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Archive for the ‘Science & Nature’ Category

We read the news today, oh boy. Early last night a violent thunderstorm brought gale force winds and torrential rain. It didn’t last long but it took its toll. The beloved giant Indian laurel that provided shade to the concerts, danzón, and other programs “bajo el laurel” on the zócalo toppled to the ground. Thankfully, no one was injured.

The iconic Indian laurels were planted on Oaxaca’s Zócalo and Alameda de León between 1870 and 1880. However, in the thirteen years that I have lived here, I’ve lost count of the number of laurels that have fallen.

As the late artist and heritage tree advocate Francisco Verástegui once explained to me, the trees suffered from damage caused by an aborted remodel of the Zócalo in 2005, along with improper pruning, inadequate irrigation, faulty drainage, and the use of unsterilized mulch leading to the growth of fungus and causing the roots to rot.

I wasn’t the only one to come to pay my respects to this magnificent tree. “Muy triste” (very sad) was the morning’s refrain, as people filed by shaking their heads and others stopped to watch as the body of the Indian laurel was prepared for it’s final resting place.

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It is the time of year when the temperatures begin to reach 90º F and the Primavera amarillas, Jacarandas, Clavellinas, and Palo de rosas trees bloom.

It’s almost spring and Oaxaca has entered her sky blue period.

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This morning, Oaxaca began mourning the loss of two of the Zócalo’s iconic and beloved Indian laurels. In less than 48 hours, two of these massive trees, planted between 1875 and 1885, had fallen. Unfortunately, in their untimely demise, they join several other Indian laurels shading the Zócalo and Alameda that have crashed to the ground in the past ten years.

Yellow caution tape at the entrance to the Alameda

The concern is there will be more — thus, today these public spaces have been closed to the public with yellow caution tape and police barring the entrances.

Standing water at the base of an Indian laurel tree on the Alameda.

Ostensibly, the high winds and torrential rain Oaxaca is currently experiencing caused the trees to topple. However, our stormy weather these days is only the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Tending to the hole left by the Indian laurel that fell on Sept. 15, 2020 at the southwest corner of the Zócalo.

Several years ago, as we walked through the Zócalo and Alameda, I remember listening intently as the late artist and tree historian/savior Francisco Verástegui passionately described the indignities these trees had suffered, including disruption to their root systems when, in 2005, a governor attempted to remodel the Zócalo.

Status update at the northwest corner of the Zócalo.

Thankfully, a protest movement stopped that plan, but damage had already been done. What followed, among other things, was improper pruning, inadequate irrigation, faulty drainage, and the use of unsterilized mulch leading to the growth of fungus and causing the roots to rot — all of which contributed to the trees tumbling down.

Indian laurel that fell the evening of Sept. 17, 2020 on the southeast corner of the Zócalo.

And, it’s not only the trees in the Alameda and Zócalo. The director of the civil association Oaxaca Fértil estimates that 90% of the trees in the municipality of Oaxaca have been neglected, are diseased, and run the risk of collapsing. Let us hope that more of the historic trees that contribute to the beauty of Oaxaca can be saved and cared for in the way they deserve.

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This morning’s headline in NVI Noticias: Oaxaca revive pesadilla de los sismos en lo más álgido de la epidemia por COVID-19 (Oaxaca relives the nightmare of earthquakes in the height of the epidemic by COVID-19). I wasn’t in Oaxaca for the 8.1 earthquake September 7, 2017, so I don’t know what it felt like. However, I still have vivid memories of experiencing the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area. As scary as that one was, yesterday’s 7.5 temblor was definitely more violent and lasted longer.

The good news is I, my neighbors, and all my friends in Oaxaca are okay and the city sustained mostly minor damage. However, there is much devastation to roads, homes, and other structures closer to the epicenter near Huatulco. And, saddest of all, the death toll is now up to seven. For a more complete report, with dozens of photos, click on the article, Suman siete muertos por el terremoto.

Two months ago work stopped on the roof and bell tower of Templo de San José — due to virus restrictions on construction sites. This morning, workers returned to check out earthquake damage.

This, and the state of Oaxaca’s coronavirus statistics, like most of Mexico, continue to rise precipitously. And, unfortunately, many of the hospitals near the quake’s epicenter sustained damage. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Side by side statistics: June 19 and June 23. Grey=cases notified; green=negatives; orange=suspected; red=confirmed; turquoise=recovered; black=deaths

Oh, and did I mention, we have had massive rain storms the last two nights? We are all wondering what is next, locusts?

Yikes, look what I found on my screen door this morning! At least in Oaxaca, we know what to do with chapulines (grasshoppers) — toast them on a comal with lime and salt. They are a great source of protein. Yummm…

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Are we having fun yet? As much as I hate it, I’ve been glued to TV news (BBC and CNN International) since last night’s nationalistic, confusing, and not even accurate pronouncements by the US president. As I began writing this post, I finally made myself turn it off and began listening to Yo-Yo Ma’s, Obrigado Brazil. Ahhh… much better.

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Jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifloia)

A best friend (since age twelve) and I are having to cancel a long-planned trip to Barcelona and Paris in April. Besides being incredibly disappointed, I’m not looking forward to trying to get refunds on flights, etc.

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Clavellina (Bombax palmeri)

As for COVID-19 (aka, Coronavirus), Mexico’s low coronavirus cases draws skepticism — should travellers worry? In addition, there doesn’t seem to be any movement toward canceling large gatherings or educating the public to refrain from the ubiquitous handshaking and cheek kissing. Perhaps someone in the Secretary of Health’s office should read this data-driven article, Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now, and then take action. It’s one of the most informative I have read. However, this video from 2016 of three Oaxaca nurses teaching proper hand washing technique has been making the rounds and adding a little levity to these anxiety producing days.

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Primavera rosa / Amapa rosa / Palo de rosa (Tabebuia rosea)

On the other hand, if one has to forego foreign travel, Oaxaca isn’t a bad place to be. And, looking up at the clear blue skies and the explosion of flowering trees that marks this time of year, I give thanks to Mother Nature for the beauty she brings to this world filled with war, poverty, and pestilence.

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What a difference two months make.

The Pochote pods on the previously blogged Kapok (aka, Ceiba) tree have opened.

And, cottony fluff occasionally floats in the air…

… even from the Ceiba that soars above the courtyard of La Biznaga.

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In Mexico, the hummingbird (colibrí) is known as the protector of warriors and messenger of the gods — two of the most revered roles in indigenous cosmology. How lucky I am that several of the varieties seen on the poster below continue to capture my attention and fill my heart with joy as they flit from tree to fence to fountain for a bath and zigzag across my terrace playing their version of tag and king of the hill.

Hummingbirds of Mexico and North America poster

Muchisimas gracias to my friend K for the link to this poster from CONABIO (National Commission for Biodiversity). In addition, if these tiny creatures also captivate you, a PDF of the CONABIO book, Colibríes de México y Norte América / Hummingbirds of México and North America is available online with text in both Spanish and English (click title link).

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It was only recently that I learned that Oaxaca’s ubiquitous and beloved Ceiba tree was also known as the Kapok tree. Yikes, kapok was the stuff that stuffed the overstuffed furniture in my grandparents’ living room.

Those avocado-like pods (also known as pochote) contain a fluffy cotton-like fiber that is difficult to spin but is light and-water resistant — thus its use in mattresses, pillows, upholstery, stuffed animals, and life jackets. All hail and much respect to the “the mother tree of humankind.

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Sunday, I headed up into the clouds for the 19th Feria Regional de Hongos Silvestres (Regional Wild Mushroom Fair) in San Antonio Cuajimoloyas. Friends had hired a van and driver to take us on the steep winding climb into the Sierra Norte. An hour and a half after we left the city, we arrived at our destination, 10,433 feet above sea level. Cuajimoloyas has an ethereal feel and seems like a world apart from the valley below.
       
Baskets of fresh mushrooms with shiny orange caps and mushrooms resembling coral, trumpets, cauliflower, and flower petals beckoned. And the aroma of grilled mushrooms, mushroom tamales, mushroom empanadas, and chile relleno stuffed with mushrooms stimulated the appetite.
There were dried mushrooms in bulk and in little cellophane baggies for purchase.
Mushrooms aren’t the only produce the region is known for — delicious apples and new potatoes are grown in these chilly mountains.
And, there there were local crafts for sale and a couple of kinds of mezcal to taste (and buy).
I came home with apples, potatoes, a bottle of the lovely A Medios Chiles mezcal made from the wild Jabalí agave, and 30 grams of dried mushrooms. While the mushrooms weren’t of the “magic” variety, the experience certainly was!
“Mushrooms were the roses in the garden of that unseen world, because the real mushroom plant was underground. The parts you could see – what most people called a mushroom – was just a brief apparition. A cloud flower.” ― Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood

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We have just had a hint at the rainy season to come.  Monday night brought an hours-long torrential downpour with major flooding, trees and telephone lines down, and power outages.  The electricity at Casita Colibrí stayed on and all plants in the garden remained upright and intact.  However, my street turned into a raging river and water was cascading off the terrace like a waterfall.

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Rooftop rain pipes/spouts in Tlacolula de Matamoros

This herd of elephants might have come in handy!  Looking up at this scene, I couldn’t help remembering one of my children’s favorite books, “Stand Back,” Said the Elephant, “I’m Going to Sneeze!” — and couldn’t help laughing.

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Let us all raise a glass to the hummingbirds and bats of Oaxaca.

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Without the work they do pollinating the flowers on the quiotes (stalks) that shoot up from the agave,

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there would be no maguey piñas to harvest and cook…

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and no mezcal to drink!

*Mural by Lapiztola on the side of the Palenque Mal de Amor (makers of Ilegal mezcal) 2+ miles north of Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca.  Check out their other mural at the palenque HERE.

 

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X currently marks the spot in OaXaca — be it for HOT weather, blockades, or orb weaving spiders.  Regarding the latter, another, in a long line of Argiopes, has chosen to take up residence on my terrace.

Argiope spider in middle of web with stabilimentum

Fun fact:  The purpose of the white zigzag of silk, known as a stabilimentum, is disputed. It reflects UV light and may act as camouflage, attract insect prey, or prevent larger creatures from accidentally destroying the web.  Whatever the function, this gal’s (yes, it is a female) is one of the best I’ve seen!

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While scientists were in the process of identifying four new species of agave, an agave on my terrace…

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June 28, 2017

… had a surprise of its own.

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July 23, 2017

Seemingly overnight, from its center, a stalk (aka, quiote) began reaching toward the sky.

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July 23, 2017

After awhile, buds began appearing along the sides of the stalk.

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September 18, 2017

And from the buds, the rainy season brought blossoms.

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September 27, 2017

The flowers opened from bottom to top.

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October 21, 2017

Eventually, all the flowers browned and seed pods began forming.

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November 19, 2017

Who knows what I will find when I return to Casita Colibrí next week.  What I do know is that this agave is now dying — but there are plantlets waiting to replace it!  By the way, quiotes have traditionally been used for firewood (Maybe for my chiminea?) and even to make a didgeridoo-like musical instrument.  (Hmmm… I don’t think I’ll try the latter.)

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After yesterday’s beginning of Guadalupe festivities in Teotitlán del Valle, a day and evening filled with hundreds of wonderful people, music, dancing, parading and the accompanying ear-splitting rockets (more about the festivities to come), a solitary morning walk was in order.  Bundled up against bordering-on-freezing temperatures, I set off for the village presa (dam).

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There is always something in bloom, no matter the time of year.

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The reservoir is full and flowing over the dam.

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Ahhh…  My favorite way to start the day in Teotitlán.

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There may be a population explosion of Casita Colibrí’s namesake…

Hummingbird nest under construction on the far spindle branch of a tree near my balcony.

Mama waiting until the coast is clear — in front of a Guaje tree reflection on my neighbor’s window.

She comes, she sits briefly to test its strength and expansion potential, then is off again in search of more materials.

Next up, she and we await the show male colibríes will put on — hoping to strike her fancy.

The librarian in me can’t help but offer a few references:

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