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There are little wooden houses on the island of Nevis and many are covered in vines. They were built 100 hundred years ago, in a tradition that was handed from master carpenter to apprentice, one generation to the next. Their beams are pegged together with interlocking joints, mortise and tenon. Covered in clapboard siding and wooden shingles, each has a unique gingerbread trim from the eaves, spider box railings and picket fences. Brightly painted, their tropical hues selected to keep the “jumbies” away.

Some of these structures are found in, what seems like, improbable places, if one didn’t know that an empty field was once a village, or that a busy bus stop was once a town square. Sometimes a village moves on, when the last occupant dies and the only living family members are overseas; the houses are abandoned. The gardens go untended and the vines creep in and become a shroud. Things grow so quickly in the tropics that the seeds dropped, or blown on the wind, quickly become trees. The trees move in, advancing on the front porch and poking their branches inside nook and cranny.

Some of these houses have been saved, by being picked up and moved to new locations.  Some have been preserved on canvas.  Some have collapsed, succumbed to termites and turned to dust, leaving only the footprint of their foundations.  Some still stand, resisting time.

I have always felt that these house tell the passage of time, with a window into the past, a snap shot of the present and glimpse into the future. They suggest at what has been, at the stories of the lives from past generations; we can look at these houses then close our eyes and imagine how people lived 100 years ago. Their state of repair, or disrepair, tells us a little about where we are now, what we have come to.


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