the stillness and listened. Silence...then a slight murmur of
voice from above, then conversation.
He was a thousand feet below the troupe traveling upward toward
the summit of the volcano. But sitting in a small boat below
could hear them, on focus.
Engine shut down, his small boat settled into the calm water of
the bay. The only sounds were the quiet lapping of water
against siding, a calm breeze and an occasional call from
arguing gulls, the periodic shhhh's of small waves rustling
against the stony beach 500 yards distant.
The voices from above grew clearer. The climbers crossed the
westward steepening trail traversed a backbone to the eastern
side and now he could see them from below. He caught the glint
of his son's waistlong blond hair off a cast from the sun. He
could hear the crunch of their boots on the granity path where
they approached the summit. How hot they must be, how sweating,
he thought, sitting on water at sea level in the breeze.
It occurred to him at that moment, with no other distractions,
how proud he was, how much he respected his son. The boy was
now a man and was developing strong character and morals, had
passions and loves, hatreds and distastes. He was religious in
an unreligious way, as he, the father was. He was absolute in
his beliefs and dedicated beyond himself in his friendships. He
was wonderfully na´ve and would stay that way the father knew.
He watched his son climb the volcano, a small hurdle in life,
and was pleased to stand back from the moment and observe from a
distance, his son building reliances with friends and terrain
that would carry him through his lifetime, perhaps to be passed
on to another generation if fate and desire would have it, to
give the son strength when strength was needed and not his alone
The hikers arrived at a small plateau and disappeared from the
fathers' view, below. He could still hear the shadows of their
voices singing and intertwined with the waves and the wind.
Then their silhouettes reappeared on the eastern edge of the
plateau. From that vantagepoint they could focus on the sea
below. They could just spot the small and fragile boat bobbing
in the quiet bay, catch reflections off the bait working the
surface there in the afternoon light.
"Hello, down there," son called to father. It echoed off the
craggy cliffs, pulling his words seaward.
"Hello, up there," the father returned, "all OK?"
"All's OK," reverberated back, falling seaward through the lava
corridors that poured down the volcano's slopes and channels.
The father watched as his son's outstretched arm pointed north
from atop the volcano, toward the wide Bahia at Guadalupe ten
miles distant and the tiny islet of Alcatraz and the mountains
they had used to triangulate the Cabazon hole they frequented
there, the points off Angel de la Guardia, the inlets and bays,
the reef that Sammy Diaz had introduced him to thirty years
before. He saw their focus turn south to the three sharp points
of La Gringa that you caught only from the east, the bay just
north of La Gringa, Las Cuevitas, where they had spent a summer
so many years ago, young and innocent and dependant, father more
on family then they on him.
They were older now, the boys, and he also. Had they done a
good job, he and his wife, he wondered, in raising their
The son's view from his altitude atop the volcano faded from the
distant points he knew from childhood, dropped to the tin boat
rocking in small swells of the cove below, his father there,
looking upward, barely visible.
"Hello, father" he issued, sent spinning down the slopes,
vaguely remembering the moments of his childhood and his
expectations of his father, some upheld, others ignored.
On the surface of the sea there in the small cove on the
northeast point of Smith's island the father received these
cascading words and knew all in life was well, after all, that
familial bonds would continue.
The hikers turned back and worked down the steep trail that had
led them to the summit. The father saw them descending, powered
up the small boat in the bay and passed back to the niche on the
West Side where he had deposited them earlier. He arrived there
well before they did and pulled the boat back onto the stones
and looked across to the peninsula. He opened the cooler and
then a beer and stoked a smoke and sat on a rock, looking to the
west. He knew much of the coastline there, their family had
shared so much along the craggy shores, through threats and vast
happiness's that they would always carry forward through their
lives. Their lives, all four, were formed in many ways by the
triumphs and failures along those beaches he was watching now,
at this moment, across several miles of rising tide. He turned
and started up the path to meet those hiking down. Off the
water the temperature rose again to almost unbearable. How had
they climbed all that way in this heat, he wondered?
But he knew the answer. One foot in front of the other. Just
get the job done.
He could hear their boots digging with gravity-assist into
gravel on their approaching downleg, knew they were hot and
happy but spent. As they approached he asked how they had
enjoyed the view, received a unanimous magnificent. The hikers
tore off as many clothes as acceptable in mixed company of
varied ages and dove into the waters there beside the boat.
Once all were refreshed and redressed with sopping clothes they
were ready for the camp again and shoved the boat off the stony
beach and into the water. The son took the return leg, back to
La Gringa. Father was elsewhere now, in one of the center seats
of the tin boat, talking with others. Time for youth, he
The boy had handled boats for ages and was capable beyond his
years. He knew the waters surface and currents and depths, the
winds and where they might strike and threaten and the locations
of landmasses, reefs and shallows, the configuration of the
peninsula from the sea. He knew how to drive the reunited group
home, giving them no concerns regarding their safety and they
all talked, loudly and animated in the in-their-face wind from
the west, remembering the huff of the hike up the volcano and
the view from the plateau. Many of them had never been in Baja
before and yet had experienced things most folks had not. They
had been led by the son in a sense, he being the most familiar.
Then they were back on their beach at the camp and the sun was
working magic and a meal being prepared by willing hands and
they are all resettled and those that made the climb are
relating the stories to those that didn't. Then, justly, the
process reversed itself and those that stayed in camp told the
adventures of their day, the heat and the bait working, who'd
caught what from the shore and other stories.
Eventually and gradually the day wore down. Many were tired
from their expenditures, just ready for bed and another day of
the extremes of life along the peninsula.
Late, after all others were asleep amongst their various crude
appointments, two chairs were positioned along the shoreline.
The stones there rustled under the thin aluminum tubing,
weighted by two equal men seated beside each other, distant
enough to not wake the others, sleeping. One had a rum and
coke, the other a smoke. There was no conversation, just the
words of the sea and shore converging and a distant croak from
the heron that had grown to tolerate them there on his beach.
The son never new at that moment he had grown, taken charge, and
the father never realized he had released control. It was
incidental - they were family. Things happen where
responsibilities are played out and positions assumed, stances
taken and followed through, ages realized from both ends of the
spectrum. Their relationship was changing. It was a voluntary
action on both of their parts. Both were forever proud and
would, after they had grown to understand the moment, look
loving backward to the times in their lives where they had
shared warm moments with others. Sharing their moments became
the times of their lives.