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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.