“I’m in Barbados doing research, and I’m standing under a 100 caliber barrel. The thing looks big enough to crawl into, but not quite. And the barrel just keeps going and going. Big enough that I have to trudge through the wet grass a ways to get some perspective on the whole thing. This cannon is so damn big it has a structure around the barrel to keep it rigid. It’s mounted on a concrete pad the size of an office building’s foundation. And there’s this huge space for recoil: a dark pit that I don’t want to fall down into, because it’s filled now with stagnant water.
I’m on the coast of Barbados, so there’s a pleasant, salty wind kicking up that’s cutting the heat as I walk around the 119 foot long barrel. It’s pitted with exposure to the corrosive ocean, but still majestically aims off over the Atlantic crashing against the low cliffs not too far away.
I was born in Grenada, an island further to the west of Barbados, both of us at the southern tip of the sweep of the Caribbean as it curves down toward South America. Only Trinidad and Tobago lie between Venezuela and us. And all that time growing up, I had no idea that a lost, but no less major and fascinating chapter of humanity’s early attempts to get into orbit lay just one island over from me.”
I had to keep the essay a little short, so I could talk about how Karen Lord and Robert Sandiford were really important in getting me there. Again, thanks to them both for taking me to see this amazing piece of history last summer.