Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Scorpion Alert!


Scorpion Alert!'


When I moved to Mexico, one of the first things I learned was to check inside my shoes before inserting feet. Evidently that is a popular hiding place, nesting site, attack barricade for scorpions.

Next, I was told, never go barefoot. Not outside. Not inside. Thus, my night sandals live at bedside.

One thing I can tell you for sure, if you’ve never in your life seen a scorpion, when you first see one, you will know exactly what it is, no doubts. Same as when you first hear a rattlesnake. It must be knowledge imprinted in our genes.

When I bounced out of bed this morning, I slipped my feet into my sandals, and stepped on an adult scorpion and killed it dead.

My other theory is that I slid into my sandals half asleep in the dark of the night and unknowingly slayed the dragon.

I neither heard the death cries nor felt the crunch. There it lay, splayed out on the tile floor between my sandals which now loosely held my feet. 

Think about it. Just let your imagination slither around the thought of a full-grown scorpion (Babies carry poison too but the big ones are scarier.) there at the edge of your bed. How did it get inside? How long has it been here? Could there be a mate, possibly between my sheets? Hey, somebody has to think of these things.

Yikes! The sheets. I haven’t had my coffee yet, but I ripped the sheets off the bed, making sure I wasn’t sleeping with a scorpion, not that I haven’t . . . but that is ancient history, a page in my colorful past, and we won’t go there. All clear. I do nothing until I’ve had my coffee. Except in extreme circumstances.

Still without coffee, I hauled sheets to the bodega and started a wash cycle. Grabbed the “Home Defense” which I buy in gallon jugs from a Big Box Store in Guadalajara, sprayed the bodega, sprayed the house inside, especially around the door and windows and beneath the sinks.

Whew. Now I felt free to make coffee. I’d done all I could for the time. Once I’d fueled enough to face the day, I hied off to find Leo, to report my scorpion attack (Who attacked whom? Who cares?) In half an hour Leo came and sprayed the outside perimeters of my house and bodega with something even stronger than Home Defense.

Just in case I misled you to think I’m all Zen and compassionate to all creatures, let me assure you, my empathy, sympathy, love are selective. I cheerfully escort spiders outside to continue life in the open unless they exceed a certain size. See, selective.

I’m Death Wearing Shoes to scorpions, millipedes and earwigs. Okay, earwigs are harmless but they make me feel squeamish and they eat holes in clothing. And during the rainy season, soon to come, I hope, they slither into the house in hordes. I also buy Raid in bulk but it takes a lot of Raid spray to stop a scorpion.

A smidgeon of online research informed me that Montana has one species of scorpion, mostly harmless, seldom stings people. I’ve never seen one of those. But I’ve been stung by a Mexican scorpion and I don’t recommend the experience.

The operative words from my research that would put me on scorpion alert are “mostly harmless” and “seldom sting”. Right. By the way, I own a time share on the beach that I’ll sell you cheap.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

May 27, 2021


Not original, not profound


Not original, not profound


I am a blade of grass. When I don’t have water I turn brown, crisp, wither into the ground. I lie dormant until such time as rains come. I am the same as a blade of grass—except that I can reach for water. My cousin, that blade of withered grass, can send its roots only so far into the ground until it hits bedrock or can grow no further. On second thought, I am a blade of grass.

It rained. You would have thought Christmas, Easter, the Fourth of July, and my birthday all came the same day.

Our last rain was in September. It never rains in May, our hottest, driest month. We await a first rain in mid-to-late June. This country where I live is dry as old dry bones.

It rained. Wasn’t supposed to rain. We got six inches of precious wet rain, unofficially. That’s a good estimate, given the standing water and soggy ground. Mid-May and it rained. Gracious! Can’t trust anything.  

Blue sky all the way to near-dark. Then suddenly the southern sky loomed black and moved overhead and unzipped. At 8:00 I shut off my computer. Two minutes later the power banged off. But there was excess of power overhead.

And the rain poured down, straight down in sheets, a good three hours to begin and then continued off and on all night long.

The trees and grasses and myself laughed and sang and danced with glee. In the morning everything, our whole world, sparkled with wet and glee.

Have you noticed? Put a Montanan anywhere in the world and she can always find a way to talk about the weather.

Wet, yes, and glee, yes, and other stuff. When it doesn’t rain for eight months, and suddenly it rains six inches, more or less, a lot of debris washes off the roofs, off the highways and byways and walkways and any ways; it makes for slippery slopes.

Josue and Erika and Stephany didn’t get home that rainful night until after 9:00. It had rained all the rain in Spain on the plain in three and a half hours. The power was out. There was no light. No house lights. No yard lights. No moon light. No stars. Dark. 

Josue slipped and broke his foot. The surgeon hammered in pins and nuts and bolts, welded and sutured and squeezed in axle grease. I took Josue my extra cane, my Zimmer frame, and my Cadillac wheel-chair-cart. “Here are all my cripple aids. Use them, please.”

Three days later: I’m constantly amazed. My little chunk of lawn, with my new baby lime tree in the center, out by my front gate, that crispy brown square three days ago, is fresh with young green. In areas so bare and barren that you’d swear never held a grass blade, spears of the same green grasses are popping up.

Rain comes in many disguises, when one speaks of metaphorical rain. Josue broke his foot. His compadre, Stephany’s godfather, swooped up the family and took them to a resort in Cancun for a much needed get-away.

Josue is on the beach, away from worries about work he cannot do. Leo told him, “I envy you. But I envy you in a good way.” None of us could have said it better.

That six inches of surprise rain was a gift, to the land, to we who walk the land. We won’t see more until mid-June. But we know rain will fall. We’d simply forgotten. Such a human thing to do, to forget.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

May 20, 2021


“Riding Along in My Automobile”


            “Riding Along in My Automobile"


We Americans are so tethered to our cars. It’s as though there is an umbilical cord between our brains and the ignition switch.

When I first moved to Mexico, driving my vehicle stuffed to the roof with bare essentials, I lived in the fair-sized city of Mazatlan. In the first six months, I drove my van exactly one time. Public transportation in most of Mexico is good, easy, and inexpensive.

I was there on a six-month tourist visa so my trust van and I had to exit Mexico. On returning to Mazatlan, I patted my sweet long-time companion, shed a micro-tear, and left her in the care of a friend. Over the next six months, with our umbilical cord stretched the limit, I did some figuring.

It simply didn’t make sense on my extremely limited income (Ah, dumb decisions of my past!) to maintain a motor vehicle. So I arranged for a friend to take her, and she is still chugging merrily along. I have visitation rights. It was a good decision and I’ve no regrets.

When I moved from Mazatlan to Etzatlan, a pueblo, not a city, I found public transportation to be not so easy or diverse, yet adequate for my needs and wants.

Back in April, a year ago, my Montana Driver’s License expired. Due to surgery plus Covid, travel was out of the question. I’d already renewed online the one time allowed. There was not a thing I could do but watch my license expire. May it rest in peace. I would just have to take the whole test again whenever I returned. I felt my long-severed umbilical cord twang.

Oh, the uncounted hours, lying awake in the small hours of night, terrified of taking a driving test. Silly waste of my time. I’ve been licensed to drive in Montana, Utah, Oregon, Illinois, and Washington, all in the days before reciprocal licensing agreements. I know how to take a test!

Additional night worries included, how could I rent a car? Should I even bother with a license; after all, I don’t own a car? What if a friend needed me to drive-share? None of those worries were yet applicable. But I worried them none-the-less.

Then the memories clicked in, memories of road trips throughout the northwest and into Canada. Memories with friends and memories of solitary trips. Memories of the times I veered off onto a side road simply to see where the road took me. What! No more road trips?

No more inspiration from Chuck Berry? No more “riding along in my automobile”. No more “cruising and playing the radio, with no particular place to go.”

Remember, during this year plus change of being without a license, I’ve not had the urge or need to get into a car and drive anywhere. That didn’t stop my head from making up dire stories in the middle of the night.

When a solution to my quandary walked around the corner, I immediately said “Yes, take me along.”

Michelle had arranged for our friend and gardener, Leo, to accompany her to the office in Ahualulco to apply for a license. Without hesitation, I jumped into the back seat, a clutch of paperwork in hand.

We arrived at 8:15 and were second in line waiting for the office door to open at 9:00. We were unaware of a back door, but no matter. At 9:15 we who were waiting were yet another form to fill out. We waited. Talked. Everybody in line was masked and respectful.

Once we were called into the office, we found the procedure to be quite similar to anywhere in the US. Paperwork, copies, signatures, photos, fingerprints. After a short wait in the inner courtyard, walking, stretching our legs, at nearly 11: 00, our brand-shiny new licenses were printed and handed to us.

I nearly cried, my photo looked so good, well, un-criminal-like. My first thought was that I can now rent a car when I need one. I can drive wherever the urge takes me. I’m not dependent on public transportation in places there is none. I won’t need to rely on the good graces of friends and family. Woo-hoo! I can drive again. 

We are a very small community here. By evening I had heard that Leo had told the few of us remaining that I now had my Mexican Driver’s License. He went on to speculate that now that I am vaccinated and have my License, perhaps next week, I might be talked into buying a car.

Leo obviously thinks in terms of “Driving Miss Daisy”. With himself as chauffer, he thinks we will explore all of Mexico. I’m not the only one who makes up stories!

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

May 13, 2021


Wednesday, May 5, 2021

In the grand scheme of things


                        In the grand scheme of things


We are one week plus days past our second vaccination shots and feeling great. Carol said, “I wonder if the syringe had anything in it. 

Ben sent me a cartoon, unsigned, so I’ve no idea the artist. It depicts a stick figure saying, “Hi. I’m here to visit!”

From behind an open door, “Do I know you?”

“No. It’s cool. I’m two weeks past my second dose.”

Below is a blurb: Remember, once you’re fully vaccinated, the CDC says you’re free to visit other people’s houses.

Well, it resonated with me. I have lonely moments when I would knock on a stranger’s door just to have somebody with whom to talk. Then my phone will ring or an email from a friend will arrive, like the message with photo from Beth, whom I met when she was pregnant with Hannah, now sixteen.

Those of us fully vaccinated visit more frequently now, but we maintain masks and distancing. That is by our choices. Carol and I feel particularly vulnerable, both by age and general health.

I’m glad I live here in central Mexico during this pandemic, where I practically live outdoors nine months of the year. I make it sound perfect, don’t I? It’s not. Wherever one happens to be is perfect as it gets, if one can only see that. Every place, every life, has flaws.

Yesterday Janet was over for a short patio visit. I mentioned the summer rains, which seep inside our houses which are built like sieves. Every storm makes me rush around putting towels on window sills and in front of my door.

Janet said, “And the critters come inside through the cracks. Scorpions. Ants. Mosquitoes.” I would round that out with “Silverfish.” One day a small lizard creeped into my living room.

Finding obscure things is frustrating. I placed an order for Melita coffee filters, which I may never see. This is one of the few items I can’t find. Order placed. Order sent. Order mis-placed?  I won’t go into details, but ordering anything from the States is fraught with opportunities for the ordered item to go astray. I’m prepared to throw up my hands and do without.

John and Carol and I, just this morning, talked about the problems with ordering clothing and shoes online. “Don’t,” is my brief advice. There are things I’ve learned not to buy until I can hold them in my hands, see the quality, and try them on for fit. I’ll do without.

No matter where I live, I’m not ready to go out into the big wide world shopping. Yet. So if I go without a few specialty items such as Melita coffee filters, no big whoop. New clothing? I’m not near to naked yet.

Critters? Every place has invasive critters. If I were with my daughter in Montana, mosquitoes are just as dangerous there as here. I’d trade coral snakes for rattlesnakes. If I were in Washington with my son, the more likely pests would be raccoons, mold and mildew.

Here I have year-round flowers and my bucket garden for lettuce, herbs, beans, zucchini and such. Along with squirrels and iguanas.

It seems as if all at once, there are fewer birds, the morning chorus lacking several voices. I know they don’t all just up and leave one fine morning. But my noticing happened today.

I also have daily doses of dust and smoke from fires on the mountain. Sounds much like Montana.

Are any of these things problems? Of course not. In the grand scheme of life, they are inconveniences. And minor ones at that.

However, if one fine day you hear a knock at your door and find a stranger, a dowdy, rather kooky-looking woman standing there telling you she feels it’s safe to visit, it might be me.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

May 6, 2021


Fantasies of Phenomena


Fantasies of Phenomena


I was going to write about the morning symphony, featuring “Variations on a Theme at Sunrise” with Bell-ringing Bird on timpani. This music assured me that the huge black cloud in the western sky was not a slow-moving tornado but a cloud of smoke coming from the landfill, recently plagued by brush fires.

I was going to write about “The Rule of Three,” a phenomenon in my family that mechanical failings trundle down the line in triplicate, always. This past week my washing machine broke down. My blender began emitting a stink similar to that black cloud filling the sky. My sewing machine, a cheap piece of plastic garbage I bought seven years ago, broke down. I signed its death warrant and destined its useless hulk to the landfill to add to the black cloud stink.

I was going to write about another family phenomenon, some would call karma, but I choose to call instant psychic feedback. With malice aforethought, I killed a spider. I know you find this difficult to believe.

That spider, the size of a flattened tennis ball, had lived in my shower stall a week plus days, sharing my morning ablutions, each of us warily eye-balling the other. I got to speculating it might be a female and soon my house would be overrun with cookie-cutter images of mama. What would you do?

I awoke three days later with a spider bite on my inside arm, an inch above the crease of my elbow. I watched the bite site expand, thicken, turn deeply red with a white pustule in the center. To the best of my ability, I kept my hands off the bite, slathered it in Bag Balm, and pretty much, took to my bed for three days. I still have a red circle but it no longer itches, burns or hurts. Debt paid in full.

Instead, I’ll tell you about my morning surprise. I got shot.

Oftentimes we don’t know what is coming until it comes. I’d been waiting eagerly for vaccination news for two months and a week. I knew Mexico had a huge vaccine shipment from Holland. But when would it be divvied out? Would our little municipality get the goods?

Leo showed up, pronto. “You can get your second vaccination today or I’ll get you a number for later in the week.”

“Let’s go now.” I grabbed a bottle of water, my paperwork and my green card. Off we went, John and Carol right behind us.

Hordes of masked neighbors and townsfolk gathered to be quickly sorted into lines, each of us issued a number. Those who were unable to be vaccinated today, were given a number for tomorrow or later in the week.

I don’t know if it was the lack of advanced warning, the rush of getting ready, the excitement, the anticipation, lack of breakfast or what, but by the time I presented my documentation, I could barely sign my name, I was so shaky. Leo kept saying to me, “Breathe.”

I quickly advanced to the nurse with the needle, sat in the chair and realized my body was one gigantic tight muscle. That would not do. I issued a quick order to my body, “Let go.” Amazingly, it let go. My entire body became as water, all that useless energy puddled at my feet. I got shot, and went to the back courtyard area to wait out my required half hour and sip water.

Once I got home, I stripped, scrubbed in the shower and threw my mask and clothing into the laundry, a practice taught me by Michelle and Ana, who go out into the community more often than me.

Residual nervous energy eventually translated to elation. Yes, elation.

I had reacted to the crowds of people like a sheltered child, taken to the State Fair, overstimulated by strangers and colors and voices and rides and games and other unusual activities, but without benefit of hot dogs, cotton candy, and stomach-roiling rides.

I need to get out more.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

April 29, 2021


Ring my bell!


                Ring my bell!


I’d been out of bed five minutes when I heard the clang-rang of my gate bell.

We respect each other’s boundaries. When neighbors visited, they stood out by the gate and yelled, “Sondra, are you home?”

I’d lived here a year when I figured there must be a better early-warning system. At the tianguis in town I bought a goat bell. I had a welder make an arch and attach it to the gate so the bell would hang free.

When I hear the bell, I go out to the gate and open it for my guests.

But this morning I’m not dressed. It’s too early for visitors. I hope nobody is in trouble. Needs help? I throw open the bathroom window and look out. The bell is swinging but there’s not a soul in sight.

However, standing on the metal arch from which the bell tolls, is a rain bird. I’ve no idea what the bird’s real name is. Might be Homer, or Tilda, or Mergatroid, for all I know. I’ve trawled through my Birds of Mexico bird book and found four or six kinds my flighty friend might be.

Normally, the rain bird shows up about a month prior to the rainy season, like the cicadas, the annual kind we have every spring. Hence, I call them rain birds, perhaps driven down to Mexico early by northern winds. 

I hope Bell Bird doesn’t make this a habit. As it is, I awake to bird song every morning. After the donkey’s bray, that is. The donkey lives across the canal. He might as well be tethered in my yard; he is that loud, and with a voice like he’s had too much whiskey and smoked too many cigars.

Donkey. Then the birds. Then the sun. A progression.

Man does not live by bird alone. I use the word ‘man’ in the old-fashioned, all-inclusive way. At my age I can’t be bothered with PC that changes daily. Man, woman and chittlin’s.

As much enjoyment as I get from my bird-brained friends, I need people.

Ana and Michelle have been regaling me, long distance, with tales of their building/renovation projects that have spanned the entire past year. On the outer edge of Oconahua, they have an incredible stone house they designed, along with land for chickens, sheep, rescued dogs, garden, a soon--to-be-planted orchard, plus a casita for Michelle’s mom, Jane, and another for their friend, Rick.

When they invited me to lunch and a visit, without hesitation, I accepted. It was my first social outing since mid-March, one year past. I was hungry for more than a fifteen minute chat. I was ready, willing and eager for a couple hours of sit-down stories and lies and laughter.

I know these women to be as diligent about safety as myself. We are in agreement that the days of large patio gatherings are past, at least for the next two or three years. So, masked, distanced, in open air on their newly fitted out patio, complete with outdoor kitchen and lots of comfortable seating, we did have ourselves a rattling good time!

While Ana and Michelle rescue abandoned dogs, I seem to have acquired a, er, larger animal.

Two nights ago a loose horse wandered into my yard. I mean, a horse that had gotten loose. I have grass and a lot of flowering bushes. The horse is beautiful, though ultra slim, is shod and obviously has had good care. We put the word around town, hoping the owner comes soon, before I get too attached. Maybe he rang my bell? He left horse apples.

Four-ish in the afternoon, my bell clanged. John and Carol came for a patio visit.

When “my” horse and his owner re-united, I felt sad to see him go, glad he left with a full belly. Perhaps he will visit again. 

The final person to ring my bell this day is Damian, my washing machine repair-person. (I can be PC when warranted.) An hour and a new part later, my machine is fixed and works better than ever. I suspect the poor beast’s veins were calcified somewhere along the line and Damian reamed it out.

Sheets are drying on the line. I love my dryer which seldom goes on the blink and is self-repairing. I’ll crawl into bed that smells like sunshine tonight.

Ring my bell, but not at sun-up, please.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

April 22, 2021






Some days I can’t lose for winning.

Sunrise, up earlier than I wanted. I moped around, felt mildly depressed. Not real depression. Real depression is serious stuff. Me, I’m in sort of a down-in-the-dumps lite.

Ice-cream for breakfast sounds good. Will ice-cream help? But my freezer is empty. I haven’t had ice-cream for weeks. Back in the easy-peasy days before Covid, I bought hand-packed ice-cream from a woman in town. But knowing precautions were loosely held in that tienda, I quit buying it.

Then a couple months ago, Ana and Michelle, on one of their shopping expeditions, brought me even better ice-cream from the Big City. Last week they asked for my shopping list, not knowing when they were going, but soon. Or maybe soon.

While eating breakfast with a real book propped in front of my plate, the phone rang. I didn’t have a book mark handy so I slid a playing card from the deck to hold my place.

Perhaps an hour later, the morning still young, I grabbed my deck of cards to play a couple hands of Solitaire, to keep my fingers nimble and to let my mind float. If I give my hand and eyes a mindless task, my mind will, all on its own, solve all manner of problems. Sometimes. 

“Playing Solitaire till dawn, with a deck of fifty-one.” Remember that one? The nine of hearts still marked my place in a book by Coetze. Do you think I might be low down?

But, I dragged myself out for my morning walk, resumed after a week plus of wildfire smoke. When I stepped out the door, a road runner skittered across my patio. The critter, indigenous to the area, is seldom seen. It made me laugh.

My problem is, I’m incapable of maintaining a good slump. Thankfully. I know that tomorrow will be different. No matter what, Tomorrow will be different. (Notice I didn’t say ‘better’, just ‘different’.)

I know how to feed and nurture my personal low-pressure system. If I wanted, I would not get dressed or make the bed. Close the curtains. Unplug the phone. Eat junk food and leave dirty dishes. Go through old photos, listen to sad music from the past. I highly recommend my method because it becomes tiresome, even boring, very quickly.

Lows and highs pass. I give them a nod of acknowledgement and carry on.  

Bird-watching, enjoying their antics, helps to shore up my spirits. But I’m not St. Francis. Birds don’t land on my shoulder and nuzzle my cheek. Oh, what I would give for a cheek nuzzle. Color that one happy/sad.

My walk-about included my back yard garden/orchard. I noticed the bucketful of peas was ready for picking, enough for a good meal. I snagged a ripe tomato from the manic-magical tomato vine, holdover from last year.

As long as I was outside, I grabbed a book and walked over to see John and Carol. There aren’t many people here with whom I can share poetry. I read them a couple favorite poems by Cavafy.  Good moments.

Evidently I wasn’t ready to give up on glum and gloom. We talked about their plans to return north in a month. Lani is going north about the same time. Summer means empty-houses on the rancho. Usually I mourn after my neighbors have gone, not a month before they pack their bags. See what I mean? Every up has a down?  

In the afternoon, I learned that second vaccinations are underway in all the towns around us. I could well slide down that slippery slope to slump at the bottom. But, I’m in the middle of cutting back my lavender. I’ve only energy for one thing at a time. Maybe our turn will roll around next week. The woman at the hospital said, “Soon.” Soon, but not with a date.

Hot diggity. Michelle and Ana just drove in from shopping in Guadalajara. Hooray for me. They brought me French Roast coffee beans and Vanilla ice-cream. I’d like to say the two most important things from the list I gave them last week, but it happens they were the only items available, which vastly increased their importance.

If I hadn’t already eaten, I’d be tempted to sit down with the carton of ice-cream and a spoon and eat the whole thing. Not today.

But I give myself permission to gorge on ice-cream tomorrow. Do you think it will help?

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

April 15, 2021