Saturday, September 8, 2018

Lawlessness and disorder in Mexico: A real-life soap opera with several nasty episodes, Part 2

It all began ten years ago, when the surveyor marked the boundaries of our newly purchased land so the fence guy could get to work. The young surveyor—the son-in-law of the old rancher who sold us the land—advised us to leave a setback fifteen meters wide in front, in case the state wanted to widen our access road in the future. A couple of years after we bought the land, the surveyor died in a car accident while driving intoxicated.

So for several years the strip of land in front sat unfenced, but clearly marked as ours in the escritura. Then one Saturday afternoon, about ten weeks ago, a young guy appeared at our gate accompanied by a fidgety, sweaty older character in a three-piece suit, who handed me a notarized document and a handwritten note attached to it.

It was a sales contract and the attached note informed me that this chunk of land had been "purchased" from the old rancher, and the new "owner," a land developer with a subdivision scheme in mind, would decide—at his pleasure and convenience—where to relocate the ramp and entrance gate to our ranch.

Have a nice weekend.
Stew and I were stumped: What the hell is this? The following Monday we hired a lawyer recommended by one of the neighbors who'd sued the old rancher for trying to condemn a dirt road leading to her ranch so he could sell the land it was on.

On Tuesday, a caravan of vehicles, including a white Chevy Suburban, two pickups with chain-link, posts, barbed wire and other fencing supplies, along with four installers, and two smaller cars carrying three thuggish bodyguards, showed up in front of our ranch.

When they tried to begin fencing in the disputed piece of land, we tried to block the road with our two vehicles, an Audi and an old Nissan pickup.

A man in the Suburban ordered his guys to "remove" the Audi by trying to rock it and turn it over. Stew got in the car and drove it into the ranch. Meanwhile I got into a heated argument with the ringleader and when I reached out to tap him on the shoulder, one of the bodyguards got in the middle, thrust his forearm on my throat and told me he'd beat the hell out of me if "I weren't an old man."

Félix called the police who arrived twenty minutes later, walked around and said this was not a dispute they wanted to get involved in. With that, they reversed the patrol car and left.

While this was going on, I spoke with our lawyer two or three times who ultimately told me to back off and not provoke any further confrontation and possibly get hurt.

With the fencing crew busy putting up posts and chain-link with lightning speed, the rest of the developer's crew, including the bodyguards, drove to our lawyer's office in town where they were met by three or four of their lawyers from out of town.

As our lawyer remembers it, this charade was a gross attempt at intimidation, something out of a B-grade Godfather knock-off.

Ironically, the attempt to rattle our lawyer seemingly backfired. I suspect the theatrics offended his sense of pride and machismo, and he decided he wasn't going to get rolled over by a bunch of hoods in suits.

The developer's legal team presented an eight-page "agreement" that was a dense legalese soup, for us to sign, in the spirit of sign-this-or-else.

Although we Stew and I initially were too scared and confused to think straight, over the next few days we realized the so-called agreement was nothing but a bald-face attempt at land theft and extortion.

What the developer offered was to give back half of the fifteen-hundred square meters he'd "purchased"—land that was legally ours—in exchange for a strip of land of similar size along the east side of our ranch—that was also legally ours—and which he needed to put in an access road to an otherwise landlocked parcel he'd purchased behind us.

It became clear he didn't much care for the land he'd "purchased" from the old rancher in a sham deal for a tenth of what the land was worth. It was the pie-shaped strip inside our ranch that he really wanted—and he was using the land he'd forcibly taken in order to force us to cede him the second piece, in a farcical "even trade."

Cease and desist, you said?
Then our lawyer, who's turned out to be crafty beyond our dreams, offered us this sage advice. Don't talk to anyone, particularly the other side's lawyer if he calls you. Don't say anything. Calm down. Don't panic. Just bide your time. Don't let anyone stampede you. Let them wait.

For our side, Stew and I also decided we would not give in to extortion and intimidation.

Our lawyer's reasoning was straightforward once we understood it. The "sale" of the land in front was null and void from the get-go because the old rancher could not sell the same piece of land twice, first to me ten years ago, and now to another person. Only I, as the legal owner, could sell that land now. And besides, the developer could not build on that land or sell it to anyone unless he had legal title to it.

In Spanish, the developer's plan is called a despojo or dispossession, or plain land theft.

During the next four weeks neither our lawyer nor us took any calls from the developer's lawyer. We kept driving in and out of our ranch through an opening the fencing crew had thoughtfully left in the six-foot high chain link fence, with three strings of barbed wire on top, that encircled the rest of the stolen land.

Meanwhile, our busy lawyer visited personal contacts at the municipal Department of Urban Development and Zoning, to obtain an Obra Suspendida order, the equivalent of a cease-and-desist order to the developer, on the grounds he didn't have a permit to do any fencing or other clearing work.

This was a clever Catch-22. Our lawyer knew full well that the developer would not be able to pull a permit because he didn't own the land.

Bright orange cease-and-desist notices were posted the entire length of the fence and we thought that would buy us some time.

Beginning of a stone wall to block our access to our ranch.
Not so. The next morning, before sunrise, a construction crew with heavy equipment, loads of rocks, cement and other materials and about ten workers showed up and began building a stone wall along the inside border of the disputed land, including across our entrance.

As an added act of contempt, the crews ripped up the orange Obra Suspendida and threw them on the ground.

We were essentially trapped inside our three-hectare ranch.

More to come: A break in the wall, two kittens found on the highway and a message of support from our Mexican neighbors. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Lawlessness and disorder in Mexico: A real-life soap opera with several nasty episodes

We bought the three hectares of land for our ranch, about ten miles outside San Miguel, from an old character we initially regarded as an unvarnished local rancher, with a folksily reticent, soft-spoken manner who during the real estate closing, a little more than ten years ago, signed his name with the laboriousness of someone with limited education but seemingly good intentions.

A few months later he approached us on the other side of our newly installed fence, astride an impressive Palomino with a fancy saddle to match, for what we thought was some "welcome to the neighborhood" chit-chat. He had a proper rancher's hat and a holstered pistol dangling from his belt. The get-up struck us as either a flashback from of Old Mexico or a comic aside in a Taco Western.

Since those few amiable encounters ten years ago, this old guy, now in his mid- to late-nineties and reportedly wheelchair-bound, has proved to be anything but a rural naif.

Indeed he's quite the sharp, wealthy—and cutthroat—land owner with a wide reputation for shafting most everyone he deals with, or at least trying to, almost as if for sport.

Bucolic dreams: Early morning view from our back terrace.
Among the residents of the nearby village of La Biznaga del Jaral, he is a local legend of a bad kind: Everyone seems to know who he is but no one has a kind word to say about him, including Félix, who calls him "un viejo canijo," Mexican coloquial that roughly translates as "an old motherfucker."

Someone to be wary of. Notice that I don't use his name in this blog post.

One recent stunt, even at his advanced age, was  threatening to cut off one of the access roads to the village, claiming it's on land he owns. The locals sued.
For the first several years, as the tales of this old rancher's "exploits" mounted, Stew and I kept a safe distance. We even considered ourselves lucky—or perhaps too smart—to be scammed by this old grifter.

That was a cavalier assumption on our part: This character has been at this rodeo far longer than we have and knows well the slipperiness and malleability of Mexican law regarding land ownership, particularly if your prey doesn't have the money or experience to fight back.

Don Vicente, the rancher at the foot of the hill from us, is another crusty local character, his handsome face deeply lined by an endless struggle to squeeze a living growing corn and beans on the muddy patch of dirt he owns.

He has his own stories about this wheeler-dealer trying to steal some of his land. Vicente won those rounds, but the old guy, in a final act of spitefulness, dumped a truckload of rocks to block one of the entrances to Vicente's ranch. The old man doesn't forgive or forget.

Don Vicente: Don't mess with me. 
Another time an expat couple who'd bought four hectares directly behind our ranch, got taken when the rancher upped the sale price by ten thousand dollars a hectare, right at closing time, take it or leave it. The buyers were furious but caved in, unwilling to let a possible deal of a lifetime slip away.

Over the past ten years he has sold chunks of his land in hectare-size multiples to foreign buyers—including us—with visions of a peaceful, bucolic life in the Mexican countryside.

He made promises of access roads and other amenities that evaporated as soon as the ink dried on the signatures on the escritura, or property deed, and money changed hands.

What you thought was a guaranteed right-of-way to your ranch would vanish when the rancher got a better offer and sold the land to someone else. Suddenly the impressive entrance gates you'd installed led nowhere.

During the past two or three years San Miguel has been in the grip of a mad land rush, as literally dozens of residential subdivisions, with hundreds of new units, with exotic names such as Nubarró, Zirándaro, sprout everywhere.

Ten years ago most of the new housing developments catered to wealthy Mexican or foreign buyers and offered championship-caliber golf courses, equestrian trails and other upscale amenities, and were going up on the other side of San Miguel, along the highway to Dolores Hidalgo.

The subdivision frenzy now has infected the areas around us, with far more modestly priced townhouses geared to weekend visitors from Mexico City or Querétaro, and spreading fungus-like over former farm land.

The rancher and his equally enterprising son were ready to cash in, and began selling land immediately around us, including one-third of a hectare in front of our ranch that he had already sold to us and was so marked in our escritura. 

Duh—selling a piece of land to two different buyers is against the law in most all places, even Mexico. No matter.

But that was but the opening shot in a guerrilla campaign of intimidation that began ten weeks ago when we objected to the developer's illegal land grab and hired a lawyer.

Since then we've been subjected to threats of physical assault and an attempt to flip over our nearly new car by a team of bodyguards-cum-thugs hired by the developer as part of a brazen attempt at intimidation and extortion to force us to see things his way.

A chain-link fence went up around the disputed piece of land which measures fifteen meters wide by approximately two-hundred meters long.

We were initially terrified as we tried to figure out a response, particularly when we found out that the San Miguel police force, which we summoned twice, was worse than useless.

After a few weeks of unalloyed fear and indecision, Stew and I formulated a response: We would not give in to land grabs, or attempts at intimidation and extortion. We filed civil and criminal lawsuits and obtained cease-and-desist orders against the developer to get him off our land.

He then turned the hostilities up a notch by showing up before sunrise with heavy equipment and a group of construction workers to dig up a four-foot-deep trench along the entire front our property and block our entrance with a stone wall.

For three days we were essentially held hostage in our own ranch and forced to enter and exit by driving our four-by-four pickup through a hole in the fence on the other side of the land and and through a neighbor's property.

Then the other side blinked.

Next episode:  A legal shoving match that yielded some results, at least for now. We've hired a night watchman with a gun, just in case. 














Sunday, August 19, 2018

With a little help from our friends

What would you think if I sang out of tune? / Would you stand up and walk out me?/ Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song/ And I'll try not to sing out of key. Oh I get by with a little help from friends...  
You will often hear that second only to its ideal climate, the ease with which one meets other expats and collects a burgeoning list of social contacts is one of San Miguel's main attractions as a retirement destination.

It's true: During the ten years we've lived here Stew and I have met more people than we knew in Chicago after thirty years.  Every week we go out for dinner, church or other occasions; others we know immerse themselves in volunteer activities that soon become almost the equivalent of full-time employment, except for the pay.

As my late mom used to say, finding ways to "pass the time" is important when you retire to a blank agenda. 

But I wonder about the distinction between acquaintances and social contacts that keep us occupied and friendships, that far rarer and more precious commodity that is a blessing indeed, particularly when physical distances and the passage of time have frayed family ties and other connections. 

For one thing, friends are steadfast, acquaintances more transitory. In San Miguel acquaintances from church or other places will rush in to the side of someone seriously ill—unquestionably a welcome gesture—but almost as fast the flow of visitors and the phone calls will ebb, especially if it looks as if the crisis is going to require a sustained commitment of time and help, or when someone else in need summons for help. 

Friends stick around. I can think of three Chicago friends with whom Stew and I stayed in contact—literally for decades—through the roller coasters of each other's lives: successes and failures, career gains and losses, economic ups and downs, or health crises.

Friends might counsel but don't condemn. We can always talk openly with these friends, with no tsk-tsk's, aha's or I-told-you-so's or recrimination, much less fear that something we say might endanger our affection for one another.  

Vickie was such a friend. Stew and I knew her for nearly as long as we have been together, from our first jobs out of graduate school, right through numerous and embarrassing career, personal and romantic fumbles, right up to the end, earlier this year, when she died following a relatively brief but harrowing battle with pancreatic cancer.

We visited her and her husband in New York a couple of times and gossipped about old friends and joked awkwardly about her "jaunty" post-chemo buzz cut. Though there were periods over the years when we didn't communicate much, our friendship survived to the end.  

In three weeks we'll be visiting two long-time Chicago friends, who met us in New York in December to help celebrate my seventieth birthday. We dined, we went to Broadway plays and reminisced. This time, no doubt we will again talk endlessly about our lives and concerns, sometimes singing out of tune but with no worries that anyone is going to walk out on anyone.

What sustains acquaintances over the years so they eventually become friendships? What's the glue that holds them together? I have no answers except, maybe, those unknowable energies called "love" and "affection." Whatever it is, it's a precious gift that one instinctively clutches close to the heart.  

In his first epistle to the fractious church at Corinth, the apostle Paul offers a definition of love that also describes the concept of friendship if one just substitutes a few words:  
[Friends] are patient, friends are kind. Friendship does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Friendship does not delight in evil but rejoices with the the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
I'm not so cynical as to dismiss acquaintances with whom we spend good times and whose  company we enjoy in San Miguel but I wanted to specifically honor the handful of true friends that Stew and I have here and at home, and express how much they mean to us.

Lyrics from "With a little help from our friends," by John Lennon and Paul McCartney (1967)
First Corinthians 13:4-7 




Friday, August 10, 2018

Fleeting moments of grace

"Grace" is a concept usually associated with theology, as in how God's grace saves sinful humans from eternal damnation. I look at it from a more earthly and ephemeral perspective: Unexpected, wonder-full moments of beauty open to us if we only take the time to pause, look and savor them. Maybe both ideas of grace are the same, just packaged differently.

A moment of grace came to me a few days ago while I was taking a shower. Our circular shower has a eye-level window that offers a 180-degree panorama of the landscape around the ranch—an awesome view in itself. Outside the window I noticed a small toad, about an inch-and-a-half long, sitting on the ledge, perfectly still, looking straight at me inside, water falling on my head.

Somewhat flattered by the attention, I stared back. The exchange lasted several minutes, as if each were saying to the other, "Watcha you lookin' at, man?"

I wondered where these toads come from, here during the rainy season and gone the rest of the year, and where they spend the winter.

What was it thinking while looking at me so intently? "Nothing" cynics would say, but I don't believe that. It hadn't rained here for a few weeks, and I'm convinced the toad was fascinated, maybe envious, of all that water cascading and steam billowing just on the other side of the glass.

Hello and good-bye 
After a while, this small visitor hopped away only to return the next day, almost to the same spot. We examined each other, it hopped away, and I never saw it again. I felt grateful by the toad's two visits—two moments of grace that broke my routine of a quick, mindless shower.

Succulent plants are full of surprises too, though they don't come too often. Except for show-offs like agaves that sprout enormous seed plumes, most succulents are not only shy but downright hostile.

They are generally twisted, convoluted and really not too beautiful—unless you conflate "beautiful" and "weird"—and covered with nasty thorns to further shoo away visitors. Leave me alone. Get away from me.

Then one day, any day for there's really no set blooming schedule for all species, they'll send out a flower, usually huge and orchid-like, that's completely out of character with its ungainly host.

It's a moment of grace too, but you have to enjoy it right away for it is fleeting—usually one day before the flower shrivels up—though some blooms last longer. You have to be alert and ready to enjoy it.

Cactus buffet. 
Recently an untouchable round, barrel-like cactus with a thousand thorns—I gave up trying to figure out these customers' botanical or common names—sprouted a single, beautiful white flower. I stopped to admire it and photograph its awesomeness. The flower dropped off in a couple of days.

Close by, a gnarly, pretzel-like cousin I suspected might be dead because it didn't even seem to have any leaves, put out three bright red flowers that slowly opened over several days.

"Hey, I'm not dead. Far from it."

Indeed, the next two days a gorgeous butterfly perched on one of the flowers, feasting on something,  for maybe as long as a half hour, ignoring my attention and picture-taking. The next day, it was back for more.  Collecting pollen? Drinking nectar? Whatever for?

I could have Googled butterflies, pollen, flowers, nectar or whatever to find out exactly what was going on. But that would ruin a moment of grace that is best just enjoyed rather than examined. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Marijuana for dogs

Our dog Ellie is a peculiar creature that looks as if her myriad genes were cultured in a blender. She has a broad, somewhat flat face that suggests there might have some pitbull blood in the mix but she is quite small, about twenty tightly packed pounds, and doesn't show much interest or aptitude for guard duty, except joining the other dogs in an occasional barking chorale. She is also noticeably bowlegged, which combined with her boxy girth and general clumsiness makes her an interesting sight when she runs and does a bunny hop rather than a doggy trot.

A purebred Mexican Muttsky
Apparently when she was a puppy someone thought she had some noble blood or potentially valuable pedigree, so they chopped off her tail and ears in the expectation of selling or breeding her as a purebred.

What a cruel waste. When that greedy fantasy didn't materialize, she was set loose and ended up at the gate of our ranch looking frightened, emaciated and indeed, barely alive. We adopted her and she promptly chunked out thanks to a manic appetite, a trait she retains to this day.

Roxy, another one of our dogs, suffered similar mutilation at the hands of someone who saw her as a breedable Rottweiler, Doberman or God knows what. Today she's a large mixed-breed dog missing her ears and tail. With her tail missing, she signals excitement by wiggling her rear end instead. 

About a year after we adopted Ellie we noticed she had what seemed like epileptic fits. When running or overly excited she'd keel over on her side, unable to walk, breathing rapidly, her eyes wide open as in a trance. 

We've taken her to the vet a couple of times but he said there's really nothing to be done. Epilepsy in humans is a neurological disorder that would be difficult and expensive to diagnose in a dog. Besides, there isn't any specific treatment, he said. We should just put Ellie on a cushion when she has a fit, and wait for it to pass. 

A friend in San Antonio, though, suggested we try marijuana compounds that are used to treat anxious or hyperactive dogs, and in some cases epilepsy. I rolled my eyes, but Stew promptly went online to explore such miracle cure. 

Treating dogs with some sort of marijuana derivatives is apparently quite mainstream: The market for such concoctions doubled between 2008 and 2014. But what is sold for pet relief is CBD, an extract from marijuana different from THC, the cannabis component that gets people high and presumably could send your dog into orbit too. So even if CBD doesn't cure anything there's no need to worry Fido will get stoned or develop a sudden craving for pepperoni pizza. 

Dog Potion #9
Stew found PetRelief, a product made in River Falls, Wisc. and available through Amazon.com for $24.96 for a one-ounce spray bottle. If the dogs pictured on the website are any indication, the stuff is dynamite because they all look blissful, borderline dopey. 

The ingredients however, are a mystery: The label reads, "Proprietary blend of all natural ingredients. Essential oils." It is applied by spraying some on your hands and rubbing it on the dog behind the ears and on the belly, twice a day.  

Go ahead. Laugh, snark or chuckle. Make fun of Ellie and Stew—except that the stuff seems to work. We've been using it for three weeks and she has been fit-free and mellower than usual. Right now, at two o'clock in the afternoon, she is sleeping soundly on her bed in the living room—though probably dreaming about a large pizza. 

Friday, August 3, 2018

A cure for current events anxiety: Bake!

Feeling as if we're drowning in a wave of depressing news from the U.S., for the past few months Stew and I have drastically trimmed our daily consumption of current events.

According to some reports, symptoms of current-events overload—insomnia, anger and anxiety, among others—are widespread and affecting partisans on both sides of the political crevasse that divides America. Political discourse has been replaced by snarking and growling at anyone who disagrees with you.

So Stew and I have winnowed down the amount of news and other disquieting inputs, primarily through television and online, that threatens our peace and quiet. We started by skipping TV news, particularly CNN, with its babbling, bobbing heads and endless chyrons blaring some "breaking news." If a particularly obnoxious figure, say, Rudy Giuliani—the full-time pooper scooper of the Trump administration—accidentally pops up on our screen, one of us will reflexively lunge for the TV remote.

Perversely, I occasionally tune in to Fox News to see how their spinmeisters will twist, embroider and flip-flop news unfavorable to President Trump. It's the journalistic equivalent of alchemy and it's curious to watch, but for no more than five minutes.

Neither can I resist, curiosity temporarily trumping my mental health concerns, checking out some bizarre bit of news, such as the appearance of the QAnon conspiracy club at some recent Trump rallies. If you really believe Hillary Clinton ran a pedophile ring from a Washington, D.C. pizzeria and Barack Obama was born in Kenya, QAnon might be a good fit for you.

Our censoring campaign extends to talk shows, even those pretending to be comedy, most of which any more revolve around politics. No Rachel Maddow, Bill Maher or Sunday morning programs that dice, slice and mince every tidbit of news.

Dark, depressing TV dramas are out too, at least for me. We watched a few episodes of Goliath, starring Billy Bob Thornton, who plays a scrawny, burned-out alcoholic defense lawyer. For Billy Bob, born with a face resembling the proverbial forty miles of bad road, the part is not much of a stretch. Yes, he heroically saves poor guys on the verge of getting mangled by the justice system, but to get to that redemptive climax you have to trod through so many unhappy people—all of them with cynical scowls tattooed on their faces—I don't care to see it any more. Stew, though, a fan of crime novels, seems to enjoy the show.

From l. to r.: Comics Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, and hosts
Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.
And just as we were ready to give up on television, we discovered the Great British Baking Show on PBS, a cooking show so amiable, pleasant—and just plain nice—that it's the sort of thing to watch a hour before you go to sleep while sipping a cup of chamomile tea.

Unlike some American cooking shows that thrive on cutthroat competition and sometimes tormenting or humiliating tearful contestants, everyone on the Baking Show is civil, even helpful to each other.

The premise is to have twelve amateur, but clearly experienced bakers, prepare three different confections, as requested by the two hosts, Mary Berry, 83, a quite famous cookbook and TV presenter in the U.K., and Paul Hollywood, 52, also a celebrity baker in Britain. Two women comics help keep the show from taking itself too seriously.

It takes place in a tent on the grounds of a Downton Abbey-style manor in England, its splendor highlighted by beautiful photography even if it seems to rain constantly.

The contestants are really an interestingly mix too, representing today's Britain: A turbaned Sikh, a guy from Ghana, a South Asian woman, grandmothers and housewives, students and young people as young as seventeen years old, and a construction worker who turns out to be an amazingly good baker.

Baking challenges go all over the place, from fussy, light-as-air French pastries to heavier—much heavier—British creations such as Pork Pie with Chicken and Apricots. Oi. One show even included American-style doughnuts which were introduced in Britain during World War II, to satisfy American soldiers. The Technical Challenge is particularly onerous because contestants are given recipes with skimpy details and they have to fill in the blanks.

After the assignments are announced by the two women comics, they yell "BAKE!",  and the contestants are given anywhere from two to five-and-a-half hours to come up with a pie, pudding or whatever.

Even seemingly simple bakes get incredibly complicated, sometimes not so successfully,  at the hands of anxious contestants trying to outdo their competitors. Berry and Hollywood sample each of the creations and offer their opinions which can be sharp but never mean. The baking challenges get more complex as the season goes on and the number of contestants is whittled down.

At the end of each show, they pick the Star Baker for the week but also send someone home. The show concludes with hugs all around, tearful for those disqualified and congratulatory for the survivors. The show maintains its convivial tone right through the final credits.

This is a perfect show—so civil and pleasant—for these troubled times that are anything but. Even if you try some of the recipes and gain a few pounds, you'll sleep better.

[The Great British Baking Show airs on PBS, Amazon Prime and Netflix]

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Is it tequila-brewing time? Nah.

Quiotes are us: The huge stalks of the
tequila agaves appear suddenly, and
just as quickly shrivel up and vanish. 
Succulents do weird things, particularly when they decide to flower and set fruit, and none is weirder—or more impressive—than the display of the tequila agave or Agave tequilana, if you want to get botanical about it. It starts out looking like a common wild agave, with blueish, spiky leaves but given time, the proper soil and moisture, it can grow up to five feet high and the same in diameter.

We planted four in a rock garden against the stone wall of our back terrace maybe eight years ago and until this year they behaved rather demurely, keeping a rounded, architectural shape. Then early this spring each put up a massive stalk, about eight inches in diameter, that kept growing, I could swear, at a rate of six inches a day. I wish I'd had a time-lapse video camera to capture this astonishing growth spurt.

The best part came when the stalks reached about twelve feet and began putting out candelabra-type branches covered with yellow flowers. A neighbor last year saved one of the larger stalks, spray-painted it white and used it as Christmas tree on his front yard.
Three of the four agaves abutting our
back terrace. The fourth didn't put up a
stalk and remained.
Bees were certainly impressed with the showy agave stalks, called quiotes in the local indigenous language, and for several weeks buzzed around the surprise bounty of flowers. The bees systematically worked their way from the bottom up as more flowers appeared.

In fact, Félix and Stew have checked our three beehives and predict a bumper crop of honey in the fall, certainly good news compared to the meager production of the past two years. I haven't asked the bees, but I have to believe the agave flower extravaganza stimulated their production of honey.

Then this week, the flower show was over and they were replaced by substantial elongated seed pods that dangled from the branches like ornaments on a Christmas tree. The wind loosened the seedpods and carried them all over, including our terrace, where we found several dozen scattered on the flagstone. Some undoubtedly blew over the ground several feet in every direction, and a lucky few will germinate and produce the next crop of tequila agaves.

The spent flowers and
subsequent seed pods
of the tequila agave.
And that's it. The whole plant, its elongated leaves, the stalk and everything with it will shrivel up and die. Kaput. I've planted other tequila agaves in the ranch but they don't seem nearly as rambunctious as the ones against the terrace. Other varieties of agave put up similar stalks but the mother plant survives. 

At the end of the tequila agave's life cycle, the tequila-making part of the show would start, using the pineapple-shape core at the bottom that kept the whole plant together and is now crushed, cooked, fermented and distilled. When grown commercially, the agave leaves are chopped off, and the center core harvested, long before the huge sprouts appear.

Félix, mano-a-mano with the
massive core of one tequila
agave, which weighed about
twenty-five pounds. 
No, we're not going there. Stew and I don't drink alcohol and besides we don't have the equipment to process agave pulp. Also, the agaves we have here are probably not Don Julio-grade and would produce stuff more suitable for lawnmower fuel than even passable booze.

On the internet I found several supposed culinary uses for the agave plants, particularly the massive stalks. But we're not going there either. Recently it seems as if life is become too short to undertake any more agricultural or cooking projects or experiments. Collecting and bottling honey and keeping a vegetable garden going are enough of a chore already.

My apologies to disappointed readers who expected some free tequila: Go buy your own. But call me in the fall and I'll sell you some honey.