Tobago

Tobago
Horizon at Sandy Point

Saturday, November 27, 2010

More gifts than we know!

When we were little, we could never understand this saying, "it's better to give than receive." It was entirely beyond a child's comprehension. We wanted the world, but what did we have to give?

As a six year old, and the eldest with two siblings, I remember not the presents but the pleasure of receiving the packages from my mother's youngest brothers, barely out of their teens and already "working men." I loved the colourfulness and crinkliness of the gift paper. What special secret they could hold - I could only imagine. To this day, I savour the moment before the gift is opened. And I remember my uncles, the boys that they were.

The moment is the gift! That piece of connection is the meaning of the gift.

So many years past now, so many gifts given and received.

And life does have a way of going back on itself. Who could anticipate that the child of more than a generation ago would one day appreciate "it's better to give than receive." Who knew that the turning earth always brings us back to ourselves. To see the child and to cherish her - precociousness and all. To say to those who wish to rush past childhood, to rush to open the gift, to rush past the moments that connect you to those around you, to who you truly are, "slow down, you move too fast, gotta make this moment last..."

And I give you today, and for all your special moments, this from Rabindranath Tagore - brought back to me as a gift that I had given many years ago:

"The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs
through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life
that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of
grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers."

- Rabindranath Tagore


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Home in the bush!

In Italy, in Holland, in England, spring and summer gardens are wonderful places. Even the woods in these temperate zone countries are comfortable, relaxing places to walk. The pine forests of the Carolinas in the USA and the high woods of the Appalachains and Catskills - Virginia through upstate New York and into Canada - are breathtaking in their autumn glory. Spring blossoms in Italy in mimosa, forsythia, magnolia and and hundreds of flowering trees more colourful and dramatic than in the tropics.

Try to have an ordered garden in the tropics, and you toil endlessly against "the bush." In the rainy season especially, there seems to be an overwhelming wall of green everywhere you look. The knowing eye will differentiate bamboo from cassia, mango and pommerac from poui - which after its brief flowering in April May - blends into the backdrop of northern range forest.

What then is the challenge for the tropical gardener - whose very raison d'etre is to order and control according to his or her artistic eye. It means being handy with a cutlass, and being willing to cut back determinedly and unflinchingly as necessary. If you want tall trees around your house, how tall are you willing to let them go so they don't endanger your roof? If you have lawn - large or small patch - how often are you willing to mow? Some tropical gardeners choose plants that they can control - maybe a single large shady tree and beds or patches of ground cover, small bushes, or several different types and colours of the same species - hibiscus, or orchids, roses, anthuriums.

My choice has been to co-exist with as many large tropical species as possible. After all, my house displaced a bit of Northern Range forest in Santa Cruz. So nearby there is bois canot and bois flot, which are now tall enough for the corbeaux to land on and spread their wings like judges robes to the sun. The three cassia grande which bear small pink flowers and long seed pods are now over thirty feet tall. Even the live fir trees planted from different Christmases are shooting straight skyward. Barbados Pride and Shower of Gold are interspersed with banana clumps, mangoes and the wild trees. I don't think I am much of a gardener since I am loath to cut anything down. Though I may have to chop back the ficus which looks like it wants to take over the hill.

In the rainy season, there are few flowers, but the diversity and complexity of  green leaves, branches, stalks and leaf litter are amazing. It's a jungle out there! Bats, toads, insects and without doubt, snakes too, love it! I enjoy a visit to the temperate woods and gardens, they are so easy to walk in, so calming. But the bush is my true home.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Christmas gifting

Christmas gifts, especially for those closest, become more and more challenging every year. You would like to give the moon and stars, but what your heart describes is just not available in any shop.

A friend once shared with me that she only gives what she is able to make. What a wonderful idea! And I think of all the things that I can make - cakes, ponche a crema, sorrel, ginger beer, and not just seasonal specialties, whole meals. So the year my house was being built, we prepared and served to the workmen on site, a full Christmas meal, ham, turkey, pastelles and all. But that won't impress the family I think - they expect such a meal, and more throughout the holidays.

I have started memory books - albums or scrapbooks with photos and writings - but always too late in the season to finish them properly. One year I did manage to prepare  hand-written books of favourite recipes for the now grown up boy and girl, with lots of blank places to fill in new favourites. Out of that, the blog was born, http://wildgirl-in the kitchen.blogspot.com. It's actually called Comfort Food, based on the comfort foods of my own childhood - my mother's meals that came to be associated with family and security.

This year, as the wind shifts and the days shorten, as the light filters from the south setting trees aglow, my mind turns again to what I have to give - from the heart. What you receive may this year seem like it required no thought. And yes, many will receive the usual - book, jeans, socks, bowls, toys, a bottle of something spirituous, hardly an exceptional treat. A few may receive something outlandish or extravagant - a rock or a handful of sand symbolising a place, a flowering plant, a photo of another land! Just know that all gifts are symbolic - warm intentions, imaginations, ciphers for what you most assuredly deserve!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Where nature heals herself, she heals us

Wild places are fewer and harder to find, especially if you live on an island with over a million other souls. We are fortunate in Trinidad to have a few places where the wild things are encouraged and safe; even places which may have been cultivated a few generations ago but which are being reclaimed for the wild. The Asa Wright Nature Centre is one of these places - once a partial plantation, now a nature reserve and a safe place to experience the wild.
Looking south from Asa Wright
Today, Asa Wright - located on the south side of Northern Range, overlooking Arima - is a place where the earth is healing itself as it reverts to forest and attracts many of the wildlife and bird species indigenous to the area. What is even more fortunate is that Asa Wright was able to attract to its service people of the calibre of Dr Carol James, who has served as chairman of its board for six years, succeeding others like Dr William Beebe, Don and Ginnie Eckelberry who have also given time and commitment there.

Dr Carol as she is fondly called, once said of the Nariva wetlands - which had been flattened and dredged to make rice fields, the best possible use according to studies done there in the 1970s - that they should simply be left alone to regenerate themselves. That was nearly 20 years ago when  journalists with new-found passion to save the environment were yearning to "do something" to protect Nariva, and somehow in quick time, restore its manatees, red howler monkeys, blue and gold macaws and giant anacondas. Well, those years are passing more quickly than were imagined, and left largely to itself and in spite of humans, Nariva is recollecting itself, as Asa Wright has been allowed to.

One of the springs at Spring Hill Estate, the location of the Asa Wright Nature Centre
 What this tells us surely is that Nature needs no help from us. She is in fact better off when humans are not around. So there is hope in the future for the other slopes of the Blanchisseuse valley now under intense christophene cultivation or under severe quarrying. To stay out of Nature's way, and to have patience, are important lessons.
Off the beaten track, looking for the bell bird


Bamboo
Primeval forest?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wife at 23, mother at 24

My mother at an age younger than my daughter today - a wife, not yet a mother!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Lessons from my mother

Today is my mother's birthday. She would have been 83. The last birthday I spent with her, she was 70, and triumphant to have reached that milestone, plagued as she was with late onset diabetes - full blown after her last pregnancy in 1961 - which led to heart disease and complicastions of glaucoma and other organ failures. She would be a cautionary tale for appropriate nutrition and  lifestyle practices but for the fact that she was not particularly unhealthy in her eating habits or inactive. She certainly instilled in us a nutritional foundation based on three meals a day,  balanced with protein, carbohydrate and vegetables; and the values of hard work, as much of it as possible outside - in her garden. If there is a caution, it is that as a population - descendants of immigrants in a land where we fed on cane sugar, white flour, rice - we are prone to this hereditary disease, diabetes, that is promoted by lifestyle factors.


Our mother, Yvonne Assing, before she was a mother; and possibly before she was a wife! c 1950

My mother raised us well in every respect - but one. I don't think she ever considered  - even in oblique remarks - the complexities of relationships outside the home and family and social group, including sexual relationships.  I think she must have felt blind sided by boy friends and girl friends of other ethnic groups. other religions. Never mind that she did  grow up in multi-cultural, multi-ethnic Trinidad and Tobago, and sent us to school in the golden age of equal education and opportunity. As a young girl, her marriage to a young Chinese shopkeeper raised no eyebrows, offended no social norms, and kept her within a traditional Chinese and Chinese descended social group.

But the world after the sixties was spinning too fast. And each of her children spun off in a different direction with persons who tugged at our hearts, whose parents like ours, were never asked - except in the most cursory fashion -  to give consent. Love affairs, marriages and break ups were neither destined nor life-changing, but simply phases of individual evolution. Painful, heart-breaking at times, but helping us to evolve character and spirit. We looked for pleasures and satisfactions, and were lucky when we found contentment and joy.

These days, as I study my mother's life - so much was never told to us, just passed on through osmosis of feeling and snippets of arguments and conversations caught in passing - I wonder what my own legacy would be. How much more do I need to express about loving deeply and living lightly, about being in the world yet being in one's own spirit. This is now the purpose and hope of a long enough life. And to wish that my children - through birth or influence or our direct conversations - might indeed know contentment and joy in relationships. That however fleeting these moments might be, that they provide resources that can be continuously tapped and replenished for their own long, healthy and productive lives.