Mi alma es un carrusel vacío en el crepúsculo.
(My soul is an empty carousel at twilight.)
I’ve been thinking about twilight this week. No, not the book by Stephenie Meyer, though I admit to having been deliciously entangled in the series when I taught seventh graders. I’ve been thinking about the beautiful Spanish word crepúsculo, which also means dusk and sometimes dawn. Say “cray-POOS-coo-low” fast five times at twilight and the CW-Ps, the Cosmic Word-Pixies, will pirouette on your tongue for 5 minutes.
In English, we use a similar word “crepuscular” when referring to the habits of certain creatures who live to scurry or swarm as the sun rises and sets. The frisky gray squirrel running up and down my cedar fence when the light is low, or napping there for hours on miraculous afternoons when the clouds go on vacation, is crepuscular. Slimy slugs eating my marigolds are crepuscular.
And so, unfortunately, are no-see-ums.
The worst place on earth for these tiny blood-suckers…locals call them jejenes…has to be San Blas, on the west coast of Mexico.
A while ago, long before we were scouting around for layed-back fishing villages, we drove all over Mexico looking for the perfect wave. Puerto Escondido had the biggest wave, for sure, but San Blas had a reputation for being home to the longest wave in the world. My husband and I hopped into our Veedub pop-top camper bus, fully loaded with 9- and 10-foot boards, a case of crunchy peanut butter which we’d heard, incorrectly, was impossible to find in Mexico, and a small bottle of bug repellent from REI. We headed northwest from Oaxaca, but since the bus broke down every few miles it took us forever to reach San Blas. When we finally did, the water was flat as a tortilla, or that iguana I accidently popped years later on the road out to Punta de Mita while taking my son and a vanful of his friends surfing (but that’s another story). The good news was that we arrived in the early afternoon when there was still plenty of time left for us to bag some zees under a coco palm.
The bad news was that by the time we heard their wings beating and felt the familiar pinprick bites we were in the middle of a full-body-contact-no-see-um-swarm. In fact, the black cloud of ¼-inch females was so dense that every time we gasped for air we sucked a million micro midges into our nostrils and clear up to our brains. It occurred to us, then, that it was twilight.
By the time we made it back to the van, slammed the doors, rolled up the windows and doused ourselves with DEET, which stoned us for hours, we were covered with hundreds of red, itchy welts that would take weeks to disappear.
Humans can be crepuscular, too. My husband and I love to have coffee in the early morning before the sun even thinks about peeking at us. Feeling perky, we dive into our work until noon. That’s when we start dragging, dreaming of sliced pears and Medjool dates, slipping into nap mode. But later, light ebbing as the glowing orb…or in the case of our perpetually overcast Pacific Northwest, the imaginary glowing orb…is about to take a nose dive into the Big Blue, we start to come alive again.
On the Bahía de Banderas, that meant heading for the Wall, a spot on the beach where we could lean againt a thick stack of stones and sip Pacifico beer with a twist of lime that was the exact color of the green flash. We were never alone at the Wall, or quiet, or even sedentary. There was a lot of laughter and singing, most of it baudy and off-key. Which just goes to show how frisky we crespuscularians can be at dusk, especially if you throw in a green flash.
Have you seen the flash? It happens like this: You stare at the horizon through cheap, central mercado sunglasses because you’ve lost your spendy ones from home. You know the flash is about to pop when the no-see-ums are in full attack mode and everyone around you is slapping, cussing and DEET-ing. At this point, you’re probably dying to run back to your house to take a leak or get away from the bugs, but you can’t stop gazing at the edge of the sea where only a fiery sliver of sun remains. Glowing tangerine ribbons adorn the sky and you estimate you’ve got no more than 30 seconds before the big event. Your drunk neighbor knocks over your Pacifico with her foot, forcing you to turn away for maybe two eye blinks to retrieve it, as somebody shouts, “Did you see that? Did you SEE that!” followed by oohs and aahs and your own “Dang! I missed it again!”
But the green flash has to be real, right? At least one person always sees it, and everyone else always acts like they’ve just seen a UFO land. On the other hand, maybe it’s a matter of having slammed a few too many cervezas. Or, maybe it turns out to be true that no-see-um bites cause green-tinted hallucinations when you’re in the twilight zone.