I am a self-professed nature nut in the two countries I call home, Canada and Mexico. The passion I have for flora and fauna that shows up in my many photographs and watercolours, must have begun during my early Canadian childhood as I can’t remember a time that I didn’t have this love for nature.
My mom must have secretly despaired over me as she saw her first born little blonde baby grow into a gangly, dirty young girl who rarely wore a dress. I didn’t have much of a choice in the gangly or the young girl part, but the rest… the rest probably had something to do with my dad. I learned to use a hammer and a common screwdriver from him (a constant source of amusement to my husband), and I’m sure it’s also because of him that I keep a jelly jar filled with odds and ends, including used nails and mismatched nuts and bolts, in my house. When I was little, the out of doors called to me constantly (getting me out of laundry and dishes). I preferred to be outside helping my dad build a cage, a kennel or a stable for one of our numerous cats, dogs, pigeons, rabbits or backyard goat and pony; not to mention the guinea pigs or gerbils that we kept inside the house! Each build was unique in structure and strength, and most times the animals stayed put, but sometimes the rabbits were also inside… sleeping on the couch with the dog!
I was about 7 years old when my parents first brought me to Mexico. We drove from Kirkfield, Ontario to Mexico City and back with stop points like the Grand Canyon, San Francisco and Los Angeles in three weeks! My dad must have been insane to have suggested this; no, insane afterwards! Traveling with his wife and two little girls – thank goodness for him that we had a pee pot in the car. I can remember only small portions of this trip, but one memory I have is of Mexico City and the museums we visited. The architecture there also made a huge impression on me. Thus, a seed called Mexico was planted in me and then nurtured with many trips to our favourite destination, Puerto Vallarta, throughout my younger years. There, we were constantly on the beach, sometimes on a horse, always looking for animals and interesting rocks. My sisters and I also explored old Puerto Vallarta on horseback – while wandering the cobblestone streets we enjoyed many sights; the different birds seen and heard there, the dogs that snoozed right in the middle of the road, the odd pig or two that rooted about through refuse that was left lying around and there were always chickens picking through the same stuff as the pigs. We loved it all. That seed flourished with week-long Mexican vacations with friends and family, which turned into longer sojourns, and then it came to maturity when my husband David and I built a winter residence near El Tonino, Nayarit. Now, it is the view over Jaltemba Bay that draws my attention with its ever-changing colours; from silver mornings to burnished red sunsets, party boat yellow to the grey of humpback whales. To me these are only sibling rivalries with the greens of spring, the mature golden yellow of summer oats, the vivid reds and oranges of autumn, and the simple blacks and whites of winter in Ontario.
When I was young my mom always kept a vegetable garden. Raspberries, strawberries, green and yellow beans, asparagus and potatoes were just some of the delectable foodstuffs that my mom would have planted. Funny thing though, I don’t recall that I ever had anything actually cooked from it as these foodstuffs were just too tempting to wait for the cooking pot; we ate things raw as soon as they were picked! I also recall that my two sisters and I were each given our own patch of garden to plant whatever we chose. Green peas were always my favourite. The twisting and climbing aspect of this plant, the lovely flowers and the edible young pods (because I just couldn’t wait longer!) will be a memory that stays with me forever. The pictures in my mind as to how plants look throughout their growing season now transfers to my watercolour paper with almost instinctive ease. I now have my own plants growing in Mexico, where each fall I anxiously return to our casa and search through the overgrown weeds and grasses in our yard to find the little banana trees, palms and passion flowers. A feeling of relief flows through me as each one is found — some are stunted, the odd one is dead, but most make it through the rainy growing season. I paint and photograph them too.
Those days of childhood forays into Canadian flora and fauna continued as the years went past… I can still remember the look of consternation on my first piano teacher’s face (she was a nun who wore a black and white habit that was a tight squeeze around her rotund body and face), frowning at me as she pointed to my shoulder… a caterpillar I had put in the pocket of my dress, yes a dress, had crawled up onto it. Another one of my piano teachers lived closer to my grade school and was rather perturbed one day when I walked there for my lesson carrying a guinea pig in a cage. If my mom was still alive, she would probably be rolling her eyes at me as I don’t think she was ever told about these things!
As youngsters, my sisters and our cousins who lived across the street from us would come together at our house in Ontario to make tree forts, complete with rope ladders, in the big old Basswood tree at the bottom of our large yard. Many grass huts were also made, until one time I accidentally clipped my cousin’s arm with the large hedging shears. “No more grass hut building” was decreed by mom. I am sure those grass huts were the inspiration for the palapas and palm trees that find their way into some of my paintings.
This has all led me to enjoy many other aspects of nature. Where I now live, in the countryside near Fenelon Falls Ontario, is geographically a toy box full of treasures for me.The house is built atop an extensive layer of sedimentary limestone rock. The limestone contains a myriad of fossils like seashells and corals, and to see them located so many thousands of kilometers away from the nearest body of salt water, is to me one of this world’s most innocent of secrets. I have quite a collection just from my driveway alone! This fall, I plan to bring a few fossils to Mexico and show them to the children of our friends Gustavo and Karina. With all the lava rock around our casa near El Tonino, there doesn’t seem to be much of an opportunity for kids in the Jaltemba Bay area to see fossils from the sea even though they live so close to it. Then, there is the fauna aspect of our neck of the Canadian woods where our country living lets us see many sometimes secretive beings – baby painted turtles just emerging from the ground where I had seen their mothers lay eggs before, Canada geese with their newly hatched goslings crossing the road from one pond to the next, garter snakes that sun themselves on the flat rocks in the yard, and rabbits who I swear love to tease my dogs by sitting in our driveway morning and evening.
In Canada, around our house we have seen butterflies and moths, deer and moose, owls and hawks, bears and coyotes. Our oasis in Mexico has an even greater diversity of bugs, snakes and birds, plus armadillos! But out of the many creatures great and small, the one that holds my attention the most, is one of the smallest that I actually see in both countries. It is the brave, colourful, quick and mostly silent Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Why? Because it too is a migrating being like myself. It too travels to Mexico in the fall and returns in the spring just as I do, to this little corner of Victoria County in south central Ontario. Bird watching is a passion of mine and how incredibly fortunate I feel to be able to watch this bird in both countries. Mexico usually has me running with my camera whenever a different bird, snake, weird bug or reptile is spotted on our yard. Friends just shake their heads as they see me zipping by with camera in hand. My husband knows me well enough to call me for any photo opportunities there that may slither, flit or fly by before he attempts to move them along if necessary. While in Canada, I manage to take a lot of photographs right from my front porch, no running necessary.
More and more, I feel the two geographic areas that I hold so dear entwined within me. One is all lakes and limestone, the other is ocean and volcanic mountains. Both offer so much to see and explore. Both have so many memories for me. The lake I grew up near in Ontario holds the ashes of my mother. The Pacific ocean holds those of my father. Both bodies of water are as one to me. I know I will never tire of either place, nor will I ever want to have to choose between them… one holds my heart, the other holds “mi corazon” as well.
If you want to join in the fun and share your stories and photos of Jaltemba Bay, Mexico, please email them to Tosia@JaltembaBayLife.com