31 October 2008

Letter 4.8

The weather this month has been very hot and very dry, but the porch is cool and picks up cool breezes, off Ella Rock, I assume, which I plan to climb in the next couple weeks. Better do it now before the forest on top of it gets burnt to the ground -- there have already been two fires up there (set by farmers burning off land -- and a few trees -- to grow crops), as well as several fires in the nearby pine forest. The philosophy around here seems to be, if you see a tree, burn it.

This cottage is curiously cool. Other tin-roofed houses I've lived in have been, in the hot season, unbearably hot at midday, but this one is cooler inside than out. Partly because it has a high roof, but that seems an inadequate explanation. It's dry enough so that in the afternoon my water trickle dries up and the level of the pond sinks down until, after sunset, the water starts to flow again. A minor inconvenience to me, but more serious to the farmer below, who isn't getting enough water to irrigate his paddy, (Even if I took no water he still wouldn't get nearly enough.) People say the NE monsoon is due to start this month. (The SW monsoon, just finished, affects this part of the island only in clouds and wind, not in rain.) We'll see what that brings. Nights have been noticeably cooler the last few days -- if we can call night day.

So much fruit around, I'm on a high-fruit diet. Bananas, papayas, avocados, some citrus, lots of fruits I can't even name. Plus rice, bread, roti, and various vegetables -- carrots, lettuce, and tomato salad the most easily identifiable. Lots of lentils. Some coconut. I keep discovering more stuff growing on this acre of land. 4 avocado trees. 2 naval orange trees. A lime tree. A coffee bush with nearly-ripe berries. (Coffee is very highly taxed on import, so it's definitely a luxury item, yet, until 100 years ago, Ceylon grew much of the world's coffee, no tea, and then blight and insects and planters' skepticism about their seriousness wiped out the coffee, and tea was planted as a substitute crop. Nowadays cautious attempts are made to re-introduce coffee, but with mixed results.) Anyway, I shall certainly make use of these coffee beans. Not that I'm such a coffee lover, but I love to use what's here. Along with what grows wild I have my usual failing flower garden. Main crop seems to be clover and some onions sprouted from old ones I tossed away last month. I wait for the jack fruit to ripen.

Two crows come to eat my left-overs, and are becoming less and less afraid of me. (Curiously, both of them are named Charlie.) Recently their 3 fledglings learned to fly and now appear here: they stand in front of a pile of (say) rice and caw and caw, demanding to be fed. They feel, apparently, that the world should be so arranged that they need only open their mouths and they will be fed. (We Buddhist monks close our mouths and get fed.) Their parents (Charlie & Charlie) sometimes feed them and sometimes ignore them. When ignored long enough they finally peck disconsolately at the food, complaining bitterly all the while at the injustice of it all.

Last night as I was standing outside looking at the moon (full tomorrow) a rabbit dashed past, not 5 feet from me. This is the biggest wildlife I've seen around here. He lives, no doubt, in the tea bushes, where small creatures can survive, and was on his way downhill to try his luck in the rice paddy, now all transplanted. The farmers arc working their vegetables, spending most of the day watering. I should think they would have, by now, evolved a system to lift the water from the stream to the fields (a vertical distance of under 15 feet), rather than hauling it by hand in buckets. I've been tinkering with some Rube Goldberg designs using simple materials -- bamboo for piping, etc. -- that could ease their work considerably. Assuming, of course, it doesn't lead to quarrels over water rights, and presto! the modern world. Sometimes technology can have a devastating effect on cultural mores, as in the U.S., for instance, and in these utters it's best to proceed carefully.

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