Another Island Note…
I guess it is not surprising that I picked this spot. It is a triangulation of wild trees—staunch, wily trunks stretching toward the blue, tropical sky. Once I had bought the land, this arboreal convergence immediately caught my eye. But thoughts of making this a delightful place to chill simmered as more pressing issues of the new home beckoned my attention.
Months later, I took a bad fall. Fifteen feet, seven fractures and one year later, I find myself doing four, half-hour session per day to make my hand and fingers work again—to grab a fork, to scratch my nose, to pull a line while sailing. The process is methodical, boring, but necessary to get mobility back again. Eight exercises in thirty minutes. But where do I do this? Sometimes I sit on the terrace couch staring out on the Caribbean Sea. That’s not a bad place for a reoccurring duty. Or I laugh at hilarious Robin Williams clips on You Tube to pass the time and ignore the pain while doing the PT.
Then one day I looked up while walking the cat (yes, Sweet Pea demands two walks around the property per day. And yes, without a leash he would be gone forever with no direction home), I saw the Brazilwood triangle again. Actually, the third tree is a watakeli (chinkswood in English), but the pair of Brazilwoods dominate the trinity. Together they form an erogenous zone of oddball symmetry, natural un-balance and raw beauty. I set a chair in the middle of the patchy, shady confluence and added a worn-out boat cushion, now retired from the decks of Kontentu, for comfort. I began to my half hour of physical therapy protected from the blazing midday sun. Time flew by. Pain was minimal. I was on to something.
I returned the next day and set the chair down. This time while doing the required exercises, I pondered how to make this special place mine. While the trees spread out their meager leaves in defiance of this hot climate, the sun beating down was bearable but still intense. I knew a sun shade would complete the deal. I measured the distance between the three trees and discovered that the canvas shape would need to be an obtuse triangle to fill the space. Friends Suus & Eunan have a sail loft/canvas shop in town and made the unique-shaped shade in a couple of weeks. Then Peruvian painters came to paint our house blue. They used the chill spot for their lunch break and cleverly folded a sheet into triangular form to get even move shade. The light bulb went on. I bought a stock triangular shade to replace the painters’ sheet and had that customized at Pakus di Tela in less than 24 hours. Chillin’ in the shadows is a tropical requirement. Add those constant trade winds blowing under the fabric and the azimuth of my life suddenly improved big time.
Duly shaded, I felt a need to separate myself from the ground. We live on top of the second fossil terrace of Bonaire, an uplifted ancient coral formation made by glacio-isostatic adjustment (geologist-speak for the ongoing land movement and rising seas due to glaciers)and the clashing of the Caribbean and South American tectonic plates millennia ago (in fact, those plates are still battling it out today). That resulted in an undulating, blade-sharp surface of black coral rock. In short, it’s not the best place to tumble out of a hammock. So I chose to make a deck above the rock from treated wood that would ward off termites. That involved pouring ten concrete posts for fitting the joists and getting above the rock. Then a deck of 2 x 8 lumber was fastened to the horizontals. I installed a 4 x 4 vertical beam to string up a hammock anchored to one of the trees. I also added a couple of gargoyles for good measure, just to keep away any negativity. After all, this place is all about chill.
Suddenly, I am Brazilwood Chillin’. This special space delivers a laidback vibe in which to while away another island day. I watch puffy, white clouds blowing by above. I get visits from birds in the branches— squawking yellow-shouldered Amazon parrots, multi-colored tropical orioles and non-nonsense pearly-eyed thrashers. I get through another PT session with little boredom and reduced pain. This wonderful spot takes the gnarly edge off all that.
I admire the tenacity of these trees to withstand the rigors of our climate of salt and sun. Plus, Brazilwood survived immense overharvesting by the Dutch in the 1600s. The trees were prized for their red dye and Bonaire was full of them. In fact, the ‘rock’ back then was known as Isla de Palu de Brazil (the island of Brazilwood trees). The industrious Dutch West Indies Company with its abundant blind ambition cashed in on the island’s botanical wealth sending ships full of Brazilwood back to mother Holland. There, the red dye was extracted from the wood and used to color textiles and for ship sails due to its resistance to mold and rot. For me, that imagery conjures up the sappy lyrics to the 1930s song, Red Sails in the Sunset, popularized years later by Nat King Cole. Red sails in the sunset, way out on the sea. I’m far from my loved one, who’s waiting for me…
The schmaltzy music swamps my head while I sway in the hammock. I glance out to sea and watch the white caps foam on the surface. A sailboat drifts by, full sail and listing to starboard on a run down the coast. A ruby-topaz hummingbird buzzes momentarily inches from my nose and then vanishes in a hurried heartbeat. This is Brazilwood Chillin’ and I don’t want it to end.