Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Ceiba


Last week when I arrived at Rancho San Benito after a five-day absence, I was presented with bouquets of flowers.

This is the ceiba, sacred tree of the Maya people, also known as the kapok tree. This example grows smack dab in the middle of the stone-walled corral.

I'd expected to see ceiba flowers this week because on my last visit, the buds on its branches were obvious. Not having lived near one of these trees, I hadn't quite expected this sort of show.

After admiring the glowing pink of the blossoms in the warm morning sunshine, I noticed the number of birds. Among others, I counted three hummingbirds in the tree at once and a pair of Altamira Orioles. A squirrel cuckoo, with its earthy-red body, flashy fan-tail and characteristic squirrel-like hopping behavior, was lurking nearby. The usual crowd, mainly jays, big-beaked Groove-billed Anis, blackbirds, grackles and a variety of other birds I still cannot identify, foraged among the blossoms as well.

But the most impressive visitors to the ceiba were the bees. Thousands of bees. They were busy going about their business, and the loudness of the hum was startling. As I stood beneath the tree, what was even more fascinating was the quality of the sound, which seemed to be everywhere. It was directionless and enveloping, as if the atmosphere itself was humming and vibrating.

I went about my work, carrying buckets of water for thirsty coconuts and lemon trees and packing compost and leaf mulch around their trunks to help the roots stay moist in this rainless season. I checked the plum trees, which budded last week and also are in flower now, and they're doing fine. I cleaned out the one-room house near the corral, which needs a new roof, door and some structural repairs before I can move in. The cleanup is in preparation for measuring and a full inspection prior to starting that project some time this spring.

Then, after the twenty-minute walk back into the village, the afternoon's agenda consisted of lunch with neighbors and a siesta.

That's pretty much how the days go around here right now.



Text and images copyright 2016 by Marc Olson

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Hummingbird Showed Me

Old wild plum (ciruela) trees at Rancho San Benito

I have not been terribly productive at the ranch for a couple of weeks. The truck is in the shop for engine work, so I've been making weekly ranch visits by taking a two-hour bus ride to the pueblo and walking from the house I rent there out to the property. This means that I can't bring tools and materials, so on my visits to Rancho San Benito work is limited to planting, weeding, watering and other small projects.

Without the chainsaw and other larger implements, I work quietly and take it easy. While buckets fill with water I sit by the well and wait. I have plenty of time for observation and learning, which is one of the important reasons for having the ranch in the first place.

I was taking a coffee break late Thursday morning, seated under the oak tree that shades the well, when the sun was dimmed by gathering grey clouds. Soon I was feeling cool northerly gusts and bathed in misty drizzle. The morning had been hot, so I was a little surprised by the abrupt change in the weather. I started to think about getting my things together for a quick walk back to the pueblo, if necessary, glad that I had a large plastic garbage bag that would serve as an emergency raincoat if things got worse.

But coffee comes first, so I relaxed for another moment. Savoring the hot drink, I watched the changing weather through the branches of two wild ciruela (plum) trees, leaves fallen for the winter dry season, when my eye caught a tiny movement. What I thought at first was a moth turned out to be a hummingbird, a colibrí, nervously flitting amongst the twigs. The strangeness of this scene was heightened by the ominous conditions. What on earth was the tiny creature doing in a barren tree in such weather?

As the little bird continued busily my curiosity strengthened. Finally the hummingbird rested for a minute on a wind-buffeted branch. It then made a beeline for shelter in the thick brush.


I walked over to the trees, still unable to perceive what had attracted the bird's interest. It wasn't until I bent down a low branch and looked carefully that I saw what inspired the hummingbird's attention. Tiny purple buds, which must have popped out overnight, covered the branches. These trees lose their leaves in December, then flower and produce fruit before new leaves appear in spring. I guess the little bird was anticipating the readiness of the first sweet ciruela flowers in coming weeks.

If I'd been working in my accustomed way, it's likely I would have missed this. I am glad I had the time to notice what the hummingbird had to show me.

Meanwhile, I'll have to be more patient than the bird, since the fruit won't be ready until late April or early May. There are plenty of other things to learn about and to keep me busy until then.



Text and images copyright 2016 by Marc Olson