AN APRIL SWIM IN PARADISE

Gayle is experiencing a nostalgic evening and needing a break from visiting Ian in hospital (he is recovering well from two mini-strokes or transient aschemic attacks three days ago), preparing for a Saturday moving sale in our garage and back yard and trying to pack a few boxes a day in preparation for our move in May. (Any semblance of having a routine day has vanished for the time being, yet she feels compelled to do a long-overdue post on this blog.) We have sold our house in Vernon, British Columbia, actually move out in three weeks (on May 11th), will have our household stuff put into storage and move in with friends for about 10 days before heading east to Manitoba where we hope to settle once a life-lease apartment (for which we have been on a waiting list) comes available – hopefully by June or July. In the meantime, we plan to drive to northern Manitoba to deliver our dog, Misty, to her new parents, daughter Shirley and son-in-law Brien, visit for awhile and then head south to Winnipeg where we plan to settle. In a way it will be like coming home as that is the city in which we met and married almost 13 years ago.

Nostalgia has been brought on by our choosing to sell some of our Mexican treasures that we accumulated when we maintained a home in Mexico (November 2004-May 2007, with yearly trips back to Manitoba to retain our Canadian residency). It is now early spring here in British Columbia with tulips, magnolias, daffodils, lilacs and fruit trees in full bloom, and still the end of winter in Manitoba. In contrast our first April in Mexico was glorious with a warm, full-blown spring, as we moved from our motorhome into a rental house in Chapala Haciendas, a suburb of Chapala in the mountains of central Mexico on the shores of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake. Here we became acquainted with new types of flowering plants and trees, a much earlier and warmer spring than either of us had ever experienced and an exotic atmosphere that led to a charmed fascination with all the new experiences we were enjoying. Though Gayle got fully acquainted with Location Writing last summer, now that we think about it, the following piece was an even earlier occasion for Location Writing. Our rental house was a one-and-a-half story brick house, inside and out. We mostly lived on the front veranda and garden surrounding the swimming pool which took up most of the front lawn. You will notice that Gayle refers to Ian as “Scotty,” the name he chose to be known by during our Mexican sojourn. We will start with a slide show to illustrate her story.

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AN APRIL SWIM IN PARADISE

by Gayle Moore-Morrans

With the sun’s rays a bit deflected as the clock nears four, it is finally time for my daily rendezvous with my beloved new pool. I don my orange flowered swimsuit to contrast with the turquoise pool walls and lavish on some sunscreen. My swim shoes await me at the brick steps that surround our upstairs bathtub; but first I need to shake them out in case any wee scorpion has decided to take refugee in one of them. (Thankfully, one hasn’t.) Grabbing my sunglasses and a towel from the clothesline downstairs, I descend from the terrace to the front lawn and down the steps into the pool. Scotty, my husband, has already moved the solar blanket off the water, skimmed the water’s surface with the pool net and turned on the pump so the water is shimmering fresh and turquoise in the sunlight.

My routine begins – ten laps along the length of the pool. Not too impressive when you think the pool is only 16 feet long, but that’s all my metal-laden bones can handle. With a humerus supported inside by a titanium rod, an artificial knee and an ankle held together by plates and screws, I’m proud to be able to do that much kicking and stroking. Then its time to whip out my trusty foam noodles – one fuchsia and one chartreuse. Without them, my pool time would be shorter and much less fun. Spanish practice comes next – cientos agua (100 water) sit-ups with the noodles’ assistance. When I started five months ago I kept track of my sit-ups while counting from uno to diez (1-10) in Spanish, over and over until the counting became rote. Then I graduated to the teens – onze, doze, treze, quatorze, quince, dieseseis, etc. Now its second nature to get from uno to cien (100) and beyond.

Sit-ups done, it’s time to relax and enjoy the surroundings. Fronting the built-into-the-hill pool is a brick wall which I peer over to enjoy the panorama in front of the house. A bright red-headed-and-breasted bird sits on his usual perch on our car window where he visits with and pecks at his reflection. Then he flies to the front gate leading to our driveway, on to the bodega (gardener’s shed) and finally into one of the towering jacaranda trees lining the street. I admire those graceful trees, profuse now in all their springtime glory, blanketed with large grapelike clusters of tiny, light purple trumpet-shaped flowers, their fernlike leaves just beginning to appear.

Beyond the street our hill continues descending into a valley dotted with houses peeping out from swatches of purple from more jacarandas and the dark green of pine and fichus trees. Then the heavily wooded mountains loom at the horizon, still brown from their winter rest but beginning to show patches of green with the promise of an emerald blanket once the rainy season begins in June. Towering over the highest peak is a cluster of telecommunications towers and a clear blue sky broken only by a fading jet stream.

Now my attention turns to my immediate surroundings. Several “critters” attempt to share the pool with me. A few days ago when I first started down the pool steps, I jumped at the sight of a two-inch long scorpion floating by. He (or she) wasn’t alive, though, so I relaxed and watched it sink to the bottom of the pool. Today I decide to check the drain pail at the far end of the pool and, sure enough, “Scorpi” has been drawn into it by the action of the pump. (I ask Scotty to take it out and let it dry so we can add it to the collection of dead scorpions I’m planning to take as souvenirs to my son in Canada.) Another of my more unpleasant swimming companions is the “helicopter-wasps” who buzz around my head from time to time. I’m not sure of their scientific name, but Scotty has given them the helicopter handle because they seem to have revolving antenna on top and long legs that hang down when they are flying, resembling landing gear. (Luckily, they don’t seem to be interested in stinging me, except for the one that got caught in my towel when I was drying myself the other day. The cool water sure felt good on that sting.)

I prefer more pleasant pool companions, although they don’t seem to fare too well in the water. Lovely dragonflies flitter along above me, the occasional one getting too close to the water. As its wings get waterlogged, it struggles to free itself, just getting wetter and in danger of drowning. I come to the rescue, picking it up along with a handful of water and gently toss it to the brick edge of the pool. Its struggles lessen as it feels the solid wall beneath it, but its wings are still too waterlogged to fly. I watch to see how it is drying out and, when the drying seems to take excessively long, swim over to it and gently blow on the wings. Before long, the lovely insect seems to shake itself, flex its wings and take off for another flight. It’s not the only reckless flyer, however; before long I’ve got three other dragonflies recovering on the sides of the pool wall.

Peppy, our wee poodle, strolls down from the terrace to sniff around the pool and watch my antics. I try to coax him in for a swim, but he’s not interested. He’s joined me swimming in a lake in Canada, but I think the steps into the pool are a bit daunting for him. Or maybe he’s decided he’s just too old to swim or, like Scotty, thinks that the water is too cold.

My last daily routine includes floating around on the noodles, exercising my arms and “bicycling” with my legs while checking on the growth and beauty of the plants and trees in the yard surrounding the pool. Two fan palms on the south side provide a lovely bit of shade and an ever-interesting view of their delightful crisscross patterned trunk made from the scars of palm fronds long ago wilted and cut away. I continue to be appalled at the sloppy job the landlady’s son did while painting the pool – the turquoise paint somehow made its way over to the palm trunk, strangely colouring some of those crisscrosses. Surrounding the palms are eight-to-ten-foot tall poinsettia trees, rather scrawny now that their winter blooms have faded and most of the leaves have dropped. They’ll need severe pruning before long, having earned a bit of rest before those barren stalks again produce profuse red, pale pink or white flowers ready for another Christmas. I remember that they are native to Mexico and have a most apt name in Spanish – flor de nochebuena (Christmas Eve flower). I also love to think of the large scarlet poinsettia blooms that covered about a mile of cobble-stoned streets last December when we watched a village parade in honour of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint.

After the poinsettias, a number of very strange looking “skeletons” line the walk going around the south side of our house. These trees are called “frangipani” in English, but in Spanish are known as flor de mayo or mayflower trees. At present they look a bit like giant saguaro cacti with their barren arms sticking out and up, except that they don’t have spikes and their fat leafless stalks are a dull gray colour. I’ve noticed that the ends of each stalk have begun to produce a deep dull reddish and spiky growth, several of which have turned into a circlet of long green leaves with small buds in the center. Apparently, by May these buds will open into delicate, fragrant clusters of small four-petaled pink or white flowers that are often formed into leis. It’s hard to imagine that such an ugly tree will turn into a celebrated beauty in just a few short weeks.

Swimming into the southeast corner, I gaze at the fascinating banana trees. Though rather young and thus not very high yet, one of the trunks has produced a huge, full-grown dull red flower whose large top and bottom petals are slowly curling open, little by little each day. Several days ago the inside of this flower revealed small teeth-like protrusions which have been very gradually turning into larger rows of “teeth” and now today the top row has begun to look like teeny green bananas. I know they will eventually become larger hard green bananas and finally ripe light green and then softer yellow fruits. Surprisingly, the huge bunch of bananas that is finally formed doesn’t hang down as I supposed; instead, it proudly “hangs” upward, just waiting for the picking. Every few days, I ask Scotty to get the camera and record the progress of the flower as it gradually turns into fruit.

Across the cobblestone driveway on the west side of the pool, I enjoy the shade of a towering fichus tree with its huge, gnarled trunk and large, exposed upper roots surrounding several hills of ant debris and a crowded pot of peace lilies which I’m planning to divide into two pots, claiming one for my own. On either side of the fichus, vibrantly-colored bougainvillea vines climb the fence and twine their way into the trees, cascading with lush flashes of purple, violet, crimson, orange, gold, fuchsia, pink, rose and white. Several beds of brilliant, scarlet lilies complete the scene.

After an hour in the water, I’m suddenly feeling a bit cold but do another couple of laps before calling it quits. My swim completed, I climb the steps and take a seat to dry off and warm up in the fading hour of sunlight. My eyes linger on the pots of fragrant blooming rose bushes and flamboyant orange, blue and yellow tufted bird-of-paradise plants that I’ve planted along the brick path around the pool and then onto the lush potted ferns and geraniums along the terrace. This surrounding beauty captivates me anew each day. If April is this gorgeous, I anxiously await the wonders that May and June will bring to my daily dip in this Mexican paradise.

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