Mary Jane Gagnier The New Year is Hopeful Chosen David Attenborough is my hero He says we must re-wild the earth Yesterday, a woodpecker, a
Newsletter #10 Fall 2022
Mary Jane Gagnier
Dear friends of Oaxaca,
2022 comes to a finale with rejoicing curtain calls. Let’s not leave the best for last but proceed in reverse through a year to remember. On October 31, Alana Jane Mendoza Pedro was born to her gushing parents: my son Gabriel and his darling wife Evelia. That makes me a grandmother and it’s a new hat I’m delighted to be wearing.
On the eve of her departure for the wilds of northwestern Argentina, Iris Van Driel leaves behind a brand new Casa Murguia website. You have all, perhaps unknowingly, been enjoying her design talents via the Horseback Mexico website for the last two years. Iris arrived in the thick of the pandemic to become birding companion, trail riding guide and web creator. Please take a look at both the sites. Best of luck at Estancia Ranquilco this winter ( correction – it’s summer in Argentina ).
In late July of 1987, newly weds, Arnulfo Mendoza ( 1954 – 2015 ) and yours truly, Mary Jane Gagnier opened the doors of Alcalá 203, a rambling colonial building on the first pedestrian street in Oaxaca. This was the beginning of Galería La Mano Mágica, a venue that has for decades featured hand-woven textiles, paintings and graphic arts paired with fine folk art from across the country. My son, Gabriel, now owner and manager, organized a proper Oaxacan shindig to celebrate La Mano Mágica’s 35th anniversary. A sequine-clad brass band roared; woodcarvers from San Martin Tilcajete greased their bodies and donned their wooden masks. Artists, patrons and beloved friends kicked up their heals to prance and parade from the corner of Constitución and Reforma down Alcalá and through the gallery’s carved wooden doors. Viva La Mano Mágica!
Our own summer rainy season behaved more like two distinct episodes. June brought abundant rain and then July through mid-August the showers retreated with apparent finality but by late August the skies were brooding, and for the next two months we were blessed with regular showers. The earth was happy and reciprocated with a resounding fall wildflower season. We rode, for weeks, through seas of sunflowers and mobs of morning glories.
While competitive endurance riding no longer interests me, I still enjoy the navigational and logistical challenges of distance riding. In early October, I rollicked with seasoned rider Cathy Molloy, over a 100 miles ( 160 km ) in three days circumnavigating the Piedra del Sol cordillera; that’s the distinctive twin-peaked range to the south of Rancho Pitaya. Making the journey even more meaningful, I rode Newest Style, my brave lead mare who paired nicely with her ten year old daughter Niza. On day one, we rode out of Rancho Pitaya and 65 km later ambled into Hacienda Guegorene on cool horses just as dusk descended. Logistics expert, Coco Sanchez, met us each day with scrumptious tailgate lunches prepared by the ranch’s fine cook, Gina Lopez. Six cheers for girls who can!
Reflections on love and loss.
Someone told me over twenty years ago, early on in my ongoing odyssey of horse-keeping, “If you’re going to live with horses, you’re going to have to euthanize them too!” I had to make just such a decision in early January when my beloved stallion Fernandez suffered an acute and irremediable gut displacement.
Gone but so not forgotten. Where I didn’t ride with that ex-racehorse stallion: from deep in the canyon region of Oaxaca to the high Sierra Juarez, we criss-crossed the valley of Tlacolula like a spirograph.
But mounts I do not lack and aside from twelve healthy horses, our donkey Bonita returned from two months at boarding school a new girl and under saddle. Donkeys are not small horses with big ears! She has her own world view and responds accordingly. Riding Bonita is making me a better and more perceptive equestrian.
It’s been a year of engaging road trips that kicked off in March with Houston friends, Lindsay and Rick Norris. A four hour drive north northwest, in the midst of the UNESCO-protected cactus forests in the high Mixteca region and just across the Oaxaca state line in San Juan Reyes, Puebla is an unexpected landscape teeming with marine fossils and strewn with dinosaur prints that date back over 65 million years. The following day and a few hours northeast, we drove into the thick of Veracruz coffee country and the lush tropicals forests around Coatepec. Tumbling down the steep northern slope of the Eastern Sierra Madres we motored through towering coastal dunes. Turning inland naps Tlacotalpan. A kaleidoscope of lollypop-colored facades, this timeless riverside town is packaged in a vernacular architectural style that warranted its designation as a UNESCO-world heritage site. We cruised while watching birds on the mighty Papaloapam river before heading farther east into Veracruz to kayak on Lake Catemaco. A highlight of the local birding was the Scarlet macaw population, a reintroduced species, now successfully reproducing in protected habit.
In early May, Iris and I drove to the ethnically Zoque northeastern corner of the state of Oaxaca. In a hamlet called La Esmeralda, we settled into comfy ecotourism cabins and enjoyed several days of nature walks and world-class birding with local guides. Parrots, trogons, motmots and the highly endemic Nava´s wren, among dozens of other species, satiated our ornithological appetite while delighting in the unexpected entertainment provided by troops of spider monkeys. A few hours farther south, a plethora of shorebird species kept us ogling for hours at the saltwater lagoons in Oaxaca’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Just twenty kilometers inland, the ethereal seasonally dry tropical deciduous forests revealed flashy Magpie-Jays and the very local Rose-bellied Bunting.
After decades away, I revisited Isla Mujeres just off the northeast coast of the Yucatan peninsula. The main town was still recognizable with narrow cobbled streets and colorful facades. It was magical scuba diving on Manchones reef with over fifty species of fish in every color combo and pattern imaginable. It was kinda like undersea birdwatching but for real birding, I engaged the expert services of David Salas whose additional archeological knowledge guided me to Ek Balam. This recently excavated site, absolutely unique to the Mayan world for its gloriously intact figures fabricated in terra-cotta with incredible detail. Minutes away, I couldn’t get tired of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of flamingos that thrive in the protected lagoons and salt flats around Rio Lagartos.
I just returned from scouting new routes through the Sierra Juarez. Hiking on foot, in the company of knowledgable local guides, I was lead down ancient trails still nicely maintained by the mountain communities. In the new year, I’ll be spearheading a project to restore, map and catalogue a series of historic stone bridges that span the rivers bordered by Calpulalpam, Yahuiche, Amatlan and Yavesía. More news coming soon.
Oaxaca is thriving. Live music flourishes, from classic rock and roll on Sunday afternoons in Jalatlaco and live-streaming of the Met Opera at the Teatro Alcala to almost daily “calendas” down Alcalá with brass bands and the giant dancing “monas”. The food markets are plush and local chefs vie to outdo each other. Chic boutiques with superbly crafted wearables abound while classic crafts, limited edition prints and masterful originals can be found in dozens of galleries. Beyond the city, the villages are eager for visitors and ecotourism cabins are back in full swing from San Jose del Pacifico in the Sierra Sur to the Sierra Juarez and into the high Mixteca.
As the shadows angle deep in the clear winter sky and the grass warms to shades of gold, the candelabra cacti burst to bloom. After 36 years here, it remains as exciting as on my first visit in 1985.
Take life by the reins and enjoy the ride.
Mary Jane Gagnier
Rancho Pitaya, December 15, 2022
Mary Jane Gagnier Dear friends of Oaxaca, Oaxaca, has returned to green, along with 8 other states in Mexico. The rest of the country is
Mary Jane Gagnier At Casa Murguia and Rancho Pitaya I know it’s been some time since my last newsletter. I’ve been really busy since the
Mary Jane Gagnier I wish everyone fair weather and good footing as we crest the pass to the new year. 2020 has gone by at
Newsletter #5 Posted on 25 October 2020 Year of the Pandemic By Mary Jane Gagnier I urge you to read the on-line version with photos on