Outside-in, in Mexico

In Mexico, the outside doesn’t stay there. In New York, the outside is pretty much like the inside—manmade. Unless you go to Central Park. But that’s manmade, too. And very well-behaved. We do get the odd mosquito, and a fly or two may invade our apartments. Even, on occasion, a tiny spider. Roaches don’t count. They’re inside creatures. So, really, are rats and mice. Central Park has plenty of those, too.

Mexico is different. Even a gringo-ridden town like San Miguel. The other night a friend was leaving, about to go through the doorway from the courtyard to the yard. There’s a light there, and he said, casually, flicking his head toward the upper-right corner of the door frame, “Is that a black widow? Looks like it.” I hadn’t noticed. There were a pair of them, and they’d already covered the corner with a 3-D web. They scurried for cover as we scrutinized them. I couldn’t see the belly, but the body shape fit. “I’ll ask the gardener to kill them,” I said. The next day, I swept off the visible web and what looked like a piece of yellow pollen, small and round, maybe an egg pouch. The spiders were hiding inside the door frame, where there’s a space—it’s old.

I draw the line at black widows, but otherwise my arachnid tolerance has increased remarkably here. Spiders come into the house. So do scorpions, beetles of all kinds, lizards, caterpillars, the odd grasshopper, other bugs and the occasional bird. The other day, I was sitting on the couch, reading. The screen door was slightly ajar.  A house wren flew in and headed straight for the big window over the couch, where it attempted to beat its brains out—or, at least, to break its bill—against the glass. Here was a living example of the dangers of birds and glass—except in this case the bird was trying to fly through to the actual outside, as opposed to being fooled by a reflection.

I finally caught the wren with the aid of my trusty critter-catcher, a clean yogurt container. I held the bird in my hand, feeling its heart beat. I took it outside and set it onto the horizontal section of an ancient Mesquite tree that leans out of the terraced garden on one side of the courtyard, is propped by an iron pole with a cradle, and then angles its way up and across the courtyard.

The wren keeled forward to rest on its lower mandible; its beak was wide open, but its eyes were shut. I could see that its heart was beating. I stood next to it, and it opened the eye on my side. So I moved back, out of range. Gradually it raised its head and almost shut its beak. I could see, from the doorway where I stood with binoculars, a piece of dirt or wood in the space between the mandibles.

Finally it stood erect, eyes open, and looked around. Its beak was closed. It took a step, then scampered up the sloping trunk. I was filled with joy and relief. I hope it was the same wren I saw and heard a couple of days later, grazing on the Mesquite, pulling caterpillars and bugs out of the chinks in the bark and devouring them. It was scolding away as it grazed, but obviously oblivious to me.

The wren, I suppose, could have happened in suburbia USA, but not so much the scorpions. I don’t like scorpions, but I don’t always kill them. Something about this place makes me less prone to kill small intruders. The scorpions are not huge—all the ones I’ve found in the house so far have been only about 3-4 inches long, a shiny bronze in color. A little evil-looking, in truth.

When I first came down here, last February, I found a succession of them—fortunately, always right out in the open, and mostly in the bathroom. The first one was on the window screen one night when I went to close the curtain. I went downstairs, got a yogurt container (I save them—they beat Tupperware for all-purpose food storage, and they’re free) and managed to get the scorpion to drop into it by nudging it with the lid. I slapped the lid on, went outside, across the yard, down the stairs to the door that opens onto the callejon, and down the block to the vacant lot that serves as an estacionamento and occasional stone quarry. I shook the scorpion out into a pile of rocks near one wall—well away from my person—and went home to bed.

After that, I found two or three more in fairly quick succession—one on top of a pile of towels, one on the bathroom door frame. Those I killed, although I don’t really like stepping on them. One I partially squashed and then, coward that I am, got it into the yogurt container I now keep in the batheroom. I put the lid on and took it out to the rubbish bin in the corner of the courtyard. When the gardener looked inside a couple of days later, it was dead.

On the morning of the June day on which I was flying to New York for a month, I watched from bed as the cat stretched languidly up to a dark shape in the corner of the wall next to the door from the outside stair landing (it has a space under it that a mouse could probably stroll through). I didn’t want the cat to kill and eat the scorpion, so I killed it instead, dropping it to the floor and stepping on it (one reason I always wear flip-flops in the house). After I’d disposed of it, I saw the cat licking the floor where I’d killed it. I reflected that the cat had very likely killed and eaten scorpions before. Maybe the stinger isn’t so poisonous when ingested.

The cat belongs to my friend and landlady, Sue, who lives in the main house on the property (she also employs the gardener). When Sue’s away I feed the cat, and she includes me on her daily rounds even when Sue’s home, dropping by for a little water or milk and sometimes a quick cuddle. She has the run of the grounds and all the buildings, and turns up on my roof or anywhere. She stalks, kills and sometimes eats anything she finds. Once I watched her lurking in the Oleander bed. A lizard started up the wall of Sue’s water tank, about 15 feet away. The cat was across the yard in a flash, the lizard in its mouth

At first I tried to rescue the lizards, but a/ there is really no place to put them in the sun that the cat can’t get to, and b/ even if she didn’t get to them I’d invariably find them the next day, dead. So now I generally let nature take its course. We’ve had an invasion of caterpillars in the last couple of weeks. I’ve taken a number outside and released them in the yard. Tonight, the cat came in for dinner and, on her way across the floor, stopped to eat a couple of new arrivals. Lagniappe.

I draw the line at butterflies and birds, though. Once the cat brought a bird into the house. I was up here in the 2nd floor loft office that overlooks the living room, so I saw her come in. When she has prey, she gives a peculiar low howl, very different from her usual squeaky miaow. I rushed down the stairs and rescued the bird. It was small and gray, and its wings were so askew I feared one was broken. I picked it up and smoothed its wings. I could find nothing that looked like a serious injury. I put it in a paper bag, as I’d learned to do in Central Park from my friend Deb Allen, a birder and professional bird photographer who is as knowledgeable about birds as anyone I’ve ever met. She always carries a paper bag with her in case she happens on a bird that needs rescuing. Once she snatched a Robin from the jaws of a large bullfrog in the Ramble.

The bird was obviously a fledgling, but such a mess I couldn’t quite tell what it was, perhaps a dove. I put it on top of a bureau in the 3rd-floor bedroom. The bag permits it to breathe but calms it. I clipped the opening shut with a clothes pin. After a few hours, the bird was cheeping. I opened the bag slightly and saw that it was indeed an Inca Dove. It had come to itself enough to assume its proper shape. I carried the bag out to the balcony-terrace, thinking to leave the bag open on the floor, but something made me look up to see the cat peering from the roof. I took the bag back inside.

A couple of hours later the bag was rustling. I stupidly opened it up and the dove flew out and crashed into the wall. I rescued it again, carried it out to the wide balcony railing, and set it down. The cat was nowhere to be seen. After a few seconds, it took off. Again, relief.

The cat is, yes, a killer. I have no doubt that she could make her own way as a feral cat if she had to. Yet she also likes to drop suddenly to the ground, floor, bed or couch and roll over on her back to have her tummy rubbed. In the mornings she likes to get under the covers. Thus the dual nature of us all.

I can’t blame the cat for being a cat. When she brings her prey into the house, she’s part of the outside coming in. When she wants to sleep warmly on a chilly morning, she allies herself with the manmade inside. She has the best of both worlds, and passes back and forth between them with ease. Whereas I, and most other people, venture into the outside with care, with proper equipment, with sunblock and water and hat. Even in New York City, entirely manmade, we dress to protect ourselves from the weather and whatever lies underfoot. If we, too, are killers, we disguise our natures. We’re civilized.

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One Response to “Outside-in, in Mexico”

  1. Dwisha Nagar Says:

    This is an excellent site, I’ll be sure to add your blog to my blogroll 🙂

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