Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

December 16, 2004. Pea Blanca Lake

I drove into Nogales in search of gasoline and groceries, and to see what the place was like. At the gas station a skinny fellow cruised up on a bicycle to ask about my kayak. He had a strip boat on his van, he said, that he had built. He was from British Columbia, had been on the road for a few months, and was planning to go into Mexico but hed gotten sick, and thought he should recuperate first. He was headed to Pena Blanca Lake to hang for a few days and take it easy. I said maybe Id swing over there after my shopping and see if I found him, when a

polite Mexican asked me if I could please move my van, as Id been tying up the gas tank for twenty minutes already. I apologized profusely and sped off, telling David Id look for him at Pea Blanca.

I found him at a parking lot at the end of the road, not quite sure why I was following a stranger to this isolated lake. It was a wonderful place, though. Pea Blanca is a small reservoir, surrounded by hills covered with spiny plants and scrubby bushes. Down by the lake are leafy trees and lush reed beds. As the hills rise the vegetation drops off. Near the tops, huge jagged rocks jut from the hillsides, sticking out like irregular noses or dislocated thumbs. The lake was full of birds, flocks of nattering coots, great blue herons, and a big hybrid duck that looked like a cross between a mallard and a white domestic duck. Mexican jays and sparrows flitted among the branches while big black ravens swooshed across the landscape.

But mostly it was quiet. Silent, even. Sitting on top of a hill overlooking the lake and the surrounding landscape, it felt as if no one were there. Or as if the whole basin around the lake was a single room, and I knew everyone in it and what they were up to. The sound carried. From my perch high above the lake I listened to ever word of two fishermen chatting on the opposite shore far below me. With my binoculars I traced the path of an angler meandering down the lake shore, visiting with others standing by their fishing rods. I followed a silent boat gliding across the water. I watched a car go down the road, and saw it park half a mile away at a picnic area. It all seemed to be my personal space, the other people there were my guests. When I walked into a campground not visible from the lake overlooks, I was shocked to find several RVs there, that David and I were not the only folks overnighting in this silent and remote spot.

In the mornings it was cold. David slept late in his heated van, but I rose early and walked around the park enjoying the chill even as I anticipated the sun rising over the hills. Steam rose from the warm water of the lake, and frost covered everything with a prickly sparkles like iron filings on a magnet. Coots clucked and splashed in the water, their chatter and my breath the only sounds to break the silence. When I returned to the vans, David was stirring and the sun was warm on my back.

Spending time with someone on purpose was novel. We ate dinner together in his van. He showed me his carving hes a professional woodworker and I showed him my photos. In the morning he asked if Id ever done qi gong, and I spent half an hour following his moves through a series of slow stretches and balancing poses. Like the old Chinese people who do tai chi in urban parks at dawn, but here we were on top of a hill overlooking a blue lake surrounded by hillsides covered with cactus under the brilliant desert sun.

When we parted ways I was sad. Not that either of us wanted to travel with company, but for two days it was nice.

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