The website instructions were to meet at Brighton Farmers’ Market, and the taxi driver slalomed over crumbling tarmac and parked on an open grassy slope in the mid-afternoon sun. One rule, said the hike leader, don’t lose sight of the people in front, and off he stepped. Within minutes the hundred or so people were strung out. We had wondered about the distance, but it would indeed be 12 miles in 3 hours. We walked along field boundaries and up farm tracks, people clothed in orange and green bright against the black soils of harvested fields. Here we could see for many miles to the distant cobalt ocean, white horses smudged in racing lines.
Then we come to shivering cane awaiting harvest, and the land closed in as we walked along tall green and yellow avenues, hushed by the constant rustle. We were glad to have extra bottles of water, and soon the rucksack was lighter. At the top of an escarpment, three sides of the island were in view, dotted settlements with the original churches of the 1820s, schools about to reopen after the holidays. We passed carefully maintained cricket grounds, boundary ropes rotting yet laid out to separate the playing area from surrounding weeds. At one Jacobean farmhouse, the garden was swathed with trees and flowers, and sprinklers watered the lawn. Polo ponies grazed by a long shed housing chicks by the several thousand, the sides open to the cooling breeze.
We walked up deep gullies where endemic vegetation survives on thin soils over the coral, sunlight streaming into the glades of old trees and climbing vines. Near settlements were piles of rubbish. Many houses had yapping dogs in yards, incessant and angry as we passed. People sat on verandas and in their front yards, watching the line of walkers pass. At rum shops came the sound of dominos slapped on tables, and a group of bare-footed boys played football on a road. As dusk came, Venus became bright to the west above dark horizon clouds and a purple sky. Above us, bats wreaked their terrible harvest, flitting, jinking, in one place and then with a blink appearing at another. We came back along the shadowed lanes fringed with dark cane, past the sugar factory closed by changes to EU sugar import regimes, and returned to the west coast, where casuarinas and palms fringe the shore. It seemed like a space station, untouched by the workings of the inner island. Yet one place up the coast will close this month, and 500 jobs will be lost. The global economy reaches far.
The next morning there seemed no change to the local weather, yet great rollers thrashed the sands. A distant storm system had sent a deep swell, and now fishing boats bobbed vigorously, and people stood on the beach and wondered whether to try the waves. A single manchineel tree at the sands houses many thousands of carib grackles each night, sleek black birds with yellow eyes. They and the finches are clever opportunists, swooping to tables and plates, darting in for any food or drink momentarily abandoned. I see a finch pull a straw from a glass, flip it away, and then dip inside to sip at the cocktail remains. On the north shore, there are many swallows on their way north for spring and summer.
In the garden are a dozen frangipani trees, each with flowers of different scent. Each night, they fall to the clipped grass below, scattering white and red and hybrid pink, and filling the air again with perfume. Frogs hoot in the darkness, and waves still crump on the shore.