The Amazing Scarlet Runner Bean

 

IMG_1503.JPG(Phaseolus coccineus) – photo from my garden

 

About 30 years ago I was visiting a neighbor for the first time early one August when I spied the most extraordinary vine of brilliant orange pea sized flowers cascading from an emerald climber that stretched across the entire wire wall of a huge vegetable garden. Eileen left an eight foot arch open by tying back some of the vines for an entrance. The vines were massive, at least 12 to 15 feet high and at least 100 feet long, and I could see and hear the sound of joyful ruby throated hummingbirds as they buzzed from one blossom to another as millions of bees, swallowtails, and monarchs swooped through the air lighting upon loose tendrils that were attempting to find purchase somewhere by climbing on the backs of their neighbors. To say I was transfixed by the sight is an understatement. I lost time in the blue and gold mountain field in Western Maine as I stood there astonished and bewildered by such abundance and beauty.

 

Returning to ordinary time, and gathering my wits about me, I asked my new friend about the vine and was only then I was formerly introduced to the magnificent Scarlet Runner bean. As we wandered down the fence line Eileen told me that she had grown up in the south and had been surrounded by these vines since she was a child; she was then a woman in her late sixties. As we peeked into the plethora of leaves I was delighted to see small green beans developing from the flowers and was told that these beans were delicious to eat, especially when picked while still young. I had been a gardener all my life – how had I missed learning about such a plant?

 

By the time I left Eileen’s house that afternoon I had a whole handful of shiny deep mauve and black kidney shaped beans in my hand for next year’s planting. These were heirloom seeds that Eileen had been given by her own mother. I was ecstatic.

 

This was the beginning of my love affair with Scarlet Runner beans, an affair that continues into the present. The first year I grew them they took over the entire back porch. I soon learned to plant even more vines like Eileen had so the deer could feast on the bounty too.

 

One spring a black bear watched me place my seeds into rich loam from behind his spindly screen of bushes, and that very night Little Bee came back and dug up every bean that I had planted (An endless curiosity is a fundamental aspect of friendly backyard bears)!

 

As the years passed my own wild unkempt garden was covered in more and more Scarlet Runner vines, flowers, and beans. I discovered to my surprise that black bears also loved to eat the blossoms and seed pods. Even with all the competition, I had plenty of fresh green beans and took endless joy out of watching so many bees, butterflies, bears, deer, and hummingbirds feast along with me.

 

About ten years ago when colony collapse devastated the honey bee population the bumblebees took over, but I couldn’t help noticing that overall there were less and less bees and butterflies drinking sweet nectar. Diminishment of various species is invisible to some. Only during the last two summers I spent in Maine did I have fewer hummingbirds…

 

Every year after the harvest I gathered and gave away seed gems to friends who seemed to appreciate them as much as I did – passing on the priceless gift of un contaminated heirloom seeds – seeds that held a future free of human manipulation within each be- jeweled skin.

 

When I moved to New Mexico I brought a few beans with me and my friend Iren was the first recipient of this precious bounty. She, in turn, passed some seeds onto others. Last summer her entire back fence was covered in gorgeous plants. Here in New Mexico the vines don’t grow quite as tall but they are still abundant, and during July deer and elk ate some of Iren’s blossoms (but there were plenty left for her to harvest).

 

Here, I planted my beans in a pot above ground. I do not recommend this practice. These beans need ample water and need to be planted in the Earth to thrive (mine had yellowing leaves). I also noted the effect the intense heat had on the beans. The plants didn’t start producing beans until August though we planted in mid – May, I believe. It’s important to know that Scarlet Runners will not survive frost. What I did notice is that butterflies (swallowtails) and a number of different bees flocked to the flowers. Hummingbirds loved them!

 

Imagine my shock when I discovered that the history of Scarlet Runner beans began in North America. These beans are native to the highlands of Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, where they have been cultivated for thousands of years.

 

This climbing plant is one of the oldest documented beans known to humans!

 

Native Americans consumed almost every part of the plant including the starchy root. Some Indigenous tribes regard the Scarlet Runner bean as a sacred plant. The plants seem to pulse with the life force, at least for me.

 

Today, Scarlet Runner beans are usually grown as annuals for the obvious reasons – their showy flowers and their edible pods and seeds. I recently learned that they are unusual among bean species because they are perennial in places where the ground doesn’t freeze and they climb in a clockwise direction. In retrospect I wondered if they were grown as perennials in the south where Eileen once lived.

 

I remember Iren asking me if you could cook the dried beans. My friend Eileen had never mentioned the practice so I didn’t know until I did this research that here in the U.S. consumers, up until recently, were more likely to find the shelled dried beans to cook than seeds to plant! Mature dried Scarlet Runner beans are ¾ inch in length. They can be cooked like Pinto or Pink beans and used in dishes such as soups and stews. Scarlet Runner beans are less starchy than Lima beans with a nutty garden-fresh flavor. These beans are also known by the common names of Scarlet Conqueror, Fire beans, Mammoth beans, Red Giant beans, and Scarlet Emperor beans.

 

Today, of course there are many cultivars to choose from but I prefer the lineage I have because I know those seeds originated at a time that preceded spraying etc.; they also have sentimental value. If anyone is interested in the gift of a few seeds please contact me at Sara@megalink.net.

 

With that much said so much is happening with seed savers across the country that it is now possible to buy heirloom seeds from a number of companies. This year when I attend the Tewa Women’s Seed Exchange I plan to bring some of my Scarlet Runner beans from last year’s harvest. My guess is that Iren will do the same!

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The Age of the Crone

In Praise of Old Women

Posted: 14 Jan 2019 03:00 AM PST

Susan Zerinsky, age 66 and 5’1” tall, has just become the first woman to head the legendary CBS News division. Yes, that CBS News, as in Murrow and Cronkite, which once set the gold standard for broadcast journalism, of late severely tarnished by #MeToo scandals necessitating the firings of Charlie Rose and Les Moonves. Zerinsky came to CBS at age 20, worked her way up, has produced “48 Hours” for years, exercises seven days a week, boxes, lift weights, does Pilates, and has taken SLT classes because she heard they might make her taller. Of the sexual misconduct at CBS, she vigilantly declares, “#MeToo isn’t behind us, it’s part of us.”

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is working from home since being released from the hospital after surgery for two malignant nodules on her left lung. She’s 85 and this was her third bout with cancer. She expects to be back on the bench shortly.

Florida Democratic Congresswoman Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration, ran for this seat at age 78, because she was tired of getting mad at Trump and not doing anything. She is the oldest ”Freshman” in her House of Representatives class.

There is enormous press coverage of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as the youngest woman in that class (just 29), but little about Shalala, while much press attention to the once and now again Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, 78, has been devoted to wondering if she’s too old to do the job. Democratic Representative Maxine Waters of California, 80, who now chairs the influential House Financial Services Committee, breathes fire.  Hillary Rodham Clinton won the popular vote for the Presidency at age 69, watched the election get stolen from her, picked herself up after a grueling campaign and devastating disappointment, and now continues doing work mostly in the cause of women’s equality and empowerment.

In praise of old women? You bet. Notice the “old,” not the euphemistic ”older.” Older than who or what? Let’s free the word “old” from all cutesy, infantilizing euphemisms—“senior,” “golden age,” “oldster,” and similar sins against the English language. Not for nothing was the archetype of the Crone born from poetic imagination. After all, what is perpetual youth but arrested development?

Recently, Jessica Bennett, prize-winning journalist, author, and gender editor of the New York Times (at a mere age 38), wrote a terrific piece that reminded me I hadn’t addressed this issue in far too long. Bennett noted of course that men lead major organizations and nations well into their seventh and eighth decades, retaining power and prominence—and, I’d add, welcome or unwelcome access to much younger women. The current “demographic revolution,” as termed by Prof. Susan Douglas of the University of Michigan, is the result of a half century of Women’s Movement activism from the 1970s straight through to #MeToo. And lifespan has a lot to do with it.

Such a demographic shift was unthinkable when women faced a high risk of dying in childbirth or could enter careers political and otherwise only after their children were grown. But in 2016 the average lifespan of women in the US was 81.1 compared with men’s 76.1, and some 18 percent of women age 70 to 74 are employed. Having a job later in life is more common among women with higher education and savings, Bennett reminds us, while those not employed are more likely to have poor health and low savings, and be dependent on Social Security.

We live in a youth-obsessed culture that propagandizes girls of 13 they need to be anorexic to look glamorous and should shave their pubic hair to seem even younger. The Women’s Movement itself has followed this trend by prioritizing the concerns of younger women and supporting emerging young leaders. That’s perfectly understandable, since the future is theirs, as is the task of carrying on the work. But like everything else, it shouldn’t be an either/or choice, especially when we can opt for both/and.

In some people, age can certainly atrophy a capacity for experimentation, risk, energy, and openness to new ideas, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Furthermore, age has compensatory gifts. Not so much “wisdom,” which some folks, old or young, have and some frankly don’t. But with aging you accumulate experience that you simply couldn’t have acquired earlier. It depends on what you do with it, yes, but you need to have acquired experience even to make that decision. Skill, which is formed by practice—another form of experience—can be another privilege of age. For instance, except for the rare Mozart, the longer an artist can manage to live, generally the better her or his work will become.

Then there’s sex. Some women blossom into a fuller or even entirely different sexuality. Others luxuriate in being alone, able to sprawl diagonally across the bed, and pleasure only themselves. One recently widowed friend chuckled to me, “If I miss cuddling, I’ll get myself a puppy.” There’s also such relief at not sweating the small stuff like you used to, because you’ve learned it passes and is ultimately unimportant. In fact, in retrospect you can’t believe you expended such “passion in a waste of shame“ on certain undeserving crises or persons. In any case, there’s a rejuvenation in energy and intellect that resembles the feminist epiphany, when you realize you actually like who you are.

Christiane Amanpour, 61, says a whole new chapter of her life has opened in replacing Charlie Rose on PBS (there is justice after all). My sister-cofounders of the Women’s Media Center, Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem, are respectively 83 and almost 85, and they tire their younger aides out. Oprah Winfrey is 65. I could go on but you get the point: we don’t lack role models; we lack consciousness of ageism, particularly when combined with sexism. Actor Dame Helen Mirren quipped, “As James Bond gets more and more geriatric, his girlfriends got younger and younger. It’s so annoying.”

In fact, although US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that more people over 65—almost 20 percent—are still employed than at any point since the 1960s, women over 50 have the hardest time finding a job. (Not that they don’t work, even when jobless, given all the unpaid, invisible labor women perform lifelong at home and in their communities.)

This is not plain ageism like discrimination against old men who are neither wealthy nor powerful. Ageism against women is uniquely bound up with reproductive capacity and patriarchal sexual preferences. It always comes back to sex and reproduction, which is why those two basic human rights to self-determination remain both starting place and goal for feminism.

Me, I turn 78 in a few weeks, and the reason I can’t quite believe that’s true is not denial but because inside I am basically, oh, 39-40ish. Do I wish my body was younger and without pains in places I didn’t even know I had? Absolutely. But although I’d willingly exchange this body for one of my younger ones, I would not exchange what’s in my mind and spirit for younger versions by even five seconds. I’m busier and happier than I’ve ever been. I love younger women—mentoring them and learning from them—and I’m grateful for and relieved by their unapologetic, fierce feminism. I’m optimistic and cynical at once. I’m no longer fearful of getting furious when I want to be, and I seek approval only from those I truly respect. All this—plus having had decades to develop a wry sense of humor, a practiced capacity to be mindful of every moment of every day, a fascination with humanity’s growing knowledge of the universe (including the thrills of science and awe at the universe), and a sense of absurdity regarding my creative, clumsy, adaptive, cruel, evolving species—gets me through.

So this is in praise of old women. Especially because this spring, 84-year-old Glenda Jackson is bringing to Broadway what theater critics abroad have unanimously declared the greatest single performance of our era: King Lear herself.

So offend, trivialize, or ignore old women at your peril. Respect, support, and welcome the talents and years we have to offer, and together we become women (and men) for the ages.

My commentary:

I love this woman’s writing but especially this week as she celebrates being “old” a word I now use to define myself at 74. Like Robin, I would not trade this age for another because lived experience continues to widen my horizons, brings me joy, creates a space for gratitude to blossom over the simplest of things.

Unlike Robin, I would not trade this aging body for a younger one, even though I am vulnerable to illness due to a chronic stomach condition and an extreme sensitivity to western drugs and Nature’s plight… Why? because it has taken me a whole lifetime to love this little body that is the physical manifestation of the rest of me, and now I feel the deepest compassion for her – an amazing reversal from a life time filled with the filth of Woman’s self hatred.

Paying Homage to Hestia

(one of author’s dogs, “Hope,” gravitates instantly to the heat of the wood stove)

This morning I was kneeling in front of my new wood stove kindling a fire from hot coals when I felt the presence of the Greek Goddess Hestia, Lady of the Hearth moving through the house. The goddess manifests as a crackling wood fire, and when I kneel before my wood stove to coax coals into flames I feel as if I am paying homage to her.

I have spent two winters without a wood stove, and have missed this ritual fall lighting of the fire, and the knowing that I am participating in ancient practice that extends back far beyond the Patriarchal Greeks to the dawn of humankind.

Today I felt her presence in a visceral way as I looked out the window at the first flakes of white snow disappearing into wet ground, and felt the hearth warming beneath my feet.

Hestia symbolizes the importance of creating sacred space within one’s home by honoring the fire that turns wood to ashes and re –kindles itself, resurrecting what was dead. This is also a time to give thanks for every tree that sacrifices itself to keep us warm…

Hestia’s name means “hearth” or “fireplace,” and her status shows how important the hearth was in the social and religious life of Ancient Greeks. Making and preserving fire was essential for early cultures, which made the household fire a sacred element at a very early stage of “her – story.” In later days, Hestia became its embodiment.

Hestia received the first offering at every meal in the household with families pouring sweet wine in her name and dedicating the richest portion of food to her.

The hearth fire in the household was not allowed to go out by any family unless it was ritually distinguished.

In the Greek myth, Hestia was one of three “virgin” goddesses; the other two were Athena and Artemis. I interpret this virgin aspect as being “one unto herself, indicating wholeness which has nothing to do with chastity. Athena was a goddess of war and got lots of attention, Artemis was Mistress of Wild Animals and also a great huntress. Hestia was acknowledged as Mistress of the Fire, and cultivator of the home place. Of the three goddesses she got the least attention, probably because the Greeks were a Patriarchal warring culture that valued men over women, and thrived on conquest, rape, and killing (power over). Honoring any peaceful nurturing goddess of the household was less important.

There is an interesting story about a potential rape of Hestia by a drunken god while she was sleeping. The braying of a distressed donkey awakened Hestia in time to ward off this atrocity and thereafter, on Hestia’s feast day a donkey that wore a garland was included in Hestia’s festivities. This intervention by a loving animal may carry a significance that is easily missed. Animals can represent women who are living in a state of wholeness because they have married instincts to awareness. To become en – souled is a holy undertaking that connects a woman to All That Is.

This autumn I welcome Hestia as Keeper of the Fires into this house asking for her blessing, honoring WOMAN who tends the potentially transforming element of contained fire in her own home or realm.

Our Amazing Junipers

(Author’s Guardian Juniper Tree)

 

Tomorrow we are supposed to have the first freezing temperatures and I am watering my adopted juniper, the first tree species that I fell in love with when I came to Abiquiu, because of its fantastic myriad of shapes, its tenacious ability to cling to cliff edges and because so many of these trees are allowed to live out their natural lifespans of a few hundred to a thousand years or more. Now my love and amazement for these drought resistant trees has deepened into genuine concern because this summer’s drought has turned clumps of needles brown on most of the junipers on the mesas and many appear to be dying unnaturally (very old trees do have a strange half dead look that is normal). Anyone with eyes can see how dis – stressed these trees are.

 

Water is Life. Here in the river valley, including the Bosque there are fewer dead patches but little or no new growth on the junipers. A few days ago I took a tape measure to measure new spikes on the solitary juniper that I water, noting that most fronds had bright blue green spires measuring twelve inches or more. Although I am happy for my tree I am also frightened because it is clear that we are now living the ravages of climate change and most of the junipers around here have little or no new growth and are not doing well.

 

Western junipers are an “indicator species.” If they are showing signs of stress from lack of water then other less resilient trees are even more threatened. Not to take heed of this juniper tree warning would be a grave mistake. For me, the upside of this knowing has validated my belief that I must stay with native flowering plants and because of what the junipers are saying instead of planting fruit and other trees I am going to choose more junipers. Fortunately, there are many beautiful cultivars to choose from. My neighbor Bruce has a gorgeous blue green gray green teardrop shaped juniper that is definitely on my list. It even has a huge bird’s nest hidden within its boughs.

 

Western junipers are dimorphic, meaning that they have two growth forms. One is upright (like my tree), and the other, much more common is bush-like opening to the sun like a flower. Even the biggest trees are not taller than 40 feet. The seedlings especially bear bluish green awl shaped leaves that are pointed at the tip. Mature leaves are a darker green and scale – like in appearance. The older leaves are borne in pairs or whorls of three and are rounded at the tip. The arrangement of the adult “leaves” in a circular pattern gives the twigs and uncanny resemblance to coral.

 

Although juniper and cedar are related – both belong to the cypress family – cedars produce small woody cones while junipers produce a bluish berry –like cone. Most junipers are dioecious, meaning that male and female cones are found on separate trees and once you observe the difference it is easy to differentiate between the two (to make things confusing some junipers have both male and female cones on one tree). The male cones are brownish in appearance and very small. These latter produce pollen sacs that release pollen grains in spring and summer, as many people that suffer from allergies know. The female cones look like berries. As the trees age some of the trunks become twisted and gnarled.

 

Junipers are one of the top ten plants for wildlife. Many birds love their berries and around here the Cedar waxwings, the Townsend solitaire, and American robins flock to the juniper cluster that shades the ground. I also see Dark Eyed juncos, Canyon towhees, and House finches scratching the ground under the tree. Collared doves, Pinion jays, Magpies, sparrows, and Western bluebirds to mention a few, gather in these trees for protection from hawk predation. And when winter winds are fierce and deadly, birds of all kinds seek protection from the bitter cold in the junipers’ thick branches.

 

To survive in dry climates, western junipers have long taproots and extensive lateral root systems that can efficiently obtain moisture where none seems to exist. They are intolerant of shade, so if you are going to plant some give them space and lots of sun.

 

Of particular interest to us during climate change is the way Junipers use water. Rain falling on a juniper canopy is partially intercepted by the foliage, branches, and trunk (this of course is also true for other trees but less so if their canopies are not dense). In brief storms like the few we had this summer much of the intercepted moisture evaporated and did not reach the ground so the tree roots were never watered. Wind has a negative impact during storms also lessening the possibility of the trees’ ability to absorb moisture and we had wind with every brief rain.

Transpiration nourishes the trees and is the process by which water is carried from roots and trunks to the small pores on the underside of leaves, where it changes to vapor and is released to the atmosphere. Transpiration cannot occur in soil that is devoid of moisture so without rain or during brief deluges most of the water becomes run off and even the lateral roots of Junipers (and other trees if they have them) receive little or no water. Transpiration ceases as the Junipers try to conserve what water they already have. In Abiquiu all of our un -watered Junipers (as well as other trees) have been literally starving for water. It is no wonder leaves/ needles withered turned brown and dropped to the ground.

 

Now that it is October and we are getting the first real rain of the year we need to hope that the air temperatures stay mild enough to keep transpiration occurring. Soil water uptake is reduced when the soil temperature is below 50 degrees. If air temperatures are near or below freezing, then very little or no transpiration occurs at all.

 

Adult junipers define our unique landscape with their glacial growth and fragrant aroma. These trees are active during much of the year, and are able to absorb spring runoff to begin transpiration. They are also able to take advantage of soil nutrients long before other trees are awake, making junipers the ideal tree to plant in times of unwelcome planetary change.

The End of Democracy?

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All three sides of this terrifying sculpture

 

I recently read Carol Christ’s response to an article “ The Patriarchy Will Always Have Its Revenge” (New York Times) with respect to our current political insanity with regard to women and rape. Carol wrote, “I find myself caught in the undertow of bad memories, stuck in a simmer of rage. My hands furl into fists. My jaw clenches. My teeth grind in the night.”

 

Mine too.

 

The Brett Kavanaugh case makes it abundantly clear we still blame women for rape even when the woman is a child.

 

The independent and most neutral of all papers from my point of view, The Guardian, states that according to the New England Journal of Medicine, rape is about four times more likely to result in diagnosable PTSD than combat.” I would add that attempted rape has the same result.

 

As a woman who has suffered from PTSD her entire life, has a history of sexual abuse, and has worked with abused women during most of her adult years I know from personal experience that this statistic is accurate, and as a therapist, I recognize that attempted rape destroys a woman’s sense of self in mind, body, and soul, just as actual rape does.

 

Ironically, the same morning I read Carol’s post a man posted the above picture on FB stating “that the sculpture was about a man thinking about wife giving birth.” WHAT? This frightening triple image spoke volumes to me about the hold real men and the dominant Patriarchal culture have had over Women and the Earth for millennia.

 

But thankfully not all men. John Erickson asks the same questions in his post on feminismandreligion.com that I have been asking as the horrors mount:

 

“If you are like me, you have found yourself, more times than one I am guessing, watching the news, mouths agape, mind in disbelief, and your heart heavy with grief and sadness. While these great travesties occur, I find myself wondering what is the cost? How many children must be locked in cages? How many women must come forward with accusations of sexual assault and rape? How many more people must accuse the President of harassment and assault? How many more anonymous op-eds and faulty promises must be made before we finally all see that the real cost, is that these great travesties themselves (too many to recall here) are what it really takes to take down imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”

 

He continues: “People have grown weary of having me at parties because my normal talking points are:

  1. Asking people if they’re registered to vote (and if not, why aren’t they?)
  2. Making sure people are discussing difficult issues with their friends and families that may or may not support Trump…
  1. Asking how long they think it will be until we are actually living in The Handmaid’s Tale universe?”

He also reminds us that this is more than about Trump’s presidency. Trump’s election is a symptom of the disintegration of an entire culture.

 

John finishes his essay by encouraging us to vote.

 

In my despairing state I have reached the same conclusion. There’s nothing else left to do. If we don’t vote in November to begin the process of ending this insanity, feminist or non –feminist, Democracy will be dead.

In the Shadow of Santa Rosa

Last night I had a nightmare.

 

I am dressed in a white cloak that obscures all but my face. The robe is splattered with paint and blood. I am awash in every color of the rainbow and dripping paint. I have been raped by strangers and no one is accountable.

 

This morning I could not get this horrible image out of mind but I had the strong sense that it had an impersonal aspect that had nothing to do with me.

 

This weekend at the Pueblo of Abiquiu the community celebrates the feast day of the first official saint of the Americas, Santa Rosa, and I planned to attend…

 

The people of Abiquiu call themselves Genizaros. Representing Apache, Navajo, Comanche, Kiowa, Pawnee, Ute and Wichita, de -tribalized Native peoples from the Plains that were captured and traded during the Indian wars of 18-19th centuries, and sold to New Mexicans as slaves and servants where they were stripped of their identity, instructed in Hispanic ways, and baptized as Christians. The People survived by incorporating Hispanic and Christian cultural practices into a distinct Genizaro consciousness, one that is distinct from the Indigenous Tewa speaking peoples (descendants of the Anasazi) who also live here in six pueblos along the Rio Grande.

 

The Genizaros are devout Catholics and every year a pilgrimage is made on foot from the ruins of Santa Rosa, a mile away, to the site of the present day Abiquiu Pueblo church. I was surprised that the procession was such a small one led by a man and two young women on horseback who appeared in the plaza under light rain followed by other men one of whom held up a wooden cross, a second man wore a cape of roses, another carried an image of the saint and all the men chanted. The group disappeared into the church to pray and to deposit the Santa… presumably at the altar.

 

Across the plaza women were busy preparing for the book sale. Unfortunately this year the new priest had decreed that there would be no booths for the people to sell food or their arts or crafts, and no afternoon dancing on the plaza. For me these activities were the heart and soul of these fiestas, and I am sure I was not alone in this perspective. I couldn’t help feeling disappointed and wondered why the Genizaros of Abiquiu had accepted these changes without protest as I left the Pueblo  until I recalled the influence the Catholic Church still has over it’s people. The priest holds the power.

 

I wish no disrespect but it seemed to me that the people were overshadowed by a religion that might not have the best interests of the Genizaros at heart. It was ironic that this priest’s behavior mirrored what happened to these de -tribalized people in the first place when they were stripped of their identity during the Spanish Colonial Conquest.

 

Because I am not Catholic I had no idea who Santa Rosa was until I did some research on this saint.

 

Santa Rosa de Lima is the patroness of Lima, Peru. She was born into poverty in 1586, one of 13 children. Her father was Spanish and her mother was Indian. As a child she spent her time in a small mining town along the Arahuay River in Peru.

 

Rosa was supposedly possessed by every aspect of religion and spent hours staring at an image of the Madonna and Child as a little girl. She was also apparently quite beautiful and her parents hoped that Rosa would marry ‘well’. But Rosa had other ideas – she chose the religious life, taking a vow of virginity, something her parents couldn’t accept. She devoted herself to a life of abnegation and self-mortification. Despite her family’s objections Rosa practiced extreme forms of asceticism. She fasted, became a vegetarian, mortified her flesh with hard work and went as far as to cut her hair, and rub lye, lime and pepper into her hands and face. She also wore a crown of thorns.

In 1605 Rosa wanted to join the monastery ‘Santa Clara’, but was too poor to pay the necessary dowry. She moved out of her family’s house into a small cottage built by herself on their property and filled her days with praying, hard work, bodily-torture and helping sick and poor people in her community. She sold her fine needlework and grew beautiful flowers that she offered at the market. With her exquisite lace and embroidery she supported her family and charity works.

 

Finally at the age of 20 she attracted the attention of the Dominican Order and was allowed to enter the ‘Third Order’ without payment. Thereafter she redoubled the severity and variety of her penances. She continued in her religious practices, gave up eating normal food and survived on bread and water, which she combined with herbs, grown in her herb garden, and juices made of natural plants. Rosa continued to wear a metal spiked crown, concealed with roses. She also wore an iron chain around her waist.

 

After more than fourteen years of martyrdom she died on the 24th of August 1617, at the age of 31. Her funeral couldn’t take place for two days because so many people queued to see her body. Rosa was worshipped at that time to such an extent that the Viceroy, the archbishop, representatives of all religious fraternities and many public authorities of Lima attended her funeral.

 

Pope Clement X canonized Rosa as the first Saint of the Americas designating August 30th as her Feast day.

 

How could such a woman  be deified?

 

Suddenly I remembered my nightmare. Had I dreamed an image of Santa Rosa?

 

Surely, this woman had endured the worst form of psychic/physical rape through her own heinous acts of self hatred, while being supported by a culture that elevated women who engaged in this total splitting of female mind from body through daily acts of cruelty and martyrdom. For any woman, this splitting leaves us vulnerable to an inner/outer takeover by Patriarchy, and without the defenses we need for our own survival. Our bodies carry our feelings, our instincts, and our truths.

 

The feminist in me was frankly horrified by the story of Sant Rosa’s life. It occurred to me that it might be a good practice to phase this festival out permanently since it modeled such self -destructive behavior for women. Maybe the priest was on the right track after all without realizing it!

 

Contrast this with Guadalupe who for more than 300 years has been celebrated and revered in Mexico as the Mother of Mexican and Indian peoples, although she has never been officially canonized by the Catholic Church (who still did its best to turn her into another version of the Virgin Mary when they realized the people refused to give her up).

 

She stands on home altars, lends her name to men and women alike, and finds herself at rest under their skin in tattoos. Guadalupe’s image proliferates on candles, decals, tiles, murals, and old and new sacred art. Churches and religious orders carry her name, as do place names and streets. Far from vulgarizing her image, these items personalize her and maintain her presence in daily life. She is prayed to in times of sickness and war and for protection against all evils.

 

Her story begins in 1531 when Guadalupe, a dark skinned Indian woman appeared to a young Indian (Aztec) peasant on a hill outside Mexico City in December. Many songbirds surrounded her. A healing spring of clear water rose up at her feet and flowers abounded. She requested that a shrine be built in her honor on Tepeyac, the hill outside Mexico City upon which she was standing. Scholars know is that this particular rise has been identified as the site where the earlier Aztec Earth Goddess Tonantzin once had a temple and was worshipped, especially at the winter solstice.

 

To make a long story short Guadalupe’s request was finally granted when she presented the peasant whose name was Don Juan with “proof” of her divinity – a tilma full of Castilian roses. Don Juan took the cloak of red roses and presented it to the Bishop who was finally convinced the apparition was that of the Virgin Mary!

 

Today, Guadalupe is heralded as the Indigenous Mother Goddess of the Americas and she is associated with Nature and the powers of Earth and Water. Unlike her unfortunate Spanish sister who was so saintly and died a victim and a martyr, Guadalupe’s power and strength live on.

Hawk Moth

When I first saw her dive into the brilliant orange nasturtium I stopped dead in my tracks – I was so fascinated by the speed of her flight, her ability to hover just in front of the flower, as if making up her mind to re- enter that blossom or move on. The pale pink brushed across her speckled/striped mole brown/buff thorax almost seemed like it had been added as an afterthought.

 

What a magnificent creature I thought, as I remembered the night in June when one had spent the night on porch screen door. I suddenly realized that this was probably when she laid her eggs on the Datura plant I was growing in a pot nearby, because hawk moths loved these plants with their huge lace edged trumpeted flowers. The two had a special relationship. The hawk moth deposited her eggs on the underside of the gray green leaves and pollinated the flower in return. However, once the brilliant lime green tomato hornworm ( larva stage) actually appeared with his solitary horn I was shocked by his eating habits. My beautiful Datura had lost new buds and leaves – they vanished in one night. When I attempted to remove this intruder he hung on so tightly to the branch he was ingesting that it came off with him!

 

On closer inspection I discovered 6 more of these mighty leaf eaters crawling and munching away on the underside of half eaten leaves. They varied in size from about an inch to almost four inches – the latter could pass for a true monster. This guy had probably been eating for days. What was baffling to me was why this plant had been chosen as the host, while another Datura, one just below the porch was totally ignored. I guess there is no accounting for a hawk moth caterpillar’s taste!

 

Now every morning I go out and inspect my damaged plant for more leaf tyrants, and this morning found another after a few days reprieve. In spite of extensive defoliation the Datura is making a slow come back, although I think her days of multiple blossoming are over. Prickly round sage seed-pods are developing under the leaves. I don’t mind that this plant’s flowering has been cut short because although I have read about the relationship between the hawk moth/tomato hornworm and Datura, this is the first time I have been able to witness first hand what happens when a Datura is “chosen” as a host.

 

I understand why the hawk moth is often confused with a hummingbird; the two use similar tactics to gather nectar and behave in similar ways. At first glance it would be easy to mistake one for the other.

 

These moths overwinter in the soil as dark brown pupae, then emerge and mate in late spring. They lay their eggs, which are round and greenish-white, on the undersides of leaves usually in June. Next year I will be on the lookout for the Datura I plant on my porch!

 

Some of the largest moths in the world belong to the hawk moth family (Lepidoptera). These magnificent creatures have long narrow wings and thick bodies. They are swift and graceful flyers, highly aerobatic. Many species can hover in place as the one did in front of my nasturtium blossom. Some can briefly fly backwards or dart away. Hawk moths are experts at finding fragrant flowers after dark. They are especially fond of Datura, primroses (they are the primary pollinator of this family which explains why the flowers are so luminous before dawn), orchids, petunias and other flowers with long floral tubes concealing pools of thin but abundant nectar.

Hawk moths have the world’s longest tongues of any other moth or butterfly (some up to 14 inches long). Charles Darwin knew of the star orchids (Angraecum spp.) from Madagascar that had nectar spurs over a foot in length. Darwin was ridiculed by other scientists of his day for predicting that star orchids would be pollinated by these particular moths. After his death, hawk moths with tongues long enough to sip of the nectar produced by the star orchids were discovered on the island of Madagascar. Curiously, some hawk moths are nocturnal and others feed during the day. The ones I have here are abundant day feeders.

Hawk moths have three spectral receptors that are sensitive to blue, green, and ultraviolet light. It was originally assumed that hawk moths relied primarily on olfactory cues to locate flowers, but recent studies have shown that they actually have excellent vision overall.

With a wide geographic range throughout Canada, North, Central, Mexico, South America, Eurasia, and Africa, hawk moths feed on many different host plants as caterpillars and pollinate a variety of flowers. They use both visual and olfactory perception to locate plants from which they collect nectar. They seem to thrive almost anywhere (!) in rural areas, suburbs, mountains and deserts.

 

If you want to attract these marvelous creatures plant penstemon, red salvia, nasturtiums, and scatter Datura seeds around your property. I promise, you will not be disappointed. But beware of of half eaten leaves with holes!

 

Postscript:  I regularly write a couple of weekly/bi weekly nature columns for publication and some of these end up on my blog because I am so fascinated by the information and don’t want it to disappear into the thousands of writings stored in my computer! I have written a few articles about Datura for this blog because the shapeshifting qualities of this plant amaze me and learning first hand how one can be decimated by the hawk moth larva is yet another source of fascination.