Book VI, Chapter XLVI
About a very notable aspect of the changing weather in this city of Santo Domingo and island of Hispaniola, and still in other parts of these Indies that have been settled by the Christians.
Translated by Madeline Seibel Dean ’22
As is well-known to all of us that have set foot on them, Christians have inhabited these Indies for no more than fifty-six years, from the year 1492 until this year of 1548; and I got to see Columbus, first Admiral and discoverer of these parts, and most of the first settlers, those principal men who came here back then, and even those who came after with very important posts and offices. I have seen these lands much changed in those provinces that I have traveled to, and they continue to change every day, particularly as it concerns periods of cold and hot weather; every day, as time goes on, the weather grows cooler and we find it less warm; and all the Spaniards who have been here awhile agree with this opinion and say so.
I have talked with some learned men who live in these our Indies about this matter and they conclude that this is a sign of how this region and its processes have been tamed and calmed under the sovereignty of the Spaniards, just as the Indians and natural men have been tamed, as well as the animals and everything else of this land. And it is a very natural, reasonable, and evident thing that it would be thus, because as this land is very humid and deeply forested and impenetrable, having never been trodden upon nor opened up, and belonging to savage people for so many years, forests were always growing and their paths were like rabbit-paths, and very rarely were there any roads. Their buildings were of too little wood to use up such abundant trees; they also had no cattle for farming, and if there were any in the Mainland it would only be those big sheep in Peru, which were mentioned in Book XII, Chapter XXX.
Moreover, after the evangelical word was preached here (beginning at the time I mentioned), the farms, buildings and the multitude of cattle have increased in such a way that the land, especially this island, has been opened, cleared, and treated in such a way that where once they found the timber to build the temples and houses near this city, it is now necessary to bring it from twelve or more leagues away and at much cost. But leaving this type of wood aside, let us discuss how so much firewood has been used and is still used for the sugar mills that one cannot believe it without seeing it; where once they had it by their door, they now have to get it from farther away, and every day they have to search for it and find it farther away from the mills and sugar houses.
The livestock, especially the cows, are powerful animals, and their breath and large herds break the wind and clear and open the air with their vapors. Furthermore, there are, as I have said in another part, men in this city with twenty and twenty-five thousand heads of cattle, and from there down to fifteen, twelve, and ten thousand; from there even less, to the point that those who have a thousand or two-thousand heads of cattle barely count or are not counted among those who are rich owners of cattle. And in addition to the domesticated livestock, those that have gone wild are innumerable, cows as well as pigs and horses (of which there are many domesticated as well), and all of these roam various parts of the island. Add to these the cattle found on countryside haciendas and estates around this city and in all the towns and settlements of this island, and those who discuss these matters find many reasons to explain why the air is thinning and being purified and the land becoming domesticated, as I said earlier.
Talking about the obelisk of Campus Martius, where the Romans could tell the time of day by the shadows, Pliny says: “Mallus, the mathematician, placed at the apex of the obelisk a gilded ball in order that the shadow of the summit might be condensed and agglomerated, and so prevent the shadow of the apex itself from running to a fine point of enormous extent; the plan being first suggested to him, it is said, by the shadow that is projected by the human head. For nearly the last thirty years, however, the observations derived from this dial have been found not to agree: whether it is that the sun itself has changed its course in consequence of some derangement of the heavenly system; or whether that the whole earth has been in some degree displaced from its centre, a thing that, I have heard say, has been remarked in other places as well.” All this above is Pliny’s. About this change, applying what has been said about the seasons of our Indies, I want to mention something of note in this chapter, something that although it is not for everyone or at least not for those who do not read or are not given to the contemplation of natural things, it seems to me that it is a development to watch and examine with a subtle spirit, even for those learned men or experts in the study of celestial movements. Even myself and others not verse in the understanding and knowledge of astrology can note the changes here continuing and increasing day after day; and it has been thus since the Christians have known these parts (which is a short time) to the present, there is ample and notable difference in the weather. Such is this change that here in this city of Santo Domingo of this island of Hispaniola we do not wear fewer clothes now than we would in Spain or are now worn over there; in the months of October and November, when there is rain and the north wind blows, a zamarro or coat would be useful to those who have one, as would other layers of the sort worn during the winter in Castile, because here we are eighteen degrees from the equinoctial line, and not less. And not only in this city, but in Nicaragua, on the Mainland, which is at thirteen degrees, and in the city of Panama, which is at eight and a half, there is a great difference between how this land was when it was first settled by the Spaniards and how it is now. And I say the same of the city of Darien, from how it was found by the Adelantado Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, the Bachiller Ençiso and those that first settled there in the year 1509, to how it was after, when it was depopulated in the year 1524. Therefore, in the fifteen years that the land was settled, it was so changed and altered that the difference was great, and even the health of the neighbors was much improved, as those of us who experienced it could see; although I was not there at the beginning, I heard it from the first settlers, and I can testify from the year 1514 to when it was depopulated, at my cost and those of many others. May God be praised for all.
 Pliny. Book XXXVI, Chapter XX
 The quotation from Pliny is drawn from The Natural History by Pliny the Elder. Translated by John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S., H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A., Ed. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0137%3Abook%3D36%3Achapter%3D15
Image: Defrichement d’un forêt by Isidore Laurent Deroy in the 1800s.