Friday, July 22, 2011

The Cliffs of Cangrejal

It's hot in New York.  It hit 104 in Elmira this week breaking records from decades ago.  It makes me think of those years in Honduras where you started the day with a shower and ended the day with a shower.  On the worst of days you'd take three, or even better, you'd pack up the Nissan truck with a large thermos of iced tea and some towels and head to the Cangrejal River that runs through the mountains right outside of La Ceiba.  The beach was just as accessible but we preferred the river by far.  The water was colder, a nice contrast to the bathwater-like-temperatures of the Caribbean.  And though the white sand beaches outside the city were beautiful, there was nothing quite like the river that snaked its way through the canyons off the Northern Coast of Honduras. 

Steve and Gale were our young American neighbors living across the street from us in our new neighborhood of El Sauce.  Steve was a teacher at  Brassavola, the bilingual school where Angela and Joel attended their first year.  We hadn't been in La Ceiba long when they invited us to go to the mountains with them on the following weekend.  "The river is especially nice there,"  they said.  "And there are cliffs."

It was just a mattter of minutes before we were out of  La Ceiba and onto the mountain road that Saturday morning, climbing higher and higher, the river in view down below.  About fifteen minutes later Steve had us take an exit,  one used by trucks to haul gravel from the riverbed.  We descended,  parked, and grabbed our stuff  before following him onto some large rocks that lined the river, the perfect place to lay down our gear and spread out towels and blankets.

I got situated then began to take in the view.  The water seemed to be moving pretty fast through this section,  cliffs on either side of different heights, the highest perhaps thirty feet or so.  And though it was beautiful, that's not the first word I would have used to describe this place.  Untamed, even a little dangerous better fits.  I was awed and mesmerized by those who ascended the cliffs to dive into the waters below.  But I also held my breath each time as there were rocks jutting out from the banks.  Was there any guarantee that they'd not miss them and break their necks?   The young Honduran men that were there, dark skins and hair glistening as they dove again and again showed no fear whatsoever.  And eventually the white skinned foreigners climbed the trail up to the highest point and had their turn.  Steve dove,  Gale didn't flinch.  Larry chose to go down feet first and  I breathed a sigh of relief.

We would return to those cliffs again and again during our years in Honduras.  Our kids were young at first, very young,  but they jumped the cliffs more times than I could possibly count.  Joel was in the first grade and could hit the water without his head ever going under, as if it were made of cork.  Even Fawn,  four years old our first trip out, would find her way to one of the lower cliffs.  The water was swfit as I mentioned, and as soon as the kids hit the water, they would be carried downstream a ways and would come out where the water slowed. From what I understand, white water rafting is pretty popular on the Cangrejal now.  We were already doing that all those many years ago, just without a raft. 

I'm glad my kids were up for the challenge.   Even though they were under our watchful eye everytime they plunged into that river, we never feared they wouldn't make it back to the bank.    We knew them as strong swimmers and achievers and I've no doubt that gave them all the more confidence to jump those cliffs.  I hope that lesson will help carry them through their adult lives, especially when they need the courage to take some risks.

Fawn and I had a conversation a few days ago.  It went something like this.  "Mom, don't you think what we did as kids was kind of dangerous?"  "What do you mean?" I asked.  "Well," she continued. "You had us jumping off cliffs in Honduras."  "You didn't have to jump off the cliffs if you didn't want to," I countered.  "I know, " she said.  "It scared me to death, but I wanted to do it.  I just remember it taking me forever because  I was so scared."  So I asked Angela, Fawn's oldest sibling by five years, how she had felt about the whole thing.  She didn't see it quite the same way.  "That was our life." she said matter-of-factly.  "That's just what we did.  And then she added, "And it was a great childhood."  There was no debate there.

The following video is not of us, but it will introduce you to the beautiful river of Cangrejal:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Trouble With Chickens

I've got to buy eggs today and it will be the first time in months.  That's because up til now my friend Lois and her husband Brian have been providing us with eggs from their own chickens.   We've enjoyed them, especially our three-egg vegetable and cheese omelettes.  Actually some of them could be called five or six-egg omelettes because of the size of those suckers. I strongly suspect we may have had some duck or possibly turkey eggs in the mix.  At least I hope so.  I can't imagine some poor little hen laying those gargantuan things. She'd be walking around like a bow-legged cowboy.  Oh, and we've not been the only one to benefit from the egg surplus.  Lois has brought dozens of cartons full of the preferred brown variety to share with the church folk and has provided enough for several church events, all involving food of course.

Therefore you can imagine my disappointment when I saw the message Lois left on facebook about a week or so ago:  It went something like this:  "Dear friends.  Between the bobcat, the fox and the raccoons, our poor chickens are almost gone.  And did I mention the bear, the BIG bear?  At this point we aren't even sure if we'll start over again with baby chickens.  Will keep you all posted."  I happen to know that Lois is at camp this week bemoaning the fact that Brian can't be with her this year.  That's because he's staying up through the night watching for varmints who might be coming after the last of his chickens or one of his ducks or turkeys.  Last I heard he'd gotten two foxes and two coyotes.  Yep, coyotes too.  And no, this is far from over.  A man suffering from sleep deprivation and a woman missing her husband at camp all for the sake of a few chickens.

We had chickens only once that I can remember.  We got some baby chicks from the Whitneys, a family  who rode our bus.  My mom loved animals, and it seemed like she was a real pushover when we asked for a new pet.  When our neighbors had a nice litter of kittens, she said we could get one.  Well, I liked the little long-haired multicolored one and my brother Rex liked the short-haired yellow one. She let us get both.  So I obviously told her that  the Whitneys had baby chickens and asked if we could get a few.  I liked them until I got pooped on right before the school bus arrived one morning.  I lost interest in them after that.  They grew up and roamed the old canal that ran behind our house, and I'm assuming my dad probably chopped off their heads so we could eat them since they suddenly weren't there anymore.

We weren't meant to be chicken people anyways.  We were rabbit people.  My dad always had a bunch of them out in his pen and just as many in the freezer.  We never had coyotes or bear to contend with, but one night after he'd gone to bed there was a horrible squealing coming from out back.  He quickly rose out of bed and found a mink chewing off the feet of the rabbits through the pen floor.  He grabbed a wooden stilt that he'd made for us and hit it over the side of the head.  That's about the most exciting thing that ever happened to us being rabbit people and all. 

Larry used to spend his summers at his cousins' farm in Castile, New York.  One day he was asked to chase down a few chickens and prepare them for supper.  Well,  everyone knows what happens when a chicken gets its head chopped off, it runs around like a chicken with its head cut off.  So rather than put up with that nonsense, he decided he was going to pelt them with corn cobs to do them in.  He felt pretty smug at figuring out how to slaughter the poultry in a brand-new way until  Marion went to fry them up and discovered they were covered with massive bruises.  I don't think he was allowed to kill any more chickens after that.
I've never quite understood why someone would have a pet chicken, but I know a lady in Prattville, Alabama who absolutely loves them.  As long as I've known her she's had a pet chicken that sleeps on her back porch.  I can't imagine cozying up to a little red hen or a banty rooster sitting on my lap, but I guess to each his own.  And I read that if a chicken is treated really well, it can live up to twenty years or so. Come to think of it, that's longer than the more common pets usually live.  Plus you wouldn't have to have that little backyard funeral that we always had with our cats and dogs and goldfish and such.  You could just eat your pet for dinner.