|Canal de Salsipuedes|
If you notice anything, it leads you to notice more and more. – Mary Oliver
Trees, he misses trees. And the ocean smells different. For me, the answer is not so well defined. Sometimes, I think I miss the balancing act of contrasts. I remember reading somewhere that you can’t really experience joy, if sorrow has not carved a space into your being. Can you experience happiness if you haven’t experienced loss? Similarly, can you learn to love the rain when you have lived in a desert long enough?
|Cala San Francisquito (The Key Hole)|
It’s curious how when you are first away from “home”, you miss everything more fiercely. As time goes by, you learn that to absorb what is around you, you have to let go of needing what once was. In a sense, you are making room for what is. Your memories then become sweeter, there to be savoured, not pined for.
Here, we are surrounded by desert. The sea meets the desert and there is no in-between. I grew up in a lush forest. The sweet smell of sap and the buzzing of insects were my companions. Trees were there for shade, or to be climbed. There was also a tree that held a tree fort, complete with a watchtower. We built it with our father, the fine architect of the many forts of my childhood. The neighbourhood bear, the moose and deer, were our constant if wary cohorts.
In my childhood forest, we had distinct seasons. The summer was a time for exploration and Chasse Au Trésor games.1 Autumn was for trail building and extended hikes through jewel-coloured foliage. Winter was when skis quietly slipped through the snow-blanketed landscape. In early spring, we went to the sugar shack for fresh maple pull toffee. The contrast of the seasons defined our lives.
When I moved to the west coast of Canada, I found comforting distinctions that went beyond summer and winter: I noted the obvious spring in our step when the sun reappeared after the gloom of the rainy season; when the warm summer day was replaced by the markedly cooler night air; our downtown marina nestled in a world of concrete compared with the peaceful anchorage of a verdant island. These contrasts gave me a sense of stability.
|Leaping Manta Ray: Splot, splot, splot, we'd hear all day|
Here in the Sea of Cortez, just like time, our surroundings blur at the edges. The desert is a never-ending expanse of rubble and cacti. Early mornings, the coyotes forage on the beach while the pelicans and boobies predictably continue to dive bomb for fish. So where is the contrast? How do we find our equilibrium? Well, it seems the contrast I yearn for is more subtle here. It appears when the quiet flatness of a windless morning is replaced by a volatile southeasterly wind in the late afternoon. The contrast is in the shade offered by a rocky outcrop that briefly gives respite from the harsh and arid Baja sun; it’s the beauty of the fluid underwater movements of the manta ray compared with its comical flapping as it takes off out of the water and fails to fly through the air.
Of course, we do reminisce about our old life while we learn to appreciate the particulars of our daily routine in the Sea. The surprise comes with the shift in how we respond to what was once familiar. I feel pleasantly melancholic when the skies spit some moisture down on us these days. I fondly recall Victoria, and the hours I spent ensconced in the saloon with a hot cup of tea and a good book. I conveniently forget arriving at the boat soaked and cold, tripping over the strategically placed towels that were defending the cabin against leaks. I overlook the misery of too many grey days chasing one another in slow-motion. I often cursed the rain back then.
I know that at some time in the future, I will miss the smell of the desert, while conveniently forgetting the trail of dust it left everywhere. I will miss the warm turquoise waters, minimizing the discomfort of the god-forsaken string of pearls.2 I will remember the stark beauty of the Sea and desert merging together in its own distinctive way. I will miss the contentedness I have begun to feel here.
Perhaps the defining contrasts of the Sea of Cortez will become more obvious with the passing of time, but for now I will absorb it all. I will make room for the sometimes suffocating heat, the giant moths and playful dolphins, the burning sand, the solitude, the sticky cacti, the intense relief of an afternoon breeze, the dreaded chubascos, and the spicy, musky scent of creosote plants after a light rain.
It’s dusty, hazy here; as I take it all in, little by little, I begin to feel more centered.
1I believe the English equivalent is a game called Capture the Flag.
2String of pearls are a kind of small jelly fish that look like a string with beads, hence the name. When you run into them while swimming or snorkeling, they wrap around you and sting. They tend to leave small white welts. While the sting is not very painful (unlike man-of-war stings), it leaves a burning sensation that eventually just itches. Basically, they are an uncomfortable nuisance. Of course there are a variety of “jelly fishes” here, we keep a wary eye out for them. A skin suit is a good idea for anyone spending the summer in the Sea.