A Legendary Birthday: Miracles of Nature in Baja

My mother turns fifty-five and the world around us explodes to life in celebration. The rising sun heats the white canyon where we sleep; first in the softest lavender hues, then brilliant magenta, and finally blazing white. We hide from its scorching rays, creeping into the shade as the turquoise sea glitters before us.

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My father spots the splashes of dolphins on the horizon. At first we sit and stare at the fleeting glimpse of wildlife, waiting for it to disappear from view – but when the sight only intensifies, we hop in the boat and venture towards the commotion on the horizon. What we find astonishes us, for it is not ten, not fifty, but surely over three hundred dolphins, leaping and surging in great joyful waves. The entire surface of the water froths and churns from their velocity.  They dance and swerve along our boat, glowing graceful beneath the murky green waters. Babies leap high into the air, crashing back into the sea in a crescendo of splashes. We are wrapped up in an incredible surge of life, following, or being drawn forth, surrounded by an endless glimmering of smooth grey fins, glistening in the midday sun. The way the creatures cause such explosions of glittering light, the awe they invoke within us, the grace with which they move beneath the boat, as if flying – it is all so celestial that for a moment it seems plausible that dolphins do come from the Pleiades, after all.  And now we have stood among them, among such a tremendous number of them, alone in this green ocean and majestic purple mountain horizons.

Later, as the sun begins to sink back towards the horizon, we hike deep into the canyon, climbing limestone ledges and over piles of boulders, into the shade. Sweeping walls of white sand glow otherworldly gradients; near the wall’s crowning overhang, a soft orange sheen fades downwards, morphing into a light blue at the base. Fragrant, silver-leafed plants bloom around us, their sweet herbal aromas hanging like perfume in the warm desert air. The air stands still, perfect silence resounding off the canyon walls.

We climb piles of rock, brushing away flowering branches, work our way further into the inner curves of the canyon. Finally, we reach its heart: a towering, cylindrical chamber of rough white stone that twists and fragments into a wondrous panorama of surreal shapes. At the base of the walls stands a single, luscious fig tree, its rich yellow roots flowing like water over the barren ground, pooling themselves into every rocky crevice. Its thick, healthy leaves hang motionless before sheer walls of limestone, a miraculous blossoming of life in this world of heat whose very air ripples under the force of a burning sky.

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I spend over an hour in the depths of that white canyon, alone, photographing, reveling in the power and endurance of that lone fig tree, which flourishes as if by magic on such desolate ground. As the sun sinks lower beneath the mountaintops the canyon is painted with all the colors of the sky, gleaming sheens of blue and silver.  I stare up in wonder at the arching semicircle of white stone that reaches towards the sky above. I listen to the pure desert silence, the warm air sweet and still and utterly unmoving.

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Darkness falls upon the landscape as I make my way back to camp. Those tunnels of white stone turn as blue as the sea, as if I venture along the bottoms of ancient riverbeds, as if some radiant moonlight illuminated the flowing surface above. Indeed, from my riverbed pathway, I catch sight of the full moon rising into a deep purple sky that glitters already with stars; its face, with all its craters and ridges, shines a brilliant orange. The high red mountains surrounding the canyon dive into magentas and purples, and I, from my cerulean riverbed depths, stand speechless at the colors of the desert that shift in smooth waves of light with each passing moment. When finally I reach our seaside camp, the sparkles of moonlight on the ocean are as endless as if I had reached the heavens themselves.

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Our group’s birthday party for my mom, at that point, is in full swing. Laughter reverberates across the beach; light-up balloons swing gently in the breeze from the heights of kayak paddles and tarps. There are gifts and decorations galore – as I sit down at the dinner table, our guides present a gigantic cake, topped with cherries and frosting. After several rounds of Happy Birthday, the guides keep with true Mexican tradition, and push my mom’s face into the cake.  The table erupts into cheers and we laugh and laugh and the world glows silver around us.

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