Tag Archives: Lake Chapala

Written in Stone (For The Sunday Whirl, 506)


These are some of the ancient tiny jars used for sacrificial blood offerings that washed up on the shores of the lake during the period when it shrank to 1/4 of its former size. 

Written in Stone

The rain came as an onslaught after years of drought,
splashing on the cobbles and washing pebbles out.
Cleaning out the gutters, pouring down the hill,
until those who’d prayed for rain declared they’d had their fill.
As it came down in torrents, first welcome and benign,
at first the people welcomed it. Saw it as a sign
that they’d been forgiven for ways they had maligned
Michicihualli, whose shrinking banks were lined
with sacrificial offerings—atonement for the sin
of years of people living there that they had thrown in
to feed the spirit of the lake and ask for what they wished for—
water for their crops and the silver fish they fished for.

But for years they had forgotten the history of the lake:
how grandfathers had slit their ears, blood sacrifice to make,
collected the drops in a jar and dropped it in the water,
to give it as an offering to its guardian daughter,
to thank her for her providence and calm potential ire
that made the lake reach heavenward in a colossal gyre.
To try to still the water and end its angry churn,
one-by-one they brought their gifts, her blessings to return.

But these practices had ended in this modern age
as the people let traditions slide and failed to set the stage
to present her with the symbols that by rights she’d earned.
So in retaliation, perhaps the lady spurned.
Split the heavens open and the rain poured down,
washing boulders from the mountains down into the town.
Walls and buildings leveled, cobblestones stripped bare,
stones piled up in piles high into the air.

One hundred years of fury washed down in only minutes
reminded all the people of those forgotten tenets
of giving back when given, and finally they listened
cleaning up the garbage until the lakeshore glistened,
restoring all her beauty to calm her angry rancor,
and giving other offerings to honor and to thank her.

These are the prompt words for The Sunday Whirl, 506: pour, drought, history, still, symbol, sign, week, slide, end, rights, onslaught and people.

Michicihualli is the legendary lady who dwells within Lake Chapala, providing all the bounty necessary that the people who dwell here need to survive. When I moved to these mountains above the lake twenty years ago, the lake had shrunk to 1/4 of its former size and a few years later, weeks of downpours culminated in the waterspout which rose up from the lake and dumped water onto the mountainside above me that had already been super-saturated, causing a huge landslide that brought boulders the size of cars rushing down the mountain arroyos, through the fraccionamiento where I live, ripping up all the roads, destroying walls and buildings, then down through the town and into the lake. It is said that this was the most recent example of hundred-year storms that had ravaged the area before, but after massive restoration efforts as well as legislation that has restored more water flow into the lake from dams further upriver which had been holding back the waterflow, the lake came up to its former banks. Now, this year, it has again been diminished to 1/2 of its former size. Hopefully, the rainy season that we are just now entering will restore some of that water. HERE is a link to an article I wrote about the devastation during that huge avalanche. Luckily, I lived exactly in the middle between two of the arroyos that had the most damage and although the water came to within feet of my house and houses a block on either side of me were demolished, my house went undamaged.


We Lay Our Friend to Rest

Our friend Jay died recently, as I noted in an earlier post HERE. Today we laid his ashes to rest in Lake Chapala.

The birds were in attendance,
the night heron and snowy egret,
coots and pelicans.

And his friends—
some in the boat, others
gathered on the shore
along with children—those reassurances
that life goes on.

We lifted a glass
and recalled the day he returned the sacrificial ollitas* to the lake,
the words of children sealed in their depths,
giving the lake back what was once hers,
and as if she listened, she swelled her skirts anew,
reclaiming those shores she had long abandoned.

He was Mexican by choice if not by birth,
and we returned him to her,
strewing him between flowers that floated in strings like ribbons
behind the boat.

The ollitas arcing, spilling him home.
His friend spreading the rest of him on the water’s surface
like a blessing and a reassurance
that we are never lost to the world we are a part of.

The birds, who know this, watched
as he was reborn to water, hyacinth and air.

Under a falling sun, we watched him swell his being,
the beginning of that journey to every shore
of this lake that he once gave back to and now
has given his all to.

Rest in peace, dear friend, lover, father, uncle, brother.
We share you with the world.

*Chapala was founded in 1538. The town may have taken its name from Chapalac, one of its earliest Indian chiefs. Or perhaps it came from the Nahuatl “Chapatla,” the “place where pots abound,” referring to the primitive local practice of appeasing the gods by throwing pots, spotted with blood from earlobes, into Lake Chapala. These little pots, called “ollitas” have washed up to the shores from the lake, especially during the years when the lake receded greatly. Years ago, Jay did a project where he had school children write messages which he rolled into tight cylinders, waterproofed and placed in ollitas that friends had found along the lake or purchased from locals. They then took them out in a boat and returned them to the lake. We took the remaining  ollitas that we found in his house along with others contributed by friends and thought it was a fitting tribute to fill them with Jay’s ashes and return both him and the ollitas to the lake, along with the words sent to us by his friends and family.

Click on photos to enlarge.




All those natural places that soothe us with their peace,
their beauty and their silence offer us release
until some pugnacious tourist rips the scene apart,
instilling angst and turmoil where formerly was heart.


Word prompts for the day are pugnacious, tourist, natural and peace.

Looking in, Looking out: Thursday Doors, Nov 5, 2020

Click on photos to enlarge.

I snapped the first photo with my phone one late night/early morning, returning to my house from the studio. The second is my studio from my chair, the third is Morrie and Diego coming to tell me it is midnight and time to bome back up to the house. If they aren’t inside the studio, they are usually as close to the door outside as possible, and never fail to come to try to lure me up to the house at midnight. The fourth photo is looking out from my studio to the lake and the third is perhaps not quite legit. Does a doorway qualify as a door?

For Norm’s Thursday Doors.

Expats in Mexico

Well, no one stopped me, so here is a lovely essay about American Expats in his native Mexico by Arturo Garcia, who is now a Mexican expat and wonderful artist and poet living in the U.S. I guess we traded places:

If there were Americans in Chapala, in Ajijic there were even more. They met at the Old Posada, at the Plaza, at the restaurants in La Montaña, and at the Lake Chapala Society. They had large houses in La Floresta, in Rancho del Oro and more in the heart of town where they felt part of the native community. Those who chose to live in town were not bothered by the cocks that began to crow in the corrals at five in the morning or by the dogs that barked all night at some opossum or some nagual soul that arrived in the shape of an owl. For them, the superstition of the people was ancestral mysticism and they saw it as part of our culture that they had learned in books and that the townspeople without knowing, lived by innate wisdom and by being direct heirs of the Indians who survived the conquests. People had that in their blood and Americans were attracted to it because everything was authentic.

Americans who were touched by the magic of the town left everything behind to stay. Many set aside their piece of land in the municipal cemetery because that was how great their love for the town was. Sometimes they used the politics of their country or the state of social decline as an excuse, but the real reason they did not return was not known to them. They were simply bewitched by the spirit of Ajijic and there was nothing to separate them, not even death.

They, the Ajijic Americans, stood out by their way of dressing, by the efforts they made to speak Spanish and did not judge the native ways of some inhabitants who refused progress, on the contrary, they went to the store with their huaraches and embroidered morral bags made by Huichol Indians while the women came out with their Oaxacan blouses looking and feeling like Frida Kahlo herself. It was nice to see them with their Mexican hearts blending with the locals, putting aside their cameras to hang Wixarika morrales on their shoulders when they decided to stop recording memories with the 35-millimeter camera roll to start storing them on the roll of memory living the experience permanently.

Photo: Pedro Loco. Inside Lakeside.

HERE is a link to Arturo’s website. Go here to see his art. 

Jesus Lopez Vega’s New Mural, La Vieja Machis

After he finished the murals on my house, Jesus Lopez Vega went to paint a fabulous mural on the outside wall of my friends Candace and Bob’s house.  They had a sort of ribbon-cutting for it yesterday where Jesus explained the symbols of the mural and also talked about the book he has written on the history of the villages on the north side of lake Chapala. Hopefully, it will be published next year. Here are some of the photos of the mural and the people who came to its grand kickoff. You can click on the photos to enlarge them and read captions.

The mural is located at the corner of Zaragoza and Nino Heroes in Chapala. It is two blocks north of the Malecon and two blocks east of Francisco Madero, the street that the church is on.

Blackbirds over Lake Chapala 2

A couple of hours of looking through old photos of the non-digital sort yielded two photos of the blackbirds whose sunset flights were described in this poem. In these photos, they have not yet gathered into the chains they form to fly to the cornfields between Chapala and Guadalajara. Here they are just lifting out of the acres of cattails that rimmed the lake back when it was shrinking in size. This is just one wave of birds. After it lifted, there would have been another and another—tens of thousands of birds—as I recall, some yellow-winged and some red-winged blackbirds. In the years since then, the lake has thankfully come up to its original banks, as at the time I moved here in 2001 there were places in which you had to take a taxi from the pier to get out to the lake. It was estimated that the lake would be totally gone within five years, but luckily people banded together to save it. I’m glad to have the lake restored and there are still thousands of white pelicans as well as numerous egrets and herons and other birds, but I do miss those glorious swells of blackbirds.

(If you want to see the birds, you need to click on photos to enlarge them.)