Wildlife Wonder – Red-Rumped Agouti
My very first pet was a guinea-pig called Checkers who had a black and white checked pattern on his back, hence the name. As a child, I loved guinea-pigs and in time I had quite a few which I bred and sold. They were lovely pets that purred when you stroked them and the babies were born covered in fur with their eyes open, so they were very cute miniatures of their parents. I was therefore excited to hear that a larger version of the guinea-pig, known as agoutis, live wild in Grenada. They were thought to be extinct here but were re-introduced into the Grand Etang rainforest in the 1980’s.
The red-rumped agouti is also called the Brazilian agouti because they are the only mammals that can open the husk of a Brazil nut, and so help to spread this tree. (The other animal that can break them open are macaws). The red-rumped agouti grow to about 50-60 cm in length and live in burrows. They sit up on their hind legs to eat and bury excess food to enjoy later, as squirrels do. They are also similar to rabbits in that they thump their back legs as a warning of danger, but they also have a bark sound to alert other agoutis. With much longer legs than guinea- pigs they are able to run faster to escape danger and as very shy animals, they are rarely seen in the wild.
A male will only mate with one female and there is no particular breeding season. They have 1 – 3 young and stay together with their offspring in small family groups. They are known to follow groups of monkeys so that they can feed off the fruit that the monkeys drop, as well as eating other vegetation such as berries, leaves and nuts.
Grenadian Gift - Sea Moss
As you drive along the road, there are often small wooden stalls selling local juices, roasted corn, coconut to drink and other local goodies. One of the common sights is to see a stall with clear plastic packets of sea moss or piles of unpacked sea moss loose on the stall to be weighed and bagged. When my kids came here last year they were keen to buy some as well as the sea moss gel in a jar, sold in supermarkets. Over the last few years it has become popular, particularly with a number of celebrities talking about using it daily. As well as eating sea moss it has been promoted as a skin care product and is used in cleansers, moisturizers and facial masks.
I have met a few people who collect sea moss and, unlike me, they can distinguish it from the other sea weeds found on this coastline. It is a popular health product because it is so rich in vitamins and minerals and people buy it as a superfood or health supplement. You can buy artificial sea moss but this is grown in pools and is more salty because the salt has been added by hand. The natural sea moss smells of the sea and has a fishy taste.
To prepare the dried sea moss, you need to soak it in water for up to a day and change the water a few times to remove any sand or other impurities. When it has swollen up and become more jelly-like and white, it is then ready to use. You can mix it with water to make a puree which some people take on a teaspoon like medicine but it is often used to make healthy smoothies and can be added to cakes, soups and even make sea moss ice cream.
Reflections from the Retreat
Last week I went for a walk down to this spot, which is about a 5 minutes stroll from our house. As I stood there looking over to Bathway Beach, I realised that I was standing in the photo that had been stuck on my filing cabinet at work. This photo was positioned so it was hidden from anyone sitting in my office but I could look up from my desk and see it. It was a view that kept me going when things were tough, particularly during the covid lockdowns and I was still commuting into work to the hospital. As I stood there, it felt so unreal, having gazed at it so often. I still stand in awe that this is now at the end of my road.
The journey to get here began in November 2010 when Hosten and I went on a retreat to seriously consider and pray whether this calling we felt to Grenada was a true calling. This week I have been reading through the project book that we started to write on that first retreat and since then we added ideas, diary entries, useful advice from retreat managers and so many snippets of thoughts and possibilities. Having lived here for nearly a year now, the project book is finally full and so this week I started on a new one to continue the process of recording ideas and relevant information.
As I plan this retreat house and continue to oversee the building work here, I sometimes battle with the thoughts of whether the house and what we offer will be good enough and what will people think of it and of me. I recently heard someone share that when they had these sorts of thoughts, that they realised it wasn’t about fear or anxiety but it was coming from a place of pride. They wanted people to see them in a good light, to not lose face but to keep up the pretence that all was perfect and being proud of this false persona. Her comments resonated with me and challenged me to recognise that these concerns about what others think is from my external self, the part that I show to the world and not from my True Self, or spirit. Isn’t it better for me to be my authentic self rather than a projected persona that takes effort to maintain? Isn’t it better to be fully me in this unfinished house, with our limitations and imperfections than a cardboard cut-out of perfection?
A quote that has had a significant impact on me and which I use now as a benchmark for my spiritual life is this, from the English writer and mystic, Evelyn Underhill-
‘A spiritual life is simply a life in which all that we do comes from the centre, where we are anchored in God’
For those of you who feel uncomfortable with the word, God, then you can replace it with Universe, Spirit, or as the AA says, ‘God as we understand God to be’ or ‘the power greater than ourselves.’ It doesn’t really matter what name we put to the Divine, the key thing is to listen to that voice and to ‘live from the centre.’ When I live from this place, I am secure in following the calling and the inner wisdom that comes from this place. This helps to drown out the fears and worries about what people think or what they will expect because I am being true to what I feel I am being called to do, even in the little day to day decisions.
A book that I found very helpful on this topic was Landmarks by Margaret Silf which was entitled Inner Compass, when it was published in the USA. The image of an inner compass is a powerful one in that we need to allow the compass to become still, before we know which way is True North. Meditation, journaling, meeting with others on a similar spiritual journey, reading with the heart as well as the head and other contemplative practices help me to cultivate the art of being still so that I can listen to the inner voice of the Divine.
It is a path of ongoing discovery in which I often feel that I am just beginning to learn, recognising that there is so much I will never know or understand. In some ways it is a path that feels new and refreshing but also a path which feels like coming home. It is a path in which, rather than be shaped by my fears of what others might think, I live ‘from the centre, where I am anchored in God.’
As I walked along the beach I picked up a few pieces of driftwood and it reminded me of the poem I wrote a month or so after Hosten’s death, which I’ve decided to share with you. I am so grateful that I had learnt a little of what it is to live from the centre by the time the unexpected hit, because I needed to be held by the anchor to survive the storm.
We were a tree, branches entwined
‘This one flesh thing’ he’d laugh and I was held
And we grew together on the river bank
Fresh green leaves and two special shoots.
Then one day he fell and was no more
And I fell too into the river
Swept out to sea and smashed by waves of grief
Floating and floating until I was driftwood.
Rootless and free to float anywhere I drifted and drifted
Held by the sea but beaten by the waves.
One minute calm and the next a torrent of grief
But knowing in time I’d land on our beach
And I’ll re-build our home from the remnants of driftwood.