Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Stories

Visiting the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau with my Dad's parents. I now am older than they were then.
As more years of our lives stretch out behind than we are likely to enjoy ahead, often the past becomes more interesting to us. I recall as a kid hearing older folks talking a lot about things that had happened before I was born. I was more interested in history than the average kid, but like most children, I naturally thought more about the moment, tomorrow, or maybe out as far as next summer's vacation than about what had happened long ago.

Now I find myself in the older generation's shoes. My parents are gone. I am older at this point than my grandparents were when the photo above was taken. The remainder of my life life looms like the visible portion of the iceberg, with a larger percentage -- experiences, events, the influence of ancestors --hidden below the surface, yet the critical ballast that steadies my course.

I have been thinking a lot about the past this year. My father's death one year ago and my mother's two years before that have prompted a lot of reminiscences with friends and family, and lately lost snippets of growing up in my family have been passing through my mind. I didn't really analyze it until I was back Mérida and had time to ponder, but on a trip north that I made last year, I was steeped entirely the past.

Graves of some ancestors on the old family farm in Virginia

My great-great grandfather
I visited my cousin Kim in Washington, D.C. She's done extensive family research, and we love to talk together about family history. One day we drove into Virginia, where my mother's family arrived from England in the 1600's. That was the start of a fascinating and humbling experience, exploring places where predecessors of mine had lived and died, and walking land that was in the family for generations. We met a distant cousin who still owns some of the family farmland, and she directed us toward a large, old tree in a field, under which we found the graves of several relatives, including my great-great grandfather, who lived to be nearly 100 and fought for the losing side in the Civil War. To be honest, there is a part of my heritage there which I do not deny, but of which I am not proud.

As a teenager, my grandmother worked in this factory
We visited the nearby country church where many of the family were baptized, married and laid to rest. We spent time exploring the town where the generations before my mother's had lived and struggled to keep the family together amidst grueling work, poverty, and violence which took two family members' lives and prompted the survivors eventually to escape by moving up to Baltimore, where my mother was later born.

I realized that in exploring this area I was visiting a painful past that my mother's family had mostly left behind, and which Mom never talked much about. And I have begun to understand some of the reasons why.

I stopped near Baltimore to visit my aunt and uncle, Kim's parents. They live still in the house they did when I was a child. Visiting there I sleep in my great-grandmother's bed and we eat off of grandmother's dishes, which my aunt brings out for the occasion. We spend hours poring over old pictures and talking about our lives and things that happened long ago.

On the same whirlwind trip I also visited with an old friend and co-worker in Washington, D.C., and attended my 40th high school class reunion. On these occasions as well, most of what we talked about was things that happened a long time ago. Once the conversations warmed up, sitting in a roomful of classmates I hadn't seen in forty years I felt strangely at home. I get along much better now with many of those people than I did back then. Time and maturity clear away the trivial and temper passions. And reminiscing about the best football games, griping about teachers, laughing and crying about friends who have passed away, finding out finally who was the kid who streaked across the student parking lot one morning my senior year, stuff like that, certainly gave us a lot to talk about.

And this was the central theme: through all of my trip, I told and listened to stories. Human beings love stories. Stories unite us. With the mellowing passage of time these stories become interesting and even entertaining -- even the events that made life difficult. In the retelling, we find meaning in the the bad and celebrate the good. This and the practice of telling makes the stories better. Stories of hardship and sadness become tales of survival, and help explain who we are now.

Of course my realizations here are not news, but I've been seeing it lately for myself. I think that this blog will evolve a bit. I believe I will start telling more of the stories.


Text and images copyright 2015 by Marc Olson

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Wild Plums

If you have been reading this blog, you know what I am talking about. Here they are:


In a recent post I mentioned that I would return to a parcel of ranch land I had been exploring so that I could enjoy harvesting and eating the wild plums that grow there, and perhaps daydream about the future. When I visited a couple of weeks ago, the plums (ciruelas) were hard and green. Right now they are maturing, juicy and delicious. The timing of my visit yesterday was just right.

In fact I arrived none too soon because birds have been having an easy meal in this tree. The ground beneath was littered with pits and yellow, orange and green bits of partially-eaten plums. A large flock of Yucatan Jays (che'les) was busily enjoying the feast. The positive side is that it seems the birds favor the higher branches, which means the low-hanging fruit is left for us.

Along with the jays, we saw a pair of Squirrel Cuckoos, orioles (yiuya), Kiskadee (xtakay), Blue Crowned Motmots (Toh), pheasants (codorniz in Spanish or bechito in Maya), plus the usual assortment of cardinals, doves, grackles, mockingbirds, hummingbirds and small songbirds. We also heard but did not see an owl and a couple of other species we could not identify.

After savoring some plums and stashing more in pockets for the trail, we took another hike, in a section different from the one we walked the last visit. Ramiro, the man doing some clearing of impassable trails, has been busy in the meantime. Passage alongside one of the overgrown pastures is now open (photo below), and the area around the corral and well is now clear.  It was much easier this visit to walk and assess the condition of things.


When I ate the plums this morning, they seemed especially delicious, and not just because they are now in their prime. As I mentioned in the prior post, I have been very interested in this place for a long time. So without too much more thought, soon after taking that walk here and tasting the sour, unripe fruit a couple of weeks back, I signed a contract to buy and made a down payment on this property. We have a couple of legal hoops to jump through yet, but if all goes smoothly, soon I will be the proprietor here. This project will involve a lot of work and a significant shift in lifestyle, but I am looking forward to the change.





Text and images copyright 2015 by Marc Olson


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Cool, Cool Florida

On this street we lived for four air-conditioned years
When I was 13 years old we, an Alaska family, moved to South Florida. For about the first year or so I really thought I might die. It seemed so incredibly hot.

The whole family felt much the same. We kept the house central air conditioning temperature set very low and spent a lot of time inside except perhaps in the evening or to go to a nearby pool. When we had to go out we ran to the Oldsmobile, which normally had its AC cranked up so high that the noise of the fan made it difficult to talk. Sometimes the kids battled over who got to sit in front between Mom and Dad, where the center vent blew freezing air into the lucky kid's face hard enough to make one's hair fly. We loved that.

Thanks to my parents' ability to afford our electric bills, we survived in Florida for four years. Then we moved back to Alaska, and I did not expect to live in another hot place, ever again.

Now as a ten-year full time resident of Mérida, it's interesting to see how I have adapted. Until just a few months ago I have lived here, a place hotter than South Florida, without air-conditioning at all. Now that I have AC in the bedroom, I still use it only occasionally.

My sister came around, too. After a few decades of feeling always cold in Alaska, she and my brother-in-law moved back to Florida several years ago.

Now, strangely, I find myself looking forward to my visits to see them in Florida as a respite from the heat. Particularly this time of year, when the Yucatán temperatures hit their peak.

The weather in Mérida has been reaching about 39 - 40 Celsius (102 - 104F) lately, and the forecasters say it will get quite a bit hotter later in the week, possibly as high as 45C, which is around 113 on the Fahrenheit scale. Today's edition of Mérida's Diario de Yucatán featured the banner, "Yucatán arderá," "Yucatán will burn." This morning's headline story tells us that record temperatures will be set in coming days.

I find it interesting that I often look forward to a Florida visit as a cool break from the Yucatán's blast-furnace heat. It points out how flexible we can be, and how much I've changed.


Text and images copyright 2015 by Marc Olson

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wanderings: Walk Around a Ranch


Last weekend I took a walk around a ranch named San Benito, about an hour's drive east of Mérida.

This "ranch" is a parcel of old cattle pasture which hasn't been grazed in years. It definitely is not wilderness, but amidst swathes of maleza -- dense, thorny scrub where fields and pastures used to be -- there are some nice patches of old native trees, wildflowers and interesting plants such as orchids.

I drove out Saturday with my friend Victor and his niece Paola. We left the city early, to avoid traffic and heat, and upon arriving met a guy named Ramiro, who is being paid to clear out some of the undergrowth. Since in advance I'd asked permission of the caretaker, Ramiro knew we were coming, so he welcomed us and took a brief break from his work to chat. When we headed down one of the trails to explore, he resumed work with his hatchet and moruna.

This was not my first visit here. I had walked this parcel a few times in the past, starting in 2009 when first it was advertised for sale. The property suddenly sold before I realized just how interested in it I'd become, and I felt disappointed. Perhaps because I loved and lost, I've had a sort of long-distance romance with this piece of land ever since. Recently when I discovered that the new owners want to sell, I came back here to see if the feeling was still the same.

One of the things I like about the ranch is that because it has lain largely undisturbed for about a dozen years there are animals here. I have seen wild turkeys and a good variety of other birds. Bird chatter was a constant background music as we walked the overgrown trails. There are signs of deer, too, and I found the remains of an armadillo and a large snake skin as we hiked. Along with many native tree species, I spotted bougainvilleas in flower and a "flamboyan" (Royal Poinciana, or Flame Tree) that will be spectacular in season.

Although quiet now, this land was worked for generations. The entire place is enclosed and cross-fenced with dry-stone walls, "albarradas," and there is an old one-room stone house, corral and a deep well with an antique windmill-driven pump to keep the watering troughs and the cistern full.

As we arrived, I'd noticed that the fruit on a great old ciruela (wild plum) tree near the well and house is nearly ripe. After our dusty, hot walk I was tired and parched. I picked and ate a low-hanging plum. Although still somewhat hard and bitter it tasted good. Maybe I'll come back in a few weeks to pick some when they are ripe.

That would be a good opportunity, sitting in the shade by the well and eating those soft, tart wild plums, to consider again all that I might do on a piece of land like this one.


If you liked this post you might enjoy: Hacienda Dreams


Text and images copyright 2015 by Marc Olson

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Life Well Lived

This post was originally published five years ago today under the title, "Goodbye Neighbor, and Thanks." Recently as I pondered the future of this blog (which has been inactive for several months), I have been reviewing old posts. This is one of my very favorites, and an inspiration to get the blog rolling again. Stay tuned.


My neighbor Alejandro died last week. I was out of town when it happened, and busy away from the house when I got back, so I didn't get the news until several days later.

Alejandro and I were not close, but he was my first friend in the neighborhood after I moved into my house in Mèrida a few years ago. He was an outgoing, gregarious type, always waving and saying hello, and I guess it was just in his nature to be the first one to start a conversation with the new guy on the block.

Alejandro was not a young man, but with his unlined face and continual smile he was energetic and always busy, so I was more than a little surprised when he told me several years ago that he was 75 years old. I would have sworn he was no more than sixty, and he might have passed for younger. He'd lost his wife at a young age and remarried, and worked many years as a taxi driver. He remained happy in his second marriage and together with his wife Ingrid raised a houseful of children, who now have families of their own.

Alejandro was always busy with projects, such as painting and repairing old cars he would buy, fix up, drive for awhile, and then resell. He told me he liked to work, and the problem-solving and tinkering involved with the cars, along with the incentive of making a little extra cash when he sold them, kept his mind and body agile and gave him something interesting to do.

Not that his days were empty. Various children and grandchildren were usually around, and the modest house full of activity. One of the last times I saw him, a few weeks ago, Alejandro was delightedly painting the house next door, which they had rented so his daughter and her family could move in. People from the U.S. often don't understand why different generations of a family would want to live in such close proximity. Here, people can't fathom how people from 
el norte manage living so far apart from the company, affection and support of their closest loved ones.

Passing by on the street when Alejandro was outside working often entailed more than a casual "buenos dias." He loved to talk about what he was doing, and to find out what I was up to. I sometimes brought him my car and home maintenance problems for advice. The give and take usually ran on for awhile. It seemed as if the socializing for him was the main point of being out on the street, and that washing the car or fixing the tire was something he would get done but not particularly important in comparison.

Alejandro's family owns a ranch about an hour's drive outside of Mèrida, and many times he invited me to go with him for a couple of days and hang out. Unfortunately that's something we never did because I always had something else going on. I started thinking about that when another neighbor told me Alejandro had suddenly died of a heart attack earlier last week. One of the reasons I moved to Mexico was because I wanted to stop living in tomorrow (laboring on and on for that retirement, saving all year for that brief vacation, etc.) and start doing what I want to do now. I have gotten better at living in the now, but the fact that I had put off the ranch visit time and again until it was too late bothers me. I looked forward to that trip as much as I liked Alejandro; he was a nice guy and we probably could have been better friends. I take all this as another of those little messages that life sends us, if we only will pay attention to them, telling us maybe we need to make an in-course correction along the way. I am taking it seriously.

Once my train of thought got rolling along these lines, I started thinking about how happy and successful this neighbor had always seemed to me. He was not a wealthy man, in fact by many Americans' standards he would have been considered poor. Alejandro and his wife raised a large family in a small three-room (not three bedroom, three room) house, where they lived for at least forty years. He didn't have a lot of stuff. His thirty-year-old cars were worth at most a few hundred dollars, and sometimes were broken down. But he always, even when under a balky car and covered with sweat and grease, seemed to enjoy living in the present and have a good time.

I read not long ago that Mexicans have among the highest levels of personal happiness in the world. I think that Alejandro is a good example of some of the reasons for this. It looks to me as if my late neighbor's success in life boiled down to a few simple points. He liked to be happy, so he usually was. He had a good attitude and didn't let small irritations or things beyond his control ruin his day. He was completely authentic: he had no "image" to maintain. He enjoyed everything he did as best he could. He seemed to be more interested in relationships -- his family, friends, and neighbors -- than in things or schedules. I think these qualities gave meaning to the life of a humble and modest man, and filled it with affection and love.

There is an example and a message here.

Adios, vecino, y gracias.


Text and images copyright 2015 by Marc Olson

Monday, October 27, 2014

Halloween (revisited)


This piece, originally titled Jack o' Lanterns, was one of my very first on this blog years ago and remains one of my favorites. I reposted it again on Halloween several years back since my readership was so low virtually no one read it the first time. My blog output is slow these days, so here I repost it for those who have not read it before.


Three years ago on a weekend off from teaching in the summer course at San Ildefonso Tultepéc, in the state of Querétaro, I took a hike on the outskirts of a tiny nearby pueblo named El Cuisillo. It's located close to the border between Mexico and Querétaro states. That makes it about equidistant from the towns of AmealcoQuerétaro and Aculco, Mexico, along a two-lane highway that in two or three hours takes you, if you flag down and jump aboard one of the dusty buses that occasionally passes by, from this very small place to the world's largest metropolis.

The people of El Cuisillo are very shy but friendly. In keeping with that spirit, it is an unpretentiously scenic walk along roads and paths through their land. From hilltops you can glimpse distant rock formations, ravines and cliffs, and the occasional small house with cornfield, or perhaps far away a small child with a stick trying to goad a slow-moving cow out to pasture. There are some interesting pre-hispanic ruins in the area. The ruins are just there. There is no visitor center with bored security guard, you'll fend off no vendors selling fake artifacts and bottled water, and you need not heed any "do not climb" signs nor thoughtfully consider pedantic interpretive plaques of questionable interest. There is no one else around; you can enjoy the quiet and imagine yourself the explorer.

For some reason here, I suppose it's the stillness of the air and the rock formations reflecting sound waves, once in awhile I mysteriously hear clear voices and laughter but see no people. Perhaps they are hiding in the bushes and watching this strange foreigner smiling and whistling to himself, writing in a little book and taking pictures of things that seem to them very ordinary and mundane. Perhaps, as many acquaintances of mine in Barrow, Alaska will attest, the "little people" do exist, and maybe they live here, too. It certainly seems like a place they would appreciate. It may be a mystery I will never solve, and I like that. I've walked in the vicinity many times over the years and always find something new to do or see. It's a place I have visited with others, but mostly I like to wander here alone.


Many of the families in the region are indigenous Otomí, like these boys, and live a subsistence way of life near the poverty line. Besides keeping some animals and planting a small garden and milpa, or cornfield, some families make fired-clay products to produce cash income. The area produces a lot of these ceramics, such as pots, planters, platters, small replica churches and houses, sun plaques and other decorative, kitchen and garden items. Apparently someone in the area realized that with well in excess of 20 million persons living within a couple of hour's drive, there might be a market for jack o' lanterns. It seems like every clay workshop produces them. Halloween is not a tradition in Mexico, but some families do observe the day.

When I passed by their house the boys ran up to the road with arms full of "calabazas," or

pumpkins, for sale. I purchased two at the asking price of about a dollar each. I managed somehow to get them back to Mérida in my luggage without breakage. They have served me well now for three Halloweens. I have yet to receive a trick-or-treater at my door, but if one comes, I am ready.

Happy Halloween.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Wild Neighbors: A Tiny Surprise



I'd pretty much given up on the turtles. Last September I wrote that the pair of young Furrowed Wood Turtles I'd kept in the patio for several years appeared to have reached sexual maturity. They were "trying," at any rate.

I've found a number of their eggs in various nooks and crannies of the patio, and none that I've ever observed has hatched. I've also seen a couple of broken shells, and assumed since I never saw young ones that the eggs (or perhaps the vulnerable newborns) had been scavenged by birds, opossums, iguanas or cats.

I discovered a couple of rotten eggs amongst the plants just recently. I've assumed that the couple was infertile, and stopped hoping for a turtle family. Then Tuesday morning I was greeted by a small surprise in the patio. The little thing appeared weak and very dry, as if it had been struggling for some time to extricate its hind quarters from the shell. I put it in a clean bucket and dribbled a little water over its head.

The moisture seemed to revive the tiny creature, but when after another hour it hadn't made progress extricating itself and was barely moving, I began carefully to chip away at the edges of the egg. A tiny, hourglass-shaped turtle emerged, its carapace indented where the half-eggshell had restricted it from expanding and drying.

Within minutes the hind legs began to stretch out and move a little. After an hour, the newly-hatched critter was getting around fairly well. I picked it up and it snapped at me, so I took advantage of the situation and held out a tiny piece of banana. The turtle quickly snatched a sliver and after a moment swallowed it. I then tried out other food: tiny pieces of tuna and tender leaves of succulent verdolaga (purslane) that the adult turtles seem to like. It ate a little bit of each. A day or two later, the baby began to exhibit evidence that its digestive system is functioning properly.

As I write this, the little turtle is six days old. I put off posting immediately because her (I am not sure of the gender, but I am calling this one a girl) appetite and energy levels seemed low,  which along with the fact that she did not seem able to hatch unassisted raised the concern that perhaps she would not survive.

But now after almost a week of life this young turtle seems to be doing OK. And I've figured out a few things. She does not like to eat in the morning, but will take off running if I let her loose outside her temporary small habitat in the bucket. Physical activity gets her juices flowing and stimulates a hearty appetite in the afternoon. After the first days of only eating food that I held up to her mouth, she finally is finding and eating some food on her own.

Here's an image of the newborn with her mother. Mom seemed a bit aggressive when I put them near each other, so I think the smart thing is to keep the little one in her own area until she can take care of herself. I have a large plastic tub that will serve as home for the time being.

Read another post on the turtles here.


Text and images copyright 2014 by Marc Olson


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Secret Beach


I don't normally head out to the beach during the high season, but this morning the pull was so strong that I went anyhow. Some people go to church on Sundays. I find renewal swimming in the ocean and feeling the sun on my skin.

Today is the very last day of summer vacations in Yucatán. School starts tomorrow, so although hot weather continues for at least another month or two, the beach scene calms down after this.

But on a day like today, at most favorite beach spots, parking areas and restaurants are jammed, and the sand is lined with beach chairs, umbrellas and all types of fancy and home-made sun shelters. It seems that all of Yucatán and their cousins are swimming, building sand castles, listening to music and drinking beer along the fringe of the Gulf of Mexico.

So I headed out to Secret Beach.

This is undoubtedly my favorite beach in Yucatán, not because it's spectacular or beautiful, but because of the solitude. Today, on one of the busiest beach-vacation weekends of the summer, I took the above photo at this wonderful little spot.

Tracks in the sand showed the path of a horse and rider that had passed by earlier. Curious, I followed their trail for a bit, but the heat drove me into the water. They'd obviously been out in the morning when the sun was not so intense.

The bottom here is sandy and the water clear, warm and calm. Fish raced through the waves and jumped around me as I swam. Pelicans, vultures, gulls, overflying flamingos, and a few lizards were my only other company.

After a while, a fishing launch passed by and dropped a handful of tourists off a few hundred meters up the beach. I'd had enough sun, and now the place was starting to feel crowded. I walked the rustic path back to the car and headed for a shrimp cocktail and fish-fillet lunch under a palapa a little ways down the sandy road.

Creeping development is a threat to the wonderful solitude here, and things are slowly changing. Power lines sprouted along the road several years ago and fancy beach mansions are going up not far away. When they build the houses, they put up walls or barbed wire fences which block off trails and roads to beaches like this one. 

At least for the moment though, along the stretch by Secret Beach, access is still unrestricted and free.

I try to get out here and enjoy it while I still can.


Text and images copyright 2014 by Marc Olson

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Only Perfect Thing


I have missed blogging the past couple of months, but I just haven't been ready to write about other things until I've gotten this big one off my chest.

My father passed away in April. It was peaceful and without anguish or pain. And because we knew it was coming the family was together with him. We couldn't have hoped for more than that.

Now that a bit of healing time has passed and I have thought clearly about the big picture of it all, I realize that my family has a lot for which we can be thankful.

As Dad got more forgetful at home in Alaska, he used to joke that his memory had "gone south." Several years ago for medical reasons, with the family's assistance the rest of him made the same journey. My father lived most recently in a nursing home near my sister in South Florida.

Although back when Dad was better able to consider his options he never considered leaving Alaska in his old age, in later years it really didn't matter to Dad where he lived, geographically. The past -- career, accomplishments, losses, disappointments, his treasured Alaska book collection -- none of these mattered terribly much to him any longer, either.

What was important was the quality of Dad's daily life and the care that he received. Where he lived recently, the quality of these things was high. With his physical needs taken care of and limited by poor vision and a fading memory, Dad concentrated his attention on what was left.

Fortunately, what remained was the important stuff. Dad expressed love for those around him. It didn't matter who was there. They might have been family members, friends, doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, therapists or just other folks who happened to be there. Whoever it was, he loved them and he made sure they knew it. And because he expressed his love for people, the love was returned in abundance.

Relationships and simple pleasures that can be enjoyed in the here and now -- things like singing, listening to music and birdsong, feeling the warmth of the sun, eating a cookie, holding a hand, a hug -- these he still enjoyed to the fullest. And he seems to have found a good level of contentment in them.

Dad had long been interested in Buddhism and had practiced meditation. Thinking about all this, I realized that in his final years he refined the art of living in and appreciating the moment.

I have a close friend who often points out that "to love is the only perfect thing we do." I think that in this respect my father passed his final years in the most perfect way he could. Of course over the past few years there were moments of despair, stress and anxiety. We wouldn't be human without those. But now looking back, I know that Dad and the whole family endured it all because of the love.

And in that I can find comfort.


Text and images copyright 2014 by Marc Olson

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Huevos de Patio


If you like eggs, there's nothing else quite like them. They are called huevos de patio, or "back-yard eggs," here in Yucatán.

That means that these eggs come from hens kept in the back patio of a house. Of course quality varies depending upon how the chickens are fed and cared for, but usually it means that these are what a friend of mine used to call "happy chicken eggs."

The hens producing these eggs don't spend their lives in tiny cages under artificial lights, being pumped full of chemical-laden industrial feed and hormones. Instead, they run around outdoors, squabble amongst themselves, take dust baths, scratch for bugs, worms, tender green herbs and sprouts, and probably mate frequently with a rooster. In the world of chickens they lead social, fulfilled lives.

Last Sunday, as I occasionally do, I visited with friends in Abalá, a pueblo less than an hour's drive from Mérida. Often when I am in the pueblo we take a walk, visiting one of the local cenotes, birdwatching, searching for orchids and unusual wildflowers, or perhaps walking the paths out to the ranch and looking at the family's twenty-or-so head of cattle. However on this visit, by the time we got to the pueblo the weather was already pretty hot, so we spent the remainder of the day staying in the shade and not moving too much.

The result was that we had plenty of time to hang out with the chickens. We prepared the daily feeding that supplements what the birds find foraging in the yard and made sure they had fresh, cool water. A bit later we shooed the birds into the coop so that the hens could lay in clean, dry grass where the eggs would be easy to gather later on.

There are about a dozen laying hens here, and three roosters. Although they mostly look alike to me, I have discovered that their keepers know each animal individually. I now know which hens are the best layers, and that one, although fully grown now, has never laid an egg. She may be headed on a one-way trip to the kitchen one of these days. The same holds for a confused rooster who jealously fights to keeps the other males away from the hens, but never mates with them himself.

I learned about the old great-great-grandmother white hen who continues to lay as prolifically as a youngster although at the age of five or six she ought to be far past her prime. There were some jokes that the secret of her youthfulness has to do with "getting plenty" of attention from a much younger rooster. She is prized for her large eggs and is a favorite, more like a pet, in this family.

Although they may know their stock pretty well, country people who raise their own food normally don't get too sentimental about animals. Chickens around here rarely die of old age. Although the old white hen may be an exception, most of these birds eventually end up in dishes like the rich mole we ate Sunday afternoon. The killing is not something anyone in the family likes to do, but it is necessary if they are occasionally going to eat meat. And culling older and less-productive animals makes room for the younger generations.

But the best reason in my book for having chickens in the patio is for the eggs. These huevos de patio are organic and fresh daily. Eating these eggs, we know exactly what we are consuming. Sunday evening after getting home from Abalá I ate an omelet made from eggs that I had gathered, still warm from the hens' bodies, that very afternoon. It doesn't get much better than that.

You may be wondering why there are no photos of the chickens. The reason is that until I got home with the eggs pictured above and ate that omelet, I wasn't planning to write a post about this. But the omelet was that good. I'll try to write again about the backyard chickens, and include photos, in a future post.

Text and images copyright 2014 by Marc Olson