Post 227.

Only five years old, and not quite brave, my sapodilla, Ziya, has begun walking forest trails, as Amerindian folk once did, later followed by Africans escaping the fate of plantation enslaved, then by Indians and panyols working on cocoa estates.

These are just beginnings, which have so far taken her to Avocat waterfall, Paria waterfall, Carmelita waterfall, Turure waterfall, Matelot waterfall and Rio Seco waterfall.  Some paths have been difficult, like the slippery descent down the hill in Matelot or the muddy circuitous route into the forest from Salibya.

All have required her to learn to quiet her spirit and focus on the next step. All have shown her exactly how tree roots hold whole hillsides together, as we use them for balance around curves and inclines. She can see how rain pools between theses roots, understanding then, as her shoes sink into the muddy forest floor, how such ecoystems stop topsoil from washing away.

Reaching the waterfalls themselves is to come upon cathedrals built over thousands of years. The water rushing down has been circulating the earth since before the mass extinction of dinosaurs, and has been flowing in those rivers for millennia.

To realize we have inherited an island paradise like this, where waterfalls spring throughout the Northern range as well as in Tobago, and that many generations of one people or another have stood right on these river rocks, swam in just these cascading crystals, and observed both their science and their spirit, feels huge and historical and humbling.

There is all this that is ours, like a right, except that it’s not a right of ours, but a right of nature. Ecuador was the first country to recognize the “rights of nature” in its constitution. Bolivia has initiated the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. World leaders formally signed the Convention of the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature in December 2015 in Paris.

In this emerging global governance framework, organizations and communities can take legal action against states and corporations in defense against destruction of our oceans and forests, water, soil, seeds and air.  Indigenous people are leading the way, as they continue to push back against a contemporary economy that relies on profits from resource consumption and depletion, and is now destroying life everywhere.

There is zero reason to wait for everything to fall apart to begin to properly protect the only sources of fresh water, fragile biodiversity, and freely bequeathed beauty that will sustain us for generations to come. With declining returns from oil and gas, which will continue to decline in net value when we factor in increasing environmental costs and the coming efficiency of renewable energy sources, nature is ever more precious.

Vandana Shiva, globally-renowed Indian scientist, started her ecological journey as a child following her parents in the Himalayas. “Everything I need to know I learned in the forest”, she says, “Today, at a time of multiple crises, we need to move away from thinking of nature as dead matter to valuing her biodiversity, clean water, and seeds. For this, nature herself is the best teacher”.

While she walks, Ziya’s learns other lessons. Those who also walk these trails leave every imaginable form of garbage along the way, stuffing juice boxes in tree stumps amidst moss and mushrooms, leaving Styrofoam boxes floating amongst rivers’ fishes.

Dozens of hiking businesses wretchedly fail to collectively keep clean the very trails from which they earn incomes. Zi clambered her way right to Turure’s rockface only to see it wholly defaced by graffiti, with names like scars showing violence without shame. Forestry Division exercises no real role or power here, so whole piles of garbage are dumped or left, and not one soul seems to care.

What does this teach about us as individuals, and about the state’s long-term public message, infrastructure and plan regarding waste management and nature? As Native American, Chief Seattle long warned, what befalls the Earth, befalls the children of the Earth. “Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints” are his words. As we leave, I wonder if there is enough will to ensure a future where Zi walks untainted trails with her own five year old.

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Post 152.

Zi and Titanus Giganteus

In my mother’s era, even girls could roam their neighborhood unsupervised, playing with children, visiting neighbors and collecting assorted species of fish, frog and fauna in ravines or nearby streams.

The majority of children of Ziya’s generation will never have that experience. We adults have almost irreversibly polluted many of the rivers near our homes with garbage and poison. It’s risky for any mother to allow her young daughter to wander freely. Living at odds with our environment and each other is a cost that will be borne by those now being born.

I try to make up for that generational loss by taking Zi to clean streams or empty stretches of beach as often as I can. I avoid Maracas, and dream that the $78 million planned upgrade includes rehabilitation of the river’s ecosystem. Anything is possible with a vision, and we are responsible for protecting mangroves, coasts and fresh watercourses for our children.

Teaching Zi that girls can be explorers, not just the “princess-mermaids” that she and her school friends pretend to be, we study tadpoles in various stages of growth, assess the shape and colour of shells, rocks and plant life, and look for fish and crabs. Mostly, I’m hoping that her trips to Yara River, Avocat waterfall or Balandra enable her to become the kind of woman who is curious about and committed to the earth, wildlife and science.

I don’t want her to be afraid. I want her to be aware of what roles bats, lizards, bees, bachacs and snakes play, and why they have a right to be here. I want her to be willing to hold grasshoppers in her hand, catch little crabs without harming them, and carefully dissect unfamiliar dead insects.

This weekend, we showed Zi a dead Titanus Giganteus beetle caught in the backyard. Even lifeless, it is intimidating, and I had no plans to hold it in my hand. To Stone’s horror (I mean it, I saw him sway on his feet with herculean effort to appear nonchalant) and to my own surprise, Zi nimbly picked it up like she was selecting a cupcake from a tray. The body was bigger than her hand, and the legs and antennae dangled for inches. Girl didn’t flinch. I was impressed. It was one of those mummy moments when your child surpasses you, does something that you’d been teaching her to do, and just so shows you how it is done.

It seems irrelevant, but children, especially girls, are taught so much fear. We parent through fear. We teach girls to fear strangers and especially men. We teach them to fear their bodies and their sexuality. We teach them to fear being seen as too powerful or too dominant or too unstoppable or too feminist. We teach them to fear the wild, the dark and being outside alone.

Resisting this, I want Zi to learn everyday fearlessness, like Jane Goodall who went out into the forest and sat with gorillas for hours by herself, like my youngest sister Giselle who handles cobras with skill and due respect, like my women friends who are not intimidated by local tarantulas or by surfing the deep ocean. I want her to fear everything less than I do, to show me her nurtured instinct for a braver world.

Curiosity, courage and connection with the planet don’t seem like skills that girls most need, but they translate to confidently asking questions of the status quo, valuing widespread freedom and diversity, understanding how to contribute to a bigger ecology, and bringing fearlessness to whatever vision Zi decides should succeed.