Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Big Dry

At least three months of dry season remain in northern Thailand. Since late October the North-East Monsoon has brought cooler, drier air into the region. It's been rather pleasant, even nippy at times. However, from late February or early March the temperatures will begin their annual climb. And with still no rain, the landscape will become increasingly dessicated and the air heavier with smoke from countless fires burning throughout the region. March through April are notorious months. Even mild, pleasant people turn testy from the heat, dust and smoke while waiting for the rainy season to commence.

When the rains finally begin to fall sometime in early May the results will be astounding. With a good initial dose of moisture the biomass will explode transforming the landscape from muted earth tones of brown and red to more shades of green than I can describe. The air will clear with forgotten mountains coming back into focus.

Maximizing their access to regular rainfall, the hilltribe farmers will plant their fields in upland rice, corn and numerous secondary crops including pumpkin, melon and sesame. And lowland Thai farmers, having harvested dry season soybean, garlic or onions will begin preparing for the main crop of paddy rice to be planted between July and September.

Such rainy season magic is still months away. But there are paddies and hill fields to prepare. And gardens still need tending.

Burmese Grape

One of northern Thailand's native plant species that's currently in full bloom is the Burmese grape (Baccaurea ramiflora). Known locally as mafai, Burmese grape really isn't a grape at all. The only thing grape-like are profuse clusters of yellow, cherry-shaped fruit that hang off of the branches and trunks of the small trees.

When ripe in May (or June for wild cousins in the forest), although a bit pithy, the meat of the fruit is juicy and refreshing.

Last year, though, when a friend and I treated ourselves to a rather large quantity of not-quite-ripe Burmese grape from the tree in my garden, our teeth became painfully sensitive. Unfortunately, this condition lasted for several days. So this year I'll be waiting until the mafai are fully ripe before indulging.

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