HERE IN THE RAINFOREST, 2004

2004 is the second installment of a series of selected excerpts from the journal “Here in the Rainforest” that I kept from 2003-2013.

Jan. 6, 2004

What a relief it is to be back in the rainforest after two months in the States! Not that the time was wasted. A tour of friends and family in the good ole U.S. of A. ended with my getting my hands on my first grandchild. Jacob Wright Eckert was born on Sept 25, 2003, the same year that also celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the first flight by the Wright Brothers. Little Jake was named for my father, Big Jake, Orville Wright Jacobs. My dad was so christened because of his father’s close association with the pioneers of aviation in Dayton, Ohio. According to the number of U.S. patents James Madison Harrison Jacobs filed, it was him who really invented the modern day airplane. Although Grandpa Jacobs is the most interesting side of Baby Jacob’s pedigree, there were many other remarkable players–artists, poets, woodworkers, candy makers, athletes, nurses, and farmers all contributed their unique part to our family tree.

But the real headline, of course,  is little Jake. He was born healthy, wealthy, and also looking pretty wise. But what about the society he was born into? Will he be a product of his heredity or his environment?  California, the most paradoxical of States, was his birthplace, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was his governor. George W. Bush was his president, and the war in Iraq his legacy. Consumerism, arrogance, and xenophobia are bound to be part of his cultural dream. The question is will he swallow it? Or, like his grandmother, will he ruminate and postulate until he finally discovers his own personal dream: the one that he believes is his true identity? And when he does, will he have the courage and faith to follow it? In any event, welcome little Jake. May you find the wisdom to laugh at the follies of nature and fate, the grace to hold your head high and humble yourself simultaneously, and the independence to come and visit your Island Granny as soon and as often as you’re able.

March 29, 2004

Compared to a continental rainforest like the Amazon, which stings, bites, and scratches any and all intruders, our little island-based counterpart is relatively gentle and innocuous. There are few noxious plants, and no venomous snakes. The huge centipedes that loved to sink their fangs into me when I lived along the hot, dry coast are rare here in the rainforest, thank God.

Lurking around the edges of my paradisaical retreat here at River Ridge, however, there is a man-made poison that’s much more sinister. In Dominica, rainforest cultivation often involves deforestation and then spraying unwanted vegetation with Gramoxone, a deadly organophosphate herbicide that’s a brand of Paraquat banned in the developed world. In the ten years that I have lived on the island, I have heard of several human suicides and have lost several good dogs to the stuff. The prognosis for this kind of poisoning is almost always terminal, and it is neither a quick nor an easy death. Why would anyone intentionally subject themselves or an animal to such torture? I suppose it has something to do with flexing territoriality, or exhibiting the power to destroy things.

When ingested and then vomited, Gramoxone first burns out the lining the esophagus, mouth and gums. Reluctant eat, drink, or swallow, the patient grows weak as the poison migrates throughout the body. The liver, the lungs, and the central nervous system are all affected causing intense pain, labored breathing, involuntary trembling and neurological damage. The patient usually dies of renal failure. I waited a week before I had my first Dominican mongrel, the intrepid Ophine, put to sleep. And unfortunately she wasn’t the last. Right now I’m nursing Kali, a castaway street dog that I adopted about five years ago. She’s taking milk from a syringe and swallowing capsules of activated charcoal, but I’m pretty sure she won’t make it. After a week on my hands and knees in an attempt to save her, she seems a bit better, as they often do… just before they die.

May 31, 2004, approximately 6:30 p.m.

I am just back from the hospital in Martinique, having had surgery on a badly broken left arm. Delighted to be home, I am resting comfortably in my own sweet bed. The sun is about to set, and as I gaze dreamily out my bedroom window, the edges of the high cumulus clouds are tinged with green and pink. And then I see them!  Squadrons of what I assume to be mostly red-necked Jaco (Amazona arausiaca) parrots are flying high overhead. A few might be Sisserou (Amazona imperialis), but since they’re so far up it’s hard to tell. (At least they’re not in a cage!)

I suppose the birds are passing from their feeding grounds on Morne Trois Piton in the south and going to roost on Morne Couronne. Instinctively, I begin to count groups of 9, 13, 5, 2, 3, and finally 2—a grand total of thirty-two parrots! This is the first time hat I have witnessed such a grand event!

Parrots mate for life and I am accustomed to seeing them in pairs. A single parrot is usually a juvenile or a widow or widower. My Dominican bird book says that they lay their eggs between February and June. It’s the end of May and these birds all look the same size. So where are the babies? Due to an extremely wet and cold spring it’s possible that they are just now settling down to nest. Or maybe parrots are so grand that they actually have nannies!

Rolling over to try to get more comfortable, I chuckle to think of the early morning expeditions I have joined in the past to get a fleeting glimpse of Dominica’s endemic parrots. Now here they are flying right over my house, flashing their red and emerald green feathers as if to welcome me home! I am happy to have them on my side of the mountain for the summer. I will look forward to their reverse migration this fall, hopefully with plenty of fledglings in tow.  So what if they eat a few of my grapefruit and oranges in the meantime? I’m delighted to share with them.

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