1 August 2013

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Quick contest: Can you tell me the Puerto Rican name of this flower in Spanish and English?   I’m so happy to see this little vine flowering around the farm and down Valley Road.  I may just adopt it as my blog logo.

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On to what’s actually happening.  the angel trumpets are wilting in the heat.  So sorry for my Alaskan friend who arrives Monday, hoping for a real Fiji winter. Our cold snap ended pretty quickly.
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A Colombian guest was shocked to see that we had angel trumpets growing – they are illegal in Colombia because of some date-rape cases.  Sheesh!  I thought their pollen might contribute to my allergies, but maybe the pollen is why I’m so…. what was I writing about?
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Drama of the week:  about 4 pm one afternoon, one of our mango trees came alive chirping. Loudly. Obviously it had to be birds, but I didn’t see any, and so it appeared as a magic chattering tree.  Finally I saw one bird in a bald spot, and then saw some of the same birds flying in and some taking off.  What I know about this bird, besides the chirping:  it is medium sized, it is black and  it is not a bulbul, myna or heron.
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It’s funny about the mango trees.  Everybody has one or two – but mango trees only give fruit VERY rarely here in the valley.  The frequent morning mists of our micro-climate are assumed to be the reason the trees here rarely flower, and when they do flower, they still don’t set fruit.  At least one hopeful farmer has tried covering branches in plastic sheeting and still didn’t get any fruit out of it.   But mango trees are kept anyway because the leaves are used for certain Hindu house blessings, and the wood is preferred for Hindu ceremonial fires.  We don’t need them for either purpose, so  Austin is getting rid of most of these fruitless trees on our land.  The chirping-wonder tree has been ringed already and is supposed to be dying  – though it hasn’t figured that out yet.
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Serendipity:   Back at the funeral we attended a few weeks ago, we sat outside during a long ceremony where the mother’s and father’s families exchanged whale’s teeth (tabuas), mats, drums of kerosene and whatnot. Our Danish guests and I were under a tree that I didn’t know … that would be most trees. The leaves of this one looked kind of like mangrove leaves – but it was inland by 20+ meters did not have a mangrove’s roots.   This tree had one fruit that looked to me a bit like a noni fruit (ICK!).  By and by Austin came to sit with us.  He got all excited when he saw it and said, “this fruit holds an edible nut like a peanut.” He pulled the fruit down (in the village!  while all the custom exchanges were going on!), opened it and extracted some nuts to take home..  “I bet they don’t know what this is,” he continued. “I remember it from Palau.”

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A few days later he visited the Taiwan Agriculture Mission – and lo and behold! – they had some of these trees at the station for a demonstration, and they were just getting ready to destroy them. They gave the trees to Austin instead and here they are in pots waiting to be transplanted as soon as he figures out where he wants to put them.    I thought they were dying because of the yellow leaves.  Austin says it’s ok, they’re deciduous – the trunks are green and they’ll photosynthesize there.

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A memory that angel trumpet pollen cannot erase:   See the pretty oranges in the tree?  They are not oranges (mandarin), they are lemons (moli).   A few years ago a dear guest from England made a fruit salad. She bought the fruit at the market in Suva (papaya, pineapple, watermelon, and some imported apples), and used the fully ripe moli as oranges.  I have forgotten almost every fruit salad I ever ate.  Not that one!
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25 July 2013

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Here are Austin’s hands full of rhinoceros beetle grubs that he found in a rotting coconut log from a tree we chopped down before Cyclone Evan last December. The grubs had turned the center of the log to mush/compost.   If allowed to mature, they would be a plague to our coconut trees: adult rhinoceros beetles eat the coconut crown and the young leaves.  So here are the grubs….. chicken food?  human snack? …  chicken food?  human snack? … If you really want to know – ask.
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A curious reader inquired,  “Why do you kill the mongeese?  Do they eat your chickens?”  Thank you for asking.   Mostly, they steal the eggs of the chickens and ducks.  An adult mongoose can pick eggs up like footballs and run a long way with them.  They will grab ducklings and chicks, if given the chance, and they will also go for adults.  We had a large dead duck in the pen that Austin is pretty sure was a mongoose kill.  He put more than a dozen poisoned eggs over a period of weeks and he killed two mongooses that way.  In just one week we’ve caught 9 mongooses with the trap from the States.  (PS – dictionary editors agree on “mongooses” as the correct plural form.)
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“Good God!,” I said, “what is THAT thing?” …  that piece of vegetation lying on one of the porch tables – brown, dry and about a meter long.  It reminds me of the “rain-stick” given to Jayne Cobb in one Firefly episode.   “It’s a torai,” replied my friend/housekeeper.   Torai?!  No way!  Torai is Hindi for sponge gourd, something I really like to eat when it is about 1/4 this size. I had no idea they get THAT big.  This granddaddy will be for seeds, I guess.
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This week it has gotten to 12 degrees below freezing in the early mornings – that is 60 degrees F.  (coconut oil freezes at 72).  That is painfully cold for us… but it doesn’t seem to be having much effect on the other fauna.  Well, there aren’t any houseflies, and there are hardly any mosquitoes.  And other than that the only change I’ve noticed is that the cats seem more cuddly.
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Flora-wise, I noticed the fence-post trees (vaivai) on the top of the hill have lost their leaves.  Do they think this is fall?  But the vaivai down by the road are in full leafy glory.  Then again, the vaivai way low in the neighbor’s field are bald.  What the heck?!   I gave up and asked Austin.  Answer:  it’s two different species of vaivai.
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Absolutely the worst thing about the farm for our recent guests was the dogs barking at night.  Just as they were leaving, our young bitch (technical term) Inu went into heat.  What a bother.   She finally got out of heat, and now her mother Tarsi is in heat.   IF YOU ARE A VETERINARIAN AND WANT TO COME SPAY OUR ANIMALS – WE NEED YOU !  
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Actually, last year a very sweet veterinarian did stay here for a week and was going to spay our cat. She brought everything but the ketamine and couldn’t get the pharmacy or the vet in Suva to let her get any.  Son of a gun – that was so disappointing!!!!    Now we have two darling female kittens needing a home.  Any takers?

18 July 2013

ImageOne of my guests freaked out in the sea and wouldn’t go swimming because of a “big brown snake.”   We saw the photo.  It’s not a snake, it is a sea cucumber – a synaptid – that stretches way out to feed, and then bunches itself back up into a typical sea cucumber shape when touched.   We thought “brown sea snake” sounded impossible – we’ve never seen or heard of any.  Just the “brown tree snake”:  in Guam, not here.

Austin and I were sitting at the gas station and he pointed to a bank of green and said “milk leaf!”   So it was, a tree was there!   Strangler fig (Ficus something), a.k.a.  milk leaf because the leaves can be used to improve lactation in a most impressive fashion.  A Fijian friend taught us about milk leaf 32 years ago when she came to Chuuk with her 8 month old.  She was delighted to see it growing all over the place, as you could hardly find it in Fiji anymore – the women used it all up.  I used strangler fig a year later for my baby number 2, and for every child after.  Six torn up leaves in a glass of water and I’d go from unremarkable to Dolly-Parton-eat-your-heart-out in about half an hour.  It was great.   Now here was a big unmolested milk leaf plant right in town in Fiji.  Times have changed.

Sitting through a longish funeral in Fijian, I heard cheerful birds outside.  Mynas!  Who would have guessed they sounded so good?  I never heard them because all I could see was their trespassing and thieving ways.

Man!  The corn got harvested this week and so we had an afternoon of shucking, followed by several days of shelling (still not finished).  Austin only planted the red corn, so the colors are brilliant.  We have corn that is all shades of red, purple, orange, and yellow – on cobs that are white, red or purple-black, with two colors of husks – green and purple.  You never know what combination will show up.  Anyway, the variety makes for fun husking and pleasant shelling.Here is a photo of some of it – not the best ears.  I’ll try to get some with the husks next harvest.IMG_0361

And that was followed by our big honey harvest – we weren’t expecting so much.  Fifty-two Kgs!   over 110 pounds!   My son spun it out of the trays – my job was squeezing the combs in cheesecloth.  The honey oozing over my hands felt as if it was moisturizing away the dryness from corn-husking. Yeah, I think it did.  Good to have the two crops come in back to back like that.

This is something I heard earlier this week from an overseas visitor:  Fiji has 1596 different plant species, and 60% of them are edible!   Really! That’s what he had read!   I was thinking “if there are over 900 species of edible plants, then why are we even TALKING about the possibility of eating lizards?”   I looked at all the plants growing around here, grasses, flowers, fence-post trees thinking 60% of you are edible?   Maybe it just means 40% are “not poisonous”?   Finally I asked my guest where he read the information.  Lonely Planet Guide, he said.   So I just got my hands on the book and found it on page 63.   Here is the quote:   Most of Fiji is lush with fragrant flowers and giant, leafy plants and trees. There are 1596 identified plant species here, and about 60% of them are endemic.   [i.e. native – edible or not]    Dang!  I was hoping for edible, but – yes – endemic makes a lot more sense.   Maybe we will have to eat lizards if we run out of other food…..

11 July 2013

Farm Late Oct 2008 001I think I see tangan-tangan growing beside our sometime creek. Tiny, lacy leaflets, brown flat seed pods.  Gee whiz, I haven’t thought about tangan-tangan for 30 years.  It was the number 1 tree on Guam where typhoons took out all the big trees.  Tangan-tangan there grew to about 8 feet tall (it seems in my memory) – and was useful only for barbeque fires.  It lived on limestone – and if horses ate it their manes and tails would fall out.  (?)  maybe.   I’m surprised I remember so much about it!  Oh – right – Austin and I were newlyweds back then and I paid more attention to what he was saying all the time.

Hey!  Maybe that explains why the horses around here all have broken off manes and tails!  (The horses up the valley look so ratty compared to the ones down on the coast with really sleek coats and healthy manes and tails – but don’t tell my son Guy I said that, he loves his ratty looking horse he left behind.)

Speaking of horse (I really shouldn’t….. ha ha)

Saturday lunch at the farm:

– “lumi” – angel-hair algae from the coast, picked clean of all little rocks and then washed to get all the sand out, dissolved in hot coconut cream, with minced onion, red chillies and shredded carrot.

– salad of local cucumbers and imported carrots

– imported rice.

– and because my Hindu housekeeper is not here, barbequed horse from our freezer.

(poor young horse drowned a few months back – and it was just as easy to butcher her as to bury her.  The plan was that she’d be dogfood, but my boys were checking out prime cuts, and keeping them from tasting it was not going to happen.  No, I don’t eat it.  And I have a kosher-inspired kitchen now, where items that touch beef or mystery meat are never used for other meals.)

If this is tangan-tangan, it is pretty tall by the creek – 14 or 16 feet tall.  Is my memory wrong ?  Is it richer soil?   Is it lack of big storms?   Is it really not tangan-tangan at all?   (Kim’s “report”:   the place you find more questions than answers)

Oh right – about those little toads.  Austin and Akka were interested about the little toads away from the house.  Their theories:   the babies may be avoiding the adults.   OR  they learned to stay away (my theory, too)   OR  it is because that is where the grass was newly mown.   In any case, Austin’s going out to do the little toads in, soon.

The family found out I’m writing this weekly report.

Akka’s comment,    “”Did you mention the grapes?”

“What grapes?”

“We just told you, we’ve got a grape plant growing down at the cottage.”

I forgot about the grape plant as soon as he and Austin said it – I don’t believe them.  It is like the strawberries a few months ago.   “Kim, we’ve got a strawberry plant!”   Yeah, THREE strawberries total.  Sorry, it is not worth getting excited about.

Walking to a neighbor’s house on another hill, I have to pass by the house with the friendly goat.  I had never interacted with goats until this one a few months ago, but I’m normally not scared of animals and he was only hip high so  I scratched his head.  The goat just got friendlier and friendlier – taking an amorous interest in me.  A Serious Amorous Interest. Oh no!!  Getting away was way more of a challenge than I expected.  So this time I gave Mr. Lover-boy a wide miss.  He was being “very friendly” to the child who was scratching his head as I passed.  Oh dear!!!  If he is typical, no wonder goats have such an unsavory reputation!

Ticklish feet:  A butterfly with wings like dead leaves lighted on a starfruit lying on the ground.  An ant was walking around the starfruit, and I wondered what would happen when it found the butterfly’s leg – would the butterfly ignore it, or take off, or what?  A few moments later the ant did touch the foot … and the butterfly just raised her foot, flamingo-like.  Cute!

4 July 2013

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Austin caught a mongoose today in the trap his sister brought from Texas!  This is a big deal.  He said he was going to keep it alive – I guess maybe to show off, maybe to take to the coast and release.  But the dogs went so bonkers, he had to go ahead and kill it.  He told me he hung in in a tree by the road.  He doesn’t want to eat it and our neighbors (Indians) won’t eat it – but he thinks some Fijians think it mongoose is good eating.

I was walking on our road with a neighborhood girl, age 9.  She said, “Aunty,  something-something pay-shan fruit.”   Huh?  Ok, passion fruit.  She must be pointing toward a passion fruit vine.  I smiled and nodded.  I didn’t know which set of leaves she was pointing to, but it didn’t matter.  “They’re outside the fence, so help yourself when they’re ripe,” I said.   A few meters further, she said something about “many guavas” – we were nearly under a guava tree – I said, “they are nearly all gone now, we picked them for jam.”   A few steps further she said, “The birds eat the guavas, Aunty.”   ( I did figure that out for myself a few weeks ago.)   What struck me was how aware she was of every fruit plant along the road – and how she thought it made good conversation the way my relatives all talk about the weather.

Hello!  In the branches of the tree holding up one end of the clothesline there is a black bird with a red butt and a head that reminds me of a woodpecker.  I’ll tell you what I know about this bird.  It is not a heron, and it is not a myna.  Mynas are the multitudinous pesky black birds with yellow eye rings who go for all the chicken food, and also fly into my porch/kitchen to see what they can find on the counters.

Driving down the road later:

“Austin, you know the black bird with the red butt?”

“Yeah that’s a bulbul – eats papayas, introduced species, you didn’t know  them before?”

“No” (I did hear of them, but who cared?).

A few more clicks down the road, “Hey, what’s with all the dead trees?!” (a LOT of them now)

“Someone poisoned them.”

“Spathodia?”

“Probably but it’s not effective, not systematic”

Yeah, I saw spathodia in bloom right there on the other side of the road.

Why do I hate spathodia, you may ask.  I thought it over.  Spathodia is like the bitchy trophy wife.  Not content to be just an ornamental of no other value, the spathodia throws down leaves that poison the ground below and make the soil bitter and unusable.  In Spanish it called “matar finca” (kill the farm).  The Fijians call it “peece-peece” (i.e. piss-piss) in honour of the missed-the-toilet fragrance of its flowers.   The kicker of it is that whereas “a tree without fruit is fit only for the fire” – spathodia has wet wood that doesn’t even burn well!

All the toads in the yard tonight were small ones, and all hanging at least 10 meters away from the house.  Toads are smarter creatures than you would guess.

This evening I noticed a dessicated gecko in the window by the bathroom sink.  I’m surprised.  Surprised it died there, and surprised it dried out without stinking the place up.

Austin’s pretty sure a rat has died in the ceiling of the cottage where guests from Denmark are due to return tomorrow afternoon – guess why!   Lucky them……   (The theme this week is apparently “dead critters”)

WRONG – the suspected dead rat is in the ceiling of the main house.  “Didn’t you smell it, Kim?”   No, I didn’t, but now I do.  Ugh.

Neighbor boy told Austin that they’ve seen wild pigs on our new land.   We planted cassava and the field is up against the forest.  Tales to come: pig hunting in a country where no one keeps guns.

And my last few notes on a Wednesday night:  a second mongoose – and a THIRD ! – were caught in the trap,  They are now in the smaller freezer – waiting to become dogfood or exotic barbeque.      And today Akka harvested kumquats with a chain saw.   Don’t ask.

27 June 2013

Farm Oct 2008 003The grass blowing in ripples on the hill was so pretty, I had to stop what I was doing to watch.  I hadn’t noticed it before, and didn’t trust my perceptions enough for it to “count” – and when I kept watching the hill, the wind never caught the grass like that again.  Then yesterday when I was driving to town, the grass was rippling – even closer – so beautiful.

I was thinking on banana leaves, how much they scream Robinson Crusoe.  First of all, they’re huge – like 5 or 6 feet long, more than 2 feet wide – solid like the handy umbrellas they are.   And then with some wind they start to tear, and after a few moderately windy days (or one tropical storm) they are all tatters.  This is the Robinson Crusoe stage – looking like fringe on a hippie’s vest.   There is something very down at the heels and cheerful about them.

We have guests from Denmark at the moment – strangers that Austin met on line, a lovely couple.  They love the view from our kitchen.  Everyone does, even me.  I realize the view was prettier when we moved here – the spathodia had not moved in and there were not cattle trails (read that as “erosion scars”) on the community land.  But the view is more interesting and ever changing.  Right now it is dry – much of the hill is brown with yellow grasses.

I felt really stupid in Suva last weekend.  It was overcast and it looked like God took the green crayon out of the Crayola box and was scribbling everywhere.   Now I am seeing it all over the place.  I wonder if it is something with my eyesight rather than the light quality.

I saw a flower I like here – like an unopened red hibiscus drooping down over deep blue green leaves – in Suva.  The leaves of the same plant in Suva were lighter and yellower, and the dramatic contrast was lost.  I figure the soil there is lacking something. (you could fill libraries with what I don’t know about plants)

Oh, and I saw one of those herons flying across the field to our south this morning while I was hanging clothes.   Wouldn’t have looked that direction if he didn’t Squawk Squawk as he flew.  (The FFWR is really helping my perceptiveness – I wouldn’t have known it was a heron and probably wouldn’t have made any mental note when I saw him… or her)

Last note – it occurs to me that you might be interested in our bananas.  Austin was given a new plant by agriculture – new variety of eating banana.   The first stalk matured this week, and it’s not the tastiest eating banana – a little starchy.  So (I’m taking the credit here) I thought of frying it the way we used to do back in Micronesia – Austin and son Akka were ecstatic and Akka immediately took over, cooking the halved bananas until they were just carmelized.  Yum!  (Good eating bananas are too soft for this)   Our Indian neighbors had never heard of thought of such a thing – but they love them too.  We have introduced a new food into the valley!

20 June 2013

There are heaps of little dust colored insects skittering around one kind of short bushy plant in a haze of busyness.  I stopped and looked – one settled on a stem – triangular wings out.  AHA – it is a moth.

There was another  flutterer – bright yellow and just a little bit larger.  Butterfly or moth?  Moth or butterfly?   Rounded wings like a luna moth, but I wanted to know for sure.  Had to wait several minutes before it finally lit, stayed just a fraction of a second and took off again.  I didn’t trust my eyes, so I waited again.  Wings UP.  It is a butterfly!  BINGO!    

I mentioned this yellow lepidoptera to Austin (to show off how observant I’m becoming) – he immediately said, “that’s a butterfly, a sulfur butterfly…. it drinks urine.”  Not much glamour in the natural world.

The hibiscus hedge that my son trimmed with the chain saw a couple of months ago is putting out a lot of leaves now – all healthy leaves, without the disease that made them get knobby and curl under.  I hope that disease is gone.

In the mornings when I run on Cardiac Hill there are small iridescent membranes in the grass – tiny spider webs.   I love dewy webs but never noticed any in the grass before moving here.

I looked more closely at that leafless tree on the drive up the valley – there are about 6 dead trees there.  And dead trees in 3 other clusters coming up Valley Road.   I got a good look at the base of a few of them and they aren’t ringed (i.e. killed by someone by cutting off the sap supply to the top)..  So I don’t know if the farmers poisoned them or if there is some disease moving up the valley.   If it were a tree disease, would anybody be paying attention?

One last thing.  I read somewhere that Irish eyes can distinguish 1000 shades of green.  I thought of it awhile back on a sunny day when I realized that of all the shades of green I could see here, I could not find Crayola “green” for the life of me.   Today it was overcast and the light threw out a completely different green palette,   I thought I saw “green” today for a moment – but, no, on closer look it was a bit too blue.  I can’t find “green” on the computer either.  I’m just wondering if “green” exists in nature.