Friday, December 25, 2009

Gifts for the giver...

Today we received many wonderful gifts for Christmas.  Each year we spend Christmas morning  delivering presents to the children who live on our road.  They know we are coming.  Their faces beam with excitement and happy anticipation.  For most of the kids, these are the only presents they'll receive all year.

My favorite part of the day was a phone call we got at the end of the day.  Our friend Carol delivered a gift to a 4 year old boy that lives a few houses from her.  He's a sweet boy who entertains himself by making boats out of palm branches and string.   Whenever I'm working at Carol's he always comes over and sits with me asking a world of inspiring questions.  His parents are poor and live in the garage of an abandoned house.  I bought him a scoop loader that has a remote control and Amaranth wrapped it in pretty paper and ribbons.  When Carol gave him the present he was thrilled, jumping up and down.  This was the first wrapped present he had ever gotten.  He thought the box was the gift.  He was absolutely happy to have a pretty box.  Carol had to show him to unwrap the present and his eyes grew brighter as he realized the contents.  Boys love machinery.  He danced in circles and shouted with an uncontainable happiness as he waited for the toy to be freed from its wrappings.  He drove his little toy around forward and backwards, lifting and lowering the bucket, the amber light on top flashing.

When we first married we decided to create our own traditions and this is one them:  to celebrate Christmas by giving Christmas to the ragamuffin children in our lives.  The children give us the gift of wonder and innocent joy.  For Carol the neighbor-boy's sheer happiness was multiplied in her and that too was a gift to Carol.  When we're told it's better to receive than to give it's true.  Nothing can come close to it. 

Merry Christmas,
Wally & Amaranth

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Happy as clams...defined

Life on the farm is very smooth right now.  All the chickens are safe.  We have five babies running around, happy as clams.  Where did that phrase come from?  Most clams I've ever met are about to be eaten.  Can being a meal bring us happiness?  Anyone out there know?  I've tried asking clams about the experience but they just clam up.   What else can you expect from a clam.  We haven't been very generous with them up to now.  Why should they talk to us.   I don't eat clams.  I prefer peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I might eat a clam if they went well with peanut butter and jelly.  Then again I think the whole point of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is that you don't have to kill anything to make one - nothing that breathes anyway.  The chickens asked me to put in that last remark.  We have standards here on the farm.  We do on occasion sneak down to the village and buy a whole barbecued chicken.  We shower thoroughly before entering the chicken pen,  hopefully removing all traces of chicken as food from our being.  I'm not up to having 60 knowing eyes staring at me.  Chickens have long memories.

We have Jamshed taking care of the gardens, including watering.   This clears up time for me to work on all the equipment that is waiting for my magical mechanical skills to put them back into working order.  I'm nearly finished with a Land Rover a friend gave me.  It was in sad shape.  I had to go through all of the wiring.  After that I removed the fuel injection, computers, etc and converted it to a carburetor  I also made my own distributor by combining the Land Rover distributor with a GM HEI distributor.  Enough tech talk.  Suffice it to say,  I can now work on it and best of all understand all it's mood swings.  There's two kinds of mechanics.  You have the modern day parts-replacers and the old fashioned mechanics who actually repair things and take pride in their work.  I'm the old fashioned kind.  Don't tell anyone -  I have enough to do.

The year is coming to a close and we're happy.  Every day we do what ever we want.  We eat wonderful meals.  Our freezers, cupboards and fridge are full of the wonderful things we grow here.  We have everything we need.  For Christmas this year were giving each other a poem.  That's what you get for someone who has everything.

In the past three years we've shared our home with over 100 WWOOfers.  We're ready to explore other ways of meeting like minded people.  We have a warehouse full of interesting stories the WWOOfers left us with.  In case you don't know.  WWOOfers are members of an organization with a really awful name.  I think it stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms.

We're looking forward to the coming year and all the adventures that await us.  We plan to do more exploring both inward and outward.  It's a great big beautiful universe we live in.  We wish you all well and hope you'll find the time to come visit us sometime.

To all of the above I say Amen and good night.  

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Up a teak...

Monk-ie boy!

Reminds me of when we were building the house and living without  windows, doors or screens or electricity.  When the sun went down the mosquitoes feasted so we'd get under the mosquito net and stay there til morning talking about everything.  We would check one another for ticks and joked about being monkeys.   We were just married and there was a lot of things from our past to process together and many hopes to re-shape to our shared life.  We were alone without obligations to family or friends and we were sharing a big project.  It was a good environment for growing as one.  It made us think of monastic life because it was barren of the things of the world and all things familiar, and it was centered around a simple life style with a single focus - us.  We joked that we were not monkeys but monk-ies.  Still are...

Monday, December 7, 2009

More news from the pen

Hello this is Wally.
After the last batch of posts I was starting to wonder if I was concentrating too much attention on the chicken part of our farm, but folks are always asking about our chickens so here goes.

The Costa Ricana mother abandoned the last of her chicklets so we took over caring for it by bringing it in at night to sleep in a basket.  They need warmth.  Each day we'd take it out to join the rest of the flock to peck around.  One evening  it was trying to get up to the nesting perch with the rest of the chickens.  I lifted it up and put it into a nest.  We watched as it jumped up on a lower perch and scootched over to a young chicken we call "the runt".  The runt eyed it suspiciously at first but allowed the baby to snuggle up against her.  We were happy and thought it would be nice for the runt to have a companion to be with at night since she normally stayed alone on the fringe of the flock.  Later when I checked the runt had taken the chicklet under her wing in a most loving  and grown-up way.  We went to bed feeling relieved that the two had bonded. In the morning Amaranth discovered the chicklet on the ground with the runt standing guard beside it.  Amaranth brought the chicklet into the house to warm it.  I put it on my chest and talked to it trying to stimulate it from lethargy.   After a little time it raised its head peeping excitedly and then slowly settled into its final rest.  We've seen this before in other chicks we've cared for.  Someone told us that his father who had been in a coma woke up and said he was going across the street to get a piece of pie and then he died.  Makes you wonder.  Some say animals don't go to heaven.  I say why not.  There's plenty of room.

We had two other mothers hatch out more babies.  Two of them came tonight.  Amaranth went out to check on things and found them on the ground peeping.  She deposited them under their mother.  Life goes on.

We've been having a lot of rain lately which is rare for this time of the year.  We're glad for it but it postpones our plans for planting.  You learn to adjust on a farm.  All the regularly scheduled events go out the window when mother nature changes her mind.

We've added 17 new fruit trees to our collection:   Durians, the stinky fruit which tastes heavenly, and  miracle fruits which have the magical ability to temporarily change your taste buds so that sour things are magically sweet and sweet things sweeter, also a curry leaf tree and several more varieties of mangosteens, and a brazilian cherry.  There's a world of wonderful exotic fruit trees out there.  This farm is becoming a Noah's Ark of trees - two of every fruit tree on earth!  Every time I look around and think we have no more room I find a nook or cranny just perfect for one more tree.  We've also removed a few trees in favor of diversity.
We keep a careful caring eye on everything noting the needs and making adjustments.  We are enriched by the process of husbanding just as the trees and plants are.  Plants move at a different pace than us but their response to care is so rewarding.

The vegetable gardens are coming along too.  Each year we move things and mix things around, try new varieties.  We are looking to make things better and more harmonious for all.

Well it's late for me and sleep awaits.    Wally

Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent in the slow-living lane...

Yesterday was the first Sunday in Advent. I love this season especially in Mexico because as the weeks approach Christmas you see the church interior blossom as in a time-delayed photography. The anticipation of Christmas builds slowly until finally on Christmas morning the altar is a full-blown manger scene with everything you can imagine including chickens, ducks, geese, goats, dogs, stragglers, ragamuffins, Christmas trees, flashing lights, kings, angels and Jesus - all the ordinary everyday things along-side the extra-ordinary.

Advent is about waiting. Not the kind of waiting that makes you tired and anxious to race to nowhere, frantic to control, consume. Advent-waiting is paying attention while developing a taste for the heavenly in each little thing that makes a present of itself - the present moment, the only place to savor the fullness of life.

I like carrying this happy anticipation in me; it is like being pregnant. I don't know what tomorrow brings but it is for my perfection, God alive and at work in me. I am be-coming as I go and what I will be I don't know. It will be a surprise when I get there.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Color magnet....

Sow rick-rack, get more rick-rack!

A new friend, Carolina, who is a Huichol Indian made me a traditional Huichol skirt and blouse. The skirt is turquoise and the blouse is red and there are circles of rick-rack in blue, green and yellow around the skirt and blouse. It is a BIG dose of color. I can't wear it without swirling and curtsying and smiling! Huichol art is rich in psychedelic color and imagery because the use of peyote is part of their religion. Everything they make from their personal clothing, jewelry, weaving and the things they make to sell are an expression of their religion. All of their art is sacred art. Their designs show an innocence and simplicity in their view of nature and the world. It's unabashedly innocent too which is refreshing in contrast to the world of art which force-feeds us ugly things that only the cool find cool. Better to BE art un-self-consciously, to celebrate plants and animals and friendship in primary colors. I'm telling you, color is speaking to me!

Zany zesty zigzag

Remember rick-rack? The trim that your mom sewed on curtains and aprons and around the hem of your little-girl dresses? Well, I'm crazy for it.

I've been changed by living in Mexico where colorful embellishment is without restraint, in fact it is celebrated all the way to the grave where the cemeteries are filled with brightly painted monuments and plastic flowers.

I recently found a cache of rick-rack in every color under the sun. I bought 2 meters of every color and proceeded to sew rings of zigzaggy color around all my skirts. I started looking for other things that could use more colorful rick-rack: pillows, place-mats, Wally's overalls, a collar for's a good thing I ran out or Wally would have had to take it away from me. Like candy to a kid - I couldn't get enough!

This celebration of color is a way of life in Mexico where everything everywhere is vivid-isimo. But for me it has more to do with the state of mind I've come to. I'm joy-full of the ordinary, everyday kinds of joys; small rick-rack.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Learning from a chick...

So many times when working in nature I stumble over something that speaks to me on a soul-level. One of the benefits of working alone is that the job at hand has your full attention and simultaneously you have your thoughts. The work shows me things and engages me and sometimes there's a memorable conversation.

It happened the other day. Wally brought in a tiny cottonball chick that was looking very droopy. The mother hen is very young and not experienced in raising little ones. We had noticed that sometimes she's rough or negligent. This little peeper looked like it was left out in the cold.

I was hurrying through my chores so I could get out the door early to pick up the neighbor's dogs and open the doors of the vet clinic. I have nursed many a chick and there's no way to do it in a hurry. They need to be warm and have a little beak-full of water every few minutes. If you think they will get better by themselves they usually don't. It's that live, warm contact that makes the difference. I thought, "It's just a chick - I don't have time to take care of more" and then I didn't like myself. In that moment I changed - I decided instead to put my whole heart into caring for it and let the rest of what needed to be done just carry me on my way. So I made a soft little diaper from the sleeve of a t-shirt, lined it with a paper napkin, folded it around the chick and slipped the little bundle between my breasts. It was just the right fit, the little chick could breathe and was softly snuggled and I could keep a careful eye on it. It made little trills to let me know it was happy.

I worked in the clinic checking in the first rush of dogs and cats that morning and no one noticed my little patient. Wally and I came home and the little chick made a nest in Wally's chest hairs slowly making it's way under his beard. Our dog Lucy has always wanted a chick of her own and she lay between Wally's legs scooting up his stomach keeping close proximity to our peeper. Wally can cheep really well and he cheeped away at the peeper and Lucy. Though he had many things to do too, he chick-sat while I prepared lunch. Some twenty minutes later the little peeper became very still, closed its eyes and suddenly died. We were surprised! We were confident that he was getting stronger.

I'm glad we gave it a good ending. I'm glad for me too. I'm glad that I had the extra moment to re-choose to be tender. We can choose to do anything with our hearts engaged but it means slowing down, turning off the excuse-reasoning and opening into the mystery to make contact and attend to what is needed now. Life is not a problem to be solved. Every dimension of life, its gains and its losses, are opportunities that brings us closer to being more alive. It is a blessing waiting to be celebrated.

That's what the peeper told me.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Happy people- happy dogs...

Today was the final day of our spay and neuter clinic. We treated 95 dogs and cats these last 4 days! That's nearly 200 animals in 8 days. These were a few of our "clients".

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dog tired...

This week was extra busy because in addition to my daily farm chores I volunteered at a spay and neuter clinic for dogs and cats in San Blas. We have a problem in Mexico with too many uncared for animals on the streets so the gringo community got together to provide free veterinarian clinics. We raise the money to pay for vets and meds, receive training and volunteer. It's all done through an organization called PEACE here in Mexico. This was the third clinic held in our area. You may have seen some photos on our blog from the clinic in Aticama last March. This week in San Blas we treated 77 dogs and cats and next week we have a 4-day clinic in Aticama. These clinics build a bridge between North American and Mexican relations as well as improving the lives of animals. It's a lot of work and a lot of fun. At the end of the day I was dog-tired!

Our six dogs, all rescued, missed the usual routine of following me around the house and farm. They were so glad to have me home all day and I told them what lucky dogs they are! Amaranth

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cottonballs with legs

Hello Junko, here are more stories about chickens and such. I had a quiet day with the chickens, neglecting my other duties. I worked on finishing the baby pen. The little chicks look like black and white cotton-balls with toothpicks for legs. Short toothpicks. The babies are very curious and get into every nook and cranny of their environment. They need a world that is smooth with small openings. Today one of the babies got in between the wooden crate that they sleep in and the fencing. The crate was very close to the fence with just enough of a narrow passage to inspire a curious baby to explore. It soon found out it was a one way alley with no way to turn around. The exit was in view when it got too small for even a cotton-ball to pass through. It struggled and pushed managing to get its leg stuck in the mesh of the wire. I was working in another part of the pen at the time but my "mothers intuition" kicked in and I went to check on them. I had this funny feeling something was wrong. I checked and only saw two babies. I could hear an occasional peep but couldn't see where it was coming from. Their little peeps have a ventriloquist quality. It jumps all over the place making it difficult to pin down where they are. I moved all the rocks holding down the bottom of the fence but no baby. I searched for 5 minutes but couldn't locate it. It quit peeping so I couldn't zero in on it. I'm the good shepherd and didn't give up and finally noticed a dark spot near the bottom of the crate. I gently moved the crate and waited for it to run off. It stayed by the wire. Then I noticed a tiny little foot stuck through the wire. I went and got my wire cutters and did some very delicate cutting. After about 6 careful snips it hopped free and seemed none the worse for the experience. It didn't have a limp which is a relief. I moved their bedroom out away from the fencing and looked the whole pen over for possible problems. I think we're in good shape. Tonight I noticed that the mom is sleeping in the corner on some soft grass I brought for them so tomorrow the crate is out.

After I mow the lawn I rake up the grass and spread it around the chicken pens. They love to eat the fresh greens and spread it around with their chicken dance. It also makes good nesting material. The mothers make wonderful, cozy nests to lay their eggs in hatch their newborn chicks.

This evening I went out and sat with Hiromi and Helena, our geese along with Nancy the duck. It was dusk and the night sounds were starting. I watched Hiromi listen to each sound with caution seeking to sense any danger. He doesn't yet know how safe his world is. I'm hoping in time he'll know and relax into a deep goose sleep. They nap a lot during the day with their heads tucked under their wings. They feel safe when I'm there.

Their world has all the essential elements of the human world but without the maliciousness. I love my time with them. The work is hard but satisfying with amazing moments like when a chicken decides to perch on my shoulder or take a rest on the back of my leg while kneeling to fix something. It's a joy to spend some time with some chickens. It takes a little time for them to accept you. They're suspicious but they learn to trust us and in time find all sorts of handy uses for us such as moving rocks so that they can eat the bugs hiding underneath. When I'm walking around the farm and find a grub or bug I grab them and make a trip to the chicken pen. They all come running. It's a wonderful feeling to be the star of a small world. Well, time for me to hit the nest. Bye for now. Wally

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Hawk Came Back

The hawk came back It got one hen in the morning. We found the hen dead inside the coop and at first we weren't sure what had happened. In the evening I went back to close the chickens in for the night and all the chickens were outside the coop staring at it. It reminded me of the scenes you see where all the neighbors are in the street looking at a house where some crime has happened. I went in and the hawk was inside. I shut the door behind me and called to Amaranth to bring a fishing net. The hawk was doing his best to escape but he was trapped. Amaranth brought the net and I netted him. It was at that point we saw that it had killed another hen. It only ate their heads and left the rest. Seems it was some sort of a gourmet. I carried the hawk out and planned to put it in a cage to relocate it. I'd only gone a few steps when it cut a hole in the net and escaped. It ran up to the plastic mesh fence and managed to slice the fence and escape in a flash. I was furious because I knew he'd be back. I didn't sleep well that night because it upset me to think of our hens dying in such a manner. I also was trying to figure out what to do.

The next day I started remodeling the pens. I kept all of the birds locked in their houses and went to work on covering the pens with chicken wire. I've spent the past week working from dawn to dusk and they turned out wonderfully. Now all of them have large areas to sleep and eat. I'm also going to cover the area in front of their pens so they'll have a huge area all enclosed. The hawk will have to go to MacDonalds for lunch from now on.

On the same day the 2 hens were killed one of the new chicks was also killed but not by the hawk. I think one of the grumpy hens got it. I've seen her give them a good shake when she can catch them. I made a new, fully-enclosed pen for the babies to keep them isolated until they're a month or two old. They're happy and can have their rice and special food without the other chickens getting it.

We are going to start planting our vegetable gardens this week so I need to finish "Chicken World." Well, that's about it for the news. We'll keep you posted. Wally

Monday, October 19, 2009

Now Renting

I finished the new chicken house and the tenants are all moved in. If I were still a bachelor I'd be sleeping in the house with them. It's really cozy. I also wired in some branches so they'd have more places to perch. Tomorrow I'll put in another ladder. Some of the chickens tend to park on the ladder blocking traffic. One of our 6 teenage Costa Rican chicks is a runt. It's always peeping around. I think it misses its mother. The other chickens run it off when it's chow time. I'm going to build it a box and feed it in there. I'll get some special food so it can eat at its leisure and maybe catch up. In the wild it would probably just die but we want to give it every advantage. At night I always have to give it a boost so it can get into the roost. I worry over it like an old hen.

Today, about 4:30 in the afternoon, I went back out to put the finishing touches on things and when I got over by the goose pond I noticed a commotion. I thought it was one of the chickens acting rather oddly. It turned out to be a goose-size hawk. He was on the far side of the pond trying to figure out what chicken wire was. The geese and the duck were on the opposite side of the pond watching intently. The hawk was very beautiful. It had gray, black and white stripes and bright yellow legs. I edged around the pond and directed it out the way it came in. It waddled up the hill and gracefully took off. Three or four years ago another hawk showed up at the chicken pen looking for dinner. It attacked and killed a couple of baby chicks. When I got out to the pen the mother hen had it pinned up against the wire. She'd back up and then explode towards it. The hawk had little bloody spots all over it where she'd pecked it. It was on the ropes. I took off my t-shirt, covered it and took it out of the pen. The mother hen still wouldn't let up. She was so wonderfully brave. I grabbed some thick leather gloves as I passed the bodega and took the hawk down the hill. When I removed the t-shirt it perched on my hand still a bit stunned. I looked it in the eye and told it not to come back because next time I might not be there to rescue it. That one took my advise. I hope this one is as wise.

We're in the process of building an enclosure for the geese and duck so they can sleep soundly at night. I guess we'll have to speed up the building program. Goose condos coming right up. See you tomorrow. Wally

Sunday, October 18, 2009

chicken condos

Last Monday we got home after dark and I headed out back to put the chickens to bed. I had them all tucked in and was headed for bed myself when I heard a lonesome "peep peep peep", I'd counted the babies and they were all in their pen so I couldn't figure out what was up. The peepin' was hard to locate. I finally tracked it down to the Costa Rican pen. I looked all over and still couldn't find the source. Finally I noticed a white mushroom blooming in the middle of the pen. I stared at it for a while and it finally moved. It was a new baby Costa Rican chick. They're as small as a bonbon. I couldn't figure out where it came from. I got in the pen and picked it up. I then heard another peep and saw a little black chick pop out of a small hole in the ground. I picked it up and then heard something above my head. The mother had hidden herself in the wire under the pen. I ended up finding 4 babies. We took them in the house and in the morning I started on a new pen. I moved the last batch of babies in with the adult CR chickens and moved the junior members into the nursery. They need a space by themselves as the moms are very protective.

For the past week I've been building a deluxe new house for the adult Costa Ricans. It'll be done tomorrow. It has 7 nesting boxes and 7 sleeping boxes. The new house is built to last. I loved building tree houses and forts when I was a kid and apply those skills to my chicken houses. I make them places I'd like to stay. The chickens climbed all over me while I was trying to work. They are completely at home with me.

We have a hurricane headed this way so we're expecting some wind and waves.

Well, time to hit the hay. Got lots to do tomorrow, including painting the stairs. A pretty good trick with all the traffic we get during the day. It'll mean they'll be closed until we eat at 1. I try to get it done early so the smell doesn't linger into the evening.

Fashion for farmwomen...

I just found 6 mud cocoons stuck to my apron. Two were empty. I was curious what kind of creature was inside and found that each one contained a folded-up spider. I had noticed two in the kitchen yesterday and they were as large as silver dollars. Now I know from whence they came. This apron is multifunctional. Whenever I have a little chick or duckling with an injury or in need of TLC I carry it with me in the pockets of my apron until it's stronger. I'm a cross-species marsupial.

Speaking of aprons - aren't they wonderful? I love wearing them. I took my mother's favorite which was getting threadbare and cut out a new one using it as a pattern. I chose a fabric with giant creamy white peonies on a wine-colored background with silver-green leaves. She wears it everyday and especially when she eats because it protects her clothes if she's dressed to go out later. It's an apron/bib.

I have a little daydream of being an apron designer and starting a movement to bring style into the kitchen. Picture it: sassy, normal-size women, maybe with a wooden spoon or a rolling pin making the fashion walk in half and full aprons, with pockets, ruffles, and crisp bows tied in the back. Every woman would want one!

This little number in the photo was a gift from my friend, Janice. It's from Oaxaca and the design is embroidered. She also gave me another favorite: a Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo - World Championship Bar-B-Q Cook-off apron. Picante!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Coo-coo for cocos...

Coconuts are a mainstay of our diet. Wally planted coconuts about 16 years ago and we recently planted more. Many people think that coconut milk is the fluid inside the coconut but actually it is a milk made from the meat of the nut and it is blended with water into a rich, white milk with thick cream that separates and rises to the top. You never tasted anything so delicious as freshly made coconut milk. I use it in soups, curries, puddings, tamales, ice cream and our favorite: sticky rice. Wally likes to mix half coconut milk and half passion fruit juice for a "passion colada".

Making coconut milk is a lot of work. First there's the task of cutting down the coconuts. Wally uses a pruning saw but around here you can hire a kid to climb the trees to cut down the cocos with a machete. Cocos are a tough nut to crack! Everything is done with a machete here. First we drain the liquid into a cup and drink it. It is full of electrolytes and is the best remedy for upset stomachs and fevers. We have overcome the flu and food poisoning drinking coco water and we brought two dogs through parvo keeping them hydrated with coco water.
Sometimes we find a sprout inside the coco and we gobble it up as a treat. Can you imagine eating the biggest sprout in the world? It's got to be a super-food! Usually Wally harvests 20 cocos at a time and we make a project of cracking them, removing the the nut meats and making milk. I freeze the milk to use as I need it and I keep some to use fresh. I also let some ferment into a rich buttermilk which is delicious in so many things. I like to ferment oatmeal and coconut milk together overnight, heat it and sweeten it with a little agave for breakfast .


Speaking of mangoes...

Wally mentioned that we are coming to the last mango of the year, but he didn't say that our season began in May! This has been the best and the longest season we've ever had for mangoes. Unfortunately, it was a poor year for all our neighbors who complained that their trees didn't bear. This may sound odd, but it is true: our neighbor's trees had branches that hung over our side of the fence and they had mangoes on them and the rest of the tree was bare! This is a mystery. Folks shake their heads and say maybe it's our soil, or our organic methods, maybe it was the time of year that we pruned... For us, it is nothing short of grace. I don't need to understand the science. I'm still caught up in awe and wonder and thankfulness.

For lunch: mango-coconut curry with yam and black beans.

Chickens, mangoes and time

I've been working on the chicken pen for the past week, fixing up the fences. The lower pen has a slope to it, dirt and rocks continually work their way down hill and pile up at the fence, slowly lowering the top of it. I've been clearing away the rubble and raising the fence. I'm going to put some logs at the bottom of the fence to act as a dam, this is how we terrace around here. When I'm sitting down moving rocks and dirt the chickens are working right along side me. They're enthralled with all the food there is crawling around. Most of the chickens keep a cautious distance but one brave hen is right in the mix, the reason I'm sitting down. I tried using a shovel but every time I brought the shovel down I had to stop and move her. As quickly as I moved her she returned. Finally, I sat down and worked with my hands and sometimes a trowel. She was a good influence. I work at a slower, more deliberate pace and I am that much closer to the chickens. We have names for a lot of the chickens but not my constant companion. Maybe I'll call her Constance or Connie , since she's my constant companion. Sometimes I'll spot a grub before she does and I'll start tapping my finger near it. She comes running over and dines with gusto, looking up at me to see if there's a second course. At one point she was right next to me so I reached down , picked her up, put her on my lap and petted her. I could tell she wanted to get back to work but she settled in and we communed for a bit. When I quit petting her she got up and got back to work. So much of the time I feel like I'm in a really cool school learning all about the world and its contents. I know people say that we attribute human characteristics to the creatures around us. My thought is that as we spend more time with our fellow creatures we discover that we have a lot in common. We're both changed from the experience. I'm sure Connie is having the same conversation with her fellow hens. The Roosters are too busy talking about sports.

One thing good about farm life is it gives you time to think and look at the world around you. I never got over that part of little boyhood. I remember being in grade school looking out the window on a sunny day wondering why we were inside. It seemed to me, that it would be better to have school on rainy days.

We're at the end of the rainy season and things are lushly green. I'd like to have a crayon box with all the colors of green we see around us. The rain washes all the dust off the leaves and makes them shine. We have lots of pretty tropical flowers that, knowingly, use the green as a back drop for their colorful splendor. I used to feel a bit sad up north when the winter came because things had a gray hue and a lot of the trees had gone to sleep and lost their leaves. We have seasons here but they're celebrated by the different fruits that ripen. When I was young we didn't always have a lot of food. I didn't dream of being a fireman or an astronaut (there weren't any back then), instead, I dreamed of having lots of fruit trees so I could eat as much as I wanted. My dream came true. I recently was given a book called "The Fruit Hunters". It's all about people with the lovely obsession of seeking out exotic fruit from all over the world. There are so many magical varieties. I wish I'd have known about that in my 20's. What a life's work that would be. I have over 50 kinds of fruit trees here but there's always room for one more. From the time you plant them to the first fruit appearing is usually 2 or 3 years. You only get a few fruit the first year with increasing amounts as time passes. Some trees give their fruit one year and vacation in dormancy for a year. I don't mind, I just picture them storing up energy for a luscious crop. Our lychees are on vacation this year. Amaranth and I have a clean 5 gallon bucket waiting for when next year's offering appears. There's nothing more fun than making a big mess eating fresh fruit. Mangoes are like that. It's wonderful while working on a hot day, too tired to make the trip all the way back to the house for a drink, you reach down and pick up a fresh, golden, Mango and open it with your teeth. You are about to get messy, so dive in. Let the mango juice run out of the sides and front of your mouth. Smile as a nice golden mask of Mango pulp covers your face and hands. It can't be stopped. The uninitiated struggle with this but soon learn to give themselves over to absolute pleasure. It's always refreshing, after the feast, to dip your hands into a water tank and splash yourself clean.

Well friends, now comes the time part. It's time for me to head up the stairs and set myself down in front of a fresh bowl of mango slices, the last of the season. Don't pity me. We have 3 freezers full of tropical delights.

Bye for now. Wally

Sunday, October 4, 2009

We now resume our regularly scheduled broadcast

I can see I have to work on taking time for this. Not quite a year since my last post. I've been busy.

We're near the end of this rainy season and all the creatures and plants are happy and full of life. I started out the week doing some machete work in the lower chicken pen. When I got to the lower left corner I found a 5 foot long boa constrictor stuck in the plastic mesh fencing. It had woven itself through 3 times and finally gotten stuck at the frog in its belly. It wasn't moving so I touched it and it slowly moved around. I went and got a knife and a small screwdriver so I could cut the fencing. I used the screw driver to get between its skin and the fencing so I could cut the wire without cutting the snake. I got two of the strands cut when the snake when all of a sudden it lunged through the fence and bit two fingers on my right hand. It left 12 puncture wounds and part of a tooth. There was a lot of blood but no pain. I went up to the house to clean up the wound and get Amaranth to help me with the final cut. We cleaned up the cut and put on leather gloves. I also brought a large plastic lid from a storage container to use as a shield. Amaranth grabbed the snake by its tail and pulled so I could get to the last strand of fencing. Amaranth avoids snakes at all times but she was a good nurse and did her part. I put the lid between me and the snakes head and got to work on the last cut. I could feel it hitting the plastic lid with pretty good force. It was also making an interesting hissing sound like a tire with a bad leak. I finally got it all freed up and it slithered away.

We made a long overdue return visit to a friend of ours named Chavela. She lives at the end of a bumpy dirt road many miles up in the mountains. We went up to see her with a couple of things in mind. She knows a lot about medicinal plants. We took a camera and a note pad to record the information she passed on to us. We want to catalog as many of the plants around here as we can. We also want to get to know the ones growing on our land and introduce many more. Chavela also lives by a beautiful flowing waterfall that glides over some smooth boulders into a deep pool. The entire area is surrounded by a magnificent old forest. The only sounds you hear are the ones nature provides. Ahhh. After a good soaking we went back to Chavela's house and had a good meal of nice, fat, hand made tortillas, as well as beans fresh from the pot and a great salsa she made as we sat watching. After a good meal she broke out the freshly made corn tamales. We washed it all down with fresh squeezed lemonaid. Chavela's house is over 100 years old and was built by her father (her mom and dad were both well over 100 when they died). The roof is palm thatched and is replaced every 5 or 6 years. The stove and some of the shelves in the kitchen are adobe and as nice to look at as they are to use. A visit to Chavela's is other-worldly. We spent some time talking about life and nature and other good things, then bid her farewell. We descended into the lower valley as the sun took its late afternoon station. As the road wound its way toward the ocean we caught several glimpses of our home and as always we were excited to know we were almost there.

About a year ago a friend and neighbor of ours was killed in a car accident. We attended the wake and funeral and stop to visit with them often. His wife was very sad because she didn't have many pictures of him and had none of him smiling which was one of his best features. It's a tradition of sorts for people not to smile when they have they're picture taken. The other day Amaranth was going through some photos and she came across 3 pictures of Hilde (the father). They were taken at his 40th birthday party and he had a nice, warm, smile on his face. There was also a picture of Alicia (the mother), and Magnolia (the daughter) together with him around the cake. I don't think Alicia had a picture of them together. It was an unbelievable find. Like pulling something back out of the past that seemed hopelessly lost. When we took them to her she wasn't home but I gave them to her oldest son. I haven't seen her since but I'm glad I wasn't there when she saw them. I'm glad she got to experience the pictures in private.

The rest of the week was full of the normal upkeep a place like this needs. Every day I get to pick from a full list.

We're getting ready to repaint one of the rooms on the second floor. We have some friends who are Huichol Indians. We bought some of their art and want to change the color of the walls to blend in with the magic of their vision.

I'm still working on Aticama's first electric pick up and converting a 95 Land Rover someone gave me from computers and fuel injection to plain old carburetor. The engine is the same design as the old 215 Buick V-8. Land Rover just bought the design and still produces them. I ordered an Edlebrock aluminum intake manifold as well as a performance 4 barrel carburetor along with all the accessories needed to hook it up I also needed to come up with a distributor because the old one was controlled by the computer. I made my own distributor by combining a 78 Chevrolet hei distributor with the old Land Rover distributor. I, simply cut the base off both distributors and had the Land Rover base welded onto the hei upper. The shaft in both were the same so it was an easy fit. Now when I need tune up parts, I just go to my local parts store and get some good old chevy parts which are readily available here. You get a blank stare when you ask for Land Rover parts. I'll dump tons of sensors, computers, relays etc. and turn it into something I can work on. I've come to realize that the old time mechanics, such as myself, could actually work on a car and repair things. The new breed are computer technicians and parts replacers. The art of troubleshooting also seems to have gone by the wayside. A lot of the fun and sense of accomplishment is also gone. Enough of the old geezer talk.

We had a quiet day today working around the chickens. I'm always updating an already cool pen. It looks like the kind of place Tarzan would have built for his chickens. I also like spending time with the chickens, geese, and duck. Like any creatures on this earth, the more time you spend with them the better you get to know them and the more you realize we have a lot in common. Gary Larson wasn't far off in most of his cartoons. If anyone out there runs into him send him down. We have a fresh load of ideas and characters for him.

Well, it's late and the chickens, as well as the dogs will be getting us up around 5. Nite

Saturday, February 14, 2009

heart leaves...

All around us are hearts a plenty. Many tropical plants have heart-shaped leaves and today we especially notice them. When we began building our house Wally would bring me heart rocks. We have them in all sizes with the largest too large for me to lift. That one is painted red violet with sparkles of gold coming through. Some of them have become markers on the graves of our animal family. Some decorate our living space on window ledges and around the bath tub, and in the walkways of our farm. The natural world is full of valentines!

Today we are going to celebrate. We begin the day with our routine of sharing a cup of tea, a bowl of papaya and toasted bread. We part with kisses to do our morning chores with the plan of meeting to go off into the day for some togetherness away from the farm.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Make room for more....

While Wally puts in the foundation for yet another chicken house we have 10 additions to the family. Our miniature Costa Rican hen hatched 4 blacks and 6 striped chicks - the striped ones look like little sparrows. We slipped the 11th egg under a regular size hen that insists on brooding so another chick may still come along.
Our chickens enjoy deluxe quarters. Wally has built several palm-thatched chicken houses that make you imagine chickens on vacation sipping margaritas by the pool. This new house is made to last. It's construction is of cement and steel. This one is bigger and better and another effort at reducing labor later. I'm sure Wally will give it extra pizzaz with a little paint and a palm branch skirt - he can't help himself.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stone by stone...

There's been a lot going on at the farm this month. We have been finishing the cobbling on the road. It is the steepest part of our drive and every year following the rainy season it worsens. It reminds me of navigating an ever worsening channel. By the weekend it will be a charming cobblestone road that we hope will last a hundred years. Wally is nearly broken down too with all the lifting of river rock and sand. Yesterday, 3 bags of cement fell off the truck coming up the mountain and he couldn't stop. Once he got to the top he walked back and carried each bag up to the top.

Every project is meant to make our labor less intensive in the end - that's what we keep telling ourselves. The refining of each system: irrigation, road paving, garden management, to mention a few, is carefully thought out and executed by Wally. To gather the supplies, tools and muster the labor to accomplish it lies solely on his shoulders.

At the end of the day as the light fades I often find him watering in the garden. It is what he loves the most, how he unwinds and quiets his puzzle-solving thoughts to hear what his heart is saying.

The garden is metaphor for much of what we are learning.

We recently celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary and I wrote:

How do you measure a space of five years
in a story that has no end?
It is only the unfurling of a single leaf
its tender tendril stretching
to take hold and push off again
on its blossoming journey.

We will finish today's work as the light fades. We will work just as hard tomorrow. As we lay in bed tonight weary and clean, Wally will recap the day. I know that he will report something beautiful that he discovered during the day and I'll tell him of the enormous goose egg that Helena has hidden, and we'll savor together what the land is giving back to us.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

this is what "home" looks like...

At last...

homeward bound...

I'm packed and ready for the bus ride home to Mexico. My suitcase is HEAVY - an a/c compressor, 10#'s of pasta, soap, vet supplies and books. I'm heavy too - sushi 5 times in 8 days and late night chocolate ice cream. Exercise has been shopping and a daily walk around the block with my 83 year old mother. I'm happy. I'm going home and home is Wally. I'm returning to stone-bordered, new-green vegetable gardens, my roof-top kitchen and bouganvillia-strewn veranda and the sound of chickens, windchimes and howling dogs. I have missed the tiny eco-system of people, plants and animals that depend on my love and whose love I depend on too. It's my livliehood.

Mission accomplished here. I bring home a full, ready heart.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

slow-living in the fast lane

There are times when one of us has to leave the farm to take care of our family. There's such a clear division of responsibilities that when one of us has to be gone the other has the chores of two non-stop, slow-living farmers. Right now, I'm in Tucson visiting my mother. Every morning I talk with Wally and go over what is happening on the farm and what the priorities of the day are. We are still a team. I'm buying seeds, vet supplies, car parts and various other things that are easily accessible here and that we often do without. Wally has been orienting new volunteers to farm life and vegetable gardening while nursing our favorite rooster after a death assault from within the flock. The poor rooster is isolated in our kitchen and getting supplements in his water and antibiotic cream on his pecked-bare neck. The dogs are already depressed because I'm not around but now more so that they are restricted from the comforts of the kitchen. Our days are full and never the same, even for the dogs. Being here I realize that living on the farm has changed me. I don't merge into the fast-lane of ordinary American life automatically. It's not natural to me anymore. I am enjoying time with my mom more than before . There's a lot to accomplish in this visit but we are calmly content cooking, mending, walking and talking. The urgent gets done with little effort or strain. I find that I'm comfortable in the moment and don't feel the need to take advantage of being in the land of "get it while you can". I' feel rich with what I already have though I would like to surprise Wally with something that would delight him . I'm confident that even that will come to me before I leave. Today Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States. I know that this is an important fork in the road for America. Mom watched the proceedings throughout the day. I stopped a few times to listen and watch but mostly stayed with my chores. I was deliberate in choosing to celebrate this way. I wanted to savor the hope in the course and flow of ordinary life. I'd rather my contribution be my own pure imaginings than be influenced by the yammering of the TV. It is a quiet collaboration with the rest of the nation and with God who knows all our hopes. I'll be finishing my visit in a few days and catching the bus back home. I feel good about the time I'm sharing with my family. I have more to offer as one who lives slow.