Saturday, August 12, 2017

 July 2017
Happy Vacation Days
                        (This is an essay I wrote in Portuguese* to commemorate the World Day of the Environment on June 5. I read this passage to the County Council members in Cocalzinho on June 9.)

We all live in the environment. Our families, our children, our animals – all of us live in the midst of the natural environment. Air, earth, water, plants, woods, the sun, the rain, the wind, all of this is our natural world.
You don’t even think about it – you walk out into the middle of the environment. It’s all there from the very start. When we were children we learned to take for granted the earth, the air, the water, the sun, the rain.
It’s like our mother, always there, always supporting us. We have Mothers’ Day, we give thanks for our mothers, and promise them our love.
It happens that sometimes we do things that hurt or damage our mother. She seems so strong, so powerful, but she’s not always so perfect and sweet. However we recognize that she gave us our life, took care of us. Worthy sons and daughters look after their mothers.
Likewise worthy human beings look after the environment, take care of the earth, the water, the air. We recognize that our well-being, our very life, depends on Nature – and when we damage it we’re damaging our own selves. Bared earth no longer produces fruits, and the water dries up. Polluted water can no longer serve as drinking water, and impure air ends up killing. On our natural environment depends the viability of our living area and the very survival of our children and grandchildren. Let’s take care of it. 

We’re more than half a year into the incredible Trump-era and looking at the tearing up of many hard-won advances in the fields of social justice and the environment in the United States of America. It’s like the take-over by a ruthless agro-business of a piece of land that has been carefully tended for fifty years.

We live in something of an island here in the Cerrado of Central Brazil. Fifty miles away and creeping toward us are huge fields of soy and corn, and the tomato business regularly plows new tracts of land, several acres at a time, for a one-year crop, moving to a new tract the next year and leaving the abandoned land bare and fruitless. But right where we are small farmers still maintain their diversified lands – one or two hundred acres of pasture, orchards, vegetable gardens, and yearly subsistence crops of corn and manioc. And acres of shrub-studded cerrado and riparian woods still stand.

Our little fenced in half-acre within my son’s one-hundred acre farm is surrounded by pasture and woods. Cows stick their heads through the fence to nibble at the ‘greener’ grass on our side, and our chickens roam during their hours of afternoon freedom into the pasture as well as into the woods.  

Not long ago this 40-inch rattlesnake wandered onto our property, where the grass had been cut for hay, to bathe in the winter sun. Guy walked right past it, within ten inches, on his way back from the goat pen, and he reluctantly killed it, with a hoe, because of the danger it represents to us and all our animals.

The dry season has settled in, with temperatures around 70° F in the daytime and as low as 45° at night. The blue skies often have no clouds at all and the sun is very hot this close to the Equator (16˚ latitude south), though the breeze and shade keep us cool. Humidity varies between 30% in the daytime and 80% at night. There’s no danger yet of our water supply running out, but we remain watchful because we know that the water table is low and it might not rain for another three or four months. Our bananas are taking forever to ripen but the bougainvillea puts on a radiant show.

Banana prata - my favorite variety

Banana marmelo - good for frying and cooking green in stews
I planted this bougainvillea in 2013

We’ve welcomed several visitors in June and July. First was a couch surfer from nearby Anapolis, who rode his bike the 50 miles to spend the night in our cob house. It was his first experience as a couch surfer and our first as hosts.

José biked 80 miles from Anapolis to take advantage of our couch surfing offer (

Then came the long-awaited vist from my son, Zeke, who lives in the Boston area, and his two sons, Luke (14) and Isaiah (11). What a wonderful treat. Zeke first came to this farm when he was a baby, in 1974.

Zeke and Greta in 1974.

Luke, Guy, Greta, Isaiah and Zeke, in 2017
They stayed in the cob house.

Luke warms up in the morning sun.

Isaiah enjoys the shade in the afternoon.

My granddaughter, Camila, who lives in Brasilia, came out to the farm to spend several days with her cousins.

Camila and Isaiah feed the goats. 

Luke and Isaiah pick cotton - the large white stuff in the background isn't cotton, it's Greta's hair.

Lolita had a special surprise for us. 
This is before the fourth puppy was born - a full six hours later than the others.
I knew she was pregnant but thought the puppies wouldn’t arrive until late in July, two weeks after my grandsons' departure. But she was very antsy one night, keeping us awake, and on July 8 I realized that her behavior over the last couple of days probably meant she was due to whelp. Sure enough – that day she birthed four puppies, two males and two females, to everyone’s delight. She’s proving to be an excellent mother.

"Be careful with those babies, boys."

Cob house update

Work on the cob house stopped during the month of August – we’re preparing for the final wall to go up in August. But a lot happened in May and June.

Guy, the designer
Removing the support for the arch.
Greta tries out the new space.

Luke keeps his stuff in the semi-finished alcove.

The floor in these two areas got covered with another layer of cob.

We put in a cob bench in the living room. 
And this bench in the master bedroom.

Preview of plans for August

The final wall, to enclose the living room and mini-kitchen, should be up by the end of August. 
In addition to two doors we'll have two window in this wall.
Next photo from this angle will be very different. I'll miss the open space.

* Portuguese version (original)
Dia Mundial do Meio Ambiente – dia 5 de junho
Todos nós vivemos dentro do meio ambiente. Nossas familias, nossos filhos, nossos animais – todos vivemos no meio do ambiente. O ar, a terra, a água, as plantas, as matas, o sol, a chuva, o vento, tudo isso é o nosso ambiente.
A gente nem pensa - sai andando no meio do ambiente. Está tudo aí desde que nos demos por gente. Quando éramos crianças aprendemos a contar com o chão, o ar, a água, o sol, a chuva.
É como a mãe, sempre presente, sempre nos sustentando. Temos o dia das Mães, agradecemos a Deus por nossa querida mãe, prometemos amor a carinho a ela.
Acontece que às vezes fazemos coisas que ferem ou prejudicam a nossa mãe. Ela parece tão forte, tão poderosa, mas nem sempre é perfeita ou tão boazinha assim. Mas se pensarmos bem, foi ela que nos deu a vida, que cuidou de nós. O filho digno zela da mãe.
Assim tambem o ser humano digno cuida do meio ambiente, zela pela terra, a água, o ar. Reconhece que o seu bem estar, sua própria vida, depende da natureza, - e quando a prejudica está prejudicando a si mesmo. A terra desnudada deixa de produzir seus frutos, e as aguas secam. A água poluida não serve mais para beber, o ar impuro acaba matando.  Do nosso meio ambiente depende a viabilidade do nosso município e a própria sobrevivência dos nossos filhos e netos. Vamos cuidar.