O to be in Jamaica Now That Winter’s Here!

Back in my Jamaican schooldays, an English-born teacher made me memorize a poem that began, “O to be in England now that April’s there.” Written by Robert Browning, it was titled “Home Thoughts from Abroad.”

Here’s the first verse:

O, to be in England
Now that April ‘s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!

As it turned out, I did spend April in England when I was 17 years old, and it was delightful. Green buds everywhere, birds chirping, children playing… But, to me anyway, it was not as magical as Jamaica. It was not my home.

santa cruzAs a young man, my father traveled far and wide … serving as a soldier in Egypt and Jordan … managing banana plantations in Panama and Costa Rica … visiting Mother England and other parts of Europe… And, after he had returned to Jamaica, married my mother and had four children, he was living in Malvern, working for the government as an agricultural instructor.

I was about ten or eleven at the time, and I would pester him with questions about his travels. But he wasn’t much of a talker, and responded to my queries with great reluctance. Finally, he removed his pipe from his mouth and said, “Son, no matter where you go in this world, you will find that there’s nowhere as good as Jamaica.”

Now it’s my turn to look back in wonder.

“The fairest isle that ever mine eyes have beheld,” Columbus said when he discovered my homeland. And that’s just part of the story. All the world knows of Jamaica’s beaches, white or gray sand stretching for miles alongside a turquoise sea flecked by foam … palm fronds swaying in the seabreeeze …

But it’s the mountains (photo above) that call out to me. They form Jamaica’s spine, rising abruptly from the coastal plains to the mist shrouded peaks, one of which is more than 7,000 feet high. As you climb those mountainsides, the climate changes, and the temperatures go from the mid-80’s to the mid-40’s in a few hours. As I tell my American and Canadian friends, you can pick your climate just by deciding how far up the mountain to live.

But fate has decreed a different climate for me in my twilight years. I have ended up in Central Florida, closer to Jamaica than Ontario, Canada, where I spent most of my working life, but still a world away.

The climate here is prized by “snowbirds,” but to me it is depressingly capricious. In the past couple of months, we have had record highs and record lows. One day it’s been in the nineties, the next in the fifties. Now, the lows are in the thirties, and there’s no relief in sight. The local newspaper predicts a “long hard freeze,” and farmers are scrambling to save their strawberries and oranges.

This morning, the water in the bird bath was frozen. The garden will soon be turning brown and I will lose many of my flowers and some of my fruit trees. It’s another “unusual” winter here in Central Florida. Last year, a late frost killed a huge palm tree in the back yard, wiped out the banana trees and severely damaged the mango and avocado trees. I spent all year restoring the ravaged garden, and just as it was showing signs of recovery, Jack Frost has struck again.

A moment ago, I clicked on a link to the weather in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where the temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit as I write this, the expected high is 82 and the forecast low 68. There’s a light breeze off the Caribbean, and fluffy white clouds are overhead.

(See for yourself: www.wunderground.com/global/stations/78388.html )

villaI can’t find a link to the weather in Malvern, but I am sure it’s cooler than Montego Bay. The temperature could be in the high fifties tonight because the Santa Cruz Mountains rise to a couple of thousand feet. Tomorrow, it will no doubt be in the seventies, sunny and dry. That’s how my dad liked it.

As for me, I think I would settle for a villa on the island’s North Coast (like the one in the photo at right), on a mountainside overlooking the sea, kicking back on the veranda with a cool drink, island music in the background…

One love, one heart…