Postcards From Paradise: Hurricanes & Eco Homes

by Nate

When we’re in-flow with the universe everything clicks into place effortlessly. When we’re not, it feels like hunting around in the dark. It’s hard to remain constantly in-flow but life is a learning process. Sarah and I are constantly moving in and out of flow and it’s just enough to keep us roughly on target. The big turning points come and go easily and there are enough synchs in our lives to know we’re more or less on the right track.

Most of the time when we get off track it’s because we’ve spent too much time thinking about some unknowable part of our future. We’re chronic over-planners (especially me) and many of the challenges we face are the kind that won’t be solved until the answer magically presents itself.

For example, when we sold our house, we had just one showing despite a truly out-of-control market. One showing in 4 days and one offer -at our asking price. Yet the buyer met all of the criteria we’d set in our (many) magical workings on the sale of our house. Of course, we didn’t know that until after a few days after we’d arrived in Playa del Carmen when the buyer emailed to pick my brain about how to best manage the garden. Even our most unrealistic intention statement (“the people who buy our home are gardeners”) had somehow manifested.

Being in-flow doesn’t always feel like what it is. Sometimes the synchs are so strong they feel like a slap in the face. We recently got very excited about a 3 story duplex here in the little neighborhood we’re renting in north of Playa del Carmen. It has been on the market for some time and the price is really great for its location and size. It’s at a great price, near the beach, and would give us plenty of room for ourselves, plus more to entertain. The deal was so good, it felt like divine providence. So we were quite disappointed when divination indicated that we would not be buying that house.

We really wanted to buy this house. It would have been a lot easier than what we’re signing up for…

The duplex has three terraces; each a good sized area for entertaining or potentially growing things. Or at least, that’s what we thought when we first toured the home. We got so excited about the potential that we were already deep into dreaming about a rooftop garden when we finally pulled out the cards to divine on the matter.

As amazing as this vision was, it’s just not practical. And this is what the cards told us, unequivocally. Of course, we lacked the knowledge and experience to understand this at the time and this result just left us feeling confused and defeated. Only after more time had passed and we’d learned two more key pieces of information did this result start to make sense.

I discovered the real estate agent we’re working with through a Facebook group for listing long-term apartment rentals. Though we decided to continue renting month-to-month through Airbnb for flexibility, we stayed in touch with her because she had a jungle lot we wanted to see. On the drive out to see this jungle lot we learned that this impressive woman is also a biologist and teaches about organic gardening, eco-building, holistic medicine, and other topics. Best of all, she was about to host a two-day course on organic gardening and eco-building and offered us 2-for-1 discount on a few of the last spots available.

Our multidisciplinary real estate agent Karla showing us how to propagate tropical trees in her course on organic gardening.

Since we moved to Mexico to build a tropical homestead, this coincidence already seemed like divine providence, but the story only gets weirder from here. In her course we learned a lot of fascinating things about land management in the tropics and one of the aspects we discussed was rooftop gardens.

The sun is intense here, even more than in Texas. The inside of your house can reach temperatures of 90-100 degrees if exposed to full sun in the summertime. And the heat here is sticky; heavy with humidity which turns hot days even more oppressive. Covering your home in lightweight, low-growing grasses, herbs, vines, and shrubs makes productive use of that righteously intense sunlight and saves you money by cooling your home significantly.

Rooftop gardens can be a brilliant addition to the traditional Mexican home. They aren’t, however, a replacement for a traditional garden -in the sense that you can’t rely on them for resilience. The sudden ferocity of a tropical storm, much less a hurricane, is enough to scatter your green roof all over the neighborhood. The value of the rows of potted shrubs, herbs, and vines growing in your rooftop garden is primarily in soaking up all the excess solar heat that would otherwise accumulate in your home. Beautification is a close second reason -but resilience, in terms of food production, is a very distant third.

These are small synchs but they’re important because recognizing them keeps us from sliding off track and out of flow with the universe. I’ll review them quickly so that you get the full effect:

  1. First we sell our house to the only buyer that’s available, in a market that’s short on inventory and flooded with opportunity.
  2. Next we arrive here in Mexico and immediately find a trustworthy real estate agent with access to jungle property and a personal history teaching organic gardening and sustainable building techniques.
  3. We get distracted by a ready-to-move in opportunity in this little neighborhood we love; and convince ourselves we can actually garden on its many terraces and ample rooftop space.
  4. This sounds great until we take our real estate agent’s course on eco-home construction and realize that the first strong storm would almost certainly destroy our gardens and ruin our resiliency plans.
  5. Finally, right on cue, Hurricane Grace makes a surprise landing on the north end of Quintana Roo, where we live. It’s a mild category 1 hurricane, but still destroys our community park and sends anything not tied down on roofs in the neighborhood crashing down to into the yards below.

The point was well made. Any garden on the roof would have to be protected (moved) before any significant storm or risk its almost certain destruction. The duplex, and its three terraces, would never have been a suitable sanctuary –but it might have cost us the resources we need to build a real one.

Sometimes the universe literally blocks your path, sometimes it’s metaphorical…

Being in-flow is easier than the alternative but it’s not always easy to stomach. Any time we think we know what comes next in our journey, we’re thrown for another loop, though it’s our own fault for trying to guess where we’re going all the time. Staying with the moment, riding out each part of our story while watching for clues to understand the next, it’s maddening and unpredictable. But it’s also uncanny and incredible and exhilarating; it’s just a matter of our perspective and how frustrated we’re feeling at any given moment.

But what else is there to do? There’s a gravity to what we’re experiencing; I can feel us being pulled inexorably towards something -something full of meaning and purpose. To short-circuit this process, by needing to know how everything works out, risks diminishing it somehow.

We can only see the vaguest outline of what’s to come, so we waste time and energy trying to guess our way to the full picture. But this is vanity and our efforts are better spent trying to fully experience each moment of it. We’re better off letting the gods sort out the deeper meanings of each moment and how they overlap and interrelate.

By the time we can comprehend the gravity of our story, it’ll be far enough along that interference is no longer possible…so the best for us to do is let the future unfold and our fates be revealed along with it. To “let go and let gods”, so to speak.

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