Favorites from the wildlife camera: 1st installation

Last year around this time we saw tapir prints in the finca (yeah!) and that was when I decided to invest in a wildlife camera. By which I mean, ask my parents for a wildlife camera for Christmas. Thanks Mum and Tim! (for that and way, way more). We ordered the unfortunately named Bushnell “Trophy Cam Aggressor”, whose moniker makes you think the animals caught on pixel might need post-trauma counseling but whose features are good value for money.

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I tested it first on family members and caught an adorable towhead asleep in his daddy’s arms.

Since January I’ve been putting the camera in different spots where we’ve identified wildlife trails…next to the drinking pool below the spring… trained on the trunks of a fruiting rambutan tree, etc. The camera is a window of marvels into the habits of these beautiful beings that share the finca with me, sight unseen.

Red brocket deer, for example – I’ve never laid an eye on one, yet almost every day they pass by the camera in search of the fresh young leaves of my baby trees. Same with the little tinamou – a petitely rotund ground bird whose haunting call floats far through the crepuscular air, but is seen rarely, unless you happen to put a camera in front of her daily commute (see below!).

I’m not convinced the camera is capturing everything that passes – once, for example, we found a half-eaten fresh-water crab discarded immediately in front of the camera, and no imagery of the racoon or whatever must have been lunching on it – and I know it takes waaay too many pictures of leaves rustling in the breeze. Nor has the camera successfully “Aggressed” tapir or ocelot or peccaries, all of whose tracks we’ve encountered at some point. But the images it has taken so far are enough to allow me a sense of the richness of life depending in small or large part on the finca.

In my previous post I shared photos of the red brocket deer. Here are some of my other favorites. None of them are particularly endangered, but they’re still thrilling to find when you troll through the SD card.

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Tolomuco or tayra, sidling up the wash where my springwater descends

The tolomuco! Also known as a tayra (Eira barbara), an omnivore, weasel family, a common species of disturbed landscapes. Look at that smooth gorgeous strength.

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A pair of tayras in elegant retreat

Next: My very first picture on the camera! The Northern tamandua (Tamandua mexicana), an arboreal anteater.

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My date settings were off. it wasn’t actually 2015.

The Crab-eating raccoon (Procyon cancrivorus), of whom I mainly seem to capture butts and tails. Distinctive tails, I’ll give ’em that.

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Almost 3am, last call mister!

The pizote or White-nosed coati (Nasua narica) . I used to call my cat Astro mi pizote because of that big fluffy tail he always carried high and proud.

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You want some of those yellow rambutans? Yeah, get in line….

.An adorable young Central American squirrel monkey (Saimiri oerstedii) stealing a solo moment on the ground with ripe rambutan.

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I just, like, needed some alone time from that big rowdy troupe over there….. ❤

The nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) is solitary, mostly nocturnal, omnivore, and  apparently the “state small mammal of Texas” . Carlos also found the empty shell of one of these guys discarded by the spring once, having been excavated efficiently by some feline predator (that of course we didn’t capture on camera).

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When I run, I’m super cute, but cheapo Andrea isn’t paying for video uploads on WordPress

Birds of prey are not easy to catch on a wildlife camera! What was this yellow-headed caracara (Milvago chimachima) doing here?

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Enjoying the rambutan party like the rest of the finca crowd…

And perhaps my favorite of all… the Little Tinamou (Crypturellus soui), which bustled back and forth almost every day for a month straight, heading to work in Sector Astronium uplands at 5am, and returning to the arroyo between 4 and 5pm.

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time to make the donuts….

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little lady, it’s a long day you put in!

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In a different part of the finca, we found a Little Tinamou nest, with beautiful mauve eggs.

Oh and then there’s always the occasional glamour shot of Carlos and myself!

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Whatcha lookin’ at???

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Data-deficient deer messing with my baby trees

I have a red brocket deer problem. This isn’t exactly a “first world problem”, I guess, but it does feel somehow funny and privileged. At least in that I’m not shooting, trapping, poisoning, or otherwise doing anything to these damn animals, which may or may not be endangered….

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A nice view of a female red brocket deer from February

 

Let’s back up. Carlos has been doing a stupendous job of taking care of the trees. All the trees, but especially the trees in the area planted by my friends back in 2016. We call it Sector Astronium, after Tree #1, the ron-ron (Astronium graveolens). In my mind it’s the sacred grove. Whatever you call it, it’s where the trees are all dedicated to friends and their loved ones. Where we’re trying to plant at least one example of almost every species we put into the finca.

Most of the trees in Astronium are growing like gangbusters. Seriously folks, they are growing so tall and happily, it’s amazing to behold. I am sorry that I am not better at posting photos all the time, because it is rather thrilling to see how well these trees grow. I should put in a 24-hour live camera, they’re that beautiful. (Note: I promise to send new photos and post more once planting season slows down….)

 

And almost from the beginning, we’ve had visitors. There are many species that can’t resist the tender nutritious glory of a young leaf. Crickets, caterpillars, aphids and unidentified Insecta; leaf-cutter ants, with a logic all their own; armadillos, who have a specific, intense love for digging up the tree dedicated to my nephew Forrest; and the red brocket deer.

Locally called a “cabro” (goat), the red brocket deer is a bit of a puzzle. The species is Mazama americana but the quantity of sub-populations or sub-species between here and Argentina appears to bedevil the experts enough that the IUCN Red List, the world’s definitive data set for endangered species, says “This species is considered to be Data Deficient in light of high taxonomic uncertainty….which may constitute a cryptic-species complex…until we understand the taxonomy we do not have enough information to evaluate [its status].”

Whatever its status, the cabro freaking loves to eat the cojollo, or the bud and top leaves, off my young trees.  Which obviously sets their growth back. But even more damaging, it loves to rub its little antler nubbins on the thin bark of the young Calophyllum and Carapa and Caryocar trees. It’s either scratching an itch or marking territory, but either way, the little guys do damage! I have at least three coming through the finca, according to our read of the wildlife camera footage.

 

They went into a frenzy back in June-July, perhaps marking territory around mating season, and rubbed the shit out of at least a dozen seedlings. Never mind the bark, they rubbed down to the point where the trees didn’t have any phloem left and needed emergency medical attention from Carlos.

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see those little nubbins? apparently they itch.

The trees that were most damaged, we tried something called an acodo or “air layer” where you treat the tree with hormone and wrap it in plastic and or spongey material at the point where its phloem connection has been severed. If all goes well, it sprouts new roots at this point and you can cut it and start again. The base will also likely resprout because, guess what, trees are super resilient. (Ever the amazing metaphors.) It’s another type of grafting often used on fruit trees, which often if not always works.

 

So what can I say. The “cabro” may or may not be endangered. People in Costa Rica sure love to hunt them. They’re actually really cute. And in theory, this is exactly what I wanted the finca to be: a haven for biodiversity. I’m providing ecosystem services with all these yummy little trees, right?

 

Trees, more trees, and friends who help to plant them: Optimism

So you may have noticed from the steady photo stream lately of me crouched on the ground in dorky hats: I’m doing a lot of tree planting.

I’m one of those people who is always a few minutes late, who meets deadlines the day-of (if that), whose calendar often looks like a tetrus game full up with back-to-back travel. I’m eternally, stubbornly optimistic. I know this interpretation provokes annoyance-to-rage reactions by the timely among you, and yes of course it’s fair to expect that by 41, one should learn her lessons and, say, account for the taxi time en route to meetings, or a day to do laundry between Eugene and Cameroon. But I swear that (almost) every time, I truly believe I’m going to get it right.  Even if I can see that the timing is overly ambitious, when I want something to work, it’s a real psychological challenge to admit that it won’t.  The clock and the calendar will bend to my will.

Of course this isn’t true. But guess what? Carlos shares this stubborn optimism. In fact, early this year when even I questioned our tree planting ambitions, he assured me it was totally doable. Since he’s the one who ends up doing the lion’s share of the work, I just chose to believe him.

The other thing is that Carlos ended up with 75 different species of trees in his little nursery, and I obviously needed at least one of each. And way more than one of most of them.

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75 species and they’re all so purty! Why say “i’ll just take one” when you can say “I’ll take 50 and let’s plant a parcel in Sector Caracara”…

So, long story short: now we are planting a whole lot of trees.

First came the pilons from Barca, 650 of them.

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Then the cocobolos and the cedros from Dos Brazos, 211 of them.

Then 520 little teak

Now we’ve moved on to the awesome diversity of trees that have been in Carlos’s nursery. While a few were from seeds that I’ve collected or friends have given me over the last year, most of these he collected and germinated himself, with a few more or less specific requests from me.

For example, I told him I wanted some Inga – commonly called guaba in Costa Rica. That’s a genus in the legume family, Fabaceae, most of whose members are nitrogen fixing and produce edible seed pods with appealing fruits for wildlife and people. We planted one species last year, Inga golfodulcensis, along a fenceline where the squirrel monkeys frequent. This year I wanted to plant several patches with Inga and poró in steeper areas of the finca, as small ‘islands’ to attract birds and speed up seed dispersal processes, a design found to be effective by researchers looking into cost effective forest restoration strategies in southern Costa Rica.

Carlos managed to round up no fewer than 10 species in the Inga genus. (Well, I contributed one, the most common one.) I think it’s half of the Inga species found on the Osa, and now the search is on for the rest of them….

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Carlos with a sample of the 10 Inga species

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Getting ready to plant our demonstration parcel…one example of each

Meanwhile, the trunk of my poor RAV4 has acquired fine new layers of red mud, mildew, and insect bits as I lug load after trunkload of trees up the hill.

 

And now: the race is on to get everything in the ground as soon as possible so that my trees have a few months of rainy season to get going and stand a chance against the fierce dry season. Which is why it’s so awesome to have friends excited to come help plant them! This past Saturday several of Osa’s most awesome ladies came out for a deliciously cool and rainy morning of planting 130 trees on an erosion-prone slope near the spring. (Sadly we took almost no photos in the light rain…thanks Julieta for these.)

I’m so grateful for this: to have friends who are stoked to be involved, who show up. And to have a project that allows me to be optimistic in a historical moment when that sentiment has become increasingly harder to summon.

Mamon chino season! And a grafting lesson with my favorite fruit

Glory days in the finca…the mamon chinos are ripe! Everyone, from the squirrel monkeys to the scarlet macaws to the Baird’s tapir to yours truly, is stoked about the brief window when these weird perfect little fruits ripen and bestow their bounty.  It almost makes us forget that the mangos are done.

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These fruits are so popular that Carlos made a scarecrow – or actually a scaremonkey – espantamonos! – to keep our local troupe of squirrel monkeys at bay long enough for me to have a shot at eating a few.

As I wrote in Sol de Osa, the mamón chino is another gift from Asia, where it’s called rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum). Rambut means hair in Indonesian, appropriately enough for its appearance. 15 years ago I worked studying orangutans in Indonesian Borneo, and one of their favorite foods in the forest were wild rambutans. Imagine my delight upon moving to Costa Rica and realizing that this species had been brought over and cultivated with such delicious success.

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There’s little reason to pick favorites unless you’re participating in a permaculture workshop intro game (‘tell us your name, where you’re from and your favorite fruit….’) but, since you asked, I’m going with rambutans.  It’s the whole experience: the aesthetic pleasure of a pile of rubbery-haired fruits, richly red or yellow-pink, perfectly sized for your palm; the momentary taste of earthy and bitter as you break the skin open with your teeth; the suspense before you bite, wondering what the sweet : tart ratio will be and whether the flesh will flake easily off the seed or cling and need to be gnawed away; the finale of flavor and texture; the memories of Borneo. The fact that you can proceed to repeat all of the above steps until there’s a troublingly large pile of husks and seeds at your feet. It’s just a great fruit.

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I have six mamon chino trees in the finca, in Sector Astronium near the Sacred Grove (where most of the dedicated trees are).  They were planted by Freddy, the previous owner, and each one is unique in its precise taste and color.

I want to plant more in other parts of the farm. Basically I don’t ever want to be more than 50 meters from a mamon chino tree. And because the ones I already have are so good, Carlos and I decided to reproduce them with grafting. A graft, as you probably know, is when you take a branch from an adult tree whose genetics you want to reproduce, and vegetatively attach it to another seedling. The host tree doesn’t even need to be the same variety; its value lies not in any fruit but in being a robust seedling that’s already developed root mass, that’s strong and able to immediately pump lots of nutrients and water. Meanwhile, the grafted material, because it comes from a mature tree, begins to give fruit far more rapidly and consistently than if you’d grown something from seed (3 yrs versus 8-10).

For years I’ve heard of and seen and bought grafts, but I’ve never done it myself. Well, that’s precisely the point of all this finca madness, right? So Carlos gave me a little lesson, because of course he’s good at this too:

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This is the graft tree. Carlos cuts the stem just below the first leaves or buds.

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Choosing a ‘scion’ (the tree whose fruit you want!). must be close to same size as your graft tree, and have a few leaves/buds.

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We cut a notch into the graft and insert the scion, which has been trimmed angularly to insert as flush as possible – cambium on cambium – and treated lightly with basic plant growth hormone.

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Then you wrap that whole situation up tight with, in this case, a strip of plastic bag. (electrical tape, aluminum foil, other things work too. high tech.) And then you talk nicely to the little guy and cross your fingers.

Voila! So exciting. Grafts, to me, are yet more proof of just how much trees want to survive and grow. Cut them apart and saran-wrap different individuals back together? Sure, let’s grow! I’m amazed by their creative strategies for resilience in the face of defoliation, penetration, decapitation, drowning, baking, burning, insect hordes….. More on that topic someday soon. Meanwhile, time to eat.

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We may need to make a ladder. As it is, more fruit for the birds!

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The morning’s harvest, nom nom nom

The 2017 tree planting extravaganza begins!

Carlos (El Presidente) wanted me to call this blog “Lost between the lines”, which would have been the perfect title during the first few days of our planting prep, when we ended up feeling more or less like I look in the picture below at the end of multiple sweaty afternoons spent blundering through thick tufts of dull-razor-edged pasture grass on uneven terrain, trying to arrive at the best way to create straight parallel rows of evenly spaced 3-meter holes.

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Good times! I haven’t used my 7th-grade geometry skills this much in years. I still don’t quite understand why my original design didn’t result in 3m spacing between lines, but I’m sure it has something to do with hypotenuses and acute angles.  I dreamt about grass grids for several nights running.

Carlos was even more perplexed by my vision than I was. I thought introducing an old-school compass to the scene would help matters, but soon realized that he is about as comfortable using compass bearings as I am using a machete. We can hack our way through it, but it’s not the most efficient way of doing business.

Finally we got a right angle between two transects of string set up across the parcel area. At that point I decided I just needed to step back and let Carlos roll with whatever system worked best for him. It’s already clear that he and I have different styles of learning, it’s logical that we had different approaches to line-making.

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hacking hopefully straight lines in the broiling sun, yeeha!

Well, we got the lines done. Then we marked them with stakes, at least the first few rows.

Then we got the holes dug. (And by “we” I mean Carlos, since after I dug 65 holes on the first planting day, my hands began to seize up and I had to submit to the reality that I have carpal tunnel and nerve problems and if I want to continue to subsidize my finca habit with consulting work, I need to be able to type. Hold a phone. Things like that.) Lotsa holes. About 800 or so holes …for now.

Then we planted! This first round of 2017 planting is a mixed plantation dominated by pilón (Hieronyma alchornoides), or zapatero, a native species that grows well in nutrient-poor, acidic, iron-heavy soils like mine and is often recommended for restoring degraded areas. I like pilón as a multipurpose tree – it’s got pretty foliage and its seeds are popular with wildlife, which will draw out the birds and mammals from my neighbor’s forest; it grows relatively quickly for a native hardwood, and its wood is lovely and durable, if slightly tough to work with. I like its market prospects down the line.

I bought the pilón seedlings from a commercial forestry company, BARCA, which has large teak holdings in southern Costa Rica and sells/exports its clones throughout the region. The fact that they’re working with pilón suggests that they also think it’s a promising native timber.

Commercial clones are sold real small, in these things called “jiffys” that are basically little bags of sphagnum moss enclosed in gauze. They retain water like nothing else, and are a fantastic environment for seeds to germinate or – in the case of clones – little stems to regenerate and develop roots. They’re far lighter and easier to handle than bagged seedlings, which makes transport and planting simpler (I brought home all 650 in the back of my little RAV4).

The downside is that they are small! Our little guys only had a few leaves on them. Which means a bit more maintenance in the field, and higher possibility for stochastic events like a grazing armadillo to cause mortality. We shall see how it pans out.

It took us 14 days to get all the pilón in the ground, lost-between-the-lines and all. I learned new contours of the finca as we mowed the grass to lay out the terrain. I used a hell of a lot of sunscreen. My arms and hands are nicked to hell, I have dirt deep under my nails and I haven’t felt this exhausted from physical labor in years. It’s such a good kind of tired.

Next up: teak and dozens of native species from both Dos Brazos and Carlos’s nurseries!

 

#Carlosforpresident

Within half an hour of arriving at the finca for the inaugural tree planting on May 18th, 2016, my friends had sussed out who was really in charge. Yeah, Andrea was rocking that red sequined baseball hat and seemed like she knew what she was doing as she demonstrated how to plant Árbol 0…but if you paid even half attention you realized she was just translating for Carlos. And once people spread out to start putting trees in the ground, Andrea was mainly running around like a headless (albeit somehow grinning) chicken while Carlos seemed to be patiently digging holes, directing traffic and showing 19 different people at once how to remove their seedling from the bag without exposing its tap root. The cries soon went up: “Carlos for President!”

In the precisely one year since I first convinced him to work with me, it’s become clear that hiring Carlos was the best decision I’ve made since buying the Finca in the first place.

First, he’s a born naturalist. He’s curious and observant as hell. Carlos’s formal education ended before high school and his spelling reflects it. But he learned early from his father, an indigenous person of the southern Talamanca (the mountains between Panama and Costa Rica), how to be in the forest. He looks closely and remembers well. He sees signs of animals that I would never in a million years perceive – tiny grass tunnels, broken twigs, fading footprints, feather fluff, directional mud splatters. After years spent tracking animals to their favored feeding sites, he has a mental list of dozens of species we should plant whose seeds and fruits will attract tepezquintles (pacas), monkeys or songbirds back into the finca.

The finca literally comes more alive for me when we walk around together.  There are birds’ nests in every bush, that tree is flowering for the first time, oh be careful of that rash-giving vejuco del fuego vine! (too late.) It’s like a private PBS en Español natural history special every time, as he explains which butterfly reproduces on the leaves of what tree, and how to tell whether it was an armadillo or skunk that uprooted your nephew’s dedicated seedling for the third time in a week…. At least once he’s described to me a behavioral observation that is, as far as I’ve investigated, undocumented by ornithologists (scarlet-rumped caciques using pheromones to make wasps temporarily flee their nest and leave the larvae unprotected).

Where I’m all book brain, Carlos is pure experience.  We see a bird: I’m still reaching for my dog-eared guidebook while he tosses out the local name and tells me the best method for catching it with sticky tree sap and twine. I’d be lost without my local-to-scientific-name list of Costa Rican tree species (yay internet!) that allows us a more common language. Last month we discussed how best to prevent erosion on my steep, newly levelled internal road and stabilize the big landslide areas from last November. His top suggestions: tall poró stakes, more sotacaballo trees and transplants of a low, invasive legume called manicillo. That afternoon I read the most relevant articles I could scrape up on the topic and their top suggestions were, basically: poró stakes, sotacaballo and manicillo.   (I will say, thank god, my fancy research skills dredge up something new and worth bringing to the table just often enough that he doesn’t consider me redundant…)

Not only is he a good overall naturalist, but Carlos is particularly obsessed with seeds and trees. I mean to the point where he talks your head off until everyone just nods ‘uh-huh’ and smiles. It’s not just me – his wife Nuria and daughters do that too! Especially, they tell me, when they’re on the back of his motorbike and really would prefer he looked at the road, not the ripening manglillo seed pods. Recently I asked him what kind of books he liked to read, other than the Bible, and he said “books about trees”.

I know, right? I give myself credit for picking up on this obsession during a December 2015 visit to the lovely ecotourism project that his family briefly offered in the Osa village of Rancho Quemado. The tour objective was to show us how to pan for gold, but while other guests ate Nuria’s lunch spread, he showed me around the garden where he had hundreds of seedlings seemingly haphazardly lying around, describing each species with the urgency of someone who needs to get a secret off his chest. I remembered that chat four months later when I realized I desperately needed some trees to plant. Oh and someone to help me plant them!

This roving curiosity about the natural world translates really well into restoration. His front yard is an ad hoc experimental nursery of over 30 species that he’s germinated from seed or collected as sprouts. Some are collected opportunistically, others from patient observation of when attractive, or useful, or unusual species begin to flower and then bear fruits and seeds. He tries different techniques to germinate, uses different substrates, tests whether things grow better from seed or as transplanted sprout…   Seedlings are growing in tires, buckets, in the shade of his plantains. I’ve invested only a tiny fraction of what Dos Brazos has received into his nursery, but will get 10x the species diversity (this year, anyways… I’m still hopeful DB steps it up for 2018).

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The impressively diverse nursery that Carlos has created with minimal investment. Last year I bought hundreds of his trees, and this year I’ll do the same.

I’m pretty sure Carlos enjoys our project so much because he actually gets to apply his brain to it. Possessing a restlessly intelligent mind in the vacuum of educational opportunity that is rural southern Costa Rica has translated, for him, into a churning sequence of short-term jobs either unsatisfying, impermanent or uncomfortably informal. He’s now 44, and has worked at least some time farming cocoa, harvesting bananas, harvesting oil palm, picking coffee, illegal logging, industrial-scale melina plantation logging, driving unregistered taxis, driving trucks, operating heavy machinery, illegal gold mining, illegal hunting, giving ecotourism tours, commercial fishing, grass-cutting, landscaping and now restoration and nursery management.

I know these things because Carlos also excels at talking, fast and furiously and distracted at regular intervals by passing birds or manglillo seed pods such that I have to beg him to refocus on the topic at hand in order to get a decision made. He and I have something of the same impatience for mundane life details (see: our combined record on cell phone breakage).

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Carlos’s current cell phone.

In the end, none of this would matter if I couldn’t trust him. I’ve made some pretty bad hires in my days (sorry, EIA) of folks who seemed perfect on paper. But I think I got this one right. I knew from the start that I couldn’t afford to hire him full time, for now, so my hope was that he become committed, invested, and proud of something that felt like a joint project. I try to pay well and I ask for his opinions. We sit over coffee and make plans. I fronted the money for a new motorbike to remove transport obstacles. I support his nursery efforts, connect him to other land owners who need trees. And in return, I can trust that when I need to leave early, and the bulldozer operator repairing my road offers to charge the gringa an extra hour and split the difference with him, Carlos will turn the offer down and tell me about it later. (That was last month.)

I just really enjoy working with the guy, even when the sun has melted my brain and his running tree phenology patter might as well be in Sumerian.  Things here at Las Tijeretas have advanced so much more rapidly and smoothly than they would have in any scenario that did not involve Carlos being President of the Finca. Our constitution is still being negotiated but no term limits have yet been established.

(I still have better hats though.)

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I bought that beautiful topper at a Mennonite store in Belize 🙂 . I love C’s expression here, as I force him to pose with “Flat Stanley” for a friend’s kid’s pen pal initiative. Thank you for putting up with my ridiculousness, Carlos!

The dry season blast furnace is cooled by April rains

Between December and May in Osa, the weather can go many days without a drop of rain. Sometimes, such as in recent years, ‘days’ become ‘weeks’. While the landscape never fully loses its green, as it does up north in the dry forests of Guanacaste, it does come to look somehow faded, parched, the lush foliage sheened in dust and struggling.

It may also look a bit blurry, seen through the sweat dripping into your eyes. Because dang it’s hot.  The temporal and physical mosaic of clouds, sprinkles, storms, and sunshine is replaced by a punishing all-day sun. It drives you and every other living thing into the shade between 9am and 3pm or condemns you to a pounding heat headache. Smaller waterways dry up. Deciduous trees drop their leaves.

And woe be to the little seedlings that didn’t store away quite enough nutrients and strength before the rains ceased.  This is what dry season in Osa does to your baby trees:

Carlos went into something like panic mode in February after multiple weeks without any rain. Luckily we have two small but year-round springs on the finca, so he began a Ghostbusters routine: load up the backpack and get to spraying. For several rainless weeks he traipsed up and down my steep slopes refilling a 20-gallon backpack tank pump situation, watering all 1500 or so trees! Superhero.

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Carlos also did things like this: build a roof and drip irrigation system for some of the saddest dedicated seedlings that I had planted in what turns out to be a particularly dry and hot little hill. That’s dedication, folks.

He wasn’t able to save every one, but our trees did pretty well, all things considered. We’ve had mortality on the highest sections of the steepest slopes, which, it stands to reason, are also the driest and most precarious…and also, the parts planted latest in 2016. Our miscalculation, not to be repeated, was planting well into September and October, which only gave those last trees a month or two to get over their transplanting shock, establish roots and build some new leaves before the rain stopped falling. This year I’m going to try to cut planting off in August.

Dry season is rough, but it’s also beautiful. Most trees bloom in these months, torching the cloudless blue sky with their yellow and orange and pink crowns and making the whole country swoon. [Really, Ticos love their trees, it’s so great: check out the thousands of entries to this tree photo contest!] It’s good reproductive strategy: seed pods and fruits mature, drop and disperse just in time to be snuggled in soil when the first rains start to fall around mid-April.

(That corteza amarilla is addictively beautiful for the few days it blooms, a tropical take on Frost. Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold….” )

Birds also feel the bloom of the season. The finca is peppered with little nests, in the grass and tuete shrubs and low trees.

And then when the first big rains return, your eyes blur not from the heat but from the beauty. The light changes, the colors shift and saturate. The smell of dust is replaced with the perfume of petrichor, green and damp, alive, rotting. You can sense the plants gorging themselves on the moisture, practically hear them sucking it in. You can also feel Carlos’s relief at putting away that damn water pump.

We had a spate of early rains in late March this year – as luck would have it, right around the day I decided to ‘take advantage of the dry season’ and fix my road – and as of mid-April, the season seems reliable enough that we’re moving into high gear to prep for the 2017 planting.

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Rains gathering over the repairs to my red, red road, it’s about to get bloody….

Observing this change in season, the yin and yang of the dry and wet, brought to mind a beloved line from poet (and Unitarian Universalist) May Sarton.

“Help us to be ever faithful gardeners of the spirit, who know that without darkness nothing comes to birth, and without light nothing flowers.”

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What it feels like, literally and metaphorically, after one of the season’s first rains