Neli first discovered Wellspring at the beginning of February, 2016.
Since coming to Wellspring, she has been reunited with a friend whose daughter went to same elementary school as her daughter. They had not seen each other in ten years.
“It is fun and it is very rich,” she said of Wellspring.
“Women from different cultures bring their own culture and share their own energy, their own hobbies and their own skills,” Neli said. “We are short in money so when we come here we don’t expect to pay a lot so we give deals to each other.”
“In the back, there is this table with Mexican women,” Neli said. “They sell honey or Gorditas. This lady from Laos brings cilantro every day. I see her planting and cutting it in a community garden on Fourth Avenue. She also sells chicken chow-mein. Sometimes they have birthday celebrations and share posole, tamales, mole, tacos and cake. It’s very exciting because each day is different.”
“I like the location,” Neli said. “The old firehouse is very retro and vintage looking. The flowers and colors make it more homey and cozy. Every month, the calendar brings something different. I like the chiropractor and the cooking class. They have a dance exercise class on Fridays.”
Neli moved to California from Mexico thirty years ago and spent the past twenty years feeling homesick for Mexico.
What do you miss about Mexico?
“The food,” she said. “The first time I came here, I was like an animal –- smelling the powdered cardboard and dust in the food. I felt like a frustrated animal — for years, I refused to eat in restaurants. Food just didn’t taste the same. What I love about Mexico is the variety of fruits. My granny used to have a big, big piece of land full of fruit trees – apples, peaches, guavas, mangos, pineapples and papayas. There is so much passion over there for food and in my town, it was spring all year round.”
Neli’s childhood home was 300 years old. It had thick walls with adobe ceilings – it was cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Her dad is a baker. He bakes conchas and novias – Mexican sweet breads in a variety of shapes — imbued with intense colors like “pinky, pink hot pink, yellow and green,” as Neli described.
When Neli visited smaller villages in Mexico, she felt like she was visiting paradise.
“The air is clean and there are no cars,” she said. “You think it is just a little poor town, but once you get inside, the tortillas are handmade and the soup is the best soup you’ve ever tasted. Everything smells different. You can smell what kind of stove they were using for the tortillas – if it was clay, a gas stove or a wood stove. It’s paradise because it is disconnected. You have no stress. I don’t think people know about cancer or a lot of the illnesses that we know about in America. I didn’t know that allergies existed. I didn’t know that credit cards existed.”
In Sacramento, Neli learned the craft of tree trimming from her neighbors who were tree trimmers. With money that she had saved over the years, she started her own tree trimming business.
“They [the men she learned from] said to me personally, one time, ‘I don’t like to cut trees because I feel like the tree is crying when I am cutting it,” Neli reminisced.
“We have a lot of allergies because people tend to cut down the female trees because they drop all the little poles or flowers,” she said. “The male trees produce the pollen.”
After Dutch elm disease killed many street trees in the 1980s, universities recommended that municipalities across the country plant male trees that are wind instead of insect pollinated. Urban trees trap and remove pollutants from the air, but if the tree is a male tree, it sheds the pollutants in airborne pollen which humans breathe in. Some studies argue that the abundance of male trees in urban environs is responsible for higher rates of asthma and allergies in the general population.
Female trees are better for the environment because they don’t produce pollen.
“You have to control the level of pollen in the air,” Neli said.
“I love fruit trees,” Neli said. “What I love about trees is that the fruit, for me, is a gift. Ever since I was little, I really just enjoyed eating peaches and apples straight off the tree. I don’t remember going to a big supermarket and getting the fruit so cold. When you just cut the fruit from the tree and enjoy it in the moment, it is so clean. It just smells good – like roses out in the wild smell better. Squirrels and birds can have a home in trees. Another thing that I love about trees is that birds gather on my trees in my backyard. They are like an orchestra – they sing for forty minutes without stopping. Trees are like those machines that are a four in one copier, scanner, printer and fax machine.”
Eventually, Neli stopped cutting trees because she began to sense the pain that the trees felt when she was cutting off their branches. People would call her to cut trees that didn’t need to be cut.
“I said no,” she said. “I won’t do it for beer money to destroy such a beautiful thing. I’d rather be poor or jobless. It’s a nasty business. A lot of people do it to make money. I didn’t know that a tree could sense you like those military goggles that sense the heat. They sense your presence and of course, they feel pain.”
Neli loves to cook. Potatoes are her favorite food and she likes to fry them with avocado oil.
“Treat your body like a luxury car,” she said. “Use the best oil because we are supposed to be high-tech machines.”
Her cooking has crossed cultures.
“We Mexicans mess with hot dogs,” Neli said. “We put salsa, onion, cilantro and guacamole on top.”