Written by: KRISTINE SIMELDA
Over twenty years ago, I left the security of friends, family, and gainful employment back in the States and took a chance on a beautifully wild Caribbean island. But where exactly should I first hang my hat on the rugged volcanic rock of Dominica? My half-frozen, middle-aged body cried out for sun while my stressed-out soul longed for comfort, so I settled on the coast and got myself an island beau.
Living in my breezy little cottage beside the sea, I suspected I had died and gone to heaven. Time, which had previously been so precious to me, lost all significance as I was lulled into a sort of tropical trance. Day after identical day, I watched big seabirds soar in the puffy white clouds that floated lazily over the sparkling blue water. Occasionally a ship would appear on the horizon. Sometimes pods of playful dolphins would leap in its wake. But beyond that, drama was pleasantly scarce. While enjoying yet another glorious sunset with yet another rum punch in hand, I didn’t have to be coaxed to skip dinner and hop straight into bed. Never mind that I hadn’t accomplished much during the daylight hours. I was in love!
These days, I live alone on five acres in the mountains on the edge of the rainforest. Well, not exactly alone – large dogs and a lot of other critters, domestic and wild, share my space. When people ask me if I’m afraid to dwell in such a remote location (two and a half miles off the main road and way the hell back in the bush), I just laugh. Despite the reoccurring the nightmares that I endured while inhabiting a coastal village, I haven’t locked a door or a window in fifteen years!
Conditions here at River Ridge are very different from the seacoast. Unlike the hot, dry leeward side of the island, it’s cooler in the interior and there are two distinct seasons: a long rainy period which usually lasts from June until February, and then there’s a shorter dry spell called kawenm in Creole Patois. Of course, the rain can get monotonous (250 inches a year!) but for me, this is the perfect place to do the two things I like best: write and grow things.
During the wet season, I settle in and get serious about being an author. True, electronic equipment frequently revolts due to the high humidity and I often have to wait for my eyeglasses to defog before I can start typing, but I never run short of things to write about here in the rainforest. Mother Nature runs absolutely rampant, fauna and flora go into overdrive, and I go positively overboard with all the adjectives and adverbs in my bag to describe the astounding details.
Dozens of blue-black swifts suddenly appear out of nowhere to chase invisible insects through the gleaming silver drizzle. Sweet guinea pig-like creatures called agouti dash madly about on the forest floor gathering fallen seeds. Like red dots on an artist’s canvas, the crimson blossoms of African tulip tress punctuate the verdant mountains slopes, which literally glow in a thousand shades of green, while a double rainbow arcs over the entire paradisiacal scene.
Get the picture? I can’t help myself.
But when thunder rolls across the valley like giant bowling balls, and lightning cracks so sharp and loud that the dogs start to howl, and the river reaches an all-time high crescendo, there’s nothing to do but shut down the computer and wait.
The moment the dry season arrives, I head for the garden. Crops that are drowned out at other times of year thrive during the brilliant days and and clear nights. Drenched by early morning dew and pampered with copious rabbit and chicken manure, fruits and vegetables grow to enormous sizes. As my mother said on her last visit, “Well, dear, at least I don’t have to worry about your starving to death.”
Yet beyond the fact that there’s plenty of fresh water to drink and good food to eat here at River Ridge, there’s also a sense of peacefulness – there’s a feeling of being at home. As I lay in my hammock on a crystal night and watch the stars and the planets roll across the sky untroubled by noise or light pollution, I realize that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.
It’s funny how some things never change. All these years later, I’m still in madly love… with the island, if not the man.