Horizon at Sandy Point

Friday, April 30, 2010

Inside out thoughts: gardens as schools

Thinking about elections makes me think of what I might do if I were in charge. The people I would most like to influence are all under ten. It's hard to work with people of voting age.

But for the under tens, the classroom would be a garden full of trees and food they would grow for themselves. Include some chickens, ducks and rabbits, a couple goats and rabbits if there's enough room. If there's only room in the school yard for vegetables, we would make that do. But children love chicken, so we would try to make space for a coop; and maybe we'll get eggs too.

Among the fruits, let's have mangoes, oranges, a lime tree for sure, avocado, guava and good old fashioned downs. A corner clump of bananas and plantain. Then, raised beds and bins for vegetables. Seasonings in sunny window boxes. Vining beans and tomatoes. Pumpkins, ochroes, pigeon peas, sorrel in season. Let's learn by trading with neighbours and neighbouring schools: not just the produce, but the techniques, seeds and starter plants, and the lessons learned. Then graduate to cooking what is grown.

Lloyd Best had an idea of schools in the panyard. The truth is that kids learn everywhere. Teachers are simply the people who facilitate that process. If all you have is a panyard, make music. If you have a shed, make art. If you have a garden and can feed yourself, you are the building block of a powerful nation.

Let's look at the 4H Clubs of Point Fortin and the southwest peninsula. Their voluntary project puts children in gardens after school. Think how powerful it might be to turn the garden into the school.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Cat's claw

As the promise of rain grows, heavy as the clouds overhead, more trees and plants are flowering.  Late season yellow Pouis dot the northern hills. Pink Pouis are celebrating pagwah all over again. Pommerac flowers, jacaranda, and cassias paint the forests. And the blue bunches of Petrea are more to be enjoyed coming at the end of this dry dry season. Some of the most luxuriant specimens can be seen around the Savannah. Look out for the shower of gold cassias in the botanic gardens.

The flowering vine that channels pure sunshine in these pre-rain days is the Cat's claw. Bunches of yellow blossoms drape the uppermost branches of tall trees, and this is just about the only time you may see the vines during the year.  The Spanish called the plant Una de Gato, the Indians Vilcacora. Uncaria tomentosa, or Uncaria guianensis, has been used by South and Central American tribes to treat a variety of ailments including gastric ulcers, tumours and rheumatoid arthritis.

The vine is characterised by small hooks at the bases of the leaves; these hooks resemble cat's claws and enable the vine to climb walls and very high trees. 

One thing that I wonder about amid this annual flowering: is it the end of the dry season that prompts the blooming? Or is it the onset of rain that does it?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Legacy Orchid

The Dove orchid buds opened this morning - clusters of perfect white blooms with deep yellow throats. It belonged to my mother, and it was always a wonderful surprise to wake up and find the twiggy fronds covered with white. Something of a miracle to a child who had not yet done the math of seasons, length of daylight, temperature or rainfall into a rhythm of the earth.

The scientific name is Dendrobium Crumenatum, but it is commonly known as the dove orchid, or sometimes the pigeon orchid because as it wilts, it can look like a flying pigeon. Native to tropical Asia, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, it is at home in Trinidad; and can no doubt be cultivated anywhere in the world. The blooming of my Dove is associated with the start of the rainy season in Trinidad, but in some years, it is very prolific between November and January. Its blooming is supposed to be triggered by sudden drops in temperature (10 degrees Fahrenheit, or five degrees Celsius).

When it blooms, the whole plant is covered. The flowers don't last more than a day. So when you see the pale green buds on the sprays, expect to see the flowers in the morning. By noon, they fade, and by the end of the day, are wilted. Blooms re-appear on the same stalks. The plant requires no dirt, no manure and continues to thrive completely independent of human care or attention.

This Dove orchid belonged to my mother, and hopefully will outlive me. Its blooming remains a miracle which I hope my children will treasure and enjoy.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Loving Earth

On name days, we think about our relationship with the special person or being. It's easy to understand when the special person is mother or father, a hero or a saint, a father of the nation, an artist or great benefactor. Celebrating the lives of others helps us to define our humanity and expand the meaning of "love." 

How does one celebrate and love Earth - mother and father to every one alive today or who has ever lived? How should we love our mother-father Earth whose creatures - on land and in the ocean, in deep caves or creating life in hostile deep abysses or on the polar caps - are brothers and sisters?

Is it enough merely to live in the house and share in the feasts placed before us every day, expecting mother-father to provide forever? Is it right to believe that we - human beings, now almost seven billion, as widespread as many of the brother-sister species we despise (cockroaches, mosquitoes, viruses) - that we will inherit and have dominion over all? What will we inherit?

Today, let us think of how we love our mother-father Earth. Let us try to understand some of the infinite relations she-he has provided - through scientific and intellectual pursuit as well as with our hearts. Let us look at what our species has perpetrated on Earth - from the deepest jungles to how we have trashed the oceans - and begin to make the changes that we can: my garbage and my use of Earth energy (cars, electricity, air-conditioning, travel, even this computer). Let us commit to reducing consumption (every thing we buy, what we eat). Let us commit to re-use the things we already have. Let us advocate recycling - especially plastic.

Let's celebrate today's B'Earth day, and make every other day an Earth day.

Remember to think of the Earth as 70 percent ocean!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Chicken ten ways

Max is practically human. In the wild, he may not be able to fend for himself. Humans have "created" pets "in our own likeness," and it is probably fair to say that dogs and cats and other domesticated animals are co-creators, complicit in the relationship.

Other creatures - however close to humans they live - are meant to be free. Consider the cobo, for instance, no Trini would dream of domesticating a flock of cobos - though by and large, they benefit from human activity; and provide benefit to our landscape by cleaning up road kill as well as other products of a wanton lifestyle.

Why then should we consider farming sea turtles? Just because we have developed a taste for turtle stew? Why would we - who would not dream of barbecuing a pet dog far less a stray - imagine that we should enjoy the flesh of an animal - any animal - that takes years to become full-grown? Sure we evolved from hunters, but surely we can acknowledge that we have evolved, with the wits to take care of our dietary needs.

Let us therefore be content with chicken - the average KFC bird takes seven weeks; the occasional yard/ hard fowl six months; and the occasional turkey or muscovy duck, nine months. We can grow these in our backyards!

Let's let the wildlife be wild. They may yet save our planet; and bless human existence.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Max in a coat of many colours

Max was ten years last September. His full name is Maximillan. Max is Lab Rott, descended from a lovely white/ yellow Lab and the neighbour's Rott. As a pup, his fur hung like a thick baggy coat. Now he's older and slightly grey but still a happy dog. He loves water, and this is his favourite blanket. He's been hit by cars on a highway ... twice one Carnival Monday. He's been taken and tied up by strangers twice. In all, he's sired about 50 puppies each of which emerged with lovely Labrador features.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tribute to the Washerwomen of the North Coast

Look for the mural at the junction of the Arima-Blanchisseuse road (through the forest) and the Paria main road (along the north coast). The artist is Kenneth Fournillier supported by the Blanchisseuse Environmental Art Trust (BEAT).

At the function to officially unveil the mural on Sunday, April 18, Dr Marcia de Castro, Resident Representative of the United Nations and UNDP, spoke of the significance of murals, celebrating the past, marking a place in the present, and creating a vision for the future.

Ken's Washerwoman mural then, draws a line in the sand, and reminds us to cherish the wealth of the marine flora and fauna, the beauty of the shore with rivers and forest.

You can't miss it at this significant junction to Blanchisseuse.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Consider the cockroach

Sometimes the wild comes into our houses. Take the giant tropical bush roaches that fly (!) through an open window. This is followed by shrieks and yells from daughter, son and husband!

Seems like Wildgirl  is the only one with the presence of mind to grab slipper, newspaper, or book, and whack the living daylights out of a creature whose flat chitinous wings form an almost impenetrable shell. But it never takes longer than a few seconds for a being many thousands of times larger to do it in.

About 4000 species of cockroaches inhabit the earth -  it is thought that termites evolved directly from an early form of roaches. And roaches are the descendants of the most primitive winged insects. Like many other creatures, roaches have an affinity for humans and the food that can be found in our spaces. They have tremendous "survivability" - up to three or four months without food or water - and are able to re-emerge after submersion in water for over half an hour; and higher resistance to radiation than vertebrates.

They are highly "social" in that they have been observed preferring to cluster with other roaches. They leave chemical traces that let other roaches know where they are. So next time you attend a political rally, just think - how different are we from the roaches. We all want the same things - food, shelter, and to be loved!!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Elections and the environment

The date for general elections has been announced: May 24.

While others debate whether a female prime minister; or whether Manning can release the party to reinvent itself with a better chance of continuing to form the government, I would like to know which party is going to help us to deal with our obvious and considerable over-consumption.

Who is going to impose a tax on plastic bottles?
Which is going to put in measures to reduce waste?
Who is going to ensure that we have sustainable ways to feed the poor, and everyone else?
Which party is going to be brave enough to promise and reward - not greater use of resources but less.

Sure our manufacturing sector is expected to survive, but who is challenging them to be innovative in product and packaging.

Instead of a few conscious citizens constantly trying to set good examples, why not the leadership that promises to make it possible for everyone to live a decent life - less waste, less conspicuous consumption (like streetlights on Saddle Road!) and measures that encourage people to not have so many cars on the road.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Raking leaves

What happens to the leaves that are raked up from the side of the road and put into giant plastic bags? Where do they go? Does anyone know that leaves are excellent compost material and should be re-cycled back into the earth under the trees from which they have fallen - or under some other trees?

Which brings me to the tons of trees felled, bamboo uprooted and half-burned trees lying at the side of the road - just waiting for the next heavy rains to roll everything into the river which will top the roadway.

Here's an idea: all that biomass could be slow burned in shallow or raised earth pits to be converted to bio-char (or charcoal as created in the traditional method). This bio-char is supposed to have useful properties in enriching soils. Slow burning in earth pits releases the least amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

A new business for some of us? Compost and bio-char anyone?
For your food gardens of course!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Electrification of Saddle Road

One of the most beautiful of the northern range valleys in Trinidad – think towering bamboo swaying and creaking, open green hills, flaming immortelle and sun-filled yellow poui in season, and the drop in temperature as you descend into the valley from the hairpin bends - has been marked for desertification.

The main road is being widened by earth movers, the trees and debris dumped in some places back from the road and in others in the river bed, but mostly just where they stood. Towering electric poles have been planted, with streetlights on top. Not that the residents of the valley ever needed a wider road or streetlights to find their way home safely.

For the past weeks, the bamboo clumps are beheaded and brown. The traffic that courses through the Saddle Road fuels bush fires. Traffic = people = cigarettes.

These fires have run up the hillsides driven by the wind, crossed hilltops and threaten not just the wildlife habitats but homes of Santa Cruz residents daily on fire watch.

The last straw was to witness workers on the programme to bring modern roads and lights to Santa Cruz, lighting the fires in the piles of destroyed tree trunks and dead bamboo clumps.

If this is progress, leave me in the dark.