Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ipê Tree in bloom

And here's a closer look at that ipê tree (Tabebuia serratifolia) in bloom. This is the forest ipê, not to be confused with the many decorative species used in urban landscaping. There is another species of forest ipê called ipê roxo, the purple blooming variety. I have two of these trees planted at Bosque Santa Lúcia but they haven't reached the age of blooming yet. I can't wait!

Dust, Part III

While I was taking pictures of dust, a neighbor passed by in a small car at a very slow speed. He was being polite, but nevertheless, you can see dust flying. We could possibly go another 4-6 weeks without rain, so the situation is going to get worse before it rains. Notice the ipê tree (Tabebuia serratifolia) in the background. This is the time they lose their leaves and break into an explosion of yellow flowers.

Dust, Part II

In this image you can get an idea of the fine texture of the dust. It must be 2-3 inches thick in most places on the road. When large vehicles go over the road, even at moderate speeds, clouds of dust go up into the air and the winds can carry them for long distances. A high quality gravel would resolve this situation but that material isn't easy to come by and road overhauls consist of graders scrapping the surface smooth, as opposed to building up a roadbed.

Dust ... and more dust

And speaking of the dry season and dust, this is the dirt road passing through Bosque Santa Lúcia, as it was two days ago. From this point to BR-163, the Santarém-Cuiabá Highway, is 3 kilometers; to the Curuá-Una Highway it's 5 kilometers. The road used to be no more than a trail until they soybean industry got started 5 years ago. Now it serves as a connection between the 2 highways, especially for truck traffic, including logging vehicles. Now you may wonder why they would avoid a paved highway in favor of dust and/or mud. As you might conclude, there are probably some devious reasons for doing so. Since I can't prove it, I won't say anymore. The most traditional method of reducing dust among those living along the road is to build lombados (spring-breakers). I dare say that most drivers respect spring-breakers but there are some rebels who take pride in speeding over them, or destroying them. There's a spring-breaker in the attached image. Can you see it? Probably not because it's part of the dusty scenario. And then too, some perturbed tractor driver resolved to destroy part of it, maybe out of hate. Few people enjoy having to slow down for these things. He went a step further in knocking down the sign warning drivers of the lombado. Fear not amigo, my neighbor across the way will be building two more this coming week and has promised to fix this one up. Two years ago we counted 42 lombados on the 8 kilometers between the two highways! It's called survival.

Pau-brasil in the Amazon

This picture of a Pau-brasil at Bosque Santa Lucia was taken during the peak of dry season two years ago. As you can see, there's not one leaf on the tree, which was four-years old at that time. I had given it several liters of water every day but the summer was a mean one! Four months without any rain, 2 degrees below the equator is nothing to sneeze at, so to speak. But rain is God-sent and the tree bounced back very quickly after the first rain. So did everything else. My helper at the Bosque at that time, an old man of 72, said it. You can water plants day and night but only a rain can bring life back!

Pau-brasil and the bow-makers, Part VI

Illustration of bean pods on one of the variations of Pau-brasil, the Espirito Santos variation, if I'm not mistaken. The pods are still immature but you can see the thorns already developing. All of that beautiful heartwood is also protected by thorns from the bottom of the trunk to the outer branches. Image: Charles Espey.

Pau-brasil and the bow-makers, Part V

Attached is an image of the flowers of one of the Pau-brasil variations. They seem to be the same types of flowers I've seen on one of my trees at Bosque Santa Lucia. It puts on quite a show with its beautiful golden flowers and all the insects around them. Unfortunately, the flowers break off on the stems before they can produce the bean pod. I don't know why, maybe because the tree is still quite young. I planted it in August of 2000 from a small seedling. Most of the year it is a beautiful tree but this time of the year it suffers a lot for the lack of rain and the dust factor. Image: Charles Espey

Pau-brasil and the bow-makers, Part IV

If you do an internet search on "Pau-brasil", you come up with a list of different species of trees, all with that same common name. Try the scientific name, "Caesalpinia echinata". Most of the references will be the "true" Pau-brasil and you'll find a lot of update information on the history of the tree, history of bow-making, as well as what's going on today in reforestation and efforts to increase the supply and demand for the wood. In my correspondence with bow-maker, Charles Espey, I was surprised to learn that there are at several morphological variations of Caesalpinia echinata. Three are shown in the attached image of Pau-brasil leaves and I understand that the wood from all of them are used in the bow-making profession. Image: Charles Espey

Monday, September 24, 2007

Pau-brasil and the bow-makers, Part III

Charles Espey sent me a series of graphical maps showing the deforestation patterns in the Atlantic Forest from 1940 through 1990. The cutting of the forest started in the 1500s, but it's amazing how much of the forest has disappeared in just the last few decades. There is only about 5% of the old growth forest left! Not to be cynical, but the same thing happened in our country, a long time ago. Old growth forests in the United States are no more than pinpoints on the map today. Like the remaining pieces of the Atlantic Forest, there are people quite eager to cut down the rest. But that's another story; our interest here is, Pau-brasil (also called the Pernambuco tree) and the connection with the bow-makers. My curiosity of how Espey entered the profession got the best of me, so I came right out and asked him about it. I'm honored that he responded to my question. To quote him: "32 years old and doing graphic design and photography in Seattle, I was rowing my rowboat and ran into a piling. When I jumped forward to fend off I stepped on my fiddle case and cracked the instrument. In the shop I went to for repair there was a man making a bow... I got a job repairing bows and 9 months later moved to France and learned the trade there. The moral of the story is the texture of a person’s life is full of the threads of chance encounters, even painful events can thrust you into another world. I have a feeling you’ve grabbed a few threads yourself." Quite a story and so succinctly put. France, that's where the connection between Pau-brasil and the bow-makers started more than 200 years ago. F. Tourte was already the name among bow-makers in the world at that time. His mania for experimenting with every kind of wood he could find led him to a piece of Pau-brasil that he discovered on the outskirts of Paris on a fishing trip. That piece of wood proved far superior to any other wood species he had used previously; and the professional bow-makers of today continue to look at Pau-brasil as the standard. Now, you may wonder how Tourte came by a piece of Brazilian wood on the banks of a river near Paris. Quite simple. Millions of Pau-brasil logs were exported to Europe during the economic rage of red dye. That Smithsonian Institute magazine article (The Music Tree) that I referred to earlier, reports that Paris alone had a stockpile of more than 150 acres of Pau-brasil logs piled head high. I asked Charles Espey to send me some images of his bows. Notice that the one in the attached image carries his signature. Coming up, images of Pau-brasil plantations in Bahia.

Pau-brasil and the bow-makers, Part II

I'm always thrilled when I get feedback from readers. Imagine how excited I got when I received a comment from Charles Espey, a master bow-maker in the United States. He wasn't touting his fine bows because he's doesn't need any advertising in the musical world. His bows are world famous. He was merely commenting on a blog post that I had written about Pau-brasil, a tree we have at Bosque Santa Lucia. Charles Espey not only uses Pau-brasil for making his bows, he's instrumental in the reforestation of the species via fund raising projects here in Brazil. Once considered near extinct, Pau-brasil is making a comeback via the efforts of Espey and other bow-makers in Europe and North America. He tells me that as of this month, Pau-brasil has been included on the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Animals and Flora) Appendix 2, which means that the use of it will be much more regulated than in the past. The trees being planted now will be ready for harvest starting about 30 years from now. That's how long it takes for the heartwood to meet the rigid qualifications needed to make quality bows. I understand that most established bow-makers have a stock of Pau-brasil that will last them until that time. Since a finished bow weighs only two ounces, a cubic meter of the wood will last a long time. Image, courtesy of Charles Espey.

Pau-brasil and the bow-makers

In past blog posts I've written about Pau-brasil (Caesalpinia echinata), a Brazilian tree that provided most of the red dyes of the world for more than 300 years. It's estimated that more than 75 million trees were cut and shipped off to Europe between the 1500s-1800s. About the time synthetic dyes were discovered in the 1800s, not many Pau-brasil trees remained in the wild. Likewise, a big chunk of Brazil's Atlantic Forest had been altered, in part because of the cutting of Pau-brasil. The wood is very much in demand among bow makers of the world, who consider it the standard in their specialized profession. Since the French master bow-maker, F. Tourte, crafted his first bow of this wood 250 years ago, nothing has been been found to equal it in quality for resilience, density, beauty or the ability to hold a curve. Pau-brasil wood is still the standard and if you want a bow made if it, be prepared to pay the price, which can run into the thousand of dollars. I read in a Smithsonian magazine article (The Music Tree) that those bows made by Tourte and cohorts are all collectors items, some costing more than a hundred-thousand dollars. When I show off my own trees at Bosque Santa Lucia, I talk about the discovery of Pau-brasil by Portuguese explorer Cabral in 1500, and how Brazil came by its name. I also talk about the use of the wood for making quality bows and what the craftsmen are doing today to guarantee a stock of the wood for the future. Image: courtesy of Master Bow-maker, Charles Espey.

Thanks for the ride

Jungle Grammar — the Verb “To Be”

Slash, slash, slash
Wack, wack, wack
Cutting this jungle brush
is killing my back.

My machete worn down
to a kitchen knife
from wack, wack, wack
on its metallic life.

Slash, slash, slash
Working on this land, so fine
proves to me that everything
is, has been or will be a damned vine.

"Excerpts from my book, Santarém - Riverboat Town, A Gringo's Own Account of Tourism on the Brazilian Amazon and Tapajós Rivers.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Howler monkey skull continued

"My, what big eyes you have!" "The better to see you, my dear." Aren't those ocular orbits enormous? Small brain space but huge voice box and eyes. The teeth are pretty formidable too. They sure don't look like teeth designed for eating leaves, buds and fruit, but these things make up the diet of the howler monkey. Although the environment around Bosque Santa Lucia has been dramatically altered, there are still many howlers around. I hear them on almost any given day or night. Sometimes they visit the trees right around the reception center but they are quick to move away when they spot human beings.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Howler monkey

Howler monkey don't howl—they roar. To me the sound is that of a cross between a jet plane taking off and a bunch of noisy hogs, a sound you can hear from kilometers away. The anatomical feature that allows the howler monkey to communicate so adeptly is a very large voice box (hyoid bone), which you can see in the attached image. It's the cup-like bone to the right of the skull. Evidently males and females have this large voice box, but it's the male that does most of the yelling. I can't remember how I came by this skull and voice box but I think it was given to me by a rural family in the State of Amazonas.

Hamadryas butterfly

I've been trying to get a picture of a hamadryas butterfly for the last few days, but without success. They appear to be unperturbed by human presence, until you get close to them ... and off they go, often time coming back to the same location. More often than not, they are seen resting on the trunks of trees. I know when they are around because the male makes a very distinctive clicking sound. I read that the hamadryas are called "cracker" butterflies because of this sound. Today, I lucked out in getting an image of one. It had landed on one of the supportive timbers of the front porch and I got off one shot of it before it flew away. Surprising enough, it turned out to be in focus. Normally, I shoot a lot of pictures and then choose the best, which isn't always the best. Click on the attached image for a better view of our friend

Leafless cedar trees

In the foreground you can see cedar trees (Cedrela odorata) without one leaf on them. These are trees which lose their leaves during the dry season and continue to be leafless until we get some substantial rain. The larger tree in the background is paricá (Acacia polyphylla), which is also leafless. It will soon be blooming, followed by new leaves. If the drought continues for a long time, it will drop its leaves again and go through the same cycle. In the upper right and lower left hand corners you can see African mahoganies (Kaya ivorensis) with a full set of clothes. I don't remember seeing these tress losing all their leaves at the same time.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The hungry forest

Brazil nut trees are quite large; and the leaves are big too - and plentiful. When we walk under and around these giants this time of the year, we hear the rustle of the dry leaves as our feet plow through the littler. Food for the forest, that's what they become. By the time the next dry season begins, the litter will have vanished completely, all decomposed by termites and microorganisms. The ground is laid bare and the forest will wait for another cycle of falling leaves. More food, that's what they will become. The forest is hungry.

Brazil nut trees, taking it all off

Some people are surprised to learn that we have a summer and a winter in the Amazon. Summer is our dry season and winter the rainy season. Temperatures are a bit cooler during the rainy season because of cloud cover but there are very fews days when we get cold, which means temperatures in the 70s. The dramatic part of the story is that summer brings days, weeks and sometimes months without rain. During the winter we breath water and during the summer, we breath dust. The humidity is still quite high but the dust factor is unsupportable. Our native trees take advantage of this season to shed their leaves, like the Brazil nut tree in the attached image. Not all species lose their leaves at the same time and some, like the Brazil nut tree (Bertholetia excelsa), quickly put on a clean set of clothes. Notice the nut pods on the tree. They won't be mature until January, or there of. This is a good time to see production. It appears that this coming season will be more productive than last year.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tarantula gets a name

I get excited when someone ventures forth with a name for some varmint or plant that I've presented on my Tropical Biodiversity blog. Such is the case with the tarantula presented this past Sunday. Lony writes: "This looks like it belongs to the Acanthoscurria family of tarantulas. Acanthoscurria brocklehursti to be exact. This most likely was a male. They do wonder around and are looking for females to mate. It is mating season right now." See the full comment on my post of 16 September, 2007. Thanks Lony.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Small frog

Frogs adore wet, dark and humid places, including the bottoms of plant vases. This little one had to find a new home when I removed a vase from the plant rack. It hid out for awhile among some old dead leaves from some medicinal plant and eventually must have found another wet environment to escape the dry season.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Orchid (Catasetum galeritum)

I wish to thank an anonymous reader for catching my mistake in naming this orchid. It is a Catasetum galeritum, not a Catasetum macrocarpum, as I had posted on June 15, 2007.

Hammocks are big in Sweden too

My photographer friend in Sweden, Olov Pettersson, tells me that Brazilian hammocks are now popular in his country. Olov may be one of the reasons. He bought this hammock in Natal when he was here in Brazil and then he and his son came up with this ingenious structure for hanging it. I've never seen anything like it here. Here in Paradise, we use metal hooks to hang our hammocks. If it's a wooden structure, the hooks are placed on the walls with screws. If it's a brick and mortar wall, then a metal box with the hook inside is embedded into the structure. If the hammock is used in an outside environment, normally they are hung with ropes. Olov, you've promoted açaí juice in Sweden and now it's a hammock for the snooze. The next thing you'll tell me is that that the Scandinavians are eating feijoada. By the way, you seem to be missing something. Look at my hammock post of a few days ago and you'll understand! And I'm not talking about the gold pan. It's seldom that you see an empty hammock here in the Amazon.

Tambaqui fish

The live tambaqui (Colossoma macropomum) is sure a lot better looking than the dried-out skull I keep at Bosque Santa Lucia; and the fish is one of the best in the Amazon for eating. It is referred to as a vegetarian because it eats only fruit and small coconuts from the floodplain palms. The favorite part of the fish are the ribs, especially when the fish are fat. Barbecued tambaqui ribs are never again to be forgotten. When Pope Paul came to the Amazon on his first trip to Brazil in 1980, he ate barbecued tambaqui ribs, the only meat he ate on his stay here.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Another tarantula spider

I shouldn't be surprised to find another tarantula because there are lots of them around, some up in the trees and many more underground. As a matter of fact, the ground around the reception center at the Bosque is pockmarked with tarantula holes. But I should add that it's seldom that we see the spider. Most of the time they duck further down into their hole when they feel vibrations from passing giants. Indeed, what surprised me about this good looking spider was that it was out of its hole, actually marching across the small road leading to the garage. Once caught in the act, they freeze. I got several pictures, one of which is attached. Click on the image to get more details.

A giant fell, continued

The part of the tree that fell to earth is pictured in this image. Getting in for a closer look at the fungi on the resting tree made me realize how large it was. By the size, I wonder if it was a Brazil nut tree, which is one of our giants of the forest.

A giant fell

A giant of a tree fell in the area where I took the picture of the chocolate tree this week and I didn't even know it. Obviously I wasn't at the Bosque when it happened because an event of this nature sounds like the end of the world. As you can see, the tree broke off several meters above the ground. My guess is that it had died and was rotting away in a standing position. The trunk is full of holes made by woodpeckers and the omnipresent termites have made their mark too.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Juçara palm

I only have three of these juçara palms (Euterpe edulis) left in my collection at Bosque Santa Lúcia. They are cousins to açaí, which I have presented in earlier posts. Juçara was the source of hearts of palm up until the demise of the Atlantic Forest in recent decades. I say "demise" because the forest, once the size of the Amazon, has been reduced to approximately 5% of its original area. Gone juçara, enter açaí, native of the waterways of the Amazon. Not only do the palms produce excellent hearts of palm, they also produce fruit from which the açaí juice is made.

Cryptic spider

I see these spiders on the side of trees because I look for them. If I weren't looking, I probably wouldn't notice them at all; their figures blend in perfectly with colors of the tree trunks. This one in the image is a bit more visible because I used a flash and then zoomed in on it via an image editor.

It's a hammock world

Diógenes Leal, noted cinematographer from Belém, collaborated with Professor Jim Bogan from the University of Missouri (and member of the Missouri/Pará Partners of the Americas) on a documentary film entitled, Hammock Variations. He sums up the significance of the hammock in the Amazon in the following statement: “Everything happens in a hammock—from before we are born through the arc of our life, til our friends carry us to the bone yard—It all happens in a hammock.”

Hammock Variations won the audience award at the Third Brazilian Film Festival of Belém with 5,000 people voting. Relaxing in a hammock at Bosque Santa Lúcia is Jeremy Campbell's wife, Maddy.

Ipê tree in bloom

In the lumber business, ipê (Tabebuia sp) is considered one of the noble woods of the Amazon and it's quite expensive, even here in Brazil. The blooming tree you see in the image is an ipê, but not the one found in the high forest. It's one of the species used for decorating the streets of Santarém and other cities in the country. But the flowers seem to be the same as Tabebuia serratifolia, the yellow blooming ipê of the forest. There is also a purple blooming variety, but it isn't as common. There must be close to a dozen varieities of the decorative type. I've planted most of them at Bosque Santa Lúcia, but road machinery and power line construction have destroyed most of them. We are well into our dry season now, which means that the forest ipês will begin blooming soon.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Taperinha clamshells

"A clamshell is just a clamshell to most of us, but the mounds of them at Taperinha, a ranch site located on Igarapé de Maicá, just east of Santarém, reveals much more about the significance of this shy shellfish. The first time I visited Taperinha, I did not realize that this had been an important archaeological site for establishing dates and lifestyles of the first human inhabitants of this region. This was January of 1991, and my stop was an impromptu one to satisfy the curiosity of my clients who were infatuated by the forest, the old colonial house and the beauty of the Amazon floodplain." "Excavations of the clam middens (scientific term for garbage pile), which are located a hundred meters back of the main house, by archeologist Anna Roosevelt and her colleagues at the Emilio Goeldi Museum, indicate that Native Americans were living in that area more than 6,000 years ago."Excerpts from my book, Santarém - Riverboat Town, A Gringo's Own Account of Tourism on the Brazilian Amazon and Tapajós Rivers. Image of Taperinha clamshells taken at Bosque Santa Lúcia on September 12, 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tree fungus spreads

Good cosmetics are bestsellers and this rouge for trees has gotten around. Just this week I posted a blog entry of a tree at the Bosque with the same brand name and to my surprise Ginger at sent me a photograph she took of a pine tree in Nova Friburgo, way down in southern Brazil. Some fungus expert might distinguish between the fungi, but they appear to be the same to me. Ginger, thanks for the return.

Chocolate tree

Day before yesterday I was wandering around an area of the Bosque where I haven't been in quite awhile. It was an old homestead site several decades old, so there are still lots of old chocolate trees (Theobroma cacao) in that location. The forest undergrowth is getting quite congested, so the number of trees and production have been reduced considerably since we bought the property in 1981. Then too, the monkeys get to the fruit before I do, which is a plus. The fruit you see in the attached image is nearly mature. When it begins to turn yellow, it's ready for harvest. Notice that the fruit comes directly off the trunk of the tree. As the botanists would say, it's a cauliforus tree.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tribute to ... an outhouse

My wife and I have had the Bosque Santa Lúcia property since 1981, but it was only in 1987 that we began to receive visitors there. In the beginning, we had zero infrastructure, not even a restroom where people could relieve themselves. We took advantage of our next door neighbor's outhouse in cases of an emergency; I dare say, that most people just headed off to the woods to do their thing. Some folks preferred it that way because the slab of concrete with a hole in the middle didn't have much appeal, especially for the women folks. I don't remember the year but eventually we built a outhouse of our own at the new entrance to the Bosque. My use of an old glass door from Aurea's remodeling of her medical office caused quite a stir in the beginning, so it became necessary to put up a curtain inside. Nevertheless, the outdoor toilette didn't gain any more popularity than my neighbor's place. It was God sent only for old men with enlarged prostrates. Any place to urinate fast and in privacy is gold under these circumstances! Now we're living uptown because when we built the Bosque reception center, I made sure that we included two modern bathrooms in the construction. One ended up becoming the tool shed but the other is our pride and joy when we have larger groups from the cruise ships. On these days I hire a person to do nothing but keep it sparkling clean. In part this extra labor is necessary because up until a few weeks ago we didn't have electricity and water. Now we have lights, but still no water. Jugs of water flush a toilette just as well as any water box. But most people have never gone that route, so we provide the service. Hopefully in the next few months we'll have running water. That will be an occasion to celebrate. In the meanwhile, the original outhouse remains in tact. Well, not quite. As you can see from the attached image, it's neglected and abandoned. It's so much a museum piece, I hate to tear it down.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Fig tree

One of the most popular trees for urban landscaping here in the Amazon is Ficus benjamina, an exotic originally from India. Now why would a tree from so far become so popular in the Amazon, land of the forests that boasts of more than 5,000 species of trees? I'll leave that question up to the historians, but I'll take a stab at the question by saying that shade is important anywhere in the Amazon, especially in the sun-absorbing cities like Belém, Manaus and Santarém. As you can see in the attached image, this young fig tree is already producing a lot of blessed shade for the taxi drivers who hang out at their post next to the Santarém Municipal Hospital. The tree has high density foliage, allowing very little light to penetrate onto the ground. This attribute also allows for decorative pruning, which is important for us urbanites and also for the endless numbers of wires and cables stretched out above the sidewalks. Yet another important characteristic of the ficus is that it's a "clean tree", seldom does it drop its leaves, like most other trees. Furthermore, it's a tree with maximum stability because of its penetrating root system. I have never seen one blown over by the wind, as happened with a number of other trees here in the city this past weekend.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Orchid (Spatoglotis)

Just when I'm beginning to think I know something about orchids, I discover I know nothing! Take, for example, Spatoglotis in the attached image. A few days ago one of my neighbors made good her promise of giving me some plants she called "orchids". Right off the bat I recognized a few lilies in the bunch but also two plants which I hadn't seen before. I was willing to bet that they weren't orchids! That night I saw some of the same plants for sale at the Cultural Fair in Santarém and I heard the same diagnosis, "orchids". I refused to believe it, especially after hearing the the owner refer to some lilies (the same kind of lilies my neighbor had given me) as orchids. But just for the hell of it, I referred the question on to people in the know, Claúdio and Bernadette Serique. Well, I had to "eat hat" because they turned out to be orchids. Spatoglotis, a ground orchid. They are planted and I can't wait to see the flowers they're going to produce one of these days. What worries me now are the lilies! Could it be that they are orchids too? No, I don't believe it!

Orchid (Epidendrum )

I now have a name for that wild orchid I showed a few days ago, thanks to Claúdio and Bernadette Serique. It's an Epidendrum schomburgkii. Many thanks, Amigos.

Wild passion fruit flower

This is a newly opened flower from a wild passion fruit vine. I gather from talking with passion fruit experts that there are at least four species of Passiflora on the Bosque Santa Lúcia grounds. This one may be P. glandulosa, the most common of all.

Passion fruit buds

September is always a very hot and windy month in this region of the Amazon and along with it comes dust. On the positive side, it's also the month that we see lots of wild passion fruit vines in flower and fruit. I continue to post blog entries on these plants because I know there is quite a bit of interest on the part of some readers. Likewise, there is some research being done on the species at the Bosque by a group in England. We communicate via private email on these matters but if something becomes public, I'll add certainly post the findings on my blog. In the attached image, wild passion fruit vines and buds. Notice the Tapirira guianensis tree in the background. The openings in the trunk are made by silvery marmosets monkeys.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Red blooming orchid

Some years ago, Sabá asked me to check out a red-blooming plant up in a tree near the reception center. It was his impression that it was an orchid. I didn't put a lot of faith in what he was telling me because I had never seen a wild orchid blooming red. Besides, there are lots of bromeliads in this area, most of which have red flowers. As it turned out, Sabá was right. I found the very orchid he had shown me up in the treetops on the ground one day, maybe knocked off by the silvery marmoset monkeys. I placed it on a nearby ipê tree and later moved part of it to the small orchid collection on the front veranda. Yesterday, it was blooming for the first time. I know that the orchid is an epidendrum but I've forgotten the species. I'm sure that Claudio and Bernadette Serique will come to my rescue again. Somehow I remember the flowers up in the tree as being a bright red. As noted, these tend to be more on the pink side.

Fungi continued

If you and I were play the role of a tree in the Amazon, we would need to face sun, darkness, rain, sun, dust and fungi. I assure you that all trees are painted up in the forest, but some makeup is more notable than others, for example, the rouge in the attached image. I wonder if there might be a battle going on between two or more fungi here. It's amazing how segmented the colors are, as though a battlefield line has been defined.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Roasted pig

I often make the comment that visitors never leave Brazil weighing less. The food is so fantastic, it requires lots of willpower to control intake. What about those of us living here on a full time basis? Worse yet! I've know many foreigners to put on the pounds and spread out in all directions. The Brazilians are always very diplomatic in how they say things. I would blatantly say, "hey, you've really put on weight." "Gee, you must be making lots of money", or educated statements of this nature. Brazilians probably wouldn't say anything immediately. If they do, they refer to the obese person(s) as being mais forte, which translates into being "stronger." Social events, like birthdays, are always the test of moderation, especially when there's one after another. Unfortunately, the foods are so delicious, one can't always resist. Take, for example, this roasted pig, which was served at a birthday party this week. I've never tasted anything so delicious. Aside from the roasted pig, there were also two fish dishes on the table. Then came three desserts, which even a diabetic couldn't push aside. All of this followed by Coke Zero!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Vanilla with rum

As reported in earlier posts, my vanilla plants have produced fruit only twice, one bean each for two different plants. The first fruit I lost out of pure ignorance because I didn't know anything about the matter. I did, however, get some decent pictures of it and the flower. The second fruit I found recently on the ground under a tree on which I had planted the cutting. I never saw the flower and I don't know how long the bean had been on the ground but it was dark chocolate brown and already smelling of vanilla. I allowed it to "cure" for two more weeks and then placed it in a bottle of sugarcane rum, which you see in the attached image. That was last week and it has already released its color to the rum, as well as taste. Brazilians add a lot of things to bottles of rum, but I've never seen vanilla used. Probably because there's not a lot of it around. As you can see, a few ounces seem to be missing from the bottle. Hum!

Cecropia trees

Cecropia trees are so abundant people often ask if they are planted commercially. The one in the attached image found its way to my neighbor's home in the city. It's on stage right next to my bedroom window, which makes for a nice foreground view with the meeting of the Amazon and Tapajós Rivers in the background. Called embaiuba locally and “trumpet tree” in English, they are easily recognized because they remind people of a birch tree, at least from a distance. They are tall thin white-barked trees with high crowns, adorned with a “hand-spread” of large leaves. More than one hundred species exist in the tropics, but I find the ones on the floodplain unique in that the undersides of the leaves shine silver/white when hit by sunlight. Many an overturned cecropia leaf has been mistaken from afar for a “white bird”. Cecropia are pioneer trees, which means they are among the first to pop up after an area has met the right soil and sunlight conditions. In the case of high forest, the change might have come about due to the falling of a large tree, lightening burns, or logging. On the floodplain, whole islands of cecropia are formed after fast moving currents raze other vegetation. Aside from being a pioneer, it is also classified as an “ant-plant”, meaning that it harbors untold numbers of tiny, but vicious, Azteca ants in its hollow trunks and stems. All you need to do is to bump into the tree to bring them out in defense of their home. You will seldom ever find a vine making its way up into the crown of the cecropia tree. The ants keep them pruned back. Birds enjoy cecropia seeds (long finger-like fruit, called catkins) and the sloth has a way of ignoring the ants as he munches away at the tender leaves. Excerpt from my book, Santarém - Riverboat Town, A Gringo's Own Account of Tourism on the Brazilian Amazon and Tapajós Rivers.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pink dolphin continued

And this is the penis bone of the pink dolphin. It's not exactly a "bone" but a sinew-like material that maintains rigidity. We weren't fortunate enough to find one on the rack of bones found on the Arapiuns River; indeed, it may have been a female. I bought this amulet at the Ver-O-Peso marketplace in Belém, maybe 15 years ago. The most popular legend of the Amazon, without doubt, is the one of the boto, or pink dolphin. In a personalized version, it goes something like this: "The boto loves a party, and there is always one going on among the numerous communities scattered along the river ways. As the festival gets warmed up, with the usual loud music and heavy shuffling of feet, the boto comes out of the water and transforms himself into a charming man in a white shirt, white pants and white shoes and even a white hat to cover his blowhole. He is very fast on the dance floor and also gifted for winning over the young ladies during the course of the night. Just before the sun comes up, the boto returns to his everyday life as a dolphin, and the young maiden returns home. Nine months later, the girl's parents want to know who the father of the newborn is, and more often than not the reply is, “It's the boto.

The sexual attributes of dolphins are widely admired by people of the Amazon and it is, therefore, not surprising that organs of the animal are used as amulets. Looking at a person you would like to befriend through the dried eyeball of a dolphin is but one of many beliefs associated with this friendly mammal. Penis bones and vaginas of dolphins are also to be found among the many amulets being sold at market places around the Amazon." Excerpts taken from my book, Santarém - Riverboat Town.

Pink dolphin continued

Aside from the skull, I also salvaged some of the vertebrae of the skeleton of the pink dolphin. I used to have other bones but they have disappeared over the years. I suspect that the dolphin died of some aging condition because the teeth are quite worn down. But interesting enough, the disk pads between the vertebrae seem to be quite thick.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Pink dolphin

I came by this pink dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) skull several years ago on a deserted beach on the Arapiuns River, very near where the river flows into the Tapajós River. The crewmen of our riverboat were the first to see the dolphin bones, even though we were quite a distance out in the river. They were just as excited over the find as the rest of us because botos (the indigenous word for pink dolphins) are associated with much superstition in the Amazon. Before I knew what was going on, the crew had already dismantled the sun-dried bones looking for good luck amulets. These can include almost any parts of the skeleton but the real prizes are the eyeballs and the penis bone of the animal. Although a few of the teeth were removed, I ended up salvaging the head, which has been in my cranium collection at the Bosque for all these years. I have a penis bone too (in the collection) but I think I brought it back to Santarém from the Ver-O-Peso marketplace in Belém.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Another roadside flower

I took this picture about a month ago and it's been in my "blog pictures" folder ever since. I was hoping to find a name for it but.... It's not easy finding names for wild flowers but that shouldn't prevent us from putting them on our blog stages. After all, some of our readers may reward us with a name! Unlike some of the other seasonal flowers, there aren't many of these around. One here and one there but don't plan on gathering enough for a bouquet.

More roadside flowers

I don't know the name of these flowers but I suspect they are of the genus Convolvulus, the same as morning glories. Unlike morning glories, these flowers stay open throughout the day. The hotter and drier, the better they like it. There are lots of them now along the dirt road that goes into Bosque Santa Lúcia.