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 230.

Weekends are for rivers and forests. I want Ziya to value the place within which she is growing, and all that it bequeaths, as part of learning to value herself and her identity. Getting out of walled buildings and urban spaces is important for emotional and mental health, and though Zi may wonder why I’m dragging her around the country, when she’d rather stay home and snack her way through the day and the cupboards, I know that familiarity with our landscape will define her self-understanding in ways that school cannot.

We were at Turure Falls, walking reverently through the river collecting natural crystals. There were no others tramping through the bush, just breeze and light. Then, we came to the rockface where water cascades into pools. There, scrawled across the entire rock were the names of men who thought it was right to scar a natural setting, an hour’s hike away from civilization. Their names were everywhere, chiseled deep, like the defacing of a cathedral.

This happens because the state has no regulatory mechanisms for monitoring who goes into our forests and what they do while there, no records of names, no permits, no penalties, and no real conception of protection of our natural resources. That is a fact,  discernable whichever coast one is on in the country. We collected a bag of garbage on our way out, and there was more we left behind.

What did Zi learn from this? She could look around her and see for herself why the environment needs protection. She could read the details of how governments fail. She could be confronted with how quickly pristine spaces can be destroyed, and therefore the urgency with which her generation must act to change everything from education to policies.

We were in Caroni Swamp yesterday, impressed with the incoming flocks of scarlet ibis, which are truly wondrous to see, along with all the other wildlife, from boas to silky anteaters to a range of birds, from cardinals to herons, egrets, owls and more. But, from the dilapidated entrance sign to the badly kept Visitors’ Centre, what was clearly a site for preservation for seven generations, was suffering from sheer neglect of adequate ecological consciousness and government oversight.

For one, the boats of the tour operators should not produce so much noise or gas fumes. On a boat with about forty persons, at $60 per person, and at least three boats out simultaneously, the main tour operator is making enough to invest in ecologically friendly engines, and those managing the site should insist on them. No wonder the guide said that all the human activity has driven most wildlife to inaccessible sections of the swamp, boatloads of people go in every single evening. There isn’t a day when the Swamp is closed to visitors to allow the animals some respite from the noise, and wardens for the swamp should engage in regular cleaning up of the garbage that hangs from mangrove roots like shed snakeskin. Sitting quietly watching the flocks come in for the evening, I wondered how many of those 18 000 birds will still be there in twenty years, and whose responsibility will it be if they are not. Ours, right? So, I told Zi. Mine, hers and our responsibility.

All along the North Coast, there is garbage, mostly plastic bottles, but also wrappers of all kinds. Along Icacos, there’s a photographic exhibit worth of garbage. Maracas’ ‘upgrade’, seems to have forgotten that a river exists behind the beach, and that this too, not just the range of fish you can fry, is a sign of ecological diversity. Can you imagine if there was a children’s education centre at Maracas? Children could run through, in their sandy feet, while learning about rivers, forests, watersheds, and all the wildlife, from caiman to sharks, that deserve protection from endangerment. Until then, in horror at the ‘development’ of Maracas beach, Zi and I only drive through.

Lloyd Best once said to me, to understand Trinidad and Tobago and what it needs, just walk around with your eyes open. So true. Weekends are therefore for teaching Zi that observing her precious world is what she must first learn to do.