Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Black Clouds, Rainy Days and Thunder

That's what you get when you dive the Caribbean during the rainy season.  Cozumel it seems, is not exempt.  There was a storm that lasted all of last night and well into the day today and still shows little inclination to stop now that it is 10 AM.  There was so much water that I took a seasickness tab just to retrieve our wetsuits from the balcony this morning.  My wife's sandals were actually floating.  We're not diving for the second day and have just one more day in which to dive.  I love to dive, but not so much that I'll dive in poor visibility with the chance of being struck by lightning.  No thanks.

Flooded streets and rooms.

Waiting for our ship to come in.

We dove Champion's and Tormento's Reefs yesterday.  Champion's was a perfect dive with little current and rich light.  The reef here is nearly pristine and teaming with fish, coral and sponge.  We saw three huge Tiger Grouper, a Nurse Shark that was actually moving (usually they stay on the bottom to feed and rest) a large female Southern Stingray and a Lion Fish, which sacrificed its life because it is a rapidly reproducing predator which threatens the ecology of all Caribbean reefs.  And a Rock Fish that remained as still as if it were asleep when surrounded by divers.

Friends, Kathy and Mark Cowen geared up and ready to dive.

We rode gentle currents among towering coral heads, exploring their nooks and crannies and wriggling through tiny passages into still more kingdoms.

Tormento's Reef was just that, torment.  The current was ridiculous. The dive was made worse when my mask filled with sea water through the hole in its plastic frame discovered when the dive was over.   As soon as I entered the water I wanted the dive to be over and it turned out that my wife, Carol, felt the same.  But there was a fascinating sand dune with fine white sand and pressure ridges that showed the passing of water and its slowing.

Nearly everyone in Cozumel commutes by scooter or small bore motorcycle.  Tired and ragged, some more than thirty years old, these little engines chug on and on while the paint fades, the chrome rusts and ripped and torn seats show their yellow-brown foam stuffing.  Scooters are so important to the economy that they are even sold in grocery stores.

One of many.

Another one and a few more.

Cars seem to be decades old, rusted and dented warriors of tough island life, survivors of the indifferent care of many owners, but without the character of Cuba's 1950's era cars.

The municipal police patrol with their lights flashing at all times.  I'm not sure how you know when you are being pulled over, but these guys, the police, are tough guys and I am sure can make their point in a number of ways.  You have only to see a truckload of police in battle array with training inspired hard, steely looks to understand that they tolerate very little.  Heavily armed troops in the streets is so foreign to the U.S. that they capture you gaze and hold your attention and linger in your thoughts until long after they pass by.

A new recruit class passed us yesterday afternoon, running and chanting as the military will, with young faces that will soon turn to stone.  One large busted young woman pressed her hands against her breasts as she passed, her face a mask like all the rest.

Each shop you pass has it's own pimp hawking the shop's virtues, button-holing you with absurd enticements like free tequila.  At first you are polite, "No, thank you," and after a good while you dismiss them with a wave of a hand.  There are Cuban cigars, T-Shirts with the likeness of Che,  panama hats and cheap trinkets that are the difference between walking and riding, eating and hunger.

Even the postal service building, Correos de Mexico, speaks of use and decay.  The windows have not been washed in years and are smudged with oily fingerprints, fly specks and the accumulations of neglect.  The architecture is dated by its curious flying buttress style and what paint remains has faded to unintended colors, red to rose and blue to a chalky hue.  The interior is bleak in an uncompromising utilitarian way. 

One clerk, a woman, helps a customer fill a bag with what appears to be second hand baby clothes and a second, sweet with kind dark eyes and flawless toffee skin, helps Carol select stamps for her
collection.  The young clerk rings up Carol's purchase and thanks her with a smile.

 Until the shops close and the weary walk or ride into the evening, Quitana Roo, Cozumel, is a place of smiles and laughter.

Quintana Roo

Monday, October 20, 2014

Don't They Know We're Americans? (I'm Kidding)

I don't understand, everyone here in Cozumel, Mexico speaks Spanish, or at best Spanglish!  Just kidding, I speak some Spanish, so no es una problema grande.

Drift diving yesterday was spectacular, first at Pasar de Central and later Paradise Reef.  There was heavy current on the first dive after which my dive computer died.  Fortunately I have a backup.

The first dive's highlight was a swim through that was as pretty as any I've seen in fifteen years diving.  I didn't see the dive master make the turn into the swim through and had to swim against the current to make the entry or be left behind.  Emerging into the light from the darkness of the swim through is something that just can't be explained, it has to be experienced.  Lots of sunshine and deep blue light and sweet shadowed places where the smallest creatures live and thrive.  Other than the swim through the highlight was a blue Parrot fish that must have weighed nearly fifteen pounds.  When they reach that size they are grotesque and have distorted features that give no clue to their delicate and stunningly colorful juvenile past.  As it passed the giant fish evacuated.  The poop's fall reminded me of the way bombs look as they leave the hold of an aircraft and spread their devastation on the landscape below.  The poop, though,  just contributes to the sandy bottom's growth.

You are never supposed to dive on someone else's computer, all the books say so.  Naturally, my wife and I dove on her computer for the second dive.  The person sans computer must watch their air consumption on their own gauges and the dive time and no decompression dive time on their dive buddy's computer. 

Our second dive was much like diving in your aquarium, with its endless changes in light and with schools of fish arrayed in colors from bold to subtle and soft.  A school of young Barracuda facing into the current, French Grunts huddled in schools between coral heads, young solitary Tiger Grouper, all of them confident and at peace among themselves.  Oh, there is the occasional territorial squabble, lots of chasing and kicking up of sand, but no shooting and no knives, just invisible lines not to be crossed.  The violence though begins at nightfall when the predators begin to hunt the reef.

Best of all were the several Queen Trigger fish, who  look like hand painted china and are so rarely seen.  I watched Cowfish turn a spectrum of shades as they moved near then away just as an octopus will.  Little Trunk Fish that for all the world look like bathtub toys as they bobble about without noticeable fear.  And a huge crab that would more than fill an old iron skillet.

I am always amazed by the ocean, blue as the sky, but clear and transparent when you are part of it, yet the distance is still ocean blue.

Today it has rained and we didn't dive.  I've seen the ocean many times and its glory, its life is in the sunlight which blesses the water with vibrant light.  And this is the way you think life should be with its infinite and slow moving time, casual talk, short naps, books to read, plentiful food and cares that belong to someone else.  In the end the boredom and restlessness overcomes you and, like almost everyone, you must move, create and be productive.  It is the nature of man.

Maybe there will be more blogging as the days wear on, maybe not.  This is the land of tomorrow and there is always that. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Friend Has Cancer

This post is not about horses.  It is about a friend and client, Amy.  Amy is the single mother of a fifteen year old daughter, she is a highly educated professional and she has cancer.  Breast cancer.  A highly aggressive form of breast cancer.

On the day she was diagnosed the oncologist told her that there was a 30% chance that her cancer had already spread.  She has just finished her third chemo treatment and there are three more to follow. She will definitely require radiation treatments and will surely undergo surgery at some time in the future. Mortality?  If she knows the odds she hasn't told me.

The week Amy was diagnosed, her high paying job was eliminated.  I don't know the reason and perhaps she doesn't either, but to the company's everlasting credit she will have a job, salary and insurance until her chemo is complete.

Amy is the person who catches everything so that you and I don't.  When I first met her she was on crutches...foot surgery.  Because of her weight she has high blood pressure and diabetes.  She has trouble with both knees and at least one needs replacement.  I could go on but I won't.

Unable to exercise and unable to lose weight by changing her diet she had stomach reduction surgery earlier this year and has lost a considerable amount of weight.  Attractive to begin with she looks great, but don't think this has been an easy solution.  She cannot eat liquids and solids at the same time without becoming nauseous and vomiting.  But her blood pressure and diabetes now seem to be under control.  And so it goes.

Her family lives out of town so she has endured most of chemo's bad days on her own, just sleeping and feeling terrible. Her family and out of town friends have not forgotten her, but they have lives and problems to deal with as well.  Often it is hard to be where your heart and your thoughts want to take you.  I am sure she has local friends, but I don't know anything about them.

Yesterday, Tuesday, she had a hollow-eyed, pale, hunted look.  It is a look I would associate with the dying.  She had a high fever, 100.1 and her doctor said to call back if it reached 100.5,  I hated to leave her but she was much too ill to talk. Today she was feeling much better, so perhaps it was just a 24-hour thing.  Just something else to deal with.  It seems that every day her misery arrives in a different package.

 Last Friday she broke down and cried because a relationship with a male friend had gone bust and I didn't know what to do for her.  She apologized to me for God's sake.  I laughed and told her that she was not allowed to feel sorry for herself.  To see her cry broke my heart.

 On Sunday I called and left a message of support and concern for her, which she appreciated.  I was relieved that I could leave the message on her voice mail. A phone message is something I had done before. It's easy to do and cost me nothing but a little time, and I was glad to do it.

I have asked Amy several times if she needed me to do anything for her, but the answer has always been, "No, but thanks for asking."

I've never been this close to the suffering of a cancer patient before.  The sickness from chemo seems like its own hell, a kind of death.  All I can do is to try to be there for her and ask how she feels on a particular day.  I can let her talk when she wants to and respect her silence without getting angry at her on the bad days.   I know she must lie in bed and wonder if she is going to live long enough to see her daughter graduate from high school, get married, or hold her first grandchild.  And I don't have any of the answers for her.

I've always thought that to say, "I'm so sorry," has never been enough,  It bespeaks our impotence and in this case impotence may be the perfect word.  I may be watching someone that I like and care for die and all I can do is to try to be there for her.  Maybe that is enough for now, and I refuse to say, "I am so, so sorry."

Monday, October 6, 2014

Why Nip and Duck?

It doesn't matter the season or the weather, Stormy and Callie's morning routine never varies.

In the fall and winter they are normally still facing the back of their stalls, resting and letting any weather from the east break over their butts.  In the warmer months Stormy is usually drowsing in the morning sun while Callie keeps the watch. As I trudge up the hill toward the stable Callie begins pawing her gate, which sags beneath her muscle-powered impatience. Stormy, never a paragon of patience, paws her floor mats relentlessly, monotonously and sometimes irritatingly.

Both horses are anxious and very hungry after a night in their stalls.  Stormy has to pee and Callie can only think about the grass that grows just a few feet outside her stall.

In the last year Callie has begun to assert herself more and more,with small but dynamic changes in her behavior, while not challenging Stormy's leadership role.  There are more flattened ears when Stormy approaches, defensive postures at feeding time, and once in a while she refuses to groom Stormy.  Occasionally she has taken Stormy's food with almost no protest from Stormy, who defers without so much as a flick of her ears.  But don't be misled, Stormy is still the leader of the herd.

And don't forget the little animosities that have grown between them in the ten years they have shared together.  All of this becomes Nip and Duck, as they agitate one another, bare their teeth, snap at one another and snake their necks looking for an advantage, one over the other.

Here is what it looks like.


A calm before the storm.

Do I have anything stuck between my teeth?

Let me get a closer look.  Notice that their ears are flat.  They are not happy.

Nip and Duck are what they do every morning.


No matter the weather.

Stormy ready to strike.  Callie's normally wide, kind eyes are narrow and hard.

Recently someone asked if horses ever show emotion.  What do you think?