This morning, unceremoniously, unexpectedly and subsequent to an impromptu change of plans, I found myself in the Garden of Eden.
The heat had been getting to me for some reason, so it was a relief to not be attempting the hike that had seemed The Thing to Do. I was feeling a bit light-headed as we walked down out of the tropical forest and onto The Flats – the only horizontal and cleared area on this volcanic rock rising out of the Caribbean Sea. The path lead past two donkeys that looked too fuzzy to be comfortable. It occurred to me that they should trade places with Arthur, our Cross of Jerusalem donkey friend, undoubtedly now dreaming of more genetically suitable climes as he shivers in the frosty fields of Heartroot Farm. The same could soon be said for me, now that I think of it…. My body was created to thrive about 8⁰ south of here, not 30-odd degrees further north….Then again, one could argue on the basis of genetics that as humans we were all really created to live somewhere just north of Johannesburg….
There were no treats to offer, so with only words to console them, we left the donkeys to their air of sweet despondency – Eyore to the tips of their fuzzy ears: “Oh well, we didn’t really expect you to bring us anything. No one ever brings us anything…” The path next lead through the workshop space where it seemed all things broken on the island were brought to be made whole, and along a chicken-wire fence that proclaimed to the farmer in me that something edible was inside….. A small wooden gate stood ajar – we slipped through it into Paradise.
“Bananas, 5 varieties…” I had begun to read on a botanical identification plaque before a sprite of a young woman appeared and introduced herself, ”You come see Orchard! My name, Mi-Ting!” Each careful, nearly-unintelligible phrase was punctuated by a cheerful exclamation mark. “You wait! I find coconut!” She dashed off, leaving us under an immense tree, a benevolent presence shading a seating area at the centre of the garden.
Everything in this refuge radiated Love … There was an overwhelming density of joyous, chaotic, communal Life – of spontaneous, haphazard Beauty… It was perfect. I naturally began to cry… I felt a confused convergence of sorrow and elation as image-sensations rose to the edge of my awareness:
22a Laurence St., San Fernando, Trinidad: “Ma”, my grandmother, sits on the balcony, crying. She holds a photo of my father, dressed in 50s winter clothing, outside in the snow. “Sing Danny Boy”, she says to my uncle, the young man beside her…
Wind in bamboo – in coconut palms… Onions, growing beside a house in MacGregor, Manitoba… Gram Leary’s garden in The Valley.
Carmen, Manitoba, Canada: I sit beside his hospital bed, looking out at another prairie winter, as I sing Danny Boy for my father one last time….
Aching images flowed into each other of landscapes and vegetation in Costa Rica, Manitoba, Ireland, Scotland, Italy … Heartroot Farm…The Land.
These image-sensations were all somehow intertwined with the present perfect moment.
Mi Ting opened coconuts and cut up a papaya for us, wielding her machete with precision. A few raucous birds gathered in the overhanging branches, swooping down when they could to grab whatever food the careless humans were not protecting.
When we’d drunk the coconut water, Mi Ting sliced open the nuts and carved little spoons from them so we could scoop out the gelatinous innards, then took us on a tour of the orchard. We wandered past trees labelled as avocado, soursop, tangerine, grapefruit, papaya, carambole, breadfruit, breadnut, banana, coconut, jackfruit, ackee, mango, pineapple, golden apple, eggfruit, Key lime, lemon, guava …most of them laden with fruit, waiting to ripen. The larger trees had their own compost barrels right beside them, leeching nutrients from kitchen scraps straight into their root systems. Trees were planted in clusters – communities….. Hermit crabs and lizards scuttled about, sharing their space and food with the humans, butterflies and birds.
There isn’t that much organic farming in the Caribbean – this orchard was the creation of Dr. Liao Wei Ping, who has achieved legendary status here on Guana Island as somewhat of a renaissance man: ornithologist, gardener, poet, sculpor, he shaped the relationship between human and nature for the 25 years that he dwelt here, and for long into the future. The numerous hiking trails were carved out of the tropical forest by his own hands. We finished our tour in a cluster of some of his stone and wood sculptures … One of them looks like a child leaning on an elder; Mi Ting tells us with poignant candour that she thinks of it as herself leaning on Dr. Liao….
In the Orchard on Guana Island, human creativity is joyously expressed through and in cooperation with the Earth. There is a feeling here of celebration and cooperation – not the frustrated domination so common to gardeners, but rather Art as Life and Life as Art….
Mi Ting’s goodbye hug was as generous and genuine as the Orchard itself….
I left renewed…reborn.