Friday, 22 June 2012

A Slice of Paradise

For half of every year I live on a small island in the Caribbean, the setting for my Paranormal Romance, Delighting In Your Company.  

My little white house is surrounded by lush gardens and has a view of the distant islands of St. Maarten and St. Barth’s. It sits nestled into the lower slopes of Mount Mazinga, known locally, for some reason long forgotten, as “the Quill”.

The Quill, however, is not a “mount”. It’s a volcano. Like all islands in the Caribbean, my island was thrust up out of the sea by volcanic action many millennia ago.  This volcano is, I am told, extinct. I hope so.  I’ve heard there is no such thing as an “extinct” volcano. That, at best, they only sleep.

The crater of the Quill was formed in some ancient eruption and is clearly visible from the sea. If you climb the steep trail up the side of the volcano and then make your way down into the crater, you find jungle plants and hanging vines and huge old mahogany trees. Birds not seen elsewhere on the island chatter in the trees and elusive monkeys use vines as their transportation system from tree to tree.

This is where I placed a pivotal scene in Delighting In Your Company. The slave population of the island, in those pre-emancipation days, knew and respected the powers of the volcano gods.

Just a bit south of my island lies the island of Montserrat. On the twenty-fifth of June, 1997, the volcano there blew its top. Nineteen people were killed. This volcano has continued to erupt periodically with varying force ever since. 

There are days when I sweep the ash from that fifty mile distant volcano off my veranda, and clean soot off the windshield of my car before I can see to drive. I look suspiciously and a bit fearfully up at the Quill. It just sits there, benignly grinning at me with its crater mouth.

In 1902, on Martinique, a Caribbean island just a bit south of Montserrat, the Soufriere erupted, sending avalanches of molten rock and flaming ash and gasses down on the town of St. Pierre, killing some twenty-five thousand people.  If it did this again, my little island could be in the path of the resulting tsunami.

If one looks farther afield, at the most powerful of all volcanic eruptions in modern times, Krakatoa in the South Pacific, east of Java, blew in 1883. The tsunami set off by that eruption went around the world, demolishing coastal cities in its wake, while the aftermath of the volcanic eruption with its clouds of intense heat and gasses killed off the people the waves missed.
 Of course, historically, nothing beats the eruption on Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D, that killed every inhabitant there and left the ancient city of Pompeii buried under ash, not to be rediscovered until an eighteenth century archaeologist first stumbled across it.

So why do I live in the shadow of a volcano? 

Why does anyone live in San Francisco on the San Andreas Fault line, with the knowledge that the next quake could be the big one? Why does anyone live in Tornado Alley? Or build in areas known for frequent forest fires? Or retire to Miami, in the path of hurricanes? How could people move back to New Orleans after Katrina?

I suppose the answer lies at least to some extent in the human need to surround ourselves with what is familiar, and second, what we consider to be beauty. For some of us that’s forests, for others, wheat fields. Still others need the throbbing life of a city.

For me, it’s the sea. I am happiest with the sea all around me. From it I draw peace and content.

 In Delighting In Your Company, my hero, the ghost of Jonathan Evans, describes his Caribbean.

“There’s a special fragrance to these islands —can’t you smell it?  A mixture of spice and tropical plants. The lushness of the foliage, the shades of green of the land and the turquoise and blue of the sea. And the constant freshness of the trade winds. It’s always seemed to me a small slice of paradise.”

That’s what my island is to me. A small slice of paradise.

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The Memory of RosesDelighting In Your Company
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Blair McDowell