The Almond Bottom
by Sir Roland Richardson
Cracking almond shells makes a unique pounding sound. It has a roundness that floats. It recalls the general quietude that enveloped my childhood village of Grand Case.
I heard it again the other day and, unexpectedly it evoked the special crunchiness of the salt encrusted pondside ground of the path between the receding ponds. I always sought to walk where neither animal not people had tread; the crunch made walking here special. I always felt as if it was a passage into the unknown. We took this path whenever it was the season to pick cashews or mangoes, hog plums, sugar apples or soursops. Kenep trees grew like hedges at the foot of the hill, the cherry trees sweetened the air with their red brightness, the only Locust tree I knew rose gracefully, silver and blue... adventure was "Over the Pond."
The wind became the sound of endless numbers of little waves taping on the shore. The luminescent grey-green heavy water transformed into white fluffy fluttering froth. This "snow" would be blown across the path against our feet and shins-myriad rainbow-filled bubbles bursting, leaving a briny coating.
Often cattle walked the edge into the water and sank to their knees in the smooth black mud releasing the smell of primitive earth. Chichiwees and Daddy Long Leg pond birds rose and set in chirping flocks leading the way across the pond.
Memories are mysterious and magical. They exist intact and unchanged by time. They interconnect yet maintain their integrity. They weave the network of a whole life while inhabiting their own space and timelessness within our life. Memories are more than remembered past events and though they are part of the fabric making up the present person, they are somehow apart. What happens that makes an event or an experience a memory? We don't remember our whole life with the same distinctness as a memory. Within them, all our senses are intensely active simultaneously.
The Almond Bottom was over the pond in a place all its own. Unlike other trees, Almonds go through several full seasons every year. Leafless, their dark trunks and spreading knobby branches are scary. Soon young spring-green buds shoot out shinny and shimmering, then transform rapidly into large emerald and cool deep green leaves in which cluster its hidden fruit. The almond fruit ripens from a lentil shaped invisible green fruit to a bright yellow which falls to the ground. Then autumn's splendor of yellow, orange, flaming red and purple all cascade, covering the ground and fallen nuts, under a thick brown coat that sounds hollow and mysterious to our searching feet.
Bats and rodents and kids love to eat the thin yellow skin, but the nut hidden inside is what brings us on this adventure. In the deep shadow that lay like a pool separating it and us from the rest of the world, we scrambled and searched amidst roots that writhe as if alive. The trees' huge purple barked trunks took several of us to span them with our encircling arms. They were so tall we called them great-grandfather trees and were certain that they were aware of us and offered us these nuts as a reward for our daring.
On the way home we walked in the mud and all went home with black "shoes." After sunning the nuts for a few days, the cracking would begin. The pounding would float intermittently over the village and stop when that distinctive crack was heard. Hidden inside a thick spongy fibrous cover is a thin hard inner shell which nestles our prize. Despite pounded fingers and much labor and its tiny ness, the almond nut is one of the Caribbean's true hidden treasures. It is like a little rolled cigar. Brown outer skin, pearly moist and crunchy inside, this treasured flavor contains memories that have nourished numberless generations. An old lady friend once said to me "My children partly rear from these nuts, you know. Oh, we eat good bread from these."
As eager children, we would and could at any time of year crack a few and delight in their fresh state. But boiled in brown sugar and cooled on a wet board or on a piece of marble stone, these almond sugar cakes preserve Sunday afternoon strolls in our finery, giggling, sharing, munching the treasure we held in pieces of brown paper: moments when we were content with the present.
Sir Roland and Laura Richardson happily invite you to discover their beautiful gallery in Marigot at a charming Creole landmark building with private garden. They would be delighted to hear from you!
Magic Jack, Tel: 1-443-982-0683
Visit their beautiful gallery at:
Roland Richardson Gallery Museum
#6 rue de la Republique, Marigot, St. Martin
Where Fine Art, History and Nature abound!
(c) copyright Laura and Roland Richardson 2013