Horizon at Sandy Point

Monday, July 13, 2015

Regarding the horizon

same sky same sea same time

Why you take so many photos on this same beach?
Every year, every time we are here.
So yes, we do come to this shore for the same unceasing sea same unending sky.
For the non-events on the long distance horizon unseen origin of waves slow rolling to the shore. We come - so eagerly - for the same waves, same sand, same lowering clouds that tumble and skid pelting water like bullets bucket a drop.

Sandy point, southern most tip of Tobago

If you watch for the hour, you see the tide turning, lapping up the shore filling rocky pools and spuming over the jetty. Crabs scurry forward, scuttle back. When the water goes low, rocks emerge, barnacled alive. And what are these dense mini forests greening cleaves and crevices. Schools of fingerling fish synchronise and jack-knife fluid esses. Gulls circle and swoop. A pelican plunges. From the same morning pirogue, the shifting circle of net catches a light.
wave-broken pier
Jetty to jetty, your tour of this tiny shorefront brings comfortable vistas as the sun strides overhead, saunters westward. Venture to the end of a wave-broken pier. You can walk on water to the horizon, level and balance of the visible ocean. There's no horizon in the hills.

Your dream-bright horizon, the unshifting tether that anchors you to this shore; that tightrope to escapes always out of reach.

So it's not just photos? What's the use of these words? Why go stone stepping across beached coral?  What lies beneath?

The words are for the son, for his love of ciphers, words numbers and enigmas. The pictures for the daughter who loves the sea and all creatures that live there.

low tide
forests of the sea

barnacles and forests
pools and ridges

that line that tethers sky to sea

tightrope of dreams

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Wild Fruits

I first met Hugh Skinner when he returned from Australia sometime in the early 1980's. He came to the publisher/advertising agency with paper bags full of seeds, bounty from the east. Because I lived on a farm at the time, he gave me a few precious seeds: a guava the size of a cherry (he said; but these seeds did not germinate) and winged beans. The winged beans grew like weeds, and although we did not acquire the taste for them, the horse ate all the beans and vines too.
Dr Hugh A. Skinner, environmentalist, conservationist, author

In the 80s, Dr Skinner may have been looking for an outlet for his acquired knowledge of the tropical trees and skills - permaculture - developed in Australia.  Bill Mollison was writing and teaching about permaculture which is an integrated system of design that Mollison developed with David Holmgren. It encompasses not only agriculture, horticulture, architecture, and ecology, but also economic systems, land access strategies, and legal systems for businesses and communities. In 1978, Mollison collaborated with Holmgren and they wrote a book called Permaculture One. Mollison founded The Permaculture Institute in Tasmania, and created a training system to train others under the umbrella of Permaculture. (wikipedia)

Over the years, Dr Skinner cultivated - and shared - all the seeds that he brought with him. He also shared the information with whoever would listen, and a weekly column was published in the Trinidad & Tobago Review. In those decades of the 80s and 90s, Trinidad and Tobago was not ready for Dr Skinner. He suffered major setbacks when some of his young trees were killed by uncured manure. But his vision was unclouded. He continued his work in the bush. He compiled and published Wild Fruits, Vegetables & Other Goodies of Trinidad and Tobago in 2000.

Wild Fruits might be considered modest or unsophisticated, but it is encyclopaedic in the wealth of knowledge of a single mind.  In his Preface, he writes simply of the demise of the natural in our diets, and the rise of agribusiness. The book, he hopes, "will help to fill a gap in our appreciation of the abundant natural resources with which our islands are blessed but which continue to be ignored and/or destroyed in favour of the foreign and artificial."

The book includes a selection of over 150 fruits (trees, leaves, roots) with photographs; recipes and food preservation (jams and jellies, ice cream; soups and wines). Most are familiar, though some are less well-known now: pois doux, fat pork, mamey sapote, governor plum (rolling cherry). But do you know canistel, laylay, coco macaque, coolie pistache, chalta, wild cress? There are photographs. And Dr Skinner describes the trees or plants and their fruits, and how they are used.

You must read the few thought-provoking chapters that eloquently convey the author's philosophy and passion. Gentle exhortations to treasure what grows wild or easily emerge in his essays on Native Food Resources Remain Untapped; The Next Ice Age; We are What We Eat; Disappearing Genetic Diversity; Myths of Monoculture and The Living Museum. These ought not to be ignored.

Wild Fruits includes Dr Skinner's odes to Leaves, Fruits, Flowers and Seeds. The new edition is peppered with quotations from Kahlil Gibran, tributes to Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein.

The second edition of Wild Fruits Vegetables & Other Goodies of Trinidad and Tobago by Dr Hugh A Skinner has a few improvements: excellent photography provided by fellow permaculturist Erle Rahaman; graphics and layout by Paxton Commissiong-Payne. But the text is largely the same - direct, easy to assimilate, eloquent in its simplicity.

It is a treasury that records some of what we may be losing, and may still have the effect of helping us to salvage some of nature's bounty for healthier lifestyles. Best of all, it distills the optimism and wisdom of a rare Trini treasure, Dr Skinner.

Cover of Wild Fruits, Vegetables & Other Goodies in Trinidad and Tobago, 2nd edition
First edition

Friday, July 3, 2015

Ruin and adventures on the way to the beach

After the day of rain, we were ready to bust out of the cabin and head for the far end of the island:  over hills and valleys to Englishman's Bay. A bathing bay is what we sought. Everyday adventures were what we found.
Looking for a sea-bath
We set off confidently to the Arnos Vale Road. A wrong right turn brought us into a new housing development, solid concrete houses on pillars, painted in what passes for modern vibrant colours that look straight out of a cyber paintbox. The next turn was the right one.  We had chosen the alternate route in the Arnos Vale estate, through the charmingly named Tablepiece and Mount Thomas to Moriah.

The ruin shocked us as we came around a bend. Fire had razed the Arnos Vale water wheel - maybe within the recent month. The ribs of the rusty wheel stood out amid the green jungle. Only what could not be destroyed by fire was standing: the metal wheels, gears and machinery; stone walls with wrought iron; bricks and rusted coppers, a tall brick chimney. The great samaan had been scorched and felled, remnant logs in or near the river. We picked through the debris around the wheel fabricated and  installed by McConney of Glasgow in 1857. What's to become of this piece of history. 1857-2015 under the vines and stranglers of the Tobago jungle?

In the Tobago wild

Ruin in the rainforest
Front door still standing

The waterwheel fabricated in Glasgow and brought to Tobago

Was this where the fire started? Someone's cooking stones?
Sawn samaan

What's left of the waterwheel and the machinery it drove

Switchbacks, Vs and angular arrows are the features of these roads that struggle uphill and round turns in this part of Tobago. Now a view of the sea and hazy horizon; now a wooded vale behind the homes that have clung to the steep edge of the road. Barely two-lane, this road accommodates buses and trucks that must scrape the sides careening round the bends.

The wood carver's shed came into view as we glided around a deep bend. Screech stop. Tumble out of the car, like clowns out of a volkswagon.  Do you mind if we take a photo. Jah'by is compliant, smiling. Born Wayne James, he says his mother used to work in clay. For Jah'by, cedar, mahogany, teak are his preferred materials. The array of subjects includes turtles, armadillos, chunky hummingbirds, eagles resembling cobos, an exceptional owl, people cutting bananas, a man playing pan. This hilltop shed is workshop and gallery. Behind his hut is the vista of Mount Thomas.

Jah'by's art gallery

Jah'by explains himself

View from Mount Thomas
Back on the road again, we come to Moriah. The silk cotton tree stopped us in our tracks. We had heard that it had been threatened because its roots were undermining the roadway. And maybe the grand old tree has an inkling of the fate being considered. Its buttresses now armoured with thorns like a toothy dinosaur, seem to echo Jah'by's motto: no weapon formed against me will prevail.
Hillside with vegetable garden

The Silk Cotton in Moriah

T-Rex teeth?
Castara, its fishing boats resting in the bay, appears below another wrinkle in the road. The descent is marked by cows grazing on the berms along the road; steep tracks or stairways heading uphill signposted for this resort, that retreat. On the beach, a new facility is being built. The mud oven is stuffed with bamboo for firing. And the famous tot-tots bread is being shaped: pumpkin white or whole wheat.

Castara gets a new beach facility

At the earth oven in Castara

What we collected after the baking

At the cliff above Englishman's Bay, the "keyhole tree" has been removed. On the beach, Englishman's Bay might be the very best kind of journey's end .

Englishman's Bay

Fishermen untangling their nets

Looking out from the dining room over the bay
Turtle nests have been seen on the far end of Englishman's Bay

We return to the south end of the island by way of Whim. This road is wider. We descend quickly off the hills of western Tobago. Another day, so many bays.