Our rains would easily qualify as the Portland Trailblazers. Our summer storms usually start around mid-June. This year, they have been slow in coming. But they are here now.
We have had a series of glorious thunderstorms in the night that have delivered humidity-relieving rain. The respite has been complete enough that I have turned off the air conditioner in my bedroom. In September. The hottest of our months.
If you have landscaping in the tropics (which I do), the combination of the rain and heat will stimulate the survival instinct in plants into it's now-or-never-to-grow (which it has). Apical meristems shift into high gear.
You already know the setup of my patio. Pool in the center. House built around the patio. Four planters with trellises to offer privacy for each of the four bedrooms. And in each of those planters are vines -- called by some "cup of gold" (though that name seems to be applied to about 5000 other plants in Mexico; popular names are -- well, popular).
When the architect chose the vines for the planters, she made a good choice. They grow quickly and they provide thorough privacy. But, as we all know from life, strengths harbor weaknesses.
The fast growth makes the vines unwieldy -- without a bit of gardener persuasion. Like kudzu in Alabama, they will eventually slip the surly bonds of their trellis and take over the rails on the upper terrace. Rudyard Kipling could have learned a few imperial lessons from this lot.
Taming the landscape is my job. Every two weeks I have to pull out the stepladder and hedge clippers to fight back nature's urges. Off go most of my clothes before I head off to two to three hours of battle with the vines -- whose sole defense is a latex that soon stains my hands and body until I look like a Comanche warrior.
I have tried hiring young men to help me trim the vines. It never works out.
The conversation always starts with why I have the vines in the first place. They do not provide fruit. Why waste space and time? "Because I like them and they provide privacy" is never a sufficient answer.
Once we move past the raison d'être of this odd northern passion for plants that have no purpose other than eating up leisure time, there is the problem of explaining the job.
Apparently, I am terrible at assigning tasks. Or, at least, that would be my conclusion from the results of the two times I hired help.
I left the first guy on his own after I told him I just needed the tops of the vines trimmed back. That was a mistake. Leaving him on his own. When I returned, he had cut the vine down almost to the ground.
Learning from that lesson, the next time I hired help, I demonstrated what I needed. This time, I worked on another vine, while he worked on his.
There is an art to cutting vines. Because the tendrils will join together from different directions, it is important to not leave cut orphaned vines on the trellis. Otherwise, you have a trellis filled with dead strings that will drop dried leaves into the pool. Of course, it is far easier to simply cut and leave the dying vine in place.
The second cutter did not share my concern for what the plant would look like in the future. Within a week, it dropped more leaves in the pool than the British dropped propaganda leaflets on Nazi Germany.
As a result, I am now a solo vine harvester. And yesterday was a perfect day to tackle the task. Sunny days are great if you are sitting by the pool writing essays. They are not the best choice for gardening.
The sun was obscured by clouds, and there was a soft mist in the air -- something more akin to Oxford than to summer rains in Barra de Navidad. I had trimmed the vines when I returned from San Miguel de Allende late last month. But the rains had provided me with guaranteed employment.
I usually do not climb the ladder unless someone else is in the house -- preferably in the patio. I have lost a couple of friends to ladder falls. My regular schedule is to cut when Dora is here on Wednesday and Saturday. But the day was too perfect to let safety get in the way. Fortunately, Omar did not work yesterday morning.
While I am trimming, I often wonder if it is worth the effort. I suspect that is just another part of our basic human nature to avoid the Oughts in favor of the Wants. At those times, I wonder if the guys I hired in the past may have had it right. Maybe we northerners are nuts to populate our property with tasks that have so little apparent value.
I wonder that until I am done. When I climb down from the ladder, the combination of the black latex and the green leaves haphazardly stuck to my nearly-naked body make me look as if I am auditing for the role of Puck in a college production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
But the newly-tamed vines actually look tidy. And worth a couple of hours sweating in the tropical heat.
Even if I could find someone to cut the vines in an approved manner, I would want to keep the job for myself. There is something fulfilling about maintaining one's own home. Doing man's work -- if we are still allowed to say that, and I would anyway, whether or not it is allowed. because it is simply true.
I always have a slight concern in the back of my mind that I will become incapable of carrying out my life (like the Afrikaners under apartheid) if I stop doing what I can do for myself. That, of course, does not include doing windows.
Now, that the vines are trimmed, I need to do the same for my hair. It has not been trimmed for -- well, it is more than two weeks.
But that will be a tale for later.