Happy May Day!

When I was a child my mother and I made May Day Baskets with construction paper, and pipe cleaners, Quite a bit like these.

Spring Craft: Colorful May Day Baskets | May day baskets, Spring crafts, May crafts

Early in the morning, I’d pick violets and dandelions. Some springs there were bluebells. Mom popped corn. We filled the baskets with flowers, popcorn, and candy corn, then left them on our neighbor’s doors, rang the bell, and ran away.

It was so fun, I hope someone still does this, please tell me if you do.

This has been a long winter, even in the tropics with no snow and plenty of sunshine. The last six months of life have been a series of painful and difficult changes, for me and many others, I think it’s a collective shift, for growth. The growing pains have not been metaphorical.

Finally, it feels like spring. Renewal, light, and hope, are creeping into my thoughts.

I’m celebrating by starting the garden!

First I moved about 30 wheel barrels of compost to the bed I will plant when rains come in earnest.

Moving compost

See the wheel barrel way at the end? It’s a big bed. The board is a little bridge to get me across an irrigation trench.

I took a break in the heat of the day and walked to the store behind a wood cart pulled by two huge, gorgeous bueys. I could have gone around but remembered both the sun and moon are in Taurus today, so allowed the bueys to put me in that slow steady energy.

On my way home, a boy and his mother were selling simple handmade petates. The boy ran up to the houses seeking sales, the mother trudged along with the bulk of the mats balanced on her head. The petates weren’t woven like ones I have seen before, but long strands of grass bound together for sleeping on the ground.

It was touching, and sad. And beautiful. I don’t know if I’ll ever understand this emotion, of life suspended between beauty and pain. It doesn’t have a name, bittersweet is not sufficient.

Compost filled bed

The bed full of compost!

I doubt these are compelling images for most, but I so enjoyed doing it that I had to share them. The compost is beautiful. It smells delicious. After I put it down I broke the chunks with my hands and spread in over the bed.

I finished as the sun was going down. I felt exhausted in the best way, a little weak, with a spotless mind. I felt clean, though I was filthy. I lay back on the bed and watched the sky go dark. For the first time in a long time, I felt how much I love my life.



Perils of the Food Forest

Felipe and a constrictor living 15 meters form our house.

Felipe and a constrictor living 15 meters form our house.

Felipe decided to help me get caught up in the garden. I’ve fallen behind during my recovery. There were a few corners that I haven’t been to in quite some time apparently. This masaquata(anaconda) had taken up residence under my mulberry tree, fifteen meters from the house. Felipe disturbed its sleep and it came at him hissing. He said it scared him. I don’t need a whole hand to count the times Felipe has told me something scared him.
Perhaps you are wondering why he felt the need to kill it though.
Masaquatas are not poisonous, but they do have a nasty bite. They are constrictors and this one could definitely have made a meal of Chupa and Chico(her piglet buddy) who spend much of their afternoons napping in the garden. I also plan to house ducks in my garden one day, so, I’m sorry, but this predator so close to the house was not welcome. Had it been a bull snake, it would have been welcome to stay. We inhabit about an 1/8th of an acre of out of the Piedra Rahada’s 17, the rest is available to wildlife.
No, I did not skin it or eat it. I’ve never butchered a snake, though I’m sure I could have figured it out, snake butchering was too steep  a learning curve for the day. Rest assured there are a million other hungry organisms to make use of him.

Sustain… Able

One of the more naive things I have done in my life was moving to a temperant climate, thinking it would magically propagate self-sustainability. I ignorantly thought (though I had a read a couple of books and raised a couple of gardens), you get some land, a couple of chickens, throw some seeds in the ground, plant some fruit trees, and in a few years, you have a self-seeding food forest, orchards, eggs, and meat. Maybe it won’t provide for every meal, but it should be a pretty solid foundation.


Perhaps if we had invested the 50,000 dollars we arrived in Mexico with: in a greenhouse, good animal facilities, and to travel Mexico in search of decent seeds and organic gardening products, we would have food now, but we’d be living in a tent.

What we have learned is self-sustainability is not romantic. It requires solid fences and safe facilities for your animals, like a chicken house. It seems like a no-brainer, right? But when Felipe was growing up, his family let their chickens run, they hand weeded all their crops and provided most of their food without using fancy row covers and organic pest deterrents. Why can’t we?

Abby Smith's chickens in Mexico

Our chickens at thier bath

Well–there were ten of them. Felipe’s parents, brothers, and sisters worked from pre-dawn into the darkness most every day. Something not even superman Felipe is willing to do, for which I am thankful.

A year ago, five years into our Mexican life, we reassessed our position here. Our stipend was to run out at the end of 2012, and we still had very little consistent food production, no constant cash flow outside of the dwindling 500 pesos a week payment, and no funds to improve our farm’s production.

We decided on a route that was uncharacteristic for us, we diversified. Meaning, that we decided to pursue individual projects to make money with the long-term goal of investing in a real self-sustainable farm. Unlike the play farm we have now, built of sticks, mud, and garbage strung together with barbed wire– those are the high-tech parts.

So I committed to writing like a person who plans to make a living at it (Felipe was relieved because I am a much better writer than gardener), and he started raising pigs. He has also, miraculously, had a job for nine months now! I don’t know if you’ve heard this or not, but it’s kinda hard to find work down here. If I could type in a whisper I would, for fear that saying he has a job aloud will somehow create bad juju and this most amazing state of affairs will cease.

To date, we have a prolific native lime tree we grew from seed, nopales, native sorrel, and basil, a fabulous multi-purpose passion flower ( it provides shade, fruit, and hummingbirds sitings). We also grow enough corn and sorghum for ourselves and our animals. When we’re lucky, a native tomato plant will pop up.

Regarding animals, this week, we’re getting about six eggs when the dogs or skunks don’t beat us to them. We have three drakes to eat if we can bring ourselves to kill them and five roosters that will be ready soon if we could ever catch them. And we will have a Christmas pig this year, which will mean a store of lard and maybe some smoked meats if we can get a smoker assembled.

Now our version of sustainability is: the ability to sustain the effort, to work toward the dream of a self sustainable life. Not Simple, Not Easy, but the feeling we get when something works—like picking limes, or harvesting eggs, is Very, Very Good.