Dear Friends: We’ve just been through a short rainy season here in Cañar – one of several in the agricultural year – and the fields are emerald green and the mountains cerulean blue. Recently, taking the bus to Cuenca on a clear day recently – a trip I usually use for two solid hours of reading – I couldn’t stop staring out the window at the beauty of the landscape. And this had me thinking that, although a much smaller percentage of the population makes a living from agriculture these days, folks both urban and rural remain attached to their land. Even ferociously attached, whether to the fields alongside a family’s house to produce their yearly supply of potatoes and corn; a small plot in the countryside where a city person grows a few vegetables, or a finca -a remnant of the hacienda period – that a family holds onto for a country house and to run a few horses.
A few googled facts here: 37 per cent of the Ecuadorian population still live in rural areas, and in 2013 the poverty rate for rural families was at 42 per cent, almost double the rate in urban areas. “Access to land continues to be unequal, despite attempts at land reform. Smallholder farm production is limited by access to credit and financial services, markets and irrigation and technology, degradation of soil and the effects of climate change.”
Small-scale agriculture and animal husbandry is everywhere around us in Cañar, although out-migration has brought a measure of economic security to the region. I went out this afternoon to take a few photos around our house, beginning with our own cornfield, which we’ve watch mature of the past 5 months.Then I turned around to see a woman and her cow in the fields below us, with surrounding crops at various stages. From our living room windows I often look out to see yoked bulls pulling a wooden plow in those fields, a woman walking ahead to keep the bulls in a straight line, and a man guiding the plow and calling out in that special language that tells bulls when to stop, go and turn around.And there’s Magdalena’s piglet just over the fence.The other day I went out our gate to find a neighbor’s sheep tethered to our fence, munching on our hedge trimmings. These are scenes we see every day, reminding us we are in a rural world, even though I know one of the families connected to the fields below us lives in Spain; Magdalena’s husband and son have been migrants in New York ever since we’ve known her; and Jose Maria who plants our cornfield works for the municipality. But all still tend their land and animals, and I think they can’t imagine a life otherwise. However, my guess is that the next generation won’t know that special language for bulls, or how to raise a pig for market, or how long to leave the corn in the field to dry.
Finally, I just now took this photo on the edge of our cornfield, the flower of the guyan plant. It is for Kate – a recent “botanizing” visitor who kept asking me on our walks about the flowers, and I could only tell her the local name, if I remembered that. So Kate – please find the botanical name for this beautiful but aggressive vine that is taking down our fence.Well, we have our tickets home to Portland for July 3, which means we are down to our last month in Cañar. I’m already making a list for next year: leads on old photographs to scan, oral histories to be recorded before memories fade of the hacienda and agrarian reform years, launching the digital archive, sketching ideas for radio programs. But Michael and I are not yet done with Ecuador. We leave tomorrow for a long-delayed but short vacation at the coast, and I plan to write another blog about what it’s like to go from 65 to 95 degrees F in one day (18-35 C) and survive. So I must cut this short and look in my closet for some lightweight clothes and – heaven forbid – maybe even a traje de baño – a swimming costume. Stay tuned….