I was at the turnaround point in my run which is where I typically stop and pee and have a gander around for my favorite bird – the diminutive Vermillion Flycatcher – when I heard a furious gravel churning noise behind me of clawed padded feet scrambling madly in rapid motion.

My mind flashes to a much too familiar image of horror – that of getting set upon by some savage overprotective cow dog. I turned just in time to see a full grown coyote race by me panting with exertion, before he hurled himself over the four foot gap of the canal to then quickly disappear into a recently mowed farmer’s field.

My heart was pounding. Then sensing wetness, I looked down to see that I was dribbling somewhat copiously onto my sandals. I’d seen coyotes before but never so close up that I heard them breathing and the sound of their footfalls. On my way back I stopped to talk to the young guy who was tending cattle in an adjacent field. He told me that there were lots of coyotes seen in the valley. I said I didn’t doubt it but never so close up.

I got him to introduce me to his four dogs which he cheerfully did. One was called Blacky, another Fatty, and one was called Milton. The other I don’t remember. Milton made me laugh out loud. A big dangerous looking shovel-headed brute of a pit bull with the incongruous name of an intellectual (John Milton, Milton Friedman – you get it), but pronounced in the Spanish way was what made it ever more laugh worthy as it called to mind an old Saturday morning cartoon called ‘Milton the Monster’.

I no sooner got into the combi for the ride back into town and got seated when a tiny little girl looked up from the mess that she was making in her lap, directed her smile at me, and said ‘hello’. I usually have to tease little kids before I can get a word out of them but this little girl was obviously very comfortable in her own skin. She couldn’t possibly have remembered me from another combi ride a few months back but I remembered her. Now here she was sitting eating half of a muffin, pinching off such tiny little portions that didn’t amount to more than a few crumbs at a time; half of which were ending up on her lap.

I watched her with great amusement for the next 15 minutes as she alternated between tiny bites and brushing crumbs off herself. She had on a blue and pink knitted hat which didn’t quite hide what appeared to be a self-inflicted hairdo. I guessed her to be about two or three years old. Her mother periodically assisted in the crumb brushing; standing her up to do so. They quietly chatted back and forth during all these ministrations that included a napkin that mom from time to time got out to wipe her tiny little mouth. The stuffed animal wedged between her legs also received similar attentions. All the meanwhile mom was catching her and/or straightening her up on the bench as the combi lurched down the rutted road. The little girl constantly smiling as in one blissful little bundle of joy. She turned and waved to me as they got off the combi at the central plaza and gave me a cheerful, smiley ‘goodbye’.

It has been my observation that these Mexican children are never more than an arms length away from love. As a rule parents here don’t plop their children down in front of television sets so that the parents can have some ‘me time’. No, children here are constantly being interacted with. Babies get passed around like footballs. Little children are constantly being picked up, held and kissed. Older children are given pats. Big children play gently with their younger siblings. Brothers and sisters hold hands while walking down the street. Same for two sisters. And playtime hasn’t yet been subsumed by electronic media but still involves other kids. Big families means that there always cousins to play with; not just brothers and sisters.

(It has been my great pleasure to have had a tiny window for as long as I have into this constantly replicating culture with its values of family, church, and tradition).

Food. I need to talk about the local food for a moment before I end this post.

So after getting home from my run, I sluiced myself off up on the terrace, changed my running shorts into cargo shorts, put on my cleanest dirty shirt and walked down to the Mercado for lunch. I picked up a fresh squeezed glass of carrot/orange juice from Alberto’s jugoteria then settled on carnitas at Beto’s place. There were lots of different cuts to choose from. Keep in mind that carnitas in this part of the world is taking all the parts of the animal and boiling them in lard in what effectively is a giant stainless steel wok over a big gas burner. The meat comes out tender and succulent and surprisingly ungreasy. And every last piece of the animal retains its different flavor.

I choose a piece of snout (melt in your mouth gelatinous goodness), a piece of intestine (chewy, slightly salty), and a piece of rib meat (slightly fatty, fall off the bone tender). I assembled 3 tacos dressing them up individually, one by one. I loaded up the sliced snout with diced onion, cilantro, and Beto’s own mild red salsa. The sliced intestine taco got dressed up with avocado and a vinegary chili, onion, and radish salad. And the rib meat got pretty much the same treatment as the snout. Delicious.

I was walking out when I happened to spy some of the loveliest yellow skinned chickens ever. By the way, chickens here – some anyway – are fed marigolds to get that curiously rich looking yellow (verging on gold) colored skins. I wasn’t planning on cooking that evening but those chickens looked so splendidly inviting that I bought one. This particular place does all their own processing. They slaughter, dip in boiling water and pluck. All in a space about the size of a small walk in closet. Very fresh. Squawking one minute, laid out picture perfect the next.

The chicken was skinned and chopped up. Skinned, because boiled chicken skin doesn’t have the same flavorful attributes as does its fried counterpart. I dropped the pieces in boiling water which held only a few pinches of salt, some whole dried hot chilies, and half a dozen bay leaves. Forty minutes later I added some new baby potatoes that I bought off an indigenous woman in front of the central cathedral two days before.

I poured off the rich broth to serve later as a soup base.

Dinner was fresh bread, hot chicken and potatoes with a mayonnaise and caper sauce on the side. Simply marvelous.

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