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I’m a California girl.  I grew up in earthquake country —  the San Francisco Bay Area to be exact.  I was raised on my grandparents’ stories of the day the Earth Shook, The Sky Burned in San Francisco on April 18, 1906.  A favorite was of my 8-year old grandmother bringing jugs of water to refugees, whose homes had either collapsed from the violent shaking or burned in the fires that broke out.  They were camped out under tents and tarps in the Masonic Cemetery, where her stepfather was the manager — and the thought of the living, living with the dead was captivating to my 8-year old self.  Perhaps another reason why Oaxaca feels like home.

The first earthquake I remember was in first grade.  I gripped my desk, as it rocked back and forth and watched, wide-eyed, as the massive row of windows that lined one wall of my classroom moved in and out, distorting the trees and pink house across the street.  I’m not sure if we were directed to get under our desks, but I do remember my first grade teacher, Mrs. Chase (one of the best teachers ever!), in her comforting, calm, and very competent way, conveying a sense of safety.  Our 1938 wood-frame house, on the side of Mt. Tamalpais was fine, save for several cracks in the lath and plaster walls.  Years later, I learned that it was built on bedrock — a good thing!

Several more earthquakes ensued as I grew up and raised my family in the Bay Area — and I learned to be prepared.  We kept earthquake supplies in the basement — enough water and food to last three days, flashlights, battery-powered radio, etc.  My car was always stocked with bottles of water and protein bars, a sleeping bag and flashlight, sweatshirt and old gym shoes, and a first aid kit.  Luckily, we didn’t have to use any of them following the 7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.   However, our eyes were glued to the television.  Before the earthquake hit, we had been about to gather in the living room to watch the “Bay Bridge” World Series — the San Francisco Giants versus their across the San Francisco Bay rivals, the Oakland Athletics.  Instead, we watched part of the Bay Bridge collapse and houses built on landfill in the Marina of San Francisco collapse.  We were fine, but nerves were shattered and for days after, every aftershock had me ready to bolt.

During my first visit to Oaxaca in 2007, I awoke to an earthquake — that dreaded, but familiar, feeling flooded my body but it was small and all was okay.  Thankfully, I was in the USA for the 8.2 earthquake that devastated parts of the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas almost two weeks ago.  However, I have experienced several smaller ones since moving here, including the March 20, 2012, 7.4 earthquake.  Walking up Macedonio Alcalá, I didn’t feel that one, but heard windows rattle and people cry, “terremoto” as they streamed out into the street.  There have been many aftershocks from the Sept. 7th earthquake since I’ve been back, a couple at 5.6 on the Richter scale, but I haven’t felt them either.  Giving thanks to Roberta French and her degree in structural engineering from MIT for building such a sturdy, well designed apartment complex on bedrock!

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It was the same yesterday.  Blogger buddy Chris and I were walking up the Alcalá on our way to Las Quince Letras for the traditional Mes de la Patria (celebrating independence from Spain) dish, chiles en nogada.  We were talking — catching up after my six-week trip.  As we turned onto Abasolo, we noticed cars stopped at all intersections and people milling around on the streets.  A blockade was our first thought.  After all, this is Oaxaca!  We soon discovered, it was a 7.1 earthquake (epicenter near the Puebla/Morelos border) that brought traffic to a halt and people out of buildings.  This latest earthquake has taken lives (currently more than 200 people, in 6 states) and destroyed buildings, especially in Mexico City — but we didn’t feel a thing!  Apparently, the shaking was felt all over Oaxaca city, just not by us walking along the cantera (stone) roadbed of the Alcalá.  I spent the rest of yesterday afternoon and evening glued to the news out of Mexico City — and I continue watching and reading in horror as the destruction unfolds.

I’m fine, my friends in Oaxaca, Mexico City, and Chiapas are fine, my apartment is fine.  So, why am I writing this?  A catharsis, perhaps….  But also to say to those who are new to or have no experience with the earth violently shaking:  You never get used to it — you never take it in stride, as you never know when that stride will be broken as the ground begins shifting beneath your feet.  And, you always anticipate — it’s one of the reasons, I keep my cell phone and keys with an emergency buzzer in my pocket and a bottle of water and a protein bar in my purse.  In addition, like hurricanes, people and their governments must pay close attention to, and strictly regulate, where and how buildings are constructed — greed and corruption should not trump lives — and a priority should be placed on early warning systems in earthquake countries around the world.

To satisfy my inner-librarian, I recommend to you a few articles to begin to understand the whys and hows:

 

 

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Oaxaca continues to be inundated with rain.  I’m in Colorado now (inhaling smoke from fires throughout the west), but friends in Oaxaca are describing flooding, leaking roofs, water coming through windows and doors, and rain without end. Today’s news is reporting more than 13 communities are incommunicado and that urban development is a major cause of flooding by the Atoyac River that runs through the valley of Oaxaca.

Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from the builders of Monte Albán, where the Pre-Hispanic drainage works better than current systems.

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This morning, sun and blue sky welcomed the Solsticio de verano in Oaxaca — a beautiful way to begin the longest day of the year.

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View from the terrace:  Templo de San José, founded by the Jesuits in 1559, on the left; Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (Basilica of Our Lady of Solitude), constructed between 1682 and 1690, on the right; and the green mountain in the far distance between the two is Monte Albán.

Happy Summer Solstice to all!

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Old school…

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New school…

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Art school…

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For those dying to know what the heck a tinaco is and how the water system in Mexico works:

At my apartment complex, municipal water is regularly (or, not so regularly — as the case may be) delivered though a pipe under the street into a cistern (storage tank) located under our driveway); a bomba (pump) is run daily for an hour (más o menos) to bring water from the cistern up into tinacos sitting on the various rooftops of the complex.  In case you are worried, float valves keep them from overflowing (most of the time).  When we turn on the tap, courtesy of gravity, water flows (or dribbles) from the tinaco into and through our faucets.  ¡Ojala!

By the way, drinking water is a completely different story…

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Have I mentioned most of the potting soil here leaves much to be desired?  As a result, over the past 6+ years, I’ve been experimenting with ways to enhance the soil I’ve been dealt to help my rooftop garden grow.  Besides, freezing (to speed up the fiber break down) and then adding green kitchen scraps, augmenting the soil with sawdust and sand, I’ve added worm farming to my arsenal.

Back in early August, blogger buddy and gardening guru Chris and I, armed with our new red bins, headed out to Sikanda (just outside Santa María del Tule) to purchase and be schooled in earthworm (lombriz, en español) farming.  P1130268

Our goal was to provide a nurturing environment for earthworms to go forth and multiply and to produce worm casting (aka: vermicompost, worm humus, worm manure) to enrich our soil.  Since then, I’ve spent the last five months keeping their home moist and feeding my worms more green kitchen waste, coffee grounds and tea leaves, and garden clippings.  Saturday, I finally harvested my first castings.

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There are several ways to separate the worms from their castings.  I chose the photosensitivity filter method — laying cheesecloth over another bin filled with compost and placing it in the sun, I transferred a thin layer of my worms and their castings onto the cheesecloth.

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Earthworms hate the sun and most quickly started burrowing down through the cheesecloth in search of cool moist darkness..  Once the worms had made their way into the moist compost of their new home (stragglers received hand-picked assistance), I removed the cheesecloth, now filled with worm-free castings, and dumped it onto my sifter, where I sifted the nutrient rich castings into my soil bin.

P1160372It’s rather time-consuming, but what else did I have to do on a Saturday?  It was well worth it and I get to do it all again in three to five months!

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When atop the massive plateau that is the archaelogical site of Monte Albán, one can’t help but reflect on the pre-Hispanic cultures that built and inhabited this place; cultures whose gods were of the environment — the elements and the agricultural gifts, to man and beast, those elements provided.

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Today, as we celebrate Earth Day, perhaps we need a return to the old gods…

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The azucena is a variety of tuberose and its name is familiar in Oaxaca.  A popular boutique hotel near Casita Colibrí and  a well-known restaurant at the entrance to San Martín Tilcajete are both namesakes. This must be a special flower.  It is!  A few evenings ago, I went out onto the terrace to soak in the view, as lights came on in the city, and discovered azucenas blooming in an old planter box on the terrace wall.  Another night bloomer joins my pitahaya and night-blooming cereus.

Stalks of flowering azucenas

As Judy Sedbrook at Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension, explains, flowering plants on The Night Shift take over as the sun sets.  They are often white or light-colored, to better reflect the moonlight, and exhibit a heady scent, both in an effort to attract their night flying moth and bat pollinators.

2 azucenas flowers against dark sky

I love these sweet-smelling nighttime surprises!

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Yippee!!!  A new, and extremely colorful, species of grasshopper has been discovered in the pine-oak forest of the Sierra Madre del Sur Mountain Range in Oaxaca.  Liladownsia fraile has been named for Oaxaca’s favorite daughter and one of my favorite performers, Lila Downs, someone I’ve written about often.

(Photo Credit: UCF)

(Photo Credit: UCF)

From Science Codex,

A newly discovered grasshopper by University of Central Florida scientists now bears the name of Grammy-award winning singer and activist Ana Lila Downs Sanchez.

The scientists named the new species discovered on the side of a mountain road near Oaxaca, Mexico, after the Mexican-American singer as a nod to her efforts to preserve indigenous culture and penchant for wearing colorful, local costumes as part of her performances.

“It was primarily Paolo’s idea to name the grasshopper after the singer” said Derek Woller, one of the authors of the paper referring to colleague Paolo Fontana. “He’s a big fan of Lila Downs (her stage name). The grasshopper is so beautiful, so vibrant and colorful. When he told us all about her, her work, her colorful clothes, and that she was born in the region where we found the specimens, we thought, yeah, that’s great, let’s do it.”  Read full article HERE.

According to the Zootaxa article, Studies in Mexican Grasshoppers: Liladownsia fraile, a new genus and species of Dactylotini (Acrididae: Melanoplinae) and an updated molecular phylogeny of Melanoplinae (a mouthful, I know, but the photos are worth scrolling through the article), Liladownsia fraile had been sighted in San José del Pacifico, Suchixtepec, and Pochutla.

By the way, if you are in Oaxaca, Lila Downs is performing tonight at the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá — a benefit for Fondo Guadalupe Musalem, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of the young indigenous women of Oaxaca through education.

poster for benefit

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Much like the Mark Twain line, “The report of my death was an exaggeration,” unfortunately, so too the news announcing the death of GMO corn in Mexico.

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According to the post by Think Mexican, The Fight Continues: GMO Corn Not Yet Banned in Mexico:

Contrary to reports, genetically modified (GMO) corn has not been banned in Mexico. On October 10, a Mexican judge from the Twelfth Federal District Court for Civil Matters in Mexico City issued an injunction suspending field trails of GMO corn, however, a complete ban was not ordered.

Federal Judge Jaime Eduardo Verdugo’s ruling does order the halting of “all activities involving the planting of transgenic corn in [Mexico] and ends the granting of permissions for experimental and pilot commercial plantings.” [Read full article, HERE]

From a large mural on the wall outside the Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas, Delegación Oaxaca

La lucha continúa…

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Sometime around 8,000 years ago, corn was first domesticated in the valley where I have the privilege of living.  Botanists have determined that the valley of Oaxaca was the “cradle” of maize evolution.  Maíz became the lifeblood of the Mesoamerican diet and culture and it continues today.

On September 29, Oaxaca celebrated el Día Nacional del Maíz Nativo (National Native Corn Day).  On the zócalo, across from the Government Palace, there were displays showcasing the multiple hues of native corn…

There were tlayudas for sale…

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However, there were also warnings about the dangers of genetically modified corn and the products containing them…

Genetically modified corn is a major issue in Oaxaca.  There is a concern that native plants could become infected with GMOs, which would then contaminate and compromise the genetic diversity of native varieties.  Speakers, at the event, discussed the importance of the community seed banks that have been established to safeguard native varieties and be used in the wake of economic and ecological crisis.  Two weeks after the aforementioned event, there was good news, a Mexico judge has placed an indefinite ban on genetically engineered corn.

And so to celebrate, I am re-posting the Lila Downs video of her song “Palomo del Comalito,” paying homage to maíz, and its “granitos de cristal” (grains of crystal).

And to bring this post full circle, the video was filmed in Teotitlán del Valle, located here in the valley where corn was first cultivated.

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Friday, I went Teotitlán del Valle to visit a friend.  N is living out in the campo and it was an adventure just getting there — necessitating a colectivo, bus, moto-taxi, and a fair amount of walking.  However, it was well worth it!  The conversation was non-stop, comida was delicious, and the setting is spectacular.

El Picacho from rooftop terrace.

El Picacho from my friend’s rooftop terrace.

However, a major topic of conversation in the village is the lack of rain.  Granted, I was grateful the creek the 3-wheel moto-taxi and I had to ford only had about six inches of water in it, but looking out from N’s terrace, it was evident the fields are suffering.

Maguey fields in Teotitlán del Valle.

Maguey fields in Teotitlán del Valle.

Acres upon acres of parched earth, with rows upon rows of drooping and stunted corn — the lifeblood of this country.  When the campo suffers, so too the people.

Rows of corn stalks.

Rows of corn stalks.

Word has it that this is the driest rainy season anyone can remember.  In a normal year, afternoon showers irrigate the fields and clean the city’s streets at least four to five times a week from June through September.  This year, nada!  I can probably count on two hands the number of times it’s rained.  Your offerings and prayers to Cocijo would be much appreciated!

Update:  Wow, I have some powerful blog readers — it rained last night!!!  Mil gracias.  

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“But one day we shall be rich, and the next poor. One day we shall dine in a palace and the next we’ll sit in a forest and toast mushrooms on a hatpin….” — Katherine Mansfield, The Aloe.

Last Sunday, via a narrow winding road, we drove up into the Sierra Norte for the 13th Regional Wild Mushroom Fair (Feria Regional de Hongos Silvestres) in San Antonio Cuajimoloyas.  The village is part of the Pueblos Mancomunados, a union of seven villages formed to protect the forest, preserve local traditions, and promote ecotourism, in order to provide employment. Thirty-seven miles northeast of Oaxaca city, 10,433 feet above sea level, and often in the clouds, Cuajimoloyas has an ethereal feel and seems a world apart from the valley below.

“I am… a mushroom on whom the dew of heaven drops now and then” — John Ford, The Broken Heart (1633).

Entering the plaza in front of the portales of the municipal building, we were surrounded by the 20 species of wild mushrooms endemic to the region.  There were mushrooms with shiny orange caps; mushrooms resembling coral, trumpets, a head of cauliflower, flower petals; baskets of freshly dug mushrooms, baggies of dried mushrooms, a bowl of spores; mushrooms sauteed, grilled on hot coals, stuffed in empanadas and tamales, and made into candy.

“Nature alone is antique, and the oldest art a mushroom.” — Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus.

And there were the people of Cuajimoloyas…  I quickly found the enchanting abuela from last year, again selling Atole Rojo and it hit the spot!  Another abuela was selling fragrant fresh herbs, most I’d never heard of.  I forgot about a sprig she gave me and it was a pleasant surprise when I returned home and emptied my pockets.

I’m already looking forward to next year…

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A recent article from California’s Merced Sun-Star addresses an issue many in Oaxaca’s ex-pat community have been discussing.

Exchange student learns sustainable gardening

By RAMONA GIWARGIS – rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com

MERCED — In the small town of Mitla Oaxaca in Mexico, a little girl drew inspiration from her grandmother’s colorful garden more than 10 years ago.

Though the family wasn’t very wealthy, the dinner table was always filled with fresh and nutritious foods.

“When I was young, my grandma always had a garden,” said Xochitl Juarez, now 26. “She was really poor, but she always had fresh fruits and vegetables.”

(photo by BEA AHBECK - bahbeck@mercedsunstar.com) Xochitl Juarez of Mexico planted a 10,000-square-foot garden in the shape of a circle because 'everything in life is a cycle,' she said.

(photo by BEA AHBECK – bahbeck@mercedsunstar.com)  Xochitl Juarez of Mexico planted a 10,000-square-foot garden in the shape of a circle because ‘everything in life is a cycle,’ she said.

After falling in love with agriculture at a young age, Juarez sought to help her community learn new farming techniques to become more sustainable.

“A lot of people that come here are from small towns and they have to grow their own food,” she said. “If they have the opportunity to be sustainable, we’ll have a better life with more healthy foods and better nutrition.”

Juarez left her hometown of about 10,000 people and traveled to the United States for the first time as part of the Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture program.

[Click HERE for full article]

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Wall art demonstrating "reduce, separa, recicla"

Sign "deposita solo botes reciclables with 3 plastic bottles nailed to it

Sign "deposita solo botes reciclables" and basket 1/3 filled with plastic bottles underneath

Chicken wire bin 1/3 full of plastic bottles

Educating the public in Teotitlán del Valle.

 

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On this Earth Day, I thought I’d post photos of the Matria, Jardín Arterapéutico project.  These were taken 3 weeks after my previous visit.  Despite 90+° (F) temperatures since the garden was planted, it is thriving and very few plants have been lost.

The key to the garden’s success?  Megan Glore and her team of volunteers are listening to what the plants are telling them and responding accordingly — just as we should all be doing with Mother Earth.

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