Sunday, May 30, 2010


How in the heck did I get here anyway?? I feel like Scotty has beamed me up to Banamichi and I cannot recollect the process.

I’ve had this feeling that is the opposite of déjà vu a number of times in my life – eating beans on toast on a canal boat somewhere in Wales, standing in a temple singing the evening arati in the village of Ganeshpuri in India, and now, here in Banamichi, sitting in my backyard paradise, watching the world be re-born in the cool of the morning.

It is a feeling of abrupt disconnect and strangeness. Everything around me suddenly appears alien, and I am aware that I have pushed myself into a new and different dimension of experience.

I’ve always thought that it is good to take risks and put myself in drastically new situations. It stretches the limits of the concepts I hold about myself and life. It forces my brain to wrap itself around other ways of being, and it increases my tolerance for and integration of “the other” – that which seems different and separate from me.

This process is not always comfortable, but is always good. More and more I am able to take the world into myself and identify with all places and beings. I feel my mind and my heart expanding.

Still, that begs the question: “How did I get to Banamichi anyway?” On the one hand, it is all my friend Rene’s fault. Rene’ has never been to Banamichi, but still, she is the agent of the chain of causality that led us here. Because she asked us, Dan and I went to Rizhao, China to teach English. Because of her asking, Bill Harmsen and his wife Irma Rojo went to Rizhao, China to teach English. We met. Rene’ was the culprit!

 We heard about their hotel in this lovely little town in the Rio Sonora Valley called Banamichi. Quite a mouthful to pronounce – the accent being on the second “a.”

Half a year later in Tucson, we were bored and decided on a whim to go visit this legendary place. The Hotel Posada Del Rio Sonora was stunning with its colorful courtyard, beautiful plants and folk art from all over the world. I felt at home in a place that recognized the beauty of all different traditions.

But the town itself was magical. From the central square to the back streets, I instantly recognized the tranquility and sweet energy of the place. It felt good here. The air smelled good. Birds sang, roosters crowed, and cowboys rode their horses through the town. Everything seemed a little bit clearer and purer than it should. I fell in love with the place.

We visited several more times. I loved the remoteness of the town – two hours from almost anywhere. I loved sitting on the patio of the hotel, watching the sunset and drinking in peace. I loved the friendliness of the people – everyone waving or saying “Buenos dias” as they passed.

When Bill and Irma said they might have a small piece of property for sale, I felt that God was calling out to us to buy it – to accept the gift that was being offered. It made no logical sense. We had just refurbished and redecorated the Tucson house, we were retired and getting older –for what did we need a second house? And yet the draw was irresistible. For once we threw caution to the winds and bought the place.

And now, two years later, I sit in my morning garden watching the long slanted light with a sense of disconnect. I tell the story, step by step how I arrived here, and yet it seems like a miracle - an inexplicable happening of being transported from the known to the unknown. That’s good. I am stretching and growing again.

 Spidey update: They’re gone!! One day I wrote about them, and the next day, every one of them was gone. Something to do with the coming of the real heat, I imagine. Nature has turned on her blast furnace now, and most animals hunker down to wait for the rains.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Banamichi Fauna

Spiderman lives under my bathmat. That is to say, a man-sized spider, a manly dude at 1 1/2 inches across. He comes out at night, so I dance lightly into the bathroom so as not to squish him before I can see him.
He is a large Arizona wolf spider so far as I can tell.  He has long, striped legs and can run like crazy. Spider woman lives there with him and she is growing plumper by the day. Actually, I think her extra girth is the babies she carries around on her back. (Eeeek! More of them?) If I try to get close enough to look, they both race away to hide.
I have an uneasy truce with spiders. I don’t really like them. I shiver in revulsion at their alien appearance and behavior. But I know they serve an ecological purpose and get rid of insects that I would like even less. I read on a website that these guys are harmless. But there are so many of them in our house in Banamichi! I tolerate them, but always am on the edge of getting the can of insect spray and spritzing them out of existence.
And, there is the creep out factor. With something that weird, who knows what it is thinking. More likely it doesn’t think at all - like the one who kept insisting on running across the door I was painting. And the one that crawled out of the pillowcase last night. That one really wigged me out. Then there is the black widow that built a web from our toilet to the wall. But that is a whole other story.
Since we have lived here, we have had a number of interesting animal experiences. Last summer, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move across the floor in front of the fireplace. I tried to tell myself it was nothing. I must not have convinced myself because I had to go have a look. 
And there it was, the biggest, ugliest scorpion I have ever seen. I do know that the bigger they are, the less poisonous, but it was its alien ugliness that got me. I couldn’t bear to step on it, as I didn’t want to hear it squish under my shoe. That would have been too repulsive to bear. 
I ran for the can of Casa Y Jardin (Mexican Raid), but by then it had run off. I finally located it under the sofa and shot pretty much the entire can at it. It still kept moving. After some research, I learned that insecticides are not especially effective on scorpions because of the tough exoskeleton. Creeeeeepy! But he next day, there it was, belly up with its nasty little legs in the air. It must have been the sheer amount of insecticide that got it.
Also last summer, we started finding a mess on our back porch every morning. There were piles of what looked like animal droppings, and there were streaks down the walls. Something was pooping out there – apparently from the ocotillo ceiling. Again, research finally told us it was Mexican fruit bats. We never did see them – and I wanted to –I was real curious. Turned out it wasn’t really poop. The bats chew up whatever fruit they find to extract the juice, and then spit out the rest. Great – so it’s not bat poop, it’s bat puke. Gross! Our neighbor’s huge tree was the source of the fruit – it has some sort of weird inedible(by humans) berries full of tiny seeds. Very similar to the sticky masses we were finding on our back porch. One day I had the thought to leave the porch light on since the little devils are nocturnal. That did the trick. No more piles in the morning.
One cool evening our first fall here we were sitting with Tom and Lynn around a campfire in our back yard. Suddenly Lynn shrieked and jumped up. “What was that??? Ooooh, it was horrible – it was big and furry and had a long skinny tail like a rat! It came out of the building and ran over there!” The building in question was an old outhouse, more recently used as a storage shed.
After quite a bit of speculation about what she might have seen - no, it wasn’t a hallucination! – Tom said  “Lynn, what you are describing is an
So began the saga of the possum house. A few days later, the two Dans were clearing out the stuff stored in the old outhouse, and they saw it!! It dove into the remnant of the hole that was still in there. My Dan, man-child that he is, shone a flashlight under there and poked at it with a broomstick. It snarled and snapped its fangs at him. He didn’t want to mess with it. Even he was a little put off. He was in favor of filling in the hole and calling it good.
My conscience couldn’t agree to that. We waited until there had been no sign of it for a long time, and made sure it was no longer calling the outhouse home before we filled the hole. Now the hole is covered with cement, we have a nice storage building called “Casa del chulo” =Spanish for opossum house, and the critter is gone.
By far the most repulsive creatures I have encountered are the “sapos” – Bufo alvarius- The Sonoran Desert toad. The first time I encountered them was on a steamy summer evening driving back from Hermosillo after a rain. I peered sleepily through the windshield between the driver and the front seat passenger. Illuminated by the headlights, the shiny pavement was alive with motion. Toads of all sizes were frolicking on the wet roadway, but alas, we could not avoid hitting them – there were far too many. Ick! I hated the thought of running them over. They seemed to be having such a good time.
Bufos only emerge from the mud when the summer monsoon starts. In fact, they breed in seasonal puddles, spend about a month as tadpoles and then begin to grow and grow and grow….
The next time I saw one it was much closer up – in our friend’s back garden. It was huge – about 5 inches long and just about as wide. It jumped from place to place with a fleshy plopping noise. It was grayish brown, moist looking and covered with ugly bumps. I pulled in my limbs as I recalled that these guys are poisonous.
The venom that makes them poisonous comes from those lumps on their back. People who are into psychoactive substances “milk” the poison glands, dry the resulting fluid and then smoke it. That is what repulses me more than the toad itself, which is after all, just another creature inhabiting this planet with us.
For a while there were hopefully exaggerated reports of people licking or sucking these toads. Bleahhhhh! Now that is beyond disgusting!! In fact the ingested venom is toxic, with the ability to kill a full-sized dog. I am thinking it could make a person really sick. Maybe this was just another media exaggeration.
Many people seem to have the same problem with the toads that we had on that first encounter – the animals are mindless of these monsters we call autos, so that in the summer moths, their squashed bodies litter the streets. People dump lime on the larger ones here in town. 
This year, knowing what is coming I am actually looking forward to their arrival. To me they have come to mean the breaking of the inferno of the summertime Sonoran Desert. They are nature’s way of celebrating the coming of life-giving moisture. The season has come full-circle again. We have survived another brutal summer. As the land cracks open to receive the rain, bufos again frolic in the puddles. This year, watch out, I may just frolic with them!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Travel and Arrival

Lynn and I wait patiently at the Mexican Aduana (Customs) office at the border in Nogales. It is an austere white plaster room with nothing more than an old folding table and some grubby glass fronted offices surrounding it. Two young women work at a computer in one of the rooms, and another young woman is processing papers for a group of Mexican guys and one gringo, an expat. There is always a sense of the unknown here – what will they not like about our list? What will they put us through before we can pay and be on our way with all our American stuff?

The men move on and the young woman says “Pasa les” (Come in.) We hold our breath as she looks at Lynn’s list. “Que es?” She points to an item on our list. Not knowing the Spanish word for frying pan, we had decided upon “Cosa para cocinar” (thing for cooking.) She wants to know what kind of thing for cooking. Is it a spoon or a stove? Could be anything.

I make gestures of tossing something in a frying pan. Still not clear. Lynn finally turns over the list and draws a sideways profile of a frying pan. I add some jagged lines underneath to indicate flames. I see the light bulb go on in the young woman’s mind and the hint of a sly smile come over her face. She takes the paper and draws a sunny-side up egg in the pan. We all crack up, laughing almost until the tears come. Then she gets all serious and says “sarten.” She writes it out. I will never forget the Spanish word for frying pan again!

This short moment breaks the tension and speaks volumes. It is so easy to see foreign people, particularly uniformed customs agents as “the other.” I tend to fear them because of the power to bestow hassles and delays that they hold. This small gesture unites us in hilarity and humanity. Suddenly she is no longer “the other,” but a woman who could be our friend, joking with us. After this, she quickly writes out the form, asks us if the total amount is OK with us and sends us on our way with a chuckle.

We go to the next office – the bank – and pay the duty she has specified and then head back to the car. Lynn says “Pray for a green light!” I do. We drive up to the gate and wait to see what color light we will get – will the car be inspected or not? A motionless inspector in a dark uniform stands far in front of us staring at us as we stare back at him. Suddenly, the light flashes green, he waves at us, and we are on our way!

At Home in Banamichi:
I am astonished by how much things in the yard have grown. It is almost as if the plants know that the hot season is coming, and they have said to themselves, “Wow! I better do my thing now, because soon it will take all my energy just to stay alive.”

The corn plants, which just 3 weeks ago were 18 inches are now chest high with tassels and ears beginning to form. The tomato plants have grown to fill their cages and have small green fruits on them. Five zucchini the size of my arm lie shaded by the large bristly leaves.

Chard is the veggie that won’t quit. It seems like the more we use it, the more it grows. It is waist high with brilliant red and yellow stalks, and some of it is beginning to bloom. Note to myself: half a row of that stuff is plenty!

Meanwhile, the tiny mango tree has several hard little green fruits, and the peach tree is covered with peaches. The herb garden has gone haywire with mint that is waist high.

The trumpet plant (decorative datura) was waist high 3 weeks ago, and now it is as tall as I am and its flowers send out their sickening sweet intoxication into the night air. I can see the growth of the sunflowers from one day to the next.

What a joy it is to grow things in fertile soil and a productive climate. Even the papaya seeds that Terry saved from last-year’s fruit have sprouted! I accidentally plucked most of them when I was weeding, but that is a good thing – what would we do with 10 papaya trees? What will we do with the 3 or 4 that remain?

I love this season here. I also enjoy the last breath before the heat. The mornings are deliciously cool and fragrant with flowers and alfalfa. In the morning I walk around the yard with a cup of chai inspecting the state of the garden. Birdsong is loud and insistent. Hummingbirds zip in for the first taste of nectar today. Aircraft noise is conspicuous by its absence, although I see a vapor trail way overhead.

I work in the garden until the sun is directly overhead and begins to burn my skin. Lunchtime. By mid-afternoon I can almost see the plants turning within themselves and shrinking in the glare. Soon it will be this hot all the time. I head indoors to rooms kept cool by 20 inches of adobe walls. As the sun sinks and the shadows grow long and blue, the coolness and fragrance return to the air – I can smell the dust, and the flowers again – so sweet.