View From The South Shore
By Kerry Watson
The Amazing Life of Trails
Driving along the southern shore of Lake Chapala you may glimpse at times a seemingly empty, vine-covered trail. Only ten meters off the highway, these trails run nearly continuously along the highway, unless there is a better jog or jaunt a block or so over. The trails are used all day long by walkers, riders on horses and burros, cattle, goats, men with wheelbarrows, men with machetes, whole Indio families taking turns carrying a garrafon of water.
The trails are rich with sweet treasures. All of these travelers simply reach up and pluck the guamuchiles – small, sweet ball fruits in a peapod – whenever needed. The red-stained fruit pods are a burst of sweetness and energy, just be careful of the stone-hard seed. In the city people use long cane poles with a hook to pull down the fruits, but over here no pole is needed.
Pitaya is another free harvest along the trails. Watch for particularly young, small green nopal cactus leaves; flick them to the ground with your knife or machete. Wrap in a plastic bag and keep the spines well away from your horse or body. At home, cut out each spine and slice thin so they look like green beans. I love them grilled, many boil them but they get slimy like okra.
Another trail bounty is the leaves of the towering bay or laurel trees. Planted in abundance on the south shore about thirty years ago, perhaps in some zesty government campaign, they remind me of southern France, or northern California. When you find a small sapling bay tree, pluck some tasty small leaves for your next pot of soup.
Travelers along these trails do not limit themselves to the accidental harvest. With all the weekend homes along the south shore, trees groaning with fruit are plucked as needed. Avocado, orange, tangerine, lime, all lower their boughs over the trails as if to offer the fruits to the traveler.
No wood is wasted; it is all carefully gathered and piled onto burros. Even the grasses are harvested with machete and piled on horses or burro so high that you can hardly see the animal, then brought home and dried. How refreshing to use this resource instead of cultivating and mowing under the artificial lawns of highways back home.
Each traveler not only takes from the trail, they also give back to the trail by bending back overgrowing vines or snapping a twig that grows into the walkway. Those with machetes hack at the larger limbs as they pass. If it cannot be snapped off, then twist or pull it a bit each time to be continued by the next traveler – this is a communal effort.
While most of the trails on which I ride my horse daily are accessed by car or truck, many mountain trails are accessible only on foot or by mount. On these rugged trails burros will suddenly appear alone, loaded down with milk buckets, opening gates by pushing the push-gates with their noses until they reach the dairy. There, their burden is removed by the dairy owner and the burros wait for their owner to appear to lead them back home to feed, and to open the now pull-gates.
And the wildlife! Birds, squirrels, deer (yes, really), scampering field mice, and thousands of lizards. Sometimes it looks like my approach is breaking up a lizard convention as they fly in all directions. The trails have little coves for resting, often with a perfect stone or log for sitting and contemplation where many hundreds or thousands of travelers have rested before; so many magical places just waiting for discovery. Not just a boring side of the road, it is another dimension.