Baja

     Going to my salsa class on Sunday night, in the shadow of the San Gabriel mountain range, I was walking east from my parking spot and looking over my left shoulder which was southwards, to see the tail end of the day.
     A few low, small clouds were drifting in a sky of celestial light-blue descending into orange. “It’s breaking up,” I said, convincing myself that the week of rainstorms was over.
     I think I knew better than to look over my right shoulder.
     But finally I did. There was 180 degrees of a black so deep and velvet in its absolute opaqueness that, like a black hole, no light would ever shine through, celestial or otherwise.
     It was another monster storm, gathered already on this side of the range, already down onto the foothills, massed and about to jump over the little salsa club. And send slamming down onto the earth another torrential rain.
     No, it was not breaking up. Not at all. It was in full strength.
     Growing up camping in Baja, often for weeks at a time, I have seen the grim force and the astonishing beauty of the weather. We regularly drove through a desert valley down to San Carlos, a lobster and fishing village on the Pacific coast, isolated by a long stretch of rough, dirt road.
     On one trip, we were camped in that valley, setting up tents, when I saw a small, dense black cloud coming in off the ocean and up the valley. It wasn’t fluffy, more like an ink blot.
     It looked familiar and I told the kids we needed to pick up the pace.
     Within 20 minutes, with the tents more or less in place, the wind started to whip around violently. The sky grew completely dark, then a few fat drops of rain and then it seemed like an extraordinarily big bucket of water was simply being dumped on us.
     Another 20 minutes, and the sky was clear. The stars were out. That little cloud, so full of energy, was sailing on up over the end of the valley and onto the vast plateau inland.
     On another night, I got up in the middle of the night and walked a few yards to the beach. A brilliant full moon was out. And while the vast ocean itself was calm and black, the current in close to shore was picking up the full brilliance of the moonlight.
     It was a performance by the sea that I will never forget. The form of the shimmering blanket of white light kept changing, as the current combined with small waves to send the light zipping along a line of collapsing wave and then swirling across and out into the bay, then pulsing back in towards shore, like a million magic beads, or a giant cell of sparkles that kept bending its form. The water was changing direction and shape so quickly in the brilliant moonlight that it was as though the water was alive.
     Man, on the other hand, did not count for much in this land.
     On the other side of the plateau next to where we camped were the abandoned remains of three or four fisherman shacks, built from slats of cactus with tarpaper roofs. About thirty yards in front of them, solitary in the hardened dirt and sand, was a tiny pile of rocks in the rough oblong shape of a child’s dimensions, with a weathered, wooden cross at the head of it.
     I haven’t been camping in Baja for a few years. My dad was the head camper and he is gone. And Mexico has changed.
But the land of Baja I’m sure has not. And it seems to have sent some of its dramatic weather – brought on by the clash of cold ocean and hot desert air – up north to us in California.
     Which is fine by me. I revel in nature’s outbursts. Nor sure exactly why. Maybe because it helps to humble us all.
I walk in the storm to work, enjoy swimming in the rain and play soccer in the mud and the wet. Then feel elated in the beautiful days that follow.
     I swear, when were camping in Mexico, the birds and the fish were happy after a storm was over. Porpoises arced across the green-blue water in front of our camping spot and the pelicans were out in grand numbers gliding just above the waves, the earth was having a party.
     As I write, the clean, pure blue of the sky just before sunset has returned. Over left and right shoulders this time, all around.
     But I hear another round of storms is coming – the deluge once more – to last through the weekend.

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