The Story of a Landscape


(Photo Courtesy of Dr. Alyssa Summers)

Along one of our last trips up to Bois Jolie, I paused with Jean Francique, an agronomist in his late twenties who worked with us throughout the summer, to take in a sweeping view of the L’Artibonite Valley. I commented to him that I thought his country was very beautiful, and to my surprise, he responded with disdain. I have long struggled to understand his response, and how someone could not see the beauty in the landscape of their home country.

I have tried to recall that view through his eyes, and when I do, the scene carries a different weight.

I saw a scattering of trees and farmlands, valleys, imposing mountains draped in flowing clouds of promising rain, and the ambling L’Artibonite.

What I believe he may see, is the unfolding of a tragic story, in which the landscape and people were severed from each other, and are no longer able supply the other with the means of survival. The people are hungry, and look to the earth for nourishment, but the earth has been weakened by centuries of trade abuse from other countries and survivalist farming practices.

I wish to point out that I do not in any way believe that the blame for this lies on the Haitian people or government, but the colonial powers that refuted the countries existence and offered no helping hand after the slave revolution that ended in 1804.

When I look out over the landscape and story that unfolds beneath Green’s View in Sewanee, my first thought is that the view in Haiti and the view in Sewanee have little in common. There is little evident struggle between the earth and Americans, and by no means are we experiencing any kind of a food shortage, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. However, on second thought, I believe out stories may be the same, and we simply find ourselves along different points along the plot. At some point, many years ago, a Haitian may have looked over that very same valley, and seen only freedom and prosperity, with little inkling of what stood on the horizon of the land’s story. Perhaps in our own ignorance we are marching steadily towards an abused and used up landscape, no longer able to support our luxurious lifestyles.


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