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Mike Fay’s Pitcairn Journal: The Island’s Magic Gardens

By Mike Fay, NG Explorer-in-Residence 4 April 2012 I slept at Brenda and Mike’s house (well, outside on their veranda) last night because I needed to try and wash and dry my 5D and all the audio equipment.  I don’t have much hope for the camera but I had to try. Left the house just...

By Mike Fay, NG Explorer-in-Residence

4 April 2012

I slept at Brenda and Mike’s house (well, outside on their veranda) last night because I needed to try and wash and dry my 5D and all the audio equipment.  I don’t have much hope for the camera but I had to try.

Left the house just after noon.  I walked up to the Aute Valley to set up camp early, out near the nice grassy observation post that lets people view the beach and rock art at Down Rope from a distance.  Coming up the road it was raining hard and I got fixated on filming the brown water coming down the drainage ditch.  It looks like molten earth.


Gardener’s Paradise

Got my tent up just in time for another downpour.  I could see it was just going to keep raining all day so I just kept going, making the tour of the edge of the Aute Valley.  There were tons of feral chickens in the Johnson grass and you could see how this place at one time was kind of the bread basket of the island.  It has nice flat and gentle slopes, obviously rich soils, and plenty of rain.  This is where I would have my garden that’s for sure, as long as I could keep the chickens and goats out.  Today it is mostly weedy but somebody has started a new banana plantation and had 17 bee hives here. The hill behind the valley here is dominated by rose apple and cordyline, the old moonshine plant of Pitcairn.

This is also where some have proposed to put in an airstrip for the island.   Pitcairn would just feel like one more place you go to if that happened I think.  It would take a lot of the magic away.


Pitcairners’ Playground

I passed the tennis court that looks like the ghost of Wimbledon, then headed up the edge of yet another cliff on slippery clay, and up to McCoy’s Valley.  From the cliff a huge plume of orange soil surrounded rocks off the Faute Valley.

Then I got to the spot people call The Hollow. It has an alley of some of the biggest and most beautiful rata trees on the entire island, like the rows of old live oaks going to southern mansions.  I could see families spending long summer days here in the lounge chairs, gathering, eating, kids playing on the swing in a grove that keeps you cool.  For the more rambunctious they would go down the slope to Down Rope and swim and fish for lunch.  It is a magical place that brings you back to the first days of the mutineers on the island.

I visited the old radio room on the hill.  It is a sweet old building with milled shiplap siding.  Before satellites, HF (Ham) radios were the point of contact with the outside world.  The antennas are still intact, and there are plenty of spare parts for the old-style radio sets with huge glass tubes.  A big board on the wall had outlines of all the tools they used to have up here.  From the look of the newspapers this place has been idle since the 1980s.

I was invited to dinner at Kerry and Heather’s house.  The first thing Kerry showed me was this huge smooth oblong rock he had hauled up from Tautama.  This thing probably weighed 100 pounds and was split perfectly down the center.  Kerry supposed that it was the first cut by the Polynesians who were going to use it for stone tools.  Bren gave me a lift down to my tent.  I have a rendezvous with the school kids tomorrow.


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Meet the Author

J. Michael Fay
Mike Fay has spent his life as a naturalist—from the Sierra Nevadas and the Maine woods as a boy, to Alaska and Central America in college, to North Africa and the depths of the central African forest and savannas for the last 25 years. He has worked for the Wildlife Conservation Society of the Bronx since 1991. In 1996, Fay flew over the forests of Congo and Gabon and realized there was a vast, intact forest corridor spanning the two countries from the Oubangui to the Atlantic Ocean. In 1997, he walked the entire corridor, over 2,000 miles, surveying trees, wildlife, and human impacts on 12 uninhabited forest blocks. Called Megatransect, this work led to a historic initiative by the Gabonese government to create a system of 13 national parks, making up some 11,000 square miles (28,500 square kilometers). In 2004, he completed the Megaflyover, an eight-month aerial survey of the entire African continent. He logged 800 hours and took 116,000 vertical images of human impact and associated ecosystems, many of which are now visible on Google Earth. In 2008 Fay completed the Redwood Transect, a new project to learn more about the redwood forest. He walked the entire range of the redwood tree, over 700 miles. Since then he has participated in the 2011 BioBlitz at Saguaro National Park, and is a regular team member of fellow NG Explorer Enric Sala's Pristine Seas Expeditions, recording the life and land above the waves.