Tabatha Deans

Bringing Integrity to the Written Word

It’s heating up in the huerta

PONCHOS IN THE POOL
I returned from the beach this afternoon to walk right into the middle of a scene that was hugely reminiscent of the dump incident. I noticed the gardener’s van in front of the house as I walked up, and was a little surprised because they’d already been here this morning. Poncho 1 is the original gardener, but he broke his leg so Poncho 2, his son-in-law, is doing the gardening under Poncho 1’s direction from the sidelines. I wasn’t surprised to hear their voices coming from the yard when I walked up to the front door, but was a little surprised to see Poncho 1 grinning at me while floating in the swimming pool.
“Hola,” I said, and smiled as I walked around the corner of the house toward the pool. Then I saw that Poncho 2 was also in the pool, as well as a young boy I had seen helping them earlier today. Again the thoughts went through my head, “is this normal? Am I supposed to let the gardener use the pool? Or am I supposed to tell him vamoose? Am I encouraging their inappropriate behavior or would I offend them if I wasn’t hospitable?”

I went inside and thought about it for a minute. I didn’t want to strike out with Becky if they weren’t supposed to be in the pool, but they seemed harmless and had been working hard. I know she had let Poncho 1’s physical therapist use the pool for rehab with him, so probably it had something to do with that. So I picked up my snorkel and goggles and marched out the pool, demanding that the young boy take them and encouraging them, by pointing and waving my hands, to use the floating lounge chair and water noodles. They smiled and nodded their heads, and I went back to writing.

RUNNING FROM THE MAFIA
I was awakened early this morning, just after the sun started to come up, but at least a half an hour before my alarm went off to rouse me for my morning run. Loud noises were coming from right outside my window, and so many birds were screeching that I was certain there must be some kind of massacre going on outside. There’s two small windows in my room that if I kneel on my bed I can see the side yard from, as well as the washing machine and clothesline. The water heater and water pump are all stationed on a cement slab outside my window, and as I lay in bed listening to the screeching I knew I would have to get up and look out to see what all the commotion was. The second window in my room has an air conditioner mounted in it, with only about two inches of glass in the window to seal the cooler tight. Suddenly a small bird appeared in the tiny window. He was gray and had ruffly feathers with black spots on them, and he had a long skinny beak. He didn’t see me laying in bed, and he suddenly started pecking the hell out of the swamp cooler. His beak hitting the metal of the cooler sounded echoed and intensified as it traveled through the vent and back into my room. He went to town on the cooler, then turned around and started pecking the hell out of the window. He shook and ruffled his feathers and screeched and pecked, and all the other birds stepped up their screeching. I watched the little guy peck and peck, then summoned enough courage to kneel on my bed and look out the other window. When I peeked over the ledge and looked out, I saw about six little birds just outside the window. One appeared to be hiding in the laundry cupboard, which had a door off a hinge, allowing easy access to small animals. The other birds were scattered about the ground and a couple on the clothesline, and they were all directing their screeches at the bird in the cupboard. Several flew up toward the cupboard, and hovered in front of the broken door, looking for a way to get in, or they were screaming at the one inside to come out. Nonetheless, it was way too early for them to be cutting up outside my window, so I gave a little tap to get their attention. They all looked up and moved their little heads around to tray and see me. I tapped louder and spoke through the vents of the cooler. “Get out of here. Go on, it’s too early for this. Let me sleep.” They ruffled their feathers as if to say “screw you,” but one by one they flew away, leaving me to lounge in bed for another half hour before I got up to jog.

Becky joined me for our morning walk. Mornings are chilly, and being ill prepared for anything but extreme heat, I’ve managed to pull together a morning jogging outfit, but its not necessarily pretty. Becky gave me a pair of knee length surfer/beach type shorts, but they’re comfortable and have lots of pockets. I add a tank top, and on top of that a lime green sweatshirt that she gave me. I think it came from the little kids section though, even though it fits me I think it makes me look like a little kid. Add to the outfit my Smartwool socks and tennis shoes, layered with my bright orange fly bag slung over one shoulder and my walking stick in one hand. I wind my iPod speaker cords from my waist where its connected, up though my shirt and into my ears. So at first appearance, I look like an ill dressed little kid carrying a stick. But its Mexico, and really nobody cares, so I enjoy the freedom.

The topic of conversation as we approached the other end of the neighborhood, past the tequila ranch, centered around the rumor that some of the huge developments going up near here were being done so by members of the Mexican Mafia. It was obvious that there was some big money at play in that particular part of the area, the properties were bigger, more extravagant and included high tech security systems. Becky filled me in on the rumors and circumstances leading the locals to believe that there were Mexican Mafia members involved. Stories of violence, corruption and coersion filled our conversation as we circled around the tequila ranch and headed back. There’s a long stretch of road along the ranch that is not full of bumps, holes or washboards. Along the other side of the road is a property lined with bushes and trees, and three dogs. Two of the dogs looked to be german shepherds of some sort, and the third looked like a very tall chow dog. We had passed them on our way in, and they ran the length of the fence barking and wagging their tails.

As we headed back and hit the smooth stretch of road, I got the sudden urge to go faster. I told Becky I was going to jog on ahead and would meet her at the fig tree. I began a slow jog, swinging my stick as I listened to my iPod as I jogged down the middle of the road. Just as I got to the stretch with the three dogs, the Ting Ting’s came on my iPod and my feet wanted to move even faster. I came up upon the dogs, and they started barking and wagging their tails. A neighbor dog, Bullet, had tagged along for the morning walk and seemed to get excited as I started running faster. Soon all the dogs were barking and running alongside, almost like they were egging me on. Feeling light and energized, I got caught up in their excitement and decided to race them. I sped up my pace for a few steps, “you like that?” I asked them. “You think you can beat me? Let’s just see who’s fastest.” I dared all the dogs and started running with reckless abandon. My feet flew quickly through the sand, and I could feel the wind in my hair. I pumped my arms hard, swinging my stick up and down like a marching baton. I couldn’t stop. I felt incredible! My fly bag was flapping wildly at my side, my sweatshirt, which was tied around my waist, was flipping from side to side, and I just went faster and faster. My legs were burning and starting to feel a little like rubber, but I focused on that and pushed myself a little hard. I saw the turn in the road ahead of me and set my sights on that. I flew and flew in all my glory, a blur of blue, orange and green, running like the wind with a stick in my hand, the Ting Ting’s blasting in my ears, encouraging me to keep going.

I was nearing the end of the fenced yard, and knew the dogs would be halted. I glanced over my shoulder to bid them adios as I reached the end of the property. What I saw behind me wasn’t just the dogs being stopped by the fence. No. directly behind me was a shiny black Jaguar car. It was driving slowly, patiently waiting for the running gringo to move to the side of the road so it could pass. I hadn’t heard it approach so I have no idea how long it had been following me. I’m sure long enough to wonder what the gringo woman was doing flying down their roads and stopping traffic as she raced the dogs. Given the area the Jaguar had come from, and the fact that it was the only shiny, expensive car I’ve seen since I’ve been here, I think it’s safe to assume they were part of the Mexican Mafia. I jogged to the shoulder of the road to let them pass, and a portly, older Mexican gentleman gave me a half a smile as they drove past me. Becky caught up with me and was laughing. Of course, I’m pretty sure the Mexican Mafia man probably believes I’m one of the crazy gringos.

My day ended with an unexpected treat. We went to have dinner with Janet, the artist who lives on the hill above P Town. We took plenty of cigarettes and wine, and sat in her open-air palapa while we enjoyed dinner and visiting. After realizing that the Mexican beer doesn’t really agree with me, I’ve pretty much been a teetotaler since after my first week here. So Becky and Janet consumed the wine, and as the end started drawing to a close I realized that my designated driver services would probably come in handy right about now. But wait, I thought, I don’t have a driver’s license. What if I get caught driving without one? I’m sure it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but then again, how hard is it to obey even the tiniest of laws in another country? What would I think of Mexicans in America who drove around with no license, as if they could disregard out laws?

But on the other hand, I have only seen three policias in my time here, and none of them were her in P Town. What if I did get pulled over? According to all that I’ve heard, offering them a few pesos and acting like a crazy woman would do the trick, so I decided to go for being a scofflaw and made the token effort to drive home. Becky immediately said yes, and was obviously glad that I’d made the offer. I was happy about that, because I think I’ve been here long enough that the protector/hostess feeling is wearing off. We weren’t in the Mecci van, we were in the mini van, aka mormon assault vehicle. It doesn’t squeak and the muffler is intact, but the entire thing is covered in dust, including the windows. Little clear circles in front of the driver and passenger have been wiped in the dust of the windshield, kind of like in the winter time when people just scrape enough of their window to see. It was dark out, and the dirty windows gave me tunnel vision as we left Janet’s and headed down the winding dirt road that leads off the mountain and into P Town.

I took the road slow, bouncing over the bumps and dips, admiring the lights of the town below as we slowly descended. I had no problem on the dirt road, but when we hit the bottom I remembered that I had to drive through town and across the highway to get to the huerta. I rolled to a stop at the “alto” (stop) sign and put my blinker on to signal that I was turning right. It seemed odd to put the blinker on, and as I thought about it I hadn’t seen anyone use a blinker the entire time I’ve been here, unless they’re signaling their intention to pass on the highway. Alto signs here really don’t mean stop, Becky and several other locals informed me. They really mean slow down and look for other cars. I turned onto the narrow paved road that runs through P Town, past the school, several mini supers (super markets the size of a shed,) and lots of tiny restaurants. A few cars came my way to pass, and I expertly maneuvered to my side of the narrow road, careful not to hit any of the cars, road equipment or people wandering down the road. I was driving in Mexico! Haha! I was an alien in a foreign land, and I was driving! We passed the “policia” station, which was dark and quiet, and we whooped our excitement about being scofflaws in Mexico. We made it through town, past the mortuary and across the highway into the huerta. The stars were bright, brilliant and sparkling, and our windows were rolled down, allowing the dust from the road and the salty smell of the ocean.
“Just like being in Vernal, isn’t it?” Becky asked?

I inhaled the fresh air and was emotionally transported back to the many backroads I’ve traveled throughout my life, both in my childhood and in the past two years. It was reminiscent of riding in the back of our parents’ hippy van, coming home late on a Saturday evening after having spent the day frolicking in the woods. There was usually either an old country 8-track playing, or sometimes 70’s songs were playing on the radio. I would watch out the back window of the van, looking at the stars, and daydreaming of one thing or another, feeling content and safe as my father drove us home. Then I flashed to the last two years, when I spent a lot of time in the same country, being driven around the mountain by my good friends. I remember standing on the edge of Red Canyon Overlook at midnight, being so close to the stars that I wanted to touch them. They twinkled then like they do now.

Yes, I love backroads, and apparently Becky does too. We giggled with each bump I hit, and when we got home, I checked “drive in Mexico” off my list I didn’t know I wanted to do in my life.

A SERPENTE (SNAKE) IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN

Our walk/jog to the tequila ranch and back was uneventful. I ran so I made it home before Becky and since I finally figured out how to program my ipod to play all of my songs in random order, I’ve been re-discovering my music collection. I wanted to keep listening so I set about watering, wearing my flowey sundress with a halter back, thinking that would be a great tan line. I started in the back of the yard. I hate to do the back of the yard because the trees all line up against the fence surrounding the property. On the other side of the fence, growing through the fence, is dry, thick bushes that i’m sure are full of scorpions. But fueled by my great music I put on my water shoes and marched out to water.

Somebody told me yesterday that it hasn’t rained here for more than six months, so I had a new appreciation for watering well today. Instead of just pooling the water at the base of all the plants, I sprayed it into the air on the top of the plant, like a really good rain. I watched the water gather in the different barks and leaves of the plants, then drizzle down to the base to be dropped in a pool around it. I went crazy with the hose and gave all the plants a shower. Water was dripping all around me and the morning sun threw sparkles off the drops as they fell. It was a magical moment, and my heart was full of joy as I turned to start watering the trees along the back of the yard.

I watered one palm tree and splashed the front of the next one when I spotted movement on the other side of the one I was watering. My water stream was about six feet, so I felt pretty brave and didn’t immediately freak out. My heart started a little bit when I realized it was a snake. It was brown, about as big around as my thumb, and probably three feet long. Maybe two, its hard to say. I resisted my initial impulse to spray him back through the fence and into the empty lot next door. Instead I used my water stream to nudge the dirt in front of him. The water splashed him but instead of fleeing, he stretched out to his full length, careful not to move in my direction, and turned around his head and looked right at me. He liked the water. I think he was begging me to squirt him. Six months. This snake hasn’t had any fresh water for six months. That would suck. I can’t believe I’m even typing this, but I felt bad for the little guy. I sprayed water within a few inches of him and he just laid there. I felt good about helping him, and after insisting that he go on his way and stay away from me, I went on to water the other trees. After a couple of minutes in the cool, wet dirt, he slowly slithered away through the fence, but I swear he looked back at me right before he ducked his head into the thick brush.

MANGO MADNESS
Mango madness is in full swing here in the huerta. All of the roads are lined with all manner of fruit/vegetable bearing trees or bushes. One road has an avocado tree, one an orange tree or two, another papaya, but EVERY road has at least several mango trees along it. I’ve never actually tasted a mango, but promises of mango jam, dried mango, mango chutney, all sounded good. Especially if it turns out that I actually like mangos. And of course fruit picking is always a good time, so Becky and I grabbed our bags, and a friend with a van, and headed out in search of mangos.

Turns out mango madness is a lot like family trips to find the perfect Christmas tree. We each had our own ideas of the best place to start. My thoughts were based on a particular grove that I’d seen driving into the huerta, but had been unable to find on my morning jogging route. I had visions of stopping by the grove, which I had seen from a distance, each morning and picking a delicious ripe mango to take home to add to my yogurt for breakfast. Becky and her amigo each had their own ideas of where they thought the best mangos were. The amigo had thought ahead for the expedition, and mounted a piece of plywood onto the top of the van, and rigged up some clippers on the end of a long pole so we could snip the ripe mangos from the tops of the tree. Since he was driving, we went to his secret mango spot first. With each of us knowing really where the best mangos were, I’d venture to say that we really were just humoring each other as we stopped at their grove, coddling each other until we got to our groves, where we knew the best ones really were.

The amigo proudly positioned the van under the mango tree alongside the road, and jumped out with clippers to start dropping mangos. Although there were a lot of mangos on the tree, it certainly wasn’t as good as the grove I had spotted. These mangos were all green, and I knew they would ripen eventually, but I really wanted to find a ripe mango and taste it so I could determine how much effort to put into mango picking. There were no ripe mangos here, so needless to say I didn’t share the enthusiasm about this grove as the amigo did, and wasn’t eager to jump out and retrieve the fallen mangos.
“I think we should drive around first and see what else there is,” Becky said.
“Why? Look at all these mangos! These are good mangos,” the amigo said as mangos thunked onto the top of the van and thudded in the dirt below the tree.
“They are good mangos,” said Becky. “I just want to see what every place else has. I don’t want to fill six bags with mangos that aren’t ready, then find a grove that has some that are, or other kinds of mangos. I think you’re guilty of premature mango picking, that’s what i’m trying to say.”
“I just want to find a ripe one and see if I like them or not,” I put in my two cents worth, hoping it would bring us to my mango grove sooner. Then they would both see that I am a mango master.
“But these are great mangos! And they’re right here. Come on, grab the ones I’m knocking down,” said the Amigo, starting to sweat from the effort.
“The point here, is that I’m the one who will be processing all the mangos, that’s why we’re here, because i’m looking for mangos to make stuff out of. I need a good mix of mangos in all stages of ripening,” Becky had a good point.
“Okay, you’re right. Since you’re the one who will ultimately be preparing the mangos, I’m gonna say you lead the way,” I knew I was the tie breaker in this mango madness, and setting my competative nature aside, I took the path that ultimately would benefit me in the form of mango delicacies. Plus, I still didn’t even know if I liked mangos. I was not about to get out of the van and stand under a tree with mangos falling on my head until I’d tasted one.

We filled two bags with mangos the amigo dropped, then headed down the road toward Becky’s grove. Along the way we found an avocado tree and an orange tree. I’ve never eaten an orange off the tree, so the amigo got out and filled a bag with them. The rind was pretty thick and a little gnarly, but as soon as I pierced the skin the juices inside started to run down my finger, and the smell was so sweet and juicy that I think my mouth was watering as I peeled it. I was about to have an experience of a lifetime, eating a fresh picked, delicious orange while cruising down the dirt roads in Mexico.

I threw the rind out the window, and with mangos rolling about at my feet in the van, and a dusty wind blowing through the windows, I bit into the delicious orange. It was HORRIBLE! It tasted like a bitter orange combined with dirt, like an earthy/decaying flavor. I hurried and spit it out the window; genuinely disappointed that once again something did not turn out to meet the expectation I had set upon it. Ouch. Apparently the Chocosweet lesson goes both ways.

The mango, however, pleasantly surprised me. The new grove indeed included ripe mangos, and after being shown how to peel the skin back to expose the meat, I took my first bite hesitantly. The texture was good, firm but not hard, and flavor was not like anything I’d ever tasted. It was sweet in a moderate way, with a pleasing aftertaste that reminded me of a gamey flavor. I was immediately hooked, and rallied my efforts to help Becky pick mangos up from beneath the trees. We came home with four bags of mangos, in varying stages of ripening, as well as various types of mangos. I never did find the grove that I have pictured in my mind, and in retrospect, perhaps the grove I’m thinking of isn’t a mango grove at all.

TIME WARP IN THE HUERTA
Another week has flown by here in the huerta. It’s Saturday morning and Becky’s deep in the mango madness, dehydrating mangos from yesterday afternoon’s excursion. Unlike myself, Becky’s quite talented in domestic areas, specifically cooking, baking and trying new recipes. I’m not sure she slept well last night, I know she was excited to get up and start the mango madness today. I had a moment of pure joy last night watching her get so excited about the mangos, its the same excitement I remember feeling on Christmas eve when I was little. I caught her coming out of the bathroom, I came in from outside and she didn’t know I was there. I entered the room just as she came out of the bathroom singing “mango madness.” Her hair was wrapped in a huge towel that was sitting on top of her head, she had her eyes closed tightly and with sheer joy was deliriously chanting “Maaaaango, maaaango, mangoooooooo madness!” as she walked out of the bathroom. She opened her eyes just as she finished the chant and nearly ran into me. She squealed in genuine start, and both of us laughed heartily.

The days blend together here, with no frame of reference, aka, no deadline, each day seems like the next. I debated with myself last night, when I found out it was indeed Friday instead of Wednesday, whether or not I should give myself the weekends off from jogging in the morning. I’d done well all week, and if weekends weren’t for slacking off, then what are they for? The problem, I told myself, is that everyday is like a weekend here. With every day being a weekend, I miss the opportunity to be happy about weekends. So now I either need to change my discipline and work really hard during the week, so I can take weekends off, or keep treating every day like a weekend.

REALITY SETS IN
I decided to treat every day like a work day. There’s no reason to distinguish between the two. Time has no significance here, the only certainty being that time is fleeting. There’s no reason I can’t write all night and into the wee hours of the morning, then sleep all day. I don’t know what my creativity is at different hours and different places. I packed my laptop down to the bench on the beach yesterday, just to see what it would feel like to work on my manuscript while overlooking the crashing waves. It was incredible! So I’m making the push, one chapter a day on my manuscript, which is currently at 18 chapters. My goal is to finish this round of editing, then have time for a final clean-up/polish before I leave, so when I return it will be ready to start querying agents, hoping to catch the eye of Agnes Birnbaum, one of the finest literary agents in the business.

I started my day with a decent, yet uneventful jog. Then I swept, did a couple loads of laundry and then hopped in the pool to cool down. I was floating on the lounge floater, with my big floppy hat pulled down low, covering most of my face. As I floated about the pool the view from under the brim of my hat was narrowed down to just a small strip of the tops of the cardon cacti surrounding the pool. Laying back, basking in the sun, a few dragon fly looking bugs came to buzz about me, and I shooed them away. Then, as I floated slowly in a circle, my vision wandered up to the tops of the cardons. I had the feeling I was being watched, and sure enough right above me, sunning himself on the top of the cacti, was an iguana about eight inches long. He was black and staring right at me. “well, hello,” I ventured a greeting, thinking he was a safe distance away. He looked at me and cocked his head to the side, like he was studying whether or not I was a threat to him. I could see his long, fingerlike claws holding onto the prickly stickers of the cacti. We watched each other for a while, and when we were both convinced the other was no threat, I resumed my floating and he went back to sunning himself.

I was pretty proud of myself for not freaking out every time I saw a critter, I think I’m getting assimilated to the fact that there are just all manner of creepy crawlies here. For the most part they’ve maintained a safe distance from me, so I’m getting used to it. I was on a writing roll, so I opted to stay home and pound out a chapter while Becky joined some friends for dinner in P Town. It was the first time I’ve been home alone at night for any length of time, and I was blissfully typing away, sipping my tea and marveling at how well I’ve acclimated to this environment, and proud of myself that I didn’t get the heebie jeebies quite so bad any more. I came to a point on the page where I stopped typing and took a moment to ponder the next words I would write. I glanced around the room, looking for some inspiration or thought provoking object that would propel me through the next paragraph.

I glanced down at the floor next to me, and just about jumped out of my chair when there, less than two feet away from me and staring right at me, was a hug wolf spider! Now by huge I mean it was really big for a spider. When I was doing a writer’s workshop at Camp Wapiti several years ago some of the ladies caught a huge wolf spider in a large coffee can, and we all got to take a good look at it. This one staring at me was definitely a wolf spider. It’s body was about as big around as my thumb, and it’s cream colored legs were tall, long, and bent, suspending the huge body from them. Black stripes adorned the top of his body, and he just sat there, silently staring at me, both of us waiting for the other to make a move. I was sitting on a tall stool, with only flip flops on my feet, so I pulled my feet up onto the chair slowly, not wanting to startle him.

I didn’t want to confront him, but as much as the thought of battling him creeped me out, letting him get away and knowing he was in the house somewhere would have creeped me out even worse; there’s no way I could possibly sleep in a house where I know that big of a spider lives. So, after checking out my options, I stood up on my chair and grabbed a dish towel from the edge of the table. My grand plan was to throw the dish towel on top of him, then jump on it and start stomping. As long as he was contained under the towel I knew I could kill him. I dropped the dish towel directly on top of the beast, but he was very fast and ran as soon as he saw it coming. He backed himself into a corner, I could tell he was scared and I started to feel a little bad for the guy. So I propped open the front door and grabbed the broom.
“Okay, here’s how this is going to go down,” I said to him, hoping to convince him to just walk out the front door. “I’m going to sweep you over there, and then out the front door. Nobody needs to get hurt, just trust me on this.” He hunkered down a little lower on the floor, like he was anticipating the movement.

He stared at me and I mustered all the courage I could find, kind of like diving into a body of cold water. I let my adrenaline and anticipation and fear build, then I took a big, fast swipe at him with the broom, intending to shoot him all the way to the other side of the room and then sweep him out the door. The bastard ran. He ran right back along the wall that leads to our bedrooms. Dammit! I’m not sure I even hit him with the broom, but I was sure he was not going to get into my room. I gave him a chance, and now it was time to get the boots. Needless to say between the mop, the broom, the boots and a lot of swearing, on my part of course, I won the battle, leaving what was once a big menacing spider only a wet spot on the cement floor.

Apparently as the heat increases, the animals come out of the woodwork, literally speaking, so I can expect more encounters throughout the rest of my stay. For the first time since I arrived here, I can see a not so beautiful side to being here throughout the summer season.

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July 11, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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