February starts quietly at Chota Tingrai. The evenings are cool, the factory is silent. Even the monkeys seem off on other adventures.
The tea bushes are not fans of the cold nights and cloudy mornings. The unpruned plants curl their leaves as if they shiver. The sections of pruned bushes look like they are at home in a New England forest with their bare branches. No frogs, no snakes, just annoyed cows and goats roaming the garden, trying to sneak a sweet morsel of weed from under a bush before being chased off by a garden guard.
The people don't look much warmer than the bushes. They wrap up in shawls and padded down jackets as if on Alaskan expeditions.
Then I guess 70 is frigid when in 6 months they will be plucking tea in 105+ Fahrenheit.
There is still work to be done, but it's quiet work. The pruning finished in January. So did land preparation for new tea. The heavy machinery are all taking a break, as they get freshly oiled, and parts replaced for a whole new season. In the pruned sections, the workers dig drains with hoes or rake up fallen leaves for mulch and compost. This is the only time the channel drains can be repaired so once again they are ready to keep the tea well drained during monsoons. The only machine that can be heard is the occasional hum of our John Deer tractor scraping debris from the main drain.
February peaks in a burst of green. Suddenly, a little sun pierces the deep overcast, heating the soil just enough to get the worms wiggling. That's all it takes. The bushes seem to awake from their frozen state in a yawn of shoots.
The bud break - the first leaves of the pruned bushes
Within a week, a nice table is forming on the unpruned sections while the pruned sections start hiding their naked branches with what will be maintenance leaves.
Other trees start following the tea bushes in their sprouting. The peach tree next to our house puts on a pink blossom spring dress. The hedges bloom yellow and white. Our shade trees grow fat with pinky finger, lime green leaves.
Our peach tree
The monkeys come back from whatever expedition they had undertaken. They pick our guava tree bare, steal all the bananas. They even have the chutzpah to break into our attic. Something must be done. What that something is, is yet to be determined.
Monkeys invading our house at Chota Tingrai
Monkey on our roof at Chota Tingrai
The last week of February starts to feel tiring in its repose. The anticipation of the coming season grows and everything – the bushes, the trees, the workers, the monkeys—knows that this sojourn from work will soon close.
When March finally arrives, the gas comes, and the factory's great furnaces are lit. It is time to get back to making tea again.