Thursday, June 30, 2011

make hay while the sun



make hay while the sun
shines  mow the tall grass, rake and
bale before it rains


Another day without rain, but now we have a heat index warning. With all the moisture in the air, it feels like 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The farmers in their air-conditioned tractors are taking the opportunity to mow their hay fields. One machine cuts the long grass, strewing it in a shining criss-cross sheet of stalks already beginning to turn golden brown. Another implement rakes the grass into sinuous  fat rows between the newly-shorn green grass. Then the baler moves along the rows, rolling the hay into giant cylinders covered with green plastic to protect from rain. Later, a gigantic pitchfork machine will lift and move the huge bales out of the field. And the grass will grow tall again until the next mowing.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

three blue robin's eggs

















three blue robin's eggs
in a cup of grass and mud 
mother flown away


Walking under an old apple tree, suddenly I catch a glimpse of a bird flying away from a low-hanging limb. There, at eye-level, I spot a pendulous nest made of grass and mud, built in the crotch of a branch. The nest is an amazing feat of engineering. How do you make a hanging container entirely of mud and grass that can withstand rain and wind? It takes the mother Robin six days to build a nest. I am wondering whether there are eggs or even chicks inside the nest. Approaching cautiously so I don't touch anything, I peer inside. Three beautiful azure eggs nestle inside on the fine grass lining. These eggs were laid, one a day. Then the mother begins to incubate them, which takes about 12-14 days. Sitting on the eggs to keep them warm, she senses their temperature through a bare brood patch on her breast where the feathers have molted. She turns the eggs frequently with her beak and feet to maintain an even temperature and so the embryo doesn't stick to the inside of the egg. If it's quite hot, she may raise up from the eggs to allow them to cool. She only leaves the eggs for a quarter of an hour to get food. If it's cold or rainy, she may stay on the nest and the male, who stays nearby, will bring her food. After the chicks hatch, both parents help feed the babies. I don't know when these eggs were laid, but I will check back in a few days to see if they've hatched. This may be this mother's second clutch. She can produce up to three successful broods in one year, though many of the chicks will not survive to adulthood.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

brown bottles and jars


brown bottles and jars
of homemade oils and ointments
fill his portable shop

When I first spot this man, he is standing at the entrance to the Pisac market, holding open his wooden case filled with little bottles and jars. I am not about to buy anything out of a hand-labeled container. Later he shows up at our restaurant and our medicine man guide Amaru introduces him as a friend. Our yachac tells us that this man's family makes these incredible essential oils and ointments on their farm and urges us to give him some business. Now I'm curious. My mother was an accomplished herbalist and I want to know more about the medicinal plants of the Andes. The man speaks some English and the labels are in Spanish. On the label it says: Insituto de Ecologia Y Plantas Medicinales, Comite Productores Ecologicos Del Valle Sagrado De Los Incas. Sounds good. He opens some bottles and jars, and I sniff the contents. Heavenly! I'm particularly drawn to Pomada de Chiri-Chiri. The label says it's good for dolores musculares artriticos, golpes y contusiones. I figure that means arthritic muscles and bruises. Great. Since I usually have sore muscles somewhere and bruise easily, I end up buying seven jars. And it works!

Monday, June 27, 2011

man with long gray hair



man with long gray hair,
smoking ch'aque khuri amidst
fossils, feathers, spheres


This man smoking a brown, hand-rolled cigarillo looks like an old hippie with his long gray hair, fringed poncho and crystal pendant. Perhaps he is a yachac, a medicine man. His shop is filled with shamanic items: condor feathers, crystals, fossils, staffs and beads. I am not sure about the function of the polished spheres made of semi-precious gemstones -- turquoise, hematite, quartz -- but they are beautiful to sight and touch. The little shop vibrates with the frequencies of all these sacred items, mixed with the fragrance of Andean tobacco, called ch'aque khuri in Quechua and c'jama saire in Ayamara.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

cheerful campesina


cheerful campesina
at the Sunday feria
offers roots and herbs

Peru has one of the world's largest number of plant species, some 25,000, and of those 1,400 have medicinal properties. This smiling farmer at the Pisac feria has spread out before her a few of these medicinal roots and herbs, used for treating everything from the common cold to kidney stones to cancer. 

red-breasted robins



red-breasted robins
in the top of a dead tree,
gray clouds moving fast


As a young child, the red-breasted Robin was one of the first birds I learned to recognize, both by its reddish-orange breast and by its cheerily song. Often when I played outside in the yard, I would watch a Robin hop across the grass, stop and turn one bright black eye to peer at the ground, then bob its head to spear a worm and brace its yellow legs to pull it out. Sometimes I would find a blue egg broken on the ground, the yellow yolk spilling out. I would add the fragile shell to my collection of beautiful found objects. One time, I found a Robin's nest hidden in a low bush, made of sticks stuck together with mud and lined with grass. This, too, I added to my collection. When I was two years old, I cut a hank of my hair from the top of my head and used it to fashion a nest, which I carefully placed in a bush, hoping a Robin would find it and lay her blue eggs in it. This was right before Easter and my mother had a hard fit when she saw my mangled hair. She demanded to know why I had done such a thing. When I said "bird nest," she thought I meant that I had tried to make my hair look like a bird's nest. To her that was something messy and ugly, but to me a nest was a thing of great beauty. This spring I found a Robin's egg on the ground, completely whole. I brought it home and placed it in a Robin's nest that resides on a shelf in my studio. Today, out for a walk, I see one Robin in the top of a dead tree, then another joins it and another. I stop and watch, wondering what they are looking for so high up, perhaps berries or caterpillars. Something alarms them, maybe my presence, and one of them utters PEEEK tut tut tut tut! Two of them fly away, but the first one, highest in the dead tree, remains unperturbed, even after I continue my walk.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

magenta hana



magenta hana
shobu unfurl butterfly
petals, golden stars,
their bright enchanting colors 
cheer me up on these gray days


Both my mother and my younger sister are named Iris. No matter where we lived, our garden was always filled with Bearded Irises, with their delicious fragrance and rainbow colors. Whenever we moved, my mother would dig up the rhizomes and replant them at our new home. My father taught us that Iris means rainbow, and that in Greek mythology Iris is the messenger of the gods, the link between the gods and humanity. When we lived in St. Louis, my mother often took us downtown to Shaw's Garden, with its geodesic Climatron full of tropical plants, herb gardens, cactus gardens and a beautiful Japanese garden, complete with purple Japanese Iris growing in the water. Now I have my own garden and every year I add more Iris: a rainbow of German Iris with fuzzy beards, delicate purple and yellow Siberian Iris, Dutch Iris with tiny wings on the lower sepals, and Japanese Iris, sometimes called Butterfly Iris because of their beautiful wide, flat petals. Japanese Iris have been cultivated in Japan for over 500 years, and were once only enjoyed by royalty. Nowadays they are enjoyed by everyone in Japan in late spring during Hana-shobu Matsuri, Iris Festival. My magenta and purple Hana-shobu really love all the rain, and I love seeing their cheerful faces by the front gate.

Friday, June 24, 2011

spotted fawn triplets



spotted fawn triplets
grazing on long grass run to
their mother to nurse

These fawns are grazing in the grass not far from the low fence around our house with no other whitetail deer in sight. Perhaps they are the offspring of more than one mother, though it's fairly common for mature does to have twins (67 percent) and not uncommon to have triplets (12 percent). After awhile, one doe appears and the fawns all run to her to nurse. Busy mother! Whitetail fawns are born in late spring or early summer. Their reddish-brown coats have several hundred white spots, as camouflage in the shifting sunlight of the woods. The spots gradually disappear after three or four months. They begin eating vegetation a few weeks after birth and are weaned around four months. By six months they may begin breeding. Healthy, well-nourished whitetail deer are prolific breeders. On average, 100 does will produce 104 offspring, though about one out of three of the fawns will not survive until autumn. Deer usually browse on grass only in the spring and fall. The rest of the year they eat native forbs, especially sunflowers (I have had deer jump our low fence to eat sunflower seeds out of the bird feeder), and woody vegetation such as wild rose, wild plum, chokecherry, dogwood, pine and red cedar. Unfortunately for people with orchards, they are very fond of fruit trees. Unfortunately for the deer, they also love corn and will browse extensively on fields of genetically engineered commercial corn, with all its pesticides and herbicides.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

red k'eperina


red k'eperina
on blue clothesline with brown hen
and blue triciclo

A typical adobe house along the road between Urubamba and Ollantaytambo in the Cusco region. The colorful striped k'eperina is worn around the shoulders and used for carrying all kinds of goods. The triciclo, with its little flatbed over the rear wheels, is also used for carrying all kinds of goods, like this blue bucket. The little brown hen, resting in the shade, is used for laying eggs. I like the way the door with its faded blue and red paint picks up the color theme, and even the clothesline matches the blue of the triciclo and bucket.

a lozenge of blue



a lozenge of blue
sky engulfed by dark rain clouds
trailing wispy virgas


After days of dark clouds and rain, I suddenly see this patch of blue sky in the west, holding out against the encroaching storm. We jokingly call this phenomenon a "blue cloud." The marbled gray clouds are pregnant with water, some of it dropping down in virgas, wispy strands of rain that evaporate before reaching the ground.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

after the deluge



after the deluge,
new bridge across the creek,
gift of floodwater

Pilgrim Creek keeps overflowing its banks. After this morning's deluge, the flood waters deposited a 2x12 piece of lumber, laying it neatly across the creek, anchored by a tree on either side. The angle is a little steep for large animals like myself, but the squirrels will love it, as long as they don't slip on the mucky surface. They're saying the flooding is worse than the Kansas-Missouri Flood of 1951, the Great Mississippi and Missouri Rivers Flood of 1993 or Iowa's Katrina Flood of 2008. It just keeps raining and raining, sometimes a deluge for an hour or two, sometimes just a heavy mist all day. I know a man who grew up in Mossyrock, Washington, in the rain forest between the Pacific coast and the Cascade mountains. The mountains not far inland stop the rain from the ocean from going any further east. Nothing ever got dry and you had to fight your way through gigantic wild blackberry bushes. As soon as he left home he moved to the dry side of the mountains. It's beginning to feel that way here, like the Pacific rain forest, or maybe like Ireland. Everything is green, green, green and wet, wet, wet. The paths in the woods run with water like little creeks or they're filled with mud-bottom pools. It's been great for the berry bushes: strawberries, wild black raspberries, currants, blueberries. Impossible to keep up with weeding, though. The silver lining? Definitely not necessary to water the garden, it's a cinch to pull the weeds up by the roots from the soggy soil and the compost pile is growing gargantuan.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

summertime parade







summertime parade 
of horse power, hoofs to wheels,
farmers proudly waving

The rain held off for the summer solstice parade. Fairfield is a farming community, and this parade proudly displays the horse power that has driven agriculture in the Midwest, from horses used for pulling plows to steam-powered and then gasoline-powered tractors. As time goes on, the tractors get bigger and fancier; the latest models have air-conditioned cabs. The parade, which began at the town square, proceeds along Broadway to the public high school, farmers proudly sitting astride their tractors while folks enjoy a ride in a horse-drawn carriage. 

summer solstice morn






summer solstice morn,
raccoon in the goumi bush
gobbling red berries


Summer solstice, hot and humid. When I look out the window I catch a glimpse of an animal with a long dark tail walking along the top of the low fence and disappearing behind a big goumi bush inside the fence. Our gray tabby cat is sitting at my feet. Maybe it's the neighbor's cat. Then I see the animal climbing into the bush. Possibly a cat, but more likely a raccoon. Soon I see the masked bandit, reaching for ripe goumi berries and gobbling them down. I grab my camera, but it's difficult to get a clear shot through the window with the critter moving so much. Finally he comes down from the bush, wanders over to the rain-spattered window and peers in, our faces inches apart. Then he checks out a bare spot on the ground, sniffing at the mud. This is the spot where we caught another raccoon yesterday in a live trap. A few days ago we discovered the bird feeder hanging upside down, the lid open and all the black oil sunflower seeds gone. Clearly the work of a raccoon. To open the lid requires pressure applied to both sides of the metal latch, not easy even for me, but an easy night's job for the raccoon's nimble fingers and crafty brain. So we put out the live trap, baited with a marshmallow. Sure enough, the next day we found a raccoon curled up inside. In her attempts to escape, she had dug up all the vegetation and mud through the bottom mesh. John put her in the pickup and drove her to Turkey Run, as close as he could get to Cedar Creek with the roads flooded. So now this bigger raccoon is checking out the spot where the cage sat, clearly smelling the smaller raccoon. Maybe she's his mate. He stands up on hind legs and looks toward the window again, as if wondering where she might be. Then he scoots under the fence and trots quickly away. Perhaps he'll leave the bird feeder alone. I'm certainly happy to have him eat all the goumi berries on the whole bush.

Monday, June 20, 2011

on a mauve temple


on a mauve temple
gate a golden flower mon 
glows brightly in the rain

On our way to the airport, we stop at Narita-san Shinshō-ji (New Victory Temple), a Shingon Buddhist temple located in central Narita, Chiba, Japan. Founded in 940, it is dedicated to Fudō Myōō (Unmovable Wisdom King), who is usually depicted holding a sword and rope and surrounded by flames, and is associated with fire rituals. It is raining, the sky a dull gray, yet the moisture saturates and intensifies the colors in everything, including this beautiful golden mon, or emblem, of a botan flower, the highest symbolic flower in Japn. The mon shines brightly against the dark iron gate.

rainbows, stars, angels



























rainbows, stars, angels
joyfully drawn with colored chalk
on the town square sidewalk

All Things Italian is one of our favorite annual events on the town square. The day begins early and goes late into the evening. On the sidewalk on the west side of the square, chalk artists create their colorful designs, some simple, taking just a few moments, others complex, requiring hours of patient labor. John Stimson is the artist of the amazing Giovanni angel, which took six hours to draw.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

a broken window



a broken window,
a water-stained cardboard box,
up pointing sideways


Walking down the alley between the courthouse and the square, my eye gets caught by the word "up" and the arrow pointing not up but sideways, in the direction I am walking. I stop and stare for a long time. A broken window in an alley, not so surprising. A piece of a cardboard box used to seal the broken window, not unusual. But there is something intriguing about the whole scene. The circular pattern of the break in the shatterproof glass suggests a rock thrown at the window. To what purpose? A prank, an attempt at entry? Rather than repair the window, someone taped a piece of cardboard over the glass. The function of a window is to let light in and allow a view out, but now the light and the view are blocked. From the rain stains on the cardboard, it appears that the window has been broken for a long time. Perhaps the room behind the window is a storage room and no one cares about a view of the alley or natural light. The usual function of a box is a container, an empty hole to be filled, but this box has been flattened, its emptiness collapsed and its surface converted to a different purpose. The function of the word "up" and the arrow gives notice of how the box should be properly oriented. Now the arrow points sideways and the word "up" is lying on its side. But no one cares whether a box converted to a cover is properly oriented. The whole picture looks like something you might see in a museum of modern art, the elegant brown scrawl of the rain stain, the radiating lines of shattered glass and the ambiguity of the word "up."

fathers and their sons




fathers and their sons
playing together, sharing 
many shades of love


It's Father's Day in the United States, and these fathers and their sons are enjoying the All Things Italian festival on the town square in Fairfield, Iowa. 

altar of condor


altar of condor
feathers, bowls of choclo, bulls,
a vicugna skull

In a courtyard in Ollantaytambo, we happened upon this collection of what appear to be shelves full of revered objects. Three long condor feathers stand upright in a bowl of ground choclo, or maize. Choclo in its various forms, dried, ground and fermented into maize beer, are all used as ritual offerings. The large pottery vessel and teapot sitting on pottery stoves may be used for fermenting the aqhachicha. The condor is an important symbol in Inka mythology. The Inka perceive the world as having three levels: Hanan Pacha, the upper celestial world, contains the sun, moon, stars, rainbow and lightning; Uku Pacha, the inner earth, is the realm of Pachamama, the earth mother; Kay Pacha, the outer earth, is the realm of humans. These three realms are symbolized by the chakana, the three-stepped cross or world tree. The condor, snake and puma are the totemic representatives of these three realms. The bull is associated with strength. A pair of ceramic bulls are often placed on top of houses as guardians. The small skull may be that of a vicugna, or vicuña, as depicted in the pottery vessel next to it. Vicugna, a wild camelid related to the llama, is known for its extremely fine, warm wool. The small animal only produces about one pound of wool a year. During the time of the Inkas, vicugna fibres were gathered during a communal chacu, in which multitudes of people herded hundreds of thousands of the animals into funnel traps where they were sheared and then released. This was only done once every four years. The vicugna was believed to be the reincarnation of a beautiful young maiden who received a coat of pure gold once she consented to the advances of an old, ugly king. Because of this, it was against the law for anyone to kill a vicugna or wear its fleece, except for Inka royalty.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

golden Wiraqocha



golden Wiraqocha
mask on an adobe wall,
guardian of the house


The golden mask embedded in this adobe wall in Ollantaytambo is clearly some kind of guardian entity, possibly Wiraqocha, the great creator god in the pre-Inka and Inka mythology. Wiraqocha is seen as the creator of all things, or the substance from which all things are created. Wiraqocha created the universe, sun, moon, stars, time (by commanding the sun to move over the sky) and civilization itself. Wiraqocha is worshipped as god of the sun and of storms and is intimately associated with the sea. He is represented as wearing the sun for a crown, with thunderbolts in his hands, and tears descending from his eyes as rain.

Friday, June 17, 2011

storm clouds dipping down





storm clouds dipping down
to touch the tip of the clock tower,
four faces glowing


The storm clouds look like they are trying once more to topple the steeple on top of clock tower on the Jefferson County Courthouse, which looks small and vulnerable beneath the vault of dark clouds. The courthouse, constructed between 1890 and 1893 of Cleveland gray sandstone and red brick at a cost of $74,000, sits a block north of the town square in Fairfield, Iowa. In 1948 a violent wind storm damaged the 36-foot steeple on the clock tower and county supervisors voted to remove the steeple to save the expense required for repairs. Lifelong Fairfield resident Lee Gobble successfully renewed an effort to restore the steeple, which has now been a part of the clock tower since 2004. The clock in the tower, which chimed the hours and displayed the time on four faces, stopped working for many years. Fairfield resident and retired engineer John Connet restored the timing and chiming mechanisms in 1997 and he continues to keep the clock hands and four faces synchronized.

ruins of Wiraqocha





ruins of Wiraqocha
Temple, one gigantic wall
still raised to the sun


Between Cusco and Puno, we stop at Raqchi, a small pueblo on the Urubamba River that forms the entrance to the stunning ruins of an Inka temple. Amaru, a living Inka yachac, a traditional Inka shaman, holds an artist's rendition of what the qhapana might once have looked like. Both the temple and the surrounding complex are called the Temple of Wiraqocha (or Viracocha), the creator god of the Inkas and pre-Inkas. 
          The Spanish destroyed most of the temple structure, but this lone wall, shortened and damaged, still remains. Originally, it stood 20 meters high, forming the central wall of a huge two-story structure, 92 meters (302 feet) by 25.5 meters (84 feet), flanked by eleven columns and an outer stone wall on each side. The walls and columns supported what must have been the largest single roof in the Inka empire, spanning 25 meters (82 feet) on either side of the peak. The central adobe wall and columns, pierced by trapezoid windows and doors for passage from one side to the other, rested on andesite stone foundations measuring 4 meters (13 feet). Andesite is a volcanic stone with embedded crystals, the same stone that makes up the Andes mountains, for which it is named. 
          The temple was part of a heavily-populated tambo, "place to rest," spread across 264 hectares. In addition to the qhapana, the complex included twelve living quarters for priests and administrators, 100 round stone qolqas for storing grain, astronomical observatories, ceremonial fountains and enclosing walls. As we pass through the ruins we watch a number of workers busily restoring the central temple wall, which still stands like a sentinel to the sun.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

ribbons of rain clouds


ribbons of rain clouds
streaming down from the arctic
over the golden dome

We've had so much rain this spring. Must be global warming. All that ice melting in the Arctic. The air heating up with greenhouse gases. The storms seem to be stronger, last longer. Flood warnings every day. And yet there is this unexpected beauty in the sight of banners of gray and white striped clouds spanning the western sky, moving fast, bringing more rain.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

yachac Amaru


yachac Amaru
sends healing light from Killa, 
Inka moon goddess

After performing a group ceremony at the Temple of the Moon, Amaru gives a healing to one of our members. Amaru is a traditional Inka yachac, or medicine man. In Inka mythology, Killa, the moon goddess, is the sister of Inti, the sun god. This beautiful open-air temple contains elements of both of these deities in the form of a fajcha, waterfall, associated with the feminine moon, and a carving of the sun on one of the large boulders.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

on a rain drenched hill



on a rain drenched hill
the bus gets mired in mud
among curious cows


On our way to the temple of the moon, the bus turns off the highway at a little Juntos pueblo with its one wide stone paved street. Beyond the pueblo the road turns into a dirt track winding through pastures as it climbs the steep hill. It's been raining and threatening to rain some more. The bus goes slower and slower the higher we climb. We start to pass a herd of cows when suddenly the bus slides off the road onto the grass, tilts to the right and stops, with the front wheel sinking into mud. The driver tries to back up but the wheels just spin, digging in deeper. We all pile out of the bus to lighten the load, but it's no use, the bus is really stuck. Animated discussion between the driver and Amaru. Finally, Amaru motions us to trek on up the mountain where we come to the secluded site of the temple of the moon with its lovely waterfall. After a ceremony and meditation, it starts to rain again and we reluctantly leave this special spot to walk back down to the bus. A couple of indigenas have brought a wheelbarrow full of stones in an attempt to fill in the deep ruts dug by the tires, but to no avail. Amaru pulls out his mobile phone to arrange for another bus to pick us up at the highway. Silently I say thanks to Claro, the mobile phone company, for providing service to this remote area. We hike back down the hill in the rain to the pueblo to wait for our bus. I am completely soaked from my immersion in the waterfall and from the rain, but after my experience at the temple of the moon, the whole adventure with the bus just seems like an amusing episode in a film. 

reflection of tree



reflection of tree
leaning over the flooding
creek after the storm

Another thunderstorm. More flood warnings in central and southeast Iowa. Fortunately, we do not live close to a river, and our usually tranquil Pilgrim Creek lies way at the bottom of the wooded hills. This tree has been leaning out from the bank for a long time, all of its limbs growing upward toward the light, like fingers raised in praise of the sun, doubled by their reflection in the water. With the flooding, the base of the trunk is now submerged a couple of feet under muddy water. The fast-moving current continues to erode the bank, and some day the roots of the tree will be washed free and the heavy trunk will fall across the creek. If the tree is not utterly uprooted, it will continue to grow in that fallen position, its arms still upraised, its trunk a living bridge for light-footed creatures to cross over.

Monday, June 13, 2011

round red claro signs


round red claro signs
adorn a blue wall, red door,
light casting shadow

Next to si, claro is probably the most often used word in Spanish. As an adverb it means, clearly, sure, of course. Claro que si is often used as an expression of agreement, yes, of course. As an adjective, claro has the additional meaning of light in color. Claro has been cleverly adopted as the name of a mobile phone company in South and Central America. The round red Claro signs, with little rays of white light above the o, are seen everywhere. The sign on this building, with its cerulean blue walls and carmine door, announces an authorized distributor. The faces and slogans pasted on the post outside are presidential campaign posters. I wonder what the graffiti sprayed on the wall means. Perhaps, where there is light, there is also shadow.

arching bands of gray


arching bands of gray 
clouds moving fast from the west,
first fat drops of rain

Walking to my car after lunch, I gasp when I look up at the darkening sky in the west. Two long narrow bands of gray clouds separated by a band of white sky are moving fast in my direction. I make a dash for the nearest hill to get a better view. The upper band is smooth, with delicate striations on the bottom, while the lower band is clotted and mottled. The whole front is moving quickly. From the lower cloud, a vertical veil of gray rain begins to descend and within minutes I feel the first fat drops of rain. Back in my car I sit out the deluge, the wind whipping the trees and searing slashes of lightning followed closely by booming thunder. It's tornado season in the Midwest, so it's both exciting and a little scary. But soon the crack and bang depart, leaving behind a long steady cold spring rain.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

sweet passionfruit



sweet passionfruit,
sensuous on the outside,
sublime on the inside


I acquired a passion for passionfruit in Peru, where it is called granadilla. When I encounter this pile of delectable orange orbs at the Pisac feria, I am tempted to purchase the whole lot. Granadillas are the edible fruit of subtropical Andean passionflowers. The "passion" part of passionflowers refers to the passion of Jesus in Christian theology. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish Christian missionaries adopted the unique physical structures of the flower as symbols of the last days of Jesus and especially his crucifixion. The Spanish name for the fruit, granadilla, is the diminutive of granada, pomegranate, which derives from Latin granatus, seedy, and both fruits certainly do contain many seeds. The ripe fruit is about the size and shape of a lemon. The orange-yellow rind is smooth, thin and brittle on the outside, white and soft on the inside. The pulp is whitish-yellow, mucilaginous, juicy, with a sprightly, aromatic flavor, and encloses numerous flat, black, tender seeds. The slimy pulp is very sweet, but don't think about what it might look like. You can cut the shell in half and eat the contents with a spoon. Or you can crack the shell with your fingernails and suck out the soft, moist, sticky mass.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

red-headed turkey



red-headed turkey
vulture perched on a dead limb
eyeing carrion


Early in the morning I spot a large dark brown bird standing in the grass between the gravel road and Eddy's Pond. At first it looks like a wild turkey, but the bald head is crimson, not blue, so I quickly identify it as a turkey vulture. The buzzard doesn't stir when I pass by, but when I stop for a closer look, it takes flight, rather awkwardly spreading its six-foot wingspan, and lands on a dead tree branch nearby. There it shifts back and forth between watching me and keeping an eye on its interrupted meal. I am glad it did fly rather than engage in its most spectacular defense tactic. When disturbed it will regurgitate its last meal, surprising its assailant and leaving such a putrid smell that the animal quickly loses interest. I wonder who cleans up that mess! Like their condor cousins, these large raptors are strictly carrion feeders and thus serve an important purpose in nature. They spend hours soaring with their with their wings held in a V-shape, rarely flapping their wings, searching for dead animals. Their beaks and claws are so weak that they never catch live prey, but use their keen eyesight and highly-developed sense of smell to locate carcasses. They're often seen along along rivers where they feast on washed-up fish or on roads where they dispose of roadkill. Because of their slow take-off, they sometimes fall prey to vehicles, where they may become carrion themselves. Hailing the scavenger for being our first-responder crew, I leave it to do its job of cleaning up the crimson remains.

Friday, June 10, 2011

she's painting rainbows



she's painting rainbows
from tins of brilliant powdered
pigments piled in peaks


Colors, colors, colors! As an artist, I want to buy everything this vendor has on her table at the Pisac feria. I also want to know what they're made of. Where on Earth do they get that electric blue? These pigments are not synthetic, but I can't think of any rocks that are that color. The crimson red I do know about. It's made from cochineal, an insect native to South America that lives on cacti. The insect produces carminic acid as a defense against predators. Carminic acid can be extracted from the insect's body and mixed with calcium salts to make carmine dye. The bright red dye has long been used for coloring fabrics and was an important export during the colonial period. Its use declined with the invention of synthetic dyes, but recently there has been an increased demand for natural dyes and Peru is now the largest exporter. This brilliant carmine color is frequently used in the traditional clothing of Peru, from hats to ponchos, k'eperinas, shirts and skirts.

shy painted turtle




shy painted turtle
crossing the road to Jack's Pond
in search of a nest

Just before our house I spot a turtle on the gravel road. A hard shell is no match for the wheels of a car, so I stop to see whether I can move it out of harm's way. First, I want to make sure it's not a snapping turtle. This turtle does have a pointed snout, but when I see the jazzy yellow stripes on its head and legs, I recognize my old friend, the painted turtle. This is the same kind of turtle we used to buy at Ben Franklin's five and dime when I was a kid. The baby turtle was the size of a silver dollar. We put it in a shallow bowl with some water and a rock to climb on and fed it fish food. I don't remember any of these little pets surviving very long, though in the wild they can live more than 55 years. This one is an adult, but still small enough that my hands just fit on top of its smooth olive shell. The upper shell sports a bright red border, the plates are edged with rosy red and the flat bottom shell is bright yellow. When it sees me approaching it tucks its pointy head and legs into its shell. The hard shells protect it from most predators except alligators and raccoons. We don't have alligators in Iowa, but we do have plenty of raccoons. Alligators, of course, could easily crush the shell, and raccoons, with their dexterous fingers, can pry open just about anything. More often, the turtle eggs and hatchlings fall prey to rodents, canines and snakes. The painted turtle lives in slow-moving fresh waters all across the northern hemisphere, where it eats water plants, fish, crustaceans and insects. I've often seen them sunning on logs or rocks during the warmth of the day when they are active. Sometimes several of them will line up along a log protruding from the water. When disturbed they quickly slip into the water, where they can remain submerged with just their snouts sticking up like a snorkel. In winter they hibernate on muddy bottoms. Spring is mating season and this turtle may be searching for a place on land near water to lay her eggs. I pick it up and gently move it onto the bank of the pond, then quietly slip away.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

still life with white flowers



still life with white flowers,
crewelwork tapestry and
chulucanas vase


In an artisan's shop in Ollyantaytambo, we admire the collection of art. The pink and black wall hanging is a beautiful example of crewelwork, a type of free embroidery with wool yarn applied to wool cloth. The designs include abstract lines and a stylized condor with two Inkas in ceremonial dress on either side. The black and white vase is an exquisite example of the pottery made in Chulucanas, a pueblo on the north coast of Peru, by descendents of the Tallanes, pre-Columbian peoples. The pottery is created through a unique multi-step process. Several techniques are used in the forming. Then a base slip is applied and the piece is burnished three times with river stones. After drying, the piece is fired in a wood-fired kiln. Next, the piece is decorated in a reverse method in which slip is applied to the parts to be left intact. A resin is also applied to give the piece its characteristic brilliance. Several more firings in a smoke kiln with mango leaves darken the uncovered areas. Then the slip is removed and a final wax finish is applied. When completed, each item is signed by the artists who created it. Simple and stunning.

a great blue heron




A great blue heron
wading slowly in shallows
turns its neck to preen


I stop at Osage Pond early in the morning to watch a solitary heron wading in shallow water along the shore. Its long yellow bill, black eye plumes, blue gray body and white neck plumes tell me it's a Great Blue Heron. The largest North American heron, it can be as long from head to tail as 140 cm (55 in) with an impressive wingspan as much as 201 cm (79 In). Typically lone feeders, the heron steps slowly, sometimes pausing with one leg cocked, searching with keen eyes for fish, frogs, aquatic insects, or whatever else might come within reach of its long, sharp bill. Then it stops and gracefully curves its long neck down and back to preen its fan of feathers.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

woman with red hat




woman with red hat
and a lone untethered horse
on a steep stone street

Late afternoon in a small pueblo near the Temple of the Sun in the Sacred Valley. The narrow stone-paved street, bisected by a rain gutter, is bordered by adobe brick houses built on rough stone foundations. The woman walking away from me up the hill is wearing the traditional costume of this region of the Andes: a saucer shaped red felt hat that perches on top of her braided hair, a red striped k'eperina tied around her shoulders and a full black wool skirt edged with red. The horse watches her approach and slowly pass by. Suddenly, she turns and looks back, but keeps walking, still looking back over her shoulder, until she moves out of sight.

an ancient oak felled



an ancient oak felled
by wind, roots rotted,
green leaves withering

This oak stood for over a century, next to its companion, an erratic granite boulder left behind by a glacier. The tall tree withstood many a storm. It held on through ice that broke other trees. This spring, as it had done for countless spring times, it put forth fresh green leaves all along its lofty branches. Then one morning a high wind bowled over the entire tree, snapping it off at the base. The heavy oak crashed onto a concrete building housing the steam generator at Maharishi University. The trunk fractured, but the building, solid as a bunker, withstood the blow. Now John is cutting off the branches with a chain saw to use for firewood. The Amish will come to haul away the thick trunk to mill into posts and beams for a barn that will stand another century or more. The withered leaves and twigs will be chopped up into mulch for paths around campus. Perhaps the children at Maharishi School will plant a sapling oak in the hole left by the roots of its ancestor, next to the boulder bearing remnants of paint from some prankster in the previous century.