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?

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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. 

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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HERE IN THE RAINFOREST, 2010

February 17, 2010

Will the party ever end? Close on the heels of the celebration of Christmas, New Years, and a special holiday to celebrate the victory of the Dominican Labour Party, this year’s Carnival has come and gone. And despite the languishing state of the economy, it was a good one.

Initially there was much talk about changing the date of  Real Mas because there might not be enough time to for calypsonians to prepare their material after the election. Never fear! Corruption, lack of transparency, bribery, and general bobol  provided a wealth of material for the songsters. It’s interesting; people down here generally tend to take what they get without much thought of revolution or rebellion. Calypsos, however, provide a traditional, entertaining way for the populace to express social protest without getting into too much trouble. During Carnival, lawless lawyers, embarrassing ambassadors, and dishonest politicians have no choice but to take their verbal blows.  Through the popular language of Calypso, important issues are addressed, names are called, and judgments are pronounced all in the disguise of fun. Even those who voted for Labour found themselves jumping up to catchy tunes like “Looking for their Pocket,” “In de Garbage Bin,Dr. Finger,” and “He’s a Boy.”

But eventually Fat Monday’s joy dissolves into Ash Wednesday’s hangover. And trust me: a good portion of Dominicans are suffering from the kind of brain damage which results from drinking too much rum in close proximity to the loud speakers of the Carnival band. I suppose that’s why the Catholic Church created Lent. Those that misbehaved will have to behave  themselves, at least until the next scheduled official holiday, Easter Monday.

Oct 13, 2010

Today is my birthday. Last year a great dog died and a twelve- year human relationship came to an end. Sad, but not disabling.  Indeed, life goes on. The question now becomes how to pursue one’s passion without falling in the trap of reinventing past memories. Hmm. Should I buy a new car? Install solar electricity? Have more puppies? Get a new boyfriend? The first two items were accomplished with the help of a loan from the good old U.S. Bank, my Ridgeback dogs were more than happy to help me out with number three, but I think I’ll pass on number four for the time being.

As I get older, I sometimes reflect on  what caused me to decide to live in such an innocuous corner of the world in the first place. Was it my choice or my destiny to leave the green fields of Ohio in order to migrate to the Caribbean to watch the full moon sink into an electric blue sea? Was I born to worship the magnificence of the tropical rainforest and the rush of the crystal clear river instead of the movie stars and sports heroes of my own culture? Is early morning birdsong truly more inspirational than rock music on the radio? Is it possible that swirling schools of tropical fish and leaping dolphins are more entertaining than anything I’ve ever seen on TV? Could there be more beauty in the sinuous curve and subtle shading of a double rainbow than in the most famous piece of architecture or art?

There is a word in Sanskrit: Antevasin. It refers to a person who lives on the edge; one who leaves the hustle of the worldly life behind in order to seek spiritual guidance in a natural setting.  Perhaps that’s what I’ve been doing here in Dominica for the past eighteen years. What will eventually become of an oddball like me? I will leave the books I’ve written behind, and then, like everybody else, I’ll rise into the air or sink into the sea or settle into the dust to nourish those who come behind me.

December 21, 2010

Did you see it?  The total eclipse of the full moon? No matter how many times I study the scientific explanation for this phenomenon, the information passes through my brain like a sieve. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not interested. Why else would someone rise at three o’clock in the morning on the Winter’s Solstice?  As I stumbled from my bed out onto the veranda, the full moon was fully shadowed and glowing a rich copper umber. Crickets and frogs had ceased their nightly chorus, but the air was extra-sweet with the scent of honey suckle and jasmine. I thought about those who had to bundle up and brave the cold to view this magical event. Barefooted, I settled into a wicker chaise with a cup of homegrown coffee and my binoculars wearing only cotton pajamas, lucky me.

Although I had missed the waning part of the eclipse, I witnessed the entire restitution. As the sun and the full moon and the earth did their once in every 372nd shortest day of the year tango, a multitude of stars blazed in the clear, darkened sky. The Big Dipper pointed resolutely to the North Star, which strangely is much more visible here than it is up north.  The gigantic constellation Orion lifted his arms in salute. The “Star of Wonder” twinkled brightly, still westward leading. All the while a meteor shower called Ursid performed luminous miracles.

As for the moon itself, it was perfect: Perfectly dark, perfectly light, perfectly round, perfectly beautiful. It shone with such silvery intensity as the shadow slowly receded that it was impossible to imagine the Universe had plans for anything but a bright and positive future. Yet there are those who believe in the negative–that the world as we know it will end on the Solstice, December 21, 2012. All I can say is that I’m grateful it wasn’t tonight.