Baja With Mike
Please use your browser's print button to print this page . . .
[ Return to Contents Page ] [ Return to Baja With Mike ]

Baja California Information Pages

Stories by Mike Humfreville

The Tempests of Summer - Bahía de Los Angeles 1985, Part 13: Evenings    ( Posted June 1, 2004 )

The evenings were always a release from the heat of the day. There was usually a slight breeze and we could light the lanterns and all sit at the table or the boys on their beds reading or talking. After the sun set it was difficult to read on still nights because of the bugs. They changed with the weather and we didn't have a bug book or know their names, but some of them were special. There was one that always got our attention. This large black fellow weighed at least an ounce and was about three inches long. He was a flying insect. When we lit a lamp he could see it from a great distance and wanted the light for a purpose known only to him. We called these great beasts "Four Milers" because we could hear them coming toward the light while they were far away from the hut. Their excitement was reflected in the high frequency hum of their wings. Their vision must have been farsighted, because, while they could see the light from afar, they couldn't see the hut from anear. They worked up a terrific speed coming at us but didn't know when they'd arrived. We'd be sitting and quietly reading with only minimal other natural sounds and hear this big bug zeroing in and wait for the crash. And it would come within seconds as he hit the bamboo siding of the hut at some high rate of speed, fell to the stones and wandered dizzily around for a moment before flying off to try again. They didn't bite or sting and we were never otherwise bothered by them, only entertained.

The moths were also large, about three inches long with an even wider wingspan, but they were not as pesky. They would surprise you at first because they are so quiet and throw such a large shadow. But they would flutter silently about, throwing ghostly apparitions on the walls and ceiling only to light somewhere for a moment or two, then fly off. The boys tried to catch them but they were evasive and stayed high on the walls. They we all dark brown's and gray's with delicate patterns on their wings.

The kitchen was a lively place in the evenings. The mice and kangaroo rats, fragile, tiny rodents, no more than two inches long at most, would come to clean the scraps we had dropped during cooking. They scampered around the ground and lower storage crates. Early on we had stored all our dry foods in an old ice chest and kept it latched to keep these hungry little guys out. But they would inevitably find some morsel and make just enough noise to alert us. They were desperate for food and hard to discourage. We would often just reach down and pick one up by its tail and put it on the ground outside the hut. At the time we naively thought they were no problem and pretty much left them alone.

We found an occasional scorpion in the sand when we moved something protecting it, but the variety here were not seriously threatening, their sting only slightly worse than a bee sting. We showed the boys what they looked like and told them to keep their distance. We saw tarantulas twice but they never came near our living area.

One evening we had gone to the village for dinner and came home just at dusk. Mary Ann and I went to find Billy and Burlap and put them up for the night. The boys went into the hut and were hollering and came running out, screaming that a snake was inside. We all rushed to see where and what kind of snake they had seen. Michael said it was a rattler, that they had heard it. It was on the ground between or behind the ice chests, in the kitchen. I reached down to move the largest of the chests and Michael yelled at me to stop, that was where he was hearing the rattling. We listened but I could not hear anything. I got a tool and pulled the chest away and behind it were two small rattlers, each about twenty inches long. We killed them, regretfully, and cut off and buried their heads and threw their bodies in the garbage pit for the chickens.

We evaluated the situation and why they had come into the hut. It was an easy analysis: We dropped food during cooking that attracted mice. Snakes eat mice. We had to do something to keep the mice away from the kitchen. If there were no mice there would be no snakes. From here on we were more careful to avoid spillage and to keep the stones food-free. But from that moment we were aware that hidden dangers could be anywhere. It was a fact of nature; it didn't make life less pleasant, it just meant that you are more aware of your surroundings.

It's interesting how much we learn without even being aware of it. Many years after this snake event I was in our Glendale home cooking dinner. I was chopping some vegetables and a small piece fell from the chopping block to the floor. I watched it fall and come to rest under the kick space of the cabinets. I reached to pick it up, but stopped instinctively in mid motion. I wasn't going to put my hand into a place where I couldn't see, a lesson unconsciously learned from numerous snake incident. I also noticed that I was standing curiously away from the kick space, not putting my bare feet there. This caused an uncomfortable angle for my body to work with the knife and block, but it was the way I had worked in the kitchen ever since our trip.

On nights that the bugs kept us from reading we often listened to an old time radio show that came at 8:30 all the way from Montana. The station played the half-hour dramas I had listened to in the 1940's on an old Motorola radio. The Whistler was our favorite and it caused you to realize the ways television has changed our society, society around the world. I have thought, since traveling to Europe and the Far East that the U.S. had two things the rest of the world really wanted: cigarettes and entertainment. Many people around the world would do almost anything for an American smoke, film or TV show. I often thought that it wasn't too important what the diplomats and politicians did or said, the world saw it like it was (sort of) on American TV and film. We listened to the old shows until the boys' heads were nodding and tucked them in for the night. It was a nice feeling to be so far away and yet be able to reach for a small piece of familiarity during a dark night on a quiet beach.

Copyright 2003-2006 Mike Humfreville

Baja California Information Pages - Contents Page: