Forest Trek 2012 – 5000ft above sea level!

Today April 22nd is designated International Mother Earth Day. Earth Day has been celebrated annually since 1969 and is usually observed by events designed to increase awareness of the earth’s natural environment. Throughout the world thousands of persons volunteer their time, energy and efforts to projects such as tree planting and beach cleanups to name a few. The observance however is not without its critics, who see it as only another opportunity to celebrate the marginalisation of environmental issues in the world agenda and for businesses to promote “green” products, without necessarily caring about the real impact of our individual actions on nature.

For approximately 500 persons in Jamaica, it was an opportunity to participate in Forest Trek 2012, organised by the Forestry Department. I was one of the 500, along with eight other friends who chose to rise out of bed by 5:00am, stretch, load up and embark on a 7km journey into the Blue Mountains with the aim of planting a tree in the rare, high elevation botanic garden, located some 4800-5200 ft above sea level – Cinchona Gardens. It is the only one of its kind in the Caribbean. Having done this walk some 14 years ago, I could not help feeling nostalgic as I retraced my footsteps.

The day was perfect for such an endeavour and allowed for clear, panoramic views of steep plunging mountainsides dotted with homes, vegetable gardens and grazing animals in some of the most unlikely places. Some perched at seemingly precarious angles into the mountainside or almost hidden in the deep valleys – all a testament to human skill in building. Pine trees soared to heights of 30 metres and more, rivers and streams sounded their voice from hidden locations, birds called to us from their perches and exotic flowers greeted us along the pathways. An easy camaraderie and chatter amongst us would often wane as we were overcome by the beauty of it all. Passing through Clydesdale Estate – one of the first to plant coffee commercially in Jamaica – allowed for a few quick photos of the old water wheel and coffee mill. The Estate is over 200 years old and is now the largest forest reserve in Jamaica. Few words can descibe the beauty of Cinchona Gardens, with its soft grass, thousands of flowers, hidden pathways & trails and plunging views. My vocabulary is unable to do it justice. Hopefully my photos will.

I felt such a sense of accomplishment after digging a hole and placing my tree in its new home. A small action on my part, but one which I know will be of immense benefit in the future.  A special thank you to those who shared this journey with me – Irina, Delphine, Shalini, Denton, Wendy, Erin, Marije & Daan. Happy Earth Day. Enjoy the photos.

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