For a number of weeks we fell back into the easy routine which
Mary Ann and I had become accustomed to years ago on our summer
at the south end. Our days were gently filled with fishing,
cooking, washing, maintaining the hut, reading, swimming and
napping. We taught Michael and Kevin how to fish from the
shore, casting with a conventional reel. The trick to this was
to ride your thumb gently on the spool after you had cast, to
prevent the spool from backlashing. This technique took them
some time to learn, but within a few days they were casting
hundreds of feet into the water and bringing in Cabrilla and
Trigger fish we could feed to the animals or eat ourselves.
Michael wanted nothing to do with eating anything that came from
the sea. Kevin loved everything. But they both loved to catch
fish. There was an ongoing contest to see which of the boys
could cast farther. As far as I know this is still
The early morning routine became something to enjoy. I was
usually up first and working on some small chore or reading. By
the time the sun had risen, between six and seven, everyone else
was up. The boys or Mary Ann would open the pen for Billy and
Burlap. The goat and burro would trot from the makeshift corral
to the front of the hut to say good morning to the rest of us.
Lassie loved Burlap and would greet him by licking his muzzle
furiously. Burlap stood still while this was ongoing, for a
minute or so, and then Burlap would lead Billy around the area,
galloping and kicking, pleased to see another day.
If we joined the animals behind the hut to watch their antics,
Burlap would try to ram us. Even though he was small, he still
weighed one hundred and fifty pounds and was charging you at
about twenty miles an hour. We would dodge away as if he were a
bull in a fight.
After their morning warm up they would head for the nearby
hills. Lassie would stay with them until she heard the boys
getting ready for their morning swim. Then she would come back
to camp to watch and join with them. Never was one of the boys
in the water that Lassie wasn't there too. It was her job, she
thought, to protect them.
Evening was always my favorite time in Baja. The trials were
over for the moment and the heat easing. There were few
evenings that didn't present a spectacular sunset. During the
heat of the afternoon the animals all found shade and limited
their activity but when the shadows began to lengthen and the
air cooled just a little they came out and would begin to play.
I read in a journal somewhere years before I had the time or
interest in watching animal behavior closely that they have no
sense of humor, that they do not play. I've spent small moments
for years trying to validate or attack that brash statement.
What is it to play? The dictionary says "to occupy oneself in
amusement, sport or other recreation." How do you apply that to
other animals? I watched this burro, goat and dog on the beach
and they were clearly playing. They were familiar with each
other, they were not threatened by each other. They were
filling time by performing some activity that they chose and it
gave them pleasure. They were constantly challenging each other
in some talent of their own; the burro would charge the goat or
dog, the goat would rear up on hind legs or feign butting the
burro, and the dog would nip at the heels of both. It was
difficult to believe what I'd read. They were clearly playing
and I wanted to join in but was too busy analyzing what I'd read
and trusted. This was not something that happened occasionally,
but every morning and every late afternoon.
On the other hand I would have certainly agreed, by common
observation, that chickens had absolutely zero sense of humor.
They were only occupied with their constant pecking order and
grubbing for food, even when they had more than they wanted.
They were the most productive of our animals (eggs), but least
enjoyable, even though we grew to know each personally by sight
The sun set nightly, west of our tiny hut a few meters up a
beach of smooth round stones from the Sea of Cortes. We fixed
dinner early in the evenings and well before it grew dark. We
avoided gas lanterns while cooking because the bright light
Through the slats of bamboo the fading golden light of evening
turned the hut into a magical scene. We were alone, the four of
us, each in our own world and yet together closer now than ever.
The boys and Lassie were typically in the water before dinner,
laughing between the small waves that fell just outside La
Gringa. The chickens had gone to roost and were silent. The
goat and burro hovered between the water and the hut and were
silhouetted against the calm cove. The arc of the sun through
our visible heavens was nearing completion of its daily cycle
from our misescule vantage point; we were mentally preparing for
night and darkness and a period of rest.
This time of day was often cause for a walk along our lonely
shore. The volcano of Smith's was almost directly across from
our site and usually caught the final rays of the sun for the
day. The twin blues of sky and water reflected the occasional
clouds that collected and their random reds, oranges and
yellows. The pelicans nightly migrated from the south end of
Bahia de Los Angeles to the craggy peaks of our Las Cuevitas.
Here, both north and south of our tiny bay, the cliffs rose
directly from the beach toward the sky and enabled seabirds to
launch into the weather well above the water.
Small sea creatures collected along the shore in just inches of
water. Tiny crabs, a baby octopus, a sea urchin, clams. As the
darkness settled we could light a kerosene or gas lantern and
set it beside the water and watch the small beasts come toward
the shore, something attracted them to the light. We could
position sand chairs there and just join in the show. We were
much too large for the small creatures to conceive let alone
fear. And we were not out to disturb them, rather to integrate,
observe, learn and respect their ways.
Once the suns energy lost influence over our day, the moon, if
her cycles were correct, would introduce her presence for our
pleasure, first as a dim glow above the now-silhouetted Smiths
Island and just a few minutes later as a golden orb pushing into
the nights sky over Smiths saddle, mid-island. A narrowing line
of light pointed over the water to moon when she was full
enough, awakening in us a knowledge of our lack of importance in
this universe and an understanding of the relative inconsequence
of humanity in the bigger picture of things.
At Las Cuevitas there was only the peace and tranquility of
nature and our interest in understanding it. The pressures of
work and school schedules, meetings, unsolicited impositions and
myriad other activities were things of the past and the future.
The moment was ours, as long as we would make it last.