Tag Archives: St. Thomas


Flamboyant flower



I make too much of houses, I know that. I always have. So on a recent visit to the Virgin Islands to try to locate four homes I had lived in nearly forty years ago, I ran into a wall. Four walls, to be precise.

We hired a driver for a couple hours to help scout out the homes. But what I remembered were the names of the bays, not the roads. The views, not the directions. Mostly what I remembered was every little detail about the homes.

Well none of them were there, or none of them could be found. Hurricanes, developers, or my faulty memory had conspired to remove them all. We were free to pursue other interests. Such as the flora.

And for the first time—mind you, I had lived there for two full years—I took note of the tropical plants and trees. I can say that while I had always appreciated the natural beauty around me, I’d never studied the vegetation or learned many names. And as every gardener knows, knowledge of plants only increases one’s pleasure in the garden.

Years later in moving east to Philadelphia from California, I brought with me a comprehensive knowledge of Mediterranean plants. I could walk through the conservatories at Longwood Gardens identifying, and feeling at home with, my Mediterranean friends. I carried nothing like this back with me from The Virgin Islands.

The fact is, I hadn’t started gardening yet. I was in my twenties in St. Thomas, starting a shop, running a shop, and had nothing in common with Tilly-hatted, kahki-clad women kneeling on kneepads with tool bags by their side. In my free time I was literally and figuratively at the beach.

Interest in gardening is an age thing perhaps. I took it up when I had children so they might inherit it, and I took it up with fever. Later still, I wrote a manuscript around it. A couple weeks ago in Boston I found a literary agent for that gardening memoir at GrubStreet’s The Muse and the Marketplace writer’s conference. From Boston I flew directly to the Caribbean. I thought a fresh take on the houses would refreshen my book, but it’s the flora and foliage that did it.

Nature is what survives somehow, I should have known that. Nature is all that matters.







Filed under gardening, tropical plants and trees

Tracing Our Life Stories

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the very first time.” T. S. Eliot

Summery children’s voices through open windows. Wagons, scooters, and strollers–all the apparatus of play. A brother and sister squeeze into a pint-sized motorized car on a sidewalk which is well off the road. The littlest fellow across the street sports an electric bike. He had to have that, I suppose, as his dad rides a motorcycle–to Amazon everyday, where he’s a manager in cloud computing. An Amazon server was recently effected by thunderstorms in the area, but it’s all back up and running, the boy on the electric bike, the man on the motorcycle, and all the companies reliant on Amazon’s cloud service.

One evening in book group we realized that all of us are originally from the East Coast. Our individual paths, however, took us all over the map as we actively shaped our life stories into the tales we can tell today. Though some folks take a more direct route to where they are going or draw no map at all, they are probably not people I know. The people I know tend to be complex, which has me thinking there are a lot of labyrinths walking around amongst us.

I am careful not to call us mazes. A maze is a more crazed path with built-in trickery: dead ends, roundabouts, and decisions to be made at every turn. It’s doable, but usually with difficulty. Lucky are the labyrinth meanderers amongst us! Endlessly winding and understanding that there is only one path and it is your path and you are following it, going forward. Following a labyrinth course, and seeing one’s life as such, is a right-brain activity. It quiets the mind. There is but one choice and that is to follow it, however indirect or circuitous. “A labyrinth is a place you go to get found,” notes writer Sally Quinn, who commissioned to have a 50′ labyrinth built for her walking/meditation purposes in a clearing by the woods at her home in Maryland.

Well, maybe our paths have not been altogether labyrinthian either. Labyrinths are whole and circular with a center. Where you go in is where you come out, and its paths turn and gently fold alongside themselves much like brain matter. I drew my life journey by placing a piece of tracing paper over a map, starting of course with where I began, where I was born. From there, a line drawing of a mythical creature began to evolve and put down legs–if only to spring from. In it I see a deer in flight, a kangaroo, or wallaby, bounding off hind legs. Or possibly an ostrich or emu, sprinting off and landing here, in The Pacific Northwest. The Southern points on my map (St. Thomas, San Diego, and Tucson) were primarily for pushing off, as I know now that I had to go there to get here.

I have been living out West for half my life and my mother in New England still expects I will “move back home.” I am at home, or rather, where I am meant to be on my life’s journey. Whatever the animal/bird pictograph that is my life’s line drawing, it was always heading here. How many times in the woods I’ve remarked, “If I were a deer I’d live here!” And as bald eagles glide at tremendous height over the Puget Sound, “If I were a bird this is where I’d come to live!”

Maybe my mother knows something I don’t. That family plot down by The Connecticut River reserved by my grandparents so long ago for all the clan…. I haven’t decided. I may get lost in the woods yet or fall into the sea, but that plot, I suppose, would make this life story all the more labyrinthine.


Filed under life journey