The arabica need a lot of air but not too much light; the robusta demand a lot of light and air. So we are hacking the branches of the shade trees over the robusta now. The trees are old, and some are very tall, and the cutting crew climb a short height on ladders and move on higher, hugging the trunk and kicking and lifting themselves up. They laugh and chat and gossip with fellow cutters on other trees while they go about their work, their voices carrying unhindered.
"I'm staying at my mother-in-law's, at Magge," shouted one as I passed them this morning.
"You have many mothers-in-law," shouted back another. "A mother-in-law in every village."
They present a scary yet enjoyable sight.
In the evening, I stood on the deck of my plantation home and watched the birds coming back home. Gazing at a flock of them on the high bare branches of a tree, I realised: a good number of these avians will lose their homes! But I can't stop the hacking; I need a harvest that covers costs incurred. What does that make me?
Perhaps I should grow more arabica, then I'd cut down only a few branches for a coffee that begs for shade. And moreover, these days, arabica is fetching twice as much money as robusta.
How clear will my mind be when I do the rounds on the plantation tomorrow, with thoughts like these burrowing about my mind? Will I enjoy "nature" as much as I did today?
Anyway, the leaves of the coffee are shrivelled and drooping, and they appear to be deeply despairing. A combination of the easterlies, this wintry tropical sun, the chill breeze all combine to drain the last moisture from the soil. So much so the plants begin to fear their end is near. It is a state the planters wish for. "Good," they say, "the plants are stressed." Because when the plants are stressed, during late February, and the sprinklers are turned on and "blossom showers" fall upon them, the plants will lift up, and they will bloom white all at once across the plantation, making these tropical tracts look like they are snowed upon. Heady smells will suffuse the air. It's magic that will last a week and bring in a good harvest at the end of the year.
It is February. The plantation is dry and dusty, and that loveliest time of the year is only a couple of weeks away.