Wednesday, February 29, 2012

IMPRESIONES II – Zihuatanejo Snaps

On our last day here in beautiful Zihuatanejo each year, I always try to open up the pores of my awareness and let all the sensations soak into me one last time. After all, those memories will have to last me through the rest of this cold, gray winter (in fact, a winter storm's hitting home right now!) and much of next before we can come back.

Here are a few more of my impresiones of this amazing, wonderful place.


Buenas tardes. Buenas noches. Hasta pronto, Zihuatanejo...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

IMPRESIONES I – Zihuatanejo Snaps

I've gone on and on here and elsewhere about my wife's and my love affair with Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico. During each winter's stay here, I've posted my visual/verbal reflections in the form of photos,, I think there's probably even been a line or two of what might pass as poetry.

This year, as our precious month here comes to its bittersweet end, I just want to share a few parting shots, impresiones, one would say in Spanish, of why this place, with all its lush colors and patterns, its heady smells, the slow, steady rhythms of its lifestyle, and the warm generosity of its people, touches my heart and soul.

This is the first in a several-part series.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

COUPLE O' BUGS – Zihuatanejo Snaps

I found this ornate creature climbing a young palm's trunk this morning. Bristles on bristles and elegant white spats to boot. My instinct was not to touch him even if I wanted to -- would you?
Turns out he is indeed highly poisonous when touched, according to my friends here who know more about local critters than I.

I thought this was a walking stick...until he flew! He resented the intrusion, turning, staring and springing right at my lens. Anyone besides him know what he is?
If you said a praying mantis, you're right -- one of some 2,200 species of mantodea found worldwide in temperate and tropical climes.

Monday, February 20, 2012

ETCHED IN WHITE – Life and Death In Snow

One snowy morning I took our miniature schnauzer, Abby, outside for her morning toilette in the back yard. The sparkling blanket of the fresh snow was pristine, but for the occasional trail of tiny paw prints. I could tell the squirrel path by its much bigger paw marks and the broad indentations the animal had made as it alternately hopped and sank into the snow.

Each of the marks had one quite distinct edge; the other, delicately drawn, as if by a series of very soft brushes…

Another very delicate set of prints caught my eye—probably those of a field mouse or a vole. The quarter-inch-long impressions led across an unspoiled patch of snow and then simply stopped. No tree, no hole in the snow…just stopped. Looking more closely, I noticed that the last few tracks were flanked symmetrically by two large, subtle depressions in the snow, each about the size of my forearm.

End of the trail for a bigger critter—a rabbit perhaps -- PHOTO: Susan Barstow

On further inspection—this is when the chill went up my spine—I saw that each of the marks had one quite distinct edge; the other, delicately drawn, as if by a series of very soft brushes…or feathers! It was then I knew that the last thing the poor little devil had experienced in this life had been the piercing clutch of the owl's talons.

It’s for this ability to record such comings and goings that snow is such an asset to hunters, detectives, anyone who needs to track another creature. Besides the obvious information like the number, size and direction of your quarry, snow tracks can reveal to the trained eye things like the animal’s weight, age, or even if it walked with a limp.

For me, though, it's not so much the practical information snow can provide as it is the narrative, the life-and-death drama, it recounts. 

My wife and I were cross-country skiing on fresh snow in northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Wilderness when we came across a set of fresh wolf tracks crossing the ski trail at right angles. When I stopped to look around, I noticed there was another set of tracks about ten yards ahead of me. I edged along and came across five more equally spaced, parallel sets of wolf tracks.

I didn’t know whether to feel happy or sad when I discovered...the tracks of a medium-sized white-tail deer.

I’d heard that these skilled hunters often spread out like this when tracking their prey—an effective way to comb a large area for sights and scents. I didn’t know whether to feel happy or sad when I discovered, between the last two “teeth” of the “comb,” the tracks of a medium-sized white-tail deer.

I was tempted to follow them to see if I could find signs of either prey’s or predators’ success. For some odd reason, my wife wouldn't let me go.

What comings and goings, what living and dying, have you discovered 
etched in snow? We'd love to hear about it. C'mon, join the conversation!

Friday, February 17, 2012

TIME-LAPSE, NATURE'S WAY – Zihuatanejo Snaps

This exuberant plant, just down the stairs from our villa, caught my eye this morning. For those  succulent, dewy-puffball ovules; for pointed petals that seem to have just pierced their way out; for the frosty shroud wrapping each cluster of flowers.

But what struck me most of all was the format, this four-shot, time-lapse glimpse of the passage from bud to blossom—perfect but for that last reluctant bloom.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

BIG BAD BEE – Zihuatanejo Snaps

I found this spectacular creature lying on the street in the La Madera neighborhood here in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico. At first, I had no idea what it was—I wanted to call it a lion bee for its golden, hairy mane and legs. (My friend Wil, a great tour guide and naturalist here, has since told me it's a carpenter bee, newly emerged from its pupa stage.)

When I bent over to take this photo, I couldn't tell if the thing was alive, but as my lens got close to it, it turned and came charging at me. Alive it was, but still not quite ready to try its surprisingly small wings.

I'm so glad I got to see one of these carpenter bees at this stage, because they're beautiful! Wil says they turn all black within a couple hours of hatching, and that, despite its Davidian grit, it has no stinger and is harmless.

While I was shooting, this boy came riding past on his bike and noticed me kneeling down. He stopped and gently nudged the insect onto this dried leaf to give us a closer view.

I was concerned the kid might feel he could best help us by stepping on it, but I found he's a real Nature lover—a kindred spirit. I found that really encouraging!

The bee eventually flew away to blacken, unmolested, in the safety of a bush.

Friday, February 10, 2012

HOMAGE TO THE SEA – Zihuatanejo Snaps

 A few quintillion grains of sand; five waves a minute for eons.

Inevitably the masterpiece emerges, an homage to the sea 

by all the land creatures.

Reaching down, muzzle and hoof and beak, they bow 

to touch the sculptor's quicksilver hand.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

MEXICAN STREET DOGS – Hangin' Out, Hangin' On

I love dogs. Just about any kind, any size, any breed. Now that's not to say all dogs are alike. Well, at first maybe they are—like human babies—until we teach them differently.


I've met lots of Mexican street (and beach) dogs. Sure, they're skinny, mangy and flea-ridden. Nobody seems to pay any attention to them. Yet these guys don't seem needy in any way. They're either too busy, too hot or too weak. Most just act like they've got places to go and things to do. If they even bother looking your way, it's only to make sure you're not going to bother them.

And for some reason I'm not sure I understand, nearly every one of these uncollared, roving Mexican pups I've ever met seems to have a heart of gold.


Of course Mexicans have pets. You see people out walking them on leashes and kids playing with them, just like in the U.S. But it's my impression that far fewer Mexicans embrace their pets emotionally to the extent we do up north. Certainly fewer can afford to, but there are other reasons too.

They're the skinniest ones...the ones stopping most often to scratch.

Many dogs here are pretty much ignored. Some are fed; others, left to scrounge on their own. Even those with homes, especially the bigger dogs, are kept mostly for security, tied up at night just outside the back door or at the gate to the street. But when they're let out to patrol the neighborhood during the day, they couldn't seem any less viscious.

Then there are the animals with no home at all. They're the skinniest ones, the ones you see scrounging around in the gutter for a dropped candy wrapper or scraps of garbage spilled on pick-up day, the ones stopping most often to scratch.


Yet, for being in what appears such a needy situation, I've rarely seen a street dog begging. And those few I have, do so tentatively, gratefully—you could almost say politely—gently taking what they're offered and then moving on.

Perhaps it's precisely because they're ignored that Mexican street dogs are so sweet.

Perhaps it's precisely because they're ignored that Mexican street dogs are so sweet. No one's taught them to be neurotic, needy, picky or obnoxious as we so often do in the rest of North America, Europe and more cosmopolitan parts of Asia.


Back home in the US most dogs are given the status of family members. They sleep in our beds. They eat food the makers convince us we'd enjoy eating ourselves. We send them to school and sign them up for play groups. No wonder they develop some of the same neuroses and co-dependencies we instill in our kids. Expectations, manipulation, lack of discipline.

Mexican street dogs are independent, efficient, creative, tough, unassuming. I admire them.


Just yesterday, here in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico, I came across a medium-sized, short-golden-haired dog that was in pretty tough shape. Tottering across the street seemed to take his last ounce of strength. Unable even to scale the five-inch curb, he collapsed in the gutter between two parked cars and just lay there.

I was overcome by the thought that the poor creature had just found permission in my touch to take his last breath.

Figuring he was too weak to find food or drink on his own, I offered him some water in the palm of my hand, but he wouldn't even lift his head. As I stroked that little recess between and just above his eyes, he closed his eyes…and then was motionless.

I looked for his skeletal rib cage to rise. It didn't. A lump welled up in my throat at the thought that the poor creature had just found permission in my touch to take his last breath.


I kept my hand on his head—I guess I thought this might send him on his way a little less alone. After about 20 seconds, though, the dog's concave side rose in a shallow breath, and then another. I left to find a convenience store and bought a packet of crackers—the closest thing to dog food I could find.

Before tasting them he lifted his boney head and just looked into my eyes.

When I got back I offered him a few small pieces in my hand. This time he seemed interested, but before tasting them he lifted his boney head and just looked into my eyes. Then he slowly, gratefully, lapped up the crumbs and eventually all the crackers.

Encouraged, I went back to the store and bought a small package of salchicha, but when I returned this time, my new friend was gone. I looked around, in doorways, under cars, in the street. There, just down the block, was his scrawny butt tottering with renewed energy down the sidewalk.

I wonder if anyone will be there tomorrow to help keep him keep going another day.

Friday, February 3, 2012


(This piece is used by permission of the generous folks at

Please check out their delightful site; you'll be happier after you do!)


If you live by these dog rules, you will be a happier person!

There's a lot we humans can learn from dogs. If you live your life by the same philosophy that dogs do, you will be much better off in life. In the wild, animals fight only for two things, not a fancy car, not clothes or jewelry, they just fight for food or a mate, everything else they get after that is just pure happiness.


1. See life with joy and wonder.
2. Experience the beauty of nature and smell as much as you can.
3. Open your heart to the ones you love.
4. Sometimes you are allowed to break a few rules, go for it.
5. Be loyal, you will keep friends for life.
6. Cravings are good, enjoy them while you can.
7. Make sure you do something fun everyday.
8. Enjoy good foods, savor them like if it was your last meal.
9. Be yourself and you will always have true friends
10. Be persistent and bark until you get what you want.
11. If someone is having a bad day, snuggle the worries away.
12. Enjoy the love of your pack.
13. Delight in the simple joys of a long walk on the beach.
14. Allow people to love you.
15. Less barking, more tail wagging.
16. Celebrate if you feel like it.
17. Get inspired by the simplest things in life.
18. Everything is possible, all you need is love.

Couldn't have said it better myself!