Hot Bees, Fire and Water.
We are currently being wooed by cuteness. The huge man-eating Rhodesian ridgeback couple that live in the ranch nearby have just popped out a litter of a eight pups. Now even the most bitey beasts trained to take down lions are cute for a while. Our friends are very keen that we take a few of these mini-monsters to live on our land and protect us from pretty much anything we can think of. The cuteness is tempting but these are pedigree dogs and valued way too much to consider. We have a number of semi-feral dogs that have adopted us and gratefully mop up all the bones and leftovers we toss over the balcony. They very usefully howl and make an appropriate fuss when they smell jaguars coming out of the jungle to hunt. If we were to take on a jungle dog there are large packs of more ugly rescue street hounds constantly in need of short or long-term homes to choose from. We again decide to defer committing to a full-time dog just yet. I’m sure our dog will eventually find us.
Our well is dry and that’s a problem. I dragged our sad water pump 20 metres up to find it clogged with a four foot long beard of grass and debris. The whole area is in drought. It’s proper dry and dusty as hell. There has not been enough rain in the mountains to fill the aquifers so we are buggered. The tinacos are low and running out fast so we need to do something. After a bit of research and a few outings kicking large plastic containers we buy a big blue 5000 litre cistern and have it delivered. We hire a machine and have a 2.5m x 1.5m round hole dug. We then refine the area with shovels so the cistern drops in level and true. We dig it in next to our turtle well and then spend some days trying to find a pipa water truck that will come out and fill it up. They are few and far between at this time of year when everyone is out of water. We can then drop the well pump into it and fill the tinacos. That should get us by until the rains come. There is a tropical storm forecast so things may change sooner than we think.
So, the rains they are a certainly a-comin.. In preparation, we survey where the arroyo will soon flow past our gate and urgently bring in the machine. We realise that if the floods come down the mountains it will cut our access road to the treehouse in two and we would be driving into a plunge pool if we needed to get out. Much moving of earth later the river now has a clear route safely past us and the dirt has been piled high enough to create a road which theoretically will not wash away immediately.
If there’s rain then a roof that works is always a good thing. Ours does not and we need that to change. Our treehouse palapa roof is the more robust and expensive Palapa Royal. These are tufts of palm leaves that are woven together with sheets of plastic to create a waterproof seal inside and a huge fluffy roof up top. The bugger is, that in order for us to have our old knackered leaky roof removed and a brand new sexy one installed, then we need to move us and most of our stuff out.
It’s a crap job but we have put it off long enough and resign ourselves get it done. We move most of our stuff under the bed and create a few strategic piles of boxes and cover the bed and everything else in tarps. All breakable stuff is boxed and stored outside in a highly useful temporary shed we were gifted over a year ago but never took the time to collect.
We are lucky enough to move into a beach front air conditioned room at our lovely friend’s house for a week. It’s really not so bad. We take time to enjoy being in town as Jake looks after the jungle. I’m at the house every day making sure the roof doesn’t go on upside down but the crew are great and do an extraordinary job and somehow don’t leave the place a mess. It’s a full week away from our beloved treehouse but it’s so worth it. The roof not only looks fabulous but we are safe in the knowledge that when the rains eventually get here we can smugly prance about without getting dripped on. Our first fully operational tree house roof.
Our highly useful Razor has stuffed up again. The bracket that holds the gear stick in place has snapped off. Without it it’s impossible to shift gears and it’s stuck in park so can’t be moved. The only gas welder in town has broken and we don’t have the power for an electric welder so we are out of options. The Razor stays parked up outside our house for a few weeks. We attempt to get enough power to a welder from our generator tied solar system a few times but with no luck. In desperation, we find our old portable generator which Jayne’s Dad had modified to give double the amps before the fuse blows. Despite spluttering and groaning in clear distress, somehow, we manage to extract enough juice out of it to get the welder to melt the bits in place. Thanks to our metal whisperer the welds hold and our Razor is back in service.
It’s not just us who are feeling the heat. Our bees have been active and appear happy enough. We have checked and there is a lot of honey being produced out of our four hives. Although shaded from direct sun, mottled sunlight has heated up the hives to the point where many of the bees have relocated to outside the hot boxes. They cling to the outside of the west side where the entrance is. It appears to offer the most shade and catches the most breeze. It’s completely understandable.
Our cow proof gate is ready. It lands at our place for two days so we can degrease it and add undercoat before it is hung. Jayne has extended the electric wires from the pool house and has prepared all the power we need for our automatic remote control hydraulic gate opening arm to function.
The day arrives and brackets and frames are bolted into our walls and the gate hangs, swings and closes. We are one side. The cows the other. We are delighted. After some buggering about we have the added benefit of pushing a remote-control button to instruct our newly installed robot arm to elegantly and slowly open and close the thing on demand without us having to jump in and out of the truck half a dozen times a day. Our plants are now safe. Looks sexy too.
Because it doesn’t seem like we are doing enough at the moment it has been decided that we need to rip out our kitchen countertop and sink. It is true that the sink is set in a badly warped and rotten wood frame which leaks. It is also true that the kitchen counter has not been replaced for three years. The termite eaten wood is covered in a dirty old plastic leather material and perhaps not the most hygienic of surfaces. Our architect has gifted us a number of large ceramic tiles which has been a catalyst to action. Old damp termitey wood is torn out and new wood is found, treated and cut to shape. A new sink is acquired and Jayne sets to work tiling and grouting for all she is worth. The result is a new shiny sink, posh taps that work (and don’t leak) and a respectable work surface that now shows all the dirt rather than hiding it. An improvement I am assured.
It’s getting proper hot. All the spring leaves have fallen and lay on the jungle floor in a thick carpet. It’s impossible to move around silently on top of the bone-dry covering. The whip lizards that usually go about their business unseen are now obvious as they flit about noisily through piles of leaves. There are hundreds of them attracting all sorts of predators. They move at lightning speed and drive the cats insane.
The lunar eclipse came and went very early in the morning. Too early for some but our intrepid photographers were dedicated enough to get up early, drink enough coffee to capture it beautifully.
Photo credit: John Curley.
It’s that sweaty time of year again. Even a simple job requiring me to be outside for anytime means I am soaked. I rehydrate, hang my shirt and pants on the balcony railing and lay on a towel for half an hour until they dry out. It is true that I am a muck magnet but now I’m working in this dust laden humidity its getting ridiculous. My general state of being is pretty much always damp and filthy. I’m having about three showers a day but that doesn’t seem to be helping that much. For reasons I don’t fully understand my finger nails cannot stay clean for more than a few moments. I am clearly a joy to live with.
June is here. It’s the month of the stupid flying June bugs. Weeks of avoiding the hard shelled idiots flying into your face. I have a friend in town who entertains herself by putting a light on in the evening, opening a window. As the June bugs fly in she swiftly returns them to the night with a badminton racket. Hours of fun.
The annual cicadas are back too. They have started performing their invasive droning whistle as the sunsets every night. There are a few hundred of them at the moment soon to be joined by thousands more. It will become a deafening chorus for about 20 minutes every night for weeks.
It’s late in the afternoon and as we are walking towards the treehouse there is a peculiar sound that takes our attention. It’s coming from the hills that surround us to the South. It’s a series of cracks and what appear to be small explosions. We find a good vantage point on our balcony and watch as thick dark smoke appears over the rise of the hill directly above us. The noise gets louder and it becomes clear that there is a forest fire heading our way. The wind is light but in our faces and fanning flames that are now visible. They are at least 40 feet high. Some bigger than that. There is a gently but sinister fall of ash in the air. There is a line of flames now at the crest of the hill busily devouring the dry trees and scrub as they start to head down the slope towards us. This is not good. We have no way of stopping it.
We are blessed. As the sun gets low in the sky the wind changes and moves off shore. We can see the glow of burning scrub along the horizon but it has stopped moving, the flames are much smaller and the noise much less aggressive. It takes a while but we start to relax again, confident that without the wind assistance the fire has burnt itself out. There are a number of highly experienced retired Californian fire fighters living locally. They have seen things they can’t talk about. They have often suggested to us that the humidity levels we live with here protect us from forest fires. This may well be generally true but the current drought and a little wind have made us think again.
The long-awaited pipa water truck arrives. Much celebration. The town water supply is almost done for the season and these trucks are in massive demand. A number of them have broken down so getting one to venture out this far is a result. The new cistern has been sitting for a few days and when we fill her up we find a few visitors have found their way in. With the help of a flour sieve I manage to reach in and rescue two fair sized lizards and a small snake. They are half drowned but grateful for the reprieve. The rest of the water goes in the pool. We are going to need that to survive soon.
Just about as soon as the pipa truck leaves tropical storm Blanca appears out at sea. We are subject to 24 hours of cloud which prevents me pumping our new water to where we need it with the solar well pump. In anticipation, we take down the hammocks and put everything else that won’t appreciate getting wet in safer places. It’s midnight and there are light sounds of rain in the trees, then the muffled noise of water pouring off our new roof, then it comes.
The rain, lightning and thunder are loud enough to keep my attention all night but it’s the sound of over vocal horny frogs and toads appearing from hibernation and getting at it in our pool that keeps me from sleeping. The roof holds up. We have indeed smugly pranced about and have not been dripped on. Amazing.
It’s a pleasure to experience the morning after. Petrichor (the smell of rain on dry earth) infuses everything. I reluctantly fish out of the pool the few over sexed exhausted frogs that don’t have the stamina to save themselves. Nature is alive and well after a long night. The rivers are still dry but the plants look vibrant after their welcome soaking. The storm has passed and we told we are due another few weeks of sun and dry. Raining season is not here yet. With our new river road, new gate, new roof, new kitchen top, newly repaired Razor, and new water store we should be prepared. We are not worried.