At the start of this new year I was ready to dive head first into island exploration, with my blank field note-book in hand, I was prepared to record – stories to hear, places to visit, food to eat, and people to meet. St. Croix is only 28 miles long by 7 miles wide. Being a relatively small island, I was sure I would have no problem creating my own field guide in four weeks time. Well its now 12 days into January and I am quickly realizing that even with an appetite for exploration, I did not calculate “Island time” into my preplanned schedule. It took us the first week of this month to even arrive on site, I should have known that it might take a little longer to settle in and branch out into exploration mode.
Unlike prior vacation visits, this time we are setting up a new home at the end of a very long and bumpy dirt road in the tropics. There are many other things that needed to be attended to first before new exploration. Basic survival was number one on the list – figuring out how to eat, where to sleep, how to get around, and how to live among a new community. Simple adjustments need to be made to understand the different, geography, climate, communication patterns, access to technology and transportation. Making all these changes in a short period of time can feel like strenuous exploration in itself. At times this past week, this initial adventuring has left me feeling a bit overwhelmed.
But in those stressful moments its best to banish panic and doubt and simply remind myself that this is the year of letting go of past patterns and taking on new challenges. I wanted to push my comfort zone this year and this move is certainly doing it. In transition times like these there is nothing more important than keeping a healthy, positive, and peaceful mindset. The best way that I can accomplish this is by starting exploration in my immediate environment from where I am and slowly radiating outward.
The house we are living in is a beautiful construction site being put together piece by piece, day by day. It is nestled on the side of steep hill on the north side of the island close to the rainforest. The view is spectacular overlooking St. Thomas and St John Islands in the distance. The house is like an island in itself separated from the rest of the island. Even with a four-wheel drive vehicle it is difficult to navigate to and from the house to other places on the island.
With this in mind I decided to start exploring my own personal island in this new environment. The first exploration was the house itself – where will we eat? Where will we sleep? And when the construction inside home is too much where will we find refuge? Ashley’s simple suggestion of taking walks this month to get acquainted with the environment was the perfect excuse to get to know my own backyard.
My first walk upon arriving was into the overgrown garden in the backyard. I started photographing the plants, trees and flowers that I saw with every step there was something new to see and learn about. On my second outing, Grace Lichtner my new housemate and former Living Chapter’s player, accompanied me retracing the same garden path. Grace is almost 10, game for exploration and full of knowledge on plant and animal life, a perfect partner in creating a field guide. She helped me learn the names of the flowers and trees that I had photographed the day before. We made up new names for the ones she didn’t know and took notes on what we thought the plants might be good for. This time we walked further down the path than I had gone before but returned when the sun started to set and our stomachs started to growl for dinner.
Grace and both her parents, Mike and Agnes accompanied me on the third walk on the garden path. Together we went just a little bit further and discovered a star fruit tree at the end of the path as well as an opening to the road leading to the ocean below. 15 minutes later winding down a zig-zagging nearly vertical road we reached the beach for our first visit with the sun, sand and surf. We marked the adventure by collecting coral and rocks from the beach to take home to the house island. This felt like the first accomplishment in true exploration, a bridge to the outer circle of the island and the first path of many to chart for the field guide.