Banana Bloom

Another Island Note…

It all started with a cut-off top of a pineapple plant.  Hettie discovered if you take that and put itin soil, it will produce another pineapple. That was 14 months ago.  And whilethe plant has grown considerably in size, there is still no fruit to be seen.  In fact, the plant grew so large that I hadto transplant the beast from a terrace pot to a garden plot.  That got me thinking that I need to start my very own piña colada garden.

The pineapple plant transplanted.

For those who don’t imbibe, a piña colada is a tropical concoction of pineapple, coconut and rum. My garden already had the pineapple plant in it.  I could easily plant a coco palm there.  Why hell, maybe even grow a small stand of sugar cane and make my own rum. Really?  Nah.  Actually, when I considered the time it would take to harvest all the necessary ingredients from the plot and distill the rum,I passed on the whole idea.  But the pineapple plant looked mighty lonely there all alone.  That’s when I put in four banana plants, each about 2-feet high.

Now growing bananas also takes a long time.  Hundreds of afternoons can be spent swinging in the hammock before you will see the first fruit.  But hell, two things I have a lot of is time and hammocks (current number is up to five).  So, in went the plants.

Just last week the first banana bloom popped out.  It is a long, phallic-like purple protrusion that interrupts the landscape like a rude punctuation mark.  Days later the first bananas appeared right behind the bloom, small fruits that I hope will rival a Chiquita in the near future. They radiate in a ring around the stalk with small white flowers at the end of each fruit.  That was followed by another ring or ‘hand’ as they say in the banana business, and then another. And soon, hopefully, the other plants will begin producing as well.  So, what to do with the harvest?

A new “hand” of bananas
These delicate flowers don’t last long/

Well I’m back to my original idea but with a twist.  I’m planning to make a piña banana colada with a generous amount of Flor de Caña 4-year old rum.  This libation should render that frozen concoction that helps me hang on in one of my five hammocks. 

But wait.  Another surprise was discovered next to the banana bloom.  Propped on the end of a stalk was a small nest and sitting on top a proud blue-tailed emerald hummingbird keeping minuscule eggs warm. 

This can only be a good omen.  Hummingbirds have a long history of symbolism in native cultures. The Aztecs saw them as messengers to the gods. The Maya believed that the very first wedding ever performed on Earth was between two hummingbirds.  And here in the Caribbean, the Tiano Indians viewed hummers as a symbol of rebirth and good luck.  With that kind of serendipitous mojo in my garden, no doubt we’ll have a record harvest of bananas this year.

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Mostly Within the Limits (of Austin City)

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I have been going to Austin, Texas since the early 1970s.  Back then, a musical revolution was kicking off with the likes of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Jeff Walker and Kris Kristofferson gracing the stage of the Armadillo World Headquarters. RM-IMAGES-AWHQ-Images-47The cosmic cowboy had arrived and groups like the Flying Burrito Brothers, the New Riders of the Purple Sage and Asleep at the Wheel followed. The town only had 300,000 souls and plenty of Lone Star Beer.  A couple of buddies and I even contemplated opening up a music club back then.  I always said if that had happened, I would have ended up with a cowgirl, blond bouffant hair-do included, and owning a red Cadillac decked out with longhorn steer paraphernalia on the hood.

But those days were a lifetime ago.  The Austin metro today is bursting with over 2 million urbanites, and even though I’ve always returned at least once every decade over the years, this trip to the city seemed over the top.  Too many people, too much traffic, too many choices.  Even my nostalgic day drive out to Lake Travis’s Hippy Hollow where clothing was frowned upon back in the 70s, is now surrounded by multi-million-dollar mansions done up in a faux pas Tuscan style with a good dose of Texas kitsch for added measure.  I guess living over a decade down island doesn’t set you up for overwhelming urban chaos.  Add the recent election madness to the mix, and this beach boy felt like he was stranded on a sandbar, but Austin is still keeping it weird…

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Bicycle sculpture at Waller Creek Boathouse.

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Looking Up at the at Laguna Gloria sculpture park.

But was it worth it?  Of course.  I got to see my old Ohio State buddy, Bill, and his wife, Suzita, who I’ve always admired for riding her horse to school in her home town of Cisco, Texas until the age of 10.  And we visited our generous island friends Karen & Rob who also have an ultra-cool midtown condo in Bat City.  And the food…. BBQ, green chile cheeseburgers, tacos and more tacos. The craft beers were terrific with the draft Stash IPA high on my list.

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At the Salt Lick for BBQ.

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Attended a Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) party.

But after two weeks it was time to go home.  An Arctic front had dipped down from Canada and somebody left the gate open in Oklahoma.  Austin-ites were serious panic about impending frost before I left, and those temperatures make my fin sink soooo low.  But our United flight attendant, Jack, on a direct flight from Houston to Bonaire brightened my day. Clad in illuminated flamingos, he announced that we would soon be arriving at Flamingo International Airport-Bonaire, pink control tower and all.

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Flight attendant, Jack.

Upon landing, I spot a crescent moon to the west.  Pat and Long Tall Sally, our house sitters from North Carolina, whisk us away in the Subaru.  That evening floating naked in the pool I am dazzled by a million stars.  First sunset the next day flaunts an enduring Green Flash that’s more like a verdant reveal. It lasts for minutes, not seconds. A couple of yellow-shouldered Amazon parrots cruise by for grins, squawking in route to their evening’s roost.  Gosh, it is good to be home.

 

Independence Day

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Another note from dah island, mon…

It all started when the green light clicked on. For two days Pieter and Benjamin from Solar Solutions had been busy installing 10 solar panels on our roof. Next came the Sunny Boy inverter that converts 12-volt electricity produced by the sun activating the panels’ photo voltaics.  Then the final step, install a cable to feed our electric system and a breaker. Pieter activated the inverter for the first time.  “You see that shining green light on the Sunny Boy?  You are now making electricity.  Congratulations!  Yes, this was Independence Day.DSC00737

Electricity prices in the Caribbean are among the highest in the world and Bonaire is no exception.  I’ve been told that 60% of our power comes from the wind generators on the  east coast.  The remainder is from diesel-fueled generators.  But the monopoly, WEB (Water-Electric-Bonaire) charges a hook-up fee, not one time but monthly.  On top of that, they bill a whopping 28.7-cents per kilowatt hours.  Those heavy charges all add it all up making me feel like I better sit in the dark at night.  Or better yet, get pro-active and install a solar system.DSC00770

DSC00768Ours is a day-only system, which means that no battery storage is needed.  We generate electricity when the sun hits the solar panels (actually, I’ve seen light from the full moon activate it). That power goes directly into our home’s electric grid. Whatever we don’t use is sent back to WEB for a paltry 5-cent charge instead of the 28.7-cents they charge us.  So our mantra is run everything during the daylight hours that we can-swimming pool pump, washing machine, dish washer, whatever.

The first few sunny days we would go out to our street-side electric meter and take a look.  The dial was always stationary-no power was being used.  How much we sold back to WEB will be discovered at a later date. Even on cloudy days, and we’ve had a few lately due to passing tropical depressions, the solar is producing 75% of our daytime electric use.  What is really boss is that the Sunny Boy inverter feeds the info to a web site and shows us all the details-kilowatt production, how much per hour, etc.  But the coolest data shows how many pounds of carbon emissions were not put into the environment because of our solar system. That makes me feel really good. DSC00763

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Solar hot water heater hiding behind the banana trees.

This has been a long time coming.  When we bought our house on the hill it already had a solar hot water heater.  It’s a big box that runs water through black pipes.  The builder had installed an electric backup boiler, but we have never used it.  We have warm water even after two days of clouds, and that is unusual Bonaire weather. But the solar hot water planted the seed and showed us the potential of having a photo voltaic system to produce electricity.  We were ready to do that two years ago, but life unexpectedly got in the way.  Plans were shelved until this month.  Now every September 19thwe will have a celebration because for us, it’s Independence Day.DSC00749

The Last Laugh

dsc_0021Another Island Note…

I have just returned from the Arctic, back to my tropical island.  It’s a sizzling September this year as hurricanes and tropical storms blow by to the north. In the process, these tempests take away most of our cooling trade winds.  When you are living at 12° latitude, that calls for a hot day.  But there is no use in complaining.  You can’t reason with hurricane season.

dsc_0015Besides the heat, I have noticed some changes among the feathery residents of the island.  Swallows have appeared, cutting sharp aerial patterns in the red sunset sky.  A few laughing gulls still remain.  Gone are the days when hundreds squawked and laughed seaside on their way through the breeding season.  The birds that stayed behind are now uncommonly still and it will be months before they will have sex again.  I believe this may be the last laugh for the gulls.  At least until next spring.DSC00708

As night descends, I take to the streets of my neighborhood for a cooling walk.  Venus, Jupiter and Mars brighten up the south western sky.  The moon is nearly full and bathes the way in a soft, mellow light. I hear “click” ahead.  Yes, it is another hermit crab deciding to hunker down on the asphalt.  As I approach, the terrestrial crustacean retreats within its shell, a refined defensive technique far superior to that of the ostrich burying its head in the sand.

But it is the nightjars that I find most fascinating. I’ll encounter at least a dozen during an evening half-hour stroll.  These nocturnal birds have ghostly, erratic flights that lift them only a few feet above the ground, often just inches over my head.  Engoulevent coré Hydropsalis cayennensis White-tailed NightjarWhite striped wings reveal their flight path, but only for a moment. With a quick turn, the birds disappear into the inky dark.  Then suddenly they mysteriously reappear moments later, usually behind me with a resounding ‘plop’.  No wonder the locals regard the elusive nightjars with superstition.  For me, I find them fascinating friends of the night.

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Nightjar in the middle of the street.

In my neighborhood, nightjars often station themselves on the street, directly facing a lamp pole.  They look like guardians of the light.  I try to approach slowly and often stop for as long as a minute to see which of us will move first.  It is usually me and within that first step forward, the nightjar will take to the air. I try repeatedly in vain to make contact.  It’s my quest to learn more about these strange creatures.  But the birds are aloof, steadfastly preserving their island myth. On evenings such as this, it is really the nightjars who have the last laugh.DSC00719

Arctic Feathers

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A Northern Fulmar flying near Ilulissat, Greenland

While traveling in Iceland and Greenland this year, I witnessed amazing birds that weather the extremes of the Arctic.  Here are few that I got to see.

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Lesser Black-backed Gull, Iceland.

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Greylag goose.

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Mallard ducks.

Eider ducks

Eider ducks, Greenland.

Whooper swan

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Whooper swan.

Black-headed Gull

Black-headed Gull.

Redwing

Redwing.

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The Arctic Anthology, Part 4

DSC00315The Land of Fire & Ice

Iceland is quite tame when compared to Greenland.  Hot water below its crust is harnessed for geothermal energy.  Its capital, Reykjavik, is a hip, posh town of 123,000. And its people are mostly Scandinavian in appearance.  They speak Icelandic which is a Germanic derivative that has more in common with Norwegian than any other linguistic root.

But its natural landscape is still quite spectacular even while being mostly treeless. We got to view powerful waterfalls, some of which are tapped for hydroelectric energy.

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The untapped Gullfoss waterfall.

There are geyser fields that rival Yellowstone.

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Geysers of Haukadalur

And while the country’s numerous volcanoes are currently dormant, Icelanders are well aware that the next big blow may change their way of life forever.  The last incident was in 2010 when Eyjafjallajökull, Eyjafjallajokull_volcano_plume_2010_04_17a 5,466 ft (1,666 m) high cone in southern Iceland, blew its top.  Huge amounts of ash blanketed northern Europe and disrupted airplane traffic for weeks. Experts think that the next fiery culprit may be the badass Bárðarbunga with a caldera stretching 6 miles (10km) wide.  In the meantime, the business of fishing, aluminum production and tourism march on, fueling this modern northern country.

We spent a few days in Reykjavik, walking its streets, sampling its excellent craft beers and cruising its wonderful museums.  It is a rich city with great social services and high taxes. The bus system is thorough. Residents swim in geothermal heated pools and soak in warm springs.  Life is good. And it is very expensive.  A beer costs $12, a cheeseburger 25 bucks.  So it is not a place to linger for long.DSC00637DSC00673

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photo-Hettie Holian

I was most impressed with ÞingvellirNational Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  This is the only place in the world that the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a geological convergence of tectonic plates, can be seen.DSC00206 I walk on a wooden boardwalk through a compact rift valley with cliffs towering 45 feet (12 m) on each side.  To the left was the European tectonic plate. To the right, the North American plate. And as an exclamation point, the stunning Öxarárfoss waterfall pierces one of the cliffs mid-trail.  People hang out here and soak in the vibes.  It must have been a spiritual place of power and wonder for the ancients. I rest on a smooth, round rock and listen to the cascading water.Öxarárfoss  That flows south intoLake Þingvallavatn where people actually snorkel and dive in thick, head-to-toe dry suits in 37°F (3°C) water.  That is unimaginable for this Caribbean scuba boy.  I smell the crisp air and contemplated the forces below my feet at Þingvellir, plate meeting plate, the uplifting and sinking continents. Powerful stuff in this wonderful land of fire and ice. DSC00186DSC00193DSC00625DSC00632DSC00201

 

The Arctic Anthology, Part 3

DSC00273The Iceberg Blues…

There is that brilliant shade of aqua marine that the Caribbean Sea flaunts in its shallows. It is just one of the many reasons that I live down island.  And then there is the cool cobalt color of a cloudless, crisp Autumn sky that telegraphs hope and optimism.  I still recall that shade from my Ohio childhood decades ago.  But nothing quite compares to the blues captured in the icebergs and glaciers of the arctic north.DSC00299

These blues don’t just reflect back the chroma. Rather, they glow, pulsate and captivate. Steaming close by hundreds of bobbing forms in Disco Bay near Ilulissat, Greenland,DSC00413 I was captivated by the iceberg blues. Sure, it was awesome to see humpback whales flash their enormous black forms in the fading September sun just a few meters away.  DSC00452DSC00432DSC00451And I was happily startled by a flock of sleek Eider ducks flying tight formation in front of a wall of white. DSC00391Or when the sun dazzled off the water or icebergs the size of a Super Walmart. DSC00382DSC00370DSC00383 But my eyes kept returning to the blue.  Often, I saw diagonal stripes compressed between blocks of white. These appear when crevices in an iceberg are filled with water and it freezes so fast that no bubbles are formed. DSC00307DSC00242Some small floaters were randomly splashed with blue. DSC00249DSC00480DSC00244  But the blue captured deep inside the icebergs and glaciers was the most enchanting. That blue was other worldly.  I could not release my gaze from it.  And as our boat cruised by at three knots, the intense color changed form, intensity and finally disappeared.  Then the next blue would capture my soul. On and on it went until Captain Ernie had to turn back to port as a thick fog silently engulfed us.DSC00419DSC00438

Experts claim that this blue occurs when snow falls on a glacier, is compressed, and becomes part of the glacier. Air bubbles are squeezed out and ice crystals enlarge, making the ice appear blue.  And when icebergs calve off from a glacier, the blue travels with it. But science experts do not explain the mystery and pulsating aura displayed by this vivid blue.  It may be one of the reasons that the Inuit, after crossing the Asian ‘bridge’, decided to stay.  It probably influenced Eric the Red and his Viking tribes to settle on this usually frozen landscape.  I can only imagine it spurred on Danish explorer, Knud

Knud Johan Rasmussen as he zig zagged across this vast, white wonderland in his quest to witness the unknown. And now I too have joined this human parade through the Arctic, in a secluded part of the world few ever get to see.  Iceberg blues, it is color that will be with me in mind and soul until the end of my days.

 

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