The majestic palms peered down at me from the edge of Molly and Luis Felipe’s front lawn. Imposing as the queen’s sentinels, their presence announced that someone important lived there. They were the tallest palm trees of any I’d passed on our ride through the jungle, a collection saved from the days before Luis Felipe owned the property, when the entire 600 acres had been a working plantation. Bunches of green bananas slept comfortably tucked under the top branches of the palms, daring people down below to scale the nubby trunks to come and get them or shake them down. The palms spoke to me of sun and ease, a symbol of the life I thought I too was choosing.
But when I arrived at the house for another visit a year later, I could see immediately that something was terribly wrong. Large dry yellow leaves littered the ground like fallen angels ,and those leaves that remained on the trees looked withered and ready to drop. The thick trunks were wrapped in layers of white gauze that held large syringes filled with clear medicine that pierced the bandages and plunged deep into the bark. The palms looked like wounded soldiers in an intensive care unit set up in the middle of a battlefield. Once strong and hardy, they were now painful to see.
The difficulty wasn’t only on Luis Felipe’s land. All the property owners in the area were facing the same crisis. It turns out that the towering variety of palms that seemed so mighty was not indigenous to the Yucatan, but had been imported from other parts of the Caribbean when Cancun was built as a tourist haven. After 30 years, the newcomers suddenly developed a disease that was wiping out the entire crop, spreading from ranch to ranch. Cacti, ferns, bromeliads, orchids and poinsettias all were native to the jungle and flourished, but the towering palms were foreigners, used to a different kind of soil on their island, with different nutrients and pH levels than is found in the soil in Mexico. The other land owners and Luis Felipe pooled their resources to pay for an arborist, a specialist in palm trees, to fly in to try to save the palms. But in spite of the specialist’s expertise and high-tech meds, the leaves still turned yellow and the trees were dying. The truth became evident; the species did not belong there.
Eventually Luis Felipe removed the palms and had his lawn re-seeded. There was no evidence that the stately palms had ever graced his property. Turns out, it isn’t easy being a transplant. Even under that glorious sun, in that tropical air, only some survive and flourish. Others wither and begin to die, in spite of all that beauty around them. I know. I was a transplant in paradise and my soul was atrophying a little day by day the longer I stayed. Like the palms, eventually I pulled up the roots I had planted in the jungle over the years, leaving my voluptuous gardens, my dream home by the sea, my friends I’d come to help, my years-long adventure. No permanent trace of me remained behind, except in the hearts of those few who rememember. Read As Far As the I Can See to find out why.