Fourth Year (1974):
February 7: We're going for supplies and to look at a couple of cows in the morning. We'll be taking off at about 4:30am so as to arrive at our destination about milking time. Then we'll have breakfast at our favorite spot in Santa Clara and ride back home.
We're still selling a little wine but only have 10 gallons left and 20 bottles in the cellar.
We got twenty quarts of honey lately and some more still in the hives and more importantly we managed to trap 3 of the 4 swarms this spring. So we now have five hives! When a colony gets too full they produce an extra queen and she takes half the bees to swarm in a nearby tree until scout bees locate a new spot. While they're waiting (usually 1 day and 1 night), we throw together a new box, climb the tree, cut off the limb, carefully carry it to the new box and brush the bees in. A section of comb and brood from the old hive helps keep them there. Masked, gloved and YES, still a few stings. Boy can they get mad and it's hard to keep your cool with 100's whizzing around your head and crawling all over you and then that one sneaks under the net and sap! Kind of exciting really and we do love our honey.
Mateo walks like mad, plays in his sand box and chases a ball around. Says, "Hi, da da da, but that's all. But for me that's enough! Elizabeth is still hoping for a "ma ma."
Our big project for the next month and a half is fencing the final side of our farm.
February 27: We registered a brand in San Fernando. It's a simple six-sided hexagon. February has been like a winter month in Northern California - cold to cool, with lots of rain. Luckily we got in a big summer gardening right next to the house and it's thriving. An hour ago the sun broke through and whereas Mateo was clad in a polo shirt and sweatshirt, now he's naked here on the porch, dunking his clothes, and occasionally one leg, into a bucket of water and soaking up the sun.
Today has been a holiday for us -- three years since we left the States; Mateo's eleven months plus 1 day); and last night we laid the very last stone in the floor. We just finished our holiday meal of baked chicken, rice, salad, blackberry bread and pink champagne (that's what our wine is like after one and one half months storage in the cellar. I get high just drinking the bubbles that come fizzing out of the bottle. We haven't gone to town for a while. Our main activity is work, work, work - the dream still grows.
Mateo is still a baby and cry baby sometimes, but mostly a little boy now - walking all over the place, exploring every damn thing he comes across; climbing the stairs to the loft; standing on a stool at the kitchen counter nibbling; being dirty from head to toes, pulling up plants and eating them in the garden; yelling that ants are biting him; getting caught playing in his BM!; feeding Kelly his piece of bread; feeding Kelly his BM!; laughing a belly laugh at Mom swinging on a rope; crying big tears because Dad swatted him for eating cement; crawling into Dad's arms for a hug; and, ending another day suckling at Mom's breast.
March 1: Our house is so warm, so secure. Our garden is so green. We're getting 3 eggs and 2 quarts of milk a day. We are in good shape.
Our ducks have a new pond in the creek behind the house. Oh, do they love it. Mateo can walk to the barn, talk to the chickens and walk back to the house - alone! He's still nursing too.
I'm still working on fencing. We had a delicious duck dinner on Sunday. Still waiting for our new colt. A chicken is setting on a dozen eggs. Pineapples have started to grow on the pineapple plants. The rhubarb is still producing.
Today we rejoined civilization - we bought a radio! I got an English station on it tonight. I listened to a man who used to be a Jew and spent all his time saying terrible things about Christians - he was giving a sermon on how terrible the Jews are. He sure has made a lotta progress!
April 2: March was our third anniversary here on the farm. Three years ago we were living in our tent over across the ridge - we hadn't even discovered the little plain where we now live. And this March has been quite a victory month. On the 15th we helped our neighbor Abran bring up his 28 cows and 2 bulls to pasture on our land until May 15 (and we collected 600 pesos rent). Also he told us to milk 3 of his cows if we wished (all 28 cows have calves, but because it's the dry season, and cows are short on milk, he's letting the calves have all the milk - except that our pasture is so good that the cows haven't dried up much. Since the herd arrived we've been having a ball pretending they're ours. Each morning I saddle up right after breakfast and chores, and Mateo and I go out after the 3 cows and our cow Pistola. We have quite a fine time playing cowboys. He can spot the cows and horses, and he yells at them as we bring them in. Most of the time we are just riding and looking for them and he's as quiet as a mouse, taking everything in. We usually find them one at a time and get them started back. With their calves bawling from the corral, they come on in alone, but not unless we get them started. Meanwhile, back at the barn, mother is playing milkmaid. As they come in she lets them into the corral; lets the calf suckle each teat; wrestles the calf to a post; ties the cows feet and does the milking! No kidding - every morning, 4 cows in about 30 minutes. For our efforts we get between a gallon and a gallon and a half. One quart goes to pig, about a quart we drink, and the rest we use to make cheese. Our cheese takes only two days to make, so once we've got it going, we have it every day. It's a soft white cheese, kind of like between cottage cheese and cream cheese - really good alone or on bread or sweet potatoes.
Also this month we completed fencing the entire farm with a good sturdy
fence. Half of this was Don Mauro's responsibility, so since I did his
half, we made 900 pesos -- one peso per post - local wages. That was one
hell of a hard job, especially on the more mountainous terrain, but I
got a lot of satisfaction out of doing it.
We had a setter produce ten beautiful chicks, which are doing fine. Two more of our hens are now sitting on eggs. That only leaves three laying hens, and they're producing two eggs a day for us. We feed the chickens a new protein concentrate, which we add to their ground corn. One of Mateo's favorite early morning activities is chasing chickens. About 7:30am he can often be seen with a big stick following along after the mother hen and her ten chicks. Actually I believe it started as chasing and now he's more like one of the chicks.
Three days ago our big fat sow sneaked out seven beautiful piglets in the middle of the night. Piglet petting is a new Mateo activity (daddy too), and today he was leading the 7 piglets around the corral - mother pig is confined but doesn't seem to mind.
Rabbits! We bought four new ones - a black, white, gray, and gray and white New Zealand daddy. We figured our hutch needed invigorating. A few days after bringing home the new ones our old mothers produced 8 bunnies. What a line up of rabbits on the backside of the house.
As for our bulging mare - we are still waiting and watching and hoping.
Seven banana bunches have flowered in March - one of Mateo's favorite foods. We have plenty of cabbage and lettuce and tomatoes. Rhubarb still looks good but we have been letting it grow during the hot months. Leeks have been our onion substitute. We have a few oranges and lemons. We have good sweet potatoes and yucca. We're starting to plan now for our big plantings starting around May 15th when the rains begin again. Yet, this year we've had showers often enough all summer to keep it cool and green. Just ten miles away, in the valley, it's now baking, dusty and brown. We were pretty lucky to land on this spot!
A couple months ago a couple with three kids built a little house on their piece of coffee land and they're living there for the summer. Real neighbors, only 2 miles away!
Another neighbor who has a coffee farm up the mountain and lives in the valley, stopped in last evening to show me the new chain saw he bought and find out how to run it. I had a ball for about two hours showing him all the tricks I know.
On Saturday Abran and his wife, Christina, and little 2-year old daughter, Marcella, are coming up to spray their cattle. We're going to kill a rooster and make a picnic out of it. They're coming up on horseback - lately she's taken to riding with him and taking their daughter along. It's only four miles or so by horse and maybe 20 miles by jeep.
The price of gasoline is up to $1 a gallon. The price of fertilizer has tripled!!! Food prices are up about 100% over the last year. Most people here make less than $1.50 a day and that's the cost of two-dozen eggs or 2 gallons of milk or 7 pounds of rice. Even the well to do, jeep-driving people around here probably make less than 3 to 5,000 dollars a year. Then there are the rich down in Managua who wholesale all the saleable good, and the Americans (not counting us or the Peace Corps volunteers!). And with the birthrate here - probably 6 or 7 kids per family - I'm fearful that we're going to be witnesses (though distantly because of our isolation) to some horrible conditions over our lifetimes - as if they're not bad enough already.
April 15: We're in Ocotal buying a few things, looking for cows and belatedly celebrating Elizabeth's birthday. We'll take in a movie tonight and go back early in the morning. Our horses are at Abran and Christina's farm.
Elizabeth had a day of illness and me a cold, but we are all fine now, especially Mateo. He's starting talking. He practices "mama" alone but won't say it under prompting. "hi da" is a regular.
In the last two weeks we've had visits from Abran and Cristina Vilchez and Marcella on horseback and one of the Herrera boys and wife and child. They got high on our NEW grapefruit wine. We visited an afternoon at Concho's. Kind of feels like we're becoming locally socialized.
April 26: We have a line on some cattle and a good friend is looking for heifers for us too. It seems to make sense to try to get this fenced in little ranch making some money.
Last week we acquired an orphan female calf that we're bottle-feeding 3 times a day - cutest little scamp. And 3 days ago as we walked out in the early morning light to milk, I noticed a black form by our white mare - bred by a pure white stallion. "Must be a stump." "But I think it moved!" Away we went, with all the excitement of waiting for eleven months and sure enough, still a bit damp, and wobbling on thin long legs, was our colt - with only a white blaze on HIS forehead to show the color of his parents. He is a beauty and by now gallops circles around his very protective mother. Also we have two new sets of chicks (6 and 7) and three new bunnies. We have quite a baby farm going with Mateo right in the middle of it all.
May 8: The most exciting seasonal change of the year happened upon us late this afternoon. Forewarned by great black clouds and heavy humidity, followed by startling bangs of thunder and lightening - and then THE RAIN! Although we've had a cool, moist summer, the dust and dryness slowly creeps up on everything and turns the whole picture some shade or other of brown. With tonight's cleaning of the leaves, and washing the air of smoke from burning, the GREEN begins. It was pretty exciting and Mateo took it all in with great delight. The cows all came in and the horses, chickens and pigs running for cover, Mom and Dad hustling to get the two youngest calves into the barn - all great fun. And water falling out of the sky in great drops and puddling here and there. After chores, we ran in the rain back to the house, watched the rain for a while, then started our evening fire securely nestled in the dry warmth of our house. Mateo's now asleep and we're writing and listening to the evening news on Voice of America - main news is Kissinger in the Middle East and Nixon refusing to give over any more material.
This weekend we had quite a nice trip. We rode a horse trail to a town about 15 miles away - Jicarro. Christine and Abran's nephew, Chepe, went with us as a guide. He's a very nice young kid and a most pleasant traveling companion, and a good guide and amazingly good hunter and nature lover. We had planned to stay with some Peace Corps folks but they were gone so we spent most time with, and stayed with, Chepe's Aunt. A most pleasant time we had with them - much chatting in the kitchen between Elizabeth and her - both ardent cooks. We also butchered a rabbit. We took rabbits with us to sell and sold six - more than paying for our trip and supplies! We spent two hours chatting with the American priest (from Wisconsin) in Jicarro. He's been there for seven years! He just happened to be interested in making wine, which certainly gave us a good conversation topic.
On our trip back our packhorse slipped and fell and was stuck, upside down, in a rock crevice! We managed to cut the cinch, and with pushing and pulling, we got the old boy up without injury. Had a nice rest at Abran's before the last leg home.
On our arrival home our new cow (the one we traded for) presented us with a strong, beautiful female calf. The calf we're hand feeding is doing fine too, and so is our gorgeous young colt. Sort of a perfect little farm we have right now - I must admit!
Meant to mention Mateo on our trip. Can you imagine a little guy spending most of two days on a horse? Well he did and though it's true he can be a problem, he really does well. He is becoming more of a companion and cuter everyday. He loves to pull on a string or rope - with something on the end making a cluck, cluck noise as though he's leading a horse. Today he was clucking all over the farm with a pair of boots trailing behind. Oh, yes, he can do a real horse too!
May 18: Little Mateo has his first real illness -- vomiting, diarrhea, cough, and temperature. We think today he's turning the corner toward improvement. We started antibiotics yesterday.
A week ago our colt disappeared. We searched up the mountain and down - all the way to Honduras and finally concluded, with the advice of friends, that it must have been a mountain lion! I began carefully tracking (or shall I say searching for signs) and I encountered a small deep hole, and there, about 3 feet down, was the panting little head of the colt! I pulled him out with a rope and though he was bruised and unable to walk for a while, he's in pretty good shape by now. Imagine the happiness of the mare at first encountering the dirty little fellow and mine too! I think he slipped into the hole during the evening storm and the mare just had no idea what happened to him.
A week ago we bought another mare with a month old female colt. Now the front pasture (all the brush of which we chopped out last week) is adorned with two playful colts!
Sold our pig but still have 5 piglets. Our two cows and 3 calves are
doing great. We put duck eggs under a setting chicken! And one of the
ducks is setting now too. Small operation, but quite the animal farm now!
This afternoon we're riding on to San Fernando to a wedding of two brothers to two sisters. One of the brothers is Emiliano, who was our caretaker on our last U.S. visit. The sisters are the daughters of Don Concho, our up-mountain neighbor. After the wedding is an all night dance. We'll be riding home in the moonlight or dawn. Should be an interesting and fun time.
Mateo is well again and back to his incredible doings. He's so mad at his pull toys (even cries), because the sticks and dirt that he piles on them, falls off when he tries to haul them around. First thing back, I'm going to make him a hauling truck.
We're still planting. Our horse and cultivator are working beautifully. This year we're cultivating by horse. PROGRESS!
June 8: We're still in the midst of planting. So hard and slow when you break new ground, but our horse and cultivator are a big help. The whole plain and garden area and all the land out where we hoed corn is blooming with all kinds of plants. We're now at work on the side across from the stream - that will be all planted to corn. Mateo is being a doll at messing along while we work and he loves to ride the horse as he plows. He knows how to swat flies off the horse's neck and, the other day, as he and I rode out to get our two milk cows, and started up a steep slope, he leaned down and grabbed the horses mane just like I often do, to keep from sliding backwards.
Today we're taking a break to visit Abran and Christina and go on to Santa Clara for supplies and the mail.
Next Friday we're planning a trip to Jicarro to visit the Peace Corps couple there and to buy some new work shoes.
At the end of this month we're going up to Concho's to participate in a three day religious retreat (Catholic) - run by a hippie-type priest from the U.S.!!!?
Emiliano and Herardo's wedding was interesting. Imagine the dusty, pig shitty streets of San Fernando and the run-down adobe houses and out pop two petite brides draped in as pretty, as white, as lacy, and as flowing gowns as you've ever seen. And the two grooms looking like 1920's gangsters but, nevertheless, with ties and jackets. The church wedding itself was a drag. The reception was fun. The wedding party had a sit-down dinner, while some 200 other folks milled around eating on their feet, talking, etc. Concho hustled us over to two chairs at the banquet table. I ate with gusto while Elizabeth comforted the bride's Mother who was sobbing! She started crying 3 weeks before the wedding and is still crying. We rode home in the moonlight - arrived back about 1am.
June 16: We are visiting in Jicarro and having a most pleasant time. The four Peace Corps people here are going to accompany us back to the farm on Sunday.
July 2: We're just now on our way back from Managua, getting our
residency papers, and staying tonight in Esteli. Tonight we're staying
with a Peace Corps couple who are working and living in an orphan village.
July 8: We're eating awfully well too. Delicious rabbit and rice last Saturday; stuffed peppers on Sunday; beans and sweet potatoes with sour cream (our mid-day meal staple) and around the edges, cinnamon bread, rhubarb jam, Granada pie, and fresh pineapple.
We're off on a money making trip tomorrow. We're hauling a few things to the San Nicholas lumber mill to sell - 4 gallons of orange grapefruit wine, 4 rabbits, 4 young roosters, 25 pounds of sweet potatoes, 25 pounds of yucca, peppers and 5 granadas (passion fruits). Imagine us dummies with a food surplus and all this unused land here and all the people starving in the world - just don't make sense.
Right now I'm by the fire writing and Mateo and Elizabeth in the loft starting to sleep. But as Mateo took a long, late afternoon nap, he is doing everything from waving at me through the boards to threatening to tip over the diaper pail. He's really affectionate these days. Always accompanies me for morning milking and throws a fit if I take off on horseback without him.
July 22: Elizabeth is riding for supplies and mail today and I'm staying here and working and little-boy sitting. All of our crops are beautiful and cultivated. I'm now finishing cleaning the coffee gulch and tomorrow we will start building a strong wooden corral next to the barn - easier to milk and spray the cattle too. No new additions to our herd of nine but we're still looking.
On our last selling trip to San Nicholas we sold plenty but our grapefruit wine was no great success - too acidic for the peoples taste. We're experimenting now with wine from passion fruit. We eat pie almost every day from this delicious fruit. Finally, three cheers from Mateo, we have ripe bananas. I doubt that we'll ever again be out of bananas as there are about 12 bunches maturing now on the trees.
Mateo is now standing on a stool inspecting the grinder; now he's leafing through a book; now he's moving the grinder handle back and forth; he just climbed down to inspect some egg shells on the floor (Mommy dropped an egg!); with his mouth full of egg shells he just went out the door. I can hear him splashing in the water bucket. He's a veritable tornado!
August 2: Bought another beautiful white Brahman calf; have a
sure lead on three others and today we're meeting an Ocotal man to go
to his farm and look at his herd. Our money is soon going to be gone but
our herd is beautiful.
We are now taking a vacation in Nicaragua! Our first exploration on this trip was to a little nowhere place far back in a range of mountains where an Italian priest has been working for 18 years! He has an orphanage with over 100 boys and an indigenous Indian organization of over 6,000! He's working to secure their land, a goat-raising project, and about 100 other projects. He was very welcoming to us and we enjoyed seeing all the work he's doing. We may go live among those Indians some day to learn a few things.
On our second stop in La Trinidad, we met two Mormon families who are planning to settle in the wilds of the Nicaraguan East Coast, which is almost completely undeveloped. There are two men and several women and twelve beautiful children. They want us to join them! They're pretty interested in what we've done and how much we know.
Now we're down in Masaya, Granada. This is sort of the tourist center
of Nicaragua. Here we've made friends with a couple who are Jehovah Witnesses.
Their preacher is from Omaha, Tech High School, class of 1957! They are
very nice people. From here it's to the University in Leon and from there
who knows, but we'll probably be back home within five days.
Our trip lasted eleven days. The last leg was the hardest but possibly the most fun. The area the Mormon family is planning to move to will be three days by canoe and one by bus to get to a doctor! One of the men was just recovering from malaria and typhoid and too weak to travel. They are thinking about a town named Wiwili as a jumping off place. The River Coco is navigable from there to the river Bocay where they hope to settle. So we went on as scouts for them to Wiwili and have written to them the information that they wanted. This town is only about 50 miles from our area but it turned out to be two full days of travel by bus! Wiwili is a real frontier town - full of men carrying every kind of pistol hanging from their belts; streets so full of horses you can hardly walk; and down the hill a big tropical river with dugout canoes, maybe 30 feet long, with and without, outboard motors. We were thinking about a trip down the river, a half days journey, but decided against it because the rains were getting pretty heavy and because we heard of a strange epidemic killing a lot of people down the river. About fifty miles down the river, the land is free for homesteading. So we came on back - pushing the bus at least ten times through great mud holes and slippery hills, but we made it fine. Stayed the night with Abran and Christina and came on back to Sangarro the next morning. Real nice trip but the place we like best in Nicaragua is right here.
Calves, cows, colts and horses are all fine. When we got back from our trip one of our horses was almost dead with a deep wound, infected and infested with worms. We doctored him and today rode him for the first time - incredible recovery! Yesterday we vaccinated two of them gave a vitamin shot to our little orphan calf; and bathed them all against screwworms and ticks. They have to be bathed about every two weeks. We also work with them to tame them down. Our five newest ones are wild but manageable, but our thousand pound Brahman bull comes to us to be petted. He spends most of his time close to the two cows and the biggest calf but he can be seen at times nuzzling with some of the younger calves.
As it should be the farm is more productive than ever - all the bananas we can eat (the fulfillment of a little dream!), lemons, avocados, guavas, figs (Mateo's favorite next to bananas of which he peels and eats about 4 a day), wine from passion fruit, loads of vegetables and root crops, decent harvest on soy beans, red, black and black eyed beans, and beautiful corn (eating, roasting ears now) and our rosselle is coming along strong (that's our Christmas wine crop). As is the custom here, we beat our beans out of the vine with sticks and dry them for several days in the sun. I'm sure a thousand years ago, not too far from here, Mayan Indians were doing the same thing.
About two weeks ago, early in the morning, Mateo and I were coming over a ridge high up on the mountain. We stopped in our tracks as a mama deer and baby were coming right towards us. I pointed and whispered "deer" and he saw them. For about 15 seconds we watched them scampering closer and closer towards us and then they veered off to the left and into a deep gulch. I saw them again three days later.
September 12: Yesterday we went to San Nicholas to peddle our wine and vegetables and saw an Independence Day party getting started. We had a real nice, social and friendly day.
Even though we've been making some money, buying our livestock has about depleted our funds. We're thinking of going back to the U.S. for Christmas and then work a bit before coming back.
October 4: We've decided to fly from here around the 15th of December to Mexico City and make our way from there to Austin and on to Omaha for Christmas. After Christmas we will work for 3-4 months in Austin, Tulsa, Omaha, Denver or wherever we can encounter work. We may also try to line up good teaching jobs for the coming academic year (so that for the following visit we make we can make a pile of money and use some of our educations too!).
Last weekend I spent two days and a night at a "retreat" with many of our neighbors who live further up the mountain. This was one of many in our area being promoted by the Catholic Church and run by an American Franciscan Padre. I also spent two days working on preparations for it, building etc., and took yucca and wine as an offering. I didn't partake of the "bread and wine," but I was an active part of everything else. It was a most interesting time with the message being for people to take control of their own lives, with special emphasis on relationships between men and women. Elizabeth and Mateo stayed home taking care of the farm. They were glad to see me come home and the next day we were visited by my 30 "brother" and "sisters" from the retreat!
7: Our Brahma Bull is like a puppy. Mateo goes into the corral and
pets and even climbs on top of him! "Segoviano" seems to relish
We've arranged with a family to care for the farm while we're gone - a man and his wife and four children and another one coming any day. They live and work on up the mountain. They're poor and seem pretty excited to come and take care of our place. He can also pick coffee during December, January and February so they should make out pretty good. Also, two of our land-owning neighbors have offered to keep an eye out for us while we're gone.
November 18: We're back at the farm after a trip to Managua to get our tickets to New Orleans, leaving on December 12th ($300). We plan to sell our rifle to get money for going from New Orleans to Austin and Omaha.
On our way to Managua, we stopped to spend the night in Trinidad with our Mormon friends. Mateo came down with a 104 to 105 fever, which we couldn't break. The 7th Day Adventists just happen to run the best hospital in Nicaragua in Trinidad. We rushed Mateo over there. They continued cold-water baths and injections (checked him for typhoid and malaria - negative) and gave him antibiotics. Elizabeth and Mateo stayed at the hospital while I went to Managua. Quite a heavy experience! Mateo is fine now and we have medicine! Whew! We met some real nice people too.
Everything perfect at the farm. Great corn harvest and all land again
planted. All thoughts are turning towards Christmas in Omaha!