Backyard figs, protected from the birds.

Fruit grows well here.  Vegetables are more of a challenge.  As a longtime organic gardener, I’ve mostly given up on veggies, buying them at the Slow Food Market, or the supermarket.  

Above we have a picture that saves some delicious fruit for the table : figs.  Until now, it has been rare that a whole fig makes it to the table.  But the birds are leery of these shinny boxes – blueberry “clam shells”– so I don’t even need to close them (although they are well-ventilated even if closed). The shallow ones, depicted, don’t easily enclose a large fig, so I simply leave them open. The deeper ones close nicely after I cut a ½” square out of the lower portion of the wall, not out of the lid, to allow for the stem to pass.   The birds prefer to dine perched on a branch, and the boxes cramp their style. Or perhaps they sense a trap.

Other fruits have been more difficult to protect.  Papayas are enjoyed by parrots and iguanas.



The leaves of passion fruit (maracuya) are devoured by iguanas.


Carpinteros (wood peckers) hollow out pitayas (dragon fruit).

Dragon fruit blossom and fruit, Pitaya

Doves, jays, and other birds peck holes in our annonas

Annonas, with bird


My all-time favorite, the banana, is mostly safe.

banana bloom


Photo by Liz O’Neil

Citrus is mostly safe from predators, except from swimmers in the pool.

Mandarin self-portrait : fruit face with leaf lips

Note:  with the exception of the pineapple and the mobile banana, all the fruits were grown in our backyard.


Rippin’off the roof. Jim Conrad and Victor Yam remove rotted metal from the rock hut.

People flow thru our lives, and we also touch the lives of others.  Humanity is a swarm of social members, encountering, engaging, learning from, enhancing or impacting each other.  As an amateur beekeeper, I was fascinated by swarms, which I often removed from neighbor’s yards.  Yes, we are one of nature’s few social species.  (No matter how much Team Red rails against “socialism,” all the while getting cozy with Putin, we are who we are: socialists, like it or not.)  As one of our earliest stories points out :  we are supposed to be our brother’s keeper.  Not, as one philosopher claimed : hell is other people.

The impact of the internet is much in the news of late, often being described negatively as a scourge on our species, addictive, dangerous, frightening, especially its social networks.  For me, the internet has been an amazing tool, like having Harvard’s Widener library at my fingertips. But I avoid social media, largely due to the crass way it has been monetized.  Facebook and the corporatists want to harvest and sell every detail about your life, your digital DNA.  Yes, anyone who uses the internet, even those refuseniks like me, is being tracked continually.  

But this tool is amazing, if used carefully.  I long did volunteer prison work where I would ask inmates how they would manage a tool which could put itself into your hand, start itself up on a whim, and slash anyone nearby.  (I was speaking of the human mind, which needs thorough familiarity of the controls, the owner’s manual, and safety instructions.)  

The internet is a macro-version of the human mind.  It “knows” everything, and can find anything, but requires wisdom and caution to yield genuine benefits, at minimal risk.  (It’s important to know what we really want before we start searching, lest we regret our choices after arriving.)  Desire is a form of prayer which can be harnessed, if we are patient to distill it to its essence.  This takes much introspection.

Well, we often don’t know what we really want, but we can have a sense of an ideal.  Then we can set forth with a not-x approach :  Nope, don’t want  that.  This is intrepid, brave.  Someone has said that sin is like birds flying overhead.  We can’t stop them, but we don’t need to allow them to build a nest in our hair, either!

The point of this blogpost is about serendipity.  Yucatan, for me, has become like the land of Serendip. (Coined by Horace Walpole, suggested by The Three Princes of Serendip, the title of a fairy tale in which the heroes ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of’.) I’ve encountered friends here, with the help of the internet  (and a dash of curiosity) with an array of interests, which I could not have imagined finding.  Many of them flowed from a bloggers conference which took place in Merida in 2011, at a fellow blogger‘s school, where she generously  hosted those who blogged.  

That was an amazing conference, where I met with some of the real people behind the blogs I was enjoying from Yucatan: Hammockman (Paul);  Marc, from An Alaskan in Yucatan, and many others.  While Naturalist Jim was not in attendance, I stopped in Piste to meet him.  None of this would have happened without the brilliant contributions over many years by those who harnessed 1’s and 0’s in the binary logic of base ten: giving us today, the internet.

Here are a few photos from Jim’s latest adventure, where he has taken up residence to continue to study nature, and write, at Marc’s rancho near Tepakan.  Marc was off in Alaska, enjoying the cool, while we had fun with  the project of replacing the roof before the rains come.  (While Victor is not a blogger, he is a good friend of Marc’s, and helps me at home, as our gardener.)   We got the roof done just in time!

Old roof. Won’t keep rain out.

Outdoor kitchen, needs cleaning. Has sink and built-into-counter wood burner.

Jim Conrad, fastening metal.

Jim snapped this one of me.

Ranch across the road from Jim’s new digs. (He’s a kilometer from road, so no boom-boom music, no traffic noise.)













GOT MILK?  Literalism is a hoot. (It’s also dangerous, even deadly.)    For Mexican readers, and others unfamiliar with this famous advertising campaign, things will become amply clear.

Anyone who has experienced attempting to speak a second language in a foreign culture knows it can be risky and embarrassing.  This morning I went to breakfast with a friend at a concina economica, in a tiny pueblo, the kitchen of which is depicted above.  He had been planning to cook breakfast, after doing a little work back at the ranch, but the eggs he bought the day before were bad.  So, we went into town.  While waiting for the cook to prepare huevos Mexicanos con frijoles on her smoky fire, Jim stepped into the tienda (a quick-stop grocery-wing of the diner) and asked the guy at the register ¿Tienes huevos?

 Of course, this is a perfectly literal translation of English.  But in colloquial Spanish he had bluntly asked the guy: Have you got testicles?  A polite phrasing would be ¿Se venden huevos aqui?  (Are eggs sold here.)  Hilarious!  We all had a good laugh.

Such are the pitfalls of translation.  Anyone overhearing construction workers catcalling to each other as a woman walks past on the sidewalk — Did you see those melons? — quickly recognizes the difference between idiom and literal wording,  the distinction between animal and vegetable, and word-play.

And so it is with biblical literalism.  Yet many are those Christians who insist that their reading of scripture is based on good renderings of an ancient language, even tho’ filtered thru other languages several times over :  Aramaic>Greek>Latin>English, for example — and therefore their opinion on the text must be accepted, bluntly.

Now, Jesus certainly never asked the woman at the well in Samaria GOT MELONS? — (the longest conversation scripture ever reports of Jesus talking with a woman) — but wait!  Did you ever notice that she came onto him, basically saying Hey baby, I’m not married (hinting “I’m available” see v.17) — yet we miss it, due to literalism.  I doubt the average pew-sitter has ever heard this preached.

Language is slippery. Yet so many are so quick to argue as if they know what scripture says, as though it were digitally mastered for us to replay the recording.  Preachers are taught to avoid controversy, as being “bad for business.”  Thus we suffer literalism, the great red dragon of fundamentalism, which portends disaster in whatever religion, sect, or denomination one cares to visit, across the globe, world without end, amen, be it Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc — ignoring the warning signs: HARD HAT AREA.  (My point, folks: don’t hit people over the head with bible verses; instead, let them feel your compassion.) We’ve all embarrassed ourselves; but God is patient, and SHe will forgive, if we will allow it and receive it, and live the forgiveness by standing corrected.

NB: Anyone wishing for a fresh reading of scripture might look at The Message, by Eugene Peterson; or at Rabbi JesusAN INTIMATE BIOGRAPHY.




¿¿ Who Crucified MOTHER EARTH ??

In the Moonlight, by Albert von Keller. 1894. Oil on canvas: 150 x 100,5 cm,   (Wikimedia commons.)

Nearly 2000 years ago a devout Jewish heretic was hanging on a cross, put there for the crime of loving too much.  Some accounts say the Romans nailed him up there ;  others, that the rulers of the Jewish Temple had arranged it.  

Even tho’ I didn’t yet reside on this planet, I know it was me, a Christian heretic, who required it — due to my reluctance to deny myself the false pleasure of being my own god.  (Clearly, I’ve failed, but as I’ve matured somewhat, I’ve come to think of pleasure as a counterfeit of joy.)

It’s GOOD FRIDAY again, and humanity is asleep in its dreams of technology-as-savior.  Many of my Christian friends are in utter denial that Earth’s climate is changing rapidly, and have elected someone who has ordered  removal of the few safeguards America had cobbled together to delay us from snuffing ourselves.  Yes, friends, global warming is very real, as you can assess with you own eyes, by watching this one-minute satellite animation of 25 years of arctic ice declining in a blink of geological time.  (Heed the evidence of your eyeballs instead of Limbaugh’s lies!)  Remember :  the industrial revolution is only ~200 years old — so 25 years is a long portion of that! Prior to our harnessing of carbon energy, the COlevels had remained mostly steady for 10,000 years.  200 years ago they were about 280 ppm ;  today they are over 400 — preparing to cook us like planet Venus, accord to astrophysicist Adam Frank.

We are crucifying our Mother.  Some of you, who will accuse me of deifying Nature, have deified a man who would be shocked to find himself to have been designated as God-in-the-flesh — by Emperor Constantine, (“the Great Decider”) who wasn’t even a Christian until decades later on his deathbed, when he accepted Christ.  Yet the divinity of Jesus has been “settled doctrine” since the year 325AD.  Kids, he was a man who accepted the dangerous assignment of teaching us of our divinity, but not to invite us to worship him, or into our current thinking that we have a right to ruin Creation thru wasteful living, by claiming to be our own God-in-the-flesh. He was a man who came to teach us we are all divine, when and as we discover that obedience is freedom.  “Oh, but I couldn’t possibly be like Jesus — please excuse me from your heresy, sir.” Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me, said he.  We must each do our own thinking, rather than letting church bullies decide such momentous things for us.

So, how to change course?  (Is it even possible?)  Twelve-step programs tell us we must admit our addiction.  Yes, my name is ____ and I’m addicted to carbon, soot, darkness.  But rather than distracting ourselves by attempting to minimize our addiction with a smaller carbon footprint, we need to step up to calling for policy changes that bring us a radical recovery thru energy conversion.  Light, instead of carbon.  The apostle John summarized his experience of Jesus in a single, short sentence :  God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.  But that sounds so naive!  Could it be true?  What about the holocaust, and birth defects?  

Look, no matter how thin you slice the baloney, it always has two sides.  And the problem of evil is no different.  So, what’s the flip side of that?  (Glad you asked.)  ¿How about the problem of the ideal?   And what is the ideal of sustainable living on the planet we’ve been given?  I will not hasten to answer, but I suspect it has something to do with light — seeing it, being it, loving it.  Yes, Jesus did say I am the light of the world.  But he also said you are the light of the world.  Yeah, you!  And me, too. All of us together, no outsiders, not even Judas!  He stretched out his arms and welcomed us all into the Father’s creation, our walled garden.  Love her. Protect her.  Rescue her.  We’ve been blessed with a gift of dominion.  Let us not trample, but walk here gently.

Part 2 : January Journey to Chiapas

Stay tuned !    (Above, a textile item from the textile museum in San Cristóbal de las Casas.)

Chiapas Slideshow

Thanks to fellow traveler Ann, who is a teacher-educator specializing in literacy issues near Santa Barbara, we’ve now got an update of our Chiapas tour with Marina Aguirre.  It will play as a slideshow from the cloud.  After clicking the boldfaced line above, double-click the smaller word Chiapas in the panel which next appears.  Be patient, as it may take a short while to download.  You may then need to click the word PLAY.  Click RETURN to see each new slide.  (No audio.)

NOTE:  Part One may be found here. 


Ascending Mexico’s highlands: Part One. Subiendo el altiplano: Parte Uno.

Stone heads of La Venta . The Olmecs.  (Walker is well-behind 20-ton sculpture)

We’ve just returned from a wonderful trip, commencing at the Gulf of Mexico, near Villahermosa, gradually moving upland to about 7000 feet, at San Cristóbal de las Casas, in Chiapas – the southern-most state.  

Up front, I want to tell readers what a peaceful experience we’ve had, living and traveling in Mexico.  Yes, all countries have violence.  (Look at daily mass-shootings, of four-or-more victims in schools and churches in US, and compare that to cartel corpses hanging from bridges in Mexico – along with some violent robberies – asking which is worse – not that anyone wishes to compete in these categories!)  O, may equality of opportunity come soon, to both lands!  AMEN.  

From the sculpture park at La Venta, our attentive and thorough tour-guide, Marina Aguirre, took us to the Lacandon jungle where a small number of Mayan families have governed the jungle, and retained many of their ancient cultural practices.  We stayed at a welcoming but modest inn, called TOP CHE run by one of these families, and we also visited nearby ruins on the mighty Usumacinta River, by boat, not by “rafting”. 

TOP CHE Camp, Lacandon jungle

Grandfather Enrique, & clan : grandaughter Top Che, biggest smile, back row.

River boat, to Yaxchilán ruins.

Our sturdy, steady, river pilot –he looks like a La Venta head! no?

Marina addresses group of 17 at entry of protective maze to Yaxchilán.

Great mound & stele, along “superhighway” of river.

More to come, in Part Two : Palenque, and San Cristóbal de las Casas.






TWO BOOKS : Why Religion?, AND, The Alphabet Versus The Goddess

Admit it.  You’re a believer.  You believe in something, many things.  Anyone who has ever taken Philosophy 101 has heard this question: why is there something rather than nothing? (Nothing is what the rocks dream of, wrote Aristotle.)  You “believe” but the varieties of belief are vast.  Perhaps you believe in a god of wrath who, like santa claus, knows naughty from nice ;  or in ha satan (Hebrew for the accuser: AKA satan, the boogey man) ;  or in material reductionism (a determinism which denies free will, arguing that atomic force-fields comprise reality, denying that you have any choice) ;  or in a Messiah (ever-present, or yet to come, and/or in an attendant Holy Ghost) ;  or in The Church of Medicine (no heretics or free-thinkers allowed) ;  or naturopathy ;  or in sex-drugs-and rock’n’roll ;  or simply in gardening your beliefs.   Interpretation is everything.  And culture shapes our beliefs.  So, on to the two books . . . 

I’ve just finished reading both books depicted above, back to back.   What a fabulous experience!  I read the Alphabet book first, but at 450 pages, I suggest you start with Why Religion?, as it’s faster paced, and gripping.  I’ve enjoyed several books by Elaine Pagels, and am stunned by the candor of her storytelling here.  It’s autobiographical — painfully so.  She relates the loss of her first child, age 6, followed by the death of her husband, a prominent physicist, a year later while on a group hike, shortly after they had adopted two infants.  (I’ll put her book alongside a classic by CS Lewis, titled A Grief Observed.)  While the Pagels book could be prickly for someone recovering from loss of a loved one, her telling contains blessings, and surprises.  (Read it before gifting it.)  It contains much wisdom about consoling the bereaved.  She deals with anger, rage, superstition, alcoholism, depression, theology, and much more.

Next, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, was written by a nuerosurgeon who was also a competent scholar with interests in history, anthropology, language, and gender-issues.  He, too, is a great storyteller — and his book argues compellingly that the world became a crueler place due to the invention of reading and writing, when matriarchy was displaced by patriarchy (and by its male hunting-parties and armies).  Momma! –this book is an education. And it’s in the collection at Merida English Library, with a Dewey number of 302.22.

The Pagels book can also be found there, as I have donated my copy to the collection.



ASSIMILATION : Todos Somos Extraños ; ¿¿We’re All Outsiders??

Self Portraits, by Cecilia Paredes @Museum of Latin American Art, until December 30.

¿ Is there a distinction between “foreigners” and “outsiders” ?  Adults in Mexico, as elsewhere in the world, tell children not to talk with strangers (extraños).  This word can also be translated as outsiders or even as weirdos.  In some sense we’re all strangers in a mixture called culture. And it’s often entertaining.

FOREING CLUB BAR   c.72@c.43, centro Merida, Yucatan, MX

Yes, culture is entertainment, but there is more to it than being entertained.  “We” seem especially to love it when people fail.  The current US president has made a career out of entertaining by firing people for failing to satisfy his demands.  His most recent farce has been on TV, meeting with the leaders of Congress.  Ultimately he (and his fellow citizens) are big losers for the distraction he has caused with his brand of enterainment, rather than working to improve the social fabric by governing reasonably.  He has refused to govern, instead choosing to distract by focusing attention on himself.

He is not a foreigner, nor even an outsider.  He is a weirdo, in terms of governance, rejecting skill in that discipline — which always requires compromise, resulting in both sides of a deal feeling that they got the best possible deal, under the circumstances.  (This way, everybody wins.)  But in his view there is no winner unless there is a big loser.   (His father reportedly taught him that there are only two kinds of people: killers who become kings ;  and losers.)  This seems a dangerous sociopathology.  But the purpose of my post is to explore fitting in.

Humankind is a social species, like ants and honeybees.  Some biologists view the beehive as a single organism. And that observation can be extended to humans.  Using a Greek word meaning organs, St Paul says, literally, that we are each others’ organs, which largely goes unnoticed in today’s English translations, rendered variously as we are members one of another (see especially verses 4 and 5).  But tribalism is a problem :  us and them; who’s in? — and who’s out?  “The Other.”  Which reminds me of a poem by Edward Markham, and another verse of scripture, from Genesis.

                    He drew a circle that shut me out –
                    Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
                    But love and I had the wit to win:
                    We drew a circle and took him In!

Genesis 49:10   The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants, until the coming of the one[*]  to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will honor. –NLT

49:10 El cetro no se apartará de Judá, ni la vara de gobernante de entre sus pies, hasta que venga Siloh[*], y a él sea dada la obediencia de los pueblos. –BLA

* The Hebrew word transliterated into a Latin alphabet as Shiyloh, Shiloh (ENG) Siloh (SPAN) – can be rendered “the owner” (which concept is sometimes translated as Lord, in English; or Señor, in Spanish).

I have no idea how to love a man who has such a view of life as to aspire to rule by being “a killer”.  But I’m relieved to be reminded of Who is truly in charge.  Global citizenship requires this effort of inclusion.  I aspire to being an upstanding citizen.  ¿ How’bout you ? — What can we do, together, to recognize Divine Government?