HERE IN THE RAINFOREST, 2011

Aha! Apparently 2011 was filled with favorable omens and magical surprises!

January 16, 2011

We have only one species of owl in Dominica: Tyto alba, the West Indian Barn Owl. In Patois we call it Chawan.  12-17” in height, it is a long-legged owl with a heart shaped face. The West Indian Barn Owl lives in caves, old buildings, and sometimes church steeples. It feeds on small fury animals such as bats, rats and mice, as well as small birds.  Its voice is a hissing scream, and sometimes a loud clicking. Although I have often heard its call at night, I have never seen one out and about during the daytime, as it is said to be nocturnal.

Okay.  Then why did I spend half an hour between 6:30 and 7 a.m. watching this one up close and personal (as close as 20 ft. away) as it perched on my garden  gate? Facing away from me, it slowly turned its head and stared straight at me for about ten minutes, blinking its big black eyes. Then it swooped to the roof of the guest cottage, and finally flitted to the top of a  convenient banana tree, all in broad daylight. It seemed to have some sort of territorial issue with the family of Little Blue Herons that frequent the fish pond at dusk and dawn. But it also showed plenty of curiosity about me.

The Barn Owl is a spiritual bird for the Kalinago Indians and superstitious Dominicans in general. Depending on the number of calls it makes, i.e. one, two, or three, its appearance signifies a pregnancy, an illness, or a death in the area. But intuition told me that this bird was a harbinger of #3, — spooky and strangely familiar looking. According to local folklore, the  spirits of the dead hang around for 3 days before they travel on to wherever they’re going. Indeed, my neighbor Oliver, who had a heart-shaped face and big black eyes, died 3 days ago. Coincidence? Hmm. Maybe. Or maybe not.

January 20, 2011

Call me crazy, but out of all the people who attended the funeral mass of the very same friend and neighbor, Oliver, I was the only one who noticed the intense  rainbow which arched over the steeple of the Catholic church where he was buried. Was the rainbow, like the Barn Owl that was perched on my garden gate, a favorable omen? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. For instance, while I was making my bed this morning, a six inch long centipede flung itself from beneath the covers onto the floor.  If I had been bitten during the night by such a brute, I might now be in the hospital instead of telling this story .

Speaking of magic and realism, one of the reasons I enjoy living here in the really real world is that there doesn’t have to be a logical explanation for everything. In fact, if you can explain it, it’s probably not magical. Living so close to nature, however, gives one time and reason to consider these universal clues. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, there is a word in Sanskrit: Antevasin. It refers to a person who leaves the hustle of the worldly life behind in order to seek spiritual guidance in a natural setting.  Here in the rainforest., surrounded by the towering trees, the hum of the river, and the music of birdsong, I am free to follow my intuition and take whatever risks I choose. Lucky me.

September 30, 2011

Although Dominica has been spared from hurricanes so far this year, two major natural disasters have occurred within the last 60 days. The dam at the Miracle Lake burst on July 27th, sending millions of gallons of water and tons of sand down through the Layou Valley. Then a freak lightning and thunderstorm on September 27th caused bridges to be washed out along the west coast, landslides to block interior roadways, and vehicles and equipment to wind up in the sea.

The lake dam burst around midnight. A wall of water gained speed as it rushed down through the gorge and took out the concrete bridge that connects the west coast and the interior. Luckily the road was abandoned because of the late hour, but animals tied along the river bank weren’t so fortunate. Cows, goats, sheep, chickens, and a couple of dogs disappeared. Local residents clung to their roofs as their houses flooded. The impeccable greenhouses at the Chinese agricultural station were severely damaged. According to a witness, a 40 foot steel container full of chainsaws, lawnmowers, and brush cutters, also belonging to the Chinese, shot down the raging river and sank abruptly when it reached the sea. Various Bob Cats, tractors, and pickups were likewise never seen again. The sand and debris that the flash flood left behind rendered the Layou road completely impassable.

A freak rain storm that was the tail end of Hurricane Irene attacked the same general area exactly two months later.  13 landslides blocked the Imperial road, the only other route from the west coast to the interior, and additional flooding cut off the north from the south. Some vehicles parked by the coast were left battered and floating in the sea. Children had to be rescued by the fire department from the roof of the adjacent school. I personally was struck by lightning standing at my kitchen sink, which is a story in itself. I had a hand on each of the metal faucets and was letting water run over a head of lettuce when lightning apparently struck the cistern in the forest. I heard a sharp crack and watched in amazement as a sizzling bolt of sparks traveled from one faucet to the other between my hands. The jolt knocked me over backwards, flat on my back, and for a moment I wondered if I might possibly be dead. I was later advised that if I hadn’t had both hands on the faucets, or had been barefooted instead of wearing rubber sandals, I probably would have fried. Double lucky me!

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