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

Springfield River

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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Scenes from a (Tropical!) Winter Wonderland: Dominica’s Carnival 2015 Season*

Roseau is a busy port  in wintertime, filled with voyageurs from northern lands who have come in search of winter sunshine!

Roseau is a busy port in wintertime, filled with voyageurs from northern lands who have come in search of  warm winter sunshine and a lot of fun!

When I hear about how cold February 2015 is in eastern Canada, I thank God for the incredibly beautiful tropical weather that Dominica has experienced over the recent Carnival season.  No, I am not trying to ‘rub it in’; it is cooler here too (relatively speaking).  I did shiver at night during a recent sojourn at Springfield, my first home in Dominica. It is now a  private international research and study center for students, which  is located at about 1,200 feet above sea level, on the edge of the rainforest. I am sure the temperature dropped to below 20 Celsius (plus, that is) in the wee hours there.

When it rained heavily on Carnival Tuesday morning in Roseau, I feared that the grand

No, this is not a dream.  This is the Mercury Band tempting you to partake of a winter Carnival in Dominica sometime soon!

No, this is not a dream. This is the Mercury Band 2015, tempting you to partake of a winter Carnival in Dominica sometime soon!

Costume Parade might be delayed.  Evidently, it was slow to start, but the show was  ‘on the road’ by 11 a.m. – only one hour behind schedule! The streets of the capital dried up fast and the city quickly poured colour and spectacle on excited bystanders, who sought some shade under umbrellas or overhanging porches as the temperature soared!

 

I am sending you a little tropical sunshine, warmth and good cheer through the photos below.  I suggest that you look them over, and then dream of Dominica while you’re out shoveling snow or sheltering from the frigid winds! And maybe sometime, you’ll consider a wintertime visit to this tropical wonderland.

I started the Carnival long weekend at the place I love the most on Dominica: Springfield Plantation:

As dawn is breaking on the old estate, I am always reminded of the magic and mystery of this beautiful place.

As dawn is breaking on the old estate, I am  reminded of the magic and mystery of this beautiful place.

I always admire these stately royal palms, which typically mark the location of an estate in Dominica.

I always admire these stately royal palms, which typically mark the location of an estate in Dominica.

Cacao pods appear ready to burst with chocolatey flavour. They were once a prolific crop at Springfield.

Cacao pods seem ready to burst with chocolate flavour. They were once a prolific crop at Springfield.

This river pool at Springfield is a place where I spent many moments in meditation whenever I visit Springfield.

This river pool at Springfield is a place where I  have spent many moments in meditation  and relaxation when I visit Springfield.

I love to wander around the grounds of Springfield, which is an old estate that dates back to the 18th century.

I love to wander around the grounds of Springfield Plantation, which  dates back to the 18th century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a couple of days of solitude and tranquility, it was time to immerse myself in the vibrant energy of Dominica’s traditional Carnival and its sensational Costume Parade:

This creative costume caught everyone's attention and was frequently photographed.  I think it is a dragon and Jenny thinks it is a crocodile.  What do you think?  Photo taken by Jenny.

This creative costume caught everyone’s attention and was often photographed. I think it is a dragon and Jenny thinks it is a crocodile. What do you think? Photo taken by Jenny.

Pretty little princesses in lovely gowns were admired by all.

A pretty little princess in a lovely gown was admired by all.

Some little girls displayed their athletic and rhythmic talents in choreographed routines as Flag Wavers.

Some little girls displayed their athletic and rhythmic talents in choreographed routines as Flag Wavers.

King Karessah, Calypso Monarch 2015 out-performed 7 time champion Dice to capture this year's crown.  Well done, Karessah!

King Karessah, Calypso Monarch 2015 out-performed 7 time champion Dice to capture this year’s crown. Well done, Karessah!

Carnival Queen contestants impressed thje corwds with their creative traditional costumes.

Carnival Queen contestants impressed the crowds with their creative traditional costumes.

This brilliant traditional costume quickly caught the attention of enthralled spectators.

This brilliant traditional costume quickly caught the attention of enthralled spectators.

The Carnival Princess and Miss Teen Dominica were tow of the most photographed celebreties on the parade route!

The Carnival Princess and a Miss Teen Dominica contestant were two of the most photographed celebrities on the parade route!

This traditional costume was my favourite: simple, yet colourful and cleverly constructed!

This traditional costume was my favourite: simple, yet colourful and cleverly constructed!

Ready to roll!  Gwendominica is set to take in the sights and sounds of Dominica's Carnival Costume parade in Roseau.  Photo taken by Jenny.

Ready to roll! Gwendominica is set to take in the sights and sounds of Dominica’s Carnival Costume Parade 2015 in Roseau. Photo taken by Jenny.

 

The members of the Thunderbirds Band are always a sight to behold!

The members of the Thunderbirds Band are always a sight to behold!

Hysteria was a new band on the Carnival road this year.  They made quite a splash with their sexy costumes and high energy music. Photo taken by Jenny.

Hysteria was a new band on the Carnival road this year. They made a splash with their sexy costumes and high energy music. Photo taken by Jenny.

The Old Time Sake Band was out in full force, as usual.  I 'jumped'  with them last year and had lots of fun!

The Old Time Sake Band was out in full force, as usual. I ‘jumped’ with them last year and had lots of fun!

Some ,e,bers of the Mercury Band adorned themselves in blue body paint.  Awesome!

Some members of the Mercury Band adorned themselves in blue body paint. Awesome!

They guys in the Hysteria Band looked very cool under the hot sun! Photo taken by Jenny.

The guys in the Hysteria Band looked very cool under the hot sun! Photo taken by Jenny.

The Afri-Culture Stiltwalkers are beyond spectacular!

The Afri-Culture Stiltwalkers are beyond spectacular!

Do you think you could do that?  This troupe practises for months on the stilts while their club also puts time and energy into impressive costumes.

Do you think you could do that? This troupe practises for months on the stilts while their club also puts time and energy into impressive costumes.

This lady is totally into the Carnival vibe as a member of the sensuous Mercury Band.

This lady is totally into the Carnival vibe as a member of the sensuous Mercury Band.

Jenny strolls along Mero Beach on a quiet Friday afternoon immediately following Carnival celebrations in Dominica.

Jenny strolls along Mero Beach on a quiet Friday afternoon immediately following Carnival celebrations in Dominica.

On the Friday immediately following Carnival, friend Jenny and I did  a ‘last lap’ at Mero Beach.  While it was a

A beautiful sunset perfectly complemented the completion of Dominica's Carnival 2015 season.

A beautiful ‘winter’ sunset perfectly complemented the conclusion of Dominica’s Carnival 2015 season.

drizzly day, we were not deterred by a little dampness.  After a hearty lunch  beach-side at the ever-popular Romance Cafe, a  walk along the surf and a sea bath on  this quiet afternoon was a fitting completion to the lively events of earlier in the week.  I thoroughly enjoyed the my time spent in nature before and after the vibrant and festive Carnival Costume Parade in the city of Roseau.

And to all of you in the frozen north, I hope that these photos will bring you a little warmth – straight from my heart!

* Many thanks to Jenny Spencer for some great photos. She is a volunteer with the Zoological Society of London who is in Dominica for the third time to assist with  collaborative efforts to save the critically endangered ‘Mountain Chicken’ (Crapaud) frog.  You can read my earlier blog post about this important initiative here.  For the latest information about the Dominican Mountain Chicken Project, click here.

 

Springfield Dominica: My Favourite Place on the Nature Isle*

Painting of Springfield Plantation by Dominican Artist Earl Etienne in 1996.

Painting of Springfield Plantation Guest House by Dominican artist Earl Etienne in 1996. It presently hangs in the dining room, which is the former Great House.

Over the past week, I had the good fortune to visit  Dominica’s Springfield Plantation on three occasions.  This stately property was  my first home in Dominica, and there are times when I wish I had never left her  pristine  air and peaceful beauty!  I have also had the pleasure of getting to know some wonderful people there: Mona George-Dill, who oversaw the then Springfield Plantation Guest House in the 1990’s and early 2000’s; Nancy Osler, current manager of the on-site Archbold Tropical Research and Education Center; and members of the Eusell family, who lived nearby and  are still associated with the estate.  All of these folks have always been very welcoming and kind to me, which contributes to my  ongoing affection for my favourite place on the Nature Island. While it is no longer a hotel, I enjoy spending a little time there whenever possible.

Springfield has a longstanding reputation as a garden on the edge of the rainforest..

Springfield has a longstanding reputation as a beautiful garden on the edge of the rainforest.

From my first visit, I was so taken with this charming estate, which is set on the edge of the rainforest, that I wrote a poem about it during my early days in Dominica.  It was dedicated to Mona George-Dill and I presented it to her in 1997.  She helped me familiarize with Dominica’s culture and customs, for which I am forever grateful.

During my second stay at Springfield, I thought I heard a strange voice call my name in the middle of the night.  As the property dates back to the mid-1700’s, I thought it might have been a ghost – a friendly one, of course!  Even though I am not a poet, these words came tumbling out of my head via my pen the next morning:

The Ghosts of Springfield

There were some very melodious voices on the night on August 21, 2013, as the Just Us Youth Choir from St. Lucia was in the house.

There were very melodious voices at Springfield on the night of August 21, 2013, as the Just Us Youth Choir from St. Lucia was in the house.

Voices in the night.

Dominica's popular Sisserou Singers were there in full voice too!

Dominica’s popular Sisserou Singers provided glorious vocal harmonies too!

A light mist falls

and caresses the old plantation

like a lover in the night.

Stifling hot stillness is relieved

by soothing breezes.

The spirits speak kindly

to those who stay

From Springfield, the view of the Antrim Valley down to the Caribbean sea always evokes a feeling of tranquility.

From Springfield, the view of the Antrim Valley down to the Caribbean Sea always evokes a feeling of tranquility.

and seek refuge

in a tranquility

rarely found elsewhere.

This plaque on the Great House's veranda complements my feelings about Springfield.

This plaque  is found on a pillar of the Great House’s veranda. It perfectly complements my thoughts about Springfield.

The garden of Springfield

blooms eternally

with a love

that will never die.

The track to the Springfield River envelops one in serenity as one walks through this rainforest garden.

The track to the Springfield River envelops one in serenity.

To Mona,

The cool and coursing Springfield River offers an idyllic respite from the everyday.

The cool and coursing Springfield River offers an idyllic respite from the everyday.

Love, Gwen

 October 14, 1997

*For more information about Springfield, Dominica (past and present), refer to my article in Domnitjen Magazine.