Our first port of call this spring was St. Croix. We arrived without a plan. Sometimes we like to wing it. But when we asked two crew members on board the ship what they suggested, both said, “Don’t bother to get off the ship!” One said, “If you find something to do, be sure to tell me about it.” Shore excursions personnel advised, “This is the stop we most highly recommend you book a tour.” This was all a bit disheartening but the day we opt not to get off the ship is the day I’m done cruising!
Guide books promote photo worthy colonial Dutch and English architecture and history. Tours to Buck Island Reef or other national parks and preserves are popular, along with a plethora of beaches and bays. Indeed, tour sales of all kinds lined the pier. It wouldn’t have been difficult to find something to do. But I wanted just to see the place, first. The Hubs was game.
So we crammed like sardines in tin can van called “Princess” lacking proper ventilation with a bunch of Dutch nationals and departed Fredericksted for Christiansted (round trip, $16 per person). Our thirty-five minute route took us through numerous small settlements, past mostly humble abodes with lean dogs and gutted automobiles, few folks out and about in the countryside with school in session. A tethered horse and a few skinny cows nibbling vegetation from the limbs of scrubby trees dispassionately watched our progress.
As we cut across the interior of the island, our driver was determined we not miss a thing. She annotated our journey with what might be described as minutiae. Except that, to her, these were points of pride. I thoroughly enjoyed her commentary. For the price of a cab fare, it was more than fair trade, I think.
The sun was climbing high as we wandered around Christansted’s fort, where roosters crow in the midday sun and tiny chicks scurry behind mama hen. We poked our noses into the Lutheran church, admiring the steeple, before perusing the shops. Finally, we took refuge from the sun at the Lowlife, a boardwalk eatery. Perched in the shade of an umbrella high above, we enjoyed refreshing brews and local fare with spectacular harbor views.
After awhile, when the sun threatened to catch up with us, we found a van returning to Frederiksted. There a number of artisans were selling handcrafts, some of which seemed to be truly locally crafted. I love a local market! My day could have ended there quite happily but the best was yet to come.
As we were leaving the market, I stopped at a book seller’s table. I was delighted to discover the author himself, a distinguished looking gentleman midst the books and tee-shirts on display. I picked up a small hardcover title, gently flipping through while I asked him to share his story. Fortunately, Mr. Schrader was equally eager to engage in conversation.
Richard told me a bit about his journey into writing and publishing, his love for the island and desire to share her beauty and traditions. He broke into recitation, sharing a poem he wrote for his mother. Then he picked up a volume and read a section, explaining its significance in his journey. I was mesmerized by his deep, rich voice. I was honored by a semi-private reading. Who could ask for more? I selected two books, his first publication and a later book of verse. “You’re living the dream, Richard,” I reminded him, as I thanked him for his time.
I read both of Richard’s books on the plane ride home. I enjoyed his recollections of St. Croix in another time as much as I appreciated his bold challenges to modern Crucians. His haiku is quite exquisite. And the poems “We Thank Thee Lord” and “Give Thanks” (If the Gobi Tree Could Talk: a Calabash of Poems, 2007) were nothing short of inspired. But more than anything, I cherished our exchange in the shade of a small tent on the plaza. Making a personal connection is the best part of any journey. Thank you, Richard.
~ René Morley