Saturday, August 16, 2014

Good day, Dominica!

Dominica's west coast toward Roseau, view from Scott's Head

Hello there! Welcome to Dominica (Wai'tukubuli), the "nature isle of the Caribbean!" This 290 square mile island in the West Indies is to be my home for the next few months, as long as all goes according to plan. Tall is her [beautiful] body.

I just ended my two-week stay at Gaiadid Gardens, wwoofing with my host, Frankie Jane and her family. I began my Watson year at this farm, and am very happy to have done so. For now, I’m beginning at my next place, the St James Guesthouse in Roseau, and am happily reflecting on the journey so far. From here I plan to work with the Botanic Gardens and Roseau Library and see what opportunities I can seize along the way.

steps in the path at Gaiadid Gardens
My last night at Gaiadid Gardens was spent hanging out with the family, listening to music and settling in after a long, adventuresome day visiting Scott’s Head, Roseau, and Trafalgar Falls. The tropical sun set red, implying fine weather for today (which turned out to be true). It rains nearly every day in occasional bursts of downpour. These would catch us when we were out planting new starts of kale, green beans, and cabbage; harvesting dasheen or tania root, or tending to the bounteous banana trees. Sometimes in these rain spells we’d head back down to the Domes (two adjoined geodesic domes that house the kitchen, living, and sleeping spaces) or simply take shelter under the long, wide banana leaves. Often, we’d simply work through the rain, letting it wash off our sweat and bring out our laughs. Spell is such a good word for such weather--with its implications of magic and lettering. Storms have thunderous speaking voices, and tremendous range.
Negre Mawon and one of the farm's three mountain streams

Gaiadid Gardens is right in the center of the island of Dominica, in the village of Belles, located near the Central Forest Reserve. It is directly at the base of the mountain, Negre Mawon, where Maroons, escaping slavery, lived and hid out as they avoided or fought the British in the 17th and 18th centuries. The boys took me up the mountain one sunnier day, and I’d never climbed anything steeper or slipperier. We scrambled up only by the grace of the buttress roots stretching outward and upward from the spirit-wood and gum trees forming the canopy, as well as the black mangroves, which the boys called “bow trees” because their roots could be cut and used to make toy bows. At the top as we ascended through curtains of aptly named razor grass onto the narrow ridge of the summit, and I taught the boys to shout Lha Gheylol! 

eastern view from atop Negre Mawon toward Castle Bruce and the Atlantic

swinging on lianas
On the way down from this 2,145 foot mountain, the boys used their cutlasses to sever long liana vines from where they rooted in the ground, leaving them to swing free over the rainforest slope. I was nervous, but these vines were strong, and we swung on them. Whee!

the upper house
the Domes, powerhouse, and banana trees

The farm itself is 26 acres. It is set far up and away from the winding road that crisscrosses the island from the airport in Marigot to Roseau (Town). Three mountain streams run through the gardens, clear and clean enough to drink straight off the hillside. I do so in great gulps. The orchards range from watercress patches to fields of bananas and cacao trees, beds of flowers and greens, sugar cane, dasheen, peach palms, and the tall coconut trees who drop their wonderful, versatile fruits down to us. Many other delicious foods grow here, and so does the friendly family and their visitors. My hosts--now friends--(who are very selective of their online presence and asked me not to post names or photos of their faces) are very experienced world travelers themselves, living in places as far flung as Vanuatu, Panama, Mexico, and more over the past twenty years.

At Gaiadid Gardens I ate local and vegan. Nearly all the food comes right from the farm.  I stayed in a tent under the upper house, and remained nice and dry except for one time when Tropical Storm Bertha blew through and knocked the tent down while I was upstairs making jewelry with some of the girls. We gathered up everything amid the wind and rain, and all slept soundly inside the house with the hatches battened down over the windows. I’m feeling exhilarated and healthy. I’m even developing a real tan!

It is a rare treat to find a place where one can feel so immediately welcome and included. I feel like I have made real friends, and they’ve encouraged me to come back and visit anytime during my stay in Dominica, which I am certain I will do. I am truly lucky to have begun my adventure this way. You could call it synchronicity, serendipity--it is definitely a strong start. Fifty weeks more doesn’t actually seem like that much, and so I’m trying to make each day full.

pineapple ready to be picked!
My days at Gaiadid Gardens typically began with a breakfast of raw ripe yellow or cooked green bananas, and a smoothie of blended pineapple and turmeric. Once full and weather permitting, we would spend a few hours in the gardens weeding or planting or harvesting. If the weather was too rainy we would work inside the Domes preparing dehydrated bananas, or helping to roast, winnow, grind and temper handcrafted chocolate bars! Then comes lunch: usually a salad and some type of “provision” such as dasheen, green bananas, breadfruit, or tania. This is followed by either a little more work in the gardens, or playing with the kids, reading and writing.

The family has lent me a number of books, such as Spell of the Sensuous by David Abrams, the Secret Teachings of Plants, and Ensouling Language by Stephen Harrod Buhner. I also got to immerse myself in The Gift - a collection of poems of Hafiz, and a copy of the Tao Te Ching. I was amazed the first night reading Spell of the Sensuous that Abrams was also a Watson Fellow! I wonder if I will really write a book of my own about what I learn this year. I hope to!

strawberry guavas

I've been doing a fair amount of my own poetry and writing, plus daily journaling, and long conversations with the family about their motivations, and their ideas about culture and nature. It’s been wonderful to connect with them and disconnect from internet and other influences for the past few weeks.

My host, Frankie Jane, did take me to Town a few times. One trip was for errands like money exchange, getting a phone, and checking email, and the second time for a day of the Nature Island Literary Festival. She showed me around the main area of Town, from the market and ferry terminal to some good restaurants and up to the Botanic Gardens and University of the West Indies campus, where the Literary Festival was held.

The Literary Festival was a little unpredictable, but was very interesting. I got to meet a few writers and thinkers, and was lucky enough to get contact information for many of them. I hope to engage with them and those they know more in the future. I’ve got a good feeling about it.

atop Scott's Head; below is the lagoon where we snorkeled
On another wonderful day we took a trip to the southern tip of the island at Scott's Head, where we sunbathed and snorkeled in the Marine Reserve. I could have spent all day swimming on this reef that extended out from the narrow beach for a shallow portion a few hundred feet long, then dropped off to hundreds of feet down into ethereal sun-streaked blue. I was happy to see a diversity of corals, sponges, fish, and invertebrates, many of which I had learned about at Southwater Cay in Belize, especially a seemingly strong population of Diadema sea urchins which help keep the algae levels down on the reef. What a good sign!

Trafalgar Falls
On the same day trip we visited Trafalgar Falls, where two rivers meet to form the Mama and Papa falls, forming turbulent white columns in the near vertical forest. I was surprised by how quiet the falls were, despite their great volume and height. The names of mama and papa reminded me of the Mo Chu and Po Chu rivers that meet in Punakha in Bhutan. It makes me really happy to find these moments of connection in such seemingly separate parts of the world and my own experiences. 

Only a minute's walk down from the falls is a hot sulfur stream, where we soaked in the warm mild-smelling pools. The different textures of the sulfur deposits on the volcanic river stones were what amazed me the most here, from sandpaper-y smooth coatings to sharp flaky chips, like cracking paint. There is so much to notice, and the slower pace of life here is encouraging me to really look.

sulfur pools for soaking and swimming

I’ll be in more regular internet access over the next month or so, and I should be able to post a little more frequently. I am sending you much love and hope that things are going well your way. Please write to me if you feel inclined!

Much tropical love and sunshine,

local Roku, used as food, body-paint, and dye


  1. Wow it is sooo beautiful there! You have had so many amazing experiences already in just a few short weeks :)

  2. What an incredibly stunning place, that incredible view in the first photo, all of that greenery! Thanks so much for sharing these gorgeous photos.

  3. Hi there

    Can you only get in contact with Gaiadid Gardens through Woofing? :)

  4. Merry Christmas,
    You are so interesting! I don't believe I've truly read through anything like that before. So wonderful to discover another person with a few unique thoughts on this issue. Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up. This website is something that is required on the internet, someone with a bit of originality! If you want to read Christmas Speech For School you have to see the link
    Thank you,

  5. Hi,
    The very next time I read a blog, I hope that it does not disappoint me as much as this particular one.Happy New Year Messages I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I truly thought you would probably have something useful to say. All I hear is a bunch of crying about something that you could possibly fix if you were not too busy searching for attention.


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