How to make compost

How to make compost

There are ten thousand ways to make compost, which is one reason I love it so much. The idea is simple: put organic materials in a pile, turn it every now and again, and wait. Small life forms, most invisible to our eyes, will do the rest. It’s the best example of how we can work with nature to co-create richness, how we can foster life without controlling it, how a garden takes a small amount of initial energy and multiplies it into more than we could ever create on our own.

And it can be kinda gross. Which is cool!

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Recipe for magic

I've mentioned the Youth Farm magic in the past.  It shines when the plants we have for a bed fit exactly from end to end with no extras, or the right person drops in exactly when we need their help, or the rains hold off just long enough for us to till and prep the beds for need for the next planting.  Friday felt full of that magic.  There were a few moments of obvious serendipity: Ted appearing with the last bag of plant sale labels right as the small group that'd been labelling pots all morning had just run out and was about to move on to another project, and Kiya starting her shift, ready to lead, exactly as several volunteers needed a new project and I had to finish up our seeding for the week.  There's clear moments like those, yes, but overall a magic-infused day just has a certain flow to it.  And I'm coming to understand that I have the power to create the flow, whether or not everything seems to line up perfectly.

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The farm works its magic

The farm works its magic

Fifty fraternity members, a few returning volunteers, the first volunteer I've worked with in a wheelchair, a former intern visiting, an unannounced journalism student wanting to take photos of my daily farm life, and only me to guide everyone through our many varied projects.  Amid what could easily devolve into chaos, the Youth Farm worked its magic. 

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Magia

Every morning, I wake to the sounds of dozens of birds and bugs and breezes, frantic and excited for another day of sun and rain.  I lift the mosquito net over my head, just enough to peer out the window into Armando's plot of land, bursting with greens and changing every second as the early light grows and shifts.  There's one tree back there whose trunk is covered in a creeper with round, neon little leaves.  The other day I was up to grab my book and spotted a Motmot in that tree, relatively still and silent with its brilliant blue tail hanging nonchalantly toward me.  I could hardly contain myself, searching for the binoculars without taking my eyes of that tail, sure that it would fly away just as I opened the case... but it stayed, just hopping up a few branches as I gawked from the open-air bathroom. Why does nature express itself so creatively, so exuberantly, here in this particular place?  Sure, it could simply be a matter of humidity and heat, of eons of evolution and careful conservation efforts in recent years.  Who knows, it could even be that some divine being decided to bless these hills and valleys with its most inspired designs.  These days, though, I can't shake the idea from my mind that there's some sort of magic in the mix.  The glitter and flap of iridescent blue butterflies sweeps me into a world where magia becomes possible--even necessary.

This morning we dragged ourselves out into the sunrise, high above Mindo and past where the canopy tours run, to search for some of the thousands of bird species that grace this forest.  I had been out once before, alone, and saw dozens of gorgeous species, few of which I could identify.  Though everything is enthralling with or without a name, I was happy to have Armando pointing out bird calls and differences between males and females and subspecies along the way.  Of course the small lemon tanager males are more brilliant than the females, with blindingly yellow streaks under their jet-black wings; songbird sexes are always relatively easy to tell apart.  The toucans are harder.  There are not only males and females, but also at least three species that we saw-- one with a distinct, red-spotted chest and two that look the same to my untrained eyes.  They were chatting and singing to one another across the gravel road, high in the trees but easy to spot, cocking their heads and preening their feathers.  Occasionally one would stretch its black wings out, feather tips silhouetted neatly against the sky, and glide silently to another branch.  Whether they were chasing each other, joking or teasing or crying longingly for a mate, I am left wondering.  How do they choose whom to love?  I find it hard to believe it´s simply a matter of the biggest beak or loveliest cackle.

But what do I know about toucan love?

Then there were the quetzals, stunningly sparkling and marine-colored.  They are normally scarce and certainly difficult to see perched in camouflage against the canopy, but today we saw at least three pairs, chasing one another and hunting for insects in the wide-open ravines that lead down to the Rio Mindo.  I surely would have missed them had I been alone, but Armando patiently pointed out each one and we stood in awe as their red tails flashed in and out of sight.  Instead of singing, sometimes they just laugh like hyenas, like they´ve got some secret I´d be a fool to guess at.

¨Qué más quieres ver?¨ asked Armando after we'd marvelled some time over toucans and quetzals, the two most magnificent, ¨exotic¨ birds to my eyes.  A hawk, a woodpecker, an eagle?

And just past the next curve, he shushed me over to look up at a branch hanging over the road, dripping with epiphytes: a hawk, silent and serious, glaring over the valley below.  He (she?) then starting calling, slowly and softly at first, almost gently, then crescendoing steadily into a wild war cry.  As it let out the last deafening pulse, it opened its wings and dropped away around the curve, out of sight.

As the sun finally crept over the canopy and my stomach started growling, I didn't need to know much more.  That this place is perpetually happening, that its life force cycles in every direction, up and through every [damned] mosquito and [steadfast] hawk, every day of the year, doesn´t require that I know about it.  The fact that I can, just a bit... magic.

-Monday, May 2