Updated: Apr 27, 2021
My mother wore a heavy winter coat to the hospital on April 3rd 1946, the day she give birth to me. Five days later when she brought me home she wore only a short-sleeved cotton dress and no coat. St. Louisans say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes and it will change.” It could be maddening on a daily basis, but the changing seasons were as exciting to me as Broadway openings.
What would I do without four distinct seasons when I was living in the Yucatan jungle? I was looking forward to escaping bitter winter. There the temperature fluctuates by only about ten degrees from month to month, with only two seasons, either rainy or dry. But would I miss the dramatic changes that marked the passage of time, bringing something different every few months?
But I needn’t have worried. Mother Nature never disappoints. One day in March, Eliseo, the young man who worked for me taking care of my house in the jungle, showed up with painful new red welts all over his face and body. “Mal agua,” he explained, wincing. Bad waters. He knew the ocean well and respected its power, having lived next to it all of his life. But this year warmer days came early, bringing with them colonies of poisonous jellyfish before expected. With sail-shaped gelatinous pouches they rode the gentle waves in our bay. They were like the snow that fell in winter in Clayton, Missouri, beautiful but inconvenient, reappearing every year, and with a bite that was painful.
April turned to May. It was unseasonably warm when a flock of black fairy-winged creatures fluttered around my shoulders and over my head and accompanied me as I walked through the jungle. The locals weren’t as entranced by them as I was. They are Black Witches they said, bad omens that are premonitions of death. Stay away from them or you’ll lose your hair. Supposedly the moths hung around through the summer months, but I had no opportunity to test the superstitions about the Black Witches as I never saw them again.
Around the first of June the jellyfish disappeared. A mud crab scurried frantically across my path, followed by a whole slew of his buddies. Soon the ground was crawling with them, a whole army of blue crabs on the move. They sensed the coming of hurricane season and they were heading inland for safety until September when they emerged again to make the dangerous journey back across highway 307, headed back to the sea to spawn. A new sign went up on the roads at various places, “Crab crossing.” Cars came to a standstill as the crabs passed in a great migration.
ln August, September, October and early November sea turtle eggs hatched. On a moonlit night, the baby turtles poked their legs and heads out of the sand and made their way to the sea, as miraculous as any showy fall foliage, but far more fragile.
Some migratory birds from the US and Canada spend the entire winter season in Mexico. The smallest of those is the ruby-throated hummingbird. It makes an incredible 30-hour journey across the Gulf of Mexico, the most determined of tourists.
I only had to learn to pay attention to the wildlife around me to know that time was marching on. Mother Nature was in charge of the calendar, just as she had been since time immemorial and always will be wherever we may live.