Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Beaches in the afternoon and hatchlings

There are few things as relaxing as an afternoon beach walk. The magic hour is between 5.30 and 6.30pm. In the tropics, dusk is almost a memory when it arrives. We don't have a romantic hour of the gloaming; our dusk is accelerated but still very beautiful. The beach at Balandra is perfect for this type of walk. On this day the tide was right up and the beach full of driftwood, palm seeds, and water hyacinths that come from the Orinoco.

Ross and I spent the weekend at Grande Riviere, a small fishing village that is best known for attracting nesting leatherback turtles. The leatherback turtle (dermochelys coriacea) come up to lay their eggs all along the north and eastern coast of Trinidad. The map above shows the global distribution of leatherback's nesting sites with yellow circles representing minor nesting locations and red circles denoting major nesting sites. According to Wikipedia (from which I have taken the map above, click to go to page)"recent estimates of global nesting populations are that 26,000 to 43,000 nest annually, which is a dramatic decline from the 115,000 estimated in 1980. These declining numbers have energized efforts to rebuild the species which is critically endangered. The turtle have their favorite beaches and Grande Riviere attracts hundreds of mama leatherbacks during the laying season which opens in March and runs until June. Grande Riviere has become a haven for the leatherback as conservation efforts are stringently enforced during the season. This little fishing village is now known internationally as one of the best places to view these beautiful sea creatures making their way onto land to lay their eggs. In August, we are too late for the laying but we are just in time for the hatchlings.

Walking along the Grande Riviere beach we come across hundreds of white, abandoned eggs. We can only hope that most of the hatchlings make it. In an attempt to help the hatchlings' odds, hatchling "sentries" collect the hatchlings all day and keep them in cool, penned areas before supervising a controlled release. This works to protect the hatchlings from the dogs and vultures that sit patiently waiting for these delicate morsels to hatch. We were lucky to catch one lone hatchling on our walk and help him on his way.The hatchlings are born with a strong instinct for the water. They will immediately begin their determined and hurried path to the sea. Self preservation drives this for at this point they are very vulnerable to predators such as dogs, vultures and humans.

God speed turtle. May you have a long, long life.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Toco Lighthouse

No trip to Toco is complete without visiting the lighthouse that sits on the north eastern tip of Trinidad. This is the edge of the island that looks out towards the Atlantic. The terrain on this coast is rocky and scrubby. The black rocks that line the beaches look like ancient lava. It is an evocative landscape that has something of the otherworldly.

On the day that we visited, we met Clint, the lighthouse keeper. A local Toco boy, Clint loves his job.

After a stint at the Chacachacare lighthouse, being back in Toco is a breeze. He loves it even though people say it's haunted. Haunted? I ask. Haunted? Yes, he says. Twice I heard my name called. No one there.
What about Chacachacare? No ghosts there? I ask, certain that I am going to get an earful of paranormal antics. But no, apparently Toco's lighthouse is the one that's really haunted.

We all climb to the top of the lighthouse to see the surrounding views of the coastline.Down on the ground again, we came across a little Noni tree growing in the midst of stones and rocks. It's the first time that I've come across the Noni flower. Noni has many medicinal qualities attributed to its fruit but I never knew that it also offered up this delicate white flower.

On the rocks leading out to the sea, this spider suddenly appeared, climbing out of a crevice in the rock.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Flotsam and Seeds

Erle Rahaman-Noronha is serious about permaculture. He spends his time working on his farm, Wa Samaki, where he implements key permaculture practices but he also moves around the country documenting and sharing many of our unique flora and fauna characteristics.

Erle and friend, Rory O'Connor

I recently bought some heliconias and torch lilies from his farm Wa Samaki (located not far from Rory and Bunty's Ajoupa ) and was able to see first hand how Erle spends his days. We had met through Johnny Stollmeyer as the two work closely, providing education via lectures and workshops. Both men have become synonomous with the green shift that is slowly changing island paradigms.A visit to his website gives an excellent overview of the permaculture vision.
I was fascinated by a recent Facebook post by Erle detailing a visit to the south coast of Trinidad. This is the second year that Erle, Johnny Stollmeyer and other permaculture enthusiasts have been to the area to collect seeds and identify the flotsam that washes up daily from Venezuela's Orinoco River. Erle agreed to answer some of my questions.

Johnny, Sherlond and Allan combing the coastline

The south coast is very beautiful with a completely different feel to the northern terrain. The beaches run for miles with splendid vistas that are quite unlike any others on the island.

During the rainy season, the Orinoco River can deliver any number of unique offerings.

CG - What are you looking for when you do a site visit like this one?

Erle - Anything new and interesting, both in seeds and photographs.

Timit Palm seeds and casing. They start off as the rough case with three seeds inside.

This was the second year that I did this trip so I was looking for seeds or plants that I didn't recognize from the previous year. I also like to pick up stuff that did well in our nursery from our previous trip that I may need more of.

Wild chataigne seed

Sometimes I may pick up stuff that I already have collected in Trinidad, just to get new genetic material to expand my gene pool on my farm.

Opened wild chataigne pod

A wild chataigne seedling just before it sprouts. This can be eaten raw.

CG- It was interesting to read the tags on the photos, what happens to these seeds when they make it across the Orinoco?

Erle-The majority of them will die! As most of them come the interior, ending up in the sea is a big shock on them. It depends from where along the Orinoco they come from and how long they have floated in the sea before they make landfall. The ones not adapted to this kind of dispersal will quickly soak up the salt water and die, the hardier varieties having thicker shells or skins may make it across alive. Sometimes if the Orinoco is in very heavy flood there is a thin layer of fresh/slightly salt water all the way across to Trinidad and the delicate seeds make it across alive. Tons of Timit palm seeds, some from as far away as the Amazon

A few of these then get tossed up onto the berm running along the beach or may wash into a freshwater swamp where they are not constantly being drenched with salt water and may germinate and grow but the chances of survival are slim.
Coastal climates are very different from tropical rainforest.

Aquatic grass

CG - How much do our south coast eco-system depend on the Orinoco? And what are the threats to this unique area?

Low tide

Erle -From what I have read, the south coast ecosystems and most of Trinidad are really just an extension of the South American ecosystems. We used to be attached to South America at one time.
This is why Trinidad is blessed with such diversity compared to most of the other Caribbean islands. That being said, the southern ecosystems are unique in their own ways in that they have flora that you don't see anywhere else in Trinidad
and that is probably because of things washing up and taking hold from the Orinoco. Probably the biggest threats to these areas are indiscriminate fires and development either for housing/industry or monocrop agriculture.

Newly opened seaside hibiscus

CG - How much wildlife makes it across?

Erle-I've heard stories of anacondas, tapirs and capybaras coming across on the floating islands. Most get killed by hunters when they reach. People have also told me that sometime freshwater aquarium fish like tetras make it across after heavy flooding. We found a zanji (freshwater eel) on the beach that was still alive. They can tolerate salt water for a few days.

The freshwater eel trail as the eel tried to get back to the sea. It had washed ashore on some of the plants. It would have eventually died in the salt water. We put him back in a fresh water pond

CG - Allan seems to be very knowledgeable about the names of seeds and plants - is there a data base in existence for these unusual seeds and aquatic grasses?

Erle - I think Allan is the data base. His knowledge has always amazed me. He will spend hours combing the beaches and knows the scientific names of almost everything that comes ashore. He's been doing this for over 20 years. Part of my own passion for these trips is to begin to collect some of this data even if it's just with my photos and to share it with everyone by posting it on our website (and FB).

CG - It is a beautiful landscape. What's it like to visit this part of Trinidad? Do you have a different sense of the island?

Erle - The landscape is very different, large coconut estates, huge swamps, small quiet fishing villages and beaches quite unlike those along the north coast. The pace of life is a lot slower. It is sad seeing all the dying coconut estates, but this is the inevitable result of mono crops and the rapid spread of disease with a constantly travelling human population. It's something that worked in the past but is no longer sustainable.

Coastline eroding

CG - What would you like people to know about permaculture and how it impacts on the future of small islands like Trinidad and Tobago.

Erle - Permaculture is about designing and building sustainable communities that don't have a detrimental impact on their ecosystems.

Interesting lady bug

It's about having the information and making decisions that will positively impact our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Its about providing all of our food, water and energy needs from within our country instead of being so heavily dependent on imports.
It provides most of the solutions that the global community is currently searching for and it can be done by everyone slowly moving outwards
from their doorstep . It won't make big business rich because it makes us independent of them and so you don't hear much about it.
The current government is already saying money is tight, what happens in 10 years when our proven gas reserves run out..most communities that embrace permaculture now will reap the rewards then..

All images and information courtesy Erle Rahaman-Noronha. Thanks Erle!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

I'm going home

I'm going home. I began moving back to my old home and the chutney garden on Monday. It's been a bittersweet renovation and we've made significant changes to the garden and the house.Over the last 18 months, I've started an MFA, built a new garden in a rental house, and renovated our home.I've thought a lot about the idea of space and how it affects the things that engage us. While I loved living in the rental house, I did not blog. I wrote fiction instead. Now that I am going home, the urge to blog is back. The urge to take inspiration from my environment. I'm going home with mixed feelings. I've made very good friends where I am now and I know that I will be somewhat lonely but I am also excited to start a new garden. We put in a retaining wall, gaining a chunk of flat land that gets sun most of the day. This means that many of my old gardening patterns will change. We've also put in a pool which is, in essence, a large water feature. My challenge now is to keep the soft, fern-like green feel of the space even with all the renovations. It is hard though to look at the older pictures on the blog and realise that the spaces that are still so alive in my head are gone.The picture above shows a completely different garden. It's almost all gone now.
But because of the blog, I can rebuild large areas not just by visual references but also by re-reading posts that help me revisit mental spaces. I'm going home with extra baskets, one less dog (we lost our lovely Smalta last August), one new dog (Moka the mastiff joined our pack in October) and an increased awareness and appreciation of what space does to the things we choose to write about. See you back in the garden soon.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Crown of Thorns

I've always liked Crown of Thorns.
Perfectly symmetrical, the way the bracts fold against each other. Another xenic plant that does very well in rock gardens where it is one of the few succulents to actually sport foliage. With sticky poisonous sap, it is designed for rough living and one of the quickest ways to kill it is to pamper it with too much water.
The Crown of Thorns is also an emblematic plant.
It's thought that Christ's infamous crown of thorns was this charming euphorbia.
With its thorny spiny stem and poisonous sap, it tops the list of plants I would not like on my head.

Interestingly, famous cousin, Poinsettia, is associated with Christianity as well. It is one of the undisputed botanical stars of the nativity season.
The flowers of the Crown of Thorns (like the Poinsettia) are colourful bracts rather than the true flowers. The real flowers are small and often insignificant. The bracts now come in a number of colours ranging from vivid reds to muted salmons. Lemon colour is still quite unusual.

To grow it sucessfully, keep it out of open weather and warter sparingly. It likes full sun. It fact, it will thrive in full sun. It is a fairly heavy feeder. Watch for rot from over-watering. The stems will just disintergrate and that wil be the end of your plant.

Friday, 12 February 2010

The Unspoken in Carnival - Bikini and Beads and the Traditionals

It's easy to forget how frightening Blue Devils can be. As a child I was terrified of the devils who would surround you and demand small tokens of money before moving on. Sometimes they had other devils on chains; others wore hideous masks.
That the 'mas' has become sanitised is beyond dispute. The issue of "beads and bikini" mas which has taken over the streets is still a sore point for many purists. But I like to look at it differently. Each Carnival character developed as form of protest or to give form to an unspoken sentiment.
Devils were meant to be devils.Like most of the traditional characters, they grew out of a need to make a statement against some ill in society, some form of oppression or social injustice. Devils, in particular, were meant to represent the pagan. In post-Emacipation 19th century Trinidad society, the Catholic Church still represented the plantocracy.
Devils thumbed their noses at the plantocracy's elite.
The ritual of demanding money a form of parodying the church's demands for money.
A way of paying the piper.Saying that, I will make my case for "beads and bikini" costumes. I believe there is a different form of protest and expression of liberation taking place in these bands. Women of all shapes and sizes can tranform themselves for two days and take to the streets without fear of judgment. It allows each female masquerader to feel uniquely beautiful with their glitter and their beads. There will be beautiful bodies certainly (a la Brazil) but on the streets you will also find older women, large women, women who may not have worn a bathing suit for years - but they will come out for Carnival. As a firend of mine said in a FB post - we've earned our bodies.
So "bikini and beads" make not be making the social or political case that many of the older tradtionial art forms have made for the last century, but it is serving another cause. Woman power!
It is refreshing to see the traditional characters returning to the streets. Sailors, bats, bady-dolls, red indians and dame lorraines (to name a few, there are many more) all tell a story of the social history of Trinidad. Which is important, because we are not a people to work it out on paper.
Traumatic events tend to re-enacted on the streets or find their outlets via any artistic form but the written one.

Trinidad's Carnival is complicated on so many levels - but it is an example of a nation healing wounds with annual precision.
In this way we are unique.
It may explain why visitors often describe the transformation of the country as extraordinary or magical. A sense of entering something otherworldly.
Happy Carnival everyone.