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Stories by Mike Humfreville

The Tempests of Summer - Bahia de Los Angeles 1985, Part 8: Black Warrior Chickens   ( Posted May 14, 2004 )

With the hut built by the end of the second or third day, we settled into the Baja routine. Awake with the sun, about six, unable to sleep because of the flies, reading and playing in the shade behind the hut while mom made breakfast and dad fished for dog food, swimming before lunch and looking for shells on the sand, exploring for sea creatures trapped in the rocks as the tide went out, mid-day snacks and naps, afternoon swimming, short hikes in the hills, now known as the Three Brothers, behind the hut. In the evenings we read and the boys drew or sometimes painted smooth round stones with water-colors. We ate early dinner, read some more and occasionally listened to a dim radio station floating south from Utah and broadcasting old Whistler mysteries. We'd get the boys ready for bed, play some quiet music and drift off to sleep under the magical influences of Las Cuevitas.

It was a wonderfully warming experience to become this close to each other again; to rely on ourselves not just for a ride to school or to take care of elbow scrapes or to provide a warm hug when the need arose, but to actually participate on a moment to moment basis in each others lives. We had all the privacy we needed individually and collectively, but isolated as we were we began to find other needs. Simple things were missing from our environment. The business and bustle was gone, friends were gone, television was gone. These were major adjustments. But we took them together in stride. Reading was the order of the day. Music was the dominant nighttime medium. The four of us shared the time and space equally and alone.

After the hut was complete I was looking for a simple, short-range task that would give me an objective each morning, until I had adjusted enough to need no assignments. I decided that our beach would be improved with a set of wide and deep stairs going down the several steep meters to the water. Presently we were stumbling through the smooth and rounded beach stones, which were slippery and awkward.

On an exploratory trip into the local hills I had noticed an outcropping of flagstone. Early one morning I took the Land Cruiser back to this place and loaded twenty or thirty large flat rocks, fifty pounds apiece, into the back. I drove back to camp and dumped these onto the smaller stones in front of the hut. Before it was too hot I had worked them into stairs in the stones, steady enough to walk on. For several mornings I repeated this process. We soon had a rock staircase five meters wide and leading the short slope to the sea. The rocks were large and heavy enough that the small waves didn't disturb them. By the time we needed to do laundry we had built a large fire pit into one side of the stairs and would carry seawater easily to the large bucket used for heating it for showers and clothes washing.

In the eleven years since Mary Ann and I had last lived at the Bay, before the boys were born, the village had expanded considerably. Ice had become almost always available. Electricity was generated by the Diaz family and available to the rest of the town. A second generator was about to be installed and as much of the village as wanted it had power during the day. The hours of operation for the generator were from six in the morning until ten at night. Ice was usually trucked in from Ensenada, but it was offloaded into smaller refrigerated local storage and sold to the locals from there. Every few days we would take the ice chests to the village and fill them. They would sit under the counter in the kitchen chilling sodas, kool-aid, juices and beer and whatever fresh food we had. When the ice melted it was drained off to give to Lassie to drink or to rinse ourselves with after our baths in salt water.

By the time we had been there a week Michael and Kevin were bored and having trouble settling down. They were used to TV and computers and school and friends and always having something to do. Looking back on this fact I wonder if all the computer games we let them play back home had been a good idea; they were too used to being entertained constantly. They needed to learn to entertain themselves.

We needed to make a trip to Black Warrior for supplies, a full day's trip, there and back, through the desert and across the peninsula. We left early one morning, arrivied two hours later and made our purchases just before the stores and shops closed for siesta. We asked several locals where we might buy live hens, because eggs were hard to come by in the village at Bahia.

We were told that there was a lady who sold chickens in Laguna Manuela, twenty kilometers north and on the way home. When we passed through Laguna on the way back we found her house. She had a number of chickens for sale and we agreed on two dollars each and she spent half an hour chasing hens around her sizable property with a hooked stick to grab them by the leg. Soon the boys were racing after the hens and several local dogs got involved. By the time we had the chickens they were not too happy. We put them into a large cardboard box with a cover and tried to find a corner of the Land Cruiser that was out of the sun for their ride home. By the time we made the two-hour drive back to the hut the poor birds were exhausted from the heat. We opened the box and they wandered in a daze around the beach for a moment, and then scampered for the nearest shade. That afternoon we built a small roost that we could close them into during the nights. This was early in our stay. The coyotes that hounded us shortly had not yet discovered the enticing entrées we were unwittingly offering up. But for the mean time, the five hens and single rooster, Hot Stuff, made themselves at home. By that evening, well before sunset, they all found the roost and wandered in on their own. Chickens may or may not be smart, but they are certainly programmed.

After they adjusted to the climate (we had relocated them from the west coast where the weather is relatively cool and damp during the nights, to the east coast where it seldom drops below eighty in the summer and is relatively dry) the five hens produced an average of four eggs per day. We were all entertained by the foraging they did on the beach in the small piles of seaweed that accumulated along the tide lines. Lassie chased them at first but never tried to hurt them and soon grew bored. These animals too we integrated with. There are so many things to experience when you aren't just too busy.

Copyright 2003-2006 Mike Humfreville

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