A short walk away sleek brown children glistened in the surf in innocent defiance of death. I hoped they would never see what an old man told me he saw 72 years ago as he netted flying fish miles to the south.
He leaned back in the shadows, his half-blind eyes wet and wizened, searching the sky in remembrance: “We saw in the north a cloud that was red, red, red. There were ex¬plosions as of cannons. Soon all the sky was in flames. A great wave came and left fish thrashing on the sand. Then, darkness; in full day it was night. We could see nothing. All the fishermen cried out. ‘It is the end of the world,’ they screamed. ‘What have we done?”
The great mass of Martinique is its moun¬tainous northern segment, a near oval (map, page 128), tapering southward to a narrow waist. Beside its large bay the island’s present capital, Fort de France, sprawls with its feet in the sea and its head in the hills (pages 144¬5), radiating both the law and the heady vi¬brations of opposition politics. There are two routes south to the capital from St. Pierre: the west coast and mountain roads. Along the former, dry slopes plunge into a quiet leeward sea. The wet trade wind sheds its rain in the high country, and there the rain forests stand silent and splendid. I took the winding wood¬land route to Fort de France.
There are not many people in the forest. Vegetation rules. Great tree ferns sparkle with raindrops in sudden sweeps of sun. Bamboo a foot thick sways, gently curving. Vines wind, creep, drop straight to earth from orchid-laden limbs of tall trees whose species surpass a hundred. The jungle smells of life and death: fresh sweetness and decay.
As I said, people are few in this wet, green world. Still, there are some. A hardy pioneer, Joseph Bonne, makes a good living in the mountains growing anthuriums for the French market-5,000 a week. And under the great green tooth of Piton Boucher a family of subsistence farmers have a little wooden home. They have no electricity, no water nearby. But they have land enough for vegetables, a few beasts of assorted kinds, and flowers. Flowers, just to look at. A son has a job in a village. He goes by bus, and in the evening brings home bread.
“Il faut se contenter,” said the old mother. “One must content oneself. I have lived in this place for 50 years. Here there is peace, and silence. You see, evolution has done nothing for this part of Martinique.”Category : life