It is a beautiful paradox that the patron saint of soldiers was a conscientious objector. Since his father was a pagan army man, St. Martin’s namesake is the god of war, Mars himself. And yet, it is reported that St. Martin refused to fight, offered to stand unarmed at the front, and that before his commander could jail him for insubordination or cowardice, the enemy approached to negotiate peace.
The famous story of St. Martin is that he cut in half his soldier’s cloak to clothe a naked beggar, who it is said later revealed himself in a dream to have been Christ.
A heart of peace and forgiveness melts all armaments, eventually.
And I venture that, given a few more days on the beach in St. Martin, the last ramparts of my heart and muscular fortifications might well have melted in the benevolent swathing of sun and sea.
St. Martin is also the patron saint of horses. Didn’t see a single equine citizen while there, only a couple of distant donkeys. But galloping through the clear water with all four limbs, walking on sand not only unshod but unclothed, put me back in touch with an embodied ease, certainty and power not so accessible at higher altitudes.
Just a whirlwind trip. But luckily no whirlwinds accosted us while there. We were into hurricane season, so it was steadily windy and the surf perpetually choppy, but the sun was an attentive host and the water an embracing (rather than bracing) temperature: liquid crystal, clear and salty.
We arrived on a Saturday evening, just before 9 local time, carrying long days of travel in our muscles and pores. As we watched the license plate—St. Martin, The Friendly Island—of our kindly taxi recede, we dumped our bags and barefooted it along white sandy paths to the beach, having arrived only enough to know this was not Kansas, nor Santa Fe, nor Boise, New Orleans, Chicago nor Seoul. We were walking in a dream where the lights hadn’t come on yet. But the ocean between our toes told us that this was a fully functional holo-deck. So we retired and awaited morning’s glory.
Upon rising, I continued reeling myself back into my body with yoga and Qi Gong on the lawn outside our little cabin, on grass so short and wiry that we had suspected it was astro-turf the night before. It felt good, but it was different from the previous morning, when, alone in Miami, I had sought out a nearby park and practiced in lush, soft grass and in humidity thick enough to hold me aloft in standing balancing poses, resting my leg parallel to the turf on a blanket of swollen air. Then I meditated under a wonderful shade tree whose species I couldn’t even guess, but who spoke a universal dialect of Tree, and we understood each-other beautifully. I watched an elderly gentleman practicing the Five Tibetan Rites on a concrete slab, curious about his preference for this over grass.
I had stayed that night in the biggest Days Inn I’ve encountered. The layover between check out and my flight was hours, and I did not want to spend them inside the airport. But I shuttled to the airport, where I was told I could catch a train to downtown Miami and a little shuttle to the Bayside. The coordination of these conveyances was not favorable for the venture, however, and so I waited on outdoor platforms, grateful for the breeze and unfamiliar, if urban, vistas, and rode the train downtown and back. I amused myself taking selfies against a glass wall,
…but I didn’t take a shot of the Dade County Children’s Courthouse. Children’s Courthouse: as big or bigger than the adult one. I didn’t care to contemplate all that this discovery told, but I could only suspect it was not good news that the Miami’s children required their own courthouse; but if they did require one, I’m glad the investment was made to accommodate the need.
I met up with my friend Jack for the Miami-St. Martin leg, and I watched the clouds playing out the airplane window jealously until it was too dark to see them.
Cameras aren’t allowed on nudist beaches. So, I reserved my photographic pursuits for the few times we left the resort in our civvies, or for a few snaps around the house—of the little iguana who spent his days upon a bird-nest outside our window,
or of the charming towel topiary that greeted us after every maid’s visit,
or of the view through the cabin’s door screen,
or around sunset and sunrise, when surreptitious snaps at the beach were possible.
And after all, I have a tradition to uphold: the imperative shot of my tanned feet contentedly encrusted with bone-white sand, to bookend the white toes dipped in the volcanic black silica of Kare Kare beach, in New Zealand. Lucky girl; happy feet.
What is there to report really? I didn’t write much while there. It was more a time to experience easeful embodiment rather than to reduce the experience to mere words. It was a time of resting, of romancing the sand, of sunning, of snoozing and of Snorkeling! Now that was a dream come true long over due. This was my first opportunity to snorkel, and I could easily make that a way of life. What a consummate meditation, surreal and world-melding, hypnotic and sense-heightening. Body floating on water, mind floating on the sound of the breath, eyes feasting on another world. All rhythms at once independent and synchronized.
When I had trouble with my mask (and some other misadventures that chased away my peace) and felt a storm of confusion and infantile emotion tangling my faculties– like the plastic that litters our oceans and strangles our sea-fowl– I gratefully gave up all effort to reason my way out of it; I just gave myself back to the water, letting the swirl of surf, reeds and fishes untangle all trace of snarled self.
It was not at one of the world’s most lauded reefs; It was simply 20 meters from Pedro’s beach-side grill and massage hut. Yet that offered up plenty for this newbie to savor: flat fish, long fish, wide fish, solid and striped fish, of silver, copper, gold, yellow, blue, orange and, even only three meters from shore, a school of white angel fish (with tasteful grey tabby trim), each about the dimensions of my hand.
I also saw, despite his best efforts to hide, a lobster. He simply could not conceal his pinchers and antenna in the grotto he was backed into, try as he might while my shadow hovered persistently!
And I saw a meaty brick-brown starfish on the sandy floor, whom I so wanted to reach out and interlace my fingers with. But he, along with many alluring conch shells, loomed farther out of reach than they looked.
Be as a child to enter the kingdom of heaven. It would seem snorkeling can take you through the needle’s eye.
In the evening, we would get out the guitar and sing as many songs as the mosquitos would allow. And then we would leave those skeeters to the happily chirping bats slolamming about among the palm trees.
Rain was predicted for our last full day. So, the day before it, despite having already had our quota of sun, we took a taxi to hike up Pic Paradis, the highest point on the small island (nearly 1500 feet). The taxi could not take us very far up the steep, winding, one lane, cobble-brick, road leading to the trailhead. So we trudged up the road. It was hot, and we were surrounded not so much by lush greenery, but by very thirsty hedges, some wilting. This wasn’t the desert, to be assured, and there was still much thriving tropical flora, but (our cab driver informed us) it had rained far too little for six months, and the hills were brown, and clearly not accustomed to being so. There had, in fact, been a fire upon on the pic two nights before, possibly a lightning strike—not certain. We did not get far enough to see the fresh burn, but we saw a hill that had clearly seen fire recently.
We did not know how far it really was to the peak. I, who had not been feeling well, had to wrestle with my Capricorn, when the steepness and the heat called the wisdom of continuing into question. Body was saying: Not Kind. Capricorn was saying: So What? Sissy! Eventually we turned around and enjoyed the downhill return along the path bejeweled with bougainvillea, oleander, bird-of-paradise, and a tree with bright orange bloom-clusters probably called Royal Poinciana (or Flamboyana).
Back at our Orient Bay beach, the waves tended to flow along the shore toward the northwest, more parallel than perpendicular. Ocean waves entered the bay at an angle from the southeast, breaking over a reef a distance out, into more manageable waves.
The Thursday saved for rain turned out to be the clearest, sunniest day all week. So, after our morning’s drift from one end of our sanctioned waters to the other, riding the current on our pool noodles, we decided to walk up the beach beyond the “No Naturistes beyond this point” signs, disguised as clothed tourists, which we were.
I haven’t mentioned that although folks generally speak some assortment of French, Dutch, and Creole, near everyone on St. Martin speaks English. And if we wanted to speak French, we had to initiate in French. This was ironic on French soil. I’d just been in Miami, USA, where one might assume the default language was English. But the most common language I encountered was Spanish. My shuttle drivers spoke minimal English, and, in the airport, I actually encountered a uniformed, official-looking gentleman, to whom I directed a question, who replied in Spanish that he didn’t speak English.
So, we walked up the beach in search of a good lunch and some snacks for the next day’s long plane-rides. We lighted at KAKAO, an open-air beachside restaurant haunted by buxom wooden piratesses and understandably grumpy looking pirates missing some combination of extremities. And they gazed through the shade-palms with the far off look of those who scan the horizon all day looking for better days or a wayward limb…and who are made of wood.
Basically a Tropical-themed, family-friendly Hooters.
Typical of the French, though, the meal was beautiful enough to take a picture of, but we were too hungry by the time it came. I did snap a picture of the oh-so-continental looking water service.
Then the pomme frites came and, tasty as they were, eclipsed any consideration of food as art. The waitresses were as happy to practice their English as Jack was to practice his French; mostly I listened from the neutral zone, throwing out about equal number of utterances in each language—between mouthfuls— to keep the score even.
The final day, we rose before 4:30 a.m. to avoid Jack’s alarm, and Jack was off on his taxi ride to Princess Julianna International Airport, on the Dutch side of the island (less than 30 minutes cab ride through town) by 5:30. Our taxi driver, Marcel, would come back for me at 9:30. I had four more precious hours. I meandered out to the beach and watched the sunrise over the mist-bank on the horizon. A photo of that is found on my preceding blog “Last day at the Beach.” It was only hours later that I checked my email at an airport and learned that today’s word from dictionary.com was “Fogdog” —uncannily apt:
- a bright spot sometimes seen in a fog bank.
It was at this point, once Jack left again, that a quorum of my writer finally arrived, and the above-mentioned, preceding blog emerged as a morning’s open-eyed meditation. I logged mundane observations made significant by their being the last. The moments before an ending or death slow down, become more vivid and sacred. So I cobbled those together as a tribute to the trip, not sure whether an extended travelogue piece would ever emerge.
As I’ve lingered too long on the computer to produce one, recollecting the recent days buffeted on sea and sky, I find I am now swimmy again, feeling myself— or the room —rocking, as if I were again far from solid ground. And, as I look out at the sea of waving grass in this unseasonably rain-fed Santa Fe summer-scape, who can be sure?