Sunday, February 16, 2014

My Sister's Guest Blog

This week I am pleased to offer you, my dedicated Readers, an alternate view of where I live.  Currently my Sister and Brother-in-Law are staying with me and I have asked Janice to write a Guest Blog while she is here.  Now this is not her first visit to Loreto, nor her first contribution to this Blog (she added some perspective to a posting during her last visit here at Christmas a year ago ", but her involvement with the Blog goes beyond that, for each of the past five years I have been writing this she has presented me with a hard copy transcript of each Season of Living Loreto, complete with edited pictures from the postings recomposed for the page.  Needless to say this publishing effort of hers has involved a considerable amount of time and effort and it has been most appreciated by me and so it seems only appropriate for her to have a turn.  I will also hasten to add, any writing skills I may have I come by legitimately - both Janice and I thank our Father for passing on a love of words and composition.  I hope you enjoy . . .  

Trite to say, but what strikes me as most exciting about a holiday here in Loreto Bay are the routine and trivial details of this alternate lifestyle. Details that, apparently, are so much a part of the pattern of life here that the long-term Loretanos seem hardly to notice or celebrate them anymore. But the very simplicity of these elements stirs a stronger response than the more exotic tourist attractions available, for me. I would hate to lose my enthusiasm for this gentle charm.

The heat, of course. Chilled bone-deep by the past months of winter, with vividly unpleasant memories of the six day ice-storm, the sub-zero temperatures (that’s sub-zero Celsius, mind!), topped off with the remains of a miserable cold too recent to forget, I sit on the rooftop terrace and wallow in the heat baking into every cell of my aching body – muscles I had forgotten I owned finally relaxing in tentative gratification, the dull throb of arthritis seeping out of my fingers and arms. I felt nourished by the heat, soaking up the sun’s rays greedily, even as I feel my winter-white face tightening and flushing under the impact of the intense sunlight.

Simply to sit and absorb this bounty of warmth, hesitant to move in case I find myself suddenly back in the cold again – how can this heat become commonplace, too familiar to occasion any comment?

Even still, days later, I am still inwardly chilled, my long trousers and shirt branding me newly-arrived among the locals in their shorts and tees. Simple logic would have the natives more sensitive to the slight temperature variation, bundling warmly when the air drops by a degree or two. But instead, it is we incomers who are suddenly shivering as the soft breeze asserts itself and the shadows fall chilly at the end of the afternoon.
In the morning, I waken to the sight of blue sky and sun, the vivid greens and stunning primary colors of the flowers and the knowledge that for another day I will be immersed in heat and color and light – every day another vibrant gift!

Another great pleasure I anticipate as a component of my holiday here is the gift of total relaxation – peacefully sitting. Just sitting, chore-free, guilt-free, with no deadlines, appointments, reminders, routines or the interruption of phone calls. To sit with a book or a tangle of knitting, to nod off in the warmth, to migrate to the dappled shade, and then back again into the sun. The tranquility of silent, empty space in my usually cluttered mind.

Somehow, back at home, there is always something nagging at the edge of my attention, no matter how justified a quiet moment may be. There is never really time off there. From my rooftop vantage point here, I can see people busily on their way up and down the inviting pathways, intent on their destinations, some on mobile phones, some striding briskly along, others silently sweeping past on golf carts – but busy. Perhaps not as busy as the population of the city streets I am familiar with, but still with that appearance of business, seeming an anomaly in this tranquil oasis!

For me, there is no busyness at all! Serious relaxation is my holiday goal.  There is no compulsion to spring out of bed in the morning on this holiday. Instead, one can watch the rising sun painting colour into the landscape, listen to the muted rush of the surf if it is calm, or the rattle of palm fronds if there is a breeze, and wait for the day to reveal itself. The morning is enlivened with the darting and chirping of dozens of brilliant little finches – ruby and golden breasts flashing as they dart and twitter among the trees in the early morning light, like handfuls of colored popcorn tossed into the air.

This morning I woke to watch our little community of emerald green hummingbirds embarking on their mysterious daily endeavors. One by one they emerge from the shadowy depths of the tree in the courtyard, perch for a moment, mimicking plump green buds incongruously materializing on the spiky blades of a potted palm. Thoughtfully assessing the day, they sit motionless, absorbing the angled rays of the rising sun, and then suddenly they dart away, buzzing off vertically like little seahorses across the perfectly crayon-blue sky. As soon as one flies off, another takes his place.

First stop seems to be the glorious tumble of ruby bougainvillea blanketing the white wall of the rooftop – and then away into the open sky until sunset, when they began to return, one by one, peeping excitedly to each another as they buzz into the sanctuary of their treetop neighborhood like little homing drones.

And there is even a resident household bird! A bird by choice, not in a cage; not captive, but living free to come and go, perhaps nesting in the palm tree in the side garden, or perhaps with his own, larger accommodation in the shared courtyard tree with the humming birds - a glorious, robust, marigold-coloured oriole who flits and dives among the bright leaves in the early morning and then disappears until twilight. His piercing, liquid whistle punctuates the day around the casa, but the best comes at the last.

When the sun finally tucks itself behind the buildings, and the courtyard is dark except for the glow of the lanterns, he comes to rest in the tree, and sings – sings for a full half hour, a liquid cascade of vibrant, thrilling harmony pouring up and over the walls, into the warm and fragrant kitchen inside, and across the now-silent pathways outside the courtyard walls.  Every evening.  On and on and on … “The lark ascending” pales to insignificance against this vitality, and I am drawn out into the darkness to share in the moment.

Coming from a climate which predicates a defense against brutal cold for far too much of the year, I am most familiar with houses built of substantial red brick or heavy wood; those few communities that incongruously mimic the south-western palette with their pale taupe and grey siding look bleached and insubstantial in the flat northern light. Against the monochrome winter landscape, dark colours and low, dense structures promise warmth and safety. But here, the extravagance of pastel candy-coloured stucco, the gracefully arched and pillared courtyards and windows feeds an appetite for colour and luminance, promising a climate where one can finally relax and thrive, rather than just struggle to survive.

And during the heat of the day, up and down the pathways between the houses and the gardens I walk – savoring the joy of walking on the flat paving stones, without the ridged snow or the hidden treachery of icy ruts that I have had to become accustomed to there, free to stride out and feel the ground secure beneath my feet.

Walk on the sunny side, and feel the heat deep in your back and against your limbs, so different than the bite of the cold.  Walk in the shade, and feel the air still warm against your face, the intense contrast between dark, cool shade and hot white light, knife-edged across the pale stones.

But more than the sunlight and shadow, the immaculate setting captures my attention. The curving doorstep gardens and flourishing boulevard plantings unfurl beside the pavement, no two repeating the colors or specimens of another, and each tied subtly to the tone of the buildings beside it. Hot magenta and scarlet bougainvillea vie for attention against sienna-toned stucco, pale pink and white lilies nestle demure against a shell-toned wall, whimsical little tufted balls of cactus are tucked in beside the miniature and polished lamp posts, and everywhere, lava-rock pebbles border the soil with their multi-hued accents. Like sand paintings, the arcs and swirls of rock fill the empty ground, here bordered with black and filled with sparkling white, there a creamy edging holds rough red stone, there smooth, pale grey pebbles are framed with ochre chips. Somehow these creative embellishments blend with the colour of the flowers rising from among them, the visual harmony flowing unbroken through the community. I am reminded that genius is the capacity for infinite attention to detail – how I would love to explore this landscape with the mind that imagined such components, here on the edge of the desert.

 And where the soil itself is bare, the delicate lines of the small-tined rakes and the soft brush-strokes of the brooms decorate the surface of each area, showing where patient gardeners have raked away the fallen leaves and blossoms. By day, the workers tend these little gardens patiently, their compact trucks piled with the debris they have harvested. Not a cigarette stub, not a scrap of paper, not a dead leaf, remains behind them; they leave only those Zen-like whorls and spirals in the damp soil, inviting contemplation.

At the end of the day, the expanse of ink-black sky is lit with more stars than I have ever seen before in my life – a swath of the Milky Way flowing like froth across the sky, and the moon shining ice-blue on the rooftop terrace where I spent the afternoon dazed with sun. Rattle of the wooden slats in the evening breeze – looking out, serene, without concern, on the isolated roofs in the darkness – fear no evil.

Truly, “Living Loreto” is a soul-renewing experience to cherish!