Hurricane Odile


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

This morning we learn a hurricane is coming—Odile. A category 4, with 125 mile an hour winds, which would be the most ferocious hurricane of recorded history to hit this peninsula.  It is expected to be a direct hit. It is supposed to come in the evening, but it could arrive earlier—so we work as quickly as we can. We spend the day of Sunday preparing for our imaginings of its wrath.


In our unfinished brick bedroom building, Lucas takes cracked plywood boards (which had been left over from the building materials that Marcos and he used to build our houses)—and nais them to cover the two glass windows of the bedroom building. He nails a large piece of plywood to the front door which previously was used to block the space between the bathroom and our unfinished bedroom. He tapes x’s onto the windows with blue masking tape. He finally gets around to inserting the glass piece that had been missing from my unfinished design nest window into its gold painted frame. Lucas piles up every waterproof plastic case (filled with my vast collection of thrift store clothes) to prevent the french glass door from blowing in. Next, he inserts bricks (we have many left over from the construction of our bedroom building) into the window openings to prevent water from completely flooding the building. We take everything we can off the floor—piling our clothes and other items on top of vintage metal lockers, hampers, and tables. 

In the main house, we sweep the floors in order avoid unnecessary mud, cover our bookshelves, chairs, and musical instruments (mostly in cases) in plastic tarps. As news of Odile’s intensity progresses, our plans of where we are going to sleep change—our first plan is to start in the bedroom, and then if it gets too wet in there, we can retreat to the bodega. We soon realize that we would be better off in the bodega—which still leaks badly—but it had the fewest openings of all our spaces, and a cement roof. We know from previous rainstorms that the roof leaks, so Lucas ingeniously rigs up (as is his specialty) a sleeping space in the disorganized, overcrowded bodega, which begins with a platform of stainless steel metro shelves (wire racks) to keep us above the water line. He piles our tumbling mat on top of that. Then he resurrects what we had deemed an usable two person tent, which had bent poles (due to rowdy play by Emilio and and his friends), knowing, that even in its broken state, it is our best option to protect us from unwanted bugs and errant raindrops coming throughout the ceiling or front door. For a mattress, he takes what had previously served as our couch cushion (originally taken from an old camper.) After Lucas sets up our sleeping arrangements we feel a little more relaxed. Knowing that if worse comes to worse—which in our minds is the complete destruction of our palapa roof. (A palapa is a roof made entirely of dried palm fronds, woven tightly together over wooden beams. No metal is used in their construction.) We had before experienced a partial roof blow off in our first Baja hurricaneJimena in 2009—a few weeks after baby Emilio was born. Our other very likely to happen fear is that our bedroom building will be completely flooded—as it had during Juliette last summer. The water had literally poured through the wall of bricks. Juliette had taken us by surprise—a tropical storm with 50 mile an hour winds.

Other preparations include shopping for extra water, gas (for the generator) and food (including candy bars, Special K, and beer to keep up the morale of the troops), filling the above the roof water tanks with water (both to ensure that we have extra water in case we need it, and that the tanks will be sufficiently weighed down as to not blow off the roof), cleaning the kitchen, making sandwiches for dinner in case cooking will not be possible, charging laptops and batteries for headlamps and flashlights, filtering extra drinking water, creating a water proof case of emergency provisions, and letting Emilio watch videos all day so as to occupy him while we focus on our tasks and so that he is in good spirits—which he absolutely is. “I love this day!” he exclaims regularly. As we prepare, we have visions of Cabo being covered by water—and us being roofless, stuck for days—all of our stuff wet and/or blown around the valley. We think it’s possible that this storm will change our lives forever. We don’t fear for our lives, but we are concerned about the amount of damage done to our our community. We know that if Cabo goes down, and our local towns flood and suffer major damages, the economy of this place will be majorly altered. Lucas will have to alter how he makes his living, which is primarily as a photographer in Cabo. We also know that the local palaperos (builders who specialize in making palapas) will be busy for months.

Storm Progresses, we lose connectivity

We have disastrous images in our minds while we do all we can to ensure our safety, comfort, and the protection of our stuff—but the truth is: we really have no idea how the hurricane will affect us, and when exactly it will hit. And that, is, by far, the worst part. The unknown fills us with a steady stream of adrenaline through the day. Lucas constantly checks our hopelessly slow internet connection in hope of weather updates—knowing somewhere inside that these updates don’t really offer much as there is nothing left for us to do except await mother’s nature’s wrath, but still, for him, it assuaged the unnerving feeling of having no information. We know it is only a matter of hours before our cell phone and internet service will be out—they both come from the same source—a TelCel tower a hundred kilometers away on top of a hill, which we can see in clear view from our house.  Whether or not we will continue to have electricity was not clear. We are now fully on solar power, and have a back up generator. But, our solar panels are on the roof our bodega—which is attached to our main building. They are securely wired down, but you never know.

The day is over, and evening has arrived. We have lost connectivity. The immediate order at hand is to eat our sandwich dinner, and get Mio to bed safely in the tent before the Odile hits. It is already raining and storming, but we know it will get worse. Much worse. We know that if Emilio falls asleep before the hurricane hits, which is supposed to be at about midnight, he will sleep through it as he had with Jimena & Juliette. Lucas has made the tent space nice and cozy, and after a bedtime book, Mio has no trouble falling asleep. I lay awake for a while in the tent—listening to the storm trying to knock its way through the metal doors of the bodega. I can hear Lucas pointlessly mopping—pointlessly trying to keep the tile floor of the living room dry. I join in him in the living room—and tell him he might as well let the water come now, we can clean it up when the storm is over. He feels he must do the mopping—as it is all he can do, and it comforts him to do something. I decide it’s time to drink some alcohol to calm my nerves. Lucas has a bottle of Sambuco, a liqueur of licorice. I drink as much as I can until the jangle is gone from my nerves. Lucas and I sit there chatting, with a jokey, we’ve done the best we can to prepare, but we’re still terrified spirit. There is something about that feeling of surrender—when you know you’ve done all you can, and the rest is beyond your control that is both comforting and humbling. It reminds you how human you are, and therefore how small and inconsequential, when faced with the momentum-building fury of mother nature on its way over to visit.

Retreating for the night

At around eleven I convince Lucas of the futility of mopping and persuade him to come to bed— we can try to get a little sleep before the really loud sounds come. We retreat into the tent, inside the bodega, which is not exactly dry—but it is the driest spot there is. I charged my iPod earlier, knowing it would be an invaluable mind distraction and sound blocker. Intuitively, I know my job is to be calm and optimistic. Lucas comes up with his own method of blocking out the sound—squeezing a pillow tightly over each ear. Mio continues to sleep soundly. His comfort is a comfort to us. 

The sounds we have been expecting come—bone chilling, earth-trembling, god-fearing sounds. We know where they came from—-it’s the metal roof getting torn off the part of our main house that is not covered in palapa. It comes off in pieces—every hour we hear another piece tear off. We imagine it smashing everything in its path, including our cars. I continue to listen to my ipod—first I listen to the last music practice session with Lucas, then I listen to an hour of solo practice from a few days earlier (after a kundalini class my voice was particularly resonant and confident) and perceive this practice as a voice breakthrough. This kind of listening gives me solace while the wind wrecks havoc on our homemade home still in process. Then I listen to a most inspiring podcast—a TED talk by the monk David Steindl-Rast. He communicates simply, eloquently, with great compassion the simple fact that gratitude creates happiness and precisely how this works. Here is a chunk of what he says: “We experience something that’s valuable to us. Something given to us that’s valuable to us… These two things have to come together. It has to be something valuable, and it’s a real gift—you haven’t bought it, you haven’t earned it, you haven’t traded it in and had to work for it, it’s just given to you and when these two things come together… then gratefulness spontaneously rises in my heart, happiness spontaneously rises in my heart. That’s how gratefulness happens. Now the key to all this is that we cannot only experience this once in a while, we can not only have grateful experiences, we can be people who live gratefully. Grateful living—that is the thing. And how it can be lived gratefully is by experiencing, by becoming aware that every moment is a given moment as we say. It’s a gift!  We haven’t earned it, you haven’t brought it about in any way… you have no way of assuring that there will be another moment given to you. And yet, that’s the most valuable thing that can ever be given to us. This moment with all the opportunity that it contains, if we didn’t have this present moment, we wouldn’t have any opportunity to do anything or experience anything, and this moment is a gift… What you’re really grateful for is the opportunity, not the thing that is given to you because if that thing were somewhere else and you didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy, to do something with it, you wouldn’t be grateful for it. Opportunity is the gift within every gift. And we have this saying “opportunity knocks only once”, well think again. Every moment is a new gift! Over and over again. And if you miss the opportunity of this moment, another moment is given to us, and another moment. We can avail ourselves of this opportunity or we can miss it. And if we avail ourselves of this opportunity it is the key to happiness. We hold the master key to our happiness in our own hands. Moment by moment we can be grateful for this gift. Does that mean that we can be grateful for everything? Certainly not… we cannot be grateful for violence, for war, for oppression, for exploitation. On the personal level, we cannot be grateful for the loss of a friend, for unfaithfulness, for bereavement, but I didn’t say we could be grateful for everything, I said we can be grateful in every given moment for the opportunity. And even when we are confronted with something that is terribly difficult, we can rise to this occasion and respond to the opportunity that is given to us. It isn’t as bad  as it might seem. Actually, when you look at it, and experience it, you find that most of the time what is given to us is opportunity to enjoy and we only miss it because we are rushing through life and we are not stopping to see the opportunity. But once in a while, something very difficult is given to us and when this difficult thing occurs to us, it’s a challenge to rise to that opportunity and we can rise to it by learning something which is sometimes painful. Learning patience for instance. We have been told that the road to peace is not a sprint, but it’s more like a marathon and that takes patience, that’s difficult. It may be to stand up for your opinion, to stand up for your conviction. That’s an opportunity that is given us. To learn, to suffer, to stand up. All these opportunities are given to us, but they are opportunities and those who avail themselves of those opportunities are the ones we admire. They make something out of life. And those who fail get another opportunity. We always get another opportunity. That’s the wonderful richness of life.”

Listening to his words as the hurricane rages outside is life-affirming. No matter what the destruction that we will discover the next morning—we will have the opportunity to continue to live, we will have a chance to re-create our life how we need it to be. It will be difficult, and it will be messy—but we will still be grateful for what we have. We will survive and we will continue to appreciate the life we have built, and the fact that we are still a family in tact. There is nothing like outside threats to strengthen the bonds of a family or community—as long as we are grateful. We were bonded together in our tent, and Ping—who is the most nervous dog I have ever known—-is huddled against my body, on the outside of the tent. I can feel his shaking through the thin nylon. We had to lock Ping inside the whole day to assure he would not run away out of fear. His response to danger is flight. He hears loud noise and his legs just start running. No part of his mammalian brain is available to him. He had previously escaped a few times during this especially stormy summer on the days we left him at the property and surprise thunderstorms came.

A New Day—counting our losses

The storm rages all night long and through out the morning. Between the two of us Lucas and I sleep about an hour. Emilio sleeps until morning. Bless that little sleeper. Early in the morning, Emilio and I wake up and unzip the damp tent—we step through the flooded floor of the bodega into the main house. Odile is still expressing himself—wind and water blowing around—but less so. Everything is a wet mess of water, dirt and leaves, but the palapa roof, made with not one nail or screw, is miraculously still there. It is roughed up, and there are holes in it, but it covers us. All of our windows are in tact. We step outside—the vision breaks my heart. The only thing I have not previously imagined is how the plants would fare. I am not prepared for what I see. The circle of trees is mostly flattened. Our beautiful Neems (the only trees on our property that we have planted that are now almost mature) have all their leaves blown off—they are all more or less sideways. Our three Terote trees—the three naturally standing trees that Lucas built the brick bedroom building around— are badly damaged—limbs have been torn off—even the bark itself is stripped bare in places. The wood that Lucas nailed to protect the windows has been pulled off. We see pieces of roof from four different roofs scattered all over the land. The rainproof plastic roof over the kitchen is completely gone—there is still the lower layer of plywood covering it—with the inner layer of plaster falling down in chunks all over the kitchen. The metal roof (photo or link to previous post) over the art camper is missing except one piece. Now here is the real miracle—the camper is almost completely dry—except for one small puddle on one of the counters. We had thought the camper to be not at all waterproof which was why Lucas had scrambled before Juliette to build a waterproof roof over it. All of my precious art supplies and art work and books are not damaged! I continue to have a real respite in my camper. My beloved garden that I had planted next to the camper is quite damaged. Most of the leaves were blown off, the plants have been knocked down or repositioned at deep angles—but on close inspection, I see that they remain rooted. A blessing! I lament them anyway as is my tendency when there is any sign of losing greenness in our desert dwelling. It takes so much effort to keep a plant thriving when we do not have an irrigation system, and the summer can be so hot when there’s no storm. The rainstorms all summer have been good for the plants—and now all of that growing green has been stripped out. The paint on Lucas’ truck was also been stripped off in sections—as was the paint (applied only one year ago) of parts of our house—literally sandblasted off. 


The two water tanks that Lucas filled yesterday, which provide the main source of house water (using a gas generator we pump the water from our large water tanks at the bottom of our property into the two tanks above our house that through pressure of gravity, provide our sink water and toilet water for flushing) have been knocked off the roof. One is beyond repair, and one may still be usable. Lucas realizes that the connection to the tanks has been severed, which leaked all of our water out, then allowing the wind to blow the empty tanks off the roof. The large metal bodega doors are damaged and will need to be replaced. The bedroom building is a wet, chaotic mess, but most of our stuff was not damaged. All of our clothes that were not in storage cases will need to be dried out in the sun. The wood that Lucas had nailed to the windows and had put to block the open front doorway were torn off by the wind. None of the glass was broken except for, ironically, the one piece that Lucas put in the day before in an attempt to keep some of my design nest stuff dry.

Counting our Blessings

Our solar panels did not get blown off the roof.  And, they are still hooked up properly and are working. We have electricity! Even our fridge—which runs on its own solar panel and battery is working. We have no running water in the main house—but our lower storage tanks are full enough to last us a while. We have some water in our bedroom building so we can take showers there. For now. We are stocked with food, and basic medicine and first aid supplies. Our Peruvian neighbors, who recently moved back to their land, and we have become friends with—checked in us to see how we were. We both reported we were fine—their house is even less finished than ours. 

It has become easy for us to count our blessings because we are reminded daily of the conveniences and comforts we now have that we didn’t start out with. Beginning with camping on our land (which we didn’t yet legally own) while I was pregnant, our life over the past six years has been a gradual increase in self-sufficiency, comfort, convenience and freedom. We also received lots and lots of help—from our families especially, but also from friends, and neighbors. Not always, but often it is natural for us to appreciate what we have, instead of focus on what we have lost because we have gained so much! Part of the reason we live the way we do—out here in the desert wilderness—is because we are aware that the world will bring and more more disastrous types of situations. Global warming brings more storms, and dwindling resources brings more desperation to people. This is Lucas’ grand project—being prepared, just in case. We discovered recently there is a term for what he is: “a defensive pessimist. It’s not a very flattering moniker, but it fits. I think he feels affirmed by the fact there is a term for what he is. A defensive pessimist is defined as a person who imagines the worse case scenario, and then plans for it so as to feel assured. That is the kind of person you want to live with if there’s a real disaster on its way.  I am quite sure I would have had no idea what to do with out Lucas, who not only is great at thinking through possible catastrophes, and coming up with ingenious solutions on the spur of the moment—but he also invents and designs future projects with all matters of nature, both destructive and creative, deeply in mind.  If he’s a defensive pessimist, that makes me an offensive optimist. That feels about right. To some people my optimism probably is offensive. But, I am good to have around during difficult times because my goal is to keep up the morale of the troops, and I do so love a good adventure. I think of all the goodies that creates little moments of comfort, fun or pleasure.

Odile’s wrath immediately cut through our indecisiveness, mental blockage and distraction from the important stuff of life. The storm awakened in us—even in moments while it was happening—a sense of celebration of life—of our gratitude to being given an opportunity to go on living with greater clarity, purpose and appreciation. The storm re-affirmed for us what previously had been wavering, let each choice or commitment we had made to come forward and announce itself, or otherwise retreat into the background and then let go of. With all the land a mess—our beloved trees damaged, much of our stuff wet, damaged, but most of it, not—we could appreciate what was left—a home that shelters us (mostly), a beautiful piece of land in the foothills of a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains and ocean. For Emilio—it was all an adventure or perhaps non-adventure (it can be hard to tell with him)—either way, he got a few days with his family all together, all focused on the same goal, as he got to have the normal rules loosened in favor of more movies and more treats. As for me and Lucas, we still have the same dreams, and the same personalities—but our dreams feel more precious and are in sharper focus. Our personalities shine—the positive forging ahead, old habits disintegrating. For Lucas—he has been dreaming of his next weatherproof house design. And for me—I feel a greater resolve to build community through the arts, work on my creative projects and develop my thoughts and ideas and share them with you here.

We have yet to learn of how others’ fared, but we are quite certain, overall, we are some of the lucky ones. I am bracing myself to hear of the devastation in Cabo, which I am sure will be severe. Cabo already is a place built quickly, cheaply, with little taste, and no planning. The communities that we are connected to—Pescadero & Todos Santos, and to a lesser extent, La Paz—will have their own struggles to overcome. But for now—there is no internet, no phone, and the road over the bridge has a gaping hole in it, and we are not sure if anyone is driving. I will post this as soon as I can find a place that has an internet connection.

The view from our courtyard from our roof.

The view from our courtyard from our roof.

Emilio pretending we have cell phone service, calling Snoopy to tell him of our troubles.

Emilio pretending we have cell phone service, calling Snoopy to tell him of our troubles.

To be continued...