I’m writing from 30K feet this morning, headed to Texas. While St. Croix is part of the US, we still go through customs at the airport. The man who checked my documents this morning asked what I do for a living and to keep things simple, I replied that I’m a writer. He asked if I write about St. Croix. I said I’ve written some fiction short stories, but no, nothing directly about the island yet.
What would I say about my island home? We’ve lived here three and half years, not even long to have experienced a real hurricane…not that I have any desire to. I think back to what my friends stateside know about the island, about what I knew before first exploring the idea of moving. I had been to the British Virgin Islands once, and hopped around the cluster of St. Thomas, St. John and the BVI’s. We asked if it was possible to visit St. Croix but got shot down due to the 45 miles of ocean between it and its sister islands. Why bother when you already have so many islands to visit right there? So, St. Croix exists off the beaten path, sporadically graced by the looming shadow of a cruise ship, and frequented by people like our current President who’s been vacationing here for many years.
I love my island home in many of the same ways I love Dallas. I don’t really fit in, but I kinda do because of the diversity oftransplants who have moved here. The population is a paradox of itself. You never know what kind of an encounter you’ll have with a person. We say good morning, good afternoon, or good night when we walk in anywhere or we might get lectured about our manners. People in Dallas look at me funny because I forget and greet everyone I pass on the sidewalk. Not in the small Texas towns though. They still give and expect greetings like 'how are you'.
It is a place at war with itself, not wanting to admit that tourism is its biggest industry, with a lack of service culture to match. As my son Philip used to say when he was little, “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” Star ratings are laughed at, more of a scoff really. So for those looking to have all their desires met the second they surface, you won’t have a great experience here…unless you go in with no expectations.
If you’re into the outdoors, you won’t have anything to complain about. World class snorkeling and diving, kite surfing on windy days, paddleboarding or kayaking on calm days, different beaches for different kinds of fun, hiking, cultural tours that include visiting Alexander Hamilton’s childhood haunts. If you’re lucky you can see baby turtles hatch, humpback whales breech, or swim with dolphin families – none of which are captive. The chickens and iguanas aren’t captive either.
I was talking with a friend yesterday about the hidden side of the island. I’ve been thinking about hosting a writing retreat for some scifi authors that want to go somewhere chill where they have nothing to do but write and drink in natural beauty. St. Croix is a place where you have to slow down whether you want to or not, and once you do, you wonder why everyone is in such a hurry everywhere else.
We talked about the vast resources of natural healing modalities and practitioners here. While the stores and most restaurants carry food shipped from the mainland (too often already spoiled when you get it home), if you know where to go, you can have your protein straight from the sea and your produce straight from chemical free local farms. Veganism is huge in the Caribbean diaspora, which was a surprise to me.
The creative and maker community here is fortunate. It’s near impossible to survive on island, and keep your sanity, if you don’t figure out how to do some things for yourself. That leads to a confidence and ability to make things by hand. Almost everything comes in by boat and is more expensive than the mainland, if you can even find what you’re looking for, so you have to be resourceful. Open mic nights are so open they let me do a book reading, set to fire dancing, at a local BBQ joint. I sold out of books and made new friends! Setting up a book reading in Dallas was not quite so friendly.
The list of chain stores is comprised of Home Depot and K-Mart (no joke). Fast food chains are limited to McDonald’s, Wendy’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Dominos, and Subway. There is no Starbucks my caffeinated friends.
The biggest employer on island is the government. Most systems were stuck in the 80’s until very recently. There is no way to pay at the pump. Yes, you must take yourself into the gas station like you did thirty five years ago. My physical address doesn’t show up on google maps, much less the postal service. The directions I give to my house include, “when you get to the fork in the road, instead of going left toward Cheeseburgers (in Paradise), go right.”
It’s a small town where I’m mostly known as Zed’s mom or Peter’s wife. It makes me feel a little anonymous, which is perfectly fine with this introvert.
St. Croix isn’t for a lot of people, unless you’re ok with it changing you. Because, as many have tried, you won’t change it. Like the wind, ocean, and fire…you must learn to dance with it. When you do, you can find a cultural richness that spans centuries.
I’ll write about St. Croix again, maybe tell some funny stories, but this is it for today. Let me know if you’re thinking about coming this way and I’ll get you all the secrets of where to go and what to do.