Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Run to the Ocean

Monday, April 16

This morning, after a rough night with restless sleepers, I find depression has come down, even with the morning sun and an easy breeze. The girls are tired and dissatisfied with their breakfast cereal; I teach Mia to curse when I tell Eleanor, “okay, if you’re going to bitch, I can bitch right along with you.” “Bitchy baby, bitchy baby!” chants Mia happily so I need to correct her for my own mistake. Randy is hung-over and helpless. My only excuse is five days without a heart rate increase or endorphin rush. “I’m going out for half an hour,” I tell him. “I need to stop going crazy.” To the girls, “Mommy’s going to work out. I’ll be a better mommy when I come back.”

Our casita is at the top of a hill. We can see the ocean from every west window, a blue border between the bumpy carpet of palms, eucalyptus, laurel trees, rooflines at eye level and the sky above.

I skid down the steep dirt road toward the water, leaving behind Nora’s wails as Daddy holds her in his arms. Her desperate cries don’t fade from my ears. I hear their high-pitched echo in the high crowing of roosters, in dog yelps, in hollow dove calls, in the whine of a construction table saw. My breathing is not labored yet; I push, reaching for gasps to drown out the memory of her screams.

Brent has pointed out mango trees with their grape-like clusters of infant fruit, pistachio trees, pomegranate and the splayed fan of bird of paradise. I recognize them as I run.

Americans turn the face of their McMansions to the street; enter any suburban cul de sac and you see the lives of the families who live there before you, separated from the road by no more moat than a grass yard. In Mexico the architecture is about privacy and reserve, borrowed from the Spanish vernacular, Serena says. Thick stone and plastered cement walls, the tops often embedded with broken bottles or decorative spikes, prevent outsider eyes from capturing more than a glimpse of the oasis or austerity within. The expanse of blank, anonymous wall rising next to a narrow sidewalk in town is broken only by a few dark windows encased in iron bars. Crossing these walls, mounds of explosive bougainvillea bloom in papery blossoms of a fuchsia that mixes heart-red with an intense pink.

Perhaps this secrecy is balanced by a cultural openness – palapa roofs without walls, wide smiles and waves and Buenos tardes!

Now I run through the huerta, a low fertile valley nourished by a spring from the blue Sierra de la Laguna mountains to the east. I can hear water running. Behind a barrier formed by a stick fence and a thick bank of bamboo, a stream runs. I run parallel to it. Through the fence I can catch glimpses of the freshet, bolting down a narrow causeway, through someone’s shady paradise of a compound, then escaping under the fence, flowing under a dirt road, out into the fields of low green chile plants bordered with sentinels of high corn stalks.

A dead end. “Donde esta la playa?” Something friendly and unintelligible is replied; I only asked so as to see the pointing gesture. “Gracias!”

The strip of ocean is nearly always in sight. I know I’m getting closer, even in this maze of unmarked streets. Finally, a collection of casitas with a small sign, “Caliente Sol,” I turn a corner and see brush-covered dunes. The quick dirt road softens to sliding sand under my feet.

Soon I can hear the percussion of the waves. As I work to reach them, I remember the summer I carried ten-month-old Mia bound up in a secure carrier on my back up a rocky and glorious trail around Jenny Lake and Leigh Lake in the Wyoming Tetons. Hikers passing us the other way joked with Randy – how did he trick me into carrying the load? We laughed but I felt overjoyed to bear her weight. It was all I wanted: to be carrying my sleeping daughter in this green and piney place of glory. Each step felt like we neared Heaven.

Now I know. Each step was Heaven. And here it is again, before me. The Pacific Ocean. Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico.

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