Horizon at Sandy Point

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Negotiating with Bachacs

It's the spring solstice (March 21) and what a wet and green "dry season" we are having!

I am watching bachacs on my hill. I make the mental note to get some bachac bait before all my young plants are stripped to sticks. I have been watching them for days now. Last week, the dog dug at their hole, furiously, until it was flattened and muddy. Today, there is a new hole less than a yard away. An opening that's perfectly round, lined with leaf litter, and as grand an entrance as one of the domes on the performing arts centre. The parade of ants with bits of leaf or flower continues - without break - to the new hole. They are the same ants, I am sure, that I see a few hundred yards up the hill taking bits of leaf away. Surely these distances compare to a couple miles on the human scale?

What human enterprise is the equivalent of these lines of red ants I wonder. What do we do at the human scale that is persistent, continuous, non-stop?

We too change the face of the earth. We clear cut the forests and then, depending on what we want above or out of the ground, we rearrange the soil to grow crops, or tunnel the earth for what's underneath. In the places where oil was discovered, the land has been despoiled by leaks and seepages. In other places, we have assiduously consistently removed the rock - to build up other places, as construction material, for road beds. Many landscapes bear no resemblance to the forms that were there a generation ago, or even a decade, far less a century ago.

We can't usually determine where the bachacs build their nests. But they do like limestone formations. And when they tunnel under our gardens and homesteads - to the inconvenience of the plants - we quickly get out the bachac bait, or the insecticide, or the kerosene, and make sure that they go somewhere else. It's hard to kill them outright, so encouraging them to move outside our fencelines is usually a negotiation that doesn't mean they won't still eat your rose bushes or soursop trees.

On the human scale, we also mine limestone rocks (Laventille was such a quarry; knolls all over Santa Cruz; the Aripo Savannas) and drill where we expect to find oil or gas. The value of mineral deposits - or human convenience and progress generally - has usually trumped the rainforest, the wildlife, whatever happened to be there that looked like "bush." Bush incidentally has a connotation in Trini for what's useless, unwanted: as in "play bush" in the All Fours card game; or when the Savannah was paved, "it have plenty bush in de country (meaning outside of town) - we don't need it here."

In the end it might be easier to "negotiate" with bachacs than to do so with people who value what can be bought and sold, over that which is means life for the species.

Let us not consider that Asa Wright has won a victory for having had the quarrying "in its view of the Arima valley" stopped. Instead let us be grateful for the opportunity to sit at the same table with the government, quarry owners and operators, and the communities, to begin to negotiate the appropriate use of an island's finite resources. Lest we lose not only the bachacs, the hummingbirds, the manicou, the insects too. We know already that we cannot bring back many others already lost.

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