When Great Trees Fall


Our magnificent Pera tree fell down last night in a rapid rain storm with strong wind. Some say it was a cyclone. I am reminded of Maya Angelou’s poem, When Great Trees Fall.

 

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A Little Light at the Tunnel’s End


Every decently-made object, from a house to a lamp post to a bridge, spoon or egg cup, is not just a piece of ‘stuff’ but a physical embodiment of human energy, testimony to the magical ability of our species to take raw materials and turn them into things of use, value and beauty.
Kevin McCloud


The Mayans believed that the Jicaro tree grew out of the liberation of the people. They worshiped it as sacred. No wonder, because with a variety of products of the Jicaro, it is possible to feed people and cattle and fuel industry and cars. The tree is striking and unusual. Year-round, it is adorned with lime green oval or round balls, that appear in the least expected places. It is not considered a fruit, but a swelling of the tree’s woody parts.

IMG_3638This hardy tree has been forced to adapt to the harshest environments, thus it thrives in our extended dry season because of its strong, deep roots. Jicaro trees have been described as the vegetable version of goats. They are both strong and resistant, need very little to grow robust, and thrive in places that would be nearly impossible for most species to survive. They are a “tree” and an “animal” for the poor. For with the number of industrial and commercial uses of the Jicaro tree, the impoverished farmers are beginning to see a little light at the end of the tunnel.

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I  chased our neighbor’s egg-eating dog out of our property, when I noticed huge Jicaro balls in our neighbor’s field. “I think I see potential for a lamp shade,” I thought to myself. I found several dried Jicaro balls, carried them across the barbed wire fence, and got to work. First, I sanded the Jicaro, then cut it in half. Packed tightly inside was an ant colony… a tasty treat for our chickens.

IMG_1180Then, I used my Dremel to punch holes in star patterns.
IMG_1181I stained the lamp shade, then used gold, silver, and copper-colored paints to embellish the stars. I added a few whirling comets, too.
IMG_1197I strung some beads in the holes at the bottom of the shade. Finally, I sprayed a protective layer of transparent varnish over the shade. Voila!
IMG_1199Next, I’m making a hanging lamp with Pre-Columbian patterns. A perfect testimony to the magical ability of our species to take raw materials and turn them into things of beauty. There’s always more room for a little light at the tunnel’s end.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Stories are Light


“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.”
― Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux

This Thanksgiving we made some light…fishing in the St. John’s River, sharing family stories under the reflecting palms.
IMG_0292We made some light… cooking pumpkin pies and Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish, while sharing family recipes bathed in the moonlight of the draw bridge.
IMG_0403We made some light…traveling together in my step brother’s plane, while singing Christmas songs over the winding rivers 19,000 ft. below.
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We made some light…returning to my mother’s home, and sharing our Thanksgiving stories and traditions of many years ago lit by the fountain across the street from her home.
IMG_0470We made some light… of our blended families, sharing our gratefulness and thanks for the time we can spend together before we all return to our own homes far away. Our doors are always lit…our stories are our light.
IMG_0466Begin at the beginning…share stories gratefully with others…make some light today.

 

 

Timeout for Art: Happy Trails


This week’s Timeout for Art is all about happy trails and the Chilamate tree. A friend visited us from the states last week, and she had never seen monkeys. Knowing that the Howler monkeys hang out in the Chilamate trees, we went on a quest for the largest and most spectacular trees in tropical forests.

Also known as strangler figs, these majestic trees begin life as an epiphyte in the crotch of another tree, then produce roots that snake to the ground to eventually anchor in the forest floor. Eventually, it strangles the host tree like a boa constricting its prey.  As the support tree decays, some Chilamate trees end up with interior passageways from base to crown, becoming true jungle gyms for the Howler monkeys who like to hang out in the trees snacking on the leaves.

Wandering through happy trails with Chilamate trees shading the worn, dusty paths, we fulfilled our quest. We spotted several Howlers lounging in the treetops lazily sleeping through the heat of the day. By the way, I was going to draw a monkey in the tree, but I wanted to focus on the splendor of the tree itself.

Happy trails to you my friends…. until we meet again.

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Weekly Photo Challenge 2: The Heavenly Chocolate Chip Tree


The Silk Floss Tree, or species of Ceiba is the majestic giant of the rainforest. It has long been considered sacred for the indigenous people of Nicaragua. One of their myths is that the souls of the dead would climb into the branches of the Ceiba to reach heaven.  Large spines protrude from the trunk to protect the bark and discourage predators.  I call it the chocolate chip tree because its unique spikes resemble chocolate chips.

the chocolate chip tree copyLike the Pickle Tree, the Chocolate Chip Tree has many uses.
Uses for the wood:
The straight trunks of the tree are used to make dugout canoes. The wood is pinkish white to ashy brown in color, with a straight grain.

Uses for the seeds and fiber:
The brown seeds are round like peas and grow in pods. The pods burst open and inside a whitish cotton like fiber surrounds the brown seeds. The fiber is extremely light, buoyant, and water resistant. It is used to stuff pillows and life jackets. I have some fiber sitting in a bowl on my porch and the hummingbirds gather it for their nests.The fiber has also been used to wrap around poison darts to be blown out of blowguns.

Medicinal Uses:
The seeds , leaves, bark, and resin are used medicinally to treat dysentery, fever, asthma, and kidney disease.

Thanks to my son, Cory, for the stunning photo.

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: A Pickle Tree


One day, when we were preparing chicken to grill, our neighbor pointed out the Mimbro tree at the side of our house. It is a very unique and strange tree with little pickle shaped pods that seem to grow right out of the trunk of the tree.

MimbroTo my surprise, the Mimbro fruit has a variety of uses in addition to making a fine marinate for chicken.

Marinate for chicken:
Wash and slice 4-6 Mimbro fruits and add them to the squeezed juice of 3-4 sour oranges. Pour over raw chicken and marinate several hours or overnight. If grilling, baste the chicken in the marinate. If baking, pour the marinade over the chicken and bake as directed.

Cleaning a machete:
The Mimbro is very acidic and the juice can be used to clean the blade of a machete or a dagger.

Bleaching stains:
Because of the high oxalic content in the Mimbro juice, it can be used to bleach stains from hands and remove rust from white cloth.

Brass cleaner:
The juice removes tarnish from brass, too.

Medicinal uses:
The fruit conserve is administered as a treatment for coughs. When boiled into a syrup, the syrup is taken as a cure for fever and inflammation. Amazingly, the syrup alleviates internal hemorrhoids, too.

Who would have thought that the unique “pickle tree” would have so many uses!

 

Arts and Crafts the Nica Way


“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
~Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

Creativity is a must for most people living on a small tropical island with few resources. I am no exception. When the creative spirit stirs, I turn to arts and crafts. The art of creativity animates my desire to fulfill my dreams, while taking me to a place where I get lost and found at the same time…a real Zen moment. No matter how fleeting, I look forward to the comfort and solace these Zen moments bring.

After remodeling our beach shack, we were left with a 15 foot long space above our kitchen. I hired my artist friend, Sue, to help me make a frame, cover and stretch it with canvas, and we painted deliriously lost in our private Zen moments. The Nica Artist Way

I am an avid collector of the Pre-Columbian pottery shards that wash up on our beach daily. The piles of pottery shards on my porch were collecting scorpions and other creepy crawlies. So, I made wrapped wire necklaces for gifts, Christmas ornaments, and a pottery shard turtle above our new guest house addition.

The Jicaro tree fascinated me. Known as the tropical prosperity fruit tree, it has a variety of economic uses in Nicaragua. The Jicaro Tree  Yet, all I could picture were beautifully painted bowls, masks, and lamp shades. Two years ago, I planted bottle gourds with seeds I brought from the states. They dried in our bodega for two years, until I decided to do something with them. The shells were too thin to carve, so I created painted bird houses. I’m anxious to try my carving and wood burning skills on the think-skinned Jicaro gourds..after I perfect my painting skills. The Jicaro Artist

I collect vines and palm leaves for weaving and basket making. My first attempts were a disaster, so no pictures. But, when I needed a hanging lamp for my porch, I collected heavy vines and wove them into a ball, added some twinkle lights..and voila..new lighting for my porch.

My only regret is that there is not more time in my day for arts and crafts. The mangoes are starting to drop AGAIN! My only consolation is that when I’m raking up the tiny mangoes scattered throughout our yard, my creative juices are flowing and I’m lost in thoughts of palm leaves, gourds, and pottery shards dancing through my head.

The Mangroves


 

 

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I decided to try something new. I subscribed to the Weekly Writing Challenge on WordPress. This week, the challenge is Stylish Imitation. Weekly Challenge here. Dr. Seuss has always been one of my favorite authors. So, in honor of Dr. Seuss, I have attempted to imitate his style in writing The Mangroves.

The Reserva Natural Isla Juan Venado is a 22 kilometer stretch of mangrove swamp in Las Penitas, Nicaragua. Ron and I took a three-hour tour through this incredible mangrove swamp. The variety of birds, turtles, and other wildlife awed me. The entire ride, reminded me of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax and the need to protect this fragile area. Unfortunately, my camera’s batteries went dead half way through the tour. Isn’t that always the case? Hopefully, my words, in delirious imitation of Dr. Seuss, will portray my feelings about the need to protect this nature reserve. Enjoy!

The Mangroves

Way back in the swamp, where the mangroves still grow
and the land is still soft,
and the tides ebb and flow,
and the songs of the Green Herons go kuk, kuk, kuk, kuk…
the tides come twice daily and cover it with muck.

And I first saw the mangroves!
Born of thick, glutinous mud!
Whose aerial roots breathe with large pores in and out
Roots snorkeling and twisting for miles all about.

And, under the mangroves, I saw a brown bas-i-lisk
A Jesus like lizard, walking on water enjoying the frisk
as it darted about, eating insects, taking risks.

From the brackish waters,
where other plants cannot grow,
sprung fish nurseries and turtles,
swimming playfully below.

But those Mangroves! Those Mangroves!
Red! Black! and White!
They must be protected,
from Global Warming and blight!

Anchoring their stilt-like roots
between land and the sea,
Mangroves shelter wildlife,
and give food to you and me.
When the sea churns and wails
and the swells surge ashore,
the Mangroves, like policemen,
protect us…and more!

I felt a great calling,
an awakening, a start
I must tell the world!
We can all take a part!

With so little known of the future
it’s important to say,
You’re in charge of the mangroves,
the fish, and the bays.
The bas-i-lisks, and Green Herons
are depending on you
to monitor and protect them
and see them grow true.
Their lives…they are fragile!
Be gentle and watch
as they flourish, and breathe,
and gain strength…and don’t rush!

For life is uncertain,
we must all be aware
of the connections in nature
and the lives that we share.
We depend on one another,
through thick and through thin,
With your help… together
we can be whole once again.

 

The Seed Swap


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Our island of volcanic rock, isolated by miles of sweet sea in every direction, was completely separated from the rest of the world. As Ometepe Island emerged from the majestic Lake Cocibolca, new species of plants were introduced by the birds and animals hardy enough to survive the journey. Seeds hitched a ride to the island hidden in the plumage of birds. Insects and spiders probably rode the wind to Ometepe.

Over time, new species of plants and animals were introduced by sweet sea-faring visitors and indigenous tribes who were called by a vision to settle in the land of two hills. The arrival of mankind permanently severed Ometepe Island’s isolation, thus introducing a variety of animal and plant species not native to the area. Today, the steady traffic of ferries to and from the island brings a constant stream of invasive species.

We are also guilty of introducing new species of plants to the island. My friend, Carole, smuggled a sweet potato in her luggage, and now Ron is known as the sweet potato king of the island. Is this a bad thing? I’m not sure. All of the new species smuggled, exchanged, and carried to the island immediately begin to compete with native species, and the native species almost always are on the losing end of the battle. Several years ago, expats started a Tilapia farm on the Maderas side of the island. Some of the Tilapia escaped, reproduced rapidly, and continue to compete for food with the native fish species, Guapote.

Last week, we were invited to a seed swap on the other side of the island. Among the seeds and saplings, we found a Jackfruit tree. A.heterophyllus-jackfruit(1)  In researching the Jackfruit tree, I found that it was introduced in Brazil as a reforestation project. This program was the first Brazilian initiative to recover a forest ecosystem previously devastated by sugarcane and coffee cycles. However, the Jackfruit has become an invasive species. The rainforests have suffered major impacts due to biological invasion, and Brazil had to start management and control of this invasive species.

I don’t want to start an invasion meltdown…it’s quite a dilemma. I enjoy my sweet potato pies and Jackfruit cookies. On the other hand, the introduction of non-native species negatively impacts our fragile ecosystem. The statistics are startling and more attention must be paid to the problem. Awareness is the first step.

Fortunately, most of the seeds and plants at the seed exchange were native species. The locals have an astounding knowledge of the medicinal uses of all the plants and trees on the island and I learned many uses of the seeds, barks, leaves, and roots of the plants. It was a great day on the other side of the island. Enjoy my slideshow trip.

 

The Human Termites


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Last night, at 2:30 am there was a loud crash that interrupted the sleep of most of my neighborhood. The flashlights scoured the area like a well-cleaned cooking pot, but nothing looked out of the ordinary. Ron thought it was a crash landing of the German satellite, due to hit Earth last night. “Space junk,” he yawned and fell back into a deep sleep. Cory thought it was a spaceship. I guessed the Mango tree had fallen into Cory’s house. Our neighbors thought maybe Vulcan Concepcion had erupted.

With the light of dawn, I saw that a giant limb had fallen off an enormous tree behind our property. The heavy rains must have weakened the tree. “Time for the human termites to do their job,” I yawned.

Last September, after a strong wind storm, a huge dead tree fell into the lake obstructing my view and messing up my beautiful beach. I hired two men to cut the tree and they arrived early in the morning armed with machetes, strong backs, and an ancient ax.

They parked the horse cart beside my beach chair hoping to load the wood into the wagon and cart it off for firewood. “How much will this cost?” I asked apprehensively because it looked like a huge job. “Five dollars,” they responded.

At dawn’s first light, they waded into the warm water and proceeded to whack at each limb with their well-worn machetes. Machismo at its finest!

Meanwhile, Marina, my neighbor, ran over to my house wearing a black velvet party dress and smelling of strong flowery perfume…at 6 o’clock in the morning. Her 77 yr. old husband, Don Jose, has been in Rivas all week with his sick sister. “What are they going to do with all that wood?” she asked. “I told them to haul it off,” I said. “How much are you paying them to cut the tree?” Marina inquired. Discovering that I was paying them 5 dollars, she screamed, “Oh, muy caro!” Very expensive.

“Don Jose isn’t here, and I need wood for my cooking fire.” she exclaimed. “Can I help to pay if we take the wood?” Knowing that my neighbors are very poor ( I had to lend Don Jose $10 to visit his gravely ill sister in Rivas) I said, “I don’t want you to pay. I’ll tell the machete men that you can have the wood.” So, the machete man sent for his 7-year-old to take the horse cart back home.

Within an hour, they had most of the small branches cut off the dead tree and hauled ashore. “How much more do you want us to cut?” they yelled across the dead tree to where I was snapping pictures of their toothless grins. “I want more of the dead trunk cut.” I yelled back. After much debate and a demonstration of where I wanted the trunk cut, they said, “Oh, but it will cost you more money because the trunk is very thick.” “How much more?” I asked.” Five more dollars,” they said kind of apologetically.

So they grabbed the ancient ax and began to cut the thick trunk. Within another hour, they had most of the thick trunk hacked away. The wood was piled up on the beach and Marina’s father,and her son, Julio, carried the piles of wood to their house.

While they were hacking away at the trunk, Marina brought refreshments for all of us, warm bread from the local tienda and pinole drink ( Marina drinks this every morning instead of coffee).

A few more whacks with the ancient ax and their work was done. Not a bad day’s wages for 2 hours of work. Soon, the little termites swarmed to the beach to collect the wood for their cooking stove.Grandpa joined in the collection, and in no time at all, the beach was cleared.

The human termites were remarkable. For $10 I had my incredible view and a clean beach. My wonderful neighbors had enough firewood for a month of cooking. And best of all, we shared our blessings with our lovely community.

Looks like we’ll have to hire the human termites again!