Post 293.

On dewy mornings, my mother’s white car slowly crept under the Poui trees. They were mostly lilac and pink, but sometimes yellow. I lay on the backseat on a pillow listening to 1950s music, and looking up at the endless blue sky out of the back windows. I was eight years old, and the traffic from St. Augustine to Port of Spain meant being guided for a little way by the soft colours and even softer petals carpeting the hollowed grass between north- and south-bound lanes.

Along the highway, the Pouis towered like hallowed deities surely no one would put God out of their thoughts to desecrate. Thousands of people passed them each day, twice, their wearied spirits lifted by the flagrant flounce of such exuberant blush and dry season bloom.

Those trees were a backdrop to my childhood. I knew their scalloped, slender bark, and their branches reaching like a breath of fresh air, like oxygen for bodies and minds slumped and dying in daily exhaustion, tension and car fumes.

The resilient green of the Northern Range filled the landscape on the right, Kay Donna slowly inched closer and then past on the left. Poui trees lined the middle, reliably beautiful like ladies bejeweled in yellow afternoon light, or like the sweetness of being serenaded by your beloved on lavender-hued evenings of patient, gentle courtship.

I don’t know if the past gifted you these memories, but that’s all they are now. The Pouis are gone, the gutted scars in the ground where they once stood tell a story of loss of the sacred for the generations for whom these trees were as close as family, a rare thing in a country which finds common solace in concrete.

It’s the same neglected promise of care that lets Port of Spain’s most beautiful buildings collapse under the weight of modern ambitions, and abandonment of beauty as a public good. It’s the same disregard that would have Pres-T-Con replace iconic iron bridges with slabs that stubbornly block the pleasure of looking at the rivers as families drive over, as if nothing matters in the entire surrounding ecosystem but the authority of soulless engineering.

It’s the same disinvestment in a higher good that meant Maracas is somehow uglier, the view of the sea shortsightedly blocked from those passing the beach, and the mangroves abandoned like cheap trash rather than rehabilitated with science displays for children to run through with sandy feet, and a small boat tour that can explain why trees are more sacred than contractors’ profits.

The Pouis, torn from the ground for a planned interchange, feel like any one of us is dispensable, without mercy, nostalgia or tears. In the normal, crushing march of progress, it’s just a matter of when your time comes. And, when it does, will anyone care?

Did you ever bring us beauty? Did your soft petal fingers gently stroke thousands of heavy hearts trying to get through a hard day? Did we know you like we know our own childhoods as you stood by, pink, lilac and sometimes yellow, for decades?

A whole generation of little children will never share these memories. Maybe it’s better they will neither understand or care what they’ve lost. It’s unlikely any Pouis will ever be planted again along our highways unless their planting was budgeted in the interchange’s plans. That aesthetic is for long-time, like an old Hunter Hillman car which today would feel quaint and obsolete, or like a teacher riding a bicycle to school in the cool, early dew.

I don’t know when I reached the age when nostalgia aches in your chest, but I now know how it feels. Perhaps, thousands of others also look at the emptiness left, unprepared for the turn of time from colour to black and white. Once, I could renew my childhood memories of lying in the backseat of my mother’s white car every morning, connect to a small self that once looked up at the sky.

Those moments were already in the past, and the Poui trees were all that was left. Now, when I look, I still see them, like mourning ghosts, though there’s nothing there, but my own soft grieving.

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Entry 174.

When I woke up this morning, I didn’t expect so much had changed overnight, while you were feting, sleeping or hoping for the explosion of far-too-many fireworks to be over.

With Section 34-esque timing and secrecy, a technically sound, politically unfettered cross-ministry team initiated a well-funded, national recycling programme. For what kind of small islands government shrugs at the unregulated garbage filling fields, forests, drains, rivers and coasts, has no mass education programme on waste reduction, and can’t yet stem the rising tide of disposed plastic everything?

No more will garbage be collected by just anyone with an extra truck, Hilux or party contact, and then dumped, well, anywhere. From today, a package of farsighted regulations, services, incentives and information will make us all grow up and stop selfishly leaving our children’s grandchildren to decry our thoughtlessness about what we buy and how much toxicity we put out at our gate.

Indeed, Blue Waters now lets you return all your empty bottles. Massy Stores and other groceries have stopped wrapping every sweet potato, beetroot and cabbage in plastic and Styrofoam, and customers will give you cold cut-eye for not re-using plastic and cloth bags.

This year’s Entrepreneur of the Year won’t be the guy who excelled at taking over-priced all-inclusives on the road, but the citizen whose big idea generated the least garbage or the company whose accounts show financial responsibility for the waste created by their products, rather than relying on us to subsidize their books to public disadvantage.

As you read, Poui trees are being replanted along every possible by-way and highway, for the happiness-seeking souls in the Ministry of Transport remembered how those dry season flowers lifted the spirits of those stuck in traffic, carrying home road rage, or without air-conditioning.

Ordinary civil servants’ concerns about the desperate need for more shade for those walking, timely, safe and sufficient public transportation for those traveling, bicycle options for day and night in cities and towns, and green interventions to urbanization were, late last night, finally understood by Cabinet to be about widespread quality of life, not environmental elitism.

Similar intentions blossomed in the Forestry Division, whose 2015 motto is ‘Forestry Multiplication’ and whose radical target is to prevent hillsides from being illegally quarried or clear-cut and, finally, washed away as a flood of mud.

So inspired were those in the Ministry of Planning that they immediately scrapped as many metres of concrete as they could from the popularly-distrusted ‘development’ plans for Invader’s Bay, instead prioritizing mangroves, indigenous trees, biodiversity, and low impact, low-cost fun for citizens, particularly children from our poorest communities. Their new piece-de-resistance is a Minshall-dreamt Red Square of 144 flamboyant trees, more alive, more revolutionary and more sustainable than any paved-over Russian equivalent, showing an ability to apply our Carnival mastery to making “living works of art”.

For once, this election year, recycling will not just occur within and among political parties while, from education to economic inequality to national budgeting to our health system, candidates fall far short of “powerful, liberatory ideas that raise our pores and imagination”, to quote my bredren columnist Colin Robinson.

I woke up this morning amazed to be suddenly beyond our non-functioning state institutions, corrupt elites, short-term hopes, acceptance of violence, unequal rights, excess in the name of culture, and reluctance to measure our individual worth beyond a box of dead. Overnight, truthful leadership became accountable, and civic organizing appeared collective, fearless and committed to our own power and care.

If this was true, and it can be, this would be a genuinely new day to a new year.