If these mountains could talk...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

JAMAICA.  An inspiring day it was – to say the least. We were really far off the beaten track, way past the “end of the road.” The “road” in this case was an old bridle road that had been completely overgrown and was now dominated by full-grown trees and shrubs. Odontocline sp. was frequently encountered climbing all over the plants around us, bringing sunny bursts of its bright yellow flower clusters into view all around.

Rock piles deep in the momuntains

Botanist and plant lover that I am, I must nonetheless admit that what most inspired me today was not the local flora. (Although documentation of the flora was our focus of course!) It was an area we came across that inspired me most.  Let me relive for you what we discovered in this unique spot:

As I mentioned, it really felt as though we were far out in the middle of nowhere.  The area was completely uninhabited and there were no signs of recent yam-stick harvesting or any other recent human-caused disturbances in the forest.  However, on one hill we climbed, we came across definite sign of human activity… from a long, long time ago. We discovered a hillside completely covered in terraced, hand-piled, low rock walls.  After climbing many a Cockpit Country hill, I had never seen anything like it.  Limestone rocks, both large and small in size, had been piled in low walls of about 1.5 meters high by about 2-3 meters wide, in terrace fashion all the way up the hill. Why had they been put there?  By whom?  When? 

We still don’t really know the answers to those questions. Our local partner, who grew up in the area, told us that his ancestors came from a long line of escaped slaves that had once used these remote mountains as cover, and had once utilized a footpath through the mountains all the way to the north coast to the famous “Runaway Bay.”  These independent, strong people overcame the serious challenge presented by the rugged terrain of these mountains and turned it into their advantage.  Maybe the rock walls we saw were hideouts, perhaps they were small hidden vegetable plots, or maybe even lookout points to the landscape below.  We just don’t know.

I stood for a time looking out over the hidden rock terraces, made by people I will never know, but whose strong spirit will remain alive in generations to come.