Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Dried Triggerfish on the beach

One of the pleasures of walking on the beaches in the Sea of Cortez is picking through the tide line. Mounds of coral tinkle like china, bleached porcupine and triggerfish with calcareous grins lie among shells as big as dinner plates, the femurs and skulls of pelicans—like leftovers from a great feast.

Frigatebird Skull

Perhaps because the salt and sun desiccate everything as soon as it dies, these leavings aren't gross. Even in the city, people here don’t seem to mind dead things hanging around longer than they should. A road-killed cat between the marina and town grew drier with each passing day, until it became flat and papery, a blueprint of a cat.
On first glance you might think the Mexicans have a laissez-faire attitude towards death. As I mentioned in my last post, they don’t seem to find it as serious a topic as we do. On the two days around the Christian All Souls day, they celebrate the Day of the Dead. They have parties to remember friends and relatives, visit their graves, sometimes sleeping there, and leaving special food and drink for them to enjoy.
I like the playful “Catrinas”, skeleton dolls sold for these days and as reminders all year that underneath our finery, even in our prime, we are bone; the only part that will last—for a while.

There’s something impersonal about bone; its mineral indifference makes you feel that you are built on some bureaucratic biological specs rather than lovingly designed; that you are a form letter rather than a handwritten note.
Still, maybe it’s us with the laissez-faire attitude towards death, ignoring it, or poking at it with science. For instance, here’s “Kim’s skull” (you may remember it from my first blog post). Kim acquired it many years ago, from a hospital shelf where it had been languishing un-loved. In Canada it is almost impossible to examine a human skull (as it is illegal to sell them). Whenever I see this skull I wonder who he was, where he grew up, why he died so young (as his perfect teeth suggest). What would he have thought of the idea that one day he would be passed from hand to hand, opened up with neat hinges?
One thing is for sure, his skull will never become part of the joyful decay we see on the Baja beaches, or depicted in this Day of the Dead Skull I found in a shop in La Paz.


Adrienne Mason said...

Oh my goodness, I love that skull. Wow.

I saw Trudy fleetingly at Ganges on the weekend and I mentioned how I was enjoying your blog. She told me to let you know, so I am! It's been wonderful following your adventures. Jan McDougall let me know about the blog. (She also told me about Circadia, which I've bought and am throughly enjoying. So beautiful. Congratulations on its publication.)

Safe travels.

Alison Watt said...

so great to hear from you. Trudy mentioned to me that you were dropping in on the blog. Thanks for commenting. I hope you are finding lots of time for writing in your busy life...