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

December 18, 2016

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NAKED-NECK CHICKENS
Over 50 years ago when I began traveling in tropical America I was surprised to see many chickens running around people's yards with featherless necks. We have some here, one of them shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161218tk.jpg

A close-up of a fully extended featherless neck is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161218tl.jpg

Back in my early days, since I'd never seen featherless-necked chickens, I figured that they must be a breed found only among indigenous people in the Americas. However, now I learn that the breed arose in northern Romania -- the Transylvanian region -- hundreds of years ago. At first people thought featherless-necked chickens were crosses between chickens and turkeys, and called them Turkens, as well as Transylvanian Naked Necks. But, now it's known that the naked necks resulted from a random genetic mutation that caused the overproduction of a feather-blocking molecule in the middle of the species' Chromosome 3.

The naked-neck trait is dominant, and is manifested when hybridization takes place between a pure Naked Neck and another breed. And often that's done because the naked-neck gene not only reduces heat stress in most chicken breeds -- the Naked-Neck breed has about half the feathers of other chickens -- but also causes the breast size to increase.

Nowadays Naked Necks are fairly common in Europe, very common in South America, but still rare in North America, despite their surprising ability to do well in the cold. They are inhabitants of the Rancho precisely because they thrive in the Yucatan's heat.

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EATING AMARANTH LEAVES
At http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/amaranth.htm we've looked at Red Amaranth, which is much grown in our area, often as a pretty ornamental and sometimes for its tiny, high-protein seeds. I surprise the Rancho's Maya workers not only by eating the leaves, but also for the way I'm growing the plant.

You can see one corner of my Red Amaranth plant bed at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161218am.jpg

A close-up showing the leaves' pretty undersides is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161218an.jpg

What the Maya find inexplicable is that I've sown the seeds so thickly. However, for years I've sown lettuce, mustard greens and turnip greens the same way. As soon as the crammed-together seedlings pop up, I begin harvesting and eating them -- thinning them out as I go. As the plants grow larger they find themselves separated from one another by ever greater spaces, yet always forming a dense but not-to-dense cover. Eventually the bed in our pictures will hold only half a dozen or so seven-ft-tall (2m) bushes, which will produce prodigious numbers of seeds.

On the InnovateUS.Net web page entitled "The 12 Health Benefits of Eating Amaranth Leaves" I read that amaranth leaves are "Packed with antioxidants, protein, vitamins, calcium, carbohydrates, iron and minerals..." with numerous health benefits. Amaranth leaves were part of the staple diet of the ancient Aztecs, Mayans and Incas.

Also at the NutritionData.Self.Com website, nutrition charts for amaranth leaves indicate that one cup of raw amaranth leaves (28g), supplies about the following in terms of a body's minimum daily requirement:

Vitamin K.......399%
Vitamin C....... 20%
Vitamin A....... 16%
Manganese....... 12%

The leaves are composed of 26% protein, which is amazingly high for a green leaf.

The NutritionData.Self.Com page's general review of raw amaranth leaves describes it as low in saturated sat, and "... a good source of Niacin, and a very good source of Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Zinc, Copper and Manganese."

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HOLE BESIDE THE HUT
I live beside a hole that's deeper and wider than the hut. It was dug to be a cellar, but the project was abandoned before the pit could be roofed and covered with dirt. You can see how close it is to the table where I'm writing this at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161218ho.jpg

Whenever I leave or enter the hut, with one wrong step I'd plunge into it, and possibly die. The hole sets the tone of each day the moment I awaken and look out the door, to see its gaping, inescapable mouth right there. It colors my feelings about living here, same as if the hut were at the ocean's edge, or on a mountain peak.

I think about that hole a lot. One reason is that I've come to think of it as a useful paradigm in everyday life.

For instance, the hole creates a lush microhabitat for plants and animals that aren't found in the surrounding woods. The hole's depths are moister and cooler than the surrounding woods because neither sunlight nor wind enters there. Maidenhair Ferns cascade from the hole's walls, and umbrella-like Cecropia trees with kite-size leaves rise from the hole's floor. The hole, then, is an example of how by taking away -- by creating a hole in a matrix -- something worthy and desirable might come about.

Thinking further on the matter, my life here is itself a kind of hole. It's a hole in the surrounding societal matrix of which materialism and busy-ness for busy-ness's sake are prime features. To me it seems that in my current life-hole, tranquility, freedom and a sense of living an enriched life spontaneously arose just as the Cecropia trees and Maidenhairs came unbidden into the hut hole

In fact, this kind of hole-making in society appears again and again throughout history. It happened whenever individuals and communities disconnected from their oppressive or otherwise wrongheaded governments or overlords and "went underground" to live differently than before. Often in these new society-holes there arose gorgeous and inspiring, Cecropia/Maidenhair-like new ways of being. Think of the Mennonites and off-the-grid, gardening "hippy" communities up North, Thoreau in his woods, Jesus in his desert, and the Buddha beneath his Bo Tree.

Of course, all this hole-philosophy is just another way of saying that the path to happiness is to simplify. Holes teach the charm of paying attention to and dealing with what's close at hand.

Finally, don't miss this point: The hole beside my hut isn't teaching us to find a hole, climb into it and vegetate. It teaches that sometimes holes, metaphorical and otherwise, are simplified environments in which unexpected pleasures and insights might spontaneousy appear.

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Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

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