Of Mice and Men

From my journal dated 2/06:

Tomorrow will mark our seventh day camping just below the hot springs, and while I feel like this tribute is going to sound familiar (and despite the fact that it did its level best to drive us into the sea) Val and I are in agreement that the Agua Verde springs might well have been the best spot so far.

We’ve been swimming around the small bay with the girls, who are constantly erupting with glee into their snorkels when they spot a new kind of starfish, or see a boxy little puffer, or, for my sake, identify a large and particularly tasty-looking urchin.  Their voices, muffled and pushed through the tubes of their snorkels, make them sound like a couple of baby elephant seals as they make their rounds of the shoals and corals.

Kirby took us out for a tour of the bay in his little grey Zodiac, jouncing it off the waves and the girls howling with delight as the spray dappled their faces.  Looking back on the shore we could see the multiple rows of the Sierra Gigantes, her cliffs hanging like curtains to guard the coves and bays of this stretch of the Cortez.

He’s also been fishing, successfully, and the ladies managed to charm some fresh trigger fish fillets out of him and Leonie has discovered the miracle of fresh fish, olive oil, and salt.

The girls have also been insisting on some instructional time, notably, and so we’ve been doing math with them these past few days.  Their vocabularies are kind of off the charts at the moment, and we have Tolkein and Rushdie to thank.  We read the Hobbit, and are now close to finishing Haroun, as bedtime stories and I made up a series of flash cards for them that have the more complex words on them and we’ll run through them at breakfast, or during downtime in the afternoons.

It’s something else to hear Leonie use “opulent” and “demented” in a sentence, or to have Sylvie earnestly discuss how to smite something.

Since the Wind of Night One appears to have been (mercifully) a singularity, we’ve been enjoying evening campfires with Ashek, Alex, and, until they left yesterday, the four “kids” from Colorado, a quartet of off-season river rafting guides who have been gamely packing themselves into a Ford Ranger (the two guys are both over six feet) and piloting it all over the place.  They had been camped with us at Playa Escondida, and we were happy to see their cartoonishly small truck make its way onto the beach here at the springs.

The local mouse population has also been reveling in our company and excess.  I opened the bed of the truck a couple days ago to fetch something for breakfast, and observed a neat hole, maybe the diameter of a quarter, had been chewed through a brand new package of tortillas.

So, I gamely removed everything from the bed of the truck.  I pulled out all the tools, buckets, parts, recovery gear, chains, ropes, clothes, you name it, and piled them onto the beach – it looked as though Red Beauty, having eaten a bad clam, had vomited the entirety of her innards in spectacular fashion.

But I could not find the mouse, and I could not figure out how the hell they had got into the truck.

Then I remembered the tiny interior holes in each of the side boxes where we store our clothes in the cap, which open into the bed of the truck and that I ran the wires through to charge our phones and operate the air compressor.

I opened up the boxes, and began pulling unused bags of clothing out – our laundry bag, the long unused cold weather clothes, a couple of bath towels.  And as I dragged out the last item, Val’s straw hat, I stood staring into the four deep black eyes of a pair of little grey mice, who had backed themselves into the last available corner for refuge and now found themselves trapped.

Oh, shit” we three all thought, simultaneously.

The girls were having a party on the roof (thanks, again, to the Front Runner rack) and when they heard my howling jumped down to see what was going on.  One mouse made the five foot leap of faith to safety, but the other, as though resigned to fate, simply stared at me, waiting for it all to end.

Or not.  I snapped his picture, gave Val the camera, and then retrieved the little guy with girls’ frog net and, despite their begging me to allow them to keep him as a pet, set him free on the beach.

Of course, the little bastard repaid me by returning that night to feast on the remainder of the tortillas.

***

The Baja, we learn constantly, will seek to destroy everything you own either dramatically (see: wind, gusts of, night) but more likely via the thousands of cumulative, insidious bumps, clunks and jounces suffered in traversing her.

In a sense, the mice did me a favor as they gave me an opportunity to survey everything in the truck, unpacked and in broad daylight.  It was thus that I noticed that the bolts that held my Hi Lift jack had rattled completely loose and the lift body was floating, unanchored, along the I-beam and waiting to be completely useless in the event of an emergency.

So that got fixed.

I also poked my nose under the hood to make sure there were no mouse condominiums being established in my air filter or auxiliary fuse block, and noticed that the fuel line ahed of the injectors appeared to be in the process of backing itself off its barbed fitting.

I couldn’t believe it, and tried to imagine what exactly happens when a fuel line works itself loose, roughly three inches from your piping hot exhaust manifold and engine block.

Ashek, busy combating his own mouse problem, found a spare hose clamp rolling around in a trench somewhere in the bed of his Defender, and I refastened the hose.

A reminder about the eternal vigilance required, over everything here, to avoid momentous problems.

***

Every new addition to a place like this can hardly escape attention, and so it was when a pretty serious looking Toyota FJ showed up towing a trailer and, to the delight of the girls, encasing a lovely golden retriever, Kyla.

We adults were pleased to make the acquaintance of fellow adventurer Ace, who was working his way north as a multi-week trip was coming to a conclusion.  Ashek and I pounced on Ace’s vehicle, which was a veritable showroom of all the things you were probably supposed to do in order to be properly organized for a trip like this but, thanks to time or lack of knowledge or the inevitable budgetary constraints, didn’t.

There was an inflatable kayak, solar panels, multiple navigational aids, an extremely well-organized trailer and tent, big tires, a roof rack… the list was long, and enviable.  Ace himself endured our nonstop questions and allowed us to nose into his vehicle, but the real star of his adventure planning was the dog, whom the girls were over the moon about.

She fell ill on her first day here, we suspected perhaps from nibbling on an errant puffer fish, which only made the girls more interested in nursing her back to health.  Val took Ace up on his generous offer to abscond with the kayak more than once, and the girls profited from Ace’s having forgotten a critical piece of adventure gear – a corkscrew.

Ace and I reached an agreement – he could have our corkscrew, and in return, he would give the girls his inflatable giant yellow inner tube.

The trade was an enormous success for everyone involved, and we enjoyed sharing our nightly campfires with Ace until it was time to leave.

***

To be clear, all is not wine and roses all the time here on the road.

There are the extrinsic forces at play on us, as things like the weather, or a broken something, or getting nice and lost, throw a spanner in the works and we’re forced to problem solve and recover.

And then, there are the days that the girls, as close as they have become on this trip (and they have become as completely intertwined as I can imagine any two siblings being), begin to grate on each other and by midmorning they’re circling, hackles raised, eyes glowering, claws extended and muscles bunched and tensed and ready to explode in combat.

For Sylvie, the emotional stakes of these clashes are always high as for her there is no world without Leonie, there never has been a world without Leonie.  It is unimaginable to Sylvie, her big sister has been there every at the beginning of every day of her life just as has been the sun.  But she is strong and strong-willed and desperate to be an equal, to prove herself, and disagreements or disapproval can become quickly bitter.

Leonie, in turn, adores the Silverfish, but I imagine she harbors some recollection of a life without her, and she’s independent enough and sophisticated enough that some days Sylvie ceases to be Sylvie and is just a little sister, a pain or an inconvenience or an obstacle.

In turn, this makes us nuts because we desperately want them to get along, and when they’re at war the civilian population suffers enormously.  Sometimes it will be a pen they both want, or a shell, or some unfortunate hermit crab that has been spotted and has particularly bright orange claws, and is thus highly desirable, and two hands reach for it simultaneously.

There are blows, and tears, and we’ll arrive at the scene late with no real understanding of who the aggressor has been, but history teaches us that it does indeed take two to tango.

Like referees at a hockey game, we’ll have to wait and pick our moment to jump in, and then we’ll be pushing them apart, and sometimes they’ll still be at each other with an unfortunate parent located in a no man’s land of balled fists, hissing mouths, and leaping kicks (the girls, instinctively, are kung-fu masters: every part of their body is a weapon, and because of their absurd agility, they can and do deploy every weapon they have contemporaneously).

We’ll pry them apart, reluctant clams, and start trying to understand the nature of the dispute and offer some empathy and remind them that we love them, and they love each other, and there absolutely is a way to get what they want without having to scrap like jiujitsu warriors.

And sometimes we can’t get them to reconnect or to recover or let drop the animus, at which point, and only very occasionally, Val reverts to a technique more typically used in fighting out of control forest fires: she’ll drop an incendiary bomb at the heart of the blaze, seeking to extinguish it with an application overwhelming, sudden force.

When that rarity happens, it’s scary but it works, and then the four of us will find ourselves staring at each other, wide-eyed, the ringing fresh in our ears,  the girls centering themselves again and, in the shadow of Val’s anger at their anger, pulling themselves together around the idea of not wanting to awake that particular Kraken again any time soon.

And then, magically, they’re best friends again.  Sisters again.  They scramble into their bathing suits and grab their goggles and swim off to locate the emerald green, five-sided starfish that live on one of the rocks in the bay, screaming with joy and excitement when they see an urchin,  or a stingray, or a school of angel fish pulse by.

And I, as Dad, perch on the corner of a chair and watch the starfish hunt and hope that whatever glue this adventure of ours will provide, the shared experience that will compress the girls together, will last a long, long time and prove more durable than any other agent or instrument they encounter in their lifetimes that might try to pry them apart.

2 thoughts

  1. Love all of this. Can’t wait to hear all the girls new words! Glad you are traveling with great new friends and Rushdie and Tolken to liven up the conversation!

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