Tuesday, March 22, 2011


If you read my last blog you know how fond i've become of coconut palms, so when I saw this palm root wound up in a plastic bottled I had to laugh. But it was an ironic half sad laugh. There was plastic everywhere on the beaches of Little Corn Island. This island we ran off to to escape the world, had the world washing up on it's door step everyday.

I only then found out that Caribbean cruise lines can dump their garbage in the open ocean. And anything that floats is a gift to the beaches so popular with tourists, like us.

And that there is also a plastic island, by some estimates the size of the U.S., another amusingly sad irony, that floats in the Pacific Ocean.

I have a collagist eye for garbage. I used to collect it excessively when I had a studio. I see stories in lost things. Like this forlorn ball.

Little Corn Island is a poor island; they don't have recycle bins, or even garbage men or a dump. From the smell of it on somedays I imagine all they can do with non-organic garbage is burn it. And with the thousands of tourists generating garbage on the island over the years you can see the mounting problem. Where we stayed the water was fine to drink we never had to buy a plastic bottle of anything. Okay, we had a coke once. I was flummoxed as I searched for a recycle bin. It was another sad irony to a North Westerner who is so habituated to recycling everything that I couldn't even find a garbage can. Some one on the island who calls her business Little Corn Island Trashures has found one way to mine the beaches tide lines for profit but sorely it did little to slow the daily onslaught of plastic.

Some islanders are very concerned about the build up of garbage spoiling their home and livelihood. Some beaches especially in front of the busier encampments are cleaned of trash. Unfortunately that leaves the large wild beaches covered with plastic along with the more natural debris, which I guess is the nature of a beach anyway. I have been grateful since my return for the urban industrial complex that sucks up all the plastic I buy and reuses it. Still I'm really thinking about plastic since I came back. How much I buy and reuse and recycle, and throw away.

I hope you will, too.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


As a writer I am always looking for something to write about. Something unique, extraordinary, important. I often overlook the obvious and ubiquitous.

When Michael and I arrived on Little Corn Island on the Caribbean side of Nicaragua, we were not the only travelers there. There were Canadians and Italians, one French woman and some permanent residents from Holland and Sweden. Oh, and coconuts. Though nearly every tropical beach worldwide seems to be graced with coconuts (Cocos nucifera), they are relative new comers to the shores of the New World. They were brought here by the Spanish and Portuguese from the South Pacific where they had been cultivated and spread for over 3000 years from their original, if only speculative, home of Malaysia.

Now I am not much of a beach bum. I burn too easily for one thing and I’m way to curious for another. So as soon as we settled into our little cabana at Farm Peace & Love I headed into the jungle clad interior of this tiny island to see what I could find. The canopy was primarily mango trees (Mangifera indica) native to India, breadfruit (Atrocarpus altilis) another South East Asian native and Indian almond (Terminalia catapa) I was beginning to wonder what might be native here. Even the under-story thick with bananas (Musa acuminata), cannas (Canna edulis) and pineapples (Ananas comosus) was manmade. This unruly jungle as it turned out was a great big garden. An Eden even.
When we disembarked I heard someone say, “ Welcome to paradise”. He most certainly was standing under a coconut palm. They were everywhere at the single dock that served as the port to the island. There were coconuts everywhere. Their propensity for sandy soils, their shallow roots like lots of air, has made them the iconic beach plant. Iconic to the point of being trite. No desert island cartoon is without it’s coconut palm. No sunset postcard from Hawaii with out a palm’s silhouette.
Since we were only 5 days into our two week stay on this very small island, only 1.1 square miles, and I was getting lazier by the hour, I cut my hikes into the jungle down. And began to stare at the palms. It was easier from my towel in the sand, or the hammock on the porch of our cabana. I realized how much I took then for granted, almost hated them for there idle presence. Though they rattled in the wind with gusto on some days, they had a benign sort of easiness to them that was what we came here for. A rest.

A few mornings later, I had to contemplate my intent in the spa like heat and humidity for a few days, I thought I’d give the coconut palms a closer look. I got out my point-and-shoot camera and avoiding the leaning palm tree icon for high light beach shots, fiddled with the manual settings and moved in on the palms. They were lichen splattered, twisted, decaying and emerging. What I saw first as a pole with a mop on top had an elegant architecture and a vitality. They can be crowned with over 30 leaves and in the process they drop one leave a month and create a new one, with leaves that can reach up to 6 meters this is no lazy plant.

Though my little camera helped me look closely at the mighty coconut palm, it became like taking a picture of my freckled sunburnt knee and saying it was a self portrait. So the next day I pulled out my sketch book and pencils. There is something about drawing from life that really gets you to see. I wanted to see the palms.
Getting a rough cartoon of a palm was trouble enough, my skills as a draftsman are sorely rusty. But my eye is still strong and I absorbed information like a sponge. It was hard to capture the disheveled architecture of the palms. The raggedy motility. The crisscrossed shagginess was exuberant, joyous as each palm lifted it’s giant pre-shred leaves as a sacrifice to the wind in order to capture the sun.
Now I know I should have been spacing out looking at the aqua waters, napping, lolling in the warm waves, but I couldn’t help but get more and more fascinated with the palms. To think I had over looked them as trite icons of the tropical vacation just a week earlier and now they were becoming dynamic living beings.
In many cultures they are called the tree of life. They have become integral to coastal tropical life. From thatching to glycerine for explosives they are in all ways useful. And delicious, we ate cocos bread every morning baked by our hosts and drank coconut water right from the shell, prying and nibbling the tender white flesh as we half-snoozed under the palms, the grit of sand between our toes, in our ears and in our mouths . I was getting to see why this tree was so icon of the pleasures of tropical life, tropical vacation. And beginning to enjoy it.

The name 'coco' comes from the Spanish meaning “goblin”. Certainly their little 3 eyed faces remind one of monkeys or even more mischievous beings. Michael always sited us just out of reach of the falling nuts; they can be lethal. One night when they fell during a storm it was like being bombed. The leaves crashed thunderously too. As a gardener I speculated on the size of rake one might need to clean up the mess, of the slow, even in the heat and humidity, decomposition of the leaves and husks. The downed leaves became barricades around homes. The nuts germinate everywhere. Coconuts are easy to grow from seed, thought they need a lot of room until they can be “limbed-up”. They also produce their first crop of nuts only 4 years after germination. Not at all an indication of laziness.

Now that I am home writing this at our kitchen table looking out at the cherry orchard with it’s buds just beginning to swell, the orchards of coconut palms seem like a dream. The heat, too, a dream. Had we actually gone? I turned one of my palm photos into a screen saver. It’s iconic of the well being I felt resting on a tropical beach. I’m setting a goal by looking at it every day and imagining returning to a coconut lined beach next year.

At least in my dreams.