Bertha

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I write to the howling wind and heavy rain of tropical storm Bertha. So far it looks as though she will pass us by, ravaging, instead, Ponce in Puerto Rico some 100 or so miles North of St Croix. Nonetheless, we are having 40 to 50 knot gusts coming through, and the drought has been dramatically ended with such a soaking as to let small trees fall over in the wind, their roots suddenly loosed from the tight grip of hard, dry soil. The electricity has been flickering on and off, so in all probability it will be a day or two before I am able to publish this post, by which time I may have had to add news of damage from Ms Bertha – meanwhile, let me tell you of the happenings of the past week at Nidulari.

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It was with both excitement and apprehension that I embarked upon the large task of plastering the Nid roof early in the week. Not only is it a huge plastering job, but it’s a curve, ranging from 6ft above the ground to 14ft, the curve making it impossible to use conventional scaffolding. So, the lower section on each end I did standing on first a workbench and then a stepladder, and then the highest section I did perched atop the framing of the roof itself. That left a 5ft section on either side, too high to reach from a ladder, and too steep to perch on! Thinking “outside the box” a little, I came up with a simple, slightly precarious, but overall functional scaffold, putting to use the outward curve of the walls. Perched on a 6inch wide plank, I was able to plaster the remaining section of the Eastern side (rather hurriedly) amid preparations for the arrival of Bertha. There is still a section to do on the Western side, assuming that it hasn’t all blown away in the storm! I’m becoming quite good at basic plastering – right-handed, left-handed, upside-down, behind my back, balanced on one foot…

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…and I have a great plaster-mixing team, Landen and Miko: our wonderful WWOOF volunteers!

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Once the outer layer of plaster is complete, I must plaster the inside, thereby sandwiching the bamboo lathes and reed mats between the two layers of cement forming an impermeable and (hopefully) strong cement shell. Then adding reed matting to the wall structure, and proceeding with plastering those inside and out. It’s a long and arduous process, but I’m quickly building skills…and…a house of my own!

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Abricot seedlings – a mid-size fruit tree.
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Cacao seedlings – chocolate is made from the seed pods.
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Root ginger sprouts. We might have fresh ginger root in about 3 years…

Due to some chainsaw issues, I’ve yet to finish thinning out our experimental agroforestry project area in order to begin planting back there, but more and more undergrowth is being gradually removed, and soon there shall be exciting things growing! At times like this, when I’m at a crucial stage of construction and we’re into hurricane season, it can be very challenging to balance out the many ongoing projects so that they all continue to progress in a timely manner. Yesterday marked 5 months of my being back on St Croix, in which time so much has been achieved, yet there is an ever growing number of things still to be done! A little overwhelming at time, but I shall persevere.

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All this rain and wind makes it hard to believe that just yesterday afternoon I was out on the East end of St Croix, at the beach with the entire household, visiting friends and trying out stand up paddleboarding (SUP). It was my first time on a SUP, though as kids on St John we’d spend endless afternoons playing on and paddling around on old windsurfer boards – not so different – and it was so much fun! I arrived completely exhausted from 2 days of plastering the roof, my shoulders aching, and wanting nothing more than a nap. Yet one minute (and one dowsing as I pushed beyond my limits on a turn) of being on the water and I was hooked. There is something about being out on the water, dependent on no one but yourself, able to set your course, your goals, your hopes, leave behind worries and opinions and trivialities of daily life. It’s a feeling that I had not had for many years, since sailing and rowing dinghies growing up; different to the exaltation of climbing mountains or wandering through fields and wooded valleys, or of driving off into the horizon, a captive of those who built the roadways, funneled from place to place. May I have time to make a habit of seeking out such peace and personal fulfillment amid my hectic weeks of projects – which are invigorating as well, and give me great satisfaction, yet in a different way.    DSCN1162

Bertha seems to have gone on her way, so now I must go and check for damage on the Nid and in the garden! Please remember to put your bread orders in for next Saturday, August 9th in a timely manner. Cheers!

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