Everything's coming up roses, more or less

Don’t you love the peace and quiet nowadays when you wake up in the morning? 

Ever since the Former Occupant’s departure from the White House on January 20, we can safely open our IPad or Kindle tablets and read the news without fear of getting knocked over by reports of demented overnight tweetstorms from the White House, or bizarre political conspiracies. My friends, too, report relief, to be able to watch the entire evening news without the Former Occupant or his sidekicks being mentioned even once.

This sudden respite took my attention heavenward, to the picture-perfect landing of the Perseverance spacecraft on Mars two weeks ago, following a seven-month, 300 million mile trip through space. Three hundred million miles away! And every widget and computer chip aboard worked perfectly, from the parachute popping open, to the crane and cables that gently lowered the spacecraft onto the dusty, ochre Martian surface. I’ve been a fan of space travel since the 1960s, and to watch the gangly machine touch down on Mars, was, well, heavenly. 

­¡Hola! Anyone home?

Equally memorable were the faces of NASA scientists we saw on the screen, narrating this incredible feat. Instead of the almost all-male, all-White team of space scientists that during the early days of space exploration explained it to television viewers, this time we saw a truly diverse team of scientists: men and women; Black, Latino and Asian; some with exotic last names or accents that suggested their recent immigrant roots. NASA even had a Spanish-language video of the Mars landing, narrated by Latino space scientists. 

I saw a young Mexican-American scientist and his parents standing on a beach in Florida, waiting for the blast-off of the mission to Mars last year. He was jumping up down and dancing like a teenager. I shared his excitement. 

Back on earth at the ranch, though, we’ve had some mixed news. Most of the seedlings in my new mini greenhouse are germinating and chortling on schedule. We have been nurturing the raised beds with another shipment of earthworms I bought from a guy in town, and getting coffee grounds from the local French bakery, which they kindly save for me in small plastic buckets. From what I’ve read, earthworms and particularly fond of coffee grounds and the fruit and vegetable cuttings from the kitchen. 

A bucket of grounds to go

I’d started buying some flowers and bushes from the nurseries, but it’s way too early. We won’t have any rain for at least another three months, and to keep the new plantings alive with almost daily watering in this nonstop hot, dry weather in San Miguel is fighting Mother Nature. Best to wait.

A bigger problem has been the unexplained death of several mature evergreen trees. Félix kept watering and fertilizing them to no avail. Finally, while visiting a neighbor’s ranch, we noticed he had the same die-off problem. Our neighbors’ gardener said that while digging up some of the casualties, he’d noticed the roots to be infected with white, slimy worms that curled up in a ball at the slightest touch. 

We dug around some of our own evergreens and encountered the same problem: worms Mexican call “gallinas ciegas,

Unwelcome hens and chicks

” though they don’t look at all like “blind hens.” I believe the name in English is “white grubs,” but that sounds too general. Where they came from, and why the showed up this year, is a mystery, though the lack of rain last year may have weakened the trees.

So Félix and his brother have been digging around some of the sickly trees and applying some insecticide recommended by a local nursery. We hope that helps; losing 10- and 15-foot trees is a gut punch. 

Félix also passed on the far more tragic news of a 13-year-old boy from his town who was working in construction at a nearby subdivision, and fell from a second-floor roof, landing face-down on the ground. He suffered internal injuries and died almost instantly, while vomiting blood. Félix was not surprised that kids work in construction in Mexico; after all, he dropped out of grammar school at age 14, to take a job at a building site. Other boys and girls go to work picking produce in the large industrial farms around us. Laws against child labor laws apparently don’t exist or are not enforced in Mexico. 

Eerie Mexican masks. 

Stranger yet, our housekeeper has taken a leave after developing Bell’s Palsy, a partial, temporary paralysis of the face. She has been receiving acupuncture and other treatments, but Félix suggested to her a far more exotic Mexican folk medicine cure: Rubbing the affected part of the face with a (presumably) dead coyote’s snout. I thought Félix was joking but our housekeeper and her husband said they had  heard of this remedy too, and were ready to try it if other cures failed. True story. 

Apart from those setbacks, and my impatience with the continuing dry weather, I’ve been feeling good during the for the past six weeks. I even read parts of the New York Times that I might have omitted before, such as a photo essay of weird and creative masks some people have created in San Miguel de Allende during the Covid pandemic. Eerie. 

The good ol’ days in Moldova. 

Also, a Washington Post article about a recently discovered trove of 4,000 arresting images of life in a small village in Moldova during the the 1950s through the 1970s, by an unknown local passport photographer. Beautiful.

Still, no firm news of when Covid vaccines will be administered in San Miguel. Health officials seem to be working following the mañana schedule, the actual date getting pushed back. Stew and I might join most of our friends and take a trip to the U.S. to get the shot.

So here’s my suggestion to you: Even if all your life is not quite coming up roses right now, listen to Ethel Merman’s trombone voice, which could rattle the rafters of a medium-size theater without the aid of microphones, sing that tune. She’ll make a believer out of you.

  Give Ethel a listen: https://youtu.be/s62MrU8mHx4

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