Feeling at home in Mexico, finally

My husband Stew, who has a much better memory that I for dates and anniversaries, reminded me yesterday that 15 years ago, sometime during the first few days of November, we moved to Mexico from Chicago. 

I do vividly remember our VW Passat station wagon, jam-packed with what we thought were essential belongings, some absurd, such as Chicago-grade winter coats, some indispensable—our two cats and midsize mutt named Pooch. Cars passing us on the highway must have thought they’d just seen a remake of the “The Beverly Hillbillies” or the “Grapes of Wrath.”

Some expats claim they landed in Mexico and never looked back. Not us: Getting used to life in Mexico has been a bumpy ride, particularly the first year, and also during the last two years, during which we were mired in a nasty land dispute that sapped much of our patience and good will, along with a good chunk of money. Often, we seriously toyed with the notion of returning to the U.S.

Here will come the sun, eventually.

Now I’m glad we stayed, particularly when I take my first walk in the morning, and the beauty of our ranch and the surrounding mountains evoke the “Morning Mood” passage from Grieg’s familiar “Peer Gynt Suite,” at least until my five dogs chase after me barking and howling, demanding food. 

Fall mornings are almost narcotic, because the sun is barely coming up, sometimes battling a dense fog that blurs all but the closest trees. Too early for the birds to chirp or the wind to stir, it’s a perfectly still tableau. 

This time of year, cobwebs pop up everywhere, sometimes their threads reaching out to branches three, four feet or more away. How they manage these feats of engineering or acrobatics is a mystery to me, but there they are, dozens and dozens of them enveloping trees and bushes with veils so delicate they vanish when the sun comes up, only to reappear the next morning. Talk about a Sisyphean labor. 

Somewhere during the winter, spiders disappear but apparently leave strategically placed eggs to launch their bug-catching work next year. 

All in a day’s work.

Closer at hand is all the work the ranch demands: Vegetable beds, planting trees, and spraying insecticide to control the waves grasshoppers, seemingly more numerous and destructive each year, reminiscent of the Book of Exodus.  

Twice a year, there’s also the chore of getting the beehives up and running, and in the fall, collecting the honey. After a disappointing harvest last year, Félix and Stew predict bumper crop this year. On Monday they will disassemble the hives and run the honey-laden panels through a hand-cranked centrifuge. The buckets of honey will then have to be transferred to jars and bottles for sale: A hell of a lot of work for no profit for us, because Félix keeps most of the money.  

In this year of the pandemic, all this work has become a blessing, by keeping us busy and distracted. Judging from the sharply higher flow of emails, Instagram and Facebook postings in my inbox daily, I sense many of my friends may be bored stiff during this period of enforced confinement. (Though I confess a lot of the jokes I get are really knee-slappers.)

However, the lockdown and daily Covid-related restrictions have the same drip-drip effect on our minds as in other places around the world: No travel, not even to Mexico City; gatherings limited to four or five friends and then at restaurants with outdoor seating; the constant reminder of the ongoing “contingency,” as the pandemic is called in Mexico; the taking face masks on and off; washing of hands at every turn; watching way too many two-star movies on Netflix as an escape. Some friends we haven’t seen since March, as they refuse to even leave their homes.

My brief morning walks, though, reinforce a feeling of gratitude that Stew and I somehow landed in such a beautiful place during this thoroughly stressful year. 

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