Thursday, April 28, 2016

Catching up


At the time we were happy to see the rains decline to a shower here or there most days of the week. We continuted to meaure the rainfall in our flat plastic cup atop the pole that supports an antenna for phone reception (photo below, taken on January 26).  

A full cup of rain water, one day's worth, about 8 cm or just over 3 inches.
As long as the total for the season adds up to 120 centimeters (about 47 inches) we could relax. By the beginning of February we had, counting from November 5, 71.5 cm or 28 in (55 in January alone), and two to three more months of the rainy season. I’m writing with hindsight in mid-April and you can probably guess how this story will go. But we were thoroughly enjoying February weather.

The four of us go to Brasilia.

Carnaval (Brazilian spelling) came early and while we couldn’t all trek down to Rio or Salvador for the famous street displays, we went into Brasilia for a day and night.
Brasilia, the nation’s capital since 1960, has drawn people from all around the country, who brought with them their own regional traditions, foods, and festivals. On a Monday afternoon we joined the colorful parade, a wild medley of costumes, political statements, people of all ages including families with children, following the various musical groups, some marching, others truck-borne, dancing, shuffling, laughing, drinking water, soda, beer, singing along with the well-known Carnaval lyrics.

Guy's camera lens is splattered with beer sprayed by revelers.

Part of the fun for the men is wearing bras and big butts.

Jaqi gets into the mood.

Grace and the red man.

In the evening Jaqi opted to stay in while Grace, Guy and I walked a few miles down the major central freeway, closed to traffic for the revelers, and joined thousands of young people in a louder, harder rocking version of the Carnaval parade. We were something of an anomaly, Grace taller than almost anyone else, and Guy and I older by thirty years. We kept getting requests for photographs, young people gathering around us to pose with their grandparents. One young man asked me to stick out my tongue for a photo and I said I wouldn’t. “Why not?!” Everybody does it! “It’s a generational thing,” I said with a smile. “Oh,” he nodded and that was that. Good cheer all around, lots of beer and laughter, young bodies seeking each other out, dancing, kissing, running after each other, colors, costumes, masks, the darkening night.

Grace, Guy and Greta ready to hit the street. 

Back on the farm Grace was building a fence for the second small garden we’d used in the past but now was open to the chickens we started to raise last year. The chickens eat the insects that plague the garden but they also eat the young vegetables.

Grace has developed some building skills.

Jaqi adds some moral support.

 Now that the chickens, cats and dogs can't get in, the garden can be prepared with compost. 

We took a day off to go to the Salto do Corumba waterfall, formed by the Corumba River that flows past Cocalzinho. We pass this fall all the time, on our way to Anapolis, Pirenopolis, and the little city of Corumba, but we’ve not been particularly interested in the recreation and camping area at the foot of the falls. We expected it to be unacttractive, unkempt and noisy, with trash left behind by weekend campers. But when we asked around in town people told us it was definitely worth a visit.

So after lunch in town we drove about ten miles to the entrance to the recreation area, paid our R$ 20 entrance fee (US$ 5.50 – half price for seniors),  and wandered in to a delightful place, clean and nicely laid out and landscaped. Our main goal was the mile hike up to the base of the falls, along a well-developed but steep and rocky path. You’ll see from the photos that it was well worth the effort.

Grace and Jaqi rest along the river below the falls.

Guy takes in the full view of the falls.

February brought a crisis on the goat front: for weeks a lump had been growing on Nina’s flank, and we’d asked several neighbors to opine on it, receiving reassurance each time that it was no problem, it would come to a head and burst and then we should clean and treat it. When it finally opened,  thick pus, hard, almost an inch in diameter, pushed out slowly. 

The access on Nina's flank comes open, releasing the thick cheesy pus.

Guy checked our goat manuals and discovered the dire diagnosis: Caseous lymphadenitis (CLA), an uncurable, highly contagious disease that plagues goats and sheep, causing considerable damage to larger herds. We isolated Nina, called the city vet, and were somewhat reassured by his recommendations: keep her isolated, clean the pus out thoroughly, treat with antiseptics, give her a broadspectrum antibiotic, and sterilize the pen where she’d been with the other three goats.  The short of the story is that soon our second goat developed symptoms and we isolated her as well. Our neighbor, experienced with sheep, took over their care, and several weeks later we are tentatively moving ahead with the understanding that we have infected goats, perhaps an infected herd (of 4), that can probably live a fairly normal life, with new goats and milk, as long as we take all the necessary precautions. An analogy I came across in our books, that living with caseous lynphadenitis is like living with tuberculosis, helps me to understand what we’re dealing with.

These young trees still need to be watered during the dry season. Most of them are two or three years old.

It ended up raining very little in February, but hopefully there were still the rains in March and April to reach the 150 cm we need to carry us over – the water table, the trees and pastures, the reservoirs that supply the cities and provide electricity – until the rains come again in September or October.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Catching up


It rained for 23 days in a row in January; for the month we measured 54.5 cm of rain (21.45 inches). Despite the inconvenience of wet clothes, mildew, and mud everywhere, I was relieved since after three months (Oct, Nov, Dec) of very little rain I worried we might face a drought this rainy season. If it doesn’t rain enough between October and March our water supply can run out in the dry season, June to September.

Preparing for resilience in the advent of climate changes means re-imagining life in a drier land instead of a place of abundant water. Rain catchment in the rainy season and water conservation the rest of the year are challenges we need to face.  We plan to make a pond out of the pit that provided the earth for our cob house so far. Perhaps we’ll dig a new pit for the rest of the cob house – the living room and small kitchen/dining area – and use it as a cistern for water gathered during the rains.

Banana trees planted less than a year ago love the rain and the goat mature.

The mud pit from which we took sand/clay/soil to build our cob rooms filled up with the rain
and we have an idea of how it will look when we transform it into a pond.
Grace and I share of love of mushrooms which pop up after the rain.

We don't have good resources to identify them but we we
able to ID a few.

A rainbow above the cob house and the straw 'rancho'.

In midJanuary our second longterm guest arrived, Jaqi, from Pleasant Valley, PA, who was joining us for two months. Jaqi and I became friends through a Climate Change group convened in Fall 2008 by Len Frankel, of Bethlehem, PA, to read Six Degrees of Climate Change (by Mark Lynas) . We ended up walking many miles together as part of the Climate Walk for All the Grandchildren, a pilgrimage along US Route 11 from New Orleans to upper New York State. Guy and I have enjoyed Jaqi’s company and hospitality in the US and were delighted to receive her in our Brazilian home.

Jaqi on her arrival date visits the radio tower in Brasilia.

Jaqi found her chair and the kitties found her lap.

Jaqi arrived while it was still raining and had to deal with the endless downpours, occasional leaks in the blue tarp that covered her cob room, and mud and puddles everywhere. We all admired her good spirits, undampened by the rain, and her energy for exploring and joining in with the farm work. May we all be so vibrant at 78! (More about our adventures with Jaqi in February and March posts.)

Jaqi, Grace, and Camila hurry to get the hay in before the rain.
The teardrop garden with Grace's fence to protect it from the chickens starts to grow.

Also in January our menagerie increased by one foster dog, and two colorful fowl. Mabel, a little black puppy, found her way from the road, where she’d apparently been abandoned in the very wet weather, and into our house. We tried to find a home for her, including a trip to Anapolis to attempt to place her in a shelter, but discovered that no one (so far) wants a small (but not tiny) female dog. People around here seem to prefer male pets, and tiny or large dogs.

Mabel came in from the rain and hid behind Jaqi's chair.
Instant friendship with Cindy, the calico kitten.

And best buddies with Lolita.

We found Strawberry Hen and Pepper Rooster as we shopped the local thrift store for furniture for Jaqi’s room.

A contented duo, the hen and the kitten.

Very colorful rooster fits in with the clutter. Bromeliad painting by Sofia.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Catching up

Time has run away and I'm way behind on my posts. I plan to post four entries in the next few days starting with December now.


Guy and I spent the first part of December getting the larger cob room prepared for the arrival of our first longterm guest, Grace Wall, who responded to the notice on this blog inviting people to come spend some time here, working with us, and enjoying our litle bit of paradise.

First window installed. This window also works as a door, and eventually there will be steps up to it from the inside.

Guy works on installing his first door, a new skill for him.   
Door is level.

After placing anchors between the doorframe and the cob, plus nails to hold the new material in place,
Guy fills in the space with cob.

Soon the new cob will dry and the door will be ready to use.

The first cob room, rough but pleasant, is ready for the first guest. 

In mid-December we picked Grace up at the airport in Brasilia. Soon she made herself at home and started working with us to prepare the smaller cob bedroom for the arrival of our friend Jaqi, due in mid January.

Grace found her chair and started reading about permaculture.

She delighted us with her music.

And she helped plaster the second bedroom, a tiring but
ultimately satisfying job (I think).

Guy's still working on installing windows.
Grace expressed an interest in working on a vegetable garden, a very welcome initiative since both Guy and I were discouraged by the failures of our first couple of years here and hoped that with some new energy we could continue the experiment of growing vegetables in this poor soil without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. By now we had a fairly good supply of compost, including the humanure that Guy has been making since September 2014. We also have chickens that love the insects – grasshoppers, cutworms, caterpillars – that prey on our tender plants. However chickens also love tender plants, so our veggie gardens require fences. Grace was game and though she had little experience building structures she soon built the first fence around a small area, and planted lettuce, radishes, cilantro, mustard and collard greens, cucumber, tomatoes and basil.

Grace digs hole for the fence posts.

New kittens, Cindy and Fofa.

Also in December we got two kittens.  Cindy, the calico, I asked for from a neighbor. Her mother had abandoned her and she nursed with a litter of tiny puppies. She looked like a malnourished rat and everyone who saw her wondered if she’d make it. The second cat, Fofa the albino, chose us, even though I didn’t want a white cat and we returned her to the road several times, to no avail.  

Cindy finds a place to nap.

Lolita, who has missed her old pal, Fofinho (who disappeared many months ago) accepts the two new residents.