“You go out early, when dawn is coming but it is still dark, or just after an off-season rain.”
A neighbor, and Lake Chapala pescador\campesino, Paco Rios was putting together a new fishing canoe. I was helping, learning a new craft, while waiting for my wife to arrive with an updated copy of building plans.
Paco was replacing his old and leaky canoe. Recently, his wife had died of a “bad heart.” She had been generally judged in the small, nearby village as hard to get along with. And Paco, like others in that pueblito, attributed her death to her bad heart – meaning her rough personality. Paco had no children – his wife and been barren. A condition many attributed to her disposition.
Almost no fishermen at the eastern end of the lake could then afford motors for their boats. They depended on strong arm and back muscles for rowing, and knowing how to build a sleek canoe, and where to fish. Paco also cultivated a number of mountain crops in a wide barranca above my property. For the moment, having no pressing attachments, he worked at an easy, instructive pace.
“Early is when to go after them,” he said. “Coyotes, foxes and such haven’t fed all night. Hunger makes them take chances. You wait with your rifle. You have a rifle, no?”
That was when the government paid no attention to what firearms citizens owned. Many such weapons – ideally both a pistol and a rifle – kept even in the homes of the very poor, were left over from the Revolution.
“I used to. An M-1 Grand, 30 caliber.”
Muy bueno. A gringo army rifle. But you weren’t in the gringo army,” he declared. “I’ll borrow a pistol from an abuelo who fought in the Cristero Rebellion” (President Plutarco Elias Calles’ 1927-1929 war against the Catholic Church.)
To many Mexicans, though I seemed tall, I appeared too young to have been in the army. And, to some, too green, too much of a gringo to effectively turn a patch of wild uninhabited mountainside into a successful two-horse, four-calf ranch. When a mountain neighbor – in wide chaps, straight-blade machete and holstered pistol – who owned empty land next to my property saw I claimed no land of his, he nodded. He warned me to expect visits from animals that considered the mountain their prize, their home.
At that time several lowland farmers had flocks of white guinea fowl. Such flatland share-croppers below the mountain were visited nightly by foxes, ferrets, coyotes, even wolves, and, they said, a small species of bear. This information was now offered to me with a grin. Folks agreed that one wily coyote imitated the stealthy habits of a fox in preying on those guineas of those farmers below. “A crazy coyote, but very smart.”
That mountain neighbor and his two sons seemed to be teasing a gringo stranger who intended to raise fowl as food for his mountain household. A coyote wily as a fox could easily dent such plans.
Paco had become a friend when we moved from Ajijc to rent the empty home of a gringo friend while I supervised construction of our mountainside home.
From him, I learned a pile of local lore, and how to build a fishing boat. He identified which puestos in the nearby pueblito charged fair prices. He told med who in the village could be trusted. He agreed that, yes, at least one coyote was an expert in going after the bright guinea flocks.
“You know how it is after a rain, or a drop in temperature,” he said. “That’s the time to get such pinche predators.”
I was to learn to carefully share the mountain with many other wild residents. Some were impressive. Larger carnivores included bobcats, coyotes, wolves, an occasional bear, plus a hefty colony of eight-foot cascabeles (rattlesnakes). There also were raccoons and skunks. Most had markings that camouflaged them.
That was just before the morning Paco whispered he’d found two skeletons in a high growth of barranca brush. We carefully avoided that slice of high montaña. And now, abruptly, we carried pistols for predators – animal and human.