A place where May comes in September

In one particularly poignant entry in her “Diary”, which Stew and I recently reread in anticipation of a trip to Amsterdam, Anne Frank talks about her remedy for unhappiness, loneliness and fear: 

“The best remedy for those who are frightened, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere they can be alone, alone with the sky, nature and God. For then and only then can you feel that everything is as it should be and that God wants people to be happy amid nature’s beauty and simplicity.”

I wouldn’t think of comparing my own occasional bouts of loneliness, boredom, fear and depression with Frank’s tragedy, who after more than two years of confinement in a building in Amsterdam with hers and another family, died from typhus in a German concentration camp. 
Her words, though, have resonated with me during the past two weeks, as I have gone on walks around the ranch during this season, which technically should be autumn but here looks more like May in September. It’s a time when leaves should be dropping off the trees and the landscape turning shades of brown, but here the opposite takes place. It’s an ideal time too, to step out of my mostly trivial preoccupations and admire what’s going on around me. 
Early morning foggy landscape

It’s been raining practically every day for the past six weeks, though it’s an accommodating rain that usually arrives after dark and in the morning surrenders to the sun, for it to shine on the blankets of wild flowers that seem to cover the entire ranch (and more practically, on our solar gear on the roof).

Temperatures range from an ideal, air conditioning-like sleeping weather at night, in the high fifties or low sixties, that warms up to the seventies and maybe low eighties by noon. Indeed, too-cool a breeze, combined with farmyard chorales of roosters, dogs, donkeys and other animals, particularly during a full moon, often prompts one of us to close the windows in the middle of the night.

A more perfect climate, or scenery to wake up to, is hard to imagine. When we were planning this house a friend suggested that we orient the bedroom toward the east, so we could watch the sun rise over the landscape. What a great idea that was.

For the past several weeks we’ve awakened to a deep fog, as the dampness on the ground tries to dissipate.  Even that early fog can be intriguing if not beautiful. As late as eight-thirty, sometimes even later, it almost laps at the bedroom windows. A gnarled and thorny huizache bush, about twenty feet from the house sometimes is all that is visible. Despite the fog, hummingbirds already are poking the tiny, red mirto flowers at the base of the huizache, and an adventurous bird or two is splashing in the bird bath.

The fog lifts gradually, almost majestically, like gauze gradually pulling back to reveal more distant vistas of a creek, small ponds, neat rows of corn and the most recent addition, a vineyard atop a hill about a mile away. Even after the sun is up, a few clouds may remain, embracing the mountaintops.

The best of the seasonal show, though, are the flowers, tens of thousands of them, a few that we have planted, the rest a gift from nature.

These are called Christmas Candlesticks. We planted
three or four but since they have spread all over.

When we bought the land, it was almost barren, though the views in all directions seemed to make up for the erosion and overgrazing by livestock, mostly goats and sheep. Our first investment was a fence to seal off our three hectares, or a little more than seven acres.

If there was little vegetation there was a surfeit of rocks that we used to build the foundation of the house and also construct small terraces to hold in whatever scarce topsoil remained, during the rivers of rain that want to gush downhill unimpeded.

During the first two years, our efforts, if not in vain, certainly looked like a very long shot. A Google Earth photo of the ranch showed little but scrub brush, with a Mars-like cobweb of trails, created by our dogs scurrying around chasing rabbits and mice, or just sniffing mindlessly.

Now most of the vegetation—plumed grasses, bushes, wildflowers, plus the trees we have planted—cover two-thirds of our land, and is hip- if not shoulder-high.The dogs have to crawl under the vegetation to chase rabbits or mice that, anymore, almost always get away.

Golden Trumpet Vine and Mexican Bush Sage,
by the gate of the front patio. 

In fact, after a walk a while ago, Stew remarked that the majority of the land now looks undisturbed by anyone, even the dogs.

I often call our gardener Félix, who’s contributed most of the labor in the replanting of our ranch, to point out how beautiful it all has turned out. Invariably, he adds a few details that I’ve missed, a bird’s nest, a flowering bush with some strange indigenous name, the latest crop of tomatoes.

Early on, in a fit of gardening hubris, Félix and I went around collecting the seeds of wild cosmos and orange sunflowers, thinking we would sow them sometime around May or June, just where we thought they would look best.

But one can’t tame wildflowers. That’s why they are called “wild.”

We thought we had sowed a nice bed of cosmos next to the garage but the flower seeds, carried by the wind, birds or serendipity, went elsewhere. Our cosmos patch this year, dozens and dozens of plants, grows by the compost pile. Where we thought the cosmos ought to go, now is covered with mounds of inch-wide white flowers, visiting from who-knows-where, that’ll probably migrate to another corner of the ranch next year.

The compost bins: Where the Cosmos flowers moved to this year

It’s as if the wildflowers are saying, “Thanks, but we can manage ourselves. Just keep the goats out.”

We’ve had some big successes, literally, with our trees. Our alder is about twenty-five feet high and ten feet across. A magnolia that started out as a scrawny bush has grown to twelve or fifteen feet, its thick, shiny, plastic-looking leaves cradling huge white blossoms, maybe eight or ten inches across, that seem as floppy and fragile as crepe paper creations. Dozens of evergreens planted three years ago have tripled in size.

Magnolia blossoms look like they are about to fall apart. 

Anne Frank’s ode to the outdoors is as beautiful as it is tragically ironic, for she never got to leave her hiding place to wander and wonder freely outside.

During the past two weeks, I’ve taken Frank’s advice and walked around the ranch, sometimes venturing even into the areas now thick with thorny vegetation, followed by our dogs, frantically wagging their tails and sniffing, sniffing, sniffing. I can’t sniff as well as them, but still can appreciate the myriad smells of flowers and of some weed or herb—chamomile?—that, in protest, releases a sweet scent when you step on it.

I’ve come appreciate her prescription. At least for those few moments alone outside, and sometimes for the rest of the day, everything is as it should be.


The pomegranates who came to dinner. This bush popped up by itself by the garage,
and has produced about ten fruits this year. 
Flowering ferrocactus. Bees love these flowers and often will crawl inside and
stay there for several minutes.

One of two flower beds flanking the main gate to the ranch.


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