Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Vagaries of Wind and Weather

Vagaries of Wind and Weather
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
            Egads! Another hurricane! Last week Hurricane Norberto blew past,  waved “hello” and left unwelcome gifts of havoc. This week, Hurricane Odile, not to be left behind, followed the same path. Fortunately, we in Mazatlan experienced only the side effects. When speaking of weather, it is a horrible thing to say we are lucky. When hail strikes the plains, one wheat farmer is wiped out and the neighbor’s fields go unscathed. Weather isn't “fair”.

Our particular neighbor is Cabo San Lucas and the entire southern Baja Peninsula. On the map, Mazatlan is situated due east. Like I said, we got the side effects. People, homes and businesses on the Baja were devastated. Two weeks in a row! Enough!

I went out this morning to see what I could see. Waves crashed against the sea walls, leaped over into the street. Beach access streets were flooded. There is not a palapa left on the beach. Many waterfront structures sustained wind and water damage; others destroyed and carried out to sea. We will experience the angry ocean, wind and rain for a few more days. Until it is safe to walk onto the beach, I will not be able to see the extent of the damage.

The wind howled all night but we didn't lose power. My little apartment is safe, at least from this sideways storm. If Mazatlan were to be hit with the eye of a hurricane, I have no idea what I would do. In Montana, I was prepared for any emergency. Here I haven’t even a lantern. No life jacket. No extra food. Or extra water. I do have a bathing suit. But I don’t swim.

I had already written an article when I got word the hurricane was on the way. Same title: Vagaries of Wind and Weather. But I deleted the entire content and started over. Something as momentous as Hurricane Odile must be acknowledged; must be paid homage.

My opening paragraph, polished to a gleam, was to describe the nights of rock and roll, the rumble and crash of thunder drums and flashes of light across the vast stage of shore and sea, the opening of heaven’s floodgates. I thought it poetic. What I had written paled next to the threat of hurricane.  

A knock on my door. Instant fear. Evacuation notice?  No. A friend, knowing I had intended hopping the bus out to Cerritos for a grilled red snapper, stopped by to tell me to stay put. Cerritos is on the point, about twenty minutes north of my house. I love to treat myself, to pick a fish fresh from the boat and watch the cook slap it whole on the grill.  “No, don’t go. It is dangerous to be out. Wind is high and the waves are pounding the beach. Those little huts at Cerritos could tumble down.”

I looked at the notes I had written, notions to include in my article. I wanted to mention my experiences of the monsoon season in this humid sub-tropical country of alternating dry and wet months. I had it all arranged in my mind to talk about the lush herbage with the onset of the rains, the flowers year round, clusters larger than hubcaps, heavy morning dew. Truth to tell, I no longer found those mundane things interesting, not with coconut palms touching earth outside my window.

Truth to tell, I was scared. I thought about Montana weather, how it can turn vicious and attack without provocation. One more time, I checked the radar image of Hurricane Odile. She was still on a straight heading for Los Cabos. I thought about unseasonal snowfall last week across Montana. That did not improve my spirits. I remembered that I would have no idea what to do if Odile did an about face and headed to our coast. My fear ramped up to terror. I remembered that I had let my cell phone run out of minutes because I never used it anyway. Muy stupido.

I went outside and leaned into the wind, imagined I could hear the surf two blocks away. I flipped through the most recent storm tracking reports and pictures. Reluctantly, I shut down my computer, turned out the lights and went to bed.

I’d like to say I slept. I’d like to say I didn't go to the door every couple hours to check that my house was still standing. Without so much as a pause, Tropical Storm Polo is forming off the coast of southern Mexico, is expected to follow the same path as Norberto and Odile, as if on a freeway. My hope is that Polo fizzles out and veers into the open ocean. Enough! Enough!

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

September 18, 2014
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Letters Home

Letters Home
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Dear Richard,

            Across the street the sewer main sprung a vicious leak. Nasty, smelly water is burbling up, sending a gray putrid pool down the street my way. The break is right on the corner of Calle del Pulpo and Tiberon. Actually, I don’t know where the break is but that is where the icky water is gushing out. Please send the guys down to fix it. With all the flooding going on, a side effect of Hurricane Norberto, I don’t when the city crew here can get to it. I would call in the break but I don’t know who to call or how to find the department, my Spanglish being still poor and all. You and your crew could have this fixed in the morning and spend the afternoon on the beach; a well-deserved rest.

            Fortunately the hurricane by-passed Mazatlan. The winds tore down some palapas and the waves rearranged the beach sand a bit. Today is warm and sunny with no rain in sight. I’ll start a batch of shrimp tamales for a snack.

*****

Dear Kathy,

            Remember when we walked Pacific Beach during the storm that time we stayed at the Sandpiper? That is what the waves looked like, rolling in from far out in the Pacific and bashing against the seawall. There was no beach left to walk and I was glad to be solidly up on the Malecon, looking over the water, being splashed now and again by sea foam.

We were lucky the hurricane didn't hit here, only residual winds and rains. There is so much water that streets in some areas remind me of Venice, which I've seen only in pictures and imagination. My apartment is safe. My floor is eighteen inches above street level. The rain pounded for hours and over-filled the street, lapped onto the sidewalks. But once the rains abated, the water drained quickly. This happened several times each day.

I've got a feeling all the drains couldn't handle the load. There is a murky pool, bubbling like a spring, on my street, creating a miasma of swamp gas. I put in a request for Richard to come fix it. Sure hope the city crew have passports in order.

*****

Dear Richard,

            It is past noon and I haven’t heard a word from you. Probably your plane is delayed over Phoenix or something. I’m sure you have a good excuse for not showing up yet. The stink is getting worse. Let me remind you that I did the hard work: I made plane reservations and secured seats for you. I arranged for Elias to meet you at the airport with his Taxi to bring you here.  If you haven’t left yet, would you please bring me a pair of tall mud boots, preferably red but black will do. I think Chuck and I have about the same size feet. Thank you.

*****

Dear Antoinette and Lexi,


            School has been out all week, what with the continuous rain and flooded streets. Bet you wish you were here and could play all day. I would take us to Chili Peppers for lunch, rent a beach umbrella and spend the day building sand castles, as long as it doesn't rain.

*****

Dear Jane,

            The last few days have been exciting, what with flooded streets, including mine, with lagoons where open lots and playgrounds used to be, with schools and offices closed because employees cannot get to work.

            Right now I’m waiting to hear from the public works director in Harlem. I requested that he bring down a crew to fix the broken sewer line that is spewing filth on my street. The break is across from my apartment. I thought it would be a lovely gesture—a “hands across the border” sort of thing.
*****

Dear Richard,

            It is raining again and still no word from you. I’m getting worried. Are you on vacation? Is this the week of your daughter’s wedding? Should I call Dave from Havre? Did you retire?

            If I don’t hear from you in the next hour, I am going to the clinic for a tetanus booster, typhoid shots and anything else I can get. Then to a hotel for the night. You have my number. Call me.

*****

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
September 11, 2014
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Embracing the E-World, With Panic

Embracing the E-World, With Panic
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
            Drag me kicking and screaming to the latest electronic devices and I obviously want nothing to do with them. My cell phone is the dumbest one I can find, is smarter than I am, and has functions I’ll never use.

            Writing on paper, any paper, even a brown bag, with a soft lead pencil gives me satisfaction in the depths of my soul. I like the texture, the drag-scritch of the lead across the surface, the drag tracks the pencil leaves in its wake.

            Having said that, I confess, the only pencil to paper I use these days is notes to self, reminders on the fridge and grocery lists. Once I began composing, cold turkey, at the computer, arranging my thoughts to fill the pages soon became second nature. Writing on an electronic document is easier, neater and saves trees.

            The one area that I knew I would hold out forever, just knew in my bones, is books. I love books. I like the heft in my hands, the visceral feel of paper on my fingertips. I like to dawdle over the cover illustration, the table of contents, the introduction. When I read a particularly pungent passage, years later I can remember where it is located on the page, left side or right side. I read books with my entire being.

            However, after nine months in a tourist town reading beach trash left in hotel rooms, sold to the second hand book store by maids, I needed something with meat. So the first thing I did when I landed at my daughter’s home in Glendive, is order an e-reader, a simple reader.  It doesn't send email, take pictures, bombard me with world news, make dinner or walk the dog. With my new gadget, I reasoned, I would have thousands of books at my fingertips.

I began buying books before the device arrived. Well, two in particular, favorite authors whose latest had not been left on any second-hand shelf I’d visited. Literary fiction takes longer to cycle.   

A word of advice. When you browse through “free” books, be careful; there is a lot of gorp out there. On the plus side, I can delete an unwanted book without the guilt associated with throwing a book, somebody’s blood, sweat and tears, tastefully wrapped in lettuce leaves so the book police won’t detect my crime, into the garbage can.

I left a small stack of books I’d bought at Goodwill with my daughter and boarded the plane. I ran out of money and had to cut short my intended stay in Montana. I’ll be back soon—have to renew my driver’s license and visit my friends I missed this go-round.

About my third day back, I was sitting at a table at Reuben and Silvia’s Lunchera on the corner, visiting with eight-year old Victoria. She is learning English and I am learning Spanish, so we are a good fit. While showing Victoria the functions of my e-book, it froze up. Quit working.  (It might be, just might be, that Victoria tapped ‘page back’ at the same time I tapped ‘page forward’. Just saying.) First thought—must be the battery. So I brought it inside and plugged it in. Nada. Second thought—pure unadulterated out-and-out panic. I must have, can’t do without, have to have my essential to my life, e-reader.

Such was my sense of out of-control panic that I didn't think to research problems and solutions. No, I did what any panicked Mom would do; called my daughter. “What will I do? Will I have to buy a new one? I cannot function without my books. What if all my books are lost?”

When my girl picked herself off the floor and quit hee-hawing in my ear, she did what any sensible person would do. She consulted the oracle, her computer. “Try this, Mom. Plug it in and when the battery light shows green, press the ‘on’ button for twenty seconds. It is probably a power surge or something like that.”

Hallelujah. My joy knows no bounds. Way out of proportion to the problem, I know. But I’m a reader. I love books. I devour books. I’m quite fond of my new electronic device which allows me to bypass beach dreck and read only what I want to read, to read unlimited miles and miles of books.

I conclude: “It is very dangerous to get caught without something to read.” (Quote from “The Last Night at the Ritz” by Elizabeth Savage.)

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

September 4, 2014
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

On (and off) The Boat Again

On (and off) The Boat Again
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
            On the boat again. Can’t wait to get off the boat again, to paraphrase the Willie Nelson classic. I swore I would never step foot on a boat again.  I broke that vow to myself.

            What choice did I have? I was  visiting Nancie and Pat. Neighbors invited us to spend the day crabbing in Puget Sound. When we arrived at Dave and Kathy’s house, I whined that if the water was the least bit unsettled, I would stay on shore. Dave shot me the unmistakable stink-eye, a message loud and clear, that I would board the boat and that I would not barf.

            Poor man. He didn't know my history. I get nauseated watching a whirligig. Several years ago we chartered a fishing trip out of Westport, Washington. Before we had crossed the bar into open waters, we were riding troughs and peaks deeper-higher than the Sears Building in Chicago. I measured with my keen analytical eye.

            A certain amount of fame or notoriety, you choose, has followed me from that trip. “Remember when Mom chummed salmon all day on that fishing trip?” In case you are a neophyte to fishing, chumming is tossing feed to the fish in hopes of attracting the big ones, he ones that usually get away.

            Since I had to lean over the rail anyway, I held onto a pole. The bait boy kept my hook baited. I dropped the line into the water and chummed again. The line jerked, signaling another fish. I handed my pole to whom-ever stood by my side for him or her to reel the beauties onto the boat. “I” landed more fish than any three other people on that trip.

            During the first hour, I thought I was going to die. That feeling segued to wishing SI would die. By noon I had advanced to fear that I would not die. I didn't die, but I was sick for a week.

            The following year, my family planned another fishing trip on the same boat. Hey, the first trip was so much fun. This time I chewed seasick pills ahead of time. Family and friends pushed me, pulled me, skidding all the way, onto the boat. Again, I caught my limit and filled tags for a couple other family fishers. Again, I prayed for death to ease my stomach. In addition, I entertained homicidal tendencies toward certain family members who persuaded me that “this time it would be different.”

            The third year and thereafter, I drove my family to the docks, watched them board the boat, waved “bon voyage”, and spent the day shopping in antique stores in Aberdeen where I reeled in bargains. I never went near the deck of a boat again.

            So you can imagine how I approached a day on the water with grim trepidation.

            It took courage to climb aboard that small boat. The back section, where the men tossed out the crab pots baited with chicken parts, was about the size of the floor space in my small bathroom. But we weren't on board for ballroom dancing.

            We motored on protected waters, on a calm day, between Whidbey Island and the Mainland. No matter, it could have been a bathtub and I would have felt apprehensive.

            Captain Dave’s friend Terry beat us to the dock and launched his boat. We met up in the middle of the water. The men tossed out baited pots, each connected to a buoy and a marker. Then we played around, drove the boat hither and yon to give crabs a chance to crawl into the traps. I had two jobs. Kathy was piloting the craft, so when the men dropped a pot over the side, I called, “man overboard.” Kathy marked the spot on the GPS screen. My other job was to hold tight control over my stomach.

            I had queasy moments, but held the course. The men in both boats pulled in the limit minus one.  They threw ten times that number back into the water with admonitions to grow up.  I silently congratulated myself for not turning greasy-green, a color I well remember.

            Back on land, after the boats were hosed down, came the best part. We all gathered at Dave and Kathy’s home for a feast of crab and fresh corn-on-the-cob. Kathy set the table with paper plates on layers of newspaper. I ate my portion with gusto and a big thanks to friends for a new experience. We piled up mounds of crab shells and corn cobs. After the feast we rolled the paper, scraps and all, into a large garbage can. Dishes were done.

            Would I go again? On a sunny day in quiet waters? No promises!

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

August 28, 2014
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Choices We Make and Second Guess Later

Choices We Make and Second Guess Later
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
            There is no “we”. I am the one wondering if I lost my last wing nut. I’m down in the dumps, crawling along the bottom of the pit, rolling in slime and garbage. Well, it sort of feels that badly.

            After a month of visiting friends and relatives, being part of their everyday “normal” lives, I cannot help but make comparisons. Of course, I compare my insides (see above) with your outsides. You, of course, come out looking beautiful in my assessment, happy, joyous and free. And Secure.

            Secure in your house on the hill or your house in the valley—common denominator—your house. Secure in your everyday routine with job and activities and credit card payments, responsibilities, schedules and family.  (Let’s get some balance here.)

            My daughter Dee chimes in, “Mom, you are living your dream. For years you talked about living in Mexico. You figured out a way to make it happen and put your plan into action. You look happier than I've ever seen you.” She said this while fielding calls from her boss, the car repair place and a neighbor who told her that her horse had walked through an open gate and was happily chomping grass in their pasture. Simultaneously, she slammed dinner on the table and wrote a grocery list. “Do you want to move back?”

            “Not really. Visiting makes me glad to be in Montana. I’m greedy. I want to be in both places at the same time. I can’t help but wonder if I made a mistake. I’m second-guessing myself. I miss my friends. Yet, I will be glad to go home to my little studio in Mazatlan.”

            A couple days later I am at my other daughter’s house. Shea’s future father-in-law, Karl buzzes in on his motorcycle. After Shea introduces me, Karl grabs a guitar from the corner and serenades us with Spanish love songs. He then asks me how I came to move to Mexico. He has a thousand questions. He wants to know costs of groceries, houses, rents, hot to get around without a car, how do I communicate.

            As I answer his questions, describe bus service and everyday details, my spirits lift. With a gleam in his eye, Karl tells me, “Almost, thou persuades me. You are living my dream. For years I've imagined doing just what you are living. But it is sure hard to give up my stuff.”

            “That might be the best part of such a move, I explain. “These past several months have been like an extended retreat. I have all I need and few concerns.”

            “And she visits us two or three times a year,” Shea said.

            “I am alone in a foreign county. Some people find that daunting. The language is slow coming to me. I know enough Spanglish to get by. I wish I could correctly connect the nouns with the verb forms. It takes time to make friends. It would be easier if I lived in an ex-pat neighborhood, but I don’t golf and I don’t go to the clubhouse every afternoon to play Canasta. I am where I want to be for now. Who knows what tomorrow might bring.”

            Karl gave me a hug and his email address. I wouldn't be surprised to hear his motorcycle chugging outside my doorway in Mazatlan come winter. I’ll play tour guide. He’ll love it for a couple weeks, climb on his bike and roar back.

            This morning my friend Steve took me out for coffee. We had a great time catching up on family news. I had not seen him for a year. Tomorrow we agreed to have coffee again. He will bring Theresa and her calendar so she can schedule a trip. I feel better.

            Kim, the woman who bought my house in Harlem, just sent me a letter. That message is icing on my cake. I feel gratified to hear how she likes my old home and know that is the way it should be.

            I get short-sighted when I am the only person talking to me. Whew, it feels good to climb out of that smelly old pit of despair. My life would not do for everyone. For me, for today, though certainly not “normal”, my life is good.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

August 21, 2014
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Knee-Deep in Granddaughters; Considering Frontal Lobotomy

Knee-Deep in Granddaughters; Considering Frontal Lobotomy
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
            What was I thinking? Three weeks with granddaughters, six and eight; fun and sweetness; creating memories to treasure all our years; my fantasy-laden imagination worked overtime.

            Truly, the train ride with Lexi met all my expectations. Oh, except the moments in the dining car when she blithely blurted out all the family secrets to total strangers who pumped her for details, to the delight of everyone within ear shot.

            On our arrival the little cousins greeted each other, bouncing and jumping with glee, hugs and non-stop chatter. The first day was a joy, indeed. The girls were glued to one another, exploring their own worlds, leaving we adults to enjoy grown-up time. Heaven gets no better than this, I thought, as we sat at the picnic table in the yard watching two female “Tiggers” bouncing on the trampoline. Ah, life is good.

            By evening the second day, the wind changed. The little darlings grew fangs and sprouted claws. We adults listened to thirty seconds of who, what and whys before instituting time-out. Personally, I thought the time-out not nearly long enough. After a too-short time of separation, the girls, best-friend status renewed, arms around one another’s shoulders, took turns reading books.

            The third day required three time-out periods. The older one displayed a surprising demonstration of rage for our edification while the younger one had an emotional melt-down with trauma and drama equal to a nuclear reactor failure. Antoinette went to bed with her mother. Lexi went to bed with me. The majority of us were in tears.

            I hardly slept. My mind revolved around a circle of worries and solutions. Worries dominated. Worries were easy. Was Lexi too young for a three week trip away from home? Of course, she is. Lexi and I have spent weeks alone, but in the comfort of her own familiar surroundings. I must have lost my mind to bring her two thousand miles from home.

            Believe me, I thought the whole thing through. Both girls are alphas, only children used to being alone, in control of their elders, and not sharing Mom or Grandma with others. Lexi and I were invaders. We moved in for an extended stay. Antoinette suddenly had to share her Mom with not only a little rug rat but also with Grandma, who took up way more of Mom’s attention than she deemed necessary.

            Solutions? There are no solutions, woman. Well, how could I have known? It has been too many years since I had to deal with little kids and their emotional ups and downs.

            I considered flying home with Lexi the next day. That would be a break a toe, cut off the leg sort of solution. I never told you I didn’t think in extremes. But I had sense enough not to act upon my first impulse. I have learned one or two things after living all these years.

            Meanwhile, my daughter had a chat with Antoinette. “I get it, Mom. I get it. Having a cousin live with you is just like having a sister. You can’t send her home when you get tired of her.”

            Life has leveled out for us. The girls still generally need a time-out or two each day. Usually, the girls determine when they need a break from one another. If they miss the signals, we catch them. We throw the little darlings in the pool every afternoon and that helps. When the sun goes down and their lips turn blue, we let them out for dinner. We jump them into jammies and count the minutes until bed time.

            My appointment with the brain surgeon for a “frontal lobotomy” is on hold. I cancelled a trip to the local watering hole for a “bottle-in=front=of-me”. So far I've gone to bed in tears only one night but the future holds no guarantees. One week down and two to go.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

August 7, 2014
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Home Town County Fair, Anywhere, USA

Home Town County Fair, Anywhere, USA
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
            I attended the Dawson County Fair with my daughter Dee Dee and her family. It was touch and go whether there would even be a Saturday night rodeo. Black clouds had rolled in, covering the sky, temperatures dropped, thunder roared and lightning struck as rain pounded the ground for hours. Too dramatic? Four different storm cells hit in succession and all the above is true. When we got to the fairgrounds the rides had been shut down. Rain aided the Mud-a-Palooza, mud volleyball competition, but talk was, the rodeo might be cancelled.

            By the time we got my granddaughters, Lexi and Antoinette, sugared up with cotton candy, the carnival rides, one by one, opened and our girls, jittery with excitement, raced from merry-go-round to bumper cars. By nightfall, as rodeo cowboys bucked out the horses and bulls, the full moon hung in the clear sky like a magical platter.

            We all love the fair, right? And we all have nostalgic memories about the way it used to be. We tend to forget the dust and mosquitoes. I’m glad my grandchildren can still experience the old-fashioned county fair. They will create their own memories, just as flawed as ours.

            Sadly, each year the county fair seems to shrink, probably in direct correlation to our diminishing rural population. Last year at one of our local north-central area county fairs, I wanted to sit down and cry when I walked through the building which housed the 4-H, FFA and Club exhibits. Not only were all the groups housed in one building, but the empty space overwhelmed the paltry exhibits. Garden produce was nearly non-existent. If this year you saw a mere two jars of pickles and three of jam, would you bother to walk through next year? Cattle and horses which formerly rated their own barns were housed together, along with pigs and goats.

            We can’t roll back the clock. I don’t want to. I just hate to see what has always been such an important cultural and historical part of country life completely disappear. More than that, fairs are fun. Fairs are where the community gathers. Neighbors from the far flung corners of our large counties, who maybe only see each other once a year, get a chance to chew the fat.

            This morning my friend and former high school neighbor, Cheryl, who now lives in Oregon, reported via email that she attended the Tillamook County Fair with her grandchildren. Tillamook’s fair is rated one of the top ten in the nation. Cheryl intrigued me with mention of the Pig N Ford Races. So I did what any modern woman would do—I Googled it and watched a YouTube race from last year. At the gun shot, contestants raced to the pig pens, grabbed a pig, ran to a “car”, cranked it up, jumped in the driver’s seat with pig in his arms and drove around the course at top speed. After exchanging one pig for another at the pit stop, each entrant jumped back in his Ford and raced to the finish, where he deposited his pig in another pen and wiped his shirt with brisk motions.

            I’m easily entertained. I admit it. The point is that wacky and unique things such as pig races and mud volleyball keep us coming back and supporting our fairs. While I was on the internet, I checked in at the Hill County Fair. Aw, shucks, I missed pig wrestling and Washboard Willy.

            Last night in Glendive, Karen Quest, cowgirl on stilts, threw a lasso around six-year old Lexi and roped her in for a chat. Lexi will never forget Karen. The girls jumped way high in the sky on the Monkey Motion, a bouncy device, free to the kids, run by one of the local service clubs. Antoinette lives for the petting zoo and her favorite chicken. Me, I would have gone for the llama.

            Some events never get old. Rodeo, tractor pulls, balloon artists, horse races and stage entertainment draw us. We don’t need big name and fancy. Tillamook has a “How to milk a cow” demonstration where children may participate. In Havre or Glendive, local dance groups and musicians, talents of all kinds, line up eager for a place in the spotlight.

            I’m too aware that so many local events are run by STP (same ten people). Our own fair will never rate one of top ten in the nation, but it can be tops in the lives of our children and our community. Hooray for the County Fair and for those who keep it alive.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

August 14, 2014
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________