Our flashlights found the white bags long before we got to them. We didn’t know what they were or why they were there. Only that this, the isolated Pacific coastline north of El Rosario, is no place for piles of white bags. Brother Hans felt the bags and mentioned that they were moist. Father noted the small piles of black pebbles on the ground. “They are drying whatever is inside. These are some sort of special bags that let the moisture permeate out.”
The flashlights caught the sifting machines on the rock-beach below the cliff; just a wooden frame and a mesh wire. Father said that he had seen men sifting the rocks hours ago. Crabs, I thought, this was a crab fishery. Jade, Brother had argued, having heard that divers off the California coast hunt for jade. Later that night, to wash pots in the ocean, we climbed down the cliffs and onto the black beach of black rocks, where there is darkness upon darkness even with the flashlights. “Do you notice,” I asked Hans, “that the large rocks are farthest from the waterline, and the smallest against the breakest waves?”
We gathered these stones in our hands and let them spill back into the tide - the sound like an instrument. Every rock had its color - the blacks, the greys, the beige’s, the ochres. Baja’s history was right here, rolling up on the shore. Father said, “this is what they are bagging. The pebbles.” “Ornamental pebbles?” Hans was thinking out loud. “You could make quite a living at this,” he said. “I don’t think so,” said father. “I think this is supplemental income,” I said. “This isn’t someone’s career.”
In the morning, Father and I made coffee and looked at the sifters, examining their simplicity - the way the larger stones would separate from the smaller pebbles. A pair pulled up to the cliff and greeted us. “You have any beer?” they said. I said, “we have water. You want water.” “Si.” I offered them my canister as they began to haul white bags up the cliff, resting for a few minutes between each load.