Every few days we went to the village just for a change. It was a half-hour drive along the dusty byways of Baja to get there. On the outskirts, after we passed a few randomly situated small clapboard or cinderblock homes and several small stores. There was a two-story building with a restaurant on the top floor, up the escarpment from the beach, high enough to catch a stray afternoon breeze. The owner had fastened hammocks to the second-floor arches that led to the roof. The boys could rock themselves precariously from this perch over the ground fifteen feet below. We would go late in the afternoon and sit on the balcony overlooking the bay and have cold beer and sodas. From this vantage point we could see around the entire village. The men of the town and the soldiers from a small detachment of the Mexican army stationed there had built a soccer field near the beach. We could see them playing in the dust and heat and sweat. In hot and humid air the crows and buzzards sat in the tallest trees with their wings away from their bodies to shed the heat, their beaks ajar as if trying to catch breath.
The water of the bay shimmered in the late afternoon sun and the islands became less dry and barren in the fading light. On an earlier trip we had watched a single-engine Cessna taxi to the Pemex station at the Diaz ranch, fill with aviation fuel and then move on to the dirt strip. We watched the pilot get out and execute his outback-abbreviated pre-flight checklist, checking flaps, struts and whatever. He re-boarded the craft, revved up the engines, moved forward, quickly built speed down the strip and lifted gently into the shockingly blue and cloudless sky leaving behind a cloud of runway dust. He circled town once, buzzing the house and friends he was leaving, and turned gracefully north toward the border and a different world.
My eyes shifted downward where vee's of pelicans slid smoothly over the immediate surface of the water. How calming and silent they were in contrast to the aircraft. We ate dinner on the balcony as the sun faded and the lights were turned on throughout the village. What a miracle it must seem to have electricity after forever having none.
So many of us take so much for granted: refrigeration, power, heat, natural gas, running potable water. In Bahia de Los Angeles in the early days the only refrigeration was for food, was rare and was powered by bottled LPG. In order to refill an empty tank, you shipped it north to Ensenada. A week later you got it back, filled. In the early years electrical power was provided by the Diaz family to the village families that could afford it. Then another generator was added, operated by the town. Power still was not available between ten P.M. and early the next morning. Running water was available if you had plumbed your house to draw water, by gravity only, and directly from the spring above the village. This was usually an unnecessary waste. I don't know anyone who had or wanted air conditioning, except in the simple hotels for tourists. These machines seldom worked and then only during the times when power was provided. You didn't come here for the finery. You came here for a rare form of the truth.
On the beach the late afternoon fishermen folded or repaired their nets and hauled their pangas higher up the sand, away from the late night high tide, leaving deep etches in the beach. The Cruz Roja truck, still living, careened across town, as ever in search of an official function where there were few. The driver's side door was now missing. The village children began to collect around the Diaz patio. Evening approached.
We called to the boys, downstairs playing with a friend, paid the check and went to Maria Elena's for tortillas. She had many children, all of whom were good looking and healthy. Her youngest son, Carlos, was just older than Michael and the three boys played together whenever we were in the village. Carlos sometimes came out to our camp and spent days and nights hanging out with Michael and Kevin.
We often tried to understand the differences between childhoods spent exclusively in the village versus in Southern California. Carlos told us that the public school system in the village took him through the sixth grade. I believe this was the average for most of Baja California (I don't think it is for all Mexico; Baja is very rural and remote by comparison). Carlos had learned to be happy with simple pleasures and to entertain himself. Michael and Kevin had computer games and electronic toys and transformers and television and a swimming pool; they were not allowed to get bored. But, in later life who would be the better adjusted? Would my children have problems focusing on some task that did not fully entertain them? Would Carlos be better able to maintain an interest in his work, later in life, if he only found menial work? Would Carlos's mind get stuck on simple problems, while Michael and Kevin went on to solve greater challenges? Would my children be more likely to develop Attention Deficit Disorder because of the hype they'd grown up with? We are each so buried in our own lifestyles that we can't see things from the other side.
We stopped by the Diaz patio to say hello. Antero was gone by then but Mama and Sammy and Chubasco and their families were there. Mama was aging and her health was less than perfect. But she still had her spark and dry sense of humor. She would shortchange us in an instant, only to make it into a joke and give the boys some surprise worth ten times the value of the few stray centavos she had snitched. It was all a game.
For the villagers it must have been rewarding to sit most of the year with warm nights on a large patio with your grown children around you, your grandchildren playing nearby. The outer ring of this circle of life was the townfolks, those you had spent your entire life with; you knew who was to be trusted and who was not, and in what ways those not trusted could not be trusted and in what ways they could. No one was all bad, or all good. In the earth, a short walk from the home where you had raised your family, your husband was resting. Every night you visited him and thanked God for the time you had with each other and the time you would be together again soon. Life here was an unending thread of integrated births and deaths and events, significant and insignificant, strung together by the close and tolerant and flexible bonds of family.
Where would my boys be when I was old? Our typical North American families are often torn apart, or drive ourselves away from each other in search of jobs and income. Many of my friends at JPL had left home in their late teens for a quality education. From University they had gone where the work was. By the time they were thirty they hardly had a thought of home, it was an obligation that they kept every other year for Christmas. Their folks were so old they were a burden. I would be soon old and I didn't want to loose my value with age. I knew that I could always have value to my children if I found a way to belong in their lives for as long as I lived. I didn't at all like the idea of seeing them for a few days every year or so. They were only six and eight at the time and we were already worried about them moving on their own too young. Our relationship was between four people, not just two. The villagers had what I wanted held most important in life.
There are no simple answers when it comes to raising children or relationships and the things that influence them. I just knew that I felt that this village had more of what I would want as an old man than my own society. I knew I would keep looking south from my office at the Laboratory.
We spent too few minutes with the villagers on the patio and then Mary Ann and I walked up the street to the Dos Pinos market where Miguel sat at the back of the store, cerveza in hand and with a couple of pals. We bought some onions and potatoes and Miguel asked if we had been fishing and where. I said that we hadn't gone out yet. I was becoming more aware that we had been here several weeks and only been out in the boat once. We walked slowly down the dirt street to Casa Diaz and collected Michael and Kevin. The air was cooling to hot from intolerable.
We said goodnight to everyone and drove back to La Cuevitas to put Billy and Burlap into the corral. I put James Galway on the tape player and we listened to Michael and Kevin's favorite song, Piper, Piper Sing Your Song, before the boys settled down and then went to sleep. Later, to not wake them I moved my chair to the edge of the water and turned the music up. How could I have improved my life? No castle, no grand estate could have been better than this basic hut. It was so simple here and so pure, with Mary Ann, and Kevin and Michael. I poured a rum and coke, snatched a handful of ice from the chest, put Pavarotti in the tape player and sat playing with the moon and its silver ribbon, tying that golden orb to me and the hut and my family, snuggled with the small swells swirling gently amongst smooth round stones on the edge of the Gulf of California.