At the end of September 2019, we moved into a little house on the beach in Southern Baja.
We arrived to find the walls crawling with albino geckos – hundreds of them. The bedroom wreaked of cigarette smoke even after I laundered the bedding and curtains and left the mattresses out in the sun. At the end of our first big moving day, I sat on the couch only to minutes later feel something on my head. That something was a roach the size of my hand.
We moved back out of the house three days after we arrived and into another rental we found on the fly. Over the next month, we replaced the roof, painted the interior, cut back overgrown trees that served as nature’s highway indoors, and upgraded the furniture to make the place livable. We moved back in November 1st but were still shooing out critters through December.
By the time my mom visited just before the holidays, my 3-year-old daughter was talking straight faced, eyes full of wonder about the “fucking mice who went poo poo in the stove.” True story. In the ever-sweet and humbling imitation phase, my daughter spent the week so kindly showing my mom the great model I had become as nature challenged me to accept the ways it had in relationship to this house, won.
Seriously though, I’d wake at 4:30am daily during my son’s early rising phase to find mice poop in the stove. That is deserving of an f-bomb even in front of children.
While I was grateful for many aspects of our budding life here in Baja, I hated this house. Having lived only in the highly sterilized American culture, this closer-to-nature way was uncomfortable. I’d clean gecko poop off the floor each morning before my children started playing. Of course, wipe the stove clean of the mice droppings.
One evening as Dave and I sat on the two chairs in our sparse, couch-less living room, we talked about our time here. He reminded me that if I was too uncomfortable here, we could leave. But then, he said, “You know hon, I don’t mind it here. And I hope that by the time we leave, we will have come to appreciate this house.”
I reminded Dave that had also in his earlier years spent months sleeping in a hammock each night as he motorcycled through Mexico and South America, while I was living in Soho working at a home decor magazine.
Still, his words stuck with me. I laughed thinking that yes, I will appreciate some of the memories we create here on the beach with our young family, but the house itself, no way.
Over the winter, I bought a bunch of mouse poison and traps but never used them. As we kept tending to our home – cleaning as meticulously as possible with two toddlers, putting all of our food in plastic storage bins – the mice retreated. I no longer wake to poop in the stove. Or anywhere, really. Okay, okay, we do have to wipe down the insides of the upper cupboards regularly, but we don’t keep much up there but dry goods in plastic bins.
Two months ago, when the reality of COVID-19 set in, this house became our haven. I don’t think I have spent this much time in a house since I was my daughter’s age, truly. Perhaps even more like my 1.5 year old son’s. Since I was very young, my life has been full of activities, projects, schooling, work, and connecting with people.
During these last two months, my children and I, and my husband when we wasn’t away working, settled into the simplest of rhythms here – a walk out to the beach in the morning, playing in a kiddie pool out front in the afternoons, watching the kids explore the flora and fauna, cooking healthy meals, doing dishes by hand, and bathing the children at dusk in a large black plastic bin.
Our life here is simple. The kids’ imaginations are vast.
A few months ago, I realized that the adversity we faced getting and keeping this home livable was healthy. Surprisingly, living in closer relationship with nature fosters a sense of vitality, one that is absent when our homes and culture are so modernized, easeful and sterile.
I sit here tonight on the eve of our next adventure with a heart full of gratitude.
The original owners of this house raised their children here. That magic lives on in shell collections and hand-painted tiles. Much time had passed since those days, but we’ve revived this place, in some ways restored it to its original state, brushed away the cobwebs to let its love shine through again.