The heat of day is subsiding, and the low angle sunlight feels good on my back. A stiff easterly licks points on the sapphire surface of Drake Passage, like meringue rising from a lemon pie. I scan the sky for clouds, past Great Thatch and Tortola to the north.
In the absence clouds, the sunset will be ordinary, maybe even dull--unless it’s high summer and the sun sinks below the horizon out there across Pillsbury Sound, into the gulf. If the air is very clear and that happens, I may see the elusive green flash, a prismatic phenomenon I have yet to witness.
I’m on my regular evening trek along the shore of Leinster Bay, on St. John, one of the US Virgin Islands. I choose to walk here because there is usually still a cooling breeze late in the day, and it keeps the no-seeums down. The trail is flat enough to build up a cardiac stimulating pace. And besides, I seem to favor walking where my feet are solidly planted on the earth but my eyes look out over open water, and this is the perfect spot for that.
Nearly every time I take this walk, the same king fisher flushes from its perch in the stand of maho trees that crowd close along a small crescent of sand; the same mongoose dashes out from where it’s been foraging for leftover snacks in the tangle of fallen boughs beneath the maho grove. A deer flushes from the bush where the trail empties out onto the coral rubble. Most days, a white wading bird, in sole possession of the beach, stands motionless in the water with one dark leg poised for the next step.
I love the sameness of this place. I can count on it. I know what to expect. This allows my feet to move over known terrain and my mind to rest. Not far down this familiar trail, while my body navigates on the autopilot of walking familiar ground, I find I can take up some new thoughts, let go of the accumulated tension of the day.
I know what to expect here, and yet, for all it’s known terrain and inhabitants, each trip down this trail is a foray into uncharted territory. I do some of my best thinking here.
If I arrive too early, I’m likely to encounter groups of sunburned snorkelers toting rainbow striped chairs and yellow mesh gear bags. They rarely speak unless I greet them first; many look away as I approach, unwilling to meet my eye. Perhaps they too are reflective after their full day of swimming with the fish. They plod slowly like a herd of island donkeys, in the direction of the parking lot.
These tourists almost never stand aside. I marvel at their lack of trail manners on this path that is barely two feet wide. It runs between sheer hillside and the sea. I, the solitary walker, am the one who backs into the bush to let the procession pass. Sometimes I wonder, in the confines of such a narrow trail, why people feel the need to act as though they are invisible. But even this human behavior is a regularity on this walk. I have grown accustomed to it, even though it rankles.
There are anomalies. I was pleasantly surprised the other day. I approached three dark figures ambling in the same direction as I, and to alert them to my faster pace I threw a loud and friendly voice in the direction of their backs.
“Good afternoon. Mind if I walk by?”
The trio, West Indians all, turned to me, and with smiles, nodded and stepped aside.
“Good afternoon,” they replied.
One was a girl about five years old. I could hear the loose rubble on the path as I moved on and the child said, “Wow, that lady’s walking really fast.”
I turned with a smile, unable to resist a look back at the speaker. She was clad in a bright blue tank top and matching trunks, and with her arms and legs swinging wide, like mine, she was striding along. “Shhhh,” her adult companions said. “Come back.”
How sad, I thought. Is this how we are taught to join the world of the ordinary, where we look away, or downward, and don’t acknowledge other living things?
Causes Jennifer Pierce Supports
I support the effort of organizations promoting public access and farmland preservation, open space preservation, organic farming and local marketing of...