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Stories by Mike Humfreville

The Tempests of Summer - Bahía de Los Angeles 1985, Part 26: Final Days in Camp    ( Posted August 25, 2004 )

Our magic summer was nearing an end. School was looming for the boys and we knew that we couldn't live forever without an income. During our friends visit, Bill had told me about several people at JPL that knew we were coming home soon; there was work waiting for me. We all looked sort of forward to our other home, but it was hard to say we wanted to go there and leave Las Cuevitas.

When we were near the two-weeks-to-the-end mark we talked to Mari Elena at her home, the tortillaria. She lived near the center of town and had several goats that her family tended on a mesa above the spring. We hoped she could take Billy and Burlap and merge them into her herd. We were not anxious to take them back to the house in the desert south of the village. That was a daylong trip and we were more concerned to find them a place where they would be pets rather than dinners.

Mari Elena wanted the two of them and asked how much she should pay us for them. The price was not important but the fact that she was willing to pay something was. We trusted her family to treat the animals with respect and looked forward to seeing them again on our next trip. Not to imply that they would be treated as in-house animals. Rural Baja families can seldom afford that luxury to any but the luckiest animal. But they would be taken care of. When there was hay or grain available and affordable they would be included; when there was none, they would be able to forage on their own. If we could have taken them home we would have. But this was the best of circumstances we could expect.

At the hut, we organized and packed tools, clothing and equipment. Over the week we removed our makeshift cabinets and cupboards, closets and potholders.

We took long and happy-sad trips into the gulf in the boat, the boys and I taking turns piloting. We passed the whales in Canal de Las Ballenas and the dolphins in the channel between Smith's and Angel de La Guarda. We drove wildly through the masses of bobbing boobies, pelis and gulls sitting on the surface of water offshore, sending them, burning scarce calories, swirling upward in a small tornado of squawks and cawkings. We caught fish and fed the sea lions.

Michael and Kevin put their boots on and climbed the three brothers. When they arrived at the crest of one or the other they would call down into camp. If the wind was right we could hear them. They would wave and we would call to them and wave back. Mary Ann and I would know that they were safe for another moment or two and relax just a bit.

It was very sad to leave our home. We had had so many moments here that we could never expect from another place, anywhere, any time. We had achieved my freeze frame, we had stopped the world and gotten off, effectively dropped out for a worthwhile adventure none of us would ever forget.

One of the practical problems during this emotional time was the hut itself. We were settled, it turned out, on Mari Elena's land. I didn't want to ask about this, but I had read about the value of land to Mexicans citizens, I assumed that the government had distributed the desert hectares to everyone in the village some many years ago. The place we had chosen to build a hut happened to belong to Mari Elena's family.

When we discovered this, near the end of our stay we asked her son Carlos, the boy's friend, what we should do with the materials that formed the hut. Could his family use them? He was excited that we would let him have these rather than take them back across the border. These materials, he said, could be used to improve the conditions in their home, the tortillaria. This solved a problem for us and was a reasonable payment to Mari Elena for the use of their land for the summer, even though she would never have asked for it.

We visited with our friends in the village and had several last meals for a while. We drove to the south end where we had spent the summer in a smaller and simpler hut ten years before. We showed the boys where we had lived before they were born, when Mom and Dad were first married, where I had discovered a small sea shell that exposed the values of Mexico for a young and aggressive man.

We visited La Gringa and with the right tide captured a number of crabs in our nets only to release them to the rising waters of the lagoon. We watched the egrets pass through their rituals, jumping into the air and striking out at their opponent with their feet. We sat for hours and watched the blue herons padding patiently through the shallow marsh grass. They always seemed to three in number at La Gringa. I wondered if it was the same three, over the years. The distance between them seemed to be always calculated and unchanging. The sand pipers waded the edges of the channel, filling with incoming water, probing the mud for sand-crabs. How La Gringa had changed since our first visit.

Sadly, we loaded up Billy and Burlap and the chickens and drove in to Mari Elena's. As we opened the back of the Land Cruiser in her fenced yard the chickens scattered like leaves in the wind. Hot Stuff, our rooster, was quick to dominate every hen new to him. Billy immediately fell into lust with a doe there. Burlap had no mate, but he was so sweet and stubborn it was hard to think he cared. He was just gentle and loving and happy to be around anyone he could seemingly ignore. It was more than difficult to leave Billy and Burlap there. Even knowing we would come back in a day or two to see them for the final time of this trip, we all cried and hugged, clinging to them, our partners in a wonderful, unforgettable summer.

And as for me, I spent my last few late evenings sitting in the library reading, thinking and listening again and again to the music that had brought me here on a quest for improvement to the life I had lived north of the border. I had first become part of the scene that was Bahia de Los Angeles late in my Baja experiences. But it was easy to become attached to such an uncomplicated and fetching place.

With a John Williams soundtrack or Zamfir playing in the background, and small waves washing smooth round stones in the foreground it was very calming. I took long breaths knowing shorter ones would follow, to the north. My two boys were asleep on their cots. Mary Ann was reading by the moth-hovered lantern. Far off in the channel an old weather-beaten trawler pulled six equally battered pangas astern, puffing coagulated exhaust out it's upright pipes as punctuation points in the fading light of evening, heading into Bahia de Los Angeles, just around the corner. I could hear the individual and precise, deep-chested pumps of each stroke of the diesel as the engine labored through the pulling, tugging water that supported so many of my friends, fishes and mammals, recently discovered.

I had made my first journey into the interior in 1968, hitchhiking with Epifanio Ybarra of San Ignacio. Mary Ann and I had found the depths of our relationship here during the summer of 1974. Michael and Kevin had filled the place with their youth and happiness in 1985 and we had formed new meanings of family and reliance on this current trip. The events of these past and present times filled me with a feeling of...belonging? Of being in a place where I was meant to be, a place that was missing somewhere in my other life. Or, was it me that was missing from this place?

I could try to fight the battles of the space business with other, minor players. Or I could come here and not play that mean and rough game. Here I was attacked only by the fundamentals that, at best, respected me, and at worst, didn't know I existed. I could easily return that respect. I was ready to return to an environment that was receptive to my work. But southern California society still tears at relationships, bombarding them, overwhelming them with such great intensity that there is little left for the members of the affair.

As the night wore on I wandered into the kitchen and poured dark rum into a plastic glass, added a handful of precious ice and a can of diet Pepsi. Through the slats of the split bamboo that we had slipped through the border three months before I caught a glimpse of a Baja fingernail moon. I thought back over the many times we had fought to keep the hut standing, that we had looked for missing animals, including Michael and Kevin, out wandering over the Three Brothers. The sliver of moon on the water as I returned to my chair on the stones and the music threw a last silver ribbon for the trip, and I was duly appreciative.

Eventually my chair melted into the stones, and I fell, sleeping, somehow, on my cot.

Copyright 2003-2006 Mike Humfreville

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