The mule didn't flinch. It was obviously used to this kind of thing.
Natural Slaughter.. One morning, I walked out to our large hen and guinea-pig enclosure to let the chickens out of their sleeping-house.
A strange stillness met me in the run. No guinea-pigs. I called everyone. I couldn't bear to look. All gone or dead, except for four terrified creatures who'd squeezed themselves into holes. Some enormous creature must have come in the night and ate the lot as there were hardly any bodies. The locals say it must have been a 'tigrillo', a large wild-cat they say can kill a person or a donkey. Our guinea-pigs, apart from being loveable friends, are vital to our compost making process.
Between 50 and disappeared that night. We later collected a few from neighbours - we'd previously supplied the whole region for miles around with guinea-pigs - and started again with a tribe of 9 in a safe hutch with chicken wire lining it. A few mornings later, I suddenly had an urge to look. All dead, this time their bodies lying there.
I ran in to the house in horror; I'm not as brave as the children, who studied them to find just two holes in each neck. Some kind of weasel creature had made a hole in the roof, and then in the guinea pigs. We have started again with just two young ones. In a very safe cage in the kitchen. The miracle is that the forest's wild creatures left us alone for two whole years. The Unmentioned Topic.. I have never noticed the issue of contraception mentioned in green literature, and yet it seems obvious that radical efforts to reduce the world's population have to be made, unless environmental concern is to be no more than a fancy pastime.
Therefore we have begun to acquire large quantities of contraceptives from the offices of the European Union in Bogota which we have handed over to our local doctor friend, Mario - the only doctor in the whole region - for distribution free to local people. He was hugely grateful.
He is also at present giving our own resident nurse, Mary Kelly, weekly lessons in acupuncture and always treats us without charge because of his agreement with the work we do. I cannot get over the miracle that he exists at all in this remote region - a fully-trained acupuncturist and homeopath, as well as conventional doctor. Small miracles do happen all the time.
Recently, we had so many people staying here that even our well-stocked gardens couldn't withstand the pressure. The people working in the kitchen surrounded by our multi-coloured fruits and vegetables laughed at me as I mumbled about 'famine', but I knew the story at the other end of the production line, and was worried. Suddenly a bounteous gift arrived: a young neighbouring woman sent a huge arm-load of healthy-looking salad plants with the message 'I grew these from your seed, but I don't know what they're for, you might as well have them back'.
Rocket, purslane, chicory, and many other 'exotic' plants.
We planted their roots quickly and used their well-grown tops. Not quite part of my plan to help Colombian peasants become self-sufficient and stop burning trees, but very handy at the time! Talking of 'exotic' plants, here is Mary's wish-list for seeds which she has read about and wants to try out if anyone can oblige:- Arnica, ashwaganda, astralagus, lemon basil, bee balm, blessed thistle, burdock, catnip, celandine, roman camomile, chaste tree, chia, gypsy wort, feverfew, lion's ear, lycium, ginko, gotu kola, lobelia, mugwort, mullein, wild oregano, pennyroyal, poker-root, pyrethrum dalmatian, clary sage, salad burnet, shepherds purse, shoo-fly plant, skullcap, speedwell, St John's wort, sweet cicely, valerian, sweet flag, evening primrose.
Well, I've heard of primrose anyway! A while back, we had a friendly and interesting visit from the President of the local Action Committee, an elderly man called Teodoro. He talked enthusiastically about our green campaign and environmental needs in general and ended by saying, 'If only all this had been happening ten years ago. In Chorreras, the community we work most closely with, our friends Roberto and Cliomedes are still up against a lot of suspicion about us.
He pointed out that our community mainly consists of women and children, but the hostile reply came back, "The gringos Americans train women to be spies too, you know. Only time and good work will sway these attitudes. Over there she has become deeply involved with green groups in Icononzo, the nearest country town. She reports: "The students asked me lots of questions about how people lived in Europe, what is the work like and how children are educated.
I told them we must never think technology can give us everything we want for a happy life, that that is a false route. They asked me to join their group permanently. Last week, we had another meeting, and I suggested the creation of an Ecological School for children. My idea was accepted and now we are working on where it can be and how to finance it. A lot of people in the Green Group of Icononzo also want to start a communal vegetable garden and have asked me for seeds, which at the moment I'm unable to give them.
But as long as it's Green, I don't mind where it is, do you? I have long wished that I could somehow introduce to each other all the marvellous people who write to me, mainly - but certainly not only - from England. So any of you who would like to get to know each other to extend your network of friends with common interests, please contact Cynthia. I would also like everyone to know that I always answer all letters, as soon as they get to me up the mountain, so that if anyone has not received a reply, it means their letter was lost in the post - please try again!
Our work with schools is intensifying. Roberto from Chorreras is at our farm doing some work for us and he touched my heart yesterday evening by asking if we could help with exercise books and pencils, as not all the families in Chorreras can afford these items.
We haven't a 'peso' ourselves, but I scoured the cabins and found a few copy-books and the children are looking out for pencils. So any of you who would like to make collections of practical items for our campaign, please add these humble things to your list! Everyone we work with locally is always religious about mentioning where goods come from and why.
And in view of our new 'profession' as green theatre artists - we're not going to let a mere audience riot put us off - we'd like all you ladies to keep the ends of your lipstick and other discarded make-up items as this is not a commodity readily available on trees, but rather essential for the more flamboyant aspect of the green message!
On a more serious level, we are always on the look-out for Atlases, maps, and inflatable globes for the school; also Spanish-teaching books as many of our helpers turn up here without a word of the language. Anne discovered a simple and excellent way of collecting materials in an office in Bogota: it is the office of a 'New Age' glossy magazine.
Once in a while, they put up a big cardboard box, with a CRAC notice above it, explaining who we are and what we're trying to do and asking for practical gifts a list is given. Amongst other useful donations, we received several roadside shovels! On the level of direct forest-saving, our next big aim is some forested land several hours away in Chorreras.
Anne is working like mad in Bogota for us, but at the moment just to pay for extra food and the visas of people who want to stay here permanently, so it may be some time before we can help the Chorreras people with this land. Anyone like running jumble-sales?! Dark is falling, I must end. I want to thank Irma Knittel of the Zegg community in Berlin for her recent visit, useful gifts and diligent gardening work.
Also Graham Bowden of Doncaster who is still with us, busily building a beautiful structure to live in outside our hideous main shack; Eddie Duignan of Dublin who has decided to make this his home for now, and without whose strength in the garden I could never feed everyone; and, as always, our dozens of correspondents who keep my spirits up when Life has kicked me down, including Steph whose loving December card I don't think I acknowledged.
Thank you all for caring and sending your energy. Early in I sat, frightened, angry and bitter with 25 other people on the hot tarmac at the American airbase in Udorn, Northern Thailand, watching helplessly as huge bombers took off in pairs every few minutes to bomb peasants in Vietnam. On March 2nd , the day I sent off the last Green Letter, our breakfast was interrupted by helicopters overhead, financed by the American government and 'protecting' small acrobatic planes which dived and twisted at tremendous speeds through our valley, over and over again for about 40 minutes.
Forty minutes of impotent fury, during which it would have taken a saint not to pray for a mishap. Every time the small planes dived, out came a long rectangular spray of white poison, glyphosate.