History Exposed

The cycles of change between wet and dry on St. Martin have shaped the island’s wild spaces. Plants and animals that can’t survive the dry times don’t live here. Those that can have adaptations. Trees shed their leaves in dry times to conserve their moisture. Animals breed in the wet period when there is more food for their young.

Human life is also influenced by the changing seasons. To make salt, St. Martiners needed the dry months when water could evaporate, leaving the salt behind. The choice of crops and the timing of planting and harvest also depended on the rain.

The yearly cycle is somewhat predictable. There is a dry period from winter into spring and a wet period from summer into fall. Of course, in the Caribbean one is wise to expect the unexpected. A big storm could bring a huge rainfall during the driest months. This could be a disaster for birds nesting beside a pond that suddenly swells and swallows their nests.

The remains from salt production in Grand Case.

There are also droughts. It is said that people here had to face the prospect of losing their harvest every few years due to lack of rain. This would have been a huge challenge in centuries past. Perhaps it is good that we don’t depend on rain for our food today. The island has been relatively dry for a number of years, including a severe drought in 2015 and 2016. Climate change may bring more dry years to our region in the future.

Very dry weather does give us one unique opportunity. We can often see historical remains much more clearly. In ponds not connected to the sea, receding water reveals the levees and structures created for salt production. Barriers of stone and dirt divided the pond into smaller areas for salt production. In some cases, they also protected salt pans from incoming rainwater.

The dry hills also reveal structures from the past. As plants drop their leaves or shrivel and dry, we can often get a better view of old buildings and walls that have been abandoned to nature. Combined with the destruction of Hurricane Irma, this is a good time to see things that would otherwise be hidden by the vibrant growth of Caribbean plants.

Rains should be on their way. For thirsty plants and animals, it will be a chance to thrive again. For those of us still living beneath tarps, it will be a challenge. Before they come, take a moment to look up into the hills and down into our ponds to catch a glimpse of the past while it is still exposed.

Have you seen parts of St. Martin’s past exposed by the hurricane or the try weather? Share them by writing to The Daily Herald or [email protected].

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