Contemplation

Off rock photos with their two dimensions stimulate the eyes with memories of all the senses. Sounds, sights, feeling, and smells linger, although fleeting. The memories drive the desire to repeat the experience.

I sit on the beach with my eyes closed. The warmth of the sun and feel of the wind embrace me. My senses sharpen taking their own snapshot.

I breathe deeply. This setting is but temporary, they all are. Do I take it for granted even while I’m enjoying it? I remind myself what a gift it all is, whether on or off the rock. Being in this moment, taking as much in as possible. Life is temporary too. This moment has a richness — and that will stay with me.

When I return, it will feel as though I never left, thankfully. I’m not ready to give it up yet. I never am. Until then, I continue to collect snapshots of our favorite places so I can dream about them later. Dreams recall most of the experience in an almost tangible way. I can choose to relive the happy times and places in my thoughts with gratitude for the opportunity to be, have been, and will be — here on this beautiful beach.

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Morning Reward

Taking a walk in the morning connects me with whatever neighborhood we happen to be staying in. For three months it was Pointe Blanche. From there our easiest access were P’burg, we could walk to it, and Orient Beach along the windward side of the island. The drive is certainly more direct and less stressful than from Pelican Key.

Within the Pointe Blanche area there were many route options with various degrees of difficulty. The challenge was what I made of it depending on the whim of the day. On one side the climb reveals a spectacular view of Great Bay with the central mountain range in the background. The side where the prison is perched, on a clear day has vistas of St. Barths, Nevis, St. Kitts, Statia, and if one is east enough Saba. More often I chose the St. Barths side of the view. I would challenge myself with inclines and then rest on the more level sections. The promise to myself was to rest on the stony beach of the tiny cove where the pelicans and locals fished. The other option was to skirt out to one of the eastern ridges and find a rock to sit on. It feels like it’s all mine as they are solitary wind blown places. From my perch high above the churning waters I could see the uninhabited rocky islands along the coastline toward Guana Bay. It was my personal balcony, the wind made it feel as though I was sailing. The occasional iguanas would join me as I took in the panoramic view.

I was almost sad to go back to our studio afterwards. Sometimes I would find coins on the road. I knew where all the dogs lived and how to avoid any encounters, if I so chose. I often carried treats with me and befriended two large dogs at one home. He once followed me as I made another loop through the neighborhood. It had grown to be one of my most favorite areas to walk through. It provided exercise and contemplation and I was rewarded every time.

One Love?

Humans want nice neat answers for the world around them. Superstition and religious beliefs have claimed those answers throughout time. There’s always something or a someone, or a group of someones to blame for pestilence and natural disasters. Cause and effect, natural consequences, God’s judgment against some sinful behavior; these are a few ways to view our surroundings. How many young virgins — always girls — had to die to appease the gods? Thrown into volcanoes, or into pits with under ground rivers, or burned at the stake because someone claimed they were witches.

Here we are in the twenty-first century and there are still way too many who conform to this mindset. All around the globe, speakers for “God” place blame for mass shootings, wildfires, earthquakes, flooding, and hurricanes — on sin. The vengeful deity allows hundreds to perish in order to declare his displeasure with our behavior. Mind you, it’s always about abortion or homosexuality. Funny, gluttony, greed, lying, rape, adultery, or not loving one’s neighbor have rarely been called out as a reason. So I guess some sins are worse than others, even though I was taught, all sin is sin. It’s funny too, how people look for God in the storm when, by contrast, it is a still small voice.

I had no idea that since Irma, there’s been an outcry against the homosexual community on SXM. Zealots (rastas and atheists too) have taken the opportunity to blame, shame and guilt them for the force of the hurricane. God’s wrath has befallen the island because of them and their dirty deeds. So much for loving your neighbor as yourself. In turn, the guilt ridden (all locals) have vowed to stay away from their former partners. Some have even claimed they are now cured of their affliction. I can’t imagine what that process involves(d), all in the name of God.

So, what about One Love?

What if these beliefs, which are many, and varied, are lost in translation?

What if, in the name of God or another, some are adding weights to others they were never meant to carry?

(I’m sure that’s never happened before)

On this small island, we are a community.

When love surrounds, it is beautiful and life surges forward.

Maybe the lyrics to this classic, are worth singing out today?

“We’re one but we’re not the same

Well we hurt each other

Then we do it again

You say

Love is a temple

Love a higher law

Love is a temple

Love the higher law

You ask me to enter

But then you make me crawl

And I can’t be holding on

To what you got

When all you got is hurt

One love

One blood

One life

You got to do what you should

One life

With each other

Sisters

Brothers

One life

But we’re not the same

We get to carry each other

Carry each other

One.”

“There was melancholy about it but there was also strength. One is not about oneness, it’s about difference. It’s not the old hippie idea of ‘let’s all live together.’ It is a much more punk rock concept. It’s anti-romantic: ‘we are one but not the same. We get to carry each other.’ It’s a reminder that we have no choice. I’m still disappointed when people hear the chorus line as ‘got to’ rather than ‘we get to carry each other.’ Like it or not, the only way out of here is if I give you a leg up the wall and you pull me after you. There’s something very unromantic about that.

—Bono, on the recording of “One” U2

We are not the same.

We get to carry each other.

What About SXM.5

For the more adventurous, a twenty-minute hike from the French dump allows access to Petite Caye. Mongooses and hermit crabs hangout in the underbrush. There are trails in the interior too. Tide pools on the Dutch side, between Guana Bay and Pointe Blanche, are another favorite destination. There is a climb down some pretty steep rock faces that give access to them. It’s amazing to sit in them and watch the waves crash at the surrounding rock wall.

The zip line from the former Emilio Wilson estate isn’t cheap. What a view from the top though, I’ve only seen pictures from there. Loterie Farm has zip lines, a ropes course, trails, and a series of pools. Some have reported monkey sightings up on the hillside. The rain forest setting is tranquil and trendy. Stilted cabanas encircle the pool area. A platform in the trees serves as a stage for live music. Pic Paradis, the highest point on the island, rises up behind where Loterie sits. There are trails up there along with a spectacular view.

We’ve only just begun to explore Philipsburg, where another zip line is now being installed. Years ago we bought some jewelry on Front Street. The boardwalk is chock-full of bars, restaurants, and shops. Beach chairs and umbrellas are offered for rent. Everyone looks like a tourist and so is bombarded with sales pitches. Front Street too. Someone stands near shop entrances hoping they’ll get credit for your purchase. It’s a lively area during the day.

With all this, we’ve only scratched the surface of things to do. We’ve never been on the 4x4s or three=wheelers…. yet. Restaurants change from year to year, people come and go. There’s always something new to see, learn, and tryout.

What About SXM.4

We realized it was almost impossible for us to do and see everything SXM has to offer in a week. Coming for longer amounts of time hasn’t solved the problem either. We’ve tried to make a “hit list”, a smattering of highlights. What beaches would we like to visit? The choice is endless. Do we want to be social or hide away, pampered or rough it? Each beach possesses its own charm and beauty. Mullet Bay is the best Dutch gem having been left untouched since hurricane Luis. Parking is an issue at Cupecoy with its picturesque cliffs and caves and Baie Rouge (no more beach bar) with its famous arch. Strong swimmers who’ve ventured out toward the rock croppings have sometimes been caught in strong currents. Safety’s a real concern, costing some lives. There are other spots where snorkeling is much safer. Catamarans deliver groups out in Simpson Bay, Long Bay, Creole Rock, and Tintamarre for a chance to see tropical fish. People swim out from Orient Bay and have seen a nice variety. The rocks by the beach of Simpson Bay Resort is also a good spot. In fact, a tour group from cruise ships kayak there regularly.

Friars Beach is mellow and host to full moon parties, complete with bonfires and live music. Walking past it will reveal the path over to Happy Bay. The SXM Festival was held there twice to date. DJs and light shows kept the beat going into the wee hours for throngs of bohemian ravers. Anse Marcel, at the northern tip, is another quiet beach with marina and a beach bar. Rebuilding is in the early stages here.

Le Galion or Coconut Grove, just around the corner from Orient Beach, offers water sports and a lakeside setting. There’s no longer a beach bar, so bring a picnic. Pinel island, a ferry ride away, also offers quiet waters where the beach bars are. There’s a hiking trail to explore the wilder sides, one with a semi-private beach. A lookout point has a great view of Anguilla, Tintamarre, and St. Barth’s. From the main beached Pinel, the sun sets aglow the mountains as it makes its way back into the sea. The ferry leaves from Cul d’sac or rent a kayak.

What About SXM.3

Marigot was once the designer capitol. The Market, one of the town’s major features, is at its best on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Fishermen sell their catch bright and early, well before most tourists appear. Some of the wares are redundant and cheesy. Tucked in between are stalls with handcrafted jewelry, French jacquard table cloths, towels and beach coverups, spices, homemade ice cream, rhums, and hot sauces. Surrounding the market are other vendors with fresh coconut water served with a straw right in the nut. Lolos compete for the lunch crowds. By 1pm things wind down and siesta brings most businesses to a close.

Another popular area is around the marina. We used to take our kids there when we were all much younger. We loved to wander around. Over the years though, it has gone done hill, especially at night. We used to love going out to dinner there. The lights from the boats, people walking around trying to decide where to eat, and the French trying to lure in customers, profiling them. We’d guess if passers by were French or American. Always pay attention to the bill and bring extra cash. Some places on the French side only take cash. Oftentimes the service charge is included and a small cash tip in addition is customary. Even if the bill is paid by credit card, they only take cash for the tip.

Shops, crêperies, and restaurants have made a nice comeback since the hurricane. One of the only spots we’ll venture to in the evening is O’Plongeoir. Locals love this open air restaurant with its reasonable prices and delicious dishes. It’s across from the marina on the coast, just around the corner from the mall. On top of the knoll behind it, the remains of Fort Louis stand with cannons still pointed at the ready. Another great vantage point.

Many French also speak English and are quite friendly. There are a few that strut an attitude. It’s fun to hear the language spoken and remind us we are in a foreign country. Some have escaped France or Canada to work in the warmth with a sea view. There are actual St.Martiners, descendants from the days of slavery and the Dutch and French who ultimately settled the island. Some of the locals may speak up to seven languages; English, Dutch, French, Creole, Spanish, Papiamento, and Patois. So many cultures, so many roots, all influence the menu and outlook of this amazing island.

What About SXM.2

The French side is more wild in a natural sense. More open spaces provide the perfect backdrop for horseback ridering, hiking, lying on the beach and many other activities. Orient Beach was been a long time favorite of ours. Irma has left her mark here too, although it’s still the beach to see and be seen. The soft white sand is a perfect frame to all types of water sports. The weekend hosts French families and other locals enjoying picnics and fun in the sun.

This is the beach sky divers land on. It’s a beach filled with happy memories and difficult conversations, friendships and alcohol. By 4pm happy hour begins in various beach bars, while families prepare for dinner. 7pm restaurants are officially open and quickly filled with hungry customers. Beach by day, village by night, the vibe puts a smile on kids of every age. Some evenings a makeshift market with clothing, crafts, and jewelry appears; others, music fills the space. Antsy children roam through the open quad after escaping dinner with adults. Dinnertime among the French lingers long after the plates are cleared and the complementary infused rhum drink. There’s no rush, but the check needs to be asked for. Turning tables is not the priority, the quality of the food and experience is.

Grand Case is the day/night beach and night life hot spot. On the weekend, French locals bring the family to beach bars. Some of which serve lunch and dinner. Music is an integral part of breaking up the work week with singers, bands, or DJs…..dancing is optional! From sleepy fishing village to Gourmet Capital of the Caribbean, fine dining is almost a sport for the restaurants here. Menus by the doorway entice, invite, and promise a meal to remember. Lolos with local fare and affordable prices are an experience not to be missed.

We love to get there in time to watch the sunset from the pier. Locals dive from it and also go fishing there. It has slowly been crumbling into the sea. It’s a favorite spot for pictures and has become very popular to be photographed below it. It’s fun to browse in the shops that pepper the road side. The road is rough and narrow, so walkers need to be careful.

What About SXM.1

For any first timer, of course, I want them to fall unabashedly in love and be totally mystified as to how it happened. For us, the island got under our skin within the first week we ever traveled here. We knew we just had to come back. It wasn’t any one thing that drew us back, rather it was a conglomeration of ingredients that make SXM the special treat it is to us.

The obvious and most basic in the list begins with the location. The Caribbean lures visitors escaping cold gray weather or promises a cool back drop for wedding, honeymoon, or any other kind of vacation getaway. The colors are so saturated, featuring blues and greens wrapped up in warm breezes. The mountains in the center of the island rise up catching clouds and holding history and mystery. The beaches are plenty and diverse. Funny how we stumbled on a resort in Pelican Key, the tail end of Simpson Bay. It’s one of the best places to view a sunset from. Everything was in walking distance, from bars, grocery shops, and restaurants.

Simpson Bay was our first introduction to night life on the island. Drinking, dancing, and karaoke along with food from around the world can be found within one mile. We’re not much for gambling but there are casinos sprinkled all over the Dutch side.

Over the years we’ve enjoyed many sailboat rides around the island — to Anguilla, Prickly Pear, Tintamarre, St. Barths, and most recently Saba. Only Saba was truly a vomit comet! (If there’s a chance of seasickness, take the necessary precautions).

We rented a car from the beginning and slowly began exploring the island. Driving along the coast, new vistas at every turn and hilltop. Yes, the ocean is really that shade of blue. Some days there’s no haze and Saba, St. Eustatia, St.Kitts, Nevis, and St Barths are clearly visible on the horizon. I especially love the lights of Anguilla at night from Grand Case. Some restaurants there offer a view of the neighboring island. We love arriving in time to watch the sunset from the pier. We’ve been fortunate to have gotten to see it set from left to right as the seasons shorten and lengthen days.

I love walking down the boulevard at night as restaurants bustle with patrons. We’ve been coming so long that some of the locals know us. That makes us feel so at home. During the day the streets are quiet in this former fishing village. The lighting reveals a new motif to photograph and become a painting possibility. Even after Irma, there’s beauty among the ruins.

Restless

Nervous energy surges through my muscles. My mind races. Thoughts rattle around in a never ending loop. So many things planned for the day. So many places to be, people to see. I was mentally prepared to take it all on. Circumstances change and plans need to be adjusted to fit them. Sometimes you just can’t do it all.

I should be exhausted having stayed up late to finish reading the latest book. It’s a compulsion. The need to know what will happen next and how the author will choose to resolve the story. Reading is a positive use of time. Writing has also become a great exercise. Our experiences here on the island of Saint Martin are fun to recount. Processing thoughts on paper helps defuse monkey brain. Once written, words either gain or lose their power, hopefully making room for more inspiration and ideas.

There are days when I feel guilty for not accomplishing more. That restless feeling is a double edged sword. On the plus side, it motivates me to action. I’ll take a walk or swim and my outlook shifts. Negative things like over-eating or drinking are more of a challenge to control during those times. Approaching life with mindfulness and awareness is up there with sticking to a diet or a daily exercise regimen. Sunny days are easier to put that best foot forward. On a cold, gray, and/or rainy day my mind is more like a ball and chain. Sometimes both mind and body need rest. Other times it’s best to push through. It’s when discernment is illusive, I have trouble.

Habits are practices, so practice good habits. That phrase seems like a no brainer. I’ve seen ninety year-old dementia patients plod through their daily routines that would make any mother proud. Brush your teeth, make your bed, put your clothes away — there’s actually something to all that. Habits and routines lend themselves to functioning on autopilot, they’re productive. Then there are those super organized people who can’t sit still. To be industrious and keep busy is the only way to go, go, go.

Why has busyness and stillness become so polarized? A balance would be more optimal. There are some mindless activities that are conducive to meditation and contemplation. To not sit with one’s thoughts and acknowledge them can catch up with people.

Time is the invisible master, often a taskmaster. We are all given a measure of it. Think how many sayings reflect on it: time marches on, time is on your side, time to go, the ravages of time, time flys…when your having fun, time heals all wounds, Father Time, part-time, full-time, timeline, some things take time, all the time in the world, time out, borrowed time, time is running out, time’s up…….

Restlessness sometimes comes when we think we are wasting time. Funny, how when we were children, time seemed to last forever. We never felt guilty for playing or hanging out with friends. Guilt was somehow learned along the way. As weeks, months, and years speed up, we become fearful of the misuse of time and the reality of running out of it. “Use your time wisely” replaced playtime during adulthood. Probably a difficult thing that happens to people as they get older, is having an unrealized dream. The feeling of being unfulfilled for not following our heart. How do we find balance between duty and taking a risk to become to be all we are supposed to be? Each generation has answered this question differently with varying outcomes.

Maybe restlessness is good. It stirs not only in the mind but in the spirit and soul. Let’s use it for good, not for ourselves alone, but for all that surrounds us in space and time.

Addicted to Nature

I think we’ve been hard wired to spend time outdoors. Shelter is important. We all want protection from the elements, however, many of us have lost our connection with nature. I often speak of its beauty and my awe of it. What about the other creatures we share this blue marble with? Have we forgotten our place? We are creatures too, an invasive species these days.

There is always a domino affect — with not so great overall consequences. We build, cut down trees, and uproot native plants only to find we’ve instigated the extinction of some other life. We create dust bowls, flooding, deserts, and climate change. We have less insects today than we did years ago. Herbicides, like Roundup, are killing butterflies and bees (pollinators) and exposing our pets and children to carcinogenic chemicals all for the sake of a green lawn. Monoculture has become the plague of the twenty-first century. Biodiversity insures existence during times of drought or blight. Centralized farming and food production, coupled with our insatiable desire for meat, is making us and the planet sick.

Kissinger said, “Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control continents; who controls money can control the world”. Get the picture?

Meanwhile, I’ve, at least in my mind, escaped to St. Maarten, if only for a short time. Here I sit on my terrace surrounded by plants and trees and have taken to feeding the sugar birds. They wait nearby each morning for me to give them their daily fix. The chirping is a delightful sound a reminder of where I am. At first, one or two scouted out the situation enjoying the cache for themselves. Now, at least twenty are flocking, fluttering, and fighting over the sugar treat. Two other slightly larger birds have also joined in. One is taupe with coral under the chin and the edges of its wings. The other is black with coral around the eyes and under the chin. Recently an even larger bird has come to inspect. He’s brown with squared off tail feathers and whited circling its eyes. They all may have a pecking order for this feeding spot.

Our complex hosts two dogs. Everyone feeds, waters and pets them. They appreciate this so much, that in return they watch over us — barking out all manner of alerts. They each have their favorite napping places during the day and patrols at night.

These are just two of the simple joys, while here on the island, of being alive on this amazing planet.

Soon we will go back to the rat race at home. We’ve already made some lifestyle changes there. Our “lawn” has been allowed to go native. Small flowers and clovers offer bees nectar. A shallow dish with water and marbles is a safe way for the bees to drink without drowning. Although I struggle with plastic packaging, I recycle and also compost all of our fruit and veggie scraps. There are designated spaces around and behind bushes for raked leaves. They enrich the soil and encourage healthy microbes to flourish. We are down to one car and bike into town often to run errands. Meat is no longer the star of our plates, and eat much less of it. Instead we’ve increased our veggies and salad greens. Clothing and home furnishing consumption has also dropped off, reducing clutter. Cutting spending has given us a calmer, more peace-filled life.

Thank you SXM for inspiring and teaching us!