The closure of beaches has allowed for a more intimate relationship with the forest and some of the people for whom it is home. Douen entered my vocabulary in Trinidad, and the sight of it was limited to a painting I saw at the National Museum in Port of Spain. But I recall a lady saying she got up one night to find her daughter playing with her toys in the living room, only it was not her daughter, it was a douen. The feet were backwards. My lesson there was that they like to play with children, or children’s thing, and they do very good impersonations. It was only a few months ago I realized that I have been in hanging out in douen territory, i.e. once I understood the sound they make. Bright daylight, I could hear the sound all day. I thought it was a bird. One day I asked what’s the name of the bird I was hearing. Bird? That’s not a bird. That’s a douen. A what? Yep. It was a distant sound, but consistent. Some said it sounds like a deer. I would not know the difference. But I was in the forest so all possibilities existed.
One man recalled following a douen and got lost. Well, he said it deliberately lost him. He went to cut some land and got distracted by the child and later could not find his way out of the forest. In which case some say take off your clothes and put them back on wrongsided to confuse whatever is confusing you. Another man said he used to go into the forest on the outskirts of his home to put sweets for them. Nice, charity begins close to home. But he had to stop because they started coming close to the house to play with the children. A young lady (about 35 years old) said she liked them. In her more youthful days she used to put sweets and cakes to encourage them to come out. All things nature intrigues her. She had ‘real’ imaginary friends. Well one day I went high in the hills; at least two hours walk into the forest with a gradual climb. We were going to a water source. And I heard the sound. On this occasion it seemed a few yards away from me, like walking parallel to us. Fascinating. Intimidating. I did not think to walk with sweets with which I might have been able to forge an interaction.
Snakes are another intrigue. I was clearing an area one day and left the spot to go for a rake. Other things got my attention and by the time I returned with the rake, there was fresh snake skin on the path. Did it fall from above? My eyes darted everywhere. Didn’t see the owner. I knew this just happened and I missed the action. Apart from that I had one evening encounter with a white-belly black snake. Feisty. I pelted it with a piece of metal pipe and it bounced off. It raised its head, like: how dare you come into my home and mistreat me? It did not try to escape. I waited. It waited. I pelted another object. It raised itself higher. Then it lowered itself and slithered away. There was a boa crossing my path as I walked another day. The sunlight danced on its skin and made it look pretty. I felt awe. Something else inside of me was triggered, maybe fear…though, apart from the Zoo, my closest encounter yet has been in my own yard. The same lady who used to put out cake for the douen now has a forestry job, and she spoke of the presence of blue flies as indicating where snakes or caiman might be hanging out. So I have added that information to my tool kit.
As things go, some forest stories are not complete with talk of marijuana. Men, camping out on a marijuana farm. One day, rain was pouring. Pelau cooking. Time to roll some weed. Paper? No paper. The man who was to bring the paper forgot. Steups. Substitute? Man chilling in his hammock reading his Bible. Someone ask him to pass it so they could see something. He passed it. The thin blank sheets of paper at the back were torn out. Man upset. They hand him back his Bible and proceeded to roll big splifs with the pages. Not that day, but over time, only the covers of the Bible remained. No offense to the Christian community, but, excellent wrapping paper, excellent. Anyway, they limed late that night then sleep took them out one by one. About 2am man woke up. Put coffee to boil. Roll splif and settled down. As he sipped and smoked he saw lights along the ridge in the distance. The light at the front was different to the light at the back. Ah! A local and Policemen. He woke up everyone. They estimated they had an hour to disappear. They cleared the camp. When they returned the marijuana plants were cut down and the camp was burnt.
By nightfall the camp was once more operational. Bold. The men felt the need to exact revenge because the man who brought the Police was one of their own whom they were forced to put out of the camp. But…in time. They had to salvage the crop. The marijuana stumps were salted and nurtured. They sprang up. When the crop was harvested it was way better than the sprouts that were cut down. The sell-out man was sought out and given a very decent sample of the crop. Gratitude was expressed to him, for had it not been for his doing they would not have reaped this quality. More time passed. Then one night he was on his way home in the dark when someone called out from the bushes saying they had something for him. He stopped and turned towards the voice. A man emerged from the dark, chopped him with a cutlass and disappeared back into the bushes. While everyone felt revenge was necessary, no one had committed to doing anything. But when the sell-out man, scar healing, later saw them and expounded on his experience, they knew who did it. Only two cutlass men were in the group, and one had disappeared for a few weeks. When he returned to camp, the talk was: Good job! His response: I don’t know what you talking bout.