Horizon at Sandy Point

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fertile valley of mist

A persistent memory from growing up in Santa Cruz and being driven to school, was looking back down the valley from the hairpin bend. At that hour, before seven, in the early months of the year, the immortelles in bloom at the eastern end would be a vermilion haze as the mists rose into the liquid blaze of the rising sun.

From a coll in the Santa Cruz valley looking south

The Immortelle blooms in January

Another would be waking up on some particularly moist mornings in December to February. The mist would still be sitting low in the bowl of our valley, and the trees holding on to the night's moisture looked like they were covered in snow. Temperature inversions - the term we had learned in geography - seemed to occur more frequently then, when the river valley held the night's coolness in foggy wisps near to the ground. As we travelled along Saddle Road to the Pass, we would rise through the cool mist  and emerge suddenly to a bright blue day. From above, the valley looked like a lake of white cloud which the risen sun would dissipate in minutes.

At night, it was similarly foggy near the valley floor, and - without streetlights - it was easy to believe in tales of soucouyant and la diablesse and lagahoo - or a man who came to negotiate with the devil - as trees and land forms appeared suddenly in the shifting swirl of headlights.

There were citrus orchards then, covering the land to the foothills. Today, the orange trees have given way to horse pastures and the Undercover plant nursery. Gone too are most of the clumps of bamboo curving and meeting over the Saddle road. Coming home to lunch at midday - an indulgence of my early working life - the pleasure was to feel the valley so much cooler  than Port-of-Spain left behind in just ten minutes; and to hear the sawing song of swaying bamboo, sharp in the noonday silence.

Over this ridge is the St Ann's valley

Woodpeckers love the tall trees in Santa Cruz

The hidden valley that is Santa Cruz was first settled by planters and their families who accessed its broad river plain and gentle foothills through San Juan, the place where the Santa Cruz river exits to become a tributary of the Caroni. (With recent flooding, it's not so hard to conceive that the Caroni was once a broad river route bringing the Spaniards to settle their capital at St Joseph, entrance to the Maracas valley.) The steep and winding route over the ridge from Santa Cruz into the adjacent Maraval valley may have once been a donkey track, eventually widened when the Americans created the North Coast road from Port of Spain through Maraval to Maracas bay. Part of the valley runs west to east, part north to south, with numerous smaller vales and crumpled hills and tributaries running to the big river.

Its plantation past is slowly yielding to more residential settlements as Santa Cruz becomes the valley of choice for suburban living, after Diego Martin and Maraval. Cocoa from some older estates is still maintained and reaped. But smaller farm homesteads now flourish, growing patchoi, lettuce, melongene, tomatoes and hot peppers; mixed livestock including poultry, pigs, sheep or goats. It is in  experimental home gardens too that less common fruit and vegetables are growing, with surpluses offered to the grocery or market.
Hills of my Santa Cruz home
The most comforting sight, however, remains these green unchanging hills of Santa Cruz, my home for over 40 years. Every morning I open my eyes to the hills. In the evening, the descending dark settles on the eastern hill as the last rays of the sun brightens the peak in the west. One hopes that the mists of Santa Cruz will continue to keep its forested hills green and luxuriant with tall trees, agouti, iguanas and whatever wildlife still hides there; even as the fertile river plain is cultivated to bring forth food in abundance.

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