Friday, December 12, 2008

On the edge of Cockpit Country

Just returned from three days on the edge of Cockpit Country. This is real country, not fake country like, say, Ocho Rios. It had rained so much in November that what used to be the sinks between the rolling hills were now lakes. Every day it rained, the people there told us, from ten in the morning to three in the afternoon. Every day. And look, they said, even though the water is falling now, the land looks burned. The land has been here forever, I said. It will survive a wetting.

So for these particular days, the landscape was somewhat foreign- Jamaica not being given to lakes - but in other ways it was all Jamaica - the blue-green of the poincianas, with their acid-green new-leaf tops, the massive guangos with mossy beards and spiky bromeliads, and the stony, muddy, reddish paths - red with the bauxite that might very well doom this part of the world - and the quarrelsome jabbering crows. I asked an ornithologist friend how long jabbering crows had been in Jamaica - she said, millenia. Figures. Should be our national bird...

(There's a rumour in Jamaica that our other crow - the John Crow - is disappearing. The story goes like this - there is an old disused silo somewhere in the country with a dead body - a human, of course - at the bottom. The John Crows fly into the silo for the decomposing flesh, but then cannot spiral out again. Then they die and other crows come to feed on their flesh...and that's why there are fewer and fewer John Crows. I can put this remour to rest. There are many John Crows in Cockpit Country - you seem them in the morning on the guangos, holding their wings out to dry...)

I'm thinking about the nights now, because I'm back in Kingston, and it's dusk, and I'm smelling fires and diesel and I'm hearing the whine of trucks. In Cockpit Country, the night belonged to frogs and owls and unseen creatures, rustling, as they went about their business. The moon was full, the night sky was pale grey and in all that light, hardly any stars were visible. Gound mist drifted over the land and I waited for the duppies; surely even they would be heard, there, in all that silence.

I was comfortable in a house, but there, right there, not one minute's walk away, was the real Jamaican bush, the forest, the chalky green river, swollen with the rain, and the men in the morning, walking to work in water boots, swinging their machetes at the tall grass, saying mawnin. I ate an orange, ripened on the tree, warm from the sun and the juice dripped down my chin. In Kingston, we do not have such oranges. Even the cowboy pineapples, usually white and acid, fit only for the buffets of all inclusive hotels, even the cowboy pines from that rich red soil were sweet.

Best of all, there were no newspapers, no TV. I took three books with me, but I did not read them. In such a place, you get to keep your own company.

Somewhere close now, a sound system is tuning up. In Kingston, that's who the night belongs to...

1 comment:

Diana McCaulay said...

My ornithologist friend tells me that it is the male jabbering crows that do the quarreling. The females go about their business, raising the pickney, cawing every now and then. Is that a candidate for national bird, or WHAT??