Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Dispatches from Mescalia

What else to do in these uncertain days of turmoil and unrest than to retreat into sweet sweet NOSTALGIA. The following tales are plucked from a six week trip spent aimlessly wandering the mountains and beaches of Old Mexico. Felis and I can not guarantee the validity of any these recollections, as many of them were made under the influence of strong spirits, sold to us by a woman and her parrot at the beginning of our journey. 

Ave de Mexico
Oaxaca Highlands
Up in the mountains, perched someplace between yucca drylands below epiphyte-laded cloud forests above. At the center of a small town, a 17th century cathedral rests like a dormant spacecraft that landed centuries ago. A village built around this artifact from Andromeda. A teenager shoots from the foul line of a basketball court built adjacent to the courtyard. A woman next door puts laundry out to dry in the morning sun. We sleepily make our way from the cabina towards food and day ahead.
Magdalena welcomes us each morning with a slow, measured, monotonous BUENAS DIAS CHICOS. Her booming voice at once jarring and nurturing. We mumble our reply, shuffle to a table and play out the rest of the script. CAFE? Si, gracias. CHOCOLATE CON AGUA? Si, gracias. We mostly eat in silence, occasionally making halting, probably incomprehensible small talk with Magdalena. Our attention drifts out the window to a kestrel perched upon the crucifix that crowns the church belltower. The red paint of the cross does nothing to diminish the idea of this taloned sentinel spilling the blood of rodents brought back as offerings to god. But what god? Whose gods? 

Sangre de los ratones

As per protocol, Magdalena brings us two sandwiches which will be our sustenance during the daily exploration. Like two schoolboys off to the classroom, equipped with our brownbags, Magdalena, our madre whilst here, our madre still in some ways, booms after us BUEN VIAJE CHICOS as we depart for another day. Back out in the courtyard, a descending series of cries emanate from within the cathedral. Over and over, these plaintive calls repeat. Magdalena’s voice, elemental and grounding, mixes with the mind-splitting spiral singing of the canyon wren in the bell tower. It's vertiginous song, echoed and trapped within the tower, transports us back to the 17th century. To the building of the church-the blood and sweat of slave labor mixed with the mortar that holds these walls. Back further still, to when the rocks were stacked along the trails we've been walking these past days—rocks covered with millennial lichens, the craggy oaks above laden with epiphytes whose folds and fissures are ceaselessly interrogated by warblers and vireos. The imprisoned song gets compressed further and the mountains are leveled. We come to, back to the present. We look around, shaking off the shackles of time the wren has saddled us with. Now equipped with the knowledge that the current flora and fauna that surrounds us is only the latest incarnation in a series of living skins this range has adorned, we step into the future.  

Piel de las montañas 
And Magdalena. Somehow she has always been here.

Puerto Escondido
Two gringos walking the busy coastal highway, too cheap to rent a taxi, too dumb to understand the bus service in the area. No matter, the ditch birding is incredible and when coupled with the life-threatening danger of oncoming traffic, the experience is transcendent. The obscene conglomerate of feathers and pluck that is the white-throated magpie jay causes Felis to yell IS THAT A BIRD. Moments later, after a near decapitation from a passing trucks' side mirror, a foraging streak-backed oriole is found. THAT IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BIRD I'VE EVER SEEN I scream into the roar of traffic, my reasoning perhaps influenced by the recent near-death encounter. That said, it is certainly a bird to die for.

Awkwardly (everything we do in this country is awkward), we rent two kayaks and set out upon an estuary? Bay? River mouth? What is this big bodied brackish mirror we're floating on? We see a mangrove hawk we think, looks like a black hawk. Range/habitat seems right. Who knows. Who cares. Heat stroke squashes any sort of shit giving re: lumping/splitting/ID in general. A dragon descends and skims the surface, a frigatebird drinking. We nearly capsize. A bush in the middle of nowhere keeps producing boat-billed herons as we draw nearer. Like Mary Poppins' bottomless purse, the scene is positively impossible. They just keep coming, 5, 10, 20, clapping their massive bills at us, the racket shattering the serenity of this mysterious pond. The herons shit as they fly past us, their turds milking the still waters, the only clouds we see that day. 

Cold and pre-dawn, we bounce up a steep mountain road in the back of a camioneta. Two tall gringos, we don’t fit. Blood-pumping warmth begins to return as we climb stairs into high forests of abeto, pino, encino, oyamele at first light. We see a few monarch butterflies, but expected many more. Cold and tired, convinced we’ve been led into another gringo tourist trap, we glance at one another in dismay. We are impatient. We are American.
Then we look harder into the slowly-brightening understory, and we see. They hang from the trees like dead dusty leaves. Strings of mussels. The branches are laden. The branches are strained to breaking. The sun has risen high enough to bring some warmth. Some fluttering movement begins. Dozens of monarchs begin descending out of the trees, floating down towards food. For a moment, we think it’s a lot, we are impressed. We are winners.
But as the sun’s warmth grows ever stronger. They keep coming. They land on every surface. What was dozens is now thousands. Tens of thousands. Millions. Uncountable, all-encompassing. The sky is thick with gliding orange and black kites. The air is audibly moving from the push of their collective million wingbeats. A river of wind courses between the treetops. They land in mud and water to drink, wings twitching, like they are straining to take off and carry the earth back up into the sky with them. They mate, rolling circles in the air, the male carrying the female in coitus. They mate on the ground, rolling in the mud over the wings of their dead, recently dispatched by the red warblers that take only the heads and thorax. 

Flores para la vacia

Los arboles que estan hechos de mariposas
Suddenly and without notice, the day has passed and darkness nears. Eight hours dissolved into an infinitum of wingbeats. We descend from Monarch Mountain exhausted, emptied out. Gravity pulls us to our beds somewhere in the town below, miles away, hours away. The song of the brown-backed solitaire, atmospheric ice glitching and tumbling, drags up deeper into the valley. The ice bits rise and merge with the first burning stars above. 
The next morning, awake in a mountain town, a boozeless hangover, we lurk forth in search of cafe, pan and whatever else along the way. Miraculously the solitaire's song, still ringing in our heads from the night before, is heard from the middle of town. It is close. We follow the winding street to the headwaters of this ethereal ringing and find it. Caged and tailless, he is rendered comic and tragic without his beautiful rudder. The song fills the town and spills into the alley gardens, passes through the panaderia, the trashed choked streams and up into the groves of sleeping monarchs above.
Los ornitologos
If you haven't had enough of these frivolous tales of bumbling self-indulgence then continue on to our Palenque fiasco which was featured in an earlier episode of BB&B.  Vaya con pajaros - Cassowary


  1. vaya con aves, chicos. these stories leave a residue ob my brain that lasts for years, much like grease from a torta on your shirt, or cholla spines in your sandals. almost a year ago felis with the black velvet at swimming bear lake, felis is light and nimble, he is a great favorite, felis, dancing dancing, he says he will never die!

  2. If you want to see more photos of birds, I share you my blog.