Great Balls of Dung, and Other Surprises

When Augusto showed me the kumquat-sized ball of dried manure, I gave a gasp of delight much like the one I make when someone hands me a plate of chocolate-chip cookies. I took it from him and rolled it around in my palm to better appreciate a masterful example of excremental architecture. This little poop souvenir was exactly what I had come here for.

Red Dirt Diary #6

A Multidão

Apart from Ester, José, Tiago, and Sombra, there is no lack for other characters here at the fazenda. Caio is one of them. He is a young, slick-faced, nut-brown ranch hand, one of those men that would be paunchy if he led a city life but is instead lean and powerful from a job that requires constant exercise. He usually wears one of a series of soccer jerseys paired with typical gaucho bombacha pants, a knife at his hip. He is equipped with the cleverest tongue of all the ranch hands.

Red Dirt Diary #5


Today Caio and I made a joke. All the ranch hands and I were seated at lunch, munching away at yet another plateful of fatty pork. We have enjoyed so much pork this week – it seems to be all that’s in the freezer at the moment – that it has provoked sarcastic comments among the hands about turning into pigs and complaints about the effect on their waistlines. Marcelo makes pointed oinking noises every time he sits down to eat.

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Red Dirt Diary #4

Gaucho Science

The morning mist is thick and low on the ground. I’m guessing relative humidity of 100%. Vapor pressure deficit 0 kPa. Transpiration 0 mm/s. I can’t even see Pedro and Jonatas as they put together a tripod on the far end of the field. I can only hear the clunks and clangs of the aluminum pipes as they slide into the iron tripod joint.

Progress and Preservation in Abbey’s Country

It was sentimental to bring along Ed, I suppose. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that someone had thought, “I’m going to the canyonlands – better read Desert Solitaire.” No different than, “I’m in Alaska – better grab my Jack London,” or, “Trip to Yosemite – bring out the John Muir.”

Hotel Wherever

The perks of ditching the key card

I’ve had enough of hotels in this short lifetime. One weekend after another traveling to college soccer games, academic conferences, family vacations - all of them came along with a hotel key and a room, each one identical to all the others.

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Red Dirt Diary #3


On the day that Ike died, I tried unsuccessfully to hide my dejection from the other folks on the fazenda. My faithful blue merle, the first dog that was ever mine, had died of old age on my parents’ farm while I was off in this remote corner of Brazil.

Red Dirt Diary #2


Finally, the wind started to blow. It probably meant rain, which of course, was not so great for my experiment. But it also meant that the insupportable humidity was blown away and the temperature finally dropped. I could move again. I rolled down the window and stuck my face out like a happy puppy as we trundled down the pot-holed road to the experiment.

Red Dirt Diary #1


When you spend enough time at Tupã, everything you own begins to take on the particular tone of ochre that characterizes the region’s iron-rich soil. Your clothes become stained and will likely never revert to their original color. Your shower water runs red with the clay and silt lodged in every wrinkle in your skin. Even the sheep look as though they belong to an odd, local breed, their wool tinted red and their knees, like a toddler’s, permanently dirtied.

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