Pattison on Wheels

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

2-27-08: Back To The Matrix

Up early, and had a visit from a young coyote right by my tent. Maybe this inter-species schmoozing is something that is going around. I ate breakfast, and paid for the adventure. Said goodbyes and hit the long dusty road. Strange, it seemed a lot worse coming here. I guess I was more nervous than I knew. Of course I had no idea what was around the next bend. En route I got an interesting shot of evaporating salt flats and made the trip to the motel in Mulege. I set up the computer and started to work. I’ve got to stop soon. I’m exhausted but I promised some photos to Jesus, my host at the camp. So that means I have to parse through possibly a thousand photos from the last few days. Very few were keepers. Not up to my usual percent at all. I think the emotional aspect of the whale encounters made me shoot frenetically and not carefully. Maybe. Anyway, some Flickr uploads, blog on, and then maybe a backup of the computer while I’m sleeping.

2-26-08: More!

We took an early boat ride. More whales. They came in close. We petted their surprisingly soft noses. We watched other people smile at the presence. I’m emotionally jarred by the contact with these marvelous animals. They bridge a gap with humans that the humans hardly seem worthy of. It is interesting that the mothers allow their young to check people out. What other wild animal takes that chance? And why only here in the lagoons and not outside in the ocean?

When we came back to camp I was tired. Tomorrow I will go back to Mulege and see what sort of photos I got. I don’t understand this experience and it will take time to even accept it. Beyond the beyond.

2-25-08: Attachment and Detachment

Way windy this morning and to some extent all day. Thus no boat trip. I took a long walk after 2 PM and sat a while near the water’s edge to see if any birds wanted their picture taken. There was a fish who jumped and jumped again in such a predictable way that I got several pictures of it. But mostly it was a day without much happening. I was thinking a little of the growing sense I have of the shape of the human condition. Being mammals we care. We have highly developed bonding abilities fitting for an animal who must spend years parenting to properly send some of our genetic stuff into the future.

All well and good and plenty of other animals have big old limbic systems to get all worked up over their family, troop, or tribe. The kicker for humans is that we stumbled on this trick of imagination that lets us build abstract models of our environment so we can simulate and problem solve without always having to learn the hard way. We have taken it so far that we actually experience life as if the simulation was life. Thus while we care tremendously we also have the ability to recognize that life ends and we must lose anything and everything we care about.

There is a terrible tension between our passionate desires on the one hand and our simultaneous deep ability to be aware that we must lose everything eventually. That, in a nutshell, is the trouble with consciousness.

The fact that we have walked this far through this invitation to despair is quite marvelous and deserves to be honored. Yes, there are many artifacts falling out of this tension. Some people choose to ease the stress by denial of caring and some by denial of dying, some both. We pursue our passions and drives as if there were no death or loss—even to the destruction of our own environmental support system. We pretend in a thousand ways that we won’t die. Nevertheless this condition is and will be visited on us as a species. We don’t want to address the deadly toxic growth of population because we don’t want our own imperative personal efforts at procreation restrained. Civilization becomes a vast study in delusional wish fulfillment.

Still, the clock is ticking and we have to watch the erosion of our dreams and the loss is built in no matter how long we deny it. So we will be aware. Increasingly aware. We will find a way to live with the dilemma because it is true and awareness of truth will win in the long run.

2-24-08: Wow!

Wow! Quite a day. I’ve been trying to capture photos of nature and wildlife for several years now and I always feel the tension of the animal’s aversion to my presence. I feel as if I mean well. So I experience an old feeling of being misunderstood when they won’t let me capture their full beauty. I take it personally. Today I got the fulfillment of the opposite experience.

After a nice breakfast served in the communal tent we set off for a bird-watching boat trip around a couple islands in the lagoon. They have a population of somewhere around a couple hundred nesting osprey on the two small islands. There is very little vegetation so the nests are on the ground or on the low cholla cacti. This works out because normally there are no predators. But Jesus, our guide, said that a couple years ago there was a particularly low tide and a couple coyotes made their way to the island. There was much discussion about what to do but they ended up by trapping the coyotes and taking them off the island. Think about it. If they left the coyotes there they would have decimated the osprey, heron, and other accessible nests and the coyotes would have increased their own population until there were no nests and a lot of starving coyotes. Eventually there would be none of either. So nobody wins in that scenario. Perhaps some of the coyotes would swim to the shore when they got desperate but that wouldn’t make the osprey et al situation any better. It seemed a good example to think about stewardship in general. The coyotes can’t think ahead to consider their actions. People can.

We had a lot of interesting bird watching including a good look at a peregrine falcon. I got some decent photos of fun birds and we went back to the camp. Fairly quickly we were off on another boat to visit the whales. I had heard about people getting quite close or even petting the whales here but I always thought of it as somewhat rude. I learned that the whales are almost completely in charge of the situation here. It goes like this: the boat full of whale-watchers cruises around until it sees a whale fairly close. Then the boat slows way down and just kind of waits around to see if the whale wants to engage. Some do and most don’t. There are whales all around. As many as 200 in the lagoon at the peak of the season. You see them spouting and spy hopping and rolling and feeding at almost any time in any direction. There is only one section of the Lagoon that is not off limits to boats, so if the whales want privacy they have plenty.

It was nearly an hour boat trip from the Pachico camp to the area. We saw other camps along the way. Some looked quite high rent with rows of large tents. The ecotour companies on this lagoon have taxed themselves to set up an oversight chief who sees to it that there are no more than sixteen boats in the whale watching area at any one time. So they have developed a kind of shift system and we checked in by radio as we came into the area.

I was thrilled to be in the presence of the whales and a bit puzzled by the way the guide and the driver were so uninterested in all the sightings I was reporting. I was soon to find out. Then we saw a mother and her baby come very close to one of the boats. We started moving in that direction but another boat went in close and Jesus said he wouldn't go if there were already two boats there. He said he thought it was disrespectful to the animals. So we puttered around for a while and we found a single boat that was getting some whale attention. Oh . . . my . . . god! They come right up to the boat. They have perfect control of their position and will gently nudge the boat or not but their interest is in the people. It seems to be the babies who like to investigate the humans and momma mostly just stays very close. Forty feet long and very close. They are all somewhat different in the interactions. Jesus felt that one encounter was with a fairly young baby who hadn’t yet had much experience with boats because it was rolling a lot. One mother had a little too much tail action for his taste so we left that pair and found others. They call them “friendlies.” And that they are. It is clearly their choice. They have perfect control of their position relative to the boat. They come within inches of the outboard motor prop and know exactly what they are doing. They can choose to leave any time and do. They seem to respond to people signaling invitation to them by splashing water toward their first approaches. Then they come up for petting and poke their heads out of the water next to the boat. Jesus gave one baby a big kiss on the mouth.

I broke my previous days record for number of photos with 650.

2-23-08: San Ignacio

I got my last hit of the Internet using it via Skype to make some phone calls, said goodbyes to the nice people a the motel and went in to Mulege to get a couple things and hit the road. The trip was uneventful except in my mind. I was stopped for quite a while at a military road block. Those guys look intimidating. They wear knit covering over their faces so you just see the eyes. The soldier who was talking to the motorists wore a black ski hood with eye holes. It looked more like a holdup than a checkpoint. I got scared thinking this was it—they were going to ask for my tourist card and it was all over. I felt the fear and my trusty inner witness laughed a little. It had a fleeting recognition of the difference between my fear and the bravado I would claim about being ready to die. “I’ve had good long life” I’ve heard myself say. When I finally got to the check point they had pulled a big truck over and the soldiers were in the trailer inspecting the cargo. The guy took one look at me and waved me on saying in English: “Go. Go.”

I got to the turnoff for San Ignacio and wandered through the town looking for the road to the lagoon. I finally found it and it was paved. I was expecting a road that would be impassible for my little car but thought I should at least take a look. Well, it was paved for the first five miles. Hard packed, oiled gravel for the next five miles. Rough assed rocks for the next twenty five miles. I made it though by driving very slowly with air conditioning and loud jazz on the car stereo.

The landscape was weird. Very arid and sandy with a few cactus plants here and there and an excess of rocks. The lagoon finally came into view on the right but there was a lot of flat sand out there as well. I had no idea what I would find. The camping guide had no information except that you could get tours from town. There were some guys playing soccer at a fish camp and they were speaking English so I asked them what I needed to know to stay out here. They said they were camped at Pachico’s and they had gone whale watching and it was excellent.

I pulled into Pachico’s and met Jesus who was very personable and spoke perfect English. What a great scene! They are very ecologically sensitive and pitch tents for the season and have a designated parking area. Great food, a lecture from a professor of archeology, an absolutely gorgeous sunset that lasted for well over an hour, nice guests from Germany, Denmark, Mexico City, and Los Angeles. I’m booked for the tent site this night, breakfast in the morning, then a bird-watching trip to Isla de los Pelicanos which is said to have the highest density of Ospreys anywhere, and then for a three hour whale-watching boat trip.