“It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.” ~ Frederick Douglass.
The first time I returned to visit Jamaica after a thirteen-year hiatus, I spent a lot of my time gazing, staring out at mountain vistas, rumpled hillsides that spread beyond. In car rides through the countryside my eyes would be pinned on the views, the valleys, riverbeds, stately bamboo groves waving gently. On some of the scarier roads there would be sheer crumbling rock face to the right, sheer drops down to humble abodes on the left. There were countless other sensations too: the sound of music, car horns and loud laughter in the busy streets; the feel of the thumping bass of a street sound system; the taste and texture of the variety of fresh fruit available from street vendors; the aromas of those fresh fruit, of early morning coffee, of a pending shower of rain. Jamaica filled up my senses.
I had grown up in the country, up in the hills of Clarendon. For those who don’t know, in tropical islands that have hills and mountains, the time between dusk and dawn can be quite chilly. With the windows open at night, a thin sheet is insufficient to keep you warm. When they go out for a stroll or to a function, ladies walk with a sweater over their arm, not to protect from an air conditioned building (those were few and far between when I was growing up), but to keep off the ‘dew’ – that delicious cool air that might make you ‘ketch cold’. There was nothing like lying in bed at night, louvres open to catch the breeze or a full moon rising, and hear the breeze rustling through the cane piece, or was it a shower of rain approaching?
It was a sixteen-year gap between the time I left the UK and my first trip back from the US. I was similarly rendered speechless and in awe when I returned to North West Wales, a place of great natural beauty. Brooding mountains abound. Snowdonia is a rugged, mountainous national park which draws mountain climbers, hikers and nature lovers from around the world. The team that climbed Mount Everest did their training there. The RAF which has a base nearby sends its aircraft to train around those ranges, preparing for Afghanistan. On that first trip back home I had the privilege of climbing to the peak of Snowdon (Eryri in Welsh), the highest point in England and Wales, second only to Ben Nevis is Scotland. The views from the peak were obscured by thick, cold, dripping cloud, but they could not block my feeling of pride, of joy, of accomplishment. Even though I could not stare out at the ridges beyond, or see the view straight down the valley to the sea, I was there, part of that organic, ancient rock.
It has been no great challenge to spend two thirds of my life living at sea level with not a hill in sight. Mount Trashmore and some artificially created mounds do not count. And yet. Apart from my trips abroad (far more frequent in recent years than in the first two decades of my life here) I have been able to travel within the United States, and fall in love with other views, other splendid vistas. But I have been able to love the one I’m with by seeing the beauty of other scenes, of other forms of nature. And most of all, I have become an appreciator of the amazing ever-changing canvas of the sky.
In South Florida on any given day you may start out with a peachy dawn, streaks of color tinging the sky as the sun rises. Clouds may be puffy cotton balls floating seemingly within reach, or they may be towering cumulo-nimbus monsters, full of threat and anger. The other night many of us in different parts of South Florida were captivated by a weird lemon colored light which brought the trees into sharp relief, while bruised and brooding clouds towered beyond. And just where the clouds met the horizon, a strange blue color peeped through. We may not have mountains, we may not have seascapes, or riverbeds, or forests beyond our windows, but everyone has skies.
A few nights ago I awoke to the sight of sheet lightning in the distant clouds. Every few seconds the clouds lit up as if by a stalking photographer, flash exposing great sheets of grey, soundlessly reminding us of energy building, hidden forces at work. I don’t remember the first time I saw the phenomenon, we are more used to the crack and then (one one thousand, two one thousand…) the loud rumble of sky to ground (or is it ground to sky?) lightning. Sheet lightning is comforting, far enough away to titillate, not scare.
The strange face of Covid-19 lurks silently out of sight, yet it has changed many of our time-honored rituals. So many functions cancelled, so many gatherings postponed. The saddest may be the loss of individuals without the comforting coming together of far-flung friends and family who help to turn mourning into a celebration of life, a remembrance of the spirit of the person lost. Through shared stories we learn more about the person’s life, we laugh at their jokes, we honor their gifts. Thanks to social media we are able to pour those memories onto the page, a dynamic obituary. I recently lost a friend I had known since early childhood, a man who always looked out for me. And through the postings on Facebook I realized there were so many others who felt the same way. In his humble way he had managed to make generations of people feel supported, watched over, befriended.
It is always good to remember that beauty exists even when you can’t see it. We can celebrate the spirit of those we love, even when we can no longer call them up for a chat. Love transcends and travels miles, even when you are confined to one spot. We are all connected even when we are kept apart. It is not what life gives us, it is what we make of life that counts.
On this rainy, cloudy South Florida Friday, I hope you have nuff to appreciate this morning. A big shout out to all of my Chapelton and Clarendon College family who have meant so much to me over the years. I have been blessed to find myself far from home and yet surrounded by many who knew me when. And so home has followed me wherever I go.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family! Please continue to stay safe.