JIM CONRAD'S
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
Issued from Rancho Regenesis
in the woods near Ek Balam Ruins north of Valladolid in
Yucatán, MÉXICO

December 25, 2016

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BLACK IBERIAN PIGS
I bet that nowhere in Mexico is there a herd of pigs as pampered as those here at the rancho. They've grown up as the owner's pets, with no worries about eventually being eaten. They're unlike pigs normally seen in the North, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161225pg.jpg

The two most obvious features distinguishing that pig from most others are its hairlessness and long snout. A portrait featuring the long snout is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161225ph.jpg

This is a Black Iberian Pig, a special breed of the domestic pig, SUS SCROFA, native to the Iberian Peninsula -- Spain and Portugal. Its origins are unclear but the most commonly accepted theory is that the first pigs of any kind were brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Phoenicians from what's known today as Lebanon. Once in their new home they interbred with wild boars, which gave rise to the ancestors of what are today Iberian Pigs.

Back when I traveled frequently in Spain, several times I unwillingly insulted hosts who proudly offered vegetarian-me slices of Spain's famous cured ham. The slices were exceedingly thinly cut with unusually red flesh marbled throughout with white, intramuscular fat. Those who ate the ham assured me that the taste was exceptionally good, with my hosts explaining that this was because the pigs ran wild in the country's oak forests feeding on acorns. The pigs had to move about a lot to find enough acorns to sustain them, so many acorns' sweetness was distilled into their flesh. It takes about an acre of oak woodland to support one pig.

Black Iberian Pigs are found here because the breed is known to do well in tropical climates. The breed's numbers have plummeted since 1960 because of African swine fever and society's general drift away from foods rich in animal fats, though in recent years they've been coming back because of a growing demand where there's less interest in healthy eating.

Not all Iberian Pigs are black; they can be red or of a hue ranging from gray to black.

An interesting feature of Iberian Pigs is that in their traditional habitats -- the oak forests of southern and central Spain and Portugal -- they're described as contributing decisively to the preservation of the ecosystem. I'm guessing that the contribution is that of "tilling the soil" with their rooting.

The oaks, in turn, help sustain their pig populations by way of the various oak species dristributing their acorn production over most of the year. From September almost to April three oak species, the Spanish, Gall and Cork Oaks drop their acorns, while the Holm Oak drops a particularly heavy crop from November to February.

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OIL PALM DETAILS
On our Oil Palm page we show how that African species nowadays is planted in controversial plantations in the tropics worldwide, and we look at details of one washed up on a Caribbean beach. However, until now we've never been able to take a close look at a living specimen. Our Oil Palm page is at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/oil-palm.htm

Here at the rancho an Oil Palm has planted, mostly for novelty's sake. You can see it, with Chichan 'Cho' the edible Mexican Hairless dog posing beside it, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161225op.jpg

It's a young tree without flowers or fruits, but its fronds show interesting features worth knowing when trying to identify it. For example, look at the unusual way pinnae bases attach to the petiole at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161225oq.jpg

Notice that the bases are split, with one side swelling. It looks like these swellings, once the pinnae dry up and fall away on older fronds, form the spines we've seen at the bases of old fronds, shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/11/110515pn.jpg

A shot taken lower down the frond shows how the pinnae diminish nearer the trunk as the swellings become ever more spiny, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161225or.jpg

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WOODPECKER SOLSTICE
This week at dawn as my campfire breakfast stewed, sometimes there came a hollow-sounding drumming from way in the woods. The drumming came in irregularly and somewhat widely spaced phrases lasting about two seconds long. Each phrase consisted of a few sharp blows against a large, dead tree trunk: PopoPOH, punk! punk! It was the Lineated Woodpecker, similar to the North's Pileated and, like it, a shy, deep woods dweller, one who flies with heavy wingbeats and meaningful swoops and glidings.

When the stew starts bubbling, it's signaling that it's cooked enough for me to stir in the eggs, making it a kid of thickish, herby eggdrop soup. The woodpecker's drumming also is a signaling, a message issued in hard, no-nonsense terms, even a kind of challenge, saying, "If you hear this, you're in my territory, and I'm here to defend it."

This week's Winter Solstice mornings when more steam than smoke swirled up from the campfire, and the woods lay in fog, the Lineated Woodpecker's certainty about his claim and his artistry in declaring it thrilled me, nourished me no less generously than did the stew. For, something in me craves the definitive, a certainty to things, though a life's experience has taught that nearly all is shifting illusion and in-between states of being. Really, there's very little in a normal day of living that's absolutely believable. How comforting it would be if an authoritative voice in the sky should speak so all could hear and understand, saying exactly the way things should be: PopoPOH, punk! punk!

So, that's why this week was special, because something like that voice in the sky actually happened. The Earth itself, with the sky's complicity, signaled to us a mighty and beautiful message in delivery not unlike popoPOH, punk! punk!. The message was:

"At this precise moment the Earth's most majestic natural cycle ends and a new one begins. At this very point, in the Northern Hemisphere, the days start getting longer again -- shorter in the Southern Hemisphere -- and this will go on for half a year, until the day length changes direction again, and then, one year from this moment, the whole cycle will repeat."

So, all this next year's weather, its ebbs and flows of radiant solar energy and all attendant Earthly highlightings and shadowings, all the cycles of all living things dependent on sunlight and weather, all start on their new path... now! PopoPOH, punk! punk!

PopoPOH, punk! punk! is the sound of the whole Earth changing gears.

PopoPOH, punk! punk! is the Earth's promise that during the upcoming year the most critical needs of us living things will be met by a planetary biosphere agreeing to do what it's always done, which is to provide its living things with breathable air, drinkable water, and rich soil for growing food -- if only we will not destroy it.

PopoPOH, punk! punk!

*****

Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

All previous Newsletters are archived at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/.