A Nature Meditation at Springfield Dominica*

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It’s always restorative to occasionally return to Springfield, my first home in Dominica.

After having spent several days “under the weather” in the midst of planning my overseas “relocation” to Canada, I felt that a day spent in a nature meditation would put me “back on track.” What better place to go than my beloved Springfield, an old estate where I lived and became familiar with the beauty of Dominica and its people in 1997 and 1998.

Nowadays,  Springfield is actually a private international research and educational institution, called the Archbold Tropical Research and Education Center (ATREC).  You can read more about it in an earlier article I wrote for Domnitjen Magazine by clicking here. I am fortunate to be well acquainted with its Managing Director, Nancy Osler, who is a longtime Canadian friend. On the day of my visit, there were no students or other researchers in-house, so I was able to freely roam the grounds for an afternoon and clear my mind of all things of immediate concern.

Although I had hiked part of the Fifi Road above the old estate with friend Jen about a year ago, I had never gone to its top viewpoint before.  I was certainly in the mood for a moderate workout and the slightly overcast conditions allowed for a very comfortable amble on a groomed trail through the rainforest.  As I strolled along, I admired the multitudinous shades of green, interspersed with colourful wild flowers and other tropical plants.  It was fairly easy going, with only a couple of felled trees to climb over or under.  As I looked into the distance, I observed obvious landslides and  recent gullies that reminded me of Tropical Storm Erika’s wrath upon the Nature Island only six months earlier.

But in the forest, with  background accompaniment of  intermittent calls  of warblers, finches, thrushes and parrots,  I could feel my mind quieting down.  In fact, I ceased to really think about anything at all, thanks to the distraction of the natural beauty that enveloped me on all sides. In this paradise-like setting, I was content to be “in the moment” – at least for the next hour or two.

After  a gradual uphill climb of about half an hour, I reached a clearing which faced east

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Prominent mountains such as Morne Anglais are part of the southerly view from Springfield esate.

and south of the Springfield property.  I gasped – in amazement, not shortness of breath! Before me was the most mystical and magical scene: low clouds shrouded the mighty Morne Microtin, situated at the top of the Roseau Valley, as I looked in a south-central direction.  As the skies cleared slightly, I also could see beyond this massif, as I looked further south. Morne Anglais prominently featured on the skyline, along with other mountains beyond her!  And when I turned my head to look at the densely forested ridge to the

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Peek-a-boo!  I think that’s a peak of Morne Trois Pitons  as seen in an easterly direction from the heights of Springfield Estate.

east of my vantage point, I observed a small section of a very high peak, which I guessed could only be Morne Trois Pitons,  the dominant feature in the centre of the island.  Forgive the cliché, but these “million dollar views” (as my brother Edwin would say about Dominica) were naturally breathtaking.

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The mountain village of Cochrane, as seen from the top of Springfield Estate.

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Morne Micotrin as seen from the heights of Springfield Estate.

I wandered around the small clearing for several minutes taking  in the views from slightly different angles.  Then I decided to let the scene soak in to my soul as I seated myself on an exposed tree root. It was impossible to think about anything troubling as I stared into the distance.  Euphoria seemed to be overtaking me and I didn’t even want to think why.  I just let it happen, as waves of tranquility washed over me.

When I had filled my mind (and camera) with plentiful images of the Nature Island at its

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Heliconia plants thrive in the lush terrain at Springfield.

 

finest, I  slowly wended my way back down this track.  Where it ended, I eagerly clamoured up  a few dozen concrete steps to an

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Some of the inviting steps up to the Mount Joy area of Springfield Estate.

area known as Mount Joy. This was originally an  independent estate but for many years has formed part of Springfield.  That detail is also found in my earlier article about this estate, which you may refer to here.   I did not linger long in this area, except to watch hummingbirds flit to and fro and admire the prolific heliconia plants and stately

coconut palms. I delighted in all the wildflowers along the way, such as these:

By this time, I had worked up an appetite, and as I was in close proximity to a popular eatery called Miranda’s

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Good food is always found at Miranda’s Corner, on the Imperial Road just above Springfield.

Corner, I followed the trail to the main road and walked a short distance further uphill.  Miranda is a woman who has a reputation for consistently good home-cooked Dominican-style food. And she always remembers me, even though I haven’t lived in the area for years.  Although she was not there at that time, her  welcoming daughter served me a deliciously seasoned meaty chicken leg and a huge serving of macaroni and cheese, accompanied by a small salad. Initially, I was afraid that I would waste some of the meal, as it was so large.  But that was not to be the case…I think I even surprised Miranda’s daughter when I showed her the empty plate!

It’s a good thing it was a downhill stroll back to Springfield, as my stomach was more than full.  By that time, it was mid-afternoon, and I was anxious to spend some quiet time at

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Santi is the sweet resident cat at Springfield who is always up for a few pats and a close chat.

the grave site of my dearly departed kitty, Tia-pet. He died in 2014 and you can read about his amazing life and our Springfield

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My dear Tia-pet rests in a beautiful natural setting that I adorn with flowers and rosemary whenever I visit Springfield.

connection here. I still miss him very much, as he was with me for 16 years. I like to pay tribute to my long-time companion by placing flowers on his resting place.  But before I continued to that site, I spent a little time with a lovely cat named Santi, who is the resident mouse-catcher and attention-seeker at Springfield.  She is very affectionate and I enjoyed a little down-time by benefiting from some  pet therapy too.

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“When angels are near, feathers appear.” I found this one not far from Tia-pet’s grave.  For what it is worth, I was comforted by that notion!

After a little while, I descended to the area of the estate where Tia is buried.  Whenever I am there, I always feel a tremendous sense of peace and calm. And this time, a little voice   in my head  encouraged me to go ahead with my relocation plans, while reassuring me that everything would work out fine.  Wherever it came from, I don’t know, but in this heavenly location, I reaffirm my belief in angels!

From there, I continued along a track  that leads to the Springfield River. It was all I could do to watch my step as I was constantly gazing around the forest as I visually absorbed copious shades of green!

When I arrived at the river bank, I gasped again – but this time it was in shock!  Tropical Storm Erika had definitely made her presence known here, as the scene was completely different than what it had been for the past almost 20 years that I had visited this spot .  Gone were the big boulders for sitting by the riverside, and the deep pools beside the track’s end had completely disappeared.  I was able to walk across the  now very shallow river in an area where it would have previously been impossible.  I did not linger long, nor did I take a river bath, as for numerous reasons, it just didn’t feel right.  When I return next time, I will take a ‘river walk’ in order to discover a new pool in a nearby location. There is no doubt that Mother Nature is in control.  As well, climate change has left an indelible mark on the Nature Island!

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Water once flowed freely in this section of the Springfield River below Springfield estate.

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The same area AFTER T.S.Erika

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The bathing pool below Springfield on the Springfield River BEFORE T.S. Erika.

However, I continued with my meditational reverie as I walked back up to the guest house section of the property.  There, I met Managing Director and friend Nancy, who enthusiastically showed me her growing garden. As I looked at the thriving plants, I felt very thankful for Dominica’s fertile volcanic soil, and of course, Nancy’s green thumb!

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Nancy’s garden is definitely thriving, thanks to her TLC and the fertile soil.

As the afternoon wore on, I felt tired but truly refreshed after having spent some time in this precious protected place and its pristene surroundings. In my mind, there is nothing more therapeutic than  being closely connected to nature and its offerings.

Why don’t you try it, and tell me what you think, no matter where you live on the planet!

* Special thanks to Nancy for the opportunity to have some  “downtime” at my favourite place on Dominica and for helping me identify the mountains and village in the photos.

 

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Extending Gratitude to Dominica’s Orion Academy on its 10th Anniversary!

I would be remiss if I did not extend heartfelt congratulations to Orion Academy in Roseau Dominica on the occasion of its 10th anniversary.  Time does fly by, and I am honoured to have been associated with this private secondary school since its inception.  It prides itself in offering students a more well-rounded, albeit holistic education and offers programs above and beyond the set syllabus by the Ministry of Education in accordance with the regional Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC).

When the school was getting off the ground in September 2003,  I received a call out-of -the-blue from one of the Board Members who asked if I could help as a lunch-time monitor or in any other way to support the recently founded educational institution.  As I was well into writing at that point, I wondered if I could contribute with some English language

Renowned Dominican educator Mrs. Frances Harris was Principal of Orion Academy  from 2003 - 2008.

Renowned Dominican educator Mrs. Frances Harris was Principal of Orion Academy from 2003  until her retirement in 2008.

instruction. ( I had a teacher’s permit from Nova Scotia, Canada, but had never used it).  I then met with Principal Frances Harris and she readily agreed that I could work with the older students, if I so desired.

Keeping in mind that I had never formally taught a class in a school before, I took on the task as a great challenge.  Amazingly, I found that I really enjoyed it and appreciated the interaction with the students.

The next year, I shifted into the English Literature realm, under the direction of Mrs. Harris.  I started off by volunteering a few hours a week to teach the young people from Forms 1 to 3 about metaphors and similes, poetry, Shakespeare and novels that I had never read before!  It was a tremendous learning experience for me as I prepared weekly lessons on concepts long forgotten and subconsciously applied in my own literary creations.

Then the time came for a few of my interested Form 3 students to undertake intensive course work over  five terms in two years (Forms 4 and 5) for the very challenging regional Eng Lit exams (CXC’s).  I enthusiastically jumped into completely unfamiliar waters.  As the detailed syllabus was  overwhelming to me, I sought assistance from long-time English Literature teacher at the Convent High School, Daria Sorhaindo.  She patiently reviewed the task-at-hand with me, after which the prospect of leading the class in this subject seemed much less daunting.  I was very grateful for her help, because her guidance made my lesson preparations much easier!

As I read and re-read and researched, I made some amazing discoveries about myself and the capabilities of my students.Although I am an avid reader,  I had never given poetry  or drama much thought after my own high school days.I was determined that the class would not be boring or dull.  With a serious attitude, but fun-filled approach, I felt that I was able to bring the genres of Eng Lit (as I called it) to life.  When the students selected a monologue or excerpt from a Shakespearian play, they really portrayed the roles well.  I was so impressed with their creative talents, including their thoughtful costumes and props.  Their poetry recitations always held me in awe too – I admired their courage and determination to recite classical, contemporary  and Caribbean poems from memory.  Perhaps they found that the easy part!  For then I required them to prepare detailed analytical papers to ensure that they really understood the work.

While the young people busily prepared their assignments for me, they were also dealing with several other complex subjects at the same time, in order to fulfill the requirements for the CXC and subsequent high school graduation.  Sometimes they were exhausted and discouraged.  It was also rewarding for me to provide good cheer and encouragement as I knew that they were all capable of success.

Orion Academy's Class of 2008, Amanda (l), Abi and Edward performed very well on their CXC external exams.

Orion Academy’s Class of 2008, Amanda (l), Abi and Edward performed very well on their CXC external exams.

And  it came to pass that my three students who graduated in 2008 (Amanda, Edward and Abi) all did well on their Eng Lit exams.  While consistent high achievers Edward tied for second with the highest results on island, and Amanda placed sixth overall, it was relative newcomer Abi who impressed me the most with her scholastic performance.  She probably doesn’t  remember this, but when she arrived in my class in Form 2, she promptly informed me that she did not like reading at all!  Interestingly, by Form 3, (she was a class behind Edward and Amanda), she was scoring A’s and was first in her class in Eng Lit.  At that time, she decided to return to the U.K. the following year to go to college, and as a result skipped critically important Form 4 (3 terms).  Abi arrived in Form 5 with Edward and Amanda, who had covered considerable complex subject matter the previous year..  While she only had two terms to prepare for the challenging final CXC exams, she was undaunted by having missed so much material the previous year.  I have never seen anyone so organized, focused, dedicated and diligent in her approach to catching up and doing well.  Of course, she met with success!

Mrs. Elizabeth Madisetti took over as Principal from 2008 - 2011.  Since 2004, she has gained an exceptoinal reputation as a superb math teacher.  And the students love her!

Mrs. Elizabeth Madisetti took over as Principal from 2008 – 2011. Since 2004, she has gained an exceptional reputation as a superb math teacher. And the students love her! ( The present principal (2013) is Ms. Queen Thomas).

I then had an opportunity as a private tutor to instruct a few students who were graduating in the class of 2011.  Although the CXC exam syllabus noted the preparation of different novels, plays and  some of the poems than those of 2008, I was now much more familiar with the requirements.  At first, Dylan was my only student.  He ate up the subject with relish (sorry Dylan!). He was perhaps pressured at first as he was  constantly hammered with questions and had to fully engage all the time in the class as the only one!  Then Myan came along, and Norris joined them in Form 5, as he had recently returned to Dominica from living in another Caribbean country. He had taken Form 4 Eng Lit there, so his remaining two terms  with my class did not really pose a problem.  Again, the instruction of this fascinating subject gave me tremendous pleasure, largely because of the favourable responses from my students and their eagerness to improve and succeed!  They all performed very well on the CXC exams, with Dylan ranking in the top 20 CXC overall results in Dominica for that

Dylan, a member of Orion Academy's Class of 2011 scored a '1" (top marks) in his Eng Lit external exam and also had the highest average in his year.

Dylan, a member of Orion Academy’s Class of 2011 scored a ‘1″ (top marks) in his Eng Lit external exams and had the highest overall average in his year.

Myan smiles delightedly at her 2011 graduation from Orion Academy . She scored a '1" (top marks) on her Eng Lit external exam after considerable hard work in the subject.

Myan smiled delightedly at her 2011 graduation from Orion Academy . She scored a ‘1″ (top marks) on her Eng Lit external exams after considerable hard work in the subject.

year.

Norris travelled a long distance everyday by bus from the northeastern village of Marigot to attend 5th form classes at Orion.  I was  impressed with his commitment and pleased  with his fine results, especially in Eng Lit!

Norris traveled a long distance everyday by bus from the northeastern village of Marigot to attend 5th form classes at Orion. I was impressed with his commitment and pleased with his fine results, especially in Eng Lit!

However, the biggest gift to me came from Myan.  While she missed numerous classes because of a then persistent health challenge, she conscientiously worked on her assignments at home and then submitted them to me for review.  Despite  her frequent absences, she scored top marks on her CXC Eng Lit exams.  I am so proud of her!

All of the above-named students have either gone on to study at post-secondary institutions  here or abroad or are about to do so in the near future.  I wish them well and will always be grateful to them for letting me share my knowledge and learn along with them in English Literature Forms 4 and 5 at Orion Academy.

I would also like to thank the Board of Directors at Orion Academy between 2003 and 2011 and former Principals Harris and Madisetti  for permitting me to spend some very special time with wonderful, well-rounded students at a unique school in Dominica.  I have  benefited tremendously from this previously unanticipated, but extremely rewarding experience.  I think I am a better writer because of it!

May Orion Academy have many more years of educational success!

For further information about Orion Academy,  check the web site (highlighted) or write to: OrionAcademy@gmail.com or call (767) 440-3233.

Reference:  Dominica News Online April 25, 2013

* Special thanks to Orion Teacher Elizabeth Madisetti and Orion Parent Wendy Walsh for their assistance with some background details.