Horizon at Sandy Point

Sunday, July 31, 2011


The idea was planted like a seed. You could say like the lotus seeds of Mark Griffiths' The Lotus Quest, which spring to life hundreds of years later as if they were asleep for just a season. Re-incarnation is real. It is the cycle of life, might even be the only purpose of life.

To the western mind, with its human-centric theology, its me-focused lifestyle and goals, it is hard to grasp the continuum. We are trained to stand outside the stream of life. We feel that observer status denotes intellectual superiority. Not so, the trees tell us. A stand of immortelle or cassia, a pond of lotuses, will grow and flower, fruit and seed. And continue to purify the air, enrich the soil and feed birds and animals, season after season in a continuous cycle. Left to themselves, small fish feed big fish feed bigger fish; plankton becomes whales; jelly fish leatherback turtles.

The word creates the myth - re-incarnation means being made flesh again. But what flesh? Is the only possibility that I become or enter another human body after this body falls away like clay? indeed, matter is constantly being re-used and re-cycled. In death, our atoms do make other creatures, worms, cockroaches, snakes, trees, corbeaux, eagles. In life, imagine all the beings whose flesh become our flesh. Chicken, goat, or cow:  Oops we've just been reincarnate in a Trini child!

Actual re-incarnation is happening here and now, every day. Cells age and die. Flesh falls away and is transformed to other flesh. No atom is lost. Spirit, however, is another dimension entirely. Everywhere and no where, it creates the life we inhabit -  maya (the illusory environment, like a stage set) to atma (spirit, motivator, actor) - and keeps it in balance.

How can we know it? As the scientist has revealed the atom, so the poet reveals the soul.

From Tagore: "The emancipation of our physical nature is in attaining health, of our social being in attaining goodness, and of our self in attaining love."

From Thoreau On Walden Pond: "Every man is the builder of a temple, called his body, to the god he worships, after a style purely his own, nor can he get off by hammering marble instead. We are all sculptors and painters, and our material is our own flesh and blood and bones. Any nobleness begins at once to refine a man's features, any meanness or sensuality to imbrute them."

As manifestations of spirit, we can only know ourselves incarnate, in constant re-incarnation.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Universal principle

My 80-something year old psychologist friend has embarked on a study of love and how our need for "love" affects development through different ages - infancy to old age. I tell her that "love" is one of the concepts that is running through my mind for as long as I can remember.

It's been fed from early childhood through teen age on the popular songs of the day. Every cliched chorus* sank like another pebble in my unconscious until meaning became an impossible task. (*From Pat Boone, Elvis Presley through the Beatles, Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, Lord Caresser "It's love, love alone that caused Kind Edward to leave the throne..." the single most important theme of popular music is love.)

At college, I tried to dissect this invisible phenomenon with a short course study on "sex education in high schools." Huh, sex education in backwoods schools in Roanoke Virginia in the seventies? I think my two-page paper basically said "not happening here." But I already knew that sex and love may cross paths or run together sometimes but are essentially different tracks. And I do think about love in all its forms: filial love (the child for the parent); of parents for children; sexual attractions and those instant chemical responses; in marriage and in the family; friendship; love for animals and creatures in one's care; and love that extends to others known or unknown. It's revealed in stories everywhere, in the newspapers, books, movies, life - love or its lack.

Let me tell you a million ways how I love you (and don't ever discount the importance of those three - I love you - or million words spoken or written by artists, poets, songwriters since forever) but the only way love is sustainable is through thought and deed and action. And that is a duty we have to every other human being, every other being. Even those that your gut tells you that you don't want to, or can't love. Just remember the Indian greeting "Namaste (or Namaskar)!" I greet the god (life force) in you.

For today, I remember my high school principal and one of her/ my favourite passages from Paul's Letter to the Corinthians:

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful..." (1 Corinthians 13 1-13)

She might be surprised that I even remember this, or that it is a guiding principle. Call it the universal principle, the matrix, the life force, the power of attraction. Call it love. Anywhere you see or share the tiniest iota, it's good.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Discipline and the dog

It's Sunday, and the curly-tailed dog wanders the house. He settles under the dining table, where it must be cooler than the porch. He lets us know when he needs to go outside - to use his bathroom along the fence as far as possible from us. I believe he relates to us at a very intuitive level. Whether or not he understands words spoken assertively, he responds to care and attention, intention and routine, and the occasional sharp command, "Don't...!" He is waiting at the door when we wake to let him out, or when we return home from an outing. He is polite with visitors, sitting until he is introduced. His wild antics seem reserved for the home crowd - when he races round the kitchen catching his tail, throwing his ragged toy in the air, grabbing my arm and shaking his head side to side as if he would tear it off (it might be hard to convince someone else that he's playing.)

Ranji ensures that he has some "discipline:" he must sit and shake hands before diving into the food bowl. He's bigger than the older dogs, but they are not backward to manners him with a rough growl and sharply bared teeth if he gets too familiar.
Like Hachiko, the legendary Japanese dog, a symbol for loyalty and devotion
Discipline is not my forte I've been told. Not on the job, nor in the home. I was/ am very likely a wimpy mom. Early in my life as a parent, I read somewhere that I should say no to a child only if what it wanted was dangerous (life threatening) or illegal; that I should make a practice of saying yes. I have given this idea a lot of thought over the years. It makes sense to allow a child to learn and grow through his/her own initiatives, mistakes and experience. It is more empowering if a person receives affirmative reinforcements. But it takes a tremendous reserve of "long brain" and discipline and communication (yes, so much talking!) and patience to set the stage for "yes" activity.

In the end, I feel as if my children brought me up. I have been lucky I believe. And I continue to learn from them.

The new dog is a different creature. He's not human (don't know why this is always said and meant as less than human when it actually means, he doesn't have language or some human needs) and should be taught to respond to discipline.  Therein lie our two basic modes of raising children - school and the military; or within the family with all the parental failings. Different combinations of these modes have different levels of success with different individuals - how scientific is that! What we do know though, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that dogs, and children, uncared, unloved, unsocialized, grow up in a meaningless world.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Zaboca and mango season

It's zaboca season again! And as Keith Smith used to say, we could now tu'n down de pots, and have a bellyful on a zaboca a day, or zaboca every way - tea dinner lunch and punch. Zaboca on toast for breakfast. Zaboca with buljol and coconut bake for brunch. A squeeze of lime on zaboca slices beside a creole pelau. Guacamole - zaboca, lime juice, onion, olive oil and a fiery hot pepper - on crix, with a cold cold beer.

Everywhere you go, you'll see heaps of zaboca - those that ripen in their green skins, and those that turn maroon when ready to eat. I am always on the lookout for a giant pollock such as those that grew on a scrawny tree hanging over a drain on our farm. Until then, I am content with every other zaboca. July-August is the season of plenty in tropical Trinidad.

Jostling for space on the vendor's table will be mangoes! Julie is already there - don't go for size or colour, just check the firmness, smell that sweet fragrance. My favourite is starch, the distinctive acrid undertone when you bring it to your nose - no other mango has the scent of a starch. Look for firm yellow ripe ones freckled with black (sugar) spots. Peel it back with your teeth, and suck it to the seed! Two or three are never enough.

Another favourite mango was one we called stone. I've heard others refer to it as Buxton Spice. Some say it's like a calabash. But the stone that grew on our farm was not like any of these. It remained firm as it ripened to a bright orange in still green skin, had no string, and was the taste of our Santa Cruz sunshine and rain - sweet but tangy. During the 1990 coup, we had a bumper crop, but competed with the horse every time one fell from the tree.

We also had a mango rose tree that must have been 70 feet all. Rose by the hundreds would fall in a few weeks. Best mango for chow (chadon beni, garlic, lime, sugar, salt and hot pepper), chutney or curry mango.

Tropical fruit like mango and zaboca need to be eaten right near the tree. They don't store or ship well. And you can only know when they are ready by smell and pressing ever so gently. Let's enjoy them over the next few weeks, gorge while there's plenty, make chutneys of your mangoes, add zaboca to everything!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Chocolate dreams

The traditional cocoa farmer is something of a caricature - wizened, cocoa tea brown, craggy panyol features, at least 70, or just old. Their voices are loud as if accustomed to a life outdoors calling to each other through the trees, expecting to be heard and heeded. These are the stereotypical cocoa peonsDon Quixote-like who would have led their laden mules or driven pick up trucks down from the Northern Range plateaus and valleys to bring their beans to the Cocoa Board. They talk about the old days as if the hard times never were, as if the culture of cocoa could actually be recovered if only we were willing to turn back the clock and live the life again - that and some government subsidy might help!

There are many of those left. They turn up at coffee and cocoa seminars and meetings, and indeed they are the salt of the earth, fortunate for us that they have lasted long enough to pass the torch. For there is a  new breed of cocoa entrepreneur emerging, who with a little support, could show us the way to put Trinidad back at the centre of the world cocoa map. Mark Andrews is one of these. He too speaks of cocoa business and an estate, with intensity and certainty, but softly. He asks, "How many of us who have grown up in cocoa can say that we have tasted the chocolate made from our beans?"

It's an important question of a country that has traditionally shipped this agricultural product soon after harvesting, and not necessarily to the highest bidder. (A fair amount of our coffee, however, stays here.) As the French might speak of terroir, Mark knows the taste of Trinidad's flavour cocoa - in particular the beans grown on the Rancho Quemado estate. His business is at the start of the value chain that ends in the fine dark chocolate bonbons and bars made by Isabel Brash under the Cocobel brand. In Tobago, Duane Dove ( has developed an ecotourism business for his estate that includes chocolate paired with rum as part of the experience. These are not the only entrepreneurs of the new style cocoa and chocolate business. Look for Mountain Pride dark drinking chocolate from the Tamana estate in central Trinidad, with its flavours of lemongrass and cinnamon. There are many coming to cocoa with a different business attitude today.

So that others might also be encouraged to be part of this business (with or without land), the Innovation and Enterprise department of the University of Trinidad and Tobago is working across the Caribbean on technology (all-terrain vehicles, improved tools); innovative practices (service teams skilled and equipped to move from estate to estate, to prune trees or pick cocoa; chocolate makers and chocolatiers) and a wide range of products.

There is attention too from the European CDE (Centre from the Development of Enterprise) to assist in cocoa business (as well as nutmeg in Grenada, mangoes, bee-keeping and coffee). They have identified Caribbean territories who are already known for fine flavour cocoa production - Belize, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamiaca, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago. The CRU (Cocoa Research Unit) is excited about possibilities for new crosses - a tree that stays near five feet and bears giant pods with the finest criollo flavour?

The labour-intense cocoa-to-chocolate chain does not have to be a disincentive; there may be advantages in the very complexity of this industry. Not a one man enterprise, certainly not "fast food," but a service chain that involves and engages communities in search of livelihood and meaning.  Eco-estates, entrepreneurs for harvesting, fermenting, polishing ("dancing" the cocoa); roasting and winnowing; then the artful transformation from bitter bean to bonbon retaining all those allusions to sun and soil and sap. Festivals of cocoa and chocolate, eco-estate adventures. Tastes of Trinidad, indeed!

We say it takes a village to raise a child. We may yet redeem part of our children's future with the collaboration of new villages engaged in lucrative cocoa businesses.

The current catalogue and price list for Cocobel chocolates - soon available on its own website. (Price list at June 2011)