On the Junction Road in the Time of Drought


We took a trip over to the north coast today and decided to take a familiar route, through the “Junction Road” that winds tightly through hills and higher hills, close to  the river, the Wag Water with its many huge boulders – sometimes high above it, but never really leaving it altogether. It is a rich landscape. Stands of bamboo droop deep on steep hillsides where parrots flutter. Trees with skinny white trunks tower.

This grassy hillside is now  burnt brown, and much of the vegetation below, close to the river, is charred.
This grassy hillside is now
burnt brown, and much of the vegetation below, close to the river, is charred.

 

Huge rock faces higher up are smoothed over with carpets of grass. Half-hidden streams trickle through dark clefts in the rock; in rainy season, waterfalls will mysteriously appear, streaking down a sheer wall of rock across the valley. The hillsides hide a thousand patterns, green upon green. When you drive through Junction Road, it is very often raining, or it has just finished raining, or a shower is approaching – even when there is no rain on either of the coasts that it joins together. I like to rest my arm on the window frame, to feel the cool air on my skin.

Burned crops along the roadside and going deeper into the field beyond.
Burned crops along the roadside and going deeper into the field beyond.

But now it is different. As we left the parched landscape of the city, we were at first refreshed by the sight of green foliage and tall grasses by the roadside. Ah, this was country and it looked…as usual. But as we drove further into the hills we realized things were not normal at all.

Clouds of smoke were rising from these valleys; seen from Friendship Gap.
Clouds of smoke were rising from these valleys; seen from Friendship Gap.

 

With the windows open, there was the bitter smell of smoke. Patches of burning appeared: blackened earth, oily with sap; dusty piles of ash by the roadside; hilltops singed reddish brown, as if a hot iron had brushed along them; bleached bamboo along the roadside. At Friendship Gap, where we stopped to buy water, a thick haze of smoke hung over the more distant valleys; billowing smoke appeared on the brow of a hill. The river was not flowing; it was a series of small, stagnant green pools, some fringed with pink algae. It had given up trying to make its way through this sad, tired landscape.

Burned banana plants.
Burned banana plants.

I took some photos with my phone as we drove through Junction and the parish of St. Mary on the north coast. Strangely, there were patches of burning at the roadside; two boys kicked a ball close to an area where flames were still flickering, quite unconcerned. The burnt patches seemed almost randomly scattered among fields and forest that still looked green. It was hard to know which of these fires had been the result of careless farming practices or a tossed cigarette; there were far too many of them, and the most ravaged areas were so high at the top of inaccessible hills it seemed implausible that the fires were set by humans.

A burned hilltop.
A burned hilltop.

The photos are all taken from a moving car, and so are just impressions, small glimpses. These pictures show just a very small part of the deep drought that is upon us.

All I know is that the land was breathless, empty. But the day ended with a little twist; when we returned to Kingston in the evening, there had been a shower – ten minutes long, we were told; a small puddle of rain stood in our driveway, as proof.

Coconut palms singed by fire.
Coconut palms singed by fire.
Ashes by the roadside.
Ashes by the roadside. This was actually a whole burned tree.
Roadside bamboo.
Roadside bamboo.
Coconut plantation overcome by fire.
Coconut plantation overcome by fire.

8 thoughts on “On the Junction Road in the Time of Drought

  1. I came back to town on the road tonight. Just past Port Maria the air smelt of smoke though no signs of fire. We were stunned to see a field blazing near St Mary’s Chips, that seemed spontaneous. It had just rained.

    We’d seen fields ablaze in St Ann beside the highway earlier. A news report crew were on hand with video camera.

    Heavy showers on the north coast today may help defeat the fires but I’m not sure.

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    1. When our friends drove through Junction this afternoon they said it was raining! Which is good to hear. Yes, I saw the fires at Pear Tree Bottom on Twitter – friend said he had to turn back, smoke right across the road…

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  2. Emma, I drove the same route today towards Ochi, and regretted not stopping for better pictures of the burnt vegetation, which was starkly different from a few weeks ago. I too saw lots of smoke in the hillside. Do some people not understand the present danger? Clearly, not.

    A blessing was that heavy rain trailed me from St. Andrew into a bit of St. Mary.

    Ironic that just a few months back the area was under floods.

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    1. Yes, it is so disturbing to see this strange landscape of burning and burned – but people were carrying on with their lives as normal, it seemed. I don’t think the concept of climate change has sunk in. Now that we have had a taste of rain in Kingston, I hope it will continue. But we must, must be more aware and vigilant.

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    1. Well, the day after I posted this we actually got rain! A gorgeous shower, and then another the following day. Today was fresh and much cooler but no rain. Seems we are all struggling this year. I should send some of this excess sunshine your way!

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