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Looking Out My Backdoor: Maybe behind the bathroom door


October 20, 2016

I’ve lost my robe. I’m beside myself with anxiety. I didn’t realize it was gone. In fact, I have no idea exactly when I misplaced it. Surely, I couldn’t have thrown it away. I depend on that robe. It is a piece of me.

My hermit robe. A “security blanket.” I wore it from the day I moved to Mazatlan. Protection in my desert of solitude. It circumscribed my hermitage, defined my retreat.

Yesterday, Bonnie said, “Sondra. You look so different.” We met in March, when I bought my casita. Bonnie manages the Rancho for her mother. She is a practitioner of several forms of Chinese medicine. She’s my acupuncturist and my friend.

“Your face, you look so ... happy. Tranquillo,” she continued.

I looked around at the beauty, the garden I’ve created around my home. Who wouldn’t be happy?

When Bonnie left I walked around my yard, thinking about my years in Mazatlan, the changes I’ve wrought in my eight months in Etzatlan. That’s when I discovered that my robe is missing.

My apartment in Mazatlan, a block from the beach, was a perfect retreat house for me. I walked to the fruteria for groceries. I walked my laundry to the lavanderia. Several people greeted me regularly. I looked forward to seeing familiar faces. Every several days I called Carlos with his pulmonia to take me places I couldn’t walk. In winter months I visited Ted and Frank, apartment neighbors.

Often days passed without me talking with anybody. I reveled in my solitude. My life as a recluse suited me. I needed it. I needed the quiet. I needed my time for healing in my desert hermitage. I wore my hermit robe comfortably.

My life didn’t change overnight when I moved to Etzatlan, near Guadalajara. My first weeks I cleaned and fixed the inside of my casita, alone, content with work at which I’m good.

I suspect, a guess, mind you, the changes began when I shifted my attention outdoors. This morning when Carol and John, “sometime” neighbors, came over, they asked, “How did you develop your garden? Did you start with a landscape plan? How did you begin what could be an overwhelming project?”

Plant by plant. I took out planters. I added planters. I removed trees. I planted trees. I made spaces where flowers flourish.

My garden evolved, is still growing and changing. I suspect this will be true forever, my forever, as long as I’m here to derive pleasure from the privilege of creating spaces where beauty flourishes.

Along with the flowers, I count people friends in my garden. Some, like me, live here year-round. Some locals. Some Americanos. Some arrive for weeks or months and then go to another home for weeks and months.

Recently, I’ve added daily language study to my life. Not that it’s a necessity. I can, and have, gotten by with rudimentary Spanglish, pointing and desperate gestures. Like a toddler, I’m beginning with basics. I’ve yet to figure out how to introduce “El perro camino sobre mi camisa” (The dog walked over my shirt) into everyday conversation. And I’m not sure I have the correct verb tense. But I’m doing it.

Recently, Bonnie’s daughter, Samantha began teaching Qigong, a Chinese energy movement practice, in the park behind our cluster of casitas. We meet for class twice a week, people from our Rancho, people from town. Between times, my neighbors meet in my backyard patio for practice daily.

See what I’m saying? My life has turned downside up.

It’s not all rosey-posey. My brand new nonworking refrigerator has not been replaced, two weeks now. My yard resembles an open pit mine around my septic system. Poco y poco, tanks are cleaned only to find the drain is clogged with Yucca tree roots. Yucca, that same pretty summer flower along roadside barrow pits, is a tall tree in my yard, same creamy cluster of beautiful flowers. The roots, millions of tendrils, grew to encompass the tanks and clog the pipe. New pipe, new drain field, coming up. I’m still researching for a new computer since my trusty desktop died of old age and other infirmities.

Next step for my garden? The soil in the flower beds surrounding my yard is tired. I’ll dig out all the hundreds (literally) of lilies, planted helter-skelter, replace the dirt with composted topsoil, add a serpentine path through the middle of the five-foot wide flowerbed, replace the plants in neat clusters. What do you think?

My hermit robe is still missing. By the way, my bathroom doesn’t have a door, merely a curtain. But if I had a bathroom door, that’s where I’d hang my robe, on a hook, safe for when I need it. I’m naked without my trusty robe, aren’t I? I need my robe, don’t I?


Sondra Ashton grew up in Harlem but spent most of her adult life out of state. She returned to see the Hi-Line with a perspective of delight. After several years back in Harlem, Ashton is seeking new experiences in Etzatlan, Mexico. Once a Montanan, always. Read Ashton’s essays and other work at montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com. Email [email protected]


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