Tips of the Earthbergs

By Jheri St. James

The islands of the Eastern Caribbean are very far away from Laguna Beach, California, and in 2001 we looked at the long list of names—Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Kits & Nevis, and St. Vincent & Grenadines—and thought, wow! Collecting these soils is going to be difficult! That was seven years ago. Today we have obtained the soils from each of those Eastern Caribbean islands—six shipments orchestrated by one lady, Juanita Lynch from the U.S. Embassy in Barbados; and one from Dr. Janil Gore-Frances, Ph.D. of the Plant Protection Unit of the Department of Agriculture in Antigua. We sincerely thank Juanita Lynch and Dr. Gore-Frances for their help in obtaining these unique soils from the number one tourist destination on earth. Juanita Lynch sent us this quotation from Frank Collymore’s Hymn to the Sea: “Like all who live on small islands, I must always be remembering the sea.”

Indians were the first inhabitants here and then in 1492 Christopher Columbus became the first European to explore these islands. After reportedly landing in the Bahamas, Columbus named them the Indies because he thought he had finally reached Asia and the East Indies. Numerous explorers followed in his path, then settlers arrived from the Americas and Europe—religious outcasts, slaves from Africa, and a small army of pirates. Great military powers fought for control of the islands, long called the West Indies, now named the Caribbean islands.

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This is a large group of islands that separate the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean, and are broken into three island groups:

  • Bahamas (north)—3,000 individual islands and reefs;
  • Greater Antilles (central)—Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico
  • Lesser Antilles (southeast)—
  1. Leeward Islands (Antigua & Barbuda; St. Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla and Montserrat) and
  2. Windward Islands (Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Grenada, Barbados).

The West Indies Federation, created by the United Kingdom in 1958 consisted of 24 main inhabited islands and approximately 220-230 offshore islands, islets and cays. The Federation spanned across all the island groups in the Caribbean. Most of the islands have mountainous interiors surrounded by narrow coastal plains. As with all British colonies of the period, Queen Elizabeth II was head of state. Jamaica was the first to leave the federation in 1962. After that came Trinidad and Tobago, then Barbados, and finally the West Indies Federation was dissolved that same year. Later in a period from 1966 through 1983, the rest of the islands gained their own independence from British rule, except Montserrat, Cayman Islands, Turks & Caicos Islands, Anguilla, St. Kitts & Nevis remain UK territories.

Predicted Topography Gravity Map

The king and the people of Silene converted to Christianity, George slew the dragon, and the body was carted out of the city on four ox-carts. Fifteen thousand men were baptized, without women and children. On the site where the dragon died, the king built a church to the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint George, and from its altar a spring arose whose waters cured all disease.Traditionally, the lance with which St. George slew the dragon was called Ascalon, a name recalling the city of Ashkelon, Israel. From this tradition, the name Ascalon was used by Winston Churchill for his personal aircraft during World War II.

As this map shows, the islands are but the tips of the earthbergs—tectonic plates below. We know that 70% of the earth’s surface is water, but under the water is the earth again. The basis of the entire planet is soil of some kind, except perhaps for those mysterious depths of the ocean. Do they go down into inner earth? (No, the water would all go there, too. It might be good to have a drain to alleviate the rising waters associated with global warming!) Regardless, even though ships and boats must travel the waters, and airplanes the skies from island to island, the Eastern Caribbean is all connected at the base, as are all the countries of the earth, regardless of the arbitrary borders, nationalities and politics, which illusory boundaries separate our minds from one another. So as we remember the sea, let us also remember the earth.

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“Hi Juanita.

Natural disasters have featured in this country’s history—volcano La Soufriere erupted in 1902 and 1979, causing much death, damage and evacuation; in 1980, 1987, 1998 and 1999, severe hurricanes caused extensive damage to crops and the west coast of the island.

“Soil samples from Barbados, St. Kitts & Nevis, Dominica and St. Vincent are now displayed on my shelves waiting to be mixed for the final project next year. Somehow the collection package for Grenada was misplaced. I would like to try again. Would you or a colleague be willing to submit the volunteer form at www.commonground191.com? Haitian soil is currently being facilitated by Beatrice Vilain from our Embassy in Haiti and Grenada would complete (except for Cuba) that part of the globe. Thanks again for your generous support. I look forward to hearing from you.



* * *

“Dear Mr. Simpson:

“Somehow or another by the time your package got to Grenada it had become separated from its DHL: form, instructions, etc. Grenada had no idea what to do with the collection package and after a while it was discarded. Could you please send the package, DHL form and instructions etc. to the U.S. Embassy in Grenada.

“Karen Jo McIsaac, Charge d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy Grenada”


Each package that is sent out costs about $150 on average, so when one gets discarded, artist Gary Simpson must tally up another loss on the books. Not exactly a starving artist, but let’s say he is the frugal financier for Common Ground 191.

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Grenada is called “The Spice Isle” because it is a leading producer of several different spices—cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, allspice, orange/citrus peels, wild coffee and especially nutmeg, seen on the nation’s flag. The island Grenada itself is the largest of the Grenadine islands. Smaller Grenadines are Carriacou, Petit Martinique, and Ronde, Caille, Diamond, Large, Saline and Frigate Island. Most of the population of 100,000 lives on Grenada. The islands are of volcanic origin with extremely rich soil. (Soil, get it?)

Grenada is one of the smallest independent countries in the Western Hemisphere. This independence came about after being dominated by the French (17th century), who imported slaves for the sugar trade, and then the British (1762), who expanded on that export. In the 19th century, cacao surpassed sugar and in the 20th century, nutmeg became the leading export, second only to Indonesia. Tourism, though, is its main source of foreign exchange. In 1983, a Marxist military council seized Grenada, bringing in US forces and those of six other Caribbean nations, which quickly captured the ringleaders and their hundreds of Cuban advisors. Hurricane Ivan struck Grenada in September of 2004, causing severe damage, and then Emily hit in 2005, causing it to take on debt for rebuilding. Hurricane season lasts from June to November.


* * *

Several small rivers with beautiful waterfalls flow into the sea from the mountainous interior; Mt. St. Catherine being the highest peak. Although most of the Caribbean islands are of volcanic origin, crater lakes can only be found in Dominica and Grenada. Three are found on the spice island—Levera Pond and Lake Antoine in the north, and the Grand Etang in the center of the island. The Grand Etang lake has many mysteries surrounding it. Wilan Hamilton, Education Officer of the Forestry says, “Each year, the Fire Baptists make sacrifices to the goddess Orisha on the shores of the lake. The legend has it that the mermaid-like goddess seduces men then drags them down into the depths of the water. Some even believe that those drowned in the Grant Etang reappear in distant places like St. Vincent, Trinidad or Venezuela.

Giving credence once again to the ‘hole in the bottom of the ocean’ theory above, it seems that, “more water flows out of the lake than comes in through the only known inlet.” Researchers have taken samples from the bottom of the lake and discovered that the pollen and spores are up to 25,000 years old.

To followers of the old African Orisha (Orisa or Orixa) faith, Grenada’s highest crater lake is a sanctuary. Yet beneath its dark water surface, the “Grand Etang” is still keeping a number of other secrets. Bizarre myths are woven around this natural wonder surrounded by dense mountain jungle. Here are some artistic renderings of the Orixa:

Orixá of wind, change

Nanã, The oldest Orixá
in Candomblé

A majority of the citizens are descendants of the African slaves brought by the Europeans; few of the indigenous Carib and Arawak population survived the French purge at Sauteurs.

The flag of Grenada boasts the nutmeg.

Grenada’s motto is
“Ever conscious of God, we aspire, build and advance as one people.”

One people, living on one soil—the theme of the Common Ground 191 project, nearing it’s completion as of this writing. We have perhaps 10 more soils to collect. Grenada’s spicy soil will add its own unique volcanic, mythic elements to the final fresco. Thanks again to Juanita Lynch, Karen Jo McIsaac and Sherron Roberts of the American Embassy in Barbados for their help with this collection. The word for peace in Grenada is . . . peace!

(National Geographic)





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