Friday, 11 August 2017

Waiting


Waiting










is not




what it









appears to be.


Waiting is not the

empty space,


the presence of absence,


the longing and yearning
of her place filled by
the being of her body


the void
devoid of any sense

whatsoever.


Waiting

for her is filled with the memories
of time spent together
the smell of her rose skin and sweetness of her voice
the mystery of her whispers in the dark
the embraces and kisses and caresses
shared

My arms
locked tight
around her torso
the way she likes me
our tongues pressing
to discuss the depth
of our love and passion
her heat sweating me to puddle

Before she comes to my side, while she is underway
she is a fullness almost unbearable
an extension of myself to the furthest reaches
of the universe
pales
by her expansion of my very self to
the limits of loving.

Waiting

for her


is not a hollow
it is not a space of doubt and need

I wait for her in gratitude and will wait
until she seeks my hands again

ending our waiting.


Unimaginable...

My wife passed away from leukemia on the evening of July 4th. 2017. It took her almost no time to die. We raced through the night in the Red Cross ambulance, but to no avail. My wife was too far gone from all the efforts made to diagnose and treat her cancer. I am devastated. I had no idea how sick she was and she refused to give the slightest hint of what she had to know was coming with horrible speed.

I will ALWAYS miss her presence in my life, but I rejoice in the life we shared, the time spent in loving company, the respect that had grown from our crazy arguments to the mellowness of just letting our opinions differ. I have learned a great deal about men and women in 42 years. I am a better man for having been married to my sweet Carla.

And as with all things in life, I have learned a very important lesson. God is real. God is love. God is here for all of us and all we need do is open our hearts and accept the good that is God's grace.
I don't speak here of religion or of deities that demand supplication and submission. I speak here of the nearly tangible, the blatantly obvious that we miss because we choose not to see it. Love is all around us and at such times of tragedy, it is clearly visible but only with the heart.

One of the great gifts of God's grace is the nearly unbelievable love, comfort and compassion given to me in these weeks by a very dear friend, a friend who admired my marriage to Carla and who has been a constant source of joy since entering my life. I won't mention her name, yet, but she is filling my heart with such love that I am incapable of understanding how I am worthy of such.



The most important thing I have learned in this journey is that the least appropriate response to the loss of my wife is to grieve and wallow in the darkness of death and loss. Carla would never have wanted me to be alone, she even jokingly told me that if she died before me, I would likely have a woman within a month's time. I scoffed at her, but Carla knew me better than I knew myself and she also told me that I was to get on with it.
These 2 anecdotes illustrate the most important point to be learned from her death.
LOVE is the appropriate response to the death of a loved one so dear. Grief is a denial of the greatness of what we had and only love can fill the hole left by her untimely demise. When love comes knocking, even if it seems "too early" and "just so wrong on so many levels", one MUST accept it . It is heaven sent, it is given and it is YOURS to take. Let no one fool you into believing that love is ever wrong.


Friday, 6 November 2015

Vespers...

The real challenge in farming comes when one starts to lose the contest against the insects, the fungi, the inclement weather, the heat, the rain, the wind.
It takes all I have to want to continue on this seemingly thankless task when the challenge becomes too much.
Ironically, the challenge is the biggest part of farming. When I start with seeds, planted in trays or in the beds, I assume the result will be 'glorious", like I thought of my daughter when she was but an infant. But I also know that I will be dealing with all the vectors of disease, despoliation, the chances of a 'freak" mountain storm ("un garuero" we call it) and all manner of mysterious infections etc.
It is a function of human consciousness that I would expect a good harvest, "Hope springs eternal" we say. But I already have years of experience doing this and I still set myself up emotionally for the disappointment that comes so naturally...all the while knowing that my chances of a good harvest are beyond my firm control.
As I write this, I feel all the emotions of the several disappointments that this farm has given me lately. I had lost 200 tomato plants just as winter was coming to an end. A mountain storm blew in one night with severe rains and winds that exceeded 60 miles per hour. Despite the extensive system of ties and supports that had held the plants in place for the prior month and a half, the wind smashed down vertically and then whipped horizontally and left us with 3 plants that were not affected too badly. 197 plants, all the work that had gone into them, all the expectation that we would be able to offer a good crop at market time, they were all smashed to broken stems and tattered leaves, the most pathetic plants hung from their ties, roots ripped out of the ground.




Climate...

Climate is everything in farming. The timing of rains and the larger clockwork of the seasons is what makes farming possible. One can provide plants with all the conditions they need and stimulate them to produce by keeping them healthy and pest free. One can add compost regularly, mulch the beds, add minerals and organic supplements and provide the "best possible" situation for your crops but one cannot make them grow.
What makes plants grow, especially food plants, is a regular and reliable set of climate conditions that are beyond any human ability to control. I have my own ideas about how much we contribute to climate change and global warming but my experience has shown me that even minor deviations from the necessary set of conditions leads to lower productivity, greater infestations and inferior foodstuffs at harvest time.
Currently, we are experiencing the weather "pattern" known as El Nino. I had known it was expected for months, since February at least, and I paid close attention to our fruit trees where signs of early and/or irregular flowering signal the onset of El Nino. I had learned that white-faced or cappuchin monkeys, a fruit-eating ape, suffer population declines in El Nino years because trees bloom and fruit irregularly. The early and irregular blooming leads to shrunken fruit, immature fruit falling off the trees and tends to occur in large areas of the jungle forest. This last aspect denies the monkeys the chance to forage effectively as the consumption of limited fruit stocks is only achieved through extremely long treks through depleted forest.
Our fruit trees exhibited this exact behavior, blooming early for our altitude. The flowers were abundant but before long they had withered and what little fruit developed fell off the trees while green.
The coffee plants flowered evenly leaving the plantation in beautiful white blooms from creek to heights. The beans started well and developed as they should, but along the way the bushes redeveloped orange rust fungus (roya) which required spraying with copper and a fungicide. Luckily these chemicals are not phytotoxic and do not remain in the plant or in the beans.
The re-appearance of roya at a time when the plants are usually free of infections is an example of the irregularity I have noticed in the last years.
Another consequence of this irregular weather "pattern" is that plants grow sporadically. There are reasons for this, namely the uneven rainfall pattern and the intensification of ground temperatures due to days of cloudless skies. We are nearly 8C warmer than normal for this time of year.
The rainy season in Costa Rica where we live should now be in full swing. We should be receiving the majority of our rains now, in these last 4 and remaining 2 months of the season. The reality is nowhere near expectations. I have been using irrigation water on the crops and have hooked up sprinklers this winter which is unheard of.
When rains do fall, they seem to come at exactly the wrong moment for the crops. Plants in the fields, growing under the hot sunny sky, do not do well when a strong coldwater shower rushes down from the mountains. The cold rains shock the hot plants and cause the plants to stop growing for periods of days.
Fruiting tomatoes chilled by such rains remain stunted for a week in some cases.
This slowdown in development can cause the tomatoes to develop blight or be easy prey for whiteflies and mites. At times plants leaves get "burned" by the temperature change.
These storms are not overly common in these parts. But locals say that they are becoming the norm. If so, much of what we grow outdoors will have to move to covered beds.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

A dog is important...

A farm needs a dog. For security, as an alarm system, to protect and defend the crops from marauding creatures nothing beats a dog.
When we decided to travel for months to Costa Rica, we had no choice but to take our Australian cattle dog with us. She was 4 years old at the time and had traveled with us all over Europe, by car, train and plane.
Stella, that is her name, given to her by my wife who chose it because of Marlon Brando's famous scene in A Streetcar Named Desire, where he screams Stella's name in despair...Our Stella is a faithful, "velcro dog" (meaning she sticks to your side when out walking). So putting Stella in a traveling cage and loading her on a plane for a 12+ hour flight was unpleasant, but mostly for us.
Stella arrived in Costa Rica, had all her papers checked and was taken outside for relief. Despite nearly 16 hours in transit, Stella was fine.
We picked up our rental vehicle, loaded it with our luggage and Stella and headed for the hotel in San Jose.
The room was small, musty and under the flight path of the airport which did not stop landing flights all night long. We "slept", Stella lay exhausted at the foot of the bed. When the sun finally rose, we were eager to get going. After a small breakfast, we packed up, paid our bill and left for the Pacific side of the country.
Stella travels well. We made up a bed for her to travel in on the back seat of the car.  Mostly she just lays there sleeping but when we slow down or stop she is immediately interested in what is happening outside.
Once, when we stopped to put gas in the car, the attendant appeared suddenly in the open window of the car which launched Stella into a barking fit so savage that the poor man nearly fell backwards from the shock. I apologized profusely, explaining that she is a good watchdog but has yet to actually bite anyone. Luckily, the attendant showed his good Tico character and accepted my apologies with a smile and the advice that it is good to travel in this country with a dog.
It was Stella who chose our farm, actually. The day we went to see the property with no intention of buying something, Stella refused to stay in the car. She leapt out of the rental and bolted down the property. Considering that we had no idea what lay down the slope, I chased after Stella, yelling her name and hoping she would not run off and get lost. When I arrived at the bottom of the hill, I realized there was a creek, running strong despite the intense heat and dry landscape all around. Relieved, I walked to the creek's edge. Stella, standing neck deep in the water, smiling, communicated with me through her eyes, basically telling me that it was great. She jumped about in the cool water, snapping at the bubbles on the surface, the leaves floating by and chewing any twigs that came within biting distance. I smiled at the sheer joy that was so evident in her demeanour. I called to Stella and she followed me back up the hill to where the real estate agent and the seller stood. My wife was busy with her phone. As I approached, I saw she was pushing buttons on the phone and wondered who she could be calling. She was calculating the cost of the property; I told her it had a creek and woods at the bottom. A bellbird sang it's haunting call somewhere in the valley as she asked for my help with the calculations, she "must be doing something wrong" she said. Using the calculator she had determined that the cost of the land was considerably less than our savings in Amsterdam. In Europe, generally, one could not find a small shed for such a reasonable price. We calculated it several times.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

"Arid plain"

I remember having driven past "our farm" before it became ours.
We were driving around, taking in the sights northwest of the lake basin, enjoying the summer rains and the incredible rainbows they would generate in this already "beautiful enough" landscape. The road descended, entering a small rural town.
    A pleasant community of simple houses, loose running poultry and street-sleeping dogs rolled out in front of us. Young people in small groups stood about on the streets, old men sat on benches across from the large wooden church, chatting in the afternoon sun. Opposite the church, a soccer field glowed brilliant green, and beyond it stood a zinc-paneled bullring in faded paint, partly rusted. The sky was brilliant blue, that tropical cerulean blue that seems to speak of happiness. A shower had just passed over the town, leaving everything shiny and sharply defined and as we turned east on one of the small streets we were greeted with a massive, vibrant double rainbow the likes of which we had never seen.
   I asked a young man the name of the town and mistakenly thought he had said "good lands"... As we left town, we noticed a gravel road to the left of the main pavement and decided to explore it. It wound upward, somewhat narrow in places. It  was a landscape of fields with horses and cows, trees extending along the ridges and hillsides, many windblown and flagging. A single house stood in one of the fields.
     As we climbed higher along the ridge, I noticed a "Se vende" sign, for sale, on a wooden fence in front of a gated property.
     A dry summer field, an "arid plain", stretched out behind a wooden gate wide enough for a truck to pass through. I drove slowly along the gravel road, my wife and I silently taking in the countryside. I had noticed the "tapia", the roofed entrance to the farm on our right long before our car passed it and I visually scoured the field from corner post to entrance while driving the length of the frontage.
    The field was brown and yellow, the mountain vegetation and shrubbery on the yellow landscape formed islands of dark green here and there, a few trees lined the north side of the field. One tree stood out starkly in the middle of the flat field.
    I could not see anything much but a flat plain about 200 meters wide. In the distance, behind the field rose a hillside and had I been thinking more (and driving less) I would have seen that the field sloped downward to an unseen creek and woods.
From where I sat, I didn't much like what I saw, despite liking the area for it's beauty and distance from the area's 2 cities.

A few days later, our seemingly self-appointed real-estate guide (an affable man in his early 60's, father of the young woman who managed the property we rented during our stay) offered to show us some properties in the same small town.


Coffee

 We plant arabica beans for espresso coffee. Coffee requires much work. From planting the seeds in a nursery, topping the seed bed with banana leaves, to spraying it daily to maintain soil humidity, transplanting the seedlings, called "copitas", into the development nursery, the digging up of the year old plants with large rootballs, their transport to the  field (some 2,000 holes each about the size of a gallon of milk), planting and maintenance (spraying to combat orange rust fungus, "broca"/weevils, "gusano coyojero"/bud worm, regular composting and guarding the new grains against marauding thrushes and jays); all these steps are required to get someone, somewhere a cup of coffee. Before we harvest the first coffee beans, the time, energy and expense required to get the plantation started and in order amounts to about 2.5 to 3 years.
Harvesting coffee is usually done at the end of the year. If the plants have matured equally fast, the harvest may last a month. But the first harvests are usually uneven and the plants can even put out new flowers while the old beans are still in need of harvesting. In this case, great care must be taken to avoid damaging the plants and flowers while harvesting the beans. The branches that hold the beans are called "bandolas" and can hold around 75 beans per branch.
A healthy plant can produce a kilo of coffee beans in a season. Since we have 2,000 plants, that can be 4,000 pounds of coffee.
To date, all the coffee we have harvested from newly producing plants amounts to a small 90 pounds, the beans picked from irregularly producing plants with semi-full bandolas on the same plant as naked bandolas. This is the problem of young coffee, irregular flowering and fruiting. The small harvest has taken us all of December, January and one day in February. For 90 pounds of coffee that is an extremely long harvest period. But one needs to practice harvesting so as not to damage the bandolas and the leaves. Coffee beans are well-attached to the branch, so one needs to exert a controlled amount of pressure to pick them. Too soft a grasp will deliver only the red, slimy skin of the bean while grabbing too hard can break the branch at the site of attachment.
The next step, after the picking and harvesting is the beginning of the processing of coffee. First, the skin is removed. This is done with a kind of water-driven augur that rips the skins from the beans. Alternatively, the beans can be shucked by hand. This is called "chanclando", likely from the Spanish word for slipper, "chancleta". At this stage the coffee is said to be "en belota".
The bean is forced out of the skin by squeezing it between the thumb and index finger. The bean, now wearing only its "pergamino" shell and bathed in sap or miel, is extremely slippery, so one shucks them into a tub of water where they will remain until all the beans have been shucked.
In Costa Rica, coffee is measured in basic units of "cajuelas"/pots. 3 cajuelas make up a "quintal". 7 quintales are 1 fanega. The Wiki article for fanega reads;
     "The fanega (Spanish for bushel) was an old measure of volume in Spanish-speaking countries. It was generally used in an agricultural context to measure quantities of grain. The measure varied greatly, but in Castile, it was equivalent to roughly 12 Imperial bushels or 55.5 liters. It was also a measure of surface area that was further subdivided into 100 varas, or the amount of land that could be sown with a fanega of seed."
 (Having lived all my life in cities, I find the system of accounting used in the countryside quite fascinating.)
After the coffee has been shucked, the beans are "en pergamino" and need to dry under the sun for several days. The second shucking, of the pergamino, is done by machine or by smashing the coffee beans in a wooden drumshaped "pilon" using a large wooden mace. The pergamino can be separated from the "oro verde"( literally "green gold") or true coffee bean by tossing the milled beans into the air and allowing the breeze to blow the chaff away.

 Coffee traders generally like coffee that has been stored for 8 months, preferring it's mellowed flavor to that of fresh roasted coffee's slight bitterness. But I like my coffee dark, strong and fresh roasted.*

The roasting can begin when all the coffee beans have dried. For this we use a large metal kettle pot. First we stoke a large fire, using guava wood which burns hot and long. The heat from the blaze makes it very uncomfortable to stand near while roasting so a long wooden spoon, like an oar, is used to stir the beans.
As the heat builds the beans begin to swell and the oils begin to warm out of the bean. This oil helps darken the beans. The smell of roasting coffee is quite a treat. After some time, the beans are dark and smell strongly and can be stored or ground for usage immediately.

*["Organic coffee" is a mis-nomer. With the onset of a global epidemic of orange rust fungus, coffee must be sprayed with a powerful fungicide. The use of such agents is prohibited in organic labeling rules. However, since most spraying takes place long before the coffee bean develops and since the fungicide is considered to be non-phytotoxic, the coffee beans are generally free of fungicide residues. The use of water for processing the beans and the fact that the actual coffee is inside 2 coats, the belota and the pergamino, which are removed and discarded (or processed in bio-digestors to produce methane gas for cooking), the coffee in your cup is virtually free of any taint.]