One-stop Christmas Shopping~

One stop Christmas shopping arrived this year in the form of a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) email. I opened my mail this morning and lo and behold there was the perfect gift: a certificate in someone’s name for a reforestation effort of Costa Rica’s dwindling natural habitat.

I immediately donated for my entire family so they might participate from a distance in a worthy project. The money will go to NRDC’s partner group, Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE, pronounced CAT-EE-YA) and will go to reforest the area just to the north of us in the Turrialba region of Costa Rica.

Alan and once went to their headquarters looking for tropical hardwood saplings to plant on our property. We were very impressed with the place and their efforts to increase awareness of ecological effects of traditional slash and burn agriculture. Their stated mission is “to contribute to rural poverty reduction by promoting competitive and sustainable agriculture and natural resource management, through higher education, research and technical cooperation.” They do this by working with the following target groups:

*Small and medium-sized low-resource farmers including those living in extreme poverty, and those with minimum means to diversify and become competitive

*Rural communities and local organizations

*Business-oriented farmers and agroindustrial entrepreneurs generating rural employment

One of the things they have done in this regard is to develop a mold resistant variety of cacao and have taught the people of this area how to manage their crops without disturbing the indigenous plants of the region.

In the late 1970s a mildew blight, Moniliasis, hit the crops of this region virtually wiping out the income of the locals. Our black neighbors have always claimed the banana companies brought the mold blight, saying they did it to steal their land. My guess it was a hundred plus years of mono-cropping and the mildew took advantage. Whatever the case, the cacao has never been as strong or as plentiful as before.

CATIE now trains people and implements farming practices with small-scale producers in order to increase the profitability and competitiveness of their cacao plantations without losing the environmental functions of these diversified systems. A worthy cause for sure and my Christmas present to my family.

If you would like to donate to this project please use this link.The monkeys will love you forever!

If you’d like to give to a cause closer to home, follow this link to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Web site.

Have a Merry Christmas and a greener New Year!

Cleaning Up Around the Place

Sunday is my usual day for doing laundry and getting the house in order. I am not someone who is creative while living in clutter, so if I want to write I must clean first.

I was on my way to the laundry room yesterday morning with a load of sheets from our bed. The “laundry room” is actually on our back porch– one of the many benefits of living in the tropics; not everything has to be indoors. I opened the back door and headed down the steps where I found my husband, a bemused look on his face, standing where I needed to go.

“Check this out,” he said. I looked in the direction his chin jutted and saw a river of black ants flowing across our sidewalk. Army ants, or, as we call them, cleaning ants.

They don’t come very often but when they do, watch out!

Like the flooding Mississippi they flowed over and around everything on our sidewalk. At the head of the torrent they spread out, and our porch and sidewalk became a delta with multiple channels of them foraging in every crack and crevice.

I tried to imagine myself as a small frog or a cockroach, minding my own business, when suddenly, over the hill, a horde of warlike Huns descend killing everything in their path.

Army ants, also called driver ants, are migratory insects. Blind, they communicate using smell and vibration to feel they way forward in their constant hunt for food. They have no home, as do most ants, but bivouac overnight, constantly on the move.

They were in our house for all of thirty minutes I would guess. We watched as they scaled our bathroom wall making the side of it appear antiqued with the living cracks that scurried back and forth. They advanced at an alarming rate. Scouts scurried ahead and returned passing information to the oncoming ranks like bumper cars.

An anole sat at my husband’s feet, his head cocked to one side as the current of ants flowed past him. He had no fear of them, which is more than I can say for any cockroach found in their path. There are other jungle denizens–birds and lizards– that follow the army ants gobbling up any escapees from their marauding runs. The anole happily waited for any moth or fly that might be driven from cover.

As soon as it started it was over. Suddenly we noticed that there were larger numbers headed upstream than down. Like spawning salmon more and more of them fought the oncoming current of their brethren– the bumper car messages indicating a turn in the stream. Soon they were gone.

But my husband ran into them again over by his shop later in the day. They had redeployed over there ravaging that area. He made a misstep and ended up with a welt on his foot the size of an acorn. It still hurts today.