Natural Cuba

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Cuban stream anole © Alfonso Silva Lee

Boas and Boobies in the Bush


With some 44,200 square miles of territory, the Cuban archipelago just touches, to the north, the formal limit of tropicality. The precise land surface matters little; the area changes from century to century, and also from decade to decade. A similar vagueness takes place with the number of keys. The total amount given by different geographers varies from 1600 to the outrageous exaggeration of 4000. No one, apparently, has ever defined at what point a mangrove stand is sufficiently large to qualify as a key, or what width a water channel must have to consider two pieces of land—or two large stands of mangrove—as separate keys. Adding to the confusion, each day the tides flood and expose hundreds of patches of low terrain, and also make each key grow and shrink. Whatever size is selected to validate a mangrove stand as an accountable piece of land, those immediately below the mark will still classify as keys, if only in the morning, afternoon, or midnight hours.

Cuban mountains still tremble now and then, complying to rhythms of the planet’s deep pressures. The coast and keys, alive with a thick mangrove belt, constantly steal space from the ocean: the daily inch of advance translates with the passing centuries into square miles of newborn soil. Hurricanes, natural force and capriciousness on the loose, then tear down, in just a few hours, the secular fabrications of life. After the storm, sun, water and chlorophyll return anew, from another starting point, to their indefatigable alchemy.

Gundlach's swallowtail
Gundlach's swallowtail © Alfonso Silva Lee

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