……the Atlantic Ocean.
The influence and presence of the Atlantic ocean is inescapable on the Island and in particular our house. The Northward facing bungalow provides extraordinary views of the ocean. Its colours change from deep blue to grey and a host of hues and tones in between, its texture from sand paper torn with white waves, to smooth glass reflecting perfectly the orange rays of a setting sun. Changing minute by minute and day by day I will never tire of looking out at the endless expanse. Walk in a straight line from our house, and eventually (aside from drowning) you would cross 5234 miles of ocean before eventually hitting the South Eastern Coast of Newfoundland in Canada!!
The ocean dictates the weather on the St Helena, whilst having a quite extraordinary variety of weather and climate across this tiny island. Wind, rain and weather is driven South to North from the Cape of Good Hope, crossing nearly 2000 miles of water on the way before reaching this tiny blip in its path. The weather since our arrival has been changeable at best, and downright awful at worst. We are assured however that we have just come out of scruffy season (the wettest month) and will pass through Windy October and summer will arrive soon, itself brought on by warming climates in South Africa and the influence of the Benguela current. At present, wind rushes down the slopes of Half Tree Hollow, picking up dust and pulling the rains and mists down from the central summits and out to sea. A strange sensation, looking out across the ocean, with the weather crashing in from behind rather than running up from the sea below.
…….Half Tree Hollow
As I sit at lunch, or over an evening cup of tea, looking out across the Atlantic during welcome sunny breaks in the weather, I feel unaware of our isolation. The community that is Half Tree Hollow feels strangely normal and the ease at which we have settled into our little home is comforting. Whilst the Island and our new lives continue to present challenges and settling into school, work and our new lives will take a while longer, our house has become a home, and one which provides an Island on an Island, of comfort and security. Like most of the homes in Half Tree Hollow and the Island in general our bungalow of three bedrooms, is a breezeblock construction, with a pastel coloured lime wash exterior, providing a Mediterranean feel.
Houses are detached, with significant land and space around them. Lack of flat land has caused houses across the Island to spring up in clusters wherever access can be achieved. The picture of small colourful boxes hanging on hill sides, or buried within a sub-tropical jungles adds to the charm of the place, leaving us with wonder and awe at the those who navigate their way down tracks and across cliffs to reach their home, never mind those who built them.
With a supermarket, fuel station, bank outlet and numerous small shops ran from people’s houses, Half Tree Hollow provides for much of our needs. A friendly community we begin to recognise familiar faces, sat waiting for buses, or walking to collect the days bread as we pass by on our way to the next drop off.
Large windows and open plan interior provide us with plenty of light, an airy feel and space for the boys. Reminders of home, photos, mementos and good luck messages from family help to break up the floral décor, and provide a necessary sense of familiarity. Oliver in particular continues to struggle to adjust to his new school and finding friends remains challenging, but the home provides a sanctuary for him, a welcome sense of familiarity and a place of comfort, cuddles, fun and exploration. Despite the sociality of our new lives, with regular meals out, weekend excursions and our regular spot on a Friday night at Donny’s bar, our home has become more important for all of us than it has in the past, and more important perhaps than we give due thought to. When embarking on an adventure such as this,
you consider work, food, people, sites, sounds and hope that your house will be comfortable and sufficient, but give less thought to your house as a home, what it will be like and how it will feel. Yet, our home is perhaps the most important aspect of our embryonic lives on St Helena. A place for work, for play, for home cooked meals; a place of laughter and few tears, for reading and learning, a place to be a family. If the home is where the heart is then we have found ours.
I think back to our first steps on the Island, cautiously driving up the nerve wrangling Ladder Hill, (which now seems like a walk in the park) and turning up a steep track to find our new house, isolated amongst a field of dense cacti, stunning and exciting as it spread for hundreds of yards all around us.
These fields of green, breaking up the larva fields and dust bowl, provide home for birds and insects galore, as well as a home for two excited children who could spend an eternity uncovering rocks, searching through sharp spikes and joyously exclaiming at each and every millipede found.
Mornings and evenings are awash with flashes of brilliant yellow and red as stunning Canaries, Waxbills and Cardinals flit and fly from one seed pod and grass stork to the next. The beautifully and aptly named peaceful dove sits motionless in the dust, hoping to remain unspotted until the final second when a flurry of feathers accompanies its erratic escape flight. Mynah birds provide a constant symphony of click, whistles, and song, accompanied ably by the chirrup of finches and canaries perched on Cacti tops. Closer to the ground, bold Java Sparrows land in large flocks feeding on fallen grass seed before flying of in unison to the next feeding ground, the comfort of shelter provided by dense cacti giving the local wildlife security.
Oliver runs inside, “Dad I need a tub” he exclaims, as the next insect is found and collected. Millipedes, known locally as button worms, are collected in their hundreds, as are weevils, roaches and caterpillars. The porous larvae rock scattered all around provide little defence against the keen eyes of Oliver and Charlie, a two-man excavation team. Yet more exciting, if a little worrying has been the discovery of giant (and biting) centipedes, and scorpions, but the boys are well aware of the risks of being bitten or stung and their thankful parents feel happy enough that the boys know not to attempt to collect these particular Island Insects.
The Wildlife on this Island is incredible, and at every turn is another species clinging to existence as an endemic on this tiny and ancient land. Having had millions of years, isolated from the rest of planet earth and, until recently, free from human destruction, St Helena has more unique, rare and endemic species of plant and animal than the whole of the Galapagos, and around ten times as many in its one hundred and sixty to square miles than the whole of the UK. Yet these rare creatures do not need a degree in botany or entomology to discover, they lurk around every corner and under every stone, a truly unique opportunity of discovery for our young naturalists.
…..a building site.
With confusion and sadness I returned home last week to find JCB’s tearing out a large section of cacti, piling it high amidst a plume of dust blowing across our home and garden. Within days our cacti fields have been cleared, dust covering our house and car. The boys wilderness has been wiped out along with the thousands of insects and hundreds of birds that brought such pleasure to our daily lives.
It seems our home now sits in the middle of the largest housing development the Island has ever seen, and within 6 months, 18 new homes will rise up from the dust around us. Our Island of tranquillity will never be the same again, the boys and their parents, genuinely upset at the loss of our beautiful cacti jungle. Housing is in hugely short supply on St Helena, development is needed, and areas to build on are as scarce as the endemic plants and insects. Cacti is an environment of value only to the Tyson’s, it does not contain the rare ferns and trees of the cloud forests, and the endemic insects are common across many sites on the Island. Sadly we sit alone in our wonder and appreciation of this rugged, spiky moat surrounding our castle and there is nothing we are able to do to halt the inevitable development.
Our heart is still in our home, and patches of cacti, rock, insect and finch remain plentiful enough on our eastern side to entertain the boys in the medium term, but it now seems inevitable that we will have to move in the new year as building progresses further. They say home is where the heart is, I only hope that our hearts can find a new home, elsewhere on this enchanting Island.