The Last Stand in Panama
21.07.2014 - 02.10.2014
We knew back in April that, at some point, we’d be leaving the hard work ahead of us behind us, and so it has come to pass that that time has grown ever so nigh, the months long gone, the weeks disappeared, a matter of mere days—less than a handful—to go. It’s been a surreal couple of months, wondering around the garden and finishing up this or that, finally making time for projects we’d put aside as long as we could.
I must apologize for missing a couple of months on the old blogosphere. Truthfully, I see the statistics, number of views, number of visits, but I’m never really sure how in demand the details of my life are. A recent email exchange with an old friend reassured me that people did indeed keep up with the goings-on. So, thank you to those who do. In my defense, I have been busy, both writing and gardening. I’ll stop spinning my wheels and get to it.
July in Summary
When I last graced you with my words—ha!—we were at the halfway point in our six-month permaculture project here in Panama. We were harvesting food, forest floors were being made in reverse, magic circles were multiplying, murals painted, and communal living was in full swing. We were into July with our heads held high, ahead of schedule, and fresh off our largest group of volunteers: six. Consequently, in July, we’d had one volunteer, the able-bodied Rob, whom did some serious digging and dirt moving with me. Then, our moms came, as did my stepfather Will.
The heat turned all the way up, the parents were knocked back a bit, and the work got creative. The back porch become a colorful new garden with painted bricks and pots, lots of hanging trinket-ry was made (more dream-catchers, a tin can bell, and so on). Things blew up with the first outcropping of yarnbombs, both moms content to crochet away the days. As is often the case with the moms, my little one got knocked aback with a stomach bug, and then, eventually, Emma’s little one managed to injure herself majorly: She fell through the dock, got her leg trapped, and spent the next two weeks (extending her trip one as she tried to recover) swollen and largely immobile.
As July merged into August, the dates began to blur. We’d given up on the roto-mower we were once so excited about and began cutting the grass via machete. That’s right. The entire lawn. Why? Lawn mowers are polluting machines that make ’67 Chevy pick-ups look environmentally friendly. We were trying to stay true to our mission, and it was a price that was…well, hell to pay. I’d become entranced by swales and had begun installing a system, and Emma was feeling frustrated by the neighbor’s chickens, which seemed intent on destroying every last garden bed to find every last worm in them. The gods of permaculture were challenging us.
August in Summary
In late August, Emma’s mum still reeling on the sofa, spending her time with either a paintbrush or crochet hook, we started getting back into the full swing of things. Emma cranked out signage to spruce up the place, a hulking Hungarian handyman named Balazs (pronounced Bo-laj) arrived and started up with some long overdue carpentry, and I…I know I did some work somewhere in there.
Seriously, exciting things happened in August. The communal garden began taking more shape as I added an herb spiral and a mighty crop of lemon cucumbers took over the hugelkultur. Balazs and I created a magic circle, what I like to refer to as the breakfast bowl, in the front garden: It has papaya, banana, plantain, coconut, and moringa trees, and hopefully, it will eventually have some melons, watermelons, and pineapples growing around the foot of it. Emma started getting the better of the chickens as a few crops took root. And, most excitingly, the pizza oven got back underway. Balazs bolted together the bottom of the oven floor, and we did our first test of applying the clay, covering the cinder block base we put together back in June.
Sadly, we did finally say goodbye Emma’s mum, who got back to England in serious pain, finding out her leg swelling had turned into a hematoma. Yikes. Her operation to drain it went horribly, and she ended up with an infection, from which she still has not recovered. Luckily for us, on this side of the Atlantic, it didn’t take long for her porch garden to give us some greens, so we’ve been eating to her health. Somehow we manage to send her home in need of repair every year, but we do love her dearly. And, she does get some good vacation stories out of it.
Permaculture News Articles from August
• New Trees in Guatemala That Are Not Just for Reforestation
• How to Steal from Your Neighbors and Have Them Love You For It
• Attracting Wild Animals for the Good of the Garden: Which, Why, and How
September in Summary
September, more or less, represented our last stand, the final push to do all we set out to do back in April. Our replacements, Antti and Jenni, arrived early in the month and began picking up what we do: the extensive machete work, vegan cooking, waste-free living, and mulching everything, any chance we get. Balazs carpenter-ed on into the month, putting a much needed ladder up to the second floor of the tree house before he left. And, John, our youngest volunteer at nineteen, and most knowledgeable about permaculture, being a member of a permaculture club at his university, came for a brief week. To our delight, he repeatedly told us he wished he’d discovered the farm at the beginning of his six-week trip.
The big project, without a doubt, was getting the pizza oven together. It’s a monster that required three separate layers to compile a 10-inch thick clay dome. Each layer required about a week, one day to put together then the rest to dry. It’s now done and looking stout. Meanwhile, lots of other projects got completed, including a water catchment system on the hillside, the communal garden, the last banana circle, and a tree nursery. Emma painted some cool silhouette murals in the bedrooms, Antti made a wicked photo journal of all the edible plants we have growing now (over sixty), and Jenni has slowly slid into kitchen and gardening master.
In the last couple of weeks, Emma and I have devoted ourselves to enjoying the place’s special things, things that over the past six months we’ve grown accustomed to, even taken for granted at times. We’ve gone swimming in the lake nearly every day. We’ve doted immensely over the puppies. We’ve surveyed the gardens time and again. We’ve eaten mango-banana “ice cream” nearly every evening, and sometimes just a big bowl of it for dinner. We’ve slept down at the lake house, admiring the pizza oven often, enjoying the sunrises, the occasional caiman sighting, and the sense of isolation. It’s been everything we could have hoped for.
Permaculture News Articles from September
• Oh, The Beds I’ve Made: No-till Gardening in Tropical Panama
• Accidental Propagation, for the Best in Gardening
And, for fulfilling those hopes, we have a lot of people to thank. First and foremost, I’d love a big round of applause for Alan and Angelika who entrusted two scraggly travelers with their property and consent to “make it funky”. How amazing it is to come across people so inviting, so daring and bold, as to give you the keys and six months to get something done. In the end, as much as this project was in our hearts, it was for them, for this property—the food, the décor, and the volunteer program—to become something they will enjoy in the years to come. They’ll see it for the first time in two days from now, and it’s really nice to know that they’ll be enthused by the progress.
Then, there were all the volunteers, from all walks of life and all over. Matt and Charlene—things you did are still growing, thriving even. Tony (Emma’s father)—forever may you paint. Luke and Julie—Still eating mango chutney from time to time. Grace and George—what a time we had! Wish things could have continued for much, much longer. The big group: There were three ladies from the States—Ciera, April, and Emily—and two Euro-chic gals—Spanish Gema and Italian Ana—who’d come to Panama solely to volunteer here (what pressure!) and Patrick, the German owner of a raw food Costa Rican guesthouse/farm. It was a full house. Rob—We still talk about your mopping. Jamal—You never volunteered here, but you were definitely in the family. The Moms, Maggie and Sheelagh, and Will—you guys gave us great reason to slow down and store up some energy for the downhill. Balazs—Hope you’re ready to hit the road again. John—Find us next time you are out and farming. And, thanks to the neighbors, Anna, who kept us in coconuts and company, and Jimmy, without whom the dogs would have not gotten premium dog food from Panama City. Lastly, Antti and Jenni—keep it running clean and green and growing.
Emma and I will be flying to Bogota on October 7th, the day after my birthday, which will be the inaugural use of the pizza oven. We’ve got a couple of volunteer spots lined up in Colombia, and then, we’ll finally be continuing our journey to Patagonia, with who knows what delays to encounter on the way. Life as we love it.