Posted by: ktzefr | July 3, 2020

Going Bananas

It was an “extraordinary noise…as if all the ghosts in the world

were talking to one another, in ghost-voices…

a noise something like rain,

or banana leaves in a wind.” 

~ D.H. Lawrence, Mornings in Mexico

D.H. Lawrence was describing a Mexican market.  I know that noise.  Early mornings the market is a loud cacophony of voices and music and bells and bird song.  But sometimes, especially late in the afternoon when the throngs of people have headed home, it becomes a chorus of soft voices, murmurings, almost whispers.  Like banana leaves in the wind.

I have a banana tree.  It came from Kentucky, a “pup” from the “mother” plant.  (Banana trees produce rhizomes that become “pups” or small trees that can be replanted.)  It spends the winter indoors, losing leaves and looking scraggly by spring.  This spring it was just a stalk; not one leaf.  I thought it was a goner.  But it sprung to life almost overnight when I brought it outside.  Banana trees love the heat and humidity of summer.  Such a tree does not really belong on my deck this far north.  It will never truly be at home.

Home is the tropics.  I’ve been to places where banana trees flourish and, for a variety of reasons, I feel at home there, too.  My tree will never produce fruit, but it brings me joy by jogging memories.  Like all those miles we drove through banana plantations, a sea of green waves that moved with the breeze, on our way to the shore in Costa Rica so many years ago.  That intense heat!  I loved it there.  The place, the time in life, todo — everything.

Banana trees; Photo:KFawcett

And then there is my favorite birdwatching hike in Yucatan, which ends at the organic gardens of an old hacienda with banana trees in various stages of growth.  On morning walks I like to see what has bloomed or ripened overnight in the gardens.  A local cook makes the best cochinita pibil on the peninsula.  Pork turned red from a thick achiote paste is wrapped in banana leaves and left to cook for hours.  In the markets of Mexico and across the Caribbean, banana leaves are folded neatly and tied into packages.  One bundle will suffice to cook a whole pig.

Banana Trees; Photo:KFawcett

Once, on a tiny island in the British Virgins, the place we stayed had an orchard with seven different varieties of bananas.  They came in all sizes and shades of yellow and green and red.  The caretaker/gardener was an elderly man who had been born and raised in China.  I liked spending the hottest part of the day sitting in the shade of a huge mango tree listening to his stories laced with recitations from the Tao Te Ching.  He talked about the struggles he overcame, of growing up  with one set of good clothes that he washed every day after walking many miles to and from school.  He had worked hard, traveled, became an ornithologist and was a bat cave explorer and expert, in addition to planting mango and papaya, breadfruit and cherimoya.  And seven varieties of bananas.  That orchard was a fantasy world of every shade of green imaginable — the green of living things that northern winters take away.

Banana Trees; Photo:KFawcett

As each new leaf unfurls on my little transplant, I am reminded of other warm places, other times, from Guadeloupe to Antigua to Grenada.  Banana trees.  Blooms and fruit.  Outdoor markets full of the exotic.  In the Andes, too, banana trees thrive. (They also grow a banana passionfruit — long, yellow, oval-shaped fruit with passionfruit-like pulp inside.)

We stayed one spring in Ecuador at the monastery of a hacienda built in the 1600s.  Our door opened onto a cluster of banana trees surrounded by a cobblestone courtyard.  Although days at this altitude were like summer, the temps fell when the sun set.  At bedtime, the scent from the adobe fireplace filled the air and remnants of the fire set the room in a soft glow.   Each night I closed the wooden shutters and pulled on the wool blankets and fell asleep listening to the steady sound of the night guard’s boots on the veranda.  The banana tree reminds me of that monastery and the village and the lake nearby, and the way that lake, from a distant mountainside, looked silver in the early morning light.  And Nutella!  This was the first time I had ever tasted Nutella.  There was a picnic in a garden.  One of the local kids described the nutty chocolate wonder this way: it’s like peanut butter but better.  Perfect.

Banana Trees; Photo:KFawcett

Banana trees.  Nutella.  Meeting people.  The best memories for me are always associated with people.  In his description of Mexican markets, Lawrence said that the market place was as much about bringing people together as it was about trade.  There is this: “…the spark of contact…which is most elusive, still the only treasure.”  And this:  “the copper centavos, a few silver pesos — will disappear as the stars disappear at daybreak, as they are meant to disappear.  Only that which is utterly intangible matters.  The contact, the spark of exchanges.”

I’m glad I didn’t toss out the leafless stalk that was my banana tree in the spring.  It has a certain magic about it, a certain…spark.

**********

*** “Going bananas” has had numerous meanings over the years.  Some lasting ones are these:  to go crazy, to explode with anger, or to erupt with enthusiasm.  I am neither crazy nor angry, but I do occasionally erupt with enthusiasm over something ordinary, like a banana tree.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | June 18, 2020

On Being Amazed this Father’s Day…

Crabbing, Ocean City, 1974

My dad carried the encyclopedia to work with him one book at a time.  When I was growing up, my parents owned a general store in eastern Kentucky and there were often long stretches of quiet time between customers.  During these times Pop read – A to BI, C-D, U, V, to Wo.  His lips moved when he read and I could hear him whisper from where I sat in the back of the store. 

When school was called off because of the weather, I climbed atop the White Lily flour table above the coal stove and peered out the window, watching the snow fall as I wrote stories about young girls running off to Hawaii or Paris or other places I had never been.

My mother, ensconced at the sewing machine, sang gospel tunes and stitched together pieces of patchwork quilts.  The old Singer hummed and the fire crackled and Pop whispered a litany of facts while I wrote on the backs of scrap paper, planting myself vicariously in one exotic port after another.  Each of us escaped the cold Appalachian winter days in our own way.

Pop had bought this set of encyclopedia for my brother, sister, and me.  We thought of other things we might like to have instead, but he insisted on the books.  They had dark maroon-colored covers with raised bumps and gold outline on the binding that made them look and feel official.  He read aloud sometimes or told us stories from his own experience – the history of the “all-seeing-eye” atop the pyramid on the dollar bill; the legend of the lost city of Atlantis; what it felt like to listen at night, as a boy, to the ice breaking apart in the Cumberland River during the ice flood of 1918.   

Although Dad left high school early to help support his family, he was a voracious reader and enjoyed “studying” science.  “Science says…” he would often begin a sentence about something he’d read in the encyclopedia or newspaper, and then relate the story, as if “science” were a living person. 

He relished each time scientists figured out the inner workings of some mystery.  But he recognized, and was quick to remind us, that for every problem science had solved, every question answered, there were millions of uncertainties.  This didn’t frustrate him in the least; on the contrary, he marveled at the complexity of the world, the impossibilities, the unknowable.  He could be as engrossed with reading about the minute workings of some aspect of the human mind as with the mysteries of the universe.  To him they all fit together according to a plan that was part of the vast unknowable.  Pop liked the wonder of it all and the shock of discovery. 

Back in the early 1800s Goethe said that absolute truth was not necessary for happiness.  We don’t need an explanation for everything, he wrote in Theory of Colours.  “The highest goal that man can achieve is amazement.” 

My dad found amazement in the most unlikely places.  I try to do the same.  It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort, really, to be amazed.  Just take a walk and look around…

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!!

 

Posted by: ktzefr | May 27, 2020

8 Spring Haiku and Blossoms, too!

“…I want every instant to be lovely as crayons.  

I want each breathless moment to beget a flower.”

~ Gu Cheng

 

Peony; Photo:KFawcett

“It falls, the peony —

and upon each other lie

petals, two or three.”

~ Buson

***

“Out comes the bee

from deep among peony pistils —

oh, so reluctantly!

***

My favorite blooms in spring are the snowballs!

Chinese Snowball Vibernum; Photo:KFawcett

“A spring day — and:

in the garden, sparrows

bathing in the sand!”

~ Onitsura

I have not had sparrows bathing in the sand this spring, but I have a birdbath hanging in the snowball tree and they enjoy splashing in the water amongst the blooms.

***

Rhododendron; Photo:KFawcett

“My hut in spring!

True, there is nothing in it —

there is Everything!

~ Sodo

Not in my hut, but in my yard…the rhododendron this spring was the prettiest ever.

***

“They blossom, and then

we gaze, and then the blooms

scatter, and then…”

~ Onitsura

Azalea; Photo:KFawcett

All blooms scatter after awhile, but the azalea bushes can have a real “snow” of colors in the wind.  

Azalea; Photo:KFawcett

“The grove in spring:

even the birds that prey on birds

are slumbering.”

~ Ranko

We have a yard full of happy birds this spring, including a mockingbird that spent three nights last week singing all night long!  So, no slumbering birds here.  But, after a sleepless night, this iris in bloom on my morning walk was a pleasant surprise.  

Iris; Photo:KFawcett

***

“Marvelous!” I say,

as I watch, now this, now that — 

and springtime goes away.

~ Kito

Roses; Photo:KFawcett

The early roses are prolific.  Perhaps from all the rain.  As June comes round, however, there are more varieties left to bloom.  

***

“Regret for spring’s passing —

year after year, and yet

never the same.”

~ Gekkyo

Japanese dogwood; Photo:KFawcett

The Japanese dogwood are in full bloom now, near the end of spring.  Like the poet says, there is “regret for spring’s passing,” for those who love this time of year.  The new season is like rebirth, new life, starting over.  Unfortunately, this spring has not felt like itself.  Most might be glad for the truth in the rest of the poem — “year after year, and yet/never the same.”  Here’s hoping for a brighter springtime in 2021.

Picking blackberries

This week, with much of life still on pause, I thought about my mom and how she might respond.  What would she say?  Though she wasn’t quick to give counsel unless asked, I considered what her advice might be. 

Be patient.  Pray.  Look for the silver lining (she was sure there was always a silver lining). Be grateful for the people you care about, the things you’ve done, and the moments and memories you enjoy.  Appreciate the present; it’s all we really have.  Tomorrow is not guaranteed.  Look around and remember the old saying, ”but for the grace of God,” and take it to heart. 

My mom was born in 1910.  She grew up in a coal mining camp in Eastern Kentucky with eight siblings.  In the early 1900s there were no vaccines for many of the more dreaded diseases and no large-scale production of vaccines for the public at all, so my mom was never vaccinated as a young person.  She survived smallpox and typhoid.  She lived to be almost 98 years old.

My mother was a tough cookie physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Her faith, values, likes and dislikes stayed intact; her views were never wishy washy.  She always listened and didn’t try to force other people to see it her way, but she also didn’t allow anyone else to tell her what to believe. Mom didn’t argue.  She said what she thought and was done with it.  Take or leave it or forget it.  She made her own choices and expected others to do the same.

Mom was savvy when it came to sizing up situations – those you could do something about and those you couldn’t.  We humans can spend a lot of time complaining and running headlong into brick walls.  Mom didn’t do that.  She could recognize a brick wall a mile away and knew the futility of constant complaint.  In a nutshell: life is what it is.

She loved her kids and grandkids and great grandkids more than anything else and took absolute joy in her flowers – whether caring for the violets in winter or planting new annuals in the spring.  We went together to orchid shows at the botanical gardens, to see the display of huge azaleas at the Arboretum, and to walk through a myriad of greenhouses and rose gardens.   She liked to use the old cliché “stop and smell the roses.”  And that’s how she lived her life. 

I was recently reading in a journal that new research suggests this old saying is sound advice for finding satisfaction in life, that pausing to appreciate the meaningful things and people in our lives may play an even larger role in our overall happiness than we ever imagined.  The article said it’s important to connect to nature, to life itself, and to live in the present — reflecting on the positive aspects of our lives and savoring the good times.

Well, of course, I didn’t need to read a scientific journal to know this.  It was my mom’s natural way of life.  She practiced what she preached.  I don’t always do as she did, but her words are always there, as if hanging in the air, to remind me to look for the silver lining.  It’s my choice.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY

to all the moms

everywhere!!!

Posted by: ktzefr | May 8, 2020

Suspended Animation 2020

Is this what suspended animation feels like? 

Our world has been put on pause.  I’ve surfed the internet webcams at various times day and night, from Times Square to Mexico City’s Zocalo to the busy streets of London and Rome. Empty.  Looks like scenes from a sci-fi movie.  Most of the world has stopped, at least those dubbed non-essentials.  Some have been forced to speed up double and triple time.   I am grateful to be a non-essential.

And I’m grateful for the springtime, being surrounded by blooms, and the almost daily rains keeping everything green.  When I was growing up in the country the very essence of spring was going barefoot the first of May and splashing in mud puddles. 

If the world was a mud puddle and we were all water bears, we’d be used to life’s pauses.  Water bears (tardigrades) are microscopic creatures that go into suspended animation when their “world” dries up.  The water bear’s body dries to a crisp, it stops eating or moving, it does not breathe.  The internal organs shut down, the nervous system stops, and yet, when it rains the animal soaks it up and resumes its normal activities.

These tardigrades (there are over 1,000 known species) can survive anywhere.  They can live in temperatures as cold as -328F or as hot as 300F and withstand radiation, boiling liquids, and massive pressure six times the pressure of the deepest part of the ocean, as well as the vacuum of space without any protection.  The tiny critters produce a protein that protects their DNA and antioxidants to protect their vital organs.  If the water they live in becomes low in oxygen, they can reduce their metabolic rate low enough to survive.  Scientists believe tardigrades could survive most astronomical events that would wipe out humanity, from asteroids to super nova blasts and bursts of gamma rays.

Tardigrades were discovered by a German pastor, Johann August Ephraim Goeze, in 1773 and in 1776 the Italian clergyman and biologist Lazzaro Spallanzani discovered that water bears survive extreme conditions through a process of transformation.   They go into a state called cryptobiosis, retracting their head and legs and curling up into a dehydrated ball called a tun.  If water is reintroduced, they come back to life.  

Last fall human beings were put into suspended animation for the first time.  It was not as practice for some space flight to Alpha Centauri or other distant star, but rather to buy doctors extra time in the operating room to perform surgery on trauma victims.

The real deal suspended animation is a fantastic scientific achievement, a very good thing indeed, if all goes well.  But this continued world-wide pause that has become everyday life is not fantastic.  Perhaps life today might better be defined as marking time, running in place, or sitting it out

Which one best describes YOUR life in Spring 2020?

*****

 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | May 6, 2020

Cinco de Mayo and Yucatan Bees

Birds, Yucatecan Wall Hanging; Photo:KFawcett

Happy Cinco de Mayo!  Time to serve up that 40+ ingredient molé that you’ve been simmering for five days from a recipe created by someone’s ancient Oaxacan abuela.  Or, perhaps, in this time devoid of celebration, an Americanized taco and a Corona (beer, that is) might suffice.

Though Cinco de Mayo is celebrated by many Mexican-Americans living in the US as a part of their heritage, it’s not that much of a big deal in Mexico.  No, it’s NOT Mexican Independence Day.  It’s not even a national holiday.  The fifth of May celebrates one battle in which the Mexican army defeated the French in the town of Puebla in 1862 during the Franco-Mexican War.

Still, any reason to celebrate is better than a reason to feel glum, which is far more common at the moment.

*****

So, I’m celebrating this Mexican not-really-much-of-a-holiday with honey.  Well, not really the actual honey as it’s all gone now.  But it was pretty amazing while it lasted.  Now, this tiny Yumi honey jar (it’s tiny because it’s hard to find authentic Yucatan melipona honey), is a vase for the wild buttercups I picked on my walk.  I enjoy collecting colorful pottery vases from different places, but I also like to recycle jars and other containers on occasion to hold flowers. 

Buttercups in a honey jar among the classics…

Photo:KFawcett

Anyway, last year I bought the tiny jars of honey at Mexi Boutique, a gourmet food shop on Calle 60 in Merida, Yucatan.  The honey comes from the also tiny melipona stingless bee.  I thought about these little endangered creatures and the Maya people who keep their hives when I saw a news story about those horrible murder hornets that have arrived in the US from Asia.  The big hornets (2 inches long, they say!) kill honeybees.  If we don’t find a way to get rid of them, they may well destroy what is left of the honeybees.  And, of course, honeybees not only produce honey but pollinate a huge portion of what we grow and eat.  To learn more about melipona honey and why it’s so good, have a look at this interesting piece I stumbled across in  Food and Wine.  

So, I’m celebrating bees today, the smallest and defenseless among them — with the tastiest honey.

Also, check out this terrific video about the bees and the people who care for them:

*****

I didn’t have half of the 40+ ingredients to make the Oaxacan molé today, no Corona beer, no tortillas for a taco.  I roasted a chicken, baked sweet potatoes, mixed a salad.  But the field of buttercups and the empty honey jar were enough to keep my mind occupied with memories for hours.  That’s cause to celebrate!

 

 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | May 5, 2020

5 Facts and Musings on Mayapples

I was looking out the window thinking how much I like the back yard in spring, this little patch of almost-woods that makes me feel surrounded by forest, even when the beltway hums in the distance, and the helicopters follow a predictable path over the house, and the planes circle low when landing from the north.

Mayapples; Photo:KFawcett

I like the surprises you can count on in spring – the dandelions, the wild violets and strawberries, and the clumps of white clover that bring the bunnies right up to the porch.  I like to hear bird song fill the trees and the yard come alive with their music and watch the squirrels swing from branch to branch.

The other day, in the rain, I was caught by another surprise…all wet and shiny like a bunch of tiny green umbrellas, standing shoulder to shoulder, the mayapples had leapt from the earth overnight.

*****

I realized that, although I had been familiar with this wild plant since childhood, I didn’t really know anything about it.  It was time to learn.  Did you know…

— Mayapples grow in colonies from a single root.

— They are generally found in shady fields, on riverbanks, and at roadsides.  (They are also found in suburban back yards.)

— All the parts of the plant, except the fruit, contain podophyllotoxin which is highly toxic if consumed, but it was used by Native Americans for a variety of medicinal purposes.  

— Today, Podophyllotoxin is an ingredient in prescription drugs used for the treatment of certain cancers, malaria, psoriasis, and other illnesses.  

— Mayapples appear suddenly in spring and then go dormant by mid-summer; the sunnier the location, the quicker they go dormant.

Though the mayapples come back every spring, I have no idea how they got here in the first place.  One spring there was nothing but periwinkle and weeds along the back fence; the next year — a host of little green umbrellas.  Perhaps the wind or the birds or some other natural magic happened…

*****  

 

 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | April 30, 2020

24 Moments: Celebrating Children’s Day

Today is Día del Niño in Mexico!  Children’s Day has been celebrated since 1925 to “love, accept, and appreciate” children.  Like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, a special day to pay tribute to young people is a big deal in Mexico with festivals, school parties, and community events replete with toys and gifts and fun activities.  But this year schools are closed and events are cancelled because of coronavirus.  Live webcams across the country show deserted streets and plazas, which are generally full of life and color day and night.  

Although the US does have a Children’s Day in June, the holiday has never really caught on here.  Too bad.  

Over the years, during times spent in Mexico from Yucatan and Quintana Roo to the Central Mountains of Guanajuato and Queretaro, I have enjoyed taking photos of children.  Kids are kids, teens are teens, no matter where you go.  Here are a few favorites to celebrate young people here and there and everywhere in the hopes that these normal special occasions and every day events become a part of life again soon.

Moms and kids pics have always caught my eye… 

Mama y bebe; Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

The teen queens and handsome kings during Day of the Dead in Guanajuato…

Day of the Dead, Guanajuato; Photo:KFawcett

Day of the Dead, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Carnival parades in Playa del Carmen always feature the little ones…

Carnival, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

 

Young boys and girls celebrate their heritage by taking part in indigenous and Spanish dance groups all over the country…

Indigenous dancers, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

 

Catching quiet moments is special, too…

Photo:KFawcett

Photo: KFawcett

A group of happy teens with the Conchero Dancer in Santiago de Queretaro on just-another-day, after school in the plaza…

The Conchero Dancer, Queretaro; Photo:KFawcett

Visits to schools in Mexico have always been a gift to me…

Lunch break, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

A time to work, and a time to play…

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Young people take part in all of the traditions…

Palm Sunday, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Getting ready for Day of the Dead…

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Feliz Día del Niño a mis amigos y sus niños en Mexico!  May you all stay safe and healthy.

*****

Posted by: ktzefr | April 24, 2020

10 Pieces of Poems…

I have been re-reading Rumi for years.  My books are full of dog-eared corners and underlines and little scraps of paper to mark pages and thoughts.  Though Rumi was born Jalal al-Din in northern Afghanistan in 1207, I have found over the years that no matter when I read his verse, no matter what is going on in the world at the time, his words still fit the human condition.  I’ve read numerous translations of Rumi’s poetry, but most Persian speakers continue to agree that his work is too complex, too full of a mystical sort of music,  for adequate translation.

Still…in celebration of National Poetry Month, here are a few favorite lines (pieces of poems) that leaped out at me as I read this week.

***

 

“Don’t let your throat tighten

with fear.  Take sips of breath

all day and night…”

*

“Let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways

to kneel and kiss the ground.”

*

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.”

*

“Some nights stay up till dawn,

as the moon sometimes does for the sun.

Be a full bucket pulled up the dark way

of a well, then lifted out into light.”

*

“I am so small I can barely be seen.

How can this great love live inside me?

 

Look at your eyes.  They are small,

but they see enormous things.

*

“In one wheat grain a thousand sheaf stacks.

Inside the needle’s eye a turning night of stars.”

*

“Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.

Don’t try to see through the distances.

That’s not for human beings.  Move within

but don’t move the way fear makes you move.”

*

“I have lived on the lip

of insanity, wanting to know reasons,

knocking on a door.  It opens.

I’ve been knocking from the inside!”

*

“How long will we fill our pockets

Like children with dirt and stones?

Let the world go.  Holding it

We never know ourselves, never are air-born.”

*

“Stop the words now.

Open the window in the center of your chest,

And let the spirits fly in and out.”

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | April 16, 2020

One Mean Thing, Years of Smiles

Have you ever done something mean that you remembered for years with a smile? 

Allowing myself to get so angry at the time was mean, perhaps, but remembering Carlos Santana still makes me smile.  We like to listen to the old vinyl sometimes and when I took out the album today, I had to tell the story…

Carlos Santana, from the back of the original album cover “Santana” 1969

Sometime in the mid-70s we lived on the top floor of a garden apartment building.  We knew most of our neighbors only in passing, but were good friends with a few.  It was generally a quiet complex and people mostly obeyed the “good neighbor” rules.

But one Saturday night the couple in the apartment directly below us threw a party.  Everybody had parties on the weekends, but they were generally over by midnight.  Not so this time.  As the night wore on it got louder and louder — drunk laughter, voices yelling over the music, and the music itself wasn’t great.  The bass from below felt as if it were thumping on our own floor and bouncing off the walls, like a giant heartbeat.  Midnight came and went.  We tried to sleep, but it was impossible.  It was almost daylight when the music finally died, the partygoers left, and our neighbors closed their door and stomped down their hallway toward the bedroom.  Then it was glorious silence.  But…

We had not slept all night.  It didn’t seem fair.  

What to do?

Carlos.  Santana.  Psychedelic rock, Latin rock, Jazz fusion.  Great stuff!  We took down the 1969 album, half of which is wild instrumental — an intense and consistent percussion, the electric organ accelerating like a speeding car, and Santana’s unforgettable guitar riffs that could give you goosebumps.  Savor, Jingo, Persuasion…Yes!

We pulled back the rug and set the stereo and speakers on the wood floor.  Turned the speakers as loud as they’d go and laid them face down.  Set the record to repeat…and repeat…and repeat ad infinitum.

Then we grabbed our coats and left for the day.

*****

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