Damien Enright: Nothing sappy about realising good fortune of living here

Damien Enright: Nothing sappy about realising good fortune of living here
A 'guarapero' on top of a scalped palmera in Valle Gran Rey, La Gomera. A 'bowl' is cut into the trunk-top and sugary sap fills it overnight . The result, guarapo, is exclusive to the island. Picture: Damien Enright

It seems that what is damaging the world more than anything else is the extraction and use of fuel for the transport of goods and people. I'm stating the obvious as you, my readers, know.

I think it's not too naive to say that reducing transport, and the energy expenditure and pollution entailed, is the first thing your government and mine should deal with. It can be dealt with on a local level, and our small country is very 'local'.

Investment in solar panelling, water, wind and wave power, work-at-home or cycling or walking to the workplace, dividing large manufacturing plants and population centres into smaller hubs where work and shops are local, would all arrest global warming.

Initiatives on local level are the first and most important to invest in. Beyond local, beyond the remit of our government, there is the wider world. We want to go there and trade there, so the problem of global destruction through international communication must be its wider, but parallel, concern.

As we hub our world, the extraordinary technology now under investigation or in development, should, in every country and culture, extend from those hubs to encompass this.

We hear of hyperloop, rolling-road, air-propelled trains, etc. They sound like fantasies as did electricity, then solar energy, then smart phones, to our father's generation.

The internet, above all else, saves journeys. It should not be owned by a handful of giant, multinational companies but be available everywhere on earth as a non-profit community utility.

Mankind can save itself, it has the capacity. We do not have to frack and poison the land, and kill the sky and mine the ocean floors. This pandemic has been a wakeup call. 

Let us emerge from it confident that we can fight and stop epidemics, and defeat not only the danger to humans but the threats to all life, human, animal, vegetable, and mineral, to the atmosphere, forests and oceans, and to the real and present threat of climate change.

Respected, non-partisan studies tell us that size-control is key to solving many problems the world faces regarding climate and sustainability.

Many of my readers live in rural Ireland and are used to smallness, as am I. Up to the start of my generation, most rural people lived their lives largely within the confines of geography and limited infrastructure, in reasonable comfort and, possibly, more happily than they do now.

Small is beautiful, indeed. We are still in La Gomera, in the Canaries still waiting for safe transport to get home. We hope to be in west Cork to enjoy the summer; meanwhile, where lovelier than the villages of this valley now, in May?

It's heartening to be part of this community of 4,000 people living in small hamlets, most with a population of no more than a hundred souls. My family aren't integrated, as immigrants might be, but we're not holidaymakers, either. We've been coming here for 40 years.

Most of the old guys who'd remember me from the 1980s have popped off. It's nice when a group in their 30s and 40s sitting outside a cafe invite me over as I pass. I don't know them, but they remember me from when there were few foreigners. My son, who spent a year at school here, seems to know everybody and their cousins.

Up valley, it's small hamlets of farmers and a few guarapo tree-climbers. The other day I saw a guarapero perched on the lopped-off top of a giant Canarian palm, Phoenix Canarias;

they grow to 35 m tall. The sap collects overnight in a depression carved into the crown, and is channelled into a plastic bucket suspended beneath. Boiled down to 90% of volume, it becomes a brown syrup, sirope de palma, free of additives and full of goodness.

Years ago, I sat beside a tree-top guarapo well, and wrote about it then, an unforgettable ten minutes 70 feet above ground, supported only on palm leaves beside the bowl of sap, surrounded by bees.

This time, I was on solid earth, higher than, and roughly parallel to, the guapero. I yelled across to ask if I could take a photo. He said fine, and we got talking (rather, we got yelling) to one another. Airen, by name, he turned out to know my son, of course.

I have Gomera sirope de palma on my Irish porridge every morning for breakfast. The harvesting and processing goes back 500 years. The only island that still produces it is Gomera – maybe only Gomeros have the head for heights.

Now, I want to get home to west Cork. I consider myself blessed, having two small communities where I';m welcome, and where my children and grandchildren are welcome too.

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