Yesterday he brought a branch from a sycamore
tree with the beginning of an infestation of muérdago, or mistletoe in English, an aggressive parasite that despite its cheery Christmasy name and attractive yellow flowers can take over and kill even a large tree in just a couple of seasons.
We walked over to the sycamore and he pointed to a few muérdago buds poised to begin their lethal careers. He explained how birds eat the seeds and then drop them on other trees. Wrapped in the bird's droppings, which the ever-polite Félix calls po-pó, the seeds are also incredibly sticky, as if covered with mucilage, ready to adhere to the nearest host.
|Félix with sycamore branch infected with muérdago|
"Gomphrenas are coming up," he announced yesterday, pointing to half-inch plants popping out of the ground in one of our otherwise dormant flower beds. I could barely see the sprouts let alone recognize their identity.
Some of this horticultural information Félix picked up from a course on organic farming that I sent him to at the San Miguel Botanic Garden, and some of it has come from me as I show him internet articles (in Spanish whenever possible) or pass on whatever gardening information I have.
|Muerdago seed, small and brown and right in the middle of the|
photo, stuck on a branch of the sycamore and ready to go to work.
When he was still a teenager he entered the U.S. without papers and worked at various construction sites for a year before coming home complaining that he missed his family. That may have been the U.S.' loss and Mexico's gain.
Félix awesomeness is all the more so given the maelstrom of his upbringing. His father, he has told me when we've discussed alcoholism, was a down-and-out drunk who'd go missing for days only to show up without shoes or in soiled pants. The old man quit only when a doctor warned him he'd die soon otherwise. Even now, he suffers from severe diabetes, probably caused or aggravated by his alcoholism.
|Epiphytic air plants attached to a huizache tree.|
Despite his obvious intelligence, Félix's writing and reading are labored (his grammar and spelling are marginal), and his arithmetic, which he says was his favorite subject, doesn't take him much farther than adding, subtracting and multiplication. Fractions, percentages and divisions are beyond his grasp.
With a wife and three children to support, there's virtually no chance of Félix going back to school, so hopes for the future rests on three kids. I've talked with Alondra and Edgar, and played with them on the computer, and they seem very sharp and quick to learn. But it'll be a miracle if Mexico's anemic and corrupt public education system carries them very far. To attend the prepa, a type of pre-college high school, they would have to travel to San Miguel by public bus, assuming they meet the entrance requirements. Let us pray for a miracle.
|Small bud attached to the sycamore, which I thought was filled|
with seeds of some sort. Félix says they are insect eggs,
We often hear or read about singular human beings who rise above tougher-than-tough circumstances to become movie actors, scientists or teachers. But beyond being momentarily inspired or moved, we then forget about the other ninety-nine percent of the potential sharpies who never make it and what a shame that is—for them and for the rest of the world.