Horizon at Sandy Point

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sea and sky at Grange Bay

It’s raining all day. We watch the sea from inside, behind glass doors. It must be cold. But is it wetter? The pelicans are soaring and falling into the bay. Waves turn to white horses leaping and prancing to crash into the sandy shore. The sky falls, greyer and closer to the dark sea. Tarpons' fins rise, cleave the wave for a second and disappear. We are safe as houses, and dry. 

Looking out of a dry house at the sea and sky off the western tip of Tobago

But another impulse calls. Don't waste the day. Don't stay inside walls, air-cooled rooms, man-made caves. The Tobago air is moist, warm, full of indefinable scents, textures, mystery. Acrid with an aroma of burning bush, salty with rain spray and sea spume.

At water’s edge, it takes many minutes to the plunge: toes in, ankles, knees. The sea laps at hips, waist, chest. Then you dip in, gasping at the wet, sucking in the chill. Roll over, paddle firmly, warm up warm up warm up. It doesn’t take long to be in the mind of the jellyfish, flip floating flopping along… Be the eel. Stretch like a starfish clinging to surface tension, suspended on the sea, eyes to the sky.

Grange Bay floating, sky gazing, always turns to dreaming. 

I float through night dreams, drifting on murky waters along never-to-be-reached shores. These are atavistic memories, I tell myself, from being born and living in the sea, some kind of sea worm rolling in silt-laden waters never ready to strike out for solid ground. The dark land, mangrove shrouded, was an ever-present visible but not attractive or attainable scape . To float is never to be firm-footed, never to be land heavy. To be between worlds is to breathe air while resting on water.

The other dream that rises at Grange Bay is the land-lubber's: to inhabit a house overlooking the bay. To look out of windows at - to always be in sight of - the surging sea, the changing sky. 

From behind the fallen but still green almond tree

Tracks below the manchineel tree

Coconut towering over all

Flamboyant flowers "in your face"

A gentle sea laps along the bowl of Grange Bay
A moment of bliss as the sun comes out

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The marriage step

Marriage was never on my to do list. Not within any sphere of reference. I never imagined that I might feel compelled to form an everlasting bond with just one other person, and even less might feel a need to bear a child: with the fear of over-population drilled into my 60s brain, I figured the world didn't need me to reproduce. I saw marriage as mundane and traditional, rooted and routine with responsibility. The grand affairs of books and movies usually ended at the wedding ceremony. And happily ever after in real life also seemed placid and predictable.

My eldest niece too seemed to have similar sentiments. She said she would never marry; and my mother (her grandmother) in a moment of mischief, had her sign a note that said "I (name) will never get married ..." or something to that effect. She recently had a wedding and everyone is happy for her happiness. Is that what it's about - no one wants to be alone, or to see those we love alone. Being alone is not one of my fears either.

But perhaps it was about being free. Was the 70s an age of permissiveness and freedom? Or had I - coming through Trinidad's first coup and state of emergency; used as a factor for integration in a college that had been all-white in the US south for a hundred years; and experiencing the effects of Watergate, the first technological scam, in Washington DC - simply positioned myself out of everything that was traditional or mainstream in Trinidad and Tobago? I did a job that seemed experimental; in Trinidad, was there no template for publishing, no quality, no standard except what we saw from abroad; the world of advertising and video production still developing; the world of pan-playing and Carnival still outside the pale. Communication a gift rather than a skill. Learning by doing makes work very hard. But this is an aside. There was no one that I wanted to marry.

It is still therefore somewhat a mystery that on a Thursday afternoon in 1982, I would be walking along the uneven pavement on Abercromby Street to the Red House to get married. Accompanied by the statutory two witnesses, the groom and I were followed by a rag-tag and bobtail crew - well really, the groom's brother and his fiancee, and friends who professed to be along to be part of the record for posterity.
The wedding party on the way to the Red House

Kenny as best man

Brenda as maid of honour
The preparation for this event started with posting the banns (publicly stating an intention to marry so that anyone with an objection could register a protest) the month before. At that time, the date and time for a civil ceremony was set by the clerk of the Registrar-General. Two weeks before, my hand-written (before the days of internet and email) announcements had gone out.

We met barely two years before, and quickly grew together. It is true, isn't it, that you can know in an instant who's  right for you. You can also spend a lifetime finding reasons why you should not be together with someone. 

For the day itself, the plan was to have lunch - a fine restaurant on Henry Street - with the couple who would be our witnesses, since the official ceremony was scheduled for two o'clock. Later in the evening, the handful of family and friends that were in Trinidad were invited to a barbecue at our apartment.

In hindsight, we did not have a wedding. No white dress, no bridesmaids, nor groomsmen; no first dance, no bouquet to throw, and barely any photographs to put in an album. Rain spoiled the barbecue and everyone left before midnight. The groom fell asleep, and the bride started married life cleaning up. There was a honeymoon: we met family in France and Italy, and went on safari in Kenya.

My mother put a practical spin on the event. Your marriage is your business, she said. I believe she meant that it is up to us - the couple - to be committed to the marriage, to work things out, to be faithful to the original desire to be there with and for each other that is called love.

A more philosophical writer said it this way, "Plenty of books instruct sexual technique; but none teach the equally vital technique of transposing from the passionate relationship to the harmonious one." John Fowles's statement instructs us that marriage is the process, the journey. In which the wedding is simply the first step.

The groom wore white; the bride was colourfully dressed.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Rain in the Rainforest

Dolphin, that's how I would come back in another life. The unbounded sea, the energy, the intelligence, the stories of dolphins arcing across the divide between animal and man, between ocean and earth. Life in water. You can tell that we yearn for a water world even as we make our way on dry land. Why else rush to the beaches every weekend. Yes, we island people, we crave sunshine, but cannot live without rain.

Hummingbird continues to feed in the rain
So why are we never prepared for rain in the rainforest? If we don't wanna get wet, we always ought to walk with a plastic poncho in the pocket, swimsuit as underwear. Or just not fuss so much when the water hits us in the face, runs down the back, drips in the shoes. Remember the child in the window watching wistfully and wishing to dance in the rain. Why not? In a tropical rainstorm, the soaking takes ten seconds. In the first minute, the raindrops bounce off the earth. Then, you see the runnels coursing downhill pushing tiny stones. Soon the track is a slick and moving sheet concealing ruts and rocks and roots. If you're not careful, you'll be on your back with one misstep.

The water is falling straight down. Through the tall tree canopy, leaves sloped just so tip down. No birds dance in the manakin lek - the male bird bar as described by the trail guide. In the distance, the bellbird bongs once or twice and falls silent. Not even a bachac stirs - the portals on the side of their giant mound are unshuttered but too small to catch much rain. How cosy they must be deep in the halls of the nest munching on the floral leaf litter, cool, quiescent not tempted to run in water.

Only we, creatures born of water, who conquered solid ground walking upright and with opposable thumbs having made all habitats our home, are completely at home in no one. How do we unlearn inflexibility, reverse rigidity and come home to where we are not alone. Revisit the rainforest. Relearn the relationship with trees and birds and wild creatures. Get ready to be rained upon.

(To have a rain adventure at the Asa Wright Nature Centre and Lodge in the Trinidad rainforest, call 868-667-4655)

At Asa Wright in the heart of the highland rainforest.
we venture from the sheltered verandah

The guide warns that if it rains too hard we will return to the house
 to avoid the danger of falling branches, waterlogged paths

Paper wasps build their nests on the underside of large leaves

Mango tree and strangler fig: long-standing relationship even beyond death ...

Hawaiian torch

"Wood ears" - mushroom living off the dying tree 

Grand entrances to the bachac kingdom,
with one queen and citizenry that are entirely female

Rain "walking" across the Arima valley