MARIA! MARIA! Week Two

Hi loyal reader-folk. As promised, the saga of Maria continues . . .

MARIA! MARIA!

Diary of a Category 5 Hurricane

WEEK TWO

It’s hard to believe a week has passed since disaster struck on September 18, 2017. My back is killing me, and John is unwell, but we press on. They say hindsight is 20/20, and it’s true. Yet it’s amazing how fast a practical northerner can turn into a tropical fatalist. There are certain things you should always have on hand during hurricane season—duh, mainly galvanized nails. And a practical fatalist, which is what I strive to be, would have had a larger store of batteries, nonperishable food items, roof putty, and perhaps even the extravagance of home insurance tucked away. Considering the struggle I had to go through to collect from the Babylon Insurance Company when my house burned down, however, I would never voluntarily go through that again, no matter the reward.

I used to say that landscape equaled mindscape. It was important to me to be amid beautiful surroundings so I could have beautiful thoughts. Nevertheless, here I am, a 70-year-old woman, gazing at a homestead and a landscape I don’t recognize. I have a camera, but I barely have the stomach to use it. The destruction is just too heart wrenching. Yet despite my aching back, I feel more energized than I did before the disaster. Sure, I wish things could go back to the way they were before, but it’s as if post Hurricane Maria marks the beginning of a new phase of my life, a chance to start fresh and clean. It may be the last chance, but I can honestly say that I have no remorse and no regrets.

Anyway, onward! I hope Max will show up to help me move the remaining furniture from upstairs to the guesthouse, originally called Bati Mamzelle because of all the dragonflies in the fishpond. Unfortunately, it’s raining, and he doesn’t appear. John walks to the village in the afternoon and comes home with toilet paper, a can of mixed vegetables, and 2 pounds of rice. After dinner, I try to sleep on the mattress in the guesthouse, but it’s slightly damp and saggy. Considering my aching back, I return to the daybed on the downstairs veranda, where the dogs are glad to welcome me.

Rain is still falling the next morning. John seems to have caught a cold yesterday, so he’s still in bed. I’ve had my ration of one cup of coffee and a bowl of oatmeal, banana, and raisins for breakfast, and I’m ready to rock and roll. If only help would arrive, maybe we could make a tiny amount of progress. Whom am I kidding? After TS Erika we were blocked inside for one month and nobody came to help. Don’t forget, Maria was a Category 5 hurricane, and River Ridge is at the end of the line. Well, at least we have water, coconuts, a few avocadoes, and some grapefruit and oranges, which is a lot more than those poor people trapped in town.

I can hear the heavy equipment working above us to clear the main road, but the feeder road that leads to my home is another story. It’s always forgotten in times of natural disaster, and unless I can somehow make my way over the debris to where they are working, there’s a good chance we will be forgotten back here in the boonies. Never mind. An afternoon thunder and lightning storm shuts down the entire operation and also floods the same areas I have spent days mopping, mopping, and mopping. Depressed, I join John in bed in the garage without eating supper. I don’t sleep well. The air in the space is dead and musty space. He coughs for most of the night, and I succumb to sneezing fits because of the mold. When dawn breaks, I am exhausted and famished.

Max arrives during a torrential downpour with the report from the roadside. Since there is little chance of getting anything done in the rain, he takes his time to fill us in on local news. Looters locked the manager of the dilapidated Chinese hotel in his room and stole everything they could manage—booze, exercise equipment, refrigerators, and tools.

 

While we are talking, I notice a parade of people passing over the landslide above us with big bags on their heads. Max says they have broken into the abattoir and are stealing the chicken in the freezer. They are on foot, but the road is apparently open from Pond Cassé to the Warner junction where their escape vehicles are waiting. We get a good laugh out of this one even though it means no more contraband chicken for us.  

The rain keeps up so Max heads home with a borrowed raincoat. A few helicopters pass over while I attempt to hang up some half-ruined artwork in Bati Mamzelle. At dusk, I notice a pair of optimistic parrots mating. Two broad-winged hawks perform their evening ballet, and a yellow-crowned night heron makes its way up the ravaged river just before dark. The dogs have taken over the downstairs daybed, so I sleep in the garage again. At least the mattress is dry and firm. I wake up in the middle of the night, and when I venture outside to pee, I notice lightning and far off thunder in the west. It reminds me of what Dominicans called “turtle lightning” when I lived by the sea. It’s on such nights that the female comes ashore to lay her eggs in the sand. I say a little prayer for the hatchlings. Like me, they’re going to need all the luck they can get.

When the piping of the pipirit (Grey kingbird) wakes me, I suspect the next day will be bright and beautiful. The bare mountains glow in the sunlight—every ridge and ravine clearly defined, and every shadow distinct. Undergrowth and low plants are already creeping back on Morne Couronne because of all the rain, but bare tree trunks are still the predominate feature. I see a few honeybees that used to live on the mountain sucking nectar from the star grass and the blooms of the Pacific palms in the yard, but I have yet to see another hummingbird.

I start soaking laundry in the baby pool around 9 a.m. The dogs go crazy when a team of guys with chainsaws show up wanting to clear our driveway. What? $400 to saw one tree? $2000 to open the feeder road to the landslide? Of course, we sent them away. Who has that kind of cash on hand in the bush? Besides, isn’t this a time when neighbors should be helping each other out instead of ripping each other off? Still, I wonder how long it will be until I can drive out to some place where I can contact my family.

Mid-morning, John goes out to try to get groceries and a new chain for the saw. This involves scaling a mountain littered with fallen trees and walking up the road until he is able to hitch a ride to where he can catch a bus. As I’ve said, he is not all that well, and I worry the entire time he is gone. I rinse the laundry and hang it up to dry in the interim. Many clothes are ruined, but I try to save what I can. John returns with $100 worth of groceries, which is all one person can buy, batteries for the radio, and a new chain for the saw. We try to listen to the local evening news, but it doesn’t seem like the government is telling people very much. Internationally, 67 people were shot dead by a single gunman in Las Vegas. What a world.

As long as the sun is shining, I keep on doing laundry. My hands are numb, and so are my feet. John and Max are busy putting the back porch roof on Bati Mamzelle while I carry bits and pieces down from the upstairs. The wood floor is slippery and the tiles are loose, so I have to be careful. When it rains, water pours downstairs like a waterfall, and the plywood partitions have already begun to warp and mold.

When neighbor Steve arrives wondering, “Where do we go from here?” My answer is simple. “Nowhere soon.” I still haven’t been able to call my family or check on the set of books that are supposed to be sailing to Dominica to from the UK.

Despite the fact that I’m physically and mentally exhausted, I’m having trouble sleeping. With no BBC World Service to lull me to sleep, I lay awake and listen to the barrage of night sounds. Huge crickets, bwa cabwit, shout close to the guesthouse while frogs shriek and owls hoot. Unfiltered by the rainforest, the full moon lights up the bed room like a spotlight. God forbid the wind should start to blow or heavy rainfall. Post-Maria stress is real. If I do happen to get to sleep, I wake up around 1 a.m. and stay awake until dawn listening for the next disaster.

Max says Layou Park is the only place in Dominica not receiving rations, so I offer him what I can from our meager pantry. The dogs are down to eating once a day—boiled green bananas and coconut and rice—even the clef palates that aren’t supposed to eat anything but dry kibble. I’m not sure what the remaining wildlife are living on. As we’re clearing the driveway, I see parrots feeding off grapefruit on the ground. A Lesser-Antillean flycatcher is cocking its head and calling pree, pree (please, please), but generally birdsong is scarce. A couple of thrashers zoom by and three opportunistic hawks soar in the sky, but nary a hummingbird. Bullfinches and to a lesser extent banana quits continue to beg in the kitchen. There are plenty of lizards about, especially in the guesthouse. Unfortunately, the other plentiful thing is mosquitoes, I suppose due to the drastic reduction in bats.

The prospect of running water from the debilitated ram pump via the cistern is still a long way off, so I have been sponge bathing in the pool. This afternoon, when the work finishes, the dogs and I head down the ravine to the river. Naturally, it’s a disappointment. There is a logjam of fallen trees above and below my boundary. The trees that are still standing are bare and probably dead. All the big boulders are gone, and the waterfall where I used to bathe has disappeared. Everything is flat and gray. Lush vegetation like bamboo that used to grow along the riverbank has vanished, and saplings are choking in silt. Still, the dogs have fun. They race, splash, play in the shallow water, and then roll in the stinky sand. I enjoy myself vicariously watching them run around like happy pups.

Since the idea of more beans and rice is not very exciting, I linger on the riverbank and wait for the full moon to rise over the mountain. When it crowns, bright and glorious, there’s more than enough light to climb back up the track. I go to bed almost immediately and sleep well. I wake up around 4 a.m., and the moon is still riding high in the Western sky.

In the morning, I make French toast with the last egg and slather it with Kayo syrup left over from when I was bottle-feeding puppies years ago. I pretty much have the household routine down now, so after breakfast I head outdoors to work in the flowerbeds around the house. Plenty of shredded ginger lilies need cutting down to the ground, and I want to do some replanting. While I am finishing my work in the garden, a purple-throated Carib hummingbird inspects the remains of the honey suckle. It hovers right in my face and then zooms away, disappointed.     

On Sunday, John and Max clear a path down to the landslide on the feeder road so I can walk somewhere and get a ride to access phone service. As I climb over downed trees and telephone poles to reach Steve’s, a squadron of thirteen parrots passes overhead. Apparently, Steve is at church, but neighbors who greet me on the other side of the landslide seem cheerful, considering. I, too, am happy to be out, but when I reach the village of Layou Park, everyone is occupied with their own personal trauma. Don’t they realize that we’re all in this mess together?

As I am about to head home, I meet my British neighbor with her car. We drive to the abattoir to check on available chicken (none) and then to Pond Cassé to try to use our cell phones (no service). The destruction along the Layou road is phenomenal. The huge landslide is cleared to a single lane, but walls of mud and rock loom precariously overhead as we pick our way through the rubble that used to be pavement.

Uprooted trees and broken utility poles lean at precarious angles. We have to stop frequently while I raise loose wires so the vehicle can pass. The Chinese hotel looks as if exploded, hit by a tornado rather than a hurricane, while ragamuffin shacks just across the road are virtually untouched. Newish cement houses with flat roofs decked with concrete have fared better than those with gable roofs, some of which never have been lived in.

The unevenness of the damage reminds me of a parable. Trees that can bend with the wind, such as willows or bamboo, seldom break. Yet what you resist persists, and an oak or a tropical hardwood doesn’t stand much chance against 225 mph winds.

On the way down, we pass our Parliamentary Representative, who is studying a long list of people who are supposed to get rations. After I tell him I have been blocked in by landslide for almost 3 weeks, he says he didn’t know anybody lived as far back as I do. I later find out that the gang with the chainsaws we chose not to hire told the backhoe guy the same thing, so he moved on to another job. Now it will be up to me to pay an operator to clear the remainder of the government feeder road to my home.

We flag down the bread truck and shop for overpriced groceries in the village before heading back to my friend’s house, which is virtually undamaged. She makes a pizza with imported dried tomatoes, mushrooms and grated parmesan cheese for lunch, a real treat, but I break a tooth on the crust. An omen? We chat for a while and then make a plan to rendezvous and go to town the next morning. She drops me at the top of the landslide, where I crawl back across, reach my home, and collapse. My tooth hurts like hell, and of course, there is no hope of dental care now. I make a list of what I need to do in town the next day, but I wonder how much I’ll be able to accomplish. I hope I’m able to buy layer for my hens so I can at least I can have eggs. Or maybe I’ll resort to a rooster!

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Maria, Maria – Diary of a Category 5 Hurricane

Hi Folks,

Sorry for the long delay in getting back to my blog, but I have a good excuse. On Sept.18, 2017, Category 5 Hurricane Maria scored a direct hit on my adopted homeland, the Eastern Caribbean island of Dominica. If you’re interested in knowing what it’s like to survive a major disaster on an island that has little infrastructure and no advance plan for dealing with such a cataclysmic natural disaster, read on….

MARIA, MARIA — Diary  of a Category 5 Hurricane

On the evening of Monday September 18th, 2017, Hurricane Maria reduced one of the last island-based rainforests in the world, on the Eastern Caribbean island of Dominica, to rubble.  For six hours straight, she ravaged three hundred square miles of lush mountain terrain, crystal-clear rivers, and black sand beaches as if hell-bent on total destruction. “Eden is broken,” Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit proclaimed upon viewing the disaster. The land and seascape, however, weren’t the only aspects of the Nature Island to suffer. Homes, businesses, and scores of lives were also lost.

We have a jingle on the radio during hurricane season: You’d better beware. You’d better prepare. Disaster can happen anytime, anywhere. But Maria was a rogue. She escalated from an unnamed storm to a Category 5 hurricane in less than 48 hours. I first heard about an approaching bad weather at a Waitukubuli Writers meeting in Roseau on Saturday afternoon. At that point Maria was nameless, and I wasn’t especially concerned. Although my heart went out to other islanders whose lives Hurricane Irma had affected a week previously, I took my usual fatalistic approach to natural disaster: let’s wait and see. In a hurry to get home before dark, I passed the grocery store straight

I haven’t had a TV in 25 years, and the Internet wasn’t working on Sunday, so I couldn’t check the storm’s coordinates. Truth be told, I was busy with the weekly blog and the report for the Lit Fest and didn’t think to shop for supplies. It was Monday morning before I realized Maria had escalated to a Category 2 hurricane and was a definite threat to Dominica. But by then it was too late to risk dashing out for provisions. Like the rest of the population, my partner John and I secured our home and belongings the best we could. While various disaster management personnel advised the public of the dire situation, the announcer repeated a long list of hurricane shelters. But for us there is no other place to go, especially with all these dogs.

By afternoon Maria was a Category 3. Prime Minister Skerrit was on the air begging people to forget about stocking up on food and take shelter immediately. John and I hurried to complete preparations—by 6 p.m. we had the outside shutters nailed shut, breakables and electronic equipment stashed away, and important documents in a safe place. Maria, now a Category 4 hurricane, was likely to make a direct hit on Dominica. As she stalked steadily forward, people and dogs congregated in the cast concrete garage under the house and waited to take our blows.

Glued to the radio, we listened as Maria escalated to a Category 5. She was predicted to arrive around 8 p.m. with sustained winds of 175 mph. (I later learned that there were gusts up to 255.) When the antenna blew off the DBS radio station, it went off the air. But we probably couldn’t have heard anything anyway. For the next three hours, wind shrieked like a banshee, growled like an enraged bear, and howled like a dying dog. Sequestered in the transport in the dark, we could only imagine what went on outside. At one point the garage door blew off, and stinging rain drove inside in horizontal sheets. Thunder boomed and lightning flashed while I held onto the steering wheel for dear life. I may have even uttered a prayer as Maria attempted to suck the jeep backwards into her churning belly.

When the eye of the storm arrived about 10:30, I ventured outside with my flash light. Hopefulness morphed into a sense of utter helplessness at first glance. Most of the upstairs hurricane shutters had been ripped off, and the veranda roof and railing were gone. Crawling up the steps, I realized that the main roof of the house was also partially missing; stars shone through the rafters, and the place was flooded. A couple of solar panels had fallen inside, and artwork and books lay scattered everywhere. I could see a light blinking far across the valley. John said it was probably a soukouyan looking for somebody’s blood to suck, but I figured it was just another bewildered soul trying to make sense of what had just passed.

The roaring started up again around midnight. Since there was obviously nothing we could do, we scurried back to what we trusted was safety. But to my mind the second half of the hurricane was worse than the first. What phase 1 damaged would surely be demolished by phase 2. After Maria finished with Dominica around 2 a.m. the agonizing four hours remaining before daylight felt like four years.

Tuesday

Hoping for the best but fearing the worst, I waited for the dawn. In the interim, my mind spiraled back to other disasters I’d suffered through since moving to the Caribbean. Besides my brief, ruinous marriage to my Dominican husband, Hurricanes Luis and Marilyn hit in 1995. Hurricane Lenny arrived from the west by sea in 1999 after I had moved to the mountains, so I wasn’t affected. But élas. Fate wasn’t finished with me yet. My dream house burned down to the ground in 2000. We rebuilt soundly, and when Hurricane Dean passed in 2007, mashing up crops and roads, there was no structural harm to my residence. Then, in 2015, Tropical Storm Erika did massive damage to the infrastructure of the island, killing some 20 people by flood and mudslide. Although a landslide blocked the road to my home at River Ridge for over a month, the house stood strong. But this monster called Maria, this bitch, was something else altogether.

*

Dawn finally arrives, eerily silent after the cacophony that raged overnight. I emerge into the unknown like a blind butterfly from a cocoon. You think you are prepared for anything, and then your entire world falls apart. There is an expression for daybreak in certain parts of the Caribbean—dayclean—and that’s exactly how the world strikes me in the early hours after Maria. It looks as if the abundance of the tropics has been power washed away and a forsaken, mist-covered moonscape has taken its place. The paradise supposedly created by the Lord God in six days has been totally destroyed in six hours, and my previous sense of helplessness sinks into a sense of gut-wrenching hopelessness tinged with guilt. Why wasn’t I better prepared?

The dogs are similarly disoriented, sniffing for familiar scents and attempting to mark this alien territory as their own. A disorganized colony of bats flits back and forth, looking for shelter even though the sun has risen. The limited birds that greet the dawn are also confused. A lone hawk floats overhead while flocks of unsettled parrots survey the drastically altered scene. A couple of bullfinches, banana quits, and one kingbird chirp uncertainly, while a desperate hummingbird tries to suck juice from carambola fruit that lies rotting on the ground.

When I lift my eyes unto the hills, I can see for miles across the ravaged countryside. I feel I could reach out and touch houses and landmarks that used to be invisible.

My magnificent mountain view has virtually disappeared. Lofty Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s tallest mountain, once cloaked in luxurious green, now stands stark and naked in the distance, stripped clean of vegetation. Morne Couronne, the double mountain across the Neiba River from my home, more resembles an eroded ski slope than a pristine tropical forest. A landslide accompanied by a brand new waterfall has occurred at the top, and the angry and log-jammed river at its base is running murky brown instead of crystal clear. A few battered tree trunks, completely defoliated and uniformly broken off at a height of about 50 feet, remain standing. Their fallen companions lie strewn across the ridges and ravines like insignificant matchsticks. But where are the old giants, the ancient hardwoods of the true rainforest?

My heart sinks when I realized that none of them has survived. Trunks, limbs, and branches lay horizontal to the ground while perpendicular clumps of matted earth, broken stone, and severed roots mark their final resting place.

A more personal aspect of the disaster dawns on me when I shift my attention to the ruins of my former home. With no roof in place, rainwater cascades through the wooden floor from upstairs to downstairs; unless I act fast, there won’t be any chance of saving what is below. To make matters worse, bat guano pours down the walls like stinking manna from heaven. And so I start shifting and mopping. I realize it’s useless—water flows in much faster than I can soak it up—but at least it’s something to do. At dusk, dogs and people line up for supper. Because I neglected to pack in extra supplies, including dogfood, we dine on fallen avocados and Crix crackers. And because the mattresses are wet, we sleep uneasily in the transport again tonight.

Wednesday

John cleans out the garage for a place to cook, eat, and sleep. He installs the semi-dry mattress from the guesthouse while I literally wade through the upstairs to try to save books, artwork, and electronic equipment. The report from the road, when it finally arrives, is as expected: We are blocked inside by landslide on both the main and the feeder road. I let the chickens go maroon before we settle down, exhausted, to a supper of rice, canned baked beans, and grapefruit juice spiked with the last of the rum. We have no means of communication or transportation, no lights, no help, and no hope of obtaining emergency rations. Other than that, things are normal. Ha. Ha.

Parrots search for food while helicopters hover overhead, presumably to take pictures of Maria’s destruction. And believe me; there are plenty of photo opportunities. Adjacent to the skeleton of my house, a huge African tulip tree has compromised the bridge. Beyond that, other fallen trees, broken phone poles, and scraps of disfigured galvanized roofing litter the driveway up to the feeder road. From there it’s anybody’s guess. Even if the road is clear past the landslide to the village of Layou Park, then what?

The $11 million Chinese bridge to the west coast has never been opened, and the other direction is blocked by a fresh landslide covering the one that was never properly addressed since Tropical Storm Erika. And even if we could get out, I’m sure there’s no possibility of sourcing groceries or building supplies anywhere on the island.

Around 10 a.m. Max, a part-time helper from the village, arrives on foot to help John repair the roof on the guesthouse so there will be somewhere decent to put ourselves and our things. But progress is minimal. Many of the galvanized sheets that have blown off the roof are in the river or irreparably damaged, nails are in short supply, and there’s no roof putty. In the meantime, I continue to mop and sweep and sort. It’s a bright, clear day, good for getting clothes and books dried out but bad for sunburn and dehydration. Gazing out from the upstairs veranda, I assess Maria’s work. Most of the citrus and coconut trees on my 5-acre property have been snapped off clean, breadfruit and breadnut trees are uprooted, and the vegetable garden is nonexistent. Eden is indeed broken. More disturbingly, human trash formerly camouflaged by lush vegetation litters the pathetic landscape like a chaotic manmade blight.

Friday

Helicopters pass over on a regular basis, but we have no idea why. (I find out later they are looking for me!) Max says the homeless villagers in Layou Park have moved to the hotel on the corner, but there is no electricity, no water, and the shops are completely empty of food. Fortunately, here at River Ridge, the propane fridge is functional and so are a couple of gas lamps. The pump has stopped working, but the swimming pool is fine for sponge bathing, laundry, washing dishes, and flushing the toilet, and so far the river water is okay to drink. I have picked up baskets full of grapefruits and avocados, and we have provisions such as dasheen and tania in the ground. The dogs are learning to eat green bananas and dry coconut mixed with some rice and a bit of their regular kibble. A parcel of chicken breasts stolen from the abattoir is a welcome gift from a Rasta neighbor, but I’m dying for a fresh green salad.

Saturday

The river keeps changing its course as if it too is looking for a way to escape. As rain starts to fall, I realize that most of my hard work has been in vain. Books I thought were safely stored in the office are soaked through as water drips relentlessly through the cracks in the ceiling. Clothes in the closet, mattresses and bedding, all of which I thought were dry, get wet again. The garage is jam-packed, and the roof on the guest house roof isn’t totally repaired, so there isn’t any place else to put things. When I have no more strength to carry belongings, I break down and cry.

Sunday

We christen today as one of well-deserved rest. John makes a nice soup with chicken and some packaged egg noodles for lunch. Afterwards, I figure out how to plug the radio into the cigarette lighter of the jeep only to hear evangelists on the air calling Hurricane Maria the devil’s work. There is no portable water in town, 45 people are missing or confirmed dead, there is looting in and around Roseau, and there have been 40 arrests for violating the curfew. It seems the majority of Dominican people are even more desperate and hungry than us.

My sense of isolation suddenly turns into a sense of freedom. I have water in the river and food in the ground and no one is trying to rob me. Furthermore, given a chance, I believe the earth knows how to heal itself. Imagine: I’m already beginning to see signs of natural rejuvenation, and I, too, am still alive. For me Hurricane Maria represents a wakeup call—a chance to stand back, get my priorities straight, and make adjustments where necessary—one day, week, month, or, God spare, one year at a time.

To be continued ….

 

WHERE YOU GONNA RUN TO?

Forty years ago Peter Tosh asked, ‘Downpresser man, where you gonna run to?’ Good question in light of what Hurricane Harvey did to Texans and Katrina did to the citizens of New Orleans. The national response was heartfelt but inadequate in both cases, which only goes to show how vulnerable humankind, no matter how developed, is to the supreme forces of nature. Although Dominica was spared from Hurricane Irma’s wrath, small island states are especially at risk.

At first, the sensation over the magnitude of Irma was focused on the Caribbean islands, mainly in terms of expats and tourists. But once she hit the US mainland, the islands were forgotten in favor of ‘people who matter.’ The general consensus is that we live in paradise, and most days I agree. Therefore we should expect a little punishment from time to time. Never mind that colonial masters built their fortunes on the backs of these former colonies leaving them ill-equipped to face catastrophe. But since the idea of remuneration is generally considered ridiculous by the privileged “powers-that-were,” why should the Caribbean not expect foreign aid?

These are the same mighty nations that consider migration a scourge. Yet what else are marginalized people supposed to do? Whether it’s war, poverty, starvation, or the result of climate change, it’s all about survival. When I listen to the BBC World Service on the radio, the amount of human suffering that is reported makes me shiver. I haven’t had a TV for 25 years, but the coverage of the earthquake in Mexico, the floods in India, and the mud slides in Sierra Leone on the Internet (accompanied by popup ads for expensive cell phones, impractical shoes on sale from Amazon.com, and hotel deals in Key West) makes me want to scream.

My native-born president doesn’t believe in global warming. As far as he’s concerned, it’s probably ‘fake news.’ His press secretary says this is not the time to talk about climate change.  Don’t these people have children and grandchildren? If not now, when? Time is running out, folks. The world as we know and love it seems to be disappearing before our very eyes. As intelligent human beings, we have to figure out a way to get ourselves out of this mess. For me that means practicing land and sea stewardship, living a sustainable lifestyle, and writing about things that matter.

My heart goes out to those who suffered loss via Hurricane Irma. In 2105, I had a short story on climate change published in the Caribbean American Heritage Literary Magazine. The title is “Everything for a Time,” which is a proverbial phrase typical to the islands. It is republished on this website under the tab “Kristine’s Work–Shorts,” and I hope you will take time to read it. I have in my  possession a letter written by Barrack Obama that addresses the blessings of multiculturalism. Now we have Donald Trump. Dude, what happened to my country? More succinctly, what is happening to our world?

GO FIGURE

After living in the Caribbean for almost twenty-five years, I have to admit that I have become a fatalist when it comes to hurricanes. The fact that Hurricane Irma didn’t behave according to previous models didn’t alarm me like it did some of my expat island friends. While they ran around securing their fancy glass windows and storing away expensive electronic equipment, I made a trip to town and returned with two 55 lb. bags of dog food, a case of tuna fish, and a case of wine—half red, half white. That night, I waited for the bats to vacate their homes behind the exterior shutters and unhooked them just in case. (Sorry guys, you’ll have to camp out for a couple of days.) Then I pulled the jeep into the cast concrete garage and pulled a cork.

When my house burned down 17 years ago, I lost everything I had collected and cared enough about to ship down to the Caribbean—artwork, books, family heirlooms, photo albums—everything, that is, but my life. Since then material possessions haven’t been that dear to me. My rebuilt home is open and breezy upstairs, but downstairs is like a bunker. And my land has very positive Feng Shui—a river on each side and a mountain behind with an expansive view across a valley to the next set of mountains. But for all the fuss and bluster of a Category 4 hurricane, hardly a leaf stirred. A good amount of rain fell but nothing like Tropical Storm Erika two years ago, the effects of which we’re still trying to get over.

There are those who believe this bad weather is man made. (www.weatherwar101.com) Of course it is, but I would like to believe not intentionally. For those who don’t acknowledge climate change and global warming (like my native-born president), all I can say is ‘go figure.’ Here in the Caribbean, the sea keeps on coming in closer, and the water and the air just keep on getting warmer. The world as we know and love it seems to be disappearing before our very eyes. As intelligent human beings, we have to figure out a way to get ourselves out of the mess we created. For me that means land stewardship and living a sustainable lifestyle off the grid. What about you?

My heart goes out to the folks in Texas and my neighbors in the northern Leeward Islands, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Florida. I just won a scholarship to the Key West literary Seminar in January 2018, but I don’t think I’ll buy a plane ticket just yet!

Book Review: PHARCEL~RUNAWAY SLAVE by Alick Lazare

I know, I know. I’m not supposed to review books written by my friends. But I recently had the pleasure of revisiting the debut historical novel of my comrade in Waitukubuli Writers, Alick Lazare. 

“Run Pharcel! You must run!” Alexis, a house slave at the Dubique estate on the Caribbean island of Dominica advises the protagonist. And run he does throughout the course of this engaging historical novel. After enduring unfair punishment that typically befalls the slaves at the hands of the white planters, he escapes, but not before he has become a victim of a fatal attraction.

Caught in a deadly triangle between the jealousy of Captain Marshall, the unhappy planter’s wife, Elise, and her reckless daughter, Georgette, Pharcel takes shelter at the maroon camp of Coree Greg. There he cohabitates with Betty, and makes a mortal enemy of the chief of a rival camp, the infamous Balla. But even after he drifts to the village of the Kalinago and takes up with the lovely and capable Kumeni, he is drawn back to Elise again and again.

‘He was like one bewitched, moving thoughtlessly and without will to a certain danger that he could no more avoid then the fly avoid a spider in his wide-spun web.’

When Balla is shot and Coree Greg executed, Pharcel becomes chief of the maroons. But as the strength of the English militia increases, he begins to question their future. He meets the free Frenchman Paulinaire, who preaches unity among all people of color, and is torn between loyalty to his own race and the dream of liberty and equality. But how, when, and where will his people achieve it?

Pharcel, Runaway Slave is an enjoyable and tantalizing read for a mature audience. The main characters are well-imagined and empathetic: Pharcel is a true revolutionary, Marshal is a relentless villain, and Elise remains insipid to the end. The scenery is lush and poetically described. The dialogue and the history are convincing, and the reader gets a true feeling of what the island life must have been like on Dominica toward at the end of the eighteenth century.

Published in 2006, Pharcel-Runaway Slave, is available from Amazon.com.

 

HERE IN THE RAINFOREST, 2013

Wow!  I can’t believe this is the last entry in the journal. As we used to say back in the day, ‘Time flies when you’re having fun.’

January 13, 2013

Since December 21, 2012 WASN’T the end of the world, life goes on here in the rainforest. Beyond maintenance due to inevitable tropical decay, my philosophy these days leans more toward ‘let being be’ than constant expansion. The older I get, the less interest I seem to have in meddling with nature’s ways.  But sometimes I do have to interfere in order not to be completely overrun by the critters who were the original inhabitants of River Ridge. Every night, I take down all the artwork from the walls to discourage stinky bats from roosting behind the frames. I also continue to poison rats due to the deadly threat of leptospirosis to my dogs and myself. But up to now, I haven’t figured out what to do about the troublesome birds in the kitchen.

Forget about the charming animated Walt Disney movie Snow White. Mr. Pennwè and Madam Mwéson, the Creole names for the male and female Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, are serious pains in the butt. There is no way food can be left uncovered. Ripe bananas, bread, eggs, and just about anything else edible are all at serious risk of being attacked. If I leave my breakfast or  lunch dished up on the table, they’re instantly in it. When it’s time to feed the dogs, flocks of them swoop into the kitchen to steal pieces of chicken and rice and dog kibble. And of course what goes in must come out. Bird poop is all over the place—the floor, the sink, the shelves, and the coffee table. I have to scrub it off the wicker furniture with a brush if I’m expecting seated company. And the  little buggers  break things; they throw down teakettles, ashtrays, even tins of milk and jars of coffee!  According to local folklore, their sassy vocalization, Tou-chwit, i-cho-o-o, means the food is well-cooked but too hot to eat. But I have a sneaky suspicion the bullfinches are really saying something much ruder, like, ‘That’s what you get for having no screens in your windows and doors that are open all the time.’

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Well, folks,  that’s about it for the journal Here in the Rainforest from 2003-2013. But you know what? I had such a nice time revisiting my life that I plan to continue the making entries. Hey! Unbeknownst to me, I was blogging before I even had a website!  As for what happened during the past 4 years, I guess  I must have been concentrating on publishing my debut novel, A Face in the River, and it’s sequel, River of Fire. For a taste of what they’re about, why not check out the book tab of the “Kristine’s Work” section of this website?

P.S. Novel #3, Nobody Owns the Rainbow,  is coming soon!

HERE IN THE RAINFOREST, 2012

Jeesh! Time flies especially when a year goes by in the course of a week! Here we are caught up to 2012 already!

January 12, 2012

Happy New Year!  One of my resolutions is to be more diligent about my journal; it’s hard to believe eight months have passed since the last entry! What’s been happening? Well, pups of course, and a trip to the States to visit family and friends.  It was great to see how mature my middle-aged sons have become, how much the grand kids have grown, how old and fat my ex-boyfriend has gotten. (My other resolution is to lose 10 lbs.)

But let’s face it; portly or svelte, I’m out of the First World loop. Every time I head north I realize how far I’ve drifted from the mainstream that used to be my culture. My wardrobe lacks bulk, so I’m always cold. The recycled air makes my nose bleed. The over processed food, which I so look forward to consuming, makes me sick. The sedentary lifestyle focused around watching professional athletes play sports on TV leaves me restless.  But because I have spent the last 20 years driving on the left side of the road, it would be just plain dangerous for me to face high speed traffic on the right. I always travel with a long wish list go with a long list of that are either unavailable or prohibitively expensive in the Caribbean, but  I can’t really go anywhere until someone volunteers to drive me–everything is so spread out in suburbia, and everybody’s too busy. Oh, well.  Beyond a trip to my favorite thrift store and the art museum, it’s nice just to spend time just relaxing with the kids.

After spending two weeks in the land of manicured lawns and wall to wall white carpeting, my home in the really real world, as I lovingly call Dominica, looks and smells like a barn in the jungle. But the dogs are all still alive and happy to see me, the river is still running clear, and there is still food falling on my head. Really, what more could an island granny ask for?

February 29, 2012

Leap Year! No wonder everything seems out of whack! So far it’s been a funky dry season here in the rainforest. The gloomy, cold weather that began last December has lingered all the way through February. Dogs are shivering, laundry refuses to dry, seedlings drown in the garden, and I have long since run out of clean socks and sweat pants. What is going on? Usually by Carnival time the cool weather turns around and it begins to warm up. But this year the rain refuses to stop, and the sun refuses to shine. They say there’s been a lot of solar activity. Shall I blame the crummy weather on sun spots? Or is the world heading toward some sort of monumental astrological disaster?

Despite the foul weather during the day, the night sky has been extraordinary. Venus was so bright in the early January sky that I was sure Dominica was being invaded from outer space. The planets have also been putting on a show. Last week, Jupiter aligned itself with a bright orange waxing moon, causing an eclipse-like ring to form around the circumference. In early March, they say the planet Mars will also be visible—a virtual tropical planetarium! But what about lonely Planet Earth?

According to Monument Six, an ancient Mayan stone tablet, the end of the 13th Baktun will occur on December 21, 2012. At that time a mythological god will purportedly descend from the sky, and the sun will simultaneously line up with the center of our Milky Way Galaxy for the first time in 25,800 years. as a result, our sun will appear to rise in the same spot as the center of the galaxy sets. Or something like that. An Islamic prophecy warns us that the end of creation will occur in just about the same way–‘When the sun rises in both the east and the west.’  Kablewi! Are these two predictions just  a spooky coincidence, or do you think 12/21/12  could it really mark the end of the world? Nah.