Our course is moving right along, lots of information, lots of great food.  We learned how to process rabbits the day before yesterday, and cooked it over the fire with a basting of fresh herbs from the Mandalla garden and roasted bread fruit, sweet potatoes, squash, it was stuffed with the organ meats, herbs and left over homemade bread stuffing.  It was a beautiful sight watching the fire sung into life and the ancestral feel of a group meal with all of  us circling the fire.  As the meal was cooking in the coals, I along with a few others, were learning how to prepare the rabbits skins, stretching the soft supple and stretchy skin and fur between our fingers as the first step in the tanning process.   It was meticulous work for the rabbit skin is preciously thin, but we all had patience because of the amazingly warm and soft fur that we have hopes of bringing home with us to the northern climates where we will make them into mittens, hats and other wonderful hand made artifacts from our journey here.

Yesterday we had a day off, several of us went down into Fredericksted and to the beach.  I had a sweet and cool fresh pineapple smoothie at a chic little tourist cafe just in front of the pier where the Cruise ships doc.  Town was earily quiet to me.  I’d expected there to be a lot of hustle and bustle.  There was no cruise ship, and few locals were up yet, I guess.  I hear that the town gets flooded with tourists when the cruise ships doc and 7000 visitors hit the beach and shops.  We were there because the diving and snorkeling along the pier has some of the best marine life within easy access of the shore.  It turned out there was a “soup-off” where all the local chef’s compete against each other with their best dish, so it was off limits while they were setting up the tents for the event.  We piled into the back of the farm pick-up and headed west to a rocky shore where the waves were a little strong for good snorkeling, but we got in and saw a few interesting fish.  Most of the coral seems dead though.  I’m waiting to see the living reef, hoping there is still some intact the way I remember it from a girl scout trip I took to St. John when I was a teenager.    I hope that global warming hasn’t taken such a toll that I can’t find any of those beautiful, colorful reefs left around here, I’ve heard it’s heading that way though, so I am worried.

We ended our day at a little bar called the Rainbow bar, had some beer, watched some musicians doing Pink Floyd covers, and gathered together to watch the sun set over the horizon, waiting for that last light hoping for glimpse of the “green flash”.  No luck, there were too many clouds, the pink sky was impressive all the same, and beer was a treat, it was hot yesterday, I was a little worried that I was going to short out my cell phone as I caught up with calls since the shore is the only place I get service.  I took a nice walk along the seashore and saw some of the sugar plantation ruins.

Today a breakfast I heard someone say that there could be flash floods.  I knew better, but decided not to take my rain coat when we headed out to the field to plant cassava.  No sooner than we got there than the heavens literally opened up and the pouring rain started in full force.  Some of the smarter folks in the class headed back up the hill to the community center, others of us kept on with the planting, dripping wet.  I am not much of of one for class room learning.  The field was right above the bamboo grove where my tent is, so I stopped down to my home to get some dry clothes on when we were done, but soon found that I was stuck because I didn’t have any rain coat to put on to get back up the hill.  I was warm at least, so I snuggled down for a little nap (at least the idea of the nap was good, but the pounding rain on the tent and then the flashing lightning and booming thunder), I got a rest, hoping the rain was going to let up so I could join the others back up the hill.  I waited about an hour, then just decided to put my bathing suit on and pack my dry clothes in a bag and walk up the muddy hill in my galoshes, hoping I didn’t get struck by the lightning.  It was a bit of excitement.  Everyone else was huddled inside, trying to stay dry.  I made it just in time for lunch – moringa pesto lasagna and moringa humus, with some oatmeal cookies and the greens from the Gaia garden that I had picked earlier in the morning during chores.  I was pretty chilled from the rain, so was relieved to throw on my jeans and sweat shirt.  When class resumed we did some niche analysis of the various multi-purpose tree species we’ve been seeing around the farm.  I got to look up Moringa,  what a cool tree.  300 medicinal uses in Ayuvdic medicine, it grows in many countries of the world, has incredible protein, amino acids, all kinds of great uses for all parts of the plant.  The seeds produce oil of exceptional quality and is used for everything from smokeless lamps for light, to fine mechanical watch repair, and for extraction of floral essesences and in perfumes.   In the early evening, we headed back down the hill to pollard (kinda like coppicing, but up high instead of at ground level) the countour plantings of Moringa that had been inter-planted with fruit trees.  Moringa can grow 60 feet tall in one year.  I gathered some flowers to try the tea that the book I read said had nice relaxing properties.  I tasted the greenbean like tender seed pods, and the pea like more mature beans as well.  The flavor is a bit spicy, like nasturtium flowers or horseradish.  The leaves taste best in the pesto we ate at lunch, but I’d like to try the dry leaf protein powder too, because of the incredible vitamin and minerals that it provides.  I am totally hooked on this plant now.  I’d first heard about it in Haiti, where some groups are trying to get some nurseries up and running to promote it.  Haiti is experiencing extreme erosion, starvation, health crises, and all kinds of other problems especially in areas that have been hard hit by hurricanes in recent years.

Here is a photo of the class during our first trust exercises where we had to get everyone up into the branches of this giant mama tree.

We are all sitting quietly on the porch of the community center at the moment, journaling about our day, and waiting for another aromatic meal of fresh produce from the farm.  I’m hoping there’s some more rabbit stew left-overs, and fresh bread, for some reason butter tastes better lately than I ever remember it.  Fernando just caught a giant centipede in a jar, and brought it in to show us  all.  I was just as happy not knowing how dang big those things are.  They have a fierce sting and apparently come out of the ground after big rains like this because their burrows get flooded.  Fantastic, just what I want to worry about when I head back down to my tent this evening.