Abaco Island Travelogue
Riverdave’s Journal
February 15, 2007

Dear Family and Friends:

It is half way through our month long stay here on the West Indian island of Abaco and here is our first State of the Island Report ... We found the family  cottage at Cherokee suffering from some neglect.  Despite assurances from the caretaker Veronica and Uncle Gene that the drip under the sink was fixed, the leak still continues and our resident mouse has continued his habitation and deposits in that moldering wet environment.  It took quite a bit of cleaning to freshen up the kitchen. 

But Josie and I were cheered our first week here with the arrival of our daughter Melody and ten month old grandson Owen as the house once more facilitated the life of three generations. Neighbors lent us a high chair and we were in business.  Owen seemed to best enjoy playing on the front porch and front steps, and crawling out to the sidewalk to explore and play with the neighbor dog Ninja and cat Patches.  Getting used to the sea was a slow and serious process with all the vast stimulation that experience provides.

But on several occasions while sitting in shallow water Owen would begin to pat the water in front of him, then lean forward and begin to intensely strike the water in front of him with both hands and accompanying grunts and cries of delight.  It was fun to watch an infant explore the planet. Eating sand is another thing that one must learn about only by trial and error. The coral sand of the tropics is softer and more appetizing than the quartz sand of North Carolina and it is so tempting to consume!

Since Melody and Owen left after a week’s stay, Josie and I have settled into our routine of paddling a waft to Little Bay to swim, reading the books we brought to study, doing thai yoga upstairs in the attic with the window open facing the sound, tidying the house and doing small repairs, taking walks around the community and chatting with neighbors. Preparing meals in this out island village is a bit of a challenge too.  We always bring some dried goods with us, but fresh vegetables are often a challenge to find.

The only serious neighborhood news is that Catherine Sand’s mother passed away the day before we arrived.  We found out that it is routine for all deceased in Abaco to be flown to Nassau for an autopsy and then returned and buried.  This revolting process takes several days.  I guess the fact that Abaco has no hospital means the government wants everything confirmed before the body returns to the ground. 

Just several weeks earlier, Katherine’s son Troy was in a serious auto accident on the road to Marsh Harbor and flipped and totaled his truck but came out relatively unharmed.  The oncoming car hit on the passenger side where his mother usually sits, but fortunately she had decided to not go into town that day.  Her husband Gurney is moving about in the electric riding chair that Katherine’s mother used to use.  I hope that he doesn’t habituate to its use.

I continue my birding treks through the West Indian subtropical forest on the hill, despite creeping development in the area.  I haven’t seen the parrots yet like I did last year, but did notice for the first time several Bahama swallows swooping over the long dock. I have focused on the behavior of catbirds which are quite numerous in the winter, having flown down from the east coast of the U.S.A. to over winter here.  They have a variety of interesting and subtle calls that I had not noticed before and they are easy to call out from the dense forest vegetation when I make pishing sounds.

This year I have enjoyed searching for fresh coconuts among the wild trees I find in the forest.  Splitting them with a machete and extracting the meat is a wonderful process that yields a delicious reward.  I harvested the fruit from the sour orange tree by the abandoned schoolmaster’s house as usual.  I don’t think anyone ever goes there except Josie and I.  We have frozen the juice to bring home with us which will provide the base for Oma’s sour orange pies this year.

Last year we had ten banana trees in our backyard but this year we are down to three.  A neighbor told us they took a nice bunch of fruit from them just before we arrived but there are none for us at the moment.  Other neighbors have brought us plenty of bananas from their gardens in town, so it is all shared around as the fruit ripens.  We have also received garden tomatoes and freshly caught yellowtail snappers.

The gumelemi (gumbo limbo) tree I planted as a single stick in the ground in 1999 is finally a full size tree.  It had a huge spurt of growth since we were here last year and it now adorns the yard on the north side of the house quite nicely with attached bromeliads and orchids that I have scavenged from the forest over the years.  

Other news is that our neighbors, Veronica and Randy, have sold their house and are preparing to build a new house on the hill.  They have a new large pet parrot on their porch that talks, whistles and screams most of the day.  For some it might be a bothersome disturbance, but I find it interesting and I frequently return the calls. Her name is Metilda.  She has become so much a part of the neighborhood scene that I have even heard the mockingbirds mimic her screaming calls!  There are two roosters that call in the morning this winter.  One I can hear in the distance over by the long dock and the other is just down the street from us.  I consider the early morning call of a rooster to be one of life’s most special experiences.

The long dock is in excellent shape with no major storms swooping through last year.  It must be one hundred and fifty yards long - as long as I have ever seen it. in the ten years I’ve been coming to Cherokee.  It still is our platform for watching sunsets every evening.  On the sound side a fully sheltered boat marina is completed.  I enjoyed taking baby Owen out every morning to the marina.  We would sit with our legs hanging over the edge and watch the many large fish swirl in the water below.  The marina store, gas station and Laundromat is being overhauled and expanded too, and will be much bigger than before. 

Not much has changed in the Cherokee Food Fare.  Maria and Bonnie still present the same atmosphere and service.  We prefer to do most of our shopping in Marsh Harbor once a week, especially to pick up the enormous Honduran avocados that we always enjoy here.  Other fruit and fresh vegetables are to be found in Marsh Harbor as well that are not sold in Cherokee, so we try to hitch hike the twenty miles into town one day every week.  Josie and I went in yesterday for a Valentine’s Day lunch together on the waterfront at the Conch Inn.

Development clips right along in Cherokee. The second small cottage up from the creek bridge was removed and a huge two story new structure looms over the surrounding area in its place.  It has changed the waterfront dramatically. Without town planning, this sort of thing will continue to happen.  It is a really ugly and ostentatious structure that does not fit in with the rest of the community. 

At Little Harbor, the owner of the Winding Bay resort has purchased a one acre lot that he wants to build 20 rental units on, complete with a two hundred foot pier with a one hundred foot “T” at the end - spoiling the tranquil effect of that special community.  It seems that the residents of little harbor may be gearing up for a fight though.  When we got our rental car upon arriving at the airport with Melody and Owen, we all went straight to Little Harbor for lunch at Pete’s Pub on the beach before we arrived in Cherokee.  This seems to be a quick way to relax upon arriving on the island. 

Other development news is that the town of Cherokee has allowed some locals to build a cabana and bar near the long dock.  It projects loud blasting music and has become an alcohol drinking spot on weekends.  We are really confused as to why this conservative community has allowed this.  The restaurant that was built at the end of the pier on Rich’s property was a flop and is still for sale at $2.4 million.  We hold our breath to see who all these neighbors turn out to be.

The Abaco Friends of the Environment have finally set up recycling bins on the island for aluminum cans.  All the cans will be sold for recycling and the money will go to conservation projects on the island.  The government has passed new fishing regulations that apply to all foreigners, that will severely limit the daily catch limit for most species.

Conchs can no longer be harvested by foreigners at all.  I feel this is an important move as Floridians are increasingly scouring the Bahamas for the fish and shellfish that they have already depleted back in Florida. Today I snorkeled alongside a six foot ray.  We eyeballed each other for several minutes in about four feet of water.

It rained last night and we had a beautiful rainbow as we woke up this morning. The weather has been as follows: about one fourth of the days it is cool with highs in the sixties; another fourth is hot with highs in the eighties;  and half the days it is mild with highs in the seventies.  when a cold front from the USA drifts off the southern coast of Florida we will often get a cool and rainy day or two.

When rain occurs, we work on indoor projects. Both Josie and I brought our little apple laptops, so we have writing projects to work on.  Josie is writing an ethical will and I am writing an essay about our trip to Quebec City this past fall. We are piggybacking on a neighbor’s wireless network, so I am also doing some live commodity trading online, still hoping someday this skill might provide income for us.

That’s all for now from the 26th parallel!

February 22, 12007 - one week later ...

The Bahama parrots showed up for one day this week and we have not seen them since.  I found  a flock of six on the hill just before sunset on Sunday.  They noisily chattered as they flew back and forth among the treetops.  I noticed them actually gnawing on the resinous branches of the gumbo limbo trees and pieces of the sticky red bark were stuck to their faces, like kids who had vigorously licked their lollypops!

Another bird encounter we had this week was with a pelican.  They are seen in Abaco mainly in the summer, but one has been hugging the shoreline of Cherokee Sound for several days now that is not afraid of being approached.  We figured he must be sick or dying. This evening he was serenely facing the sunset on the beach as we approached.  I noticed that he had a metal  band on one leg, so I got close enough to read it.  Within a few minutes the bird breathed its last.  So we have a banding ID and a telephone number in Maryland to call and report the bird.

As usual, we find the yellow-crowned night-herons amusing in the evening as they patrol the sidewalks of Cherokee hunting for insects under the street lights.  Last night while we were sitting on our front porch one strutted right past us on the sidewalk like he owned the town!  Actually, I believe he does. When startled they make an awful strangulation sound similar to the great blue heron.  The local Bahamian name for all species of herons is “gaulin.”

Another bird that I’ve seen more often this time in my forest walks is the white crowned pigeon.  This bird was hunted close to extinction in Southern Florida and in the Bahamas in recent decades but is now coming back as a result of legal protection.  It is a very large, heavy gray bird with a white crown.  It is a forest bird that stands very still when approached undetected, then suddenly bursts forth in flight with a loud ruffling of feathers almost giving an unsuspecting walker a heart attack.  Only occasionally I would come upon them in the past, but this winter I find them more abundant.  Perhaps their forest is shrinking with development all around and they are being pushed into a smaller space.

This year I decided to walk from the long dock out to Little Bay around the shoreline on the hard coral and then from Little Bay to Watching Bay.  I have always walked through the forest or paddled to get to these places.  I was amazed how many gnarled old buttonwood stumps were left in the hard coral just above the inter tidal zone.

I wondered if the presence of these buttonwood stumps has anything  to do with the rise of coastal water due to global warming. These stumps are dried and twisted into beautiful shapes and colors.  I started to dislodge a few but realized that our cottage really has no place to display them.  I think if I lived here permanently I would want to be a collector and carver of these stumps and other driftwood that washes up on the shore. 

While out walking on the hill this week we finally met the Dr. Smith who owns the cottage at the far end of the hill that has the best three hundred and sixty degree view you could imagine.  He is a retired American dentist who lives in Miami.  He gave us permission to sit on his marvelous porch while he is away in the states.  On a clear day one can easily see twenty miles in all directions and all the way south to the end of the island at Hole-In-The-Wall and the National Parrot Preserve. 

I had a good day of snorkeling at Little Bay yesterday.  Several ocean trigger fish were feeding on the soft coral.  This fish is three feet long with exaggerated dorsal and ventral fins, making it another three feet high and giving it a very large appearance. I can swim up to a distance of about eight feet from them.  In the water I could hear the sound of their mouths breaking off the coral as they fed.  But I think my favorite aspect of snorkeling has always been just to watch the moving play of light in the water and on the sand below.  There is something so incredibly enchanting about the rippling effect of light in the aquatic environment that leaves me struggling to express the wonder of it all.

While at little bay today I took our machete and whacked down twenty-five small casaurina trees, the invasive originally from Australia.  It had been three years since I had cleared the beach of their presence and some were already ten feet tall. Before I cut any invasive tree, I always wish the species health and prosperity back in its country of origin.  Then I give leave for the spirits in the trees I am about to cut to return to their native land and reincarnate in seeds to start over again.

I hope this does not sound too strange to you, but as most of you know, I am an animist.  The casaurinas in the Bahamas send out huge roots under the beach that prevent sea turtle mothers from digging and laying their eggs.  They are often blown over in hurricanes and then become an unsightly mess with their root systems sticking up in the air.  I have no idea what ecological niche they hold in their native Australian habitat.

Our piggybacked wireless internet connection is still holding up so I have done a fair amount of electronic commodity trading since being here.  I am testing whether this type of activity could work for me in our setup here in the future If we have extended stays.  Trading requires a focus of attention that is not easy to maintain with the distraction of such a beautiful place as this. 

I am also reading a book about the lives of the lesser known Concord Transcendentalists in Thoreau and Emerson’s day.  It seems that those folks were always struggling to develop lifestyles around their need to connect with the outdoors and be social activists, but still feed their families. 

I was attracted to electronic trading several years ago as a possible means to try to bridge my outdoor interests and home maintenance responsibilities.  Without a background in finance, trading has not come easily for me, despite the user friendliness of the online trading platforms offered these days. I am not sure if i have the tough mercantile mentality needed to wrangle with those who do.  The experiment continues ...

We had one day of cool weather last week when the temperature dropped to an amazing fifty-nine degrees and gale force winds blew all day. But that has been the worst effect of any cold front that has drifted south since we have been here.  Our previous record was fifty-two degrees that occurred several years ago. 

Our daughter Yasmiin and her husband Richard fly into Abaco’s Marsh Harbor Airport today for a week with us, so Josie’s and my temporary solitude will turn into extended family once again ...

Cherokee Sound
Abaco Island -The Bahamas
The West Indies

Photo #1 by Melody Owen woolford: entrance to the village of Cherokee Sound
Photo #2 by Melody Owen Woolford: Riverdave and grandson Owen Woolford at low tide on the flats