Horizon at Sandy Point

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Wildness and the wild

Not long after you enter the Blanchisseuse valley from the east-west corridor, as you begin the ascent of this ancient river course, you come upon a monument to progress, shaped by the architects of nation's future.

Sculptor's tools, earth-moving machines zig-zag random hairpin bends to carve another piece of the mountain. Red earth and loosened boulders gather momentum. An abrupt thud and scatter, a cloud of dust. Another machine, and an adjacent mountain rising of pebble perfect gravel. Trucks arrive in convoy to be loaded, then make their way on roads dry as rivers of sand. Etched pale grey limestone, veins of red clay, slabs of shale and layers laid down over millennia, the heart of the mountain laid bare. Strange beauty, this incursion in a pristine valley of the northern range. Perfection in death!

Others who would reshape nature whittle away in different ways. The farmer who has cleared trees and bush and covered the hillslopes with wire trellises so his little vines can run to bear a fruit that only man can eat. Questionable profit! Yet another dealer in death. Where will they hide, agouti, ocelot, armadillo, lizard, frog, manicou, bird, bachac, spiders, snake and a million creatures bringing life to the soil? Red dirt devalued to be re-injected with chemical fertility.

In big and small ways, we all reject the wild, with fences, air-conditioned high rises, cities on the sea coast, billions to feed, miles to go before we sleep, paving paradise, putting down parking lots! As a species, we almost cannot help it. We have "dominion over the earth" imprinted in our genes, and I defy anyone to disprove this. We are the wild, gone virally wild!

Higher up the same valley, the road is a contour line that clings between hill and drop. Tall trees brood. The forest closes in with hums and small sounds, vibrations skittering and repeated. If you go quietly, you will feel the trees pushing pure oxygen into your lungs. You will feel something else too. Is it pathos, a silent song? Covered in epiphytes and vines, withstanding wind, rain or nesting birds, they exude patience and fortitude. But even here, men with axes have been at work, cutting a stand to dead stumps, and starting subsidence along the edge of the fragile road.
Some trees are communities too!
Where the forest grows densest, you enter the Asa Wright nature centre. A tunnel of trees and underbrush converges over the path. The sound of water somewhere behind bamboo quiets the nervousness of the ride up, anxious expectation of a big truck round each bend. The city peels away. On the verandah you look down the valley. Toucans and parrots still roost in the far trees. Bananquits are jostling and jumping on the feeding racks. A jade green honeycreeper pecks on the edge. Agoutis amble on the paths. Few hummingbirds though: maybe they have gone somewhere else for the season. Just five minutes from the big house, you re-enter the rainforest.

The conservation of some 1000 acres of old plantations as a wildlife reserve seems just. In 44 years - the nature centre was officially opened on November 5 1967 - humans have allowed the wild to reclaim its own, with minimal interventions of stone paths, guide rails and rest stops. Over the decades, many continue to witness an amazing area of contestation and "nature". Inexorable life abounds. Vines and roots move rocks. Water moves earth. Termites and bachacs diligently create their indoor gardens with profuse tender foliage. And all support the animals and hundreds of bird species that bring the "serious birders" back year after year.
Diligent ants dismantle forest trees

Dinner time conversation turns to tales of tarantulas. Yes, they have toxins, but not deadly. Toads and frogs too, we know dogs that get high on a lick of toad! Adventure into bat caves created in vacant rooms of unused buildings. Go in the dark and feel wing beats and sonar pulses. Walk the trails at night and consider your good fortune to step back from a snake - macajuel or mapapire? The rainforest at dawn or dark is an amazing place - a necessary initiation for all humankind, now running past seven billion.
Somewhere quiet and safe to sit

A small group of earnest ordinary folk gathers in this setting. It is an annual rite: To re-commit to the vision, to re-dedicate and renew this purpose of conservation. To continue to believe that diversity is precious; that humans are both of the wild and of their own intellect; that there is balance to be strived for and reached that will preserve all beings and human beings in a necessary harmony. That there is a role for each of us in earth balancing - that dynamic tension that at every instant is already being maintained by forces outside our ken or control.

And so, finite beings with finite lives - environmentalist, financier, journalist, tour operator, forester, diplomat, lawyer, administrator, politician - we deliberate and assign duties. We will re-enter the world of our making, to find funds. Look for projects that will engage communities. Teach the children.

Looking south towards the Central Range.

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