What Goes Around

By Jheri St. James


“Our task must be to free widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” Albert Einstein

Somewhere along the way, “Many Hands; Many Soils—Common Ground” emerged as a motto for the Common Ground 191 project, becoming the line at the bottom of our letterhead that went to the U.S. embassies in the countries from which we still required soil. In the case of the Belize collection, the motto really fit.

The first person we talked to about Belize was Betty Marcharro, our friend and soil collector from Guatemala, who offered to help us by contacting a friend in her neighboring country. The empty carton was sent out in June to Betty, but got lost somewhere along the way. She did finally get the package, but by then was in Honduras, and wondered if we needed that country’s soil. We did, so Gary sent another carton there.

In the meantime, we were sending “Many Hands; Many Soils-Common Ground” query letters to about 80 U.S. embassies in foreign countries, including Belize, and received a reply from Mr. Efrain Novelo in the embassy there. He was willing to collect the soil from Belize. By then, however, we had made contact with Ramiro Najera Chinchilla, Betty’s friend, who actually did get the soil from Belize.

His soil came from Centro Alfan, Belmopan, “a very rich place.“ Here’s where they produce a great part of Belize’s produce. It’s a small town whose main activity is agriculture.

This is the process that must be followed every single time a country’s soil is needed—192 times to complete the project. And it’s not free: each shipment of the empty box might cost as much as $150, and then the costs for the return shipment are even more. Gary Simpson, project founder, has a huge Excel file listing all the monies spent on shipping, comparison charts of different companies and dates of bills of lading. The journal is the story of the country and the soil, but the shipping documentation is critical because it proves that we did not just pick up some dirt in Laguna Beach and put it in a jar or a box and call it soil from “Belize.”

Thank you, everyone, for your good-hearted willingness and participation.



“In helping others, we shall help ourselves, for whatever good we give out completes the circle and comes back to us.”
- Flora Edwards

* * *

Belize, formerly known as British Honduras, is a small nation on the eastern coast of Central America on the Caribbean Sea, bordered by Mexico to the northwest and Guatemala to the west and south. The only English-speaking country in Central America, Belize was a British colony for more than a century, becoming an independent nation in 1981, and considers itself to be culturally both Caribbean and Central American. Belize is the smallest (in terms of population) non-island sovereign state in the Americas.

Hurricane Hattie inflicted significant damage upon Belize in 1961. The government decided that a coastal capital city lying below sea level was too risky. Over several years, the British colonial government designed a new capital, Belmopan, at the exact geographic center of the country, and in 1970 began slowly moving the governing offices there. The name Belize
was adopted in 1973. As the United Kingdom’s last colony on the American mainland, George Price led the country to full independence on 21 September 1981, after delays caused by territorial disputes with neighboring Guatemala, which did not formally recognize the country until 1991. Throughout Belize’s history, Guatemala has claimed ownership of all or part of the territory. As of 2006, the border dispute with Guatemala remains unresolved and quite contentious, requiring mediation by the UK, CARICOM heads of government, the Organization of American States and on one occasion, the U.S.

Belize is considered as having a relatively young and growing population. Its birth rate is among the highest in the world, and there are indications that this trend will continue for the foreseeable future. Nearly 40% of Belizeans are under 15; a similar number are between the ages of 15 and 65.

Belize was the site of several Mayan city states until their decline at the end of the first millennium A.D. Xunantunich is an archeological site, from the Maya civilization which is still there today.

The north of Belize consists mostly of flat, swampy coastal plains, in places heavily forested. The south contains the low maintain range of the Maya Mountains, whose Victoria Peak is the highest point in Belize. Located between the Hondo and Sarstoon Rivers, the Belize River flows down in the center of the country. The Caribbean coast is lined with a coral reef and some 450 islets and islands known locally as cayes, pronounced “keys”. Belize is home to the longest barrier reef in the western hemisphere, stemming approximately 200 miles and the second longest in the world after the Great Barrier Reef. Three of the four coral atolls in the Western Hemisphere are also located off the coast of Belize. Belize is the only Central American country without a coastline on the Pacific Ocean. It is along this Caribbean coastline that a very important Belizean activity and landmark are to be found.

First is the Manatee Conservation Program, a project designed to aid in the protection of the endangered Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus), through a combination of scientific research, professional training and public education. This project was begun in 1997. As a result of coastal development and other harmful changes to the environment, the manatee is highly endangered. The U.S. Geological Survey has assisted Wildlife Trust, Wildlife Conservation Society, Belize Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute, and Belizean Forestry, Fisheries and Agriculture Department biologists with the capture, assessment, radio tagging and monitoring of manatees off Drowned Keys in the South Lagoon, Belize. Currently, 77 manatees have been captured in Belizean waters and many have carried radio tabs.

Second is the amazing Blue Hole, first made famous by Jacques Cousteau in 1972, when he took his famous research vessel, the Calypso, into Lighthouse Atoll and traced a route that is used by dive boats to this day. It is often mentioned that Philippe Cousteau, his son, was killed during this trip. However, that happened while he was operating a light-wing plane in Lisbon, Portugal a few years later.

Approximately 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Belize City, the almost perfectly circular Blue Hole is more than 1,000 feet (305 meters) across and some 400 feet (123 meters) deep. The hole is the opening to what was a dry cave system during the Ice Age. When the ice melted and the sea level rose, the caves were flooded, creating what is now a magnet for intrepid divers. Today the Blue Hole is famed for its sponges, barracuda, corals, angelfish—and a school of sharks often seen patrolling the hole’s edge.

The Blue Hole is a geological oddity, so much so that in March of 1996 it was declared a World Heritage Site and later declared a National Monument in February of 1999. The Hole used to be, once upon a time millions of years ago, a complex system of dry caves. Scientists believe there were a couple of peculiar events that made the Hole what it is today. First, an earthquake of such force it might have tilted Lighthouse Reef, the area where the Blue Hole is located, to an angle of 12 degrees. Secondly, the melting of the last Ice Age flooded the cave system. Eventually, the porous limestone ceilings of the caves became incapable of supporting their own weight and they crumbled, leaving an almost perfectly round and deep hole in the process.

The Blue Hole is almost 1000 feet in diameter and over 450 feet deep. Its walls are almost perfectly vertical and fairly smooth, except at a few points where there are large ledges and overhangs. It is here that we find enormous stalactites (hanging down), stalagmites (building up) and columns (when stalactites and stalagmites meet) dating from the Pleistocene period. Due to the earthquake mentioned above, some stalactites hang at a 12-degree angle, cluing scientists such an event happened since stalactites cannot form except in a perfectly perpendicular manner. Some formations that happened after the earthquake are indeed perpendicular, and in some of the stalactites that formed before the earthquake one can see the top parts being at an angle and their bottom parts, which kept forming afterwards, being perpendicular.

Belize is an important country, not only to the people who live there, but to us at Common Ground 191. It represents another soil added to the project in our long, arduous collection process. The Blue Hole is a fascinating construct of Mother Nature, another of the myriad wonders of our planet, the circular “blue marble”, earth. It is this that we celebrate in our project, and the oneness of many hands sharing its soil. The word for peace in Belize is “paz”.

“When our eyes see our hands doing the work of our hearts, the circle of Creation is completed inside us, the doors of our souls fly open, and love steps forth to heal everything in sight.” Michael Bridge

“Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.” Albert Schweitzer


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