It just came to me that in Mexico this coming Monday, March 15, is a holiday. I was up north for a couple of weeks and am a little out of the loop, so it took me a minute to figure out what the holiday is.
Monday is the day set aside to celebrate the birthday of Benito Juarez, one of the most important and beloved figures in Mexican history. Born in Oaxaca and a Zapoteco, Juarez did not begin to learn Spanish or start to school until after his twelfth birthday. He went on to study law and hold various political positions before becoming president during a conflict-ridden period of Mexican history. Parts of his career he lived in exile; he spent a portion of his presidency on the run in various remote parts of the country, accompanied by his cabinet, with political foes in hot pursuit. And they weren't tagging along in hopes of having a polite meeting. Juarez is remembered for his efforts in support of equality, liberty and democracy, in favor of the separation of church and state, and for being the only Mexican president of one hundred percent indigenous roots. His actual birthday is March 21, but in order to create a three-day weekend, it is celebrated this year on Monday, March 15.
Juarez's birthday falls on the second day of spring, or primavera. This week is has suddenly begun to feel like spring in Mèrida. After a long, cool winter, spring-like weather arrived with a vengeance a couple of days ago, when the temperatures in Mèrida reached an official 40.8 degrees C, or a little above 105 F. I mark this time of year precisely, because it is now that the sun has come far enough north to begin shining into and heating up the back room of my house (picture above) in the afternoons, making the higher temperatures much more noticeable. Late spring here is the hottest time of year, with temperatures rising gradually through the season until a peak in May or June, when the thermometer in this region can reach 110 F, and afternoon readings in Mèrida are routinely around 100 or higher. The heat breaks with the beginning of the rains, usually in June.
Right now at my house, another sign of spring is the abundance of pea-sized oranges taking the place of the fragrant blossoms that I have been enjoying for the past month or more. The tree flowers excessively, the petals fall off and coat the patio and surface of the pool with a fine snow of white. A little later, during the driest weeks and despite my efforts to keep the tree watered, the tree sheds excess fruit, again blanketing my patio and pool. This time everything is covered with tiny oranges that look like something spilled by the Jolly Green Giant.
Now is when I start to think about trimming and pruning some of the plants in the garden. The thumbergia, which grows from a small patch of soil at the margin of the interior patio, had reached the roof, grown over onto the neighbor's house,and completely obscured the fan window that illuminates the living room. I put off trimming it because of the abundance of flowers, but the thing was out of control. Now after cutting it way back, I can repaint the wall and install new guide wires. I'll water the thumbergia, shown here before and after trimming, and it will grow slowly, harboring its strength, I suppose, and at the start of the rains in June, it will begin to grow at the rate almost visible to the naked eye. By mid-summer, it will have covered the wall once again.
This also is a good time to think about any new planting I may want to do in the coming months. It's nice to have things in the ground before the rains start. The rainwater begins a tremendous growth spurt in all the plants and trees, and a serious gardener wants take advantage of that. I begin to look at the nursery that the pack patio has become, wondering where I will put the plants. Actually a lot of these small palms and fruit trees are in waiting for another space. I continue to look for a country property where I have a little more space for fruit trees and gardening. That search is a project that will continue this year.
Benito Juarez's birthday comes around the same time as the beginning of spring. Spring is a time of growth, a time to take stock, renew and plan. Juarez for many here is a symbol of positive change and growth in the history of the country. It is appropriate that in Mexico, as we plan for spring, we also observe his birth.