For this California girl who had been afraid of the tiniest spider-less web in the corner of her bedroom when growing up, this was reality TV its best. Or worst. Depends on how you look at it – after the fact.
In retrospect, it was a challenge eventually met with good results. I became close to fearless in the face of new challenges after that. Life continued to give me surprises but I learned to take them in stride, no matter how unexpected or frightening. What else can you do? If you can’t change it, face it! I felt that I had finally made it as a fearless resident of the sub-tropics when we came home once after a week visiting out of town relatives, to a house that had been taken over by ants. Every inch of the concrete floor was swarming with them. They were not imposing as ants go – neither the big black “meat eaters” that lived in the ruins behind us, nor the huge red “plant cutters” that enjoyed the abundant foliage around the house. These were tiny and nonthreatening. But how do we get in the house? We just go in! And so we did. For a couple of hours, we stepped on the ants as we went from room to room. They seemed completely uninterested in us as they continued their ant convention. After a couple of hours, they had formed into a dozen or more tidy rows, crisscrossing each other, leaving open spaces where we could walk between them. By morning, they had all marched off and the house was ours again. They didn’t eat a thing, or bite one single toe while they were there. Polite visitors if you ask me. It took some tiny ants to teach me a big lesson: fear and denial don’t work. Life is manageable when you face it head on.
It was a huge challenge to learn to live at the ranch, but the house was in as gorgeous a setting as you can imagine! What else might you expect from a place chosen by an ancient civilization for sacred ceremonies? Many a morning we would wake up to sunshine and look out over nothing but fluffy white clouds covering everything in sight around our hilltop perch. It was like living in the sky at the top of Jack’s beanstalk – an enchanted setting! During the course of the morning, the clouds would slowly ease away, leaving a view of cattle grazing outside the fence and of lush green hills marching into the distance. You would hear a few soft chirpings and suddenly the air would be filled with the sound of thousands of cicadas raising their voices in loud chorus. After a few minutes, the cicadas would stop, and the silence would become almost palpable. The alternating chorus of song, always starting with a few chirps and crescendoing into a deafening chorus, and the ensuing silence would be repeated all through the day. Occasionally a whole flock of parakeets would fly past –bright green and yellow flashes of light winging their way through to the forest behind us.
Going to town for groceries each week was an experience. We horse-backed down to the highway and waited for the country bus that would take us to town. To bus any distance at all in Mexico between pueblos way out in the boonies is to really get to know the people up close and personal. Amidst a cacophony of cackling chickens, crying babies and an over-stocked bus of people all talking at once, you couldn’t help feeling “accepted”. Everyone was so close! The enticing aroma of newly-roasted coffee and fresh oranges fought to overcome the smell of acrid sweat from ranch hands after a day’s work shoveling stinky feedlot mixture to the cattle. Many a time, I would find a wet-diapered baby sitting on my shoulder, hanging from the arm of its mother, while she tried to keep her balance in the packed center aisle, as the bus careened around the bends of the long country road. If I tried to get up to give Mother my seat, I would be refused energetically. The “White Lady” would have sitting privileges. I didn’t think this was fair, but I never could overcome this unspoken rule, and getting up with any conviction into the over-crowed aisle was out of the question.
After a few hours in town, we would take our raffia-tied boxes of groceries and other purchases back to the bus station and wait for our bus to fill to the rafters before leaving on the return trip. Once back at the ranch, we would tie the boxes on either side of the saddles, and horse-back up to the house again. Sometimes, instead of the horses, we would take the tractor. With the boxes secured and the two kids and I hanging onto any available handhold on the tractor, my husband would drive us up the road-less hill, which in some places was so steep I was sure that at any moment we were going to topple over sideways and roll back down again.
There were challenges, yes, but memories that I will always treasure. One New Year’s Eve, after celebrating with friends on their ranch, we returned home about 2:00 in the morning and saddled up the horses to climb the hill. The night sky harbored no moon, but all the stars in Heaven were at their best that night. The night was still and so dark that we couldn’t see the ground as the horses slowly made their way, the sound of their hooves knocking aside small stones and gravel at each step. The kids were asleep in front of us in the saddles as we wound up the hill. I kept my initial fear to myself as we started out. This was the first time we had ever returned to the house at night, and the uphill trip wasn’t exactly a piece of cake, even in the daytime. What night-time tropical insects would attach themselves to us unexpectedly? What coral snake surprised by a horse’s hoof would rise up to strike? And how would the horses know where to step on the steep incline in the pitch dark? Trust is the answer. Unable to do more than go with the flow, I settled back in the saddle in acceptance and was soon envisioning the voyage of the Three Kings on their way to visit the Christ Child. With no one but God and the great sky above, the sweet touch of balmy breezes and trust in a good horse, that star-studded peaceful night filled my soul to overflowing. The half hour trek up the hill was nothing less than awe-inspiring.
Beautiful surroundings, breathtaking views and the sounds of nature un-sullied by the city noises of honking horns and crowds of people – this was a corner of Paradise Lost, and the paradise was not lost on me. Leaving the ranch was one of the hardest departures I’ve ever known.